Category: Race

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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Board set to approve $320,000 military recruiting contract

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.

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Intervals

In 1998, I joined a multiethnic activist group called the Community Monitoring Advisory Coalition (CMAC).  The group was led by longtime activists Ron Herndon, Richard Luccetti and Halim Rahsaan.

My first CMAC committee assignment was writing the history of the struggle to improve public education for minority children.  That was quite an assignment for me considering that I come from a poor white background.  I’d rarely left my neighborhood.  Needless to say the paper was a collaborative effort.

I’m in the process of updating the Two Decade Struggle for Public School Children because it is now over a decade behind.

I get pissed when I read through the history now because so much of what was fought for has been lost.  Here’s an excerpt from the paper:

In 1979 the Black United Front began working against a school desegregation plan that was very harmful to Black children and discriminatory in its implementation.  Using a study by the Community Coalition for School Integration, the Front protested the forced busing of Black students from their communities while White students were allowed to attend neighborhood schools.  School district policy prevented Black teachers from teaching at schools in the Black community.

There were no schools serving grades 6-8 in the Albina neighborhood where the majority of Portland’s Black children lived.  All middle school aged children were mandatorily bused into other neighborhoods.  School officials tried to put as few Black children as possible in as many White schools as possible.  In 1977, 44 students from the Eliot neighborhood were bused to 20 different schools.  This abusive practice of busing and scattering Black students occurred at every elementary school in the Black community.

The Front sponsored two successful boycotts of Portland Public Schools in 1980 and 1981 to press demands for a new desegregation plan and a middle school in the Black community.

Tubman Middle School was opened in 1983 but only after the firing of Superintendent Blanchard (BESC is named after him), partially because of his unwillingness to work with Black parents and intervention by a mediator from the US Department of Justice.

Sadly Tubman closed in 2006.  Where is the Albina neighborhood’s middle school now?

One of my favorite poems is a long poem called The Intervals by Stuart MacKinnon.  In it MacKinnon talks about not letting the effort of generations drop.

Portland Public Schools has taken advantage of the fact that some communities have been asleep.  PPS has changed school boundaries and reconfigured, consolidated and closed schools in poor communities with little resistance.

By just about every measure (achievement gap, dropout and discipline rates, under and over representation in TAG and SPED, teacher diversity, and equitable opportunities) Portland has gone backwards.  Hard fought gains have been lost.

PPS is about to change school assignment policy at the high school level, redraw boundaries, and close schools.  They say that they’re making the changes in an effort to create equity.  Nothing in their history makes me believe that.

PPS administrators can’t be trusted to do the right thing for kids unless forced.  Hell, they don’t even know it’s about kids.  They think it’s about them.  Parents and community members need to get involved now.  Before it’s too late.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

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This Week in PPS: the State of Black Oregon


Download audio, subscribe to the podcast, or listen here:

“It is a civil rights violation of the worst kind in the city of Portland 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. We are a better state than this. We are a better city than this.” –PPS Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson

This week in PPS, we feature sound clips from the Urban League of Portland‘s presentation to the Portland City Club on the State of Black Oregon.

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: school to charge parents for late pick-up

Fox 12 TV is reporting that Woodmere Elementary School in southeast Portland will begin charging parents late fees when they pick up their kids more than ten minutes after the final bell. For every each ten minute block after the first ten, parents will be charged $5, the equivalent of $30 an hour.

Woodmere students are 57 percent non-white. Eighty percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 34 percent are English Language Learners. Fox 12 reports that the district will study the program and consider implementing it at other schools.

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

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This week in PPS: Rob Ingram


Download audio, subscribe to the podcast, or listen here:

Rob Ingram
Rob Ingram: “I’m one of those guys who believes that actors and musicians and athletes are a little over-paid, and our teachers and social workers are way under-paid.” (photo by Steve Rawley)

This week in PPS, we begin a new series I’m calling “Difference Makers,” interviews with people making a difference in the lives of youth.  This week, I talked with Rob Ingram, director of the City of Portland’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention. We had a broad ranging talk touching on the Million Father March, Black Men Working, the success of students involved with SEI, the PPS high school redesign, and the over-representation of black men in Oregon’s criminal justice system. I caught up with Rob at his office in Northeast Portland.

