Category: School Closures

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.

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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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Portland’s Crush

PPS

Seattle School District

If people have any doubts about the direction that PPS is heading, they only need to head north 175 miles.  PPS and the Seattle School District have so much in common.

Seattle School District converted some K-5 and 6-8 schools to K-8s.  PPS followed (sort of…it’s half-assed and still in limbo).  Both districts have parents and staff complaining about lack of support in the transitions.

The Seattle School District closed and consolidated schools.  Portland followed.

The Seattle School District contracted with DeJong to develop enrollment projections.  Those projections were met with skepticism by parents and board members.

In Portland, DeJong partnered with Magellan Consulting to complete a facilities assessment for PPS.  More skepticism.

Both Seattle and Portland love to hire Broad graduates.  They pop up like new Starbucks.  Broad graduates are supposedly hired for their business expertise.  That expertise has played out to be disastrous for public education.

In 2009, the Seattle School District developed a Student Assignment Plan which changed attendance boundaries and the way in which students were assigned to schools.  Portland is in the middle of a high school redesign plan which also affects boundaries and student enrollment.

The Seattle School District closed several schools in 2009 due to declining enrollment.  They expected to save $3 million per year.   Just one year later they find themselves in need of buildings.  The cost to reopen 5 of the recently closed buildings is $47.8 million.  Not only was it a foolish financial decision but it disrupted the education of children.

Will PPS follow?

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

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

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Monday update

As the school board begins to draw battle lines on the high school redesign, resistance is emerging in expected quarters.

Two weeks ago, the Oregonian editorial board opined against changing the student transfer policy, which has brought a bounty of enrollment and school funding to wealthy neighborhoods in tough times. (As one acquaintance put it, you can always count on the Oregonian editorial board to defend white privilege. I had some words about it here.)

A week ago, in an online op-ed on OregonLive.com (where The Oregonian maintains a half-assed Web presence) Grant High teacher Geoffrey Henderson argued against neighborhood schools, claiming there simply is not enough money to do it. (He doesn’t address how Beaverton, with similar size and demographics and identical state funding, has maintained a very viable and effective neighborhood-based school system during the two decades that Portland’s has been dismantled.)

Last Thursday, The Oregonian ran the op-ed I wrote in response to their editorial. (I joked with my wife that pigs must be flying, because I wrote a strong defense of PPS, and the O published it without rewriting it.) I expected to get some flack for it, and I have. They give you 500 words to make your case, which isn’t enough to get into nuance. I used those 500 words to give the district props for finally addressing the student transfer policy, at least in part, nearly four years after city and county auditors found it to be at odds with their stated goal of strong neighborhood schools.

Suffice it to say, many are troubled with aspects of the high school redesign.

In my high school redesign minority report, I suggested modifications to the ban on neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers to build trust in communities that have historically been hurt by district policies.

The district also missed an opportunity to build trust and demonstrate system planning competence by not fixing the K-8 mess before embarking on high school redesign. And, increasingly, community members are expressing doubts about the magnet school aspect, with concern that it will simply weaken neighborhood high schools. At a recent work session, it was revealed that enrollment at Benson High, our only major high school without an attendance area, would be significantly shrunk under current plans.

The school board is expected to vote on a series of resolutions next month, which will help clarify the process going forward.

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

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PPS Conflict of Interests

I’ve never forgotten my first visit to Whitaker Middle School in June 2001.  It was shortly after Willamette Week broke the story  The Poisoning of Whitaker.  The Willamette Week story exposed a long history of radon poisoning along with other indoor air quality concerns at the school.  For about 10 years, PPS administrators failed to adequately address building conditions or to inform staff or students of the health hazards.

The first thing I noticed when entering Whitaker School (Pictured in the Cheating in Class banner) was that the cove base had been removed from along the bottom of the walls exposing mold.  There was a solid, thick, black line that ran parallel to the walls.  I realized as I got closer that it was a trail of dead ants which ran the full length of the hallway.  It looked as if someone had sprayed for ants but didn’t bother to clean up the dead ants.

