Open Letter to School Board re. Charter Schools

by Steve, November 13th, 2007

To the Members of the Portland Public Schools Board of Education:

I am writing to you in lieu of public testimony at the hearings today on the applications for the Ivy Charter School and New Harvest Charter School. I strongly urge you to reject both applications.

This recommendation is both general and specific.

At the higher level, we must look at the proposed siting of these schools in North and Northeast Portland, and place it in the context of what has happened to the neighborhood schools in these areas. These are the areas suffering the greatest declines in enrollment due to out-transfers, and that have subsequently suffered school closings and cuts in program offerings.

As neighborhood schools in these areas have been gutted or shut down, private and charter schools have sprung up like weeds to replace them, glimmering illusions of hope for beleaguered families wanting smaller classes and basic educational enrichment.

Our first priority as a district needs to be the restoration of equity in the neighborhood schools across Portland, a move that would reduce the demand for charter schools and neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers. If we instead ignore the equity issue and approve more charters, we perpetuate a cycle that is deadly to our goal of strong neighborhood schools.

More specifically, you should oppose Ivy Charter School on the basis of its overlapping board with an existing private school. Though supporters may assure you they have no plans to convert the private school, it seems they are using a loophole to establish a new school that will eventually absorb the private school. This may be allowed under the letter of the law, but it is certainly against the spirit of the law. This alone should be enough for you to reject the application. If you need more reason to be concerned, Ivy would be located two blocks from the closed Meek school, and half a mile from Rigler Elementary (61% capture rate) and a mile and a half from Scott Elementary (59% capture rate). This application is an affront to anybody concerned with strong neighborhood schools.

Please reject the Ivy application on these grounds. Let them appeal to the state if they want; at least it won’t be on your conscience.

The New Harvest application was a mess, as you know, and there should be no reason to approve this school. Their lack of budget expertise, their shambles of a curriculum proposal and failure to articulate plans to achieve their lofty goals show a general lack of skills and knowledge necessary to run a school.

I know all of you can appreciate the external pressure schools like this can place on enrollment at neighborhood schools. At the last board meeting, you discussed ways to reduce this kind of pressure. I hope you see this as an opportunity to do so. A “no” vote on these charters is a “yes” vote for strong neighborhood schools.

96 Responses to “Open Letter to School Board re. Charter Schools”

  1. Comment from Amadeus:

    Good Letter! It is ridiculous how just about anyone can create a charter school in this state. There really needs to be more restrictions.

  2. Comment from Gabrielle:

    Perhaps a requirement could be looking at the current enrollment of the neighborhood school if there is a neighborhood school. If the capture rate is below a certain threshold then there shouldn’t be a need to create another school that will simply draw more resources away from the neighbrohood public School. If charter schools are needed, they are needed where the schools are not able to meet capacity of the neighborhood students. Lincoln High would be an example of a school bursting at the seems. Of couse you would also have to look at the capture rate of non-neighborhood students. If the overcrowding is due to neighborhood attendance, then sure we need to do something about it. But the neighborhood attendance of the schools surrounding the location of the proposed Ivy school is very low. So tell me again (Anon) why do we need another school? Your explanation that parents want a Montessori education for free defeats the purpose of equitable free public education. It isn’t about having 10, 20 , 30 (who knows when it will stop) magnet, focus, or charter school options. It is about ALL neighborhood schools have access to the same resources, equitable funding and equal course offerings (Art, Music, Physical Education, Computer labs). Creating another special focus charter school with admittance by application does not address or correct the deficiences within N/NE Portland and our dying, suffocating neighborhood schools. I don’t have an immediate solution to the crisis, and it is a crisis. But I do know, I believe that adding another charter school to a neighborhood wihthout a neighborhood public school (Meek Elementary) and within the area of public schools that are not at enrollment capacity is NOT the answer. Public eduction must be equal for all students. Parents and the PPS school board are all losing site of this. Action needs to be taken and it needs to be immediate. Imagine how great our neighborhood schools could be if we had these parents volunteering hunderds of hours at our neighborhood schools instead of the Ivy Charter School proposal. What about going door to door, or doing mail campiagns or open forums for neighborhood schools instead of the proposed charter schools. Wow. I would love to see this. Portland Public Schools need our support, our volunteerism, our compassion and most importantly our committment. If we lose hope, if we lose focus, we will eventually lose all of our neighborhood schools in N/NE Portland as enrollment declines and more schools are placed on the chopping blocks and more students are bused to a neighborhood that isn’t theirs.

  3. Comment from npdxparent:

    Thank so much for your comments. Please, please send them to the school board, if you haven’t already, or present your comments as public testimony at the board meeting before they vote on the Ivy School proposal.

  4. Comment from concernedparent:

    It seems like these responses are more concerned about “declines in enrollment ” in the neighborhood schools than they are in the actual education of the children who live in N/NE Portland.

    Parents want an education that works and they aren’t finding it though the “equitable free public education” found in the neighborhood schools. They want something better for their children. They have probably volunteered in their local schools to the point of frustration and see no change on the horizon. Before it it too late for their own children, they want out.

  5. Comment from Gabrielle:

    I beg to differ. There is nothing equitable about the education on the PPS. Have you been to Vernon, Alameda, Chapman, or Lincoln Highschool and Jefferson Highschool? Look at the demographics of these schools, look at the programs and classes and tell me that it is equitable. The enorllment is declinging because they aren’t equitable. If you live in Alameda or Chapman boundries you are (most) liekly to be thrilled. Same for Lincoln. Why do you think so many panents try to transfer their students into these schools? If you live in Vernon, Jefferson or other N N/NE schools that do not have the same resources? Have you read or seen the Jefferson acadamies? Yes parents are frustrated, and yes some have volunteered but not most. I mean if you like gardening and permaculture, then perhaps Sunyside would be great, if you like science and math as a focus then Winterhaven would be great, or Arts then Buckman so on and so on…..but what about the schools that not only don’t have these options or focus but don’t have music, Art, computer labs etcs. I have heard the mantra that parents should rasie the money, THEY DON”T HAVE ANY! That is why the declining schools are in lower socio-economic neighborhoods. Don’t you think these parents would give if they could? I would if I could. The declining enrollment is just a symptom of the much bigger problem. It is the inequity of PPS. Adding another charter school that is by application only is NOT the solution.

  6. Comment from Anon2:

    concernedparent, I absolutely understand the frustration of volunteering and not seeing enough results, and also of wanting a great education for your children. But I can’t accept an argument that a few parents get to have a better public education for their children by making it worse for other children.

  7. Comment from howard:

    You wrote: “Have you been to Vernon, Alameda, Chapman, or Lincoln Highschool and Jefferson Highschool? ”

    When did you last visit Vernon? I have been reading and hearing that good things are happening at Vernon. Word is that “helicopter parents” are transferring from Vernon to elementary schools in Grant and other clusters to assure their kids’ preference for acceptance at their preferred high schools.

  8. Comment from Gabrielle:

    My son went to Vernon for exactly two months this year and we pulled him out last week. Yes, I have been there, I was on the PTA, I attended every school sponsored event. I am not sure what “helicopter parents” means but I do know that adding another charter school will not address the deficiencies at Vernon. It will add to them. I don’t have easy answers. Our neighborhood school was Meek, it was closed. Then it became Vernon and gee, they went from exceptional on 03-04, to strong in 04-05, and to satisfactory on 05-06. Why? What happened? Something is not right. As far as our neighbors they couldn’t get in to the Grant cluster schools through school choice, so they lied. They used a different address and are enrolled in Alameda. At least for for us our son is in pre-k so we go back to tuition based preschool as we try to figure out what to do next school year.

  9. Comment from Zarwen:

    Someone need to tell those “helicopter parents” that transferring to a different elementary school does not guarantee admission to that school’s middle or high school. The lottery rules changed about three years ago; if you want to stay with a transfer-school’s feeder pattern, you have to reapply for middle school and then reapply for high school. No guarantees!

  10. Comment from Gabrielle:

    Zarwen- That is what is flawed with the PPS lottery. How can you admit a non-neighborhood student who builds relationships, friends, a community and the rip it all away when he/she goes onto middle or highschool? That is what is happening in our area. The students who did get into Alameda through the lottery did not have success getting into Beaumont or Grant……that really sucks. Lincoln didn’t accept any transfers this year.
    What is “helicopter parents”. I don’t know the term.

