Category: Media

In the news: HS focus options questioned

Parent Rob Boime questions the emphasis on focus options in Portland Public Schools high school redesign plans in an op-ed in today’s Portland Tribune. Boime worries that plans to have upwards of 35 percent of students attend focus option schools would worsen inequities, and he urges planners put emphasis on community high schools first.

Boime’s commentary references an earlier news story by Jennifer Anderson, which examines Beaverton’s success with both focus options and neighborhood comprehensive schools.

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

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Chalkboard on the Wrong Road

Someone ought to tell the leaders of the Chalkboard Project that no one uses a chalkboard anymore.

And someone should also tell them that schools are about educating kids not teachers. There is a great confusion in educational circles that the major problems in the schools can be solved by better educating or evaluating teachers. Yep, we need more realistic education in our university teacher-training programs, and mentoring young teachers is a good idea. But spending millions of dollars and stealing time from children’s education in the form of half days and stealing hours and hours of time from teacher classroom preparation to do in-service to make teachers incrementally better, and sometimes worse is an educational travesty.

Most education takes place in the classroom and within schools. Improving education should focus on these two things. How do we make the school run better? How do we make the classroom work better so kids can learn more? These are not questions which will be solved in Washington D.C. with Race to the Top bribes or by school reform based on suspect, supposed educational research.

School problems need to be directly addressed by the staff in that school working together in an open manner which focuses on the problems particular to that school. Sure, the staff can ask for help upstairs in the administration office (which might include such requests as we need a librarian), and sure this can include training the staff thinks they might need. But, training in the latest educational trends, mostly designed to cover the backsides of administrators, is not particularly helpful. (This doesn’t mean an administrator can’t write down ideas and give them to his or her teachers to consider.)

Same goes in the classroom. Each classroom is different. Each is a little world unto itself with an infinite number of interactions and nuances. Spending hours on imparting national trendy reforms isn’t really much help. But that is what we do. Instead we should create an atmosphere which allows real communication between staff, including administrators, about ideas which teachers might find useful, including ideas specific to that particular classroom or the teaching of that subject. This doesn’t mean evaluating more, it means encouraging and supporting more.

My fervent hope is that PPS and the State of Oregon will figure it out. The Chalkboard project isn’t helping.

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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Run, Run as Fast as You Can

Recently, The Oregonian has published a few articles about the new “Race to the Top” grant that Portland Public Schools has signed on for, along with many other Oregon school districts.  The grant stipulates that a student’s test scores will follow teachers, and be part of a teacher’s professional file.  Indeed, a teacher will be evaluated based on a student’s standardized test scores. The state’s willingness to sign on smacks of desperation and ignorance.

Besides the obvious, that “one test does not a good teacher make”, there are numerous other reasons why this clause in the grant is ludicrous.  One is that not all grade levels are tested.  Indeed 3rd-8th and 10th grades are tested consistently in math and reading.  If you teach K-2nd grade, or 9th, 11th, or 12th grades, you just may have dodged a bullet.  In addition, if a teacher teaches subjects such as art, P.E., or social studies, which are not currently tested, then the testing does not apply to them. I would hesitate to bring this up to the state, however, as their answer might very well be to test in every single subject, every, single, year.

I know fabulous teachers who teach at schools that have not traditionally done well on standardized tests.  I happen to teach in a cluster in PPS that typically has low test scores.  I could teach in another cluster, but I choose not to.  Does a teacher magically become a better teacher if he or she moves to a school with higher test scores?  Apparently the state of Oregon thinks so.  I  cut one of the Oregonian articles out to pass around to the staff at my school.  Many teachers said that they would like to consider withholding their dues to the OEA, as our state teacher’s union has signed on with this as well.

There are many, many influences in a child’s life.  A teacher is just one of them.  This heinous grant asserts that a teacher’s sole purpose is to get a child to pass some contrived, intrusive test that has little to do with what he or she does on a daily basis, while also asserting that a teacher is the only one responsible if said child passes or fails.   I’m sorry, but “No Child Left Behind” is starting to look like a picnic.  We need to run far away from “Race to the Top.”

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.

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The Law of Lousy Outcomes

I couldn’t believe the Starbase program so I called Beth Slovic at Willamette Week and said, “Beth, have you seen PPS Equity today?” She said she wrote about the Starbase program in 2006. (Not many PPS issues I haven’t heard about – once in awhile Lynn Shore slips one by me. But somehow I missed this one.) So I thought to myself: Why hasn’t this been addressed? Then I remembered the PPS Law of Lousy Outcomes.

I first discovered this law about 15 years ago when I became concerned about kids at the middle school   where I was teaching who could hardly read at all. So I called down to the administration building and got one of the best administrators who really knew her stuff on the line. I told her about my idea for a program to fix this and pitched how important it was. After all, did anyone expect kids reading at 1st and 2nd grade level in the 8th grade to learn to read in high school?   Her answer was, “Well, we need to work on the reading in the lower grades.” Her answer to the problem was that we had another problem.

Just recently I saw a great example of the law used when I was standing behind a teacher waiting to talk to another top administrator following   a high school redesign meeting. The teacher was talking about having 40 kids in her class with a number of ESL kids, a lot of behavior problems, a number of special ed. students and a tough topic to teach. She thought it was impossible and implored the administrator to take the problem seriously (i.e. work to fix it). The administrator’s answer:   I know how difficult it must be, but “We don’t do anything well.” In other words, the reason we can’t fix your problem is because we have so many other problems.

Portland Public Schools is like a person who owns a house and his or her in-laws come over and say, “Geez, your roof is leaking. Why don’t you fix it?” And the person says, “I would but the back porch is falling down, the kitchen needs new plumbing, the house needs to be painted, and I need a new rug. I would fix it, but I have so many other problems.”   If you watch you can see PPS leaders do this all the time. And I imagine it has something to do with why we are letting the army recruit our elementary kids. And the libraries are a mess. And the middle grade education is a mess. Etc., Etc., Etc.

