Dwight Jaynes Flunks Media Literacy, Too

by Steve, September 28th, 2007

schoolsI don’t know where to start with this. On one hand, Dwight Jaynes, as a sports columnist, can be forgiven for the wry and ironic tone he takes when he says “If my high school could get enough money for naming rights – and I’m talking millions here – it could go ahead and dump that Cleveland name and call it something else.” He can’t be serious. (Or can he?)

But as executive editor of the Portland Tribune, you’d think maybe he’d know he should cite his sources. I didn’t see him at the school board meeting Monday night, and reading his column, it looks like maybe he cribbed from me, just a little. Not to mention the Oregonian and Rick Seifert’s The Red Electric. Why do I think he cribbed from me? Nobody used the term “slippery slope” but me, as far as I’m aware, and Jaynes uses it twice in his column.

Okay, you can forgive his flip tone — it’s a sports column, after all — but when he talks about “some people,” it would be nice if he would identify them as respected members of society who have formed a coalition, the Coalition for Commercial-Free Schools, who are asking first and foremost for a comprehensive policy to define just exactly “how much is too much.”

But Jaynes takes the intellectually lazy approach of deriding “some people” who are afraid of Blazers logos in our high school gyms, and conveniently avoids the policy issue at hand. PPS is not “trying to figure out whether to accept an offer from the Portland Trail Blazers to refinish gymnasium floors in 10 of our schools,” as Jaynes states in his lead. They voted Monday to expand existing policy to allow it.

This policy expansion allows any kind of advertising to be sold on any surface of our athletic facilities in every school in the district, at the discretion of the superintendent. Could we have Mountain Dew and Frito ads on elementary school gym floors and walls? Yes, under current policy, we could.

But this doesn’t seem to bother Jaynes. “You think your kids aren’t bombarded with advertising 24 hours a day, anyway?” he asks. Hell, Dwight, why not sell ads in text books and on chalkboards? I know your salary is paid by advertisers, but even you should agree we need to have limits here. We can debate how far to go, but we need some kind of policy in any case.

“Unless you have a plan that will provide funding to improve these situations, you better listen to anyone who wants to help – if you are serious about wanting your schools improved,” writes Jaynes. Well, I’ve got a plan; it’s called fully funding our schools. Starting with a partial repeal of Measure 5 for non-owner-occupied properties, and a restoration of corporate income taxes. Corporations have been getting huge windfalls in the wake of the “taxpayers revolt” of the ’90s, and they shouldn’t get ads in exchange for ponying up a small fraction of that windfall now.

I’m not opposed outright to corporate donations in our schools, but we do need a clear policy regulating the types of ads we can accept, where they can be placed, and a way to determine real market value of them. Jaynes thinks $600K is fair for placing prominent corporate logos in front of tens of thousands of captive eyeballs in an ideal demographic, essentially in perpetuity. I’m thinking the Blazers are getting the best value they’ve ever got for a media buy.

And Jaynes doesn’t get that. He, like the school board, flunks media literacy. I guess I expect more from a fellow Winter Hawks fan.

Scott Hamilton on Figure Skating vs. Hockey

by Steve, September 27th, 2007

hockey“In figure skating, you’re killing yourself. In hockey, somebody else is trying to kill you.”

I watched Blades of Glory last night, and while it was mildly amusing, the funniest part of the DVD was the “20 Questions With Scott Hamilton” extra. This guy has got to be the funniest guy in skating.

Corporate Ads In Our Schools

by Steve, September 25th, 2007

schoolsThere will be a very public new corporate presence at our Portland Public Schools soon, when the Trail Blazers install their new perpetual ads in ten of our gymnasiums. Each gym will have two Blazers logos on the floor, and a banner with their logo and the words “Make it Better.” All this for a $600,000 refinishing job on the floors.

In a certain sense, I can see why people have a hard time arguing against this, since they’re a basketball team, after all. But when you come to understand that district policy has been changed to allow this kind of corporate branding in all of our athletic facilities (used to be just tracks and fields) at all schools (used to just be high schools), you might start to detect a slippery slope.

