A Serious Look at Beaverton

by Steve, October 5th, 2007

Given that there seems to be little political will on the Portland Public Schools Board of Education to do anything serious about the stark inequities in funding and program offerings in Portland neighborhood schools, we’re giving serious thought to moving to Beaverton. I started looking at real estate in Beaverton yesterday, and what I saw illustrates the stark differences between how PPS and the Beaverton School District operate.

The first house I looked at is in one of Beaverton’s poorer neighborhoods. The elementary school is Beaver Acres, where 61% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The students are 51% minority, with no one group in the majority (white student have a plurality). This reflects the neighborhood demographic, since Beaverton does not have open transfer enrollment.

We all know what happens to schools like this in PPS; they are drained of their middle class students, overall enrollment drops dramatically, demographics skew, test scores drop, and they are threatened by PPS with closure and by the federal government with sanctions under No Child Left Behind. Special programs are cut, with site administrators focusing dwindling Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) budgets on literacy and testing.

Not so in Beaverton. Quite to the contrary, Beaver Acres school is getting a 14-classroom addition to accommodate growing enrollment. All special programs remain intact.

Beaver Acres feeds to traditional, comprehensive middle and high schools, just like every elementary school in Beaverton.

Our neighborhood elementary in PPS has a co-located dual-immersion Spanish program. There are numerous problems with this, too many to get into here. Suffice it to say, the administrator is far more engaged with her special focus program than with the neighborhood program. The school is transitioning to K-8, so we are no longer assigned to the special-focus middle school across the street from the 24-hour sex club, which is nice. But our assigned high school is Jefferson, which has suffered more than any school in the district under the open transfer enrollment policy. No other high school has had its programs cut as dramatically, and no school is less racially and economically diverse.

Let me emphasize something here: Not one of our assigned schools, from pre-K through high school, is a stand-alone, traditional neighborhood school.

Sure, we can apply for the lottery to transfer to one of the traditional high schools, all of which are sited in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. But why should my kids have to commute across town just to get a full range of educational offerings?

Initial murmurs from the school board on the issue indicate that we’re probably not going to see any changes to the transfer policy any time soon, if at all. Hopefully they can start addressing the funding equity issues at least, but there’s only so much they can do given that funding follows students.

Meanwhile, my kids aren’t getting any younger. When we moved to the Jefferson cluster in 2000, our oldest child was five years away from starting school, and we said to ourselves, “A lot can change in five years.” Not much did. Actually, things have gotten worse. Now our oldest is in third grade, six years away from high school. Will things get better by the time she hits high school? If recent history is any indication, things will get worse.

Look out Beaverton, here we come!

46 Responses to “A Serious Look at Beaverton”

  1. Comment from Shelby:

    If the special-focus middle school you’re referring to is Ockley Green, it’s not across the street from a “sex club”, rather a fairly discreet adult store. All in all it’s in a pretty nice neighborhood, for the area. That aside, though, I can’t see much to argue with here. Vancouver and its suburbs are attracting a lot of families with young kids for the same reasons.

  2. Comment from Steve:

    Discreet or not, it is far more than an “adult store”. It’s a well known meet-up spot for anonymous sex.

    Just do a search on Craig’s List, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    I’ve got no problem with guys meeting up for anonymous sex. I just have a problem with it a stone’s throw from a K-8 playground. PPS doesn’t care about this. The city of Portland doesn’t care about this.

    If you think this is a state constitution issue, note that Tigard explicitly zones for adult businesses.

    Now, don’t tar me with the same brush as you would an intolerant religious fundamentalist. I’m not saying “not in my backyard.” I just don’t want my kids walking past a sex club on their way to school, or playing on a school playground within view of it and its customers.

  3. Comment from Shelby:

    No need to get defensive, Steve – or to invoke consitutional issues. I disagree but I don’t think you’re being unreasonable. Also, if you take a look, your “well known” location only features one attempted hook-up. The other two are for a “Hwy 30” location, which I think refers to the Saint Helens Road location. (I have no particular views regarding the establishment, and have never been inside, so don’t take this for an endorsement.)

  4. Comment from Steve:

    Sorry I sounded defensive. Not my intent, and not at all the focus of this post. I just find it interesting that many folks don’t realize this is a sex club, not just a place selling videos and sex toys. There’s just one notice on Craig’s List today, but do that search regularly and you’ll see that the interstate location gets loads of traffic.

  5. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, I taught in Portland from 1990 through 2000 and saw the slow dismantling of electives in my middle school until there was pretty much nothing left to engage a student in the school. Yes, we still had good teachers and they cared about kids, but no one seemed to care enough to raise a fuss and there was hardly anyone in the neighborhood paying attention. When I went to the Evergreen district in Vancouver, where I have been for 7+ years now, it was literally amazing at all the programs they had to engage kids in middle school.

    So I guess what I am saying is I have to agree. It is worse now than 2000. And nobody seems to care, least of all the school board and administration. PPS is going to K-8’s and in a way this will enable some primary grades to get some programs they didn’t have. And maybe even some middle school age kids to get a few electives. But nothing of any major import. And if you really put in a program like Evergreen the cost would be astronomical.

