Category: Jefferson High

In the news

Kicker for schools?

Oregon’s revenue system is a source of puzzlement in many ways, perhaps none more than the “kicker” which sends collected tax revenue back to taxpayers if revenues exceed forecasts.

Jeff Mapes reports in The Oregonian that the captains of industry, who last year sacrificed the business kicker to create a state rainy day fund, now want individuals to ante up. A great idea, even if it does come from a dubious source. The O’s editorial board agrees, and calls on the legislature to make statutory adjustments to the constitutionally enshrined kicker law.

The tax burden in Oregon, once equally balanced between individuals and business, has shifted dramatically to individuals in the wake of 1990′s disastrous Measure 5.

Hopefully our Democratic governor and Democratic state legislature will figure out a way to squeeze some more revenue out of Oregon’s businesses to restore some of the revenue lost 28 years ago, as well as restore a little balance to our tax system.

Jefferson gender-segregated academies revisited

Also in The Oregonian today, Kimberly Melton looks at the stark differences between the doomed Jefferson Young Men’s Academy and the (apparently, from the story) flourishing Young Women’s Academy at the former Harriet Tubman Middle School.

The differences are stark, and they have been from the beginning. Melton notes that young African American men are “more likely to attend public schools with the least resources,” and in that regard the Young Men’s Academy (YMA) clearly was a giant leap in the wrong direction.

A promised academic focus on business never materialized. They didn’t even have a math teacher until half way through the first year.

By contrast, Melton describes a Young Women’s Academy (YWA) with not only a math teacher or two, but classes in “ballet, engineering, woodworking and journalism.”

Unfortunately, the picture for the Tubman girls isn’t as rosy as Melton paints. They may have a dance teacher, but they don’t have a staffed library — the only PPS high school with that dubious honor.  Enrollment hasn’t increased as expected, even as they progressively add grades each year. They don’t have the same kinds of after-school programming as the main Jefferson campus, or consistent transportation options to get between campuses for events and activities. Getting to their building on foot requires dangerous street crossings.

The Bush administration issued rules changes for Title IX enforcement which would appear to allow Tubman to continue without a boys-only analog. But with a new administration, the historical failure of PPS to fund its various experiments in “smallness” (Small Schools, K-8, open transfers), and the looming budget shortfall, supporters of the YMA have reason to be concerned for the future of their school.

Many factors can be cited for the failure of the YMA and the threats to the YWA. But the failure to offer the promised programs at the YMA and the continued underfunding of the YWA are critical elements.

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

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Dept. of lost and squandered millions

The amount of a $5.2 million federal grant lost by the Vicki Phillips administration is now approaching $2 million, according to the Willamette Week (where the story originally broke in September, 2007). The funding of the grant, which was intended to create magnet schools in the Jefferson cluster to ease segregation, was lessened by at least $1.7 million due to the rushed closures of Applegate and Kenton, and by poor grant management.

In separate news, the State of Oregon has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a computer testing company for breach of contract.

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

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Lessons from the Young Men’s Academy

Official news that the Young Men’s Academy (YMA) at Jefferson High School will close at the end of this school year is certainly no surprise. But rather than point fingers over obvious mistakes, we should pause and reflect on the lessons to be learned.

Jefferson, Oregon’s only majority black high school, is emblematic of how Portland Public Schools treats its black students. No other high school in Portland offers as few classes as Jefferson — 34 classes currently listed (not counting dance classes), with no music, chemistry, physics, calculus, world languages other than Spanish, or a single A.P. class — and no other high school has experimented with gender segregation or uniforms.

The first lesson we should take away from the failed experiment in not just gender segregation but also “smallness” taken to the extreme, is that size matters. This is a lesson PPS needs to learn system-wide. If we are unwilling or unable to pay for it, we shouldn’t design it into the system.

The young women at the Jefferson Young Women’s Academy (YWA), though faring better than their counterparts at the YMA, are still suffering from unfunded smallness. They are the only high school campus in the district without a staffed library. They also are cut off from the after-school programs at Jefferson, with no transportation provided to and from their satellite campus two miles away.

We should also remember that both YMA and YWA have so far served mostly middle grade students — high school grades have been phased in as students age up — and that the Jefferson cluster does not have a middle school.

By far and away the most important lesson to learn from the failure of Jefferson’s YMA is one of fundamental fairness. Why is the choice of middle grade students in the Jefferson cluster between K-8 or gender-segregated 6-12? Why doesn’t the Jefferson cluster (and Madison, too) have a comprehensive middle school option, like every other cluster in Portland?

Or, to put it more bluntly: Why do we insist on treating black students so much differently (that is, worse) than everybody else?

