In the news: Botana weighs in

10:02 am

The Oregonian ran an op-ed today by Xavier Botana, chief academic officer of Portland Public Schools, in response to a January 4 editorial criticizing high school system redesign plans.

Botana writes that “current plans would guarantee a well-rounded core program at each community high school. And those plans aren’t based on wishful thinking — they’re realistically budgeted, based on current resources and forecasted enrollment. They’re also based on what today’s students need.”

He also writes frankly about “small but real tradeoffs” required to bring comprehensive high schools to all students. Botana talks about having ninth grade academies at all schools, which have been shown to reduce dropouts, but he does not mention doing anything about the gross inequities still present in the middle grades.

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

filed under: High Schools, Media

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23 Responses

  1. Comment from Rita:

    I’m glad to see that the District has responded to the O’s editorial. I’m especially glad to see Botana spell out the kinds of curricular impacts that the attempt to create equitable offerings across the District would have on the existing “strong” high schools.

    This is exactly the kind of specificity that was missing in the December forums.

    Apart from my own (considerable) concerns about this redesign, I wish the District would do a better job at making their own case. Instead of dancing around the equity issue, the District needs to address it head on. They should be much more explicit about the current status of high school curricula across different neighborhoods (for example, a student at Lincoln gets to choose among something like 150 courses; a student at Roosevelt gets about 50). Then they can show how marginal cuts in some schools will allow ALL high schools to have a strong core curriculum.

    How many self-defined “progressives” would feel comfortable publicly arguing against trading off 3 electives at Wilson in order to make Roosevelt a real high school?

    There will, no doubt, be some who will oppose any change just because, but based on conversations I’ve had with otherwise well informed people, I think that most people genuinely don’t know how impoverished some schools are. How would they know if no one is telling them?

    I know it would require that the District publicize embarrassing truths, but if they don’t, we might as well hang it up now and just resign ourselves to another failure. This city is facing a stark choice: make some real changes to balance enrollment and ensure equitable offerings or ratify PPS’s de facto segregation into haves and have nots. If you can look at yourself in the mirror and be ok with that, then ok. But know that the city will live with the consequences.

  2. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I really liked the specificity in the op-ed piece. Nicely done actually. But he glossed over a couple of points. One, he talks about supporting all high schools at 1350. But, as I understand it, that means some will close. Whoops — guess it isn’t all high schools. He says “some would grow, some would shrink slightly” well, and some would close. Didn’t say that.

    But the worst distortion was in using the progress at Cleveland as an example of what could take place at other high schools. Don’t remember Cleveland really being that bad actually — nothing like Marshall, Madison, and Jeff now for instance. When he talks about Cleveland being able to be reproduced in other parts of the city he talks about the parent involvement. Maybe we can move Sellwood and East Moreland to the Marshall attendance area.

    Anyway, it was an improvement over what we have been getting. Hope they keep showing improvement — heck maybe someday they will reach benchmarks.

  3. Comment from cb:

    The program PPS is recommending states that each neighborhood school will be guaranteed “the means” for between 10 to 16 Advanced Placement classes. I understand this to mean that PPS will parcel out FTE to each school (enough for AP and enriching electives) but they are not earmarking FTE for these specific purposes. Can someone explain how PPS can assure us of 10-16 AP classes when they also maintain that each school community will be able to determine how they use FTE for their specific programs, pathways, courses, etc. For instance, if there are 10 students prepared to take AP World History and 35 students requiring a regular history course, that school’s Principal can choose to put FTE toward the greater need, in effect denying those 10 students an opportunity for AP-level study. This is currently happening in our K-8 schools, and I would like to know how we can keep it from continuing to happen at the high schools.

    Is it truethat an International Baccalaureate (IB) program comprises an entire 4-year curriculum where students may choose to complete the full program or only selected parts of it but the school must maintain the full IB curriculum. If this is the case this means, in effect, that IB courses will always available to students in high schools offering IB, while AP courses may be available only if sufficient demand is present in any given year. How can we strive toward the goal of equity and guarantee that the AP and IB programs achieve parity if not equity?

  4. Comment from Rita:

    Just a quick clarification: the IB is a 2 year program (jr & sr years), though the students need to take appropriate courses prior to that in order to be ready for the advanced work. Students can take the full IB diploma, including tests as well as classes, but it is extremely onerous. Many more students take some courses than do the full IB diploma.

    Your point is well taken, though. The IB program has to be certified by an international body, so it takes a long time to set up (I’ve heard 5 years), is expensive to run, and has to remain intact in order to remain certified. AP, on the other hand, are individual courses, based on teacher certification. They will, therefore, be dependent on staffing and decisions within the building as much as demand.

