Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: System Reforms

Over the past year, Oakland has made progress in improving the choice process for families and in reaching out to the community for input on large initiatives. However, no progress has been made on improving transportation and while new strategies are in place to improve school portfolio decisions and teacher fit, both remain challenges.


Is the education system continuously improving?


Do schools have the resources they need? School improvement happens at the school level, but making sure resources are available requires sound, citywide policy. Having the right talent in a city is critical for schools to be able to provide students with a quality education. Schools should also have control over their budgets so they have the resources to address the needs of their student population.


► Do schools have the kinds of leaders they need?

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) started the school year with no reported principal vacancies, an improvement over past years. To recruit leaders who are representative of their students, OUSD educates community members about credentialing opportunities, hosts job fairs, and invests in “Grow Your Own” pipelines that recruit local talent. The district also has MOUs with local universities. Larger charter networks have developed their own leadership programs, but smaller charters, without pipelines or money, struggle to attract and retain school leaders.


► Do schools have the kinds of teachers they need?

District interviewees reported that over the past several years, OUSD has reduced the number of vacancies at the start of the year. The district has focused on attracting more Latino candidates so teachers are representative of the city’s students. Strategies include an applicant tracking system, local and international job fairs, drop-in coaching for interested candidates, and monthly credential sessions. Charter leaders report that charter schools do not collaborate around talent and that smaller schools struggle to recruit qualified applicants from a limited applicant pool. The high cost of living in the Bay Area, especially with housing, poses a challenge for both sectors around recruiting and keeping teachers. Local education partner, Educate 78, has carried forward the work of the cross-sector Equity Pledge to create a database of talent data so schools can better anticipate vacancies and identify recruitment needs. The initiative started under previous district leadership but because of the placement fees, the district is not currently participating while they assess their budget.

Little in Place

► Does funding equitably follow students?

District money does not flow to district schools through a student-based allocation formula (based on an analysis of fiscal year 2017-18). California education is financed by the Local Control Funding Formula, which provides additional funding to districts for each low-income student, English language learner, and foster youth and requires districts to use those funds to increase and improve services for high-need students. OUSD attempts to supplement some school budgets through an additional allocation based on “Z-score,” a measure of student population need. But with projected large budget shortfalls, OUSD will need to find ways to ensure these students are better served. OUSD has made its accounting data publicly available on its website.

The city’s most recent two parcel taxes (Measure N in 2014 and Measure G1 in 2016) have included charter school students. There is still an ongoing dispute about charter school student access to a prior parcel tax, Measure G.

Is the education strategy rooted in the community?


Is the whole community engaged? Education is a citywide endeavor. When families, community organizations, and city leaders have the opportunity to provide feedback and share in the vision, the strategy is more likely to be sustainable and meet the needs of all students. In this goal, we look at how well the city is doing with engaging key stakeholders.


► Are a variety of groups engaged in education?

Community leaders report that several community groups and nonprofits are actively engaged in the education strategy, including grassroots organizations that partner with families from low-performing schools. The city has both anti-charter and pro-charter organizations, but a growing number of organizations are governance-neutral and focused on school quality. A new parent-led organization, The Oakland REACH, trains district and charter school parents to advocate for better school quality. GO Public Schools launched 1Oakland, a campaign attempting to bridge the sectors through alumni, educators, and parents from both systems, and calling on education leaders to build a system of schools that serves all students.


► Does the education system respond to community feedback?

Policymakers and education leaders prioritize community engagement, but the perception among community groups has been that a few vocal groups and individuals drive discussions, and OUSD only responds under pressure. In interviews, community groups expressed the hope that engagement used for the rollout of the Blueprint for Quality Schools could be used for other district initiatives. For the Blueprint, the district led full-day retreats and local school meetings about facilities, school quality, and feeder patterns. But some participants felt that even though this was a robust process, a loud minority still dominated. Charter school staff and families were not included in the first round of conversations, though they may be in the future.


► Does the city engage families in educational decisions that impact them?

The Blueprint for Quality Schools, which is expected to be passed at the end of the 2017-18 school year, has created a process for families to engage on how OUSD will manage its portfolio of schools, from openings to closings. Over this past year, interviewees reported that the district navigated a school consolidation in West Oakland by focusing the conversation on improving student outcomes. As the system weighs school consolidations and potential closures, there is an opportunity to move beyond engagement toward actual empowerment of impacted families—for example, weighted preference in nearby high-performing schools. A local nonprofit has also been working with the community to incorporate input into new schools and redesigns, but these processes have not yet been formalized. For charter school openings and closings, securing approval of a charter petition in Oakland requires well-documented and highly vocal support from families who wish to enroll. Family engagement with charter school closures have been mixed, based on the approach of the operator.


