Category: PSF

The end of the line

It is with both sadness and a sense of great relief that I tell you this will be the final post on PPS Equity. [Here's Nancy's farewell.]For two years we have documented inequities in Portland’s largest school district and advocated for positive change.  Along the way, we’ve explored how to use new media tools to influence public policy and foster a more inclusive form of democracy.

The reason for this shutdown is simple: we are moving our family out of the district, and will no longer be stakeholders. A very large part of our decision to leave is the seeming inability of Portland Public Schools to provide access to comprehensive secondary education to all students in all parts of the city. We happen to live in a part of town — the Jefferson cluster — which is chronically under-enrolled, underfunded and besieged by administrative incompetence and neglect. We have no interest in playing a lottery with our children’s future, and no interest in sending our children out of their neighborhood for a basic  secondary education. These are the options for roughly half of the families in the district if they want comprehensive 6-12 education for their children.

While there are some signs that the district may want to provide comprehensive high schools for all, there is little or no acknowledgment of the ongoing middle grade crisis. If the district ever gets around to this, it will be too late for my children, and thousands of others who do not live in Portland’s elite neighborhoods on the west side of the river or in parts of the Grant and Cleveland clusters.

It cannot be understated that the failure of PPS to provide equally for all students in all parts of the district is rooted in Oregon’s horribly broken school funding system, which entered crisis mode with 1990′s Measure 5. A segregated city, declining enrollment and a lack of stable leadership and vision made things especially bad in Portland.

But Portland’s elites soon figured out how to keep things decent in their neighborhoods. The Portland Schools Foundation was founded to allow wealthy families to directly fund their neighborhood schools. Student transfers were institutionalized, allowing students and funding to flow out of Portland’s poorest neighborhoods and shore up enrollment and funding in the wealthiest neighborhoods.  Modest gains for Portland’s black community realized in the 1980s were reversed as middle schools were closed and enrollment dwindled. A two-tiered system, separate and radically unequal, persists 20 years after Measure 5 and nearly 30 years after the Black United Front’s push for justice in the delivery of public education.

PPS seems to be at least acknowledging this injustice. Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson laid it out to the City Club of Portland last October: “It is a civil rights violation of the worst kind… when based on race and zip code roughly 85% of white students have access to opportunity in rigorous college prep programs, curriculum and resources compared to 27% of black students.”

Despite this acknowledgment, the district is only addressing this inequity in the final four years of a K-12 system. We don’t, in fact, have a system, but a collection of schools that vary significantly in terms of size, course offerings, and teacher experience, often correlating directly to the wealth of the neighborhoods in which they sit.

As the district embarks on their high school redesign plan, which is largely in line with my recommendations, predictable opposition has arisen.

Some prominent Grant families rose up, first in opposition to boundary changes that might affect their property values, then to closing Grant, then to closing any schools. (They seem to have gone mostly quiet after receiving assurances from school board members that their school was safe from closure. Perhaps they also realized that they have more to fear if no schools are closed, since it would mean the loss of close to 600 students at Grant if students and funding were spread evenly among ten schools. In that scenario, the rich educational stew currently enjoyed at Cleveland, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson will be a thinned out to a thin gruel. It would be an improvement for the parts of town that long ago lost their comprehensive high schools, but a far cry from what our surrounding suburban districts offer with the exact same per-student state funding.)

There is also opposition from folks who reflexively oppose school closures, many of them rightly suspicious of the district’s motivations with regards to real estate dealings and their propensity to target poor neighborhoods for closures.

Finally, there is opposition on the school board from the two non-white members, Martín González and Dilafruz Williams.

González’s opposition appears to stem from the valid concern that the district doesn’t have a clue how to address the achievement gap — the district can’t even manage to spend all of its Title I money, having carried over almost $3 million from last year — and that there is little in the high school plan that addresses this. (It’s unclear how he feels about the clear civil rights violation of unequal access this plan seeks to address. It seems to me we should be able to address both ends of the problem — inputs and outcomes — at the same time . The failure to address the achievement gap should not preclude providing equal opportunity. It’s the least we can do.)

