For the greater common good

6:30 pm

I publish this Web site to advocate for the greater common good. I even came up with a mission statement some time back to capture this notion more specifically:

The mission of PPS Equity is to inform, advocate and organize, with a goal of equal educational opportunity for all students in Portland Public Schools, regardless of their address, their parent’s wealth, or their race.

I’ve been troubled by the direction some recent discussions here have taken, as have some readers who have contacted me privately.

Discussions about poverty and race have pushed some into extreme frustration. One reader sent me this link as an illustration of the attitudes she has encountered on this site.

Another reader chafes at what she perceives as an anti-test bias on this site. She cites data showing “65% of PPS 10th grade black students getting a C or better in math but ODE assessments show[ing] only 21% of that population at benchmark.” There’s huge distrust of the district within minority communities, and this kind of data shows why.

Yes, we’ve seen district policy ostensibly aimed at narrowing the “achievement gap” contribute to a two-tiered school system. But that doesn’t mean the achievement gap isn’t real, that the district can’t take real strides in addressing it, or that we shouldn’t have some objective standards by which to measure the district’s progress in doing so.

This is just one example of where teacher-reformers clash — perhaps unwittingly — with civil rights activists, a fight I don’t want to get in the middle of.

The charter school discussion is another fight I’m weary of. It has veered repeatedly into personal territory, with charter parents getting passionately defensive about their personal choices, and charter opponents criticizing those choices with equal passion. From within that melee, I asked a simple question: How can charters contribute to the greater common good?

Besides modeling pedagogy that we already know works, nobody seems to have an answer to that succinct question (though some have pointed out how charters work against the common good).

At the end of the day, I’m not interested in hosting a pissing match about personal choices. I also don’t want to get too deeply into education reform issues, which increasingly seem to pit progressive-minded teachers against civil rights groups (not to mention their strange bedfellows in the market-oriented, anti-union, foundation- and corporate-funded “reform” movement).

I don’t doubt that education reformers want to help all students, and that charter parents would love a system where everybody wanted and got what they’re getting. But these discussions don’t seem to lead to much unity of vision or purpose.

One thing I know for sure: the enrollment and funding policies of Portland Public Schools have resulted in a pattern of public investment and placement of comprehensive schools that demonstrably favors white, middle class neighborhoods and students, to the detriment of the other half of the city. I’m not naive enough to think righting that wrong would be enough for our poor and minority students; I think the district should learn to walk and chew gum at the same time — i.e. address inputs and outcomes simultaneously.

But this is the focus I want to get back to here: what can we do to make our public school system fair, just and equitable for the greater common good? If we’re not working toward answering that question, I fear we’re getting sidetracked… just as we finally see signs of movement in that direction at the district level.

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

filed under: Assessment, Blog, Charter Schools, Equity, Reform, Transfer Policy

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58 Responses

  1. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Your reading of the edu-politics ia off – right now it’s essentially civil rights groups and business groups against the teachers unions, with liberal and progressive Democrats tilting somewhat towards the former.

    But more to your main point. One thing we can do is examine the way that we fund schools to break the pattern of more expensive, more experienced teachers winding up in better-off schools. Probably that will take a combination of reallocating base amounts of funding plus making funds available for higher needs schools to hire higher quality teachers.

    Secondly, we probably need to find a better balance between giving teachers their choice of where to teach and retaining the ability to assign teachers to schools.

    The third big thing I think is making up out minds to teach poor kids and minority kids to the same standards as well off White kids. I heard a talk recently from a professor who studies math education. To exaggerate a point he made, high schools that serve large numbers of poor kids teach arithmetic, but high schools that serve well off kids teach algebra, geometry, pre-calc, and calc. This is what we need to come to grips with instead of getting lost in debates about charter schools or pretending that there is one best teaching model that everybody should follow. I think these three things would take us pretty far.

  2. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I’m not misreading “edu-politics” at all. There are very few Democrats in power I would consider “progressive” when measured against progressives of the early and mid 20th century. Certainly not Barack Obama, who refuses to challenge market orthodoxy in either his response to the financial sector melt-down or the health care crisis. No surprise he tilts toward the market in education, too.

    But that’s just another distraction I don’t want to get into here.

    I agree the teacher experience issue is huge. There’s also the issue of recruiting and retaining minority teachers.

    Your third point skirts the issue that I’ve laid out graphically and would like to refocus on: our radically out-of-balance enrollment (and public investment) that puts the majority of our poor and minority students in under-enrolled schools with a dearth of educational opportunity, while maintaining comprehensive education for the majority of our white and middle class students. It also shifts family-wage jobs from poor neighborhoods to wealthy ones, contributes to global warming and segregation, and props up home values in wealthy neighborhoods while artificially depressing them in poor neighborhoods.

    In other words, it does all those wonderful things the free market is so adept at, which mostly boil down to the upward redistribution of wealth.

  3. Comment from Rose:

    Steve, when you say the schools should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, or provide input and outcomes at the same time, I am taking this as providing a well-rounded education despite sinking enrollment. Or am I wrong?

    Lets use Jefferson as an example. No advanced classes, no bells and whistles. Rooms shut down and closed, digital equipment sitting unused, entire wings seemingly empty.

    Unless I am wrong you are saying the district is supposed to create more classes at Jeff, in order to 1) give a good education to existing students and 2) attract the droves who are leaving.

    But I don’t understand how that is supposed to happen. I thought that funding is directly tied to number of children enrolled.

    So how is Jeff supposed to provide these classes prior to the arrival of kids they hope to attract? I am sorry to be blunt because it is honestly lack of info on my part.

    Am I missing something? Are we asking the district to fund schools on the basis of something other than enrollment? Is this reasonable given however their laws are stated?

  4. Comment from marcia:

    It all comes down to one thing…can you walk the talk?

  5. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Was there really a golden age of early and mid-century liberals and progressives who tower over Barack Obama – all because they had a purer vision of the market than he does?

    Americans choose where to live and people who have more money tend to live around other people who have more money and send their children to schools where children tend to have more money. No question about that.

    But is it easier to fix where people live or easier to fix problems with schools? The way we fund schools exacerbates income inequality by directing more resources to schools where kids are better-off. So fixing the school funding problem would directly address a significant part of the problem.

