Inequities in Special Education

As we blog, march, form coalitions, and community-meeting ourselves into a frenzy over the blatant inequities in education in PPS there is still a population of families that are not being heard in the large public forums and whose issues are invisible to most. These are families of children with disabilities and the success stories are few and far between and behind the success story you typically find a sleep-deprived and demoralized family member that is usually one meeting away from giving up. I write about those issues here from time to time but an email that came in to me recently I felt compelled to share and received permission from the parent to post her email here:

Dear Special Education Stakeholders,

I’m writing you today to bring to the surface an issue that we all know exists but nobody wants’ to talk about. And, an issue that is significant to the work being done on this project.

On January 8th we sent a note to school with one of our sons asking about something that had occurred the day before. He returned home that day with no response to our note but he did report that an adult at school told him to “shut-up”. This was one of several incidents that we had concerns over and already had a number of conversations with the classroom teacher about, so on this occasion we wrote a letter and brought our concerns to the principal. We subsequently requested a meeting to voice our concerns and that meeting was held on January 22nd.

On January 28th we received a call from a CPS worker who said she had been out to the school that day to interview our 12 year old foster son, in response to a complaint of suspected abuse that was called in from school. However, she reported to us that he was obviously getting over a cold but, she couldn’t understand him, the teacher in the classroom didn’t sign and nobody provided the CPS worker with the communication book. This boy has a severe speech disorder and is mentally challenged. Through a very long process the district has finally agreed to provide a speech device in the classroom similar to one he owns, this year. However, the life skills staff still will not work with him on how to use it at school. If this CPS allegation had not merely been an attempt at retribution but a real risk actually existed then this child might still be at risk because he can’t communicate with investigators or emergency responders.

On January 29th at 2 o’clock in the afternoon we received a call from one of our 11 year old sons’ mainstream teachers claiming that our boy had a very difficult week and a half. The teacher told us that our boy who is both mentally and physically handicapped has been violent, casting racial insults and several other horrible allegations. He informed us that our son had received several referrals and could not return to school next week. When we read the referrals that our son brought home we came to realize that this child had been in two high risk situations that he couldn’t manage and none of the preventative measures that we had agreed upon both in meetings and in writing had been followed, and then he was suspended for it. Some of the staff that wrote the referrals are the same individuals that were the focus of our complaints on the 22nd and our 11 year old son is the student who initiated those complaints.

As a family with three children with disabilities and all on IEPs, intimidation and reprisal are the hallmarks that define most of our experience with Portland Public Schools over the last few years. That is the primary reason I became a part of this process; to be a part of the solution. But, I’m writing this today because as this process moves forward on the 19th it is crucial to remember that this story is unfortunately not unique. In working with OrFirst and other families my wife and I have learned that we are not the only family in a debate with schools that have found themselves the focus of a child abuse allegation that was called into the hot line from school and our son is not the first mentally handicapped child that was placed in a volatile situation and then declared a danger to themselves or others; and nobody ever wants to talk about it. When our son, who has never received a referral before, came home that Friday he didn’t come with just one referral, he received one from each member of his life skills classroom staff, one from one of his gen-Ed teachers and all signed by another of his gen-Ed teachers. We were told that “the staff who handled this wants (him) to get a really strong message.” The nightmares He had for a week of teachers “yelling and screaming” at him confirm that he got that message. And the attitude that this could never happen is the very reason why it can happen.

We too voted in favor of measure 66 & 67 because we believe that a free and appropriate education is the right of every child, but we also believe that a safe and responsible education is part of that right as well. Like many families that have found themselves in this very position we have found no support within the district and no recourse to protect our children. Many of the children on IEPs face a hard life ahead of no acceptance, bigotry and manipulation from the rest of the world. They should feel like their teachers and their school is a safe haven from that kind of treatment.  So, as this process moves forward to hopefully better this system for staff and students alike I beg you to consider the children who can’t protect themselves and to be a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves. Because, you have the power to effect change and ensure that every foster child receives a responsible education and nobody’s child can ever be manipulated as a statement to their families again.

After I received this email the parent wrote me a follow up email with a glimmer of hope:

Dear Stephanie,

As an outcome of the letter I sent to Special Education Stakeholders Joanne Mabbot has agreed to meet with parents and advocates to discuss issues surrounding how parents and students are sometimes treated by administration and staff during a dispute. This is an opportunity for families and students to share their stories in person or in writing if they believe their child was mistreated or unfairly disciplined while they were in a conflict with the school. We also want to look at how often school personnel use the child abuse hot line as a tool to intimidate families while in a dispute. If you or any of the families that you have worked with would like to share their stories please have them contact me by e-mail or directly at 503-253-0548 or Robin Malone at the district office 503-916-3297.
And to add the emphasis on this story here is a comment I found on the UrbanMamas blog that really sums up well what it is like to parent a child with an invisible disability like autism.

