Category: Arts

Hip Hop Charter eyes Jefferson

In another sign of the failure of Portland Public Schools to fund and support a performing arts magnet school in a historically black neighborhood, a proposed charter school focused on many of Jefferson’s current and past strengths — namely video production and music — has its eyes on the now vacant music wing at Jefferson High as a possible location.

Jennifer Anderson reports in the Tribune today that Erica Jayasuriya, the organizer of the school modeled after a Minnesota charter school, also has her eye on Madison and Roosevelt areas.

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

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The budget slaughter and poor schools

David Wynde issued a dire warning at the last school board meeting about the coming budget, which he describes as large cuts to an already inadequate base of funding. Though he didn’t say it, there will likely be cuts to programming, increases in class size and maybe even school closures.

Current enrollment figures, released this week, show a persistent pattern of divestment from the poorest neighborhoods in Portland due to the migration of students under the Portland Public Schools student transfer policy, and its labyrinthine, outdated and counterproductive layers of school board exceptions and amendments.

We have allowed “choice” to design a system of schools in Portland that are dramatically inequitable in terms of course offerings, teacher experience, and discipline.

School choice has dismantled, closed, or demolished (literally) every single comprehensive secondary school in the Jefferson and Madison clusters. The same is true for the Roosevelt and Marshall clusters, save two beleagured, largley poor and minority middle schools on the fringes of district boundaries.

The schools that remain disproportionately lack library staff, music, art and electives when compared to the rest of Portland, and are more segregated by race and class than the neighborhoods they serve.

It’s been two and a half years since a joint city-county audit (230KB PDF) concluded that Portland’s school choice system was at odds with strong neighborhood schools, noted declining availability of transfer slots in high-demand schools, and recommended suspension of the transfer lottery “until the Board adopts a policy that clarifies the purpose of the school choice system.”

The school board has never issued that policy, or done anything significant to reform a system that has not only failed, it’s made matters worse.

So, two and half years later, parents in the poorest parts of town are agonizing over ever more rapidly dwindling transfer slots in schools increasing distances from their homes, because their neighborhood schools have been utterly drained of enrollment, funding, and opportunity.

“This isn’t school choice,” one parent told me. “It’s school chance.”

Current transfer policy arose largely out of the last budget crisis, and the result has been devestating to poor neighborhoods and the families who live there. So this current crisis is an opportunity as much as it is a challenge.

It may seem an awkward time to demand the rebuilding of school libraries, music and art departments. But if we spread enrollment and funding proportionately to where students live, we could begin rebuild these programs in schools that have lost them. At the same time, we can maintain a base line of programming at other schools that are currently over-crowded.

Yes, there will be cuts, but some clusters and schools have fared dramatically better under choice than others. We cannot tolerate any more reduction of opportunity in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters, all of which have been cut beyond the bone. Yes, the rest of this town may have to go without some of their gravy so these clusters can have a little meat.

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

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Giant Steps

We’ve been taking baby steps toward equity for a while now, with no appreciable difference to schools and students in non-white, non-middle class neighborhoods. It’s time for some giant steps (and a little musical interlude).

If you can follow this, thank a music teacher (you won’t find many in Portland Public Schools, especially in poor neighborhoods, since the big cuts that followed Measure 5). Giant Steps, by John Coltrane:

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

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A challenge for Martín González

As the newest member of the Portland Public Schools board of education, I would like to extend a cordial welcome to Martín González in the form of a challenge on a number of critical issues, in no particular order.

