Over-Hopped, Over-Hyped

by Steve, July 31st, 2007

If you read the Portland bloggers over at metblogs, you might get a somewhat skewed view of Portland. For example, you might think that we’re all a bunch of whiteys who love football, shiny transportation toys, street fairs, dogs, and beer. (Actually, that view might not be so skewed. But I digress.)

Oh, the beer. Any Portland booze hound will happily tell you that Portland has more breweries than any other metro area in the U.S. This is beervana, people. This past weekend was the annual Oregon Brewers’ Festival down at Waterfront Park. It’s basically a giant keg party. This year, Mayor Tom Potter got things started by leading a parade through town and tapping the first keg.

People get really excited about lining up to drink beer from little plastic mugs that they get to take home and line up on a shelf with mugs from past booze fests.

But here’s the thing about Portland “craft” beer (they had to stop calling it micro-brew because so many of the micro-breweries went macro a long time ago): it is freaking horrible tasting.

Now before anybody jumps on me as some kind of Budweiser drinking know-nothing, let me give you some background. I love a good European beer. I’ve drunk Paulaner in Munich and Pilsner in Plzeň. I even had a “real” Budweiser in České Budějovice. I love Chimay, though I can’t drink it anymore because I always end up in a lovers’ spat when I do.

I moved to Portland in 1989 and was really excited about the micro-brew thing. My first job here was in a one of the McMenamin’s brew-pubs. But it didn’t take long to burn out on the stuff. First off, McMenamin’s beer was notoriously skanky, with bad yeast and poor quality control (they’ve always been known more for their venues than their food or beer anyway). Their beer got better when they invested in some larger-scale brewery equipment, but it’s never been their forte. But even the finer brewers in town suffer from one common affliction.


Virtually every single beer I’ve tasted from Portland is so over-hopped as to be nearly undrinkable. Fans of this kind of beer, who have evidently never experienced the nuanced hopping of European beers, are quick to dismiss people who gag on local brews as fans of weak mainstream American beers.

But beer isn’t supposed to taste like this. It’s not supposed to have a bitter, sticky finish, and it’s not supposed to make you feel drowsy after a pint. Maybe it’s because we actually grow hops in the Willamette valley that brewers here feel inclined to over-hop. Or maybe they just don’t have the refined palette of European brewers.

Whatever. I never touch the stuff anymore. On the rare occasions I drink beer, it’s generally PBR, Pacifico, or Bohemia, any of which taste closer to a fine European lager than anything you can find from a “craft” brewery in Portland. (You want to see a Portland beer snob lose his mind? Tell him what a fine lager PBR is. Hey, it’s union-made, and you know I’m all for that.)

Paul Gaustad in the Tribune

by Steve, July 27th, 2007

We interrupt my latest public schools rant to bring you some hockey news. Portland’s print media are generally ambivalent at best about hockey in the Rose City, despite the game’s storied history here and the fact that we have an elite Canadian Junior team that plays at least 36 games a year here.

Over the last year, the Tribune has been laudable in bucking the anti-hockey trend most notable over at Thee O. Today, they publish a great piece on Beaverton boy and Buffalo Sabres center Paul Gaustad, who trains at my local rink. With all the Joey Harrington hoopla, it’s nice for a character guy like Gaustad to get a little ink.

An Invitation to Connie Van Brunt

by Steve, July 27th, 2007

Poor Connie Van Brunt. Before she acceped her new job as head of the Portland Schools Foundation, she had “never been blogged about critically”. But as soon as her new job was made public, Portland neighborhood schools activist Terry Olson took notice. (I later filed a little response to the Oregonian’s puff piece on her, as did Terry.) Since then, Ms. Van Brunt has complained to anyone who will listen that “there is a solid misconception about me” and “I didn’t think there was a clear understanding of me.”

One of her Chicago friends even jumped to the defense of Van Brunt and charter schools in the comments on Willamette Week’s Web site: “She is most dedicated to the children themselves, not simply any ‘-winged agenda.’ … Charters are a response to the woefully bureaucratic and poorly managed public institutions.”

Neighborhood schools advocates can be forgiven for suspecting that someone who has worked for the Chicago Charter School Foundation and advocated charter schools as a solution for minority kids might want to continue the recent trend of public education policy in Portland. That trend sees school funding flowing from poorer neighborhoods into wealthier ones, with neighborhood schools left to “compete” with charters, alternatives, and special-focus schools for the crumbs that remain.

I’ll tell you who has a misconception. It is people who think Portland Public Schools bear any resemblance to Chicago. In the first place — and this is critical, hence my continued harping on it — there are no majority black attendance areas in Portland, yet there are majority black schools. Segregation in Portland Public Schools is a direct result of PPS policy, not demographics. Portland’s neighborhoods are remarkably integrated, and becoming more so. The culprit in inequity in Portland is the PPS open transfer policy which threatens neighborhood unity and the very livability that is so vaunted here.

