“Equity” Budget = Cuts to Poor Schools

Now that we’re supposedly examining every policy move through the “lens of equity,” you might expect there to be some changes to the FTE formula to help out the schools that have suffered dramatic program cuts under the radical PPS student transfer policy and a decade of failed market-based experiments.

But if you expected that, you’d be sorely disappointed.

Reports are trickling in from all around the district of real and effective cuts in FTE budget, even as schools are faced with new mandates to offer more “enrichment.” At Madison High, they are facing a cut of 2 FTE positions, even as they add eighth grade. This adds up to an effective cut of 3-4 FTE positions for 9-12.

At Jefferson, it is rumored that they will be losing upwards of eight FTE positions, with more positions shifted away from the (supposedly) merging 9-12 school to the gender-segregated academies.

At Peninsula Elementary, they’re getting an addtional 1.27 FTE positions. But one of those is used up for the “enrichment” requirement, and they’re also adding eighth grade. Adding a middle school grade with .27 FTE is tricky, to put it in the most charitable light.

Now comes word, from a parent e-mail list, that Ockley Green is losing nine positions next year:

Those positions include the Vice Principal, the Disciplinarian, one secretary, one physical education teacher, 2 educational assistant positions, 2 retiring teacher positions not being filled, 1/2 of the counselor and 1/2 of the librarian’s position.

A true focus on equity would assure that the real cost of open transfers would no longer be shifted in terms of reduced opportunities onto students who chose not to (or are unable to) transfer. The district, if they intend to keep the transfer policy in place, needs to bear its full cost and quit cutting programs in our poorest schools.

PPS needs to step up and define, implement, and guarantee a comprehensive educational experience for all students in every neighborhood of Portland. Then we can talk about equity. Until then, it’s just an empty buzz word.

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

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PPS Proposes PK-8 Parental Involvement Plan

The school district has proposed a time line and process for parental involvement in the PK-8 transition. Here is the text of an e-mail sent from PPS administrator Sara Allan to PTA representatives:

Dear PTA representatives,

As announced by Superintendent Smith in early March, PPS has kicked off an action team to develop a consistent model and set of standards around what successful PK-8 and middle schools need to look like within the PPS system. This team, led by Harriet Adair, Area Director of the Grant Cluster and interim head of the Office of Schools, has been charged with the development of a district wide plan for PK-8 education by June. The goal of the plan is to ensure that all PK-8 and Middle Schools are building a robust program that enables all students to leave 8th grade ready to be successful in high school. The team is comprised of principals from all levels of PK-12, as well as representatives from district support services. See the attached slides (36KB PDF) which outline our team’s charter in more detail.

We greatly appreciated hearing your thoughts regarding the current strengths and challenges facing your PK-8 schools back in February, and your input has helped to shape the team’s workplan. We would like to set up a process to have parent representatives from the PK8 and middle schools engage in the
development of the plan as the team moves forward. The PPS internal team is meeting to specify the beginning elements of the plan in the next few weeks. As such, we want to set up several points for parents to respond and give input. We hope to develop a rough strawman of a PK-8 program model in the next couple of weeks which we could then share in written format online by the end of the first week of April. We could then set up a parent input session in mid to late April to gather specific comments on it. We’d then go back and do more work and do another session, likely in mid-late May.

Stay tuned for more information about upcoming meetings. In the meantime, any ideas or feedback you have before we get together face to face about the
process or the focus of the team’s work are welcome. Feel free to contact me by email, or phone at 503 916 3047.

We look forward to working together with you.

Sincerely,

Sara Allan

Sara Allan
Director
HR Operations
& Organizational Development
Portland Public Schools

sallan@pps.k12.or.us
p. 503 916 3047
f. 503-916-3110

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

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Penninsula Parent on Budget: Enrichment Under-Funded

Parent Nicole Legget posted her letter to the school board and superintendent on the forum yesterday. It’s a very good read, and includes analysis of effective FTE cuts at Peninsula that ring true for many schools in the district, like Madison High School. (Jefferson is also rumored to be losing a lot of FTE next year, a situation that is aggravated by a rumored shift of additional FTE from Jefferson proper to the gender-segregated academies.)

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

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Equity in Teacher Experience

Average teacher experience (in years) in Portland Public Schools: 14.2
Number of schools with average teacher experience of 12 years or fewer: 17
Number of these schools in the Jefferson, Madison Marshall and Roosevelt clusters: 15
Number of these schools in the Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson clusters: 0
Number of schools with average teacher experience of 16 years or more: 21
Number of these schools in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters: 5
Number of these schools in the Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson clusters: 15

Source: PPS

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

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Election ’08 — Fred Stewart

Fred Stewart has responded to the PPS Equity candidate questionnaire, with a good historical perspective on the PPS transfer policy, magnet programs, and equity.

Comments are open on Stewart’s page.

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

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K-8 Equity?

On the theme of equity, which has become a very popular word at PPS, I’ve been thinking more about the K-8 transition.

