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.


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.