Time for a K-8 Moratorium?

By now most of us are aware that completing the transition from K-5 and 6-8 to K-8 is one of Superintendent Carole Smith’s top priorities. I think the rationale is that things were left in chaos, and we need to get it right.

But Terry Olson, who, like me, doesn’t think K-8 is necessarily a bad idea, thinks maybe we should put the brakes on the transition, rather than going full steam ahead.

“The bottom line is that Portland rushed into school closure and reconfiguration without a well thought out plan for what was to follow,” writes Olson, a retired middle school teacher. “And, perhaps more importantly, without a clear understanding of what genuine school reform looks like.”

It is obvious the process was not well conceived, planned or executed.

I’m still confused about why we need to make this transition. Terry lays out some good things about K-8 schools. But these aren’t the reasons Vicki Phillips stated. Her rationale was to increase test scores and “enrichment” in the lower grades by economies of scale, i.e. the higher full-time-equivalent ratios made possible by larger schools.

We now see those reasons are bunk.

Portland Public Schools needs to clearly articulate the rationale for transitioning away from middle schools. And if any cluster gets to keep a comprehensive 6-8 option, all clusters should get this option.

If equity is truly the overarching goal of Superintendent Smith’s administration, and if stability is truly important to her, this may be her first test. Can we cleanly and fairly finish the job Vicki Phillips started? Perhaps. But first we need to take stock of the situation at hand. Then, if we decide it really is the right thing for our district, we need to proactively design a process to move forward.

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

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