Hey PPS School Board: Why Do We Have Open Transfers?

by Steve, October 16th, 2007

schoolsNow that the transfer and enrollment office has produced data revealing the racial and economic segregation brought on by Portland Public Schools’ open transfer enrollment policy, bolstering my earlier research (383KB PDF) showing a massive shift of public investment away from poorer neighborhoods, I have one little question for the school board. (I know some of you read this blog, so don’t be shy about responding here.)

It’s a three parter:

  1. What problem is open transfer enrollment designed to solve?
  2. How exactly (please cite data) do neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers solve this problem?
  3. How is this unnamed problem more important than the increasing racial and socio-economic segregation and multi-million dollar annual neighborhood funding inequity caused by open transfer enrollment?

It is becoming increasingly clear, through correspondence and conversations I’ve had with board members, unpublished remarks by superintendent Carole Smith to the press, and comments by Ruth Adkins on Terry Olson’s blog, that we aren’t going to see any changes to the transfer policy for at least another year.

When the Flynn-Blackmer audit (230KB PDF) was released in June 2006, it requested that the school board explain the purpose of the open transfer policy. Vicki Phillips waved her hands around about the importance of “School Choice,” and the board punted, claiming it was too late to do anything for 2007-08. Now, over a year later, I’m hearing the same kind of murmurs: It’s too late to do anything about it for 2008-09.

And still nobody on the board can articulate, in simple, clear terms, what the purpose of the transfer policy is and why it is of such paramount importance.

Obviously there is more here than meets the eye. The board seems to be protecting some hidden constituency that is more important than public divestment and reduced educational opportunities in the red zone and overcrowding in the green zone. Either that, or it’s just entropy, and nobody on the board has the political courage to admit mistakes and propose a course correction.

The devastation caused by open transfer enrollment is clear. If the school board has to invent a purpose for this policy after the fact, isn’t it time to start dismantling it?

44 Responses to “Hey PPS School Board: Why Do We Have Open Transfers?”

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I just answered this on Terry Olsen’s blog.

  2. Comment from Terry:

    I just redirected traffic over here from the Marketing Rieke post.

    I think it’s all about protecting choice. The market rules, apparently.

  3. Comment from Steve:

    I think it’s all about protecting choice.

    That’s the abstract answer. But whose choice? And what kind of choice?

    My children are faced with a choice between their extremely limited neighborhood high school or playing the lottery to get into one of the five comprehensive schools across town. Oh wait, it looks like Lincoln and Grant, the two closest comprehensive schools to our house, are shutting down transfers. How long before the other three shut down transfers, too, leaving us to choose between a preponderance of academies within schools in our “choice” of struggling neighborhoods?

    Honestly, what kind of “choice” is this we’re protecting? And how is protecting this kind of choice justification for keeping such inequitable policy in place?

    Look at Beaverton (again): They’ve got comprehensive high schools in every neighborhood. The “worst” of them has a full AP program, music, art, newspaper, yearbook, etc. etc. If you don’t like a traditional high school with all the trimmings, you can choose one of Beaverton’s special focus programs.

    I have no problem with “choice,” but the way PPS continues to place higher value on neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers than equity and integration is shameful and wrong.

  4. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    As much as I support Steve’s idea to ban transfers from one school to another, I’m not sure how effective it would be at addressing the factors outside the control of the schools.

    So if transfers were eliminated, what would schools in the Jefferson cluster, for example, do to improve the socioeconomic conditions of its low-income residents? They can’t do anything, because it’s not the schools’ job to address factors outside their control.

    I know I keep pressing this issue, and please forgive me if it pushes people’s buttons, but I think the transfer option — both keeping it and getting rid of it — does not address the real problem. The transfer option is symptomatic of this larger problem, i.e., the inequities that exist between low-income minorities and middle and upper-class whites.

    I really think that a lot of white middle-class parents would leave the system if the transfer option did not exist. I know that Steve/Hockey god believes that this is not true, and I respect his take on this. But his own deliberation of whether to stay or leave PPS is based on the fact that his only option in the future is Jefferson. So he is faced with a choice: to stay in PPS and send his kids to Jefferson or move to Beaverton (or elsewhere).

    I really don’t mean to single Steve out, but his case is illustrative of lots of people — me included.

    So what to do? I think a ban on the transfer policy has to be accompanied by a high-level strategy that seeks to address the root conditions of inequity. This has to be a strategy that involves local, state, and federal officials, both long-term administrators and elected politicians. This is something that the PPS board can lead and that lots of people can get behind.

    While Steve is right in calling for an end to this policy, we can’t stop there.

