Oregonian editorial board: nervous about transfer policy

7:57 am

The editorial board of The Oregonian, that rump of a daily paper that still (barely) manages to spill a little ink on Mondays, today spilled some in defense of the radical transfer policy that has been a significant contributor to the two-tiered system of education in Portland Public Schools.

In an editorial on the proposed high school system redesign, Thee O makes a wishy-washy argument in favor of some aspects (ending the long-discredited, Bill Gates-funded experiment with small schools in poor neighborhoods and reducing the number of neighborhood high schools) but against proposals that might hurt property values in wealthy, white neighborhoods (curtailing student transfers between neighborhood high schools and equalizing opportunity across the district).

In the end, the editorial reads as plea for the status quo, at least as far as wealthy, white Portlanders are concerened: “Fix what’s broken. Don’t break what’s working.”

How we can fix poor schools whose enrollment and funding have been drained by the enrollment policies that support this status quo for the wealthy is left as an exercise for the reader. They’ve got the full meal deal, and the other half doesn’t even get bread.

Cake, anyone?

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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, Media

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42 Responses

  1. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    This stand is just one more reason why I have PERMANENTLY cancelled my subscription to the Oregonian, what’s left of it. Willamette Week and the Tribune have better coverage of the PPS hi-jinx. Every stinkin’ PERS article in the Oregonian (usually on the front page) is inflammatory–and doesn’t apply to the majority (96%?) of today’s employees/retirees. Remember the two retired teachers sitting on some beach that cause the big uproar years ago–big FRONT PAGE NEWS?They simply look for something to bash teachers with and print it, not including the total picture! I don’t get their stand on this—of course since they DON’T INCLUDE THE TOTAL PICTURE, why does this “keep the status quo” stance not surprise me?

    The two ed reporters, Kim Shelton and the-other-one seem to talk to district brass and rarely parents, teachers, students. What a lovely little COZY relationship they have with the PPS!!! When shall we set the wedding date?

    Thank goodness for the Trib which usually has some positive articles on schools, individuals. You can count on WW to dig dirt. Count me as fed up with the Oregonian!!!!! Totally!!!!!

  2. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    As one of the moms at a North Portland school said in a meeting I attended, “I would say that the rich schools are getting cake and we’re getting the crumbs — but we’re not even getting crumbs.”

    Crumbs are not enough. Besides, too much cake makes you fat and gives you diabetes. Beans and rice for everyone, to start, and there will be enough to go around. Wilson High, for example, offers French, German and Spanish (including AP in French and Spanish. And English, of course.) And AP Calculus, of course. And all kinds of fun theater classes.

    Jefferson offers Spanish. No AP classes are offered. Students are offered a couple of theater classes. No music teacher.

    Music only if you’re enrolled in SEI or SUN School (after school programs, not for credit). Could Wilson make due with a little less, so Jeff could offer two languages? Why the hell not?

    I am fed up with the rich swiping from the poor in this district. Give it up.

  3. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    That makes two blows from the Oregonian. Not only does the Oregonian support the status quo but they also want to make damned sure that the wealthy don’t pay for it. Now that’s public assistance.

  4. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    They’re panicked because for the first time in their lives, they’re facing unemployment. Welcome to the party, guys. Potluck, anyone?

    “Realize I don’t want to be a miser/ Confide with sly you’ll be the wiser/ Young blood is the lovin’ upriser/ How come everybody wanna keep it like the kaiser/ Give it away give it away give it away now…”

    — Red Hot Chili Peppers

  5. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Reading the blog at the end of the article is most interesting, as the comments grow. Good ol’ white middle class Portland doesn’t want to give anything up. If it were possible to “fix what’s broken”, WHY HASN’T IT BEEN DONE BY NOW? Because those who HAVE get more, or at least get to keep what they have. Those who have less, or get crumbs should just be thankful for what they have, and we’ll try different things (like small schools) and that will make them think they really are getting “improved”.

