Category: Small Schools

Great schools conference: sorry about small schools, let’s try merit pay

As Portland teachers approach 500 days without a contract, and as discontent bubbles to the surface over a failing experiment in K8 schools and an ill-conceived “surplus” auction, senior management of Portland Public Schools spent last week at the downtown Hilton, enjoying seminars and speakers, not to mention complimentary breakfast and lunch.

They were there as hosts of the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) fall conference, with a headlining keynote address by former PPS superintendent Vicki Philips. Philips, now director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was the architect of Portland’s devastating experiments in K8s and “small schools” high schools.

She openly acknowledges that small schools were a failure (as does PPS, at least as implied by the proposed high school redesign). The latest trend being pushed by Gates — not to mention the Obama administration — is merit pay. Only we can’t call it that. “This has been the third rail,” Philips told Willamette Week‘s Beth Slovic.

Instead, much as fundamentalists have re-clothed creationism as “intelligent design,” Philips and other merit-pay proponents dress up their union-busting with terms like “performance” and talk about ways of measuring it, like videotaping teachers, sampling student work and surveying students.

According to Oregonian education blogger Betsy Hammond, Gates “will award millions to several pioneering urban districts that agree to hire, place, train and pay teachers differently…..”

So while bargaining team members from the teachers’ union report intransigence on the part of the school district in resolving their contract dispute, while a second generation of middle graders begins a middle school career in contained classrooms, and while parents report no homework due to a paper shortage even as the district auctions “surplus” paper, our superintendent and at least ten administrators spent last week taking tips from the very person responsible for a great deal of the morass our district faces today.

Portland Public Schools spends $35,000 a year in dues to the CGCS, and it spent at least $1,750 on conference fees (the superintendent and board members attend at no additional fee), not to mention the much greater cost of 11 person-weeks spent away from the district’s business of (ahem) educating our children. On Facebook, a senior PPS administrator defended attendance at the conference as a “relative bargain.”

But what’s the value to our students in sending so many senior administrators to a week-long conference (at a luxury hotel) touting the latest corporate foundation-driven trends in urban education? Under Carole Smith, our district has taken a welcome turn away from trend-hopping, instead proposing a bold, homegrown vision for our high schools, firmly repudiating the bad Gates medicine we swallowed under Philips.

Why should we blow good money to listen to Philips now?

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

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New Madison principal announced

Carla Randall has been hired as principal at Madison High School. She was principal at Wilson from 2002 to 2005, and also served as vice principal at Jefferson and Cleveland.

More recently, Randall was director of curriculum for the Tigard-Tuallatin School District.

In a letter to Madison families, deputy superintendent Mark Davalos mentioned in passing the lengthy controversy that preceded her hiring.

The flap began with the involuntary transfer of outspoken counselor David Colton in spring of 2008, a student walk-out to protest that transfer, a teacher vote of no confidence in previous principal Pat Thompson, Thompson’s departure this spring, the appointment of Deborah Peterson as principal with no staff or community input, and Peterson’s withdrawal in the storm of protest over her appointment.

“The path to reach this point has been longer and bumpier than it should have been,” wrote Davalos. He described a hiring process that included a survey and an interview panel of three teachers, a secretary and a student.

Sources at Madison, speaking on the condition of anonymity, were hopeful about Randall as a leader, but noted that the staff and student panel was not presented with other candidates to consider.

Colton declined to comment for this story.

Randall begins work at Madison this Wednesday.

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

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High school design preserves schools, limits transfers, seeks equity

Carole Smith
Carole Smith presents her high school plan on the steps of Benson High

In her boldest policy proposal since taking the reigns of Portland Public Schools, Carole Smith has endorsed a high school system design that would guarantee every student a spot in a truly comprehensive high school, eliminate the ability to transfer from one neighborhood school to another, and preserve all existing high school campuses as either comprehensive neighborhood schools or magnets.

This model, described by Smith at a press conference on the steps of Benson High School this morning as “simple, elegant, equitable — and a lot of work,” builds on the success of our existing comprehensive high schools, but will likely preserve small schools as magnet options.

Smith acknowledged the difficulty of gaining community support for such sweeping changes. “I know that many Portlanders — justifiably — don’t really trust the school district to make significant changes. They’ve seen faulty implementation and have felt burned by rushed decision-making — whether your experience is with Jefferson High School or the K-8 reconfigurations,” she said.