  5. Comment from School Marm:

    NoPo Parent- A lot of us left PPS when they closed our high performing NEIGHBORHOOD schools! I call bullshit that there would be a mass exit by the middle class if they limited the transfer policy. What I hear over and over again from my fellow middle class parents is they want a comprehensive neighborhood school that actually has art, music, PE and a school counselor. We should not have to drive to another neighborhood for that.

  6. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    It’s not going to cause a mass exodus of parents leaving the district if the district clamps down on the transfer policy. They would have to work it out with transfers for the magnet schools and the immersion programs, but once they’re full, they’re full.

    My question: How did Lincoln and Grant *get* so stuffed? How much over maximum capacity are they at the moment? Once they hit that number, why didn’t PPS stop right away, instead of letting it get worse for a few years?

    Just from what I’ve heard anecdotally (and I’ve talked with lots of parents about the transfer policy over the past few years), people would deal. They’re already readying themselves for it, saying things like, “I heard the district isn’t going to let us transfer around so much,” or “I don’t know if my youngest will be able to get into (name of school here) or not.” People are being grown-ups about it — it’s the board that’s dithering around.

    Also, re: parents moving, en masse. It’s raining here most of the time, and who likes to move in the rain? All the packing cartons get soaked. (I love how we Oregonians use the rain as an excuse to slack. “We couldn’t run errands, go to the zoo, stop by our friends’ house — it was raining too hard.”) Heh heh.

    May I add, no way in hell can my kids attend Grant or Lincoln — I’m a Madison alum!

  7. Comment from Steve:

    Hey NoPo, nobody said it should start or end with stopping neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers. My plan starts with equalizing educational programming across the district. After that, we re-evaluate attendance area boundaries, and only then do we start curtailing neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers, beginning with new enrollment. Existing transfers are grandfathered.

    No, this won’t address the underlying poverty. That’s beyond what schools can do, and is a greater economic problem that society must address someday.

    But ending the effectively segregationist transfer system will at least reduce concentrations of poverty and racial isolation. That’s good for everybody in the system, including residents of the green zone, whose schools are bursting at the seams from in-transfers.

  8. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Hey, Steve. Totally agree in principle. But how do you account for the following nitty-gritty details?

    1) What does it mean to “equalize educational programming across the district”? Can you be more specific? My concern is that we would have a baseline of options that looks a lot like a standardized, cookie-cutter approach. So how do you make everything equal without falling prey to the problems associated with standardizing everything? I’m thinking of the problems associated with the current PPS adoption of the standardized curriculum across the district.

    2) How do we ensure high-quality teaching across the district, not just equal access to the same programs? I raise this point because there’s significant evidence that low-income students are getting short shrift on high-quality education, as more low-income schools threatened by NCLB become more test-centric in their approaches to learning.

    I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I pose them not to challenge or to be a jerk, but to wonder aloud with you and others who read this blog. We’ll need to have thought about these questions — along with others I haven’t thought of — to make the case to end the transfer policy stronger.

  9. Comment from Steve:

    We’re going back over stuff that is covered in my report to the board (383KB PDF). Here’s a quote from that document:

    All educational programs must be equalized across the district. “Special” programs like music, art, P.E. and counseling are currently at the discretion of site administrators, which creates disparity between schools both in terms of class size and enhanced academic offerings. We must curtail this localized discretion, and mandate a basic level of “specials” at every school.

    We should begin with a goal of art, music, P.E., and counseling for all Pre K-8 schools. If the budget is not available for all of these programs at all schools, we must make the difficult decision which programs to cut, and cut them across the board. Every school must offer the same programs, and similar class sizes.

    All high schools should be similarly equalized, with a full slate of electives, advanced placement courses, and extracurricular activities offered at all schools.

    I’m not talking about mandating teaching style or curriculum, and I’m not getting into micromanagement. I’m just talking about eliminating the disparity between elementary school “A” offering music, PE, a librarian and a counselor, and school “B”, in the next attendance area over, having none of this.

    Likewise, I want to eliminate the notion that poor neighborhood high schools are split into narrow academic silos with stripped-down offerings, while wealthier, whiter neighborhoods get comprehensive schools.

    That’s the starting point of my proposal. It’s certainly not a radical concept.

  10. Comment from Zarwen:

    It’s also worth pointing out that the mass exodus from poor high schools ACCELERATED when the “academic silos” were put in place. How much more even would HS enrollment be across the district today if that had never happened?

