A few facts about PK-8

    Number of students in grades 6-8 in PPS: 9,866
    Percent assigned to a traditional middle school (6-8): 55%
    Percent assigned to a PK-8 (or some variant): 45%
    Of those assigned to a traditional middle school, percent in the Cleveland, Wilson and Lincoln clusters: 57%
    Percent in the Jefferson, Madison and Roosevelt clusters: 8%
    Number of middle schools in the Jefferson, Madison and Roosevelt clusters: 1
    Number of middle schools in the Wilson cluster: 2
    Basic size of FTE budget allotted to teach the entire middle school curriculum in a typical PK-8 with around 75 middle schoolers: about 3
    Size of the FTE budget alloted to teach at a typical middle school with around 450 students: about 20
    Number of middle schoolers at Humboldt: 33
    Number of middle schoolers at Boise-Elliot: 48
    Number of middle schoolers at Robert Gray Middle School: 494

Source: School Profiles & Enrollment Data, 2007-2008, Portland Public Schools

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

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Student transfers and the environment

Terry Olson has a great post on his blog on the environmental impact of school transfers.

Nobody’s done a statistical survey to evaluate the number of vehicle miles traveled daily as families criss-cross the city taking their children out of their neighborhoods for school, but Terry scratches the surface by looking at the numbers of students transferring in and out of a handful of schools.

The cover story of yesterday’s Willamette Week is about seven ways Portland can be more green. Too bad they didn’t read Terry’s post before they went to press.

There is no reason Portland Public Schools can’t provide quality, comprehensive education in every neighborhood. The infrastructure is in place (even if it is in need of upgrades), and it is difficult to argue that families transfer out because the want to drive their kids across town and back every day.

The truth and shame of PPS is that they have allowed enrollment and funding to flood out of our poorest neighborhoods. Instead of attempting to stanch the flow, they have encouraged it by gutting programs (like the Jefferson arts magnet), eliminating comprehensive high schools in favor of experimentation in Gates small schools, closing schools, and eliminating middle school options (the Madison and Jefferson clusters have completely lost middle schools).

As with the greater economy, the free market system is beginning to creak and groan under environmental and human costs that have previously been written off. It simply is not sustainable to continue to defund our poorest neighborhoods to the tune of tens of millions of dollars annually.

As I’ve argued consistently over the past year, it is time for a New Deal for Portland Public Schools. We need to reinvest in our poorest neighborhoods, and remove any legitimate reason to transfer from one neighborhood school to another. (There will always be a place for centrally-located focus option schools, like Benson, da Vinci Arts and MLC, and I’m not arguing for the end of this kind of “choice.”)

It’s the right thing to do for the planet, for our children, and for our neighborhoods. What’s stopping the school board and superintendent from acting, and revamping the transfer policy and the distribution of our educational investment? As far as I can tell, it’s the fear of alienating a small number of upper middle class families.

They actually seem to be holding the planet and the majority of our children hostage in the interest of not upsetting a small minority of their constituents. This continues to bring shame to our great city, and intolerable inequity to our poorest citizens.

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

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Portland schools “did not measure up”

With the virtually unchallenged* talk of 300,000 new residents moving to Portland, and the need to build more high-density housing near rail transit to accommodate them, it’s curious that nobody talks about the role of schools in people deciding to move to a city.

An article posted today in Pittsburgh’s POP City profiles a couple with a young child about to start school who decided to leave San Francisco so their son could have a better chance at things.

After extensive research, they came up with a short list: Portland, Boulder, Seattle, Asheville, N.C., Pittsburgh, Burlington, VT. and Minneapolis.

Wait a minute… Pittsburgh? Well, you guessed it; that’s where they ended up. And guess why the ruled out Portland?

“Portland, while culturally rich, had higher real estate prices and public schools that did not measure up.”

Guess why they ruled out Minneapolis? “Minneapolis had a public school lottery which was out of the question.”

I’m not saying we need to build up our schools to attract new residents. But when our schools are shaming our city, maybe it’s time to act. Portland Public Schools are depriving students of opportunity they can never recover, threatening the future of our city.

*Sho Dozono, to his credit, does question this figure, primarily on the basis of available housing.

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

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Gates “Small Schools” Have Worst Dropout Rates in PPS

Still touted as a way to close the achievement gap, the “small schools” model that has gutted the high schools in Portland’s poorest neighborhoods is proving to be not just unpopular, but also impotent in retaining students.

Seven of ten of the schools with the worst graduation rates in the metro area are in PPS, and all seven were split into small schools under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored Office of High Schools, headed by outgoing chief Leslie Rennie-Hill.

Rennie-Hill wants to pretend that there hasn’t been massive community resistance to the the small schools model, which constrains students to narrow choices of curriculum and strips much of the richness of curriculum common in traditional comprehensive high schools like Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson.

This model was so roundly rejected at Jefferson, the community seems to have prevailed in convincing the district to reunite the two main academies there for the 2008-09 school year.