It was during that visit that a staff member gave me a sample of what appeared to be a mushroom scraped from the wall in a special education classroom.  The building smelled awful.  I later learned that the smell was probably coming from a squirrel that had died in the basement.

I am not an environmental health and safety expert.  I’m a mom.  A mom who recognizes mold when I see it.  Whitaker clearly had a mold problem.

Still, PBS Engineering and Environmental who had been on contract with PPS for years, had produced report after report stating that there wasn’t an indoor air or mold problem.  They even produced a report the same month of my visit saying that “ventilation of the spaces tested appears to be adequate with respect to the ventilation parameters monitored and the particulate identified in the laboratory reports.”

In July 2001, Whitaker was vacated and later determined to be too toxic to renovate.  After spending $700,000 on maintenance for the vacant building over the next few years, PPS administrators decided to demolish the building.

The PPS board voted to borrow $2.1 million for the demolition in August 2006.

Well PBS may have missed the boat on the mold problem but they weren’t going to miss out on their share of the demolition dollars.  PBS oversaw the decommissioning of several underground storage tanks, hydraulic lifts and water wells.  They also developed erosion control and grading plans.

According to the PBS Engineering and Environmental project website:

“The Whitaker School project is a good example of how PBS incorporates their multi-disciplinary structure into a successful project.  Led by the Sustainable Design Group, all four PBS service areas - Engineering, Environmental, Health and Safety, and Natural Resources – brought this project to successful completion.”  It sure did!

You’d think that PBS would count their winnings and move on but no…they’re still providing services to PPS.  Their annual contract was amended on 10/12/09.  They continue to receive about $450,000 annually.

The Whitaker situation raises a question about potential conflicts of interest.  But that’s not new for PPS.

In 1998, PPS contracted with KPMG to conduct a comprehensive performance audit.  At that time, the district claimed to have solicited four firms to submit bids to perform the audit but only two firms responded.  KPMG’s proposal was incomplete.  The only mention of costs was a handwritten note at the bottom of a letter.  The note estimated costs at $300,000 – $350,000 with formal cost estimates to be sent at a later time.  The district didn’t follow their own Request for Proposals policy.

KPMG came up with 230 audit recommendations.  The most controversial being the recommendation to close 13 schools.  An Oregonian analysis conducted shortly after the audit found KPMG’s numbers to be inflated.  Many of KPMG’s findings are still in dispute today.

Research into KPMG’s background suggests that KPMG might have been motivated by their desire to profit from PPS closures.  KPMG was a partner in a for-profit education management company.  They used public school system audits to gain entry into schools.

KPMG was actively involved in pushing charter school legislation, vouchers and privatization.  It makes you wonder why the PPS board would have approved a contract with a company hostile to public education.

Now we have Magellan.  The Magellan website states:

Magellan K-12 is a specialty consulting firm providing services to education clients nationwide.  The firm is focused solely on the K-12 marketplace and provides Educational Adequacy and Suitability Assessments.  The firm develops educational standards and specifications, architectural programs, site selections, enrollment projections, geographic information systems, economic models, bond programs, and construction implementation plans.

Once again…one stop shopping.  Magellan can identify problems with PPS facilities, make recommendations about renovations and new construction, and manage all projects.

Not surprisingly many of the PPS staffers involved in today’s questionable contracts are the same people who brought us PBS Engineering and Environmental and KPMG.

I agree with the little girl.  There’s a fungus among us.  What do you think?

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

Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.

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On the blogs: a flurry of new posts

Lili Taylor has been busy over break at Cheating in School, with new and informative posts on Title I and No Child Left Behind, some history on the closure and demolition of Whitaker Middle School, the history of PPS’ ongoing noncompliance with Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, and more.

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: HS principals weigh in; one resigns

Joseph Malone and Carla Randall, principals of Grant and Madison High Schools respectively, penned an op-ed in today’s Oregonian in support of the principle behind the high school redesign: equal educational opportunity.

Echoing Deputy Superintendent Charles Hopson’s speech to the City Club last month, Malone and Randall argue that opportunity should not be determined by race, income or ZIP code as it currently is.