    The PPS has become so unequal, the land of the haves/have nots, that I don’t think it’s going to be an easy battle or actually possible to get real equality.

    Just feeling bummed and hopeless about what used to be a stellar school district (warts and all). Sorry to sound so negative at the New Year!

  6. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    I would have tanked in high school without theater and my AP English classes. It really was all right “back in the day.” Not perfect, but all right. Madison (I’m class of ’82) offered French, German, Latin and Spanish. For starters. Art, theater, auto shop, lots of music, something for everyone. You’ve got to keep them engaged or we know what happens. I’m bummed, too.

  7. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Portland’s elites will absolutely cut off their nose to spite their face. They will jealously guard what they’ve horded in their enclaves, but remain ignorant of the changing demographics east of the Willamette.

    I never knew PPS when it was “stellar.” But I share your sense of hopelessness.

    It is a sign of a greater malaise in Portland, a town run by a small cadre of wealthy white “liberals” who have no experience or clue in dealing with the unwashed masses conveniently rendered invisible by the geology of our city.

  8. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Wacky Mommy, I’m with you on the variety of classes I took in HS–stuff like SEWING (they called it ‘Clothing’ back in the day!) Three college degrees and by golly, I can hand-stitch/repair anything!!! THEN, there was “shop”–and what was learned there comes in real handy when you buy a house. ALL the things Madison HS (and other schools used to have. We’ve watched Home Repair and Green Thumb get the axe. Nope, WE’RE SENDING ALL KIDS TO COLLEGE, ALL KIDS SHOULD BE COLLEGE READY, ALL KIDS MUST MEET CERTAIN TEST RESULTS—no time to teach life skills that just might lead to some family wage jobs anymore. Mother forced me to take keyboarding long before the first personal computer–she said “if you flunk out of college, here’s one skill you can use all your life!!!” RIGHT ON, MAMA! All of that breadth of education gone. Alas, the good COMPREHENSIVE education you and I received is no longer valid, because it worked? Yup, that must be the reason.

    Here’s a point of irony since you are a Mad Hi grad—about the time the Gates Small Schools grant arrived, the entire BUSINESS DEPT WAS ELIMINATED. Not one keyboarding class, accounting, anything. Industrial arts, Home Ec, long, long gone. Those old “Personal Finance” classes that taught you how to balance a checkbook or the differences between simple and compound interest? Gone for decades.

    And we wonder why kids don’t stay in school? Every kid has a ‘hook’, something that draws them in…..and until ALL PPS HS OFFER a diverse curriculum–well, let’s just keep testing and meeting benchmarks……blah, blah, blah…

  9. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The Oregonian editorial foreshadows the reactions to trying to bring equity to PPS. I don’t really think the response of the “have” school parents is out of ignorance. They are unable to look beyond their own children. Their school seems to work for them and they will guard that as much as they can. Every parent in the district practically would respond the same way. Since the “have” schools have the most politically powerful parent and community groups and for years have controlled the only body able to foster equity, the school board, then they will be able to maintain the positive elements of their school.

    Will Lincoln give up options so other schools can have them? Just walk up a block or two from Lincoln to the Multnomah Athletic Club and ask around. What do you think the answer will be? It is fine to talk in theoretical terms about the high school redesign. It is another thing to bring it to fruition with some sort of true equity. That folks may take a revolution. You don’t believe so — ask The Oregonian’s editors.

  10. Comment from Zarwen:

    Wacky, your description of Madison High of yesteryear sounds so much like the Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland and Wilson of today! Who was it that decided low-income children have different academic needs than rich children?

    Oh wait—I think I remember now—wasn’t it the Portland Schools Foundation??

  11. Comment from Tired:

    Will Lincoln give up options so other schools can have them? Just walk up a block or two from Lincoln to the Multnomah Athletic Club and ask around. What do you think the answer will be?

    The answer will be “I don’t care because my kids are at Oregon Episcopal/Catlin Gabel”.

  12. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Well, that’s awfully magnanimous of you, Tired, just don’t give a rip about what happens to kids in the Portland Public Schools!