    So, have we condemned Portland’s poor to a worse education than Portland’s wealthy. Of course, yes, but we have also condemned them to a worse education than Beaverton’s poor and Vancouver’s poor — doesn’t seem right to me. I mean Portland is a pretty progressive city to treat its poor children so poorly.

  6. Comment from tom:

    Why is it that economies of scale work for every industry and service other that educating? PPS is a bloated bureaucracy that prioritzes the special needs of a minority of learning challenged students and or special interest instruction rather than providing an adequate education for the masses.

    Couple that with a declining student population and a county government that also has not learned the lessons of economies of scale and you get what you’ve got.

    Come to Beaverton School district! Look at the test scores. Look at the new schools. Look at the normal population. Your children deserve it. Also, Washington County property taxes are about 1/2 of Multnomah Countys/PDXs.

    Sorry Portlanders, you just let things get out of control. Look at your leadership. What were their priorities? Light rail, tram, bike paths, headlines, Parks, wetlands, trees, all the feel good stuff (soon to be a new bridge that will only be open to light rail and bicycles). Once again, providing for the minorities (as in number of riders vs. drivers). Think about that next time it’s bumper to bumper on the ross, Marcum, Fremont. Stop whining and move, or organize, get vocal, and change the gov…..

    We simply wouldn’t put up with this stuff in Washington County.

  7. Comment from Steve:

    Tom, I’m afraid you’re misinformed about PPS priorities. Your statement about prioritizing “learning challenged students” is laughable if you’ve ever talked to anybody with a special-needs child who’s had to fight the district to even get their child’s needs acknowledged by the district.

    Washington County residents certainly did “put up with” light rail, and now commuter rail. You’ve also got some pretty nice wetlands, trees and green spaces. And a great parks and rec program. And I notice an awfully nice, sparkling new multi-use trail coming down off of Sylvan Hill into Beaverton.

    My point being that these things are not at odds with education funding. We all get the same amount from the state, regardless of municipal priorities.

    If I move to Beaverton, one of the biggest trade-offs will be the walkability and bikability of my current neighborhood. That sucks in Beaverton, big time. And talk about lousy traffic!

  8. Comment from tom:

    Oh, OK Steve. I didn’t know you were one of those pandered to, outspoken, fringe minorties before I put in my 2 cents. I thought you were someone trying to get the best education possible for their child. Obviously I’ve touched a nerve.

    Looks like you part of PPS’s problem. Why don’t you stay in PDX where you can say stuff like “I’ve got no problem with guys meeting up for anonymous sex” and not even bat an eyebrow.

  9. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Yeah, that’s Wacky House. We’re all about anonymous sex.

  10. Comment from marcia:

    tom has just given you one more reason not to move to Beaverton. Did you notice?

  11. Comment from concernedmommy:

    I really think it varies. My family and I just moved from Portland Schools (westside) to Beaverton schools. I have seen a decrease in parent involvement in the classroom. The Portland school my son went to prior to our move had very high parent involvement and I Knew almost every child’s parent in my son’s class room last year. I also think that his previous school in PPS had a more chalenging curriculum than his current one in Beaverton. I think that the PPS he went to was not the average example of a PPS Elementry but because of the level of parent involvement it was an exceptional school. I haven’t even had a phone call from a room parent this year asking for volunteer time from me from our Beaverton school. So maybe we need not complain about what the school isn’t doing for our kids and go there ourseslves and make sure it’s done. Don’t have time?? Work too much??? Yeah me too.

  12. Comment from tom:

    Wow Marcia, that was deep. And Wacky, read the whole post please. I was simply quoting Steve.

    In looking through this site, I can see why the pps has poor performance. The amount of time they are continualy dealing with some of the people on this frequent this site has got to cost a ton of money. Boo hoo, we’re poor. But we want 90 percent of the funds spent on our kids that are having problem learning because too much time on the computer

  13. Comment from marcia:


  14. Comment from NoPo Parent:w:

    OK – I’ll bite: so why not private school? Why not pay tuition to send your kids to Beaverton?

    Both of these are expensive and probably logistically challenging. But isn’t moving to Beaverton also expensive? It certainly is logistically challenging!

    Agreed that charters are libertarian. But charters can organize and join unions if they want to. Up to the charters and the teachers there.

    I raise this because there seems to be a very fragile fiber that holds PPS together at the moment. The charters are eating away at the neighborhood schools. But the neighborhood schools are being eaten away by NCLB and turned into test-prep machines while being subjected to the inequities that Steve so clearly documented in his report.

    Steve – you are clearly a strong advocate of public schools. But what happens when one of the strongest voices bails and joins the suburban migration?

    Stay — and fight!

  15. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Steve – the arguments you put forward against PPS are strong. You’re clearly convinced that there is sufficient enough evidence to warrant a move to Beaverton.

    But why not stay in the district, support PPS, but send your kids to one of the charters?

    I’ve read the thread about charters here.

    And I don’t necessarily want to resurrect that debate.

