March 28, 2010
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.
March 4, 2010
POWER Academy at Roosevelt had $24,962 in Title I funds remaining at the end of the 2008/09 school year. So imagine my surprise when reviewing their 2009/10 Course Guide and I read:
Under Oregon law, students cannot be required to pay a fee for classes that are part of the regular school program. However, in some instances, you may be asked to make a contribution for certain classes where additional learning materials enable the school to expand and enrich those classes. Certain science lab expenses and art class supplies are examples of classes where your contribution can make a difference in the quality of the class. You are not required to pay the requested contribution in order to enroll in the class. POWER Academy is only able to offer these enhanced learning opportunities for students because of your support and contributions. We appreciate your commitment to our instructional program and
Roosevelt is 81% free and reduced lunch but Lincoln is only 10% free/reduced. Why does Roosevelt ask for donations but Lincoln does not? Why doesn’t Roosevelt use their Title I money to fund the programs?
Sourced from: Cheating in Class. Used by permission.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.
February 22, 2010
I’m glad that so many people are able to see through Superintendent Smith’s disingenuous claim to be redesigning high schools in an effort to close the achievement gap and address equity concerns.
It’s bad enough that PPS screws poor kids out of an even marginally adequate education but to use poor kids in their plan to close schools is shameful.
That said, there may or may not be a need to close schools. District administrators are so dishonest it’s hard to know what’s the truth.
Last year 63% of white students and 35% of black students were on track to graduate in 9th grade. On track being defined as earning 6 or more credits with grades C or above by the end of their freshman year.
There was a 31% difference in Math and 27% difference in the English state test results between white students and the lowest subgroup. African American students continue to be suspended or expelled at almost 3 times their population rate.
Other than changes in school assignment, what’s in the high school redesign plan to address the achievement gap?
PPS administrators would rather shake up entire communities than try smaller, common sense approaches to closing the gap.
Here’s a radical idea worthy of trying….school principals could USE the federal Title I dollars allocated for their schools. Even crazier…they could use it according to their School Improvement Plans. That’s the plan that they were supposed to have created in collaboration with parents and staff. According to a PPS Title I-A Report dated 1/26/10:
Each school is required to complete a School Improvement Plan that contains strategies to increase the student achievement of educationally disadvantaged students. The plan must include a needs assessment, prioritization of needs and SMART (student-centered and specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound) goals for the school.
Who from PPS administration has followed up on the School Improvement Plans?
For years, PPS Title I school principals have failed to use the Title I money allocated for improving the academic program for disadvantaged students. Title I funds are allocated annually. Historically, the amount remaining at the school level at the end of the school year has been between $500,000 and $750,000 collectively.
Scott leads the list of schools with unspent Title I funds. In 2007/08, Scott had almost $73,000 remaining at the end of the year. The amount left unspent in 2008/09 decreased to $49,674. Even so, less than half of Scott’s black students met benchmarks in reading or math.
At the district level, Title I underspending looks even worse.
For the 09/10 school year, the district was allocated $18,883,118 in Title I-A funding and $14,569,092 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Title I funding. In addition the district carried over $2, 845,562 from the previous school year for a total budget of $36,297,772 for this school year.
It’s not likely that the district will use the almost $3 million carried over from last year because the 09/10 allocation is even higher than last year’s.
The carryover from 08/09 includes $180,000 for optional parent engagement and $1,200,000 for AYP School Support. What services could have been provided with that?
The amount remaining at the end of the 08/09 school year for each Title I school is listed below. Amounts listed in () are negative amounts meaning those schools overspent:
Boise Eliot $4,954
Chief Joseph $31,476
James John $7,739
Rosa Parks $8,833
Ockley Green $(358)
Roseway Heights $4,535
Jefferson HS $33,896
ACT HS $17,500
SEIS HS $9,764
POWER HS $24,962
PAIS HS $4,380
Renaissance HS $26,784
So you see, PPS has had the money to improve the quality of education provided to poor children but they’ve failed to use it. They’ve also failed to include all of the required partners in creating School Improvement Plans.
