Category: Elections

What Obama means to Portland Public Schools

With George Bush as President the only avenue to change seemed to be moral outrage. This played out not only in national affairs but in communities throughout the country. Reason, as well as intellectual arguments, seemed to be neither effective or welcomed.

Well, the times they are a changin’.

Obama’s demeanor and intellectualism create a model of calm civility and serious problem solving…. Let’s sit down and talk this out. Let’s work together to solve the obvious. We can make good things happen for all our citizens. Yes we can.

So, how should this play out in Portland Public Schools? The first step it seems is to recognize the obvious and work to bring about major improvements where they are needed. Forget selfishness, greed, and getting yours at the expense of everyone else’s kids.

Here are some of the obvious things we need to address:

  • In a public school system all kids should have equal offerings and opportunities based on their needs.
  • Middle school age students need electives, athletics, music and the arts, and activities to help build their interest in school.
  • Kids who can’t read should get the help they need so they can.
  • The main focus of all schools should be on what takes place in the classroom where most of the learning happens. This includes great support for teachers and working hard to have orderly schools and classrooms.
  • High stakes testing is not as important as good, solid education which prepares students for life, ncluding future schooling, the job world, citizenship, and happiness.
  • Kids who can read decently well should have their education broadened in the arts, the sciences, the social sciences, and technology.
  • Kids who don’t get good family support should get extra help from the schools in overcoming those drawbacks.
  • Kids who work and excel should be able to go as far as they can, both through extra course work and special programs.

In the new spirit of America (really the old spirit of many of our childhoods) let’s work together to make these deferred dreams a reality.

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.

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Defining equity

The biggest problem with Carole Smith’s “equity administration” is that no leaders in Portland Public Schools are willing to define a base level of curriculum that every child is entitled to, in every neighborhood school.

This is fundamental to working toward equity.

Without this definition, district leaders are free to talk about equity at every opportunity, but can avoid actually taking meaningful steps toward it.

Equity immediately achievable

This much is true: it is immediately possible, with available funding, to offer equal educational opportunity in every neighborhood school, simply by having kids go to school in their neighborhoods.

I’m not talking about cookie cutter schools, or replicating programs like Benson in every neighborhood. I’m talking about every child guaranteed an education with a common K-12 core curriculum, ideally including library, music, art, science, math, language arts, social studies, health and world languages.

This is what our neighbors in Beaverton get, through a combination of an extremely strict transfer policy, relatively large schools, and a clearly defined core curriculum. You can walk into any neighborhood school in Beaverton and find a common level of what PPS calls “enrichment,” regardless of the income level or ethnic makeup of the neighborhood.

Contrast this with Portland, where schools vary dramatically, and race, income and address are the best predictors of the kind of opportunity available to students.

We don’t need 2000-student high schools to do this, but we clearly can’t do it in 600-student high schools with the existing funding formula.

While the size of Beaverton’s schools may rankle many idealists, I personally would rather have a large institution with smaller and more classes than a smaller institution with larger and fewer classes.

Details can vary, of course. But we must have a centrally-defined core curriculum, or we will never see equity. And we need to return to neighborhood-based enrollment to achieve the economy of scale necessary to pay for this.

Baby steps not working

Ask yourself how much equity we’ve gotten since it was declared the “over-arching” goal of current leadership.

So far, the “baby steps” approach has seen continued enrollment drains and FTE cuts in our poorest schools. There has been neither talk nor action on addressing the enrollment drain, i.e. the transfer policy, or the FTE cuts, i.e. the staffing formula.

Our schools continue to become more segregated, with dramatic differences in curriculum between white, middle class schools and poor and minority schools. These differences become especially stark and intolerable at the secondary level.

Poor and minority middle school students are disproportionately likely to be assigned to PK8 schools, where they are more likely to be deprived of libraries (nearly a third of PK8 schools completely lack library staff) and the kind of curriculum breadth available at comprehensive middle schools, where white, middle class students are more likely to be assigned (and which all have at least some library staff).

This pattern continues in high school, with white, middle class students generally assigned to comprehensive schools with broad curriculum, and poor and minority students overwhelmingly assigned to “small schools” with far less opportunity.

District leaders refuse action for fear of alienating middle class

By taking the transfer policy off the table, leaders seem to have convinced themselves that we can’t afford a common curriculum. To speak of it would be to acknowledge that we indeed have the means to solve the equity crisis, but won’t, for fear harming the neighborhoods that benefit when district policy siphons enrollment, funding and opportunity out of North, Northeast and outer Southeast Portland.

