Carole Smith’s First Budget: Where’s the Equity?

I’m trying to see Carole Smith’s first budget in the best possible light. I know we don’t have the kind of funding needed to do things right. I also understand Smith’s desire to stabilize things. With those things considered, it’s nice to see a budget that doesn’t have any obvious cuts, and that actually adds some staffing to reduce kindergarten class sizes and restore some curriculum that was lost with the cuts of the ’90s and the switch to K-8.

But if you refer back to the superintendent’s presentation to the school board February 11 (296 KB PDF), a couple of salient points stand out. First, we’re apparently going to “examine everything through the lens of race and equity” from here on out.

Second, Smith quotes New Age business guru Meg Wheatley on integrity: “If we say one thing but do another, we create dissonance in the very space of the organization…What we lose when we fail to create consistent messages, when we fail to ‘walk our talk’ is not just personal integrity…we lose the partnership…that can help bring form and order to the organization.”

My thought at the time was that she is setting the bar very high for herself. Either people concerned with equitable distribution of public investment are going to be incredibly pleased, or they’re being set up for incredible disappointment.

So let’s examine her budget proposal through the lens of equity.

Two things jump right out at me.

  1. We are going full steam ahead on K-8 conversions, without clarifying the purpose of this conversion, and while maintaining middle school options in some clusters and not in others. This means that we are going further down an inequitable path. The fact that the budget will pay for algebra and library books at K-8s does not make up for the fact these schools will continue to have a vastly reduced middle school curriculum compared to traditional middle schools.
  2. The additional funding for “enrichment” in K-8 schools, while mandating three units a week a week of art, dance, theater, world language, music, or PE, continues to leave us with a confusing patchwork of offerings, and perpetuates the existing inequities. Schools that have little or no enrichment will get some, but schools that already have it will get more.

Requiring a prescribed amount of “enrichment,” chosen from a cafeteria of options by site administrators, perpetuates a system that effectively hides inequity.

We need a core pre-K-12 curriculum in art, music and PE across the board, not at the discretion of site administrators. And no school should have more “enrichment” than another.

We also need a comprehensive middle school option in every cluster, not just the wealthy ones.

Was this proposed budget reviewed through the lens of equity? If so, I’m not seeing it.

It is a fact that students affected by poverty need more investment, not less. Where in this budget are we investing in our poorest neighborhood schools? Why isn’t the extra “enrichment” money distributed in proportion to need rather than across the board? Why aren’t we guaranteeing free pre-K and full-day K to our poorest schools instead of maintaining the current patchwork? Will the budget include restoration of the music department at Jefferson High School, a putative arts magnet? Why aren’t we reopening Rose City Park instead of putting Madison cluster eighth graders at Madison High?

I’ve got a lot more questions; these are just the start.

I understand the budget process has just begun, and I’d like to be optimistic about our chances of moving toward equity. But I’m not seeing it in the first cut.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Time for a K-8 Moratorium?

By now most of us are aware that completing the transition from K-5 and 6-8 to K-8 is one of Superintendent Carole Smith’s top priorities. I think the rationale is that things were left in chaos, and we need to get it right.

But Terry Olson, who, like me, doesn’t think K-8 is necessarily a bad idea, thinks maybe we should put the brakes on the transition, rather than going full steam ahead.

“The bottom line is that Portland rushed into school closure and reconfiguration without a well thought out plan for what was to follow,” writes Olson, a retired middle school teacher. “And, perhaps more importantly, without a clear understanding of what genuine school reform looks like.”

It is obvious the process was not well conceived, planned or executed.

I’m still confused about why we need to make this transition. Terry lays out some good things about K-8 schools. But these aren’t the reasons Vicki Phillips stated. Her rationale was to increase test scores and “enrichment” in the lower grades by economies of scale, i.e. the higher full-time-equivalent ratios made possible by larger schools.

We now see those reasons are bunk.

Portland Public Schools needs to clearly articulate the rationale for transitioning away from middle schools. And if any cluster gets to keep a comprehensive 6-8 option, all clusters should get this option.