  11. Comment from Zarwen:

    Just to clarify, my use of the term “poor” in my previous comment refers to the income level of the neighborhood, not the quality of the school itself. Although I haven’t yet seen any evidence that these academic silos have improved the quality of anything—several of them got “unacceptable” grades on the new state report card.

  12. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Steve – my bad: forgot that you had covered the issue of educational programming across the district in your report. Your suggestions make sense to me.

    OK – here’s an obvious question: so why doesn’t the school board take up this issue and act on it? I’m relatively new to PPS, so I suppose I get to ask the dumb, obvious questions. Is it a funding issue, i.e., it would cost too much to equalize programs across the district? Someone throw me a bone here.

  13. Comment from Nancy:

    If I recall correctly, transfers were initially put into place because the district decided to give each high school a unique academic focus area. And let’s be honest – because of the big-time athletic recruiting.

    Because of the horrendous consequences of this policy, however, It’s time to get rid of neighborhood-neighborhood transfers for the sake of all Portland’s children and families.

    All the board has to do is look at Beaverton’s excellent system; they don’t have to reinvent the wheel or go around the country to find a workable and successful solution to the inequities that plague PPS. I see this successful system in action every day!

  14. Comment from Steve:

    …why doesn’t the school board take up this issue and act on it?

    That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Steve Buel would tell you it’s because the board doesn’t give a rip about the lower income neighborhoods, and I think there’s something to that.

    I think a deeper answer is that Vicki Phillips started the district down an ideological path — a very trendy, market-oriented path — and nobody on the board has the political courage or imagination to admit that it was a mistake and propose a course correction.

  15. Comment from Shelby:

    Like NoPo Parent I’m pretty new here, and don’t know whether some approaches have been hashed over ad nauseum already. I trust, though, that Steve and others who are deeply into these issues know Portland’s problems are not unique. Many urban school districts around the country have trouble providing quality programs, even as their suburbs succeed.

    To what extent are the underlying causes parallel from one city to another? Have other cities implemented comparable transfer systems? Is that approach working really well anywhere? I know in San Francisco it’s a source of strife, though I don’t know the details of how it works so it may not match up well with Portland’s.

    In short, while I’m all in favor of home-grown solutions to problems that may be to some extent unique, is there anywhere else we can look for inspiration — or as a cautionary tale?

  16. Comment from Steve:

    PPS has much more in common with the Beaverton School District than it does with large urban districts.

    But we can certainly draw on research showing that school choice invariably leads to increased segregation, like this study from the College of William and Mary.

    “School Choice” is a very trendy approach to urban schools, but there is a preponderance of clear evidence that it causes more problems than it solves.

    Just what problems it is supposed to solve is a mystery. That’s the crux of this blog post.

    Ultimately, the only justification for it is ideological — i.e. the the pure virtue of choice is enough justification — since there are no empirical studies showing it does any good for student populations at large. Sure, it helps middle class students escape schools labeled “failing,” but this has the effect of concentrating poverty and creating even greater problems for everybody, as we see in Portland.

    Seems to me a better approach to “failing” schools is investment, not divestment, but I’m just not hip to the latest trends in school politics.

  17. Comment from Shelby:

    Steve:

    As I understand “School Choice” theory, the idea is that families should have a choice other than to attend simply the nearby school to which the district assigns them. Providing a choice of other schools in the district enables families to choose the one that’s best for them, whether because of location, superior academics, superior extracurriculars, social reasons, or whatever. Being exposed to this risk (of losing students to other schools) forces each school to compete, and therefore to better allocate its resources to serve its students — and potentially to attract others.

    Personally, I’m in favor of those outcomes. The question is, does “School Choice” as it is implemented in Portland, or in any other particular district, actually achieve those outcomes? (Or at least move in their direction.) Your argument seems to be that Portland has put school choice in place, in roughly the form I outlined, and that it does not provide those outcomes. Many schools are losing students, especially those with more affluent and involved parents, while a few that already had such parents benefit. Schools that lose students also lose state (and federal?) money, therefore have to cut programs, and therefore become still less desirable. Please correct me if this summary of your position is mistaken.

    I presume that Portland implemented “school choice” because at least some people were unhappy with what their existing schools provided. I wasn’t here then, so I don’t know why they were unhappy. This may in fact be irrelevant, if we can’t revert to the pre-”school choice” paradigm, but can you compare for me the problems now with the problems then?

  18. Comment from Neisha:

    Here’s another study that illustrates Steve’s point:

    http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k0110how.htm

  19. Comment from Shelby:

    Incidentally, Steve, you did note in your last post that “Sure, it helps middle class students escape schools labeled ‘failing,’ ” — is that not a major reason why “school choice” was implemented? Politically, if nothing else, I don’t think it should be dismissed as unimportant.