    When enrollment opened, parents and kids bailed out of N / NE schools. If the schools were better they probably would have stayed. But the sad fact is that there is a lot of resistance from people within public education to improving schools.
    That;s a terrible problem and perpetual hand-wringing about the deficiencies of the market won’t do anything about it. I give President Obama and America’s civil rights establishment the edge on purity of vision around that.

  6. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Rose, what I’m talking about is addressing inputs — availability of opportunity — and outcomes — the achievement gap — at the same time.

    For years, PPS has talked about the achievement gap on the one hand while taking away educational opportunity from poor and minority students on the other.

    Now, if we had unlimited funding, there would be no fiscal reason to balance enrollment (though allowing the free market to segregate our schools is arguably a bad thing).

    But with already inadequate funding being cut further, we must balance enrollment in order to pay for basic equity of opportunity. There’s no other way to do it, which is the drum I’ve been beating for a couple years now.

    Fortunately, PPS is starting to get this, as evidenced by the high school designs being discussed.

    “PPS_Parent”, what part of “that’s just another distraction I don’t want to get into here” is unclear?

    If you want to engage in union baiting or defense of market ideology in public investment, maybe you should start your own blog. I’m tired of seeing it here.

  7. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Actually I never blamed unions for the dysfunction that exists in public education, although others here have explicitly criticized unions.

    I have no idea what you mean by “market ideology in public investment” – the suggestions I offered were pretty much out of the liberal-progressive playbook with good buy-in from the civil rights establishment to boot.

    I’m also not sure what you mean by “balance enrollment” – do you mean schools of the same size and/or schools whose economic and racial diversity closely matches that of the city as a whole? If that is what you mean, how do you propose to do that? The only way I can think of for achieving that balance is assigning children to schools randomly.

  8. Comment from howard:

    Is it enough to ask: “How can charters contribute to the greater common good” without including other types of ‘choice’ schools such as magnet and special-focus schools?

  9. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I’m also not sure what you mean by “balance enrollment”…

    Please follow the link provided for your answer.

  10. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I get the large out-migration of kids from N/NE schools. But I’m still not sure of your solution. Are you saying that children should be allowed to attend only their neighborhood school? What problem would that solve?

  11. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Choice done right
    Size matters
    Equity and school choice

  12. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Steve R. – you wrote, “But this is the focus I want to get back to here: what can we do to make our public school system fair, just and equitable for the greater common good?”

    You are understandably very critical of charters because they do not contribute to the greater common good. I agree with you on this.

    You’re also very critical of the transfer policy because it also does not contribute to the greater common good. I also agree with this.

    But you transferred your kids from your neighborhood school to another neighborhood school using a policy that you do not support. If that policy had not been in place, what would you have done? Would you have kept your kids at your neighborhood school for the greater common good?

    I think it’s critical for leaders on this issue — and you are one of the leaders — to be able to reconcile the conflicts between personal choice and public policy. In the end, you really can’t have it both ways. You can’t condemn a public policy that you took advantage of for your kids and then wonder, “What can we do to make our public school system fair, just and equitable for the greater common good?”

    Charter parents are raked over the coals for being selfish because they are only focused on their own children, not the greater good. I think it’s possible to do both, i.e., to enroll my kid at a charter and be focused on the greater good. I don’t think they are at all mutually exclusive, as I hope my work and activism attests to.

    But, as you and I have discussed, of course we all have to do what we believe is the best for our own kids. We can’t put the greater good first and our kids second if we believe that our kids will be short-changed or harmed in some way. This is the essence of the argument that kept coming up in the charter thread. I, along with many charter parents, believe that our kids will be short-changed or harmed in some way at their neighborhood school. And this is not because we are cross-burning racists or unconcerned with any kids other than our own. We happen to feel very passionate about pedagogy, a pedagogy we do not see in our neighborhood schools (by and large).
    For me, to achieve the greater good, we have to change federal and state education policy to allow the kind of pedagogy I and many others (including ohme and Terry) have been calling for.

  13. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    If that policy had not been in place, and we had an equitable neighborhood school system, we probably wouldn’t have had the need to transfer away from the school we did. Instead, that school would look pretty much like the school we transfered to.

    So yes, we’d be in our neighborhood school.

  14. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    But you (obviously) didn’t have an equitable school system, so that’s what made you use the transfer process. If that process were taken away and you still had your inequitable schools, what would you do?

    This is the same issue that all parents face in PPS: what to do about an inequitable system? We can work towards changing it and making it better for the future. But what are we going to do now? Are we going to send our kids to the neighborhood school or not?

    Please note: I’m not (necessarily) blaming the neighborhood schools for this. They are simply responding to state and federal marching orders, esp. via NCLB’s insane mandate to make AYP each year. If the federal policy changed, then the neighborhood schools could have more freedom to offer a broader array of offerings that were not reduced to quantifiable, measurable learning outcomes.

  15. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    Only this: you don’t have to be a cross burning racist to benefit from policies that are incidentally racist and classist.

    Trust that many parents over the years have brought up to the parents/leaders at Trillium and other focus options that having mandatory meetings, no transportation and sometimes varying school schedule from traditional PPS creates barriers for parents that are NOT LIKE THEM. Guess what? These schools are inflexible when it comes to these things because they don’t affect them and theirs. These arenas are more parent-driven, yet charter and focus options parents are not addressing these pretty simple areas of inequity.

    So please . . . . as the kids used to say in the 90′s “miss me with that”

  16. Comment from Nancy R.:

    To add on to what Steve wrote, it was complicated by the fact that our kid was in SpEd, and blew out of the Spanish immersion program. Then went through teacher after teacher on the neighborhood side (kinder teachers were having a tough year that year) and that didn’t work, either. I counted it up — between subs, classroom swaps, etc. she had 15 teachers within a two-month period.

    We did have a great pre-k year at the same school, so that was alright. But kinder was a mess. And Spanish immersion wasn’t a good fit for our family, honestly. We can both get by in Spanish, but are far from fluent in both written and conversational Spanish. For our neighbors, it’s a great fit — they can actually help their kids with homework and read with them. Imagine.