This unspoken fear — that we will alienate a few hundred middle class white families if we take bold steps toward equity — is unfounded and ironic, especially considering the number of families I personally know who have pulled their children from PPS, or plan to for secondary school, precisely because they cannot receive a fair shake in their neighborhood schools.

It is unethical to maintain current policy based on this fear. How can we deprive at least half of our students of opportunity to benefit the other half?

I don’t believe there is anybody currently on the school board who has both the conviction and the courage — it takes both — to come to the table with policy proposals that will even begin to address this issue.

Terry Olson is right; we need to start working toward electing three strong leaders to school board zones four, five and six in May. We need bold leadership in times of crisis, and we’re not getting it from the current crop of school board directors.

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


Want equity? Elect three new school board members!

The school board is the crucial leadership body for effecting real change in the way the Portland Public Schools District does business. Therefore it’s urgent that school equity activists start now in seeking out and campaigning for three new board members who will represent the interests of the vast majority of parents and district stakeholders who believe that a public school district should offer equal educational opportunities to all students regardless of family background and economic status.

As Steve Rawley pointed out in a recent post, “In other words, despite the demonstrable harm [district leaders] are doing to at least half the students of Portland, the perceived risk to their constituency outweighs the clear benefit to the greater common good.” They refuse, he says, to even talk about it.

Community members can’t change district leadership, but they do have a say in electing the representatives who can — the Portland Public Schools Board of Education. The school board chooses the district superintendent, it develops district policies, and it ratifies — or rejects — policies proposed by the district administration. It also can be a powerful bully pulpit for change. In other words, the real power lies with the men and women who are chosen to represent the interests of the broader community.

I say it’s time for a change.

As most of you know, the board this summer will pick a replacement for departing board member Dan Ryan. PPS Equity has urged the board to replace Ryan with either Jefferson activist and teacher Nancy Smith or with former board member and teacher Steve Buel. In addition the terms of Trudy Sargent and Sonja Henning are up in the spring. I’ve argued that both should be replaced with candidates willing to confront the district policies that have led to a two-tiered school system of schools with resources and those without.

We in the activist community need to start now. I speak from experience. I ran for the board in 2003, but didn’t make my decision until the February before the May election. Despite the late start, I still managed to finish second in a field of eight to Doug Morgan. If had to do it over again, I would have started much earlier.

So here’s my challenge. First we need to make every effort to see that the board appoints either Nancy or Steve B. to the board this summer. Then we need to find and recruit at least two good candidates from the Madison cluster and the Marshall and Franklin clusters, respectively. As I wrote in a comment to Steve Rawley’s post, I know that the Madison area is a hotbed of district discontent. Surely some good “equity” candidates are available to fill that seat.

I know less about Zone 6, the seat held by Trudy Sargent. But that’s where you come in. Send your ideas, meaning the names of potential candidates, to this site.

Let’s see if we can get something going, maybe start a mini-uprising for equity and democracy. Let’s take back the school board!

Terry Olson passed away in October, 2009. He was a retired teacher and a neighborhood schools activist. His blog, OlsonOnline, was a seminal space for the discussion of educational equity in Portland.


Buel, Smith for school board

In the search for a replacement for departing director Dan Ryan, the school board need look no further than Steve Buel and Nancy Smith. I asked both if they would be willing to serve.

“I accept,” was Buel’s response. Smith was a little more circumspect, but would serve if called.

Buel finished a strong second to Ryan in the last election for this seat. His experience as an activist policy maker on the PPS school board is much needed on a body that seems paralyzed to do anything about obvious, glaring inequity.

He has demonstrated a keen understanding of the issues of poverty in education, and the various troubles with PPS policy, from middle school discipline to the student and teacher transfer policies.

In the 2005 race of five candidates, Buel won 27.94% of the vote to Ryan’s 50.65%. Not bad, considering Ryan outspent Buel five-to-one. Buel beat third-place finisher Charles McGee by a three-to-one ratio.

Of course, Buel has a tell-it-like-it-is style that rubs some “important” people the wrong way. It’s hard to imagine the existing board welcoming him into their fold, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

If the board won’t appoint the runner-up for the seat, Buel says he’ll be running again in the spring.

I’m not sure how much serious thought Smith has given to a 2005 run, but she seems to be edging in that direction.

Smith is currently president of the Jefferson PTSA and a high school business teacher in the Beaverton School District. Like Ryan, she is a graduate of Roosevelt High. She has real skin in the game, with children past and present in the Jefferson cluster. She is a founding member of the Neighborhood Schools Alliance and a veteran school equity activist.

Smith would bring unparalleled passion and energy to the board. If her passion sometimes boils over, it is because of her deep belief that we have a moral obligation to provide all of our children with equal opportunity.