My child is in a CB–he has Asperger’s and needs some extra support managing the school environment. He spends all of his day at this point in gen ed, but he has access to a para for behavioral/help.
While it’s great he’s in gen ed, even so our experience is so different and will be for you too. The parents are nice, but they don’t “get it” and it’s scary to them (something could happen and THEIR child could be “different” too) or he does something “inappropriate” and they give me the look–you know the one, where you must be a bad parent because of how your child acts (invisible disabilities are hard). We always feel like we’re outside and really not part of things.
I don’t mean to sound bitter, but in my experience, even when you’re in a regular school, your situation is still not regular. You’re not really part of everything because your situation is different. I thought that maybe it was ME, that I’m caring about what they think too much, but it’s not. It’s a different experience because our kids are different. It’s often alienating. I hope it works out for you and you have a better experience than I have, but I just feel like we’re not part of the “group” unless we’re around the other kids/parents who also have kids on the spectrum, or have behavioral challenges, etc. Then everyone is relaxed and “gets it” and it’s a great feeling! I feel like part of the group!

As we fight the good fight for all of our kids to receive a free and appropriate public education in PPS remember that these families need a voice as well. Find them and bring them into the fold, make sure they get the microphone at the community meetings, request they speak to the PTA on invisible and other disabilities, and just try to teach others that kids develop differently and some have challenges and  it is better to find a way to support their family instead of judging them.

Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.

59 Comments

HS Redesign resolution: a few suggestions

Here is the body of a letter to the Superintendent, School Board and Redesign Team.  This version contains a few more points and questions that I wish I had thought to include in the original.  My thanks to others out there whose research helped me write this.

First, thank you for the work you are doing to improve our local high schools.  It is both urgent and long overdue.

The Resolution that Supt. Smith unveiled on Feb. 8 is a start.  From here, it looks as if it is undergoing some revisions.  I would like to propose a few more:

1) Strike the language about focus option schools. It is unnecessary anyway, as this issue is already covered in the Board Policies. Those focus options that are thriving in the District have done so because community members came to the Board and pushed to get those programs, not the other way around. If there is community demand for a particular focus option, then it makes no sense to use a building with a capacity for 1500 to serve only 200-400; I seem to recall that was the rationale for so many of the elementary closures over the past 10 years. Focus options can be either co-housed within neighborhood high schools OR set up in the smaller, unused buildings—although I would be very careful about choosing the latter, as we now have many overcrowded K-8s that would benefit from the reopening of some of those buildings such as Rose City Park and Kellogg.

2) Strike the language about closing high schools. It is causing a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety to Eastside families that have already lost their elementary and/or middle schools and are still dealing with the fallout from that. Furthermore, it is a highly polarizing strategy that, in and of itself, will solve nothing. Also, the increasing numbers of children in the primary grades will be high school age in only 8 years and, according to every population forecast, no matter how conservative, more are coming. Seattle School District found out the hard way that it costs more to close buildings and reopen them later than to keep the buildings open and running. Should we follow their example, or should we be smart about this?

3)   Work on the language concerning transfers.  If every high school really does have 1100 or more students within its attendance area, then closures are unnecessary.  Franklin HS has already shown us that a robust curriculum can be offered with a student body of only 1000.  PPS also posted a document on their website less than three months ago that shows 1100 as the “magic number.”

4)   Work on your budgeting process.  If is it true that only $4.5 million is necessary to provide equity of curriculum across the district (and I am VERY curious about where that number came from), then it is time to stop throwing money away on expensive consultants and put it into the schools, where it belongs.  Even if the amount needed is actually higher, it would be worth the time and effort to research exactly what the necessary amount is and how it could be accomplished.  For example, taking advantage of efficiencies such as sharing faculty between buildings would reduce the overall number of FTE (and therefore $) needed to meet the goal and would also be a much “greener” choice than bussing children across town.  Another idea would be to overhaul the Portland Schools Foundation and restore its original mission: balancing resources between rich and poor neighborhood schools.  (If anyone is curious about my ideas on this one, I would be happy to address the issue in a separate post.)

5)   OR, set this whole thing aside and turn your attention to the K-8s, where it is also long overdue.  If the problems in those schools aren’t fixed, then anything you do to the high schools will fail anyway because the children arriving in 9th grade will be too unprepared.  Calling a meeting once every two years to hear parents air their grievances is a pointless exercise unless someone in the District has specific responsibility for following up.  After four years, we haven’t seen a whole lotta follow-up.

Zarwen is a parent, taxpayer, former teacher, and frequent commenter on education blogs.

156 Comments

School board meeting open thread

Who’s watching? Who’s there? What’s going on?

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

6 Comments

You Couldn’t Pay PPS to Close the Achievement Gap

I’m glad that so many people are able to see through Superintendent Smith’s disingenuous claim to be redesigning high schools in an effort to close the achievement gap and address equity concerns.

It’s bad enough that PPS screws poor kids out of an even marginally adequate education but to use poor kids in their plan to close schools is shameful.

That said, there may or may not be a need to close schools.  District administrators are so dishonest it’s hard to know what’s the truth.

Last year 63% of white students and 35% of black students were on track to graduate in 9th grade.  On track being defined as earning 6 or more credits with grades C or above by the end of their freshman year.

