Portland Public Schools Push Poll: Have You Pushed Back?

by Steve, June 25th, 2007

Our School Board, in a rather dismal display of engaging its constituents, is using an unscientific Web-based “poll” to solicit input on community priorities for hiring a new superintendent. (To call this kind of thing a poll is an insult to researchers and statisticians who know something about scientific polling and sampling.) Of course, the ultimate poll in this matter was the recent school board election, in which Vicki Phillips supporters were thrashed (Doug Morgan) and brought down a peg (David Wynde) by community-based, neighborhood schools advocates Ruth Adkins and Michele Schultz, respectively.

The constituents of the School Board spoke loudly and clearly against the corporatist reform style of Vicki Phillips, her supporters on the board, and her patrons at the Broad and Gates foundations. Yet the board still floats a scientifically meaningless “survey” in which market-based school reform buzzwords are dangled tantalizingly before the unwary public. And the results, meaningless as they are, become very useful to these folks when they show that we want “accountability”, “achievement”, “school choice”, “tough decisions” and “performance”. These words and phrases come up repeatedly in the survey, mixed in with a few nods to “neighborhood schools”, “funding” and “diversity”. Art and music get lumped in with P.E. and technology in one item.

If it turns out the survey doesn’t show what they want, who cares! It’s unscientific anyway, and all us loud mouth critics probably stuffed the ballot box anyway. Hint: it’s trivial to “vote” numerous times, hence the absurdity of using such a piece of marketing quackery (what’s next? focus groups?) for such a serious issue. And again: we already voted, and the results were overwhelming: no more of this Gates/Broad reform crap. Give us strong neighborhood schools and adequate, stable, and equitable funding.

Most of the “survey” asks the respondent to rate issues on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being “Not at all important”, 3 being “Neutral or don’t know” and 5 being “Extremely important”. (They start out with a couple throw-away short answer questions basically asking you to list three strengths and three concerns about PPS. I listed “teachers, students, families” and “Gates, Broad and school closings”. As if they’re even going to read those!)

Then it’s on with the 1-to-5 push polling. Buzzword number one is “achievement”. It comes up in the first question, then comes up six more times. “Accountability” only gets one, but there’s also one on teacher “effectiveness”. (These have always been a code words used to attack the teachers’ professional autonomy — and collective bargaining agreements.) “Performance” or some variant comes up twice. “School choice” comes up three times.

“Neighborhood schools” only comes up twice, but the second mention is a trap: in order to rate it as important, you have to also rate “school choice” the same! Seriously, I’m not making this shit up. Here’s the actual survey question: “Maintaining student enrollment through a variety of approaches including school choice, full-day kindergarten, and strong neighborhood schools.” This is also the only time full-day kindergarten is mentioned. Funding gets two mentions, but there is nothing about “equity” or “equality”.

Finally, the survey ends with the somewhat ominously worded question: “Are you affiliated with any particular community group you would like to name?” I ain’t namin’ names! *Cough*NSA*cough*cough*

Of course this is just another sign of Portland Public Schools, through its board, trying to behave like a corporation. This is not community involvement, folks, this is marketing. With the Portland School Board behaving like a startup corporation at the outset of the superintendent search, what do you think we should expect at the end of the search? Insulting though it is, please take a few minutes to fill out their survey. And don’t forget my little hint earlier. Heh heh heh.