“Enrichment” in K8s: is Winterhaven the model?

10:35 pm

What’s the current status of the K8 Action Team these days? As I recall, there was supposed to be a model K8 curriculum developed by now, but I don’t think I’ve seen it. Does anybody have an update on that?

I’ve also been looking at the information on the amount of “enrichment” — a term which I truly detest — offered at each school. I was dismayed to see that in the K8 FAQs (144KB PDF) they are using Winterhaven and MLC as examples of K8 (or K12 as the case may be) enrichment done right. I beg to differ.

Both schools rely very heavily — almost exclusively — on parent volunteerism and fundraising to provide anything beyond the three Rs. MLC has been at it for much longer and has a more elaborate system, with many more classes, including some taught by pros, but the principle is similar in both schools.

As much as I appreciate the efforts of the parents, these “interest classes” cannot be considered equivalent to a real class. For one thing, they tend to be very short term, typically 5-6 weeks. Obviously, that limits the the kinds of topics that can be tackled and the ability to explore anything in-depth. In fact, a lot of these special interest classes are, in fact, pretty fluffy in my opinion. (No criticism of the parents intended. You can only do what you can do. And this comment applies to my elective, too.)

Winterhaven does a lot of things right, don’t get me wrong. But “enrichment” isn’t one of them. The principals, staff, and parents have done, I think, a remarkable job providing these kids with what they can, and I am deeply grateful to them.

But when you compare the offerings at Winterhaven against the offerings at Sellwood, West Sylvan, or other middle schools, our kids are clearly being shortchanged. (It should be noted that doing this kind of comparison is exceedingly difficult, since there is no centralized source of information on offerings at all schools in PPS. The PK8 page includes a link to a document that lists “enrichment” in all those schools, but there are no details and no comparisons with middle schools.)

For example, my kid gets 5 “enrichment” periods a week, half of the recommended number for 6-8. Winterhaven has an accelerated math/science focus, so presumably extra time is devoted to those subjects. But I question the quality of even the few “enrichments” that the kids get.

Every middle schooler at Winterhaven gets one period of PE and one period of technology a week. The PE consists, as far as I can tell, of exercises (e.g., sit-ups) and running around the gym. His friend at West Sylvan gets a daily PE consisting of yoga, Pilates, and weight lifting, among other things.

In addition, kids in grades 6-8 can choose one among three official, year-long electives offered: Spanish, theatre, and study hall. The Spanish class (offered only in the last 2 years) is taught twice a week by a non-certified teacher hired with Run for the Arts cash. My son has never had what I would consider to be a real foreign language class. After one year of this elective — plus a year of after school Spanish that I paid for — he can barely say hello in Spanish. And he’s good at languages.

A theatre elective is also offered, but only because two teachers are doing it out of the goodness of their souls, giving up their prep time. That’s probably not sustainable. The third elective is a study hall. Hardly qualifies as an “enrichment” in my book.

Meanwhile, there’s no music at all for middle schoolers. (There is some singing offered for K-5 kids in a Run for the Arts-supported musical once a year, but no instruments, no reading music.) There are usually parent-run arts classes that the kids like, but, again, they’re short-term.

And there you have it. Not exactly an impressive array of “enrichments” if you ask me. In fairness, there is a fairly robust list of after school clubs, (most free and run by parents, some paid), but most of the students do not or cannot take advantage of them. (Winterhaven is, after all, an all-city focus option school, not a neighborhood school.)

The problem is that Winterhaven just plain doesn’t have enough FTE to provide what I would consider a full curriculum and supports. Why? Because we have only about 340+ students (not sure of this year’s latest numbers). But the reality is that we can’t have more because the building is too small; we are already overcrowded. [Some of you may recall that this prompted an ill-conceived scheme in 2006 to relocate Winterhaven to a larger building that was, unfortunately, utterly inappropriate to support the program and, oh by the way, landed on the demolition list a year later.]

I go into this detail only because I want to make sure that Winterhaven is not used as evidence that the K8 model is fully elaborated and just swell. It’s not. That doesn’t mean it can’t be, but I’d like to see some progress on that sooner rather than later. In fact, this K8 model is long overdue. For those who aren’t familiar with Winterhaven, it is now in its 13th year as a K8 program/school. Any curricular deficits, therefore, cannot be attributed to the more recent reconfiguration chaos.

More to the point, given that there were two K8 schools (Winterhaven and Sunnyside) and one K-12 school (MLC) already in existence when the decision was made to do a wholesale conversion of vast swaths of the city, it was at the time and remains a mystery to me why the District didn’t consider their experiences in planning for the reconfiguration. Now it appears that the District is simply declaring them cases of K8 done right without acknowledging that even in these “successful” schools there are some significant curricular deficits.

While I’m at, can we come up with a better word than “enrichment?” To my ear, this makes the subjects in question sound like luxuries that are, by definition, easily dispensable in hard times. The term strikes me as positively Rovian. I think we should come up with a term that implies that the subjects are not fluff, but essential to a child’s development with proven beneficial effects on both academic achievement and student retention. Any ideas?

