Category: K-8 Transistion

In the news: Carole Smith’s challenges

Jennifer Anderson writes in the Portland Tribune about issues facing Portland Public Schools superintendent Carole Smith, including stalled teacher contract talks and the stalled — some would say failed — experiment in k8 schools.

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: K8s exposed

Beth Slovic documents the obvious inequities between K8s and middle schools for middle grade education.

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

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Just drops in the bucket

Amidst unstable funding for education and a lingering recession, Portland Public School teachers like me are stuck in the middle of contentious contract negotiations, one year overdue. Much information that is available to the public is filtered through Portland administrators, namely Carole Smith, who seems very much out of touch with the day-to-day workings of most teachers.

As news stories broke about $500,000 spent on Blackberries for “higher ups”, and $80,000 spent on hotel meetings for the same, one starts to wonder how much more is being spent on “non-classroom” items. One such story saw Matt Shelby, district spokesperson, say something to the effect that these items were very minor compared to the overall budget. And this got me wondering, “If these items were just “drops in the bucket” so to speak, how many drops in the bucket do there need to be, before the bucket gets filled, and people get mad?”

Drops in the bucket. There are 80+ schools in the Portland district. If each of these schools received $1,000, then that $80,000 spent on hotels takes on greater significance. I have had to scrounge for materials each and every year I have taught. $1,000 to buy the novel sets I desperately need to teach 7th grade. Wow, what a luxury. How many drops is that $80,000 now?

Not to mention $500,000. As I think about the computer lab our school was promised, but then denied, because we didn’t have the room, I wonder. Would half a million buy a lab? Or how about an addition to our cramped, “only suitable for elementary students but made to serve middle school students as well” library? A place to house our nurse and counselor and special ed. teachers, who currently have to share small quarters? This would not go far to fix all of our K-8s that are sorely lacking in facilities and resources. But, what if even one school got the treatment it deserved? How many drops in the bucket is that worth?

As we see the district move forward with its grand high school redesign, one cannot help but wonder what happened to the K-8 redesign. Did we miss it? And can we really trust a district that feels as if several hundred thousand dollars are just drops in the bucket?

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.

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Who Funded Pam Knowles’ Election?

This article is reprinted with permission. It originally appeared on the author’s blog Global Ideologies in Education –Ed.

Portland Business Alliance COO Pam Knowles recently won a seat on the PPS school board. She ran against Scott Bailey in a high-price race for the zone 5 seat. Knowles spent $34,030 on her campaign and Bailey spent $33,561 to publicize his candidacy. This begs a few questions: does this de facto “pay to play” policy lock out particular communities, viewpoints, or opinions? Who can raise $30,000 for a high-involvement volunteer position while maintaining a job and raising a family? These questions become even more relevant when considering the election process in Portland: anyone can vote in any zone’s election. (See also this open thread for previous discussion of these issues. –Ed.)

The election process has turned into a media campaign complete with campaign managers, corporate donations, media budgets, and the presentation of false statistics (more on this later; let’s just say Knowles either has no idea what she is talking about or is knowingly misleading the public).

knowles-finance
Location of Pam Knowles’ campaign donations larger than $100

The map above shows the sources of 57 donations to Knowles’ campaign. Several of them are in her district, but the vast majority aren’t even on her side of the river. All of this information is available here through OreStar, Oregon’s election reporting website. These 57 donations account for around $15,000 of Knowles’ $34,030 campaign; the other donations were less than $100 apiece and do not require documentation. I have no doubt that Knowles had the support of some people in her district — some of those sub-$100 donations were from voters in her district — but she certainly pulled in her biggest chunks of funding from the West side (and Portland businesses).

What is Knowles saying that makes the business sphere take note? First, Knowles claims we have a 42% dropout rate. She pushes for “stabilizing funding” for the schools without calling for taxes on businesses (she’s also the COO of the Portland Business Alliance; do you think they like the new tax hikes?). She practically screams efficiency and accountability in the voters’ pamphlet — all while suggesting the K-8 model is here to stay because “research” says it’s better. Added insult: part of that “research” is an overt attack on teachers (they’re more “accountable” in the K-8 model). Question for Pam: why do we have the K-8 model only in one part of town while another part of town (the wealthier side) gets a 6th grade academy and then a 7/8 grade school for middle school?

The claim of a 42% dropout rate isn’t unique to Pam; the Mayor has made the same claim as well (although I informed the Mayor’s office of their error and it sounds like Sam understands the issue). I’ll elaborate on the dropout statistic soon — but I can tell you that Knowles is intentionally misleading the public or completely misinterpreted educational studies (or she never bothered to read them).

Kenneth Libby is an independent education researcher and a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling. He writes about national education issues, testing and philanthropy on Schools Matter and Global Ideologies in Education.

