Category: State

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

Run, Run as Fast as You Can

Recently, The Oregonian has published a few articles about the new “Race to the Top” grant that Portland Public Schools has signed on for, along with many other Oregon school districts.  The grant stipulates that a student’s test scores will follow teachers, and be part of a teacher’s professional file.  Indeed, a teacher will be evaluated based on a student’s standardized test scores. The state’s willingness to sign on smacks of desperation and ignorance.

Besides the obvious, that “one test does not a good teacher make”, there are numerous other reasons why this clause in the grant is ludicrous.  One is that not all grade levels are tested.  Indeed 3rd-8th and 10th grades are tested consistently in math and reading.  If you teach K-2nd grade, or 9th, 11th, or 12th grades, you just may have dodged a bullet.  In addition, if a teacher teaches subjects such as art, P.E., or social studies, which are not currently tested, then the testing does not apply to them. I would hesitate to bring this up to the state, however, as their answer might very well be to test in every single subject, every, single, year.

I know fabulous teachers who teach at schools that have not traditionally done well on standardized tests.  I happen to teach in a cluster in PPS that typically has low test scores.  I could teach in another cluster, but I choose not to.  Does a teacher magically become a better teacher if he or she moves to a school with higher test scores?  Apparently the state of Oregon thinks so.  I  cut one of the Oregonian articles out to pass around to the staff at my school.  Many teachers said that they would like to consider withholding their dues to the OEA, as our state teacher’s union has signed on with this as well.

There are many, many influences in a child’s life.  A teacher is just one of them.  This heinous grant asserts that a teacher’s sole purpose is to get a child to pass some contrived, intrusive test that has little to do with what he or she does on a daily basis, while also asserting that a teacher is the only one responsible if said child passes or fails.   I’m sorry, but “No Child Left Behind” is starting to look like a picnic.  We need to run far away from “Race to the Top.”

Sheila Wilcox is a PPS parent and K8 teacher.

6 Comments

Charting the correlation between poverty, ELL, and state report cards

Earlier this week, the Oregon Department of Education released report cards for the state’s schools. The scoring system is a new formula that, in my opinion, actually makes testing even more high-stakes. I’m not sure that’s beneficial to our children, teachers, or schools. Here’s a run-down of how this new scoring mechanism works, courtesy of The Oregonian :

A school’s achievement index shows how well it succeeds at teaching reading and math, on a scale from 0 to 133.

A school gets 133 points for every student who exceeds the grade-level standard in reading or math, 100 points for students who meet the standard and 100 points for students who begin far below grade level and reach an ambitious growth target.

For students who neither meet benchmarks nor the growth target, the school gets no points. For minority, special education, limited English and low-income students, the score is doubled — 0 out of 266 possible if the student falls short,200 if he meets, 266 points if the student exceeds. The score for each student is averaged into a schoolwide index. Elementary and middle schools must score 90 points to be outstanding; high schools must score 80 points. A score below 60 lands an elementary or middle school in need of improvement; a score below 50 does that to high schools

Here is a summary of the correlation (not causation) between the new index scores, percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunches, and percentage of ELL students (via PASW, formerly known as SPSS). These data tables and graphs looked only at the 56 traditional elementary schools and K-8 schools. No, I’m not a statistician – but there’s an awfully strong correlation between the variables.

And a graph of percent of students on F/R lunch (x) vs. index score (y):

And percent of ELL students (x) vs. index scores (y):

And poverty (x) vs. ELL students (y):

SourcedFrom Sourced from: Our Global Education

Kenneth Libby is an independent education researcher and a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling. He writes about national education issues, testing and philanthropy on Schools Matter and Global Ideologies in Education.

Comments Off

State of Black Oregon: not so good

The Urban League of Portland has issued a State of Black Oregon report, with troubling statistics for black students.

The dropout rate for black students is twice as high as for white students, and black students face expulsion and suspension at twice the rate of white students.

The study paints a broad picture of black Oregonians “at the bottom of every meaningful social and economic measure,” according to an Urban League press release. “African Americans in Oregon have significantly higher infant mortality rates, are more likely to live in poverty, have higher levels of unemployment, are half as likely to own their own homes and are far more likely to die of diseases such as diabetes than their white counterparts.”

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

1 Comment

In the news: funding rally, Trib seeks input on principals

Portland Tribune reporter Jennifer Anderson has put out a call for input on PPS principals.

