Category: Madison High

On the right track with Carole Smith

Lest the casual reader believe PPS Equity is solely focused on the things Portland Public Schools is doing wrong (we’ve been described as “scathing” by Sarah Mirk at the Merc), we should pause and take note of the things that are on the right track.

In Carole Smith’s September 5 speech (58KB PDF) to the City Club of Portland (reviewed by Peter Campbell here and by Terry Olson on his blog), she highlighted what I see as a significant policy shift from her predescessor. In her prepared remarks, she says

…our high school campuses with the lowest enrollment — the ones usually suggested for closure — each have at least 1,400 high school age students living in their neighborhoods. As a city, we have a choice: We can declare defeat, shut down those campuses and tell 1,400 students they have to take a long bus ride every day to a high school in a more affluent part of town — sacrificing their ability to participate in athletics, after-school programs at those schools that meet families’ needs and are attractive to students.

I’m not ready to give up on those schools and on those neighborhoods.

Hey, I could have written this! In fact, I have, many times.

(The next step is to figure out how to pay for it. I’ve long suggested balancing enrollment through a combination of equalizing opportunities across the district and a neighborhood-based enrollment policy. Carole Smith and her staff haven’t made that next step yet, but unless they have a 50% increase in funding or want to cut programming in wealthier neighborhoods, balancing enrollment is the only way we’re going to get there.)

Finally, we’re hearing talk of “equity of access,” which sounds pretty darned close to the “equity of opportunity” I’ve been calling for.

The significant question about “access” is whether we will continue to have a two-tiered secondary school system — comprehensive middle and high schools for the wealthier half of the city and K8s and “small schools” high schools for the rest — or whether we’re going to work toward eliminating the ability to know the wealth of a neighborhood by the type of school you find there.

Smith is taking the first steps on the path to what I call equity; to that end, her staff, “by the end of this school year, … will define the core educational program to be offered at each of our high school campuses, as well as a plan to fund it within existing resources.”

You have to assume this will be a pretty low bar, as it has been with K8s. (The minimum 6-8 curriculum being defined for the K8 transition is significantly less than what was already available at every middle school in Portland before the K8 conversion.) But we’ve got to guarantee that students are at least able to graduate with the classes available, something that isn’t necessarily possible at some of Portland’s poorest high schools, a problem aggravated by the district’s rigid implementation of the “small schools” model at Madison High School, for example.

Nevertheless, these implementation details, along with a continued focus on assessment, do not detract from the fact that Carole Smith is on the right track in significant, broad stroke ways.

Talking about high schools before talking about facilities. Talking about “equity of access”. Talking about where students live (as opposed to where they’ve transferred to) as a critical element in the design of the high school system.

It’s easy to point to missed opportunities to take immediate action and show a real commitment to equity of opportunity: Madison High, K8s, Libraries, etc. But it seems to me the winds have shifted, and if we actually put some of Carole Smith’s words into bold action, we’re going to see a turn-around from the laissez-faire, two-tiered, self-segregated “system” of education we currently have.

Then it just becomes a question of urgency. Every year we wait, we lose another class of students.

It wouldn’t hurt if the school board put a little more wind at Carole Smith’s back in this regard.

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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Backpedaling on Colton, Small Schools

David Colton’s involuntary transfer has been more or less rescinded, according to Steve Duin’s column in the Oregonian. Duin also reports the outfit that channeled Gates Foundation money to fund the “small schools” implementation has withdrawn Madison’s 2008-09 grant.

Portland Public Schools spokesperson Matt Shelby told Duin that because Madison is “not going down that road toward small, fully autonomous high schools, the money is no longer there.”

Whether this means students will now be allowed to cross over and take classes not offered in the academies they signed up for as freshmen remains unclear. This was the flash point that led to Colton’s involuntary transfer in the first place, and it would defy all logic to continue to prohibit this.

The ability to admit mistakes and take corrective action is a sign of strength and integrity, and was never seen with Carole Smith’s predecessor. Getting it right at Madison would be a very hopeful sign for PPS.

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

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Feds open civil rights investigation of PPS

The Sentinel reports today that the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has opened an investigation of Portland Public Schools based on the complaint of Marta Guembes on behalf of limited-English proficiency (LEP) students at Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt.

In a letter to superintendent Carole Smith dated July 15, 2008, the OCR notifies PPS that it is under investigation for violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically for:

  1. failing to provide LEP students the services necessary to ensure an equal opportunity to participate effectively in the district’s educational program; and
  2. failing to provide information in an effective manner to the parents of LEP students concerning their children and school programs and activities.

The choice of schools is illustrative of the segregation that reflects the concentration of immigrant populations in schools that form an outer ring in Portland, exacerbated by high out-transfer rates of white, middle class students to schools in whiter, more affluent neighborhoods.

Marshall, in outer southeast, is 22.9% English language learners (ELL), Roosevelt, in north, is 19.1% ELL, and Madison, in outer northeast, is 14% ELL.

Of the other high schools in Portland, only Franklin has more than 10% ELL (10.2%). Jefferson is 8.6%, Benson 5%, Cleveland 4.1%, Wilson 3.4% and Lincoln 1.2%.

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

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Can PPS get it right at Madison?

The story of “small schools” in Portland Public Schools is one of desperation, hope, good intentions, bad will, and, ultimately, bitter irony.

PPS turned to the model when it had run out of ideas on ameliorating the “achievement gap.” Put aside for a moment the fact that schools are just one small input in the equation that yields abysmal school success rates for children affected by poverty. Under pressure from the federal government to raise test scores, PPS leaders turned to grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to split comprehensive high schools into autonomous schools-within-schools.

