Oakland Public Schools vs. Private School

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Disappointed with Oakland public kindergarten experience

Oct 2015

My daughter is a 1st-grader at Chabot in Oakland (we also have a preschooler). As parents, we love the school community at Chabot, but we have been bummed out this year by her very large class size (27!) and by the kinds of shaming, authoritarian behaviors we see teachers, librarians and yard monitors engaging in simply for the purposes of crowd control. (We are sympathetic, because we know the system is deeply flawed, and they are dealing with a lot. And yet it really bothers us that our daughter spent an entire 10-minute recess period the other day ''taking a knee'' - along with 200 other kids - because the yard monitor felt everyone had to be punished for the kindergarteners not following the rules about no running when it's time to line up. Another example: I volunteered in the library and the classroom yesterday, and I am just continually bothered by the amount of time the teachers have to spend - and the shaming, unkind tones of voice I hear them use - just to get everyone on the same page. So much time and energy appears to be spent getting everyone to line up, stand up, sit down, be quiet, etc. ''Did I say you could move yet? No, I didn't. Everyone back to their seats.'' Ah, the fascism of the large public school. Super depressing.)

So we have begun researching alternatives. We would love to stay in the public school system (OUSD) if possible (charters?), but we have also opened up to the idea of a private school, in Oakland or Berkeley. We are particularly interested in hearing more about schools that practice project-based learning in a major way. Our kids went to a Reggio preschool, and we love that philosophy.

I'm also interested in hearing from parents whose kids experienced both public, ''traditional'' school and some kind of private/alternative school. I sometimes wonder if I'm just kidding myself and that there will be some element of authoritarianism at many, many schools. Any other parents of kids at other OUSD schools care to comment on whether this stuff happens at your school? Maybe our school is actually not so bad, in the grand scheme of things? (For instance, I have yet to hear any of the teachers YELL at the kids, which was not all that unusual back when I was a kid.) But I have no point of comparison. And I feel like it's so freakin' hard to wade through the marketing speak on schools' websites or even to tell much from brief school tours. So any BPN'ers who have dealt with or thought about this and might have some insights or experience to share... it will be received with huge gratitude! Thank you in advance. Uggggggh

Oh gosh. That sounds extreme. I would be very upset with this kind of discipline, and can absolutely say that this is not acceptable at our school (Redwood Day). If private school is an option (and there is a good deal of financial aid available), I would highly encourage you to look at Redwood Day and some of the other progressive private schools. Redwood Day really focuses on both academics and social emotional development - it's actually quite inspiring to watch how confident, kind, generous, and excited about learning the kids are. I absolutely understand the constraints public schools have with limited staff and a huge student body, but if it's an option for you, there are amazing private school options out there that very fortunately are able to use positive discipline and exciting curriculum. RDS Parent

I know EXACTLY what you are talking about. We live in the Chabot neighborhood and chose not to go there for various reasons, despite the fact that it is a much loved and highly sought after school within OUSD. What I've realized is that what people mean when they say a school is ''great'' isn't necessarily what I mean by that. Our older child went to a small K-5 progressive school in Oakland, and we LOVED it. For financial reasons, we had to move our younger son to a public school last year. He went to a very popular Oakland charter school, and while it had many wonderful qualities and a great community of families, we were disappointed to encounter exactly what you are describing. Lots of shaming language and tone, SO much time spent on classroom and behavior management -- it was incredibly tedious, and just an overall lack of joy. We have moved him back to the private, progressive school this year, and we couldn't be happier. The learning going on there is amazing, the culture of kindness is evident and pervasive in everything the students and teachers do, and it's just a joyful, happy place. So, yes, what you are looking for does exist. I'm sure you will hear a lot from other parents about how they love their public school, and I know there are wonderful teachers and great public schools everywhere, but I think you may continue to find that way of talking to students and that punitive and shaming style of discipline in one form or another at many of them. I'm happy to share more about our experiences with you directly. Feel free to ask the moderator for my contact information if you'd like to talk further.

I have one school recommendation for you: Walden. No shaming, blaming, only respect for each child. Small class sizes—my daughter's academic classes were no larger than 8—and not surprisingly in this atmosphere students flourish and develop their intellectual and social strengths fearlessly. Now that my daughter is in middle school, I notice the differences between those kids who have been through a punitive, ''traditional discipline'' school experience and kids who have been in a respectful classroom environment. l I find Walden kids remarkable for their ability to self-regulate, their academic curiosity, and their emotional intelligence. Grateful

