K8 questions for Scott Bailey

Community and Parents for Public Schools (CPPS Portland) held a parent leadership conference on February 28, which included a workshop on K8s. CPPS co-founder Scott Bailey, who is running for Sonja Henning’s zone 5 seat on the school board, sent out a summary of comments and questions from workshop particpants (see below).

Since CPPS has been generally uncritical of Portland Public Schools policies, and Scott Bailey is running as a CPPS candidate — CPPS board members Kathy Couch and Rick Barasch are his campaign manager and treasurer, respectively — I thought it would be informative for Scott to express his own opinions about what many consider to be a botched K8 reconfiguration. Here’s the e-mail I sent him yesterday. I have extended Scott an open invitation to respond in a new post on this Web site, and articulate his own vision for how middle grade education should look in Portland.

It’s pretty clear to me and many parents and teachers I’ve spoken with that, as you allude to, K8s that started as middle schools can do pretty well, but K8s that started as K5s have immense problems — facilities, staffing, etc. — that aren’t going to be solved without spending a lot more money, which is obviously in very short supply these days.

We’re already spending a lot more general fund money than we ever expected on these schools, only to put middle graders in portables without access to electives or age- and curriculum-appropriate facilities.

You note the lack of a K-8 option on the west side in #3 (Skyline notwithstanding, I assume), but fail to mention the lack of a middle school option in the Jefferson and Madison clusters (as well as in broad swaths of the Roosevelt and Marshall clusters). If we’re serious about #10 (“District needs to ensure equity in all schools”), this is a glaring inequity. Why do we treat middle schoolers in one part of town differently from those in another part of town?

Or, to be more explicit about what’s going on: Why are poor and minority students disproportionately assigned to K8s for middle grades, while white, middle class students have generally maintained access to comprehensive middle schools in their neighborhoods?

There’s a fiscal responsibility question here, too, since comprehensive middle schools provide vastly more opportunity at lower cost due to the size of student cohorts. For example, a 400-student middle school gets around 17 teachers in the current staffing formula, easily enough to provide all the basics plus a broad array of electives, advanced math and performing arts. A K8 with, say, 100 students in the middle grades, gets a little more than four teachers for those grades. How many electives are they going to provide?

How much more do we have to spend to give these students access to electives, adequate science labs, advanced math, and performing arts? How do we justify this additional expense, when these things are essentially free with the middle school model?

In other words, what are the specific benefits of this model, given its dramatically higher (and still not fully known) costs, and its relative dearth of academic opportunity when compared to the middle school model?

Are these benefits somehow specific to poor and minority students? If not, why not implement this model district-wide? What metrics can we use to determine if these benefits outweigh the cost to the district and students, in terms of higher spending and lost educational opportunities?

More to the point: How are ethnically and socio-economically segregated, self-containted eighth-grade classrooms preparing our at-risk youth to be successful in high school and beyond?

Other than a stated desire to follow through on a decision by a previous administration, Portland Public Schools board members and staff have have failed to articulate an overall vision and rationale for this reconfiguration.

I’ll appreciate your thoughts on this, since you’re aspiring to a policy-making position currently occupied by a director who opposed the K8 reconfiguration.

Participant questions and comments on the CPPS K8 workshop

1. Things have improved at Vernon in terms of course offerings (Spanish, PE, art, algebra) with a full rotation of teachers for students. There is only one sixth-grade class, which is a big concern. The 7th and 8th graders are segregated from the rest of the school in portables, and do not feel welcome in the school. PE equipment is inadequate for the older kids, and the gym is too small for activities for them.

2. Faubion: same issue with lack of integration of 7th and 8th graders. Mentoring programs linking older and younger kids need to be started.

3. No K-8 option is available on the west side.

4. Loss of electives in the switch from middle school to K-8. This can lead to a vicious cycle, where low FTE lowers offerings which makes it hard to keep families at the school.

5. Roseway Heights–lots of positives. 8th graders can get high school credits for algebra. Art and band are offered. Lots of linking of older and younger kids–maybe it helped that it was a middle school growing down rather than an elementary growing up. School is packed, enrollment-wise.

6. District needs better communication (resentment that communication just seemed to stop), and another K-8 meeting with parents.

7. Anger over the Pearl District decision–inconsistent with recent closures of small schools in other areas.

8. Astor: biggest issue is space– no room for library, science lab, etc.

9. Question: how will the K-8 programs be evaluated?

10. District needs to ensure equity in all schools.

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