Getting High Schools Right

3:42 pm

In the models for high schools, I see two things that are not being addressed: (1) race/class differences that drive people apart and send some families fleeing from their neighborhood schools, and (2) the reasons why kids drop out of high school. If the design does not address one of the major reasons why families flee, and if it does not address why kids drop out, then the unintended consequences of the current enrollment and transfer policy will be worsened, not improved.

Let me start with race/class differences.

Today, kids in Jefferson are disproportionately low-income and black, whereas in Roosevelt they are disproportionately low-income black and Hispanic. Kids in Lincoln are disproportionately affluent and white. So if we support Model A or B, won’t Lincoln continue to be an affluent white school, Jefferson a low-income black school, and Roosevelt a low-income black and Hispanic school? Since the demographics of the schools are largely reflective of the neighborhoods, then you are likely going to promote racially and economically segregated schools. Is this OK as long as all the schools are high quality?

But given the challenges that schools face that have high concentrations of poverty, can they really be equal in terms of teaching and learning outcomes and produce environments that promote educational excellence? Schools with high concentrations of poverty will need more assistance (e.g., more funding to create smaller class sizes and more guidance counselors), and they may face more challenges. If the additional assistance is not provided and the challenges not met, my concern is that students will want to flee these schools, no matter what their offerings are.

As you recall, not so long ago there were comprehensive high schools and middle schools in low-income areas in PPS. What happened to them?

Students fleeing their low-income neighborhood schools: we all know this has been the unintended consequence of the enrollment and transfer policy. So what are the new models going to do to prevent this from happening?

I would recommend that a program at all of the schools be established that deals explicitly with the issues of racism, poverty, and multiculturalism. If we take the idea of student academies included in the Model A design, these groups of students could be racially and economically diverse. Part of their work together would involve periodic guided conversations with a teacher/facilitator in which the students would discuss racism and poverty and inter-cultural communication. An example of this sort of program is Anytown, sponsored by the National Conference for Community and Justice.

The design would acknowledge the challenge of nurturing and sustaining a diverse learning community and would take the challenge head on. The design would also acknowledge that “white flight” has happened before and can just as easily happen again. So it must take this phenomenon into consideration and deal with it explicitly.

In this way, the high schools will lead the way in promoting larger conversations about how we can nurture and sustain diversity in the larger Portland community. In the end, our high school students would become community role models.

Finally, let me turn to why kids drop out of school.

According to a 2006 Gates Foundation study (1.1 MB PDF) on why kids drop out, nearly half of the kids surveyed said a major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting. These young people reported being bored and disengaged from high school. So do the designs increase or decrease interest and engagement? Part of the challenge here is that state law requires that core requirements be met in 9th and 10th grade, with very little room for students to choose classes of interest. Even if the new designs offer everything from anthropology to zoology, the students will not benefit from these diverse offerings until later. So can they wait that long to learn about what interests them? I would recommend an examination of the state law and push for fewer core requirements in 9th and 10th grade.

Another one of the other major reasons cited for why kids drop out is the feeling that no one cared about them. So how do these models promote caring? How do these models allow for teachers to get to know kids and to care for them and care about them? High school teachers currently have 130 to 150 students each. How much can be expected of them in this model? We know that a great teacher is often the critical difference for why kids succeed. So how do these models promote great teachers and great teaching?

If you went with Model A or B, you’d have to hire a lot more teachers to reduce class size and you’d have to budget and schedule for team-based professional development. These are the sorts of critical success factors that a teacher colleague of mine mentioned. As he said, this is not just about “effective structures,” the focus the district has chosen to take. You really do have to consider “Effective People” and “Effective Teaching and Supports” at the same time, the two other areas the district mentioned but has not focused on. Understood that you start with one, but once an “Effective Structure” has been chosen, then these other factors need equal if not more time and consideration.

So I’d like to to slow down the process and take the time to get this done right. We’ve already been through one very hurried, very unplanned redesign process with the K-8 reconfiguration. Let’s not have another. If we don’t redesign our high schools to solve the problems that are inherent in them, then what’s the point?