    Why should you care what happens to neighborhood schools, property values, keeping a vital city thriving and providing the best quality education for ALL KIDS? Nope, just send your kids to private school and don’t give a bloody rip.

    People who don’t have kids, who are single, or childless, or retired or just moved here have more concern about the future of our city, our schools, our kids than you seem to. Hey, someone PAID FOR MY EDUCATION, who paid for yours? We all OWE the public school system the best we can make it.

    I hope your kids do well, wherever they attend.

  13. Comment from cb:

    Lincoln has what it has because of its boosters and its foundation which pay for the immersion program and at least 5 FTE (fully funded teachers). If we want to address the problem of equity, then we need to recognize that we have allowed our public schools to “go private.”

  14. Comment from cb:

    and, Wacky Mommy … if our students aren’t adequately prepared for AP/IB in their k-8 experiences, what use is AP/IB in high school? Just saying, pps should create equity by fixing what they helped break when they transitioned some schools into k-8’s and failed to see it through to successful implementation.

    Also, high school principals will still have the ability to appropriate FTE where they see fit. If there are only 10 kids looking for AP History and there are 30 kids needing regular world history, then you can bet that principal is going to put the $$ where the “greater” need is. So AP may not happen at all schools regardless simply because the student population looking for AP classes will be dispersed.

    Currently TAG = 6400 in district, roughly 14% of total population. And two-thirds of TAG population are in four high schools now:
    Grant = 27%
    Lincoln = -27%
    Cleveland = 26%
    Wilson = 23%

    This population will be dispersed with the boundary changes/enforcement and therefore the opportunities for AP/IB will be diluted. The drop-out risk for these students because of lack of engagement, rigor, inspiration and challenge is exactly the same as it is for all students.

  15. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Merry, I think Tired is just being facitious — but he or she is also correct. Why send your children to an average public school if you can afford a good, solid private school. It is my point. When it comes to your own child’s education the bottom line is their education — not the other kids’. And the more-well-to-do parents of the children in school are almost always going to be the major players in the school politics. Depending on having them see beyond their own kid’s schooling is going down a fool’s road if there ever was one. And depending on the media or political bodies they control so to speak — like the city council is also going down a fool’s road. That leaves two avenues — real protest or changing the makeup or attitudes of the school board so they can use their almost unlimited power to make the necessary changes to make the system work. (And good luck with the later.) So that leaves …. (Well, on second thought. “maybe we can work with these people.” — THIS response has never been shown to work, but has doomed every serious attempt for change, because people actually think they can.) I even flirted with it for awhile when Carole actually sat down with me and spent some real time listening. I eveen comtemplated thinking, “Hey, maybe they are listening and will take it to heart.” Once they understood I felt poor kids were as important as well-to-kids, I haven’t even been able to get on a committee. Darn, Buel, if he would just quit being so critical, then we could ,,,,,,, totally disregard him.

  16. Comment from cb:

    and Tired,
    Why are you here? You are contributing nothing, less than nothing, to the discussion of equity. Go get a manicure.

  17. Comment from cb:

    to Tired again…oh, sorry. I misunderstood.

  18. Comment from Zarwen:

    “Tired,” if you’re still here, I hope you’ll keep visiting. The fact that you came at all shows that you care. I feel badly that you got ripped on this blog—folks, this is when we play into the hands of the school district! If there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s pitting parent against parent and neighborhood against neighborhood. That’s how they’ve set up this game, and I don’t know how to do it, but we’ve got to stop playing and create a new game if we’re ever going to see any progress.

    Enough of the soapbox. What I really wanted to say is that Comments 13-15 serve to underscore the point I made earlier about the Foundation. If I understand correctly (and I would be happy to be wrong on this!), the Foundation is an independent entity that does not answer to the Superintendent nor the School Board. In a nutshell, they can do whatever they want with the money they raise. Steve B., you know how much I respect your views, and especially your tireless decades of work on behalf of ALL children, but I painfully submit to you that neither protesting nor changing the composition of the school board will matter if the Foundation is not changed radically—or even disbanded. (I know, I know—good luck with that one!)