We should know by now that endless promises, experiments and reconfigurations have only made Jefferson weaker and less desirable to the greater community — declining enrollment figures don’t lie. More of the same may be seen as confirmation of the suspicion heard frequently around the neighborhood: that PPS wants Jefferson (and its black students) to fail.

In the end, what we should take away from this particular failed experiment is that Jefferson students need what all students need: a rich and interesting curriculum, taught by experienced teachers, with opportunity in their neighborhood on par with every other neighborhood in the district.

Portland Public Schools has the facilities, and, more importantly, the neighborhood student populations, to support comprehensive high schools and middle schools in all nine clusters. But the district’s twin experiments in “smallness” and “choice” have led to a system wildly out of balance and shamefully unfair to the students most in need of a comprehensive education.

Perhaps the announcement of YMA’s demise on the day before a historic election augurs a new day, one in which black students in Portland, Ore. have the same kinds of schools in their neighborhoods as white students, and they are no longer subject to ill-conceived, under-funded experiments and second-tier opportunity.

One can only hope.

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

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Size matters

How student transfers, “small schools,” and K8s steal opportunity from Portland’s least wealthy students, and how we can make it right

When speaking with district leaders about the glaring and shameful opportunity gap between the two halves of Portland Public Schools, it doesn’t take long before they start wringing their hands about enrollment.

“If only we could get enrollment up at Jefferson (or Madison, Marshall or Roosevelt),” they’ll tell you, “we could increase the offerings there.”

Or, as PPS K8 project manager Sara Allan put it in a recent comment on Rita Moore’s blog post about K8 “enrichment”: “All of our schools that are small … face a massive struggle to provide a robust program with our current resources.”

Not to pick on Sarah, but this attitude disclaims responsibility for the problem. After all, the “smallness” of schools in the PPS “red zone”* is by design, the direct result of three specific policies that are under total control of PPS policy makers:

  1. the break-up of comprehensive high schools into autonomous “small schools”
  2. the transition from comprehensive middle schools to K8s, and
  3. open transfer enrollment.

Smallness is not a problem in and of itself, but it is crippled by a school funding formula in which funding follows students, and there is little or no allowance for the type of school a student is attending (e.g. small vs. comprehensive or K8 vs. 6-8).

So when you’re dealing with a handicap you’ve created by design — smallness — it’s a little disingenuous to complain about its constraints. Instead, we need to eliminate the constraints — i.e. adjust the school funding formula — or redesign the handicap.

Adjusting the school funding formula to account for smallness would be ideal, if we had the funding to do it. Since we don’t, this would mean robbing Peter to pay Paul. That is, we would have to reduce funding at other schools to pay for smallness brought on by out-transfers, the K8 transition, or the small schools high school model. This obviously hasn’t happened, and it would be political suicide to suggest we start.

So barring a new source of funding to reduce the constraints of smallness, we need to redesign smallness.

The easiest case is the “small schools” design for high schools. Where students have been constrained to one of three “academies,” with varying degrees of autonomy, we simply allow students to cross-register for classes in other academies. Instead of academies, call them learning communities. Instantly, students at Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt have three times the curriculum to choose from. The best concepts of “small schools” — teachers as leaders and a communities of learning — are preserved.

For K8s, the problem is simply that we can never offer as much curriculum with 50-150 students in what is essentially an elementary school facility as we can offer at a middle school with 400-600 students. So we offer a choice: every middle grade student can choose between a comprehensive middle school or continuing in their neighborhood K8. Reopen (or rebuild) closed middle schools in the Jefferson and Madison clusters, and bolster those in the Roosevelt and Marshall clusters. Families in every cluster then have the choice between a richer curriculum of a middle school or the closer attention their children may receive with a smaller cohort in a K8. We all like choice, right?

Which brings us to the stickiest wicket of the smallness problem: open transfer enrollment, which conspires with K8s and “small schools” to drain nearly 6,000 students from the red zone annually (that’s 27% of students living in the red zone and 12% of all PPS students). We’re well-acquainted with the death spiral of out-transfers, program cuts, more out-transfers, and still more program cuts. It has reached the point that it doesn’t even matter why people first started leaving a school like Jefferson.

If you look at Jefferson now, compared to Grant, for example, It’s shocking what you see. Not counting dance classes, Jefferson offers 38 classes. Grant offers 152.

What kind of “choice” is that? (Disclaimer: both the Grant and Jefferson syllabi listings may be missing courses if teachers have not yet submitted their syllabi.)

Obviously, given funding constraints, we can’t afford to have a school with 600 students offer the same number of classes as one with 1,600, as district leaders will readily point out. What they’re not fond of talking about is the budget-neutral way of offering equity of opportunity in our high schools: balance enrollment.