  • High schools: advocate for comprehensive high schools in every neighborhood, with the schools offering the best variety of courses and the most qualified teachers sited in the poorest neighborhoods. This policy, the inverse of the current high school system, would rebuild enrollment and public investment where it is most needed. “Small schools,” as currently implemented, may be offered as a special focus, but should never be substituted for comprehensive schools.
  • Facilities: advocate for building new facilities based on where students live, not where they’ve transferred, a policy of investing in proportion to local student population and encouraging families to stay in (or return to) their neighborhood schools.
  • K8 transition: advocate for a comprehensive middle school option in every neighborhood. K8 schools may be the best option for some students, but they offer dramatically less educational opportunity and are more segregated than middle schools. (Before this transition, every middle school student in PPS had access to a staffed library. Now many do not.) PPS middle grade students assigned to K8 schools are significantly more likely to be non-white and poor than those assigned to middle schools. If any student has a middle school option in their neighborhood, all students should.
  • No Child Left Behind: bring a resolution to the board calling for the repeal of the punitive aspects of this law that unfairly target poor and minority students, and introduce policy directing district administration to de-emphasize assessment in favor of a more rounded, whole-child educational focus.
  • Student transfer and school funding policies: advocate for a school funding policy that would reinvest in schools that have been gutted by out-transfers as a way to bring enrollment back. Introduce policy that would shift our public investment back to where families live, and guarantee a minimum core curriculum (including the arts) in every neighborhood school. If you really want to be bold, propose policy that would limit neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers to those that would not adversely impact socio-economic segregation. That is, students who qualify for free or reduced lunch could basically transfer anywhere, but other students could only transfer into Title I schools, much like the transfer policy in place during the 1980 desegregation plan (but keying on income instead of race).
  • Charter schools: come out strongly for neighborhood schools. Learn from charter school applications what’s missing in our neighborhood schools, and advocate for policy to provide these things in neighborhood schools. The most recent PPS charter school proposal suggests nothing we shouldn’t already be doing in every neighborhood school.

González has a unique opportunity to “audition” for the seat that he will have to win by popular vote in May. How he performs on each of the above issues will signal where he stands with those of us who want school system based on equity of opportunity, where the wealth of a neighborhood does not correspond to the wealth of offerings in its schools.

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

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PPS Equity 2007-08 retrospective

The 2007-08 PPS school year heard lots of talk of equity, but no common vision has emerged for what that means or how we can get there.

Things started on a cautiously optimistic high note with the hiring from within of Carole Smith, whose staff started saying the right things about equity.

The school year built to a climax with the mayor’s week at Jefferson in January, but the wind started to come out of the sails with a new budget that brings further staffing cuts at schools in poor neighborhoods. Questions remain about the district’s commitment to “proof points” at Jefferson, such as merging the academies, to say nothing of restoring the performing arts department or restoring AP classes.

Questions about the PK-8 transition bubbled up and led to Smith’s first encounter with an angry mob. She responded with an action team. Some of the biggest holes are plugged, but PK-8 remains in crisis, still short library staff for eight schools.

In the end, we still don’t know: What defines equity? There have been no changes to the policies most responsible for inequity (open transfers and the school funding formula). Worse, the district seems fixed in a mindset that they can guarantee outcomes for children affected by poverty. But this mindset has subjected our poorest children to less educational depth and breadth, and can only accelerate out-transfers of those better off.

The longer they try to deliver “equity” like this, the more inequitable things have gotten.

Ultimately, the only path to equity is equal opportunity and balanced enrollment. That is (like I said in September), we’ve got to define a comprehensive curriculum (including arts, libraries, technology, etc.) and deliver it in every neighborhood school, and we’ve got to talk about the transfer policy in the detail requested by the Flynn-Blackmer audit, issued two years ago this month.

September 2007

Report on transfer policy and neighborhood funding inequity presented to school board

I present the school board and interim superintendent Ed Schmitt the first draft of my report Charting Open Transfer Enrollment and Neighborhood Funding Inequities (261KB PDF). The report details how the district’s transfer and enrollment policy takes significant funding from our poorest neighborhoods — over $40 million in 2006-2007 — and hands it to our wealthiest neighborhoods. The poorest school clusters — Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt — continue with disproportionate program cuts as enrollment and funding flow to more affluent neighborhoods. Schools in wealthier neighborhoods effectively maintain comprehensive programming at the expense of our poorest citizens.

