K8 questions for Scott Bailey

7:31 am

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.

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

filed under: Elections, Equity, K-8 Transistion, Middle Schools, School Board

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13 Responses

  1. Comment from anon:

    There are two K-8 options on the westside: Skyline and Odyssey at Hayhurst.

    Thanks for asking about the lack of a middle school option for many kids.

  2. Comment from Terry:

    Nice e-mail, Steve, but really, I’m more concerned with pinning down Bailey on choice and transfer than on K-8′s.

    Look at the last couple of comments on “Stop Pathologizing.” Equity is an issue at K-5′s, not just at K-8′s, and it all comes down to capture rate in Title I schools regardless of configuration.

    In the words of “anon”, “…with the transfer system in place the Title I schools can’t get a critical mass of parents with time and resources to make those changes happen.”

    Title I is just a euphemism for poor. It’s “white flight”, pure and simple, enabled by choice and transfer.

    Certainly the botched implementation of K-8′s has exacerbated inequities, but the district could reinstate middle schools and inequities between rich and poor schools would still exist.

    In my humble opinion, that is.

  3. Comment from me:

    It’s true. Middle schools could magically appear and it wouldn’t necessarily be enough. It wasn’t enough to save Ockley Green.

    Unfortunate reality is as the problem started from the top on down, so must change happen now. Few parents are willing to experiment with their kids’ future in hopes of the generating enough momentum at a struggling school to make it better than if they had taken up “white flight” instead. Until schools are improved, the flight will still happen, transfers or not. Worse even, as neighborhoods themselves will suffer as people leave to seek out better options.

    This is something where the district has to lead, not follow.

  4. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I think this is indicative of one of the most “in your face” ineqtuities in the district.

    We have comprehensive secondary schools in the wealthy parts of town but not rest; the likelihood of a student being assigned to a comprehensive middle or high school correlates highly to that student being white and middle class.

    The two-tiered school system for grades 6-12 is probably the most likely to expose PPS to a federal Title VI complaint or lawsuit.

    That said, this is just my first round of questions. If Scott is inclined to engage the community, you can be sure transfer and enrollment will be covered in due time.

  5. Comment from enoughsugarcoatingalready:

    It boils down to this hideous pattern of how PPS has chosen to adopt policies, that being catering to one type of socio-economic group and literally forgetting about another. If you wave your big, fat wallet at them, then guess what…oh, you want your child to try an environmental type school for the younger years but if, when little Timmy is ready for middle school, you want him to be able to have priority back to your neighborhood middle school?..o.k, fine! Great! ( Sunnyside kids getting ready for 6th grade have priority transfer to Mt. Tabor, even though Sunnyside is a k-8 ). This is just one example of the many tweekings the school district has provided to those from a certain socio-economic tier. And then there’s the rest of us, with only change in our pockets that just doesn’t jingle loud enough I guess.
    Steve, have you ever explained on this site what exactly a title VI complaint entails?

  6. Comment from anon:

    Yes, big fat wallets speak pretty loudly. Pearl District parents get their own neighborhood school and DaVinci Art Magnet Middle School families (78% white, 18% low income) get a new cutting edge green music building. http://www.portlandtribune.com.....1515219500

    Low income schools get more portables to relieve the overcrowding caused by badly planned school closures. Oh and a lottery ticket for a chance to send your kid to a good school in another part of town.

  7. Comment from Terry:

    It’s a conundrum, this transfer issue. What do you do first? Improve the schools, or disallow neighborhood to neighborhood school transfers?

    I will say this regarding white flight: It’s a helluva lot easier to enter the transfer lottery than to sell your house and move to a new neighborhood.

  8. Comment from Rita:

    The upside of this mortgage meltdown is that I think it nicely dismantles the District’s perennial reason not to mess with the transfer policy: middle class flight from PPS. In current market conditions, it’s going to be difficult to argue that families will be packing up to leave for the suburbs. They can always go to charters or private schools, of course, but then many who can are already doing that anyway.

    So, to my mind, this is the PERFECT time to make significant changes in the transfer system.

    Never let a crisis go to waste.

  9. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Run Rita, run!

  10. Comment from me:

    Terry -

    Easier? Yes, quite. But that still doesn’t mean that flight won’t happen. With “good” schools bursting at the seams, many families are already looking at the prospect of not getting into *any* of their transfer choices (“School Chance”, indeed)

    The families you would lose would be the ones who are most mobile – the ones who are also likely to be the ones who would be highly active with their schools – volunteering, fundraising, etc. Within just a few blocks from us, I can count at least 3, if not 4 or 5 families who are already talking about having to move or opting out of public schooling if it came to that. Several others have already voted with their feet by going to private or online schools. Flight can happen without having to move at all.

    The district has to show support behind these schools before parents will put faith into staying. The trust will not come simply because we’re forced to stay. Even if fewer families leave, it will still put a stranglehold on the influx of new families, as neighborhood schooling will weigh on their decisions even more than before.

    Believe me, it weighed on our decision to move into the neighborhood – we chose to move here thinking “Well, the local elementary is ok, we can give it a few years and see if things can get better at the middle and high school” – what happened? They shut down both the elementary and middle school. Thanks, PPS! :p

    My worst nightmare is where PPS ends transfers, sit back, and hope that will fix the problem. All that will succeed in doing is further drive these neighborhoods down. We have enough of a problem with other political forces conspiring to label us the “poor” or “minority” part of town.

  11. Comment from Terry:

    Love your moxie, Rita. Now is indeed the perfect time to change the transfer system. Actually about five years would have been a better time, but as I’ve said, board members are slow learners.

    Let’s start by doing away with neighborhood to neighborhood school transfers.

    Are you running, or not? If we don’t sign up some more candidates real quick, this is going to be the worst school board election ever.

    I’ll write you in anyway.

  12. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I have a question for Scott Bailey. How come you haven’t answered my email asking what resolutions you would bring on the school board to help improve things?

  13. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Terry, one way around the what do you do first inequity issue is for the school board to just direct the superintendent to achieve equity in three years. (of course it would help to have defined equity before you do the directive)

    After all, the equity issue is really a moral and fairness issue. Every student in a public school system should be treated equitably with other students — quality of education from student to student certainly shouldn’t depend on parental income as it does in PPS.

    Saying equity is necessary is similar to saying racism should not take place in the schools or we need to respect the legal rights of employees and students. These are givens in a public educational system. So, hey, EQUITY IN THREE YEARS. And that is being very understanding — could be EQUITY NOW.