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Creative Cities: Oakland

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Social justice advocates have been working in Oakland for 20 years. Recently, they've been joined by reformers, talent developers, school networks, and investors seeking an affordable Bay Area hub.

A district on the move. For two decades Oakland has been the focus of education reform efforts and expenditures. The state took control of the district in 2003 to resolve fiscal insolvency. Superintendent Tony Smith, a veteran of Bay Area reforms, joined the district three years ago and has continued improvements that make Oakland the most progressive urban district in California.

Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) aims to make a high quality "full service community school" -- schools that provide enrichment, serve as a community center, and connect families to health services -- available to every family. OUSD offers free or reduced-cost preschool for students at 29 locations across the city. Brigitte Marshall, Associate Superintendent, leads efforts to inculcate "The Oakland Way" by "recruiting teachers that look like our students, are local, and have a commitment to community."

Blended networks. Three years ago KnowledgeWorks, a nonprofit rarity, acquired New Tech Network and opened an office in Oakland. The airport and BART make downtown Oakland the most accessible and affordable location in the Bay Area. It didn't hurt that CEO Lydia Dobyns attended Oakland High, loved the reform energy, and wanted to be part of rebuilding a great city. The 120 school network is the first platform-centric school network and is powered by Echo, a project-based learning management system.

Leadership Public Schools, a four-high-school network based in Oakland, used collaborative and distributed innovation to create blended learning environments and tools including FlexMath and ExitTicket, a classroom assessment and competency tracking system. Envision is another four-high-school, project-based network headquartered in Oakland; its consulting division helps others schools deploy rigor, relevance, and relationships to get the same kind of results.

With 34 schools serving 12,000 K-12 students in nine California cities, Aspire Public Schools is the state's top-performing, large, high-poverty school system. In 2010, 2011, and 2012, 100 percent of Aspire's graduating seniors were accepted to four-year colleges. They developed the data management platform Schoolzilla but were initially reluctant to mess with success.

Last year they piloted blended learning classrooms with EdElements. Heather Kirkpatrick said, "Overall, the pilots were a great success, student achievement increased in both ELA and math, classroom instruction changed in innovative ways, teachers felt their work was more sustainable, and culturally the blended learning classrooms still 'screamed Aspire.'" As a result, they plan to open 10 blended learning schools in Memphis over the next five years.

Donors making a difference. The Rogers Family Foundation is filling an East Bay map with school improvement and blended learning pilot projects.

When New Schools Venture Fund announced their move to Oakland from San Francisco early in 2012 it became obvious that Oakland had emerged as an edreform and innovation hub. The move spurred Creative Cities, our blog series considering why and how innovations occur in learning cluster in some cities.

Attracting talent. Education Pioneers places graduate students in school districts. CEO Scott Morgan said, "We're excited about the entrepreneurial energy in Oakla -- it's one of the main reasons our national headquarters is there." EdPioneers is making a difference in its hometown with more than 70 Pioneers working in OUSD, 11 in charters, and more than 20 in local edtech companies.

Tracy Session directs Teach For America (TFA) contributions in Oakland. TFA members and alumni have played a prominent role in new school development.

Advocates and options. Oakland is home to EdTrust West, the Calif. affiliate that is known by edequality advocates for exposing gaps and advancing disaggregated data and gap-closing strategies.

Great Oakland Public Schools advocates for quality public school options. The Oakland Charter School Collaborative is the local affiliate of The California Charter School Association supporting the 55 charters in Alameda County.

Oakland families are also served by California Virtual Academy and Connections Education through local virtual charters, a Calif. anachronism limiting digital opportunity by county lines.

Like San Francisco, a large percentage of East Bay students attend private schools including 20,000 served by the Diocese of Oakland.

Partnerships. The Computer Science department at Berkeley is one of several that creates connections and advanced academic options for Oakland kids.

While Oakland lacks the edtech startup energy across the bay, the East side has become a national reform and innovation hub.

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