March 5, 2010
After a delay to get more information, the school board is once again poised to approve the STARBASE program, which sells the military access to fourth and fifth graders for a couple hundred thousand dollars. The rally is at 6pm Monday at district headquarters, 501 N. Dixon Street.
From the event’s Facebook announcement:
Come out to testify against or bear witness as the Portland Public School Board votes to allow military recruitment, under the guise of science education, of our children in grades K-5.
Military bases are not designed for children, they are not playgrounds.
Military bases, including our local Armory, store toxic materials and jet fuels; not safe for children.
We are a country at war, military bases are not safe places for civilians, especially children, during wartime. They are targets.
Military personnel returning from active duty may suffer unpredictable and often violent behavior as a result of service. Luckily no children were injured on the base in Texas when such an incident occurred.
Of the 18 schools participating in this program all but 4 are Title 1 schools. All but three have higher percentages of minority students, and all but four have higher poverty.
Violence is on the increase in our public schools and culture. Exposing our young, impressionable children to exciting, high tech, high powered, weapons will not help in our struggle to move toward a more tolerant and peaceful society.
Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.
March 1, 2010
The Portland Public School board is scheduled to vote March 8th on a program that would allow military recruitment, under the guise of science education, of PPS kids in grades K-5. The program (STARBASE) has been in Portland schools since 1993. PPS receives just over $300,000 per year for providing access to the kids.
STARBASE and the district’s claim that there’s a need for this particular program or that it’s an effective way to teach science is weak at best.
In 2001, PPS was awarded a $4,964,861 five year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant with these goals:
- to enable all of the district’s diverse student enrollment to meet rigorous K-12 standards in science and mathematics and prepare for postsecondary education and future careers;
- to increase the district’s capacity to develop, support, and sustain teacher and principal leadership;
- to engage families and the community in supporting improved student performance in science and mathematics and improved access to high quality, inquiry-based educational opportunities; and
- to establish ongoing collaborative partnerships with higher education, business/industry, policy makers, and other key stakeholders in support for exemplary, research-based teaching and learning in science, mathematics, and technology within the context of a large and diverse urban district.
In a 2004 PPS grant report, PPS makes the following claims about the NSF program:
- In science, NSF schools made a gain of 6% in 5th grade, 6% gain in 8th, and 9% gain in 10th grade, compared to district growth of 4%, 4%, and 9%.
- Minority students improved in science in the NSF schools faster than whites. The percentage of 5th grade African American students who met standards increased from 36% from 47%, compared to whites that increased from 79% to 81%.
- Hispanic students have traditionally not performed well in math and science. This year, many of them improved particularly in science. In NSF schools, the number of Hispanic students who met standards increased from 37% in 5th grade to 46%, from 25% to 34% in 8th, and from 20% to 27% in 10th.
Inverness Research Associates conducted annual evaluations of the NSF grant. The October 2006 final report states:
In our view, the Portland USP can readily claim success with developing greater teacher leadership capacity for math and science education improvement in their district. Their theory of action – of how to achieve increased capacity – was sound. First they focused on creating change “from the bottom up,” instead of from the top down. The USP also sought to make lasting changes to teachers’ beliefs, recognizing that ultimately the individual is the unit of change. Changes that reside within the individual teacher, that is – their ways of thinking and teaching and learning vis-à-vis math and science education – are, therefore, lasting legacies. Schools come and go, and staffs and principals and reform foci also shift frequently in large urban districts. Given that reality, seeking to create changes from the bottom up, and individual-to-individual, are strategies that promise a greater likelihood of sustainability. Also when robust vision, commitment and skills reside locally at the school level, the work of improvement in math and science is more likely to continue in spite of district change. Finally it is important to point out that teacher leadership capacity does not disappear. It is a renewable resource, a districtwide (though often invisible) asset that can be harnessed and directed for worthy purposes. The development of indigenous teacher leadership is, therefore a wise, ecological model for improvement.
Inverness Research Associates’ final report indicates that the program was a big success. The conclusion is too lengthy for a blog but these are the highlights.