Originally conceived as “small communities,” with teachers as leaders and principals as teachers, the “small schools” movement had already gained a toehold in PPS, thanks to committed teacher-leaders like David Colton, who saw them as an opportunity to bring a private school atmosphere to the kinds of students least likely to have access to it.

There was never an intention to constrain students in narrow academic “silos,” to place artificial barriers between small schools, or to introduce more administrative bureaucracy. But this is exactly what happened at the four high schools torn asunder by the PPS interpretation of “small schools.”

Each of the three small schools at Madison were given their own “small school administrator,” at a pay grade ($91,140 – $101,092) one step above vice principal. At least one of these administrators had no classroom teaching experience. Despite an unworkable master schedule within the small schools, students were prohibited from crossing over into other academies to fill out their schedules.

The net effect is that for considerably more money, mostly due to the cost of extra administrators, students at these small schools get considerably less opportunity than they could be getting, if only PPS would make small modifications to their small schools implementation.

The obvious solution at Madison, without backing out of the small schools model entirely, is to allow students to fill out their schedules by crossing over into the other academies. It would also make sense to get rid of the three small schools administrators, and hire a vice principal. Use that money to put teachers in the classroom, and have senior teachers and counselors lead the small schools.

This is what the teachers who originated the concept wanted, but when counselor David Colton helped students fill out their schedules by crossing over into other small schools, he was placed on probation and threatened with involuntary transfer out of Madison.

Colton has the overwhelming support of his students and colleagues, as evidenced by the mass student walkout and the vote of no confidence in Madison principal Pat Thompson at the end of the school year in June.

The situation at Madison could be a watershed moment for Carole Smith. Her initial reflex was to side with administrators against the students and teachers, calling their actions “very disappointing.” Colton’s involuntary transfer is rumored to be proceeding.

But will students at Madison continue to be denied cross-over? There can be no legitimate reason for this. Even school board member Bobbie Regan, at Madison’s commencement exercises, acknowledged that students want to be able to do this.

The only reason to deny students the ability to fill out their schedules across small school lines is for Carole Smith and her administration to save face. Scapegoating David Colton for the problems at Madison, despite overwhelming support for his vision of small learning communities, not iron-clad, top-heavy small school silos, only further limits the educational opportunity of Madison’s students.

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 High counselor tells his story

Approximately 8 years ago Madison High School received a Carnegie Grant through the Portland Schools Foundation with the intent of exploring the promise of small schools.

When I was a counselor at Hosford Middle school I was witness to the success that Hosford had in their creation of three small school communities using the theories and research of Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier. The work they did in creating smaller learning communities was very compelling and held promise for high schools that struggle with getting a large percentage of their students to state benchmarks.

My positive experience at Hosford as well as my experience as a parent with a child at a private school set me on a mission to work with the administration and teachers to restructure Madison High School. I visited schools in Texas, New York City as well as local schools to experience first hand the impact that reform could have on schools and learning.

Monthly and bi-monthly meetings with a team of teachers and administrations led ultimately to the writing of the Gates grant to secure the funds to create smaller learning communities. There were many of us on the staff that felt that by going small we would see academic gains in our students.

Once Madison was awarded the Gates-Meyer Memorial Grant it became obvious that the administration had one vision and that many on the staff had another vision of what small learning communities would look like. It was apparent that structure was going to dictate curriculum and course offerings and that students were to be locked in to communities without access to electives or programs just down the hall.

There were not enough electives, and I found that students had holes in their schedules that could not be filled within the small learning community. Students asking to take a class such as advanced biology in another community were told no and it was suggested they take that that course at a local community college.

Administrators were going through schedules looking for unauthorized crossovers, and I was being written up for insubordination for filling a student’s schedule with something other than a teaching assistant in his or her community when they wanted an elective in another community. I went from having an administrator who had not evaluated me in 5 years to one that scrutinized my every move.

My new administrator is a woman who has never been a teacher, let alone an administrator, and who is long on scrutiny but short on practicality or reason. I went from not having a blemish in a long career to a plan of assistance that in truth was designed to shut me up and stop asking questions about the efficacy of how we were delivering the model for education in our community.

I have a lot of support in my building and the questions that got me in to trouble are being asked publicly and have even come out in the Oregonian. Small schools are supposed to about shared governance, teacher as leader.

Creating autonomous schools work for start up schools but not for conversion schools. Hybrid models, 9th and 10th grade academies, team teaching, project based learning, performance outcome based learning and a lot of collaboration and hard work will get students to parity with their peers on the west side of this city.

Show me one west side school that is embracing some of the notions that are being imposed on the less affluent east side schools. They don’t exist.

I have been screaming for equity for these kids and limiting their choices, taking their school away from them and their community is not serving anyone but the ideologues who are building a reputation on the backs of the students and the families least likely to have the ability to fight this approach or any other approach as they are just too busy making a living and trying to survive.

David Colton is a high school counselor and a former English and drama teacher.

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Counselor will sue district

Madison High Counselor David Colton has filed claim against PPS for defamation, in a case related to his forced transfer, a student walkout and the no-confidence vote in principal Pat Thompson, according to a Mercury blog post by Matt Davis.

Colton was popular with students in part for the way he helped them circumvent the Gate’s sponsored “small school” academic silos, forced on Madison (and also Marshall, Roosevelt and Jefferson) by Vicki Phillips.

It’s nice to see somebody at the Merc pay some attention to Portland Public Schools. A tip of the PPS Equity hat to Matt Davis.

Correction: an earlier version of this story misidentified Madison vice-principal David Hamilton, who is named in Colton’s suit, as principal of Madison. Hamilton leads one of three “small schools” at Madison. Principal Pat Thompson oversees all three.

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

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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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