  19. Comment from Tired:

    I do care and I am tired. I’ve never been inside the MAC, CB or OE just being snide and sarcastic. Lack of sleep. Had the pleasure of listening to an ibanker brag at a community function not long ago and so I was just imagining what he would say if asked about changes at Lincoln.

  20. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Zarwen, PSF is independent, and beyond the control of the school board, correct. However, school board policy controls how private funding works in our schools, and PSF is the conduit through which it flows. The school board could eliminate the local school foundations right now, and that would be the end of it. PSF could go on existing, but a big chunk of their cash flow would disappear.

    Of course, pigs will fly before that happens.

  21. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Ok, Tired, sorry for blasting you, it’s just when you post other places where the public does, well, let’s just say you can’t tell if some folks’ have ‘elevators that go to the top’ or not. But you sure got me FIRED UP!

    About the PPS dividing and conquering, oh, lordy they’ve been doing that with the unions for years. But this time, I don’t think it’s a district game, it’s the result of a POORLY MANAGED SCHOOL DISTRICT that was able to create a tiered system of haves-have nots. If I were a have, I wouldn’t want to give up anything either. So, Zarwen, are you thinking by dividing up the public, into the haves/have nots–it will be EASIER TO CLOSE DOWN the have not schools? Boy, you got me thinking on that one…..maybe I should agree with you on how the district is chomping to DIVIDE and create a class/minority “war”, in order to make their job of potentially closing schools a less “dirty” one? You got me thinking.

    (Please don’t be angry at me for blasting TIRED, because there are seriously people out there who believe what Tired wrote. It just puts a WEDGIE IN MY UNDIES AND SETS MY HAIR ON FIRE!!!)

  22. Comment from Zarwen:


    Like you, I have put in my share of years in the classroom, so I can almost always relate to your point of view. But the tone of your commentary over the last couple of weeks honestly has me concerned for your health and wellbeing. Yes, we need to fight the good fight, but not to the point of sacrificing those.

    As far as the divide-and-conquer strategy goes: as I have been saying for the last few years, that was inaugurated by the PSF (with help from the school board, superintendent and other powers-that-be) back in the mid-1990’s. It has already been very successful for them; just look at the schools that have already been closed over the last 10 years. That is why I wrote that we need to change the game, because there is no winning strategy for us in the current one.

    The only winning strategy that comes to mind is to run an “equity slate” in the next school board election. They won’t win, but they may just be able to shake up the game somewhat. I was very disappointed that we passed up such an opportunity last year. I am thinking we had better start planning for 2011 now!

  23. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Oh, don’t worry about my health and well being, actually my blood pressure is quite normal. The way I figure it, if you aren’t angry (I’m not alone in the ‘anger dept’ in posts!), you aren’t lisening or something is seriously wrong. Why am I so blasted ANGRY? Because the policies and practices of the PPS have hurt kids personally, and that is more than I can stomach. Kids have one chance thru elementary, MS, HS—and they have been shortchanged and it seems nobody wants to come to terms with that.

    I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t be STEEMIN’ , FREEKIN’, BOILING MAD, or at least SUSPICIOUS of a district brass that can’t be trusted. Not to mention school boards who have gone gung-ho down the road of experimentation and/or OUTRIGHT NEGLECT of certain schools in the city. Maybe I just put my anger and frustration out there. Guess I could tone it down a bit (if FEWER CAPS would make some happy!) Thank you for being so concerned about my health, Perhaps I should be “nicer”? (“Nice women rarely make history” comes to mind.)

    What frustrates me is that it seems the solutions are so painful and are going to tick off one group or another—and dang if I can even come up with solutions to the HS redesign, because it seems if you go one way or another, schools close and kids ultimately get shortchanged.