Given the relatively small scale of the USP investment, roughly $20 per student per year, it has reaped enormous benefits, leaving behind a host of tangible and intangible assets in the district. To name the most significant of these assets are: a well-honed, highly respected and very experienced leadership team for math and science; a district-wide group of teachers and teacher leaders committed to math and science improvement; a cadre of classroom teachers with vastly improved skills and knowledge in math and science teaching, as well as skills and knowledge about how to work together to provide and continuously improve high quality programs for students; systems and structures organized to deliver and maintain curricular materials; a strategically designed, well-crafted professional development program; a clearly articulated and commonly held vision for high quality math and science education which lends coherence to efforts for improvement at multiple levels of the system; and finally, the accumulated good will and success of the USP effort which enables people to continue to work hard and with optimism toward their shared goals even in difficult circumstances.
So given PPS own data and reports and an evaluation conducted by an outside organization, the NSF program was effectively closing the achievement gap in math and science and PPS could have easily sustained the effort for $20 per year per student.
Why is PPS now offering up the very same groups of kids supported by the NSF grant to the military for a mere $300,000 in a weak, non-sustainable so-called science program? Have they dismantled the infrastructure that was so effective for poor and minority children?
It just makes my point in the previous post that PPS is unwilling to close the gap. The bottom line is that PPS poor kids are the district’s contribution to the war efforts.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.
February 18, 2010
Note: Anti-war activist Brian Willson sent this letter to the school board and superintendent February 16. –Ed.
RE:DoD & Portland STARBASE (Science Technology Academics Reinforcing Basic Aviation and Space Exploration)
I examined representations from printed and electronic web materials offered by DoD (Department of Defense)* and Portland STARBASE, a “fun academy” conducted at a military base designed for “opening young people’s minds to the military” – specifically at risk 5 to18 year-old Portland Public School (PPS) students (K-12). I am struck by the fanciful rhetoric which, from my experiences as a veteran, former officer in the US Air Force and commander of a ranger-type unit in Vietnam, and general observer of military life and activities, severely masks the realities on the ground. That STARBASE is represented in lofty terms, of course, is not surprising since its funding derives directly from the Pentagon’s recruiting budget, and is considered by military commanders as a “cornerstone” in the creation of their public image [DoD STARBASE 2008 Annual Report]. The U.S. Military Recruiting Handbook unapologetically declares that “School recruiting is critical to long-term recruiting success…It means having the Army perceived as a positive career choice as soon as young people begin to think about the future.” And as DoD admits, STARBASE “is one element in the building of that talent pool” [italics added for emphasis].
*Department of Defense is Orwellian doublespeak for Department of War. Since World War II, scholars identify more than 350 overt military interventions in countries around the world without the Constitutionally required declaration of war, and thousands of additional covert interventions, all illegal.
I am particularly struck by the stated goals of STARBASE Portland: “[I]mprove the knowledge and skills of at risk youth in math, science, and technology by exposing them to the technological and positive role models found on military bases and installations,” specifically the Oregon Army National Guard Jackson Armory and the Portland Air National Guard Base. And, “Strengthen youth resistance to negative influences, including substance and alcohol abuse.”
During my four years of active duty employment I was stationed at four different bases in five states three Air Force (TX, MD, LA) and one Army (KY, TN), plus two in Viet Nam, before being honorably discharged at the rank of Captain. Putting public relations fluff and recruiting rhetoric aside for a moment, I cannot think of a poorer setting to which to expose impressionable young children than military bases. Their representations as “technological and positive role models” have clearly not been critically examined!
3. DoD Largest Polluter in the World
The DoD is the largest polluter in the world, producing more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined. This includes poisonous compounds such as pesticides, defoliants, solvents, petroleum, perchlorate (from rocket fuel), trichloroethylene (TCE), lead, depleted uranium, and mercury, among others. TCE, used as a degreaser for metal parts, is the most widespread water contaminant in the country, and more than 1,000 military sites are contaminated with it, but perchlorate is a growing contaminant in groundwater as well. The DoD controls more than 31,000 environmental sites officially declared severely dirty at more than 4,600 active and formerly active installations scattered around all 50 states. Yet, the DoD continues to resist orders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to clean them up. Of the dirtiest of the dirty, the Pentagon owns 129 of the 1,255 identified Superfund clean-up site. ["Pentagon Fights EPA On Pollution Cleanup," Washington Post, June 30, 2008; "Military Pollution: The Quintessential Universal Soldier," commondreams.org, March 27, 2005; "Communities Seek Accountability For Military Pollution," Press Release (of five Environmental Groups), commondreams.org, March 23, 2009]. This is the record of the same DoD that pretends to offer young children a superb “technological role model.”