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A middle grade fix to go with the high school plan

With the coming of the newly designed high schools it is even more imperative PPS fixes its middle grade education. Here is my proposal:

Put four 7th and 8th grade junior high schools, one each, into the Roosevelt, Madison, Jefferson, and Marshall attendance areas. If there are about 1400 students per high school in each attendance area that would be close to 700 students in each school. We leave the 6th graders in K-6s. Middle school for them is not much different than grade school anyway and society already pushes kids ahead too fast. Then let’s focus on making these schools attract and engage kids that age and use what we know about child development. I mean let’s really focus on it.

Art, band, electives (including hands-on shop and computer engineering, dance, and drama), PE every day, huge numbers of computers that are accessible, a comprehensive education in the social sciences, science, and health. A truly outstanding library. Advanced classes as well as a strong support system for struggling students. A no sugar, no junk food lunch program. Appropriate and extensive counseling. A yearbook. A school newspaper. Close ties to state, county, and city programs designed to help low-income families. Athletic and other programs such as debate and academic teams which compete against the other three schools with paid teacher coaches. A full intramural program at noon. Speakers, field trips, special programs with outside artists etc.

Then let’s couple a no nonsense discipline policy with an embracing of teen culture. Hats? Fine. Ipods? Fine. Cell phones? OK out of class. Xbox tournaments. A liberal dress code. But a take no prisoners class or program disruption discipline policy using a system which doesn’t eliminate the kid from school but holds them responsible for their actions.

Let’s free up teachers to be creative and add interest to their classes. Encourage and celebrate teaching that is dynamic and engages students, while understanding what we are trying to do is broaden the background of each child.

Expensive? Somewhat, but not as much as you might think. And with only four schools to focus on, PPS could really draw on community partners and grants for support.

It is time we stopped short-changing our most vulnerable students and perpetuating an economic and educational underclass n Portland. It is these kids’ turn.

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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K-8s from a teacher’s perspective

Everyone’s a critic, it’s true. It is easy to point fingers, but try to fix something? This takes more effort than most people can muster.

I have been a witness, for the last four years, to Portland Public Schools’ fiasco known as K-8 schools. I have tried to shed light on the problems created by this policy and had hoped to, as they say, be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The district has a history of not accepting blame when it is due, continuing with programs proven not to work, and trying to spin it all in a positive light. As PPS entrenches itself deeper into this hole it has dug itself, I cannot help but throw in my two cents, both as a K-8 teacher in PPS, and as a parent to two children in a K-8 school.

Perhaps the most obvious problem with K-8s is that the facilities housing them are woefully inadequate. My school this year, as of June 12, is losing its staff room to a classroom and the nurse will be in the hall. We were promised a brand new computer lab, but alas will have to settle for a mobile cart of computers to be wheeled from classroom to classroom. There is no science lab, our library is extremely small, and the counselor has to share a room with several other programs. Already, there is a portable on the playground. It is true that some schools have enough space, but many do not.

Indeed, some schools have scaled back their K-8 plans due to space constrictions. However, this policy is not applied consistently. Several times, in other K-8s I have taught, facilities people have gone on walk-throughs to plan for the upcoming years. Never have I seen staff asked for input. Indeed, I have seen several staff members give input, only to have it ignored. This resulted in configurations that then had to be changed once the school year started.

Even if facilities for K-8s were sufficient, the content taught and the approach to this content is not at all up to the standards of most middle schools. Many middle schools in K-8s are taught using a self-contained model. This means that one teacher teaches almost all subject matter. The problem with this is that the higher the grade level, the more complex the subjects become, and most teachers, no matter how gifted they are, cannot adequately teach every subject.

Most middle school teachers teach one or two subjects. They are experts in those subjects. As a parent, I want my children to learn from experts. Additionally, electives are taught, usually, by those same teachers. So, on top of teaching 4-5 academic subjects, middle school teachers in K-8s are required to teach an additional elective. Hence, lots of knitting, badminton, and study halls are offered. No music, no home economics or languages, as these would require actually hiring additional teachers.

Lastly, in addition to lacking satisfactory facilities and academic support, K-8s have no one steering the boat, so to speak. Most administrators are trained in elementary protocols and procedures, not middle school models. I have called several people in the district who were supposed to be “in charge” or helping those in charge, and have gotten nowhere.

The last phone call I made, on June 12, was to a facilities person. She got irritated with me asking “Why do we not have adequate room for our programs?” She then started asking me what my solutions were. I offered two or three, and she said each one had already been considered and thrown out. But it left me wondering. If you really wanted my opinion, as a teacher in a K-8, why didn’t you ask me four years ago?

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.

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High school design preserves schools, limits transfers, seeks equity

Carole Smith
Carole Smith presents her high school plan on the steps of Benson High

In her boldest policy proposal since taking the reigns of Portland Public Schools, Carole Smith has endorsed a high school system design that would guarantee every student a spot in a truly comprehensive high school, eliminate the ability to transfer from one neighborhood school to another, and preserve all existing high school campuses as either comprehensive neighborhood schools or magnets.

This model, described by Smith at a press conference on the steps of Benson High School this morning as “simple, elegant, equitable — and a lot of work,” builds on the success of our existing comprehensive high schools, but will likely preserve small schools as magnet options.

Smith acknowledged the difficulty of gaining community support for such sweeping changes. “I know that many Portlanders — justifiably — don’t really trust the school district to make significant changes. They’ve seen faulty implementation and have felt burned by rushed decision-making — whether your experience is with Jefferson High School or the K-8 reconfigurations,” she said.

Documents describing the design in fuller detail were posted on the PPS Web site this morning. More details will be presented in September.

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: another reason to question K8s

Reported on both KPTV television and KXL radio, a nine-year-old boy reported he witnessed a possible rape in the restroom of his K8 school, only to be accused of lying by school staff.

Portland Public Schools officials have piled on with further denial, claiming the alleged perp couldn’t have been in the restroom because he hadn’t signed out of class.

PPS has closed most middle schools in poor and minority neighborhoods over the past few years, converting elementary schools to K8s. Most middle schools in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods have been allowed to stay open.

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

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High schools: open letter to the Superintendent’s team

Dear Super Team,

I honestly feel that you missed some very clear issues that were expressed at the May 16th meeting.

You can not complete a diverse high school system redesign with out first addressing why it isn’t fair to begin with. The lines that are drawn for our schools need to cross the River. The wealth that lives in two schools should be spread around. Not only so more school have access to more involved parents, but so the students on the West side have access to a diverse community to learn in. Being able to relate to people of differing cultures is best taught young. That is a privilege that is being denied to those children now. In a 21st Century world we all need access to each other to grow to support our city, state, country, world.

Along these lines, it is past time to give neighborhood schools their neighboring enrollment back. It’s time to picture the school down the street as equivalent to the one across town. All it needs is you to make it your neighborhood school. What makes schools better is putting your children and your energy into it. It was clear around the room that neighborhood-to-neighborhood elementary transfers must end. But if honest concerns over quality of education aren’t addressed at the district level this can’t work. We thought that was the job of the K-8 reconfiguration to resolve. Where are the latest audit of K-8 course offerings for this year and next years planning?

As you have said, quality of high school course offerings has to be universal. But as the students explained, the specific educational offerings must to vary to offer specialized learning to motivated youth. So perhaps the idea is to have elementary education equalized and neighborhood focused. But to compliment this idea have an open specialty transfer process at the high school level. Where your neighborhood high school offerings are the same and if you aren’t interested in a magnet program you attend your neighborhood high school. But with the aid of publicly provided transportation, students would be free and able to choose a specialized course offering housed in another school. This would end the Kindergarten scuffle of worried parents that don’t feel comfortable with the feeder pastern of their neighborhood school.

More than anything it was expressed that the highest level of quality education should be offered to all children in all zip codes. Thank you for all of your efforts. Please continue to involve and inform the community at large as we proceed together towards a better tomorrow.

Nicole Leggett is a Peninsula K-8 Parent.

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Moore: district missed opportunity for apology

Note:School board candidate Rita Moore sent this letter to Oregonian reporter Kim Melton regarding her coverage of the community high school redesign meeting at Jefferson High Saturday. The Portland Sentinel also covered the meeting. –Ed.

Just read your article on today’s meeting and I wanted to say thank you. After 4 hours of remarkably shallow discussions of the models and an additional hour talking with District leaders about the principal situation at Roosevelt, I appreciate your highlighting the level of frustration that was present in the room.

This forum was significantly longer than previous forums and was pitched as an opportunity to “go deep” on the high school redesign. Instead, despite the additional time, the discussion was, in fact, shallower and actually shorter on the specific models while pointedly evading the “deeper” issues.

Most disappointing, both [Superintendent] Carole [Smith] and [chief of staff] Zeke [Smith] refused to take the opportunity handed to them by several members of the community to apologize for subjecting poor and minority students to experimental structures and sub-standard curricula. Carole came close, but the “mistakes were made” formulation just won’t cut it and she needs to understand that. Until District leaders are willing to take responsibility and then take steps to fix the problems they have created, we will never be able to establish trust. And many of us will remain forever skeptical of both the intentions and the competence of the District to provide the kind of education that all our children deserve.

By the way, when exactly will the District address the K-8 situation?

Anyway, thanks for your report.

Rita Moore has a Ph.D. in Political Science and taught at universities in the US and Europe for 18 years. She now works as an advocate for children in the child welfare system and volunteers as a mediator and facilitator. She has one child in PPS and recently ran for the zone four position on the Portland Public Schools Board of Education.

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