    Good luck on your equity slate idea, I don’t see how that would be possible, but I’d love to see it happen. All I know is that I would like a school board to ask SERIOUS and challenging questions, and challenge the PPS brass when the “next new thing” gets touted as “the solution”. (Oops, got CAPS in there again, pesky litte finger!)

  24. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    Count me in for the revolution. Let’s get the 2011 campaign going for school board. How do we even begin with school board election reform? I am bit clueless on that process…What is step one?

    Since I am the behavior person here is my observation and analogy…I teach parents about how a behavior sometimes gets worse before it gets better. The behavior served a “need” of some kind for the child and when you make that behavior inefficient, ineffective, and unnecessary the child will sometimes fight harder than ever to keep the status quo and find your breaking point. If you break then the child will learn how far they can push you till you give. If you don’t break and can weather through the unpleasantness then both you and your child learn a new skill…..we have to figure out how to come together with our concerns before we can come up with solutions. In the meantime, we cannot let the talking points, and the ignorance, and the bigotry break us. It is only going to get worse, much worse but let’s pile on the sandbags, drink some more coffee, and write some protest songs.
    Steve B is right, some folks don’t look past their kids but I know a lot of people on this blog and at my school that believe ALL kids are their kids and are willing to do what it takes. Let’s do this!

  25. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Seats up for election in 2011 are zone 1 (Adkins), zone 2 (Wynde), zone 3 (Reagan) and zone 7 (Williams). These include all of the west side as well as some wealthy real estate on the east side. Here’s the zone map (PDF) for reference.

    I tried to find some people to run in 5 and 6 last year, but the only people smart enough to do the job were too smart to want to run for it, if you know what I mean. The money thing is really obscene. Just ask Scott Bailey and Pam Knowles.

  26. Comment from maika:

    Thanks for the interesting conversation and continued work on issues of equity in our schools. One element that concerns me is how to create schools that parents in the neighborhoods want their children to attend. Taking programs and classes away from Lincoln doesn’t make Marshall a better school. It seems that the first step should be to bring the schools from which families are fleeing up to our communal expectations. All of our students deserve top quality schools, regardless of where they reside in the city.

  27. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Maika, I think the answer to your question is “balance enrollment.”

    If we don’t balance enrollment, the only way to provide comprehensive education in a school with fewer students is to spend more money. And the only place to get that money is by raiding programs at schools like Lincoln, Wilson, Grant and Cleveland.

    If we balance enrollment, i.e. have schools of similar size, equity of opportunity is basically free (the inequity of private funding notwithstanding).

  28. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I am not really sure just what the revenue picture is concerning the equity issues. Am I willing to trust the school administration on this? Not really. I would have to turn someone loose on the whole issue before I am willing to say the tradeoffs are just what they say they are. Generally the school board etc. talk about Title I as evening up the revenue picture, but this isn’t so since Title is supposed to be extra to everything else. Just one example of something that doesn’t add up. I don’t see how we can ever get to the bottom of the whole money issue until we have a definition of what constitutes a good eductation by grade anyway (209th time I have mentioned this on this blog :)). The revenue picture is sure not going to be helped by the new focus option schools. So how much is the administration really interested in evening things up?

    Zarwen, old friend. The whole west side etc. can keep all their extra money for all I care. Making the poorer schools work within the existing resources is the question. So I could care less really about the Foundation. What I care about is getting a fair shake from the school board etc.

  29. Comment from Zarwen:

    How will they get that “fair shake” without the extra money to offer all the goodies the west side gets?

  30. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    I think the district has set themselves up for a lawsuit. They’ve acknowledged the inequities.

    It wouldn’t be too hard to prove that the inequities have a disparate impact on students of color.

    The district isn’t going to the right thing unless forced to do so.

