Welcome, Portland Tribune Readers

by Steve, September 11th, 2007

Jennifer Anderson wrote a good piece in today’s Tribune about Humboldt Elementary, and how well it is doing, despite Portland Public Schools’ radical transfer policy.

You might be looking for this map, showing how this policy is robbing tens of millions of dollars a year from Portland’s poorest neighborhoods and reinvesting it in the richest. Or you might be interested in the archives of my research and writing on public schools.

11 Responses to “Welcome, Portland Tribune Readers”

  1. Comment from Zarwen:

    Congratulations on making print media, Hockeygod!

    Because it is my nature, I am posting to challenge your comment in the paper about “magnet and language immersion schools should be relocated to poorer neighborhoods to give parents a reason to seek them out rather than flock to already popular schools.”

    Hockeygod, quite a few of them already ARE in “poorer neighborhoods.” Spanish immersions at Beach, Bridger, Rigler and Lent. Russian immersion at Kelly. Creative Science at Bridger. And then there’s the “Jefferson Cluster Magnet Program,” which has been written about extensively elsewhere. All in, or on the edge of, your “red zone.”

    In the past, the PPS school board has stated a goal of having magnet programs evenly distributed throughout the district. While that may work for a program like Spanish immersion, which can be replicated if startup funds are available, what they seem to forget is that some magnet programs are unique, and putting them in one corner of the school district will cut off families who are too far away. That is why I refused to consider the Odyssey program for my son, even though it sounds like a terrific program that would have been great for him. I wonder how many eastside children are enrolled there? How many westside children are enrolled at Creative Science? And how many westside children will attend the Russian immersion program at Kelly?

    Hockeygod, since you have often said we should look to our neighbor to the west for a model on how to do it right, I am compelled to point out that Beaverton has located their magnet programs centrally, to provide equal access from all points of the district, and to avoid the need for costly replication at multiple locations. This is also in keeping with Federal guidelines on magnet programs (which PPS proudly ignores). So, Hockeygod, I ask you to reconsider this point.

  2. Comment from Steve:

    Zarwen, as usual, thanks for calling me out. My interview with Ms. Anderson was fairly rambly (on my part), and my position on this is evolving.

    Here’s a clarification of where I am with it now.

    We need to evaluate where magnet and special focus programs are located to make sure they

    1) draw public investment into neighborhoods that have lost public funds due to out-transfers


    2) serve the local neighborhood population.

    Just one example from your list. Beach is situated in a neighborhood (Overlook) that is 69.5% white and 8.8% Hispanic. There’s clearly not a large native Spanish speaking population in the attendance area, yet Beach is 28.2% white and 37.4% Hispanic. I’m pretty sure there are some schools further north serving a much greater Spanish speaking demographic that could really use a program like that. Ainsworth is another example, with Hispanic enrollment at only 10.6%.

    These two programs should be relocated, in my opinion, to neighborhoods with demographics that match the desired mix in the classroom (i.e. 50-50 Anglo/Hispanic). There may be others that need to be relocated.

    Another issue I would like to see addressed is special focus schools within neighborhood schools. I’ve never heard of a good experience with this, and several quite bad ones.

    I do see the value in central location, and I don’t think we have to worry about schools like MLC and Benson moving. But I have a real hard time with Buckman and Sunnyside sucking away our public investment to booming neighborhood real estate markets. That said, I don’t think any proposal to move them would get anywhere with the current board, not to mention the community — so I’m not advocating that.

    Let’s just take a look at them, move some language programs to fit demographics, and develop policy requiring future magnets be targeted to areas that in need of reinvestment. (How’s that?)

    Thanks again for the collaborative critique.

  3. Comment from Hyacinth:

    I agree with Zarwen that we shouldn’t be trying to relocate magnet schools to poorer neighborhoods. It would most likely lead to closing the neighborhood schools in those neighborhoods. Just because someone lives in a low income neighborhood doesn’t mean they should be forced to send their kids to a magnet school with a focus they may or may not be interested in.

    We really don’t need magnet schools at the elementary level. Magnet school programs just offer an excuse for a bunch of white middle income parents to flee schools with a significant number of low income or minority families. That is their primary function and it stinks.

  4. Comment from Steve:

    Hyacinth, I agree about magnet schools, but not about dual language immersion programs. I think these have great value to English language learners, and should be located in neighborhoods with high numbers of native speakers.

