PPS and the philanthro-capitalists

7:54 pm

Sheila Wilcox had a problem. She was teaching eighth grade at a newly expanded elementary school, its first year with eighth grade. The building did not have adequate physical space for the middle grades, and the staff had almost no training or advice on teaching a self-contained middle grade class within an elementary school.

This was in 2008-09 school year, a year after Carole Smith, the newly hired superintendent, had formed a “K-8 Action Team,” and several months after that team had held a public meeting. Wilcox went to the team’s Web page and found somebody at the district office to e-mail.

Wilcox said she wrote to Sara Allan, listed as the project manager for the K-8 team, and told her: “I’m stuck out in a portable, I have no computers, I have no books, I’m teaching eighth grade.”

It took a week to get a response, said Wilcox, and she got no answers to her specific questions. She was told the district was trying to work with the K-8 schools to get the best programs in place. But there was nobody from the district working with teachers at her school, and she didn’t know who else to call.

Wilcox had also noticed that the K-8 team’s Web site listed courses her school had never offered and had no plans to offer. When she notified the district, they said it was data from the previous year, and it would be updated. It never was.

Sara Allan led the K-8 action team, along with two senior administrators: Joan Miller, a part-time retired administrator; and Harriet Adair, a full-time area director, supervising principals at several schools. The team held a series of community meetings in the 2007-2008 school year, and claimed to address some serious issues like libraries, algebra and science labs. The team showed competence in things like middle grade scheduling, but never fully accounted for the actual deficiencies of existing K-8 schools, or presented any real analysis of the scope and depth of the K-8 problem.

After a May 2008 community meeting, the K-8 Action Team went quiet. No more meetings were held, and no announcements made.

K-8s hadn’t stopped being a crisis in the community, but they seemed to have dropped off the district’s radar.

How did we get here?

The root of this problem was the rushed addition of middle grades to most elementary schools in the district, a process phased in over the previous three school years with virtually no planning or sense of a unified model. Principals were going it alone with no district support. Some middle schools were also converted, with the addition of primary grades. These schools managed the change relatively well, at least for middle grade students, since there were, in many cases, enough students to continue funding a comprehensive middle school program.

But most of the elementary schools that converted to K-8s have continued to fare poorly, many with largely self-contained classrooms and few, if any, electives. And as it happened, these  “ele-middles” (as coined by parent Lakeitha Elliot) are concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods.

Middle schools were preserved in some parts of Portland. Eight of the district’s 10 remaining middle schools — Beaumont, da Vinci, Hosford, Jackson, Mt. Tabor, Robert Gray, Sellwood and West Sylvan — are located in majority white high school clusters (Cleveland, Franklin, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson). A total of two, George and Lane, remain in the district’s four majority non-white attendance clusters (Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt).

PPS claims they have not tracked the demographics of middle grade students assigned to and attending K-8 schools, compared to middle schools.  (I requested this demographic information from Public Information Officer Matt Shelby, and Sarah Carlin Ames, Director of Government Affairs. Shelby wrote in e-mail that the district is unable to fulfill my request.)

But it is clear, extrapolating from available data showing middle schools to be disproportionately white and non-poor when compared to the general PPS student population, that middle grade students at K-8 schools are conversely poor and non-white.

Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson recently told the City Club of Portland that “based on race and zip code roughly 85% of white students have access to opportunity in rigorous college prep programs, curriculum and resources compared to 27% of black students.” Even without the direct, hard data from the district, we can see the same is true about access to comprehensive middle school programs.

The largest stretch between middle schools in Portland is the eight and a half miles between George middle school in North Portland and Beaumont in Northeast. This stretch spans historically poor and working class neighborhoods, and includes all of historically black Portland.

Org chart changes

With the new school year in 2009, the district announced  major org chart changes, including a promotion for Sara Allan, to “Senior Director of Planning and Performance Management,” reporting directly to Carole Smith and supervising a senior management team (three with the title of Director, plus two “Advisor[s] to the Superintendent” and three “Senior Managers”) in charge of everything from high school redesign to data and policy analysis. Harriet Adair, once an assistant superintendent, is now listed as an “Advisor to the Superintendent” on K-8 redesign, reporting to Allan.

Other than Adair, who also advises the superintendent on early childhood issues, it appears the K-8 Action Team no longer exists in any significant, working form.

Its Web page is no longer prominently linked on the district Web site, which has since undergone a redesign. But the page still existed as of publication of this article, listing these objectives to be completed by August 2008:

  • Work to identify critical operational supports for PK-8 schools in the 2008-09 year and develop strategies to fill gaps in the following areas.
  • Staffing
  • Enhancements to facilities
  • Professional development for teachers
  • Student support
  • Design a common districtwide PK-8 model and set of guidelines for grades 6-8 education and define a plan to build the required elements over the next three years.
  • Create a process to engage schools and the community in the vision and the plan.

It’s unclear if any of this work has been completed more than a year after its targeted completion. Allan said the team continues to exist, albeit without any dedicated, full-time staff.

“There’s lots of ongoing planning around how do we continue to make sure that all of our 6-8 programs are very comparable in terms of what opportunities students have,” said Allan. “They’re constrained by the resources that we have available, but there’s definitely ongoing work around insuring that we have consistent programs in all places so that kids are equally prepared for high school.”

Allan also said there is “a lot of work going on analyzing how we do staffing allocations.” Despite this work, K-8s continue to operate on the same staffing allocation as middle schools, which, with their much larger student cohorts, are able to offer dramatically more curriculum for the same money per student.

Just under half of the district’s middle grade students currently have access to a traditional middle school in their neighborhood. Would it make sense to go back to a middle school model for the entire district, or at least make sure that all students have access to a nearby middle school?

“I think the question is, is the structure of the middle school the answer, or is it what’s happening in the classrooms?” said Allan.

She said that by bringing middle grade student populations up to a minimum of 150 students, and with adjustments to the staffing formula, all middle grade students can have access to the same kind of education, regardless of the configuration of their school. That means the district will have to shift funding from middle schools, or  “equalize down”,  in order to provide even a basic middle grade experience in the K-8 schools.

Under the current funding formula, 150 students provide enough budget for about six teachers for the middle grades, enough to basically do self-contained classrooms. Astor, where Wilcox teaches, has around that number of students.

With an adjusted staffing formula, would there be any way to pay for electives like instrumental music and world languages for every K-8 school?

“That is the stuff we’re looking at specifically,” said Allan.

Rebecca Levison doesn’t buy it. She’s a teacher with experience in a self-contained middle grade classroom, and the current president of the Portland Association of Teachers, the union representing the district’s teachers.

There is no way, Levison contends, that the district’s K-8 schools will offer anything close to what is currently offered in middle schools.

The district’s K-8 strategy centers on retaining and building middle grade enrollment up to 150 students. That, combined with an adjusted staffing formula, appears to be the extent of planning to deal with a problem that is well into its fourth year.

It’s not clear if there is any plan to have an adjusted staffing formula in place,  or to increase enrollment for the 2010-11 school year, the fifth year of K-8 implementation.

Choice and equity

Over the years, as the district has experimented with a market-oriented, competition-based student enrollment system, schools in poor and minority neighborhoods lost significant enrollment, funding, and curriculum. Jefferson High School, Oregon’s only majority black high school, had an attendance area population of just over 1,500 in fall of 2008. Approximately 500 high school students enrolled that year, with nearly 1,000 transferring out under the district’s liberal school choice policies.

Then, as now, Jefferson’s course catalog reflected this loss of enrollment and funding. At the former arts magnet school, there were no music classes offered, no advanced placement classes, no chemistry, physics, or calculus, and no world languages other than Spanish.

The district has had no real strategy for dealing with this self-reinforcing spiral of declining enrollment and opportunity brought on by allowing students to freely transfer from one neighborhood school to another. Disproportionately non-white and poor schools like Jefferson were told they had to increase enrollment in order to replace lost courses. But without a reasonable course catalog, these schools didn’t have much in the way of recruitment tools.

Vicki Phillips, who preceded Carole Smith as superintendent, promoted school choice as a tool for equity in spite of overwhelming evidence of the damage it did to schools in poor and minority neighborhoods. Smith’s plan for high schools tacitly acknowledges the failure of this policy.

Under Smith, the district has announced a high school plan that would bring comprehensive schools to all, and significantly do away with the market-based strategy of choice and competition for enrollment pushed under Phillips, at least for high schools.

The plan would implement a high school system based on neighborhood enrollment, with student transfers restricted to guarantee similar school sizes and funding. This would also ameliorate the significant self-segregation that has resulted in schools more segregated today than thirty years ago.

Every student, or so the plan says, will have access to comprehensive neighborhood high schools of about the same size and with the same range of programming, including courses for college credit, instrumental music, choral music or dance, and a choice of world languages. This would be a major upgrade for schools in our poorest neighborhoods, and represents an important acknowledgment of a basic economic reality.