    One of the things that I noted during the Dec. forums was the occasional reference to building autonomy, including the continuation of school foundations. While over-centralization should be avoided, we’re nowhere near that in Portland. Quite the contrary. We’ve had far too little central control and have glorified the resulting variations as an expression of differing “communities,” ignoring the impact of socio-economic disparities on growing inequities and making a school’s survival far too dependent on the competence and personality of a principal.

  5. Comment from Zarwen:

    If Botana’s piece contained so much more “specificity” than any of the material at the meetings, then PPS leaders must truly be world-class artists at saying nothing over a period of an hour or more. My impression after reading it was of a doctor telling a patient, “There, there,” but not prescribing any medicine.

    One thing I was glad to see was that many of the commentators at oregonlive kept hammering the fact that this is really just a distraction to keep PPS off the hook for fixing the K-8 debacle.

  6. Comment from cb:

    Thank you Rita for helping me understand what IB is all about. This type of information (among so much more) is the specifics that PPS needs to address before going forward with this plan.

    They also need to be upfront with what the boundary changes and no transfer policy will entail…for their plan to be fully implemented on the first day of school, September 2011, all kids will have to attend or return their new neighborhood school. All students, regardless of being sophomores, juniors and seniors. No grandfathering. No choice to finish high school in the same school where you started. In order for the full program to be up and running, a full contingent of students (all 4 years) needs to be in house.

  7. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    I’m curious about how this will all play out with the teacher’s contract. Is the district extending the length of time spent in negotiations because of the redesign?

    What effect will the redesign have on teacher licensure?

  8. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    One of Botana’s statements concerns me: “And those plans aren’t based on wishful thinking — they’re realistically budgeted, based on current resources and forecasted enrollment.” That’s just wiggle room.

    Current resources? What if measures 66 and 67 fail?

    Forecasted enrollment? How accurate has that been in the past?

    DeJong (Magellan’s partner on the PPS Facilities Assessment) developed enrollment projections for the Seattle School District.

    Seattle developed a new School Assignment Plan similar to the high school redesign here.

    The Seattle district closed schools in 2008/09 but needs the space now. They have to reopen, build or buy portables.

    Check out Seattle’s FAQ on Capacity Planning and Management
    Phase 1:

    On p. 3 of the FAQs it says the range to reopen a closed school is between $3 and $10 million.

    On p. 6 of the FAQs it says the range to reopen a closed school is between $6 and $13 million.

    Let’s forget the money for a minute. Outside of increasing the class options for students in high poverty schools, what differences can students and parents expect to see in this redesign?

  9. Comment from Zarwen:

    On teacher licensure–none. That is regulated by the Dept. of Ed. in Salem.

    As far as the contract is concerned, the old one stays in effect until a new one is adopted. So if the contract is not settled by Spring 2011 (could they really drag it out that long?), the current language in the contract would govern the transfers and reassignments of teachers. If PPS wants new rules governing that, they will need to negotiate that as part of the new contract, and they would need to settle before the redesign “goes live.” I fail to see how dragging out the contract negotiations would give them any advantage related to the redesign.

    And I hate using the moniker “redesign.” I think a more accurate name would probably be “next debacle.” After all, most of the folks in charge of this project were also responsible for the K-8 “redesign,” and we all know how that turned out!

  10. Comment from Zarwen:

    Oops—my last comment was in response to Carrie’s first comment!

  11. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Zarwen, I realize that the state licenses teachers. I was thinking more about teachers being assigned outside of their area of licensure. Are there enough teachers licensed in the areas that will now be offered to all students?

  12. Comment from Zarwen:

    When I was teaching, about a decade ago, it was legal to assign a teacher to teach outside his/her licensed
    area(s) for up to two periods a day. If that is still true, the district may well use that loophole to their advantage.

  13. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Carrie wrote: “Outside of increasing the class options for students in high poverty schools, what differences can students and parents expect to see in this redesign?

    A really good question. My answer, at least at first, is “not much, but what a great starting point.”

    Equal opportunity has been my rallying cry for ages. It has always seemed absurd for the district to pretend to be concerned about the achievement gap while such a blatant opportunity gap casts its shadow over nearly half the district.

    But equal opportunity will only begin to address the overwhelming effects of poverty in the lives of children and persistent institutional racism.

    While some self-segregation would be ameliorated, we still live in a segregated city.

    Lincoln and Wilson will still be overwhelmingly white, and whatever school ends up serving North and inner Northeast Portland will be at least plurality non-white.

    I’ve proposed modifications to the transfer policy as proposed that would allow poor students to transfer out of their neighborhood schools, and wealthy students to transfer into poor schools (perhaps enticed by an IB program or some such).

    This would act as both a demonstration of good faith, preventing the feeling of poor students trapped in bad schools, and as a voluntary desegregation tool.

    Put the best we’ve got where students need it the most, and most students will want to stay anyway, and the current flow of students and funding from poor neighborhoods to rich ones could be reversed to some degree.

