The continuing history of racism in Portland Public Schools

12:24 pm

Sixty-one years after Mendez v. Westminster, 54 years after Brown v. Board of Education, 51 years after the Little Rock 9, 48 years after Ruby Bridges, 45 years after George Wallace caved to the national guard at the University of Alabama, 28 years after Ron Herndon stood on the school board desk and demanded equal opportunity for Portland’s black school children, and two years after city and county auditors demanded justification for effectively segregationist enrollment policies, Portland Public Schools have become more segregated than the neighborhoods they serve.

The school board refuses to answer the auditors, and shows no intention of changing the policies that have created the situation.

The segregation (or “racial isolation,” as the district calls it) would not be so objectionable, if it weren’t for the fact that schools in predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods have dramatically better offerings than the rest of Portland.

The desegregation plan hatched by Herndon’s Black United Front and pushed through by then-school board members Steve Buel, Herb Cawthorne and Wally Priestley in 1980 did away with forced busing of black children out of their neighborhoods, added staff to predominantly black schools, and created middle schools out of K-8 schools to better integrate students within their neighborhoods.

For several years, things clearly got better for non-white, non-middle class students in PPS. Then the nation-wide gang crisis hit Portland in 1986, with white supremacist, Asian and black gangs wreaking havoc and contributing to a wave of white flight from Portland’s black neighborhoods and schools. This was followed by the draconian budget cuts of Oregon’s Measure 5 in 1990, which ended the extra staffing brought by the 1980 plan.

Under inconsistent funding and unstable central leadership throughout the 1990s, central control over curricular offerings devolved to the schools, and the gravity of a self-reinforcing pattern of out-transfers and program cuts became virtually insurmountable.

The devolution of curriculum was formalized under the leadership of Vicki Phillips in the early 2000s. Her administration pushed market-based reforms and “school choice” as a salve for the “achievement gap,” and used corporate grants to extend reconfiguration of high schools in poor neighborhoods into “small schools” which severely limited educational opportunities available to Portland’s poorest high school students.

(Small school conversions were tentatively under way at Marshall and Roosevelt when Phillips took office, but didn’t become the de facto model for non-white, non-middle class schools until Phillips pushed it through at Jefferson, against community wishes, and finally at Madison, casting aside the designs of veteran educators who had initiated the concept.)

A bond measure whose revenue was intended to restore music education to the core curriculum was instead frittered away in the form of discretionary grants to schools. Principals in poorer neighborhoods continued to put teaching resources into literacy and numeracy at the expense of art and music, while schools in white, middle class neighborhoods continued to offer a broad range of educational opportunity.

The Phillips administration also began to dismantle middle schools in poor neighborhoods, including, notably, Harriet Tubman Middle School, which was created under the 1980 desegregation plan. This move back to the K-8 model added significantly to the resegregation of middle school students.

It also turns out that middle schoolers in K-8 schools, who are disproportionately non-white and poor, get fewer educational opportunities at greater cost to the district. Predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods have, by and large, been allowed to stick with the comprehensive middle school model, which allows them to offer a much broader range of electives, arts and core curriculum at no additional cost.

So in 28 years, we have moved from a reasonable semblance of equal opportunity, with schools’ demographics reflecting their neighborhoods’, to a demonstrably “separate and unequal” system, with schools more segregated than their neighborhoods.

Current policy makers like to blame Measure 5 and the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the wildly distorted educational opportunities in the district, and they generally refuse to examine district policy in the context of the advances in equity that were realized 28 years ago.

PPS has managed to maintain pretty good schools in white, middle class neighborhoods through years of stark budget cuts, but they have left poor and minority children fighting over crumbs in the rest of Portland. Even as the steady march of gentrification makes our neighborhoods more integrated, our schools are more segregated than they were in the early 1980s.