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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.

filed under: Equity, High Schools, Segregation, Transfer Policy

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42 Responses

  1. Comment from Neisha:

    Hi Peter, nice post. There’s one thing I wanted to mention, and that is that many of the schools with the largest numbers of low income students are not exactly reflective of the surrounding neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are actually more integrated and diverse, racially and economically, than the schools. This, as you know, is an unintended consequence of the transfer policy. PPS has figures reflecting the free/reduced lunch percentages for the schools and for the surrounding neighborhoods. This came up at last night’s board meeting, which I watched on TV.

  2. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I don’t want to be a cynic, and since I seldom am :), I suggest the point is an illusion of equity. An illusion of dealing with the fundamental problems –but instead dealing with the problems which are politically feasible. Your questions are good ones, though a long time ago we settled the problem of worrying about whether a school which was predominately all people of color was any different than one which is predominately white. The answer is no. What the district has failed to do for the last 17 years is spend the energy needed to make sure each school is working well.

    The dropout problems you talked about are the ones I have seen — the lack of engagement particularly. Problem is the core is rotten. We need to make sure kids come out of elementary school with school skills necessary to succeed. We have failed this in many ways. Then we need to engage them in the middle grades to allow them to transition into high school with a decent attitude and some solid interests that H.S. can nurture. We don’t do this in too many of our neighborhoods.

    It doesn’t help much to make sure kids transition to high school well if they are moving from a rotten education to a poor one. Oh, it doesn’t hurt. But it is a band-aide.

  3. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Neisha – you’re right. Thanks for the correction.

  4. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Here’s something else to think about, Peter. Maybe the plan in some people’s minds is to send those darn other kids back to their own schools. And then not necessarily fix them.

  5. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    I actually think B & C are worth pursuing. From what I understand both models B & C drastically change the enrollment and transfer process. As for slowing the process down, It seams that a lot of thought is going into this process. While I have very young children that can wait 5 to 10 years for change, today’s 8th graders can not. The other reason this process is being fast tracked is so that there will be a plan in place when the district goes to the voters next year for the sorely needed capital improvement bond.

  6. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    In its current state, B eliminates transfers altogether. It calls for magnet schools without attendance boundaries. Fleeing from specific neighborhood schools to the magnets is to be prevented by ensuring that slots to magnets are divided by geographic region and fixed in total number.

    If we’re going to eliminate transfers, then we have to make sure that we address the things that drive families to want to transfer.

    I understand the need to have a plan in place so the district can go to the public and ask for the bond measure. And I understand the need to address the needs of kids now and not to delay unnecessarily. But I don’t think we need to speed along unnecessarily either. The current plan calls for Smith to pitch her proposal by June. That’s a month and a half away.

    We still don’t know what we’re going to do about the issues I raised. Both of the things I mentioned — race/class issues and the reasons why kids drop out — could cripple any new high school design. We can’t just sugarcoat this stuff and create fancy new buildings with lots of courses. Racial divisions can still bring a school down, as can schools that are too large and do not address the needs of the students.

    I suggest we enter a serious investaigation of these issues as the next phase of the process. We have focused on the structural elements of the high school design, and I think the district has done a good job. Now we need to turn to the other areas designated by the district as “Effective People” and “Effective Teaching and Supports.” This would take no more than 6 months. So we’d have a fully fleshed out design by the end of the year.

    Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the K-8 transition!

  7. Comment from Jimmy:

    Doesn’t Option B basically take things back to how they were prior to the current transfer policy?

    These are important issues being raised here. I agree that we need to not rush things. The K-8 transition has not served our kids well.

  8. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Option C automatically excludes any student, staff, or teacher with a mobility issue. Even if this moving around the city happens in your senior year it still is setting up a semi-permanent system that tells people with limited mobility they have less options. I doubt PPS wants to pay for shuttle lift busses for these students and teachers and tri-met lift is not reliable for getting to class on time. This is a dealbreaker in my opinion.