The locations of the remaining middle schools seems to be entirely capricious, which is typical of the entire K-8 transition, but, not surprisingly, the only two clusters to lose 6-8 schools entirely are clusters hit hard by the enrollment drain of open transfers: Jefferson and Madison.

Ironically, these two clusters have unique issues that could have been avoided entirely if they’d kept 6-8 options.

In the Jefferson cluster, Chief Joseph only has room for Pre-K-5, and there is no place for sixth graders to go, besides one of the K-8 schools or the 6-12 gender-segregated academies at Jefferson. Robert Gray, on the west side, has been the default middle school for Chief Joseph for years. Why should these kids have to take TriMet across town for middle school?

We also could have avoided this problem by keeping Kenton open, instead of merging with Chief Joseph. The Kenton building, now leased to a private religious school, could have housed K-8 or a comprehensive 6-8.

In the Madison cluster, the K-8 schools are too small to house eighth graders, so they’re sending them to Madison. These students may be lucky compared to eighth graders at schools like Beach, in the Jefferson cluster, where there were five eighth graders enrolled last fall.

So I ask again: where’s the equity in all this? Why are students in the Jefferson and Madison clusters denied not only comprehensive high schools, but comprehensive middle schools, too? How is it equitable for the Cleveland and Wilson clusters to have two comprehensive middle schools and comprehensive high schools, while our Jefferson and Madison cluster kids get nothing?

Pushing ahead with the K-8 transition is moving us away from equity, not toward it.

Here are the middle schools by cluster:

Cleveland: Hosford, Sellwood
Franklin: Mt. Tabor
Grant: Beaumont, da Vinci Arts
Lincoln: West Sylvan
Marshall: Binnsmead, Lane
Roosevelt: George
Wilson: Gray, Jackson

Jefferson: none
Madison: none

Thoughts?

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

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Time for an Honest Discussion About High Schools

After broadly hinting that we need to close two high schools in the press in January, Portland Public Schools abruptly pulled back from discussing the future of our existing ten high schools publicly.

The need to focus energy and resources on completing the questionable K-8 transition seemed to be the reason, but Beth Slovic at the Willamette Week published an e-mail yesterday that points to another reason.

The e-mail, from outside facilities consultant Bill DeJong, criticizes the leaders of Carole Smith’s high school team (not mentioned by name, but presumably Leslie Rennie Hill and John Wilhelmi) for not moving quickly enough toward the kind of change he would like to see — i.e. school closures.

Superintendent Smith sent an e-mail last evening explaining that the high school discussion and facilities discussion are on separate tracks. It is a reasonable position, worth supporting in the face of outside consultants who would rush us toward school closures.

“The work is urgent, but it must not be frenetic or imposed quickly upon the community to meet an artificial timeline. Any changes will require community vetting and ownership, as well as thoughtful planning before implementation; this much we have learned from past school closures and reconfiguration,” wrote Smith.

Smith acknowledges that our “liberal transfer policy” has a role in some high schools sitting “half empty, while others are bursting.”

She also responds indirectly to DeJong’s criticism: “Decisions about the size and location of our high school buildings, while important, will come as the result of this strategy. The buildings cannot drive the strategy. For that reason, and very consciously, I have asked the Portland School Board not to include our high schools in this winter’s facilities discussions.”

Agreed.

So let’s talk about high schools.

I’m willing to accept that we would be better off with fewer high schools. Eight high schools would give us an average size of about 1,400, enough to fund a full curriculum. (All five of Beaverton’s neighborhood high schools have more than 2,000 students.)

There are a couple preconditions I would like to add to the conversation, in addition to the “buildings cannot drive the strategy” bit.

  1. Siting of schools must be based on where students live, not where they’ve transfered.
  2. Comprehensive highs must be the centerpiece of our high school strategy. This is key to equity. These schools must be available to all students, in the neighborhoods where they live. Special focus options should be centrally located, like Benson, and as is done in districts like Beaverton. They should not be co-located with neighborhood programs, and definitely not substitute for comprehensive schools in poor neighborhoods.
  3. The “liberal transfer policy” must be examined in light of equalizing programming across the district.
  4. Siting must not be influenced in any way by the commercial value of the land of existing facilities.

Smith closes her e-mail, “It’s high time to have that conversation, and I hope you will join us.”

I couldn’t agree more. Maybe the first step is to fire the outside consultants who don’t seem to get that we want and orderly process. The next step is to lay all the cards on the table. Anybody who’s paid attention knows that we’re talking about closing at least two high schools.

Let’s get it all out in the open.

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

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Portland as a National Leader?

I’m relatively new to Portland. I moved here from St. Louis, MO last year. One of the many reasons my wife and I chose to move to Portland was its status as a progressive landmark in a sea of conservative mediocrity. But, after living here for almost a year, I’ve seen that things are not quite what I expected them to be. I’m disappointed, but I still believe in Portland and I still believe in Portland Public Schools. Maybe I’m a naive romantic idealist, but I still believe that great things can happen in this city because so many incredible people live here and are passionate about this city’s future and, in particular, its schools.