  20. Comment from Steve:

    Shelby, that’s a fair summary.

    There’s school choice, and then there’s School Choice. I have no issue with there being special focus programs that families can choose if a traditional neighborhood school doesn’t suit them. Portland has lots and lots of these, and I’m not arguing to shut them down.

    What has really caused the inequity is neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers. Just look at our high schools. Every high school in a poor or working class neighborhood has lost significant numbers of students and has been or is being split into narrowly focused academies.

    Every high school in the wealthier neighborhoods, with the exception of Wilson, is at or above neighborhood population levels, and all of them are traditional, comprehensive, integrated schools.

    If you really want to play free market with our schools (a horrible idea in my opinion, but let’s just pretend), you’d need to give all schools the tools and funding to properly compete. PPS hasn’t done that, and frankly, I don’t want schools to spend precious tax dollars on marketing. I want that money in the classroom.

  21. Comment from Shelby:

    Steve,

    I agree with you that school money — whether from taxes or any other source — should be spent in the classroom, or otherwise to directly benefit the students. As noted in the Boulder study Neisha links above, “concerted efforts to disseminate accessible information” are critical to making school choice work, and really replace marketing. Accurate information about the available schools should be the basis for each family’s choice; in its absence, the “choice” is really a gamble. One advantage of the traditional system was that you didn’t need to get much information about all the other schools and could concentrate on the one relevant to you. Unfortunately, if that information showed that it was a poor school for your child, you couldn’t do much about it.

  22. Comment from Steve:

    Re. the before and after comparison, I’m not aware of any problem school choice was brought in to solve. Sure, there were problems, but nobody can point to any that have been addressed with school choice.

    Regarding the middle class issue, I wrote about that here.

  23. Comment from Shelby:

    Thanks, Steve. I think I’ve given at least one (general) answer to Question No. 1 in your post – the problem open transfer is meant to solve. See my 4:32 comment, paragraph 1. I don’t know whether that reason is why Portland implemented open transfer. You give a version of the same answer when you say “it helps middle-class students escape schools labeled ‘failing’”.

  24. Comment from Steve:

    Shelby, if that turns out to be the problem school choice is supposed to solve, it’s pretty easy to say that it’s not worth the heavy costs we’re paying, don’t you think?

    That problem is pretty theoretical at any rate, with no data to show it existed in the first place or that school choice has helped solve it (see part 2).

    To the extent that the problem may be real, wouldn’t it make more sense to fix the broken schools, rather than starving them of funding? Wouldn’t that be the least expensive, most equitable solution?

    Remember, “School Choice” can still exist in the form of the many special focus and charter schools available in PPS.

  25. Comment from Shelby:

    Your suggestion might well be more equitable, but I very much doubt it’s less expensive. It’s a lot cheaper to have a plethora of high-end programs at a few locations than to have them everywhere, especially if you make it possible (if difficult) for kids from other areas to attend those few schools.

    Fixing troubled schools (e.g. Jefferson) would, in addition, seem to require more than high-end programs, and even more than just a lot of money. The most expensive public schools in the country are a very different set than the best schools. I’m not a school-reform expert, but in addition to necessary resources you need to change a disfunctional culture to turn around real problem cases. That culture includes students, teachers, parents, and often the district — at least in terms of how the district treats those schools.

    From what I’ve read, the best turn-around successes occur where a dynamic principal is given serious resources and a free hand. Problem is, you need both (1) a terrific principal and (2) the trust to give them independence and resources. Of these elements, the resources are probably the least important.

  26. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Shelby, good job of answering one of the main reasons the district uses for school choice. They think it is less expensive to let kids flee poor schools than to fix them.

    To really improve schools in lower income neighborhoods it takes a shift of resources. If you have 100 kids in your school who basically can’t read v. 5 kids in an upper middle class school, and 200 kids who need serious counseling v. 10 kids, and 120 kids with serious behavior problems v. 12 kids, and 250 kids who are below grade level in math v. 15 kids it is a lot more costly to really improve your school. Lets see, send us 4 counselors, 5 reading specialists, 4 extra discipline v.p. people, and 6 math teachers then maybe things will begin to equal out. No one on the school board would send 19 more FTE into a poor school (+lots of other poor schools at 19 or so apiece) than they do to the upper middle class schools. See the problem, I know you do.

  27. Comment from Steve:

    When I speak of cost, I’m thinking in terms of internal budget shifts, as Steve B. says.

    And when we speak of “failing” schools, we’re talking about schools with higher concentrations of poor, minority and special ed kids.