When today’s school board speaks of “school choice,” the “achievement gap” or “equity,” they appear to speak in a historical vacuum. I hope to remind everybody of the context of PPS’s policies, and the continuum of institutional racism they are a part of. These policies are indeed racist in effect, no matter how they are rationalized or how they were originally intended.

And no matter how much they complain that their hands are tied, or how much they claim to be making progress by “baby steps,” the school board has total control over district policy. They could start rectifying this immediately if they wanted to. Yes, it’s hard — ask Steve Buel or Herb Cawthorne about their late-night sessions trying to push the 1980 desegregation plan through — but it can be done.

I know there are school board members who care deeply about equal opportunity. They may even be in the majority, depending on who is appointed to replace Dan Ryan.

But nobody on today’s school board has demonstrated the political courage or vision necessary to stand up for all children in Portland Public Schools.

With baby steps, we will never get where we need to go. Bold, visionary action is required.

Edited January, 2016: For more background on Ron Herndon and the Black United Front, watch OPB’s Oregon Experience Episode “Portland Civil Rights: Lift Ev’ry Voice.”

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

filed under: Equity, Features, K-8 Transistion, No Child Left Behind, Program cuts, Reform, School Board, Segregation, Transfer Policy

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34 Responses

  1. Comment from Whitebuffalo:


    This post should be a “sticky”. It should be required reading upon first discovering this site.


  2. Comment from Nicole:

    Excellent!!! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for providing some historical context! I agree with Whitebuffalo that this should remain front-page reading on the site. I also like that you added photos from the previous school segregation era to the masthead.

  3. Comment from Zarwen:

    Indeed, Steve, you are right that it is long past time we take this School Board to task over these so-called “baby steps.” They have evidently forgotten that “baby steps” are for BABIES!!! How can these seven ADULTS, who are charged with the educational welfare of over 40,000 children, even say this with a straight face? All of these “baby steps” added together haven’t even gotten them out of the starting gate!

    Well, if we’re gonna play “Mother May I,” it’s obvious that we are overdue for some GIANT STEPS.

  4. Comment from Terry:

    Good historical overview, Steve, especially the link to the piece about Herndon and the Education Crisis Team.

    One part of the desegregation plan hammered out by the school board you failed to mention, however, was the addition of school choice– neighborhood to neighborhood school choice– which bears primary responsibility, as I see it, for decimating the schools it was supposed to help integrate.

    And that’s the only element of the plan still in effect. Middle schools in poor neighborhoods have disappeared, as has additional staffing for poor and under-enrolled schools.

    I’ve come to believe that segregated schools in and of themselves are not necessarily a bad thing as long as they’re able to attract motivated students with good curricular programs, good teachers, and adequate staffing. That obviously hasn’t happened.

    And it will never happen as long as school choice and open enrollment continue to siphon kids away to schools with better students and more comprehensive offerings.

  5. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    According to Buel, the school choice piece, as well as the Jefferson magnet program, existed before the Black United Front’s 1980 desegregation plan was implemented.

    Like I said in the original, “The segregation… would not be so objectionable, if it weren’t for the fact that schools in predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods have dramatically better offerings than the rest of Portland.”

    Honestly, I probably wouldn’t object at all if we had equal opportunities in non-white schools, and if the schools weren’t more segregated than the neighborhoods they serve.

    That’s just fundamentally wrong.

  6. Comment from Nancy S.:


    Powerful, truthful piece on the shame of our school system, and how it is simply indefensible and unjustifiable to continue down this path in the name of “choice”.

    Thanks to Steve Buel, Herb Cawthorne, Wally Priestly and Ron Herndon – who had the courage in the past to do the right thing at that time to ensure equity for every child in PPS.

    Which current school board member(s) will have the courage to throw out the disastrous policies that have led many of our children to this desolate educational state – with their futures being thrown to the wind?

    Thank you Steve!

