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.


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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