The Tribune Op-Ed

6:54 am

The Portland Tribune ran my guest opinion piece on the charter schools movement this morning, Promise is only illusion.

I’m generally pleased with the few edits they made, except for one, which significantly reduces the punch of the piece. See if you can spot the critical difference here.

Original: “In Portland, charter school students are whiter and wealthier than the general student population, and they are less likely to have special needs.”

Edited: “In Portland, charter school students appear whiter and wealthier than the general student population, and they would appear less likely to have special needs.”

I cited my source on this when I submitted the story (Portland Public Schools Enrollment Summaries 1998-99 through 2007-08 — 122KB PDF). It is a factual statement. Portland charter schools are 35.2% free and reduced lunch, compared to 45.3% for the district as a whole. Charters are 13.9% special ed, compared to 14.7% district-wide; and 57.75% white, compared to 54.94% district-wide.

It might sound like splitting hairs on the racial issue, but if you factor out Self Enhancement Academy, which is 96.35% black, charter schools in Portland don’t just “appear whiter,” they are significantly so. Opal school is 74% white; Emerson, 79.4%, Portland Village, 77.42%; Trillium, 64.97%. Note that Portland Village and Trillium are both in the Jefferson attendance area, which is 69% non-white.

The “pro” piece, written by Republican state house candidate Matt Wingard, is a mealy-mouthed, factually inaccurate diatribe against a school board he sees as fighting a “loss of power.” While complaining that the PPS school board has rejected more charter schools than all other Oregon districts combined, he doesn’t bother to address the fact that of the last four applicants, three had very major problems in their applications. Here’s the paragraph that stood out as being a little, eh, factually challenged:

The board signaled this preference for fewer choices by beginning to talk about restricting transfers within the district. Board members claim that unrestricted transfers between existing public schools might be fostering segregation. But most of the parents who want to leave their “neighborhood” schools are minorities.

First, when has the board ever talked about restricting transfers? News to me, and I’ve been pounding on them to talk about this for a year now.

Second, it’s not board members making a “claim,” it was the auditors of Multnomah County and the City of Portland whose 2006 audit of the PPS transfer policy said that open transfers have increased segregation. This was reinforced by the PPS staff study that compiled hard statistical evidence showing, beyond debate, that this is the case.

Finally, I’d like to see the statistics to back up the statement “most of the parents who want to leave their ‘neighborhood’ schools are minorities.” PPS statistics, in fact, contradict this statement.

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

filed under: Charter Schools, Media

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7 Responses

  1. Comment from Canterey:


    Today the Oregon School Board Association (OSBA) picked up your Tribune piece on its list of articles sent daily to Oregon School Board members like myself. Your PPS school board directors are automatically members of OSBA.

    Info about OSBA is available at, which is also part of the National School Board Association at I think you’ll find these topics extensively and exhaustively researched and discussed, with some school districts actually serving as models for the rest of the nation.

    I would hope that with community support, PPS could evolve forward into the progressive, equitable, and excellent school district that we all hope for.

    Since I’m not part of the PPS district, I cannot comment on the specific information in your article or on your blog. However, I keyed in on the topics of charter schools and equity. In order to have a greater impact on the discussions at PPS on these topics, I suggest you examine other instances of this issue throughout the state. If something can be done to remedy the impact of charter schools on school districts and neighborhood schools, it really needs to be done legislatively. ORS 338 ( not provide sufficient guidelines or protections for sponsoring school districts. Frankly, there is very little any Oregon school district can do about any group that wants to start a charter and receive public funds. If any local district does not sponsor a charter request, the state will, further removing the charter school from ANY local control of the local school board, including the few reasons a school district could close an inappropriately managed charter.

    In this discussion, since it has made its way into a wider state forum, it would be valuable to everyone for your new PPS Equity blog site to keep the language clean and well written like your piece that made it into press. I appreciated the stark difference between your well-prepared sentences and the mistake-ridden responses of apparent charter school supporters.

    Your school board has sooooo many big issues to deal with. You need to know that as unpaid volunteers, as required by state law, adversarial relationships will never work. Success is all about persuasion and partnerships. Having the best information, the best arguments, and the best persistence will help PPS move forward and hopefully take the state with it.