  7. Comment from Zarwen:


    You know it ain’t gonna happen. That would be admitting that the Phillips administration was a disaster. Unfortunately, the “business community” still views her as the savior of PPS. Their strong influence was why this Board gave her carte blanche to do whatever she wanted, regardless of the impact on STUDENTS.

  8. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Terry, here is a clarification on the original school choice. You could transfer if it didn’t impact the segregation of the school. i.e. a black kid could transfer to a school which was predominately white, and a white kid could transfer to a school which was predominately black, but a white kid couldn’t transfer to a school which was predominately white. It was a transfer policy but there were some controls on it. And it wasn’t part of the desegregation plan — it was in place prior to the plan. Also, there were federal guidelines that were supposed to be met, but we went against these when we put Harriet Tubman in the black community and allowed kids to return to their neighborhood schools in the black community. There were quite a few racist policies going on at the time and we tried to eliminate all these. For instance, if you were white and you transferred to a school in the black community then you could return at anytime if you wanted to. But if you were black and transferred out of the black community parents had to sign a paper saying their children wouldn’t transfer back.

  9. Comment from Terry:

    Thanks for the clarification, Steve B.

    Sounds like subsequent PPS “leaders” have gone out of their way to undermine your attempts to provide quality education to students living in poor and minority neighborhoods.

    I don’t think “racist policies” is too harsh a term to describe the efforts to undermine equitable educational opportunities for poor and minority kids, whether intentional or not.

  10. Comment from Erin:

    I love the new look. Thank you for doing what you do!

  11. Comment from Terry:

    Steve, I sincerely appreciate your intelligent historical perspective on inherantly racist practices in PPS. I would invite you to witness as I do as someone working on the inside at Madison High School how administrators low expectations for black students plays itself out in the halls from one period to the next. White kids are expected to be in class while our black students are out in the halls with no apparent oversight from the administrator team. Referrals for students of color happen but there is a fear that the school will have a bad rating if referrals result in suspension. Going soft on black students for fear of reprisal is racist as it sends the message that those white adminstrator’s have low expectations for these students. There is a difference between allowing for cutural diversity and tolerating and neglecting a student’s education. Teachers quickly learn that their attempts at accountability are going to be met with neglect when they write referrals on student behavior and so they give up and stop writing referrals and students get away with unacceptable behavior. I have even witnessed our black security guard giving up in discouragement when trying to keep students in class knowing that they are not going to treated in the same manner as the white students. Disgusting, disturbing and frustrating.

  12. Comment from JerryM:

    On the other hand Terry, a large number of black students are being sent out of the classroom and written up because the TEACHER doesn’t know how to engage the student or even discipline the student within the classroom. More often than not, black students with behavorial problems are placed in the remedial lower-level classes and programs, without justification or acknowledgment of their ability to actually do higher level work. Does it ever occur to people that students act out not just out of ignorance but sometimes out of boredom? There is a middle ground here that needs to be achieved. Not all of these white teachers are afraid of reprimanding black students, some result to the referral as a replacement for actual people skills.

  13. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    JerryM, you hit the nail on the head. There is dramatic inequity in how discipline is handled in our schools. This is a national issue, and it gives lie to the myth that we are somehow “post-racial.”

    Minority children are disproportionately singled out for disciplinary actions, and the actions are disproportionately harsh. They are also proportionately less likely to be identified as Talented and Gifted (TAG), and more likely to be in an environment where teachers and administrators are obsessed with raising math and reading test scores to the detriment of everything else (music, art, electives, civics, etc.) that might engage them and capture their imagination.

  14. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Based on conversations I’ve had with parents and teachers in PPS, one of the major factors that drives parents to transfer their kids is the perception that there are too many of “those kids” — low-income minority kids disrupting class and creating problems for teachers and students — at their neighborhood school. So they wish not to send their kids to these schools.

    The issue is real, as Steve R. notes.

    The solution is to take Jerry M’s suggestion and make the classroom experience more meaningful, relevant, and engaging for these students, not test-centric and overly focused on acquiring discrete skills in isolation.

