Did PPS Waste $4,964,861 on an Ineffective Math and Science Program?

The Portland Public School board is scheduled to vote March 8th on a program that would allow military recruitment, under the guise of science education, of PPS kids in grades K-5.  The program (STARBASE) has been in Portland schools since 1993.  PPS receives just over $300,000 per year for providing access to the kids.

STARBASE and the district’s claim that there’s a need for this particular program or that it’s an effective way to teach science is weak at best.

In 2001, PPS was awarded a $4,964,861 five year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant  with these goals:

  1. to enable all of the district’s diverse student enrollment to meet rigorous K-12 standards in science and mathematics and prepare for postsecondary education and future careers;
  2. to increase the district’s capacity to develop, support, and sustain teacher and principal leadership;
  3. to engage families and the community in supporting improved student performance in science and mathematics and improved access to high quality, inquiry-based educational opportunities; and
  4. to establish ongoing collaborative partnerships with higher education, business/industry, policy makers, and other key stakeholders in support for exemplary, research-based teaching and learning in science, mathematics, and technology within the context of a large and diverse urban district.

In a 2004 PPS grant report, PPS makes the following claims about the NSF program:

  • In science, NSF schools made a gain of 6% in 5th grade, 6% gain in 8th, and 9% gain in 10th grade, compared to district growth of 4%, 4%, and 9%.
  • Minority students improved in science in the NSF schools faster than whites.  The percentage of 5th grade African American students who met standards increased from 36% from 47%, compared to whites that increased from 79% to 81%.
  • Hispanic students have traditionally not performed well in math and science.  This year, many of them improved particularly in science.  In NSF schools, the number of Hispanic students who met standards increased from 37% in 5th grade to 46%, from 25% to 34% in 8th, and from 20% to 27% in 10th.

Inverness Research Associates conducted annual evaluations of the NSF grant.  The October 2006 final report states:

In our view, the Portland USP can readily claim success with developing greater teacher leadership capacity for math and science education improvement in their district. Their theory of action – of how to achieve increased capacity – was sound. First they focused on creating change “from the bottom up,” instead of from the top down. The USP also sought to make lasting changes to teachers’ beliefs, recognizing that ultimately the individual is the unit of change. Changes that reside within the individual teacher, that is – their ways of thinking and teaching and learning vis-à-vis math and science education – are, therefore, lasting legacies.  Schools come and go, and staffs and principals and reform foci also shift frequently in large urban districts. Given that reality, seeking to create changes from the bottom up, and individual-to-individual, are strategies that promise a greater likelihood of sustainability. Also when robust vision, commitment and skills reside locally at the school level, the work of improvement in math and science is more likely to continue in spite of district change. Finally it is important to point out that teacher leadership capacity does not disappear. It is a renewable resource, a districtwide (though often invisible) asset that can be harnessed and directed for worthy purposes.  The development of indigenous teacher leadership is, therefore a wise, ecological model for improvement.

Inverness Research Associates’ final report indicates that the program was a big success.  The conclusion is too lengthy for a blog but these are the highlights.

Given the relatively small scale of the USP investment, roughly $20 per student per year, it has reaped enormous benefits, leaving behind a host of tangible and intangible assets in the district.  To name the most significant of these assets are: a well-honed, highly respected and very experienced leadership team for math and science; a district-wide group of teachers and teacher leaders committed to math and science improvement; a cadre of classroom teachers with vastly improved skills and knowledge in math and science teaching, as well as skills and knowledge about how to work together to provide and continuously improve high quality programs for students; systems and structures organized to deliver and maintain curricular materials; a strategically designed, well-crafted professional development program; a clearly articulated and commonly held vision for high quality math and science education which lends coherence to efforts for improvement at multiple levels of the system; and finally, the accumulated good will and success of the USP effort which enables people to continue to work hard and with optimism toward their shared goals even in difficult circumstances.

So given PPS own data and reports and an evaluation conducted by an outside organization, the NSF program was effectively closing the achievement gap in math and science and PPS could have easily sustained the effort for $20 per year per student.

Why is PPS now offering up the very same groups of kids supported by the NSF grant to the military for a mere $300,000 in a weak, non-sustainable so-called science program?  Have they dismantled the infrastructure that was so effective for poor and minority children?

It just makes my point in the previous post that PPS is unwilling to close the gap.  The bottom line is that PPS poor kids are the district’s contribution to the war efforts.

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

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

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Teacher contract approved: What’s it mean for teachers?

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