Not just fairness

1:50 pm

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.

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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.

filed under: Equity, High Schools, School Board

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2 Responses

  1. Comment from Sherwood:


    I’ve been reading your blog for a while and can’t argue with much of what you say. However, I am curious where the data to back up this statement can be found:
    “Portland Public Schools is the only school district in the metropolitan area where the quality of education in a neighborhood school depends on the wealth of that neighborhood.”

    Buying a house in the “right” school district is bankrupting the middle class all over the western world. This is happening in every single town in America. When I was in England the best schools were in the wealthier areas, a fact that is almost too obvious to type. I lived in a trendy, gentrifying area in San Diego (sort of like North Portland) and the schools there were terrifying – metal detectors, 80% turnover etc. Meanwhile, in the wealthier areas, with the same per-capita state spending, they were great. There are the usual explanations for this: parental involvement, higher expectations, strong PTAs etc. Whatever the cause it surely qualifies as a universal truth.

  2. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The Portland data has been shown over and over again in several places — including on this website and research I have done.

    The suburban schools don’t work like Portland. I have called several districts just to check to make sure and they all have equitable programs for their schools. If one gets music, the next gets music etc. If one gets P.E. the next gets P.E. etc. There are alternative (option) high schools for instance in Beaverton, but the five comprehensive high schools are the attendance area high schools and students need a serious reason to transfer from one to another. Portland is the only district I can find where an attendance area high school is not necessarily a comprehensive high school and you can transfer for any old reason. The result as I stated is that the wealth of the neighborhood determines the quality of the school. And the powers that be (the school board, the administration, Stand for Children, The School Foundation, and the editorial board of The Oregonian) continue to support and perpetuate this injustice.