You may see some Nike corporate “recognition opportunities” at your neighborhood elementary school soon.

The folks at the Coalition for Commercial-Free Schools (CCFS) saw this coming, and three representatives came out to offer their public testimony before the business agenda, including this policy change, was approved last night at the school board meeting.

Public health advocate Kari McFarlan, from Community Health Partnerships: Oregon’s Public Health Institute, described these types of deals as “strategic corporate initiatives to sell products to our kids and create brand loyalty at an early age.”

Rick Seifert, from Media Think, came next and gave the board a lesson in media literacy (Rick posted his remarks on his Red Electric blog).

Finally, Sara Leverette, coordinator for Coalition for Commercial-Free schools, described the resolution as a “disturbing precedent,” and challenged the board to do what the community would want. She asked, would we want logos on textbooks? Chalkboards?

David Wynde took issue with the slippery slope argument, and noted that the resolution being voted on would not allow such ads to be placed on textbooks or chalkboards. But I think it’s fair to ask: How far is the community willing to let this go?

We should be willing to discuss upper limits on such activity, especially as we vote to expand existing limits.

Dan Ryan was more conciliatory, and virtually apologized for supporting and voting for the deal. “Disinvestment in education in general, but specifically in athletics has been catastrophic… to this school district over the years,” he said, and noted the “extreme difference” between PPS athletic facilities and those of suburban districts.

The reasons to suspect this expansion of policy as a slippery slope are all around us historically at PPS.

One personal example is the playground installed in 2005 at Beach Elementary in North Portland. If you visited, you would see two large, modern red and blue play structures, with a wide range of activities. If you had seen the broken-down piece of crap that was there before, you’d be especially impressed. As you examined these structures, you’d come across a tall, free-standing sign at the corner of the biggest one. “Playground Donated by Allstate Foundation, ” says this sign, complete with the corporate “good hands” logo.

You’d have every reason to believe that Allstate came and built these structures, but you’d be wrong. The playground drive at Beach started with a couple thousand dollars of private donations from parents and businesses, and from PTA Entertainment book sales. The small fund also got a relatively big shot in the arm from an $8,600 City of Portland Bureau of Housing and Urban Development grant (that’s tax money, folks!) written by the lovely and sometimes contentious Wacky Mommy.

Then Allstate came in and blessed the school with a $70,000 grant to purchase the playground equipment, and, most importantly to them, a perpetual ad on the Beach playground. The equipment was installed by community labor.

So, looking at this beautiful playground, and reading this sign, you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit betrayed if you’d contributed your own money, time, and/or sweat to buying and building the structures, to see Allstate taking all the credit. In perpetuity. Subsidized by parents, local businesses and your tax money.

Funny, somehow the letters spelling “Allstate” and the corporate logo keep getting scratched off.

Make no mistake, I’m all for taking money from corporate (and corporate foundation) donors. But I like Rick Seifert’s test. We accept and deeply appreciate the money to refurbish these floors, we offer thanks publicly and will put up small, unobtrusive plaques in each gym to acknowledge the gift. The plaques come down when it is time to refurbish again. Would they give their money freely on this condition?

Update, 9/26: I left out an important element of this story when I wrote it last night. While the CCFS specifically called for rejecting this expansion of corporate branding Monday night, they’ve been calling for a general district policy for quite a while. The coalition was founded in 2005 “with one goal in mind: adoption by PPS of a strong, comprehensive policy on advertising and commercial activities,” according to a letter they sent (84KB PDF) in April of this year to then-superintendent Vicki Phillips.

The coalition has an impressive list of sponsors, including the Portland Council PTA, Community Health Partnership, Stand for Children, Rethinking Schools and the Northwest Earth Institute. Their efforts to persuade PPS to institute an advertising policy is endorsed by a much longer list of organizations and individuals, including the Portland Association of Teachers, City Commissioner Dan Salzman, State Senator Ginny Burdick, State Representatives Mary Nolan and Carolyn Tomei, former school board members, various health advocacy groups, and many more.

