Oakland, San Francisco Schools Failing Students

Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, December 17, 2010

When it comes to the public schools, Bay Area parents rarely illustrate the strident, progressive beliefs they apply to most political and social issues.

The phrase limousine liberal is not complimentary, but on this issue, it’s a glove that fits a little too well.

Because whether it’s fueled by economic privilege or simply a matter of choice, the rate at which Bay Area parents, regardless of ethnicity, send their children to private schools has historically been higher than most other places in the country, say researchers who have studied the issue.

And at inner-city schools, that migration has translated into an exodus of white students from the public school systems in both Oakland and San Francisco.

Similar numbers are reflected in school districts in Stockton and Sacramento as well.

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“Separate has never meant equal in this country, and we’re seeing the legacy of that because when you segregate, these typical patterns usually follow,” said Janelle Scott, an assistant professor of education at UC Berkeley. She has researched school choice as it pertains to civil rights, race and equity.

Often against stiff resistance, San Francisco has made attempts to re-distribute students across district schools by offering parents a choice and establishing magnet schools for students whose first language is Mandarin, Cantonese or Japanese. The district also created a “diversity index” based on nine ethnic and cultural variables.

In Oakland, a city of nearly 400,000 residents whose population is nearly one-third Caucasian, the issue is even more dramatic. Officials estimate there are 70,000 school-aged children living in Oakland. But only 39,000 kids are enrolled in the public school system. Ninety-five percent of the enrollees are students of color.

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For the current academic year, there are 92 white public high school seniors in the district’s graduating class of more than 3,400 students.

Historically, by the time Oakland students reach high school, the Caucasian student population is cut in half, to about 3 percent of the district’s overall student population, said Troy Flint, a spokesman for the Oakland Unified School District.

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It would be unfair to blame parents for merely trying to find the best education possible for their children, because that’s one of the main duties of a responsible parent.

It’s also the duty of Oakland schools to provide a reasonable assortment of education choices for students, and that’s not happening in an equitable way across the district.

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