We have been at Peralta for many years and while we also have to deal with large class sizes, what you describe at recess (everyone taking a knee for 10 minutes because of a few students' transgressions) would NEVER happen there. So be careful of lumping all OUSD schools together. We certainly have teachers and other adults who speak sternly and are considered ''strict,'' but the overall feeling at Peralta is one of warmth and caring. But I'm not trying to sell Peralta because I think you can address this situation at Chabot and improve it for everyone. Chabot has lots and lots going for it (we know several families there) and it seems to me this is a one-off situation that the administration at Chabot would want to work out. ''Throwing the baby out with the bathwater'' is the phrase that comes to mind--leaving a perfectly good school because of one negative aspect. Certainly other schools can offer smaller class sizes, but there are downsides to all schools, whether it be price tag, commute, lack of offerings, or class size. So my advice is to stick with Chabot, where you know your child will receive a good education, and let the administration know you will not tolerate the punitive atmosphere. Large classrooms can be successful without yelling and punishment and it happens every day at the school that I'm not trying to sell you. Oakland mom

I would encourage you to visit Park Day School in Oakland. From what you describe, I think you'll have a completely different experience at this fantastic private school. My kids have gone there for 7 years and we feel like it is totally worth going private for what our kids get there. Very project-based, small classes (ie half of what you mentioned), and a devotion to progressive education. I'd recommend reading Tom Little's book, ''Loving Learning'' to understand what progressive education means on a deep level, and hear how it's being accomplished at Park Day (the author was the exceptionally visionary, long-time Head of the school). At Park Day, the children's social/emotional development is just as important as other kinds of learning, and crowd control is not the issue. Blossoming minds and hearts is the focus. Best of luck in your search.

I understand your quandary. My children were in a combination of public and private schools and I teach in a private school. In my experience teachers in private schools have a very different style of respectful interaction with students than those in public schools. Of course not every teacher in public school is shaming or harsh, we had many great teachers however the framework of institutional expectations were often harsh/punitive in style. In private schools we have been in there is a more nurturing, respectful culture with student input as to the rules and expectations. My child switched from public to private recently. Comments from my child have included noticing that the students are more on task due to smaller class sizes, that teachers are better prepared and lessons are much more meaningful. I notice that the assignments in public school were more about content and knowing facts where the private school has a component of self-awareness about the learning process. There is more variety in the type of assignments and more hands-on projects and group work. Teachers are less stressed and have time to respond to students and parents. That said private school is expensive. We tried to make public school work as long as we could. Being in a neighborhood school was also great when our kids were younger. They developed lifelong friendships in the neighborhood. Ultimately our child wanted a change and is happy to be in a more challenging and nurturing setting. done both

Our public school experience was never like that — not in the 9 years we’ve been a part of it here, not in my many years of being in school and working in schools, and not among my family members and friends who are such kind and gentle public school teachers. I know there are teachers who don’t have good classroom management skills or gentle manners in general, but I believe most don’t use those methods, especially in elementary school. I think part of the problem is that the loud ones are the ones you hear. Talk to the principal — that role is extremely influential in creating the atmosphere on your little campus.

My son is in Kindergarten at Aurora School and I cannot tell you how happy he is (and we are). It is a lovely, nurturing place that fosters curiosity. There is absolutely NO SHAMING. Rather, social and emotional learning is an emphasis of theirs. They approach children with such respect. My son is very slow to warm and I anticipated a difficult transition. He has felt so safe there and so engaged. Further, they work from a project based model. It is truly a wonderful place. leigh

Thank you so much for your post! It echoes closely the way I have been feeling about our local OUSD (Laurel) for our kindergartener. Including the sympathy I have for all that the teachers have to deal with... But it is *very* ''old school'' here, literally- most teachers have been there for decades; and a lot of the school-wide emphasis is on behavior and control and those awful tones of voice. And I hear this from other grades' rooms as well, so this is likely to last all elementary school. Our son's teacher is the strictest, but she is also loving, so that has mitigated it some. Also, I wouldn't say our son is good at ''self-regulating'', so I waffle about what is best for him... As I, ah, cringe!

We too came from a Emilio Reggio preschool, so it is definitely a culture shock. It is soooo different from the entire philosophy and how kids are treated as people. Then again, it has been nice not to be spending a massive amount of our budget on school anymore.

So, I sympathize and feel the same. I share your uncertainties (including whether I am kidding myself!). And I thank you so much for putting all of your experiences and thoughts into words! I have been reading the responses to your post with great interest. Thank you! - Ugh too

Staying calm with the school crazies

Nov 2004

I'm a mom of a preschooler, and am starting to wonder if I'm going to really do a disservice to my child next year by not sending him to private school or moving to Lamorinda for the schools. We live in Oakland, and he can go Montclair school, based on where we live. I believe that there are pros and cons at every school, and a lot is dependent on the family environment, and your child.