Malone and Randall blame the current state largely on the district’s open transfer enrollment, an issue explored extensively on this site.

Malone and Randall ask:

What drives these inequities? Enrollment. In Portland’s open-choice system, it’s easy to flee some schools for others. Declined enrollment overall multiplies the effect. Schools that lose students, lose teaching staff, which means skimpier choices for kids. The risk? High-flyers leave, courses are diminished, parent involvement declines and students struggle.

It’s refreshing to hear district administrators openly repudiating the “school choice” policies the previous administration defended until the end, but troubling that so far these reform efforts are only aimed at the top four grades of a thirteen-grade system. School choice continues to drive dramatic inequities in the K-8 grades, too.

Also troubling in the high school plan, besides a nagging lack of details of analysis done to support planning (or, perhaps, the lack of analysis altogether), is the thinking around special focus options. At one point, planners were talking about having a third of high school students in special focus schools, meaning lower enrollment (or fewer in number) community high schools. Because of the lack of detail on how schools will be targeted for closure or conversion to focus options, rumors have consistently swirled in advance of every community meeting, with the latest, at Franklin, drawing upwards of 2000 concerned community members.

In perhaps unrelated news, Malone announced his resignation, effective at the end of the current school year, in e-mail to Grant parents yesterday. This has added fuel to the rumor mill, with parents wondering if he knows something the rest of us don’t.

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: HS closure poll

Lili Taylor has posted a poll on her blog: “Do you think the PPS administration has already decided which high schools to close?” So far, 100% of respondents have answered “Yes.”

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

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High school system redesign: an (unauthorized) minority report

Note: The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer (SACET) was asked to study and report on the high school system redesign. The SACET report (67 KB PDF) was issued in May, with the full support of 12 of 14 members of the committee. One member supported the report with some questions, and one member, your humble editor, could not support the report.

There was no official mechanism within the committee to issue a minority report, so this report is an ad hoc response to the shortcomings of the SACET report. As a member of that committee, I bear a share of responsibility for these shortcomings, so this report is not intended as a personal attack on any of my committee colleagues who spent a great deal of time and energy on a report that reflects much that I agree with. Rather, it seeks to cover areas that SACET did not cover, and amplify their call for “a plan that has neighborhood schools as its foundation.”

This report refers to the “Three Big Ideas” (592 KB PDF) as presented by the Superintendent’s team. This minority report is also available for download (124 KB PDF) –Ed.

Introduction

The Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Enrollment and Transfer (SACET) was asked to study and report on the “Three Big Ideas” for high school redesign. The three models were presented in broad strokes, with no analysis to support how the models would lower dropout rates, increase graduation or narrow the achievement gap.

The SACET report took note of these shortcomings, but failed to substantially analyze specific information that was given. The committee also failed to supplement given information with readily available data.

Specifically, SACET did not examine the three proposed high school models in light of:

  1. the clearly stated enrollment and transfer implications of the models,
  2. the number of campuses that would likely remain open with each model, and
  3. comparisons to existing high school models in the district and their successes and failures.

The committee also questioned the urgency of the process, which would seem to indicate a failure to appreciate how grossly inequitable our current system is. We don’t, in fact, currently have a “system” of high schools.

This lack of a central system (along with other factors, such as the school funding formula and allowance of neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers), has led to the statistical exclusion of poor and minority students from comprehensive secondary education in Portland Public Schools.

Therefore, it is of tantamount importance that we immediately begin implementing a system that eliminates race, income and home address as predictors of the kind of education a student receives in high school.

For the first time since massive revenue cuts in the 1990s began forcing decentralization of our school system, we are envisioning a single, district-wide model for all of our high schools. That is a remarkable and welcome step toward equity of educational opportunity in Portland Public Schools.

The focus of this minority report is on the three factors listed above: enrollment and transfer, number of campuses remaining, and comparisons to existing high schools.

