March 28, 2010
It is with both sadness and a sense of great relief that I tell you this will be the final post on PPS Equity. [Here's Nancy's farewell.]For two years we have documented inequities in Portland’s largest school district and advocated for positive change. Along the way, we’ve explored how to use new media tools to influence public policy and foster a more inclusive form of democracy.
The reason for this shutdown is simple: we are moving our family out of the district, and will no longer be stakeholders. A very large part of our decision to leave is the seeming inability of Portland Public Schools to provide access to comprehensive secondary education to all students in all parts of the city. We happen to live in a part of town — the Jefferson cluster — which is chronically under-enrolled, underfunded and besieged by administrative incompetence and neglect. We have no interest in playing a lottery with our children’s future, and no interest in sending our children out of their neighborhood for a basic secondary education. These are the options for roughly half of the families in the district if they want comprehensive 6-12 education for their children.
While there are some signs that the district may want to provide comprehensive high schools for all, there is little or no acknowledgment of the ongoing middle grade crisis. If the district ever gets around to this, it will be too late for my children, and thousands of others who do not live in Portland’s elite neighborhoods on the west side of the river or in parts of the Grant and Cleveland clusters.
It cannot be understated that the failure of PPS to provide equally for all students in all parts of the district is rooted in Oregon’s horribly broken school funding system, which entered crisis mode with 1990′s Measure 5. A segregated city, declining enrollment and a lack of stable leadership and vision made things especially bad in Portland.
But Portland’s elites soon figured out how to keep things decent in their neighborhoods. The Portland Schools Foundation was founded to allow wealthy families to directly fund their neighborhood schools. Student transfers were institutionalized, allowing students and funding to flow out of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods and shore up enrollment and funding in the wealthiest neighborhoods. Modest gains for Portland’s black community realized in the 1980s were reversed as middle schools were closed and enrollment dwindled. A two-tiered system, separate and radically unequal, persists 20 years after Measure 5 and nearly 30 years after the Black United Front’s push for justice in the delivery of public education.
PPS seems to be at least acknowledging this injustice. Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson laid it out to the City Club of Portland last October: “It is a civil rights violation of the worst kind… when 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.”
Despite this acknowledgment, the district is only addressing this inequity in the final four years of a K-12 system. We don’t, in fact, have a system, but a collection of schools that vary significantly in terms of size, course offerings, and teacher experience, often correlating directly to the wealth of the neighborhoods in which they sit.
As the district embarks on their high school redesign plan, which is largely in line with my recommendations, predictable opposition has arisen.
Some prominent Grant families rose up, first in opposition to boundary changes that might affect their property values, then to closing Grant, then to closing any schools. (They seem to have gone mostly quiet after receiving assurances from school board members that their school was safe from closure. Perhaps they also realized that they have more to fear if no schools are closed, since it would mean the loss of close to 600 students at Grant if students and funding were spread evenly among ten schools. In that scenario, the rich educational stew currently enjoyed at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson will be a thinned out to a thin gruel. It would be an improvement for the parts of town that long ago lost their comprehensive high schools, but a far cry from what our surrounding suburban districts offer with the exact same per-student state funding.)
There is also opposition from folks who reflexively oppose school closures, many of them rightly suspicious of the district’s motivations with regards to real estate dealings and their propensity to target poor neighborhoods for closures.
Finally, there is opposition on the school board from the two non-white members, Martín González and Dilafruz Williams.
González’s opposition appears to stem from the valid concern that the district doesn’t have a clue how to address the achievement gap — the district can’t even manage to spend all of its Title I money, having carried over almost $3 million from last year — and that there is little in the high school plan that addresses this. (It’s unclear how he feels about the clear civil rights violation of unequal access this plan seeks to address. It seems to me we should be able to address both ends of the problem — inputs and outcomes — at the same time . The failure to address the achievement gap should not preclude providing equal opportunity. It’s the least we can do.)
Williams noted that she doesn’t trust district administrators to carry out such large scale redesign, especially in light of the bungled K-8 transition which she also opposed. It’s hard to argue with that position; the administration has done little to address the distrust in the community stemming from many years of turbulent and destructive changes focused mainly in low-income neighborhoods.
But more significantly, Williams has long opposed changing the student transfer system on the grounds that it would constitute “massive social engineering” to return to a neighborhood-based enrollment policy. Ironically, nobody on the school board has articulated the shameful nature of our two-tiered system more clearly and forcefully as Williams. But as one of only two non-whites on the board, Williams also speaks as one of the most outwardly class-conscious school board members. In years past, she has said that many middle class families tell her they would leave the district if the transfer policy were changed.