The free market approach to enrollment and funding is a demonstrable failure in Portland, when measured by access to educational opportunity. Unless the district is willing to significantly reduce opportunity for the white middle class, there’s no way they can pay for equity of opportunity without balancing enrollment, that is, by curtailing school choice. This is a significant element of the high school plan. With it, the district appears to be forging a path independent of current trends pushed by Gates, at least for high schools.

But the district appears unwilling to apply the same lesson to middle grades.

Sara Allan’s contention that it’s not the structure of the school that matters, but what goes on in the classroom, also closely parrots the current line being sold by Phillips, now head of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Phillips was the keynote speaker at the Council of The Great City Schools conference held in Portland last month, attended by Allan and quite a few of her administrative colleagues. In her speech, Phillips promoted merit pay for teachers, the latest policy thrust of Gates.

While superintendent in Portland, Philips was responsible for both the transition to K-8 schools  and the “small schools” initiative, funded largely by the Gates foundation, which dismantled every comprehensive high school in Portland serving majority non-white students, and split them into rigid “academies.” These academies forced students to choose a narrow field of study as freshmen, and didn’t allow students to take electives offered in other academies in the same building.

When combined with Phillips’ dogmatic fealty to school choice, comprehensive secondary education was thus eliminated for the majority of poor and minority students in Portland. Students who are white and wealthier are statistically more likely to take advantage of student transfers, so schools re-segregated even as attendance areas reintegrated and gentrified. With funding following students, and with rules in place to allow wealthy families to directly fund public schools in their neighborhoods, access to comprehensive secondary education was preserved for the majority of white students in Portland, even while it was eliminated for everybody else.

To date, we seem stuck with this legacy of Vicki Phillips, despite some positive talk about equity of opportunity: We continue to have a clearly defined two-tiered education system, particularly in the secondary grades, with ZIP code, race and class primary determinants of access to a broad-based secondary education.

Gates’ quiet partner

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has grown to be the dominant voice in the national education dialogue, heavily influencing the federal education policy of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But even as PPS appears to be taking a non-Gates path on high schools, the district continues to be enamored with  Gates’ biggest private-sector education policy ally: Eli Broad’s education foundation.

In 2003, the Broad Foundation started a residency program to lure management professionals into the field of public education.  Founded by real estate magnate Eli Broad in the 1960′s, the foundation’s mission is “to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts.”

The Broad Residency in Urban Education promises young MBAs with as little as four years’ work experience a package that might otherwise take a career to attain: a full-time, senior-level management position in a large urban school district (or charter management organization), reporting to the superintendent or top executive, and a salary of $85,000 – $95,000.

For two years, Broad pays half the residents’ salaries. The school district picks up the other half, plus the cost of benefits. After two years, the district is expected to keep the residents in their jobs, or promote them, picking up the full tab for their salaries.

Over the course of these two years, Broad flies its residents to eight quarterly trainings held at various locations around the country. Residents study topics like “Accountability and empowerment of schools,” “Influence using formal and informal authority” and “Initiating and sustaining large-scale change initiatives.”

The Broad Foundation, whose motto is “Transforming urban K-12 public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition,” makes no bones about its support of charter schools and its desire to weaken teachers’ unions.

This ideology is couched in rhetoric about “student achievement,” especially among minority students, but Eli Broad himself is clear about his goals. Despite studies showing no improvement for students in charter schools, Broad’s strategy relies strongly on promoting them. Broad spoke at the Michigan Governor’s Education Summit in 2004.

“We believe that healthy competition has raised the quality of higher education in the U.S. and can do the same for our K-12 public school system,” said Broad. “Michigan is to be congratulated for being one of our nation’s leaders in providing parents with competitive education alternatives, through public charter schools.”

Also at the top of Broad’s agenda is eliminating seniority for teachers, and instituting merit pay, or, in today’s parlance “pay for performance.”

“Many labor unions have become obstructionist in holding teachers accountable for student performance,” Broad told his Michigan Audience. “We have to start compensating teachers on a performance basis rather than on seniority. I know that some unions don’t like to hear that, but introducing true accountability is essential to ensuring that student performance improves.”

This amounts to blaming teachers for the overwhelming effects of poverty in the lives of students.

“Student performance,” entirely measured by standardized test scores, correlates highly to poverty. Broad’s scheme would almost certainly assure that teachers in poor and minority communities would make less than their colleagues in wealthier schools, only worsening the achievement gap. This puts the lie to Broad’s (and Gates’) stated mission of closing that gap.

This kind of disconnect between Broad’s stated vision and his policy thrust hasn’t deterred Portland, a strongly blue collar town with high public support for organized labor, from welcoming Broad into its main school district.

Portland Public Schools has hosted four Broad Residents. One left after his residency, one is still in her residency, and two hold key strategic leadership roles overseeing the future of our schools.

Sarah Singer came to PPS five years out of graduate school in 2007, and led the high school system redesign planning over the past year or so (newly-hired Chief Academic Officer Xavier Botana appears to now be taking a more prominent role). Singer has two Masters’ degrees, but no prior professional experience in K-12 education. She makes $90,000 a year. (Top of scale for a teacher, with a PhD and twelve years’ experience, is around $70,000.)

The other is Sara Allan, who came to PPS as a Broad Resident in 2005, and worked at first in human resources and as a project manager. The K-8 Action Team was her first high-profile project. As an executive director she currently works part-time (80 percent) and is paid $90,000 a year. Her base salary of $112,500 is twice what many teachers make with an equivalent level of education. She never worked in a school or school district prior to joining PPS, and has no professional training in K-12 education.

District: No Broad Influence on Policy

Despite the Broad Foundation’s overt ideological thrust, Allan insists that Broad is not trying to push it on PPS.

“It’s really not just ‘bring corporate America to the schools’ at all,” said Allan. “It’s really very much a nuanced thing.”

Second-term school board member David Wynde agrees. He and his school board colleagues attended a Broad-sponsored retreat for in Los Angeles in 2003, in which Eli Broad addressed the attendees.

“There was no advocacy about policy content,” said Wynde. “They weren’t pushing a particular policy agenda. What they were pushing was [school] boards learning how to govern and what it meant to be an effective board, which is a good thing.”

Chief of Staff Zeke Smith acknowledges Broad’s political positions. “It would be silly of me to say that Broad doesn’t have any sort of ideological perspective in what they do,” he said, but he discounts that influence in PPS.

“I think they have an agenda in terms of putting people in a district and wanting to see innovation and change in those districts,” said Smith. “I think that’s why they’re bringing business leaders, but I think that’s also why they’re fairly open about what it is that you get. But I don’t think they’re prescriptive about what that is.”

Smith said the people PPS has hired out of Broad’s program bring “significant experience with project management, and that’s not necessarily a capacity that is well-developed inside of districts. So what we’ve gotten from that is people who understand how you take kind of large complicated issues that need a lot of different stakeholders — internal or external or both — to be involved, and put together a process whereby you can actually get to some real action steps and do it with some level of integrity.”

But can’t people with an education background manage complicated issues?

“Most people who work inside of a school district all the way up to the top have made their way to those positions from an education background,” said Smith, “and people value the idea that, ‘Hey, I was a teacher, then moved up the ranks to assistant principal, and then a principal, and then into administration,’ and there’s a lot of skills that they develop in those places; there’s a lot of skills that they’re exposed to through their classical academic training. Project management isn’t necessarily one of those.”

Smith also said it’s not just the corporate philanthropists pushing charters and merit pay. “We’ve actually got people inside of the White House and inside the administration who are probably going to push us more on those discussions and conversations than Broad has,” he said.

Indeed, the policy positions of Broad and Gates have been broadly adopted by the Obama Administration under Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The Race To The Top Initiative promises $4.35 billion to states, so long as they are amenable to merit pay and charter school expansion.

Broad’s foundation has maintained close ties to national policy makers of both political parties; its board of directors is a who’s-who of “reformers,” cozy with the current administration and its predecessors, who mainly tout charter schools and merit pay as salves for what they call “the education crisis.” The bipartisan board is chaired by New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and includes former Cabinet Secretaries from George W. Bush (Margaret Spellings) and Bill Clinton (Henry Cisneros). Washington D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, well-known for her extreme merit pay programs, also serves on the board, as does Richard Barth, President and CEO of the KIPP foundation, a nationwide charter management organization with 82 charter schools, and Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach for America, an organization that brings non-certified teachers to poor and minority schools.

A major thrust of the Broad Residency is the need for better management in the central office of school districts. Most district offices, it goes without saying, are full of former teachers in administrative roles. Teachers, Broad seems to think, can barely be trusted in the classroom, and they certainly aren’t qualified to be promoted into positions in control of large amounts of money.

Broad’s recruiting material spells it out: “Many school districts are the size of Fortune 500 companies. They need leaders and strong managers who understand the complex operations of a large organization—successful professionals with experience in human resources, operations, finance, strategic planning and other critical business areas.”

