Category: Transfer Policy

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.

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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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In the news: Oregonian analysis of high school future

The Oregonian attempted a little analysis today, with a two-page spread in the “In Portland” section.

Reporter Kimberly Melton took several factors into account, including enrollment trends, political climate, community resources and current academic programs.

What this approach clearly misses is that free-flowing student transfers have drained significant enrollment from schools in poor neighborhoods, resulting in schools with some of the largest attendance area population having the smallest enrollment.

Also not considered in The Oregonian analysis is the value of the properties.

In the past, Portland Public Schools has allowed student transfers to drain enrollment from poor schools, then used low enrollment as an excuse to close them (think Kenton, with its valuable real estate at the intersection of N. Interstate and Lombard). In its analysis of Jefferson High, The O mentions PCC, but not the fact that PCC has long coveted the property for its own expansion.

In the end, the O puts Jefferson, Grant and Madison in the “too close to call” column, which will only lead to more fear, uncertainty and doubt in the community. The district is already dealing with a mini parent rebellion at Grant, and Jefferson, Oregon’s only majority black high school, has long been suspected as a candidate for closure.

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

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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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In the news: board wrestles with high school redesign

Kim Melton reports in The Oregonian today that school board members are starting to debate and discuss specifics of the high school system redesign.

Bobbie Regan is quoted questioning staff assumptions about curtailing neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers and the size (and by extension, number) of high schools to close. “I’m not clear that those are the board’s assumptions,” said Regan.

Board co-chair Trudy Sargent worries about closing “successful” schools, while David Wynde and co-chair Ruth Adkins warn about labeling schools as “successful” and “unsuccessful.”

As we get down to brass tacks, battle lines are being drawn, with a split board possible on student transfer policy changes.

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: Regan questions proposed transfer policy tweaks

School board member Bobbie Regan may be signaling opposition to proposed limits to neighborhood-to-neighborhood student transfers, according to a report by Beth Slovic on Willamette Week‘s news blog.

Regan’s apparent expression of unease with the proposal, which is part of a larger redesign of the high school system, comes on the heals of an Oregonian editorial Monday which expressed more direct opposition to the idea of limiting the flow of students and funding.

Each year, thousands of students and tens of millions of dollars in education funding transfer from Portland’s poorest neighborhoods and into its wealthiest. Schools in the Lincoln cluster home to Regan and the wealthiest familes in Portland Public Schools, had a net gain of nearly 600 students in 2008-09, representing over $3 million in funding.

In that same school year, schools in the Jefferson cluster, encompassing some of Portland’s poorest families, lost nearly 2,000 students and about $12 million to out transfers.

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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The Manifesto

I’m feeling discouraged. The district seems to be once again careening from crisis to crisis, from an unresolved teachers’ contract, to an unfinished, perhaps unfinishable K8 transition, to charter schools preying on the empty buildings left in the wake of destructive enrollment policies. We’re embarking on an ambitious high school system redesign that appears headed in the right direction with regard to balancing enrollment geographically and providing equity of opportunity, but trust in the community is low.

When everything seems to be blowing up, it’s useful to make a list. So I came up with the PPS Equity Manifesto. There’s nothing on this list that we can’t do; there’s nothing there that costs money. In fact, it will save money. In a way, this is a distillation of all the discussions we’ve had on this and other blogs over the last couple years. Comments are open on the manifesto page. I’d love your feedback.

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

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This Week in PPS: Terry Olson


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tolson

This is a full transcript of the podcast, with hyperlinks:
This week in PPS, we mourn the passing of Terry Olson.

The veteran teacher, husband, father of three, and grandfather of two passed away peacefully on Thursday, October 15th, after a long fight with cancer. He turned 63 on October 9th.

Terry’s blog Olson Online was a seminal space in Portland’s blogosphere. He started writing about “[p]ublic education advocacy, tax reform, and other stuff” in January of 2003, and continued writing forcefully about these issues until recently. To the end, Terry never pulled his punches.

Six weeks before he died, he wrote his final blog post  about a bizarre charter school proposal in Corbett. The title of his last piece: Hypocrisy.

Terry’s blog was the first electronic gathering place where Portlanders discussed school equity issues extensively. He worked with the Neighborhood Schools Alliance when they rose up in opposition to Vicki Phillips’ rushed school closings and reconfigurations. He encouraged me and my wife Nancy to “come out” (well, actually, he “outed” us) when we were blogging anonymously about PPS.

By pushing us into the open, he emboldened us to mature as bloggers and expand the chorus of voices calling for school equity.

I only knew Terry as an education activist, and only in the last five years of his life. Our conversations were virtually entirely online, either in e-mail or on the blogs. I only met him twice in person. But his influence on me as an activist and citizen journalist was crucial. Without his ongoing encouragement and guidance, it’s unlikely PPS Equity would exist today.

The last time I saw him was In February 2008.  Terry stood with me in icy wind and rain at the last Celebration, the school district’s school choice fair, handing out fliers (PDF) about the inequity of school choice. He stayed with me in the wind and rain until we had handed out all 500 fliers.

To me, this epitomized Terry’s selflessness in fighting for the greater common good, even as he literally fought for his own life.

He was a contributor to PPS Equity, both as an author and in the comments section.

Terry will be deeply missed by his family, to whom we send our deepest condolences, and in the community, where he led us by example.

Thank you, Terry Olson.

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

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