If equity is truly the overarching goal of Superintendent Smith’s administration, and if stability is truly important to her, this may be her first test. Can we cleanly and fairly finish the job Vicki Phillips started? Perhaps. But first we need to take stock of the situation at hand. Then, if we decide it really is the right thing for our district, we need to proactively design a process to move forward.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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The K-8 Transition

We know that the completing the K-8 transition is one of the top priorities of Carole Smith. We all know that to date, the transition has been rocky. Many schools do not have space. Some comprehensive middle schools seem slated to be kept open, while some clusters, like Jefferson, have had all their middle schools either closed or converted (despite having one school without enough space to even add sixth grade).

I was unable to attend the meeting last night at Rigler… Who went? How did it go?

I’ve set up a forum for this topic, since it’s probably going to be a hot one for a while. Feel free to start new topics there, or leave comments here.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Welcome Peninsula Community

A big shout out and welcome to Nicole and the folks from the Peninsula and greater Roosevelt cluster communities. Nicole’s been posting over on the forum, with some good information about the sun school program and the 08-09 budget.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the things they’ve got going on at Peninsula school.

As far as I can tell, we all want the same thing: first-rate, equitable educational opportunities in every neighborhood and for every student in PPS.

Welcome!

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Saving our Facilities for the Future

There is a concise, well-stated letter to the editor from Michael Wells in the Tribune this morning, with some common sense advice for Portland Public Schools.

“It would be extremely shortsighted for the public schools to let property go, only to have to buy land in an inflated and crowded market in five, 10 or 20 years,” writes Wells, noting the “influx of 20- and 30-something professionals into our city.”

I think Wells is right about there being a creative-class baby boom coming, and I don’t think the PSU demographic forecast accounts for this. And Wells is also right about where these people are settling: close-in east-side neighborhoods.

Will the coming big facilities push be another land grab for developers, or will the district plan wisely and hold on to “surplus” property to account for future demographic growth?

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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The PPS Equity Forum is There for You!

I know the forum is a little intimidating to navigate, and a lot of people are shy about Internet communications. I know it’s a lot easier to jump into a discussion after it’s going than it is to be the first one to respond to a new topic, much less start a new topic.

So I want to encourage those of you early adopters who have already signed up for the forum (there are 23 of you, not counting me) to not be shy about getting things going. I haven’t had time to really simplify things on the forum, but I think if you poke around, you’ll find things easy enough. The several forums are all listed on the front page. If you click on any one of them, you’ll see the topics in that forum (if there are any). You can click on a topic to see the posts on that topic, or you can start a new topic by clicking on “NEW TOPIC.”

Nancy started a new topic today in the Jefferson Cluster Forum, announcing a survey about the Mayor’s week at Jefferson. She posted some of her responses. Good stuff. You can go there and click “POST REPLY” if you want to jump in.

I started a “Meta Forum”, which is a forum about the forum. I’ve got some tips and information about using the forums, and you can ask questions or share your own ideas about the structure of the site there.

Don’t be afraid of messing things up. I’m pretty good at fixing things if they break, and I’m not concerned about people being “on topic,” as long as they are respectful of one another.

I know you all have opinions, and I know they don’t always line up 100% with mine. That’s why I created this site general and the forum in particular: so we can share our various view points and find common ground. Have at it!

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Wichita School Bond: It’s About Equity

Neighborhood Schools Alliance founding member Lynn Schore sends along a column from the Wichita Eagle about the Wichita School District’s $350 million facilities bond.

Metro columnist Mark McCormick describes a thirty year period, from 1970 to 2000, in which no new schools were built within the city’s Assigned Attendance Area (AAA), a predominately black area, but eight schools were built outside of it. The Wichita school board voted in January to end busing, and now they’ve got to actually build schools where students live.

Portland Public Schools could take a lesson from the Wichita experience. Wichita’s busing is analogous to Portland’s open transfer enrollment policy. Both were designed to give black students access to equal educational opportunities, and both have led to massive divestment from poor and minority neighborhoods.