All of our nine neighborhood high schools have enrollment area populations of 1,400-1,600. Jefferson and Marshall, two of our smallest high schools by enrollment, are the two largest attendance areas by residence, each with more than 1,600 PPS high school students.

With a four-year phase-in (keeping in mind that transfers into Lincoln, Grant and Cleveland have basically been shut-down for a couple years anyway), you start by making core freshman offerings the same at every neighborhood high school. Incoming freshman are assigned to their neighborhood school, and they don’t have to worry about it being a gutted shell. (Transfers for special focus options will still be available as they are now.) The following year, we add sophomore classes, and so on, and in four years every neighborhood high school has equity in core sequences of math, science, language arts, social studies, world languages and music, paid for without additional funding and without cutting significant programs at schools that are currently doing well.

Once we have this balance in place, both in terms of offerings and enrollment, we can talk about allowing neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers again, but only as we can afford them. In other words, we will no longer allow a neighborhood program to be damaged by out-transfers.

It’s time for Portland Public Schools to stop blaming its opportunity gap on the smallness it has designed — by way of “small schools,” K8s, and open transfer enrollment — and it’s time for policy makers to stop transferring the costs of smallness to our poorest students in terms of dramatically unequal opportunities.



*I define the red zone as clusters with significant net enrollment losses due to student transfers: Jefferson (net loss of 1,949 students), Madison (1,067 students), Marshall (1,441 students) and Roosevelt (1,296 students). (2007-08 enrollment figures.) This represents, by conservative estimate, an annual loss of $34 million in state and local educational investment to the least-wealthy neighborhoods in Portland. “Small schools” were implemented exclusively in these four clusters, and the K8 transition, though district-wide, has disproportionately impacted the red zone. There are only two middle schools remaining in the red zone, one in the Roosevelt cluster and one in the Marshall cluster. By contrast, the Cleveland and Wilson clusters each have two middle schools; Franklin, Grant and Lincoln each have one.

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

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Jefferson YMA: its demise fortold?

PPS Equity has learned that staff in the Portland Public Schools transfer and enrollment office told the parents of at least one incoming 9th grader at the Jefferson Young Men’s Academy that the beleaguered academy would be closing.

“It’s not going to exist,” the family was told approximately two weeks before the start of the school year. It was strongly suggested that they should withdraw and go to one of the other schools where they’d been accepted.

The family, feeling like they had no choice, settled on their neighborhood high school, which the district employee told them “gets just as bad a rap as Jefferson,” so why not go there.

This could certainly explain why there were no incoming sixth graders at the Young Men’s Academy this year, if families were told to go elsewhere.

Were other incoming students told by transfer and enrollment to go elsewhere? If the district is planning to close the Young Men’s Academy, what does this say about their commitment to the 33 students who remain there? Were they also told their school would cease to exist? And what does this mean for the future of the Young Women’s Academy?

If we are giving up on the Young Men’s Academy, it is time to come clean for the good of the students. Slow death by strangulation can’t possibly be in anybody’s best interest.

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

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PPS starting the school year off with a…

Tomorrow marks a significant milestone for Portland Public Schools, as Carole Smith begins her second school year at PPS, the first with her own budget. It’s not clear yet how she (and the board’s budget committee) did.

Fortunately, Smith gave us some key points on which to gauge progress.

On the day her hire was announced Smith said “Jefferson’s going to be great.” Her staff solicited “proof points” from the community last fall to be implemented this fall.

I suggested a dramatic increase in funding to immediately beef up schools like Jefferson (similar to Steve Buel’s suggestion here).

I have not yet heard whether this one-time arts magnet school has a music teacher this year, or a world language other than Spanish. There was also talk of adding AP classes. (Any reports from the Jefferson community would be appreciated.)

I do know the middle and high schoolers at Jefferson’s Young Women’s Academy still do not have a staffed library. Likewise the students of the academies at the Marshall High School campus, whose principal does not think students need library staff in the Internet age (librarians, please don’t throw things at your computer while reading this).

Speaking of libraries, another huge challenge to Smith was getting the K-8 transition out of crisis mode. By early summer, many parent concerns had been addressed, and the focus of concern came down to libraries. At the district’s last accounting, nearly a third of K-8 schools completely lack library staff. I know at least one of them has hired some part-time non-certified staff, but what about the others?

Carole Smith did not explicitly set out to reform the small schools at Madison, but the issue came up and forced her hand. Were this fall’s Madison students allowed to fill out their schedules with classes across the small schools walls?

David Colton’s involuntary transfer was — kind of — rescinded, but even he calls it a “Pyrrhic victory at best.” Whether or not students are still constrained to academic silos will be the true test of what kind of victory this is for them.