PPS changes policy to allow corporate advertising in school gyms

Before Carole Smith is hired, the school board votes to allow the Trail Blazers to “donate” the refinishing of our ten high school gym floors in exchange for the placement of permanent corporate ads. Dwight Jaynes loves the idea, others do not. Rick Seifert (of Red Electric fame) inspires the nickname Dwight “Burgerville” Jaynes.

October 2007

Smith hired from within

Bucking a trend of hiring administrators from outside of the district, the school board surprises many by hiring Carole Smith from within. Smith wastes no time setting high expectations, saying “Jefferson’s going to be great.”

District low-balls rehired custodians

Opening negotiations with their rehired custodians, PPS offers a 30% pay cut.

District data show transfer policy aggravates segregation

In advance of board discussion on the transfer policy, administrators present data showing the segregation caused by the transfer policy.

City offers million dollar band-aid to district’s 40 million dollar problem

Erik Sten‘s Bureau of Housing and Community Development offers Portland schools a million dollars to to “create excitement.” Excitement fails to materialize.

November 2007

Board dances around transfer issue, takes no action to balance enrollment

The school board finally gets around to talking about its transfer policy, a year and a half after auditors asked for clarification. They artfully avoid answering city and county auditors’ questions about racial and economic segregation caused by its policy.

December 2007

Board rejects all four charter applications

Possibly signaling a new attitude, the school board rejects four charter school applications.

New Administration makes positive rumblings about “Equity”

Carole Smith’s administration starts saying the right thing about equity.

January 2008

Mayor Potter comes to Jefferson

The school board comes, too, and is met with a parade of students speaking eloquently about the lack of rigorous and varied course offerings available to them. The Jefferson High School PTSA presents the school board with their comprehensively damning resolution calling for an end to the transfer policy that has devastated the schools in our poorest neighborhoods. I put in my two cents worth, too, addressing the intolerable inequity created by the board’s transfer policy.

The whole scene is repeated Wednesday, when the City Council meets at Jefferson. In addition to the students and PTSA members, city council candidate and Wilson High parent Amanda Fritz addresses the council about the glaring differences between her daughter’s school and Jefferson. I speak of the school district and city working at cross purposes.

The week wraps up with the mayor’s state of the city address to the City Club on Friday, with club members getting a tour of Jefferson’s half-empty library, and the mothballed metal shop, TV studio and band room.

The entire week leaves the Jefferson community buoyed by a sense of hope and possibility. How could a city like Portland tolerate such glaring inequity?

February 2008

PPS Equity launched

It seems like it’s been a lot longer, but I just launched this site in February.

The last “Celebration!”

PPS holds its last “meat market” school choice fair.

PK8 comes to a boil

Two years after a rushed decision to eliminate middle schools (in some neighborhoods; the west side gets to keep theirs, evidently) parents come together to demand a better deal for their middle-school children.

Custodians stave off 30% pay cut

Custodians and food service workers are made to feel good about taking a 3-year wage freeze.

Ivy charter withdraws application

With the board poised to approve their application on appeal (with some modifications), the organizers of the Ivy Charter School withdraw at the last minute. The other three applications in the cycle were rejected and did not appeal.

Smith’s first budget: where’s the equity?

Carole Smith’s first budget makes a few tentative steps toward equity, but does nothing to balance enrollment or help schools hardest hit by the transfer policy.

March 2008

Smith forms PK8 action team

Two years after beginning implementation, the district decides to start planning for it.

April 2008

Deep cuts to poor schools

As community members start to study the budget, deep cuts are discovered at our poorest schools, putting the lie to the “overarching” goal of equity.

Gates “small schools” make no progress

Touted as a salve for the “achievement gap,” our poorest schools were carved up into academies. New data show these schools continue to have the worst dropout rates in Portland.

