“Choice” done right

6:20 am

There is a school district, of similar size and demographics to Portland Public Schools (37,789 students, 42% minority, 33% free and reduced lunch, 16% ELL), with less funding per student than PPS, that manages to maintain strong and equitable neighborhood schools and a vibrant school choice program.

All of its neighborhood K-5 schools have music, P.E. and a library (staffed with a certified media specialist).

Options start in the middle grades (6-8), with every student assigned to a comprehensive middle school. Every neighborhood middle school offers world languages and elective options in the arts such as band or orchestra, choir and art. All middle schools also have after-school activities.

If a family is not happy with their comprehensive middle school assignment, they can choose from one of three K-8 schools, or one of several schools specializing in the arts, health and science, environmental science, an international school, or a school for highly gifted students.

As with the middle grades, every high school student is assigned to a comprehensive high school, each offering a broad and deep selection of advanced placement classes, world languages and electives, including fine arts (instrumental music, theatre, art, etc.), business, technology, etc., and each offering a wide variety of after-school programs.

For students looking for options not available in their assigned high school, choices include continuations of the middle grade arts, international, and health and science schools, as well a high school focused on science and technology and a “small school” focused on individualized instruction, independent learning, and real-world experience. They may also enroll in an International Baccalaureate program.

How do they do it?

  • Their system is grounded in neighborhood-based attendance. Neighborhood schools are strong enough and offer enough of a comprehensive curriculum to be the first choice of the vast majority of families.
  • Choice is limited to option schools; neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers are only allowed in exceptional circumstances. With schools sized according to attendance area, they are able to maintain funding and programming.
  • Schools are considerably larger than schools in PPS (with K-5s around 600 students, middle schools 1000 and high schools 2000), with the trade-off of comprehensive curriculum in every neighborhood school.

And what’s the school district? Beaverton.

It is remarkable how well-planned, consistent, fair and equitable Beaverton is. They actually have a well-designed system of K-12 education, with a well-thought out curriculum guaranteed to every student in every neighborhood school that is as good or better than the best of the best in PPS.

Compare and contrast this to the shameful, utterly disorganized state of Portland Public Schools, where this kind of schooling is only available in the whitest, wealthiest neighborhoods.

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

filed under: Curriculum, ELL/LEP, Equity, Features, High Schools, Libraries, Middle Schools, Music, Transfer Policy

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11 Responses

  1. Comment from Terry:

    Sounds like you’re sorry you didn’t move to Beaverton. As far as schools go, I wouldn’t blame you for having second thoughts.

    The key, it seems, is the absence of neighborhood school transfers, something PPS should seriously consider emulating. That’s a good first step toward equity.

  2. Comment from Dave POrter:

    I do not think the Beaverton School District is a model school district for the 21st century. They do not have a 21st century world languages program. I think they have only three world language immersion programs starting in kindergarten. They are each two-way Spanish immersion. There are no Mandarin, Japanese, or Russian immersion programs like in the Portland Public Schools. PPS does need more immersion programs, but in this they are ahead of Beaverton.

    I do not know, but wonder, how students are selected for each of the Beaverton immersion schools.

  3. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Terry, I’m not sorry we stayed in Portland. I love the city and my neighborhood.

    Transfers are just one big part of the picture. Size is the other biggie.

    I think we could aim for something smaller than Beaverton, and still do pretty good. Say, 400 for K-5, 600 for 6-8 and 1200 for HS.

    But you’re right, the first step is to balance enrollment. If schools are all of similar size, they will have similar budgets to work with. Then we can have balanced offerings, and get away from the wildly out-of-balance, anarcho-capitalist, boutique school mentality that has prevailed in Portland since Measure 5.

    The bottom line is that the only way our system can be balanced is if we design a balanced system as a whole. In the time that I’ve been paying attention, nobody’s every taken this approach. The free market system has just made things worse. Isn’t it silly to expect it can somehow correct itself?

    It won’t — we need a New Deal for our school system.

  4. Comment from howard:

    Beaverton had a first rate superintendent over a considerable time span, Yvonne Katz, who was beaten out for the PPS job when the board hired Jack Bierworth.

    For many years Beaverton maintained a good labor and learning environment while Portland went through several bouts of turbulence and stress.

  5. Comment from Zarwen:

    Beaverton also did not waste time and money on fruitless “national searches” when it was time to replace Katz. They recruited Jerry Colonna from central Oregon, and from everything I’ve heard, he’s doing just fine.

  6. Comment from Erin:

    Beaverton may not have “21st century world language programs”, but it looks like they have everything else right.

    Immersion programs are GREAT, but equity all around is more important.

    Comprehensive high schools are the key. It’s as if PPS is just waiting for our “academy” high schools to fail.

  7. Comment from Rita Moore:

    Just a word about foreign language programs. I’m a big fan of immersion programs, but they tend to be oversubscribed and many kids are shut out. But more to the point, although I think PPS deserves kudos for the immersion programs, it’s track record on languages across the district is pretty dismal. As far as I know, none of the K-8s have any foreign language at all and the small high schools which they feed into tend to have extremely limited offerings (unless it’s an international program). Some of the small high schools, in fact, appear to have no foreign language at all. So language is hardly a point of pride for PPS.

  8. Comment from Rita Moore:

    One correction on K8s and foreign language: Sunnyside has a Spanish elective.

  9. Comment from Susan:

    From PPS’ PK-8 Action Team (http://cms9.pps.k12.or.us/.docs/pg/12501) Summary of Enrichment Offerings and Funding Sources for PK8 Enrichment Offerings (although these documents contradict each other), the following K-8 schools were proposed to offer Spanish in the 08-09 school year:

    Access Program
    Arleta (no FTE projected in May 08)
    Astor ( no FTE projected in May 08)

    Sara A and Joan – I’m still tuned in and waiting for updates from the PK-8 Action Team.

  10. Comment from Lakeitha:

    The district has posted the members of the enrollment and transfer committee. Congrats Steve.

  11. Comment from Toni:

    You’re on the Enrollment and Transfer Committee Steve?

    Impressive and Congratulations to you! My apologies for not being able to be a babysitter for the kids, but I’ll implant into their heads the importance of a well-rounded education when I return for break!

    And I was under the impression that Sabin had both Spanish and Japanese? At least, it HAD Japanese? As far as ACCESS goes, the populations of minority students could be far greater in that program, but I’m afraid minority students tend to be overlooked for those programs because of behavioral issues, not academics…