There was a 31% difference in Math and 27% difference in the English state test results between white students and the lowest subgroup.  African American students continue to be suspended or expelled at almost 3 times their population rate.

Other than changes in school assignment, what’s in the high school redesign plan to address the achievement gap?

PPS administrators would rather shake up entire communities than try smaller, common sense approaches to closing the gap.

Here’s a radical idea worthy of trying….school principals could USE the federal Title I dollars allocated for their schools.  Even crazier…they could use it according to their School Improvement Plans.  That’s the plan that they were supposed to have created in collaboration with parents and staff.  According to a PPS Title I-A Report dated 1/26/10:

Each school is required to complete a School Improvement Plan that contains strategies to increase the student achievement of educationally disadvantaged students.  The plan must include a needs assessment, prioritization of needs and SMART (student-centered and specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound) goals for the school.

Who from PPS administration has followed up on the School Improvement Plans?

For years, PPS Title I school principals have failed to use the Title I money allocated for improving the academic program for disadvantaged students.  Title I funds are allocated annually.  Historically, the amount remaining at the school level at the end of the school year has been between $500,000 and $750,000 collectively.

Scott leads the list of schools with unspent Title I funds.  In 2007/08, Scott had almost $73,000 remaining at the end of the year.  The amount left unspent in 2008/09 decreased to $49,674.  Even so, less than half of Scott’s black students met benchmarks in reading or math.

At the district level, Title I underspending looks even worse.

For the 09/10 school year, the district was allocated $18,883,118 in Title I-A funding and $14,569,092 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Title I funding.  In addition the district carried over $2, 845,562 from the previous school year for a total budget of $36,297,772 for this school year.

It’s not likely that the district will use the almost $3 million carried over from last year because the 09/10 allocation is even higher than last year’s.

The carryover from 08/09 includes $180,000 for optional parent engagement and $1,200,000 for AYP School Support.  What services could have been provided with that?

The amount remaining at the end of the 08/09 school year for each Title I school is listed below.  Amounts listed in () are negative amounts meaning those schools overspent:

Astor $6,544

Beach $7,562

Boise Eliot $4,954

Chief Joseph $31,476

Clarendon $54,882

Humboldt $(629)

James John $7,739

Markham $2,628

Rosa Parks $8,833

Ockley Green $(358)

Peninsula $16,493

Sitton $10,761

Arleta $16,149

Atkinson $32,306

Bridger $5,936

Clark $27,829

Creston $9,316

Faubion $5,280

Grout $13,788

Kelly $4,876

Irvington $(988)

King $33,178

Lee $11,023

Lent $(5,064)

Lewis $10,261

Marysville $8,438

Rigler $39,088

Roseway Heights $4,535

Sabin $9,573

Scott $49,674

Vernon $7,402

Vestal $13,806

Whitman $6,864

Woodlawn $2,142

Woodmere $14,874

George $11,956

Beaumont $11,505

Hosford $19,669

Lane $3,378

Jefferson HS $33,896

BizTech $31,351

ACT HS $17,500

SEIS HS $9,764

POWER HS $24,962

PAIS HS $4,380

Renaissance HS $26,784

So you see, PPS has had the money to improve the quality of education provided to poor children but they’ve failed to use it.  They’ve also failed to include all of the required partners in creating School Improvement Plans.

In addition to the problem with Title I spending, PPS lost $617,000 for English Language Learner students because they failed to comply with civil rights laws.  English Language Learner students are also kids at the bottom end of the achievement gap.  PPS had more than 20 years to comply with the Office for Civil Rights findings but failed to do so.

Now, we’re expected to believe that PPS is sincere about closing the achievement gap.  Not a chance.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

31 Comments

A veteran speaks out on STARBASE

Note: Anti-war activist Brian Willson sent this letter to the school board and superintendent February 16. –Ed.

RE:DoD & Portland STARBASE (Science Technology Academics Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration)

1. Introduction

I examined representations from printed and electronic web materials offered by DoD (Department of Defense)* and Portland STARBASE, a “fun academy” conducted at a military base designed for “opening young people’s minds to the military” – specifically at risk 5 to18 year-old Portland Public School (PPS) students (K-12). I am struck by the fanciful rhetoric which, from my experiences as a veteran, former officer in the US Air Force and commander of a ranger-type unit in Vietnam, and general observer of military life and activities, severely masks the realities on the ground. That STARBASE is represented in lofty terms, of course, is not surprising since its funding derives directly from the Pentagon’s recruiting budget, and is considered by military commanders as a “cornerstone” in the creation of their public image [DoD STARBASE 2008 Annual Report]. The U.S. Military Recruiting Handbook unapologetically declares that “School recruiting is critical to long-term recruiting success…It means having the Army perceived as a positive career choice as soon as young people begin to think about the future.” And as DoD admits, STARBASE “is one element in the building of that talent pool” [italics added for emphasis].

*Department of Defense is Orwellian doublespeak for Department of War. Since World War II, scholars identify more than 350 overt military interventions in countries around the world without the Constitutionally required declaration of war, and thousands of additional covert interventions, all illegal.

