Not just fairness

Portland Public Schools is the only school district in the metropolitan area where the quality of eduction in a neighborhood school depends on the wealth of that neighborhood. There is, of course, a basic unfairness in Wilson, Lincoln, Cleveland, and Grant clusters having greater educational opportunities than the remainder of the district. But there are other important ramifications to this than just a lack of fairness and justice.

The Portland area is looking at building a $4.2 billion dollar I-5 bridge. With 6000 acres of undeveloped land in Clark County just waiting for families looking for good schools, it would be nice if Portland itself could offer reasonably priced housing for working class families coupled with good schools and good neighborhoods. PPS’s refusal to create good schools in lower economic neighborhoods has a tremendous negative impact on controlling unsound sprawl and helping neighborhoods deteriorate.

The United States now has 25% of the world’s prison population in its prisons. Portland’s failure to educate well its least wealthy populace adds to this problem as well as the negative economic impact on our city and state through building and maintaining prisons.

Because of its poor education for lower income families Portland is in jeopardy of creating a permanent undereducated underclass. Our lack of helping kids rise above their conditions by not educating them well for college and/or the trades pulls the economy of both our city and state down.

Our poor education shortchanges huge numbers of kids by not helping them be happy, successful members of society. In our lower economic schools and neighborhoods the lack of the arts, athletics, and other worthwhile activities encourages young people to find other forms of “recreation” such as drugs, sex, gangs, and alcohol. These choices lead to a life much less fulfilling and productive. And less happy and productive citizens are less healthy citizens and less engaged citizens. Another terrible drain on community resources.

The school board might think they are getting by because they are keeping their constituency happy, but in the long run their policies are helping rot our city from the insides.

Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.


It’s all about choice

The problem with our education system is not that parents do not have a choice. The problem is that inequities continue to exist. —Patsy Mink

In the movie Sophie’s Choice, a mother was forced to make a literal life choice between her two children — a soul-destroying decision impossible to reconcile or live with — and one no parent should ever have to make.

How do we choose one child’s future over another, if given the choice? Yet, that is precisely the result of Portland Public Schools’ policies: consciously determining that some children will be provided opportunities for an educated, productive future – and that some children will not.

Affected parents cried out that the district’s policies have inequitably diminished their children’s future, and they chose to do nothing.

Affected students cried out that the district’s policies have inequitably diminished their future, and still they chose to do nothing.

A community member documented that the district’s policies have resulted in resources being inequitably shifted from our poorest children, and still they chose to do nothing.

City and county auditors documented that the district’s policies have resulted in educational inequities for our poorest children, and still they chose to do nothing.

Their own analyses documented that their policies have resulted in educational inequities for our poorest children, and they have still chosen to do nothing.

The district’s rationale? Changing these policies would result in removing “choice”. However, it is disingenuous, hypocritical and indefensible to justify policies under the guise of “choice” when these policies simultaneously remove “choice” from our most vulnerable students.

Our city’s educational system is shamefully unacceptable. Portland Public Schools has a choice, and that is to choose all of our city’s children — by utilizing the concepts of equal access and equitable educational opportunities to drive every policy decision.

Whatever they grow up to be, they are still our children, and the one most important of all the things we can give to them is unconditional love. Not a love that depends on anything at all except that they are our children. —Rosaleen Dickson

We can no longer tolerate the inequity that benefits one child’s future at the expense of another. We have no choice.

It’s possible to light another man’s candle without damaging your own. —Danish Proverb

Nancy Smith has taught public school grades 5-12 for 32 years. She is a life-long resident of North Portland and a graduate of Roosevelt High School. She is mother to three Jefferson High School graduates — with her youngest currently attending Woodlawn Elementary School.


A giant step

It is time for the Portland School Board to step up and take a giant step toward district-wide equity.

For the last couple of years they have only been willing to take baby steps, and anyone who ever played “mother may I” in their childhood knows baby steps are not enough.