  9. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    I’ve only been “plugged in” to PPS issues for about 2 years. Can someone explain or point me to a resource that explains when and why the current school chance policy . . uh I mean enrollment and transfer policy started? (I’m a little bitter) I’m not familiar with what PPS was like int the “before time”

  10. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    pdx …

    This will take you back 31 years, but the background is invaluable…

    I would be interested in your comments.

  11. Comment from Steve Buel:

    PPS_parent, In 1981 I co-authored the school desegregation plan which supplanted what the major black organizations in the city of Portland considered racist school policies. The basic idea of the new plan was that black children should be able to go to a school in their own neighborhood if they so chose and that school should be a GOOD ONE. I don’t see where the value of that idea has changed any, and in fact it should be extended to all children regardless of their ethnic background or the income of their parents or neighborhood. It is what I have based my criticism of Portland’s two-tiered educational system.

  12. Comment from Marian:

    Steve B.,

    Would you be so kind to describe the high school system back in the day (’80s)?

    I vaguely remember it but I do recall attractive magnet programs within high schools, like the dance program at Jeff. I seem to remember kids from all over town transferring TO Jeff. I think that, unless you were motivated enough and truly interested in such a program, you stayed at your neighborhood high school. And didn’t kids have to apply for magnets and show true interest rather than using it as a vehicle to escape a school?

    Also, Benson was a diverse and successful school back then, too. It had programs that were a draw for motivated students (poor, rich, middle class, and all colors) rather than an escape from a neighborhood school. But, back then neighborhood schools had a lot more equity.

    Maybe you could help clarify this. It could be helpful in putting perspective on the current redesign ideas. Thank you.

  13. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Marian, you have done a pretty good job of describing it. The idea was you went to your neighborhood school unless you were interested in a magnet or needed an alternative school to meet your needs. Each school was supposedly designed to meet the needs of the kids coming in the doors. Hence, there were advanced classes and vocational classes and an effort made to actually educate kids for life and citizenship. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was based on what was good for kids more than testing. Also, you could only transfer if it didn’t increase segregation in the new school.

    Benson selected students based on an appliction process. Middle school kids who wanted to go there had to perform decently well in their middle school. I don’t think it ever really attracted many upper income students, but I do know it was the major school for helping kids who were motivated escape poverty. There were some serious positive programs in all schools. Marshall for instance had one of the best newspapers in the country, a very good art program, and focussed a lot on helping kids make sense out of the world.

    To me the difference in the school district then and now is that Matt Prophet and his administrative staff actually believed that each kid’s education was equally important — not in an enabling way, but in a way which filtered down to the schools. Also, Don McElroy knew what was happening in each school — this is a huge difference. Carole Smith doesn’t have someone who knows each school so it is hard for her to track what is happening. Look at Madison.

  14. Comment from marcia:

    Many people think that PPS saw its finest days under Matthew Prophet…and that it’s been in a steady decline since then.

  15. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    History can provide insights into what previous reform initiatives accomplished and failed to accomplish and why. It’s important that the district come to grips with that as it moves forward. Crucial, in fact.

    One of the weaknesses in how we do things in public education is that our institutional memory tends to be relatively short-term. Superintendents and boards are often around only a few years – they get initiatives started and a few years go by and a new group comes in with seemingly other priorities. This is one reason why we so often wind up reinventing the wheel.

    On the wall of his office Matt Prophet kept plaques and testimonials awarded him by education and community groups. The purpose was to establish his credentials with visitors who came in to complain. I believe Matt sincerely wanted the best for all students but he certainly knew how to play the political game and the public relations games as well.

  16. Comment from Steve Buel:

    One of my favorite stories about Matt Prophet was when a parent had called the superintendent’s office to complain her child couldn’t check out a book to do his or her homework.

    After work that night he drove by the school, got the book and dropped it by the parent’s house.

