The Silent 73% Lose Again in Oakland

73% of families in Oakland favored common enrollment in the only survey I have seen.  No it wasn’t scientific, yes it was just one of several questions in a more general survey (which to me gives it credibility), yes it was online so it was probably not representative.  But it had over 500 respondents and 73% said “yes” when asked, “Would you prefer to only have to complete one application and enrollment process for all public schools in Oakland (District and Charter).”

Too bad for them and the thousands of other families that might benefit, it won’t happen.  Another example of the extremes squeezing the middle, and the less vocal being drowned out by the privileged.

Oakland Magazine recently ran a piece discussing this controversy, and while the Board has not yet voted to approve or reject Common Enrollment, given the organized opposition, I don’t think the proposal has the votes right now to pass—with several board members saying they would vote no.

Families I talk to generally want a single enrollment system.  They really don’t care if they are at a charter or district school, they want a good school that treats them and their child with concern and respect.  It doesn’t make sense to fill out the same information on 10 different forms for 10 different public schools each with a different enrollment process.  This process should be simple and facilitate wide access and help find good educational fits.

A Conspiracy of Narrow Interests

As I have argued before, common enrollment is not perceived as boon by charter operators, many are fully enrolled and this will introduce uncertainty, as well as a new sense of transparency for those who might prefer to operate in the shadows.  There is a significant charter “no” side, that sees no specific benefit to common enrollment, and fear turning over their enrollment processes.

The district “no” side was expressed by Director Torres, who critiqued the proposed common enrollment system, seeing charters as, “the other guy”, which the district should not facilitate family access to.

Philosophically I disagree, I think every child in Oakland is a child that the district should be concerned with, but that’s just me.  So “the district” is against common enrollment because more families may choose charters.

The narrower interests of key actors conspire against the desires of families.

Who Should Count?

73% is a large majority in a very contested city.  If someone else wants to do some more polling, I would love to see that, and some more (multilingual) nuance, but I haven’t.    All I have seen is flapping gums, people saying they are speaking for the families of Oakland, but as far as I know this is the only survey that has actually asked families what they wanted.  And no, this is not a call for some biased push poll by an organized interest group looking for parrots for their position.

A quarter of Oakland public school children (11,776) are in public charter schools, even more children (17,572) don’t attend a charter or district run public school, while the district’s enrollment is 36,392.  Many families straddle different sectors.  And any inclusive family organization needs to as well.

Politics will kill common enrollment in the short term in Oakland.  Amidst vocal opponents, those who see it as a threat, those who would rather operate in the shadows, and schools that are doing fine without it, common enrollment will die a slow and quiet death.   Narrow organized interests will overcome the majority will.

There has got to be a day when we look beyond our narrower interests and have the political will and courage to move beyond this dynamic.

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