The Portland Air National Guard Base hosts the 142nd Fighter Wing, which includes A-15 fighter jets, as well as hosting the 939th Air Refueling Wing. This means lots of fuel storage and inevitable fuel spillages, use of TCE degreasers, solvents, etc., that normally accompany the high tech atmosphere of military and aviation installations.
In sum, military installations are very unhealthy places environmentally, as I can attest to from personal experiences, despite public relations representing the opposite. I served for two years on a command-wide Inspector General staff where we wrote and enforced regulations for bases that emphasized appearances far more than substance, a kind of image-making endemic in our culture.
4. Military Social Environment is Chronically Problem-Laden
Furthermore, I can attest to the fact that the “positive role models” to which you are exposing Portland’s “at risk” youth are quite farcical when you look below the surface. No matter what military regulations dictate or public affairs officers describe, the military social environment possesses serious racism (cf. civilian life), chronic abuse of alcohol and drugs – prescription and illegal (cf. civilian life), domestic violence, rape, mental illness, suicides at much higher rates than found in civilian life, and popular but unhealthy high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar diets offered on military bases by Fast Food chains like McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, Popeyes, etc.
Military bases have histories of violence, especially domestic abuse and homicides (described as a “spousal aggression issue” by the military) ["Base Crimes: The Military Has A Domestic Violence Problem," Mother Jones, July/August 2005], as well as collective murders ["U.S. Army Base Has Bloody History," CBS News, November 5, 2009]. Domestic abuse is believed to be double that of the civilian population ["A Considerable Service: An Advocate's Introduction to Domestic Violence and the Military," Domestic Violence Report, April/May 2001, Civic Research Institute, Kingston, NJ]. And sexual assaults and rape of female veterans by male soldiers is chronic: more than 40 percent of female veterans report being victims of sexual assault, including rape, while serving in the military, with few of the male criminal perpetrators brought to justice ["Sexual Assault In Military 'Jaw-Dropping,' Lawmaker Says," CNN.Com, July 31, 2008].
The stated Portland STARBASE goal to “strengthen youth resistance to negative influences, including substance and alcohol abuse,” is simply an irresponsible resort by the PPS to unexamined representations which ironically expose at risk youth to ever more health and life risks as targeted military recruits. Serious alcoholism and drug abuse continues to plague military life, just as it did when I was in the military 40 years ago ["Heavy Drinking Still Acute Among Young Military Members," Pacific Institute For Research and Evaluation News Release, March 2, 2006; "Wounds of War: Drug Problems Among Iraq, Afghan Vets Could Dwarf Vietnam," Join Together newsletter, Boston University School of Public Health, June 15, 2009; "U.S. Troops Admit Abusing Prescription Drugs," USA Today, December 16, 2009; "Alcohol Abuse Weighs On Army," USA Today, February 9, 2010]. General Peter Chiarelli, Army Vice Chief of Staff, recently admitted “an increase in military violence, alcohol and substance abuse, and an increase in destructive or reckless behaviors” [Oregon Military Department Official Blog, September 15, 2009]. Just in the past week, two soldiers with the Oregon National Guard have been removed from duty for serious substance abuse and erratic behavior, each now facing punishment ["The Military and Substance Abuse," by Mike Francis, The Oregonian, February 10, 2010].