  14. Comment from h.j.:

    Does anyone have the figures for how much individual high schools raise through their Foundations/PTA’s? I read Lincoln raised half a million last year through their Foundation. Even if 1/3 of it goes to The Portland Public Schools Foundation, that certainly buys Lincoln a lot more FTE than the rest of the high schools. And that doesn’t even begin to address PTA money that can be applied to special programs. CB, I’m not convinced that transfer families will go back willingly to their neighborhood high schools just because PPS demands it. Does anyone know if PPS has surveyed transfer families to find out how they would respond if open enrollment was eliminated?

  15. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Here’s another place where more specificity from the district would help: will existing transfers be grandfathered (one would hope!), or will they be forced immediately back to their neighborhood school, as some fear?

    I have always advocated for the former; this is why two years ago I proposed starting with elementary schools and phasing upwards. Far less disruptive for all, and much more logical and progressive.

    But the elephant in the room is the big facilities bond the board wants to get going on. They can’t do that until they know how many high schools they’re going to have, and they can’t know that until they get high school redesign settled.

    Again, not the order I’d be doing things in if it were up to me, especially given what an incoherent mess our middle grades are in.

  16. Comment from cb:

    Hi Steve,
    I don’t know how PPS can allow students to be grandfathered into their current schools. In order for their program to be up and running on the first day of school Sept 2011, they need a full ~1350 students at all grades in the building. That’s the only way they can support the full curriculum, the electives, the 2 languages, the 10-16 AP courses.

    If they try to phase it in year-by-year they will have another K-8 type fiasco where there are not enough students to support the program. Not enough students, not enough FTE, no electives, AP, etc.

  17. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    cb, this question should be addressed by PPS. I hope they address it soon, because it is certainly one of the most frightening questions for families with current (or near future) HS students. (I know one student at a school rumored to be closing who is very demoralized, and wanting to transfer out before her school closes.)

    My plan would not be to attempt all four grades at once, but phase it in starting in ninth grade. I think it would be a disaster to force families back to their neighborhood schools in the middle of a four-year HS career.

    Actually, my plan would have been to conceive of a full K-12 system first, and then plan a phased implementation. But PPS has yet to demonstrate any kind of system-wide K-12 vision.

    This HS plan is the closest they’ve come, but it only affects a quarter of the total system.

  18. Comment from cb:

    I agree, it would be so incredibly painful to have to move while a junior or senior in high school. But can you see any way around that? I can’t. Without the critical mass there can be no program without huge expenditure … and we don’t have the funding. PPS needs to address this. They need to be up front in telling us that all students will have to return to their neighborhood (or new neighborhood) school, OR they will have to show us how they can support/fund/provide that full and enriching program without enough students in the building.

  19. Comment from Zarwen:

    This is why I think the whole thing is smoke and mirrors. It’s not about “redesigning” anything . . . it’s just a song-and-dance prelude to the announcement of school closures so they can sell the properties to the developers. I will be totally shocked if there are any significant changes to enrollment policies or course offerings at any of the remaining schools.

    Sorry if I’m too cynical for some of you out there, but I’ve been watching PPS since long before the K-8 debacle (which was already fixed, according to PPS!), and everything I’ve seen so far points to the outcome I described. We’ve already seen school board members hedging on the E & T policy . . . if that isn’t the FIRST thing changed, then nothing else will either.

  20. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I am going with a combination of ineptness and trying to postpone the pain of making a real decision.

    Every time I talk to an administrator about the redesign they say the plan they are putting forth might not be the plan. When someone asked a specific question at the meeting I was at the answer was generally, “We’re not sure about that yet.” Lots of wiggle room to go with the political aspects I guess.

  21. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    As a teacher who has spent the last 500 some odd days without a contract, I would like to say that you can be sure that this farce of a redesign plan has had an impact on negotiations. Correction, non-negotiations. There are none. The district should have ONE focus right now. And that is negotiating a contract with its teachers (but wait, I think their lead negotiator quit). And, ironically enough, there is a post on the PPS employee web page soliciting our help in finding a new one. You cannot make this stuff up, folks.

  22. Comment from John B. Tang:

    With all due respect to Mr. Xavier Botana whom everyone in the upper echelon at PPS seems to be looking up to for decision-making, there is a huge learning curve for him. I think he does have an idea and vision for PPS but it will take a while to learn about the City of Portland and the State of Oregon. He reminds me a little bit of Dr. Jack Bierwirth who came from the East Coast and Jack did not really appreciate Portland very much. Mr. Botana is a little bit on the arrogant side very much like Jack but he is the best we have to work with Special Ed and ESL to turn things around for these students. Let’s hope he continues to get the support he needs to do his job and/or he is happy with Portland to stay a for a little while to get the job done. I would say give this guy a chance before he gets turned off too much by us.

  23. Comment from Steve Buel:

    PPS still uses test scores as the goal for improving their schools. And Botana seems to be fine with this. Major problem.