    And we weren’t such political freaks then, either. It was all new to us. So Peter, get over it, okay? We practice what we preach. I’m not running a charter school out of my basement or something. You know our whole story, we’ve had this conversation before.

    No, I would not make the same choice now. And this is a much bigger issue than just the Rawleys.

    Some kids do well with all-day kinder, SpEd services, an added language — some do not.

    It’s a bitch when you have a “school within a school” and the divisiveness that usually comes along with it. The “good” parents are on one side, the “bad” parents are on the other. (I am being sarcastic, in case anyone is guessing.) I hate hypocrisy, and I hate when someone is only invested in something for their “look good” ie, to make other parents look bad. Those are the kinds of set-ups we get into with this whole “good school/bad school/good parent/bad parent” thing.

    “If you were a better parent you would…” is along the same lines as “If you only got a better job you wouldn’t be poor…”

    God forbid I should be judged as a mother by how many volunteer hours I’ve contributed this year.

    And this isn’t even addressing the magnet options. What if Buckman is your neighborhood school and you have a kid who’s more into science and math than art? Oh, Winterhaven, of course! Just drive on over. If you can get in!!! etc.

    I don’t like the whole “boutique” chi-chi thing. I also don’t like the Costco approach. I want something in-between.

    And… just because I’m going to delete this comment in a couple of minutes, I will say that the school we transferred into was about to close. (Now it’s a different trip — it’s seen as a “plum” of a school and has a waiting list.) Enrollment at that time had plummeted, the poverty rate was high — it wasn’t a dream situation, either. But it offered half-day kinder, the services our kid needed, and no demands to learn an additional language.

    So give me a break, my friend. And I’ll do the same for you.

  17. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I don’t agree that choice is the enemy of quality.

    If I understand Beaverton correctly, it offers choices to parents who do not want their child to attend a neighborhood school. Whether Beaverton schools are better than PPS schools on a school-by-school basis I don’t know. But even if they were I don’t see how the example of Beaverton supports anti-choice arguments for Portland at all.

    Nor do I buy the argument that quality follows size. At one time there were large high schools in Chicago where the kids tested at third grade in reading. That’s “schools,” plural.

    In my opinion, rationalizing funding and the supply of teachers and getting teaching up to speed in all schools would drive equity far more productively than trying to outflank charter schools or gerrymander attendance areas. It would be challenging, but I think it would be possible to build community consensus around these things also.

    I predict that NCLB’s call for high standards for all children will be seen in the future as standing with our greatest civil rights accomplishments. Lots of civil rights types see it that way now.

  18. Comment from Susan:

    There is a legitimate difference between the belief that PPS neighborhood schools fail children because of the educational philosophy that drives their operation and the belief that some PPS neighborhood schools fail children because they’re driven by test scores and/or are underfunded. Peter, I lost interest in the Charters and PPS thread when Mike shared his reason for fleeing Laurelhurst (btw, the covered wagon project is part of the social studies curriculum for 4th graders and is not an arts education project). Although I recognize and respect Mike’s reason for seeking alternatives for his children, I really doubt that so many parents are fleeing Laurelhurst because it’s overly regimented and harmful to children that PPS needs to focus on how to fix that problem. But it highlighted (for me) that there will always be families seeking alternatives for various reasons. Meanwhile, there are major chunks of Portland that are relying on public schools that are unable to offer equity in education that others in Portland are offered and the K-8 reorg remains incomplete and floundering.

  19. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Nancy – I don’t mean this as a personal attack on you and Steve. Rather, I’m trying to highlight the fact that the problem you guys faced at your neighborhood school is a problem that lots of parents face. The details are, of course, different. But the dilemma is the same.

    Since Steve is a leader in the community on these issues, and since this is his blog (which I love and value), I wanted to pose the tough question to him (and to you) of what you’d do if you did not have the transfer policy. I’m not doing so to question whether you practice what you preach. I’m doing so to place him (and you) in the shoes of the people that face the same agonizing dilemma that you two faced.
    I respect Steve’s and your approach to these issues and also wonder about and agonize over the issue of the greater good.
    In the end, it seems like there’s not much sympathy or empathy for folks who are in this situation. And, since the two of you were in exactly this situation, and since you are respected in the community, I thought it would be help generate a bit more sympathy/empathy and lead us to more light, less heat in these discussions.
    In short, working for the greater good might require compromises in the near term. But, like I said, I don’t think short-term actions and long-term vision are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think you have to do both at the same time.

  20. Comment from Joe Hill:

    I’ve read the posts with fascination lately while a few folks have tried to construct a narrative of “reform” vs. “teachers” in order to get to the common good. This makes zero sense.

    I wasn’t going to respond until I read this ginormously misleading claim: ” [R]ight now it’s essentially civil rights groups and business groups against the teachers unions, with liberal and progressive Democrats tilting somewhat towards the former.”

    Now I’ll grant the business groups. The Chamber of Commerce has always been about union busting and lowering the tax base. Civil rights groups are split on what to do about the failed policies of NCLB, especially after the embarrassing Rodney Paige debacle(s). Seeing so many schools in African American neighborhoods adversely affected by NCLB has provoked a dialogue within the civil rights community that is ongoing about the next steps.

    But where this comment really goes off the rails is where it makes a claim about “progressive Democrats.” I think I see what is going on here. This language is used to conflate Democrats who get elected to Congress, who vote for the bloated defense budget, who deny us single payer health insurance, who have extolled the virtues of the private sector all the way to the present cataclysm, with actual progressives. Putting a D next to your name doesn’t make you a progressive, and blaming the teachers unions is a clear indicator of either opportunism or purposeful ignorance . . . mostly the former, I’m afraid. In the words of John Milton, “They who have put out the people’s eyes now reproach them for their blindness.”

    Well, I (and the progressives I know) certainly do not accept these types as “progressives.” Progressives in the area of education would include Henry Giroux, Pierre Bourdieu, Peter McLaren, Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Deborah Meier, Jonathan Kozol, and many more. Arne Duncan isn’t close to making the cut.

