Education in Oakland

Better Than You Think: Two Oakland Schools Surprise

Posted by novometro on September 5, 2006

Oakland Unified School District naturally sought to cast the student performance test scores released last week in the best possible light. Press releases from district HQ bore titles like “Oakland Most Improved Large School District on 2006 API.” Partisans of various pedagogical methods used the State Department of Education data to bolster their points of view: Charter schools are good. Charter schools are bad. Small academies work. Small academies fail. No surprise there.

But buried in the results from 123 schools is some unexpected news. No one would be shocked if Sobrante Park in East Oakland, or Santa Fe in North Oakland near the Emeryville border posted dismal scores. The two elementary schools serve mainly black and Latino students from poor families. At Santa Fe, for example 70 percent of students receive a free or reduced price lunch and only 9 percent of parents have a college degree. Nothing determines academic success so much as the education level of one’s parents. Yet, Sobrante Park’s nearly 300 students boasted some of the most impressive gains in Oakland Unified, raising the school’s Academic Performance Index (API) 69 points from 660 to 729. Santa Fe halted a two-year freefall by recording a score of 645, a gain of 33 points over the previous year.

Kerry Hammil, the school board member who represents Santa Fe’s district, had this to say: “There is indeed something impressive going on at Sante Fe School. They have absorbed hundreds of additional students in the last few years because of neighboring schools that have closed…all of their new students have come from schools with a lower (test scores) than Sante Fe.”

Of course, there is still a long way to go. Hillcrest, the best elementary school in Oakland by the reckoning of the California Department of Education, has an API of 957. Three out of four parents at that school have a graduate degree, and only one student receives a free lunch. But what’s going on at Sobrante Park and Santa Fe? We’d love to hear from parents, teachers, students, or anyone with a take on why these schools are improving in the face of considerable challenges.


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