  11. Comment from parentofeducatedchildren:

    My 4 children are all in charter schools and the charter school is doing the best job of any schools my kids have been in. Most of you dont even have a clue what charter schools are about; you think you do and also think that they are taking away from your children. Get the facts. They are offering a superb education that most public schools have not and will never offer. Did you know that you can enroll your kids in the local charter school or even the charter school across town? Some people have the belief that they are a private school-they are public! I challenge you to look at the curriculum, visit the schools, talk to the parents and children. Look at their test scores. Interesting that charter schools operate on only 80% of the state funding that other public schools operate on but they can still turn out an above average student. And……..they are not able to have bonds to fund their facilities. If all of the schools would follow the charter school plan, our kids would be getting a better education, (yes, competition is good!) and tax payers would be saving alot of money.
    You should be welcoming these schools with open arms and be grateful instead complaining. That’s why you are where you are in life. Hopefully, your kids will be able to break out of the mold.

    The difference between great people and everyone else is that great people create their lives actively, while everyone else is created by their lives, passively waiting to see where life takes them next. The difference between the two is the difference between living fully and just existing.
    Michael E. Gerber

  12. Comment from Steve:

    Yes, let’s look at the test scores and “get the facts”:;emc=rss

    (A friendly reminder to readers: Please read and understand my comments policy. I don’t tolerate personal attacks like the following: “That’s why you are where you are in life. Hopefully, your kids will be able to break out of the mold.” You get your first one free. After that, you’re done here.)

  13. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Dear Michael E. Gerber,
    I would have a word or two with you, but it’s No Arguing With Assclowns on the Internet Day! Woot!

    I will say this: You’re right! Why didn’t I see this all along?

  14. Comment from Steve:

    Damn it! I forgot about NAWACOTID.

    Mr. Gerber, please disregard my previous comment, and substitute the following:

    “You’re right! Why didn’t I see this all along?”

    Thanks, Wacky Mommy!

  15. Comment from Gabrielle:

    parentofeducatedchildren, You state “Did you know that you can enroll your kids in the local charter school or even the charter school across town? Some people have the belief that they are a private school-they are public!” First of all, you must apply for your child to attend the charter schools in portland. Since when did public school require an application? Isn’t the premise of public education supposed to be free equitable education for all? Second, you presume that since a parent has selected and applied to a charter school that their child or children will be selected. False. A great friend of ours spent quite a bit of money on Opal preschool, she volunteered (she is also a teacher in the Beaverton School district) and she applied for the Opal (charter school) Kindergarten. Guess what, her daughter did not get in. I also believe that activism is well, active not passive. We are not here just for our children, we are here for everyones children, yours, mine, your neighbors, my neighbors, every student in the PPS district that is entitled to an equitable education. The difference between great people is that they try to make everyones life better, more equitable.

  16. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    I think I’m in love with Gabrielle.

  17. Comment from Zarwen:

    “Helicopter parents”: parents who hover over their children morning, noon and night.

  18. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Dear Parentofeducatedchildren,
    Yes, there are plenty of good charters, and also many that are pretty clueless. I am glad you found a good one for your children to attend.

    But suppose I send you 10 kids in your child’s class who are all disruptive. Many with drug and/or alcohol affected families, all parents who do not have the least bit interest in their kid’s education let alone showing up for any meetings or taking any responsibility for their education. Some of these children have mothers in jail, some have dads who are drug addicts. A couple want to sexually proposition your sixth grader and are in fact having sex. A couple are doing drugs themselves. Most can’t read worth a whit and don’t think that is important. Also I will send your charter school a couple kids who need full time help one on one just to go to school, a bill which you must foot.

    Now, how much do you love that school? One of two things happens. A. You are gone. B. Your charter tosses the troublemaker kids. Either way you aren’t competing with the public schools.

    Plus, I guarantee the middle school I work at in Vancouver will eat up any charter school in Portland in athletics, music, and a long list of other activities which help engage kids at this age. Does your charter have a full-time football team? A full marching band?

    Now, don’t get me wrong. There are great things about charters (one of them is not they can pay people less — do you tell your teachers they are worth the lower pay?). I am seriously tired of fighting the public schools and their rediculous approach to many of the problems, but for you to get all superior without an iota of the need for good solid public education for all students is a little much. Yes, the parents who won’t take the resposibilities for raising their kids are horrendously at fault, and I don’t buy the I am too busy holding down two jobs etc. excuses. But when the parents don’t come through do we wish the sins of the fathers and mothers on their children. This is what you seem to be saying. I can’t buy it.

  19. Comment from Gabrielle:

    One other thought on the charter school funding. As a nonprofit, a parent can make a sizable donation and have a nice tax write off. What is the incentive when you can do this for the neighborhood school? What is $4k going to get you at Vernon with 400 students? How is your child going to directly benefit? To the Ivy Charter parent you stated that the school will operate at 80% of the revenues of the publis school. Hm..have you seen the donations that Opal gets from parents. And trust me, every employee at Ivy will know what parents are contributing. When we researched Opal over the summer at the advice of a friend who was applying (and did not get in), I stumbled on a blog of very upset former Opal parents that said the parents with money insured their children received everything they demanded (extra attention for their child etc.). If MOA cost parents $8,000 a year for grades 1-3 that money wasn’t tax deductible. It is private education. But if that same parents sends their child to Ivy, they can donate half that amount and get a great tax deduction. I have seen and heard of this happening and I do not know how this money is tracked. Believe me you, Charter schools are receiving much more then 80% to educate and I doubt that the parents are asking it to cover special education, ESL or special learners to create greater diversity in the school. And of course grants also subsidize the Charter school budgets. So it would be interesting to see just how much revenue is received (at the charter schools) per child attending.

  20. Comment from babylove:

    Gabrielle could you post a link regarding the
    blog of very upset former Opal parents.

  21. Comment from Steve Buel:

    In my last post it looked like I suggested that students who have 1 on 1 attention somehow made a school more difficult. My intention was to suggest that charters didn’t pick up these types of expenses like in the public school not that these students distracted from the school. In effect, the reverse is the norm in my experience. I kind of mixed the two in the same paragraph. Bad writing, not bad intentions.

  22. Comment from Nicole:

    Gabrielle said:
    “If MOA cost parents $8,000 a year for grades 1-3 that money wasn’t tax deductible. It is private education. But if that same parents sends their child to Ivy, they can donate half that amount and get a great tax deduction. ”

    That’s an excellent point. The organizers and supporters keep proclaiming that their goal is to make a Montessori education accessible to N/NE familes who couldn’t otherwise afford it, and that they will have a diverse student population. But their own application suggests that’s not really the case.

    Their budget estimates that only 25% of their students will qualify for free or reduced lunch, when the district average is almost 50% and N/NE Portland has an even higher percent of lower income students.

    Gabrielle also says:
    “Believe me you, Charter schools are receiving much more then 80% to educate and I doubt that the parents are asking it to cover special education, ESL or special learners to create greater diversity in the school.”

    Right again! The Ivy charter school proposal doesn’t seem to budget for an ESL teacher, translation for parents who don’t speak English, counselor, or a special ed teacher.

    So their own application shows that their plan is to skim off the higher income students from N/NE Portland, along with their parents who have more money and volunteer time to provide to the schools. And if ESL families or students with special needs attend the school, they don’t have a very good plan for meeting those needs.

  23. Comment from Ivy will rely on The Grotto for student counseling:

    I heard that at the public hearing the Ivy charter school organizers said they weren’t going to provide any counseling services and they would refer students in need of counseling to outside partners such as the Grotto or other nonprofits.

    Here’s the website []
    of the Grotto Counseling Center (associated with The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother) where “valid mental health and healing spiritual principles are applied to give hope, to provide support and to promote positive change.”

  24. Comment from babylove:

    All PPS charter schools are assigned special education teachers, psycologists, speech & occupational therapists for their special needs students. Unfortunate for the charter school are these staff are from PPS and may or may not line up with that particular charters school’s values & teaching philosophies.

  25. Comment from Zarwen:

    If a charter school can refer kids to the Grotto, then why doesn’t PPS just outsource all its counseling needs? Think of the $ they could save!