    But if middle-class parents like yourself are being driven away from PPS, perhaps the charters are the only things that may keep some of us here, all the problems associated with charters notwithstanding.

  16. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Sorry – one more thought:

    The problem with supporting the charters is, of course, that they potentially draw middle-class parents away from the neighborhood schools. So all of the time, talent, and dollars that these middle-class parents might spend at the neighborhood schools is outsourced to the charters. But what happens when the charters reach capacity? Middle-class parents then really have no option other than to move to Beaverton, etc.

    So you end up with a few charters with waiting lists, neighborhood schools with a disproportionate percentage of low-income parents, and parents fleeing to the suburbs.

    This phenomenon is happening all over the country.

  17. Comment from Steve:

    I believe in the common schools model and strong unions. Charter schools are a libertarian concept, and are fundamentally at odds with both of these things. You could just as easily ask me, why not private school? Or, why not pay tuition to Beaverton and send them out there?

    I want my kids to go to school in their neighborhood, with their neighbors, in all their economic and ethnic diversity, and to be taught by teachers with a strong union contract. Portland Public Schools doesn’t currently offer this in neighborhoods that aren’t predominately white and middle class. Charter schools don’t offer this either, and they aren’t in line my family’s social and economic values.

  18. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    At the risk of piling on here, other thoughts are going through my head . . .

    So you’d move to Beaverton to benefit your kids. But what about the folks like me who don’t want to move? Who can’t move? Are we just stuck?

    And how is moving to Beaverton not consistent with a libertarian ethos that raises the well-being of the individual above the common good? Your kids would benefit — maybe. But what about those that are left behind?

  19. Comment from Steve:

    I’d like to raise my children in a society that shares my values. Believe it or not, the citizens of Beaverton have more in common with my values than the citizens of Portland, at least as far as public education goes. Equitable common schools for everybody, regardless of where they live, their race, or their income. That’s the kind of social values I want my children raised around, not the free-for-all that PPS has become.

    The problem at PPS is open transfer enrollment. It benefits a certain segment of society, and it is entrenched. It has created a two-tiered school system, segregated by race and economics. The citizens of Portland seem okay with this, as evidenced by their tacit approval of the “tough decisions” of Vicki Phillips and their re-election of David Wynde and Bobbie Regan (who ran unopposed).

    Nobody in a civic leadership role seems even marginally aware of this issue, as evidenced by Eric Sten’s shockingly clueless proposals, which include building a school in the Pearl and giving a million dollars to the Portland Schools Foundation to dole out to poor schools to market themselves.

    The board that hired and supported Phillips is still largely intact, and Phillips’ successor is her former chief of staff.

    I’m getting tired tilting at windmills. It takes too much time away from my family, and that’s what this is all about.

    Why should I have to fight for something as fundamental as this? My parents didn’t have to fight for it, and the parents in Beaverton don’t have to fight for it.

    Finally, please take my threat to flee to Beaverton in the context of the larger debate. Many, many people have made the unfounded claim to me that open transfer enrollment somehow saved PPS from white flight. It’s a preposterous proposition, with no empirical evidence to back it up.

    My threat to flee to Beaverton is at least partially ironic and symbolic. Quite honestly, as much as I’ve been jumping up and down yelling about this problem, staying up late and getting up early, taking time off from work, talking to the board and stressing out about it, there don’t seem to be a lot of folks lining up behind me.

    It takes a lot more than one guy with a blog to affect political change, especially when we’re up against the powerful business interests represented by the Portland Schools Foundation. Our volunteer board of education is ever so cautious. It surprises me how unwilling they are to even talk about open transfers as a problem. And it surprises me how the electorate of Portland is so willing to put up with mediocre leadership in our schools, and the startling funding inequity that results.

  20. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    The schools in Beaverton certainly sound great. But I’m always a bit skeptical of anything that sounds a bit too good to be true. Beaverton doubtlessly benefits greatly from tax contributions of the very large corporations located there, no? So it may be less an issue of enlightened policy and more the case of laissez faire policy that happens to be extremely well-funded. I don’t know what percentage of kids in Beaverton schools are low-income, but I suspect it’s less than PPS. True? If so, then that might also explain quite a bit.

    I just don’t get Beaverton as a place that shares your espoused values. Again, the schools may or may not be so great. But there is no “there” there in Beaverton. It’s a citadel of corporate anonymity, sprawl, road-rash, and 37 too many strip malls. Gimme PDX — warts and all — any day!

    Don’t give up, Steve. Your blog matters. What you’ve been doing matters. You are, whether you want to be, an inspiration to many of us. Keep doing what you’re doing. It takes a while to build a sustainable movement. Ask MLK. Ask Gandhi.

  21. Comment from Steve:

    I’m not giving up, don’t worry.

    Re. tax base in Beaverton, schools in Oregon are all funded through the state general fund. Portland actually taxes itself extra, and spends more per student than Beaverton.

    Beaverton just has a more traditional policy with regard to neighborhood schools and transfer policy. Portland has fallen victim to neoliberal “reformers” and a fealty to the business community that favors a “free market” approach. It’s not so much that Beaverton is so good, as that Portland is so bad at operating public schools.