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Rita Moore has a Ph.D. in Political Science and taught at universities in the US and Europe for 18 years. She now works as an advocate for children in the child welfare system and volunteers as a mediator and facilitator. She has one child in PPS and recently ran for the zone four position on the Portland Public Schools Board of Education.

filed under: Curriculum, Equity, K-8 Transistion

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45 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Re. the PK8 action team, Joan Miller has retired. That’s a huge loss to the team, as far as operational expertise. I believe Harriet Adair is still on the team, but she is also (if I’m not mistaken) area director for the Jefferson cluster K8 schools.

    She’s a great resource with a ton of experience from the classroom to the principal’s office, but with a full-time (plus) job, I don’t know how much time she can give to the PK8 team.

    As of the last community meeting, the PK8 team said they would be “finalizing recommendations and reporting to the Superintendent and Board by the end of June.”

    They also suggested another community meeting by the end of the summer, but it never materialized.

    Ongoing areas of work were listed as:

    – FTE allocation mechanisms
    – Bell schedules/instructional time
    – Professional development for teachers and principals
    – Facilities enhancement
    – IT enhancement

    I’m pretty sure nothing has changed with regard to FTE allocation (i.e. to compensate for schools with small numbers of middle grade students). I’m not sure if they would take FTE from comprehensive middle schools, from high schools, or from the elementary grades, or if they planned on identifying some new source of funding.

    Anecdotally, inadequate facilities seems to be the norm. A number of Laurelhurst parents testified at the board meeting last night about their over-crowded facility. In K8s I’ve seen, middle grade students are stuck almost all day in a single “elemiddle” class room. Libraries and cafeterias are typically not equipped to handle these young adults.

    IT enhancement is supposedly coming spring of ’09 in the form of computer labs for every school, but those typically get used for testing more than for instruction.

    But really, my bottom line is that it simply costs more — a lot more — to offer the kind of curriculum you can get at no additional cost when you group 400 middle grade students into a middle school.

    K8 schools will never be able to offer the breadth and depth of middle grade curriculum as a 6-8 school, at least not without something on the order of doubling our funding there.

    That’s not to say K8s won’t work… just that we also need a comprehensive 6-8 option for all students in their neighborhoods, in the interest of fairness. (Fifty-five percent of PPS middle grade students are assigned to comprehensive middle schools, primarily in the Cleveland, Lincoln and Wilson clusters.)

  2. Comment from Zarwen:

    Hi Rita!

    Nice to see you here on Steve’s blog. I don’t have any further comments, because you and Steve have already said it all!

  3. Comment from Michele Schultz:

    I am not surprised that Rita has provided such a thoughtful and thorough analysis of one of the “pesky” issues with the K-8 reconfiguration. I think she has said it all quite well. Her thoughts made me jump to another concern I have been struggling with. While, on one hand – parents have been encouraged and/or coerced into teaching electives and dipping into their pockets for “enrichments” (if their pockets have any change left in them) there is another story that has been unfolding within PPS.

    Access to library services, and a library is another area of concern for many of our K-8’s. A few schools have made use of parent volunteers (again) to staff the library – but they have done so without any support from the central district office. In fact, the policy has been that schools that do not have any paid staff (either licensed or unlicensed) are not allowed use of the district’s computerized system. It appears that this stance has been to try and force Principal’s to allocate some of their precious FTE for media staffing. I cannot begin to say if this has been an effective strategy – but I must say that it seems rather bizarre that parents are encouraged to teach electives, but are not allowed to support a school library? (And, I know, I am simplifying things – issues like supervision of students, etc.) But – really – the goal is parent involvement and some access to a school library in every school… right?

  4. Comment from Rita Moore:

    Thanks for your clarification, Steve. I’d like to see some updates on the web site and I’d hope that there will be ongoing opportunities for parents (and kids, by the way) to provide feedback. As I understand it, there are no parents or community members currently on the PK8 Action Team. Is that accurate? If so, what’s the explanation for that?

    As for the cost issue, I completely agree that to do K8 right (or small schools in high schools for that matter) you need to be willing and able to devote significantly MORE resources than you would otherwise. This is Econ 101. You are losing economies of scale by creating smaller entities, requiring additional expenditures to provide both the infrastructure (science labs, retrofitted bathrooms, etc) and inputs (teachers, counselors, library books, support staff, etc.) to maintain the same level of service. Unless you don’t intend to provide the same level of service.

    I go back to questions I had when this reconfiguration movement first started: what problem is the reconfiguration supposed to fix? How is it supposed to fix it? How will we know if/when it’s been fixed?

    Now, maybe those answers were provided and I missed them, in which case I’d love to be enlightened.

    As I looked at the original materials presented to the Board in support of Vickie’s proposal, it certainly appeared that cost savings were supposed to be a principal benefit since the reconfiguration was to be linked with school closures. As far as I can tell not only have there been no real savings, but there have been increased costs. Granted, fewer closures happened than they anticipated, but I have never seen any evidence that costs associated with wholesale reconfiguration were ever factored into the decision. They certainly need to be factored in now, though.

    So I’s like to ask the original questions again: what problem (or problems) are K8s supposed to solve? Are they solving them? How do we know? If doing K8 right will, in fact, require resources that PPS just doesn’t have and likely won’t get any time soon, is it time to apologize, declare the experiment a mistake, and reverse the whole thing?