    One trait these theoreticians and practitioners share is an unwillingness to ignore externalities. One tactic of these others who seek to hijack the progressive monicker as a kind of protective armor (hey, Senator X is for it and s/he’s a progressive!) is a grim determination to ignore all externalities. They are like children screwing up their eyes very tightly and muttering the magic incantation: “I won’t grow up. I won’t grow up. I won’t! I won’t! I WON’T!”

    And speaking of externalities, again, one can only laugh at the mythology that somehow the worst teachers are concentrated at low performing schools and the best teachers are gathered at high performing schools. Any teacher can tell you that this is not the case. This is exactly the same – EXACTLY the same – as saying that, since life expectancy is higher in zipcodes with higher concentrations of wealth, they must have better doctors. Ludicrous. Teachers in these poorer schools are generally tougher, smarter, better trained, and more dedicated than those at comparable richer schools. They do more with less, in my experience (and I’ve taught at both, for many years).

    Finally, let’s bust one more myth while in the vicinity. There seem to be some free market fundamentalists even here making claims that if only the schools were better, then they would attract more and better prepared students. Again, this simply ignores the facts. White flight from the cities and from their neighborhood schools precedes the ruinous testing frenzy by decades.

    Jefferson’s dance program is legendary. Generations of talented people have worked to make a serious difference there and in many significant ways, they have. Madison’s speech team just smashed Wilson and Lincoln for the umpteenth year in a row. I could go on and on about the consistently extraordinary programs in some of these schools, but the simple fact is that these programs of excellence are not going to reverse decades of what the “free market” had bought, i.e. acculturated racism and actual poverty.

    So: if we want to be taken seriously by people who are actually working for the common good – and if we are capable of learning, our present economic crisis should have taught us that this is not “business” and their pet faux “progressives” – we are going to have to back off demonizing of the actual individuals who are MOST emblematic of those working for the common good, and that is, quite simply, the teachers.

  21. Comment from Nancy R.:

    Peter, OK. Thank you for the work you do, too.

    One good thing that came out of our leaving our neighborhood school was that even though we couldn’t work on things as part of the school community (tried. failed.), the way I would have liked, we were able to talk with parents of younger kids, who were planning on attending the school.

    We told them our concerns and what we thought some of the needs were, so they were prepared. They’ve been able to do some amazing work. They’ve worked hard. And they understand that an immersion program isn’t for everyone, so they don’t hold it against us for leaving.

  22. Comment from Steve R.:

    Let me try to make this perfectly clear: I have never claimed eliminating the transfer system is a way to fix neighborhood schools. Instead, I have been very clear that we need to make neighborhood schools equitable, and pay for it by making our attendance policy neighborhood-based.

    Peter, with all due respect, you miss the point when you ask “Would you have kept your kids at your neighborhood school for the greater common good?”

    I’m not asking anybody to make a personal choice for the greater common good. I’m asking Portland Public Schools to make policy decisions that work toward the greater common good.

    So please, I’m begging you… leave personal choice out of the discussion. I’m not opposed to school choice, and I’m not opposed to parents doing exactly what they think is the right thing for their family. I’m seriously ready to shut this whole site down for a while to let people cool down on this shit.

    Joe, I totally agree that it’s a false dichotomy to pit teacher-reformers against civil rights groups. People who have for years argued for moves toward privatizing our schools are giddy with delight at centrist Democrats carrying water for them.

  23. Comment from Marian:


    Please don’t shut this site down! I think the discussions over the past few weeks have been fascinating, passionate, and informative. I am interested in the spectrum of opinions voiced here.


  24. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Thanks for the clarification, up until now I had believed that you wanted to eliminate the transfer options.

    But I’m still confused about where you’re coming from with your remarks about neighborhood based attendance policy. PPS already has a neighborhood based attendance policy. It also allows transfers. Typically Portland. So what specific changes to attendance policy would you like to see? And please explain how that would promote promote greater equity.

  25. Comment from PPSexpatriate:

    I know I’m getting grumpy, but today’s Jefferson Dancers does not represent “equity” as it has in the past. Until the participants in the dance program are required to once again to attend the school, we will continue to have inequity in that building. To me it demonstrates what many of us have been talking about. Equity was taken right off the table when the have “lost their s**t” over their children haviing to attend a “have not” to access that dance program.

    A dance teacher I know talked glowingly of being a Jefferson Dancer in the 80′s and how enriching it was for her to attend Jefferson High School with kids who were different than her old neighborhood school.

    I wonder how the rules got changed in the first place? I wonder what type of families the District was catering to? hmmm.

  26. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Steve – I agree with Marian that you should not shut the site down. As you commented recently in your post “PPS Gone Wild,” something is buzzing here. People are getting upset. That’s OK with me. As long as people keep it civil – which I think they have by and large – and focus on policy and what to do to improve policy, the site and the discussion it facilitates has real value.

    The biggest value in these recent discussions is they bring up race and class and privilege in concrete terms. Since I’ve lived here for the last 2 years, people always talk about how racist Portland is and how nobody wants to talk about it. Now we’re talking about it. It’s hard work and it’s messy. But I’d rather talk about it — and then DO something about it — rather than not talk about it (and not do something about it).

    But I don’t want to be a PPS Curmudgeon. I want to listen to what people have to say and then try to take some of the best ideas to change policy.

    For those of you eager to cast stones, I urge you to join the conversation and offer concrete suggestions.

  27. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Steve – with all due respect, how can you make the attendance policy neighborhood-based without eliminating or severely curtailing the transfer policy? And if you eliminate or severely curtail the transfer policy, what will families do if they are in situations similar to yours? This is one detail of your proposal that still is not clear to me.

  28. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Eliminating neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers does not equal the end of school choice (or special case/hardship transfers). I’ve long advocated a serious look at the Beaverton model. It has a lot to recommend with regard to balancing choice and strong neighborhood schools.

  29. Comment from Terry:

    Shut the site down? Who said that?

    PPS Equity is a GREAT site! It’s just that some of the conversations/bickering –I love bickering, by the way– go on way too long. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, and some people just talk too much.

