Trouble at Benson Tech

by Steve Buel, September 15th, 2007

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Steve Buel (not to be confused with me, whose name also happens to be Steve). For more on this story, see today’s Oregonian.

schoolsSomething is amiss at Benson Tech. Benson has the reputation of being one of the best technological high schools in the country. Surely, you would think, the school board would want to protect and hone this reputation, particularly in a city where there is such widespread criticism of the way it educates its lower economic neighborhood students. But that does not seem to be the case.

When I was a teacher at Lane Middle School in the far out SE, which was loaded with struggling students, Benson High School was one of the bright spots in the future education of many of these kids. It was a legitimate first step in getting out of poverty and making something of themselves. It was also a great path for those kids who wanted an avenue to success outside of a purely academic road.

But you just couldn’t up and go to Benson. You had to earn it. You needed a teachers recommendation and enough academic skills to write an essay stating why you wanted to go there. This did two things. It helped weed out the kids who were not interested in putting in the effort required in Benson’s programs and put pressure on the kids to do well in middle school. A great help in teaching kids what it takes to get along in the world.

But the school district, in their infantile wisdom, eliminated these requirements and also has refused to fund Benson at the level necessary to maintain all the programs it had developed and to upgrade the school and its programs in the manner such an outstanding school deserves.

Yes, it costs more to have a school such as Benson in your district but it is worth it to make sure you have genuine opportunities for the students Benson helps. Of course, there are undoubtedly few Benson kids from parents in Stand for Children (SFC) or the Portland Schools Foundation (PFS), who run Portland Public Schools and control the board, so I guess it is not surprising this is the direction the district has gone.

But you have to ask yourself what is really amiss. This district treats its lower economic neighborhood students like they are outsiders, and it has demonstrated this over and over. Is this just another example of what is happening in PPS and America today, the rich and powerful making sure they are taken care of first and foremost, more nonsense from SFC and PSF, or is something else at work here?

I think it is legitimate to explore if institutionalized racism is rearing its ugly head again. I hope not.

Steve Buel is in his 41st year of teaching, presently in the Evergreen School District in Vancouver. He is a former PPS school board member and has followed PPS politics since 1975.