In Portland, one teacher, who prefers to remain anonymous, claims she overheard former Broad Resident Sarah Singer joke that being “education free” was a major qualification for leading education system redesign. (Singer denies having said this.)

The Teacher’s Union

Teachers and PAT are currently deadlocked over terms of a new contract to replace the one that expired in 2008. The two-year contract they are currently negotiating will expire in  seven months, assuming they reach an agreement by then. A key sticking point is the district asking for more hours and more scheduling flexibility from teachers, while refusing to budge on salary.

“We’ve had a lot of formal conversations,” said Levison, the teachers’ union president, “and there has been absolutely no movement on their side. You can’t ask to increase somebody’s work day while simultaneously cutting their salary.”

Levison was surprised to encounter former Broad Resident Allan at the bargaining table, and questioned her qualifications.

“I don’t think you’re qualified for school administration if you haven’t been in the classroom,” said Levison. “Someone who is working in education needs to have background and experience, otherwise they’re making decisions at the 30,000 foot level.”

Allan acknowledges she is “part of the bargaining team, providing background analysis,” and defends her lack of educaton experience. “The key role my department plays is more about project management, organizing a process rather than trying to know the answer,” she said.

Allan said her role is more one of process rather than policy. “It’s a diverse group of people that are on the bargaining team that all are contributing,” she said, “and so I might be playing a role of packaging and presenting.”

But Levison sees a pattern in the current administration of making decisions that do not take into account the realities faced by teachers, students and families. She cites the scheduling of several school days this year with two-hour late openings, a top-down decision made without input from the district’s scheduling committee, as another example.

“They don’t understand how it impacts teachers’ workloads, how it impacts students, and how it impacts parents,” said Levison.

Teachers are accustomed to tough-on-labor negotiating from the district, but it especially stings coming from a young MBA with no background in the field making a base salary 60 percent higher than the most senior, most qualified teacher in the district.

“There’s a level of anger when teachers are working harder than ever, and they see Broad scholars and senior managers getting raises,” said Levison. “It increases the anger.”

While the superintendent’s office claims the district’s recent central office reorganization cut more than 10 administrative positions worth a million dollars, Levison disputes their figures. She says there is a tendency to create positions for displaced administrators rather than laying them off.

While several “area director” positions were eliminated, none of the administrators were let go or faced pay cuts in their new roles, even with reduced responsibilities. Harriet Adair was an area director last school year, directly supervising principals at several schools. Adair now has no staff directly reporting to her, according to Zeke Smith.

A teacher, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the joke in the schools is that “they put so-and-so in the basement of BESC sorting paper clips.”

When teachers demonstrated en masse at a recent school board meeting, they made an issue of the $15,268 raise administrator Robb Cowie  got when he was promoted to Executive Director of Community Involvement and Public Affairs under the reorganization. The presence of highly-paid Broad staff at the bargaining table has further poured salt in the wound.

“I think there’s absolutely more they can cut,” said Levison. “None of these cuts are going to fill the hole, but when a Broad resident is making whatever they make, that’s an art teacher. That’s a music teacher. That’s a special ed teacher. That’s a special ed teacher and a para-educator.”

Levison is particularly irked at the way the district has dropped the ball on K-8 schools. “To ignore this huge disparity in K-8s and move on to high schools is just criminal,” she said.

Accountability: only for teachers?

While corporate philanthropists tout the importance of teacher accountability for student achievement, there doesn’t seem to be much accountability for their own failed reform efforts.

A commonly voiced perception in the community and in schools is that the K-8 model is a failure and that the K-8 Action Team has gone dormant. I asked Allan, now the person in charge of performance management for the district, how she would rate the performance of the K-8 Action Team.

“We’ve done a fairly lousy job,” she said, “in continuing to kind of engage with the community around this so they know what we’re doing, and they’re seeing it. I think we’re not necessarily hearing from them in terms of the same heightened level of concern as the K-8s have kind of matured a little bit, but that certainly doesn’t take the responsibility off us not to be doing a better job at engaging. So I would give us a bad grade on that.”

She claims some success with the K-8 model, and says there is no plan to go back to the middle school model that has been preserved in the wealthiest Portland neighborhoods.

“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water,” Allan said.

“We’ve just been doing a big study on how’s student achievement doing at the K-8s versus the old middle schools, and there’s definitely some really good early indicators there in terms of closing the achievement gap,” said Allan. “We’re starting to see that some of our best results are coming out of K-8 schools.”

But this claim of K-8 success seems dubious, with the district unable to account for the demographics of middle grade students attending K-8 schools and with persistent and marked differences in the level of education on offer.

At Astor K-8 school, Wilcox said she and her colleagues had their break room converted to a classroom this year due to lack of space, a violation of their contract. Eighth grade continues to be taught in  self-contained classrooms in portables on the playground, and there is still little in the way of central support for teachers.

Meanwhile, district leaders, fresh from Broad, assure teachers everything is under control in K-8 schools  and demand more teacher flexibility in contract negotiations.

Pay no attention to the men behind the philanthro-capitalist curtain, their anti-teacher ideology and their solid track record of gutting public education for poor and  minority students in Portland. This is education “reform,” and it’s all about closing the achievement gap.

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

filed under: BESC, Features, K-8 Transistion, Labor Relations, Reform

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53 Responses

  1. Comment from Stephanie:

    Nice reporting Steve!

  2. Comment from Susan:

    I keep trying to wrap my head around boosting K-8 enrollment to a level that will support even a semblance of curriculum offered by traditional middle schools and at the same time offer traditional middle school options for all students.

    And can’t help but hope that along with tracking student achievement at K-8s compared with “old” middle schools, Sara Allen finds the time to track student achievement at K-8s with “old” elementary schools. Our elementary scores have dropped considerably since becoming a K-8.

    Did Allen really say that K-8s have “kind of matured a little bit.” We really do need to insist that all district administrators have their offices in school buildings and require them to help with cafeteria and lunchtime recess duty. Really. To bad there’s no room.

  3. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:


    That was awesome, and answered many questions for me. No wonder public education is a mess, and the PPS as well. I just love “education free” Sarah Singer comment.

    The most disgusting thing is the salary these people get at the top, and then they propose “suck up pay” for teachers—some buildings are already a cesspool of backstabbing and division, let’s just keep dishing out more corporate crap and union-busting on education!!!

    I am thoroughly disgusted with the “leadership” in this district and nationally. THanks for a good expose on where the PPS is headed.

    Like Susan says, put administrators in school buildings, especially those who have no education background or training. Just the thought of the corporate types doing this totally cracks me up!!! Ha, give ‘em a taste of what education is like on a day to day basis.

    Again, great article.

  4. Comment from Ken:

    Zeke is right that there’s a number of people in the White House pushing Broad/Gates-like policies – this, of course, is because Obama/Duncan have stacked the DOE with a number of edu-preneurs and edu-idiots that have been on the philanthro-capitalists’ payroll for a number of years. Duncan, for instance, suckled at the teats of both Daddy Gates and Grandpa Broad during his tenure as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. He’s continuing to feed off of the same milk. Consider:

    Joanne Weiss: head of the Race to the Top fund. Prior to directing Obama/Duncan’s “Bribe to the Flop,” Weiss was the COO of the NewSchools Venture Fund, which has taken roughly $60 million from Gates, and plenty of Eli’s dough as well. The Walton Family Foundation has also donated heavily to NSVF; so has the Dell Foundation, Doris and Donald Fisher (GAP clothing), and a number of Silicon Valley venture capitalists (they started NSVF back in the late 1990s after some prodding by Al Gore and Steve Jobs).

    James Shelton: director of the i3 fund, a $650 million pot of cash that’ll be distributed to groups like TFA, KIPP, Green Dot and countless other edupreneurs/leeches. Additionally, Jimmy Boy is in charge of the Office of Innovation, a department created by the good-natured and well-intentioned Bush II administration. Shelton, interestingly, worked at NSVF as well, but his experience in education dates back even further. He co-founded a for-profit charter chain, LearnNow, which he eventually sold to…the fools at Edison schools! Shelton hopped around for a while, working at McKinsey & Co., Knowledge Universe (owned by Junk Bond King, Mike Milken) and the Gates Foundation. Edison’s stock collapsed, but not before NSVF managed to sell a hefty chunk of their share for a pretty profit. Oh – and Jeb Bush and his Florida cronies used the pension fund of Florida public employees (including teachers) to buy up some of that Edison stock. Nice.

    Margot Rogers: Duncan’s chief of staff. Prior to joining the DOE, Rogers was…wait for it…Vicki’s assistant at the Gates Foundation! Seriously – you can’t make this kind of s**t up. In 2006, Rogers told Catalyst Chicago magazine: “We really see Arne as one of a few leaders in the country who is really thoughtful and groundbreaking in making sure students are prepared for college, work and life.” Holy smokes – someone’s nose just grew about five yards after spewing that whopper.

    Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana: She’s a former Broadie as well, now one of Duncan’s assistant secretaries. They sure know how to pick ‘em.

    Carmel Martin: Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development. She was slated to work for Gates, but accepted a position in the DOE. At this point, working for one practically means you work for the other.

    Carl Harris: Former superintendent of the Durham Public Schools, trained by Broad’s brainwashing program; recently tapped to work in Arne’s DOE. DPS, like PPS, recently adopted Scott Foresman’s Reading Street program. But, without a union to back them up, teachers in DPS fear for their jobs if they refuse to implement the mandated curriculum. Fear not, Durham folks: the Broad Foundation is taking a very active role in helping you “pick” your next superintendent. I’m serious:


    Consider, also, Gates’ financial assistance in getting states some “help” in writing up their “Race to the Top” application:


    The Gates Foundation has promised to “help” all 50 states with their applications. Bridgespan, McKinsey & Co., and a number of other “advisors” will “help” states writing their grants. Pardon the pun, but the Gates Foundation is literally the gateway to getting your hands on part of Duncan/Obama’s $4.35 billion bribe (which, true to form, pushes reform proposals that are questionable, at best, or downright absurd, at worst): charters, merit-pay, competition, and standardized testing.

    On the topic of merit pay, the philanthro-capitalists and their pro-high-stakes testing pals have pushed the idea of “value-added measures” of student achievement. Translated: instead of raw test scores, teachers will be judged on how much their students “grow” during the year, with growth, of course, defined solely by test scores. This is partly because even the most corrupt policy wonks know payment strictly on raw test scores would clearly discriminate against particular subgroups (read: non-affluent children, English language learners, special education students). The Board on Testing and Assessment, a highly regarded group, sent a kindly-worded letter to Duncan saying, in effect, this VAM idea is seriously, seriously flawed (not to mention a number of other misguided ideas, including inappropriate use of NAEP test scores). You can read the full report here; you can be almost certain, too, that no one at BESC has read this document:


    Mr. Wynde’s comments are concerning. Are you really telling me that Eli’s education outfit is simply teaching you how to govern, but they’re leaving all their ideology (via policy) out of it? So, David, when Eli and his cronies, including former PPS COO Cathy Mincberg, push privatization and outsourcing (for things like the Magellan contract), that’s just about governance, not policy, right? You’ve got to be kidding me (but you’re not – and that’s what’s concerning). Maybe ignorance really is bliss. I generally expect more from Mr. Wynde.

    It’s good to see Allan and Phillips have been rewarded for their stellar work in creating our school system. Accountability – it’s not for everyone. In fact, the bigger you screw up, the bigger your paycheck – so long as you’re in BESC. Vicki’s probably pulling in a cool half a million (based on the salary of her predecessor at the Gates Foundation, the nincompoop known as Tom Vander Ark, a well-known support of all of the aforementioned shoddy education reforms).

    What this comes down to, largely, is the ability for a very small number of individuals capable of using their vast sums of money to sway public policy. They’re ideologues – and their track record of pushing reforms based on market-based rationale is a sure-fire way to extinguish whatever is left of our democracy. John Dewey and nearly every other meaningful educational theorist, practitioner, and serious education thinker would be turning over in their graves if they could see the damage about to be inflicted by a new round of unproven, or disproven, education reforms.

    I’ll close with these words of brilliance, courtesy of former PPS Broad resident Alex Hernandez (taken from this EdWeek article: http://www.edweek.org/ew/artic.....SFw2dJZGZI):

    “Is the private sector qualified to reform our schools? It is hard to argue with entrepreneurs who helped build the world’s leading economy.”

    Yeah, Alex…about that leading economy…

  5. Comment from Rita:

    Nice article, Steve. I’ll add my 2 cents to yours, if I may.

    One would have thought that the events of the last 2 years would have thoroughly discredited the claim of the American business community — especially real estate moguls — to superior intelligence or skill, never mind wisdom, around planning or management.

    But ok, I’ll concede, for the sake of argument, that the idea of PPS employing people with expertise in managing complex processes might actually have some merit, at least in principle. So let’s just talk about the implementation of the idea.

    First off, as you note, the Broad Foundation argues that school districts need “leaders and strong managers who understand the complex operations of a large organization—successful professionals with experience in human resources, operations, finance, strategic planning and other critical business areas.” This suggests that the people parachuted into school districts have some expertise, which I take to mean experience and, preferably, some demonstrated success in managing a process of broadly equivalent complexity. With all due respect, the managers in whom PPS has invested so much faith and power in recent years have, as I understand it, little or no actual management experience and certainly nothing comparable in size or scope to a District-wide restructuring. So, not only are they “education-free,” they appear to be largely experience-free as well. Surely no one is suggesting that possession of initials after one’s name is sufficient, in and of themselves, to guarantee expertise?

    Second, I might be more willing to accept the concept if I saw some glimmer of real competence, never mind expertise in the implementation of the vast organizational initiatives that have dominated PPS over the last 6 years. Sara Allen is a lovely woman, but, forgive me, what exactly was the basis for promoting her? The sterling performance of the K-8 Action Team in resolving the mess? Really? That’s accountability, all right.

    It is troubling to me that the ONLY lesson that PPS seems to have learned from the K-8 mess was that lack of “community engagement” can come back to bite you in Portland. Which explains why we’re now in virtually constant engagement-mode, with yet another round of meetings unfolding over the next 2 weeks. Never mind that there’s little actual information imparted at these meetings. And questions are rarely actually answered. We’re engaged, isn’t that enough?

    Well, no, actually. Because the REAL lesson of the K-8 fiasco has apparently escaped the decision-makers. The essential problem with the reconfiguration was a complete absence of either thought or analysis to guide its design or the implementation. It was policymaking by PowerPoint: pretty pictures and compelling sound bites with nothing to back them up. Phillips proclaimed that it was all “data-driven,” of course. But when you asked for the research and the analysis of how the “plan” would play out, there was nothing.

    I’m sorry to say that I fear we may be seeing a repeat performance in the high school redesign. To be fair, there’s more effort and more deliberateness behind this initiative. I do think the District wants this to work. But there is still a disturbing lack of what I would consider to be real analysis. There’s frequent mention of lots of “research” underpinning this high school redesign, but the documents that I have seen that purport to be analysis based on research have been remarkably superficial and of such poor quality that I would not have accepted them from my undergraduate students.

    Now it’s possible that there is some real analysis going on that I am not privy to. But I’m certainly not going to take it on faith. What I see are more PowerPoints (and glossy PR brochures).

    So, if what I’ve seen over the last 5 years in PPS is indicative of the quality of planning and decision making within the business community, then the whole economic meltdown seems a lot more understandable.

  6. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    Education-free! If only parents knew. It seems as if PPS is hiring “bigwigs” who think they are better than “the little guy” (ie. teachers). Is everyone so busy coming up with impressive sound bites, and defending their poor decisions, that they cannot see that I NEED SOME BOOKS? Really? Is this what we’ve come to? Whose job is it to make sure that classrooms are fully functional, and schools are safe (ie. no hanging paper cutters or asbestos in the “staff/boiler room”)? Are the higher-ups too important for that? Education-free? Is there anyone in the orange building that is un-education-free? Anyone? Anyone?

  7. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, this is one of the finest pieces of writing on PPS that I have read in years. And Ken, your overview of the problems in federal education policy is terrific.

    There is a reason we keep screwing up in Portland, and it is because we believe the answers are out there someplace — national trends, reform solutions, educational research — when in actuality the answers are right in front of us in each school and each classroom. How is the teacher in room 12 doing, how are her kids behaving, do the kids seem engaged, are we teaching them things which they will need in the future, how is our lunch room behavior, is our library staffed and well equiped, are kids reading a lot, do we have plenty of technology, are their interesting classes and actvities which help kids stay interested in school and will carry over into their life, how is the behavior in our halls, do we have enough special help for the kids who need it, are we challenging the kids who are ready to really go, and a million other questions which need no educational research, no test scores, no merit pay, and no national trends to come up with the answers. We just need good dedicated teachers, staff, and administration who are intent on solving the problems in their school and giving children the best education we can within the resources available to us. Someplace this has all been lost and we are worse for it. Much worse.

  8. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Ken, the comments by David Wynde, who I agree often has good things to say, are troubling. The school board seems to think their job is to respond to the superintendent and pass judgement on her policies. This is the prevailing attitude in educational think tanks.

    I don’t believe it. The school board’s job is to represent the community in making sure there is a quality education system. They are not just responders, but also initiators. Part of their job is to bring forth ideas to maintain and improve the education of our children. They are a legislative body as much as a council of evaluators. For years, PPS boards have not done their job. Hence, Trudy Sargent brings no initiatives and Martin Gonzalez doesn’t take the lead,as he suggested he would, on Latino education. And most of the board’s positive statements are just that, statements. Our children deserve better.