Analysis of the Models

Special Focus Campuses

Large campuses (1,400-1,600 students) divided into 9th and 10th grade academies and special-focus academies for 11th and 12th grades. Students in 11th and 12th grades must choose a focus option.

Enrollment and transfer implications This model would more or less keep the existing transfer and enrollment model, and depend on an “if we build it, they will come” model to draw and retain enrollment in currently under-enrolled parts of the district by focusing new construction in these areas (per Sarah Singer).

School closure implications This model would support 6-7 high school campuses, leading to the closure of 3-4.

Comparison to existing schoolsThis model would draw on the “small schools” models that have been tried with varying degrees of success at Marshall and Roosevelt, and which have been rejected by the communities at Jefferson and Madison. It would also use the 9th and 10th grade academy model that has been successful at Cleveland.

Neighborhood High Schools and Flagship Magnets

Moderately-sized (1,100 students) comprehensive high schools in every neighborhood, with district-wide magnet options as alternatives to attending the assigned neighborhood school.

Enrollment and transfer implications This model would eliminate neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers, as well as the problems that go with them: self-segregation; unbalanced patterns of enrollment, funding and course offerings; and increased vehicle miles. School choice would be preserved in the form of magnet programs.

School closure implications As presented, this model would support 10 high school campuses, requiring none to be closed.

Comparison to existing schools This model most closely resembles the comprehensive high schools that are the most successful and are in the highest demand currently in Portland Public Schools.

Regional Flex

The closest thing to a “blow up the system” model. The district would be divided into an unspecified number of regions. Each region would have a similar network of large and small schools, with students filling out their schedules among the schools in their region.

Enrollment and transfer implications Transfer between regions would be eliminated, allowing sufficient enrollment to pay for balanced academic offerings.

School closure implications Most high school campuses as we know them would be closed or converted, in favor of a distributed campus model.

Comparison to existing schools This model would draw on both small schools and comprehensive schools currently existing in our district, but as a whole would be more similar to a community college model than any existing high school model in our district.

Recommendation

It is understood that these models represent extremes, and that the ultimate recommendation by the superintendent will likely contain elements of each.

That said, the Neighborhood High Schools model is the closest thing to a truly workable model. If used as the basis of the ultimate recommendation, that recommendation will stand the highest political likelihood of winning a critical mass of community support.

Specifically, the neighborhood model:

  1. is responsive to high demand for strong neighborhood schools;
  2. supports a broad-based, liberal arts education for all students, but does not preclude students from specializing;
  3. balances enrollment district-wide, providing equity of opportunity in a budget-neutral way;
  4. preserves school choice, but not in a way that harms neighborhood schools;
  5. reduces ethnic and socio-economic segregation by reducing self-segregation;
  6. takes a proven, popular model (comprehensive high schools) and replicates it district-wide, rather than destroying that model in favor of an experimental model (small schools) that has seen limited success in Portland (and significant failures);
  7. preserves the largest number of high school campuses;
  8. involves the smallest amount of change from the current system, causing minimal disruption in schools that are currently in high demand;
  9. is amenable to any kind of teaching and learning, including the 9th and 10th grade academies and small learning communities; and
  10. preserves room to grow as enrollment grows.

This system is very similar to the K-12 system in Beaverton, which has a very strong system of choice without neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers.

The transfer and enrollment aspect of this model is its most compelling feature.

We have learned definitively that when we allow the level of choice we currently have, patterns of self-segregation and “skimming” emerge. These effects are aggravated by the school funding formula and a decentralized system. Gross inequities in curriculum have become entrenched in our schools, predictable by race, income, and address. These factors have also led to a gross distortion in the geographic distribution of our educational investment.

Clearly, in the tension between neighborhood schools and choice, neighborhood schools have been on the losing end. A high school model that includes neighborhood-based enrollment, while preserving a robust system of magnet options, is a step toward rectifying this imbalance.

We’ve also learned (through transfer requests) that our comprehensive high schools are the most popular schools in the district.