    The current policy is punitive to the “failing” schools, effectively skimming the best students and further compounding problems for those left behind. This is no reflection on the teachers and administrators, of course. It costs our poorest neighborhoods tens of millions of dollars every year in lost public investment, and it doesn’t really do our wealthier neighborhoods any favors.

    Let’s take a Hippocratic approach; first do no harm.

    Let’s not pretend we’re going to solve the issues of poverty, but let’s not compound them by concentrating it.

    It is budget neutral to shift the students and their funding back to these poor schools. It’s a win-win for all schools, since it relieves overcrowding at the wealthier schools (leaving healthy, sustainable levels of enrollment), and brings the poorer schools’ enrollment (and thereby funding) up to a level that can sustain more comprehensive academic offerings. And it reduces concentrations of poverty and racial isolation.

    I’m under no illusion that this will solve all of our problems. But it is far less expensive than first starving out our poorest schools, and then either throwing up our hands and doing nothing, or pumping millions of dollars out of classrooms and into marketing.

  28. Comment from Shelby:

    Steve,

    I’m not sure you’re correct that “it is budget neutral to shift the students and their funding.” I suspect it is cheaper to add another AP math class at a school that already has one, than to start one in a school that doesn’t. If nothing else, you can probably use the same teacher for multiple classes at a single school; I expect the training required is somewhat specialized and not all teachers can teach that class. SImilarly, outside-the-classroom elements that support such programs are probably more efficient when concentrated than when dispersed.

    More important, though, is the cost, effort, and bureaucratic risk involved in turning around a troubled school. It’s not just a matter of moving budget items from a successful school to one that’s not. If nothing else, the students most interested in sophisticated programs have already followed them to the successful school. You need to persuade new students that the formerly-troubled school can now offer programs comparable to those available across town. And this is just one of the difficulties.

    I’m not saying I disagree with your aspirations — just that I think some of your assumptions about how to obtain them may need examination.

  29. Comment from Nicole:

    Most of the “poor schools” would be less poor without the current transfer policy. There would be a lower concentration of low income students in the struggling schools, so the shift of resources to solve poverty-related issues and support those schools wouldn’t usually be as dramatic as Steve B’s example suggests.

    Yes, PPS thinks it’s easier and less expensive to let students escape struggling schools than it is to fix those schools. That’s because the school board is primarily interested in how easy it is to educate “middle class” students and they are discounting the very, very, very high cost to the students who depend upon the struggling schools.

    Also, almost all PPS elementary schools are meeting standards. So those middle class families aren’t fleeing “failing schools,” they are often fleeing a school based on their preconceived notions about the race or income of the student population. School board policy shouldn’t support transfer decisions that are made based on racial or “class” prejudice, especially when those transfer decisions have a direct negative impact on our lower income schools and students. The transfer policy is of the main reasons that some struggling schools are struggling. The policy isn’t really solving any problems. It buffers some families and schools from some real and perceived problems and concentrates and compounds problems for other families and schools.

    I get really frustrated by how often school board members justify a policy by saying it benefits middle class families as if that it were the primary goal of the school district. PPS is a public school district whose mission is to educate every child regardless of socio-economic background. The school board is supposed to consider the larger picture. I think school board members should be embarrassed for using the “middle class” justification for a policy that clearly and directly harms a large number of lower income PPS families. Why do we as a community allow PPS to devalue the education of low income students?

    PPS has a moral and legal obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to every child regardless of race and income. The school board knows that in general Portland public schools aren’t providing an equitable education for lower income and minority students. But they don’t know enough (or really care) about the issue to provide adequate oversight of what is happening to those schools. The school board members care first and foremost about the education of “middle class” families, and they are content with a policy that segregates students by income and race, and allows private foundations, educational consultants, and the Bush administration to experiment with reforms on the lower income schools, even against the wishes of the families in those schools.

    I support Steve’s R. plan for investing in neighborhood schools, redrawing boundaries as necessary, and significantly limiting neighborhood to neighborhood transfers. But that won’t happen as long as we have a segregationist school board who values school choice for a few over school quality for many.

  30. Comment from Nicole:

    Shelby,
    In your cost-benefit analysis you need to include the costs to the community (i.e. costs to the students in the “troubled schools”, to the students who have to travel across town to a “better school”, to the neighborhoods whose schools are being devalued, and to the city which will have to deal with the social consequences of a racist and classist educational system) – not just the direct costs to the school district budget.