Documents describing the design in fuller detail were posted on the PPS Web site this morning. More details will be presented in September.

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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In the news: Duin on Madison, Roosevelt principal kerfuffle

Steve Duin hits the nail on the head in his Oregonian column this morning:

The adhesive power of trust is invaluable for public schools, especially in communities in which adults too often vanish before completing the job they started. Therein is the irritation, and the irony, regarding Deborah Peterson’s forced march ‘cross town, from Roosevelt to Madison High School.

We’ve heard a great deal from the Madison community here; it’s interesting to read Duin’s take on the Roosevelt community, as well as some damning words for the small schools model Portland Public Schools continues to force upon Roosevelt, despite its high cost and lack of funding:

The Gates Foundation has quit funding the initiative. It’s a lousy drawing card for kids in the neighborhood, 560 of whom leave to attend other high schools. Even Madison is kicking the concept to the curb, reverting to a comprehensive school.

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

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Who gets to choose and who does not

Last week Madison High School received the news of the departure of our principal to a job in the central office. With that news came the announcement of the new appointee as principal. This announcement did not come from the mouth of our Principal as we were to wait for Human Resources personnel to make the announcement.

While we were waiting for HR to show, I posed the question addressing the issue of interviewing candidates for replacement administration given that there was quite an elaborate interview process when our current principal was hired to take the job at Madison. I was told to ask this question of our representative from Human Resources who had not shown to play her role in the flurry of administrative announcements taking place at Madison.

When HR arrived I posed the same question and was told in so many words that our superintendent, Carole Smith, felt that the new appointee was the best fit for Madison teachers, students and community. She became quite coy with all of us in the room and would not tell us the name of the new principal saying that there were others to be told first. We were told that HR would be coming for the express purpose of telling us all who would be leading us next year so there was a degree of confusion and anger in the room. I left to help with a track meet but not before saying to the room in general that I felt manipulated and gamed and would enjoy spending time with the real patrons of this district, the children.

We were also told at this same meeting that the current administrative team asked central office for additional administrative support for next year. Astounded at this announcement given our projected enrollment of 822 + students for next year, I reminded those present that when we started 11 years ago at Madison there were 1392 students, one principal and two vice principals.

Next year we will have two counselors and when I started there were five counselors.

Seeking additional administrative support beyond the one principal and one VP allocated by central office seems beyond unreasonable given the cuts we are expecting in the building for next year. Today I opened an email from saying that the principal staring that we are to receive an additional VP as well as an additional .59 FTE for teachers but that we still will lose 11.25 FTE for next year.

Madison, in the years that I have been a counselor here, has seen a very steep decline in enrollment. The demographics have gone from primarily middle class to predominantly working class and immigrant families.

We have become a minority majority school with the usual plethora of problems that comes with poverty-affected, drug-affected, gang-affected families. The resilient children that come out of this milieu make Madison a place that is full of challenge as well as enormous reward for those of us who love the children and everything else that comes along with them.

Good teaching and lots of it is making a difference in the lives of these kids. Many are succeeding and they are succeeding because of the tenaciousness and the talents of the staff who care deeply for their students and expect more with less after being asked to do more with less. Teachers will have more students and there will be fewer elective offerings next year.

Madison does not need another vice-principal. Madison needs to keep as many of our teachers as possible so that class size does not explode. We have a thriving and amazing art and music program but when those are the only electives and art is cut by 1.5 teachers, class size grows and teaching becomes only about management, safety, and containment. There is not a lot of enrichment in an art class filled with 40 students and only half of them are there for the interest or the love of art. The rest are there because they have to be somewhere and there is no shop, automotive, metals, or business.

Madison. A poor school. Not a district powerhouse like Grant or Lincoln or Cleveland. No rich parents. No doctors in the house. No attorneys. We do have a new principal and she was chosen for us. Is she the best fit? Questionable when her reputation proceeds her. The word on the street is not good and her placement does not bode well for the year ahead. Is the staff being punished for our vote of no confidence for the outgoing principal? Did the expensive consultant hired to fix the discontent at Madison address the issue of leadership? Not once? Side stepping issues of leadership and leading us to the decision we had come to in the library the year before appeared to be a lesson in redundancy. Precious time spent for precious little only getting us to where we started: small schools are not working and we need to go back to a comprehensive model that shelters our 9th graders.

