In the news

Jennifer Anderson reports in the Tribune that Portland Public Schools is hiring a private investigator to probe one of its charter school operators. The contract for this PI is costing the district $75 an hour and runs through the end of the school year. Jack Bogdanski asks the $64,000 question: Isn’t this the kind of thing that we have detectives, DA’s, and a labor commissioner for? To which I would add: Doesn’t the school board employ an independent auditor?

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

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PPS student teacher on Duncan in CounterPunch

Portland Public Schools student teacher Kenneth Libby, who contributed to Peter Campbell’s discussion of Arne Duncan here, expands on his thinking for a much greater audience today on Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair’s CounterPunch. Suffice it to say, Libby is not as optimistic about Duncan as Campbell or Chicago schools activist Michael Klonsky (who also took part in the original conversation here).

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

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Planned and unplanned outages

The server that hosts PPS Equity has been experiencing technical difficulties due to increasing loads (the PPS snow cancellations brought unprecedented traffic to this site from users seeking up-to-date school closure information) and a coincidental hardware problem (a failing router), but help is on the way.

A new, more powerful server is coming for the new year, and a new router should be installed in the next two days. In the meantime, you can expect intermittent outages and slowness from the PPS Equity Web site. Thank you for your patience!

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

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Who’s the Real Arne Duncan?

So who is this Arne Duncan guy anyway? The CEO of Chicago Public Schools, tapped by Barack Obama to head the federal Department of Education, is seen as a radical corporate-controlled accountability zealot by some and a moderate centrist by others.

I see him as something of a conundrum. Consider this: Duncan signed both the Joel Klein/Al Sharpton-backed Education Equality Project statement and the “Bold Approach” statement — a critique and counter-proposal to NCLB signed by progressive educators like Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling-Hammond, and John Goodlad (among others).

So will the real Arne Duncan step forward? Does he agree with the central message of the “Bold Approach” statement? Evidence demonstrates . . . that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can substantially, consistently, and sustainably close these gaps.

Or does he believe, like so many neoliberals, that “poverty is an excuse”?

Mike Klonsky holds out hope that Duncan was a tool of Chicago mayor Richard Daley and, once out from under his thumb, might produce meaningful reform. Something — albeit a small scrap — to be optimistic about RE: the fed’s role in education?

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

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Facilities plan gets a reality check

As reported in The Oregonian today, Portland Public Schools has significantly scaled back their facilities planning, and pushed back the date to float the measure to fall 2010 at the earliest.

Originally discussed as a billion dollar capital bond intended to fix a major maintenance backlog as well as rebuild the high school system, it is now being proposed as a $270 million “something for everyone” plan.

Key among the improvements is basic facilities funding for the K8 transistion begun three years ago with no planning for facilities. (K8 schools, which serve disproportionate numbers of poor and minority students, also continue to struggle with inadequate operational funding.)

It is noteworthy that before the K8 transition began, all middle grade students in PPS had access to age-appropriate facilities.

Since the proposed bond does not fund new middle schools for the areas of the district underserved by them (Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt), it would appear to reinforce the current system of middle schools for white, middle class neighborhoods and K8s for the rest.

While it’s encouraging that the district has stepped back from the brink of allowing the facilities tail to wag the education policy dog on high schools, they continue to let facilities planning reinforce the “accidental” two-tiered middle grade design.

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

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In the news

Kicker for schools?

Oregon’s revenue system is a source of puzzlement in many ways, perhaps none more than the “kicker” which sends collected tax revenue back to taxpayers if revenues exceed forecasts.

Jeff Mapes reports in The Oregonian that the captains of industry, who last year sacrificed the business kicker to create a state rainy day fund, now want individuals to ante up. A great idea, even if it does come from a dubious source. The O’s editorial board agrees, and calls on the legislature to make statutory adjustments to the constitutionally enshrined kicker law.

The tax burden in Oregon, once equally balanced between individuals and business, has shifted dramatically to individuals in the wake of 1990′s disastrous Measure 5.

Hopefully our Democratic governor and Democratic state legislature will figure out a way to squeeze some more revenue out of Oregon’s businesses to restore some of the revenue lost 28 years ago, as well as restore a little balance to our tax system.

Jefferson gender-segregated academies revisited

Also in The Oregonian today, Kimberly Melton looks at the stark differences between the doomed Jefferson Young Men’s Academy and the (apparently, from the story) flourishing Young Women’s Academy at the former Harriet Tubman Middle School.

The differences are stark, and they have been from the beginning. Melton notes that young African American men are “more likely to attend public schools with the least resources,” and in that regard the Young Men’s Academy (YMA) clearly was a giant leap in the wrong direction.

A promised academic focus on business never materialized. They didn’t even have a math teacher until half way through the first year.

By contrast, Melton describes a Young Women’s Academy (YWA) with not only a math teacher or two, but classes in “ballet, engineering, woodworking and journalism.”

Unfortunately, the picture for the Tubman girls isn’t as rosy as Melton paints. They may have a dance teacher, but they don’t have a staffed library — the only PPS high school with that dubious honor.  Enrollment hasn’t increased as expected, even as they progressively add grades each year. They don’t have the same kinds of after-school programming as the main Jefferson campus, or consistent transportation options to get between campuses for events and activities. Getting to their building on foot requires dangerous street crossings.

The Bush administration issued rules changes for Title IX enforcement which would appear to allow Tubman to continue without a boys-only analog. But with a new administration, the historical failure of PPS to fund its various experiments in “smallness” (Small Schools, K-8, open transfers), and the looming budget shortfall, supporters of the YMA have reason to be concerned for the future of their school.

Many factors can be cited for the failure of the YMA and the threats to the YWA. But the failure to offer the promised programs at the YMA and the continued underfunding of the YWA are critical elements.

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

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Clark/Binnsmead teacher wins national honors

Clark K-8@Binnsmead first grade teacher Bonnie Robb was honored Thursday with the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award, along with its $25,000 prize.

According to The Oregonian‘s report, Robb teaches a class that includes 40% English Language Learners (ELL) and 80% who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Congratulations, Bonnie!

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

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In the news

Helen Silvis writes about Portland’s Small Schools experiments in The Skanner.

In the Portland Tribune, Jennifer Anderson reports that erstwhile Vicki Phillips supporter Scott Bailey is throwing his hat into the ring for the May school board election in zone 5.

Beth Slovic reported on Willamette Week‘s blog last month that Ben Joy (a critic of Phillips’ disastrously rushed K-8 conversion) would not run for the zone 5 seat, but he now appears to be considering a run, according to the Trib.

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

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