With school options in Oakland expanding beyond neighborhood and even district schools, the school market has become more complex. School organizations nationwide, like Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), are looking to enhance the school choice experience for the benefit of their communities.

Summarizing from a presentation, Dr. Charles Wilson, the Executive Director for Enrollment and Portfolio Management at OUSD, shared with SchoolMint the concerns his district is facing, and how they’re moving forward. His key thoughts are below.

School choice can empower parents to choose the best education suited for their child. But many families lose the ability to participate in choice due to a lack of quality information and complicated, inefficient enrollment processes.

To promote equity and provide better access to high-quality school information for our community, we sought the help of technology. With new systems/processes, we believed we could bring the services to the families that need them most, on their own schedule.

Here’s how we’re addressing some of our biggest concerns…

Where we fear access to quality schools mirrors family privilege:

  • We’ve adopted an online & multilingual application and waitlist platform from SchoolMint. It’s vastly increased on-demand access to the enrollment process.
  • We’re giving more timely support to the families that need additional assistance:

Where slow and opaque analysis of data was preventing the timely address of inequalities:

  • We’re applying longitudinal and demographic analyses of fill rate and persistence to help schools better serve historically disadvantaged populations.
  • We’re using waitlists to increase diversity in placements through frequent monitoring of fill rate & persistence.

Where static policies were reflecting and reinforcing historic inequities:

  • We’re using a lottery algorithm that’s more adaptable to changing enrollment priorities.
  • We’re using lottery sandboxes to test pragmatic “what if…” outcome analyses offline.
  • We’re exploring where resource allocation (e.g. transportation to support integration efforts) can become more flexible & responsive.

Before, enrollment was treated as an operational function. Now, we’ve united enrollment and portfolio management as tools for reform & social justice:

  • Feeder pattern and cohort cohesion can be more easily analyzed and addressed more quickly.
  • Program design and location can become increasingly data-driven.
  • Historic enrollment data and long-range projections are now more closely tied to portfolio decisions.
  • Portfolio decisions balance principles with sustainability.

With SchoolMint, we’ve created an easily accessible, online, multilingual application process for our community. As a result, we’re creating a tighter relationship between families and schools, providing our families with a better, more equitable experience with enrollment, and introducing families to schools they might have never considered.

Before SchoolMint’s implementation, OUSD was getting a response rate of less than 50%. But this year (2019), we had an 84% response rate to offers before the accept/decline deadline. That’s an increase in on-time apps by 1,000 students (over the year prior). And after SchoolMint, in schools that serve mostly low-income families that don’t speak English, we found some of our highest levels of participation.

Of course those schools are doing an amazing job of supporting their families and teaching them about the new enrollment platform, but that is why building connection with families is important. With this new technology, families who previously were not able to communicate about or track their applications have a greater sense of ownership and clarity.

Thanks again to Dr. Wilson for sharing his guidance. OUSD is using a mix of Strategic Enrollment Management products from SchoolMint, including SchoolFinder, Application & Lottery Management, and Registration & Re-enrollment Management.

The full presentation from Dr. Wilson: Promoting Equity and Access for Families with the Help of Technology

Social Justice Case Study

Want more details on how OUSD is bringing social justice to education? Grab a copy of An Educator’s Blueprint for Building Social Justice for more on the district’s strategies and an in-depth case study.