The new principal is not a principal from a successful comprehensive high school but a small school administrator. Her administrative background has been in elementary schools and possibly some time as a VP in a high school. Carole Smith owes it to Madison to explain to us how this particular administrator is the best fit for Madison.

Would Lincoln High School ever experience the indignities of a Madison? Would Carole Smith drop a principal on the heads of those West Side parents and students, especially one who comes with little experience in bringing schools together, working collaboratively, sharing governance? Never! How about Grant or Cleveland or any of the other schools where there is a collective body of parents who are fortunate enough to have the luxury of time, money, and privilege to assert their basic rights as parents and patrons of the district. Madison deserves better as there is a lot of potential out here on the East side of this city.

There were at least two capable and qualified administrators that could have moved into the principal’s position with proven track records for being people who respect and care about teachers and the contributions they make to student success.

My lament is for the waste at the top and the loss of the potential for empowering a staff that has felt neglected for years. Moving bad leaders from one building to the other or to central office has a ripple effect on students and when those students are damaged by the hand they have been dealt in life the ripples become tidal waves. I am grateful for the tremendous teachers on this staff who stay in spite of how hard it gets year after year. I am grateful for the students who show up, graduate, win scholarships and awards in spite of their circumstances.

We all deserve better and sending us a stranger and tacking on an additional administrator deserves only scorn and shame to those who make decisions without knowing the real heart and soul of what a school like Madison was, is and could be. I am not alone in saying no thanks for the extra administrator and no thanks for another schools reject.

David Colton is a high school counselor and a former English and drama teacher.

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In the news: Teacher on K8s, state funding cuts

In a letter to the editor in today’s Oregonian (not published online), Portland Public Schools eighth grade teacher Sheila Wilcox gets to the point about our state funding cuts and PPS’s “already underfunded experiment in K-8s”:

As a teacher in a K-8 school in Portland, I am extremely dismayed at the talk of more unstable funding for education. Already, I am teaching eighth grade in a portable classroom on my school’s playground.

The building is poorly insulated, and the heating system is inadequate. My students have next to no access to technology (our mobile lab will be used for testing for the rest of the year), no music, and our library is the worst I’ve seen in my 13 years with the district.

I have tried to speak with several district officials and have been put off or dismissed altogether. How sad that our already underfunded experiment in K-8s will be shortchanged this school year, once again.

The still unfinished K8 transition gives students less while costing us more (much like the rigid Gate’s style academies we seem stuck with, despite the model being repudiated by the Gates foundation). The district seems to have lost interest in K8s, distracted by both the budget and the coming unveiling of the high school plan.

Also in today’s paper, Betsy Hammond writes that Oregon is alone among states discussing a shortened school year (despite most states being in fiscal crisis). Oregon is unique for both its unstable education funding, and its unwillingness to protect education from such draconian cuts.

A national shame on our Democratic Party-controlled state house and governor for failing to avoid such immediate cuts, and, most importantly, to address the long-term inadequacy and volatility of our revenue model.

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: Madison small schools are history

Beth Slovic reports today on Willamette Week’s blog that Madison High School will eliminate it’s autonomous, autocratic academic silos and return to a single high school in the fall, saving the district money while increasing opportunity for Madison students.

That leaves just Marshall and Roosevelt in the “small schools” category, with Jefferson having previously abandoned the disastrous experiment.

We’ll have to wait and see if any middle schools are reconstituted in the Madison and Jefferson clusters, the only parts of town stuck exclusively with K8 schools for the middle grades. Like “small schools,” K8s cost significantly more money to operate while providing significantly less opportunity (and high school prep) to their middle grade students.

At Monday’s school board meeting, the business agenda included money to purchase portables for Madison feeder schools Rigler and Scott, which don’t currently have room for eighth grade. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to invest that money into re-opening Rose City Park Elementary and converting Gregory Heights back to a middle school? Given the community uproar surrounding the decision to merge those schools into a single K8, it’s difficult to argue the community would be upset to have their old configuration back.

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

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Budget bright side: time for a reset

For two years I have argued that Portland Public Schools needs to balance enrollment in order to pay for programmatic, geographic equity in our schools. With poor schools already cut to the bone, the budget crisis may force the issue.

Carole Smith has now acknowledged to the school board, in a roundabout way, that we may no longer be able to afford the “smallness” we’ve designed into our schools: K8′s and small high school academies.

“In recent years, we’ve … supported small high schools with additional staff, and added assistant principals, algebra teachers and counselors for most K-8 schools. Can we afford to continue those initiatives?”

