PPS Equity gone wild

Since this Web site was launched a little over a year ago, it’s had a small but dedicated following, and the list of contributors keeps growing, little by little.

Then, this month, something happened. Due to a combination of factors, traffic for the month of March is suddenly more than double the previous monthly average, and comments — many from new readers — are through the roof.

Props to long-time contributor Peter Campbell for sparking things up in the comments department with his thought-provoking posts, and to new contributor Stephanie Hunter for shining a light on the frequently-overlooked inequities faced by PPS students on IEPs.

I am not an educator or a journalist, just a socially-conscious, politically-active parent. I publish this Web site because I can, and because I feel a moral responsibility to speak out about injustice when I see it. But without reader participation, it would be nothing but a lone voice in the wilderness.

The civility of the dialog here, and the level of intelligence, expertise and critical thinking you all share puts other local blogs and media outlets to shame. I am truly humbled by this (even a little proud).

There have been just 16 blog posts this month, and over 350 comments. That’s 25% of all comments posted here in the 14 months this site has been live. I’ve taken a few steps back recently to spend more time with my family, so it’s gratifying to see this thing take on a life of its own. I own the server, but nobody can own the community dialog that’s taking place on it.

It’s gotten to the point that I can barely keep up (I do have a day job!). In order to make the comments easier to follow, I’ve added a comments page, listing the most recent 100 comments, as well as some statistics. I also plan to implement some other features soon to make discussions easier to follow, e.g. comment threading (and perhaps automatic quoting, etc.).

If you have any suggestions for making this site more useful, I’m all ears. And as always, I welcome new contributors. Drop an e-mail to steve at ppsequity dot org if you’d like to join the ranks of writers here.

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

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School board candidate forum

The Beverly Cleary PTA is hosting a school board candidate forum this Thursday, with all six candidates expected to attend (or send a surrogate).

  • Thursday, April 2nd, 7:30-8:30 pm
  • The Cafetorium, Beverly Cleary School, Fernwood Campus, 1915 NE 33rd Ave.

Childcare will be provided by the PTA on a first-come, first-served basis for a maximum 20 children.

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

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Charters and PPS

Responding to the recent audit of PPS charter schools, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith had this to say:

“The track record of PPS charter schools — and of the district’s success in managing and partnering with those schools — is a mixed bag. After 10 years, it is time for a deep and thoughtful assessment of charter schools, in theory and in practice.”

Given the Board’s rejection of the most recent charter applications, it looks like the worm might be turning. Odd timing, given the rest of the country under our new President is going ga-ga over charters.

Full disclosure: my daughter attends Trillium right now. There are lot of great things about the school, e.g., not holding kids to artificial benchmarks, integrating art and music across the curriculum, theme-based education that ties in different learning styles, project-based learning, and allowing kids to choose things they are interested in learning and then giving them time and support to pursue these things. As an educator and parent, I appreciate these forms of pedagogy.

But as an activist, I question the role of charters and worry about their draining effect on neighborhood schools. On this blog, Rose and Stephanie have shared information about the way kids with IEP’s and kids with disabilities are served by PPS. The way charters handle this concerns me even more.

I think we as a community need to look carefully at the charter movement here in PPS. Is there a way that charters can become community partners, or will they always serve a niche? And why?

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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School library bill gets first hearing

Oregon’s HB 2586, the Quality School Libraries bill, gets its first House committee hearing this Monday, March 30. This bill would make library programs eligible for grants in addition to State School Fund money, and would require school districts to include goals that implement strong school library programs in their local district continuous improvement plans.

Please contact members of the House Education Committee and urge them to support this bill. (Or thank them for their sponsorship. Four of nine of the committee members — Dembrow, Huffman, Roblan, and VanOrman — are co-sponsors). It is also helpful to contact your legislators and encourage them to sign on as sponsors if they haven’t already, or thank them for their support if they already have.

House Education Committee

Legislative sponsors

House:

Senate:

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

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Early Intervention changes proposed

When something is working we sometimes forget to ask why or notice at all. The Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MECP) is one of those things that is often taken for granted.

MECP falls under the big umbrella of Multnomah Education Service District (MESD), a regional program that serves all of the school districts in Multnomah County. On March 16th, 2009 MESD was told that Portland Public Schools will not be renewing the contract for MECP to continue doing evaluations for children that have developmental concerns and disabilities. MECP would continue to provide the service of early intervention is what I understand because this is ODE’s requirement.

