Category: School Board

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.

Comments Off

Starbase speech to the PPS school board

here is the speech i gave Monday, March 8:

Good evening. I am Nancy Ellen Rawley, the mother of two students, a 2nd and a 5th grader at North Portland school. I am co-publisher of PPS Equity.org and a PPS employee. I am also a member of PFTCE. But tonight I am here as my kids’ mom. Happy International Women’s Day.

As we like to say when we start these things out:

All power to the people.

I am here this evening to protest Starbase, a military recruitment program aimed at children kindergarten through 12th grade. Starbase has partnered with PPS for 17 years and pays the district more than $300,000 annually in exchange for access to our children. The program is held on a military base – the children are taken there, by bus, for five full days.

My daughter’s class will attend in April; our family is boycotting. She is not being offered an alternate curriculum. Her school has not sent home a packet or planned a parent information night, although I have requested. I had to ask three times before I was given the tentative dates. The only reason I knew about it was from another parent. I first heard about the program, however, when Winterhaven parents protested Starbase in 2006.

I was told by my children’s principal to stop asking questions about Starbase. Our principal has stated that it is not “military recruitment,” but rather a science and engineering opportunity, that our school does not have the money for science and engineering classes and that we need Starbase.

Our school has science partnerships with both Xerox and the University of Portland. Also, the children are taught science and math by their extremely capable teachers in class. Our school last year did not spend $31,476 of their allotted Title I money. We do not need Starbase. When a principal, and a school district, acts this way toward a parent – you are not just yanking my chain. You’re acting as if I have no brain.

I should not have to defend my family’s beliefs – we are pacifists  – or try to convince you that it’s immoral – and possibly illegal — for PPS to accept this money. Why does Starbase want our kids? The military needs soldiers. They are sending people for 2, 3, 4 tours. If they come home, they are often suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress and other health problems, and they are committing suicide at greater rates than ever. Starbase is aimed at poor kids, non-white kids, vulnerable kids. The majority of schools that participate are low-income, with what are termed “high-risk” students.

Also – we’re at war. With Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it smart to have children – or any civilians – on military bases at this time?

I’d like to ask you: Can a sister get a witness, please? Thank you.

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Wacky Mommy. Used by permission.

Nancy Rawley was co-publisher of PPS Equity. She blogs regularly at Wacky Mommy.

2 Comments

STARBASE reauthorized on a 4-3 vote

The Portland Public Schools board of education voted 4-3 tonight to approve another year of STARBASE, the Department of Defense’s elementary school recruiting program.

Principled “no” votes were cast by co-chair Ruth Adkins, Martin Gonzalez and Dilafruz Williams. David Wynde, Bobbie Regan, Pam Knowles and co-chair Trudy Sargent carried the resolution.

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

10 Comments

STARBASE rally TONIGHT!

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.

2 Comments

School board meeting open thread

Who’s watching? Who’s there? What’s going on?

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

6 Comments

Starbase questions the school board should ask

I know we’ve got a couple of peaceniks (term used respectfully and admiringly) on the school board right now, one who hasn’t voted on Starbase before (Gonzalez) and the other who is now co-chair (Adkins).  It’s safe to say they had  a lot to do with pulling the vote on next year’s Starbase contract from the board agenda Monday night. It would be a great opportunity for them to pull together the two other votes needed to scrap this program.

Here’s what I sent to the whole board about this opportunity:

Word is that Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson, who has been outspoken about the PPS high school system as “a civil rights violation of the worst kind,” will answer board questions before you vote on continuing Starbase.

Here are some questions the board — and Hopson — should be asking:

  • Is it not also a civil rights violation that black, brown and poor children are specifically targeted for military recruiting at extremely young ages?
  • What is the precise demographic breakdown (ethnicity and poverty level) of students participating in Starbase? Why are Title I schools over-represented?
  • What student information is shared with the military?
  • Is it legal to share information about pre-teens with the military without explicit parental permission?
  • If parents choose to pull their children from this program, is their information still shared with the military?
  • How are families notified of this program?
  • Can families opt out of both the program and the information sharing? How are parents informed of these options?
  • Do counter-recruiters have equal access to participating students?
  • Assuming the curriculum is great (and non-military), why can’t it be incorporated into the normal classroom science and math curriculum and taught by existing classroom teachers? (In other words: Why does it need to be taught on a military base, and what’s the advantage of having the extra staff to teach it when it doesn’t free up classroom teachers to work with other students? )
  • How does exposing students to large-scale, highly advanced weapons square with the district’s zero tolerance policy on weapons?

Once we’re satisfied with the answers to these questions, it might be interesting to find out more about the curriculum.

Thank you.

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

44 Comments

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.

7 Comments

Teacher contract talks at ‘impasse’

In an e-mail to the community, school board presiding co-chair Trudy Sargent writes that the district has informed state mediators that negotiations for a teacher contract have reached an impasse, 583 days after the last contract expired.

Now that an impasse has been declared, both sides have seven days to publish final offers, after which there is a 30-day cooling off period. That means a teacher lockout or strike is possible as early as mid-March.

Update: Portland Association of Teachers president Rebecca Levison e-mailed us this statement in response to the district’s PR blitz:

Portland Teachers have continually sacrificed for their students. They have taken salary freezes, they have reduced their health benefits, they have eliminated benefits and they even worked ten days without pay to keep all students in school. No others made that sacrifice, not even the highest paid employees.

The truth is, the District’s proposal would increase workload, eliminate teacher rights, and result in perhaps the lowest beginning teacher salary of the entire Metro 14 school districts. At the same time, many upper level management employees received up to $15,000 this year in pay increases.

Upper management continues to demonstrate weak leadership and poor judgment from the K- 8 and high school redesign to teacher negotiations and relationships.

PAT will continue to work for a fair settlement for Portland teachers.

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

15 Comments

In the news: HS focus options questioned

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

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

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

64 Comments

Why is PPS Partnering with the Department of Defense to Racially Profile Kindergarten to 5th Grade Students?

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.

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

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

1 Comment

« Previous Entries