Resisting Divide and Rule

by Steve, August 30th, 2007

The debate we’ve begun having here about Portland Public Schools’ open transfer policy is just the leading edge of the storm. We can expect things to get even more heated as the board belatedly begins discussions about the segregated shambles created by open transfers and Vicki Phillips’ self-contradictory experiments in market-based school reforms. (Somehow, she actually seemed to believe that “School Choice” was a salve for racial segregation; common sense and statistics show us the opposite is true.)

One thing I would like to make crystal clear: I do not blame any family for choosing to transfer out of their neighborhood public school. This is a debate about policy, not individual choices.

The simple fact is that PPS policy encourages transfers, and every transfer encourages more. Many schools in our besieged red-zone neighborhoods have capture rates below 50%. Once the majority of neighborhood students have transfered out, it’s a no-brainer for other families. This is how the PPS open transfer policy feeds into a self-fulfilling cycle of “failing schools”. There is a clear “skimming” effect (documented by the Flynn-Blackmer audit), as middle-class families pull out, leaving poverty-affected students and teachers and administrators struggling to meet draconian goals set by No Child Left Behind.

If the school board actually considers curtailing neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers for elementary schools, as I have advocated, they must do this only as part of a larger re-examination of attendance area boundaries and special focus schools.

As we enter this debate city-wide, I urge everybody to treat each other with civility and respect, especially those who have taken advantage of open transfers to flee schools that are suffering from PPS policy. We are all in this together, which is one of the basic tenets of public education. Together, we can make our public schools work better for everybody.

Comments are closed.