  26. Comment from Anon:

    The “application” used with a charter school only includes information like name, dob, address, etc.. It does not require an essay trying to persuade the school to “let you in.” It does not ask about income level or other demographics. It shouldn’t ask about special education or home language spoken (those are things the school doesn’t need to know until a child is enrolled). It’s typically one page. All children who live in the district that sponsors the charter school that are of the age/grade served by the school are eligible for enrollment; out-of-district students can enroll on a space-available basis once in-district students enroll. The only reason an “application” is required is because there needs to be a piece of paper that formally represents a child’s interest in enrolling in the school. The numbers of interested children often exceed the numbers of available spaces in certain grades, etc. In that case, a charter school must hold a lottery, i.e., put in every child’s name that has submitted an “application” and draw names out until each classroom/grade level is full. So, please don’t assume that a charter school “application” means something other than this.

    On what basis to you assume that Ivy should provide counseling services? The charter school law does not require charter schools to provide counseling, nor does the PPS charter school policy. If Ivy is planning to refer children and families who need counseling services to organizations that specialize in counseling, that is in line with what most charter schools do, and, frankly, what many traditional public schools do. Charter schools cannot afford to hire psychologists or counselors. They do not receive special education money, local money, state or federal categorical funds or any funds other than a portion of the State School Fund (80% for kids in grades K-8 and 95% for kids in grades 9-12).

    Because charter schools receive such low levels of public funds (about 1/2 of what traditional public schools receive), most must do extensive fundraising. I have heard about unfortuate anecdotal stories about charter schools “unoficially” requiring parents to fundraise certain dollar amounts annually. This is not legal or ethical. However, one cannot “buy” one’s way into the school. Admission must be open, fair, and lottery-based. If any charter school is doing it otherwise, it is also breaking the law.

  27. Comment from Zarwen:

    “On what basis to you assume that Ivy should provide counseling services?”

    I lifted the following from Terry Olson’s blog, posted by “Andy,” an Ivy School rep.:

    Bottom line here – Ivy isn’t narrowly focused on one particular neighborhood (i.e. Cully) but rather Ivy has worked hard to reach neighborhoods across N/NE Portland . . . . we are able to reach out to minorities, low income folks and also students that are not doing well in traditional schools (aka “achievement gap”).

    Based on my 15 years of experience teaching in public schools, I can tell you that that is the population that most needs counseling. I’m confused about why Ivy would be trying to recruit a population whose needs it doesn’t intend to serve fully?

  28. Comment from Rene:

    Maybe someone can clarify this, but my understanding was the spec ed money follows the student. If my daughter did go to Ivy, the charter would get her extra funds, correct? Or not?

    What I don’t understand is why any parent who preaches tolerance and diversity would want their child to attend a school with no ESL students, special education or students who need support services such as counseling. Or maybe that is the point.

    Zarwen, do you think part of the issue here is a lack of knowledge among these charter advocates about the needs of low income students? On these blogs at least many seem clueless that low income students might come with existing special needs. My own kids are adopted from foster care and have required interventions including counseling. You can’t take kids like these and hit them with the happy stick and expect them to catch up immediately. My son is now a straight A student. But he wouldn’t have gotten there in a school like Ivy, because they wouldn’t have provided the services he needed.

    I also don’t think anon is correct that most public schools refer out to counseling. Most provide some counseling.

  29. Comment from Anon:

    It’s not that Ivy does not intend or want to serve kids with IEPs or ELL needs. It’s that Ivy will not receive the funds that the state and feds give PPS to serve those kids, which means they cannot afford to do what traditional schools do in these areas. Ivy will not receive local funds or state categorical funds or federal title funds. The law does not require the district to “share” any of those funds; some districts choose to do that but PPS typically does not. Portland charter school kids are always in the “head count” which determines how much SPED funding, ELL funding, and other state and federal funds that PPS receives, but PPS will not pass those funds to the charter schools.

    The law requires the district where a child lives to provide all special education and related services, so the district will keep the special ed funds and provide any pull-out services required by the IEPs of children who attend charter schools. Unless the district agrees (and contracts with the charter school), the charter school is not allowed to provide special ed services. So, to criticize a charter school for not providing special ed services when the law essentially prohibits them from doing so doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. There’s much more that could (and needs to be) said and done about special education throughout the public school system, including charters.

    If you were Ivy, or any other charter school, how would you serve ELL kids? How would you provide counseling? How would you serve other kids with unique needs? Many of the challenges related to charter schools are not “the charter schools’ fault” but rather created by the law and the system generally.

  30. Comment from Gabrielle:

    Question? If it is known that there is an inherant flaw with the aoption of charter schools and the management of funds (or lack there of) to provide comprehensive services to all students, then my concern remains that charter schools are inherantly unequal on multiple leves. As the parent of a child with an IEP that was not met at his pre-k, we had to race to shuttle him to his old preschool where he could continue to receive his ST. This is very hard on the child and puts a lot of pressure on the parents to be available to coordinate this. I would think this would discourage parents that have children with IEP’s from applying to charter schools. This by nature would limit the diversity of the charter school.

  31. Comment from Rene:

    Anon: Then Ivy should not be claiming, as board member Andy is, that they are out to educate all children in the community, when it is obviously not going to be the case.

    And my question still stands: why would parents who profess tolerance and diversity want to send their kids to a school that will, by its nature, exclude those with disabilities? Why do you want to create such schools?

    Gabrielle: I completely relate to what you are saying. When charters say they will do “pull outs” for IEP students this means parents will be expected to come to the school, pick up their kid, drive them to another school for their tutoring or speech therapy, and then drive them back. No parent is going to be willing (or able, if they work) to do this on a daily basis, and the disruption to the child is horrible.

    So that automatically means that charters such as Ivy will be disability free. Maybe this is what they want. Personally I would never want my child to attend a school like that. As you said it is inherently inequal on many levels.

  32. Comment from Zarwen:

    I have to support Gabrielle and Rene on this. Given the limitations that Anon described, especially with regard to funding, I am baffled why Andy is out doing the recruiting he says he is doing.

    And I am even more baffled about why legislators have set up charter school funding the way they have. It seems to fly in the face of what a public school’s mission is.

  33. Comment from Wrong:

    Rene, pull-outs don’t mean parents must pull their child from school and drive them elsewhere. You are imagining some extreme nonsense to support your position.

    In established charters speech therapists, counselors and tutors come to the school to work with children. I know this because my children attend a charter and I see children with IEPs having their needs met. This includes children with severe speech and hearing disorders and a child on the lower functioning end of the autism spectrum.

    It’s unfortunate that so many of you have chosen to gun for charters, when there are actually quite a few parents who agree that the school board’s transfer policy is flawed and hurting children across the city. It does not mean, however, that strong neighborhood schools and charter schools are mutually exclusive.

    You disdain and mockery of parents whose children attend charters (my free-school-lunch receiving, Hispanic daughter appreciates you making fun of her stripedy socks, Wacky Mommy) is alienating a group who actually agrees with many of your arguments.

    Now, I’m not saying the Ivy School gets my thumbs up, but I really believe that you have people hurting an otherwise spot-on assessment of inequities with the transfer policy of PPS. Some of you have labeled, prejudged and made assumptions about people to suit the needs of your argument.

  34. Comment from School Marm:

    Can I remind everyone of “The Garden’s Lab” charter school? Don’t remember it? That’s because it opened and closed in one calendar year. The founders blamed the presence of special needs kids for why they could not build and maintain a student population of more than 35 for the entire k-5 school! Their point was they could not effectively teach their “special” garden curriculum with so many special kids demanding their time. I could see the same blame in another boutique program like New Harvest, Ivy, etc.

  35. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Wrong, a lot of the reaction to the charter school movement on this post was directed at parentofeducatedchildren’s attitude concerning the superiority of charter schools over public education. Most people, including myself, were intent on pointing out there is not an equal playing field, and, in fact, many charters don’t even stay open let alone have superior offerings.

    The idea of charters is that they are supposed to offer a non-restricted educational opportunity. “We as parents want to approach education in a way different than public education”. Fine. Probably won’t get much argument from the people on this blog. Most are pretty reform minded. But in Portland what seems to have happened is that the lower economic neighborhood schools, and also the lower middle class neighborhood schools, have been neglected and not supported. Hence, people leave their school via the transfer policies or the school board uses the low enrollment caused by their own policies as reason to close or not support the school. Then, bingo, in moves a charter school bragging how their education is so much better and rubbing people’s noses in it. Well, of course it is. The neglected school not only has lost programs but a lot of the parent support it originally had leaving a school full of problems and a school board sanctioned charter across the street.

