Category: Charter Schools

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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This Week in PPS: Terry Olson


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This is a full transcript of the podcast, with hyperlinks:
This week in PPS, we mourn the passing of Terry Olson.

The veteran teacher, husband, father of three, and grandfather of two passed away peacefully on Thursday, October 15th, after a long fight with cancer. He turned 63 on October 9th.

Terry’s blog Olson Online was a seminal space in Portland’s blogosphere. He started writing about “[p]ublic education advocacy, tax reform, and other stuff” in January of 2003, and continued writing forcefully about these issues until recently. To the end, Terry never pulled his punches.

Six weeks before he died, he wrote his final blog post  about a bizarre charter school proposal in Corbett. The title of his last piece: Hypocrisy.

Terry’s blog was the first electronic gathering place where Portlanders discussed school equity issues extensively. He worked with the Neighborhood Schools Alliance when they rose up in opposition to Vicki Phillips’ rushed school closings and reconfigurations. He encouraged me and my wife Nancy to “come out” (well, actually, he “outed” us) when we were blogging anonymously about PPS.

By pushing us into the open, he emboldened us to mature as bloggers and expand the chorus of voices calling for school equity.

I only knew Terry as an education activist, and only in the last five years of his life. Our conversations were virtually entirely online, either in e-mail or on the blogs. I only met him twice in person. But his influence on me as an activist and citizen journalist was crucial. Without his ongoing encouragement and guidance, it’s unlikely PPS Equity would exist today.

The last time I saw him was In February 2008.  Terry stood with me in icy wind and rain at the last Celebration, the school district’s school choice fair, handing out fliers (PDF) about the inequity of school choice. He stayed with me in the wind and rain until we had handed out all 500 fliers.

To me, this epitomized Terry’s selflessness in fighting for the greater common good, even as he literally fought for his own life.

He was a contributor to PPS Equity, both as an author and in the comments section.

Terry will be deeply missed by his family, to whom we send our deepest condolences, and in the community, where he led us by example.

Thank you, Terry Olson.

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

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In the news: teachers take on “Race to the Top” nation-wide; PPS staff recommend hip hop charter

Teachers and their unions are gearing up to take on the Obama administration’s pro-charter, pro-merit pay “Race to the Top” initiative. Paul Abowd writes in Labor Notes reports that teachers from New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles met recently in LA “to bring a vision of education reform that puts educators, not ‘education management organizations,’ in the driver’s seat.”

Kim Melton reports on OregonLive.com that PPS staff are recommending the school board approve a charter high school with a focus on hip hop, modeled on the High School for Recording Arts in Minneapolis.

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

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For the greater common good

I publish this Web site to advocate for the greater common good. I even came up with a mission statement some time back to capture this notion more specifically:

The mission of PPS Equity is to inform, advocate and organize, with a goal of equal educational opportunity for all students in Portland Public Schools, regardless of their address, their parent’s wealth, or their race.

I’ve been troubled by the direction some recent discussions here have taken, as have some readers who have contacted me privately.

Discussions about poverty and race have pushed some into extreme frustration. One reader sent me this link as an illustration of the attitudes she has encountered on this site.

Another reader chafes at what she perceives as an anti-test bias on this site. She cites data showing “65% of PPS 10th grade black students getting a C or better in math but ODE assessments show[ing] only 21% of that population at benchmark.” There’s huge distrust of the district within minority communities, and this kind of data shows why.

Yes, we’ve seen district policy ostensibly aimed at narrowing the “achievement gap” contribute to a two-tiered school system. But that doesn’t mean the achievement gap isn’t real, that the district can’t take real strides in addressing it, or that we shouldn’t have some objective standards by which to measure the district’s progress in doing so.

This is just one example of where teacher-reformers clash — perhaps unwittingly — with civil rights activists, a fight I don’t want to get in the middle of.

The charter school discussion is another fight I’m weary of. It has veered repeatedly into personal territory, with charter parents getting passionately defensive about their personal choices, and charter opponents criticizing those choices with equal passion. From within that melee, I asked a simple question: How can charters contribute to the greater common good?

Besides modeling pedagogy that we already know works, nobody seems to have an answer to that succinct question (though some have pointed out how charters work against the common good).

At the end of the day, I’m not interested in hosting a pissing match about personal choices. I also don’t want to get too deeply into education reform issues, which increasingly seem to pit progressive-minded teachers against civil rights groups (not to mention their strange bedfellows in the market-oriented, anti-union, foundation- and corporate-funded “reform” movement).

I don’t doubt that education reformers want to help all students, and that charter parents would love a system where everybody wanted and got what they’re getting. But these discussions don’t seem to lead to much unity of vision or purpose.

One thing I know for sure: the enrollment and funding policies of Portland Public Schools have resulted in a pattern of public investment and placement of comprehensive schools that demonstrably favors white, middle class neighborhoods and students, to the detriment of the other half of the city. I’m not naive enough to think righting that wrong would be enough for our poor and minority students; I think the district should learn to walk and chew gum at the same time — i.e. address inputs and outcomes simultaneously.

But this is the focus I want to get back to here: what can we do to make our public school system fair, just and equitable for the greater common good? If we’re not working toward answering that question, I fear we’re getting sidetracked… just as we finally see signs of movement in that direction at the district level.

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

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Charters and PPS

Responding to the recent audit of PPS charter schools, PPS Superintendent Carole Smith had this to say:

“The track record of PPS charter schools — and of the district’s success in managing and partnering with those schools — is a mixed bag. After 10 years, it is time for a deep and thoughtful assessment of charter schools, in theory and in practice.”