2. (Mis)Representations

I am particularly struck by the stated goals of STARBASE Portland: “[I]mprove the knowledge and skills of at risk youth in math, science, and technology by exposing them to the technological and positive role models found on military bases and installations,” specifically the Oregon Army National Guard Jackson Armory and the Portland Air National Guard Base. And, “Strengthen youth resistance to negative influences, including substance and alcohol abuse.”

During my four years of active duty employment I was stationed at four different bases in five states ­ three Air Force (TX, MD, LA) and one Army (KY, TN), plus two in Viet Nam, before being honorably discharged at the rank of Captain. Putting public relations fluff and recruiting rhetoric aside for a moment, I cannot think of a poorer setting to which to expose impressionable young children than military bases. Their representations as “technological and positive role models” have clearly not been critically examined!

3. DoD Largest Polluter in the World

The DoD is the largest polluter in the world, producing more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined. This includes poisonous compounds such as pesticides, defoliants, solvents, petroleum, perchlorate (from rocket fuel), trichloroethylene (TCE), lead, depleted uranium, and mercury, among others. TCE, used as a degreaser for metal parts, is the most widespread water contaminant in the country, and more than 1,000 military sites are contaminated with it, but perchlorate is a growing contaminant in groundwater as well. The DoD controls more than 31,000 environmental sites officially declared severely dirty at more than 4,600 active and formerly active installations scattered around all 50 states. Yet, the DoD continues to resist orders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean them up. Of the dirtiest of the dirty, the Pentagon owns 129 of the 1,255 identified Superfund clean-up site. ["Pentagon Fights EPA On Pollution Cleanup," Washington Post, June 30, 2008; "Military Pollution: The Quintessential Universal Soldier," commondreams.org, March 27, 2005; "Communities Seek Accountability For Military Pollution," Press Release (of five Environmental Groups), commondreams.org, March 23, 2009]. This is the record of the same DoD that pretends to offer young children a superb “technological role model.”

The Portland Air National Guard Base hosts the 142nd Fighter Wing, which includes A-15 fighter jets, as well as hosting the 939th Air Refueling Wing. This means lots of fuel storage and inevitable fuel spillages, use of TCE degreasers, solvents, etc., that normally accompany the high tech atmosphere of military and aviation installations.

In sum, military installations are very unhealthy places environmentally, as I can attest to from personal experiences, despite public relations representing the opposite. I served for two years on a command-wide Inspector General staff where we wrote and enforced regulations for bases that emphasized appearances far more than substance, a kind of image-making endemic in our culture.

4. Military Social Environment is Chronically Problem-Laden

Furthermore, I can attest to the fact that the “positive role models” to which you are exposing Portland’s “at risk” youth are quite farcical when you look below the surface. No matter what military regulations dictate or public affairs officers describe, the military social environment possesses serious racism (cf. civilian life), chronic abuse of alcohol and drugs – prescription and illegal (cf. civilian life), domestic violence, rape, mental illness, suicides at much higher rates than found in civilian life, and popular but unhealthy high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar diets offered on military bases by Fast Food chains like McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, Popeyes, etc.

Military bases have histories of violence, especially domestic abuse and homicides (described as a “spousal aggression issue” by the military) ["Base Crimes: The Military Has A Domestic Violence Problem," Mother Jones, July/August 2005], as well as collective murders ["U.S. Army Base Has Bloody History," CBS News, November 5, 2009]. Domestic abuse is believed to be double that of the civilian population ["A Considerable Service: An Advocate's Introduction to Domestic Violence and the Military," Domestic Violence Report, April/May 2001, Civic Research Institute, Kingston, NJ]. And sexual assaults and rape of female veterans by male soldiers is chronic: more than 40 percent of female veterans report being victims of sexual assault, including rape, while serving in the military, with few of the male criminal perpetrators brought to justice ["Sexual Assault In Military 'Jaw-Dropping,' Lawmaker Says," CNN.Com, July 31, 2008].

The stated Portland STARBASE goal to “strengthen youth resistance to negative influences, including substance and alcohol abuse,” is simply an irresponsible resort by the PPS to unexamined representations which ironically expose at risk youth to ever more health and life risks as targeted military recruits. Serious alcoholism and drug abuse continues to plague military life, just as it did when I was in the military 40 years ago ["Heavy Drinking Still Acute Among Young Military Members," Pacific Institute For Research and Evaluation News Release, March 2, 2006; "Wounds of War: Drug Problems Among Iraq, Afghan Vets Could Dwarf Vietnam," Join Together newsletter, Boston University School of Public Health, June 15, 2009; "U.S. Troops Admit Abusing Prescription Drugs," USA Today, December 16, 2009; "Alcohol Abuse Weighs On Army," USA Today, February 9, 2010]. General Peter Chiarelli, Army Vice Chief of Staff, recently admitted “an increase in military violence, alcohol and substance abuse, and an increase in destructive or reckless behaviors” [Oregon Military Department Official Blog, September 15, 2009]. Just in the past week, two soldiers with the Oregon National Guard have been removed from duty for serious substance abuse and erratic behavior, each now facing punishment ["The Military and Substance Abuse," by Mike Francis, The Oregonian, February 10, 2010].