    Realistically, that may not be possible for a whole variety of reasons, but I certainly want these questions to be considered BEFORE we embark on a high school redesign process, especially if small schools are going to be part of the grand scheme. We need to identify the lessons of the K8 reconfiguration so that we do the next process a whole lot better.

  5. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Michele, the only way to force a principal to hire library staff… is to force them to hire library staff. I think we can pretty definitively say that.

    Again and again we see it: in less wealthy schools principals spend FTE on “core” academics (those darn tests again) at the expense of not just libraries, the arts, and foreign languages but also science, literature, writing, economics, business and history.

    Just look at the courses offered at Jefferson and those offered at the next school over. Repeat comparisons for any of the small schools at Madison, Marshall or Roosevelt vs. any of Cleveland, Lincoln or Wilson.

    (Disclaimer: I do not know whether these syllabi listings are complete for each school, but the Jefferson one looks pretty close from what I can tell.)

  6. Comment from becky:

    I don’t expect every school to have classes like “US Japan Relations” but I do expect chemistry and physics! Jefferson doesn’t have Chemistry? WTF PPS?

  7. Comment from Rita Moore:

    I think this curriculum information is stunning. I’m not particularly surprised by it, but it is stunning to see it in black and white. Even if the information is only ballpark accurate, it makes the disparities in offerings undeniably clear.

    What exactly are the small schools supposed to achieve? Clearly not college entrance.

  8. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    There is a small schools ideal that would have small learning communities within comprehensive schools, with teachers as leaders and principals as teachers, that could indeed prepare our students for college.

    This is the ideal that David Colton was working toward, but it was hijacked by administrators who continue to see small schools as autonomous academic silos and prevent students from taking classes outside their own communities.

    Unfortunately, this is part of a national trend, pushed by gazillionaire educational know-nothings Bill gates and Eli Broad through their foundations. Micheal Klonsky and Susan Klonsky wrote a book about it, called “Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society.”

    So there’s nothing to say that “small schools” and “comprehensive schools” are at odds with one another. The original thinking was that the former could be a way of organizing the latter, not a stripped-down replacement.

  9. Comment from Joan Miller:

    I’m in good company with Mark Twain ( “rumors of my demise are exaggerated”), Steve. Although I have, in fact, retired, I have returned to work part time with the PK-8 Action Team and other projects and issues affecting the newly configured PK-8 schools. We have all been busy the first month helping schools with some specific start of the year issues, but will be returning to the ongoing work of the Action Team next week.

  10. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Great news, Joan, thanks for the update.

  11. Comment from CLM:

    I can explain some of the school library issues, though not the lack of funding. I am an elementary school library “assistant”, although I am totally responsible for the library. Running a library is much more than checking books in and out. If we just let kids at the shelves to randomly look for books, chaos would ensue. Starting in kindergarten we teach kids how to get the most out of their library. This includes understanding how libraries are organized; locating books in a catalog and then relating that to a shelf location; using reference materials-including online sources;self selecting appropriate books; recognizing genres; and research skills. Kids learn about authors and illustrators, book awards like Caldecotts and Newberys, what goes in to making a book,and writing forms and conventions. We bring actual authors into the schools. We collaborate with teachers to support their themes and curriculum. We introduce kids to the latest and best new literature for children. Most importantly, we inspire a love of reading and books that will help children be lifelong learners.

    On the administrative side we are responsible for maintaining the collection and patron records. A library is not a “buy it once and you’re done” kind of thing. Information gets outdated, new information is created, wonderful books are constantly being published. For a library to remain relevant the collection must be thoughtfully weeded and added to on an ongoing basis. In my fantasy world, funding for books would be standard and equal for every school. In reality some schools have successful book fairs, generous PTAs, and principals who value libraries. Some schools get NO budget for new books.

    It is also our job to make sure books are returned on time, lost books replaced, book repairs made when possible, overdue notices sent, and so on.

    Dedicated parent volunteers could take this on, but it would be a daunting task to do and not get burned out. A library program done right requires year long planning, collaboration with teachers, an understanding of grade by grade curriculum and state standards, and support from administration.

    Here’s the deal on the district’s new library computer system. Library staff have been advocating for a district wide catalog and circulation program for many years. Our new system was paid for in large with a grant written by library staff. It is basically the same system Multnomah County Library uses. It has made cataloging and tracking books much more efficient. We are using, troubleshooting, and adapting this system for our district all at the same time. Library staff are attending required training sessions throughout the year as the system evolves. Because the catalog is a web based shared data base, bad data entered by one person is bad data for all of us. We are determined to have a clean, precise catalog. Even PPS library staff who have not attended training are not given passwords to access the system. On the circulation side of the program, patron data comes from ESIS records. District policy does not allow volunteers access to confidential student information. A library run by volunteers can circulate books with the old fashioned card and pocket method. The catalog for searching is web based and anyone with an internet connection has access. A school’s collection will be in the catalog only if they have gone through the process of barcoding and entering their books into the system. Again, almost an impossible process without a librarian.