    I love it when Joe Hill chimes in. A breath of fresh air, seriously. Joe’s point about reformers versus civil rights activists –well, maybe that wasn’t his point exactly, but he did say that civil rights groups are split on NCLB– is what concerns me the most about the tenor of this post. To wit:

    True school reformers are by definition genuine advocates for civil rights, meaning treating ALL students regardless of background and skin color equally and fairly. The best way to narrow the “achievement gap”, which seems to be the issue that divides people, is NOT through charters and choice and testing, but by making ALL schools within a public system engaging and effective places for learning.

    Not just some schools, as choice and charter advocates would have it, but all of them.

    There is, in short, no conflict, or “clash”, as Steve put it, between “teacher reformers” and civil rights activists. Not the way I see it, anyway, and I speak as a “teacher reformer.”

    Joe Hill said it best:

    …we are going to have to back off demonizing of the actual individuals who are MOST emblematic of those working for the common good, and that is, quite simply, the teachers.

    Good on you, Joe!

  30. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I compared Beaverton and PPS test results on the ODE site. Looking just at high school results, last year the percentages of kids meeting the high school ELA standard do not show a consistent advantage for Beaverton. In fact, they show some advantages for PPS.

    Black Students
    Beaverton: 41%
    PPS: 34%

    Hispanic Students
    Beaverton: 29%
    PPS: 46%

    White Students
    Beaverton: 70%
    PPS: 78%

    Economically disadvantaged
    Beaverton: 37%
    PPS: 45%

    Students with disabilities
    Beaverton: 26%
    PPS: 26%

  31. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    PPS_Parent – your comments only make sense if you accept the premise that high test scores = better schools. I (and I think I’m not alone here) reject that premise.

    I would prefer to see data on what teacher’s, student’s and parent’s opinions are on their respective schools.

  32. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    When your only tool is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.

    Test scores can tell us about one small part of one end of the equity problem: narrowly measured outcomes, a.k.a. the “achievement gap.”

    Interesting how much smaller the gap is in Beaverton for black students on this one test: 29 points vs. 44 points in PPS. Obviously there are too many factors involved to draw conclusions.

    But the other end of the equity problem — educational opportunity — has been definitively addressed in Beaverton with less funding than PPS has.

    That’s the lesson I’d like PPS to draw from Beaverton.

  33. Comment from Neisha:

    Test scores aren’t everything. What’s nice about the Beaverton model is that course offerings are comparable (and extensive) in every neighborhood. At PPS there are big differences, especially at the middle and high school levels. This is even true for core courses like math. Where you live should not affect your ability to take classes like Calculus in high school.

  34. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Comments on your original post about the common good, Steve and others.

    This site plays a huge role for the common good. One of those roles is that it allows a wide range of discussion, often from very passionate people. I learned a lot about charters and also special ed. in PPS with the recent discussions. And I think both topics are germane to the equity issue.

    But this a blog, albeit a very valuable one, but it is a forum to discuss the issues, sure equity first and foremost, but also hopefully the other education problems facing Portland.

    Yet, if we are to improve the inequities in PPS we need to take actions which will do that. Think the difference between writing about the need for a revolution and the revolution itself. This blog is the PPS inequity version of the Federalist Papers, it is Frederick Douglas writing about slavery, the Communist Manifesto, the letter from the Birmingham Jail …but it is not the revolution.

    Social change comes in one of four ways in America, and make no mistake this is a social problem in the same way Jim Crow, women’s rights, gay rights etc. were or are. 1)From the inside, Carole Smith figures it out and pushes for real equity and sends out the word (she has done some nice things, but she hasn’t really gotten it and I don’t want to depend on her or I would go back to playing more golf) 2) someone sues, after all many of these issues border on segregation and the denial of equal treatment(I don’t see this as having much of a chance, though I could be wrong) 3) Protests, a whole lot of people protest to the point the school board etc. feel they need to address the problem in a meaningful way to keep their credibility (hand me the sign or the megaphone) 4) A political solution, the right people on the school board could bring about serious improvements (that’s why I am running). The school board can bring about huge changes, a lot of people see what takes place now and don’t get what enormous power the school board holds over these issues so dont’ involve themselves in the political process.

    So that’s it. I plan to keep listening and commenting. This blog is the best thing for generating serious discussions about the real PPS problems that there has been for years!! Many kudos, Steve and Nancy. Thank you both for what you have done.

    But when you are all ready for the revolution let me know. The rallying cry should be equal education and a better education for all PPS students. We could all get behind that.

  35. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I said earlier that one of the priorities for PPS should be teaching all children to the same standards that exist for children in more advantaged schools.

    Of course test scores aren’t everything, but nevertheless I’m wondering how Beaverton’s instructional model could be richer and their organization more equitable than Portland’s and yet their results lag Portland’s in these important areas.

    Portland has about 22% more students than Beaverton but spends 80% more on special education (if I am reading the financial report correctly) – that could be a large part of the difference in spending between the districts.

  36. Comment from Stephanie:

    More money does not equal better education in the realm of special education in Beaverton. They are worse at segregating kids with disabilities than PPS. They might be spending all that money on lawyers to keep kids segregated (kidding…I hope).

  37. Comment from Charter parent:

    I have a question… I was under the impression that while charter schools get some public money, not all of their money comes from public funds? Is there a difference in the percentage of public funding for the budgets of say, Trillium and King?

    How come public schools face so much more red tape to do anything fun off-campus for the children? Or to veer away from prescribed curriculum, as opposed to charters? When I went to go visit King elementary, I was told that they could only afford to go on two field trips a year due to insurance costs, and the requirement to rent a bus instead of carpool. The kids at Trillium, by contrast, are constantly exploring the whole city on interesting and stimulating field trips via max, carpool, walking, and jogging. The kicker for me was that they were feeding the children giant fluoride tablets the day I was there, which I personally found appalling. I know I loose or sometimes various forms from school, I sure wouldn’t want to loose that ‘opt out’ form.

    I did go visit King elementary, and while I saw many things that I liked, I found it to be more institutional, confining, and almost military in discipline, and so I decided to put my daughter in Trillium. I also did not like the top-down style of teaching as much. I appreciate that Trillium involves the kids in making decisions about the curriculum, and indeed about everything.