And while we’re on the topic of Madison, middle grades and libraries, 88 eighth graders start at Madison High tomorrow, and the school has lost its library assistant. They’re holding a fundraiser to get the position back. Also, word is that the Madison eighth grade academy has a severe shortage of clerical staff to register new eighth grade students who start school tomorrow, many without schedules.

On the eve of the 2008-09 school year, the jury is still out on whether we’re starting with a bang or a fizzle, but some preliminary signs look troubling. Please post your experiences here, or e-mail them privately if you prefer (steve at ppsequity dot org).

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

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A giant step

It is time for the Portland School Board to step up and take a giant step toward district-wide equity.

For the last couple of years they have only been willing to take baby steps, and anyone who ever played “mother may I” in their childhood knows baby steps are not enough.

A logical first step would be to add 12 FTE to each of the following high schools: Roosevelt, Jefferson, Madison, Marshall, and Benson. This money could only be used to increase the curricular offerings in these schools (including maintaining a certificated librarian). The increased offerings should begin to strengthen the comprehensive nature of the school and thus attract students back to their own neighborhood school and help Benson begin to regain its previously well-deserved reputation.

The cost? About $5,000,000 I presume. The money would come from the money which would follow the returning students, the contingency fund (if the lack of curricular offerings and degradation of these schools doesn’t fit the definition of an emergency then I don’t know what will), the other places a good superintendent can find money in a $400,000,000+ budget, some grant money, and donations.

The superintendent and the school board need to either commit to having equitable and good high schools or find some other school district to administer. And they need to show their commitment with giant steps, not baby and backwards ones.

Notice this proposal skirts what is often referred to as the catch 22 of the transfer process — less kids equals less curricular offerings which means less kids which means less curricular offerings etc. A school board which allows its educational policy to be controlled by a bureaucratic catch 22 needs to reread the book — catch 22′s are to be fixed, not applauded.

Mother may I…….

Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.

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Madison teachers vote no confidence in principal, small schools

In a move teachers’ union president Jeff Miller calls “extremely rare,” Madison teachers have voted “no confidence” in their principal.

This is another blow against the Gates Foundation’s “small schools” model, which, under former superintendent Vicki Phillips, was implemented exclusively in Portland’s lowest income high schools: Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt.

Evidence continues to roll in showing this model is failing by virtually all measures to achieve its goals, and instead robs our poorest students of equal educational opportunity and accelerates the outflow of students and their funding from these schools.

Yet PPS, under new superintendent Carole Smith, has demonstrated no serious intention of returning comprehensive high schools to these neighborhoods. And there seems to be no thought of shifting the “small schools” model to a “small learning community” model, as proposed by educator and activist Terry Olson.

As with the PK8 transition, another serious mess left by Vicki Phillips, half of PPS high schools remain in serious crisis, and Carole Smith’s administration takes only tentative, superficial steps to address foundational design defects.

At some point the school board needs to assert some leadership. They need to define what constitutes a comprehensive education, and guarantee it in every neighborhood school. Until they take that fundamental step, talk of equity is meaningless and the district remains in turmoil.

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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Madison students walk out, decry “small schools”

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

This model, funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation that is coming to an end, was implemented exclusively at the four high schools in Portland’s poorest neighborhoods: Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt.

Under this model, each school was carved into three or four narrowly-focused academies, each with its own administration, course catalog, and student body. Some resources, like PE and health teachers, have been shared, but in general, these small schools have proven to be a way to offer students fewer options at greater expense to the district.

In addition to being widely unpopular, the schools converted to this model have the highest drop-out rates in Portland Public Schools.

The small schools model hasn’t gone over well in the Jefferson cluster, where the community overwhelmingly opposed its implementation. Under popular pressure, and with the support of the site administration, the district has finally agreed to merge the two main Jefferson academies for 2008-09.

Unfortunately, a strict small school model remains in place at Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt, with students unable to take classes outside of their academies. John Wilhelmi, the district’s point man on high school design, is known to be a proponent of this model, and absent the kind of resistance put up by the Jefferson community — and now by students at Madison — it is unlikely the district will change on ts own.

A sensible compromise would be to convert the “academies” into “learning communities,” with academic advisors (paid for with the FTE formerly spent on administrators) working with dedicated sections of the student body, but without students constrained to a strictly narrowed range of course offerings.

Who can argue that it makes sense to prevent Madison student Joe Scorse from taking a German class offered on campus, simply because it’s not offered in his academy?

It’s time to acknowledge that the small schools model has been neither well-received (these four schools continue to have the highest out-transfer rates) nor successful in its stated goal of narrowing the “achievement gap” (see the link on drop-out rates above).

The massive in-transfers at Lincoln, Grant and Cleveland show that what students and parents overwhelmingly want is a comprehensive high school. Why can’t PPS see fit to provide that in every neighborhood, not just the wealthy ones?

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

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