  9. Comment from Ken:

    Just today, the Harvard Education Press released a new book about the Broad Foundation’s dubious prize, the Broad Prize for Urban Education:


    Friends, Harvard is actually a hot-spot of educational stupidity. Earlier this year, I picked up a copy of the book, “Managing School Districts for High Performance,” also published by the Harvard Education Press. The first chapter chronicles the changes made by Taco Bell – yes, TACO BELL – in evolving from a little fast-food chain into the behemoth they are now. The case study of the fast-food giant is supposed to teach us something about how to run public schools. The “bigwigs” Sheila references eat this kind of crap up like it’s birthday cake – then again, they honestly believe public education should follow the path of the private sector in how our schools operate. Here’s a brief summary of the book – heck, I wouldn’t believe it if someone told me the hucksters at Harvard were pushing the Taco Bell model:


    As Steve Buel says, the real important stuff happens in the classroom – but the district is clearly not supporting our teachers in a way that makes learning conducive. Mrs. Allan might think she’s working miracles, and she can most certainly rattle off the so-called gains made by the K8 fiasco, but, as far as I can tell, she’s never had to teach in an inadequately equipped trailer, never had to handle 30 kids at once (day in and day out, nonetheless), she still gets paid way more than our teachers, and, equally important, Mrs. Allan’s job is FAR less stressful.

    I’m tremendously disappointed with Mr. Wynde’s comments about Eli’s outfit. During the last few board meetings, particularly those about high school redesign, Mr. Wynde asked some pretty pointed questions that clearly needed to be asked; I commend him for this. Additionally, Ruth Adkins made some good points on private fundraising and equity. As for the rest…well, I’d like to be polite, so I’ll just say they’re either 1) not doing their homework, 2) haven’t the slightest clue what’s going on, 3) don’t even know they’re at a school board meeting, or 4) they came down with a really bad sore throat and lost their voice. One can only wonder…

  10. Comment from Beth L.:

    This is a great article. I feel lucky that my older daughter got in to a grade 6-8 middle school, judging by the current lack of resources at K-8′s. I think Rebecca Levison, the current Portland Assoc. Teachers president (who, unlike Sarah Singer, has actual classroom experience) may be right when she says that “To ignore this huge disparity in K-8s and move on to high schools is just criminal.”

  11. Comment from marcia:

    Thanks for reminding folks where Sara Allan came from. I was ranting about our school board training with the Broad Foundation back when she joined the district. In my opinion, The Broad foundation influence, and Sara Allan’s presence here, is another reason teachers have not been able to negotiate a contract. Union busting and privatization are Broad’s motivating factors in regards to public education…On their website it used to say something like….”the more seats you can create outside of public education, the better.” Make schools so unappealing that families will go to the charter school or catholic school down the block. Oh, if that doesn’t work..then just close the schools…then rent them out to charter schools and private schools….This is just what happened in my neighborhood, where Kenton was leased out to a catholic school for the next 20 years…This was shortly after the school board went to 2 Broad Foundation trainings.

  12. Comment from Sarah Singer:

    Dear Steve,

    Never once did I joke that being “education free” was a major qualification for managing the high school system design project. This person, who remains, anonymous has grossly misinterpreted my comments. Unfortunately, because this person has remained anonymous, I will never have the chance to sit down to have a respectful dialogue about what I said, and what I didn’t say.

    Because I was not offered an interview for this article, I thought I would take the chance to introduce myself.

    I have tremendous respect for teachers. I believe it is one of the toughest and most noble professions in the world. Again, I NEVER said what this anonymous person insists I said. To be honest, I am hurt that I have been accused of making this statement.

    Just for the record, I believe that having people with a diverse set of skills and perspectives is what makes an organization thrive. The other co-lead on high school design has nearly 30 years experience as a classroom teacher and principal. We compliment each other quite well.

    As for my ideology, you may be surprised to learn that when I was working in “Corporate America” my colleagues nicknamed me, “Comrade Singer” for my somewhat liberal viewpoints. During my time in Corporate America, I learned a lot but I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I desperately wanted to work in a field of social justice. This is why I left. Initially, I planned to work for an LGBT organization but when this didn’t coalesce I found my way to education through an internship with the Chicago Public Schools. I fell in love with the field of education on the spot. The next summer and throughout the course of my graduate experience, I interned for the Chicago Public Education Fund.

    I have not been a teacher. However, I have spent ample time working with young adults. I have coached three basketball teams and mentored and tutored adolescents. During graduate school at Harvard, I spent every Friday for a year in a high school classroom helping low income helping Juniors and Seniors fill out college applications.

    I spend between 60-80 hours a week on this high school design initiative. I think that education is the biggest social justice issue of our time. This is why I do not regret that I spend most of my waking hours at work.

    Sarah Singer

  13. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Comrade Singer ;) , thanks for taking the time to respond. I should have given you the opportunity to respond to that claim before I published it. I sincerely regret this oversight.

    Since you have responded now, I’ve edited the story to include your denial.

    As you know, I have been generally very supportive of the high school plan, which includes critical elements I have spent years advocating for.

    My concern is that the district isn’t applying this kind of unified model to middle grades, which indicates (to me, anyway) a major disconnect in systems planning vision and leadership.

    In the interest in furthering social justice for all grade levels, I hope you will join me in calling for a unified middle school model, just like the high school model you’ve spent so much time working on.

  14. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Sara, In the interests of social justice I would like once again to volunteer my time to help PPS in addressing educational equity issues, particularly those surrounding the middle grades. My qualifications are 42+ years teaching, 5 campaigns running for the PPS school board, 34 years of carefully analyzing and paying attention to PPS including talking to thousands of people and writing and reading extensively on this issue. I have also taught extensively in the following fields: (most often in the middle grades) mathematics, science, social studies, language arts, and elementary school. I have lived in Portland since 1974. Of course, I have a disclaimer — I am interested in real social justice. So I guess I don’t make the cut.

  15. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Yes, I couldn’t agree more with Steve, et. al…..

    We NEED change and more equality for the HS, but once again starting this will shortchange the K-8 mess that exists and shows no evidence of attention. I DO NOT TRUST THE PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT BEEN CLASSROOM TEACHERS. You do not know what teaching is ’till you’ve been responsible for the planning, carry-out and daily grind of working in the classroom. NO education-related experience even comes close to classroom teaching!

    What I fear is that once HS design gets started (without addressing K-8), HS design will usurped by the “next new thing” and there will be no carry through on that, either!!! Just one roll-out, “restructuring” after another, will little follow through, inadequately funded and poorly supported.

    Cynical, less than optimistic? You betcha, based on watching the district fail at rolling out everything from textbook adoptions to K-8.

  16. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Here’s what I would have done, had I been in charge: for 2009-2010 (this school year) re-open four middle schools in poor and minority neighborhoods, say, for example, Portsmouth, Ockley Green, Binnsmead and Gregory Heights, as well as the elementary schools that merged in with them.

    Make all district middle schools more or less the same in terms of course offerings, as is being proposed in the HS design. Make sure teacher experience is spread equitably.

    Keep some K-8s around as options, but convert most back to elementary schools.

    Boom! The K-8 problem is fixed in one school year.

    District saves face by keeping some K-8s around for those who prefer the trade-offs there (smaller communities instead of a broad-based curriculum).

    District also saves money, since they don’t have to figure out how to offer a full middle grade curriculum to 75 kids in an elemiddle.

    Most importantly, district builds trust in communities that it has continuously crapped on over the years.

    As it stands, it’s hard to fault people in the Roosevelt, Jefferson, Madison or Marshall clusters who think clamping down on transfers will just trap them in underfunded, unequal schools, much as the failed experiments in market-oriented enrollment, small schools and K-8s have.

    Middle schools are the perfect test bed for the kind of bold, common sense thinking demonstrated in the HS plan (neighborhood-based attendance and a unified model).

    The following year, start the high school transition, with the K-8 situation fully and fairly addressed, and demonstrating how it can work.

    We missed the boat for this school year, but there’s no reason we couldn’t re-open some middle schools next year. If we don’t see some good faith demonstrated on K-8s, the district will continue to face major political uncertainties in its push to redesign high schools.

  17. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, that is a great first step, but it only gets us back to where we were with several rotten middle schools that don’t address the needs of the children attending them. Yes, we should do it, but then how about some serious work toward addressing the problems that will be recreated, albeit better ones than we have now. So, the middle school problems would not be “fixed”, but in fact, would be just as bad as they have ever been. Still a horrible mess. I know you know this, but the district itself has fallen into the trap of devaluing the education of kids in this middle age, in favor of the primary schools or the more sexy high schools.

  18. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Buel, I was thinking of you when I wrote that… of course you’re right, it wouldn’t fix the middle grade problem, only the K-8 problem. But… a unified model and making sure there was equity in terms of teacher experience and training would go a long way to fixing things. Critical first steps, at any rate.