Williams noted that she doesn’t trust district administrators to carry out such large scale redesign, especially in light of the bungled K-8 transition which she also opposed. It’s hard to argue with that position; the administration has done little to address the distrust in the community stemming from many years of turbulent and destructive changes focused mainly in low-income neighborhoods.

But more significantly, Williams has long opposed changing the student transfer system on the grounds that it would constitute “massive social engineering” to return to a neighborhood-based enrollment policy. Ironically, nobody on the school board has articulated the shameful nature of our two-tiered system more clearly and forcefully as Williams. But as one of only two non-whites on the board, Williams also speaks as one of the most outwardly class-conscious school board members. In years past, she has said that many middle class families tell her they would leave the district if the transfer policy were changed.

(Note to director Williams: Here’s one middle class family that’s leaving because of the damage the transfer policy has done to our neighborhood schools. And it’s too bad the district can’t have a little more concern for working class families. I know quite a few parents of black and brown children who have pulled their kids from the district due to its persistent institutional classism and racism.)

Williams (along with many of her board colleagues) has also long blamed the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the massive student outflows from our poorest schools, but this is a smokescreen. Take Jefferson High for example, which was redesigned in part to reset the clock on NCLB sanctions. Yet despite this, the district has continued to allow priority transfers out. Jefferson has lost vastly more funding to out-transfers than the modest amount of Title I money it currently receives.  If we don’t take Title I money, we don’t have to play by NCLB rules. (This is not a radical concept; the district has chosen this course at Madison High.)

It is hard to have a great deal of hope for Portland Public Schools, despite some positive signals from superintendent Carole Smith. We continue to lack a comprehensive vision for a K-12 system. English language learners languish in a system that is chronically out of compliance with federal civil rights law. The type of education a student receives continues to be predictable by race, class and ZIP code. Special education students are warehoused in a gulag of out-of-sight contained classrooms and facilities, and their parents must take extreme measures to assure even their most basic rights. Central administration, by many accounts, is plagued by a dysfunctional culture that actively protects fiefdoms and obstructs positive change. Many highly influential positions are now held by non-educators, and there is more staff in the PR department than in the curriculum department. Recent teacher contract negotiations showed a pernicious anti-labor bias and an apparent disconnect between Carole Smith and her staff. Principals are not accountable to staff, parents or the community, and are rarely fired. Positions are created for unpopular principals at the central office, and retired administrators responsible for past policy failures are brought back on contract to consult on new projects.

If there is a hope for the district, it lies in community action of the kind taken by the Black United Front in 1980. The time for chronicling the failures of the district is over.

In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.”

I think this Web site has served to establish injustice. Many of us have tried to work with the district, serving on committees, testifying at board meetings, and attending community meetings. My family has brought tens of thousands of dollars in grant money and donations to the district, dedicated countless volunteer hours, and spent many evenings and weekends gathering and analyzing data.

There is no doubt that injustices exist, and there is no doubt that we have tried to negotiate. It’s time for self-purification — the purging of angry and violent thoughts — and direct action. It’s time to get off the blogs and take to the streets.

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

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Foundation Fallacies

Discussion on the recent article PPS and the philanthro-capitalists touched on the inequities engendered by local school foundations. That discussion raised a couple common misconceptions about direct funding of schools, which I’d like to dispel.

1. “…my guess is that the [Title 1 funds] lower income schools receive equal, if not exceed, the amounts raised by foundations.”

If you browse through the school profiles published by the district, it’s easy to see where one could come up with this idea. In general, rich schools have positions funded by local school foundations (LSFs) and poor schools have Title 1 money. There are two problems with this assumption. First, it’s false. Second, even if it were true, it still wouldn’t be equitable.

Looking at dollars-per-student added to school budgets last school year from Title 1, Local school foundations (LSFs) and PTAs, eight of the top 10 schools in per-student additions are non-Title 1 schools: Abernathy, Chapman, Ainsworth, Forest Park, Irvington, Duniway, West Sylvan, Rieke and Stephenson. These schools raised between $273.60 (Stephenson) and $570.03 (Abernathy) per student.