5. Suicide Epidemic

In 2009, suicides among active duty personnel exceeded number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and was the highest number since records began to be kept in 1980. For every successful suicide, at least five other active duty members are hospitalized for attempts. Resources of the military and Veterans Administration for dealing with problems experienced by soldiers simply have not been sufficiently allocated ["Suicide Claims More US Military Lives Than Afghan war," World Socialist Web Site, January 6, 2010; "Despite Prevention Efforts, U.S. Military Suicides Rise," McClatchy Newspapers, January 15, 2010; "Investigation Shows Military Suicides Up; Leaders Push Response," CaliforniaHealthline, November 25, 2009, California Healthcare Foundation]. Our society continues to glorify the military and war. However, when it comes to honestly addressing the reality of military life and the costs and traumas of war, our society historically falls terribly short [Richard Severo & Lewis Milford, The Wages of War: When America's Soldiers Came Home - From Valley Forge to Vietnam(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989)].

6. Veterans Experience Serious Problems

Once discharged from the military into civilian life, problems experienced while in the military often continue, or are even exacerbated. The suicide rate among veterans is twice that of other US citizens – 6,500 a year, or 125 a week, or 18 per day. One thousand veterans receiving care from the VA attempt suicide every month. Of the 1.7 million military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 300,000 suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Another 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury or physical brain damage, a majority of whom have yet to receive mental health and disability benefits. These two categories alone comprise 36 percent of the wounds, not counting thousands more suffering from various other bodily injuries. In the six months leading up to March 31, 2008, nearly 1,500 veterans died while awaiting to learn if their disability claim would be approved. And veterans who appeal a VA denial of their disability claim wait an average of nearly four-and-a-half years for an answer. Veterans also exhibit higher rates of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, overeating, unsafe sex, and higher rates of physical and mental health problems and mortality ["The Truth About Veteran Suicides," Foreign Policy In Focus/FPIF, May 8, 2008; "Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans: A CBS News Investigation Uncovers A Suicide Rate For Veterans Twice That of Other Americans," CBS News, November 13, 2007]. As many as 400,000 veterans experience homelessness during the course of each year ["Homeless Veterans," National Coalition for the Homeless, September 2009].

7. Bribery To Public School Systems Purchases Pentagon Access to Children as Young as Five

That the Pentagon is able to effectively pay a bribe worth several hundred thousands of dollars to PPS each school year in order to access and brainwash its youth, while government funding is being cut for genuine creative learning programs and college assistance, is grotesque. This policy squeezes out other educational and career alternatives while deliberately channeling certain young people to the military. I cannot think of a more insidious recruitment scheme under the mask of providing special math and science education for at risk students, a curriculum PPS is already charged by law with providing. DoD STARBASE defines the characteristics of those it intends to target, apparently with the cooperation of five PPS staff: “[B]eing from a single parent household, having an older sibling who dropped out of high school, changing schools two or more times…, having C’s or lower grades, being from a low socioeconomic status family, or repeating an earlier grade.” Educators should spurn this program offer.

What process does the PPS staff undertake for selecting young people to attend a military “science camp” packaged as if it is a fun video game? This is a mockery of the PPS policy of zero tolerance for weapons in the learning environment. PPS school staff, working with DoD STARBASE officials, are likely to disproportionately select low-income students and minority students of color, softening them up for subsequent hard-core recruitment into a “career pathway” toward an early death sentence, i.e., white-washing a “career” of being cannon fodder. What constructive and creative alternatives are school officials exploring and implementing for these youth? That it is those students with the fewest options in life who are selected for this masked military recruitment program is deleterious discrimination.

Children do not possess the maturity of judgment or critical thinking skills needed to carefully analyze all opportunities presented to them. Would we offer children a rifle to shoot at targets without careful thought, even if the child was eager to do so? Would we offer a child a computer to simulate launching of robotic drone warfare directed at targets in far off lands, even if the child finds this a thrill? Would we offer various drugs and alcohol even if children desired same? Would we continue to feed them fast foods without regard to nutrition, knowing the harmful health effects and likely onset of obesity and diabetes? Learning settings require understanding contexts and long term consequences which educators presumably assess before offering them. I am not suggesting that these specific things are being offered by STARBASE, but that the program insidiously opens certain doors to at risk children that likely will not lead to the glorious future represented in the promo.

Children are impressionable, and the glamour of military high technology of “Aviation and Space Exploration” imparts exciting images in young children’s minds, the content and context of which have not been assessed for appropriateness in developing open minds. STARBASE enables further militarization of our culture, distorting our cultural psyche to the detriment of everyone. Remember, that once in the military, a soldier undergoes basic training where the primary skill learned is to operate a firearm and become proficient at killing another human being without first gaining knowledge of the history or context of the killing fields to which the soldier may be thrust.