    Thank you for caring and good luck.

  2. Comment from Dale Sherbourne:

    In regards to charter schools,magnet,language immersion.
    Section 20 of the Oregon constitution:
    Section 20. Equality of privileges and immunities of citizens. No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens. —
    The point being those with the means can attend these options those without cannot. Inthe case of foster children they do not even have the option of choice because they have no advocate to make that decision and the funds that are expended on those schools directly impacts the level of education that would be provided to foster,and other children under that are under state supervision, at their local public school so I feel these schools are in direct violation of the Oregon constitution.
    Your thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks Dale

  3. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Thanks for the info, Canterey, and I appreciate your words about persuasion vs. adversarial relationships. I’ve said the same thing on this site, and I believe I have a constructive relationship with our school board and superintendent Carole Smith.

    We’re coming out of a frustrating period in Portland, and it is very refreshing to have a superintendent who genuinely seems to want to listen to the community, and who also has a track record of helping disadvantaged kids.

    Dale, I responded to your constitutional question on the forum. Seems like if it is unconstitutional, somebody would have to file a class action suit to test it.

  4. Comment from Steve Buel:

    You are right about not having real info about PPS school board politics. Reasoned arguments and persuasion have never worked since Matt Prophet left as supt. in the late 1980’s. To suggest that it does work in any manner is way off the mark. I defy you to list one time when reasoned arguments and persuasion has been successful in improving things for children in lower economic neighborhoods in Portland. Don’t we all wish you could.

    The recent incident with the Portland School Foundation is a great example. The PSF forces out a bright, outstanding educator because she cared deeply about poor children’s education and thus didn’t fit in their upper middle class agenda. The PSF let stand the info besmirching her unblemished reputation even though they knew darn well she had done nothing wrong and the newspaper suggestions were bogus. So do you suggest I call them up and offer to sit down and discuss this travesty? I am sure they would be more than happy to rectify it after a nice discussion with me over tea. Another recent example is the devastating cuts offered to PPS custodians and service workers. Are we dealing with a reasonable school board here? Where is the superintendent in telling the school board such cuts are not only rediculous but transparently vindictive. Is Carol Smith taking a 33% pay cut, what about offering the same deal to the teachers or administrators they are offering the custodians? After all both teachers and administrators are more able to absorb a pay cut of this magntude than custodians. Do you imagine if I sit down and explain this to the board in a helpful way they will say, oh yes, Steve, we see it all now?

    Look, I am for Obama too and I believe this country can use a good deal more reasonableness, but let’s not fool ourselves in believing that people who have been highly unreasonable and totally willing to sit down with detractors or, in this case, advocates for Portland’s lower economic schools will be any more reasonable than they have always been.

    If I’m wrong, hey, school board members call me up — I will sit down and reason with you and when I win the arguments then you have to agree to make the changes to what you are doing. And then we can work together to rectify these wrongs. I’m in the phone book.

  5. Comment from hbl:

    I would have to disagree that “charter school students are less likely to have special needs”. At the charter school where my children attend, well over 50% of the boys have some type of special need. Because of the specialized instruction at this charter a majority of these boys do not need IEPs. I feel that the stats from PPS do not accurately reflect numbers of special need students in charter schools. Charter school most likely attract more families with special needs.

  6. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    For statistical purposes, “special needs” is a technical term describing children on an IEP. That charter schools in Portland serve a smaller percentage of children on IEPs than the rest of the district is not debatable.

    I could say “well over 50% of the boys have some type of special need” about pretty much every school I’ve visited in the district. But it doesn’t have any statistical significance, since it is a casual observation.

    There are diagnostic criteria to get a child on and IEP, and every school — charter, neighborhood, or focus-option — is held to the same diagnostic and reporting standards.

  7. Comment from hbl:

    You are absolutely right, Mr. Rawley. But if a special needs child can succeed at a charter school without an IEP and only succeed at their neighborhood school with an IEP — the PPS ‘data’ is not really supporting the truth.