  31. Comment from Shelby:

    Nicole,

    I wasn’t attempting a complete accounting, rather noting some basic dollar costs that the District would likely consider in making these sorts of decisions. I’m not endorsing their perspective, just pointing out some of the things that are probably part of that perspective. There are lots of non-dollar costs, as well as non-District expenses, that we should also consider as a community — I agree.

  32. Comment from Steve:

    Let’s be clear that when we’re talking about “troubled” or “failing” schools, what we’re really talking about are schools that have higher concentrations of poverty.

    Re-integrating and repopulating these schools will go a long way toward ending the problems they suffer. I don’t think the schools need to be “fixed” in any fundamental way. Rather, the district policy that has created insular pockets of poverty needs to be fixed.

  33. Comment from Terry:

    All the back and forth between Shelby and Steve is starting to give a me a headache.

    First, school choice in Portland long pre-dates Vicki Phillips AND the No Child Left Behind inspired “failing schools” mythology. It’s my understanding that choice originally crept into Portland as a way of getting around forced busing for integrating the schools.

    Regardless, there is absolutely no evidence that either school choice or NCLB’s test-based accountability has encouraged any effective or beneficial competition between schools. In fact the opposite is likely true –schools generally have not improved and some have become demonstrably worse because of choice and accountability.

    Second, school reform involves much more than simply hiring good principals or stuffing “high end programs” into a few schools. School reform is only effective when it develops from the bottom up rather than top down. And it isn’t necessarily more expensive than the status quo. Designating a few schools as the places to go for good students relegates the remainder to poverty, failure and eventual obsolescence. That’s the sort of inequity we’re seeing now in PPS.

    Finally, I have to repeat what Nicole wrote about the mission of public education:

    “PPS is a public school district whose mission is to educate every child regardless of socio-economic background.

    That’s not happening under the district’s school choice and transfer policies.

  34. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    PPS is not meeting their own, or federal, guidelines.

  35. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Terry, tell me what you think. Forty plus years I have been a teacher, but I am losing my faith in expecting schools to genuinely improve themselves.

    Everything is built around testing — this seems to be the mantra particularly for young teachers and new principals who used to inculcate schools with energy and fresh ideas. The new teachers seem to be trained in the testing culture and worse yet, many seem to have bought into it. How can we count on them to bring effective school reform? I don’t see it. Maybe I am missing something.

  36. Comment from Zarwen:

    Wow—you guys have been busy over here today!

    First, I want to verify Terry’s comment about the origin of the transfer policy. It was, ironically enough, initiated as a desegregation program. We all know how THAT worked out.

    Shelby, your assumption that “not all teachers can teach” an AP class is incorrect, although I wish it weren’t. State certification is based on subject matter and grade level, nothing more. So if a school wishes to start an AP class, it can use the math teachers that are already there without spending a dime on new training. Same thing with PPS’ excuse for TAG instruction: one of the numerous parent complaints about it is that the teachers doing it have not been trained for it. But the state doesn’t require any such training. It would be nice if the teachers of Title I programs had special training, too! Oh yeah, they aren’t required to have any.

    “I think school board members should be embarrassed for using the “middle class” justification for a policy that clearly and directly harms a large number of lower income PPS families.”

    I couldn’t help laughing at that, Nicole—not because what you wrote is funny, because it isn’t—but because it triggered a memory. Last winter, Messrs. Morgan and Wynde were scolding Winterhaven parents in the press for not attracting enough low-income families to the school (as if that were the parents’ job—it isn’t, it the district’s job). Yet it was these same clowns who voted to CUT the number of scholarship admissions to the tuition-based kindergarten there. Why is it tuition-based? Because neither the state nor the District fully funds all-day kindergarten. This is why focus options have acquired a reputation for catering to the well-off: by charging kindergarten tuition and reducing or eliminating scholarships, the School Board is actively preventing low-income families from gaining access to these programs. Disingenuous is just too polite a word. Disgusting is more accurate.

  37. Comment from Nicole:

    Zarwen, there’s a Winterhaven Recommendation on the agenda of the School Board’s Student Support and Community Relations Committee meeting next week. Do you know what it’s about?

  38. Comment from Terry:

    Steve B,

    Obviously if the district culture is test-centric, it’s nigh on impossible to empower teachers to develop programs and approaches that would genuinely improve student learning. The key to reform is putting people in school leadership positions, including teachers, who really care about learning, not just test scores.

    It can be done, though. Four classroom teachers –me included– started the reform movement at Evergreen Junior High (now Evergreen Middle School) in Hillsboro. We were fortunate to work with principals receptive to our efforts and our ideas.