  17. Comment from Neisha:

    Steve B, Marcia and others who have been around for a while, can you give us a sense when things started changing for high schools? I remember looking to buy a house in 1994-1995 in NE. Schools weren’t really on my radar at the time, but I don’t recall there being much of a difference between Grant and Madison, and certainly real estate prices in both clusters were the same. This makes me think that the huge enrollment inequities are pretty recent. Was it Measure 5, or NCLB, or the transfer policy or the housing bubble, or what, that changed things?

    Also, this is off topic, but I would love to hear from someone who was around when K-8s were changed to middle schools. Why was that done and what are we losing by undoing the middle school model?

    Thanks! (And sorry if I’m asking you to repeat yourselves!)

  18. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Neisha, I’ll answer the middle school question later. But for now the changes which produced the inequities in PPS started with Measure 5, but that should have affected every school. But when Jack Bierwirth took over from Prophet in 1992 was when the upper and middle income neighborhoods began to focus on and favor their schools. Bierwirth was fine with that. He understood the politics of it I assume and went with the flow, which every superintendent since has done. Carole Smith is the best of the lot since Prophet, but does she really get it? I am not sure yet. I am guessing — not really. We will see.

  19. Comment from Ruth Adkins:

    Great post Peter, thanks for the discussion. First, a plug for the upcoming meetings to discuss these ideas for reforming high schools. Please come: Monday 4/20 6:30 at Wilson, Wed. 4/29 6:30 at Franklin, and/or Sat. May 2 9:30 am at Madison. There will be a follow-up meeting for those who want to go in further depth, which is in the process of being scheduled, I think it will be mid-May.

    This is not a case of PPS having a predetermined plan – it really is an effort to work through the pros and cons of the different system models, tackle the tradeoffs we are facing and get ideas from the community for how to combine different elements of A/B/C, hear what people like, what they don’t like.

    To comment on a few points-

    The key aspect of this effort is that it is system-wide. Not only do we have the issue of students in lower income areas not having access to the benefits of a full comprehensive program. While there are great things going on at every high school, also at every school, we are losing too many kids who are bored, don’t meet their full potential, and/or don’t graduate. In the past, PPS has focused reforms on individual schools – but it hasn’t been systematic and there have been unintended consequences. We need to look at the entire system, and get everyone to recognize that there need to be changes across the entire city, not just at one or two schools. (And, Steve B. is correct that we also need to get it right in the earlier grades as well.)

    I totally hear the concern about doing this right and not rushing. A lot of hard work has been going on behind the scenes for many weeks with staff, students, and community groups – and the board has been pushing staff to keep this process moving along, as we cannot afford to delay and keep losing students each year.

    Also, we do want to go out for a bond to rebuild our crumbling schools as soon as we can, but we want to have a clear plan for a high school program before we start doing any construction work on a high school (that is, the program need should drive the building plan, not the other way around).

    My understanding of the timeline is that Carole is going to recommend in June a general approach (some combination of A, B, and/or C, or other ideas that surface between now and then), and there will then be more work (and more community input) to work out the details and an implementation plan, and there won’t be actual board approval until the fall. In short, we are trying to balance the urgency with the need to do it right.

    The small high schools do have smaller class sizes and extra supports, and as a result actually have a much higher budget per student than at the comprehensives. There are lots of resources being devoted to these schools, and some really great outcomes. Part of the issue is perception. We need to figure out a way to restructure- and this includes thru the transfer policy, boundaries, and/or school size – to create an equitable system that is also financially sustainable; and we need to take what is already working well and expand it for more kids. Peter’s points about race and class are absolutely right – that needs to be part of the work as well.

    What is the size/structure of school that is large enough to provide the breadth and depth of course offerings that students want and need (art, music, AP/IB, calculus, etc.) yet small enough to provide the personal attention and relationships that have been the strengths of the small schools (note the huge jump in graduation rates at Roosevelt and Madison this year)?

    Input we are getting from students has made this tradeoff really clear. Students from the small schools really like their teachers, love that they are in a close knit community- but they want more class options. Students at the larger schools like all the classes they get to choose from, but often feel less supported or known.