► Is there a strong and deep coalition of support for the education strategy?

Superintendent Johnson-Trammell has broad support in the community and in the local media. There is general sympathy from the community over the $9 to $15 million shortfall she inherited. The mayor is active in education. She backs the Oakland Promise, a cradle to career investment in Oakland youth, and is supporting a parcel tax for November 2018 that supports this initiative and increased access to high-quality preschool education.

Do students have access to a high-quality education?


Do school choice and supply meet family needs? This goal addresses how well the city is doing with providing families access to quality schools. We look at what the city is doing to ensure quality schools are in every neighborhood, and how well the choice process is working for families who want to use it.


► Does the school supply represent an array of models?

Oakland has a variety of public school models, including Waldorf, personalized learning, STEM, dual language, arts, and military focus. However, interviewees reported that some models, like dual language, offer no full pathways from elementary to high school, which causes problems for families. Since 2014-15, new charter schools have been either single-site charters or part of small, local networks; some charter leaders worry that a preference for homegrown charter schools prevents high-quality national operators from opening in Oakland. In a survey from spring 2017, 50% of families reported that academic programs varied a great deal among schools, but 49% still reported that finding a school with a good fit was a challenge.


► Is the enrollment process working for families?

In 2016-17, Oakland charter schools, advocacy organizations, and funders collectively launched Enroll Oakland, an enrollment platform that streamlines the application process to one for district schools and one for most charters. In 2017-18, the charter enrollment system was further updated to eliminate holding seats by introducing a single-accept system. Some charters are starting to adapt their enrollment policies to hold seats for midyear arrivals like unaccompanied minors and refugees. CRPE conducted a survey in spring 2017 before the updates were in place, and found that charter families struggled much more than district families with understanding school eligibility (42% of charter school families reported it as a challenge versus 30% of district families) and navigating multiple applications (28% of charter families versus 16% of district families).


► Do families have the information they need and know how to use it?

Enroll Oakland provides school information for nearly all district and charter schools in an interactive, online school finder that includes information about curriculum and school programs. In 2017-18, the system added school performance information. However, the online tool lacks information about the specific special education services offered at each school. Interviewed community members said that underserved communities, non-English-speaking parents, and parents of children with special needs require more support to know how to use the information tools. A recent survey in Oakland showed that over 70% of families still rely on word of mouth when considering school choices.

Little in Place

► Is transportation working for families?

Oakland has no school busing system for students attending nonassigned neighborhood district or charter schools. Free transportation is guaranteed to students with special needs, but all other families must pay for public transportation or drive their children to school. Interviewed community members said that this resulted in many low-income families being limited to the options in their neighborhood. Despite the lack of a strategy, families in our survey reported information as a bigger challenge than transportation. 35% of surveyed charter school families reported transportation as being a challenge, versus 30% of district families.

Little in Place

Is the city strategically managing its school portfolio?

OUSD publishes detailed regional supply and demand data via annual Strategic Regional Analysis reports, but interviewees reported that this data is not used to inform school siting decisions or school consolidations and closures. Some schools are overenrolled and could be replicated, while many other schools have unsustainable low enrollment. Even though OUSD is the city’s principal charter authorizer, it cannot always strategically site new charters because of facility constraints and state authorizing law, which does not allow authorizers to deny charter applications based on location alone. Our interviews revealed a perception that charter schools open where space is available, not necessarily where they are needed most. Many education leaders also perceive that the current fiscal crisis is due in part to OUSD’s inability to close underenrolled and underperforming schools because of community pushback. The district’s Blueprint for Quality Schools is a step in the right direction toward building a coherent plan for facility, feeder pattern, and school supply decisions; the key will be to use the plan and criteria to guide decisions.

Data & Scoring

Where did we get this information?

► Interviews with district, charter, and community leaders

► Policy documents from district, charter, and state websites

► School data from each city

► A 400-parent survey administered in March, 2017 in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Washington, D.C.

How did we score the
system reforms and goals?

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. See the Methodology & Resources page for details.

Score Levels


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.