School board members found out Wednesday that Oakland district school enrollment is almost 1,000 students fewer than school officials estimated last year, and that achievement data remains below state levels in several key subjects.
At their evening school board meeting, board members looked at academic and enrollment data that showed both gains in enrollment for Oakland charter schools and losses for district schools. The district is also still below state levels for English, mathematics and science proficiency. While OUSD students have hit the 45% proficient or advanced mark for English and mathematics, the California average is 60%.
District 5 school board member Noel Gallo said he was worried about the quality of learning at the schools in his district. “My schools aren’t proficient, and they’re definitely not advanced,” Gallo said. “Our kids need to be able to compete.”
These issues are also deeply connected to OUSD’s 2013-14 budget priorities. The board has goals of reducing OUSD’s structural deficit and increasing employee pay by 2013. But that will be harder to manage if more resources are needed to improve school curricula so as to attract more students. “We need a way to discuss charter schools, school conversions, school closures and contractors together, because all of this stuff is related,” said District 4 board member Gary Yee.
The board discussed the issues briefly during the meeting, but members said they intend to discuss the data in detail at the next school board meeting Dec. 12.
Maria Santos, deputy superintendent of instruction, leadership and equity-in-action for OUSD, said the district has in fact seen certain improvements in both attendance and student retention. She cited data showing that in 2007, the district lost 700 students after ninth grade; in 2010, the district lost only 50. Santos said OUSD has registered fewer absences this year, too.
“We’ve reduced chronic absence from one chronically absent student out of every nine students, to one chronically absent student out of every 10 students,” Santos said. “That is huge for our district.”
When board members asked about recommendations for how best to improve achievement levels in English, mathematics and science, Santos suggested the idea of “extended time,” meaning giving students more time to graduate. “We’re trying to tell the kids, ‘It’s okay to stay a fifth year and get your diploma,’” she said. “’Leave us with a diploma in your hand.’”
Board members also showed concern for the number of district students who appear to have abandoned conventional district schools in favor of charter schools. Since last year, the OUSD-administered schools lost about 1500 students, while charter schools gained approximately the same number.
This isn’t a new phenomenon for OUSD; in fact, it is a trend that began 10 years ago. In the 2000-01 school year, charter schools enrolled about 2,000 students compared to more than 53,000 in OUSD-run schools. This school year, OUSD has decreased to 36,262 students. Oakland charter schools have over 10,000. And, while K-5 enrollment is at 19,359 students, or about 3200 students per grade, grades 6-8 are seeing only 6,829 students this school year, almost 1000 fewer students per grade.
With the loss of students comes the loss of per-student state funding for district schools, which poses a particularly significant challenge when OUSD is still trying to pay back a structural deficit. Parents have also been consistently concerned about the disappointing numbers coming from district schools, and they sometimes express their anxiety by switching to charter schools, resulting in even less money from the state for the OUSD-run district schools. This cycle has continued for many years.
Yee said the numbers may require OUSD to direct more of its 2013-14 budget to middle schools. “Are new programs even sustainable when the enrollment and other issues are not enough to convince parents to send kids to district schools?” he asked. “We need to overcommit to these schools, knowing that in the short term we won’t be able to fill those seats, but maybe we will in the long term.”
Board members agreed to discuss academic achievement and enrollment issues in-depth at the next board meeting on Dec. 12, and Santos said she would have a plan for middle school development in February.
Oakland Service Employees International Union members and board members also allotted time Wednesday evening to remember school security officer and SEIU leader Mynette Theard, who died Oct. 30. Theard served on SEIU as the schools industry council chair, representing OUSD school employees’ interests.
School board president Jody London presented a framed resolution thanking Theard for her service to OUSD, to Rita Bailey and Vanessa Brooks, who worked closely with Theard for SEIU. “She never missed a beat and she was a fearless leader,” Brooks said. “I wish I had the strength she had.”
The board also unanimously approved a motion to add language about transgender students to the district’s nondiscrimination/harassment policy, just in time for the national Transgender Day of Remembrance. The policy aims to “create a safe learning environment for all students, and ensure that every student has equal access to all components of the District’s educational program.”
There will be an event for the Transgender Day of Remembrance Friday evening at the Oakland Peace Center at Fellowship Hall in Oakland.