May 2008

Jefferson Students walk out, protest lack of progress

Frustrated at staffing cuts, and a continuing lack of breadth and depth in course offerings, Jefferson students walk out, demanding curriculum, teachers, AP classes, language classes, College Center, and
other programs.

School board funds new books for middle schoolers, even as many schools lack library staff

Some parents question the timing and priority of the move.

PK8 team addresses some concerns

PK8 schools get some basic guarantees, but district won’t commit to library staff for nearly a third of PK8 schools. Transition remains in crisis, but at a lower boil.

June 2008

Madison students walk out, decry “small schools”

Protesting the anticipated “involuntary transfer” of a highly-regarded counselor, around 50 Madison High School students walk out, also citing discontent with the “small schools” model that has them constrained in narrow academic silos.

Oregonian covers small schools

In an A1 story in the Sunday Oregonian, reporters Betsy Hammond and Lisa Grace Lednicer write about the failure of the Gates-funded “small schools” to bridge the “achievement gap.”

But it is quixotic to form policy around outcomes, as former PPS school board member Steve Buel has pointed out.

Over the summer

Teachers and students get summer vacation, but the school board never sleeps. They meet all summer, and three of them will be entering the final year of their term (Henning, Ryan and Sargent). Will the transfer policy be addressed in a meaningful way? Will we finally figure out how to talk about high schools, school mergers (closures) and facilities, all in one fell swoop? Will anybody present a vision for what PPS will look like in five years? Stay tuned….

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

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Why Fine Arts Matter

Here’s a radical thought:

The arts — dance, drama, music, visual arts — belong in the core education of every child. An
arts-rich education improves student achievement, attitudes, and attendance. Schools committed
to the arts report lower dropout rates. Sustained involvement in the arts highly correlates with
success in mathematics and reading, especially among economically disadvantaged populations.
When the arts become central to the learning environment, schools become places of discovery,
promoting respect for cultural diversity and creating a strong sense of community through shared
experiences.

Who said that? Our friends who run the Beaverton School District.

The Beaverton School District strives to ensure excellence in education for all children by
providing a variety of arts experiences, a comprehensive and sequential fine arts program, and
equity of opportunity
.

(Emphasis added.)

This is from Beaverton School District’s Fine Arts Position Paper (29KB PDF). It is a refreshingly common-sense attitude toward fine arts education, one we find utterly lacking in Portland Public Schools.

Instead of a comprehensive and sequential curriculum, we have a confusing patchwork of offerings at the discretion of site administrators. We are not properly building foundations in the elementary years to feed into specialized fine arts programs in the secondary years (band, orchestra, chorus, etc.). But even worse, we are not building well-rounded learners.

Allowing site administrators to choose from a cafeteria of “enrichment,” without centrally coordinated curricula goals, virtually guarantees that our children will not be adequately educated in the fine arts. It also guarantees that inequity will not only persist, it will continue to be hidden in the weeds of a poorly-planned, poorly-implemented “system” of fine arts education.

Given research showing the benefits of fine arts education on attendance, achievement, attitude and drop-out rates, a budget truly focused on equity would insist on a centrally-coordinated fine arts curriculum at all of our Title I schools.

Instead, the proposed 2008-09 budget adds a small amount of FTE across the board, simply reinforcing existing inequities in arts education.

We can — and should — do better than this.

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

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Toward Equality in our Schools: New Postage Stamp

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NSA founding member and PPS Equity contributor Anne Trudeau sends along a note that she saw this stamp at the post office the other day.

The stamp commemorates the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1947 Mendez v. Westminister School District federal court decision, which held that Orange County schools could not segregate Mexican and Mexican American students into special “Mexican” schools.

Earl Warren, then governor of California, signed a law later that year that eliminated segregation of Asian school children in California schools, then went on to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and write the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.

The US Postal service issued the stamp in September of 2007.

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

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