8. My Experiences

As a security and law enforcement officer at headquarters of a major Air Force command Inspector General’s Office, I assisted in overseeing compliance at dozens of bases with safety, security, public relations and readiness requirements.

In Vietnam I was commander of a 40-man ranger-type unit where I witnessed the immediate aftermath of low-flying fighter-bomber Turkey Shoots destroying inhabited but undefended fishing and farming villages, leaving hundreds of murdered and maimed Vietnamese in the bomb’s wake. My unit was primarily protecting US Air Force installations during which we survived 18 mortar and rocket attacks.

Subsequently, I was shocked when I realized that our military forces had invaded another country whose people simply wanted their independence from outside colonial powers. The Vietnamese were simply defending themselves from an attacking force of incredible firepower of which I was a part. I was not defending freedom for US Americans, but in fact destroying the deserving freedom of others. It was absurd! The reason I did not understand this reality: I was never taught this history, knew nothing about Vietnamese culture, and was ignorant about the insidious reasons my country was committing an egregious crime against peace. When the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, it all became quite clear.

Commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity were normal, deliberate policy, despite being in violation of US Rules of Engagement, international law, the US Constitution, and my own conscience. Many of my superiors laughed at the “Rules of Engagement.” I witnessed these crimes more than 40 years ago, yet these experiences remain a permanent imprint, leaving me with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In my final assignment in the Air Force, I served as executive officer addressing personnel problems of a 250-man supply squadron: severe racism that existed on our base and in the nearby community, domestic abuse, violence in the nearby community, suicides or their attempts, drunkenness, drug addiction, etc.

Fifteen years later I served as executive director of a veterans outreach center. Homelessness was epidemic; alcoholism and drug addiction were chronic, causing a number of pre-mature deaths; veterans in car accidents died at nearly twice the rate as non-veteran car accidents; a number of “bush vets” lived isolated in nearby forests; many veterans suffered from chronic diseases, including various cancers and early deaths attributed to poisoning from the herbicides the United States used in Viet Nam. On several occasions I disarmed troubled veterans in threatening crises. Eight veterans committed suicide during my tenure there. Upon reflection I began to comprehend just how deep was the traumatic and unnatural conditioning that results from military training without context about the wars soldiers are ordered to engage in. It makes us fierce fighters, oftentimes murderers, as we witnessed peers being killed. Upon reflection, many of us knew deep down the reasons for our involvement in the war as told to us by our elders, schools, churches, families, and government, didn’t hold up to a critique that we wished we had been offered as part of our education as young men.

9. Conclusion

STARBASE is an egregious affront to the youth of our country, our culture, our city. That its assumptions and representations have been accepted without question by professional educators reveal an irresponsibility that is unconscionable. Why has no critical review been conducted by people who are in the know and can properly reflect upon the dangers of exposing young people to images and influences that are likely to have grave consequences on their future lives?

S. Brian Wilson is a Portland resident who served in the United States Air Force, 1966-1970, Vienam 1969; Honorably discharged as Captain.

4 Comments

Notes from the K-8 Planning Meeting 2/16/10

I attended the K-8 planning meeting on 2/16/10 at Harrison Park and took notes during the meeting. There were approximately 40 to 50 people mostly Faubion, Irvington, Jason Lee, Beverly Clearly, Bridger, and Marysville. The mood of the crowd was collaborative but still concerned. My impression was that the participants wanted to know how to be a part of the solution and that successful neighborhood schools and community pride was strong. I got the feeling from the comments that this crowd was primarily people that chose to stay in their neighborhood schools and wanted the district to hear them and work to address their issues.

There were a handful of principals in the audience and I remember for certain that Woodlawn, Vestal, and Skyline principals were there.  PPS people present that I recognized (I tried to capture every name I heard but know I missed some): Supt. Carole Smith – Xavier Botana – Sarah Allan – Ruth Adkins – Trudy Sargent – Bobbie Regan – Harriet Adair – Sarah from Facilities – Sarah Carlin Ames –Marcia from curriculum and instruction – and also Rob Manning from OPB

Beryl Morrison opened the meeting and introduced Alisa Wood-Walters and asked what our #1 concerns were. A lot of people opened with positives that I did not capture here but the general theme was positive school climate, good teachers, and some programming related positives. The concerns:

  • Upper grade quality programs are lacking
  • Electives and facilities are too small and lack of lockers, age appropriate furniture
  • The perception that Irvington is less than Beaumont – a lack of feeder schools and having a hard time selling the program
  • We can’t offer what a middle school does
  • Would love to have band at Jason Lee and also a science lab
  • Electives, sustainability of programs from year to year such as sports with so much fundraising variability
  • Full time counselors would be nice
  • Losing kids in 6 to 8 because other schools have more electives and it is usually the high achievers
  • 2 programs existing in one school – Odyssey program – losing kids at 6th grade – peer pressure of going to certain schools with bad reputations
  • Direct competition with Beaumont at Sabin – you do not have to lottery in – half the kids leave – in competition with ACCESS program and there is no space and even if kids stayed we would have nowhere to put them – no more room for growth with two growing programs
  • Building up the 6th to 8th component and a program that prepares kids for high school
  • No electives
  • Ockley Green is an Art &Technology magnet with no art teacher
  • 6th to 8th graders do not feel like they are getting the middle school experience
  • A principal raved about AVID at Vestal – they are sending kids to Marshall for band afterschool so parents are relied on for transportation – Vestal seems to have a lot of community partners

Turned over to Sarah Allan and Harriet Adair

  • She told the audience this was a listening session and admitted it had been a long time since K8 discussion had happened
  • At that point we went through the Powerpoint and I did not take great notes because it went by quickly and can probably be seen on the website. There was some interesting data in the Powerpoint that I don’t want to butcher incorrectly here but is all in the presentation.