    We can create customized curricula for kids with behavioral issues that keeps them engaged in learning as a meaning-producing activity; we can also look to change classroom culture to allow for more “disruptions” where students are not so rigidly controlled and forced to be quiet and still, i.e., passive, for long periods of time. Focusing on good instructional practices decreases the likelihood of students misbehaving, as misbehavior is often related to poor instruction.

    In addition, many low-income minority kids are in crisis, so we need to double the number of full-time counselors at the schools that need them and give teachers help in assisting these kids.

    In so doing, we can take away one of the major factors that drives interest in school transfers.

  15. Comment from Ken:

    I applaud Peter’s remarks on doubling the number of full-time counselors in many of Portland’s schools. In my experience, a small number of children can create a learning environment where very few children can learn with even the best of educators. Additional adults in the classroom or school would go a long way in creating a learning environment suitable for many more children.

  16. Comment from PPSexpatriate:


    The problem is a white child who has problems sitting still and following rules is labeled an “indigo child” and it is the school’s fault for not encouraging his creativity. Charters and others schools are geared for this child and his family.

    A black child (regardless of income) or a poor white child is not given that leeway. The face discipline and isolation.

    And some folks simply do not want their children in a school that is predominately of color,period. Some for practical reasons like limited resources and some folks are not the type of folx that want to drop off their child in a classroom full of black and brown faces.

    There really isn’t a post-racial society. We have seen that these parents often create a “school within a school” even when they choose to return to neighborhood school.

    I am over the euphemistic terms “disruptive”, “low-income” for what is just garden variety racism and classism. nothing new to see here, folks.

  17. Comment from howard:

    Another way of reducing the number of “those low-income minority and white kids disrupting class and creating problems for teachers and students” is to fully fund Head Start programs where low-income kids receive an introduction to books, music and the concept of “playing nice”.

    That necessary “Affirmative Start” funding may GASP even have to come partially from future K-12 spending from Salem where Head Start’s 1/2 a lobbyist is grossly outnumbered by paid and unpaid lobbyists from various K-12 special interest groups.

  18. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    PPSexpatriate – you’re right that many parents don’t want their kids in schools with lots of minority kids. But I don’t think it helps advance the discussion to simply label all parents in this way. I have some friends who are white who are looking at their neighborhood school and want to send their daughter there. They are not racist and are committed to equity and diversity. But they are concerned about the classrooms being largely about discipline and control, or the lack thereof. Too much discipline wreaks of prison. Too little discipline looks like chaos.

    Ideally, all children in PPS would be able to go to school with lots of different kinds of kids to experience diversity first-hand. In neighborhood schools where that diversity does not exist, kids don’t get that chance. But in those neighborhoods where that diversity does exist, how can the experience of diversity work? What are the impediments?

    We have to acknowledge the fact that classroom management is one of these impediments. Diverse kids bring a diversity of backgrounds and baggage — some good and some bad. We have to think of ways to address the baggage, not just dismiss folks who have concerns about it as “racist.”

  19. Comment from PPSexpatriate:


    I guess I really have a problem with your labeling low-income minority children as “disruptive”. And your assumption that children of color bring negative “baggage” feels pathologizing.

    It makes it hard to move forward when people of color and schools predominately of color have to deal with the “baggage” of racism and classism.

    I assure you I have been in more than one magnet school populated mostly by disrespectful, disruptive middle and upper class white children. These schools are prized in Portland for encouraging these children to “be themselves”. And turn away families each year due to space issues.

    I don’t know anyone who owuld label themselves as racist or classist. But I think actions speak VOLUMES.

  20. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    PPSexpatriate – this is where language gets slippery. I understand how “baggage” seems pathologizing when I didn’t qualify what I meant. So, by “baggage” I mean the horrific effects of generation after generation of low-income minorities living in a racist society that blames low-income minorities for their own fates, i.e., “poverty is no excuse” in our so-called “post-racial” society.