A logical first step would be to add 12 FTE to each of the following high schools: Roosevelt, Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, and Benson. This money could only be used to increase the curricular offerings in these schools (including maintaining a certificated librarian). The increased offerings should begin to strengthen the comprehensive nature of the school and thus attract students back to their own neighborhood school and help Benson begin to regain its previously well-deserved reputation.

The cost? About $5,000,000 I presume. The money would come from the money which would follow the returning students, the contingency fund (if the lack of curricular offerings and degradation of these schools doesn’t fit the definition of an emergency then I don’t know what will), the other places a good superintendent can find money in a $400,000,000+ budget, some grant money, and donations.

The superintendent and the school board need to either commit to having equitable and good high schools or find some other school district to administer. And they need to show their commitment with giant steps, not baby and backwards ones.

Notice this proposal skirts what is often referred to as the catch 22 of the transfer process — less kids equals less curricular offerings which means less kids which means less curricular offerings etc. A school board which allows its educational policy to be controlled by a bureaucratic catch 22 needs to reread the book — catch 22’s are to be fixed, not applauded.

Mother may I…….

Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.


Madison High counselor tells his story

Approximately 8 years ago Madison High School received a Carnegie Grant through the Portland Schools Foundation with the intent of exploring the promise of small schools.

When I was a counselor at Hosford Middle school I was witness to the success that Hosford had in their creation of three small school communities using the theories and research of Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier. The work they did in creating smaller learning communities was very compelling and held promise for high schools that struggle with getting a large percentage of their students to state benchmarks.

My positive experience at Hosford as well as my experience as a parent with a child at a private school set me on a mission to work with the administration and teachers to restructure Madison High School. I visited schools in Texas, New York City as well as local schools to experience first hand the impact that reform could have on schools and learning.

Monthly and bi-monthly meetings with a team of teachers and administrations led ultimately to the writing of the Gates grant to secure the funds to create smaller learning communities. There were many of us on the staff that felt that by going small we would see academic gains in our students.

Once Madison was awarded the Gates-Meyer Memorial Grant it became obvious that the administration had one vision and that many on the staff had another vision of what small learning communities would look like. It was apparent that structure was going to dictate curriculum and course offerings and that students were to be locked in to communities without access to electives or programs just down the hall.

There were not enough electives, and I found that students had holes in their schedules that could not be filled within the small learning community. Students asking to take a class such as advanced biology in another community were told no and it was suggested they take that that course at a local community college.

Administrators were going through schedules looking for unauthorized crossovers, and I was being written up for insubordination for filling a student’s schedule with something other than a teaching assistant in his or her community when they wanted an elective in another community. I went from having an administrator who had not evaluated me in 5 years to one that scrutinized my every move.

My new administrator is a woman who has never been a teacher, let alone an administrator, and who is long on scrutiny but short on practicality or reason. I went from not having a blemish in a long career to a plan of assistance that in truth was designed to shut me up and stop asking questions about the efficacy of how we were delivering the model for education in our community.

I have a lot of support in my building and the questions that got me in to trouble are being asked publicly and have even come out in the Oregonian. Small schools are supposed to about shared governance, teacher as leader.

Creating autonomous schools work for start up schools but not for conversion schools. Hybrid models, 9th and 10th grade academies, team teaching, project based learning, performance outcome based learning and a lot of collaboration and hard work will get students to parity with their peers on the west side of this city.

Show me one west side school that is embracing some of the notions that are being imposed on the less affluent east side schools. They don’t exist.

I have been screaming for equity for these kids and limiting their choices, taking their school away from them and their community is not serving anyone but the ideologues who are building a reputation on the backs of the students and the families least likely to have the ability to fight this approach or any other approach as they are just too busy making a living and trying to survive.

David Colton is a high school counselor and a former English and drama teacher.


Counselor will sue district

Madison High Counselor David Colton has filed claim against PPS for defamation, in a case related to his forced transfer, a student walkout and the no-confidence vote in principal Pat Thompson, according to a Mercury blog post by Matt Davis.

Colton was popular with students in part for the way he helped them circumvent the Gate’s sponsored “small school” academic silos, forced on Madison (and also Marshall, Roosevelt and Jefferson) by Vicki Phillips.