  22. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    I *am* giving up because a pit bull tried to eat me the other day, two blocks from my house. Making it the 18th or possibly 48th time either my Wacky Sister, me, my kids, or one of our dogs or cats has been attacked or had a run-in with a pit or some other hideous ill-behaved demonic canine spawn from hell.

    You asshole dog people with your asshole dogs (“I know you’re scared, but don’t be! Pit bulls are *usually* mean but mine is rilly rilly nice!”) — shut yer trap because I hate you. All of the compassion I have in me is going toward everyone else, NONE is going toward you.

    No, the kids weren’t with me. And no, he didn’t latch on, so I’d like to pause and say thanks, God, for that, too.

    If I may weigh in on the move, since this is, you know, my family, and I’m the one who will be going to the open houses and dealing with the realtors. And getting us packed and moved to Beaverton, which, as a lifelong NE/N Portland rat, is just tripping me out because IT’S THE WEST SIDE. THEY HAVE NO SIDEWALKS. Ahem:

    1) We’d be closer to Steve’s work. His commute now is a bitch. That alone is reason to move. I couldn’t afford a house on the west side when I bought my first house in 1995. I can now that everyone’s realized, duh, North Portland is close to downtown Portland! (Who knew?) and the sands have shifted.

    2) Steve pulled together what I thought was a compelling argument (ie — Poor Schools in Portland are Bleeding Money. Stop. Poor Kids in Dire Straits. Stop. Send Help Now. Stop.) for putting the brakes on the district’s insane transfer policy (and yes, our kids did transfer, fyi, in case you’re new here. It doesn’t matter. If the district told us, and all our neighbors, “Back to your neighborhood school,” then back we’d go, I’m fine with that. As I’ve already stated here, I regret having transferred them in the first place.)

    That sentence is too long, but I am a little pissed. Sorry.

    Steve’s numbers make sense. His reasoning makes sense. And I’m not just saying that because I sleep with him. If he was off-base I’d tell him so. The reaction from the school board, and the administration?

    3) Yawn. And “We don’t want to rush things.” And “How about a nice little boutique school, Mrs. Hockey God? Wouldn’t you like a nice little boutique school?”

    4) No, I wouldn’t. I don’t need my kids running around in pioneer bonnets (Odyssey program) or doing language immersion (we just recently got out of speech-language therapy, thanks. We can barely speak English here), or studying bugs and hunger (Environmental School) or singing songs in Swahili and learning about Healthy Eating! (stupidass charter schools).

    5) My kids need art, music, science, math, PE, reading, the occasional field trip, school assemblies, popsicles on a hot day, time at the park with their friends after school. We all need that. Every kid needs the same thing — to be able to learn, and to have some fun specials.

    6) We’ve been at this for five years already, counting preschool. Our work for the schools didn’t start with the blogs and the number crunching. People are listening to us, yes, and weighing in, but the future for PPS looks bleak to me.

    7) Me? I’ve been at this my entire life, as a Portland Public Schools grad (Harvey Scott, Class of ’78; Madison High, Class of ’82). The de-funding, the messed-up tax system, the racism, the classism, the inequitable division of money, the bussing kids hither and yon, the fighting (between the kids, between the parents), the competitions, the PTA moms who give me a hard time because I won’t buy a hundred bucks’ worth of gift wrap, the principal who tells me, no, don’t write a grant, “What if we can’t spend all the money, then they’ll take it away.”

    8) Done.

  23. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve and Wacky Mommy, I taught in Reedville, which is now part of Hillsboro, but was really Beaverton, right behind Intel. A lifelong friend of mine’s kids went to Aloha, which is Beaverton. Better find out which schools really are working and which are not before you move. I guarantee they are not all working great.

    The Oregon schools, in the urban areas particularly, have all been messed up by NCLB and the reform movements out of the wonderful State Dept. of Education. There is little autonomy out there either.

    What Beaverton does have is some serious stability and in a way that is what I see you yearning for. And the kids are more likely to be middle class. Sorry, but this helps with the discipline and autonomy teachers feel to go beyond the mind dumbing, numbing testing push.

    I think your blog and Terry Olsen’s are great for PPS. Certainly raised some serious questions about what they are doing which seem to get little serious attention anyplace else. But I can understand your 1st passion must be your children.

  24. Comment from Terry:

    Actually the state provides about 70% of school funding. The rest comes from local property taxes which Measure 5 limits to $5 per thousand for schools. Of course, the 70 -30 split was the other way around pre-Measure 5, so your larger point about the state’s role in education funding stands.

    Here’s my problem with Beaverton. Although it does treat its neighborhood schools more fairly, it really doesn’t have neighborhoods, at least not like Portland. And it has fewer neighborhood schools per capita, which creates an overcrowding problem.

    The solution is to bring some of Beaverton’s policies to Portland. We should have hired their superintendent Jerry Collonna.

    I agree that with this board, the future looks bleak . But I still harbor some hope that things can yet change for the better. Rest assured, Steve, I got your back on that.