So here is the PPS Law of Lousy Outcomes: THE WILL TO FIX A PROBLEM IS THE DIRECT INVERSE OF THE NUMBER OF PROBLEMS WE HAVE.

Finally, it all becomes clear.

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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In the news: Portland Monthly on high school plans

Zach Dundas puts high school redesign into perspective in the February issue of Portland Monthly magazine.

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: Oregonian analysis of high school future

The Oregonian attempted a little analysis today, with a two-page spread in the “In Portland” section.

Reporter Kimberly Melton took several factors into account, including enrollment trends, political climate, community resources and current academic programs.

What this approach clearly misses is that free-flowing student transfers have drained significant enrollment from schools in poor neighborhoods, resulting in schools with some of the largest attendance area population having the smallest enrollment.

Also not considered in The Oregonian analysis is the value of the properties.

In the past, Portland Public Schools has allowed student transfers to drain enrollment from poor schools, then used low enrollment as an excuse to close them (think Kenton, with its valuable real estate at the intersection of N. Interstate and Lombard). In its analysis of Jefferson High, The O mentions PCC, but not the fact that PCC has long coveted the property for its own expansion.

In the end, the O puts Jefferson, Grant and Madison in the “too close to call” column, which will only lead to more fear, uncertainty and doubt in the community. The district is already dealing with a mini parent rebellion at Grant, and Jefferson, Oregon’s only majority black high school, has long been suspected as a candidate for closure.

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: Botana weighs in

The Oregonian ran an op-ed today by Xavier Botana, chief academic officer of Portland Public Schools, in response to a January 4 editorial criticizing high school system redesign plans.

Botana writes that “current plans would guarantee a well-rounded core program at each community high school. And those plans aren’t based on wishful thinking — they’re realistically budgeted, based on current resources and forecasted enrollment. They’re also based on what today’s students need.”

He also writes frankly about “small but real tradeoffs” required to bring comprehensive high schools to all students. Botana talks about having ninth grade academies at all schools, which have been shown to reduce dropouts, but he does not mention doing anything about the gross inequities still present in the middle grades.

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

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Monday update

As the school board begins to draw battle lines on the high school redesign, resistance is emerging in expected quarters.

Two weeks ago, the Oregonian editorial board opined against changing the student transfer policy, which has brought a bounty of enrollment and school funding to wealthy neighborhoods in tough times. (As one acquaintance put it, you can always count on the Oregonian editorial board to defend white privilege. I had some words about it here.)

A week ago, in an online op-ed on OregonLive.com (where The Oregonian maintains a half-assed Web presence) Grant High teacher Geoffrey Henderson argued against neighborhood schools, claiming there simply is not enough money to do it. (He doesn’t address how Beaverton, with similar size and demographics and identical state funding, has maintained a very viable and effective neighborhood-based school system during the two decades that Portland’s has been dismantled.)

Last Thursday, The Oregonian ran the op-ed I wrote in response to their editorial. (I joked with my wife that pigs must be flying, because I wrote a strong defense of PPS, and the O published it without rewriting it.) I expected to get some flack for it, and I have. They give you 500 words to make your case, which isn’t enough to get into nuance. I used those 500 words to give the district props for finally addressing the student transfer policy, at least in part, nearly four years after city and county auditors found it to be at odds with their stated goal of strong neighborhood schools.

Suffice it to say, many are troubled with aspects of the high school redesign.

In my high school redesign minority report, I suggested modifications to the ban on neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers to build trust in communities that have historically been hurt by district policies.

The district also missed an opportunity to build trust and demonstrate system planning competence by not fixing the K-8 mess before embarking on high school redesign. And, increasingly, community members are expressing doubts about the magnet school aspect, with concern that it will simply weaken neighborhood high schools. At a recent work session, it was revealed that enrollment at Benson High, our only major high school without an attendance area, would be significantly shrunk under current plans.

The school board is expected to vote on a series of resolutions next month, which will help clarify the process going forward.

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: board wrestles with high school redesign

Kim Melton reports in The Oregonian today that school board members are starting to debate and discuss specifics of the high school system redesign.

Bobbie Regan is quoted questioning staff assumptions about curtailing neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers and the size (and by extension, number) of high schools to close. “I’m not clear that those are the board’s assumptions,” said Regan.

Board co-chair Trudy Sargent worries about closing “successful” schools, while David Wynde and co-chair Ruth Adkins warn about labeling schools as “successful” and “unsuccessful.”

As we get down to brass tacks, battle lines are being drawn, with a split board possible on student transfer policy changes.

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

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Oregonian editorial board: nervous about transfer policy

The editorial board of The Oregonian, that rump of a daily paper that still (barely) manages to spill a little ink on Mondays, today spilled some in defense of the radical transfer policy that has been a significant contributor to the two-tiered system of education in Portland Public Schools.

In an editorial on the proposed high school system redesign, Thee O makes a wishy-washy argument in favor of some aspects (ending the long-discredited, Bill Gates-funded experiment with small schools in poor neighborhoods and reducing the number of neighborhood high schools) but against proposals that might hurt property values in wealthy, white neighborhoods (curtailing student transfers between neighborhood high schools and equalizing opportunity across the district).

In the end, the editorial reads as plea for the status quo, at least as far as wealthy, white Portlanders are concerened: “Fix what’s broken. Don’t break what’s working.”

How we can fix poor schools whose enrollment and funding have been drained by the enrollment policies that support this status quo for the wealthy is left as an exercise for the reader. They’ve got the full meal deal, and the other half doesn’t even get bread.

Cake, anyone?

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

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