5. Suicide Epidemic
In 2009, suicides among active duty personnel exceeded number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and was the highest number since records began to be kept in 1980. For every successful suicide, at least five other active duty members are hospitalized for attempts. Resources of the military and Veterans Administration for dealing with problems experienced by soldiers simply have not been sufficiently allocated ["Suicide Claims More US Military Lives Than Afghan war," World Socialist Web Site, January 6, 2010; "Despite Prevention Efforts, U.S. Military Suicides Rise," McClatchy Newspapers, January 15, 2010; "Investigation Shows Military Suicides Up; Leaders Push Response," CaliforniaHealthline, November 25, 2009, California Healthcare Foundation]. Our society continues to glorify the military and war. However, when it comes to honestly addressing the reality of military life and the costs and traumas of war, our society historically falls terribly short [Richard Severo & Lewis Milford, The Wages of War: When America's Soldiers Came Home - From Valley Forge to Vietnam(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989)].
6. Veterans Experience Serious Problems
Once discharged from the military into civilian life, problems experienced while in the military often continue, or are even exacerbated. The suicide rate among veterans is twice that of other US citizens – 6,500 a year, or 125 a week, or 18 per day. One thousand veterans receiving care from the VA attempt suicide every month. Of the 1.7 million military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 300,000 suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or major depression. Another 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury or physical brain damage, a majority of whom have yet to receive mental health and disability benefits. These two categories alone comprise 36 percent of the wounds, not counting thousands more suffering from various other bodily injuries. In the six months leading up to March 31, 2008, nearly 1,500 veterans died while awaiting to learn if their disability claim would be approved. And veterans who appeal a VA denial of their disability claim wait an average of nearly four-and-a-half years for an answer. Veterans also exhibit higher rates of unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, overeating, unsafe sex, and higher rates of physical and mental health problems and mortality ["The Truth About Veteran Suicides," Foreign Policy In Focus/FPIF, May 8, 2008; "Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans: A CBS News Investigation Uncovers A Suicide Rate For Veterans Twice That of Other Americans," CBS News, November 13, 2007]. As many as 400,000 veterans experience homelessness during the course of each year ["Homeless Veterans," National Coalition for the Homeless, September 2009].
7. Bribery To Public School Systems Purchases Pentagon Access to Children as Young as Five
That the Pentagon is able to effectively pay a bribe worth several hundred thousands of dollars to PPS each school year in order to access and brainwash its youth, while government funding is being cut for genuine creative learning programs and college assistance, is grotesque. This policy squeezes out other educational and career alternatives while deliberately channeling certain young people to the military. I cannot think of a more insidious recruitment scheme under the mask of providing special math and science education for at risk students, a curriculum PPS is already charged by law with providing. DoD STARBASE defines the characteristics of those it intends to target, apparently with the cooperation of five PPS staff: “[B]eing from a single parent household, having an older sibling who dropped out of high school, changing schools two or more times…, having C’s or lower grades, being from a low socioeconomic status family, or repeating an earlier grade.” Educators should spurn this program offer.
What process does the PPS staff undertake for selecting young people to attend a military “science camp” packaged as if it is a fun video game? This is a mockery of the PPS policy of zero tolerance for weapons in the learning environment. PPS school staff, working with DoD STARBASE officials, are likely to disproportionately select low-income students and minority students of color, softening them up for subsequent hard-core recruitment into a “career pathway” toward an early death sentence, i.e., white-washing a “career” of being cannon fodder. What constructive and creative alternatives are school officials exploring and implementing for these youth? That it is those students with the fewest options in life who are selected for this masked military recruitment program is deleterious discrimination.
Children do not possess the maturity of judgment or critical thinking skills needed to carefully analyze all opportunities presented to them. Would we offer children a rifle to shoot at targets without careful thought, even if the child was eager to do so? Would we offer a child a computer to simulate launching of robotic drone warfare directed at targets in far off lands, even if the child finds this a thrill? Would we offer various drugs and alcohol even if children desired same? Would we continue to feed them fast foods without regard to nutrition, knowing the harmful health effects and likely onset of obesity and diabetes? Learning settings require understanding contexts and long term consequences which educators presumably assess before offering them. I am not suggesting that these specific things are being offered by STARBASE, but that the program insidiously opens certain doors to at risk children that likely will not lead to the glorious future represented in the promo.