However, just about everyone (that has a soon-to-be- kindergartener) I have come in contact with at his preschool, the park, the grocery store seems to be frantically trying to get their child into a private school, or is moving through the tunnel or into Piedmont just to get into a good school district. I grew up on the other side of the Caldecott Tunnel and do not consider sending my kids to school there an option for our family. Ugh. I also don't see how we can come up with the thousands and thousands of dollars that it takes for private school, even if we got accepted to one. It seems like such a frenzy, this school thing! Is it like this everywhere in the US? Am I nuts to think that my son will get a decent education in the Oakland schools? Will my child suffer later in life for not getting as good an education as someone in Orinda or at Head Royce, etc.? I'd love to hear from Oakland public school parents that are happy about their decision to send their kids to an Oakland school. Thanks. --nuts about school

Get over it already. Do what is right for your child and your situation and don't look what the Jones' are doing! I mean this in a nice way. You'll make the right decision for your family, but don't get swayed by popular demand. Private schools are not for everyone as are public. See what fits your child and family. Good Luck! P.S. Be proud of your choice and stand behind it. Anon

We are a family whose youngest child is about to graduate from high school in Oakland, and we've endured quite a lot over the years from Oakland hills ''school crazies.'' Many of our neighbors look at us like we're child abusers for sending our kids to public school, but we wouldn't be doing it if we didn't sincerely believe that they are receiving a BETTER overall education than they'd get in the private schools we have access to or in suburban schools like we ourselves attended.

There are lots of roads to a good education and different children thrive in different kinds of environments. In Oakland, there are good public schools and bad public schools, and good private schools and bad private schools. But mostly it's about the student, and the family, and the particular teacher(s) involved. Some kids really need the focused individual attention of a private school environment in order to thrive, and others find it restrictive to their spirit of inquiry and imaginations, and even hard on their capacity to have a good time and feel good about themselves.

(Bottom line, your child's success in school -- by test scores, grades, or any measure -- is best predicted by YOUR level of education, YOUR family income, and YOUR reading and learning habits and attitudes about their school.)

Our children actually started their education in a private school, but we switched them to Joaquin Miller Elementary in Montclair before too many years. There was nothing WRONG with the private school, but we were worried about the small universe it represented. With only 50 or a hundred kids in a school, you can have small classes but you will also have fewer choices. That may be okay depending on what your choices ARE, but we didn't feel like our boys were being stimulated enough by the unexpected. Everything in their world was something we had put there and controlled. For parents, that can be a comforting feeling, but long-term I question whether it's in the children's best interests.

There are many things that some public schools may be BETTER equipped for than some private schools. For example, Joaquin Miller was better equipped to diagnose and treat a learning disability in one of our sons, which saved him a lot of grief and frustration -- I imagine they would have caught it eventually at the private school, but they didn't have specialists in this. And we didn't have a clue until we started working with the learning specialists in the public school system.

Our kids did the Joaquin Miller - Montera - Skyline path. All three were good schools (though I question how good a middle school CAN be, given the difficult age.) If you look at hills elementary schools test scores, they're exactly the same as other schools with the same socio-economic background, public or private. In the schools we attended, there were good teachers and bad teachers, interesting experiences and boring ones, successes and failures. Just like life.

Now, we notice that our kids' friends who graduate from Skyline are going to the same colleges as their friends who graduate from Bishop O'Dowd. They seem to have the same kind of academic background in terms of AP classes and opportunities ranging from international travel to scholarships. Anecdotally, we hear that kids who do really well in a large diverse urban public school are more scholarshipable than kids out of homogenous suburban schools or private schools.

The thing that makes us happiest, though, is the sense that our kids have had a lot of exposure during years when we were here to help them filter it. They're entering the world more confident and savvy than we did. They've known all kids of kids and experienced all kinds of diversity -- not just ethnic diversity, which is hardly worth a comment any more in our town. They have gone to school with rich kids and poor kids, smart kids and dumb kids, achievers and trouble-makers -- they've been exposed to many languages, religions, cultural behaviors. They've always had a strong family caring about them at home, but they know kids who don't, so they understand the value of it a little better than we did at that age. They know how negotiate a bureaucracy, how to resolve a conflict, how to communicate with people very different from themselves. They are unlikely to feel overwhelmingly uncomfortable in a new environment, and we feel confident that they will get along in the world as good citizens of the 21st century. One is a junior now in the UC system, and the other is applying to a dozen excellent colleges and is full of anticipation and excitement about the opportunities ahead of him, for which he is eminently competitive.