Also from the Trib, a distributed school funding rally is planned for tomorrow.

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

12 Comments

Wynde: Oregon education commitment “luke warm”

PPS school board member David Wynde takes the legislature to task in an Oregonian commentary this morning.

It’s no coincidence that Oregon has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. Our lukewarm commitment to education hurts Oregon’s short-term and long-term economic growth.

Oregon’s response to this crisis couldn’t be more contrary to President Barack Obama’s strategy. The president is using stimulus dollars to blunt school cuts and spur important reforms because he believes education is vital to our nation’s economic growth.

In Oregon, we say education is a priority, then slash schools and programs for lack of funds. The state does not have the same budget flexibility as the federal government, but other states keep their schools operating.

We are suffering a dismal failure of leadership in Salem. Even with a Democratic super majority in the legislature a Democratic governor, nobody is taking the lead in proposing reforms our inadequate, unstable revenue stream, and nobody seems to connect the dots between education and the economy as Wynde does.

Perhaps we need to look at local funding options again. If the state of Oregon doesn’t have the sense to fund our future, perhaps the people of Portland do.

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

3 Comments

On the blogs: green and safe schools in Oregon Senate

Dennis Newman reports on his Natural Oregon blog that two bills are working their way through the Oregon Senate that limit the use of toxic pesticides and cleaning products in schools. Links to contact committee members are provided.

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

Comments Off

School library bill gets first hearing

Oregon’s HB 2586, the Quality School Libraries bill, gets its first House committee hearing this Monday, March 30. This bill would make library programs eligible for grants in addition to State School Fund money, and would require school districts to include goals that implement strong school library programs in their local district continuous improvement plans.

Please contact members of the House Education Committee and urge them to support this bill. (Or thank them for their sponsorship. Four of nine of the committee members — Dembrow, Huffman, Roblan, and VanOrman — are co-sponsors). It is also helpful to contact your legislators and encourage them to sign on as sponsors if they haven’t already, or thank them for their support if they already have.

House Education Committee

Legislative sponsors

House:

Senate:

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

Comments Off

Audio: Jonah Edelman (and me) on “autonomy and accountability”

Johna Edelman, head of Stand for Children, addressed the City Club of Portland last Friday on the topic of improving education in Oregon, even as we face budget cuts.

He identifies three ways to improve things: teacher and principal quality, autonomy within a framework of accountability, and time.

Edelman had some good points about teacher pay and training, and the need for good and supportive principals. He also made valid points about our antiquated agrarian school calendar.

The autonomy bit raised some red flags with me, of course, since I’m very well versed in how that’s worked out in Portland. But first, here’s what he has to say about it (1 min. 32 sec.):

If you don’t have audio, here’s what I think are his salient points: accountability equals test scores. “When I say free [principals and teachers] up, I mean free them up to help students reach high academic standards set by the state and then hold them accountable when they don’t.”

Edelman doesn’t let the fact that Portland Public Schools principals in poor neighborhoods have not always made the best choices deter his optimism: “…when schools are freed up from bureaucratic rules, and given the autonomy to decide how to make maximum use of time, people and money, educators can do a far better job of providing the personalized, rigorous, engaging education that meets the diverse needs and taps the diverse strengths of students.”

At this point, I threw away the question I was going to ask him about the role of Stand in Portland school board elections, and decided to ask him how we can assure that with autonomy, poor schools don’t just become test prep factories (2 min. 13 sec.):

Edelman points out that we’re not as bad as Washington D.C., where they do 52 days of test prep (so maybe we should be happy with that?). And while he makes a valid point about special ed and ELL money from the state not fully following students, he completely missed my point about PPS principals in poor neighborhoods cutting non-core programs (music, library, etc.) to focus on “academic achievement”.

I’d like to invite Jonah out to a tour of our second-tier system in the Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt clusters to see just how well autonomy has worked for the invisible half of Portland, the half that doesn’t always get the things other parts of town take for granted, like college prep, world languages, boutique condo schools, music, art, chemistry, civics, calculus literature and libraries.

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

16 Comments

In the news: another teacher on budget cuts, PPS board to consider lease in Pearl

Portland Public Schools teacher Caryn Cushman challenges Ted Kulongoski’s call for teachers to work (more) for free, and the PPS board of education considers a lease for a new school in the Pearl district tonight, a move questioned by PAT president Rebecca Levison, among others (I questioned the idea when it was first floated a year ago).

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

1 Comment

« Previous Entries