“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.