I strongly encourage you to visit whichever of the Montclair schools would be ''your'' elementary school. Go to a show or a concert, or a spring fair or walkathon, and take your child. Talk to parents of kids in the school. (Don't automatically believe the doom-and-gloom anti-public school crowd. Most of them have no actual experience in your school, in your situation.) Then whether or not you decide that private school is the best thing for your child, you'll have made the decision with knowledge, not just based on fear, and you will feel good about it. And believe me, your child will be more successful if you feel positive about her school. Kathy

Stay calm! We moved to the Joaquin Miller school neighborhood two years ago precisely so our son could enter kindergarten there. Besides having the high test scores everyone is looking for (but don't necessarily matter all that much) it is a FABULOUS school community made up of great kids and parents who all work hard to support the school. I feel that the parents and teachers there feel it is their responsibility to do all they can to do the MOST they can for the children. The faculty are incredible, the principal as well - we've had some serious issues regarding food allergies and she has gone out of her way to support us, work with us and make the rest of the school community aware. Our son absolutely LOVES his school, feels safe and happy there, and is absolutely thriving. I realize how the OUSD situation looks to a ''newbie'' parent who, of course, wants the best education for his/her child - unfortunately, it seems that the parents who do have the time/money to spend working for their child's school and its improvement are fleeing en masse to the private schools (and often because they are afraid of the middle/high school situation). I say, STAY and support OUSD and its schools - you are able to enroll in the Montclair trifecta and I've no doubt you'll be more than satisfied with the education your child will receive. It's so much more than test scores; it's whether the school is a community that surrounds and nurtures its students to be good people. That's what we've found and we hope more people run to it, not away. Please visit your local school and see for yourself! andrea

It is true-our public schools are really very bad right now. And it is also true, private schools are just better than public schools. Some children can do okay at public schools, but in truth, private schools are simply better and give children a better chance at getting the supreme education that they deserve. For the first three years (K, 1st. and 2nd) I attended a wonderful private school that me advantages that public schools couldn't afford or didn't have the time to give me.

In short, you child might get a fine education at public, but in reality, private schools really just provide better opertunities for children. Amy

As a parent who has used both the public and private schools, I don't agree that private schools are always better. Private school has been a good fit for my daughter but not for my son. In fact, I regret moving him from public to private as he needs accommodations not allowed for in the private school. I've also found that the private school teachers at the K-8 school he attends are less informed about learning differences and generally have fewer years of teaching experience than the public school we left. The teacher turnover has also been high. I really can't say that it's been worth the price we've paid. You can buy loads of enriching activities for 15K.

I'm sure there will be lots of responses to this but I wanted to chime in about the private vs. public school issue.

I attended a small Christian private school in Southern California from first through fourth grade and while the academics were more challenging (we got pretty good at memorizing bible verses), the social environment left a lot to be desired. I was elated to be able to transfer to the local public school in 5th grade. The public school was larger, had more electives and activities, and more opportunities to meet people who didn't look like me (caucasian).

Basically, I wanted a wider world to conquer and I enjoyed having friends who were Asian, Black, and Latino which wouldn't have been possible in the private school I attended because they didn't exist.

Public schools mirror the real world and private schools can become somewhat insulated which feels protective and comforting for some kids and suffocating for others.

Also, if you can afford it financially, great. However, if mom and dad are so stressed about paying for private school that they can't afford to get the family car fixed or won't be able to save money for college, it's not worth it. For us, it was better to save the money that we would have paid toward tuition and put that into a college savings account.

If you want to stay calm about choosing a school (or almost any parenting issue), it's best to avoid parents with dogmatic views on the private vs. public school issue.

Do your own research and make an informed decision. anon

I'd like to respond to a response about public vs. private. I think that most public schools are given short shrift due to the current crisis in OUSD; however, this is certainly NOT a reason to generalize that ''in reality, private schools are better than public''. It most definitely depends on the school - test scores are not a wholly accurate depiction of how good a school is, and just because one is paying a high tariff for ''the supreme education that children really deserve'' does not mean that is what one's child gets. We are thrilled with not only the education our son is receiving at his PUBLIC school, but also the way the school environment is shaping him as a whole person. It's a diverse, friendly, supportive and stimulating community that is clearly being overlooked by those who think that a good education comes only from private. There are pros and cons for both situations but I find it quite unfair and a bit closed-minded for one person to summarily dismiss the benefits and value of a public education. It seems that this kind of thinking is what drives people away from supporting their local public school and, in turn, the school loses funding and support. Each school, public and private, is different, and parents of school-age children need to do their homework in investigating what is best for THEIR child rather than assume that private schools will ''provide better opertunities'' for children. andrea

I think that it is impossible and grossly uninformed to make a categorical statement that private is better than public school or vice versa. There are multitudinous advantages and disadvantages to both, and, of course, there is the not-so-minor thing of considering who your child is as a learner and who your child is psycho-socially. I am of the mind, as an educator, that a good public school beats a good private school, any day--academically-speaking. The reasons for such a belief is that the curriculum is ''protected'' by the public school's legal obligation to follow state and national standards. You would be astonished at the number of accredited, coveted private schools that play fast and loose with curriculum and are not taken to task for such a breach because of multiple factors, one of the greatest factors being that parents do not have the ability/access to assess grade-wide curriculum in a given grade because their child only inhabits one of 2 or 3 fifth grade clases, for example. And some parents are fearful, justifiably, sometimes, in taking on the hard-to-get into private schools about the shortcomings of such a school. Yet another academic advantage of the public school is that the teachers have (!) to be credentialed and are higher paid than the teachers at independent schools; this is not so in the independent school, even accredited ind. schools lack credentialled teachers.