    I simply want to acknowledge the fact that low-income minority kids come to school with this “baggage,” i.e., the effects of socially and historically sanctioned racism. Some might say that I’m making excuses. But I’d say I was just calling it like it is.

    I also completely get your point and agree that behavioral issues are subject to a double standard, i.e., white kids are “being themselves” and non-white kids are “disruptive.”

    That said, we need to address what’s behind this double standard. The schools you mention where kids who are noisy are “being themselves” typically subscribe to a philosophy of pedagogy that puts children in charge of their own learning, where there is less teacher-driven instruction, and classroom activity is often hands-on and project-based. I’ve taught in such environments — the classrooms are indeed very noisy! But the students are also having a lot of fun. And they’re also learning. And yet this pedagogical approach appeals disproportionately to middle-class white parents. Why? Why don’t more low-income minority parents participate in these kinds of schools, or request/demand that their kids’ schools follow such an approach? Why doesn’t PPS make such an approach a standard way to teach kids?
    Conversely, the schools you mention where kids who are noisy are “disruptive” typically subscribe to a philosophy of pedagogy that puts children in a passive mode of learning, where there is almost no student-driven learning and nearly all of the school day is teacher-driven instruction. Classroom activity is typically tightly controlled. In such classrooms, noise is anathema to learning. So any slight “disruption” is met with disciplinary action. I’ve visited many such schools and find them deeply depressing. I have also found that these classrooms are disproportionately comprised of low-income minority kids.
    Why? Why don’t more middle-income white parents participate in these kinds of schools?
    The answer: it’s all that “baggage” behind it.

  21. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    I can only speak for mine and those I know as to why people of color don’t always choose educational environments that are geared to primarily white middle and upper class students.

    These environment are no more tolerant of non-white or/and poor children expressing themselves that the more traditional school environments.

    I have known parents who have had to bring in substantive documentation to verify that their child was indeed TAG eligible or could be at a higher math level at some predominately white special focus or magnet schools. Some others have had some harrowing experiences at a North Portland charter. And that was after attending other non-traditional schools like MLC.

    The experience of most I’ve talked to is that there no real intent of offering equal education nor allowing parents of color or poor parents to have say in the parent-led processes. “We need you for our “numbers”. One parent I know was told “You should be happy your kid got in here” when she expressed concerns.

    Every poor child does not enter the schoolhouse with deficits. I know mine didn’t, a lot of people made assumptions about her interests, skills and abilities based on ethnicity and income. Much scapegoating of kids that were “different” happened in these environments that you describe as so child-centered or with student led learning. Our experience as a poor family of color has not been that. At more than one of those “type” schools.

    I would posit that these environments are NOT created to be culturally competent for poor students or students of color. They are created to keep a certain kind of student and their families engaged in school. I am glad that white middle class families have the opporunity to have schools created for them. How about some parity for the rest of us?

    With that I take leave of this conversation, because I will become emotional when discussing how white middle class parents have a palette of school choices afforded them by skin and class privilege. Whilst perpetuating myths about people of color and poor people. It really hurts when it’s YOUR child that is scarred by the winds of race and income in school.

    It ceases being a philosophical debate at that point.

  22. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    PPSexpatriate – please don’t leave the discussion! Can you say more about this?
    “I am glad that white middle class families have the opportunity to have schools created for them. How about some parity for the rest of us?”
    What would a school look like that was created for low-income families of color? Is that what you recommend? I ask because lots of folks offer the KIPP schools as a model for low-income minorities. I find KIPP appalling. Your take? Also, there was a movement in Omaha a couple years ago to organize the city’s public schools by race. The initiative was led by Ernie Chambers, the only African-American in the Nebraska legislature. For Chambers, a former civil rights leader, the idea was to let minority-led school boards run the schools that educate minority children since, he said, white-run schools have failed to improve black and Latino graduation rates and reduce dropouts nationwide.