As we have experimented over the years with non-comprehensive models for some of our high schools, the remaining comprehensive schools have been both academically successful and overwhelmingly popular. The small schools model, while it has much to recommend, has been implemented in a way that constrains students in narrow academic disciplines, flying in the face of the notion of a broad-based liberal arts education.

There is certainly nothing wrong with small learning communities, but a system that requires students to choose (and stick with) a specialty in 9th or 11th grade is unnecessarily constraining.

A comprehensive high school can contain any number of smaller communities, including 9th and 10th grade academies. Older students may be assigned to communities based on academic specialty, but that shouldn’t preclude them from taking classes outside of that specialty.

The Neighborhood High Schools model clearly does not do everything – our district will remain segregated by class and race. But it would move in the right direction by eliminating self-segregation and beginning to fully fund comprehensive secondary education in poor and minority neighborhoods.

The enrollment and transfer policy could be further tweaked to help reduce racial and socio-economic isolation, as well as to alleviate community concerns that the reduced transfers will lead to poor and minority students being “trapped” in sub-par schools.

To this end, neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers could be allowed, so long as they do not worsen socio-economic isolation. In other words, 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.

Conclusion

All of these models show creative thinking, and, most importantly, a strategic vision to offer all students the same kinds of opportunities, regardless of their address, class, or race. The importance of this factor cannot be overstated.

While none of the models specifically addresses the teaching and learning or community-based supports that are necessary to close the achievement gap and increase graduation rates, they all are designed to close the opportunity gap.

But only the neighborhood model hits the right notes to make it politically feasible and educationally successful: strong, equitable, balanced, neighborhood-based, comprehensive schools, preserving and replicating our most popular, most successful existing high school model, and keeping the largest number of campuses open. The choice is clear.

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

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The budget slaughter and poor schools

David Wynde issued a dire warning at the last school board meeting about the coming budget, which he describes as large cuts to an already inadequate base of funding. Though he didn’t say it, there will likely be cuts to programming, increases in class size and maybe even school closures.

Current enrollment figures, released this week, show a persistent pattern of divestment from the poorest neighborhoods in Portland due to the migration of students under the Portland Public Schools student transfer policy, and its labyrinthine, outdated and counterproductive layers of school board exceptions and amendments.

We have allowed “choice” to design a system of schools in Portland that are dramatically inequitable in terms of course offerings, teacher experience, and discipline.

School choice has dismantled, closed, or demolished (literally) every single comprehensive secondary school in the Jefferson and Madison clusters. The same is true for the Roosevelt and Marshall clusters, save two beleagured, largley poor and minority middle schools on the fringes of district boundaries.

The schools that remain disproportionately lack library staff, music, art and electives when compared to the rest of Portland, and are more segregated by race and class than the neighborhoods they serve.

It’s been two and a half years since a joint city-county audit (230KB PDF) concluded that Portland’s school choice system was at odds with strong neighborhood schools, noted declining availability of transfer slots in high-demand schools, and recommended suspension of the transfer lottery “until the Board adopts a policy that clarifies the purpose of the school choice system.”

The school board has never issued that policy, or done anything significant to reform a system that has not only failed, it’s made matters worse.

So, two and half years later, parents in the poorest parts of town are agonizing over ever more rapidly dwindling transfer slots in schools increasing distances from their homes, because their neighborhood schools have been utterly drained of enrollment, funding, and opportunity.

“This isn’t school choice,” one parent told me. “It’s school chance.”

Current transfer policy arose largely out of the last budget crisis, and the result has been devestating to poor neighborhoods and the families who live there. So this current crisis is an opportunity as much as it is a challenge.

It may seem an awkward time to demand the rebuilding of school libraries, music and art departments. But if we spread enrollment and funding proportionately to where students live, we could begin rebuild these programs in schools that have lost them. At the same time, we can maintain a base line of programming at other schools that are currently over-crowded.

Yes, there will be cuts, but some clusters and schools have fared dramatically better under choice than others. We cannot tolerate any more reduction of opportunity in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters, all of which have been cut beyond the bone. Yes, the rest of this town may have to go without some of their gravy so these clusters can have a little meat.

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

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