  25. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    I think it’s also important to define what we mean by “better schools.” In what way are Beaverton’s schools better? The curriculum? The pedagogy? Even distribution of funding coupled with no transfer policy does not — necessarily — a better school make. Mind-numbing, test-centric curricula can and do occur anywhere. Any school that looks at kids as empty receptacles into which knowledge is poured is not a good school. How many of Beaverton’s schools fall into these categories? Some? None? All?

    Taking Steve’s analogy of the water circling the drain in the bathtub, I think we need to commit to putting our own plugs in our conversations about school improvement in PPS. Leaving PPS is not an option. This is the equivalent of putting a plug in the leaking tub. Of course, PPS administrators want all malcontents and shit-disturbers to leave PPS. Let’s not give them what they want.

  26. Comment from megs:

    Really. Stay and fight. As for Beaverton schools, I am sure they have the bad along with the good. I know that some of them were Reading First Schools, for example. And that cannot be a good thing.

  27. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve and Wacky, if you take a step back and get a longer view of all this, the PPS Board’s inertia is not at all surprising. After all, 6 of those people voted to expand magnet/charter enrollment by at least 2000 over the next 5 years at the elementary level alone. (I never crunched numbers for the upper grades.) Having set that ball rolling, what motivation do they have to change the transfer policy one iota?

  28. Comment from megs:

    And what is the motivation to create more numbers in the charter schools….Are these people supposed to be WORKING for US? Really…if any board members out there happen upon this blog, please…an explanation would be nice.

  29. Comment from Rene:

    Steve, as you know my kids attend Ockley. I am not sure what you mean by saying it is not a “stand-alone traditional” school. In my experience it has simply added extra arts and science on top of a traditional model. I have not seen at all that the arts and science in way detracts from the standard fare. And as you know, I have been very happy with the education there. My kids are thriving.

    About the sex store: I have lived near Ockley long before the gay male porn-sex store moved in, and I haven’t seen any problems with it. As you probably know, virtually all porn stores now offer booths and glory holes, even the ones touting themselves as nice, like Fantasies for Adults. It is common for closeted gay men to use these booths to hook up. Many provide free condoms and encourage safe sex.

    Obviously people will disagree whether this is bad, good, or not my business. My personal opinion is I would rather closeted men hook up in a safe place that encourages safe sex, as opposed to the past, where such things happened in notorious parks, like Laurelhust, and men were often assaulted by gay bashers. In terms of public health such places are an improvement, because county health workers also use such facilities to offer education on HIV, hep, and free testing.

    What is interesting to me is none of my kids have even noticed the store. The customers are extremely discreet and the owners appear to be keeping a low profile. Statistically gay men are not more likely to be pedophiles, and most molestation occurs by trusted family members and friends, not strangers. I think the fear of this store has far exceeded the actual dangers.

    We do agree that the transfer policy has been a huge mistake.

  30. Comment from Steve:

    You’re right, Rene, and I apologize if what I wrote sounded like a slam of Ockley Green. It really sounds like a bright spot in an otherwise bleak cluster for middle school options.

  31. Comment from Rene:

    Thanks Steve, I do feel we are lucky, especially considering how my kids have different needs.

    For what it is worth, my sister lives in Beaverton and says it is more North Portland now than North Portland is. Her area is very diverse with a strong Latino community, and more blacks moving in (she is African American).

  32. Comment from Steve Beattie:

    Another thing to note about Beaverton’s school district is that their schools are larger (at least at the elementary level) to PPS schools. Their target student population for each elementary site is 625 students; contrast this with the southeast PDX cluster of elementary schools where Vicki Philips wanted to close one of them, IIRC the average population is around 300 or so, she wanted to get the remaining schools up over 400 each. Is an elementary school with 625 students really a neighborhood school?

    And while I understand your focus here is on the problems within PPS, there’s a larger dilemma that perhaps ought to be considered. For I believe that as North Portland and other inner areas gentrify, eventually (the remaining non-charter) schools in those neighborhoods will improve, but that the problem is being pushed onto the other districts within the city, the ones east of I205 (David Douglas, Parkrose, and Reynolds). For example (again, IIRC, I’d be happy to be shown otherwise), David Douglas district-wide has seen the percentage of students that qualify for free or reduced lunches rise from ~10% to ~75% of its students over the last decade. While they still remain a quality district, long term I don’t think it’s sustainable to push the lowest classes into one area and expect things to turn out well.

    (For the record, we have a couple of toddlers and are currently debating whether to take advantage of PPS’ transfer program. We moved last year from NE Portland and were looking both in Portland and Beaverton; we wanted to stay in Portland but were resigned to probably only being able to afford Beaverton, when we found our current house in SE. But we’re certainly open to reconsidering our decision if we feel our family’s needs are not being met within PPS, much as I personally shudder at the thought of living out there. This would be true whether the transfer policy existed or not.)

  33. Comment from Steve:

    Steve Beattie, the size of Beaverton schools has definitely caught my attention. But my definition of neighborhood schools is this: Schools have a catchment area. Students that live in a given school’s catchment area go to that school. I’d prefer a smaller school, but that’s not as important as having a school population reflecting its surrounding neighborhood, and having equal educational opportunities in every neighborhood school.