Next up was a forum to share positives and more concerns after filling out a handout and at that point we lost about 20 people:

  • Older kids and younger kids together is a positive
  • Teacher’s opportunities for collaboration
  • Improved student behavior
  • Great Spanish instructor (can’t remember which school)
  • K-8 model helps keep kids younger longer
  • Feeling welcomed and that kids are ok with parents being at the school
  • Less social pressure
  • Things you can do in a small school you can’t do in a large school – having kids be more a part of the process
  • Sabin SUN offers a transition program – good coordinator
  • A gender imbalance of more boys vs. girls at I believe it was Irvington
  • Kids keep coming back to visit from 9th grade and volunteering at the K-8
  • Having to compete with a myth – people think they know what a certain middle school has because of rumors that are simply not true – parent said that people think Beaumont has shop and home ec but don’t bother to research accuracy of claim.
  • We need support from PPS to do some K-8 PR campaign – all the chatter is about what we don’t have vs. what we do
  • Not sure why we have any middle schools if we want equity
  • No space – kids right on top of each other and band going on in the cafeteria while kids are trying to eat
  • Beverly Cleary – Staff having to travel between two buildings
  • A lot of people are using Title I  to supplement schools and it “looks like”  PPS is giving these things – it is not clear to everyone where the resources are coming from – More funding transparency
  • I gave input on the fact that when schools have space issues the first to go are the kids with disabilities. There is in fact a lack of incentive for principals to keep kids with disabilities in the building because of the way special education funding does not follow the child to their school. Principals that keep kids with disabilities are in essence punished because they have to use general education funding to shore up what special education does not provide.
  • PTA’s are typically only K-3 and how to build this up. I spoke to this gentleman after the meeting and told him that at my K-8 we learned that the best way to get people to show up is to call them vs. mail or email.

Carole Smith closed the meeting

Alisa from the Oregon PTA asked about what future forums should look like and if they should be cluster specific vs. district wide and audience response was both.

Sorry the notes are so choppy but if I did not submit this right now then it would never get done :)

Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.

13 Comments

Teacher contract open thread

News over the holiday weekend that the district and teachers has many wondering: how did the two sides, so far apart for so long, suddenly reach agreement? Details of the deal are confidential until it is presented to teachers. Comments, speculation, insider leaks, etc., are all welcome here!

(I’ll keep the ticker up until teachers ratify a new contract.)

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

13 Comments

Where’s the Superintendent?

I’ve heard from teachers and central office office staff that Superintendent Smith stays behind closed doors and only her “team” is allowed access to her.  The superintendent is invisible to most people.  When the Superintendent appears at public meetings, she’s always reading from a script.  She presents and announces but she doesn’t just talk.

Last night I decided to write Superintendent Smith to share my concerns about the high school redesign.  I discovered that the Superintendent is also difficult to find on the PPS website.  It used to be that you could find the Superintendent’s link attached to many of her statements.  Now, they all link to the Communications office.

Below is my note to the Superintendent and the response that I received from Sarah Carlin Ames (PPS Public Affairs representative) less than an hour after I sent my email:

Carrie,

I’m helping Carole respond to some of her many e-mails.

You are absolutely right that it’s going to take a multi-faceted effort to truly confront our achievement gap. We know that effective teachers, excellent curriculum and support are all critical, along with a structure that better meets student needs.

We need to keep moving on all of these fronts. I am cc’ing Xavier Botana, our chief academic officer, because I know that he agrees. We have not resolved how to meet the needs of English Language Learners to the standards we should, at any level. We are continuing our equity work and engaging in “courageous conversations” about race, and working to change our institutional practices that fail to educate so many of our students and which consign too many students of color to special education and define too many as discipline issues.

The community school program we have described is important, however.  It allows all students better access to challenging courses, IB and AP, no matter where they live — opportunity we have denied many. It commits every community school to offer programs such as AVID, and to offer on-line credit recovery, credit by proficiency and other support to help students keep up and catch up. It increases the counselor services (not enough, but a start) and commits to working with community partners to offer other wrap-around services on-site. We also plan to incorporate lessons (and perhaps staff and programs) from our small schools into our focus school strategy — so that our focus schools truly meet the needs of different learners, and don’t become boutique schools for a self-selected elite.

There is no one silver bullet in closing the achievement gap — but by offering a community comprehensive school with a broad range of challenge and support in every neighborhood, along with well-designed focus schools, should be a positive step forward in a multi-pronged approach.