    Hands-on, project-based learning – not just “career prep” but meaningful, interesting curriculum, internships and so on- need to be available to every student. Peter makes a really good point that this needs to be at the 9/10 level as well, to keep kids engaged as they complete the core requirements.

    One way that we might be able to get some of the benefits of the small school approach within a larger setting is the 9th/10th “academy” structure. This organizes students into smaller groups with a team of teachers who know them and work together to make sure students don’t fall through the cracks. This structure has been very successful at Cleveland, for example; it could be used in any scenario. But again Peter’s point is a good one, those 9/10 core classes need to be engaging.

    Stephanie raises a really good point about mobility/access issues. In general the need to have students travel around the region is a downside of model C.

    I like that the magnets in model B would have balanced enrollment. But I worry that the resources that would go into creating, say, a fabulous arts magnet might decrease our ability to provide more arts at the “regular” schools. So I want to hear more about what specifically could be provided in each scenario in terms of course offerings, and what the tradeoffs are.

    Neisha is absolutely right, a lot of the surrounding neighborhoods are more diverse than the schools currently are. As we all know, if we were able to get more kids who live in the Jefferson area, for example, to attend it the school would be both more diverse and much larger. The challenge is whether we can truly create schools that reflect the diversity of the surrounding neighborhood. I really like Peter’s idea of having cultural competency built into each school’s curriculum.

    As we are able to start renovating/rebuilding high school campuses, I really think better facilities will also help all students be more engaged and successful. It’s not just sugarcoating, it is significant. On a tour for board members of renovated historical as well as newly built HS buildings in the Seattle/Tacoma area, we saw amazing spaces with lots of natural light and beauty as well as 21st century functionality. One example of how the facility supported better teaching and learning is groupings of classrooms with a shared teacher workspace, which teachers told us totally transform their work as they are able to collaborate informally with their colleagues who are teaching the same group of kids.

    We also need to build flexibility into the facilities plan, since enrollment is growing and in a few years the growth “bubble” will reach the high school grades. And, part of the idea of 21st century schools is making them centers of community which includes having things like support services, community organizations, etc. sharing space within school buildings; at the high school level, these could provide opportunities for all kinds of partnerships and learning (ie be an intern at a nonprofit, health clinic, arts group, etc.).

    Sorry to go on at such length, but this is a really huge and important topic. Thanks again for the discussion, and I hope to see everyone at the meetings!

  20. Comment from Ruth Adkins:

    I just wanted to add that another factor to consider is the outstanding career/technical program at Benson, which has worked so well for so many students and really is amazing; while at the same time, we need to figure out a way to provide access to career/technical ed opportunities across the district. There’s got to be a way we can do both.

  21. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Ruth – thanks for your supportive comments. I think the Board should inquire about the Anytown project I mentioned in my original post. I never went through the program, but friends and colleagues that did just raved about it. There is also a teacher professional development program that is also offered by the National Conference for Community and Justice called the Dismantling Racism Institute for Educators. Again, never participated in the program but heard many great things about it. Here’s a testimonial from a school superintendent that attended.

  22. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    One more piece on the Dismantling Racism Institute for Educators (now called the Inclusion Institute for Educators). This is a report, examining the impact the training had on participants in the St. Louis area.

  23. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    OK, feeling chatty tonight . . .

    One other thought on the high school design models.

    The high schools should attract and retain the best, brightest, most energetic teachers in the country.

    So what would attract a star teacher to our high schools? What would retain them?

    Is there any research on what attracts and retains teachers?

    Common sense would say that teachers are attracted to schools with motivated and engaged students, with well-kept facilities, lots of support, and lots of time to work with colleagues and build their skills. They are given lots of freedom to innovate and use their professional judgment.

    But as we have seen recently, there’s been a tendency in the district to issue top-down edicts RE: curriculum and instruction. The common materials adoption we recently went through went beyond just mandating the same materials. It also mandated, at least in the elementary literacy curriculum, the same method of teaching.

