Student transfers and the environment

7:45 am

Terry Olson has a great post on his blog on the environmental impact of school transfers.

Nobody’s done a statistical survey to evaluate the number of vehicle miles traveled daily as families criss-cross the city taking their children out of their neighborhoods for school, but Terry scratches the surface by looking at the numbers of students transferring in and out of a handful of schools.

The cover story of yesterday’s Willamette Week is about seven ways Portland can be more green. Too bad they didn’t read Terry’s post before they went to press.

There is no reason Portland Public Schools can’t provide quality, comprehensive education in every neighborhood. The infrastructure is in place (even if it is in need of upgrades), and it is difficult to argue that families transfer out because the want to drive their kids across town and back every day.

The truth and shame of PPS is that they have allowed enrollment and funding to flood out of our poorest neighborhoods. Instead of attempting to stanch the flow, they have encouraged it by gutting programs (like the Jefferson arts magnet), eliminating comprehensive high schools in favor of experimentation in Gates small schools, closing schools, and eliminating middle school options (the Madison and Jefferson clusters have completely lost middle schools).

As with the greater economy, the free market system is beginning to creak and groan under environmental and human costs that have previously been written off. It simply is not sustainable to continue to defund our poorest neighborhoods to the tune of tens of millions of dollars annually.

As I’ve argued consistently over the past year, it is time for a New Deal for Portland Public Schools. We need to reinvest in our poorest neighborhoods, and remove any legitimate reason to transfer from one neighborhood school to another. (There will always be a place for centrally-located focus option schools, like Benson, da Vinci Arts and MLC, and I’m not arguing for the end of this kind of “choice.”)

It’s the right thing to do for the planet, for our children, and for our neighborhoods. What’s stopping the school board and superintendent from acting, and revamping the transfer policy and the distribution of our educational investment? As far as I can tell, it’s the fear of alienating a small number of upper middle class families.

They actually seem to be holding the planet and the majority of our children hostage in the interest of not upsetting a small minority of their constituents. This continues to bring shame to our great city, and intolerable inequity to our poorest citizens.

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

filed under: Environment, Equity, Media, Transfer Policy

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6 Responses

  1. Comment from Terry:

    I suppose it would be possible to arrive at a statistically valid estimate of vehicle miles traveled due to school transfers, but that would require both money (probably) and a massive effort.

    Suffice it (for now) to say that fewer kids walk to school now than in the days before massive school closures and open transfers. That trend is neither healthy for kids nor healthy for the environment.

    (And thanks for the mention, Steve.)

  2. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Maybe we could get Stand for Children to look at the problem of student transfers next. After all. they looked at the teacher transfer policy. Oh wait, I forgot, the Stand for Children schools benefitted greatly from the new teacher transfer policy and the poor schools were once again left behind. Sorry, I lost my head for a couple of moments.

    Well, maybe we could get the school board to look at the policy — oops, the school board is Stand for Children, and Stand for Children is the school board. Dang, I guess we are stuck with it.

  3. Comment from MrKotter:

    I totally agree with you in the notion that we need to eliminate any reason someone would want to trasfer schools, and stop catering to the elitests. This economic based rationale can also be applied to the argument of racial bias. It’s very difficult to separate socioeconomics and racism. The same reasons that traveling across town are bad for the environment, i.e. more gas = more pollution… also point to the obvious situation of this transfer option only being available to those with the economic ability to pay for the extra gas/ time/ bus pass/ inconvenience to get themselves and/ or their kids to whatever school they decide meets their standards. Also, since it will take time to institute the type of change that will eliminate the problems that cause people to transfer schools, let’s just not give people the option. As a young beaverton grade school student I experienced a boundary change going into 5th grade. I remember little from that age, but I can vividly remember being very upset to not be able to continue to attend my grade school, with all my friends etc… so upset infact that I talked my mom into appealing the decision, and after considerable red tape, I was ultimatley denied. All the foot stomping and fist pounding in the world would not have made a difference. Guess what, things turned out fine. The way it is there are few teachers who want to teach in those schools with such a poor performance record, and a lot of that is because of the flight of a majority of the students who have any true interest in learning. Not only that but the state of our education system villianizes teachers who are unboubteldy trying their hardest to be part of the solution, and basically powerless in actually making decisions about change.

  4. Comment from 4mykids:

    Yes, we should eliminate the need to transfer. But as a parent forced to use this system (we did try our neighborhood school and are homeschooling this year while we anxiously wait for the results of the lottery) please do not assume we are elitists or are asking to be catered to. We simply want an equitable eduction for our children.
    There are special focus schools that are also neighborhood schools. As long as these schools exist there will always be parents that will want access to these schools who are not fortunate to have the means to buy homes or rent in these coveted neighborhoods.
    The epidemic in our PPS schools will not be resolved overnight or even in one school year. We are avid environmentalists, we practice sustainable living, and we are responsible for the education of our children. This transfer option is the only option left to us if we want to access public education.
    The environmental impact is not only from transferring students. Our assigned neighborhood high school is across town (Jefferson) and further away from us then Grant that is down the street. This requires the school district to provide buses for high school students in our neighborhood. That is money that is waisted by the school district that claims to have limited resources and shrinking revenues.
    This isn’t a one size fits all problem. Every family I know that has transferred schools is part of a carpool system. Ironically those attending the elementary school down the street drive with one child in the car! You can be a transfer family that is not elitist, cares about the environment and supports our public funded schools.

  5. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    I sure didn’t mean this post to come off as critical of parents who chose to transfer.

    Rather, it is an indictment of a system that effectively encourages parents to transfer.

    We are all obligated to do what we think is best for our children. I just wish PPS would stop punishing half the city to benefit the other half.

  6. Comment from NMLeggett:

    It shouldn’t be this way. One look at the School boundary map leaves one question: Why do our catchments have peninsulas? How can it make less sense to be able to walk, then to need a ride to your assigned school?
    One question for you Lottery hopeful: What will you do if you don’t get your transfer? I hope you will resign yourself to digging into your neighborhood school. Parent involvement works to improve schools and learning for all students. Perhaps walking into a school that has a good groove going is easier, but their is something to be said about taking personal responsibility for bringing that groovy little learning spot to all you children’s’ classmates.
    Nicole Leggett