School Choicer vs. Flynn-Blackmer

by Steve, September 23rd, 2007

Portland 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?