My biggest concern about this is the philosophical differences between MECP and PPS in how children with delays and disabilities are identified and supported. MECP is based on the values of serving the whole family and community in the process of serving each and every child. MECP partners with Multnomah Parent Action Committee (MPAC) and provides free training and support groups for parents. MECP offers classes in communication, autism, behavior, and actively seeks resources for families. The process from the first phone call all the way to transition to PPS is seamless and supportive.

PPS likely believes they can save money doing the early intervention evaluations in the district. I beg to differ.

  • The money PPS would have to spend to meet the standards of consistency and family centered practices that MECP provides would likely exceed whatever savings they believe they can draw from this move.
  • I do not understand how shifting pots of money around and creating a fragmented system benefits anyone. Parents just receiving a diagnosis have a lot of concerns and questions about services, and there is ample room for mistakes and miscommunication when one agency is handing information off to another.
  • Since MESD is a county system and covers all of the districts there is a lot of sharing of resources that offsets costs all over. MESD intakes 2400 children a year and roughly 1200 are in PPS. If PPS pulls out of this contract then East County will have to pick up the slack and absorb costs and in addition MESD would have to let go of 50 percent of their staff. Turnover within MECP is rare and in my 3 years as a parent in their system see all of the same faces every year.
  • Perhaps PPS should allow MECP to keep the contract and instead direct resources to investigate what MECP is doing right to empower, engage, and support families while also being successful in providing early intervention.

My deepest, darkest fears about PPS taking over early intervention evaluation is that children with disabilities will be routed into special schools like the Pioneer Program or will simply not be identified as needing early intervention at all. More segregation and less identification is what our future may hold if PPS does not allow MECP to continue doing their good work. PPS has enough to worry about right now.

Join me in writing the school board and the superintendent (contact information on the “action” page of this site). You can also contact Ron Hitchcock the superintendent of MESD at rhitchco@mesd.k12.or.us

Tell them to let MECP continue to do their good work. If you have personal stories about how MECP has helped your family then share them.

Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.

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In the news: PPS libraries

The Oregonian‘s Kim Melton summarizes Susan Stone’s February presentation to the school board on the sorry state of our school libraries. Melton also shows how PPS stacks up to neighboring districts. The library assistant at my house wants you to be sure to read all the way to the end.

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

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Bailey on K8s

Note: this is Scott Bailey’s response to questions from PPS Equity about his positions on K8s. –Ed.

  1. PPS shifted to a K-8 configuration, but has never had a K-8 education plan.
  2. The reconfiguration was poorly planned, done too quickly, and so was poorly executed. Let me qualify that by saying given the task and the timeline, I would guess that line staff were overwhelmed and did the best they could with not enough resources. The responsibility lies elsewhere.
  3. And yes, there was no, and still is no, education vision for K-8s, it’s just a configuration.
  4. As is obvious, there are substantial problems with enrollment, with some K-8s being overcrowded and some under-enrolled. Those schools that are under-enrolled either have an under-populated catchment area or lose middle grade students to other schools. As a result, they are hard pressed to offer adequate electives, and so the latter are in no position to retain more students. Adding to the imbalance in the Northeast is that Beaumont, after losing one of its feeder schools, has to recruit from other schools in order to remain viable.
  5. K-8s, if properly implemented, do have some advantages over middle schools, in that they can be a more intimate atmosphere, and there is one less transition, which can be important for many kids. If the teaching staff is consistent, there will be teachers who know the kids all the way through 8th grade—potentially important relationships that can be maintained. If parent involvement is done right—and I mean specific programs to welcome all parents into the school community, good school-parent communication, education on what to do at home to help your child succeed, and inclusion of parents in decision-making at the school—then K-8s can be a great community. I think it’s tougher to do that at a middle school, and tougher for parents to work at school improvement, with only a three-year span. Finally, if a K-8 school intentionally links the big kids with the younger kids in positive ways, it’s a real plus.
  6. On the down side, especially if you don’t have the population, you won’t be able to offer the electives. Socially, at any school, there are some kids who don’t mix well due to personality dynamics, and if you only have one class in that grade level, you’re stuck. And there is often less diversity at a K-8 because of the narrower catchment area.
  7. The research seems to say that there isn’t a clear advantage of one over the other. I think it’s much more important to look at how a school is managed, regardless of the configuration.
  8. An important question that you raise, and that was raised in the workshop at the CPPS Parent Leadership Conference, is how do we measure success with this whole experiment—and by extension, at what point would we pull the plug. I think it’s important to remember that many of the middle schools that got dismembered were not working very well. I think the root problems are still with us, however—we don’t have an educational vision for the middle grades, the curriculum is often not challenging enough or engaging enough, the suspension rates for children of color are way out of line, etc. These are issues regardless of the configuration.
  9. So where do we go from here? Building on the last point, we need a clear evaluation of whether students will be getting a better education after full implementation of the K-8s than before. If not, then we need to carefully map out some better options. I think that part of the challenge is to “reinvent” middle grade education—this is a time when students are very active, and so there are great opportunities to involve them in project-oriented learning, and connect them with the greater community. This is also a time when parents may need some guidance shifting from hands-on to a different level of involvement, that focuses on building skills like time-management.
  10. The school choice policy that we have is clearly part of the issue in K-8s as well as high school. I think it’s clear that if we allow unlimited transfers, it can make it very difficult for a school that loses families to recover. Maybe we need to limit neighborhood school-to-neighborhood school transfers, to prevent schools falling below a certain population. On the other hand, that might lead to more families jumping ship to private schools or charters. I think we need to get the issue on the table for discussion, however, because it doesn’t serve anybody when a school’s population slowly drains away.
  11. The optimum solution, of course, is to improve our neighborhood schools. I have worked on and will continue to work on key factors like improving procedures for hiring and evaluating principals. I’m hoping that the current round of negotiations with teachers leads to a joint committee which will work on improving teacher evaluations. I’ve played a major role in laying the groundwork for building system supports for parent involvement. I think there are management systems that can be introduced that will help shift the Central Office to supporting schools as opposed to imposing on them. I was a founding member of the Community Education Partners, which is pushing PPS to address the suspension/expulsion rate for children of color, so far getting very little traction. This is an issue I bring up at every gathering I’m at, as one important priority among the many issues of equity that need to be addressed in PPS. And then there’s the vision thing for middle grades.