It’s nice to see somebody at the Merc pay some attention to Portland Public Schools. A tip of the PPS Equity hat to Matt Davis.

Correction: an earlier version of this story misidentified Madison vice-principal David Hamilton, who is named in Colton’s suit, as principal of Madison. Hamilton leads one of three “small schools” at Madison. Principal Pat Thompson oversees all three.

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


Buel, Smith for school board

In the search for a replacement for departing director Dan Ryan, the school board need look no further than Steve Buel and Nancy Smith. I asked both if they would be willing to serve.

“I accept,” was Buel’s response. Smith was a little more circumspect, but would serve if called.

Buel finished a strong second to Ryan in the last election for this seat. His experience as an activist policy maker on the PPS school board is much needed on a body that seems paralyzed to do anything about obvious, glaring inequity.

He has demonstrated a keen understanding of the issues of poverty in education, and the various troubles with PPS policy, from middle school discipline to the student and teacher transfer policies.

In the 2005 race of five candidates, Buel won 27.94% of the vote to Ryan’s 50.65%. Not bad, considering Ryan outspent Buel five-to-one. Buel beat third-place finisher Charles McGee by a three-to-one ratio.

Of course, Buel has a tell-it-like-it-is style that rubs some “important” people the wrong way. It’s hard to imagine the existing board welcoming him into their fold, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

If the board won’t appoint the runner-up for the seat, Buel says he’ll be running again in the spring.

I’m not sure how much serious thought Smith has given to a 2005 run, but she seems to be edging in that direction.

Smith is currently president of the Jefferson PTSA and a high school business teacher in the Beaverton School District. Like Ryan, she is a graduate of Roosevelt High. She has real skin in the game, with children past and present in the Jefferson cluster. She is a founding member of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance and a veteran school equity activist.

Smith would bring unparalleled passion and energy to the board. If her passion sometimes boils over, it is because of her deep belief that we have a moral obligation to provide all of our children with equal opportunity.

Both Steve Buel and Nancy Smith are eligible, and both have the experience, dedication and and conviction to do the job. Most importantly, both share a fundamental, unshakable commitment to equal opportunity in education.

If the school board is as serious about equity as Carole Smith claims to be, they would be foolish to appoint anybody but one of these two. Either would bring a much-needed equity focus to the board, and help them achieve Smith’s stated, “overarching” goal of equity.

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


Adkins on libraries: baby steps

Thanks to reader gp who points out Ruth Adkins’ Tribune op-ed published yesterday.

Ruth clearly describes the issue, which disproportionately affects low-income students. And she correctly characterizes the district’s moves to address the crisis as “baby steps.”

Libraries are a priority going forward, writes Adkins, and will be more fully addressed in next spring’s budget.

It is clear the school board fails to see this as a crisis needing immediate attention.

So yet another class of thousands of PPS students will be added to those who have already been denied library staff through crucial years of school.

Libraries remain the critical unfunded element of the ongoing PK8 crisis, but the school board has placed higher priority on spending $1.2 million on new text books for middle schoolers than on providing them with library staff.

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


Madison teachers vote no confidence in principal, small schools

In a move teachers’ union president Jeff Miller calls “extremely rare,” Madison teachers have voted “no confidence” in their principal.

This is another blow against the Gates Foundation’s “small schools” model, which, under former superintendent Vicki Phillips, was implemented exclusively in Portland’s lowest income high schools: Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt.

Evidence continues to roll in showing this model is failing by virtually all measures to achieve its goals, and instead robs our poorest students of equal educational opportunity and accelerates the outflow of students and their funding from these schools.

Yet PPS, under new superintendent Carole Smith, has demonstrated no serious intention of returning comprehensive high schools to these neighborhoods. And there seems to be no thought of shifting the “small schools” model to a “small learning community” model, as proposed by educator and activist Terry Olson.

As with the PK8 transition, another serious mess left by Vicki Phillips, half of PPS high schools remain in serious crisis, and Carole Smith’s administration takes only tentative, superficial steps to address foundational design defects.