Links

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: controversy over black studies classroom move

The Mercury reports on controversy at Lincoln High over a classroom move that has prompted a teacher’s family to put up a Web site in protest.

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

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Restricted transfers: how does this benefit black students?

A member of the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs (OABA) e-mail list asks this very pertinent question:

Can anyone…help me understand the benefits to Black students to be required to attend a high school with an impoverished academic program compared to other Portland public high schools just because the Black students live in the neighborhood of an academically impoverished school?

This question is in response to Carole Smith’s announcement of a high school system redesign that would balance high school enrollment by eliminating the ability to transfer between neighborhood schools (choice would be preserved in the form of district-wide magnets, alternative schools, and charters).

The ideal, of course, is that all neighborhood high schools would have equitable offerings, so nobody would be “trapped” in a sub-par school.

But there is a significant lack of trust in the community, which Smith acknowledges. In her press conference announcing the redesign last month, she endorsed the restriction of transfers “with this caveat: We cannot eliminate those transfers until we can assure students that the school serving their neighborhood indeed does measure up to our model of a community school — with consistent and strong courses, advanced classes and support for all.”

In my minority report on high school system redesign, I proposed exceptions to the “no transfers” rule for transfers that don’t worsen socio-economic segregation.

“In other words,” I wrote, “a student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch could be allowed to transfer to a non-Title I school, and a student who doesn’t qualify for free or reduced lunch could be able to transfer to a Title I school. This is a form of voluntary desegregation that is allowable under recent Supreme Court rulings, since it is not based on race.”

I’m not sure if this is the kind of caveat Carole Smith is talking about, but I believe the district has proven it cannot rely on the trust of poor and minority communities who have been disproportionately impacted by district policy. In addition to increasing integration in our schools, this would provide a critical “escape valve” for minority communities while the district demonstrates its good faith.

While our current system ostensibly offers all students the opportunity to enter the lottery to get into a comprehensive high school, only students in predominately white, middle class neighborhoods are guaranteed access to a comprehensive secondary education.

The propposed high school redesign is definitive step toward closing this glaring opportunity gap (even if the achievement gap persists).

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

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Public comment open on the updated PPS discipline policy

I attended the school board meeting this evening where they discussed the new discipline policy. Apparently this policy has not been updated since 1977 with the exception of the the drug/alcohol policy. This draft policy is a significantly different and far more uplifting and proactive than the current policy. I believe in positive behavior supports and this is stated in the wording of the policy several times and I could not be happier. I would like to note that Ruth Adkins publicly addressed the use of the word disruptive in the current policy as being a racial code word and also the fact that the data shows inequitable discipline practices. Ruth noted that this draft policy includes the tools and resources that the staff have been requesting.

Public comment will open on this tomorrow and I will post a link in the comments section when it opens. There are only 21 days to comment and then policy will be adopted I believe June 8th.

Some positive highlights of this draft policy:

  • Discipline should be equitable, timely, fair, developmentally appropriate, and match the severity of the student’s misbehavior. (Behavior consultants call this “reasonable response”)
  • A positive, respectful, and inclusive school climate is the mutual responsibility of district staff, who are expected to create and environment for student success using principles of positive behavior support and cultural competency in managing student conduct. It goes on to also include the student, family, and community.

Another board member brought up a point about principals having discretion to make decisions in unique situations. I will comment on needing more clarity here because I do not agree with a principal making decisions that are counter to policy because I believe this is too much of a slippery slope. Positive behavior supports covers unique situations and I am concerned that there are any loopholes that may allow for actions that are questionable or abusive.

Once I post the link be sure to get your comments in and also comment on discipline and behavior in general.

Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.

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