Scott Bailey ran for the Portland Public Schools Board of Education zone 5 seat in 2009.

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Is Poverty Just an Excuse?

In the effort to fight the “poverty is no excuse” crowd, education researcher Dr. David Berliner reviews a half-dozen out-of-school factors that have been clearly linked to lower achievement among poor and minority-group students: birth weight and non-genetic parental influences; medical care; food insecurity; environmental pollution; family breakdown and stress; and neighborhood norms and conditions. Additionally, he notes a seventh factor: extended learning opportunities in the form of summer programs, after-school programs, and pre-school programs. Access to these resources by poor and minority students could help mitigate the effects of the other six factors.

Here’s the link to the full policy brief. (712 KB PDF document)

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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Campaign finance watch: Knowles catching up

The money race in zone 5 is getting tighter, with Scott Bailey approaching the five figure mark and Pam Knowles closing with over $7k raised. Knowles has also bagged endorsements from city commissioners Dan Saltzman and Randay Leonard.

As expected, Knowles is starting to tap the business community, with a $1,825 in-kind contribution from Web services firm WeClik and a $500 cash contribution from Rooper Construction. She’s getting some large contributions from individuals, too, such as Ron Beltz ($500), Erin Devaney ($750), Steve Holwerda ($350), Portland Business Association president and CEO Sandra McDonough ($500), and several individual contributions between $100 and $250 (including Commissioner Dan Saltzman and and former city council candidate Jon Branam).

Knowles is lagging in spending, having spent just over $800 in cash.

By contrast Bailey, who’s raised just over $9,000, has spent over $4,500, mainly to Kari Chisolm’s Mandate Media ($2,040; 22% of money raised and 45% of money spent) and his campaign manager (and CPPS board secretary) Kathy Couch ($1,200).

Both candidates are spending money with the printer Witham & Dickey (Bailey $620.07; Knowles $709.75), but Knowles’ expenses are offset by a $250 cash contribution from co-owner William Dickey.

Maybe Bailey needs a different printer.

No candidates in zone 4 or 6 have reported any money raised or spent.

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

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SACET to review high school designs publicly

Portland Public Schools staff will present the five proposed high school system designs to the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer (SACET) Tuesday. This will be the first detailed public look at the various models (PDF) being considered for our high school system.

The meeting is 5:30-8:30 pm, Tuesday, March 17 at BESC, 501 N. Dixon, in the conference room L1 on the lower level. Though public is invited to attend, there will not be formal opportunity to participate in the discussion at this time (later public forums have been promised).

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

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