    When you look at it that way the whole deal looks a little different.

  36. Comment from Rene:

    Wrong, several have written that Ivy does not have any funds set for special ed. Also, they will not have a counselor. They are referring children to an outside agency, the Grotto.

    When they say they will refer to Grotto, they do not mean that a counselor will be coming to their school for pull-outs. They will be expecting parents to take their kid to the Grotto. If I am wrong, perhaps they can correct me. It is certainly how it sound according to their own advocates. If this is their approach to dealing with special education issues it is a concern.

    The issue of PPS having to send already overworked special education specialists into more schools, on otureach levels, is a whole other problem. Specialists are already overworked. OTs, for instance, might travel several schools. I don’t know what PPS is thinking by approving more schools that will not have their own special education departments, thus requiring an even heavier burden on the specialists.

    This is anecedotal, I know, but I know one family with a special needs daughter they ended up pulling from a local charter because the school was unable to meet her needs. When I looked into charters and magnets for my kids, I was depressed by the lack of knowledge among their staff about special needs.

    I do feel we need to closely examine the deleterious effect of charters on public education. Can you imagine what would happen if PPS said they were going to open a neighborhood school in NE and expected only 25 % of the kids would be free lunch? There would be an uproar, because the mandate of public education is to serve all.

  37. Comment from Anon:

    “Counseling” and “special education” are two distinct things, at least in terms of service and funding “categories.” So, let’s not confuse the two.

    Charter schools serve special education students. They are NOT “disability free,” by any means.
    Actually, most charter schools have a higher % of students with IEPs than their district schools, as well as across the state and across the nation. Yes, there is a disproportionately HIGH % of students with IEPs and other special needs in charter schools.

    So, let’s be clear about the difference between enrollment, funding, and pull-out services. Charters are open to all students of the grade/age they serve (space permitting) and accept students on a lottery basis (i.e., don’t “screen” for anything except age and grade).

    Districts keep the special ed money and provide “pull-out” services stipulated on an IEP, such as speech, physical or occupational therapy. PPS sends specialists to its charters to do that. Charter schools provide all the other services for special ed students, but without any of the special ed money. It’s not a great system, to say the least. It needs fixing, but the law sets it up, not charters, so please don’t blame the charter schools for the way the law is written.

  38. Comment from Rene:

    Actually, counseling services are often part of an IEP. My daughter’s IEP includes counseling and psychological services. Luckily she attends a PPS school with a full-time psychologist and a part-time counselor.

    If she attended a charter presumably they would have to bring in specialists to serve her. I find it hard to believe that this would happen as often. As it is, her school pysch can check in on her almost daily if needed. How could that happen in a charter? It is the informal wrap-around help that often means success for an IEP student, and that is hard to achieve by outside specialists.

    Also, another aspect of my daughter’s IEP is several periods in a resource room, which includes a special focus math group and small group homework help. The resource room is staffed with a full-time trained special education teacher. How would a charter without a special education department meet this requirement? Say I apply to such a charter. Would they really hire a full-time teacher to meet her IEP, or would I be asked to change the IEP?

    I would like to see a comparison of Portland charter and their IEP % compared to their nearby schools. Does Trilluim really serve a higher % of IEP students than the two closest schools, Ockley and Beach? I find that hard to believe.

  39. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Rene, I agree. Yes, counseling is often part of the IEP — parents don’t talk about it because of the stigma. Even speech therapy can carry a “stigma” with it. The counseling can help. Anyway — I appreciate your openness.

    I, too, find it hard to believe that Trillium or the Waldorf Village School have many kids with special ed needs at all. What I’ve heard is that the kids with special ed needs will start out at a charter — usually because their parents are frustrated and desperate for a solution that will work for their kid — and before too long are “politely” asked to leave.

    “I think another school would be a better fit,” is the phrase that I have heard is used. Are speech language pathologists, physical therapist, occupational therapists and psychologists/counselors making visits to the charter schools?

    Or is it like the private schools in my neighborhood (North) where the private school kids “dip in” to their neighborhood schools for services? The therapists do not have offices or space at the private schools. Do they have dedicated spaces at the charters?

    Trillium and Waldorf people, if you are out there, what’s the deal?

    I know it does not always come across this way, but I am glad that we’re getting the conversation going. A lot of us have a lot of questions.

  40. Comment from Rene:

    Thank you Wacky, counseling is often part of the IEP for learning disabled kids, to help them deal with frustration, and learn coping skills.

    I was curious, so I tried to find some numbers comparing Trillum (charter) to Ockley (the neighborhood school only four blocks away). Here is what I found:

    Ockley: 83 percent free and reduced lunch
    18.3 percent special education
    44.7 percent African American
    26.5 percent white
    18.3 Hispanic

    The Trillium website talks about a commitment to diversity but I couldn’t find any hard numbers there. However, according to Muni-net, the school is:

    74 percent white
    17 percent African-American
    2 percent Hispanic
    (this is for 198 kids)
    No stats I could find on special education or free or reduced lunch.

    It is interesting Ivy is only estimating 25 percent free or reduced lunch.

    I’m curious about the Waldorf school, too.

  41. Comment from babylove:

    So here’s the deal. When your child has an IEP, you have a IEP review at least once a year. At that time placement is discussed by the IEP team (which includes the child’s parents). The goal is to always place the child in the least restrictive environment.

    So if the parent were to submit application for the lottery at a charter school and got in, there would have to be a IEP placement meeting. It would be a team decision whether that particular charter school would be able to meet the child’s needs.

    If the child needed psychological services and resource room services daily, then PPS probably would not be able to meet the childs need at the charter school. Just as not every neighborhood school has those services available daily.

    If the child needed pull-out with a spec. ed. teacher a few times per week, ST, OT and psychological services 1x/week then PPS will most likely be able to meet that need at the charter school.

    Another option is for PPS to provide a one-on-one para-educator to the child at the charter school (if the child qualifies for one).

    So what I am trying to say is, if the IEP team decides that the charter school will be a good placement then the child is there to stay until the team decides otherwise. The charter school (administrator & gen. ed. teacher) is only part of the vote on the IEP team.

    So no, a charter school can’t politely ask you to leave.

  42. Comment from Rene:

    Given that charters do not have special education departments, then, the team decision will invariably be weighted to keep the student out of the charters.

    It is another way these schools are more likely to end up with a lower ratio of special needs kids, and a higher ratio of high-functioning children. The neighborhood schools will end up with more IEPs, again, exceberating an already inequal educational system.

    But we are talking about kids who already have IEPs. An important question is if charters are equipped to identify IEP qualified students and begin the process. A lot of parents don’t know their rights and will assume their child doesn’t qualify for services when they in fact do.

    When I was deciding on a middle school the IEP team didn’t seem all that concerned, but maybe that would have changed had I applied to charters.

  43. Comment from Anon2:

    Only about 10% of the students at the new Portland Village Waldorf charter school qualify for free and reduced lunch. The school is located in the Jefferson cluster, in the Kenton neighborhood which lost its neighborhood school a couple of years ago. During their charter school approval process, the Village people were as adamant about their goal of attracting a diverse student body as the Ivy organizers.

    From the Waldorf charter school Vision statement:
    “We envision a school which sees diversity as a benefit. Our faculty and students are a microcosm of our city, bringing with them keys to the cultural riches of all parts of our community. Our school seeks out, welcomes and values members from all of Portland’s neighborhoods. Our faculty and staff value equal access to educational opportunity for children from all racial and socio-economic backgrounds”

  44. Comment from Anon:

    Let me clarify further:
    The “counseling services” that PPS asked Ivy about is separate from any IEP services, including counseling. So, any “counseling” that might be required as part of an IEP for a child attending a charter school would be provided by PPS (and would not be a charter school’s responsibility to provide directly or refer out).

  45. Comment from babylove:

    But we are talking about kids who already have IEPs. An important question is if charters are equipped to identify IEP qualified students and begin the process.

    So you are probably referring to a brand new charter school. Not a charter that’s been up and running for awhile. Chances are if the charter is at least 2 years old they have some students with IEP’s that are getting services from PPS.