  39. Comment from Zarwen:

    Nicole,

    After the WH parent group shot down VP’s harebrained idea of moving the school 6 miles to the Clark building, the School Board made them get together with designated district administrators and a hired facilitator to hash out a “growth plan.” Even though their building is already filled over capacity, VP was hellbent on expanding the program, and you know that the Board could never say no to her.

    The recommendation to be presented at this meeting is for a double-wide portable to be installed at the current WH location and for ALL classes (which already are at 30 in the upper grades, and 26-28 in primary) at the school to add students, so that the total increase will be around 75 children. Most of the WH community doesn’t want this, but they were told that if they fought growth, their PE teacher and counselor would be taken away. (They already don’t have art, music or library teachers either.) Classic VP strong-arm tactics.

    This expansions at WH and CSS are only the tip of the iceberg. As I have stated many times on this blog, the School Board has approved expansion of enrollment at magnets and charters over the next 5 years in the thousands. Unfortunately, no member of the Fourth Estate has been willing to write about this, even after seeing the hard data.

  40. Comment from KarmelKorn:

    “To really improve schools in lower income neighborhoods it takes a shift of resources. If you have 100 kids in your school who basically can’t read v. 5 kids in an upper middle class school, and 200 kids who need serious counseling v. 10 kids, and 120 kids with serious behavior problems v. 12 kids, and 250 kids who are below grade level in math v. 15 kids it is a lot more costly to really improve your school. Lets see, send us 4 counselors, 5 reading specialists, 4 extra discipline v.p. people, and 6 math teachers then maybe things will begin to equal out. No one on the school board would send 19 more FTE into a poor school (+lots of other poor schools at 19 or so apiece) than they do to the upper middle class schools. See the problem, I know you do.”

    This is a fair statement. Whether I agree that board is doing absolutely nothing is another question, I do think that they are trying. But here Steve B. I do agree with you. It is sad how some schools have been experimented on. I think we should have citizen committees formed. However, my daughter (who will be embarrassed when she reads this) always worries that the parents are making these decisions and forming all these opinions without asking their children what they think. It’s interesting how she feels that (at only 12) Jefferson is the guinea pig school and she wishes that people didn’t criminalize the students there. Not only that, but she really wants to go to Jeff. She’s worried that people bring too much “bad karma” to the school. Maybe we should listen to how our children feel, their opinions are more sophisticated than we think.

  41. Comment from Ben:

    Our “new” school (The former GH, now Roseway Heights) lacks bathroom stall doors. So our K – 5 students that are “merged” with 6 to 8 get to use the same bathrooms without stall doors.

    Are any westside schools getting treated the same? Why would this ever seem acceptable? A small example why people will leave the system or tranfer out.

  42. Comment from Ben:

    This was less than exciting news today regarding our school. Essentially a centrally located, exceeding school is closed and merged into an NCLB school on the 13 dangerous schools list.

    Now things are changing, but come on – PPS should have waited one year allowing the student body to move on to HS. This would have resulted in a totally fresh start or an organically grown K – 8 model. If you are a parent with a child just starting school, how would this look to you?

    Staying at RCP would have also embraced a centrally located neighborhood model. Now we have an approximate 40 block gap between schools.

    ————————–

    For immediate release
    Contact Susanne B. Smith, (503) 947-5737

    October 24, 2007

    State Places Thirteen Oregon Schools on Safety “Watch List,” Names One Salem School “Persistently Dangerous”

    SALEM – State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo announced today that thirteen Oregon public schools have been placed on a “watch list,” under the school safety provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Because these schools exceeded the minimum rate of expulsions due to violence, they have been identified as needing school safety improvement plans and must file a corrective action plan with the state.

    Third year:
    Salem-Keizer SD 24J – McKay High School
    Second Year: Salem-Keizer SD 24J – North Salem High School
    Portland SD 1J – Renaissance Arts Academy
    First Year: Beaverton SD 48J – Five Oaks Middle School
    Bend-LaPine Administrative SD 1 – Pilot Butte Middle School
    Portland SD 1J – Alliance High School
    Portland SD 1J – BizTech High School
    Portland SD 1J – Gregory Heights Middle School
    Salem-Keizer SD 24J – Houck Middle School
    Salem-Keizer SD 24J – Judson Middle School
    Salem-Keizer SD 24J – Leslie Middle School
    Salem-Keizer SD 24J – Structured Learning Center
    Three Rivers/Josephine County SD – Hidden Valley High School

    “Nothing is more important than the safety of our children,” said Castillo. “The schools on the ‘watch list’ know this and have taken steps to create a safer school environment. Over the next year we will assist them as they develop their working plans for making their schools consistently safer.”