    Many of the schools Vicki Phillips targeted for closure were hit hard by out-transfers. They would have been much larger if they had 100% capture rates.

    You’re right about the outlying Portland districts. But what immediately concerns me about PPS is the ghettoization of certain neighborhood schools while simultaneously providing excess public investment elsewhere at the poorer neighborhoods’ expense.

    To NoPo Parent, I say this: Your anti-suburban bias is clear, but what most Portland “urbanists” fail to acknowledge is that the Portland metro area is really one big suburb. There is no “urban core” (unless you count those condo bunkers in the Pearl); there is no “inner city.”

    Snarkiness about Beaverton is really just thinly veiled elitism. Beaverton schools are 60% white. Portland schools are 55% white. Yet Beaverton schools are far more integrated than Portland schools.

    There is nothing “hermetically-sealed” about moving to a school district where my children will go to school with their neighbors, and the schools reflect the neighborhood demographics. That’s what I’m after, not just “better schools.” Beaverton schools clearly have better policy and more sensible political leadership.

    Transferring within PPS is what hermetically seals students into bubbles safely segregated race and class, as reported by Beth Slovic yesterday in Willamette Week’s blog.

    I know the fact that the Beaverton School District does things in a more enlightened, equitable manner chafes against peoples’ anti-suburban bias. But try to look beyond your preconceived notions.

    It absolutely sickens me that as Portland’s neighborhoods become increasingly diverse, our schools become increasingly segregated. Changing this requires nothing short of a revolution in political leadership and patronage, as well as in the way we think about schools in the community.

    Let’s not forget that the school board is elected by the community at large, and they reflect that community’s values. Portlanders, residents of one of the whitest cities in the nation, love to talk about diversity. But given the chance, they self-segregate.

    I suspect they’ll continue to vote for school board candidates who will preserve that option. The recent spate of communal hostility surrounding the proposed renaming of Interstate Avenue is a valuable object lesson in the strong separatist undercurrents in Portland.

  34. Comment from Zarwen:

    Whoa, Steve! I was with you until your last sentence. While I don’t doubt that there are “separatist undercurrents in Portland,” I observe that a lot of the anger related to this issue has more to do with the fact that the mayor and city council have stated publicly that they have already made up their minds, so these hearings are really just for show. Sounds a lot like what the school board does with their “facilitated conversations” and so on. Get a bunch of volunteers together, have a lot of meetings, waste everyone’s time, and then go ahead and do what you had already decided in the first place. NOT an object lesson for democracy!

  35. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    I just analyzed the enrollment data for the 2006 school year for Beaverton elementary schools. Not a single school has more than 9% black kids, and there are only 2 schools where this is the case (Chehalem and Fir Grove). 2 schools have 8% (McKinley and Beaver Acres). The rest of the schools fall between 2 and 5%.

    McKinley and Elmonica appear to be the only really integrated schools. McKinely has 43% white, 8% black, 21% Hispanic, and 14% Asian/Pacific Islander. Elmonica has 44% white, 5% black, 18% Hispanic, and 24% Asian/Pacific Islander.

    The rest of the schools show high percentages of whites and Asian/Pacific Islanders together and whites and Hispanics together. But there is really not much in the way of integration.

  36. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Steve – your own analysis shows precisely this phenomenon, i.e., there is an urban core (the Jefferson cluster) that’s getting the shaft. And your own deliberation of whether to flee to Beaverton or stay in PPS is clear evidence that people – you included – are motivated to flee this core.

    As for suburban bias, you’re absolutely right. I lived in the suburbs for too long. The isolation, the right-wingers, the segregation, the strip malls, the wretched use of space, the lack of public transportation, the absence of side-walks. Yup. I hate the suburbs. If being anti-rabid-growth, pro environment, pro urban density, and pro public transportation makes me an elitist, so be it.

    As for Beaverton being more integrated than Portland, can you tell us where you’re getting this info from? I looked at the Beaverton school district site for the enrollment data.

    Here’s what I saw, based on these data:

    As of 10/1/06, there were 5,530 white kids, 393 black kids, 1,412 Hispanic kids, 1,309 Asian/Pacific Islanders, 137 American Indian/Alaskan Natives, 530 multi-ethnic, and 42 unknown in all of Beaverton’s middle schools. So that means of the total of 9353 kids, about 60% are white (as you pointed out). But only 4% are black. And only about a third of middle school kids are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

    Contrast this with PPS, which has 7,063 middle school students. 59% are white and nearly 13% are black. And 43% of middle school students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

    Translation: PPS has a much higher number of low-income minorities, particularly low-income blacks.

    As for the question of individual Beaverton schools being more integrated, looking at the middle schools, 38% of the student population is comprised of minorities compared to PPS middle schools, which are comprised of roughly 40% minority. I’d call that pretty even. But the important difference, again, is that PPS has more poor kids and more black kids.

  37. Comment from Steve:

    I need to double check this, but last I checked, no school in Beaverton is more than 80% white. Quite a few in Portland are.