    District funding of libraries is non-existent. The decision to staff a library is up to each school principal. It is just so sad to see schools where libraries are most needed go without. This is an equity issue that library staff have been trying to make a priority with the district for many years. The hasty conversion to K-8s has been a disaster where libraries are concerned. Libraries–staff and annual book purchasing funds–should be one of those off the top, district wide programs, along with PE, music, and counselors.

  12. Comment from Sara A:

    Hi there everyone, glad to see you are all still out there paying attention!

    As Joan said we are back in action on the PK8 team after being heads down getting the school year started(our day jobs! I actually work in HR!) and will be starting to post updates to the website shortly on the ongoing work. Just so you know, there are 4 major streams underway internally to keep focused on the issues that we all spent time on last year, rather than a single team:

    FTE/budget allocation – A cross functional internal group is looking at how to implement the pieces of the standard program model we shared with you last year at schools of different sizes and configurations. It is combined with a similar effort coming out of the High school strategy team, since many of the issues around size and program scope are true for small high schools as well. It will make recommendations in December for this year’s budget cycle. There will certainly be opportunities for community dialog around this once we have our analysis done.

    Libraries – The Office of Teaching and Learning is mapping out a district plan for libraries. There are newly dedicated resources in the form of TOSAs and a project manager tasked with this. Recommendations from this effort will also feed into the budget discussion. We also received a large grant in June to supplement materials for K8 schools – the process for getting them ordered and into schools is beginning.

    Bell times/length of school day – Analysis is ongoing to determine how to rearrange the bus schedules to get all schools to a 6.5 hour student day. Options will be put out for vetting by the end of November.

    Technology – We committed to get two labs minimum (one for testing, one for instruction) into every school by the end of this year. We are working on finding the resources for that.

    The facilities challenges are ongoing across all of our schools PK-12 and a lot of work will commence shortly with the community to finalize a vision and plan – culminating in a bond. As you all know, our operating budget to support facilities is wholly inadequate and we are focusing whatever resources we have on what’s urgent.

    We also have several initiatives underway around teacher professional development for K8.

    Rita, I share your disdain for the word “enrichment” and look forward to the group’s ideas on a better one.

    One other thing – as you all know, our FTE allocation is driven almost entirely by the number of students at a given school. Using the largest middle school (W. Sylvan with 900 students) as an example of what is common across middle schools is actually not particularly representative as they have both economies of scale and a very invested parent population working in their favor. All of our schools that are small – middle, high, K8, K5 – face a massive struggle to provide a robust program with our current resources. Not to avoid specific issues at K8, at all. But the overall context is important and our budget/FTE allocation team is looking at the whole as well as all the pieces.

    Look forward to the ongoing discussion. Feel free to email Joan or I will thoughts and suggestions.


  13. Comment from Steve Buel:

    District wide programs should be equal at all neighborhood schools. A smaller neighborhood school should have the same programs a larger neighborhood school has. In grade school this should be done by grade levels. If one school has music in the 5th grade then they all should. In middle school and high school this should be done by subject sequences. If the district can’t do this then they need to rearrange school boundaries so they can or make some other adjustments. Now we do it by neighborhood wealth, and that is not fair in a PUBLIC school system.

  14. Comment from Rita Moore:

    Hi, Sara –
    I’m very glad to hear that the K8 team is busily working and I look forward to getting some updates.

    I’d like to address a couple of points you made in your posting. You stated, “Using the largest middle school (W. Sylvan with 900 students) as an example of what is common across middle schools is actually not particularly representative as they have both economies of scale and a very invested parent population working in their favor. All of our schools that are small – middle, high, K8, K5 – face a massive struggle to provide a robust program with our current resources.”

    Just to clarify, I was not using W. Sylvan as an “example of what is common across middle schools.” I was merely giving an example of a pretty significant difference in offerings that I am personally aware of. The fact is that I have no real idea of what is “representative” in terms of non-core offerings (I’m trying to avoid the offensive word “enrichments”), since it seems virtually impossible to find accurate comparative information across schools. This is one of the many issues that I think should be addressed by the forthcoming Enrollment and Transfer Committee.

    More to the point, I think your explanation that Sylvan is not representative because of the nature of the parent base and its size are pretty telling and point to precisely the kinds of inequities that this blog focuses on.

    “Invested parents” — I have no doubt that the Sylvan families contribute mightily to the school, both in time and money. But then, they probably can. I mean no disrespect to these and other parents who do what they can to give their children the best education possible. I applaud their efforts and feel bad that I can’t do the same for my kid. But it’s a good example of how the depth and breadth of a school’s curriculum is extraordinarily dependent on the relative wealth of its families.

    So, I understand the explanation for the difference in offerings. What I object to is the fact that PPS appears to be ok with that. This means that families who are probably in a position to provide all kinds of extra-curricular opportunities for their kids can leverage public resources to do it during school hours using school resources at a significant savings. I’m happy that those kids get the goodies, but what about all the other kids whose parents are not so well situated? They get no music, no art, no library, little if any PE, and some don’t even get recess. In other words, the system institutionalizes and perpetuates differential opportunities. How is that fair? How is that sound public policy?