    A lot of parents don’t know their rights and will assume their child doesn’t qualify for services when they in fact do.

    This could also happen at a neighborhood school.

    So here’s my story:

    I have 3 children. All with IEP or IFSP.

    Dd: 4 yrs old, attends a private preschool on a partial scholarship. IFSP for Speech. Services provided by MESD, 20 mins/week at her preschool.

    Ds2: 6 yrs old (1st grade), 2nd year at a charter school. IEP for speech (30 mins 1x/week), reading & math (20 min. 3x/wk). Services started when he was in a private preschool with a full scholarship. He received his Early Intervention services during preschool in the afternoons at Stephenson.

    Ds1: 9yrs old (This little guy has had quite a ride)

    Private Preschool: Full scholarship. He was having a really difficult time at school and with other children. We took him to doctors and therapists, went to parenting classes – he was our first child and we didn’t have a frame of reference and couldn’t figure out what was going on. We even had him evaluated by Early Intervention. I know now with EI that they mostly go by what the parent tells them. I apparently hadn’t given them enough information.

    Kindergarten: He’s dx’d with ADHD. He gets meds and is now able to function at school (we are currently working to get him off meds). Attends full day at a charter school. 2 teachers 17 PreK & Kindergarten kids in the morning. 1 teacher 6 kids in the afternoons. Before lunch the PreK kids and half day Kindergarten kids go home. Life is fabulous!

    1st grade: Charter School. 1st & 2nd grade classroom, 24 kids, 2 teachers. This is when things started getting rough again. Ds1 spent most of this year hiding under the table – he was dx’d later that year with Autism and Sensory Integration Disorder (Tactile & Auditory defensive). The new classroom was too loud with too many bigger bodies, for his comfort level. In the beginning of October of this year I was asked if I would like to have PPS test him. It took until the end of February for PPS to finish the testing. At the end of March we had his first IEP meeting and he became eligible for services. A teacher at the charter school started providing SpecEd services for reading & math, 20 mins 3x/week. She was absolutely fabulous and they got a lot accomplished in the last 2 1/2 months of that school year.

    2nd grade: Charter school, only 2nd grader in a classroom with 14 1st graders and 2 Kindergarteners, 2 teachers. This year PPS says that SpecEd services can only be provided by them. So PPS sends in SpecEd teacher (I’ll call her MH) to start working with Ds1 for 30 mins 2x/week. Well MH saw Ds1 as a disobedient child rather than a child with special needs. Their time together was not productive and did not progress him academically. With Ds1’s tactile defensiveness he can only tolerate being touched by people that he knows that they know how to touch him. We told MH to never to touch him unless he iniated the touch.. She kept putting her hands on him and he’d freak out. So I ended having to be present any time they worked together. On the other hand he was making small leaps and bounds with his regular classroom teachers from the charter. The charter teachers were totally awesome and worked their butts off for him (when they had time). Unfortunately, he still needed one-on-one academic pull-out with a SpecEd teacher from PPS. So we hoped that next year they would send us a better teacher. He also began receiving speech, OT and psychological services this year. BTW, we asked PPS for a para-educator for him but they said they don’t provide those kind of services anymore.

    3rd grade: Charter school, 13 2nd graders and 12 3rd graders with 3 teachers. They sent a new SpecEd teacher from PPS (I’ll call her HP). HP was even more of a disappointment than MH. Only a few weeks into the school year and I can tell that HP is not going to work out. I did not want a repeat of the year prior. No one at PPS can help me get Ds1’s educational needs met. Meanwhile, the classroom teachers at the charter are fabulous. I’m in the classroom with him during math time, he’s learning double digit addition. One of his classroom teachers is sneaking one-on-one time with him to work on reading, he’s starting to read. But it still wasn’t enough. He could have been so much farther along if PPS had sent adequate SpecEd. Teachers. Near the end of the school year HP’s supervisor suggests that Ds1 would be better served at a 100% special education school. So I go to for the tour and they make it sound like they can totally get him caught up in about a year.

    4th grade: PPS special education school, 7 kids (3-5th grade), 1 teacher, 2 para-educators, 1 psychologist. They tell me he’s having difficulty with single digit addition (he was doing double last year) and he’s not reading at all (he was reading some words last year). Again PPS is totally letting us down.

    I’ve come to realize that I can’t depend on PPS to educate my child. He was having more success academically at the charter. So now I know that it is up to me to educate my son. I am going to start supplementing with some homeschooling and probably homeschool him full time next year.

    Also, if I keep him in the PPS special school they said they would transisition him next to Chapman (Markham is our neighborhood school).

    BTW, this year PPS is providing a full time one-on-one para-educator to a student with autism in Ds2 classroom at the charter. I guess PPS changed the rules this year.

    My other son is still at the charter and my daughter will be there next year. I feel that I can trust the charter to educate them better than any PPS neighborhood school.

    I realize that other people may have had different experiences. Their charter school has served them well, PPS has not.

    Sorry so long, but this may help to give a frame of reference.

  46. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Thanks for all the details.

  47. Comment from babylove:

    Thanks Wacky Mommy.

    As I re-read my comment I’m realizing it’s a little hard to follow. I hope it wasn’t too confusing.

  48. Comment from Gabrielle:

    Hi babylove,
    Thanks for the details. Your story is a great example of the limitations for the PPS and Charter schools. If only all funding was comprehensive, then perhaps we wouldn’t be having these discussions.
    It is exhausting for educators to travel around between schools (and charter schools). Since Charters don’t have the capacity to fund this service then the educator must be brought in but isn’t readily accessible day to day. PPS classrooms have so many kids there isn’t the time available to meet the needs of each child (my son also has an IEP for ST that was not met at the PPS school, he had to go back to his old preschool every wednesday for his ST thru MESD. He is back on the waiting list for his former private preschool after a failed attempt in our neighborhood pre-k).
    I commend you for the patience it takes to home school.
    We are looking at all of our options for next school year (school choice, charter, private), we are just so afraid to apply and be disappointed as has happened to several friends that applied to Charter and did not get in.

  49. Comment from babylove:


    Go for it. Apply at more than one. Kindergarten tends to have the most spots open at charter schools. In the end you may feel more disappointed if you didn’t apply.

    Sending good wishes and much luck your way!

  50. Comment from Rene:

    baylove, thank you. Is there a problem with Chapman as far as an option? I don’t know anything about the school. One thing that jumps out at me from your story is the limitations of specialists who visit schools.

    Here is my story, for what its worth:

    3 kids, one currently on an IEP. (daughter)

    Daughter starts K at the local neighborhood school, which is Title One but high-achieving with a focus on test scores. It is clear from the beginning that she has learning disabilities but the teachers assumed she would catch up. We had adopted her from foster care.

    1st, 2nd pass, daughter is still struggling, and she is referred to SMART. 3rd grade and she hits a huge wall. I begin to advocate for an IEP. I meet resistance. One pyschologist tells me my daughter is performing at her IQ level so she can’t get an IEP. I did my own research and found out she qualified under OTI.

    During this time I researched charters and magnets, visiting many and talking to parents. I was disappointed by their lack of diversity (daughter is African-American) as well as lack of knowledge about her special needs diagnosis. I frankly found the rigid orthodoxy of some programs off-putting, such as the waldorf school and their prohibitions against TV or sugary snacks. My daughter has enough to worry about without having her food choices scrutinized. I also had the typical concerns of a working parent, such as afterschool care. Plus I am a supporter of community schools.

    By this time we were nearing middle school. Her counselor suggests the neighborhood school, Ockley, though it has low ratings and is one of those Jefferson cluster schools with a lot of flight. She felt Ockley would be a good fit: an established special ed department and an arts and science focus. Plus it is diverse, warm and accepting of differences.

    Daughter started 6th grade at Ockley. I heard the same sort of comments Wacky did from neighbors who acted like I was a bad, bad mommy for sending her to Ockley.

    Daughter is now in 7th and has had the two best years of her life at Ockley. She is performing higher than ever, and even scored at grade level in reading this year, which is an amazing achievement for her. I credit the experienced staff and having an in-house special ed department that can work with teachers on a daily basis. She has a fantastic special education teacher, a great pyschologist, and general education teachers who are willing to modify her work. They have the SUN program for free after-school care.

    Our stories aside, I think it is natural for parents to want the best for their kids. It is the job of the school board, and the legislature, to do what is best for all kids.

