Stasis

sta·sis \ˈstā-səs, ˈsta-\ noun
1: a slowing or stoppage of the normal flow of a bodily fluid or semifluid: as a: slowing of the current of circulating blood b: reduced motility of the intestines with retention of feces 2 a: a state of static balance or equilibrium : stagnation b: a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change in a lineage occurs

Stakeholders in Portland Public Schools have noticed that not much seems to be getting done (at least publicly) on several critical issues.

  • K-8 The Superintendent’s PK-8 Action Team hasn’t held a public meeting or posted new information since May, at which time the lack of library staff was identified as a critical issue. Five K8 schools continue to operate without library staff, and no status has been reported on adjusting the budget formula to provide more opportunity to the small cohorts of middle graders in K8 schools. The lack of a comprehensive middle school option in two of nine clusters (Jefferson and Madison) continues to be a glaring symbol of the inequity that is being institutionalized by the lack of action on this issue.
  • Libraries Eight schools in PPS have no library staff whatsoever, including five K-8s, one PK-5, one 6-8 and one 6-12. Three high schools lack a certified media specialist. There has been talk of making library staff centrally-funded, as was done in the last budget for counselors, but there is no visible progress on this.
  • High Schools The high school design team hasn’t posted any new information since September, when it posted a high level goal statement (PDF). A community committee to provide input to this group never materialized.
  • Transfer policy Two and a half years ago, county and city auditors found that the district’s transfer policy led to “significantly less socio-economic diversity in schools than would be the case if all students attended their neighborhood school,” contrary to its stated intent to “promote equity, diversity and student achievement.” They also found that “the transfer policy competes with other Board policies such as strong neighborhood schools and investing in poor performing schools.” (Flynn, Suzanne and Blackmer, Gary. “Portland Public Schools Student Transfer System: District objectives not met” (PDF) June, 2006.)

    Since this audit report was published, the school board and administration have failed to address the central question (What is the purpose of the school choice system?) or make any modifications to mitigate the damage it causes. Each year we are told it is too late to make changes for the coming transfer cycle.

    Likewise, this year, a citizen committee was to be formed, announced several weeks ago. The committee still has not formed, though applications were taken and applicants were interviewed. With the transfer cycle for 2009-10 set to open January 23, it appears the district has once again stalled long enough to avoid any changes or clarifications for yet another year.

    Meanwhile, schools with high out-transfer rates continue to be punished by a funding formula that drains funding along with enrollment. It is unlikely this will be changed, since the budget cycle is soon upon us as well.
    Update, 12:40 p.m.: The committee has been selected and will hold its first meeting two and a half weeks before next year’s transfer cycle begins.

  • Facilities Efforts to get a billion dollar facilities bond on the ballot came to a screeching halt last winter, and soon after, a high-priced consultant’s scathing e-mail went public. The official reasons for holding off on the bond were reasonable (we need a high school design first, and there was a good chance the double majority law would be overturned, allowing a bond to be passed during a special election). But with no visible progress on high schools or K-8s, this “critical” issue seems to have been reduced to a simmer.
  • Equity As with high schools, a committee of community members had been suggested to advise the superintendent’s equity team. No such committee has been announced, and no information has been posted about the internal team. With equity the “over-arching” goal of Carole Smith and her second budget cycle looming, you’d think this would at least be a public relations priority.

I certainly don’t mean to imply nothing is being done. But given the severity of the problems, the disgrace they bring to our fair city, and the superintendent’s stated priorities, it’s shameful actual change on these issues is evidently being kicked down the road yet another year. Our children aren’t getting any younger.

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

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“Choice” done right

There is a school district, of similar size and demographics to Portland Public Schools (37,789 students, 42% minority, 33% free and reduced lunch, 16% ELL), with less funding per student than PPS, that manages to maintain strong and equitable neighborhood schools and a vibrant school choice program.

All of its neighborhood K-5 schools have music, P.E. and a library (staffed with a certified media specialist).

Options start in the middle grades (6-8), with every student assigned to a comprehensive middle school. Every neighborhood middle school offers world languages and elective options in the arts such as band or orchestra, choir and art. All middle schools also have after-school activities.

If a family is not happy with their comprehensive middle school assignment, they can choose from one of three K-8 schools, or one of several schools specializing in the arts, health and science, environmental science, an international school, or a school for highly gifted students.

As with the middle grades, every high school student is assigned to a comprehensive high school, each offering a broad and deep selection of advanced placement classes, world languages and electives, including fine arts (instrumental music, theatre, art, etc.), business, technology, etc., and each offering a wide variety of after-school programs.

For students looking for options not available in their assigned high school, choices include continuations of the middle grade arts, international, and health and science schools, as well a high school focused on science and technology and a “small school” focused on individualized instruction, independent learning, and real-world experience. They may also enroll in an International Baccalaureate program.

How do they do it?