    “Economies of scale” — I also understand your second point that offerings in schools are driven by the number of student bodies inhabiting the building. But they don’t necessarily have to be. The current formula PPS uses to determine FTE has a logic to it, but it also has very significant unintended consequences. There are several reasons why it might make sense to rethink that formula in order to redress some of the pretty dramatic discrepancies across the district.

    I’ll just mention that many schools are relatively small in size, like Winterhaven, and unable to hold the number of students that are required to reach whatever level it is these days that would produce a full curriculum — I haven’t heard much lately about the magic number of 400 – without resorting to portables, which have their own problems. I know the District has big plans for facilities, but even if times were good (which they most decidedly are not), we’re looking at a 20 year plan. What are kids supposed to do in the meantime if their school happens to be small?

    In addition, the current FTE formula tends to reinforce and magnify enrollment trends, whether positive or negative, for a given school. Schools that gain enrollment also gain curriculum, thereby increasing their attractiveness to families, and promoting further growth. But those students are coming from somewhere, and they are likely coming from schools that have a relatively impoverished curriculum, thereby producing a vicious cycle of decline. As Steve Rawley has pointed out, the serious equity problem in PPS is to a large degree a function of the linkage between the transfer system and the staffing formula. We’re not going to be able to redress the inequities in opportunities for students across the District unless we revise the staffing formula.

    Finally, I totally get that this is a question of economies of scale. I used that very term in an earlier post. What I don’t get is how the District is applying the concept. As far as I can tell, the K8 reconfiguration as originally conceived considered only the total number of bodies that could be housed in buildings, but did not consider the outlays that would be necessary to provide a curriculum equivalent to that offered in an “average” middle school (however that might be defined). When you look at that, I would submit that the District has lost economies of scale if it intends to support a real curriculum with foreign language, real science, and other electives.

    I’m not trying to beat the proverbial dead horse, but it seems to me the economic rationality of the “reforms” to both K8s and the small high schools is a central question that hasn’t gotten anywhere near enough attention. As bad as the facilities issues are at the K8s, once those are fixed, they’re done. (Though I suspect science labs will be a very long time in coming for some schools.) The curricular issues, in contrast, will be ongoing as long as the current staffing formula remains unchanged.

    In effect, both the reconfiguration and the small high schools institutionalize inequity in educational opportunities for students within PPS. Maybe I’m just not clever enough, but I can’t even imagine a staffing formula that could ensure a full curriculum for students at Roosevelt, Jefferson, Madison, and Marshall as long as they remain in silos. If you look at the comparative offerings at all the high schools, the total number of courses housed in these four buildings is roughly equivalent to the number offered at the comprehensive schools (150 more or less), but individual students can access only about one-third of the total since courses (and administrators) must be replicated in each small school.

    Would someone explain to me how this makes economic sense in a situation of extremely limited (and probably declining) resources? Failing that, can someone explain to me what benefits these students are getting that offset the obvious deficits in curriculum?

  15. Comment from anon:

    Amen, Rita!
    Sara A, I am eagerly awaiting your response to the issues that Rita describes.

  16. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Rita and Sara, you’ve both touched on the heart of the matter.

    The big issue here is “smallness,” and K8s are just one part of that. I’ve just written about this in a new post.

  17. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    As a teacher in a K-8, I can say personally that much of what “they” say they are going to do just is not getting done. Grievances have been filed at several schools because of the “enrichment classes” that teachers are told they are “required” to teach by principals (but contractually are not required to teach). Our library is just now getting updated, and the only reason we are getting a half time library person next year is that the district is FINALLY requiring this. Otherwise, we’d still have the worst library in the district (I am purposely withholding the name of my K-8.

  18. Comment from Rita:

    Thanks for your update, S. Wilcox. I’ve been wondering about the K-8 situation. This original post dates from October, at which time Sara A. promised some updates from the K-8 team. Did I miss them? I don’t recall seeing anything since last May and I just checked the PPS site and the K-8 team link appears to be gone.

    So my question is: what’s up with the K-8s? I know there has been some movement on libraries and counselors. How are things otherwise?

    I’d love to hear some testimonials from teachers and parents who know what’s happening in the K-8s these days, three years into the implementation.

  19. Comment from enoughsugarcoatingalready:

    One thing I find so frustrating about the k-8 transition is not being able to access the right info. in regards to any of the offered classes and something like a rundown of what a “typical” day is like for the middle schoolers at these schools. My childs school is now k-7 and will add 8th in the fall…I can’t find any information on the school’s own website, and certainly none on the PPS website- I have little knowledge of what these students class choices are, whether or not they switch classrooms- if so, for which subjects, do they have the option of any before or after school homework support, and so on. Each time I’ve asked other parents of 5th graders ( my childs grade ), I get a different answer- some say they think no one yet knows, partly because of the budget issues. I don’t see how this lack of unplanning (?) is going to retain current students. When it comes to my childs education, I’m not comfortable having it revolve around a “mystery agenda”. Even a short, one page flier outlining what’s going on at least for the current school year would be appreciated…better than nothing at all. I guess one page fliers aren’t in the advertisement budget for PPS- only grand scale, 10 page pamphlets! ( heck, this could be a great class project for the current middle schoolers…give us reasons why we should stay ).