Madison High, with over 65 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals got no Title 1 money. Benson High, with over 58 percent free and reduced, also got no Title 1 money.

One more example: Ockley Green K-8, with nearly 3 out of 4 students in poverty and 8 out of 10 non-white, got $189.84 per student in Title 1 money, while Ainsworth K-5, with less than six percent on free and reduced lunch and 80 percent white, added over $400 per student. Ainsworth’s teaching staff was increased nearly 33 percent through direct funding by parents.

More importantly, the idea that foundation money would simply supplant Title 1 money is misguided. Title 1 money is provided by the federal government to help ameliorate the problems associated with poverty, and there are very specific guidelines for its use. While foundation dollars reduce class sizes and preserve “enrichments” like certified art and music teachers and advanced college placement programs, Title 1 money is almost entirely spent on academic support (resource rooms, reading teachers, etc.) to help bring disadvantaged students up to grade level .

Even if Title 1 provided the exact same amount of money per student at poor schools as LSF money provides at rich schools, it still wouldn’t be nearly enough to overcome the disadvantages students affected by poverty must overcome, much less be equitable in terms of the kinds of programs schools can afford to provide their students.

2. “…one third of all funds raised goes directly to the Portland Schools Foundation, an umbrella organization that provides grants to close achievement gaps between students throughout the school district. One third to employ educators, a third to enrich our kids and a third to help others. Sounds fair to me.”

When you put it that way, it almost does sound fair. Almost. But there’s a problem with the assumption, and with the math.

First, until this school year, no money from the Portland Schools Foundation’s “Equity Fund” ever paid for a single teaching position at any school. This year, under the leadership of Dan Ryan, schools were finally allowed to spend this money on teaching positions; eight schools were awarded between $20,000 and $55,000. That’s a handful of full-time-equivalent teaching positions for the entire district.

For comparison, in one school year the LSFs at Lincoln High, West Sylvan Middle,  Ainsworth Elementary, Forest Park Elementary, Duniway Elementary and Bridlemile Elementary raised $224,680, $198,878, $193,766, $156,684, $113,187 and $110,005 respectively.

The problem with the math of thirds cited here is that only money used to pay for certified teachers is subject to the Equity Fund contributions, and the first $10,000 is exempt. So, for example, let’s say a school raises $150,000 at their auction, and decides to put $50,000 toward a teaching position. They’ll spend the rest on classroom aides, computers, books for the library, classroom supplies, and an after-school arts program, all of which is fully exempt from Equity Fund contributions.

For the teacher they hire, after the $10,000 exemption, they would tithe 30 percent of $40,000, or $12,000, to the Equity Fund. That’s eight percent of their total funds raised, not a third.

To be clear, nobody should be discouraged from supporting their kids’ school. But the system we have today is grossly unfair. Local school foundations have allowed wealthy neighborhoods to preserve pretty decent “public” schools while the rest of the district fights over crumbs. Dan Ryan is doing what he can to make the system more fair; allowing Equity Fund dollars to pay for teachers was an important first step in that direction.

While I appreciate Ryan’s good work and intentions, I advocate for the abolition of LSFs. Wealthy donors should be encouraged to donate to the district’s general fund and advocate for real, progressive tax reform, so that we can eliminate our two-tiered school system and all students can have access to a comprehensive education.

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

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A tale of two cities, continued: last year’s PSF contributors

When school communities raise money to hire certified teachers for their own children, they are required to contribute a portion to a district-wide “equity fund.” The first $10,000 they raise is exempt, but for every dollar above that amount, they must contribute 30 cents. (Money raised and spent for other purposes, like field trips, books, athletics, speakers, after-school enrichment, capital improvements, and non-certified staff is fully exempt.)

Under new rules of the Portland Schools Foundation (PSF), the equity fund is then distributed to schools that lack direct fund-raising capacity, and, as of the current school year, these schools are able use the money to hire certified teachers.

