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Opinion Editorial from Jorge Lerma and Dr. Clifford Thompson, OUSD Board Members

 

As much as we, as two school board members, hate to admit it, our school system is failing the kids of Oakland

It sounds crazy, but school boards across our country – including our own at Oakland Unified School District – have gotten so bogged down with requests to take political positions on matters that occur far beyond the classroom, we’ve become distracted from our most essential mission: to educate our kids inside the classroom.

And no one suffers more from our failures than our young Black and Brown students and families.

In April, the local parent-empowerment group Families in Action published a report that showed the data in stark clarity: Just 50% of Oakland’s Black and Brown graduating seniors had completed their “A-G requirements” needed to enter college.

Now, that’s a reason to protest and shut down our next school board meeting.

A system that perpetually graduates Black and Brown students without giving them the basic reading and math skills to help them become curious and capable adults is doomed to repeat the cycle of generational poverty and violence that plagues too many of our zip codes today.

For us to stand by and watch this pattern continue year after year in Oakland without taking action wouldn’t just make us complicit in upholding systemic racism, it would make us the architects.

But there is hope, and there is a clear path forward.

Family in Action’s report also shone a light on the schools that are making progress on increasing college readiness and math and reading proficiency – and many of those schools are in Oakland’s most underserved neighborhoods.

At Lighthouse Community School in Deep East Oakland, 90% of their Black and Brown students were college ready this year. At Madison Park Academy in the Sobrante Park neighborhood, just 21% of Black students had completed their A-G requirements in 2022, but with focused interventions and a ferocious commitment to improve, raised that rate to 66% in 2023.

If some schools can excel, then we know all schools can excel. We also know that if we stay united and laser-focused on academic achievement – as board members, principals, teachers and parents – then we can increase academic achievement in every school across our city.

And that benefits all students and families in Oakland. It will help break the cycles of poverty and violence and build us a safer city. It will foster a city of young, educated residents who grow to serve and nourish Oakland for generations to come.

That’s why my colleague and I wrote the “Resolution to Advance Black and Brown Achievement,” which, if passed by our fellow board members on Wednesday, will help us all stay on track for improved academic achievement.

The resolution sets real goals:

  • Increase the current A-G proficiency rate for Oakland’s Black and Brown students from 50% districtwide to 80% by the year 2034
  • Double OUSD’s math proficiency rate for Black and Brown students from 13% to 26% by 2034.
  • Double OUSD’s ELA proficiency rate for Black and Brown students from its current 21% to 42% by the year 2034

And it holds us accountable. It calls on district administrators to regularly update the board on the progress we’ve made so we can uplift our successes, or we can pivot away from our failures.

But most of all, the resolution underscores a message to our entire community: We are all in this together.

After a successful vote at the school board, we will ask our colleagues at the Oakland City Council to embrace the resolution too.

Every one of Oakland’s children – and particularly our Black and Brown kids – need to see we are all invested in their success.

Most of all, they need us to raise expectations in the classroom right now, because if we do, they will make greater contributions to Oakland later.

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