    He said, “Omaha is already segregated residentially. The real issue is one of power. We believe that the people whose children attend schools ought to have local control over those schools, a concept very familiar with white people.”

    I’d like to know what you think. This is not a philosophical debate. This is public policy we’re talking about, and we need to discuss difficult issues like this in an open manner.

  23. Comment from apoed parent:

    I’m not speaking for PPSexpatriate or anyone except myself, but my take on this discussion is that we will never solve this problem until we seek a solution that works for every child. We don’t need a solution so that white kids can choose “diverse” schools. We need solutions for all kids in those schools.

    I think that much of the so-called “baggage” that low-income and minorty kids carry is dumped on them when the enter school. It’s incredibly sad to see comments on this site validating the perception that low-income kids are disruptive in the classroom. Instead of focusing on the percentage of low-income or minority students enrolled in schools as the problem we should be demanding that schools provide equal educational offerings in a supportive learning environment for ALL kids in ALL public schools. It’s true that some schools feel like prisons with their overemphasis on disciple and their fortress mentality leaders who discourage meaningful parent involvement at the school. Why do we tolerate this for any school?

    We need to stop viewing ceretain groups of kids as carrying society’s burdens from the age of 5. It’s absurd. Most kids enter school fully capable and ready to learn. Most kids can thrive in a good school regardless of what is happening at home. Sometimes school is the escape for kids. Our schools are failing these kids and I’m am so tired of hearing the excuses that some kids are just to hard to educate because of “baggage” or anything else.

    Also, we need to recognize that racism is baggage for white kids too. It’s a community burden. It’s a white burden. If parents want our kids to grow up in a world where they aren’t viewed as having unfair privileges then we have to take responsibility for addressing racism and classism when we see it.

  24. Comment from howard:

    Philosophically, I observe that “equity” is mainly problematic in large districts such as Portland and others that offer choices to retain the good will of middle and upper income parents. These districts have strayed a long way from Horace Mann’s vision of Common schools with children of all economic strata educated side by side in a learning environment of equal opportunity and favoritism toward none.

    What would Horace Mann think of today’s PPS? What do the managers, employees and parents of PPS know about the concept of “Social Contract” as applied to the delivery of a “Public Good” in the form of public education?

  25. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    “It’s incredibly sad to see comments on this site validating the perception that low-income kids are disruptive in the classroom.’

    There’s a boatload of studies that show that low-income minorities (particularly blacks) are disproportionately subject to disciplinary procedures. One study from the Indiana Education Policy Center concluded, “(D)isproportionate representation of African Americans in office referrals, suspension and expulsion is evidence of a pervasive and systematic bias . . .” So there’s the empirical, quantitative reality of very high numbers (proportionally speaking) of disciplinary actions and the impact that has on public perception.

    Another colleague of mine teaches second grade in a low-income, high minority population school here in PPS. He’s a great teacher, but he says he spends a very large percentage of his time managing student behavior. Two of his students are in what he called “emotional crisis.” Yet he’s expected to single-handedly deal with every aspect of these kids’ lives . . . and teach them how to read, write, and do basic math.

  26. Comment from mneloa:

    What if we stopped talking about, “low income”, “African American”, “single mom”, “minority”.
    What if we just said- Neglected children have problems in school and in life.

  27. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    The Juvenile Right Project did a study about discipline in Portland Public School. Big surprise, it turned out that black children received discipline for behaviors that white students did not.

    Personally, when we were at a predominately white school children would get into fights that resulted in injuries requiring medical treatment. Yet no discipline (referral, suspension, etc.) were meted out.

    Just like black/latino drivers are disproportionately stopped by police, children are disproportionate issued discipline.

    It makes me sad that you question so many things about schools but accept without question that black children are more “disruptive”. How an we engage in a discussion about policy or practice when a “Change agent” accept racist and classist policies/statistics as gospel truth?