The current policy of leaving these corporate branding opportunities to the discretion of the superintendent is inadequate. We need a comprehensive policy, like other progressive school districts have.

I noticed there was some coverage of this issue by Lisa Grace Lednicer in the Oregonian this morning.

PPS Neighborhood Funding Inequities Report

by Steve, September 25th, 2007

schoolsAfter kvetching about it on my blog for the last several months, I finally put all my enrollment and transfer data research into a report and presented it to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education last night. The report, Charting Open Transfer Enrollment and Neighborhood Funding Inequities (261 KB PDF), was still in draft form, but I wanted to get it out in advance of the board’s work on the topic, scheduled to begin at the Student Support and Community Relations Committee meeting October 4.

Already, I’ve received valuable feedback from board members and the community. One thing I intend to incorporate soon is a different way of looking at the numbers. The study currently charts divestment and excess investment in a cluster based on individual schools’ budget per student. This figure includes local grants, Title I money, etc., money which does not go with students when they transfer.

I knew this when I put this study out, and in a certain sense, it is a good way to look at the numbers, since when students leave Title I schools for non-Title I schools, it represents lost federal money. On the other hand, some grants are given to schools regardless of enrollment, so the amount per student increases as students transfer out. Tubman is a prime example, where dwindling enrollment has left a budget of $12,133 per student.

So I intend to run the numbers using a consistent dollar amount for each transfered student. It is important to note that the patterns of red and green on the map will likely be unchanged, but the loss from the red zone added to the gain in the green zone will add up to zero.

Thanks to all who have already contributed feedback to this report. I didn’t intend it to be my personal manifesto; I just ended up cranking it out on my own due to time constraints. More feedback is encouraged and welcome.

Update, January 2008: In the final version of this report, published in January 2008, I used a consistent figure of $6,800 per student to calculate the net gains and losses of each cluster.

School Choicer vs. Flynn-Blackmer

by Steve, September 23rd, 2007

schoolsPortland Talented and Gifted advocate Margaret DeLacy stopped by today and picked a few nits with Flynn-Blackmer.

For those of you just joining the discussion, Multnomah County Auditor Suzanne Flynn and Portland City Auditor Gary Blackmer published an audit of Portland Public Schools’ open transfer enrollment policy last June, titled Portland Public Schools Student Transfer System: District objectives not met (230 KB PDF).

The salient points of this audit were:

  • the transfer system does not mitigate racial and economic segregation, and in fact contributes to it via a “skimming” effect
  • the system is increasingly complex and not transparent
  • open transfers are at odds with other district policies such as strong neighborhood schools and investing in poor performing schools
  • in light of these conflicts, there is no clear rationale for allowing such radical policy.

DeLacy wants to ding the authors for confusing the reason students transfer, though this is not a focus of the study.

She also constructs a straw man: “…high achieving students are being pushed out of local schools by a lack of instruction appropriate to their needs. Forcing them to stay there without addressing this issue merely makes the problem worse by further reducing any incentive for the local school to improve its instruction.”

Nowhere in Flynn-Blackmer do they recommend a course of action such as this. My own recommendations to the school board, which will be released tomorrow, as well as my writings on the topic here, clearly state that we must equalize educational opportunities before we curtail neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers.

I can’t argue with DeLacy’s critique of the way testing is used, but she imagines “high-achieving students who transfer to a school with more high-achieving students would prove to be more successful in the long run.” Why? Well, “These schools simply offer more advanced classes.”

She doesn’t stop to ask why that is, or wonder if it might be better if all schools had equal educational offerings. But here comes the real zinger.

DeLacy believes lower-achieving students are better off at their lower-achieving schools. That’s right. “An analysis I did of Jefferson test scores a couple of years ago showed that it was doing a better-than-average job with lower-achieving students, so I would be surprised if they got a better deal elsewhere,” writes DeLacy.

Which leaves us with what we have: a segregated, two-tiered system, with advanced academic offerings in middle and upper middle class neighborhoods, and “special” schools with reduced offerings in our working class and poor neighborhoods, under continual federal sanction with No Child Left Behind. Evidently this is just fine with DeLacy.