  51. Comment from babylove:


    He’s currently attending Pioneer Special Needs School. It’s supposed to be the ‘big daddy’ of all PPS special needs services. This school is supposed to help him progress quickly so that he can get caught up because of the last 2 years of crap PPS SpecEd teachers. He has regressed since being at Pioneer. I don’t have faith that Chapman could do any better than Pioneer.

    I just find it odd that PPS teachers can hardly get him to work longer than 20 minutes at a time on math. When I’ve sat down with he’s gone 4 hours and that’s even me teaching him new concepts and I’m the one asking to stop working. It’s just crazy. Especially when they are the ones with the Masters Degree in Education and trained to work with special needs.

    I’m so glad that your daughter is finding success at Ockley. I can imagine it must be a great feeling of relief for you. Go momma!

  52. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    One of the things that needs to be taken into consideration is the quality of the academic programs at PPS neighborhood schools vs. the charters. On the whole, the charters take a much more progressive view of teaching and learning. By “progressive,” I mean they are more student-centered as opposed to teacher-centered, are more project-based, and are not subject to a mandated, standardized curriculum. For example, all elementary schools in PPS must use the Scott Foresman Reading Street curriculum. There is significant opposition to this curriculum from lots of PPS teachers that I know, yet many of them have to follow district marching orders . . . or else. Some teachers are simply ignoring this crap and doing what they have always done. But at the charters, there is no district attempt to force curriculum down the throats of teachers. There is also a different attitude towards assessments that are used to enhance learning, as opposed to the way that PPS neighborhood schools are falling prey to “data driven instruction.”

    Yes, there are lots of problems with the charters. But one thing that is NOT wrong with them is the way that many of them — esp. Emerson, Portland Village, Opal, and Trillium — view learning and give freedom to their teachers to exercise their professional judgment. Right now, perhaps largely due to Philips, PPS has a decidedly hostile view towards teachers and their ability to exercise their professional judgment. I can only hope that Carole Smith will bring in a new spirit and rethink the curriculum adoption. I also hope she will do some housecleaning at the Office of Teaching and Learning.

  53. Comment from Jenny:

    How do we reconcile the desire for a child driven education with the problems wrought by school choice? I would love my children to walk to school every day, but I’m not sending them to a school that seems to be all about test scores, walking in straight lines, being quiet and following (countless) rules, etc. What can we do? I’m really asking what can we do?? I don’t want to live in a racially divided city or sit on my ass and watch the inequity go by. I’d like to make a change…I just don’t know how.

  54. Comment from Rene:

    babylove, how sad for your son, that just sounds awful. Isn’t it frustrating when others see our kids as liabilities or being oppositional, when we see their potential?

    It sounds like your son does well when his environment feels “just right” sensory wise. I bet he will flourish with homeschooling. But jeez, not everyone can do that. It scares me to think of the kids whose parents are poor, don’t speak English, and so on.

    NoPo parent, I agree about the test driven stuff. Personally I don’t care that Ockley has low scores. But I know a lot of parents in my neighborhood reject it for that reason alone, without bothering to investigate why (high ESL population, significant special ed and lots of art and dance instead of endless drilling). It annoys me how the Oregonian has made this the criteria of judging schools. That and how they insist on calling every school in North Portland “inner city.” Come on, we are miles from city center. Buckman is closer to city center than Ockley. I wish they would stop with the racial coding.

  55. Comment from Steve:

    How do we reconcile the desire for a child driven education with the problems wrought by school choice? I would love my children to walk to school every day, but I’m not sending them to a school that seems to be all about test scores, walking in straight lines, being quiet and following (countless) rules, etc.

    There’s a certain amount of order and discipline necessary in any learning environment, not to mention society at large. I’d rather have my kids know how to function as a respectful member of a group than learn how to knit or or sing John Denver songs. Too many of these hippie-dippy charters and private schools excuse disruptive behavior and refuse to say “no” lest they break the creative child’s spirit.

    But without discipline, no creative child will amount to much but a socially inept, precocious pain in the ass.

    Smaller classes will help. That’s a state funding issue.

    All the testing is a national problem. We need to support candidates who take a stand about the horrors of No Child Left Behind.

  56. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Steve – before you write off so-called “hippie-dippy charters” and their lack of discipline, I suggest you visit one. Talk to the teachers, the students, and the parents. Get a sense of what they are excited about as far as learning is concerned. If you’re averse to knitting (I assume you’re talking about Waldorf methods?), then I suggest you do a bit of research around kinaesthetic learning, fine motor skill development, and student engagement. As for singing John Denver songs, I suggest you do a bit of research on the role of arts education (esp. music education) and the hard evidence that arts instruction creates more engaged, more excited learners.

    As an educator, I know the most important thing about learning is allowing the students to have their imaginations kindled, not snuffed out. Heavy-handed discipline and drill-and-kill approaches to learning kill children’s spirits. You can still have discipline while allowing kids to explore, not turning them into passive robots.

    The future lies in the hands of creative problem-solvers, not passive worker bees disciplined into passive subjugation.

  57. Comment from Steve:

    I had a strong music education growing up, from certified teachers with advanced degrees in music education and performance. I credit that with making me the person I am today. Every child deserves that.

    Singing John Denver songs to start the day is not music education.

  58. Comment from Howard:

    “Smaller classes will help. That’s a state funding issue.”

    It ain’t that simple and never will be with finite revenue sources, competing public spending programs, escalating health care and retirement costs for public employees etc. etc.

  59. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    “Singing John Denver songs to start the day is not music education” — Especially not “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” that would have given me fits as a child.

    I’d be down with “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” though, and then an all-school HOCKEY GAME.

    NoPo Parent,
    You are not an assclown, and I apologize for the other times I intimated that you were/are. And I am not arguing with you, in the spirit of NAWACOTID.

    Although your whole “in the closet” thing with your moniker I do not understand. Stand for something or fall for anything, I say.

    To answer your question, if it was a question and not a “demand,” I do not feel safe stepping foot in a charter school at this point, as I am afraid they would tie me up, tie me down, knock me unconscious with a vat of patchouli and next thing you know… I come to dressed in a cunning little hat and some stripedy leggings.

    Bad, bad, bad. It would all bring back twisted memories from my hippie-dippie childhood, being “cradled” by all the Transactional Analysis/Yellow Brick Road-lovin’ adults in my life, while my friend held my head and whispered, “I’m gonna drop you, right on the hearth, and your head will crack open…”

    I have talked with, (“interrogated” some would call it) parents, teachers, “founders,” staff from several charters and so-called “hippie-dippie” schools, and I found out the following:

    1) What works for their kids wouldn’t necessarily work for mine.

    2) I do not appreciate anyone trying to force me to go to their school, telling me, “It’s way better than your school, why would you send your children here?” and yelling at me, “What does *your* school have? Your school has *nothing*!” (and for what it’s worth — “my” school is actually “my kids’ school,” not mine. I’ve already graduated, I’m done. And they love their school.)

    3) To me, the charters do not seem to be inclusive. They seem to be bubbles that are pretty exclusively for white kids, and not just white kids — a certain kind of white kid. And my family doesn’t really fit in well with the Hanna Andersson crowd. We haven’t since the day we became a family. Something about the way I say, “No!” instead of “Gentle!”

    4) At the new Waldorf Village school, they started out the school year by singing a Swahili sharing song (this made me giggle, and I’m sorry — but a Swahili sharing song? That is goofy as hell) and asking the parents to each pony up 80 bucks per family for pearwood recorders. Regular wood would not do.

    5) At Sunnyside Environmental School, they reportedly start every day by singing a John Denver song. That alone was enough for me to cross Sunnyside off the list. That, and the fact that my kids get carsick, so back-forth across town makes my life a vomity hell.

    6) Trillium kids, for exercise, walk up and down, up and down, up and down Interstate Avenue. No playground for them, just the parking lot.

    7) Some kids at the Portland Waldorf School know how to make knitting needles, and knit, but don’t know how to do much else.

    I haven’t written or posted comments about a lot of stuff, because we’re already divided as hell and I do not want to make it worse.

    People (and I’m including myself here) feel their parenting is under attack — that’s what “school choice” has brought with it. Because when you’re attacking someone’s kid’s school (“You have *nothing*”), you’re attacking how they have chosen to parent, by deciding where the kids should attend school.