  28. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    what if we said that children live up or down to our expectations?

  29. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    PPSexpatriate – I don’t accept without question that black children are more “disruptive.” I think the issue is complex, so I’m trying to deal with its complexity and try to make sense of it.

    Consider the recent study from the University of California, Berkeley, which shows dramatically reduced brain function in poor children when compared to children from high-income homes. (See Steve’s post on this.)

    Now compare this with the fact that low-income minority kids are disproportionately diagnosed with learning disabilities. Much of this can be accounted for by the fact that the diagnostic measures are incompetent, and they often overlook the fact that children who are labeled “learning disabled” actually have a hearing or vision impairment. In other words, if they had been given proper healthcare, they would have been given glasses or hearing aids.

    But I’m starting to wonder: what percentage of these kids are actually learning disabled, and how much of that can be attributed to the ravaging effects of poverty? As the new research indicates, living in poverty has an empirically-measurable impact on children’s brains.

    This is a social justice issue if we are allowing children to live in these conditions, knowing the kind of deleterious effect it can have.

    So now I’m wondering about these studies that show that low-income black kids are reported for more discipline violations.

    Much of this can be accounted for by racial bias and by the egregious double standards that you mention, i.e., black kids get punished for things that white kids don’t. But I’m starting to wonder: what percentage of these kids are actual discipline issues independent of racial bias, and how much of that can be attributed to the ravaging effects of poverty? If living in poverty has an empirically-measurable impact on children’s brains, then what impact does it have on behavior?

  30. Comment from barb:

    You all sound like you might benefit from reading Patrick J Finn’s book, “Literacy with an Attitude: Education Working-Class Children in Their Own Self-Interest.” (think “Freire”) In it, he points out differences between involuntary minorities and all others; between educating to keep people in their place vs. educating to empower them; and between language usage of lower socioeconomic groups (implicit language) vs mid to upper socioeconomic classes (explicit language usage). Reading it will help you to understand why the black students are standing out in the halls at Madison. Reading it and discussing it might actually lead to rethinking our schools.

  31. Comment from Rose:

    I know I am coming in to this late but it is such an important conversation, can I join?

    I’d like to offer my experience as a parent of black kids in PPS. My kids attended one mostly white school. Here are some examples of our experiences:

    1. My kids were routinely exposed to racism from their fellow students. My daughter was told she was the color of poop. My son was asked if his mother did crack, because that student had heard that is what black moms did. The teachers would act flummoxed about how to deal with these incidents and nothing ever happened. Yes, this was in Portland and the fellow white students had “nice” parents.

    2. My kids were often referred to pull-out programs like SMART. Virtually every minority in the school was in SMART. At one point my son was sent to a group for children of divorce. I was confused, because I had an intact marriage. When I asked his teacher why he told me he had “heard” my son came from a “broken” home.

    2. My daughter is learning disabled. This school refused us an IEP for years. Teachers kept acting like I was the problem. I was told to read to her more (I used to read to her an hour every night and had her in a Lindamood program as well). I was forced to spend over a grand getting her an official diagnosis before they gave her an IEP. A year after we finally got the IEP they admitted to me they had been wrong all along. During these horrible years I saw the school graciously offer IEPs to white parents of white kids without any fuss.

    3.My oldest son hwas referred to TAG every year. And every year the specialist would test him and say he was just a few points shy of passing. Meanwhile every PTA parent who had their kid tested for TAG was qualified.

    These are just a few examples. The point is for black kids going to an all-white school is not a wonderful experience at all. I know a black mom whose bright and healthy son was EXPELLED from Opal. His behavior to me doesn’t seem any different than the white boys. He was just singled out as different. And he was a “charity” case.

    There are miles of baggage that teachers and adminstrators carry with with them into education. If it wasn’t so, would they stomach school choice?