  • Their system is grounded in neighborhood-based attendance. Neighborhood schools are strong enough and offer enough of a comprehensive curriculum to be the first choice of the vast majority of families.
  • Choice is limited to option schools; neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers are only allowed in exceptional circumstances. With schools sized according to attendance area, they are able to maintain funding and programming.
  • Schools are considerably larger than schools in PPS (with K-5s around 600 students, middle schools 1000 and high schools 2000), with the trade-off of comprehensive curriculum in every neighborhood school.

And what’s the school district? Beaverton.

It is remarkable how well-planned, consistent, fair and equitable Beaverton is. They actually have a well-designed system of K-12 education, with a well-thought out curriculum guaranteed to every student in every neighborhood school that is as good or better than the best of the best in PPS.

Compare and contrast this to the shameful, utterly disorganized state of Portland Public Schools, where this kind of schooling is only available in the whitest, wealthiest neighborhoods.

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

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Giant Steps

We’ve been taking baby steps toward equity for a while now, with no appreciable difference to schools and students in non-white, non-middle class neighborhoods. It’s time for some giant steps (and a little musical interlude).

If you can follow this, thank a music teacher (you won’t find many in Portland Public Schools, especially in poor neighborhoods, since the big cuts that followed Measure 5). Giant Steps, by John Coltrane:

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

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Secretary of Ed. Joel Klein?

Word is that President-elect Obama is considering notorious union-busting, test-obsessed, NCLB-defending, school-privatizer Joel I. Klein (New York City’s public school boss) for Secretary of Education.

While Obama’s election may provide a new attitude and sense of comity, his actual administration may do just the opposite if it includes divisive figures like Klein.

I’ve been concerned that Obama would tap our old friend Vicki Phillips, but Chicago school reform activist Michael Klonsky (no fan of Phillips) thinks Klein would be the worst possible choice for Secretary of Education.

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

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Dept. of lost and squandered millions

The amount of a $5.2 million federal grant lost by the Vicki Phillips administration is now approaching $2 million, according to the Willamette Week (where the story originally broke in September, 2007). The funding of the grant, which was intended to create magnet schools in the Jefferson cluster to ease segregation, was lessened by at least $1.7 million due to the rushed closures of Applegate and Kenton, and by poor grant management.

In separate news, the State of Oregon has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a computer testing company for breach of contract.

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

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What Obama means to Portland Public Schools

With George Bush as President the only avenue to change seemed to be moral outrage. This played out not only in national affairs but in communities throughout the country. Reason, as well as intellectual arguments, seemed to be neither effective or welcomed.

Well, the times they are a changin’.

Obama’s demeanor and intellectualism create a model of calm civility and serious problem solving…. Let’s sit down and talk this out. Let’s work together to solve the obvious. We can make good things happen for all our citizens. Yes we can.

So, how should this play out in Portland Public Schools? The first step it seems is to recognize the obvious and work to bring about major improvements where they are needed. Forget selfishness, greed, and getting yours at the expense of everyone else’s kids.

Here are some of the obvious things we need to address:

  • In a public school system all kids should have equal offerings and opportunities based on their needs.
  • Middle school age students need electives, athletics, music and the arts, and activities to help build their interest in school.
  • Kids who can’t read should get the help they need so they can.
  • The main focus of all schools should be on what takes place in the classroom where most of the learning happens. This includes great support for teachers and working hard to have orderly schools and classrooms.
  • High stakes testing is not as important as good, solid education which prepares students for life, ncluding future schooling, the job world, citizenship, and happiness.
  • Kids who can read decently well should have their education broadened in the arts, the sciences, the social sciences, and technology.
  • Kids who don’t get good family support should get extra help from the schools in overcoming those drawbacks.
  • Kids who work and excel should be able to go as far as they can, both through extra course work and special programs.

In the new spirit of America (really the old spirit of many of our childhoods) let’s work together to make these deferred dreams a reality.

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

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The school board fiddles

Here’s Monday nights agenda for the Portland School Board:

  1. PRESENTATION TO THE BOARD 6:30 pm

    • MESD 2007-2008 Annual Report (information item)

  2. STUDENT REPRESENTATIVE REPORT 6:45 pm
  3. SUPERINTENDENT REPORT 6:50 pm
  4. BUSINESS AGENDA 6:55pm
  5. OTHER BUSINESS 7:00 pm

    • Council of Great City Schools Annual Conference (information item)

  6. ADJOURN 7:10 pm

So the school board can only find 40 minutes of work that needs to be done? Or should I say 40 minutes of reports to receive. This is in a school district which spends hundreds of millions of dollars of citizens’ taxes, which is beset by problems ranging from incredible school inequity, massive economic problems on the horizon, disastrous maintenance deficits, serious teacher hiring malpractices, rampant school discipline problems, incredible numbers of dropouts, a TAG program which desperately needs to be revamped, a k-8 curriculum which is the envy of no one, a student transfer program which is further segregating the school district, schools which are inundated with a culture of testing instead of education (no offense to those educators who are fighting this), schools without libraries or librarians, huge numbers of kids who can’t read or do basic math, and a myriad of other serious problems. 40 minutes?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that Superintendent Carol Smith has begun to address many of these problems and the school board does a lot of work in committees. They are good people who care about Portland and its children. But that is not enough. The school board is elected to lead, to solve problems, and work for the best educational programs it can. It needs real public input, serious public discussions about directions to take, resolutions put forth to address problems which are debated openly and sold to the public and the school district’s employees, real leadership which garners genuine support and confidence. Leadership that continues to move us in a new direction where all kids are important and which looks at education in Portland as something more than a referendum on programs which arise out of some hazy educational research done somewhere by someone for some reason we don’t understand, and which we then push on our teaching staff eating up their time in meetings instead of having them be further engaged in the teaching process.