    Instead of spending all her political capital on high schools, Carole Smith could bank political capital by implementing a unified middle school model.

    An easy win, and a demonstration of good faith. Then, when people freak out about high schools, she could point to how well it worked for middle schools.

    Instead, her team is leaving middle grades an incoherent, two-tiered mess, and telling us to just trust the district on high schools. That’s a pretty huge disconnect in terms of vision and leadership.

  19. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    I don’t see how the high school redesign could possibly be successful when it’s being built on a weak foundation (K-8s). Still, all we get is agreement that the district screwed up but no concrete plans for correcting the problems.

    The district claims that the high school redesign is all about equity but they haven’t even defined equity. Is that a foreign term to Corporate America?

    In today’s Observer “when Carole Smith was asked how PPS will monitor equity after the implementation of the redesign, Smith pointed out that the district already has a number of mechanisms in place to monitor the progress of students, which they
    will continue using.”

    Smith wasn’t asked about monitoring student progress.

    The district’s actions and Carole’s responses make me wonder if we haven’t been told about the biggest idea. Welcome Corporate America. Or maybe the Central Office is just bursting with incompetence.

  20. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    David Wynde may have been unaware of the Broad agenda but he’s certainly familiar with their ideologies. David’s been involved in Lincoln’s Long Term Development Plan which includes leveraging public funding through public/private partnerships.

    Everyone should check out Portland Development Commission’s proposed revitalization of the Goose Hollow neighborhood. It includes a brand new Lincoln.

    How does that fit into the high school redesign?

    The fact that the district is making huge changes in a piecemeal fashion gives the appearance that district leaders know nothing about systems planning.

    They probably do but they’re working within an outside system of privilege.

  21. Comment from marcia:

    David Wynde was on the school board when they traveled out of state to go to a Broad Training. Maybe he stayed home…twice?

  22. Comment from Stephanie:

    I know everybody says, “Not my school” for a number of reasons but when schools get named by name for sudden changes it makes a mom nervous. I cannot speak for the middle school parents at Ockley Green so let me get that out of the way but I like being in a K-8. Before more experiments and changes happen at a school that has had three principals in 3 years check to make sure K-8′s don’t have the potential to work in some places despite the tragic roll out. I am now motivated to talk to more middle school parents about this for a balanced perspective however. PPS certainly needs to provide the middle schoolers and teachers at Ockley and all PPS schools what they need to be prepared for high school before or as a redesign occurs.

  23. Comment from Susan:

    Stephanie, you won’t be the only parent to balk at the possibility of dismantling your K-8 back to a K-5 or middle school. Unfortunately, the middle schools that Steve would have reopened this year are the K-8s that have the room and the student enrollment to offer some of the programs so sorely lacking at the smaller K-8s. Simply reopening these middle school options doesn’t address the problems those middle schools were facing before the reorganization. The amount of money it took to transition the NE and North schools into K-8s is staggering, not to mention the unpaid time and emotion of staff and parents. PPS wouldn’t save money with Steve’s plan – it would simply be throwing away more money on moving and space planning consultants that should be spent on funding programs. Ensuring teacher experience is spread equitably is impossible since union rules tie teachers to buildings, not to programs where they are most qualified. The district really owes the K-8 schools the chance at success. This means finding the funding to make those schools equitable–with neighborhood K-5s and middle schools –by providing adequate space and programs.

    The piecemeal way the K-8 reorganization was done just adds to the confusion and financial waste. If the whole district was struggling with how to fund K-8s so that its students benefit at each grade level (not just making the building safer and creating better discipline at the 6-th-8th level), it would be a whole lot easier to create equity. The HS Redesign Team could gain enormous support from K-8 parents if it could give us concrete examples of how the redesign will definitely (not hopefully) support the K-8s that are currently struggling.

  24. Comment from Rita:

    I think the K-8 discussion on this site alone shows how complicated the problem is and how difficult it will be to resolve, especially given the lamentable budgetary climate. All the more reason that the District needs to focus real attention on it and start developing a strategy to provide our kids with the kind of educational experience they deserve and need.

    That, of course, presumes that PPS has a conception of what that educational experience should look like. As far as I can tell, they don’t beyond the barest minimum. And many schools are struggling to provide even that. Meanwhile, life moves on for another cohort of kids who continue to suffer from lousy planning.

    The HS redesign team at least has attempted to create a common core curriculum that all students will be guaranteed (although it remains a mystery to me how a small focus high school will be able to provide it). I think this is a step in the right direction and looks pretty uncontroversial to me. Minimal, but uncontroversial.

    There remain lots of potential problems, of course, including the likelihood that inequities will continue to exist if school foundations are left intact. But most germane to this discussion is the question of whether kids coming out of an impoverished K-8 education will be prepared to cope, never mind thrive, with even the minimal curriculum.

    If kids haven’t had access to real middle school level science, complete with a lab, will they be prepared to make the leap into biology in 9th grade? If they haven’t had a decent library, will they have the reading, writing, and research skills they will need in HS social studies and lit? If they haven’t had any foreign language, will they be able to get sufficient proficiency to qualify for college entrance? (When you don’t even start until 14, fluency is rarely even a possibility.) Without any experience in music, art, or theater, will they even be able (or willing) to take advantage of those electives or extra-curricular groups once they hit HS? Without any sports, will they be able to compete at the HS level? Without any exposure to hands-on vocational stuff, will they have any clue what kind of “career pathway” they want to pursue? If they don’t have early exposure to higher levels of math and science, aren’t we condemning a lot of kids to limited career horizons?

    More to the point, are ANY of our kids — outside of the West Hills — getting the kind of educational experiences that will give them the life skills and educational experiences that will set them up to become self-sufficient, productive, creative employees, citizens, and parents that we need them to be? Or are we producing a generation of test-taking, uncritical automatons who have been trained mostly to sit down, shut up, and follow directions? Yeah, I know it’s pretty much always been thus, but we used to at least pretend that education was supposed to teach kids how to think. These days, we don’t even pretend to value thinking, much less teach kids to do it.

    Which I guess explains a lot about why this country is the mess it is.

    The high schools need to support the K-8s, but probably more important, the K-8s need to support the high schools. For the foreseeable future, most of them won’t. I think that’s a problem. And I want to know what the District plans to actually DO to fix it. And WHEN.

  25. Comment from Steve Buel:

    You are so right, Rita.

    In order to fix it, they gotta get it. They don’t get it so they ain’t gonna fix it.

  26. Comment from east vs. west:

    “are ANY of our kids — outside of the West Hills — getting the kind of educational experiences that will give them the life skills and educational experiences that will set them up to become self-sufficient, productive, creative employees, citizens, and parents that we need them to be?”

    Seriously? Let’s not overgeneralize here. Do you really, honestly believe that no students from any other parts of PDX are having success, getting into colleges from other schools? Are there inequities? Absolutely. Money talks and does buy privileges, FTE and more. But, there is achievement at at every school in this district. There are great things happening across this district. It’s just too easy to blame poverty for performance issues.

  27. Comment from marcia:

    east vs west…I can only speak from experience as a parent. My daughter went to Roosevelt when they were changing to the Small Schools model…She graduated with a full ride scholarship…but she realized what she was missing in her education while there….for example a SPANISH TEACHER to teach 4th year Spanish in a Spanish Immersion School…REALLY! No class…they told her to take it at U of P…only she couldn’t because they were on a different schedule..She got to UofO and has been successful despite the failings of public education in Portland. She just has to work harder.

  28. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    The vasts majority of schools west of the Willamette increase their budget — some quite significantly, more than 30 percent at one — through direct funding.

    Say what you will about “achievement,” local school foundations guarantee that wealthy students get the most goodies in our supposedly public school system. That’s a fact. Until we reform that system, it doesn’t matter how much hand waving we do about equity and achievement, we’re going to continue to have a two-tiered system.

    Re. re-converting K-8s back to middle schools, I think you’re correct, Stephanie and Susan. Probably the best bet is what Buel has been saying for years (decades?), and what we’re finally doing with high schools: set a baseline of what constitutes a middle grade education, then make sure every student has access to it.

    Schools like Ockley could have a complete middle school component… if only we knew exactly what that is. If the standard is Jackson or E/W Sylvan, we’ve got a long way to go.

  29. Comment from east vs. west:

    I admit I don’t know the stats, but my guess is that the title finds lower income schools receive equal, if not exceed, the amounts raised by foundations. I am happily corrected if I am wrong. My point, though, is that the middle ground exists between the haves and the have-nots. We have to be careful not to use the extremes as our measures.

  30. Comment from marcia:

    The extremes would be schools that auction off trips to Paris and mansions in Alameda to fund teacher postions.

  31. Comment from east vs. west:

    And hundreds of thousands in title funds do not fund teacher positions?

  32. Comment from Susan:

    I believe Title I funds have rules attached (to meet school improvement plans?), so those funds need to be used for FTE such as reading specialists and to lower classroom size at the K-2 level. Please someone step in who knows more. Because if Title I were the great equalizer, then we’d be able to compare a Foundation-funded school to a Title I-funded school with the same population and see equity in curriculum.

