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Jeannie Oakes, Founder and Former Director

Oakes Photo



Jeannie Oakes was a Presidential Professor in Educational Equity in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA. She also was the founder and former director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA), former director of the University of California’s All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity (ACCORD), as well as the founding director of Center X. Oakes’ research focused on schooling inequalities and followed the progress of educators and activists seeking socially just schools. In November 2008, Oakes left UCLA to join the Ford Foundation as its Director of Education and Scholarship. 



Oakes is the author of 17 scholarly books and monographs and more than 100 published research reports, chapters, and articles.

Below is a short sampling of her publications:

  • An updated edition of her landmark book, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality was published in 2005 by Yale University Press.
  • The second edition of Oakes’ teacher education textbook Teaching to Change the World (McGraw-Hill) was published in 2002.
  • Oakes book (with IDEA colleague John Rogers), Learning Power: Organizing for Education and Justice (Teachers College Press), released in April 2006, reports on students, parents, teachers, and grassroots groups struggling for more socially just schools.
  • Oakes also co-authored (with IDEA colleague Marisa Saunders) Beyond Tracking: Can Multiple High School Pathways Prepare All Students for College, Career, and Civic Participation? which was released in November 2008.



Oakes’ awards include three major awards from the American Educational Research Association:

  • Early Career Award
  • Outstanding Research Article
  • and the 2001 Outstanding Book Award for Becoming Good American Schools: The Struggle for Civic Virtue in Education Reform

Additional awards include:

  • The Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Education Research Association
  • The National Association for Multicultural Education's Multicultural Research Award
  • The Jose Vasconcellos World Award in Education
  • A Distinguished Achievement Award from the Educational Press Association of America


She is a member of the National Academy of Education.  Oakes taught courses in urban school policy and history in the Urban Schooling division of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.


A Tribute to Jeannie Oakes

The following is a transcript of a speech delivered by John Rogers on October 8, 2008 at a community tribute for Jeannie Oakes at Edward R. Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles.

It has been my great privilege to work alongside Jeannie over the past 13 years, first at Center X and, since 2000, at UCLA’s IDEA.  

A couple weeks ago, Sandy Mendoza asked me to take five minutes to summarize Jeannie’s scholarship on social justice and education. Let me tell you, this is no easy task.  Jeannie has written more than a hundred articles and more than a dozen books exploring the themes of democracy and equality in American schools. Google “Jeannie Oakes” and you get 17,000 hits, with 905 hits on google scholar alone.   

Rather than trying to do justice to this whole body of work, I’d like to share an image that calls to mind Jeannie’s scholarly project.  

When you walk into our conference room at UCLA IDEA the first thing you see is a mural designed by Nery Orellana and painted by our staff. The centerpiece of the mural is a picture of the great civil rights organizer Ella Baker.  And there is this quote from Ella Baker:  “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.”  

Baker’s vision speaks to three themes that are central to Jeannie’s work.  

  • First, there is a deep belief in the intellectual capacity of all community members. We don’t need to create a hierarchy of those who lead and those who follow. We should not conceive of some people as thinkers and others as workers. This, in essence, is the idea of Jeannie’s first book, Keeping Track. Keeping Track highlighted the faulty logic of separating students by their perceived ability and exposed the ways that this logic has too often been used to maintain racial and class hierarchy. The book has been printed so many times in so many languages that it has become a classic. In 1999, Keeping Track was named one of the 100 most important books in education from the 20th century. 
  • A second theme that falls out of Baker’s vision is the social character of learning. We don’t need strong leaders to tell us what to do because we can learn so much from each other. Jeannie’s scholarship on teacher education illuminates this approach to learning. Her highly influential textbook calls on teachers to use socio-cultural learning theory to "change the world." And anyone who has worked with Jeannie has seen this ideal in action. She thrives in settings that encourage give and take. Whether she is working with a team of researchers or joining community members working on reform, Jeannie always looks to learn from others. She is never the expert from on high, but rather the colleague and partner trying to figure things out together.   
  • Finally, Ella Baker’s statement speaks to the power of organized people. Baker’s problem with charismatic leaders was that they were too easy a target for enemies. The forces sustaining Jim Crow could kill off or buy off any one leader. But, if people become informed and organized, they represent an undeniable force for justice. Jeannie was one of the first educational researchers to understand this critical point. When others researched and partnered with superintendents and mayors, Jeannie studied and joined forces with community organizers. Her scholarship has documented the essential importance of social movement activism to equity reform in education. And through her partnerships with grassroots community groups, she has supported and helped sustain this activism. 

Since Jeannie made her announcement a few weeks ago, many friends and colleagues have come up to me concerned that the work of building a scholarly community committed to educational justice would wane now that Jeannie will no longer be with us at IDEA or in LA. But they did not understand how fully Jeannie has embraced Ella Baker’s vision. Jeannie Oakes has consistently rejected charismatic leadership in favor of helping the people around her become stronger. It is this legacy at UCLA, in the community, and in LA’s schools that will fuel the movement for high quality, equitable schooling in the years ahead.



Jeannie Oakes: A Community Tribute

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