Missing in her analysis is any place for high-achieving poor and minority kids. Or maybe there’s just not a place in her world view for them.

Ultimately, DeLacy concludes that Flynn-Blackmer “was not a properly conducted analysis and should not be used as the basis for making policy decisions.”

Evidently she reaches this conclusion simply because she dislikes hearing its unassailable central points, which she somehow fails to address: the PPS transfer system contributes to racial isolation, it is overly complex and not transparent, it competes with strong neighborhood schools and investing in poorly performing schools, and there is no policy rationale for it.

All of our children will do better if they all are offered a full range of academic and extracurricular opportunities in their neighborhood schools. It is incredibly cynical to argue that poor kids do better in poor schools, and rich kids do better in rich schools, so let’s just keep it that way. Or am I missing something in DeLacy’s argument?

Press Room

by Steve, September 20th, 2007

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Media inquiries may be e-mailed to himself <at> wackymonkey <dot> org .

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PPS’s Middle Class Escape Clause

by Steve, September 19th, 2007

schoolsIn thinking more about the open transfer policy at Portland Public Schools, I feel like I’m starting to understand the mindset that has kept it safely in place, despite the lack of any legitimate policy rationale.

I felt a little icky after my exchange with Amanda Fritz on her blog yesterday. Partly because I think I upset her, which is never my intent, but mostly because she represents a common middle class liberal attitude about open transfers. She’s seen the numbers and maps; she knows that open transfers cost our poorest neighborhoods nearly $40 million a year in lost public investment. But evidently that’s worth it to her.

“PPS’s transfer policy has likely kept many wealthier families in Portland’s public schools, rather than going to private schools,” she wrote yesterday.

That’s the old saw that folks trot out every time this issue comes up. The fallacies here are many. The threat of white flight is extremely overblown, and nobody ever produces statistics to back the claim. Even if it were true, how much should our poorest neighborhoods pay to keep them from fleeing? Is $40 million a year enough? Or should we be paying more? This no way to run a school district. You can’t justify such a radical upward redistribution of wealth by saying it’s “likely” that it’s helped in some way.

She’s voiced this attitude a couple of times, and refuses to take even a moderate stand like the Flynn-Blackmer audit (230KB PDF) took: “the transfer policy competes with other Board policies such as strong neighborhood schools and investing in poor performing schools.”

I think what we’re really looking at here is that open transfers are an escape clause for the middle class. They’re the ones who use the policy, and they’re the ones who run the board. They’ll never say it in polite company, but it is implicit that this policy lets them have their kids go to school with kids “like them”, even if they can’t afford a house in the “better” parts of town. They’re just as happy to not talk about this in a broader policy context, because their arguments in favor of it simply don’t hold water, especially in light of its cost to our poorest neighbors. Which explains why the conversation keeps getting pushed back by the board. We’re just not willing, in our polite white society, to discuss the twin elephants in the room: race and class.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on Amanda Fritz. I like her as a public figure (though I’ve never met her, and, as she pointed out, “evidently you don’t know me very well”).

I voted for her when she ran for city council as a pioneer of public election funding in Portland. I’d like to endorse her if she runs again, but that is contingent on her taking a stand, even a moderate stand, on this radical PPS public investment policy that has a huge impact on the future of Portland and is absolutely the business of the city council and those seeking a seat there.

VisionPDX and Portland Public Schools

by Steve, September 18th, 2007

schoolsAmanda Fritz got her hands on the proposed visionPDX report, and correctly dings the authors for its wishy-washy statement on education: “The public and private sectors jointly provide a K-20 educational enterprise that serves the intellectual, cultural and economic needs of the region, the city and its people.”

VisionPDX is an initiative started by mayor Tom Potter. According to its Web site, “visionPDX is a City-supported, community-led initiative to create a vision for Portland for the next 20 years and beyond. The project provides an opportunity for all Portlanders to share their hopes and ideas for the future.”

