Citywide Education Progress Report


Key Takeaways: June 2018

Over the past year, Oakland has simplified enrollment and started developing a multiyear plan to reconfigure the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) through the Blueprint for Quality Schools. However, the district’s ongoing budget crisis and threat of state receivership present immediate concerns. OUSD must reduce central office spending and will need to consolidate, improve, or close underenrolled and underperforming schools while still focusing on improving outcomes. This is a severe challenge, but presents an opportunity to reset how OUSD and schools are managed. Another key step is to improve family involvement in reform efforts so policies don’t falter from community pushback, as they have in the past.


System Reforms

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Right leaders Good  
Right teachers Developing  
Equitable funding Little in Place

Is the education strategy
rooted in the community?

Variety of groups Good
Broad support Developing
System is responsive Developing
City engages families Developing

Do students have access
a high-quality education?

Array of school models Good
Enrollment is working Good
Families have information Good
Transportation is working Little in Place
Strategic school supply Little in Place

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

Developing a clear plan to address Oakland’s financial woes

OUSD faces a major financial crisis, flat district enrollment, and underenrolled and underperforming schools. Addressing all of this will require district action. OUSD should also reassess central office spending and increase schools’ flexibility over their own budgets on a weighted, per-pupil basis so school leaders, with training, can more nimbly address student needs. Through a coalition of engaged leaders, each sector can take responsibility for the financial crisis and the difficult decisions ahead to work together as a portfolio district. The Oakland School Board’s July decision to coordinate with the city’s charter schools is a promising step forward.

Combining strategy with data to close underenrolled schools and improve the school supply

Oakland needs a strong portfolio management strategy driven by school quality that oversees all city schools—district and charter—in a coordinated and strategic system. OUSD, with its many underenrolled schools, must be able to support strong schools while consolidating or closing low-performing schools. Over the past year, the district rolled out its Blueprint for Quality Schools process, using facility and school quality analyses intended to guide school portfolio decisionmaking. The district also passed a Community of Schools Policy to develop a citywide plan across district and charter schools to focus on quality, equity, and financial sustainability. The superintendent is charged with presenting a plan by November 15, 2018.

OUSD has long had good data in place, such as the annual Strategic Regional Analysis reports that identify school quality and enrollment trends across the city. But this data has not been used to improve access to quality schools. Interviewees in our study perceived that school closures are hampered by community pushback, and that new charter schools often open where space is available, rather than where they are most needed. There is tension in Oakland around school closures and authorizing new charter schools. OUSD should focus on right-sizing while hearing from communities about the types of school programs they need and want going forward. To address facility issues, OUSD might consider a real estate trust for school buildings or leasing empty buildings to growing community organizations on short-term contracts.

Shifting the conversation to address the needs of Oakland’s low-income families

Like a number of cities, Oakland struggles with a confluence of challenging education and societal issues: finances, school quality, growing income disparities, and inequity in schools. City education leaders want to give Oakland students—especially low-income students—access to great schools, but struggle with the practical and political challenges to get there: closing low-quality schools while incubating and opening high-quality ones, balancing the budget while maintaining needed student services, and addressing inequity within schools. Levelling the playing field while cutting the budget will be painful. City education leaders should be transparent about the need and tap a range of parent and community leaders to help shape and communicate the asks. Giving school leaders control over their budgets is one way to make sure cuts are made while protecting what is most valuable at each school.

Despite Oakland’s robust, cross-sector school choice resources, community leaders still report that many low-income families are unaware that they have a choice, need more support distinguishing school options, and/or simply don’t trust the system. To address choice equity, tailored supports to families can help: OUSD can use existing community groups, and funders can consider investing in parent groups that provide supports. District or community leaders should conduct surveys or focus groups to find other ways that resources can better meet family needs.


Parent-Led Group Pushes OUSD and Charters for Better Schools in Oakland

Oakland has an active and outspoken community when it comes to education, but not all voices have been well represented—especially families most impacted by low-performing schools. The Oakland REACH, a nonprofit parent-led group, has set out to change that.

Founded by an Oakland parent with children in both district and charter schools, The Oakland REACH’s mission is to give parents power with knowledge and tools to press for better schools in Oakland. Started in 2016 with a group of 50 parents identified by principals as those most likely to have frustrations about their schools, this grassroots effort trained these parents on the history of education in Oakland, civil rights, and current challenges.

Approximately 200 parents have been trained via this citywide, cross-sector advocacy fellowship. Many parents from that first group then talked with 1,700 parents at social services offices, malls, parks, rec centers, and on buses, educating them about school quality data and budget information. To date, parents have had over 3,000 1:1s with families in Oakland’s lowest-performing schools.

This “movement of parents” is making itself heard at OUSD board meetings, pushing for increased access to better school options for students in lower-performing schools. They are pushing OUSD on their Blueprint plan to make sure both district and charter schools will change their enrollment practices to provide better access and education for the families that are often left behind. The Oakland REACH cuts across the charter-district divide to put the focus on families and better schools.

Education Leaders Seek Cross-Sector Solutions to Talent Challenges

As part of a former citywide Equity Pledge begun under the previous superintendent, Oakland education leaders from the district and charter sectors set out to work together on strategies to attract and retain talented teachers, leaders, and staff. Results of this collaboration work include plans to host a citywide teacher recruiting event, a citywide website promoting teaching in Oakland, and a pilot outreach effort to recruit experienced teachers in high-need specializations (STEM, special education, ELL) for both sectors.

By anticipating vacancies and developing citywide recruitment strategies, Oakland is hoping to collaborate on common recruitment problems, such as the rising costs of housing.

Student and School Outcomes

Oakland has seen some improvement in student and school outcomes over time, but it lags behind state and national averages and disparities persist. Graduation rates have improved, but fall behind the state by 10 percentage points. Low-income students in the city are performing worse on assessments than their peers nationally, although this metric has improved somewhat over the past five years. Students are not proportionately enrolled in advanced math coursework in high school, indicating disparities in access to high-quality educational opportunities.

►In 2014-15, the city’s graduation rate improved relative to the state, but still lagged behind the state average.

► Students from low-income families in Oakland are performing somewhat worse in math and reading than low-income students in the average city. EEI scores in Oakland have improved by 2% over time.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. Graduation data from EDFacts, and performance data from the California Department of Education. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.


About Oakland

In 2009, California returned control of Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) to the locally elected school board. Since then, the district has pursued a variety of reform strategies. OUSD produced a citywide school finder, and in the past two years has streamlined the enrollment processes for district and charter schools. In May 2017, Kyla Johnson-Trammell became OUSD’s sixth superintendent in nine years. 

School Choice in the City

All of Oakland’s district and charter schools participate in open enrollment. Students who apply to district schools are assigned by default to a neighborhood district school, but they may apply to any school in the city. Students who apply to charter schools participate in those schools’ lotteries.

Governance Model

The OUSD school board oversees district schools and OUSD authorizes the majority of the charter schools in the city. The Alameda County Board of Education serves as the other primary charter authorizer. 

2017 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 49,600 students
Race and ethnicity: Hispanic 41%, black 26%, Other 22%, white 11%
Low-income: 73% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition


Note: Enrollment and demographics data for OUSD district schools and OUSD-authorized charter schools only.
Source: Oakland Unified School District and ED-Data, 2016-17.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.




The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email crpe@uw.edu.