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.


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.