Instead of acknowledging their popular rejection, Rennie-Hill blames No Child Left Behind for having drained the small schools of their higher-achieving students. This from the Thursday, April 10 Oregonian:

Several factors may have influenced the low numbers, said Leslie Rennie-Hill, the district’s chief of high schools. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, students at schools that don’t meet federal benchmarks in math and reading have the option to transfer to a higher-achieving school.

The exodus left Marshall and Roosevelt with “a harder population to teach, a population with more academic challenges,” she said.

The administrator of the grants, also funded by the Meyer Memorial Trust, is quick to the defense, claiming the small school transition simply needs more time to work.

But the truth is that graduation rates are indicators of poverty. Portland Public Schools are increasingly segregated by poverty, and moves like splitting up comprehensive high schools into narrowly focussed academies simply encourages more socio-economic segregation. The answer to schools with problems of poverty is integration; that is, bring back the middle class that has fled these disastrous experiments with our childrens’ lives.

And the way to bring back the middle class is simple: bring back comprehensive high schools, so students don’t have to transfer to get what students take for granted in the other half our city.

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

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The Candidates Speak on Public Schools

The candidates for Portland City Council and Mayor are starting to talk about schools, and already there has been some interesting talk.

Willamette Week is posting video of their joint endorsement interviews, which have so far included candidates for commssioner #1 and #2, as well as mayoral candidates Sho Dozono and Sam Adams.

Jim Middaugh, a candidate for commissioner #2, raised some eyebrows at PPS with his response to the PPS Equity candidate questionnaire, in which he claims city staff of the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative helped avert a school closure. This prompted Matt Shelby from PPS to note “I’m not aware of closure plans, or even discussions for that matter, involving any of our schools.”

(Middaugh, like all other candidates who have responded to the questionnaire except Fred Stewart, carefully avoids talking about holding the district accountable to the Flynn-Blackmer audit.)

In the Willamette Week interview, Middaugh declares that schools are his top priority, and he cites his work on the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative as an example of how the city can help schools.

What he doesn’t mention is that in the first of two rounds of this grant, only one small project was funded that will actually be school-based. I’m not saying the other projects aren’t worthy, but there’s only so much a million dollars could do even if all of it were spent on our schools. One $14,000 grant isn’t much to crow about.

But I don’t want to pick on Midaugh. The fact that he has kids in PPS is one positive he would be wise to play up.

The mayoral candidates are also jumping on the schools bandwagon, and also tip-toeing around any serious issues, like the glaring inequity documented over several years by the Neighborhood Schools Alliance, and more recently by me and the Jefferson PTSA.

Sho Dozono is vague about schools, as he is with pretty much everything, but thinks businesses and non-profits should be more involved. Sam Adams is all about “fundraising” (how about revenue raising?), and seems to have tuned in to the Jefferson High School “charrette” fiasco, with no awareness of the community fallout that followed this top-secret plan to demolish Jefferson and essentially cede the property to PCC.

In the Willamette Week interview, Adams talks glowingly of a Jefferson High fully integrated with PCC.

It’s surely not be a bad thing for some students to earn college credit while they go to high school. But this demonstrates how out of touch Adams is with his constituents in North Portland, who have been cool to the idea of demolishing Jefferson High and rebuilding it as an extension of the PCC campus.

Of course, this idea is consistent with the developer-centric ethos of Adams, much of City Hall, and PPS, so we shouldn’t be terribly surprised.

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

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Equity Lens Needs Some Focussing

“We’ve been overstaffed. We’re working real hard on figuring what the right staffing level is.” — Cathy Mincberg in today’s Tribune, justifying deep staffing cuts at Jefferson, Madison and Ockley Green, and effective cuts at Peninsula.

The Trib article, by Jennifer Anderson, notes that Peninsula is getting an additional 1.27 FTE next year, but doesn’t mention that this increase will need to cover not just the added eighth grade class, but also the new “enrichment” requirement, as reported here last week.

Peninsula parent (and PPS Equity participant) Nicole Leggett understands this, even if district administrators and board members do not. “The increase is so teensy,” she says in the Trib, of Peninsula’s FTE budget. “That’s just one little thing, a crumb, not the darn cookie. We don’t have what we need.”

Board member David Wynde is also quoted, basically blaming declining enrollment and saying things are tough all over, which has a kernel of truth.

But things are especially bad in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters, where enrollment has been artificially drained by the transfer policy, not demographics. The cost of this transfer policy is thusly born, in terms of reduced opportunity, by the students who do not transfer, and who have dramatically fewer middle school options than students living in wealthier clusters.

How does this look through the equity lens?

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

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Do the Math on PK-8

Portland Public Schools allocates teachers for middle school students at a ratio of 23.5:1. Take a PK-8 school like Beach, for example, with 68 students enrolled in grades 6-8.

Not accounting for SES, Title I, grants or adjustments, that would be just under 3 FTE positions dedicated to teaching the entire middle school curriculum. (Keep in mind that middle school teachers require extra certification, so you can’t just shuffle, say, a third grade teacher to teach middle school algebra or science while his kids are in reading groups.)

Even assuming some of Beach’s additional FTE from SES, Title I, etc. is used for middle school, they’ve still got fewer teachers than subjects.

There is a limit to how small a middle school environment can be and still be reasonably expected to provide the “basics” — not to mention the arts, industrial education, independent living, or any of the other great things children once got in middle school.

In our rush to reconfigure, this fundamental fact has been ignored. If we are to provide our students with a comprehensive middle school education in PK-8 schools, it is going to be vastly more expensive than in 6-8 schools.

Look at a middle school like Beaumont, with 460 middle school students and over 20 FTE positions. You can see how the concentration of students in these age bands would allow the school to offer quite a range of both core curriculum and electives, which simply isn’t possible with the smaller numbers of students in these age bands in PK-8 schools.

I’m not saying PK-8 simply won’t work. With more support (i.e. money), one could imagine a functional PK-8.

But the district isn’t acknowledging this cost, much less moving toward paying it. Instead, just like with open transfer enrollment, they are shifting this cost onto students in the form of reduced educational opportunities. And further echoing the transfer policy, the students who are paying this cost are disproportionately poor and minority.

If we are to plunge ahead with this PK-8 experiment, the district must start bearing some of the cost. We also need to maintain middle school options for all students in every cluster, since they can simply offer more curriculum, more cost-effectively, and are better equipped to prepare more of our students for high school.

Once again I ask: What is the purpose of the PK-8 transition? If it is to cut options for poor and minority students, it is succeeding wildly. If it is to offer more “enrichment” to more students at lower cost (as was stated by the previous administration), it is a demonstrable failure and needs to be reversed. If there’s some other reason, it needs to be articulated.

Our children are too important to play this kind of game with.

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

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Oregonian Letter to the Editor

This letter to the editor, from Jefferson High PTSA members Nicole Breedlove, Lakeitha Elliott, Shei’Meka Newmann and Nancy Smith, was published in the Oregonian on Saturday, April 6 [I'll link it on the press page when it shows up in the archives. -ed.]:

To the Editor,

Commemorating the life of Martin Luther King is important, but it’s not enough. During the Mayor’s Week at Jefferson in January, the Jefferson PTSA presented a resolution to the Portland School Board and City Council which began with:

“WHEREAS, Portland Public Schools policies have resulted in increased racial and socio-economic segregation in our city’s public schools and discriminatory access to educational opportunities for Portland’s children and youth, in direct conflict with local, state, and federal education policies as well as the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

The PTSA’s document detailed specific examples of inequitable and discriminatory school district policies and actions, and concluded with almost five pages of recommendations for addressing those issues. How many of our school district and city leaders even read the document? If they did, they certainly didn’t respond.

[But just like 40 years ago, it's not just the policy makers who are responsible for discriminatory policies. The folks who felt entitled to sit at the front of the bus, or who did it just because they could, were also responsible. It's no different today.]

It doesn’t matter how many people participate in a civil rights march, if we continue to allow discrimination to exist in our public schools, the justice system, and throughout our society. Martin Luther King may have reached the promised land, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Nicole Breedlove, North Portland
Lakeitha Elliott, Northeast Portland
Shei’Meka Newmann
Nancy Smith, North Portland

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

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Breaking News: Shake-Up at BESC

This just in from Peter Campbell:

I just spoke to Richard Clark in the central office. It’s official: Judy Elliott, Barbara Adams, and Leslie Rennie-Hill are all out of work as of June 30th. The new Chief Academic Officer will take over all of the responsibilities associated with these 3 divisions. The future of the underlings at the Office of Teaching and Learning — the 4 directors — is not clear. Once the CAO is in place, he/she will review these positions and determine if a further shake-up is in order.

The CAO is expected to be hired and in place before school starts back in the fall.

I see this as very good news. PPS is very top-heavy and needs pruning. We also need new leadership, especially in the Office of Teaching and Learning. Carole Smith’s tenure continues to show good signs.

Superintendent Carole Smith sent an e-mail yesterday announcing the new position of Chief Academic Officer, and the merging of the Office of Teaching and Learning, the Office of Schools and the Gates Foundation funded Office of High Schools under this new leader. Elliot, Adams and Rennie-Hill headed these offices, which were created by former superintendent Vicki Phillips. The departure of Adams was previously announced.

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

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Slight Redesign

I’ve made a minor update to the front page of PPS Equity, to include recent blog post excerpts and make it easier to find active blog discussions. (You may need to hit “reload” or “refresh” to see the new layout correctly.)

I plan to add recent forum discussion to the mix soon (as soon as there is a reliable RSS feed available for the forum software). Hopefully this will encourage forum use; things have been very quiet over there!

This change is the result of reader input. I want to make it as easy as possible to find new material here. Please let me know if you have any complaints about usability here, or if you have any ideas for improvement. I know things aren’t perfect, and I won’t take it personally, I promise.

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

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