    We have to stop micro-managing teachers and let them exercise their professional judgment. That’s what we want them to do and what we pay them to do. If you take that away from them, you take away the foundation of their professional identity. And if you take that away, the best and the brightest teachers start looking for jobs elsewhere.

  24. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Dick Elmore puts it this way …

    “We subscribe to an extremely peculiar view of professionalism: that professionalism equals autonomy in practice. So when I come to your classroom and say, “Why are you teaching in this way?” it is viewed as a violation of your autonomy and professionalism.”

    In other words, Dick is saying that this attitude can be harmful to the degree that it inhibits cooperation, collaboration, and checking a teacher’s practice against external benchmarks.

  25. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Autonomy and collaborating with colleagues via site-based professional development are not mutually exclusive. The idea is that you use your teacher colleagues as sounding boards for ideas and problems you have in your classroom. Other teachers may have the same students you are struggling to reach and can offer suggestions. The difference is that you — as the teacher professional — get to decide what to do based on the feedback and suggestions of your colleagues. This is an ideal situation. What is NOT ideal is for your colleagues or your principal or your district office of curriculum and instruction to tell you what to do. No one knows your students as well as you do. And no one else can better monitor the success or failure of new strategies as they are implemented. And no one else can better adjust to the failures.

    One-size-fits-all, top-down mandates are not suited to the demands that each individual student puts on each individual teacher.

    PPS_Parent – out of curiosity, have you ever taught in a classroom before?

  26. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Frankly, I don’t know many teachers who view someone asking about their teaching as a violation in some way. The basic trouble I have is suggesting that very faulty educational research in some way determines how teachers should teach. So, using this faulty research to “hold teachers accountable” in a profession that is wrought with complexity is pretty silly actually.

  27. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Perhaps teaching would be better if colleagues and supervisors had more influence over practice. It may be true that, for example, teacher A knows his or her students better than other teachers, but that does not mean that Teacher A is a good teacher or that other teachers can’t be better teachers than Teacher A or have better ideas for teaching Teacher A’s students.

  28. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    PPS_Parent – with all due respect, if you were a teacher, you’d realize what you are suggesting is not a very good idea. Assuming you are not a teacher nor ever have been one, your comment is illustrative of one of the major problems we have with educational administration and policy-making for public education: too few top administrators have too little classroom experience. Arne Duncan, our new Secretary of Education, has never taught a class in his life, yet he has the audacity to say that we should be able to look every second grader in the eye and tell him if he’s going to college or not. This is clearly not the perspective of someone who has actually taught children.

  29. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    Don’t confuse working for a school district with understanding educational administration and policy. Being a classroom teacher may give someone insight into working for a school district, but it does not necessarily give someone insight into educational administration and policy.

    And in any event, most principals, central office administrators, and superintendents have been teachers, so there is no shortage of people running schools who have spent time in the classroom.

    Arne Duncan has not even been in office three months. It’s a little soon to be writing him off. Arne brought to the office of US Secretary of Education a lot of experience in the cauldron of Chicago and Illinois education politics. And, oh yeah, he won the respect of someone named Barack Obama.

  30. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    My point is that teachers will be drawn to our high schools if they can be given freedom to exercise their professional judgment and also given access to the advice and support of their teacher colleagues through high-quality, site-based professional development. If they are robbed of their judgment and told what to do and given little or no support, they will not stay. If you have never worked in a school, you would not understand how important it is to be able to use your own professional judgment with your own students. You would also not understand the value of collaborating with your peers.

    If you had no say in your own professional life and simply responded to the dictates of your superiors, you would not be a happy camper, whether you were a water bureau staffer or a consultant at an educational think-tank. Most white-collar workers derive value from their capacity to exercise informed judgment. Teachers are the same.

  31. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Peter can you direct me to the quote about looking 2nd graders in the eye to decide if they are college bound? That just makes my blood boil and I would like to see if I need to write a sternly worded letter 🙂

    I worked in a human services corporation for 8 years and started as a direct care worker and worked my way up to an administrative position. I will toot my horn because this made me a really good boss. I could balance financial realities in developing a budget while not taking no for an answer from corporate when they wanted to cut needed programs. Nothing made corporate more frustrated with me when I showed them their own policies they were not following.

