The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club believes that no institution is more important to the promotion of a vibrant democracy than public education which, as you know, has been under attack in this country for decades and that attack has come in many forms, including promulgating charters in large numbers.
As a result of the state takeover, Oakland became the guinea pig for school restructuring in which many of our public schools were turned over to charter organizations. When this experiment first started, there was some hope in the new forms of schooling; many homegrown models were tried and a few succeeded.
However, under state control, we saw charter conversion expand in a way that has weakened many of our neighborhood schools while recent studies have shown that charters, in and of themselves, do not improve educational outcomes. In addition, they reduce transparency and stability in the school community and often pull resources from the neediest students.
After years of state experimentation many of our schools, particularly the high and middle schools, have been churned in turmoil set in motion by the District itself. For instance, Castlemont High School was broken up and then put back together, albeit, haphazardly.
We understand that now the District is proposing more radical changes for half of our high schools, one middle school and one elementary school- McClymonds, Castlemont, Fremont, Frick Middle School and Brookfield Elementary School. The proposal to remake these important institutions has left the Oakland community confused, disheartened, and angry. No one knows what it really means; is the District prepared to abandon its responsibility for these troubled schools and turn over half of our high schools to charter companies or something else entirely?
We hope that the unfolding process will quash these fears, but we think that the school board needs to declare some basic guarantees now-1) that none of these schools will be turned into charters and 2) that the District apply a slow, deliberate and transparent process since these school communities-parents, students, and teachers-have already suffered too much.
These conditions are basic to restoring trust in our local governing board. We expect this board to go above and beyond sitting on the dais and listening to speakers from the community. What is really necessary during these troubling times, is leadership that reaches out to the whole city and brings us into the process. We suggest utilizing local media in all forms, holding community meetings in your district, and offering better ways to proceed than the traditional labyrinthine process that has infected our school community with distrust for so long.
The Coordinating Committee of the Wellstone Club