In addition to the problem with Title I spending, PPS lost $617,000 for English Language Learner students because they failed to comply with civil rights laws. English Language Learner students are also kids at the bottom end of the achievement gap. PPS had more than 20 years to comply with the Office for Civil Rights findings but failed to do so.
Now, we’re expected to believe that PPS is sincere about closing the achievement gap. Not a chance.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.
January 6, 2010
The No Child Left Behind act requires public school districts to provide Title I services to eligible public and private school students.
Title I Overview
This is the part of No Child Left Behind that supports programs in schools and school districts to improve the learning of children from low-income families. The U.S. Department of Education provides Title I funds to states to give to school districts based on the number of children from low-income families in each district.
US Department of Education Audit of ODE
The US Department of Education audit on Oregon’s Title I program in 2008 produced many findings centered on accountability. Among other things, there was an almost complete absence of oversight in how some Oregon districts handle services to private school children. The findings listed below are taken directly from the Title I report (emphasis mine).
Finding (1): The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) has not ensured that its LEAs (school districts) maintain control of the Title I program for eligible private school children and their families and teachers. For example:
- As part of the process for selecting a third-party provider in PPS, private school officials meet with potential providers without district officials present.
- PPS provides its third-party providers with a list of possible criteria to use to select students for services, but leaves it to the third-party provider and private school officials to decide which criteria are actually used.
- PPS gives the third-party provider and the private schools the responsibility of deciding the types of services (i.e., reading or math) that students selected for services receive and how the services will be evaluated.
- In Woodburn School District (WSD) the private school officials develop the plan for services, the selection criteria, and how the services will be evaluated.
Finding (2): The ODE has not ensured that its districts have consistently met the requirements for consultation with private school officials regarding: (1) the method or sources of data the district will use to determine the number of private school children from low-income families residing in participating public school attendance areas; and (2) the evaluation of the Title I program for private school children. PPS tells interested private school officials to report free and reduced priced lunch data in October without first consulting with them concerning the different options that may be used to obtain data on low-income students. PPS’s affirmation form does not include this topic. In both PPS and WSD the third-party contractor designs the evaluation of the Title I program for private school children. Neither LEA has determined in consultation with private school officials how the Title I program for private school children will be evaluated, what the agreed upon standards are, and how annual progress will be measured.
Finding (3): The ODE has not ensured that its LEAs have consistently exercised proper oversight in awarding contracts for the provision of Title I services to participating private school children. A contract that PPS has with a third-party vendor to provide services to participating private school children did not have enough detail to enable PPS to determine that the Title I statutory and regulatory requirements are being met. The contract has not broken out the specific amount for administration, instruction, family involvement, and professional development that the vendor is charging.
PPS’ handling of Title I services to private school children is the equivalent of handing private schools a check and walking away. Where is the accountability for that? Unfortunately, this is typical of how PPS manages its money. District staff consistently argue that questioned expenses are just a small portion of their budget. They don’t get it that the pennies add up.
The PPS 2009/10 budget includes $20.2 million in Title I funds PLUS $14.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. PPS reports that the ARRA funds will be targeted towards: standards and assessment; data systems; teacher effectiveness; and support for lowest performing schools.
Schools need the money but they need to use it effectively. Don’t let the district piss the money away.
TAKE ACTION – You have a right to know how your child’s school is spending their money. Find out if your child’s school is a Title I school. If so, here are some questions (ask any or all) that you should ask your school principal:
- How much has the school been allocated in Title I funding?
- How much in funds did the school carryover from last year?
- Who was involved in completing the School Improvement Plan (SIP)?
- Request a copy of the School Improvement Plan or schedule a time to review it.
- Is the school required to provide supplemental services (individualized help for struggling students)? If so, who is the provider? What services are provided?
- Is the School Improvement Plan and budget aligned?
- What parent involvement activities are included in the School Improvement Plan?
Don’t worry about whether you’ll understand all of it. Most parents don’t understand it. You’ll get it over time. The important thing is to ask questions and always follow-up.
If you need help with any of the information you collect, you can email me by going to the About page or you can post questions on this blog. There’s a very supportive online community of parents with tons of expertise and various perspectives.
Carrie Adams blogs at Cheating in Class.