Letters for the Week of December 11

Readers sound off on charter schools in Oakland and Oakland's surveillance center.

“Oakland Needs A Moratorium On Charter Schools,” Seven Days, 11/27

Charters Serve All Students

To say we are disappointed by this opinion piece is an understatement.

Charter schools located in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) are a bright spot in a community served by public schools that for far too long have not served students and their families well. It is true that, over the past few years, the number of charter schools in Oakland has increased dramatically to serve more than 25 percent of public school students in the district. And the reason for this is simple: Families are choosing charters because they are getting outstanding academic results for their students.

Charter schools in Oakland serve all students. In fact, because charter schools are designed to offer innovative educational strategies, they are uniquely situated to provide individualized support to meet the needs of students with disabilities and other challenges. The percentage of students with special needs served by a charter school however, largely depends on whether or not a charter school has the flexibility and access to funding necessary to run its own special education programs.

According to the most recent academic performance results released by the California State Department of Education (CDE), on average, charter schools in OUSD outperform OUSD traditional public schools by 52 API points, averaging a 780 API to the district average of 728. These same charter schools are also outperforming with every key subgroup, including African-American, Latino, English learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

There are currently 32 charter schools authorized by OUSD. Of those, sixteen schools have left the district’s Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) to gain the necessary access to special education programmatic flexibility. The result: Those schools now serve more than 8 percent special needs population. The schools that remain in the district SELPA serve a lower percentage of students with special needs, but that is explained by the fact that, under the current arrangement, the district is ultimately responsible for student placement decisions. Unfortunately, due to financial and logistical considerations, the placement option offered by the district is often back at the same traditional school site that the family was trying to leave. The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) is working on behalf of and with Oakland charter schools to negotiate a more flexible arrangement. In the meantime, we encourage you to read more about what charter schools are doing in the area of special education, by visiting our website: CalCharters.org/advocacy/special-education-adv/.

The facts are inescapable: Oakland students deserve an excellent education, and their parents have made their voices heard by asserting that they want to send their kids to the best schools available. And those schools are charter public schools. 

Jed Wallace, President and CEO, California Charter Schools Association, Sacramento

Well-Meaning Robbers

I have lived in Oakland since 1982 and have watched public school funding be decimated by the charter school movement in the last decade. Granted, these are technically public schools. But they function not as a commons as public education is meant to, but as well-meaning robbers of the common pool of money for educating all of our kids. Thank you, Mr. Gammon, for raising this. I can only hope that the pendulum will swing soon and we can roll up our sleeves and struggle with appropriate funding questions instead of, in effect, seceding from the struggle.

Carolyn Edwards, Oakland

Charters Are A Band-Aid

Why can’t we use the state/federal money that is building/funding charter schools to build better traditional public schools and rejuvenate communities? This way all students would get a better education, not just the ones lucky enough to get into a charter school. Children that are left in failing traditional public schools are not getting an equal and fair chance to succeed academically. I understand that choice is relevant, but the students left at the failing schools do not have a choice. Charter schools are a band-aid for the larger issue — socioeconomic disparities in urban areas like Oakland. The school reflects the neighborhood; the neighborhood does not reflect the school.

Della Gleason, San Leandro

Gaming the System

Mr. Gammon rightly points out the inequities that are becoming apparent in the charter school movement as it scales up. Whenever public funds are put in private hands, you can expect this kind of gaming of the system. Although there are several charter operators who do attempt to take a similar population to that of OUSD, many have significant outside funding to assist them.

The overall data on charters says that a small but significant number do better than the public schools they draw from. Their methods should be studied by anyone interested in quality education for all students. But 80 percent of charters do the same or worse than the regular public schools they draw students and funding from. Placing a moratorium on new charters in areas like Oakland and Los Angeles is a good interim step while we examine what’s working and what’s not.

Douglas Appel, Regional UniServ Director, California Teachers Association, Oakland

“Oakland Surveillance Contractor Lied On Official Documents,” News, 11/27

Problem Is Trust, Not Contractor

When city officials can’t be trusted to enforce the very clear nuclear weapon ordinance, how can they expect to be trusted to follow the much more discretionary data privacy rules? Picking a different design and construction vendor doesn’t address that problem.

Len Raphael, Oakland

Waste of Time and Money

[The surveillance center is a] huge waste of time and money, and the money will not even circulate within the Oakland community. Oakland’s problems are economic, not based on a lack of surveillance.

Brent Hopkins, Oakland

“Transphobia,” Feature, 11/20

Unsung Warriors

As a member of and the medical assistant for TransVision I want to personally thank you for writing this article and bringing awareness to the trans issues here in the Bay Area and not just in the city. We are the unsung warriors of all trans-related issues on this side of the bay and we need to let the Bay Area know that we are here and ready to serve our community.

Janet Halfin, Oakland


Our December 4 cover story, “Measuring Food Waste,” mistakenly stated that Berkeley Natural Grocery is on Shattuck Avenue, when, in fact, it is on Gilman Street. The author of the report also checked the store’s dumpster on Gilman.


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