The Law of Lousy Outcomes

3:27 pm

I couldn’t believe the Starbase program so I called Beth Slovic at Willamette Week and said, “Beth, have you seen PPS Equity today?” She said she wrote about the Starbase program in 2006. (Not many PPS issues I haven’t heard about – once in awhile Lynn Shore slips one by me. But somehow I missed this one.) So I thought to myself: Why hasn’t this been addressed? Then I remembered the PPS Law of Lousy Outcomes.

I first discovered this law about 15 years ago when I became concerned about kids at the middle school   where I was teaching who could hardly read at all. So I called down to the administration building and got one of the best administrators who really knew her stuff on the line. I told her about my idea for a program to fix this and pitched how important it was. After all, did anyone expect kids reading at 1st and 2nd grade level in the 8th grade to learn to read in high school?   Her answer was, “Well, we need to work on the reading in the lower grades.” Her answer to the problem was that we had another problem.

Just recently I saw a great example of the law used when I was standing behind a teacher waiting to talk to another top administrator following   a high school redesign meeting. The teacher was talking about having 40 kids in her class with a number of ESL kids, a lot of behavior problems, a number of special ed. students and a tough topic to teach. She thought it was impossible and implored the administrator to take the problem seriously (i.e. work to fix it). The administrator’s answer:   I know how difficult it must be, but “We don’t do anything well.” In other words, the reason we can’t fix your problem is because we have so many other problems.

Portland Public Schools is like a person who owns a house and his or her in-laws come over and say, “Geez, your roof is leaking. Why don’t you fix it?” And the person says, “I would but the back porch is falling down, the kitchen needs new plumbing, the house needs to be painted, and I need a new rug. I would fix it, but I have so many other problems.”   If you watch you can see PPS leaders do this all the time. And I imagine it has something to do with why we are letting the army recruit our elementary kids. And the libraries are a mess. And the middle grade education is a mess. Etc., Etc., Etc.


Finally, it all becomes clear.

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Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.

filed under: High Schools, Media, Middle Schools, Military Recruiting

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4 Responses

  1. Comment from Carrie Adams:

    Since they have difficulty solving problems, the least they can do is stop creating them.

  2. Comment from Zarwen:

    Well, Steve, this is why Rita and I used to describe PPS as having a disease-of-the-week approach: they keep discussing problem after problem but never actually try to fix any of them. My take on this so-called “High School Redesign” is that it is just more of the same. I think the reason they started the whole thing was simply to have an excuse not to fix anything related to the K-8 debacle.

  3. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    I am not happy at the moment. Had a talk this afternoon with my children’s principal and may have told him, “Why did you sign up our school for this program? It wasn’t like anyone was holding a gun to your head.”

    Thanks for the post, Buel.

  4. Comment from howard:

    Concern about some kids in middle school who can hardly read at all reminds me of an old proverb:

    For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
    For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
    For want of a horse the rider was lost.
    For want of a rider the battle was lost.
    For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
    And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

    This proverb describes a situation where permitting some small undesirable situation will eventually result in decline.

    Students who are not readers by fourth grade so they can read to learn thereafter in and out of school are at risk to drop out in future years.