    It is frustrating having a boss that has no idea what your job is really about but is the one to make the most crucial and important decisions.

    Duncan does not have a good record in supporting students with disabilities in Chicago Schools. Here is a quote from a Chicago school reform group:
    “One area where there was no improvement or reform under Duncan was special education, long a trouble spot for CPS. Performance continues to be dismal. Fewer than 25 percent of elementary students receiving special education services met state standards last year; less than 10 percent of those in high school did. Half of high school students with learning disabilities drop out; only a third of those who graduate enroll in college, most in two-year programs, according to 2007 data.

    “The average performance gap on state tests between students in special education and those who aren’t is 45 points — a gap that has widened during Duncan’s tenure and that is higher than the statewide average. Overall, about 12 percent of CPS students receive special education services (11 percent in elementary schools; 16 percent in high schools). In some high schools, as many as one in three students are in special education.”

  32. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Stephanie – here’s the exact quote from Duncan and a source:

    “We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, ‘You’re on track, you’re going to be able to go to a good college, or you’re not.’ Right now, in too many states, quite frankly, we lie to children. We lie to them and we lie to their families.”

    If this doesn’t make your blood boil, then I don’t know what would.

  33. Comment from Rita:

    Ok, tell me that quote is out of context. Please.

    First of all, this implies that we’re able to predict with any kind of confidence what kind of life a 7 year old is destined to have. Truth be told, too often we can, but to my mind that’s an indictment of the system, not a goal we should aspire to.

    Secondly, this is slightly off-topic, but does this prediction include any recognition of the reality that many students — in fact, more and more every day — are prevented from going to college for economic rather than intellectual reasons? To their credit, Obama & Co. have increased the Pell Grant amounts somewhat, but it’s still chicken feed next to the real cost of higher ed. When I went to college and grad school, a poor student like me really could afford higher ed through a combination of scholarships, grants, loans and work. No more. It’s shocking how many 22 year olds are graduating with crushing debt of $40-60K and up. I worry about all kids, but I particularly worry about my own son. That lottery ticket better come through or we’re in big trouble….

  34. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I think that what Mr Duncan was getting at is the importance of giving all kids a better shot at going to college by making sure that their schools give them the skills they will need to get to college and to succeed there. That may not have come through very well in his speech and opponents of President Obama and Mr Duncan are stretching this into something it isn’t.

    The Obama administration actually has some good ideas on reforming student loans, but, guess what, is running into opposition from the lending isdustry …

    The Obama administration is actually proposing to cover about two-thirds of the cost at typical public colleges and all or almost all of community college tuition.

  35. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    I just don’t think that college readiness should be an indicator of success. We should value students who choose work and college equally. I used to supervise a lot of people making 9 bucks an hour who had grad school degrees. I was a high school drop out for one semester who returned and graduated with only a half credit more than the minimum required. It’s fair to say this quote could have been out of context but the value of a “good” college straight out of high school is overrated. I really wish I would have known about americorps when I graduated.

  36. Comment from David Colton:

    As a high school counselor in this district I have noted with great alarm and concern to look at success in high school within the narrow confines of getting students in to college. An example of this is having all high school students take the ACT, one of the standard college entrance tests used nationwide for college admission. Where I counselor I did a quick data analysis of the results of this test to note that only about 12% of the students taking the test had a score that would admit them to college. No one would talk about the impact on self esteem for those forced to take the test who are in special education or English Lauguage learners or those who just had no plans to go to college. I always said that PPS was boondoggled just as surely as those who fell prey to sub-prime mortgages. ACT is a large corporation just as SAT is.

