Category: Data Crunch

Libraries: an equity index

Neighborhood middle schools no library staff: 0
Of 30 neighborhood K8 schools, number with no library staff: 4
High schools with no library staff: 1 (Young Women’s Academy)
High schools with no certified media specialist (librarian): 3 (Marshall campus, Roosevelt campus, Young Women’s Academy)
Library staff at each of Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln High Schools: 3

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

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Class war in Portland

Portland Public Schools’ student transfer system transfers public investment out of our neediest neighborhoods and hands it to the wealthiest.

The poor are the biggest public school philanthropists in Portland, to the tune of 40 some million dollars a year.

The solution: rebalance enrollment. The Jefferson cluster alone had a net loss of 1,949 students to out-transfers last school year. At a conservative estimate of $5,800 per student, that’s over $11 million of public investment drained from the Jefferson cluster alone.

That’s a lot of money, but more importantly, it robs the cluster of the economies of scale that allow other clusters to offer more curriculum at lower cost.

The other clusters with significant net losses to out-transfers are Marshall (1,441), Roosevelt (1,296) and Madison (1,067).

If we put these students in schools in their neighborhoods, we would not only be able to return comprehensive education afforded by economies of scale, we would also relieve significant overcrowding at schools like Grant, Cleveland and Lincoln.

This solution has been staring district leaders in the face for a long, long time, but they refuse to even speak of it. Why? As far as I can tell, the reasons are two-fold:

  • fear of losing enrollment (they hear from their affluent white friends that they would send their children to private school if this happened) and
  • fear that balancing enrollment and opportunity would mean equalizing downward in white middle class neighborhoods.

In other words, despite the demonstrable harm they are doing to at least half the students of Portland, the perceived risk to their constituency outweighs the clear benefit to the greater common good.

Make no mistake, this is class war, and the only Robin Hoods are the reverse type.

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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A few facts about PK-8

    Number of students in grades 6-8 in PPS: 9,866
    Percent assigned to a traditional middle school (6-8): 55%
    Percent assigned to a PK-8 (or some variant): 45%
    Of those assigned to a traditional middle school, percent in the Cleveland, Wilson and Lincoln clusters: 57%
    Percent in the Jefferson, Madison and Roosevelt clusters: 8%
    Number of middle schools in the Jefferson, Madison and Roosevelt clusters: 1
    Number of middle schools in the Wilson cluster: 2
    Basic size of FTE budget allotted to teach the entire middle school curriculum in a typical PK-8 with around 75 middle schoolers: about 3
    Size of the FTE budget alloted to teach at a typical middle school with around 450 students: about 20
    Number of middle schoolers at Humboldt: 33
    Number of middle schoolers at Boise-Elliot: 48
    Number of middle schoolers at Robert Gray Middle School: 494

Source: School Profiles & Enrollment Data, 2007-2008, Portland Public Schools

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

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Gates “Small Schools” Have Worst Dropout Rates in PPS

Still touted as a way to close the achievement gap, the “small schools” model that has gutted the high schools in Portland’s poorest neighborhoods is proving to be not just unpopular, but also impotent in retaining students.

Seven of ten of the schools with the worst graduation rates in the metro area are in PPS, and all seven were split into small schools under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored Office of High Schools, headed by outgoing chief Leslie Rennie-Hill.

Rennie-Hill wants to pretend that there hasn’t been massive community resistance to the the small schools model, which constrains students to narrow choices of curriculum and strips much of the richness of curriculum common in traditional comprehensive high schools like Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson.

This model was so roundly rejected at Jefferson, the community seems to have prevailed in convincing the district to reunite the two main academies there for the 2008-09 school year.

Instead of acknowledging their popular rejection, Rennie-Hill blames No Child Left Behind for having drained the small schools of their higher-achieving students. This from the Thursday, April 10 Oregonian:

Several factors may have influenced the low numbers, said Leslie Rennie-Hill, the district’s chief of high schools. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, students at schools that don’t meet federal benchmarks in math and reading have the option to transfer to a higher-achieving school.

The exodus left Marshall and Roosevelt with “a harder population to teach, a population with more academic challenges,” she said.

The administrator of the grants, also funded by the Meyer Memorial Trust, is quick to the defense, claiming the small school transition simply needs more time to work.

But the truth is that graduation rates are indicators of poverty. Portland Public Schools are increasingly segregated by poverty, and moves like splitting up comprehensive high schools into narrowly focussed academies simply encourages more socio-economic segregation. The answer to schools with problems of poverty is integration; that is, bring back the middle class that has fled these disastrous experiments with our childrens’ lives.

And the way to bring back the middle class is simple: bring back comprehensive high schools, so students don’t have to transfer to get what students take for granted in the other half our city.

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

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Do the Math on PK-8

Portland Public Schools allocates teachers for middle school students at a ratio of 23.5:1. Take a PK-8 school like Beach, for example, with 68 students enrolled in grades 6-8.

Not accounting for SES, Title I, grants or adjustments, that would be just under 3 FTE positions dedicated to teaching the entire middle school curriculum. (Keep in mind that middle school teachers require extra certification, so you can’t just shuffle, say, a third grade teacher to teach middle school algebra or science while his kids are in reading groups.)

Even assuming some of Beach’s additional FTE from SES, Title I, etc. is used for middle school, they’ve still got fewer teachers than subjects.

There is a limit to how small a middle school environment can be and still be reasonably expected to provide the “basics” — not to mention the arts, industrial education, independent living, or any of the other great things children once got in middle school.

In our rush to reconfigure, this fundamental fact has been ignored. If we are to provide our students with a comprehensive middle school education in PK-8 schools, it is going to be vastly more expensive than in 6-8 schools.

Look at a middle school like Beaumont, with 460 middle school students and over 20 FTE positions. You can see how the concentration of students in these age bands would allow the school to offer quite a range of both core curriculum and electives, which simply isn’t possible with the smaller numbers of students in these age bands in PK-8 schools.

I’m not saying PK-8 simply won’t work. With more support (i.e. money), one could imagine a functional PK-8.

But the district isn’t acknowledging this cost, much less moving toward paying it. Instead, just like with open transfer enrollment, they are shifting this cost onto students in the form of reduced educational opportunities. And further echoing the transfer policy, the students who are paying this cost are disproportionately poor and minority.

If we are to plunge ahead with this PK-8 experiment, the district must start bearing some of the cost. We also need to maintain middle school options for all students in every cluster, since they can simply offer more curriculum, more cost-effectively, and are better equipped to prepare more of our students for high school.

Once again I ask: What is the purpose of the PK-8 transition? If it is to cut options for poor and minority students, it is succeeding wildly. If it is to offer more “enrichment” to more students at lower cost (as was stated by the previous administration), it is a demonstrable failure and needs to be reversed. If there’s some other reason, it needs to be articulated.

Our children are too important to play this kind of game with.

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

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Equity in Teacher Experience

Average teacher experience (in years) in Portland Public Schools: 14.2
Number of schools with average teacher experience of 12 years or fewer: 17
Number of these schools in the Jefferson, Madison Marshall and Roosevelt clusters: 15
Number of these schools in the Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson clusters: 0
Number of schools with average teacher experience of 16 years or more: 21
Number of these schools in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters: 5
Number of these schools in the Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson clusters: 15

Source: PPS

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

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