Restricted transfers: how does this benefit black students?

8:07 am

A member of the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs (OABA) e-mail list asks this very pertinent question:

Can anyone…help me understand the benefits to Black students to be required to attend a high school with an impoverished academic program compared to other Portland public high schools just because the Black students live in the neighborhood of an academically impoverished school?

This question is in response to Carole Smith’s announcement of a high school system redesign that would balance high school enrollment by eliminating the ability to transfer between neighborhood schools (choice would be preserved in the form of district-wide magnets, alternative schools, and charters).

The ideal, of course, is that all neighborhood high schools would have equitable offerings, so nobody would be “trapped” in a sub-par school.

But there is a significant lack of trust in the community, which Smith acknowledges. In her press conference announcing the redesign last month, she endorsed the restriction of transfers “with this caveat: We cannot eliminate those transfers until we can assure students that the school serving their neighborhood indeed does measure up to our model of a community school — with consistent and strong courses, advanced classes and support for all.”

In my minority report on high school system redesign, I proposed exceptions to the “no transfers” rule for transfers that don’t worsen socio-economic segregation.

“In other words,” I wrote, “a student who qualifies for free or reduced lunch could be allowed to transfer to a non-Title I school, and a student who doesn’t qualify for free or reduced lunch could be able to transfer to a Title I school. This is a form of voluntary desegregation that is allowable under recent Supreme Court rulings, since it is not based on race.”

I’m not sure if this is the kind of caveat Carole Smith is talking about, but I believe the district has proven it cannot rely on the trust of poor and minority communities who have been disproportionately impacted by district policy. In addition to increasing integration in our schools, this would provide a critical “escape valve” for minority communities while the district demonstrates its good faith.

While our current system ostensibly offers all students the opportunity to enter the lottery to get into a comprehensive high school, only students in predominately white, middle class neighborhoods are guaranteed access to a comprehensive secondary education.

The propposed high school redesign is definitive step toward closing this glaring opportunity gap (even if the achievement gap persists).

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

filed under: Equity, High Schools, Race, Segregation, Transfer Policy

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6 Responses

  1. Comment from WD:

    Can anyone…help me understand the benefits to white students to be required to attend a high school with an impoverished academic program compared to other Portland public high schools just because the white students live in the neighborhood of an academically impoverished school?

    How about any students. Period. Or do you only care about students of color? Where is this guaranteed access to a comprehensive secondary education in predominately white, middle class neighborhoods? Seems to me like this article is spurred by a racial agenda that you quite frankly should be ashamed of. Take race off of your mind, and focus on what’s best for Oregon students. All of Oregon’s students. Not just your racist agenda.

  2. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Students living west of the Willamette (Lincoln & Wilson clusters) or in the Grant and Cleveland clusters are guaranteed access to comprehensive high schools. These students are predominately white and middle class. Students living in the other half of Portland, who are predominately non-white, have an almost zero chance of getting into a comprehensive high school.

    That is racist. Remediation of ongoing institutional racism is not a “racist agenda.”

    The high school plan being discussed here is an attempt to address this inequity… every student in the district would be guaranteed access to a comprehensive high school. My proposal for socio-economic exemptions from the transfer restrictions is an attempt to address the understandable lack of trust in the communities that have seen consistent adverse impact from district policy.

  3. Comment from marcia:

    I have to agree with WD. It should read EVERY Student…should have access to a comprehensive program. My daughter is white and attended one of the “small schools” at Roosevelt, and I will never forget that she could not take fourth year Spanish in a Spanish immersion school because they did not offer the class. Just one of the little things missing at a north portland high school.

  4. Comment from Nancy R.:

    “Racist agenda”? For real?

  5. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, you are absolutely correct in proposing a system which would help ameliorate the lack of trust in PPS’s leadership during the transition period to the supposed equality in high schools. Certainly, by just making the attempt, the administration deserves kudos and a reservation of judgement on their motives while they move toward bringing some equity to a very out of balance system.

    Equity of class offerings is only a first step however. If you offer advanced placement chemistry in each school, but the students in poorer schools haven’t been adequately prepared for taking the class then equity has still not been achieved. And if the classrooms in poorer schools have more disciplinary problems and weaker teachers then equity has not been achieved there either.

    High school success (including graduation) is built upon a good solid education in elementary school (where reading, writing, and basic math, as well as basic educational skills and love of learning are learned and nurtured) and the middle grades where students need to be immersed in education and activities which engage them in school and whet their appetite for high school. For poor kids we kind of do the first and pretty much don’t do the second at all. Don’t even recognize the importance of it really. Until we address the middle grade problems you can build all the equitable high schools you want, but the mess will still remain.

  6. Comment from howard:

    I fully understand why “A member of the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs (OABA)” would pose that question, I assume, about Jefferson high and its cluster of elementary and middle schools.

    I would respond by saying that a strong school needs 60% or more of its students to perform at or above grade level to serve as peer examples to underperforming peers. Having the support of the parents of those motivated students is beneficial to a school in many ways and serves to bring along parents who might otherwise avoid contact with the school.

    Urban school districts do great harm when they allow large numbers of low-performing students to be segregated racially or economically in sub-standard schools.

    Therefore it is beneficial to all students when school resources are equitably available and the various neighborhood communities are fully involved in “their” schools and the students. invested