  20. Comment from marcia:

    The k-8’s are expected to offer enrichment classes, which has angered some of the 6-8 teachers, who are filing grievances given there is no curriculum and adds to their work load. In the case of MLC, they allow parents to teach classes…unsupervised by licensed teachers…and have done so for years..This is a suggestion I have made at our K-8 but I am always shot down…It would alleviate alot of problems in my mind. The MLC classes are varied and offer great choices…the parents in our K-8 are just as talented and have as much to offer…Anyway…it is an untapped source of energy.

  21. Comment from Stephanie:

    I want some background on this because I think it sounds great that parents have this opportunity. If there is good oversight of the parent and some structure in place for the interest-based learning classes (aka: enrichment) then it sounds like a win-win but I am guessing there is more to it. If I were to ask the principal at my school if I could do this what are the risks/benefits of this? I teach adults all the time so I feel like I have the skills to teach in general but kids are way different than grown ups getting paid to be there.

    Side note: Best quote ever from this thread…..(Jefferson doesn’t have Chemistry? WTF PPS?)
    It is so ridiculously obvious that if the money follows the enrollment that the schools will be imbalanced in offerings and people will flee. Could it really be that obviously dumb? Is there more to it than that I might not understand?

  22. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Jeff should offer Chemistry, taught in a well-equipped lab by a well-qualified teacher.

    It is true that districts receive money on a per-student basis, but it does not follow that the only way to get more courses or better courses is to bring in more kids. It’s more productive to look for ways of getting the kids that are at Jeff now the teaching that they need.

  23. Comment from Marian:

    I think we are setting our standards too low if we think it is acceptable for parents to teach enrichment or any other classes during the school day. My kid has had such classes and my conclusion is there is no substitute for a professional. It can be more of a detriment than a benefit.

    I’m fine with a parent coming in once or twice during the school year to enhance an already existing class led by a real teacher with real credentials. But more often than not, a well intentioned parent is no substitute for a real teacher.

    And, if a parent is qualified and takes time out of her day to teach a class on a regular basis, she should be paid like a professional.

    We have a lot of smart and talented parents at our schools but they are no substitute for a trained professional.

    I think we are still avoiding the real issues when we start scraping the bottom of the educational barrel with talk of parents substituting for teachers. The heart of the matter is inadequate funding and equitable offerings taught by real teachers at all schools. I think our energy is better utilized in coming together to get stable and adequate funding for PPS. All this other talk is just tiny band-aids on gaping wounds.

  24. Comment from Stephanie:

    Marian – agreed on coming together to talk about stable and adequate funding. Can you tell me more about your child’s experience and what you found detrimental? I have zero knowledge on this so I am trying to learn all sides. Makes sense that a parent perhaps could teach a workshop vs. a course.

  25. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Thanks, Marian…

    It’s not okay to ask teachers to work for free or teach outside of their areas of specialty, and it’s not okay to have non-certified volunteers take the place of certified professionals.

    I can certainly understand the desperate feeling of being in a building without, say, library staff. But it shortchanges our children and is insulting to professionals — and an existential threat — to start replacing them with parent volunteers.

  26. Comment from Marian:

    Stephanie–my child had two (or was it 3?) classes, each taught by a different parent. The content of the classes was boring for the kids. It seemed to me that it was not developmentally appropriate for their age. When the parents didn’t show up, which was more than once for each trimester course, the classroom teacher threw something together to fill the time.

    My point about paying someone for her time is that you feel obligated to show up or provide some meaningful substitute for your time. Instead, it felt like an “I’m doing you a favor so take it or leave it” situation. Also, the teacher was not in the class, nor did she seem to have any input in what was being taught.

    On the other hand, this year we have a parent coming in to enhance a course by applying the math skills the kids are learning into the profession the mom is in. The teacher and the parent have worked together to make it meaningful and it is integrated beautifully into the curriculum. The key is that the teacher is in charge and has the knowledge to know what complements her lesson plans and what is appropriate for this age group. The children are engaged and look forward to this time.

    I think the point is that the professionals (teachers) know their stuff and should control over any non-professionals coming in to teach his/her kids.

  27. Comment from Stephanie:

    Marian and Steve – excellent feedback! I would love to teach a public policy class and set up mock testimonies and how to get bills sponsored and such. It makes sense to do this with a teacher instead of on my own. Collaboration makes sense to me vs. doing the job of a teacher.

  28. Comment from Rita:

    This is my observation and my fear: parent “interest classes” are an attempt to make up for an impoverished curriculum. But the reality is that they can’t. They can provide window dressing, taking the heat off the school and the district for not providing the same kinds of educational opportunities in some schools that exist in others. But the kids are still not getting equivalent opportunities.

    As I said in my original post, I applaud all the parents who pull these classes together. It’s hard work and, at least in my experience, frustrating. Not only was it a challenge for me to “teach” a roomful of middle schoolers (very different from college students), but I had only 5 classes in which to convey something marginally useful on a very complicated topic. Then it was over and a month later the kids moved on to the next interest class. It’s not by accident that the successful (meaning popular) interest classes tend to be around non-academic, small project-based topics like knitting or calligraphy, or sword-making. (!) I don’t begrudge the kids some actual fun, but to my mind these interest classes hardly make up for curricular deficits.