Some kids would perish, socially, at certain public schools because of their size and chaos while other kids absolutely thrive on the vibrance of a school that has an energy reflective of disparate learning and social styles.

Another consideration about selecting schools is diversity--racial, socioeconomic, scholastic, etc. The public schools in the upper middle class neighborhoods (Piedmont, Orinda, Lafayette, etc.) and the private schools have much in common with the largely privileged student and parent population they are serving. Would it bother you to have your child largely surrounded by upper, middle class kids and the good and bad stuff that goes along with that? This is a question that I am asking myself as my child is likely moving on to a high school whose price tag is $23k/yearly.

Some private schools feel that tracking is a dirty word and, so, where does that leave the kid with tremendous math endowment who needs to be challenged. King Middle School, a mixed bag, invariably sends their talented 8th grade math students to Berkeley High to take Honors Geometry, early in the morning. Ind. Schools don't do that. Lowell High school and Berkeley High have the most rigorous Math and Science around, more than the Independent schools such that there been years when AP Bio students, in one class, have scored nothing less than a ''4.'' At the same time, BHS has poor English, mostly, mediocre modern languagues, and superlative Latin. Just some examples of the contradictions that can co-exist in the same school.

Finally, the ind. schools cannot provide the learning specialist and services (such as occupational/speech therapy) that the public schools can. And, contradictory to a lot of parents' expectations, private schools, too, can have a bullying culture. Paying tuition doesn't eliminate human frailty, certainly.

My kids are in private school for psycho-social reasons more than any other reason. They are very bright, easy learners, but inclined to a healthy reserve that is better served in a smaller school. I think that if a child does not have any acute needs, learning-wise, for example, school selection should be very sensitive to who the child is psycho-socially. A happy child who likes his/her school, feels safe and happy at school, will learn in that school, be it public or private. Public school educator, private school parent

Obsessing on OUSD public vs. private school

Dec 2001

Hello parents, I have a son who's almost three, and we just moved to Oakland, near Mills College. We bought a house there because it was one of the only places in the East Bay that we could afford. We weren't thinking too much about school districts, simply because a more expensive house in a better school district was out of the question. But now I am really beginning to obsess about schools. From things I've read on the list, and conversations I've had lately, I'm beginning to feel as if it's standard practice to send your kids to private schools unless you live in a wonderful district -- and people seem to give up a lot to do that. They rent instead of own, or have an only child, so that they can afford a private school. Aren't there other people out there who send their kids to public schools in Oakland? Am I the only one to plan seriously on doing that? Am I going to ruin my son if I do? I am terrified that we have really screwed things up. If there are any students or professors reading this who are in the education department, or studying the sociology of education, I would love to hear what studies say about the relationship between public / private schools and how kids do later in life. I read one study years ago that said that attitudes and habits at home override school effects, and he has two parents who love to read and learn. Am I just rationalizing? Are there parents out there who can tell me reassuring stories of sending their kids to public schools and having them turn out just fine? ANY THOUGHTS ON THIS SUBJECT WILL BE GREATLY APPRECIATED.

I too live in Oakland and have been sending my son to a private French American school in Berkeley for the language immersion. I too had many reservations about sending my son to the local neighborhood school. Recently however I have been planning a career change into teaching and have been substitute teaching in the Oakland public schools, all over the district. I have been surprised to find good elementary schools in many parts of the city, where the teachers and the school provide the kind of structure, stimulation, and support that children need. With the small class sizes up to grade 3, it appears to me that younger children are getting a pretty good education. For example, I taught at John Swett near Mills College and liked the supportive atmosphere and the daily affirmations for everyone at the school. Many of the schools offer musical instrument instruction in the elementary schools in addition.

Middle school appears a different story unless you can get your child in one of the "college prep" middle schools like Montera or Claremont. The average Oakland middle school has no electives like music or foreign language or art and they are heavy on the harsh discipline model. Class sizes are usually too large, can be very chaotic and loud in the average middle school and often little learning can take place compared to the elementary school. I really feel for the kids who want to learn but find it difficult to in this kind of environment. They really broke my heart because they are losing out because of others.

You really need to carefully check out the school your child will be attending to see if it will meet your child's needs. You also need to champion your child to get them out of problem classes and into the better classes. Close contact with the teacher and monitoring your child's work is essential. cwynne

There are roughly 20, 000 children being educated in the Oakland Unified School District and about 10,000 in the Berkeley Public School District. Public Schools educate the vast majority of American Children. Someone must be sending their children to these schools. I think, though, that you are asking a slightly different question, which is whether responsible parents send their children to public schools, particularly in Oakland. Well, the answer to that is they certainly do Not every school in Oakland is a good school, but there certainly are some acceptable and even quite good choices.

