Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Uncommon Enrollment: “School Choice” in lieu of “School Improvement”

Uncommon Enrollment: “School Choice” in lieu of “School Improvement”

Because I am now a declared candidate for Oakland Unified School Board member in District 1, I have decided to pay more attention to this blog.

And I start with “a fix in search of a problem” and “a problem begging for a fix.”

The problem is enrollment.

At a recent forum, two current school board members, including the one I am running against, talked to us about a vague proposal called “Common Enrollment.”  This is the “fix in search of a problem.”

Some of us raised our hands and spoke about the confusion that is called the current enrollment system.  More than a couple of us as parents had filled in applications for our children, only to find out that they had been lost and not entered into the “lottery” that passes for school choice in Oakland.

Other simple problems, such as not being able to file enrollment in the schools themselves, were also brought up by a few parents.

So I asked a simple question:  Will the school board hold a hearing on the difficulties with the current setup?

The answer was “good question” and the real answer is "No."

A public consultation about what the current parents, teachers and administrators would like to see in an enrollment system is also apparently not in the works in any real way.  Maybe something happens somewhere, but my son’s school has not sent me any invitation to anything such as this.  Nor has anyone else, unless there was some fine print I missed.

So here is the proverbial cart before the horse called “Common Enrollment.” Do not confuse this with the English words “common” and “enrollment.”  This is more of a Policy and/or a brand name with a whopping price tag.  It also comes with a strange feature that attaches the charter schools to the OUSD-managed schools on an opt-in basis decided by the charter schools.

If this sounds a bit one-way in favor of the charter schools, well, it probably is, and entirely so if they do not have to pay for it.  Some parents and teachers are concerned that Common Enrollment is a way to make it easier for students to leave normal public schools and go to charters.  They are probably right about that.

The idea that we make less of a mess of all this has its merits.  As one teacher pointed out at the public forum, the late-minute changes during the first weeks of school are very destructive to getting the teacher-parent community off to a good start.  The idea that neither the public nor the charter schools should be trapping in any parents or making it hard to prefer a school of either types also has its merits.  These are schools, not consumer speed traps.

Common Enrollment is offering us “school choice” in lieu of “school improvement.”  The idea that we shop for schools the way we pick out a restaurant has been taken too far.

Why would any parent, including myself, want to send their child to anywhere other than the local school?  This is the question and this is the problem to solve.  A better system to use computers to jump from a sinking ship is hardly a progressive solution.

Trying to make sure local schools have what the parents and students are looking elsewhere to find would be a much better problem to begin to fix.

Looking at all the options for running a school district enrollment process should include more than one group trying to make a sale.  There are other software packages out there.  I would like to see if there is not one that also integrates keeping student, parent and volunteer records in a systematic way, maybe that includes a district wide ID card.  (Oakland has a municipal ID card; maybe we could use that?)

But this Wednesday we will not be looking at what the parents and teachers think needs to be done to create an improved enrollment system.

We will not be looking at what other school districts do, nor how they do it integrates with their general computer database systems.

What we will be looking at is basically a sales presentation printout of a slide show.

If there is a business proposal on the table, such as a proposed contract from the Common Enrollment people who will charge us to use their “algorithms,” it was not attached to the “report” on the OUSD board meeting website.

And a discussion about why parents are not finding their neighborhood school good enough, well, I do not think this concern is on the schedule either.  Not yet.