PPS: Stay and Fight or Cut and Run?

by Steve, October 9th, 2007

schoolsMy talk about seriously checking out Beaverton real estate and schools continues to draw disbelief from everybody I talk to. “NoPo Parent” urges me to stay and fight for the greater good, like MLK or Gandhi did.

But how do I explain this to my children? Sorry kids, your education isn’t as important as fighting for everybody else’s. I’d really like to help you with your homework, but I’ve got to crunch these numbers to show the school board how devastating their policies are to your neighborhood.

Seriously, when my daughter enters 9th grade in six years, how much better are the course offerings at Jefferson going to be? The current policy trend is balkanization, splitting schools in poor neighborhoods into narrow academic silos. A simultaneous trend is shutting down in-transfers at comprehensive high schools in wealthier neighborhoods. I don’t want my kids to have to commute across town anyway, but that’s their only option for a comprehensive high school, and it’s being taken away.

That’s “school choice” for you, folks. If you choose to live in a wealthy neighborhood, you get good schools. If you choose to be poor, or choose to live in an economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood, you get to fight over the crumbs.

If we stop and change direction right now, we might have some comprehensive, traditional high schools in North Portland in six years.

But the school board is not changing direction. To the contrary, they don’t even seem to recognize the train wreck they’ve set in motion. If and when they finally notice, it’s going to be too late for my children. Witness the giddiness of the board at their meeting last night upon approving the expansion of a special focus program into a building formerly occupied by a neighborhood school that was forced to merge with another school to avoid closure. Board members’ words of caution about how this might affect neighborhood schools ring hollow, considering their support of policy that is diametrically opposed to support of neighborhood schools.

Given this blatantly anti-neighborhood schools atmosphere, why shouldn’t I look at Beaverton, where neighborhood schools are the norm?

Pick a high school — any high school — in the Beaverton School District, and compare and contrast to our options in North Portland. Let’s just take Aloha High, for example. Aloha is 42% free and reduced-price lunch, 11% ESL and 66% white. Hardly what you’d call a “rich” school.

But they’ve got several bands, choir, theatre arts, visual arts, film making, wood shop, and drafting. They’ve got lots of advanced placement classes. They offer French, Spanish, Japanese, physics, calculus, a newspaper and yearbook and a full suite of athletics and extracurricular activities.

Most readers of this blog know about the travesty that Portland Public Schools has foisted upon Roosevelt and Jefferson in North Portland. At Roosevelt, they’ve created three academies that are self-segregated by race — one black, one white, and one Hispanic. At Jefferson, district policies have created a segregated “black” school. As if that weren’t bad enough, they’ve made it even worse, with gender-segregated academies, two campuses miles apart, and extremely stripped-down academic offerings across the board.

Nobody — I mean nobody — on the school board is willing to honestly address the source of the problem, our free-market open transfer policy. This is the sacred cow of Portland Public Schools. We’re going to need a wholesale turnover on the board — all seven members — before this gets addressed, and that’s not going to happen in time for my kids. It’s also not going to happen as long as the corporate-dominated Portland Schools Foundation has so much influence in PPS policy and school board politics.

So it’s looking like “cut and run” is the best option for my family. It doesn’t mean I can’t still write about the problem, but the urgency will be considerably less for my family. Sorry folks, as much as I’m flattered by the invocation of MLK and Gandhi, this is not British-occupied India or the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s (even if it is a civil rights issue).

I am not in this for the fight; I’m in this for my kids. Though I am civic-minded, I don’t appreciate having to fight tooth and nail for basic educational opportunities in my neighborhood. I would much rather take my son to a hockey game or my daughter to the symphony than stay up late crunching numbers to convince the school board of the obvious: their policy is destroying the last vestiges of Portland’s crown jewels.