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Education and economic development in Oakland

This short blog started with a tweet this blogger ran across, and now I can't find because I don't follow the Twitterer who issued it on Twitter.

At any rate the message of the tweet was that an education scholar Richard Rothstein, who talked at the California School Boards Association on Friday in San Francisco, made a comment that education and training could not overcome bad economic background.

There was no link to the tweet issued communicating that idea, or words to that effect, and the tweet didn't come from Richard Rothstein. Moreover it was all but impossible to find a blog post or news account of what Mr. Rothstein actually said.

But it made me think of how economic development and education officials in Oakland don't talk to each other. At all. Yet, economic development planners are supposed to be trying to bring jobs to the same neighborhoods the education officials, and here I mean teachers, work in. Why not talk with them about what the needs of the people in the neighborhood really are?

The view that this disconnect exists has been with me for some time. It came to a personal "head" when I was in a meeting at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in 1999, and the conversation turned to the "jobs / housing balance." That's the idea that jobs should be where the people lived.

But the problem, as I pointed out in the meeting, was that the MTC was pushing for biotech jobs for cities like Oakland where the people didn't have the education for the positions. Everyone at the table looked at me like I was nuts, and I looked at them like they were crazy. Since my ego's much larger than that collective, I left the meeting feeling that I'd just talked to a group of out of touch public execs. I was pretty steamed.

The problem is that they never talked to the people in the parts of the 'hood where jobs are needed. Look. Oakland doesn't have a near 20 percent unemployment rate for nothing. Bring biotech jobs to Oakland, and jobs open up for people who don't live here, but would be forced to commute or relocate here. That's what's happened to a degree, with many biotech jobs in Emeryville and the South Bay.

Meanwhile the people who live in Oakland, raised their kids here, and use the Oakland school system, go wanting. And their kids suffer as do the teachers. They have it the worst. In East Oakland, a friend of mine commonly tells stories of being robbed, having to spend a lot of money for her materials, and other problems.

All of this should form the template for what economic development must do in Oakland. Developers and big projects are sexy, but more often than not, they don't really change things. Nothing helps a place like East Oakland or West Oakland like the modern, environmentally-friendly version of the good old-fashioned auto plant.

Yeah, someone will chime in with the usual arguments against that, and in doing so, keep the same culture that produces our problems alive for years to come.
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