Do the Math on PK-8

10:19 am

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.

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

filed under: Data Crunch, Equity, K-8 Transistion

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5 Responses

  1. Comment from Zarwen:

    What is the purpose of the PK-8 transition?

    To close more schools down so that more properties can be sold off. THAT is the real reason, and was from the beginning. Of course, you will never get anyone at PPS to say so, so I wonder what rationale they would put up if forced to answer your question.

  2. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    That may be the real reason, but aren’t they obligated to pretend it’s for some other reason?

    The Phillips fig leaf was that it would enable them to offer more “enrichment” at lower cost. That’s pure bunk, of course; the opposite is true.

    So what’s the public rationale for carrying forward now?

  3. Comment from Terry:

    Another of Vicki Phillips’ “fig leaves” on K-8 reconfiguration was the supposed achievement gains to be had in elementary style classrooms.

    That was clearly a miscalculation, and a misinterpretation of test scores at grade 8 which are typically lower than those for third and fifth graders. Phillips blamed middle schools for the achievement decline.

    That’s simply not true. Eighth grade tests are harder and cover much more sophisticated skills in reading and math than the tests at the lower grades.

    It should be noted that the bigger test score drop off occurs at grade 10. By Phillips’ logic, we should then reconfigure all schools to a K-12 model.

    Of course, test score accountability is all bunk anyway, in my humble opinion.

  4. Comment from Zarwen:

    Excellent recap, Terry. I remember at a school board meeting in Jan. 2007, Doug Morgan explained the move to K-8 by saying that they needed to “reduce the district’s footprint” and “do it in a way that would raise achievement.” I have yet to hear anything from anyone at the District contradicting Morgan’s remarks from back then.

    You all know the rest of the story.

  5. Comment from Zarwen:

    The Trib ran this story on the topic today, which includes a quote from our host: