Category: Libraries

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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From Ms. Nancy’s Library: How to get a kid to read

“American children and adolescents spend 22 to 28 hours per week viewing television, more than any other activity except sleeping. By the age of 70 they will have spent 7 to 10 years of their lives watching TV.”
– The Kaiser Family Foundation

Ms. Nancy discusses strategies for getting kids to read in the latest episode of her podcast Book Geek.

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

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School library bill gets first hearing

Oregon’s HB 2586, the Quality School Libraries bill, gets its first House committee hearing this Monday, March 30. This bill would make library programs eligible for grants in addition to State School Fund money, and would require school districts to include goals that implement strong school library programs in their local district continuous improvement plans.

Please contact members of the House Education Committee and urge them to support this bill. (Or thank them for their sponsorship. Four of nine of the committee members — Dembrow, Huffman, Roblan, and VanOrman — are co-sponsors). It is also helpful to contact your legislators and encourage them to sign on as sponsors if they haven’t already, or thank them for their support if they already have.

House Education Committee

Legislative sponsors

House:

Senate:

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: PPS libraries

The Oregonian‘s Kim Melton summarizes Susan Stone’s February presentation to the school board on the sorry state of our school libraries. Melton also shows how PPS stacks up to neighboring districts. The library assistant at my house wants you to be sure to read all the way to the end.

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

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Libraries on the school board agenda

The “Initiative for 21st Century Libraries” is on the agenda for this Monday’s school board meeting, with district library staff presenting their case for what our school libraries should look like.

If last month’s community forum was any indication, expect to hear a call for a staffed library with media literacy instruction available to every PPS student. (That last part is particularly critical; some PPS high school principals are under the mistaken impression that students don’t need instruction in research and the evaluation of information in the age of the Internet.)

Friends of libraries are asked to attend and wear red to show their support. The meeting starts at 7pm, the library update is scheduled for 7:55, and citizen comment is scheduled for 9:45 (since this is an informational item — no vote — there will not be citizen comment immediately following the staff presentation).

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

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The budget slaughter and poor schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Library Initiative Community Forum Wednesday

Forwarded from PPS library staff; supporters of PPS libraries and library staff are encouraged to attend! –ed

Staff, administrators, teachers, parents and community are invited to attend a community forum focusing on school libraries. The meeting is scheduled for January 14, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Grant High School Library.

This group will provide input on a district vision to improve and integrate the services provided by and for school libraries. The focus is to increase capacity for information literacy instruction and improving library administrative services.

  • WHAT: Library Initiative Community Forum
  • WHO: Library staff, administrators, teachers, parents, community
  • WHERE: Grant High School Library – 2245 NE 36th, Portland, OR 97212
  • WHEN: Wednesday, January 14, 2009, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Update, 1/10/09: Here’s a flier (38KB PDF) with more details from PPS library staff.

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

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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Stasis

sta·sis \ˈstā-səs, ˈsta-\ noun
1: a slowing or stoppage of the normal flow of a bodily fluid or semifluid: as a: slowing of the current of circulating blood b: reduced motility of the intestines with retention of feces 2 a: a state of static balance or equilibrium : stagnation b: a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change in a lineage occurs

Stakeholders in Portland Public Schools have noticed that not much seems to be getting done (at least publicly) on several critical issues.

  • K-8 The Superintendent’s PK-8 Action Team hasn’t held a public meeting or posted new information since May, at which time the lack of library staff was identified as a critical issue. Five K8 schools continue to operate without library staff, and no status has been reported on adjusting the budget formula to provide more opportunity to the small cohorts of middle graders in K8 schools. The lack of a comprehensive middle school option in two of nine clusters (Jefferson and Madison) continues to be a glaring symbol of the inequity that is being institutionalized by the lack of action on this issue.
  • Libraries Eight schools in PPS have no library staff whatsoever, including five K-8s, one PK-5, one 6-8 and one 6-12. Three high schools lack a certified media specialist. There has been talk of making library staff centrally-funded, as was done in the last budget for counselors, but there is no visible progress on this.
  • High Schools The high school design team hasn’t posted any new information since September, when it posted a high level goal statement (PDF). A community committee to provide input to this group never materialized.
  • Transfer policy Two and a half years ago, county and city auditors found that the district’s transfer policy led to “significantly less socio-economic diversity in schools than would be the case if all students attended their neighborhood school,” contrary to its stated intent to “promote equity, diversity and student achievement.” They also found that “the transfer policy competes with other Board policies such as strong neighborhood schools and investing in poor performing schools.” (Flynn, Suzanne and Blackmer, Gary. “Portland Public Schools Student Transfer System: District objectives not met” (PDF) June, 2006.)

    Since this audit report was published, the school board and administration have failed to address the central question (What is the purpose of the school choice system?) or make any modifications to mitigate the damage it causes. Each year we are told it is too late to make changes for the coming transfer cycle.

    Likewise, this year, a citizen committee was to be formed, announced several weeks ago. The committee still has not formed, though applications were taken and applicants were interviewed. With the transfer cycle for 2009-10 set to open January 23, it appears the district has once again stalled long enough to avoid any changes or clarifications for yet another year.

    Meanwhile, schools with high out-transfer rates continue to be punished by a funding formula that drains funding along with enrollment. It is unlikely this will be changed, since the budget cycle is soon upon us as well.
    Update, 12:40 p.m.: The committee has been selected and will hold its first meeting two and a half weeks before next year’s transfer cycle begins.

  • Facilities Efforts to get a billion dollar facilities bond on the ballot came to a screeching halt last winter, and soon after, a high-priced consultant’s scathing e-mail went public. The official reasons for holding off on the bond were reasonable (we need a high school design first, and there was a good chance the double majority law would be overturned, allowing a bond to be passed during a special election). But with no visible progress on high schools or K-8s, this “critical” issue seems to have been reduced to a simmer.
  • Equity As with high schools, a committee of community members had been suggested to advise the superintendent’s equity team. No such committee has been announced, and no information has been posted about the internal team. With equity the “over-arching” goal of Carole Smith and her second budget cycle looming, you’d think this would at least be a public relations priority.

I certainly don’t mean to imply nothing is being done. But given the severity of the problems, the disgrace they bring to our fair city, and the superintendent’s stated priorities, it’s shameful actual change on these issues is evidently being kicked down the road yet another year. Our children aren’t getting any younger.

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

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“Choice” done right

There is a school district, of similar size and demographics to Portland Public Schools (37,789 students, 42% minority, 33% free and reduced lunch, 16% ELL), with less funding per student than PPS, that manages to maintain strong and equitable neighborhood schools and a vibrant school choice program.

All of its neighborhood K-5 schools have music, P.E. and a library (staffed with a certified media specialist).

Options start in the middle grades (6-8), with every student assigned to a comprehensive middle school. Every neighborhood middle school offers world languages and elective options in the arts such as band or orchestra, choir and art. All middle schools also have after-school activities.

If a family is not happy with their comprehensive middle school assignment, they can choose from one of three K-8 schools, or one of several schools specializing in the arts, health and science, environmental science, an international school, or a school for highly gifted students.

As with the middle grades, every high school student is assigned to a comprehensive high school, each offering a broad and deep selection of advanced placement classes, world languages and electives, including fine arts (instrumental music, theatre, art, etc.), business, technology, etc., and each offering a wide variety of after-school programs.

For students looking for options not available in their assigned high school, choices include continuations of the middle grade arts, international, and health and science schools, as well a high school focused on science and technology and a “small school” focused on individualized instruction, independent learning, and real-world experience. They may also enroll in an International Baccalaureate program.

How do they do it?

  • Their system is grounded in neighborhood-based attendance. Neighborhood schools are strong enough and offer enough of a comprehensive curriculum to be the first choice of the vast majority of families.
  • Choice is limited to option schools; neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers are only allowed in exceptional circumstances. With schools sized according to attendance area, they are able to maintain funding and programming.
  • Schools are considerably larger than schools in PPS (with K-5s around 600 students, middle schools 1000 and high schools 2000), with the trade-off of comprehensive curriculum in every neighborhood school.

And what’s the school district? Beaverton.

It is remarkable how well-planned, consistent, fair and equitable Beaverton is. They actually have a well-designed system of K-12 education, with a well-thought out curriculum guaranteed to every student in every neighborhood school that is as good or better than the best of the best in PPS.

Compare and contrast this to the shameful, utterly disorganized state of Portland Public Schools, where this kind of schooling is only available in the whitest, wealthiest neighborhoods.

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

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