So here’s my invitation to Van Brunt. I’ll allow that perhaps we’ve got you all wrong. Maybe you’re not a one trick pony shilling for the likes of Gates and Broad and other school privatization proponents. I invite Ms. Van Brunt to be the first civic leader in Portland to acknowledge that the open transfer policy of PPS has created a two-tier system of education in our neighborhoods.

If she’s really interested in educational opportunities for poor and minority children, I challenge her to call for equal opportunities — not “separate and equal”, like the abysmal Jefferson cluster redesign, but truly equal — across the Portland Public Schools district. In a city unique for its middle class (Jack Bog notwithstanding) not having given up on neighborhood public schools, I challenge Van Brunt to call for a comprehensive plan to reinvest in our poorest neighborhoods. I’d love to know what she thinks of my New Deal for Portland Public Schools as a starting point.

There you go, Connie. This is an opportunity for you to clear up all of our misconceptions. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sten Doesn’t Get It Either

by Steve, July 26th, 2007

Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten laid out his $1.6 million plan to help avert neighborhood school shutdowns yesterday, and the details show that he — like other Portland civic leaders — misidentifies the cause of the problem as demographics, and doesn’t fully understand the nature and scope of the problem.

His plan has three prongs: Schools, Families and Housing. The schools part is the biggest, giving $950,000 to the Portland Schools Foundation to dole out as grants to neighborhood schools to promote themselves.

Sten’s plan also throws $450,000 toward rental assistance to help families stay in gentrifying neighborhoods and $200,000 for home buyer assistance. Worthy causes, but a drop in the bucket compared to the scope of the problem.

Sten claims the money spent will more than pay off in terms student retention and the state tax dollars that don’t leave. This may be true, but it is absurd to expect it have any significant affect on the pattern of school funding flowing out of our poorest neighborhoods and into the wealthier schools.

The folly of this as policy to save neighborhood schools is obvious to anybody who’s paying attention. As I documented here the other day, Jefferson High alone loses over $3 million dollars a year due to Portland Public Schools open transfer policy. Throwing less than a million at the entire district? Not much help, Erik.

So why, oh why, can’t anybody in power talk about the real problem here? The housing situation is bad and getting worse for poor families, granted. But the real reason neighborhood schools are losing enrollment is intra-district transfers, encouraged by PPS policy. A million dollars spread across the district will do almost nothing to bolster neighborhood schools in our poorest neighborhoods.

It all amounts to a lot of hand-waving platitudes. See! We care about our po’ folks in Portland! Here, you can apply for a grant from PSF to clean up your school and attract those gentrifying yuppies (who ain’t gonna set foot in a majority black school anyway, much less consider sending their kids there).

Seriously, folks, we need a comprehensive review of the PPS open transfer policy. It’s the only way to reinvest in our poorest neighborhoods, as I first pointed out in A New Deal for Portland Public Schools.

Comment Policy

by Steve, July 25th, 2007

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It’s Official: PPS to Pay Out $14.5 Million for Custodian Debacle

by Steve, July 23rd, 2007

A federal judge signed off on the class action settlement today. Do you think this might serve as a lesson learned for PPS as it refuses to continue negotiations with the DCU?

Don’t count on it. Portland Public Schools negotiators seem to be doing everything they can to break the union in this one.

School Segregation: Where are Portland’s Civic Leaders?

by Steve, July 23rd, 2007

Steve Brand’s Op-Ed in the Oregonian last week (covered here, on Terry Olson’s blog and on Amanda Fritz’ blog) spurred quite a bit of community discussion on the issue of segregation in our Portland Public Schools. But why aren’t our civic leaders weighing in on this critical issue of Portland’s future?

For the school board, race seems to be one of those topics that aren’t discussed in polite company. Anyway, if they did, they might have to admit that their open transfer policy has encouraged segregation. Make no mistake; this is not an issue of demographics. No neighborhood in Portland is majority black, yet some schools are. This situation is a direct result of public schools policy. If we want to change the situation, we must begin by examining that policy.

Tom Potter, who ran for mayor as a supporter of public education, has been silent on this. So has the rest of the city council.

I engaged erstwhile city council candidate Fritz on her blog, and she still wants to blame families who take advantage of district policy for the problem. She also wants to blame No Child Left Behind, but refuses to go far in discussing the open transfer policy that goes well beyond what NCLB mandates. “School transfer policy is a question of degree,” writes Fritz, “and of where to draw the line with giving choices that keep families in Portland Public Schools instead of private or suburban ones.” (I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised that someone who “studied Ayn Rand thanks to Rush” would be loathe to take a position against “free choice”.)

This harks back to the original rationale for opening up transfers to keep the middle class from fleeing Portland for the ’burbs. But recent demographic changes, with massive influx of middle class families to the inner North and Northeast neighborhoods, cry out for reexamination of this policy.