(Note to director Williams: Here’s one middle class family that’s leaving because of the damage the transfer policy has done to our neighborhood schools. And it’s too bad the district can’t have a little more concern for working class families. I know quite a few parents of black and brown children who have pulled their kids from the district due to its persistent institutional classism and racism.)
Williams (along with many of her board colleagues) has also long blamed the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the massive student outflows from our poorest schools, but this is a smokescreen. Take Jefferson High for example, which was redesigned in part to reset the clock on NCLB sanctions. Yet despite this, the district has continued to allow priority transfers out. Jefferson has lost vastly more funding to out-transfers than the modest amount of Title I money it currently receives. If we don’t take Title I money, we don’t have to play by NCLB rules. (This is not a radical concept; the district has chosen this course at Madison High.)
It is hard to have a great deal of hope for Portland Public Schools, despite some positive signals from superintendent Carole Smith. We continue to lack a comprehensive vision for a K-12 system. English language learners languish in a system that is chronically out of compliance with federal civil rights law. The type of education a student receives continues to be predictable by race, class and ZIP code. Special education students are warehoused in a gulag of out-of-sight contained classrooms and facilities, and their parents must take extreme measures to assure even their most basic rights. Central administration, by many accounts, is plagued by a dysfunctional culture that actively protects fiefdoms and obstructs positive change. Many highly influential positions are now held by non-educators, and there is more staff in the PR department than in the curriculum department. Recent teacher contract negotiations showed a pernicious anti-labor bias and an apparent disconnect between Carole Smith and her staff. Principals are not accountable to staff, parents or the community, and are rarely fired. Positions are created for unpopular principals at the central office, and retired administrators responsible for past policy failures are brought back on contract to consult on new projects.
If there is a hope for the district, it lies in community action of the kind taken by the Black United Front in 1980. The time for chronicling the failures of the district is over.
In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”
I think this Web site has served to establish injustice. Many of us have tried to work with the district, serving on committees, testifying at board meetings, and attending community meetings. My family has brought tens of thousands of dollars in grant money and donations to the district, dedicated countless volunteer hours, and spent many evenings and weekends gathering and analyzing data.
There is no doubt that injustices exist, and there is no doubt that we have tried to negotiate. It’s time for self-purification — the purging of angry and violent thoughts — and direct action. It’s time to get off the blogs and take to the streets.
Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.
March 14, 2010
The high school redesign process is a mess but I have to wonder if that’s intentional. Closing the achievement gap isn’t that complicated. The district has had many opportunities to work towards closing the gap but failed to do so.
Here’s a list of some of the opportunities that the district has missed for better serving low-income and minority students:
- failure to follow through on recommendations from mediation between PPS and the Education Crisis Team
- failure to use almost $3 million in 2008/09 Title I funds intended to be spent on improving the educational program for poor kids
- failure to use at least $500,000 annually in school level Title I funds for the last decade
- a failed district audit of legally required Supplemental Services for struggling students
- over two decades of failure to comply with civil rights laws for English Language Learners
- decades of unchanging disparities in student discipline, special education, and talented and gifted rates
It’s widely believed that Zeke Smith is running the district now. What does Zeke know about closing the achievement gap?
Zeke was the Portland Schools Foundation’s Director of Community Engagement in 2007 when they identified Astor, Clark, Faubion, Vestal and Woodmere as Excellence in Education Award winners for being high poverty schools that were closing the achievement gap. At that time the Portland Schools Foundation reported:
There is remarkable consistency in the research on the essential elements of schools that are closing the achievement gap – it doesn’t happen by chance. Six key factors need to be in place for schools to make significant gains:
- high expectations
- quality teaching
- ongoing professional development
- community engagement
What? Where does it mention equity in access? Is that the 7th key factor?
It seems to me that the absence of the 6 key factors in this week’s high school resolution was the reason that board members Williams and Gonzalez opposed the resolution.
Show me a resolution that includes a detailed plan for ensuring those 6 key factors are in place and I might be able to get behind it.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.
March 1, 2010
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:
- 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;
- to increase the district’s capacity to develop, support, and sustain teacher and principal leadership;
- 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
- 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.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.
February 22, 2010
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:
Boise Eliot $4,954
Chief Joseph $31,476
James John $7,739
Rosa Parks $8,833
Ockley Green $(358)
Roseway Heights $4,535
Jefferson HS $33,896
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.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.
February 12, 2010
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:
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?
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.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.