There’s a lot we can learn from other states and from other school districts who have managed to stand up against No Child Left Behind, who have spoken up for high-quality education that is not slave to test prep. Lots of folks claim there’s nothing that a single school district can do in relation to a federal law. But there are plenty of examples that show this simply is not true:

A DuPage County Illinois school district — Carol Stream Elementary District 93 — is considering not administering mandatory state exams to students who haven’t yet mastered English. District 93 officials say they’re willing to break the law this spring to shield students from the frustration and humiliation of taking an exam not designed for them. “The board believes it’s appropriate to do that,” District 93 Superintendent Henry Gmitro said. “While there may be consequences for the adults in the organization, we shouldn’t ask kids to be tested on things they haven’t been taught.”

What can the PPS Board do? The board can learn from its peer organization and take a similar stand for children.

Several school districts around the country joined with the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, and filed a lawsuit against the federal government. The suit rightly contents that, amongst many problems with NCLB, one of the most egregious aspects of this horrible law is that it asks states to pay for all the extra testing out of their own budgets. This was an important act of defiance. The law suit was initially thrown out. But in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the NEA and the other plaintiffs that states and local districts simply can’t be required to spend their own money to comply with the federal law.

What can the PPS Board do? The board can issue a statement of support, outlining why they believe the NEA suit is an important step in supporting high-quality public education for all children.

The PPS board can also learn from what state governments are doing and urge legislators in Salem to take similar actions.
Connecticut is bucking NCLB via a lawsuit similar to the NEA suit. According to the state web site, “If Connecticut follows the federal government’s suggestion and cheapens its testing model – eliminating writing assessments altogether, using only multiple choice in the added testing grades – the state will spend about $9.9 million. Even under this cheaper testing model, Connecticut is left with a $4 million unfunded mandate.”

What can the PPS Board do? The board can issue a statement of support, outlining why the Connecticut suit is an important step in supporting high-quality public education for all children. The board can also lobby state legislators and ask them to consider a similar lawsuit.

The Virginia State Legislature just voted to withdraw from participation from NCLB – the legislation now awaits consideration by Gov. Timothy Kaine.

What can the PPS Board do? The board can issue a statement of support, outlining why Virginia’s action is an important step in supporting high-quality public education for all children. The board can also lobby state legislators and ask them to consider a similar withdrawal.

Apart from simply following the lead of other districts and other states, PPS can also take the lead on policies that support high-quality education for all children. What might some of those policies be? Here are a few to get started:

  • end the transfer policy and make every school a “choice” school
  • revise, slow down, or end the mandated common curriculum and empower teachers through high-quality, site-based professional development
  • expand art, music, foreign languages, and PE and make these so-called “enrichments” available to every child, not just those who attend schools with wealthy parents
  • end the test prep that starts in pre-K and adopt a developmentally appropriate curriculum for our youngest learners

You can do it, PPS! I believe in you!

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.

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Election ’08 — Jim Middaugh

PPS Parent and City Council Candidate Jim Middaugh has provided his thoughtful responses to the PPS Equity candidate questionnaire. Middaugh is currently Eric Sten’s chief of staff, and has been instrumental in implementing the City’s Schools, Families, Housing Initiative.

Comments are open on Middaugh’s page.

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

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Why Fine Arts Matter

Here’s a radical thought:

The arts — dance, drama, music, visual arts — belong in the core education of every child. An
arts-rich education improves student achievement, attitudes, and attendance. Schools committed
to the arts report lower dropout rates. Sustained involvement in the arts highly correlates with
success in mathematics and reading, especially among economically disadvantaged populations.
When the arts become central to the learning environment, schools become places of discovery,
promoting respect for cultural diversity and creating a strong sense of community through shared
experiences.

Who said that? Our friends who run the Beaverton School District.

The Beaverton School District strives to ensure excellence in education for all children by
providing a variety of arts experiences, a comprehensive and sequential fine arts program, and
equity of opportunity
.

(Emphasis added.)

This is from Beaverton School District’s Fine Arts Position Paper (29KB PDF). It is a refreshingly common-sense attitude toward fine arts education, one we find utterly lacking in Portland Public Schools.

Instead of a comprehensive and sequential curriculum, we have a confusing patchwork of offerings at the discretion of site administrators. We are not properly building foundations in the elementary years to feed into specialized fine arts programs in the secondary years (band, orchestra, chorus, etc.). But even worse, we are not building well-rounded learners.

Allowing site administrators to choose from a cafeteria of “enrichment,” without centrally coordinated curricula goals, virtually guarantees that our children will not be adequately educated in the fine arts. It also guarantees that inequity will not only persist, it will continue to be hidden in the weeds of a poorly-planned, poorly-implemented “system” of fine arts education.

Given research showing the benefits of fine arts education on attendance, achievement, attitude and drop-out rates, a budget truly focused on equity would insist on a centrally-coordinated fine arts curriculum at all of our Title I schools.

Instead, the proposed 2008-09 budget adds a small amount of FTE across the board, simply reinforcing existing inequities in arts education.

We can — and should — do better than this.

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

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