    Time for a comparison on how much each school gets in either Title I or Foundation, or both, FTE and who that FTE is or can be used?

  33. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Susan, you’re correct regarding the use of Title I funds. There are rules that require the use of the funds to supplement, not supplant.

    Historically, building principals have left about $500,000 unspent annually because they were too lazy or incompetent to plan for the use of the funds.

    Any kind of funding comparisons between schools for the haves v. have nots must include the hidden costs where poor schools subsidize wealthier schools.

    Since schools are allocated FTE rather than dollars for staffing, and low-income area schools have teachers who are less experienced, FTE funding is shifted to high SES schools.

    Also, an analysis done by the Oregonian a while back showed that there was $1 per square foot difference between what was spent on repairs at high end and low end schools.

    In addition, district resources are often used to provide staff to support activities/plannning at schools in affluent neighborhoods.

    The Goosehollow redevelopment plan that has PPS name on it along with the PDC, calls for building a new Lincoln High School. I think the estimated cost of the building is $62 million. How much has the district spent on that plan when you include staff time?

    I don’t really need to see a funding analysis done to know that poor kids are getting screwed in PPS.

    The facilities reports make it very clear. Schools in poor neighborhoods are deprived of fire safety systems, drinking fountains and toilets. It doesn’t get more basic than that.

  34. Comment from workingmom:

    Currently, our Foundation funds 2.5 full time employees. Those are real jobs for educators. As well, money raised provides technology instruction, test preparation, music, P.E. and counseling. All things to help the children and while I agree that all children should have access to these things when we see the poorly run school system not willing or able to create these opportunities it is our responsibility as parents to do what we can to pool the resources in our community and support our school.
    Also, one third of all funds raised goes directly to the Portland Schools Foundation, an umbrella organization that provides
    grants to close achievement gaps between students throughout the school district. One third to employ educators, a third to enrich our kids and a third to help others. Sounds fair to me.
    How is it that when eastsiders support and fight for their schools it’s positive but when west siders do it’s perceived as negative? We aren’t supposed to do whatever we can to support our kids and our communities and our schools? Makes no sense.

  35. Comment from Susan:

    Actually, 1/3 of all Foundation funds AFTER the first $10,000 goes to PSF and PSF funds grants, not FTE. This isn’t an eastside/westside issue. There are some eastside schools that fundraise huge Foundation dollars. The K-8 reorg, does, however, affect more eastside schools. Parents advocating for their children’s school is necessary. It’s too bad we’re allowing the district to narrow our focus on fighting only for what’s best for our school and not the district as a whole.

  36. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Eastside, westside, all around the town…let’s not forget North Portland, inner SE, outer SE–how sad that all this “I got mine” “I want yours” stuff causes such infighting and division, cultural/social/economic divides—and takes the focus off what the PPS admin is up to so they can hatch one new “plan” “redesign” after another. Can’t blame those who HAVE for wanting to keep it. Can’t blame those who want the same thing for their kids.

    It would be great if we could all unite and demand the district brass execute plans that are concise and clear, with the $$ behind to support such plans. AND THAT THE ELEMENT OF EQUITY is clearly spelled out in the plans.

    HS redesign is already a given, and much of it already in plans. I’d go to a community meeting if I thought it would make one ounce of difference.

    Sorry for the ramble, just makes me terribly sad to see such a good school system in such terrible shape.

  37. Comment from marcia:

    The Schools Foundation is not an answer except for the “rich” schools who do the funding and the now short listed few “poor” schools who get to apply for the leftover crumbs. And You are right Merry Sunshine. It does distract us…but when you work in a schoolo that can’t even chase after crumbs, well…too bad..so sad?

  38. Comment from Steve Buel:

    There is much more to the have and have not issue in PPS. Personally, I never cared if schools raised money to support thier schools better. I think that is a positive. What I feel is unfair is that children in poorer neighborhoods get a worse education even before the money is raised to help out the more well-to-do schools.
    It is not about equal money, but equal educational opportuities. A 6th grade kid who can barely read who has a mom in jail and a dad on drugs needs a completely different school experience than a kid who reads a ways above grade level and has a mom who is a doctor and a dad who is a lawyer and who can genuinely afford to support their kid’s education in all the intangible ways. Throwing the poorer kid into a school setting which is a behavior and educational mess is not condusive to equal educational opportunity. Yet, that is what we do day in and day out, particularly in the middle grades. After all, why do we punish the kid for the things his or her parents have done? Every child deserves equal opportunities in a PUBLIC education system. Now, my complaints with the well-to-do parent organizations in PPS is that they have manipulated the political system to make sure their schools have the best opportuniities. Basically, what they have done for the last 20 years is to make sure people on the school board are of the same ilk. At least someone could make an argument if it was the parents who had problems who suffered for their lack of energy or poor circumstances in supporting themselves, their education, and their families, but it is not those people who suffer. It is kids who really haven’t done a darn thing to receive a worse education. And as a public education system being supported by tax dollars each child should be treated equally within the system and this means meeting each of their needs as best we can, whether that means a decent TAG program or a decent drug and alcohol counseling program. It ain’t just about the money.

  39. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Steve B—oh, yeah, thanks for bringing up the fact that it’s the Portland PUBLIC Schools. Hmmm….kinda forgot that part! Good post about EQUALITY.

  40. Comment from Stephanie:

    Agreed, great post Steve!
    I am going to attempt to paraphrase some of the things I have read and perhaps you wise people can help me understand better.
    I know it is not this simple but this is the read from the last several posts: It sounds like the principals need mentoring on how to use title 1 funds, grant writers need to be identified in the teacher/parent community to request PSF funds, and overall some community sensitivity training to how we stop punishing children for adult mistakes. Again, not that simple but those are big issues with potentially simple solutions.
    I was sitting with a parent and a staff person last week and this staff and I both have years of experience working with families experiencing poverty and disabilities. After a few stories about a child that was present for his parent’s murder, kids rescued from sex rings sold into it by their parents, children whose brains were basically marinated in alcohol in utero, and the horrible stigmas additionally heaped on these kids after the fact in the community this parent sitting with us admitted she had no idea these things were as common as they are. I see these kids a few times a month but a teacher has to try and teach them every day. On the flip side, I will admit there are some teachers that have protective services on speed dial and hard working struggling families are torn apart but this goes back to that community sensitivity training piece.
    My whole gripe with the east vs. west is really just the lack of knowledge about the situation I have encountered from parents at the HS redesign meetings. We raised like $1000 bucks last year at my school and we were all high-fiving at that accomplishment. When I find out that some schools raise much much much more than that it does feel like a kick in the gut. Not because it is not the right thing to do for parents to support their school but that some of those parents are my North Portland neighbors taking their resources and child out of the neighborhood. I have become more understanding in the last few months about those who have chosen school choice even though I hate that it exists at all. What I would like to see is those parents that have won the lottery and have the resources to take advantage of it to become more curious about why this has created so many problems. I have been uplifted by the great K parents that came in this year and one parent talked about fighting for, “complete schools close to home.” perhaps the winds are changing a bit.

  41. Comment from workingmom:

    A 6th grade kid who can barely read who has a mom in jail and a dad on drugs needs a completely different school experience than a kid who reads a ways above grade level and has a mom who is a doctor and a dad who is a lawyer and who can genuinely afford to support their kid’s education in all the intangible ways.

    How will any of the changes implemented or proposed address this at all? it seems that much of what will occur under the reorg will do just the opposite.

    Throwing the poorer kid into a school setting which is a behavior and educational mess is not condusive to equal educational opportunity.

    What do you see as the solution? Again, I don’t see how any of the current or proposed solutions address this in the least.

    I agree that all children deserve “equal opportunities in a PUBLIC education system” as you say but then you also seem to be saying that what many children need is something equal but different. Is that correct? How does school choice, for example, not address opportunity? How does having an identical curriculum across the high schools help at all those who need as you put it, a “completely different school experience”? Isn’t that the underpinning of a magnet idea instead?

  42. Comment from workingmom:

    Sorry…messed up html that’s what I get for posting at work ; )

  43. Comment from Stephanie:

    workingmom ~ I want to hear what the teachers and folks with history on this have to say first but just wanted to say I appreciate the dialogue and genuine curiosity to learn more on the topic while also expressing your side.

  44. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Workngmom, thanks for your questions and comments. I agree with Stephanie. If you would really like to discuss this at length I am in the phone book. But here is the short answer of some things we can do in the schools.

