Category: National

Fathers: take your kids to school!

Be part of the national movement of fathers taking their children to school. Rob Ingram is asking local fathers of all backgrounds to take part.mfm

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

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Resist No Child Left Behind, don’t embrace it

Note: this is a response to e-mail sent by Carole Smith regarding Oregon schools’ performance as measured against federal benchmarks. See below for the text of Smith’s e-mail. –Ed.

Portland Public School Superintendent Carole Smith’s unconditional support of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) sickens me. “Say what you will about the federal law…” That’s quite an invitation Carole.

Let me start by saying that the roots of NCLB are George W. Bush’s friends in the corrupt Houston School Board who were dishonest from the beginning about the real statistics around their NCLB, lying when it was convenient to cover up their real drop out rates. And then there are those friends of Bush in the text book companies and the “educational consultants” who made so much money off of NCLB “aligned” curriculum while our students and teachers suffered with increased class sizes and less resources. We are sick of corporate style public education system that rations resources; that strips art, music, PE, critical thinking, and most history and geography from our curriculum and replaces it with highly scripted, dumbed-down curriculum for all but the most privileged students. We are tired of the massive influence that real estate developers and anti-tax corporate honchos have on educational decisions.

And in case you think this is just a tirade against Bush, let me add that Obama and Arne Duncan don’t impress me either. Just because they renamed NCLB and call it the Elementary and Secondary Education Act does not mean they have cut the ties to corporate America. Our public education system is still being run by corporations, still suffers in comparison to most other industrialized countries, still is stratified by race and class.

And then Supt. Smith, you have the audacity to blame the students and teachers for these problems? Shame on you. Get rid of the consultants, stand up and reject NCLB, and listen to the teachers who still go to work and try to get some joy and meaning out of the shell of a curriculum you hand them.

This letter from Superintendent Smith makes it clear that this situation will only change when students, parents, teachers and other educational workers unite to fight for a public system that is truly public, that provides a quality education for every student no matter what neighborhood they live in.

Text of e-mail sent from Carole Smith:

Today, the state released reports for every Oregon school and district under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind). Once again, Portland Public Schools had a higher share of schools meeting all the complicated benchmarks set under that federal law than statewide.

I want to particularly congratulate POWER, one of our small high schools on North Portland’s Roosevelt Campus, and Lane Middle School, in outer Southeast Portland — both of which met all the federal standards.

Most Oregon middle schools and high schools fail to meet the federal standards, but those two schools have charted great gains in student achievement, thanks to the dedication and skill of teachers and staff. (Read more about PPS and the federal ratings in today’s news release.)

Along with these success stories, we still have too many schools falling short because too many students aren’t keeping up or aren’t staying engaged. Say what you will about the federal law, I believe we need to reach for high standards. That’s why we’re measuring our progress in preparing all kids for success in life, using defined Milestones — a set of key indicators at early, middle and secondary grades.

For the coming school year, our senior leadership has set goals to increase student performance by 5 percentage points on three of these highly predictive indicators: third-grade reading, seventh-grade writing and credits earned before 10th grade.

We’ve also set goals to close the achievement gap between white students and the lowest performing ethnic subgroup by 5 percentage points on each of those measures.

These indicators will tell us how well our school district is doing as a whole, and how well we are doing for each student by name. They won’t replace the federal ratings and requirements, but they will give us a clearer picture of how well we are preparing our students for success at the next stage of their education — and for success in college or a career.

This is so important that I’m asking the school board to evaluate my performance based on our success in raising student performance in these areas. I’ve told my senior leaders that I will evaluate them based on these targets, too.

It won’t be easy to reach these targets, but keeping more students on track will pay big dividends for the rest of their lives. That’s a goal worth reaching for.

Portland parent activist Anne Trudeau helped found the Neighborhood Schools Alliance.

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In the news: WWeek endorsements, NCLB failure

Willamette Week has endorsed Pam Knowles and Martín González for school board. On the national front, the New York Times reports that the achievement gap persists in spite of No Child left behind.

The achievement gap between white and minority students has not narrowed in recent years, despite the focus of the No Child Left Behind law on improving the scores of blacks and Hispanics, according to results of a federal test considered to be the nation’s best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency.

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

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On the blogs: Olson exposes Obama’s ed. myths

In response to President Obama’s misguided education policy speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Terry Olson debunks the mythology that Obama is pedaling in pursuit of more charter schools, merit pay for teachers, higher standards and more accountability.

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: Recess improves student discipline

A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that school recess ameliorates student behavior problems, and that children with limited recess time are more likely to be black, poor and urban.

There is anecdotal evidence in Portland (PPS does not keep track of recess time centrally) that schools with high poverty and minority concentrations tend to limit recess time in order to maximize instructional time, ostensibly to improve test scores.

(Thanks to reader Buzz for the tip.)

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

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Study: Poverty reduces brain function in children

Advocates for “closing the achievement gap” pay attention: a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows dramatically reduced brain function in poor children when compared to children from high-income homes.

“It is a similar pattern to what’s seen in patients with strokes that have led to lesions in their prefrontal cortex,” which controls higher-order thinking and problem solving, says lead researcher Mark Kishiyama, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley. “It suggests that in these kids, prefrontal function is reduced or disrupted in some way.”

As has been argued here and elsewhere, actually closing the achievement gap will require a co-ordinated anti-poverty effort beyond the scope of any single school district. This study serves to reinforce that basic fact of social science.

The “achievement gap” is a symptom of the “income gap,” the “opportunity gap” and many other gaps. Drill and test all you want, even if you improve test scores, you’re still not doing anything real to address the problems faced by poor children.

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

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PPS student teacher on Duncan in CounterPunch

Portland Public Schools student teacher Kenneth Libby, who contributed to Peter Campbell’s discussion of Arne Duncan here, expands on his thinking for a much greater audience today on Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair’s CounterPunch. Suffice it to say, Libby is not as optimistic about Duncan as Campbell or Chicago schools activist Michael Klonsky (who also took part in the original conversation here).

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

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Who’s the Real Arne Duncan?

So who is this Arne Duncan guy anyway? The CEO of Chicago Public Schools, tapped by Barack Obama to head the federal Department of Education, is seen as a radical corporate-controlled accountability zealot by some and a moderate centrist by others.

I see him as something of a conundrum. Consider this: Duncan signed both the Joel Klein/Al Sharpton-backed Education Equality Project statement and the “Bold Approach” statement — a critique and counter-proposal to NCLB signed by progressive educators like Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling-Hammond, and John Goodlad (among others).

So will the real Arne Duncan step forward? Does he agree with the central message of the “Bold Approach” statement? Evidence demonstrates . . . that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can substantially, consistently, and sustainably close these gaps.

Or does he believe, like so many neoliberals, that “poverty is an excuse”?

Mike Klonsky holds out hope that Duncan was a tool of Chicago mayor Richard Daley and, once out from under his thumb, might produce meaningful reform. Something — albeit a small scrap — to be optimistic about RE: the fed’s role in education?

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

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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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Secretary of Ed. Joel Klein?

Word is that President-elect Obama is considering notorious union-busting, test-obsessed, NCLB-defending, school-privatizer Joel I. Klein (New York City’s public school boss) for Secretary of Education.

While Obama’s election may provide a new attitude and sense of comity, his actual administration may do just the opposite if it includes divisive figures like Klein.

I’ve been concerned that Obama would tap our old friend Vicki Phillips, but Chicago school reform activist Michael Klonsky (no fan of Phillips) thinks Klein would be the worst possible choice for Secretary of Education.

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

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