    I am mixed race, my mom is Latina and raised me as a single mom, and I myself am a single mom. There are no mandatory parent meetings at Trillium. While I have not been able to volunteer much or participate most of the things I would have liked to at Trillium (I work and go to school), there has been nothing about the scheduling of the school that has kept me from sending my child to school there as a working parent (or not any more than pps…vacations are always hard). I have gotten a little bit of attitude about my lack of volunteering in the past, but my child has benefited so greatly from being at Trillium that I was willing to deal, and it was really pretty minor. I do not always feel like I have a ton in common in a personal way with many of the parents. However, by and large, I am very grateful that Trillium exists. I think that all the energy spent to criticize the existence of charters could be better spent advocating for more funding for schools, period. We are arguing over crumbs thrown to us, left over from war money, etc.

    Also, I do believe Trillium contributes to the greater good by being a laboratory. There are many things which I love about the innovative styles and methods of education there which are not available, put forth, or even on the table at public schools. Some of these may prove to be successful and used as models for other schools in the future, but probably not tried first in public schools. For instance, the democratic style of participation that kids have on many levels (curriculum decisions, rule making, conflict resolution). It sometimes looks like chaos, but once a child has been exposed to it for a while, they suddenly are able to handle the freedom once they get used to the freedom, and then they become very aware of and responsible concerning their active part in their own education. Mixed ages classes is another thing I think is excellent… it fosters both teaching younger kids and learning from older kids, and a general ability to deal with people that are younger and older, and have more and less experience. Veering away from the ‘regular’ curriculum, and teaching things such as carpentry, green building, cooking, accounting (via class finances or selling things for fundraisers, etc) are very necessary, fundamentally lacking in public schools, and give confidence about how to navigate the real world.

    These are a couple of examples, but I think that they could be useful experiments for the broader community. Some of these teaching styles, on the other hand, might simply be too weird for many mainstream schools, and again I think it does benefit the larger community to have places where people who have different ideas about education, or children who do not do well in more mainstream environments, have different choices. Marginalizing children who may not do as well in or be able to handle a more mainstream institutional education does not benefit anyone.

    While being exposed to a diversity of ideas in your community in school is definitely a positive thing, and maybe not as present as I would like it at Trillium, there are also ideas and ways of being that are, and probably will continue to be, under- represented in public schools, or any mainstream institution, and that I myself found unbearably confining and often a dismal grind when I was growing up. I think that I have more fringe or possibly more radical ideas of what good school should be than a lot of people in the main stream would, and so I do not want to (nor do I have the resources to) spend my whole life trying to change a system in ways that many parents might not share my views about, anyway. Trillium has given my daughter and I a way to exist without feeling totally alienated and isolated. I think that instead of attacking an interesting, successful, experimental model that we should use the successes and parents in any other school could look at what they do and don’t like in that, and any other, experiment and decide how they want to see their own school changed.

  38. Comment from Stephanie:

    PPS_Parent – I am pasting in something from a list serv I am on about Beaverton and special education in case you were interested. This parent is compiling the data into something more formal but here is her post:

    (link to special ed report cards.

    I’ve been playing around with data from about ten school districts in the area. What I’ve found so far is that restrictive placements are associated with an *increase* in the dropout rate among students with ieps and *lowered* student performance on state mandated tests (with or without the use of alternative standards). I’m in the process of writing up my findings and will share them with you all when I’m done.

    BSD has been very aggressive in trying to label my son as autistic, and when they were not successful with that they tried anyway to place him in a special autism program. With this in mind I also found a correlation between autism diagnoses (as a percentage of total SPED enrollment) and restrictive placements. Do autism diagnoses beget more restrictive placements or do less inclusive school districts tend to be more likely to diagnose “borderline” kids with ASD? Or is it just a fluke? Not sure how significant this is but it was interesting to me because of my own personal experience.)

  39. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Charter parent …

    Charter schools are public school and as such receive public money through their school districts. Charter schools receive fewer public dollars per child than other public schools.

    Charter schools may not charge tuition but nothing in the charter law says a charter school may not conduct fund-raising or accept contributions from individuals or corporations.

  40. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Stephanie …

    My understanding is more children are being identified with autism. A child’s placement in special education is supposed to be in the least restrictive appropriate environment. I have nothing to add concerning the accuracy of diagnosing autism or concerning the best placement for children with autism.

    This resource, while from 2001, may prove useful …

  41. Comment from mary:

    Back to the original question: can PPS put in place more policies to create more equity in opportunity and outcomes? Certainly they can. They could create standards for course offerings in every school. If every neighborhood school had two days a week PE, art, music, technology, library, a counselor people would be less likely to transfer away from their neighborhood school to a different neighborhood school simply so their child can have music.

    Recess: lets bring this back. There is plenty of research indicating the minimum amount of physical activity per day a kid needs. How about a minimum standard for recess?

    AP classes: every high school should have these offerings AT LEAST in core english, math, science classes.

    PR: Let’s do a little better at getting the word out about our wonderful neighbrhood schools. At kindergarten round ups I’d like to here more about teachers’ philosophy and less about the schedule and test scores.

    Charters: can principals free up teachers to be a little more flexible at neighborhood schools? Can district leaders stop the incessant “test score” drumbeat that pressures teachers to walk away from project based and storyline methods? How about building in these methods into teacher evaluations? Charters need to and will continue to exist and thats fine but lets look at some of their strengths to implement at neighborhood schools.

    Transfers: consider limiting (not ceasing) neighborhood to neighborhood transfers so that some schools are not completely drained. Of course there will always be folks who will transfer to wealthier schools. I have been told by more than one parent that they transferred to a wealthier school becasue “those parents have more resources” so that the wealthier school “will always have PE and music” or “they have parents that can donate new computers.” People will also continue to transfer to attend schools with cousins or friends or a plethora of personal reasons. But can we limit transfers out to a certain percentage? After that perhaps a hardship appeal?

    Funding: Why not prop up funding for fair offerings while programs build? Maybe 2 or 3 years could make a difference.