Both Steve Buel and Nancy Smith are eligible, and both have the experience, dedication and and conviction to do the job. Most importantly, both share a fundamental, unshakable commitment to equal opportunity in education.

If the school board is as serious about equity as Carole Smith claims to be, they would be foolish to appoint anybody but one of these two. Either would bring a much-needed equity focus to the board, and help them achieve Smith’s stated, “overarching” goal of equity.

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


Election ’08 — Amanda Fritz

Amanda Fritz, candidate for City Council seat #1, has responded to the PPS Equity questionnaire. Amanda has been involved with her neighborhood public schools for 17 years. Her daughter, a senior at Wilson, will be her third child to graduate from her neighborhood schools: Markham Elementary School, Jackson Middle School, and Wilson High School.

Amanda volunteered on Ruth Adkins’ school board campaign, and counts Ruth among her many supporters for her own campaign for City Council.

Comments are open on Amanda’s page.

(Disclosure: I have personally endorsed Amanda Fritz for City Council seat #1, but I do not intend to make any PPS Equity endorsements.)

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

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The Candidates Speak on Public Schools

The candidates for Portland City Council and Mayor are starting to talk about schools, and already there has been some interesting talk.

Willamette Week is posting video of their joint endorsement interviews, which have so far included candidates for commssioner #1 and #2, as well as mayoral candidates Sho Dozono and Sam Adams.

Jim Middaugh, a candidate for commissioner #2, raised some eyebrows at PPS with his response to the PPS Equity candidate questionnaire, in which he claims city staff of the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative helped avert a school closure. This prompted Matt Shelby from PPS to note “I’m not aware of closure plans, or even discussions for that matter, involving any of our schools.”

(Middaugh, like all other candidates who have responded to the questionnaire except Fred Stewart, carefully avoids talking about holding the district accountable to the Flynn-Blackmer audit.)

In the Willamette Week interview, Middaugh declares that schools are his top priority, and he cites his work on the Schools, Families, Housing Initiative as an example of how the city can help schools.

What he doesn’t mention is that in the first of two rounds of this grant, only one small project was funded that will actually be school-based. I’m not saying the other projects aren’t worthy, but there’s only so much a million dollars could do even if all of it were spent on our schools. One $14,000 grant isn’t much to crow about.

But I don’t want to pick on Midaugh. The fact that he has kids in PPS is one positive he would be wise to play up.

The mayoral candidates are also jumping on the schools bandwagon, and also tip-toeing around any serious issues, like the glaring inequity documented over several years by the Neighborhood Schools Alliance, and more recently by me and the Jefferson PTSA.

Sho Dozono is vague about schools, as he is with pretty much everything, but thinks businesses and non-profits should be more involved. Sam Adams is all about “fundraising” (how about revenue raising?), and seems to have tuned in to the Jefferson High School “charrette” fiasco, with no awareness of the community fallout that followed this top-secret plan to demolish Jefferson and essentially cede the property to PCC.

In the Willamette Week interview, Adams talks glowingly of a Jefferson High fully integrated with PCC.

It’s surely not be a bad thing for some students to earn college credit while they go to high school. But this demonstrates how out of touch Adams is with his constituents in North Portland, who have been cool to the idea of demolishing Jefferson High and rebuilding it as an extension of the PCC campus.

Of course, this idea is consistent with the developer-centric ethos of Adams, much of City Hall, and PPS, so we shouldn’t be terribly surprised.

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


Election ’08 — Fred Stewart

Fred Stewart has responded to the PPS Equity candidate questionnaire, with a good historical perspective on the PPS transfer policy, magnet programs, and equity.

Comments are open on Stewart’s page.

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

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Election ’08 — Jim Middaugh

PPS Parent and City Council Candidate Jim Middaugh has provided his thoughtful responses to the PPS Equity candidate questionnaire. Middaugh is currently Eric Sten’s chief of staff, and has been instrumental in implementing the City’s Schools, Families, Housing Initiative.

Comments are open on Middaugh’s page.

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

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Election ’08 — Ed Garren

The PPS Equity Portland election coverage continues, with Commissioner #2 candidate Ed Garren’s response to our questionnaire. Ed talks about the city, the school district, organized labor and the business community collaborating to gain efficiency, among other things.

We now have responses from Garren, Commissioner #1 candidate Chris Smith, and Commissioner #4 candidates Randy Leonard and Martha Perez. Comments are open on all of these pages.

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

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Election ’08 — Martha Perez

PPS parent and graduate Martha Perez is challenging for incumbent Randy Leonard’s council seat #4.

Comments are open on her page.

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

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