At some point the school board needs to assert some leadership. They need to define what constitutes a comprehensive education, and guarantee it in every neighborhood school. Until they take that fundamental step, talk of equity is meaningless and the district remains in turmoil.

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


Ryan named PSF chief; school board position open

Dan Ryan has been named chief of the Portland Schools Foundation, and will leave his seat representing North Portland on the Portland Public Schools board of education with a year left in his term.

The remaining board, led by newly elected co-chairs Dilafruz Williams and Trudy Sargent, will appoint a director from North Portland’s zone 4 to serve the remainder of Ryan’s term.

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


PPS Equity 2007-08 retrospective

The 2007-08 PPS school year heard lots of talk of equity, but no common vision has emerged for what that means or how we can get there.

Things started on a cautiously optimistic high note with the hiring from within of Carole Smith, whose staff started saying the right things about equity.

The school year built to a climax with the mayor’s week at Jefferson in January, but the wind started to come out of the sails with a new budget that brings further staffing cuts at schools in poor neighborhoods. Questions remain about the district’s commitment to “proof points” at Jefferson, such as merging the academies, to say nothing of restoring the performing arts department or restoring AP classes.

Questions about the PK-8 transition bubbled up and led to Smith’s first encounter with an angry mob. She responded with an action team. Some of the biggest holes are plugged, but PK-8 remains in crisis, still short library staff for eight schools.

In the end, we still don’t know: What defines equity? There have been no changes to the policies most responsible for inequity (open transfers and the school funding formula). Worse, the district seems fixed in a mindset that they can guarantee outcomes for children affected by poverty. But this mindset has subjected our poorest children to less educational depth and breadth, and can only accelerate out-transfers of those better off.

The longer they try to deliver “equity” like this, the more inequitable things have gotten.

Ultimately, the only path to equity is equal opportunity and balanced enrollment. That is (like I said in September), we’ve got to define a comprehensive curriculum (including arts, libraries, technology, etc.) and deliver it in every neighborhood school, and we’ve got to talk about the transfer policy in the detail requested by the Flynn-Blackmer audit, issued two years ago this month.

September 2007

Report on transfer policy and neighborhood funding inequity presented to school board

I present the school board and interim superintendent Ed Schmitt the first draft of my report Charting Open Transfer Enrollment and Neighborhood Funding Inequities (261KB PDF). The report details how the district’s transfer and enrollment policy takes significant funding from our poorest neighborhoods — over $40 million in 2006-2007 — and hands it to our wealthiest neighborhoods. The poorest school clusters — Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt — continue with disproportionate program cuts as enrollment and funding flow to more affluent neighborhoods. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods effectively maintain comprehensive programming at the expense of our poorest citizens.

PPS changes policy to allow corporate advertising in school gyms

Before Carole Smith is hired, the school board votes to allow the Trail Blazers to “donate” the refinishing of our ten high school gym floors in exchange for the placement of permanent corporate ads. Dwight Jaynes loves the idea, others do not. Rick Seifert (of Red Electric fame) inspires the nickname Dwight “Burgerville” Jaynes.

October 2007

Smith hired from within

Bucking a trend of hiring administrators from outside of the district, the school board surprises many by hiring Carole Smith from within. Smith wastes no time setting high expectations, saying “Jefferson’s going to be great.”

District low-balls rehired custodians

Opening negotiations with their rehired custodians, PPS offers a 30% pay cut.

District data show transfer policy aggravates segregation

In advance of board discussion on the transfer policy, administrators present data showing the segregation caused by the transfer policy.

City offers million dollar band-aid to district’s 40 million dollar problem

Erik Sten‘s Bureau of Housing and Community Development offers Portland schools a million dollars to to “create excitement.” Excitement fails to materialize.

November 2007

Board dances around transfer issue, takes no action to balance enrollment

The school board finally gets around to talking about its transfer policy, a year and a half after auditors asked for clarification. They artfully avoid answering city and county auditors’ questions about racial and economic segregation caused by its policy.

December 2007

Board rejects all four charter applications

Possibly signaling a new attitude, the school board rejects four charter school applications.

New Administration makes positive rumblings about “Equity”

Carole Smith’s administration starts saying the right thing about equity.

January 2008

Mayor Potter comes to Jefferson

The school board comes, too, and is met with a parade of students speaking eloquently about the lack of rigorous and varied course offerings available to them. The Jefferson High School PTSA presents the school board with their comprehensively damning resolution calling for an end to the transfer policy that has devastated the schools in our poorest neighborhoods. I put in my two cents worth, too, addressing the intolerable inequity created by the board’s transfer policy.

The whole scene is repeated Wednesday, when the City Council meets at Jefferson. In addition to the students and PTSA members, city council candidate and Wilson High parent Amanda Fritz addresses the council about the glaring differences between her daughter’s school and Jefferson. I speak of the school district and city working at cross purposes.

The week wraps up with the mayor’s state of the city address to the City Club on Friday, with club members getting a tour of Jefferson’s half-empty library, and the mothballed metal shop, TV studio and band room.

The entire week leaves the Jefferson community buoyed by a sense of hope and possibility. How could a city like Portland tolerate such glaring inequity?

February 2008

PPS Equity launched

It seems like it’s been a lot longer, but I just launched this site in February.

The last “Celebration!”

PPS holds its last “meat market” school choice fair.

PK8 comes to a boil

Two years after a rushed decision to eliminate middle schools (in some neighborhoods; the west side gets to keep theirs, evidently) parents come together to demand a better deal for their middle-school children.

Custodians stave off 30% pay cut

Custodians and food service workers are made to feel good about taking a 3-year wage freeze.

Ivy charter withdraws application

With the board poised to approve their application on appeal (with some modifications), the organizers of the Ivy Charter School withdraw at the last minute. The other three applications in the cycle were rejected and did not appeal.

Smith’s first budget: where’s the equity?

Carole Smith’s first budget makes a few tentative steps toward equity, but does nothing to balance enrollment or help schools hardest hit by the transfer policy.

March 2008

Smith forms PK8 action team

Two years after beginning implementation, the district decides to start planning for it.

April 2008

Deep cuts to poor schools

As community members start to study the budget, deep cuts are discovered at our poorest schools, putting the lie to the “overarching” goal of equity.

Gates “small schools” make no progress

Touted as a salve for the “achievement gap,” our poorest schools were carved up into academies. New data show these schools continue to have the worst dropout rates in Portland.

May 2008

Jefferson Students walk out, protest lack of progress

Frustrated at staffing cuts, and a continuing lack of breadth and depth in course offerings, Jefferson students walk out, demanding curriculum, teachers, AP classes, language classes, College Center, and
other programs.

School board funds new books for middle schoolers, even as many schools lack library staff

Some parents question the timing and priority of the move.

PK8 team addresses some concerns

PK8 schools get some basic guarantees, but district won’t commit to library staff for nearly a third of PK8 schools. Transition remains in crisis, but at a lower boil.

June 2008

Madison students walk out, decry “small schools”

Protesting the anticipated “involuntary transfer” of a highly-regarded counselor, around 50 Madison High School students walk out, also citing discontent with the “small schools” model that has them constrained in narrow academic silos.

Oregonian covers small schools

In an A1 story in the Sunday Oregonian, reporters Betsy Hammond and Lisa Grace Lednicer write about the failure of the Gates-funded “small schools” to bridge the “achievement gap.”

But it is quixotic to form policy around outcomes, as former PPS school board member Steve Buel has pointed out.

Over the summer

Teachers and students get summer vacation, but the school board never sleeps. They meet all summer, and three of them will be entering the final year of their term (Henning, Ryan and Sargent). Will the transfer policy be addressed in a meaningful way? Will we finally figure out how to talk about high schools, school mergers (closures) and facilities, all in one fell swoop? Will anybody present a vision for what PPS will look like in five years? Stay tuned….

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


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