There's a very common misconception, in my opinion, that every private school is better than any public school, especially in urban school districts.

If you are interested in Oakland Public Schools and your child is going to be school age, now is the time to act as intradistrict transfer periods are coming up soon. The OUSD website has information about this here: http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us/default-ad.htm

You don't really have to read any studies about this issue. You can ask for a copy of the reading and math test scores for all the schools in your district from the Oakland School District. I live in Oakland and needed to for personal reasons. The school nearest me had reading scores at the 2nd percentile for the state! At the time, my daughter was about to start 2nd grade and was already reading at about the 5th grade level. I wasn't about to expose her to a classroom where she would be bored, frustrated, and depressed. So, I made the financial sacrifice and put her in a Montesorri school. In the 4th grade I was fortunate to get her into an excellent private school that ended at 12th grade. Now she's a freshman at Cal and is light years ahead of her peers in her preparation for the demanding curriculum here.

So, I feel for you. You really do have to decide to live elsewhere where the schools are better and your cost of living is higher or you stay put and pay for a private education. Plus, there is the stress of hoping that your child will even be accepted to the school of your choice! Good luck, you have my sympathies.

As a former teacher (before motherhood) I would first say make an appointment to go and visit the elementary schools in your area. Don't rule them out before you have seen what is happening in the classrooms. There are great teachers in every school. Often it is the Principal that can make or break a school's moral and atmosphere, so meet the principal. Within a big district like Oakland you can apply for an "intra-district transfer". This means that if there are spaces available at another school site your child could attend that site instead of your neighborhood school. These transfers are usually lotteries so call district office for Oakland and get your name on the list for Kindergartens. Another option is Magnet schools within the district there is often high quality teaching going on, they also are based on lottery. Talk to you neighbors and see what they think of the schools. On the private school angle - Mills College has a lovely Children's school check it out. Their School of Education is great and you might get info on the neighborhood schools from them. They often send student teachers into the schools close to campus. As a Parent you hold the key to your child's success in school in your hands. If you are an active/involved parent in your child's school that has more to do with their success in the future than who their 1st grade teacher was. I would be more concerned about looking at Private school for Middle school vs. Elementary ,personally, simply because I use to teacher 6/7 grade and that age is tough. Good luck! Hope this helps. Gwen

I am in the same boat. Our local elementary has about 14% of its students reading at their grade level, for instance. But, Oakland has open enrollment (which we are about to go through), and some very good elementary schools. I am hoping to get through at least 5th grade, and hopefully 8th or 9th and then think about private school. If it helps go to greatschools.com to learn about the options you have. Good luck. Kean

I have taught in both public and private schools in the Berkeley/Oakland area for 15 years. I strongly support public education and have taught at Sequoia Elementary School (excellent!) for the last six years. It is crucial to visit and talk with the teachers, other parents, principal, etc. to get the real scoop. Yes, your child CAN get a good education in Oakland Public Schools, you just have to go on a search. Also, do not believe everything you read in the papers which can be very misleading. The strongest, most inspiring and highly trained teachers can be found in Oakland Public Schools. I've been quite shocked at the "songs and dances" put on by some private schools which behind the scenes actually provide a lesser quality education with weaker teaching, and less trained staff. Jan

If I may offer one really important piece of advice.....Please Please Please don't worry about this yet. You'll have plenty of time the year before kindergarten. At that time....you should be going to all the schools you would consider, talk to the teachers, principal, parents, look in the classrooms. All public schools (and private) have open house days for new parents. You can also come and sit in on classes with a day or two notice. Also go to some private schools to compare the difference.We've found that one of the very important things that makes a school work is parent involvement. You need good teachers too, of course and hopefully a principal who supports both. What are you looking for in a school? Diversity? School Gardens? Art Programs? Tidiness? Newness? Music? Many of our areas public schools have a few strong points. Unfortunately none that I know of have it all (thank you, prop 13).

Please do not take the word of one or two people who say "Oh that school is really bad". Go check it out for yourself. I've found all too often that people choose not to go to their neighborhood school because of what other people say, never having been there themselves. Do your research....find out what's available that will seem to work with your child. I once read an article titled "Private vs. Public". Essentially the article said that if you can only afford to send your child to private school for a limited time, do it in high school....that is where they will need the more positive role models and peers. By the way, My 1st grader is at our local public school and is doing well. Our 5th grader did great at that same school till 3rd grade when he was really bored and not being challenged. In 4th grade he was in a private school and is thriving. You'll find out what is the best situation for your child. Guaranteed if your child has a loving home and parents who are involved in his/her education they will not be ruined even by a less adequate public school.