  31. Comment from Miss Merry Sunshine:

    Lawsuit? I was going to suggest that awhile back, but thought it might be a bit much……and it costs money…but an interesting thought about how to stop institutionalized racism and inequality. Hmmm…

  32. Comment from Steve Buel:

    A fair shake is full equity within the school district budget. Anything short of that is not correct. District after district in this country gets to that point (i.e. Evergreen where I teach which is about 40% of PPS.) That is a “clean” goal which is not arguable. Doesn’t get messed up with the idea that someone should be able to give extra money to help out a neighborhood school or whatever. Fine, who cares, give me equity within the government agency with the tax money everybody pays. That is a given, a position which can’t be argued against. A pure truth, like equity based on race or gender over which the school board has full control.

    “End the war”, “all people are equal under the law”, “equal rights”, “no nuclear power plants”, “school desegregation”, “gays should have equal rights”, “equity within the PPS budget” — clear, unequivocal, and morally correct. Gives it a real chance to prevail. Who can be against that? Of course, you have to make the demands, not just talk about it……People, even on this blog, have not been ready to do that.

  33. Comment from Zarwen:

    Didn’t someone (I think it might have been Marta Guembes?) already file a lawsuit on behalf of ELL students, claiming race-based discrimination, or civil rights violations, or something like that? Whatever happened with that?

  34. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Zarwen, it is one of my greatest regrets as s citizen journalist that I have not covered this.

    Marta filed a complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on behalf of English language learners. The complaint was deferred by the feds, because the state was about to do an audit. The state found that PPS was out of compliance with federal law with regard to English language learners, and cut off $600K in annual federal funding.

    The state first found PPS out of compliance in 2005, so this is an ongoing problem.

    There are clearly grounds for a Title VI complaint regarding access to comprehensive secondary education.

  35. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Steve – Marta Guembes and Richard Luccetti deserve credit for at least two decades of advocacy on behalf of ELL children. Richard filed the first ELL Office for Civil Rights complaint in 1978.

    The two of them (Richard and Marta) are the only activists in Portland that have kept the ELL issue alive.

  36. Comment from Zarwen:

    So, the lawsuit led to a loss of funding.

    Did PPS ever comply?

    Were there any winners here (other than the lawyers)?

    Have I missed something here?

  37. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Zarwen, I’m not aware of any lawsuits. The funding cut off was the result of a state audit, which the feds deferred to in response to Marta’s complaint to them. I don’t know if Marta used any lawyers to help with her Title VI complaint. They’re actually pretty straight forward to file.

    As far as I know, PPS remains out of compliance.

  38. Comment from Zarwen:

    That’s what I’m getting at—the complaint led to a substantial loss of funding, yet PPS did nothing to rectify the situation.

    Maybe Carrie Adams is right—maybe a lawsuit IS the only communication they understand.

  39. Comment from cb:

    your right, “the complaint led to a substantial loss of funding, yet PPS did nothing to rectify the situation.” So we can surmise that a lawsuit is NOT a form of communication they understand. Neither is this public process. PPS is out of compliance with ELL and TAG. PPS knows it made a huge mistake with the K-8 transition and after 4 years they have yet to “fix” the mess. The one lesson we can take from these examples is that PPS does NOT rectify their shortcomings. PPS reshuffles the deck and double cuts the cards. I’m tired of our kids’ education being gambled away.

  40. Comment from Zarwen:


    I think that Steve, in his last comment, was trying to explain the difference between a “complaint” and a “lawsuit.” (I fear that my comments only increased the confusion, for which I apologize.) The former may or may not involve lawyers, but the latter definitely does. To this point, the lawsuit has not been tried. In addition to an attorney, you would need someone with legal standing to file the suit. It is a more complicated and MUCH more expensive process, but it surely would be interesting to see if it would stimulate any rectification on the part of PPS.

  41. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    I did not actually capture this in my summary of the Integrated Services meeting but ELL and TAG are being swept up under that label. It was very focused on Special Education but somewhat narrowly as Pioneer School issues were not really addressed at all. I spoke with the ELL rep at my table and she did not feel that forum met her needs.

  42. Comment from Zarwen:

    Reported in the latest issue of Willamette Week: Marta Guembes has filed yet another civil rights complaint on behalf of English Language Learners. Here is the link: