Is Oakland’s school choice system fair? UC Berkeley researchers take a hard look
By Ashley McBride
The public school choice system in Oakland, which enables families to look at the nearly 120 schools across the city and choose the one they think is best for their kids, is meant to even the playing field. Instead of being restricted to the closest school, which may have fewer resources or not fit their child’s needs, families in lower-income neighborhoods can have access to the same public schools as wealthier families.
But new research from UC Berkeley computer scientists examining the Oakland Unified School District system questions whether that’s really happening. And it asks hard questions about how the current approach might be entrenching inequalities instead of fighting them.
Researchers Samantha Robertson, Tonya Nguyen, and Niloufar Salehi set out to study the resources OUSD provides to families to evaluate schools—the school maps showing which programs exist at which schools, and the data dashboards detailing metrics like graduation rates and standardized test scores—to see how they could be improved, especially for low-income families of color in Oakland. They concluded that schools and districts should invest more in employees who understand families’ needs and have deep knowledge about schools in Oakland, and who can help parents and caregivers choose the best school for them.
Niloufar Salehi is an assistant professor in the School of Information and EECS. Tonya Nguyen is an I School Ph.D. student.