Given the Board’s rejection of the most recent charter applications, it looks like the worm might be turning. Odd timing, given the rest of the country under our new President is going ga-ga over charters.

Full disclosure: my daughter attends Trillium right now. There are lot of great things about the school, e.g., not holding kids to artificial benchmarks, integrating art and music across the curriculum, theme-based education that ties in different learning styles, project-based learning, and allowing kids to choose things they are interested in learning and then giving them time and support to pursue these things. As an educator and parent, I appreciate these forms of pedagogy.

But as an activist, I question the role of charters and worry about their draining effect on neighborhood schools. On this blog, Rose and Stephanie have shared information about the way kids with IEP’s and kids with disabilities are served by PPS. The way charters handle this concerns me even more.

I think we as a community need to look carefully at the charter movement here in PPS. Is there a way that charters can become community partners, or will they always serve a niche? And why?

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

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On the blogs: Olson exposes Obama’s ed. myths

In response to President Obama’s misguided education policy speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Terry Olson debunks the mythology that Obama is pedaling in pursuit of more charter schools, merit pay for teachers, higher standards and more accountability.

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

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In the news

Jennifer Anderson reports in the Tribune that Portland Public Schools is hiring a private investigator to probe one of its charter school operators. The contract for this PI is costing the district $75 an hour and runs through the end of the school year. Jack Bogdanski asks the $64,000 question: Isn’t this the kind of thing that we have detectives, DA’s, and a labor commissioner for? To which I would add: Doesn’t the school board employ an independent auditor?

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

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Charter school hearing

The Emerald Charter School will receive its first hearing at the school board’s charter school committee on Halloween (scary stuff, kids!).

There will be a whopping ten minutes available for public testimony, scheduled during the first 30 minutes. The meeting is Friday, October 31, 9-11 a.m. in the Willamette Conference Room at BESC, 501 N. Dixon St.

As usual, letters and e-mail to the board are appropriate in lieu of public testimony.

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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Charter school reflux

The latest charter school to rear its head in north or northeast Portland represents a clear challenge to Portland Public Schools, a challenge they have so far refused to meet.

Nothing proposed by the Emerald Charter’s organizers is anything we shouldn’t get in our neighborhood public schools: community building, respect, excellence, and diversity. (In fact, the charter schools movement by its very nature goes against community building and diversity and will likely never come close to neighborhood schools in those areas.)

But you don’t have to read very far into Emerald’s Web page to see a perfectly reasonable rationale to break away from PPS. “Are we teaching students how to learn,” ask the organizers, “or are we giving them a series of rote exercises to get them through the next series of tests?”

This is exactly the question that many activists have asked, and some have pointed out that the PPS obsession with assessment predates No Child Left Behind. The more recent obsession with the “achievement gap” has ensured that Portland schools, especially in neighborhoods that are not predominately white and middle class, have increasingly focused on preparation for assessment to the detriment of “enrichment” (art, music, P.E., world languages, recess etc.).

Whether or not this focus does anything to help bridge the “achievement gap” (some schools that have done away with test prep entirely have actually shown better progress), it is clearly driving white, middle class families away from their inner north and northeast neighborhood schools. The resulting self-segregation reflects the contemporary sociological phenomenon of people tending to associate almost entirely with people who think, act, and look like them.

I cannot criticize anybody for doing what they think is best for their children — that’s their job as a parent. I want nothing to do with name calling and angry debates about personal choices, but people who believe their charter somehow won’t be part of a regressive social movement — with race as a significant aspect — are sorely misguided and misinformed.

Charter schools are, in fact, a regressive social movement; their promise is illusory. I wrote about this in a Portland Tribune op-ed last winter. Nothing has changed since then.

There is a notion that since PPS has historically failed poor and minority students, these communities should be allowed to take their state education money and take care of themselves. It’s hard to argue with the success of the Self Enhancement Academy’s work with its almost entirely African-American student body (five of 137 students were non-black last year).

But the fact that more black students are enrolled in Self Enhancement than in the other six PPS charter schools combined tells the story of “diversity” in charter schools. Every recent charter school application has promised diversity; none have delivered. Portland’s charter schools represent another form of the self-segregation encouraged by the district’s student transfer policy.

Postmodern identity politics is no way to run a public school system, and it is certainly not what we should be teaching our children.

The PPS board of education must be made to understand this latest charter school as a shot across the bow of the district’s assessment obsession. At least three of the current board (Adkins, Williams and Wynde) appear opposed to new charter schools on principle. But Carole Smith’s administration seems entirely sold on the current edu-speak lingo that says we need to focus on “closing the achievement gap” and “equity of outcomes,” goals that have put us into the vicious cycle of stripping “enrichment” as we chase “achievement” as measured by standardized tests.

If school board members want to head off this kind of challenge to the common schools model, they need to create policy that pulls the district away from assessment mania and creates neighborhood schools that consciously focus on the simple things the Emerald Charter’s organizers talk about.

There is nothing revolutionary in turning away from educational trends that have been disastrous for poor and minority children, not to mention the middle class children who would be their classmates. The PPS board needs to quit waffling on this. They should proclaim NCLB a bad law, and declare assessment obsession a detriment to whole-child learning and a significant contributor to inequity and segregation. It makes no sense to continue creating fertile ground for more charter schools that will drain more families from neighborhood schools.

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

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