The Tribune Op-Ed

The Portland Tribune ran my guest opinion piece on the charter schools movement this morning, Promise is only illusion.

I’m generally pleased with the few edits they made, except for one, which significantly reduces the punch of the piece. See if you can spot the critical difference here.

Original: “In Portland, charter school students are whiter and wealthier than the general student population, and they are less likely to have special needs.”

Edited: “In Portland, charter school students appear whiter and wealthier than the general student population, and they would appear less likely to have special needs.”

I cited my source on this when I submitted the story (Portland Public Schools Enrollment Summaries 1998-99 through 2007-08 — 122KB PDF). It is a factual statement. Portland charter schools are 35.2% free and reduced lunch, compared to 45.3% for the district as a whole. Charters are 13.9% special ed, compared to 14.7% district-wide; and 57.75% white, compared to 54.94% district-wide.

It might sound like splitting hairs on the racial issue, but if you factor out Self Enhancement Academy, which is 96.35% black, charter schools in Portland don’t just “appear whiter,” they are significantly so. Opal school is 74% white; Emerson, 79.4%, Portland Village, 77.42%; Trillium, 64.97%. Note that Portland Village and Trillium are both in the Jefferson attendance area, which is 69% non-white.

The “pro” piece, written by Republican state house candidate Matt Wingard, is a mealy-mouthed, factually inaccurate diatribe against a school board he sees as fighting a “loss of power.” While complaining that the PPS school board has rejected more charter schools than all other Oregon districts combined, he doesn’t bother to address the fact that of the last four applicants, three had very major problems in their applications. Here’s the paragraph that stood out as being a little, eh, factually challenged:

The board signaled this preference for fewer choices by beginning to talk about restricting transfers within the district. Board members claim that unrestricted transfers between existing public schools might be fostering segregation. But most of the parents who want to leave their “neighborhood” schools are minorities.

First, when has the board ever talked about restricting transfers? News to me, and I’ve been pounding on them to talk about this for a year now.

Second, it’s not board members making a “claim,” it was the auditors of Multnomah County and the City of Portland whose 2006 audit of the PPS transfer policy said that open transfers have increased segregation. This was reinforced by the PPS staff study that compiled hard statistical evidence showing, beyond debate, that this is the case.

Finally, I’d like to see the statistics to back up the statement “most of the parents who want to leave their ‘neighborhood’ schools are minorities.” PPS statistics, in fact, contradict this statement.

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


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