Open Letter to the School Board re. Ivy Charter

10:58 pm

I am writing to urge you — once again — to reject the Ivy Charter application. The adverse impact of charter schools in North and Northeast Portland is clear if you simply look at the numbers.

For example, in the 69% non-white, 58.3% free and reduced lunch Jefferson cluster, we have two recently opened charter schools. Portland Village is 77.42% white and 9.7% free and reduced; Trillium is 64.97% white and 29.3% free and reduced. Aggravation of racial and socio-economic segregation is a clear case of adverse impact, and there is no reason to think Ivy would be any different.

Cliff Brush is right: We are at a tipping point. But it’s not just about charter schools. It is about a system that for decades has punished Portland children based on where they live and the color of their skin.

We’ve got to stop making policy decisions that set back the clock on equal opportunity.

The Jefferson cluster doesn’t need another charter school. It needs equitable, comprehensive educational programming.

After the mayor’s week at Jefferson, when students spoke eloquently and forcefully about being denied educational opportunities afforded their cross-town counterparts, and after a Celebrate event, where parents were told not to even bother applying for transfers into our most favored schools because there is no space available, it is time to look forward to a school system that no longer divides our citizens into haves and have nots.

It is time to define a uniform core curriculum, including art, music and P.E., offered at every neighborhood school. It is time to stop feeding into the self-reinforcing cycle of “failing” schools in our poorest neighborhoods by skimming enrollment, slashing programs, and closing buildings.

Now, in 2008, it is time for you as a policy maker to consider, with every policy decision, whether we are moving toward the future of a more equitable system, or whether we are looking backwards and perpetuating the segregated, balkanized system that is no longer tolerable in an enlightened city like Portland.

It is time to unequivocally move away from the shame that a two-tiered education system brings to our great city.

I know there is concern that you as a board member must follow state law. But as I mentioned above, adverse impact of charter schools is clear. Even if it weren’t, I would challenge you to be bold, and act in the interest of the least fortunate among us who do not have a voice is such matters.

As I said when I wrote to you on this issue before, let the state approve this application on appeal if they will. At least it won’t be on your conscience.

We are standing at the threshold of a proud new era in Portland Public Schools, one in which every neighborhood school is strong and comprehensive, and where no children are denied opportunity, no matter the color of their skin, the address on their door, or the wealth of their parents.

It is undeniable that we have momentum, and that this change is coming. This single vote, while merely for one small charter school, is symbolic of a sea change in the way we think about our school district and our city.

Before casting your vote, you must ask yourself: Which side are you on? Are you on the side of progress, integration and equity for all our children? Or are you on the other side?

You don’t have to answer me. History will be the judge.

Faithfully yours,
Steve Rawley

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

filed under: Charter Schools, Equity

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