PPS Equity has acquired a list of last year’s contributors to the equity fund, which is to say schools with communities wealthy enough to raise money to pay for extra teaching staff. Here is the list, ordered by level of contribution, highest first:

  1. Lincoln High School
  2. West Sylvan Middle School
  3. Ainsworth Elementary School
  4. Bridlemile Elementary School
  5. Chapman Elementary School
  6. Alameda Elementary School
  7. Laurelhurst K-7 School
  8. StephensonElementary School
  9. Rieke Elementary School
  10. Beverly Cleary K-8 School
  11. Skyline K-8 School
  12. Richmond Elementary School
  13. Glencoe Elementary School
  14. Buckman Elementary School
  15. Cleveland High School
  16. Abernethy Elementary School
  17. Mt. Tabor Middle School
  18. Atkinson Elementary School
  19. Grant High School
  20. Sellwood Middle School
  21. Roseway Heights K-8 School
  22. Llewellyn Elementary School
  23. Maplewood Elementary School
  24. Hosford Middle School
  25. Gray Middle School
  26. Wilson High School
  27. Beaumont Middle School
  28. Duniway Elementary School
  29. Capitol Hill Elementary School
  30. Forest Park Elementary School

Not surprisingly, most of these schools are within the Cleveland, Franklin, Grant, Lincoln and Wilson clusters.

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: new PSF rules help keep teachers in classroom

Adrianne Jeffries reports in yesterday’s Tribune on the ways principals are using Portland Schools Foundation (PSF) Equity Fund money to restore cuts to classroom teachers and librarians, and even adding staff in the case of Benson High. This is possible for the first time since that fund’s inception under new rules brought by PSF CEO Dan Ryan.

Former PSF CEO Cynthia Guyer defends the old rules, and yours truly gives props to Ryan for moving things in the right direction.

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: foundation announces eligible schools

Nineteen schools are eligible for non-competitive grants under the Portland Schools Foundation’s streamlined formula, reports Jennifer Anderson in the Tribune today.

Under the new rules, these schools will not have to write competitive grants. The will automatically be awarded funds if they submit the proper paperwork along with a school improvement plan.

The eight eligible high schools include: Madison, Benson, Franklin, Roosevelt Campus, Jefferson High School/Young Women’s Academy, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Public Charter High School, and Portland International Community School and Alliance High School (both alternative schools).

The 10 eligible elementary and K-8 schools include: Scott, Woodstock, Lee, Lent, Clarendon-Portsmouth, Clark at Binnsmead, Rigler, Ockley Green, Sitton and Bridger.

One middle school – Beaumont – is eligible for the grants.

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: foundation reforms, Mincberg to depart

The Portland Schools Foundation (PSF) is mostly doing away with its competitive grant program, and will award most of its Equity Fund money based on need. Under the leadership of former PPS school board co-chair Dan Ryan, the foundation will also allow schools to hire teaching staff with the money, something that was not previously allowed.

This is a serious step toward ending the cruel irony of a system that has allowed wealthy families to directly fund teachers at their schools while scattering crumbs across the rest of the district. I and others have been calling for exactly this kind of reform for quite a while.

Dan Ryan deserves kudos for taking this first important step, but let’s go all the way. Eliminate the $10,000 exemption (wealthy schools keep all of the first $10K they raise) and raise the equity contribution to 50% (wealthy schools currently tithe 30% of funds raised). Only when we can hire one teacher in a poor school for every teacher hired with private fund-raising in a wealthy school will the Equity Fund live up to its name.

In other news, PPS COO Cathy Mincberg will leave the district May 15, according to a press release.

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

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Ryan named PSF chief; school board position open

Dan Ryan has been named chief of the Portland Schools Foundation, and will leave his seat representing North Portland on the Portland Public Schools board of education with a year left in his term.

The remaining board, led by newly elected co-chairs Dilafruz Williams and Trudy Sargent, will appoint a director from North Portland’s zone 4 to serve the remainder of Ryan’s term.

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

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