Is Oakland Achieving? Comparing Charters and District Run Schools in Oakland

A new report compares students at charter public schools and district run ones in Oakland, and surprise, they are very demographically similar, though there are some big differences in outcomes especially in high school for Black and Brown students.

I am sure lots of folks will pronounce the story over, either pro or anti charter based on some nugget of data, but those answers aren’t in the latest Oakland Achieves report (the 2016 report isn’t posted yet, but I got a preview).   We need more nuanced studies that focus on the school effects  to understand whether students are really learning more, more motivated students are applying to charters, or some other variable accounts for differences.

That said, this is the best look yet at the two public school sectors in Oakland, charters and district schools, and while there were some issues identified in compiling the data, without common formats or technologies, the authors did a great job of bringing it all together.  And going forward with the Equity Pledge, to more openly share data we should further improve this integration, and the data should lend itself to greater analysis.

So What Do the Numbers Say?

Demographics and Enrollment- The sectors are very similar, though the special education differences should raise some questions, but does not answer them.

sector English Learners Low Income Special Education
Charter-run 33% 76% 7%
District-run 30% 74% 12%

 

Kindergarten Readiness– this is a crucial statistic for future educational prospects, the large gaps call for more targeted investments in early childhood.

Subgroup % kindergarten ready
African American 36%
Asian 57%
Latino 29%
Multi Racial 60%
All 43%

 

Suspension (all grades)– District run schools have made positive steps in reforming disciplinary policies and processes, and while there is wide variation within the charter sector, district schools are much less likely to rely on suspensions overall.

Sub Group Charter Rate District Rate
African American 12% 8%
Asian 1%
Filipino 15% 2%
Latino 7% 2%
Native American 19% 6%
Pacific Islander 16% 5%
All 7% 4%

 

College Eligibility– The percentage of students who completed the A-G requirements, the courses required to apply to the UC or CSU system.  While the number is relatively low at 83 charter students, the 98% UC eligibility for African American students is impressive, and the 92% overall charter rate is similarly impressive.

Subgroup Charter run District run
African American 98% 37%
Asian 99% 66%
Latino 90% 62%
White 97% 79%
2 or more race 100% 80%
All 92% 57%

 

Conclusions and Next Steps

Charters are doing really well in terms of college eligibility with a 92% overall rate, and 98% of African Americans, though the special education numbers give some pause.

So what is happening?  Are charters that much better than district schools, or are they serving less challenging students?  Are the lower special education numbers the result of charters referring fewer students for services or them screening out more challenging kids?

While we applaud some  outstanding results, our next step needs to understand what is happening underneath these numbers, and designing research studies that really get at the effects that schools are having on student learning, what practices are effective, and whether there are significant differences between charter students and district students.  Related to that is the central matter of families choosing schools or schools choosing families.

The Oakland Achieves report is a good first step in helping Oakland understand broad trends in its public schools, now let’s take a second one to understand what these trends mean and what the root causes are.

A system, like the proposed but dead on arrival common enrollment, that tracked all Oakland public school students across sectors would be a great source of data, we could see who got into charter lotteries and who didn’t, and track their progress, creating a somewhat randomized experiment.  We could also see who is coming and going at schools during the school year, and maybe do a quick text based exit survey.  And most importantly we could track student academic growth from year to year and start to compare peer schools in more meaningful ways across sectors.

As the full report comes out we are likely to see a lot of cherry picking in this data, I hope we invest in getting to the roots.

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