    My concern is that interest classes may be seen as a substitute for the kind of actual electives that middle schoolers are supposed to get: foreign language, instrumental music, sustained art, drama, etc. Parent-led interest classes are in a completely different league.

    If a school wants to use them to increase parental involvement, provide some fun stuff to relieve the drudgery, or do a workshop kind of training, then I say fine. Even if it’s primary purpose is to provide prep time for teachers who would otherwise not get it, I’m ok with that, too. But let’s not delude ourselves that these interest classes can substitute for real educational opportunities.

    While I’m at it, I’d like to exhort the District to do something that Peter Campbell has been clamoring for: a clear and accurate cataloguing of the educational opportunities (including core courses and enrichments) available to students in every school that conveys the frequency and quality of those opportunities. In the absence of that, it’s hard to justify the claim that families are making choices based on real knowledge rather than rumor and gut feelings. And I think it would shine a light on the real inequities that exist across the District. We can’t fix the problem if we don’t even know what it is.

  29. Comment from Marian:

    Rita–Thank you for so eloquently stating the realities about these classes.

    I would like to comment on the drive for more parental involvement. Some schools have an abundance of it. Others, for various reasons, have a deficit. I think it is important for us to be involved in our children’s schools. The problem I see is that we are asking too much of parents in those schools where they are expected to volunteer and fund raise to make up where district funding falls short. I’m talking about Alameda and Ainsworth and other “wealthy” schools. But I’m also talking about middle of the road schools, too.

    By putting so much pressure on parents to volunteer, parents are being exploited. We are distracted from the bigger problem. We are so focused on making up what we’ve lost in our own schools that we do not notice how bad it is at other schools, especially those that do not have volunteers and fund raising.

    I think volunteering should be an optional and occasional occurrence. It has become a full-time endeavor for many parents. This strain has never been more stressful than during the K-8 transition. I see parent volunteers who have nothing left to give their children. They continue on the track of hyper-volunteerism because they fear the unknown due to the lack of planning and funding from PPS.

    We really need to organize to repair the fundamental problems with this system.

    I say we move to a place where there is less need for parental involvement. We need to move toward more funding and stability for our schools from year to year. I think we are part of the problem when the district tells us to reconfigure schools and we volunteer to do all the work out of fear of it not getting done.

  30. Comment from Stephanie:

    Forgive me for thinking out loud here for a minute. I am still learning how all of this stuff works, the history, and what the smart people who have been doing this for awhile already know.

    I have a thread going about parent involvement and have been getting some really great ideas so far. It sounds like there is a great deal of inconsistency when it comes to parent involvement on the part of the schools. Some require it, some reject it, some treat kids like patients and don’t even allow you to visit your child much less help out (special education), and some let you until you challenge a practice/policy and then ostracize you.

    I agree that parents should not get involved out of desperation and that schools should not take advantage of parents or allow interest classes to replace what should already be there like languages. I see how parents getting involved creates a slippery slope and as Steve said an “existential threat”. Most definitely yes I also agree with Peter that we need a comprehensive list of course offerings in each and every school like yesterday!!

    Here is where I want to add a piece from my own personal philosophy however and see how you all can help me shape it without sabotaging the need for funding stability as a bottom line.
    I believe so strongly in the it takes a village mentality and just hate how we have become such a me me me culture at the expense of others. I have said this in other threads but in my work I have helped parents about to lose their kids do a complete 180. The defining moment is not judging them, getting to know their story, and accepting them for who they are and not what you think a parent should be. It is easy for me to say because my work and my life blend together to create multiple gray areas but I think that parent involvement in schools can help more than just our own kids. My intention with the thread I started on parent involvement is to figure out how to create inclusive communities where you don’t have to join the PTO/A to be involved and avoiding cliques that form that only exist to judge others worth based on their contribution. Peter had put forth an idea about schools as community centers where all ages from birth to seniors can benefit and the schools are available after hours and summers for activities and opportunities. I love this idea but I also recognize that you have to have the big dream while the first steps might be small and not exactly what you want. Like I said, I am thinking out loud here for feedback.
    So to sum up that splat. Can’t we have both? I think within reason parents have a lot to offer from their experience (is there a policy on this or is it just happening…seems like rules should be standardized) but at the same time we can come together and push on the district and the board. We can get our reps and senators to sponsor bills and demonstrate. Are we there yet? I hope I am not being irritating but let’s do this. Do we start in small forums with an agenda? Do we find a space and have a potluck and have some facilitators? Most of us belong to different groups that agree on at least some things. Can we form coalitions based on what we do agree on? One thing that stands out is the comprehensive list of course offerings and we could start squeaking about this right away. Alright, I’m done. Forgive the exuberant K parent ready to take on the world 🙂

  31. Comment from Rose:

    I taught as a non-teacher for many years and can offer my observations.

    First, you can have the most fantastic credentials ever in your field, but if you don’t know how to manage a classroom of 8th graders you don’t know jack.

    In the program I was in, we were given a lot of guidance and training. We also worked in conjunction with regular teachers. Nevertheless, many still could not do it, just because it is frankly really, really, really (can I add another really?) hard to teach a full classroom all by yourself, especially after the romance of your new face wears off.