    The “urban core” you speak of surrounding Jefferson is far from what any serious demographer would consider as such. Yes, Jefferson is majority black, but its attendance area is not.

    This is precisely my point: PPS policy has created a separate and unequal school system. By contrast, Beaverton schools reflect the demographics of their neighborhoods.

    I’m not sure why you’re fixated on the black population. There are more Latinos and Asians in Beaverton than in Portland. Is there a problem with that? Or is diversity just code for black?

    I’ll restate my point, just to be clear: Beaverton schools are more integrated than Portland schools by policy. The segregation of PPS by race and economics by policy is what I’m talking about.

  38. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    I checked and you’re right, Steve. No Beaverton school is more than 80% white. 17 schools in PPS are more than 80% white. There are others that are close to 80%.

    There are, however, 10 schools in Beaverton with 70 to 77% white student population.

    So are we splitting hairs here?

    We need to problematize what we mean by “integrated.” There’s racial diversity and integration, and then there’s economic diversity and integration. 45% of PPS students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. But only 32% of Beaverton students are eligible.

    So Beaverton schools are neither ethnically diverse nor economically diverse.

    I’m not fixated on the black population. I’m trying to underscore the issue of systemic, prolonged, historically-based racism and poverty that exists in the black community. Since PPS has a larger population of low-income blacks, it has a longer row to hoe. Beaverton simply does not have this problem. I’d argue that not having to deal with this problem makes life in the Beaverton schools a hell of a lot easier.

    Yes, 1 out of 3 students in Beaverton is eligible for free/reduced price lunch. But there are no data for which ethnic group constitutes the bulk of those eligible. I think it’s probably safe to say that Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders account for the bulk of those eligible, and that the majority of these folks are immigrants. There’s a large body of research that shows that the experience of low-income Hispanic and Asian/Pacifc Islander immigrants is qualitatively different from that of low-income, native-born blacks and that recent immigrants are more likely to be able to escape poverty than native-born blacks.

    So, to restate my point to be clear: Beaverton schools are not more integrated. There is no policy in place in Beaverton to make schools integrated. And even if there were, it’s clearly not working.

    I completely agree that PPS policy has created a separate and unequal school system. But let’s not celebrate Beaverton for being better at this. They’re not.

  39. Comment from Steve:

    Peter, one more time, then I’m done going around with you on this.

    Portland Public Schools has a policy — open transfer enrollment — that segregates schools by class and race.

    Beaverton School District does not have this policy. Students attend their neighborhood schools.

    In Portland, schools are more segregated than their neighborhoods.

    In Beaverton, schools reflect the demographics of their neighborhoods.

    These facts are a direct result of policy. Beaverton does this better. Period.

  40. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    OK, Steve. Understood. But please allow me one last set of observations and then I’ll shut up. Promise.

    Every one of the arguments you make in your last post are dead on. No arguments from me.

    But in the summary of your points, you don’t repeat one of the main points of your original post: Beaverton schools are more integrated. I think we both now know, after looking at the data, that Beaverton schools are not more integrated.

    The schools do, however, reflect the demographic make-up of the surrounding areas, which you sometimes call “neighborhoods” and at other times call “catchment areas.” As I noted, as did someone else, the Beaverton area doesn’t exactly have “neighborhoods,” so “catchment area” is probably a better term.

    But the fact that the Beaverton schools reflect the demographic make-up of the surrounding catchment areas is not — IMHO — something to necessarily celebrate. PPS’s Ainsworth elementary in the West Hills also reflects the demographic make-up of the surrounding neighrborhood, but no one is touting Ainsworth’s de facto segregation as an accomplishment.

    After looking at this in some detail, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no enlightened policy in Beaverton, just the absence of a transfer policy.

    Finally, we have to take a long hard stare at why the transfer policy exists at all in PPS and why it does not exist in Beaverton. I’d argue that there are transfers in PPS and not in Beaverton because PPS has a larger percentage — much, much larger — of black students and low-income students. And, as we all know by looking at every other urban school district in the country, large concentrations of low-income blacks present challenges that schools cannot handle alone. So the schools often suffer. And who wants to send their kids to a suffering school? I don’t. And, judging from your comments about Jefferson, neither do you.

  41. Comment from Hyacinth:

    Oh, so finally the truth comes out. You, NoPo Peter, are racist. The PPS transfer system exists exactly for people like you who would never even consider sending their children to a school “with a large concentration of low-income blacks.” Part of the problem nationwide with those schools with “large concentrations of low-income blacks, is the challenge of racism that those schools and students and families must overcome. The PPS transfer system is part of the problem and so are you.

  42. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Oh, dear. I suppose it was bound to happen. We start playing the race card. Darn.

    Just for the record: I’m a white male. And one of my kids is enrolled in PPS in a Jefferson cluster school where half the kids are white and the other half of the kids are minorities. The school is a Title 1 school, which means that more than 40% of the kids qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

    I’d love to send my kids to the neighborhood schools, as I’m a big supporter of public education. But I don’t like the instructional approach at these schools, as they are being forced to implement the new adopted curricula, e.g., Scott Foresman’s Reading Street at the elementary level.