Good luck, and again, please don't fret about it now. June

Although I did a lot of research into private schools, we ended up sending our son to public school - we could not afford private - although not in Oakland. I do, however, know many people whose kids go to public schools in Oakland and this is what I have gathered. If you go to a school in a "better" neighborhood, there are many more people in the community who can afford to support the schools financially, as well as by volunteering their time and energy in the classroom. This factor makes a huge difference in the quality of education your child will receive. With parents helping in the classroom, that teacher is able to focus on a smaller group of kids and give them much more individual time and attention. The schools that are in more lower and working class neighborhoods just don't have those resources, and you would not believe how little in the way of supplies these teachers are given by the district! A friend of mine works as a sub in Oakland - the Kindergarten classrooms have NO paper, scissors, glue, etc. She arrives with a suitcase full of her own supplies which she purchases on her own! It's unbelievable!

You can apply for an inter-district transfer to school that you choose ( I think you get to choose three) and most often you'll get one of them. There are several good schools in Oakland, such as Redwood Heights, Crocker Highlands, Thornhill, and others - although not all accept inter-district transfers every year. You need to check with the school district.

Of course, when you go private, you don't have to deal with any of that. Nor do you usually have to deal with discipline problems - it's a much more sheltered environment. They are very careful about who they accept. Most private schools do an admissions interview, even with Kindergarten age children - which I found to be bazaar!

I have to admit that I moved to Albany because their schools have such a good reputation and a very supportive community. I found the transfer system in Oakland a little scary - you often don't find out until the 11th hour which school your child has been accepted to - which was unnerving for me at the time. So good luck in whatever you choose!

Don't feel bad about obsessing. I believe it has become a national past time to verbally beat up public schools and teachers. If you do not know anyone who sends their kids to public schools, it can seem like a "far-out" thing to do. I was concerned about the Oakland public schools before we moved here and went a little nutty doing research! We are planning on sending our kids to Oakland public schools. Though we were limited by housing costs, one of the reasons we picked Oakland was for the great public schools. I know you are surprised, but hear me out. I have my master's in education. I have taught in several districts and schools. I believe with all my heart that what goes on at home determines what happens in the classroom. Oakland has made great strides in the last two years. Now, the vast majority of teachers are fully credentialed. Test scores are up throughout the district and community groups are ! ra! lling to improve facilities which will be even more doable with the recent passage of Measure B. Test scores can be misleading. There are better statistics out there. I felt very reassured by looking at the breakdown of students with a similiar socio-economic background as ours. There is almost no other school district in the world that houses as much diversity as in the Oakland schools. You can supplement the academics at home, as you would no matter where you lived, but you can not expose your children to many different nationalities, languages and ways of life on a daily basis. I am currently teaching at Cal State Hayward. Approximately half of my students graduated from Oakland High School. They ALL know how to write and speak well. This is not true for all my students, even those from private schools. Oakland High is our neighborhood school. We thought we would need to pull some strings to get our ki! ds! into Skyline or Tech, but now I feel totally comfortable sending our kids to Oakland High. Oakland High also sent 25% of it's graduating seniors last year to UC Berkeley, the most of any school, ANY School!, in the state. Please visit schools. Oakland is an open district. You do not have to go to your neighborhood school. Eight new schools opened last year, some magnet and some charter schools. Obviously, I am passionate about this subject; I could go on and on. I have done more research than I am comfortable sharing here. If you would like to talk to other parents or even high schoolers who have been through the Oakland schools let me know. Please feel free to email me. Mariflo

Although I'm a sociologist, I don't specialize in Education. But from my limited familiarity with research in this area, I'm willing to assert that parents' educational attainment is a much stronger predictor of educational success that any school or district-level measure. Rather most of the "good" school districts are ones that mostly have children of highly educated parents in their schools. I can tell you from looking at the handouts from a talk at the ASA meeting this year, that of the high schools (public or private) with the best success at getting students into the UC system, quite a few were in college towns (which implies higher parents' education levels).

My theory is that much of a school's (or district's) reputation has to do with the success of its students which in turn has a lot to do with the parents rather than the school.

It may be true that your son will be bored at times in the Oakland school system or you may be frustrated. But I doubt it will do much damage. Your values are important, too. Would you rather be a force for positive change in your son's public schools or put that energy into a private school? When I was a kid, my parents helped organize an alternative class within the public elementary (although admittedly in Sonoma County, not Oakland).

I don't know what the charter school scene is currently like in Oakland, except that I understand that New Village went under. But this is another possibility for a public school outside of the traditional Oakland public schools. Some are highly commercial, but others are more democratic and parent run. Again, I don't know what's out there in Oakland. Peter

I owned a nice house by Mills for 9 years. I adopted my infant daughter in 94 and started doing research on schools around Mills. The math tests at our local Oakland school in Maxwell Park were about 14 on a 1-100 scale. Reading wasn't much better. Oakland has some good schools but overall they vary widely. You can try to get into one of the magnet schools like Kaiser, but you don't know until just before school starts.