Like in Wichita, Portland suffers continuous enrollment drain from lower-income neighborhoods, with the educational investment following students into whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. And like in Wichita, this has contributed to lower property values in our poorest neighborhoods. This constitues a form of theft from the least fortunate members of our society, well beyond the actual school funding dollars.

“It has become fashionable to talk about busing as something that didn’t work,” said Wichita Branch NAACP President Kevin Myles to the Wichita school board Monday night. “Busing was never intended as a final solution.”

Couldn’t we say the same about open transfer enrollment? While it might have given black kids a chance back when it was initially implemented as a means of desegregation, it clearly now has black and lower-income kids more segregated, and trapped in second-tier schools.

“Open transfers” are effectively ending by default anyway. Who is going to bank on getting their kids into Alameda, Grant or Lincoln? Let’s be honest about why families transfer from one neighborhood school to another. It’s not because they want their children to have to commute across town. It’s because we don’t have equitable offerings in our poorest neighborhoods.

The solution? Build it, and we will come. The facilities bond that is expected in November must be focused on rebuilding our poorest clusters to draw enrollment back, and it must be coupled with a focus on rebuilding the educational programs in those clusters. Then there will be no need for the neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers that continue to divest millions from our poorest neighborhoods, robbing property value and educational opportunity from our poorest citizens to benefit the richest.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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Ivy Withdraws in a Surprise Move

The Ivy Charter School organizers surprised everybody tonight by withdrawing their appeal at the very last minute, just as the school board was poised to debate and vote.

In a legally questionable move, they intend to appeal directly to the state, before they’ve exhausted the formal appeal to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education. Even if the state accepts their appeal, they’ll find themselves in front of the PPS board again, where they’ve squandered a lot of good will.

The withdrawal was centered around the board resolution’s enrollment limit of 120 students (half what the organizers wanted), intended to ameliorate the “adverse impact” the charter would have had on neighborhood school enrollment. The board resolution also stipulated that the school be sited in a quadrant of town that would lessen this impact, presumably some place other than North or Northeast Portland.

I honestly had not read the board resolution until tonight, and didn’t fully understand that the charter school subcommittee of Ruth Adkins, Bobbie Regan and Trudy Sargent had put such strict conditions on the school. Kudos for them for placing the well-being of our neighborhood schools ahead of the needs of a charter. This proved to be the breaking point for this charter, and prevented a divisive debate and vote.

Terry Olson also has more coverage of this over on his blog.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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The Upside and Downside of Charters

I think most anti-charter folks don’t recognize the other side of the argument, i.e., what makes charters really compelling as alternatives to mainstream public schools. Not all charter proponents are minority-hating, low-income-people avoiding, union-busting demons out to feather their own nests.

Charter critiques often overlook or do not acknowledge the progressive practices (e.g., student-centered instruction at many charters vs. teacher-led instruction at the majority of mainstream public schools, multiple forms of assessment vs. norm-based or multiple-choice assessments, democratically oriented school designs vs. top-down designs, more holistic, interdisciplinary curricula vs. a narrow range of subjects taught in isolation) that many charters engage in. According to the research I’ve done in PPS, Opal, Emerson, Trillium, and Portland Village all fall into some or most of these categories.
Read the rest…

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

20 Comments

Week One Wrap-up

Thank you to all who have read, responded to action alerts, commented on the blog, participated in the forum, and contributed articles. I knew we had a great community, and even though many of you have felt beat up and worn down over the past years, I’m inspired by your continuing work toward equity for all students in Portland Public Schools.

In the first week of this site, there have been twelve blog posts with 47 comments. The forum now has 22 registered users, 16 topics and 59 posts. We’re getting regular traffic every day, even though Google still hasn’t given us the priority my old blog has.

People at the district are reading; I’m seeing regular visits every day from PPS computers. I honestly believe we are on the verge of a new way of thinking about our school district, and we have allies in high administrative positions.

Things change slowly in large bureaucracies, and we need to keep up the hard work. The school board and superintendent still need to hear from you, especially if they haven’t heard from you before.

Thanks to everybody who is helping make equity in Portland Public Schools more than just a rallying cry. Together, we will make it a reality.

Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

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