Children are impressionable, and the glamour of military high technology of “Aviation and Space Exploration” imparts exciting images in young children’s minds, the content and context of which have not been assessed for appropriateness in developing open minds. STARBASE enables further militarization of our culture, distorting our cultural psyche to the detriment of everyone. Remember, that once in the military, a soldier undergoes basic training where the primary skill learned is to operate a firearm and become proficient at killing another human being without first gaining knowledge of the history or context of the killing fields to which the soldier may be thrust.
8. My Experiences
As a security and law enforcement officer at headquarters of a major Air Force command Inspector General’s Office, I assisted in overseeing compliance at dozens of bases with safety, security, public relations and readiness requirements.
In Vietnam I was commander of a 40-man ranger-type unit where I witnessed the immediate aftermath of low-flying fighter-bomber Turkey Shoots destroying inhabited but undefended fishing and farming villages, leaving hundreds of murdered and maimed Vietnamese in the bomb’s wake. My unit was primarily protecting US Air Force installations during which we survived 18 mortar and rocket attacks.
Subsequently, I was shocked when I realized that our military forces had invaded another country whose people simply wanted their independence from outside colonial powers. The Vietnamese were simply defending themselves from an attacking force of incredible firepower of which I was a part. I was not defending freedom for US Americans, but in fact destroying the deserving freedom of others. It was absurd! The reason I did not understand this reality: I was never taught this history, knew nothing about Vietnamese culture, and was ignorant about the insidious reasons my country was committing an egregious crime against peace. When the Pentagon Papers were published in 1971, it all became quite clear.
Commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity were normal, deliberate policy, despite being in violation of US Rules of Engagement, international law, the US Constitution, and my own conscience. Many of my superiors laughed at the “Rules of Engagement.” I witnessed these crimes more than 40 years ago, yet these experiences remain a permanent imprint, leaving me with a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In my final assignment in the Air Force, I served as executive officer addressing personnel problems of a 250-man supply squadron: severe racism that existed on our base and in the nearby community, domestic abuse, violence in the nearby community, suicides or their attempts, drunkenness, drug addiction, etc.
Fifteen years later I served as executive director of a veterans outreach center. Homelessness was epidemic; alcoholism and drug addiction were chronic, causing a number of pre-mature deaths; veterans in car accidents died at nearly twice the rate as non-veteran car accidents; a number of “bush vets” lived isolated in nearby forests; many veterans suffered from chronic diseases, including various cancers and early deaths attributed to poisoning from the herbicides the United States used in Viet Nam. On several occasions I disarmed troubled veterans in threatening crises. Eight veterans committed suicide during my tenure there. Upon reflection I began to comprehend just how deep was the traumatic and unnatural conditioning that results from military training without context about the wars soldiers are ordered to engage in. It makes us fierce fighters, oftentimes murderers, as we witnessed peers being killed. Upon reflection, many of us knew deep down the reasons for our involvement in the war as told to us by our elders, schools, churches, families, and government, didn’t hold up to a critique that we wished we had been offered as part of our education as young men.
STARBASE is an egregious affront to the youth of our country, our culture, our city. That its assumptions and representations have been accepted without question by professional educators reveal an irresponsibility that is unconscionable. Why has no critical review been conducted by people who are in the know and can properly reflect upon the dangers of exposing young people to images and influences that are likely to have grave consequences on their future lives?
S. Brian Wilson is a Portland resident who served in the United States Air Force, 1966-1970, Vienam 1969; Honorably discharged as Captain.
February 11, 2010
Demographic information readily available from the district does not provide a fine-grained detail of fourth- and fifth-grade students targeted by the military’s STARBASE recruiting program, but it is clear that poor and minority students are over-represented.
Of the 18 schools participating this year, all but four are Title 1 schools. All but three have higher percentages of minority students than the district-wide minority enrollment (46%). All but four have higher poverty than the district at large (45%).
The schools participating average 11 percentage points more minority and 17 percentage points more poor than the district as a whole, even when factoring in the four wealthy schools that participate.
While many participating staff and families may swear there is no recruiting going on, the program is funded from the US Department of Defense recruiting budget. The military is clear about their need to target potential recruits early.
Student information is shared with the military with little or no notice to parents (or opt-out opportunities), and the program is explicit in its goals of improving the image of the military with young children.
Here are the schools participating this year, with their demographic information.
Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.