    The labeling: can the media and others tone this down a bit. Before accusing the entire district of being test-centric get to know whats really happening. Do education reporters at the Oregonian always have to describe schools in terms of test scores and percentage of free and reduced lunch? I’ve seen some better in-depth profiles – lets keep them coming.

    Parent input – could the board and district get some input BEFORE their decisions are made?

    Yes, obviously there can be some policies to create more equitable programming in neighborhood schools.

  42. Comment from Stephanie:

    Mary – I agree on parent input and the practicality of your post. I can behind policy change any day, just tell me where to go, who to call, and rationale is always nice to make sure I am backing something I believe in that helps everyone in some fashion.

    PPS_Parent – I can see where I was not clear. You cited data on BSD special education funding earlier. My intention was to show that they are not using that funding allegedly for least restrictive environment and this parent finds in her informal study that segregation leads to dropping out and low test scores.

  43. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Stephanie … Please do continue to share your thoughts on placement issues. I don’t have direct experience with special education as a parent, but I know from the experiences of other parents and from experience of working in public education that placement can be a source of confusion, concern, and controversy on all sides.

  44. Comment from Nancy R.:

    FYI — UrbanMamas post:

  45. Comment from chbmom:

    Hi, I am very new to this. After I explained my dilema, this site was recommened to me. My son son attends a PPS (middle) that has this policy. ” Any student who receive’s any D’s or F’s in the last quarter may not participate in 8th grade promotions, or the dinner/dance”. This is appalling and boarders discrimination. The school will continue the child on to freshman year, but punishes them for not passing? Negative reforcement does not work. I am concerned about this not just for my son, but all 8th grade students that attend this school. I want to over turn this policy as it makes no sense. Please forward a place to start on doing so. Thank you.

  46. Comment from Stephanie:

    chbmom – I am not sure how to advise you to fight this policy just yet but let me know if I can help in any way and back you up in person or writing a letter. There is advice on this site about testifying for the school board and if you need any help writing testimony or want someone to show up for moral support I will do this and perhaps we can rally others from the site.
    I also support you 100% on the negative reinforcement point and I am a behavior consultant and can back this up from a scientific standpoint as well. One of my next projects may very well be pushing for a district wide adoption of a philosophy on behavior management. I am biased towards positive behavior support or PBIS as it is sometimes referred to.
    Punishment does not teach skills, it is not durable, you only learn to avoid the punisher, and it does not generalize to other areas. Your son will only learn to care even less about school from this experience. He does not get to take part in promotion activities but it still promoted? Ridiculous. You have my support and I hope others have advice on what to do and say on this matter.

  47. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Seems to me like if a kid is going to be promoted then they should go through the promotion. However, I have to disagree with both of you on the dance part. Seems like the dance could be seen as a reward for doing well the last trimester. This would make it a positive reinforcement. Semantics right? But the point could be made just the same. The school should maybe address it that way. However, if I was chbmom, I would tell my son there is no way the school will be keeping him from the dance if he has a D or an F the last trimester — I would do that myself, so he better get to work.
    While negative reinforcement isn’t very good for changing attitudes, it is very good for controlling behavior — look at all the people who drive closer to the speed limits to avoid a ticket (what, maybe 85%). Teachers and administrators use it often to help students settle down and to refrain from disrupting classes and the school. Same way it is used on the highway to slow down people who might otherwise drive crazily. If the actions are seen as natural consequences it has some very good adaptations, in my opinion.

  48. Comment from chbmom:

    Thank you, Stephanie,and Steve. I appreciate both responce’s. Stephanie, thank you it sounds like I may need to use what you have offered. My mission is for my child, but also for countless others that will be deeply affected by this. The con’s out weighs the pro’s by a long shot.IE… Low self worth, stress, the sense of not measuring up with peers, humiliation, and above all ” I am stupid”. This policy serves no purpose.

    Behavior is not the issue. Academic’s are. Thankfully, my son has a great support system. Some students do not. My point is even with a support system, my child still has a hard time with academic’s. He has a in balance of his nerotransmitter’s and has been diagnosed by a ND. I have applied for a 504 and a IEP only to be told a “MD” diagnosis would suffice. This imbalance has a direct affect on acadmic performence. Steve, I do agree with you on the dinner/dance part. In the sense of had my son not been getting to “work” .. no dinner/dance. However, you did not have all of the information. He has been getting to work alright.. A struggle everyday to function with success with a medical issue out of his control. Keep in mind the school does not recognize Naturpathic Doctors. So, when I go to the school explain and show what his issues are.. I am told it does not count. Getting to work is right.

  49. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Chbmom, thank you. Lots of difference between a child who is making the effort and struggling and one who is struggling but not making the effort. The schools should take this into account. Concerning the dance, that, in my opinion, should be your focus — not the rule itself. In any middle school, the number of kids who aren’t making C’s at least and are really trying, but haven’t an IEP, you can probably count on one hand. I would hope the school is making some adjustments for IEP kids who are making the effort in their grading. That might be another thing to look at. The special ed. sections in each school can be quite different in degrees so that is a factor.

  50. Comment from Stephanie:

    Chbmom – I am doing a free workshop May 16th on positive behavior supports and here is a link with the information.
    I talk a lot about the role the brain plays in behavior and what supports we can put in place to create independent problem solving and increase coping skills for kids that don’t always make this leap naturally without support. This workshop is geared towards parents of kids with 504′s and IEP’s but this is good stuff for all kids. I plan to hang out for an hour or two after the training for individual consultation with families that need more. is a good website for researching your rights. I will ask around but in Oregon (unless it has changed recently) you do not have to have a medical diagnosis to have an educational eligibility and they know that you can get a 504 for him but they will not tell you how to do it. I hope Rose pipes in on this because she might know more about how to get that foot in the door. If you do get an MD to diagnose then you can get an IEP under other health impaired and this is also something they will not tell you at the school.