    My point is that they are not all going to college and that we must never design a high school thinking that they are. I was amazed to read in the Spirit Mountain Smoke Signals that the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde was supporting the passage of a bond to maintain shop and welding classes and programs. They were not seeking a bond to add these programs but to maintain them. I grew up in Willamina and watched by brother build a stunningly beautiful boat in his woodshop class. This was 1965. Portland Public would be wise to reinvent what served the needs of many of our students years ago. They don’t have to end up carpenters and mechanics but having those skills can lead to a very enriched life. How terribly we have missed the opportunity for helping our students find their way by limiting and narrowing their options. Advanced Placement is vital but not all students want AP nor do they belong in those classes. Health Services was cut to half a program next year at Madison at a time when the data shows that the jobs of the future will be in some form of health care. I hate to sound like a fogey saying it was better back when but as a person who loved going to college and graduate school, I would also like to see servcices for those who want to do something with their hands or something that does not require an ACT or an SAT……Culinary and hospitatlity will be huge…where are those programs……..we are not serving all our kids by demanding that they all take college entrance tests……

  37. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The original Oregon school reform put forth by Norma Paulus and Vera Katz had testing and vocational training as equals, but with the provision that neither would come about without the funding. Well, obviously the testing did come about, spurred on in my opinion by middle and upper middle class neighborhood school activists making sure it came about, while vocational education went by the wayside. One more example of the inequities in PPS.

  38. Comment from lauralye:

    Looking at Arne Duncan’s quote, I think it is very possible it is being misread. I suggest one alternative reading following the quote.

    “We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, ‘You’re on track, you’re going to be able to go to a good college, or you’re not.’ Right now, in too many states, quite frankly, we lie to children. We lie to them and we lie to their families.”

    What he is asking for is correct assessment so that support can occur. If we pass people along to be nicey, nice than we will never grant the instruction and knowledge that is wanting. To not prepare a child for a university education and to imply to them and their parents that they are prepared sets them up for failure. I do not think his statement was about assessing potential, but calling to task those who would rather pat someone on the head than work to impart the skills and knowledge necessary.

    Oh, and I am a Ph.D. who dropped out of high school. I also teach many graduates of PPS. There are a variety of reasons that a kid may drop out. I will not bore you with my story. Some kids are not being challenged, but others cannot accept the challenge: Boredom plays into dropping out, but boredom also occurs when students are not given the skills to engage with information. How can they be inspired by something if they have no tools to decipher its meaning or use it to build, make, or create?

  39. Comment from Rita:

    Looks like the cat is out of the bag at last. According to Rob Manning’s report on OPB this afternoon, PPS is anticipating the closure of 3-4 high schools in conjunction with the high school redesign. (By the way this was not articulated at the meeting last night.)

    It seemed to me from the beginning that there was some other agenda behind all the glitz since there was no actual explanation or research offered to justify blowing up the existing high school system.

    Now we know what that agenda is: more school closures. Surprise, surprise. No doubt because the last round worked out so well.

    So here we go again. God helps us.

  40. Comment from Ken:

    The story Rita references above:

  41. Comment from New around here:

    Rita and I were at different tables during the first Big Idea high school reorg meeting last week, so I don’t know that we heard all the same comments.
    Several times, the rotating facilitators in our group poked around at the “size of the ideal high school?” Something as large as a 2,500-student school could have positive aspects if the facilities were properly designed. Something like 700 kids could be that warm, fuzzy cocoon where a kid could be sure to find that one make-or-break mentor connection.

    But we asked 2 questions: 1) What are the student body sizes that support a full slate of staffing/offerings? 2) What are the capacities of our current high school buildings?

    The answers we were given: Enrollment levels somewhere around 1,400-1,600 students sustain the FTE needed for a fully functioning high school — meaning equally broad and deep course offerings. We have 10 buildings currently used as high schools and only a handful are at capacity. Dividing 1500 students out equally would only fill 7 buildings.

    This blunt math may not have made it on to the microphone in our table-by-table recaps.

    It was clear to me that no details had been decided, yet. It was also clear to me that some number of high schools would no longer be open.

  42. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    There is a forum tomorrow at Madison from 9:30am to noon.