February 8, 2010
The Portland Public Schools board of education is set to approve a contract with the U.S. military to take $320,000 in exchange for access to elementary school children.
The Starbase program, funded from the US Department of Defense recruiting budget, has been raising parent hackles since at least 2006. It is up for re-authorization at tonight’s school board meeting, in the midst of two shooting wars and the “Global War on Terror.”
Parents opposed to the program issued a press release this morning urging the board to vote down this contract. They are also calling on parents to contact the school board about this program.
“We oppose the militarization of our children through a science curriculum,” said Jessica Applegate, mother of two PPS students.
“Students of color are disproportionately represented in their program,” writes parent Carrie Adams on her blog, Cheating in Class.
Nancy Rawley, PPS Equity co-publisher, notes that the $320,000 could pay for “a whole lot of microscopes and science supplies.” She wrote about Starbase here last month.
Update, 3:45 pm: sources tell PPS Equity that the resolution has been pulled from the agenda for today’s meeting, and will appear again soon.
Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.
January 31, 2010
It’s simple. The kindergarten to 5th graders are expected to be the Department of Defense’s (DoD) future workforce. PPS has a contract with the DoD Starbase supplying them with mini recruits. In 2008 Congress appropriated $20,203,000 for the program which is available in 34 states. This year PPS received $350,000 of it.
The DoD Starbase website states: “DoD STARBASE students participate in challenging ‘hands-on, mind-on’ activities in aviation, science, technology, engineering, math, and space exploration. They interact with military personnel to explore careers and make connections with the real world. The program provides students with 20-25 hours of stimulating experiences at National Guard, Navy, Marine, Air Force Reserve and Air Force bases across the nation.”
The real world includes white kids but you won’t find too many of them in the Department of Defense marketing materials.
Starbase targets “at-risk youth” which they define as “students at risk are those who have characteristics that increase their chances of dropping out or falling behind in school. These characteristics may include being from a single parent household, having an older sibling who dropped out of high school, changing schools two or more times other than the normal progression, having C’s or lower grades, being from a low socioeconomic status family, or repeating an earlier grade.”
I’d love to see the data that PPS used to help Starbase identify those students. First of all, aren’t a lot of military kids living in single parent households while one or sometimes both parents are fighting in the war?
Does PPS track dropout siblings? Changing schools two or more times? Does it count when it’s PPS that keeps closing schools in poor schools then reassigning kids? Does that put those students at risk? Do kids even repeat classes anymore?
Starbase and PPS aren’t identifying individual students based on the characteristics mentioned above. Schools are being identified through socioeconomic status and race. PPS tracks both of those.
Check out the presentation on the DoD’s plan for the future and you’ll see that students of color are disproportionately represented in their program. The Portland schools participating in Starbase are schools with high percentages of minority students.
One of the stated goals of Starbase is about increasing drug awareness and prevention. If PPS is serious about supporting at-risk youth, administrators might try looking across the river. It’s widely known that students on the west side are struggling with drugs and mental health problems. Why aren’t they being enrolled in Starbase classes? Is it because they are wealthier white kids?
One look through the DoD Starbase 2008 Annual Report makes it clear that Starbase is a recruitment program. The report also talks about the need to engage kids early because they lose interest as they near middle school age. Here are some items from their post-program assessment:
- Military bases are fun.
- I am enjoying coming to a military base.
- The military base is a good place to work.
- Military people do lots of different things.
What do any of those questions have to do with math and science skills? But then that’s not the real goal of the program.
Just when I think PPS can’t do anything more despicable to poor kids, I learn about something new. The most appalling thing is that Starbase isn’t new to PPS. The superintendent and board have known about this for years.
Years ago the Education Crisis Team brought a coffin to a protest before the school board. Protesters carried signs saying that the district was handing poor kids a death sentence. People thought it was extreme. Maybe it wasn’t extreme enough.
At the time Education Crisis Team leader Ron Herndon was quoted as saying “This may not be the kind of parental involvement you want us to have, but this is the kind of involvement we need to have”. Amen.
Take action: Call or write PPS Board members to demand that PPS terminate the contract with the Department of Defense immediately.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.
January 28, 2010
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.