So I call on each school board member to bring their resolutions to the table. This is the time. November and the first part of December are a slow time in education. A good time to make some progress. A good time to look at those problems which are beginning to fester. A good time to discuss those problems which need to be addressed by our city’s educational leaders –- you, the board.

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

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Rethinking Schools: Got Equity?

Forwarded from Lakeitha:

Dear Portland Area Rethinking Schools friends,

This is a reminder for the upcoming “TGI Thursday.” We are depending fully on email announcements these days — i.e., no paper sent out — so please help us get the word out:

Our “TGI Thursday” will be this Thursday, Nov. 6, — 4 pm social; 4:30 to 6 pm — at Westminster Presbyterian Church in the Fireside Room, 1624 NE Hancock, two blocks north of Broadway.

Our topic: “Got Equity? Stories and Conversations.” We’ll be using the Portland Area Rethinking Schools-produced report card to ask ourselves critical questions about how equitable our schools and school districts are — and reflecting on how we can use this information to make them better. It should be a lively and interesting session. — Full details at our website: www.portlandrethinkingschools.org

Also, I’m sure that we’ll want to spend some time discussing the election results and how these might influence the prospects for equity and justice in the schools. — We’ll also hear some brief reports from the recent First Annual Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Seattle, that attracted 325 educators from around the region.

Please send this announcement to friends and colleagues. We are no longer sending out paper flyers, so depend on emails and email forwards to get the word out.

Thanks.

Bill Bigelow
for the Portland Area Rethinking Schools steering committee

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

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Lessons from the Young Men’s Academy

Official news that the Young Men’s Academy (YMA) at Jefferson High School will close at the end of this school year is certainly no surprise. But rather than point fingers over obvious mistakes, we should pause and reflect on the lessons to be learned.

Jefferson, Oregon’s only majority black high school, is emblematic of how Portland Public Schools treats its black students. No other high school in Portland offers as few classes as Jefferson — 34 classes currently listed (not counting dance classes), with no music, chemistry, physics, calculus, world languages other than Spanish, or a single A.P. class — and no other high school has experimented with gender segregation or uniforms.

The first lesson we should take away from the failed experiment in not just gender segregation but also “smallness” taken to the extreme, is that size matters. This is a lesson PPS needs to learn system-wide. If we are unwilling or unable to pay for it, we shouldn’t design it into the system.

The young women at the Jefferson Young Women’s Academy (YWA), though faring better than their counterparts at the YMA, are still suffering from unfunded smallness. They are the only high school campus in the district without a staffed library. They also are cut off from the after-school programs at Jefferson, with no transportation provided to and from their satellite campus two miles away.

We should also remember that both YMA and YWA have so far served mostly middle grade students — high school grades have been phased in as students age up — and that the Jefferson cluster does not have a middle school.

By far and away the most important lesson to learn from the failure of Jefferson’s YMA is one of fundamental fairness. Why is the choice of middle grade students in the Jefferson cluster between K-8 or gender-segregated 6-12? Why doesn’t the Jefferson cluster (and Madison, too) have a comprehensive middle school option, like every other cluster in Portland?

Or, to put it more bluntly: Why do we insist on treating black students so much differently (that is, worse) than everybody else?

We should know by now that endless promises, experiments and reconfigurations have only made Jefferson weaker and less desirable to the greater community — declining enrollment figures don’t lie. More of the same may be seen as confirmation of the suspicion heard frequently around the neighborhood: that PPS wants Jefferson (and its black students) to fail.

In the end, what we should take away from this particular failed experiment is that Jefferson students need what all students need: a rich and interesting curriculum, taught by experienced teachers, with opportunity in their neighborhood on par with every other neighborhood in the district.

Portland Public Schools has the facilities, and, more importantly, the neighborhood student populations, to support comprehensive high schools and middle schools in all nine clusters. But the district’s twin experiments in “smallness” and “choice” have led to a system wildly out of balance and shamefully unfair to the students most in need of a comprehensive education.

Perhaps the announcement of YMA’s demise on the day before a historic election augurs a new day, one in which black students in Portland, Ore. have the same kinds of schools in their neighborhoods as white students, and they are no longer subject to ill-conceived, under-funded experiments and second-tier opportunity.

One can only hope.

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

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