    Steve – The same students that benefit from negative reinforcement are the same ones that also can handle direct instruction and standardized testing. Rules are necessary for people and clear consequences to breaking those rules as well. In this way, when someone breaks the rules we can say, “You made a choice to break the rules and these are the consequences that fall.” This actually is part of positive behavior support. However, punishment is a system that while it works for some people there are certainly things that could work better or just as well. In the driving example the punishment is why people slow down when they see the “punisher” or have elaborate electronic devices so they can be alerted to the “punisher” but all they have done is learned how to avoid punishment. The people who drive slower because it is the law are going to do this anyway but the people that drive slower because you can be punished for it are only learning new skills to get away with it. Look at our prison system and you can see that punishment without treatment only teaches new skills to avoid getting caught once you are released. In schools, some kids are going to follow the rules anyway and some kids are only going to follow the rules if the punisher is present or they could get caught. When kids have neurological stuff going on then you have to change the game completely and find news ways to support and teach the rules. A child with impulse control issues is having a terrible battle within themself. They know that they should not steal from backpacks and they can watch their hand doing the action while within their brain they are trying to make their hands stop. Admittedly some kids because of early life experiences on top of acquired or genetic neurological damage do not fully develop a conscience and just don’t care but even these kids can be supported using positive behavior supports.
    I typically agree with what you have to say and will give the benefit of the doubt that it is hard to understand where you might be coming from in gleaning from blog topics. I am going to start a new post in the next day or two on behavior because I would like to know where you stand. If you really believe in punishment then I would not want you on the school board.

  51. Comment from Stephanie:

    Steve – I re-read your post and you did say this…

    While negative reinforcement isn’t very good for changing attitudes….

    So I am seeing a place where we agree. Again, I will post something specific to behavior but did want to say I saw this. It is semantics as well because positive and negative reinforcement are often misunderstood and misused by definition.

  52. Comment from chbmom:

    Hi all… since my last post… my son’s school has made huge strides in making sure my son has all the help he needs. I do appreciate that. However, I do believe it was only because I blew my whistle so loud they had no choice. My question.. had I not made my case to the school and school board would the principle of his school take him in personally everyday, and CALL me everyday to let me know how he was doing? The point is to remove the policy .. it makes zero sense. I know they want students to succeed, I know they don’t want students feeling bad, or less then others… But what about the cases where parents can’t, or don’t understand how badly this can affect their child??

  53. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Keep blowing your whistle. It is exhausting but will hopefully be a model for others and also policy change. I have been lax on putting together a post on behavior yet unfortunately. I am glad things are working out better for your son and hope you can get consistent support. Keep us posted!

  54. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Stephanie, this is a pretty complicated issue to address in short posts on a blog. But I will add that I was single-handidly responsible for eliminating corporal punishment from PPS and also was fully responsible for initiating the district drug and alcohol programs. At the same time I believe children should have the right to attend orderly classrooms and schools where disruptions are kept to a minimum. I also see this as an equity issue. You shouldn’t have to go to schools where there are a lot more disruptions just because you live in a poorer neighborhood. Until we deal with this issue in a meaningful, sensible, and serious way then there will not be equity.

  55. Comment from Stephanie:

    I just got done trying to teach positive behavior supports to people who want to keep calling my class “the restraint training” and just don’t get it. So this is fresh for me as I nurse my headache from a class full of adult “disruptions” constantly questioning (I mean constantly) why they can’t just restrain children having behaviors and skip the warm fuzzy stuff.
    You are right about equity being at the heart of it and I reviewed the discipline data in PPS high schools and that tells a tale in itself. I posed a question to a group of folks about how behavior is handled. I asked specifically if a fight at Lincoln is handled differently than loitering at Jefferson? I don’t know the answer but I see inconsistency in the younger grades and kids that are poor, disabled, and non-white ARE treated differently and held to standards that are not age appropriate nor have they been taught yet or in the right way what the expectation is. I have no data and only have observations to go on and I am just curious.
    Do you see any hope of a consistent district wide curriculum that addresses behavior? A lot of other districts have done this and why hasn’t the largest in the Northwest? An across the board approach would actually define the expectation. In my daughter’s classroom I know they have tried a few things and seemed to have settled on losing a stick that represents something. I am not sure how it is implemented but know that the positive stuff works way better than losing a stick.
    Learning environment is important but kids are also distracted by hunger, what is happening at home, and interpersonal relationships. Class sizes that are too big, boring classes, teachers that don’t care…I am just having a hard time understanding the connection between poorer schools and more disruptions. There was a sub at my table this weekend talking about kids that just don’t want to learn and it sounded like a similar argument about disruptions. Is it more disruptions or the wrong learning environment for these kids in particular? Is it that we call poor kids disruptive and the other kids energetic? Help me understand this disruption thing and poor schools because I am just not connecting and see it as everything BUT that they are poor schools. Perhaps you addressed that by saying it is related to equity? I am not understanding.

  56. Comment from Stephanie:

    I am just delirious from this group I had today. I should not be commenting on anything right now. Steve, we should just get together sometime and talk about behavior and perhaps you can give me some tips on pushing for a district wide consistent system?

  57. Comment from Nancy R.:

    Just finished reading a profile of Steve Barr, “Mr. Green Dot Public Schools,” in this week’s New Yorker (5/11/09 issue). Man, and I thought the Urban Mamas had potty mouths. Big-ass agenda, big-ass union busting, and big-ass security guards who like to pepper spray students.

    Worth a read, esp. when it comes to Barr’s meetings with Arne Duncan, and talk of Duncan’s desire to commit billions of dollars of education stimulus $$$ to taking over at least 4,000 of the lowest performing schools nationwide in the next few years, and going Green Dot on them.

    (For more, check here and here

  58. Comment from Stephanie:

    Nancy – I will get to these links I promise but I know they will spin me into a different direction so I am putting on blinders.

    I did want to note that the board is reviewing a discipline policy draft tomorrow night. I won’t be able to pull anything together to speak tomorrow night but I think I can make it by 8pm to hear that part of the discussion and chime in next time. I have strong feelings on this and believe that any policy on discipline must also address the underlying issues to challenging behavior in any student no matter where they go to school or where they fall on the equity spectrum. Why are we suspending children in a district that will refuse them eligibility for a 504 plan because they see a naturopath? Are poor schools really disruptive or is this in the eye of the beholder and really it is an inequitable and inconsistent discipline system combined with a medieval way of educating children that need more engagement, higher standards, people that care enough to give them a hard time about not showing up, and mentor relationships to learn.