    Second, the biggest problem with relying on volunteers is they tend to be flaky. Lots of people go into schools with tons of talk and little walk (I’m not talking about you, Stephanie). If you were a teacher, would you want to rely on a parent who might suddenly announce they have to move to Nebraska next week?

    Despite all this I think parent-involved teaching can work. I do think it works best when 1) it is in small, manageable chunks, like two week residencies 2) the teacher is there to help and lead 3) or, the volunteer works with smaller pull-out groups.

    The most effective non-teaching led programs I have seen are those involving writers, poets and artists in residence. Also programs like Caldera, which is a great program that takes photographers into schools to work with classes.

  32. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    The comment was made that the K-8 Action Team’s link on the PPS website had been removed. I had to go and check for myself. Sure enough, gone! Organizing the K-8s was one of the new super’s 3 big goals for PPS (along with bridging the achievement gap and revamping high schools), and yet there is no website? Today is my first day teaching “enrichment.” I chose study hall, as it has the least impact on my already full schedule (meaning, I do not have to plan for it). Teaching close to self-contained 8th grade is difficult enough.

  33. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    In what universe is “study hall” enrichment !?!?

  34. Comment from Stephanie:

    Can you explain this line to me:

    Teaching close to self-contained 8th grade is difficult enough.

    Is that the behavior class? I have posted a little on how I feel about behavior rooms but also know that sometimes these work for kids so want to be objective. Full disclosure is that I believe we can do better than segregation within a school building but want to be careful and respectful as I gather information about other’s experience here. My values are based on full-inclusion while recognizing we cannot do this top down and small steps are needed to help people value this as well as these kids.

  35. Comment from Rita:

    To follow up on the K-8 task force link, it no longer appears on the default home page, but if you click on the new and improved web site preview, it shows up there. Though, truth be told, it looks to me like it hasn’t been updated since last May or June. But at least you can access the documents more easily.

  36. Comment from Nancy R.:

    I think she means an eighth-grade class where they don’t change classes and have the same teacher for language arts, math, science, everything but music, library and PE. (If the school happens to offer those things.)

    I lived for changing classes in middle school — we were forever tormenting our poor teachers and it gave them a break. Plus it got us ready for high school so it wasn’t a total shock.

  37. Comment from Stephanie:

    Thanks Nancy! Self-contained means something else in IEP world which is basically a pull out from gen ed settings.

    I remember my 7th grade home room teacher that would throw things at the kids (erasers, shoes, plants). She was always happy to see us go to our next class.

  38. Comment from Nancy R.:

    That’s some good teaching, right there. We had a PE teacher who threw shoes and knuckle-punches to the head.

  39. Comment from Stephanie:

    OH yeah, and dodgeball and the president’s challenge in PE was an excellent time to get away with school approved verbal and physical abuse. Now there is some enrichment! Hey at least we had PE right?

  40. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    In talking with another teacher, whose children attend the same K-8 as mine, she too is disappointed with the meager “enrichment” offerings. Her son is taking knitting. I am grateful that these teachers feel obligated to teach anything at all. Our principal, by the way, is telling us our courses need to be graded. Perhaps that is why, as the study hall teacher, I had the highest enrollment. Who fails study hall?

  41. Comment from Valerie:

    Just a note from a parent who attended the Kindergarten round-up of Winterhaven, and who initially thought that our child would be a good fit there…. Winterhaven does not have a well-rounded program and I did not feel that she would receive complete ‘enrichment’ from the classes taught there. It’s great to be Math/Science focused, but you still need the arts, music, PE to create a well-rounded and enriched child. Also, after touring both K-5 (Llewellyn and Grout), and K-8 school formats(Winterhaven and Sunnyside Environmental), I am convinced that K-3 kids do NOT belong in the same environment as middle-school aged kids. The gulf between the ages and social development/behavior issues is to too great to mix them in one environment.

  42. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    I would agree with that comment. However, there are so many things wrong with K-8s, it is difficult for me, as a K-8 teacher and parent of two K-8 children, to pinpoint just one. The obvious question, “Why doesn’t PPS offer the same classes in all schools?” seems to have long gone by the wayside. Every other week at my school, my students get pe twice, and it has been cancelled so much, that I have started going out with them and playing soccer, just so they can get what they need. Add pe to my already stressed out schedule of reading, writing, math, and social studies.

  43. Comment from Nancy R.:

    S.W. — when the kids in my daughter’s second grade class would start spinning out, their teacher would call out, Kickball! and out they’d go to the playground. He pitches. I like him for a lot of reasons — he’s a great teacher, consistent, funny, smart — but this is the biggest reason I’m a fan.

  44. Comment from Zarwen:

    I had a 5th grade teacher that used to do the same thing–back in the 1970’s, before recess became a topic for scientific study. Those were the days.

  45. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    It looks as if next year at my K-8 will look much the same. Three out of five of our middle school teachers have expressed the desire to teach elsewhere. This is largely due to the fact that limited resources have allowed administration to continue to force the “self-contained” model on us. I just want to teach what I am good at, and would want the same for my own children…