The Oakland story

Is Oakland, California, a troubled school district trying to reform, a National Model or Temporary Opportunity? A Center for Education Reform study by writer Joe Williams questions whether Oakland’s progress will continue. Oakland is the most improved large district in the state, but still scores well below the state average.

“Without question, the Oakland school district has made some dramatic improvements in recent years,” said Jeanne Allen, CER president and leading authority on school reform. “But those improvements have been dependent on people, not the substantive, statutory reforms that can outlive personnel changes.”

The report finds Oakland didn’t start to change until the state took control, stripping the elected school board of power. The state-appointed manager, Randy Ward, used the prospect of charter schools to gain “an upper hand in negotiations with teachers and central office staff,” concludes CER.

Although the success of charters for some of the city’s most poor had been ignored by many in the district, their existence fueled the move to restructure and create smaller schools which had a positive effect on student achievement.

Despite his success, Ward didn’t have the local political support to survive in the job. His successor also left after a year.

The state has handed some control back to the district.

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