Sounds real warm and fuzzy, but the process has been criticized for being light on statistical methodology and heavy on the feel-good factor.

I am not surprised by the lack of a strong statement on education in this report, since our city leaders have consistently spoken platitudes about our public schools while consistently failing to hold our school board to account for its policies that threaten our public neighborhood schools, even as they refer to them as our “crown jewels”.

I don’t mean to be rude or take Amanda’s discussion too far off track, but I had to call her out about this. I support her in her drive to fix the visionPDX document, and hope to nudge her — and any other potential city council candidates — to take a hard look at PPS policy and to at least take a stand as firm as the Flynn-Blackmer audit (230 KB PDF).

Obviously, this is an issue that impacts the entire city, and the silence of our city leaders (and would-be leaders) about our radical school transfer policy is puzzling, to say the least.

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory…

by Steve, September 17th, 2007

hockey…of the coming of the screens.

The replay screens at Portland’s old Memorial Coliseum, that is. I stopped by the ticket office this morning to pick up tickets for the Winter Hawks season opener Friday, and saw the screens with my very own eyes. The Hawks have a daunting opener against the Memorial Cup champs Vancouver, but who cares! It’s hockey season!

In other hockey news, the River City Jaguars opened their season on a high note this weekend at my home rink, sticking it to the Eugene Generals 5-2 in both games. I caught the first two periods of Saturday’s game, and the Jaguars, cellar dwellers for their first three seasons, look poised to make some noise in NorPac this year. Head coach Joakim “Swede” Falt told me last week this could be their year, and I have to agree. They’ve got a solid core of returning veterans, the cross-town rival Pioneers are gone from the league, and other teams that have dominated them are rebuilding.

I skated with some of the Jaguars at stick time last Thursday and Friday, including Slovakian defenseman Lukas Kovacsik, who survived my slash to his unprotected shin Thursday (he was standing in the crease!) and contributed a goal in Sunday’s game. This kid has an unbelievable first pass out of the zone and a hard shot. With a little more meat on his 6′ 4″ frame, I could see him moving up. I don’t know how it would work out with his visa and the Winter Hawks and their Euro import situation, but I could see him in a Hawks jersey before the season is up.

Now… fewer than five days till puck drop in the WHL… Go Hawks!

Up Bubbles the Charter Schools Question

by Steve, September 16th, 2007

laborA discussion of Portland Public Schools neighborhood divestment has turned into a debate about charter schools. I don’t mind, really, since it’s a tightly related subject. But it is a topic I was pointedly not addressing. People feel very strongly about this issue, myself included, but for the moment, it is a little distracting from my point about how district policy is disproportionately distributing the public revenue it is trusted with.

But now comes Heather Straube, founder of a new North Portland charter school, getting very defensive about the relationship of charter schools to the teachers union.

As a “daughter of two teamsters and activists,” Straube insists “we are very pro-union,” but later explains that it wouldn’t make sense to have a union with only seven staff members.

What she doesn’t recognize (or chooses not to mention) is that these seven staffers, employees of Portland Public Schools, would otherwise be members of their respective unions. While her one little school may not seem a threat, the movement toward shutting down neighborhood schools and opening charters is a serious threat to union security in any school district.

Assurances to pay union wages “[i]f we can” ring hollow to anybody who has worked both with and without a union contract.

Straube catalogs some of the myriad problems in schools in PPS’ poorest neighborhoods, and goes to great lengths to demonstrate her “liberal” credibility. It’s not a “conservative” movement, she assures us.

Indeed, it is a libertarian movement, geared toward solving problems of small groups of families in isolation, without regard for the greater good. “Local control” is invoked without any context of how that term has been used historically to justify segregation. Those of us trying to make a difference for everybody are derided as playing “politics”.

While I have no doubt that New Harvest will be plenty “liberal”, I have to place it in the greater milieu of the charter school movement. It is indeed a form of privatization, and even if individual schools are “cool”, they are tools used by a movement with a nefarious project: the dismantling of our traditional, neighborhood-based public schools, and the unions that come with them. It bodes poorly for teachers and students alike.