This policy has resulted in divestment from public schools in neighborhoods now teeming with middle class families. As an example of this divestment, there are 655 students at Jefferson, and 662 students living in the neighborhood going to different neighborhood high schools. With funding at Jefferson averaging $5547.14 per student annually, that represents a public divestment of over $3 million dollars a year at Jefferson alone. This figure more than doubles, to more than $7 million, when you figure in the 457 students in special programs/focus options and 232 students in “Community Based Alternatives”*.

Fritz writes “I’m confident Ruth Adkins will provide needed rebalancing on the School Board, with her stance that every neighborhood school should be good enough for parents to want to send their kids there as their first choice – while also recognizing that some magnet and specialty programs can enrich the city’s educational menu offerings.”

Well, first of all, I’m a big supporter of Ruth, but I’m not so optimistic that she alone can change the strategic direction of the board, which has repeatedly and consistently shown itself to be enamored with foundation-sponsored, market-based school reform.

Secondly, this is exactly what I’m talking about in my New Deal for Portland Public Schools. (I’m going to publish a second draft soon, ammended to include a place for magnet and special focus programs.) But the only way to get there is to take a look at the open transfer policy that has taken us away from this sort of school system and continues to divest millions of dollars annually from our poorest neighborhoods.

Why won’t our civic leaders talk about this?

*Source: 2006 PPS School Enrollment and Program Data for Jefferson – Academy of Science and Technology and Jefferson – Academy of Arts and Technology. The $5547.14 figure is an average, since the two academies are funded separately.

Portland Through the Eyes of a Tourist

by Steve, July 22nd, 2007

I don’t know why, but it’s been a Portland tourist weekend. Today we took the MAX down to PGE Park to catch a Beavers game. In the second inning, here comes a foul ball right toward me. I had just told my kids how funny it is to see grown men fighting over foul balls. Now here comes one right at me. I put my beer down. I stand up. Sweet Jesus, it’s coming right at me. Kinda low. But right at me. The wife, she’s down talking to somebody, which is good, I think, because she’s always concerned about errant pucks and balls at sporting events. So I’m thinking all this and here comes this ball. I should mention that when I’ve played ball, it’s always been infield. I have a real hard time judging fly balls and getting under them. Yeah. So here it comes, kinda low, and whack! Right in the groin, mere millimeters from the family jewels. The crowd goes “Oooh!” I say “I’m all right!” ButI didn’t come up with the ball (a kid in the row ahead of us got it, which is cool).

Then the guy two rows ahead points out that my beer spilled. D’oh! There goes $6.50 worth of cheap American beer spilling down the bleachers. I’d only had a couple sips.

Yesterday. I took the kids on a tour of Portland’s quasi-transportation toys, the Aerial Tram via the Portland Streetcar. The Aerial Tram connects two disparate parts of the Oregon Health & Science University. It’s got a vertical rise of 500 feet and takes about five minutes to ride. It’s kind of a joke, really. It was built with a big chunk of Portland tax money, came in grossly over-budget, and its promises of privacy to neighbors in the Lair Hill Neighborhood were shamelessly broken. The view is best from the top anyway, so save your four bucks and drive to the top and have a look. The streetcar, which operates at an average speed just slower than an 80-year-old granny out for a constitutional, is also a joke. It’s not a transportation system, it’s a tool to spur condo development (like those bastards need any more subsidies from Joe Sixpack). I’ll change my tune it they ever run it to the East side like they keep talking about, but honestly. Not so good. Thanks to Vera Katz and her erstwhile protege and would-be Mayor Sam “the Tram” Adams for all the shiny toys.

But the kids had fun, and that’s all that matters. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Portland Aerial Tram

Willy Week Covers the PPS-DCU Contract Dispute

by Steve, July 20th, 2007

(Sort of.)

It’s not exactly breaking news (I covered this a week and a half ago and they’ve been without a new contract for years), and it’s not in the print edition (yet?), but at least the Willamette Week is burning some electrons on the Portland Public Schools contract impasse with the District Council of Unions.

Can’t expect much coverage of labor issues from all the non-union papers in this town, but it’s better than what the O and Trib are doing.

Thanks Beth Slovic for covering both schools and labor in one piece.

Steve Brand on PPS Segregation in Today’s Oregonian

by Steve, July 19th, 2007

Chapman Elementary teacher Steve Brand has an opinion piece in today’s Oregonian about how school transfers are segregating our schools. He correctly identifies this problem, but doesn’t go very far in identifying a solution. Mostly he just chides middle class families for buying homes in up-and-coming neighborhoods but not sending their kids to the neighborhood schools.

But he stops short of calling for an overhaul of the self-reinforcing transfer policy that encourages this middle class flight and progressively damages our already struggling schools.

Brand is absolutely correct that high-quality teaching is available at schools tagged “low-performing”. But until the district identifies it as a priority to reinvest in lower-income neighborhoods, no amount of cajoling is going to fix the problem. As I wrote yesterday, we need a New Deal for Portland Public Schools.