What she didn’t say is that even with this extra funding, students in small high schools and K8s have dramatically less opportunity than students in comprehensive high schools and middle schools.

As implemented in PPS, “smallness” is massively inefficient and more expensive than comprehensive schools, where cohort sizes in the hundreds afford significantly more opportunity for less money.

These failed experiments have contributed to the ill-effects of another failed experiment: the free market student transfer policy. This policy entered a death spiral years ago; now comprehensive secondary education has been virtually eliminated from the poorest half of the district, while transfer slots into comprehensive schools have all but dried up.

Students left in these schools suffer a general and wide-spread dearth of electives, instrumental music, college prep classes, civics, after school activities, and even science, math and literature.

Just as the free market banking crisis has succeeded in nothing more or less than transferring massive amounts of wealth upwards, the PPS transfer policy continues to transfer thousands of students and tens of millions of dollars out of our poorest neighborhoods each year.

We can’t fix the transfer policy without a coherent, equitable and balanced system of PK-12 schools. But we can’t afford comprehensive programs without the enrollment to pay for them.

And no matter what we do, the district faces large budget cuts.

So what can we do?

Just as with the global banking system, it’s time for a reset. We need to imagine a system that, no matter how lean, is no leaner in one part of Portland than another.

The budget crisis may force the district to do what I’ve been asking them to do for two years: restore comprehensive high schools at Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt. Re-open closed middle schools in those clusters, too.

More importantly, the district may be forced to balance enrollment — that is, curtail neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers — to pay for programmatic equity in every part of Portland.

It is a budget-neutral way to increase programming — or stave off cuts — for our schools serving our most vulnerable students. We must imagine a system where the poor don’t bear the greatest brunt of budget cuts, as they have in Portland since Measure 5.

The bright side of this budget crisis is that we have the opportunity to design a balanced system of schools, where you cannot tell the wealth of the neighborhood by the number of classes in the high school’s catalog.

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

Kicker for schools?

Oregon’s revenue system is a source of puzzlement in many ways, perhaps none more than the “kicker” which sends collected tax revenue back to taxpayers if revenues exceed forecasts.

Jeff Mapes reports in The Oregonian that the captains of industry, who last year sacrificed the business kicker to create a state rainy day fund, now want individuals to ante up. A great idea, even if it does come from a dubious source. The O’s editorial board agrees, and calls on the legislature to make statutory adjustments to the constitutionally enshrined kicker law.

The tax burden in Oregon, once equally balanced between individuals and business, has shifted dramatically to individuals in the wake of 1990′s disastrous Measure 5.

Hopefully our Democratic governor and Democratic state legislature will figure out a way to squeeze some more revenue out of Oregon’s businesses to restore some of the revenue lost 28 years ago, as well as restore a little balance to our tax system.

Jefferson gender-segregated academies revisited

Also in The Oregonian today, Kimberly Melton looks at the stark differences between the doomed Jefferson Young Men’s Academy and the (apparently, from the story) flourishing Young Women’s Academy at the former Harriet Tubman Middle School.

The differences are stark, and they have been from the beginning. Melton notes that young African American men are “more likely to attend public schools with the least resources,” and in that regard the Young Men’s Academy (YMA) clearly was a giant leap in the wrong direction.

A promised academic focus on business never materialized. They didn’t even have a math teacher until half way through the first year.

By contrast, Melton describes a Young Women’s Academy (YWA) with not only a math teacher or two, but classes in “ballet, engineering, woodworking and journalism.”

Unfortunately, the picture for the Tubman girls isn’t as rosy as Melton paints. They may have a dance teacher, but they don’t have a staffed library — the only PPS high school with that dubious honor.  Enrollment hasn’t increased as expected, even as they progressively add grades each year. They don’t have the same kinds of after-school programming as the main Jefferson campus, or consistent transportation options to get between campuses for events and activities. Getting to their building on foot requires dangerous street crossings.

The Bush administration issued rules changes for Title IX enforcement which would appear to allow Tubman to continue without a boys-only analog. But with a new administration, the historical failure of PPS to fund its various experiments in “smallness” (Small Schools, K-8, open transfers), and the looming budget shortfall, supporters of the YMA have reason to be concerned for the future of their school.

Many factors can be cited for the failure of the YMA and the threats to the YWA. But the failure to offer the promised programs at the YMA and the continued underfunding of the YWA are critical elements.

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

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