I sold the house in '98. I was willing to rent indefinitely in order find a decent school district. We moved 3 times in 10 months. Eventually we accidentally lucked into a duplex in Berkeley. My daughter goes to Berkeley public schools now. I know this isn't what you want to hear, but its our story. Tavie

Private was going to be the way we went, but then we were discouraged by HOW HUGE the sacrifice would be, as well as how boring our lives would become as a result of this sacrifice - something we were not willing to do, so we chose public. We live in West Contra Costa County (WORST schools in the East Bay) but work in Oakland and chose to send our kids to school in Oakland. Check out the Oakland magnet schools and/or look into doing a transfer within Oakland to a school that you would be happy sending your child to. After finding one that we really liked that met the needs of our child, we have been very pleased with the public school thus far. I am a bit of a rebel and think that all of this homework obliteration given everywhere is HORRIBLE and am grateful that the school we attend is respectful of family time. Our child is very precocious and we know she is on par for her age and don't feel the need to have her education "pushed in her face" so early in the formal learning career.

My advice would be to start looking now at schools in the district in a calm and methodical manner. Do some homework on the different focuses some of the magnet and charter schools have, too (wish someone had told me that when my child was 3-1/2). Doing this with some time on your side will help you later in the school "hunt" for kindergarten. If you know now what you might like/dislike in a school, this will help you narrow down the search. Also find out and become familiar with what the OUSD requires for completing transfers. Better to be ahead of the game!

Good luck and go public!

Personally, I think the most important thing is how well you respond to the kids' interests, and what learning resources you have for them. A good private school probably has more experience than you personally, but particularly at a young age, even a lousy school with a good teacher can teach something. I grew up in a marginal working-class public school district. I think I might have benefited from better education, but it wasn't really a problem until high school, when I was more interested in learning than in all the anti-learning social structure. Then when I went to college, I had a little bit of catching up to do. Bottom line, you're not permanently damaging your kids by sending them to public school. They'll do just fine, particularly at the younger years. But pay attention. See how they're learning, and how they feel, and re-evaluate as they get toward HS. Also keep in mind that there are some negatives about private school. For one thing, depending on the school, many of the kids are wealthier. My niece is now in an upscale private school, and she's much much more conscious of all the material things she doesn't have (and won't be getting), and it even goes down to details like what she will and won't eat in her lunch box. Although I would have LOVED the greater educational resources, I was extremely self-conscious of my lack of social status even in public school (e.g., my parents were not going to go out and by the pricey cool clothes). I probably would have been a wreck in a fancy school (though I fantasized about wearing a uniform, so I wouldn't have to deal with my clothing inadequacies!)

We received a note in the weekly family packet last week that Redwood Heights Schools is accepting intradistrict transfers in kindergarten and fourth grade... for the first time in many years. Just thought some parents might be interested in this information. Myriam

Another option is to meet your neighbors, volunteer at the school, and organize your community to support and attend the school. For example: [Notice about a meeting of Sequoia Elementary School neighbors]

I have taught in both public and private schools. I also live near Mills College in Oakland and, although my daughter is too young for school, I have neighbors who have attended our neighborhood school, Redwood Heights. I'm an educational researcher as well, and, although this is not my area of expertise, I speak as somebody who has spent a lot of time in myriad public schools.

Here's my opinion: your child will be fine in public school, assuming the school is not in a constant state of crisis. This is especially true if you stay involved (get to know teachers, do the at-home stuff you do, etc.) When your child gets older, make sure to give him/her opportunities to participate in out-of-school learning activities that help nurture his/her talents and interests. If s/he has the misfortune of having a bad teacher, don't hesitate to hire tutors or other people to help with these challenges. (It'll still be cheaper than private school tuition.)

In some cases, children do slip through the cracks at public schools, as there are many pupils with a lot of needs, and limited resources to address these. I find that children with involved parents are seldom among those who fall through in this way.

Hope this helps, Ilana

I live in Oakland-in the Glenview district- and my two kids go to Oakland public schools--although they do not go to our neighborhood school. Our neighborhood school, Glenview, seemed OK but their after care and at the time my son started school, my daughter's pre- school, is at Lakeshore Children's Center which only transports to Crocker Highland, the next school over. So we applied for and received an intradistrict transfer. Crocker does have higher test scores and fewer % of kids eligible for free lunch. So far, our kids seem to be doing fine, although they are only in Kindergarten and first grade. But on our street, which has many, many children, only one other family sends their kids to public schools. Denise

I just want to write to say thank you to all the wonderful people who took the time to write about the public v. private school debate. I found it very comforting -- it was like having a crowd of supportive people in my living room giving me incredibly useful advice. It was also great to see how many people support public schools. Not only financial, but also political reasons make me want to "go public," and it's good to see that doing this doesn't have to mean shortchanging my son. Thank you again, parents, for sharing your experiences and thoughts!