    I personally agree with you about elementary magnets, but that’s more than I want to bite off right now. Any proposal that included ending Sunnyside Environmental or Buckman Arts would be dead on arrival with the current board, not to mention a large portion of the community.

    Thanks for another opportunity to clarify my thinking on this issue.

  5. Comment from Zarwen:

    Thanks for the clarification, Hockeygod.

    The point about serving the local neighborhood population is well taken. I would like to add that any magnet should be located near any community resources that are essential to its program. The example burning in my mind is Winterhaven (WH). It is less than a year since VP proposed moving it 6 miles to the Clark building, having had NO discussion with anyone from WH on the subject. VP had never visited WH, and it became painfully obvious that she knew nothing about its program. WH is listed as a “math and science focus option,” which is true. But what the PPS website doesn’t say is that the WH curriculum is supported by a longstanding and ongoing stewardship relationship with Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, an unique resource which is not available anywhere else and which is within walking distance of WH. Neither VP nor any school board member ever addressed this issue with regard to the proposed move.

    I also wish to add that 80% of WH families stated that they would not or could not make this move. (70% of current WH families live within 3 miles of WH, thus it “serves the local neighborhood population.”) And NOT ONE family from the Clark/Binnsmead area expressed any interest in enrolling their child in the program. NOT ONE. How does decimating a highly successful program improve education for anyone? What sense would it have made to put it where no one wanted it, cutting it off from a vital community resource that is essential to its program?

    Sorry for the rant; I just needed to get all that off my chest. But the larger point I want to drive home here is that moving programs cannot be undertaken on a whim (as VP tried to do), no matter how good it may look on paper. A careful evaluation of the pros and cons needs to be done first, and families that are already in the program need to be involved from the get-go. In fact, School Board Policy mandates those very things, but VP and her minions on the Board never thought twice about violating it. The upshot was that they sent “facilitator” and former board member Carol Turner, along with Area Director John Horn, to WH to develop a “growth plan,” still in violation of School Board Policy, as no one from the school had actually been consulted about whether “growth” was a good idea. BUT they were told that lack of “growth” would lead to FTE cuts! So it finally came down to Hobson’s choice.

    Off my original point, but this seems like a good place to mention that, over the next 5 years, PPS plans to open (and the School Board has already approved) 1600-2000 new slots in focus option and charter programs at the elementary level alone. I crunched the numbers myself, using data from the PPS website. To be fair, most of these are located in the “red zone”; and even though I am generally supportive of focus options (and charters to a lesser extent), there can be too much of a good thing. How can PPS reconcile this with their mission of “strong schools for everyone”? Hasn’t ANYONE over there done the math?

    What a way to run a school district.

  6. Comment from Steve:

    Honestly, I think we need fewer focus options, not more, especially at the elementary level. 1600-2000 new slots? No shit? I hadn’t heard that. (Pardon my French; once again, I find it hard to discuss PPS policy without cursing.)

    We (the district, that is) need to distinguish between magnets intended to draw enrollment back to neighborhoods and special focus schools designed to serve unique populations (e.g. language immersion). If we actually curtail open transfers, there is much less need for magnets (though they could still be used to boost public investment in areas that have been hard-hit by years of neglect under open transfers).

    Needless to say, any discussion of moving special focus schools needs to include families and faculty.

    My bottom line, again: we need to evaluate the purpose and location of our magnets and special focus programs.

    (By the way, since I am officially “out”, having been identified by name in the Trib, you can just call me Steve. I’ve always been a little embarrassed by the “HockeyGod” moniker my lovely wife stuck on me. If you’d ever seen me skate, you’d know how unworthy I am of being called that!)

  7. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    To me, the man will always be Hockey God.

  8. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Zarwen, no, nobody there does the math. And they never said strong schools for everyone, but that they would “strengthen neighborhood schools” — all the recently elected school board members (the last 2 elections) ran on this mantra. How are they doing?

  9. Comment from Zarwen:

    Actually, Steve B., yes they did! The full and correct quote is “Building Strong Schools For All Students.” It is the first thing you see when you go to the PPS website. Nice big banner across the homepage, right under a photo of Ed Schmitt.

  10. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Zarwen, that’s not a school board quote. It is a PR quote. When I went to the website it said, “every student, every day” and had a picture of Mayor Potter. I closed out and went back in and it had your quote. A lot of difference between what candidates actually say during their races and what the PR department says to make a good impression. Of course, you already know that.

  11. Comment from Zarwen:

    OK, how about we sue them for truth in advertising?