    The problems are huge but there are some definite things we can do to help in the middle grades.
    1) Restructure the way we handle discipline in schools with serious problems. This would allow kids a better chance to be in classrooms which are not out of control thus giving them a better chance to learn.
    2) Create schools with electives, athletics, and activities tied to the school which much better engage children in school (the athletics and activities should be coached or led by teachers in the school and sponsored by the district).
    3) Identify children with the most serious problems in reading and writing and set up programs which REALLY address these needs.
    4) Greatly increase technology and library resources to better pull children into learning.
    5) Increase counselors to help children deal with their homelife and other problems and genuinely let counselors counsel — not administrate nor schedule etc.
    6) Increase P.E. and support much healthier lunches and breakfasts to help childrens’ general health and attentiveness.
    7) Relegate test prep to a single program and encourage teachers to broaden their curriculum in directions which make the most sense to them making students more interested and teachers more engaged.

    These are a few, some of which cost no increased resources in middle schools. The whole idea is that often children in less well to do neighborhoods need stronger incentives and support WITHIN the school in order to have the chance to be successful. Or in
    otherwords, an equal opportunity to be successful.

    And you are correct, what the district is presently doing will have little impact on the things I am talking about. Take care.

  45. Comment from Rose:

    Steve Buel

    I have huge respect for you (are we going to meet in person one day?) but I do have concerns/questions with some of your ideas. Can we discuss them?

    “1) Restructure the way we handle discipline in schools with serious problems. This would allow kids a better chance to be in classrooms which are not out of control thus giving them a better chance to learn.”

    I see teachers struggle with behavior kids all the time. Many of these kids have organic issues from drug exposure, trauma, foster care, abuse, etc. We could increase the expulsion rate but that would just mean more kids ghettoized in “special” schools with less opportunities. The truth is poverty is tied to higher percentages of special needs kids.

    Rather than increase penalties for misbehavior, I suggest higher intervention , diagnosis and IEP referral. There are tons of free programs schools can and should ask for help (Friends of the Children, Mentor Portland, etc). Bringing in community resources costs nothing and can make a big difference for a child.

    Smaller class sizes also make a huge difference in how teachers can manage a high special needs caseload.

    “2) Create schools with electives, athletics, and activities tied to the school which much better engage children in school (the athletics and activities should be coached or led by teachers in the school and sponsored by the district).”

    Couldn’t agree more. Many poor schools no longer offer sports.

    “3) Identify children with the most serious problems in reading and writing and set up programs which REALLY address these needs.”

    I’m a big nincompoop, but what programs? You’ll find fevered debate among professionals. And these programs are very expensive. Lindamood, one of the most highly rated, costs at least a thousand a month per child, because it requires one on one with a trained specialist.

    My feeling is that if it was that easy to teach a learning disabled child to read we all could do it. That they are poor should not lead to the assumption bad parenting is at fault; it is more likely that proper diagnosis of a learning disability such as dyslexia was not made. Schools do not offer such services, and poor parents cannot afford them. In some cases it is a matter of making sure the child gets eyeglasses!

    Having a fund or availing private donors to pay for evaluations of poor kids would be a boon.

    “4) Greatly increase technology and library resources to better pull children into learning.”


    “5) Increase counselors to help children deal with their homelife and other problems and genuinely let counselors counsel — not administrate nor schedule etc.”

    This is HUGE hole in the district. There are multiple avenues for schools to get counselors, including OHP and school-based grants. But these resources are often not pursued, they are fickle, they are short term.

    Also, a sidenote: schools which make a big deal about pull-outs (because of test prep and driven teachers) actively discourage children from seeing counselors because it is so obvious they are leaving. Schools which make it acceptable to come and go seem better to me. Kids should feel at ease seeing the therapist.

    The big elephant in the room is confidentiality. I have overhead teachers actively violating the confidentiality of children, even to other parents (and in front of other children). Not all do it, but I think schools really need to focus on this issue. A child needs to feel their privacy is respected.

    “6) Increase P.E. and support much healthier lunches and breakfasts to help childrens’ general health and attentiveness.”

    Amen, amen. You know how much teacher complaints of ADHD boys goes down when they can exercise? I have heard it often. Send a letter home saying the kids might get wet and muddy. We won’t care!! Send them home tired and happy.

    “7) Relegate test prep to a single program and encourage teachers to broaden their curriculum in directions which make the most sense to them making students more interested and teachers more engaged.”

    I’m guessing many teachers find prep and autonomy exclusive. But I agree. There is more than one way to teach the writing requirements, for example.

    The last issue is all this needs to happen inside a thriving school with many opportunities. It is important to avoid a purely therapeutic model for poor kids; they need good science, math, ap, music and art just like the richer kids. Sometimes having a good education and good choices is the best kind of therapy (speaking as a person who was raised very poor)

  46. Comment from Super Teach:

    Well stated ideas, Steve! So sound and logical. I must say that the emotional support piece is so huge. Having additional counseling support in my building this year has hugely improved the climate of our building. Many problems that bubble up are being dealt with more appropriately by a counselor when strict discipline is not the most appropriate response. Kids are also being identified to be proactively supported so that they can get some better skills to function in a classroom/playground/hallway setting. It has made a major difference in climate.

  47. Comment from workingmom:

    This is a very interesting discussion overall. I’ve been an impoverished student in a failing school and then later a middle class parent in a failing school and the two experiences have led me to be conflicted and perplexed instead of clear and decisive about solutions. I think that schools can play an important role in identifying problems and advocating for children (they helped me get free eyeglasses through the Kiwanis, helped my mother get my brother testing and counseling and of course, we both relied on free breakfast and lunch etc) but on the academic part I’m less sure what should be done. I benefited from a magnet school type system in the midwest that had various programs (performing arts school, science based school and vocational/technical, etc) and a college preparatory high school that offered all the toughest courses but entrance was based on a rigorous exam (and still is). My mother payed the landlord 5 dollars a week (a fortune!) to tutor me for the exam (she had been a nurse) and I got in. It changed my life. My brother left school in 7th grade and never returned. He married a woman who also did not graduate, they have a grown son who left school in ninth grade and is functionally illiterate and a daughter who is heading the same direction. I read this blog because I’m forever trying to wrap my mind around all this and I truly appreciate what goes on here.

  48. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Rose, the discipline piece is too complicated to discuss in the space we have here. But it is not based on suspensions and punishments but giving kids choices — some not as good as others. But we also need to get much more serious than we are about making classrooms places of learning in the middle grades. (Interestingly, though I am not advocating this, in the state of Washington it is a misdemeanor for a student to disrupt a class. The police can be called by the teacher and the student will be taken to juvenile detention.)

    Middle grade students who can’t hardly read: Six kids, one teacher, around a table for one hour a day. (The Dorothy Holy Cross method. Taught 40 years, a terrific reading teacher. She said it works. I believe her.)
    I would also add a reading lab where kids who are struggling spend a large portion of their day until they are able to read decently well.

  49. Comment from Rita:

    Can I just add a cautionary note about disciplinary practices in schools? I know you’re not advocating criminalizing disruptive behaviors, Steve, but I’m horrified to say that it is a growing trend in American education and promises to have devastating effects on children.

    First, and most important, putting a child in the juvenile justice system (AKA delinquency) rarely has beneficial effects and typically sets up a negative dynamic that can destroy a kid’s life before s/he’s even started living it.

    Multnomah County is actually a national leader in alternatives to detention for kids, but we’re swimming against the national tide. There are reports of kids as young as 5 or 6 being arrested in schools — arrested! including handcuffs — for tantrumming in class. Admittedly, the most stunning examples come primarily from bastions of progressivism like Florida and Texas, but nation-wide it’s not unusual for 10 and 12 year olds to be criminalized for acting out in school.

    Lest anyone misunderstand me, I am not saying that disruptive behavior in classrooms should be allowed to continue, but I am saying that we need to stop resorting to mindless punishment as a response.

    As my wise friend, Stephanie, says, “Behavior is communication.” We need to figure out what a child is trying to communicate through this behavior and then respond appropriately.

  50. Comment from Steve Buel:

    (middle schools now) It is kind of like the history of Measure 11 in Oregon. The schools haven’t dealt well with disrupting behavior so the boom is coming down. I am advocating that schools spend much more time and energy working on solutions to this problem. And the solution is not to have better trained teachers, as many people now advocate. It is to develop systems whereby students are guaranteed reasonably orderly classrooms and schools regardless of the type of neighborhood the school serves.

    Many kids have serious problems which need therapy, counseling and other sensible responses. But many kids just need clear boundaries and consistent consequences. But overall, all kids should have the right to a decent school experience free from disruptions. The major right for a child should be to get a quality education, not to disrupt someone else’s education. And the schools, each teacher, and each administrator should work together to guarantee that right for all children.

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  52. Comment from Concerned Citizen:

    Just as a point of reference, Sarah Allan’s children will be untouched by the K-8 inequity as they [live on the west side].

    I wonder if she would defend the current status quo if her children were in Shelia Wilcox’s class at Astor Elementary? Something tells me maybe not…

    Note: this comment was edited to protect the privacy of students. –Ed.

  53. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Does anyone remember how the KPMG audit was funded?