    From my experiences I can tell you that 1) white teachers often assume black kids are trouble and their parents are crappy and 2) black boys in particular are scapegoated and denied the same opportunities.

    This is not to say that there are not real differences, often based in poverty. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I see some of my son’s friends embrace this black hoodlum crap because what the heck, this is the message they get. Of all his bright black friends, not a single one is in TAG. Not a single one is being nourished as the outstanding person that he is.

    To answer a previous question, I think a lot of these differences would be resolved by ending school “choice” and forcing teachers and parents to learn from each other.

  32. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    I’m reminded of an analogy that a black conservative commentator made. He said that you can walk by fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, but that exposure is not going to make you healthy. By the same token, you can fill schools with a whole variety of different kinds of kids from different backgrounds, but that exposure is not going to stop you from being a racist.

    I certainly do not see integration as our ultimate goal. After all, a school that appears “integrated” on the surface invariably conceals the vast disparities that exist between its students, largely drawn along racial lines. There’s the automatic assumption that throwing kids from different economic and racial backgrounds together somehow leads to racial and class harmony. There is rarely any mechanism in the school to talk about race or class or difference of any kind. There is no means by which race and racial integration could be discussed or promoted, even questioned. It is simply taken as a given that kids of different races and classes, in close physical proximity to one another, are coexisting openly and peacefully. Unfortunately, whatever racist or classist ideas the kids had formed at an earlier age are too often reinforced in an institution that — ironically — is committed to undoing these kind of beliefs.

    So what do you DO about that? I think you do what people have always done when faced with something they find intolerable: work to change it by upholding a vision of something worth fighting for.

    For me, one vision worth fighting for is one where public schools foreground the democratic commons, i.e., bring children and parents of different races, classes, and beliefs together to facilitate dialogue and inquiry among them. In the simplest terms, it’s better that we know about each other, that we interact with each other, if only to increase the likelihood that we can undermine (or at least weaken) the crippling stereotypes that cause us to hold each other in suspicion or contempt. If we make no such attempt, we increase the likelihood that these stereotypes and misunderstandings will continue, will worsen with time, and will eventually destroy us.

    We have to do more than this. I’m encouraged by the efforts of programs like Anytown and the Dismantling Racism Institute for Educators, both sponsored by The National Conference for Community and Justice.

    Through Anytown, a diverse group of youths ages 14 – 18 come together to spend one week working to understand one another, find common ground, form an interdependent community and make friends.

    This might actually be the most important work our public schools do. This might be enough. If they do this well enough, perhaps the rest is gravy.

  33. Comment from Rose:

    You are right there is no open dialogue for the kids on these issues.

    Without information students will assume the worst about another child, especially if that child is different in any way (black, ESL, autistic, SED, you name it)

    I’m reminded of a mom I know whose daughter is in a wheelchair. Her first day of school the mom came in and told the students about her daughter’s handicaps. She did this very artfully and explained how her daughter needed help sometimes, but inside she was the same as them. The students embraced the girl and her disability was never an issue.

    The mom told me she had learned from experience that if she didn’t educate the students no one would, and her daughter would suffer for it.

    I am sure confidentiality plays a role, but also lack of a cirriculum to discuss race and other differences.

    All this is moot, of course, if you establish charter schools which don’t have minorities or the disabled.

  34. Comment from pps parent:

    I believe the equity talks are very important and we hear about racial equality over and over again. What about equality for students with disabilities. These students are really at the bottom of the equality program at PPS. PPS is having courageous conversations about race but continues to ignore the problems with services for students with disabilities. I have heard administrators and teachers say I don’t want these student in my school. These same people would not dare say that out loud about race, but is acceptable to say it about students with disabilities. The school in PPS that educates students with severe disabilities is said not to be a real school and the people who work with the students not real teachers or administrators. This is PPS’s continued stance for their students with disabilities. They also had to have an OCR complaint before they would give the students hot lunches or a decent library.What year is this?