    “Good parents/good schools, bad parents/bad schools.” That is total bullshit and distracts from the issues — poverty, youth who feel there is no hope or point, underfunded schools, too much testing because of NCLB/Title I/etc.

    We need to focus instead on what needs to be changed and improved within our educational system in America, instead of circling the wagons and pointing fingers.

  60. Comment from babylove:

    “What works for their kids wouldn’t necessarily work for mine.”

    I think that is exactly right. Neighborhood schools work for some families and charter schools work for other families.

    Wacky Mommy, I love “Cotton-Eyed Joe”. I actually own that Rednex CD. I’m guessing the morning song is more about building community than music education.

  61. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Agreed that what works for some kids won’t work for others. The consistent thing I hear about MLC, Trillium, and Emerson is that if your kid needs lots of structure, then these schools are not for you. But if your kid likes to do his/her own thing and can flourish without a lot of structure, then these places might work.

    Also agreed that we need to fix what’s wrong with public ed and stop pointing fingers, etc.

    Jenny – your question — How do we reconcile the desire for a child driven education with the problems wrought by school choice? — is one I ask myself every day. Literally. What do we do? For me, it’s a two-pronged strategy that looks at short-term and long-term goals. The long-term goals have to address social justice and equity issues, and these are inextricably linked to funding. The fact that the federal government contributes only 8 to 10 per cent to public school budgets is an absolute travesty. But this is going to take a long time to fight this battle, maybe longer than our lifetimes. The conservative revolution was really 30 years in the making. Maybe we have to adjust our expectations? In the short-term, we need to do what we feel is best for our own kids while fighting for all kids. This may seem hypocritical. It sometimes feels hypocritical to me. But what else is there to do?

  62. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I’ve taught in the public schools for 40+ years. I’ve taught in Portland, the poorest part, in Vancouver, in Hillsboro, in Woodburn, in Triangle Lake (right between Blachley and Dead Wood), I grew up in Tillamook. I was on a school board, was a teacher’s union president, married to a principal, have taught most every subject except music, taught in grade school, middle school and high schoolq, have my administrative degree, and substitute taught; pretty much covers the public school bases in this part of the country. And every day I like them less. The public schools themselves have brought on the charters. And, if I was a parent, I’d be damned if I’d sacrifice my kid on their alter.

    But that said. Their survival and improvement is critical to America and every person in it.

    The main problem is that we have developed a system of haves and have nots. Some schools are great — terrific schools, wonderful schools. Some are pretty middle of the road and some just stink.

    And way too often the type of school is dependent on the community. It reflects the educational interests of the parents which can go anywhere from “your education is the most important thing in your life” to “I didn’t like school and don’t see any reason you should either.”

    So we go from students who are off to be doctors or scientists or leaders, take only AP classes, try to get into the college they want, participate, and care and behave to students who only show up sometimes, do little work, disrupt regularly and could care less.

    Then we tell the public schools to not only deal with it, but get your test scores up, make sure your teachers are dedicated and nurturing but don’t touch any students, be open and inspire but don’t be tough on the kids who disrupt and make inspiring dang near impossible so they never learn how to behave in society, tell the teachers they are professionals and treat them like they are brainless and ask for consensus, and make sure the administrators are protected from criticism even though their actions are directed consistently at raising test scores by using the last, great educational trend we can find to do it.

    But, like the political system which is broken, it is the best hope we have. We need to fix it. Not junk it. Fight for it. Not ignore it.

    So, charters go for it! Do what is best for your kid. But don’t forget your responsibility as a citizen to help fix the political and educational systems where they are broken. After all, it is your kids that are going to inherit the world we made for them.

  63. Comment from Gabrielle:

    I believe the important thing to remember in the school choice and charter school debate is this: Life isn’t scripted, work isn’t always about choice, and who we work with isn’t always a choice. I had a very rigid private (catholic school) education, but in that I also had wonderful creative teachers that adapted to the students in their classess. I don’t do much inside the box, my imagination wasn’t killed because I had nuns, confession, or mass, and I chose to wear argyle socks with my plaid skirt because it didn’t match and it I was me demonstrating my indepence.
    With that said, I am concerned that if we tell our kids that they get to pick and chose their schools, their teachers etc (I am not talking about kids with IEP’s or special needs) then they won’t be prepared for life as an adult.
    College was hard, I put forth a lot of effort, in graduate school I had a beast of a professor, but if I hadn’t learned how to adapt, how to deal with conflict, work through difficult situations during my elementary school years then I may not have had the resiliency to make it.
    I am concerned that Charter schools focus too much on the feel good, let’s not place too many demands on our kids, we don’t want their feelings hurt; specialized education doesn’t prepare for the real world. Trust me, go visit a class at PSU, OSU, UofO, UP and you are not going to find the Professor integrating montessori, reggio amalia or other learning into their teaching.
    We need engineers, programmers, doctors (and I admit lawyers), while we also need musicians, artists, and writers. But those who state that public schools are limiting the edcuation of our kids aren’t looking in the mirror. So does charter school education. Life is sometimes rigid, sometimes uncomfortable; what we all want are well rounded children that grow into independant well adjusted and well educated adults that can follow their own passions without the guilt of their parents who at the (child’s) age of 4 have already decided for them that they will be doing John Denver covers while knitting stripedy socks as adults (for those with no sense of humor that is a joke….kinda).

  64. Comment from Terry:

    Hey! What’s wrong with John Denver? I love John Denver!

    On a more serious (and less divisive) note, since when are charters fundamentally “child centered”? Anyone ever visited the scripted, achievement-in-reading-and math-centered Arthur Academies? Last time I checked, those were charter schools.

    Here’s the thing. All good schools should be student-centered (meaning that they teach to the student rather than the subject.) To the extent any PPS school is not student (child)-centered, that can be blamed on the legacy of Vicki Phillips and her insistence on creating a uniform system of test-centered, achievement-centered, and common subject-centered schools.

    That’s the discussion we should be having –how do we get our schools back to places where every student regardless of circumstance has the same opportunity to grow into a well-rounded, well-educated, and tolerant adult able to function in a diverse and democratic society. That’s what traditional public schools are for.

    For what it’s worth, charter schools aren’t the solution to the problems we face. And by “we”, I mean all of us, not just the cunning and stripedy few.

  65. Comment from Gabrielle:

    Well stated, thanks!

  66. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Arthur Academy is a notable exception to the student-centered curricula that most of the charters (perportedly?) offer.

    And as bad as Philips was, we have to remember that she, along with all the current PPS administrators, are marching to federal orders to raise test scores and meet AYP.

    I urge all of you to read Linda Perlsteins new book called Tested. Perlstein painfully documents the dumbed-down, test-centric path that a Title 1 school in Maryland follows to make AYP. In reading this book, I was saddened, enraged, and disgusted. After being exposed to a constant regimen of “BCR’s” (brief constructed responses), decoding drills, and endless test prep, it’s amazing that anyone would ever want to read anything ever again.

    There’s a difference between being able to read and reading. Most kids can read by a certain age. But, according to a recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, most choose not to.

    “Many still read, and read well,” NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said, “but we are at a delicate point, and the trends are toward the negative. Americans are reading less and, therefore, less well, and so they do less well in school, in the economy and in civic life.”

    Nearly half of those ages 18 to 24 who were surveyed read no books for pleasure at all. Those ages 15 to 24 who read voluntarily did so for only seven to 10 minutes a day.

    So why are kids who can read choosing not to read?

    In his book titled Reading the Naked Truth, Gerald Coles writes, “Putting an excessive emphasis on word skills might result in beginning readers not achieving competence in a variety of additional strategies of reading, strategies especially necessary for high-level material in later grades. An excessive skills emphasis that encourages children to see reading as ‘word work’ rather than as an experience that informs and excites them and fires their imagination could discourage enthusiasm for reading and thereby encourage aliteracy, that is, students who know how to read but have no interest in reading.”

    In low-income classrooms I’ve visited, I see this deadening effect at work. Low-income minority children are being given the lowest of the low when it comes to a rich curriculum. The reading program is designed for one thing: to help kids pass the state standardized test. The rationale is understandable: these kids need help in “the basics” because they don’t get it at home. But this then leads to the creation of a curriculum that is nothing but the basics.

    Perlstein’s book documents this phenomenon exhaustively.