Sarah Carlin Ames

PPS Public Affairs

>>> “Carrie Adams” 02/10/10 9:39 PM >>>

Dear Superintendent Smith,

Your introduction to the resolution states:

“Let’s look at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson , our largest schools, and the ones that routinely post the highest aggregate test scores. At those four schools together, 70 percent of white students enter 10th grade on track to graduate. But only half as many - 36 percent - of their black students are on track.”

If those schools have the resources that we’re now saying all of our schools should have and yet black students are not doing well in those schools, maybe there’s a different kind of problem.

Has the district identified why black students at those schools are not doing as well as white students? What is the high school redesign team’s plan to address that?

How does the proposed high school system design address the district’s decades long failure to serve ELL students?

What’s in the high school design to address the over-representation of black and hispanic student discipline rates?

What’s in the high school design plan to close the achievement gap?

Carrie Adams

Sarah Carlin Ames deserves credit for her responsiveness and for working 24/7 but as you can see, my questions still haven’t been answered.

So why is the Superintendent being shielded from the public?   Why doesn’t she speak for herself?  Does the board have so little confidence in her ability to lead the district that they allow the Communications department to speak for her?

Note:  I originally published this post with a different title.  After second thoughts, I feel it was a mistake.  The point of the posting remains….the public needs to hear from the Superintendent in her own words.  We’ve heard enough canned public relations speeches to last for years.  Parents are long overdue for some candor, honesty, integrity and sincerity.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

25 Comments

Starbase demographics

Demographic information readily available from the district does not provide a fine-grained detail of fourth- and fifth-grade students targeted by the military’s STARBASE recruiting program, but it is clear that poor and minority students are over-represented.

Of the 18 schools participating this year, all but four are Title 1 schools. All but three have higher percentages of minority students than the district-wide minority enrollment (46%). All but four have higher poverty than the district at large (45%).

The schools participating average 11 percentage points more minority and 17 percentage points more poor than the district as a whole, even when factoring in the four wealthy schools that participate.

While many participating staff and families may swear there is no recruiting going on, the program is funded from the US Department of Defense recruiting budget. The military is clear about their need to target potential recruits early.

Student information is shared with the military with little or no notice to parents (or opt-out opportunities), and the program is explicit in its goals of improving the image of the military with young children.

Here are the schools participating this year, with their demographic information.

School free/reduced % minority% Title 1
Humboldt 100.00% 88.40% yes
Rosa Parks 94.80% 85.60% yes
Rigler 86.10% 79.00% yes
Peninsula 78.10% 73.00% yes
James John 79.70% 72.80% yes
Faubion 70.70% 69.70% yes
Whitman 86.70% 68.80% yes
Lee 71.70% 67.70% yes
Marysville 80.30% 59.00% yes
Bridger 74.10% 58.10% yes
Grout 70.20% 50.70% yes
Woodstock 27.30% 50.30% no
Arleta 66.40% 47.90% yes
Markham 54.70% 47.80% yes
Irvington 34.60% 47.70% yes
Buckman 28.70% 23.10% no
Cleary 14.40% 19.70% no
Laurelhurst 10.60% 19.30% no
Averages: 62.73% 57.14%
District: 45.00% 46.00%

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

1 Comment

Starbase questions the school board should ask

I know we’ve got a couple of peaceniks (term used respectfully and admiringly) on the school board right now, one who hasn’t voted on Starbase before (Gonzalez) and the other who is now co-chair (Adkins).  It’s safe to say they had  a lot to do with pulling the vote on next year’s Starbase contract from the board agenda Monday night. It would be a great opportunity for them to pull together the two other votes needed to scrap this program.

Here’s what I sent to the whole board about this opportunity:

Word is that Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson, who has been outspoken about the PPS high school system as “a civil rights violation of the worst kind,” will answer board questions before you vote on continuing Starbase.

Here are some questions the board — and Hopson — should be asking:

  • Is it not also a civil rights violation that black, brown and poor children are specifically targeted for military recruiting at extremely young ages?
  • What is the precise demographic breakdown (ethnicity and poverty level) of students participating in Starbase? Why are Title I schools over-represented?
  • What student information is shared with the military?
  • Is it legal to share information about pre-teens with the military without explicit parental permission?
  • If parents choose to pull their children from this program, is their information still shared with the military?
  • How are families notified of this program?
  • Can families opt out of both the program and the information sharing? How are parents informed of these options?
  • Do counter-recruiters have equal access to participating students?
  • Assuming the curriculum is great (and non-military), why can’t it be incorporated into the normal classroom science and math curriculum and taught by existing classroom teachers? (In other words: Why does it need to be taught on a military base, and what’s the advantage of having the extra staff to teach it when it doesn’t free up classroom teachers to work with other students? )
  • How does exposing students to large-scale, highly advanced weapons square with the district’s zero tolerance policy on weapons?

Once we’re satisfied with the answers to these questions, it might be interesting to find out more about the curriculum.

Thank you.

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

44 Comments

« Previous Entries