    In Oregon, a public elementary or secondary school is defined as “persistently dangerous” if one or more of the following conditions exist (at the rates noted below) for three-consecutive school years:
    1. Expulsions for weapons (ORS 339.250(6)) and/or
    2. Expulsions for violent behavior and/or
    3. Expulsions for students arrested for any of the following violent criminal offenses on school grounds, on school sponsored transportation and/or school sponsored activities:
    • Assault (ORS 163.160, ORS 163.165, ORS 163.175, ORS 163.185)
    • Manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance (ORS 475.992 (1-3)
    • Sexual crimes using force, threatened use of force or against incapacitated person (ORS 163.375, ORS 163.395, ORS 163.411, ORS 163.427)
    • Arson (ORS 164.315, ORS 164.325)
    • Robbery (ORS 164.395, ORS 164.405, ORS 164.415)
    • Hate/Bias Crime (ORS 166.155, ORS 166.165)
    • Coercion (ORS 163.275)
    • Kidnapping (ORS 163.225, ORS 163.235).

    The total number of expulsions for these combined categories must meet or exceed one of the following rates per year: (school with fewer than 500 students) 5 expulsions; (larger school) one expulsion for every 100 enrolled students or fraction thereof.

    Thirteen schools were on last year’s list but removed from the list for 2006-07:

    Eagle Point SD 9 – Eagle Point High School
    Jefferson County SD 509J – Jefferson County Middle School
    Klamath County SD – Brixner Junior High School and Chiloquin High School
    Medford SD 549C – Medford Opportunity High School
    Ontario SD 8C – Ontario High School
    Portland SD 1J – Tubman Middle School
    Salem-Keizer SD 24J – Parrish Middle School, South Salem High School and McNary High School
    St Helens SD 502 – Columbia County Education Campus
    Three Rivers/Josephine County SD – North Valley High School and Illinois Valley High School

  43. Comment from Zarwen:

    I originally posted this on Terry’s blog, but I am copying it over here because I think it is directly relevant to Ben’s post:

    As evidence of how well the consolidation of RCP with Greg Hts. is going, I submit to you all the case of a 6th-grader who is my son’s martial arts classmate (unrelated to school). Another child called him a name, threw a book at him, and grabbed him by both wrists. My son’s friend used his martial arts skills in self-defense—not enough to hurt the other boy, just enough to get free. Once free, he lost his balance and fell down. The other kid punched him WHILE HE LAY ON THE GROUND and gave him a huge shiner that was still very prominent three days later, when we saw him.

    Thanks to our school district’s “Zero-Tolerance” policy, BOTH boys got suspended. It will go on our friend’s permanent record, but not the other boy’s, even though it is not the other boy’s first time fighting. Why is that? Because our friend is a 6th-grader and the other kid is a 5th-grader.

    And now for the punchline: the school would not allow our friend readmittance to school unless his mother signed a paper saying he would “never fight again,” not even to defend himself. What a choice! Get suspended from school or land in the hospital? Which would you want your child to choose? Why should ANY child have to make such a choice?

  44. Comment from Anne:

    I worked in Detroit Public Schools for 10 years. The students there were treated worse than animals. There were no stall doors, toilet paper was rationed, snow was coming in through poorly sealed windows, special ed students were beaten, shop classes were cancelled for years because the lights went out,rapes by a brutal serial rapist who preyed on women and children outside of schools were covered up by school principals, etc. etc. …. and this was in the 80′s!

    When I read that there were no stall doors in the bathrooms at Roseway Hts (Gregory Hts) my heart sunk. This goes beyond neglect and signals an attitude that is disrespectful to all students.

    If I were a parent from that school I would be at the school board meetings, standing outside the DOSA’s (or whatever they call the middle administrators now) door, taking photos of bathrooms at schools that do have bathroom stall doors, taking photos at the BESC where they undoubtedly have stall doors, waving those photos in board members faces, checking the legality of those conditions, etc. etc.

    I have seen hellish conditions in Detroit and believe me it is going to get worse here before it gets better.
    This discussion is good, but it will take consistent, strong action to turn this around. The responsibility starts in the White House, but trickles down to every principal. The people who speak out, volunteer at their schools, volunteer at others schools, do research to expose the inequities are heroes. Steve Rawley’s careful analysis of the segregationist policies of PPS is a good example for us all. If we don’t care about the our children’s futures, who will? Personally I am not waiting for any administrators to take the lead.

    One more note: the serial rapist in Detroit was caught, only because of the community taking it into their own hands. If it had been left up to the principals and the upper administrators he would still be free.