The Last “Celebration”

12:56 pm

I attended the last Portland Public Schools “Celebrate!” event yesterday, and handed out leaflets (109KB PDF) drawing attention to the inequities that follow the open transfer policy. Fellow Neighborhood Schools Alliance member Terry Olson braved the absolutely miserable weather with me, and we handed out 500 fliers in the first two hours of the event.

If you think it’s a little odd for a school district to set up a shopping mall for their schools, you’re not alone. Several families I spoke with were virtually speechless. What’s even more appalling, once you scratch the surface, is that this showcase event exposes the startling inequities between our neighborhood schools. I spoke with parent Peter Campbell, who’s been trying to get the district to publish curriculum offerings for all elementary schools, to no avail. Even at an event like this, he discovered that it is virtually impossible to get accurate, consistent data.

This inconsistency is incredibly frustrating, and it is one of the ways PPS is shifting the true cost of its open transfer policy onto families. If the district really wanted to do this right, the real costs would include a standardized format for schools to publish their offerings, and full-time marketing staff at each school, so that administrative staff could focus on running their schools and educating our children. The real cost of doing this would be prohibitive, of course, and nobody wants to spend precious FTE budget on marketing. Yet without it, parents are not able to make informed choices.

Of course, it would be far less expensive — not to mention far more fair — to have a uniform core curriculum, including music, art and P.E., in all our schools.

I’m glad this is the last “Celebration” PPS will spend money on. The Oregonian reports that these events have typically cost $300,000 to put on. That’s easily enough to pay for the three FTE positions I’ve advocated to restore the music department in the Jefferson cluster.

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

filed under: Equity, Transfer Policy

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12 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, what were your impressions of the event? Did the upper middle class schools look the best? How did people market the outer SE schools with very little to offer? I would be interested to know. Nice job of going after the inequities.

  2. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I spent the first two hours out in the rain, then the next two hours talking to families and district administrators, and watching the Jefferson dancers.

    I didn’t actually get around to all the tables to do specific compare and contrast, but there were some pretty stark differences between some of the “academies.”

  3. Comment from Gabrielle:

    I am still trying to figure out why I drug my family to this event, my husband had to take time off from work and we spent $6 for parking! I have too many emotions to write.
    Essentially we were told by the Vice Principal of our first choice school not to bother applying if we really dislike our neighborhood school because there are so few slots available (at her school) we won’t get in anyway. Her recommendation was to apply to a school without the level of demand (uh, duh but there is a reason there isn’t a demand!).
    This led us to the school transfer and enrollment information booth, where again when we stated our top three choices, we were told we would probably be SOL.
    I asked several questions that greatly frustrated the PPS employee: 1. How is this equitable and fair if there are losers and we have been told before even applying that we are on the losing end?
    2. How is it fair and equitable to have special focus/magnate schools as neighborhood schools for SOME when my neighborhood school doesn’t even have the basics?
    3. Why is there the option to chose three schools when we are told (by PPS) that the schools we will list as our second and third will be the first choice of others and therefore unavailable to us (assuming we aren’t randomly selected in the first round for our first choice)?
    And of course the last question 4. Has anyone sued yet that did not get into their school choice and what would the process be for us to challenge the outcome of the lottery (and really the name lottery….are we gambling our children’s education…because it sure feels like it to me)?
    We have toured (schools)to exhaustion and aren’t done yet. I just hope there is a Portland of the future where all schools are equal, all kids attend their neighborhood school, and we will all be proud to say our children attend Portland Public Schools.
    In the mean time our child’s education is worth more then the gamble on our neighborhood school so we will gamble on three others. We have no plan B.

  4. Comment from Zarwen:


    If it makes you feel any better, I personally know some folks whose children were admitted to their 2nd and 3rd choice schools. Honest.

  5. Comment from Gabrielle:

    Thanks, it does! It has been hard to keep the faith in this process.

  6. Comment from Neisha:

    Have you guys seen this:

    There was a post from Sarah Carlin Ames in our school newsletter saying it was the place to go for inside school info from other parents.

  7. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Yep, I’ve seen it, and I’ve read their blogs.

    For people who label themselves as “urban” and “activistas,” they sure don’t want to challenge the status quo in any way, shape or form.

    They had a forum about school choice at the central library last week, and were very quick to divert things any time the discussion veered into the realm of actually discussing equity or how the transfer policy hurts neighborhood schools.

  8. Comment from Neisha:

    Is there some connection between them and PPS? I thought they were independent, so I was kinda confused that the item in our newsletter directing us to the site came from PPS.

  9. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    No connection; in fact, I hear they intentionally and explicitly did not invite any PPS reps to their forum.

    My take on them is that they represent a middle class elite, trying to work the system to their advantage (as opposed to building a movement to make the system better for everybody).

    As somebody aware of “urban” issues and the Central American solidarity movement of the 1980s, I find their chosen monikers a little curious.

    As for PPS communications staff pointing people to an external source of information, it speaks volumes about what appears to be a completely broken information management system at PPS.

  10. Comment from Zarwen:


    From here, this looks a bit like overanalysis. There’s no doubt this group is “urban,” but does the choice of “activistas” necessitate some connection to the “Central American solidarity movement of the 1980s”? Maybe they just like the way the word sounds!

    As far as their forum goes, they were quite explicit in saying from the beginning that it was NOT their purpose to debate the merits of the transfer system, they only wanted to provide information to other parents about how to navigate it. Who better to provide such information than parents who have already been through it? I don’t dispute that PPS communication is weak, but even if it weren’t, aren’t other parents really the best source of info about schools? ANY kind of schools? The “panel” at this forum was advertised as including representatives from focus option, charter, alternative, neighborhood, and home-schooling. I did not attend the forum, but if this is what the panel was like, then it sounds pretty balanced to me.

    Rather than viewing them as “a middle class elite, trying to work the system to their advantage,” maybe they are just a group of mothers trying to do the best they can for their kids? Pitting parents against each other is something PPS is really good at. Why play into their hands this way?

  11. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    They needn’t have any connection to the Central American solidarity movement of the ’80s to call themselves activistas, but the name does imply some sort of collective social activism. I’m not seeing that.

    Even as you report it, the panel would have been pretty stacked against neighborhood schools (since the vast majority of students go to neighborhood schools). But the “neighborhood” school reps on the panel actually have their kids in a dual immersion special focus option.

    So in the end, they had zero representation from parents in neighborhood schools. None.

    My take on the “urban” mamas as elitist isn’t just based on this event. It’s also based on e-mails and blog comments they’ve exchanged with a friend, and their “hurt feelings” at being called out by a single black mom for their exclusivity.

    I’m not trying to pit parents against one another. To the contrary. But the urban mamas’ uncritical, everyone for themselves boosterism of school choice certainly does pit parents against each other.

    Wouldn’t a true “activista” speak out against a system that reduces us to fighting over the dwindling crumbs available in our neighborhood schools after enrollment and funding is siphoned off the top for the boutique schools they’re so excited about?

  12. Comment from Terry:

    Well, isn’t that the problem, Zarwen? “Their” kids gaming a system stacked against “our” kids?

    I agree with Steve. An “urban activista” should take a stand on equity and fairness. Or they should change their moniker.