    But if these schools were able to teach kids in a way that fed their curiosity and nurtured their development, I’d send my children there if all the students were bright green or a pale shade of magenta. I don’t give a shit about race. I care about high-quality education.

    But all too often, as last year’s Center on Education Policy report makes clear, schools with high concentrations of low-income ethnic minorities are turned into test-prep factories that concentrate almost exclusively on basic reading and math skills at the expense of other subjects like art, foreign languages, music, and PE in order to boost test scores.

  43. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Hyacinth, one of the problems which I see in addressing race in the public schools, or society in general, is the leveling of racist charges at people who try to discuss the topic.

    Not too long ago on this or Terry Olsen’s blog, can’t remember which, I had someone label me as a racist. Guess you could argue that, and sometimes I wonder about that myself, but really you won’t find another white person in Portland who has better credentials than I have in dealing with race and PPS. They just don’t exist. So how does that help the conversation, which is such an important one, if we continue to take nuances of arguments, often stated in pretty concise language, and blow them up to the level of suggesting someone is something which they find abhorrent?

  44. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Steve B. – I appreciate your acknowledgment of the difficulty and complexity that surrounds discussions of race.

    As I said, large concentrations of low-income blacks present challenges that schools cannot handle alone. The schools can’t handle them because they’re being asked to do too much with jack squat for funding.

    As Noel Epstein wrote in the Washington Post on 11/27/05:

    “(Public schools) not only provide before-school programs, breakfasts, lunches, after-school care, afternoon snacks and sometimes dinners (as well as summertime meals). They also instruct children about sex and, in many places, teach them to drive. They face growing pressure to take tots as early as age 3 in pre-kindergarten programs. They share responsibility for keeping children off drugs, making sure they don’t carry weapons, instilling ethical behavior, curbing AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, battling alcohol abuse, preventing student suicides, discouraging cigarette smoking, tackling child obesity, heading off gang fights, providing a refuge for homeless children, ensuring that students are vaccinated, boarding some pupils, tending to toddlers of teenage mothers and otherwise acting in loco parentis in ways not anticipated a generation ago.”

    There’s little doubt that what is happening in a large number of schools, especially inner-city schools, is horrible. But we have to ask this simple question: what should schools be responsible for doing? Or, to use the current parlance, what are schools accountable for? If you say that schools are accountable for acting as surrogate parents, taking kids off the street for 9 months out of the year, giving them lots of busywork, and pumping them full of facts in order to prepare for state standardized tests, I’d argue that schools are doing pretty well. But if you say that schools are accountable for preparing the future citizens of America, for creating doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and scientists, for inculcating a sense of civic duty and a desire to be ethical and honest, and to compensate for the economic disparities that exist between the wealthiest and poorest Americans, I’d say the vast majority of schools — even the “good” ones — are not doing their jobs at all.

    So what would it take for schools to be able to perform their duties, to fulfill the aspirations of our country and our planet and ensure that all will be well when our children are handed the reins and take over?

    Listen to Noel Epstein again: “It’s time to put an end to all the headlines about achievement problems in our schools — a far easier chore than most people imagine. All we need to do is two things: First, stop calling those establishments simply schools, when they’re really hybrid institutions that are raising many of our children, not just educating them. Then ensure that those who deliver family-like services there are devoted exclusively to those tasks, so that the educators can focus fully on academics.”

    Even with the things that we can show are working, dumping boatloads of cash into schools is not going to significantly affect what happens in them because we are doing nothing to change what is happening outside them.

    So how can schools be accountable? Let them be accountable for what they’re supposed to be accountable for.

  45. Comment from marcia:

    Excellent article, NoPo parent. It sort of says it all…And no achievement gap is going to be bridged until people focus on the societal problems that cause it.

  46. Comment from Steve:

    I don’t think NoPo is racist (though his chosen moniker certainly rubs me the wrong way, as does his dogmatic allegiance to “new urbanist” thinking and blind rejection of the fact that a suburban school district somewhere might handle socio-economic integration better than PPS — which isn’t exactly high praise for said suburban district.)

    My overriding point, since I started writing about this stuff several months ago, is that PPS policy aggravates problems of race and economics with its transfer policy. Schools that have high concentrations of poverty can’t solve the problems of poverty — right. But school districts don’t have to concentrate poverty and segregate by race, as PPS clearly does.

    Isn’t it odd that other urban districts have policies that attempt to desegregate, despite recent setbacks by the Supreme Court, yet Portland maintains an effectively segregationist policy?

    At any rate, Portland clearly has more in common with large suburban school districts like Beaverton than it does with urban districts like Chicago or Oakland or Philadelphia.

    It’s fun for people to pretend they live in the inner city here in bucolic Portland, but the reality is our schools look far more “urban” than the suburban-like neighborhoods they sit in. That’s the rub.

    I’m closing comments on this post, since we’re pretty far off topic, and I’m afraid somebody’s going to be accused of being a Nazi soon. I don’t think Godwin’s Law has ever been invoked on this blog, and I’d like to see that it doesn’t.