  67. Comment from marcia:

    One example of what NoPo Parent speaks:

    By Cristina de León-Menjivar

    “Gripping their favorite novels, a group of about 30 high school English teachers and students marched into the Napa Valley Unified School District board room Thursday to offer harsh lessons about the No Child Left Behind Act.

    Specifically, the teachers criticized a mandate that English teachers use a literary anthology in place of novels.

    Students also joined the parade of speakers. Lauren Robinson, a Napa High senior, described as the anthologies as “canned, pre-packaged literature that isn’t literature anymore.”

    Under No Child, schools that receive federal funds must meet specific academic performance standards or face “program improvement” — sanctions that could require schools to alter their curriculum or even change administrative teams.”

    The rest of the article is here:

  68. Comment from Gabrielle:

    I don’t think you will find many of us disagreeing that the NCLB mandates are not teaching our children other then perhaps how to take a test. But this isn’t what is causing the problems in Portland. The problems with PPS is the inequity in funding to our nieghborhood schools. I agree that we have some great or even excellent PPS Schools and even excellent Charter Schools (Emmerson), but look at the demograhpics of these schools, the socio-economics, diversity, etc. They will not come even close to the demographics of our struggling schools. I understand a parents frustration when caught in the struggle of chosing what is best for their child(ren) educationally and supporting PPS. This should not have to be a choice or s struggle. Schools with high parent participation, strong PTA, and the ability to fundraise thousands and thousands of dollars already have an advantage, parents who care and have money and more then likely are educated if not highly educated. If we keep funnling money into the charter schools it has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is often at the expense of our poorer schools. Look around, the kids going to Charter have parents that care enough about their education to apply to the Charter, they may take a more active role, do more fundraising, create a community around that charter. As I have said before, this is often at the expense of the nieghborhood school. Struggling schools need additional teachers, more support staff, and more nieghborhood involvement. They don’t have the same playing field at the starting line and they certainly have less resources.
    Hopefully NCLB will become a distant memory with the next administration. But we can’t blame NCLB for the disparity in PPS. If this were true, all schools would be failing and that isn’t what is happening. Schools like Laurelhurst, Hollyrood, Emerson have art, music, smaller classess AND excellent ratings under NCLB.
    I support a parents right to chose the best education for their children because that is how PPS is set up right now. If you don’t like your nieghborhood school, apply to transfer to another school. If you don’t like the structure of the regular public schools, apply to a specialty charter school. But these options do nothing to fix the problems and the evidence is less the conclusive long term on the ultimate success of charters replacing nieghborhood schools.

  69. Comment from marcia:

    “Hopefully NCLB will become a distant memory with the next administration.”
    Judging from what the candidates are saying, I doubt that this will happen.

  70. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Gabrielle – I agree with your main points, but disagree on the role that NCLB is playing in all of this. One of the major reasons why I’m looking seriously at the more progressive charters is that NCLB has forced the neighborhood schools to begin test prep in pre-K. I don’t want any kid to have to endure a curriculum that is driven primarily by AYP, much less my own kid. While the charters are not immune to AYP pressures, the ones I know about and admire (Emerson, Portland Village, Trillium, and MLC — not a charter, but charter-like) have not surrendered their approach and substituted it with test prep. At least, not yet.

    Here’s the way I see it: parents (like me) who support a specific kind of approach to teaching and learning do not see this approach reflected in PPS neighborhood schools. They see schools that are not only funded in an inequitable fashion, but they see schools that have little time for recess, unstructured play, music, art, and foreign languages. They see a curriculum dominated by the need to prepare children to make AYP in the 3rd grade, so they begin the preparation in pre-K. It’s this demand to make AYP that provides the driving rationale to abandon all the other “extras.”

    The charter movement, in its ideal form, is about parents getting involved in schools, having a strong say in how the schools are run, and children having each of their individual needs met as they work and play with other kids and adults in the community. Ideally, charters are small enough so that people can get to know each other. They are not subject to the same top-down administrative mandates that other PPS schools are, so teachers have more room to exercise their professional judgment.

    I agree with Marcia that AYP and NCLB are not going away any time soon. They are part of the fabric of public schools. So, given this, the issue for me is, how can we take what is good about the charter movement and apply it to neighborhood schools? How can we make neighborhood schools places where parents want to volunteer and become involved? How can we make charters more inclusive? How can we make all PPS schools places where teachers can exercise their professional judgment and serve the individual needs of all their students, not just serve them up a one-size-fits-all test prep curriculum?

    In the end, these sorts of questions would be a lot easier to address if NCLB were dismantled.

  71. Comment from babylove:

    Author, Alfie Kohn has written an informative article regarding standardized testing:

    “Fighting the Tests
    A Practical Guide to Rescuing Our Schools

  72. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Alfie Kohn is one of my heroes. His book, The Schools Our Children Deserve is practically canonical in the field of progressive education. I highly recommend it to everyone.

  73. Comment from babylove:

    He’s one of my heroes, too!

    Alfie Kohn has written a few articles about progressive education and pedagogy that are quite impressive as well.

  74. Comment from BWR:

    Just so ya know, the board finally told all us (in the Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood), “NO” to the boundary adjustment. No reason is given.

  75. Comment from RVN:

    I just happened upon this message board and have found the conversations very interesting. I am a teacher at Trillium Charter School and have been there since it opened. Along with Trillium I have taught in several public and private schools. Some very well off and some very very poor, so I have seen the range of what our public schools have to offer. I think that the argument for or against charter schools is a wrong one. I think it limits the conversation that we need to be having about education in this country. I am strong believer in Public Education but I think that “equal” is something that can never really exist for the single fact that there is no equal way of learning. The problem with your typical “neighborhood” school is that for the most part kids are all doing the same kind of thing and basically learning in the same way. Sure, some schools do it in a way that works better for the majority of the kids, but we need to re-examine what schools really are all about to understand how to make things better.

    The charter school movement, which by no means is perfect or will ever be, is one way to address the real needs of kids. I prefer not to speak about any of the other charter school programs because I don’t know them really well enough to do so. But I can speak really clearly about Trillium Charter School. We are a new school, only 5 years old, with a mission that is quite different than most schools around us. We chose to locate in North/NE portland because we felt that there was a need for it.

    When we opened our doors we had a rush of people applying to get in. With 160 openings we filled pretty fast. However, about half the families had no idea what were about and half did. When you create a school with a mission, and 50% of the people (including some of the staff) don’t understand it, there is a recipe for disaster. However, the school was never intended to be an exclusive place. The reason we located in North Portland was because we wanted to provide access to the neighborhoods that could benefit from what we had/have to offer. (Small class sizes, individualized instruction and the chance to pursue individual interests).

    Most kids in the younger grades came from families who were interest in this philosophy and many in the older grades just needed someplace new for their kids. We struggled for many years. As a staff we really wanted to support ALL kids. But as a school with limited resources and support that isn’t easy at first. Many new kids started coming from local public schools and we started hearing that Trillium was seen as a “dumping ground” of sorts for kids with “problems”.

    The goal of Trillium has always been to accept ALL kids. I have had and have kids that really didn’t or couldn’t make it in other places. SOOO many kids have come to Trillium hating school and then over time discovering it can be a place to love. I currently have close to 30% of my students on some sort of IEP. However, we also have MANY kids who would be on some kind of IEP in other schools who are not because we try to work with kids from where they are and not where the state thinks they should be.

    Last year we qualified to be a Title 1 school because we had such a large number of kids on free and reduced lunch and with special needs. We ended up not taking the federal funding because it ties our hands in so many ways.

    I would like to respond to a few “errors” that I noticed posted about Trillium.

    #1.We don’t walk kids up and down Interstate for exercise. Actually the kids run around the block (on the sidewalk) a few times a week (one side happens to be on Interstate). It is an activity the kids choose to do and actually ask to do all the time, (they also have yoga or outside play) but it isn’t the only exercise they engage in. The park next to the school is under construction presently and the “parking lot” actually has a basketball hoop, climbing structures, four square, hula hoops, jump rope, etc). Because charter schools do receive a significantly smaller amount of money per child we also struggle with having adequate resources. That isn’t the fault of the school itself. The school district, which approves of our charter, did not help in securing a space for us to use.

    #2. Trillium does have a large number of special needs kids, both IEP as well as kids who need one-on-one assistants. We have 2 special ed staff that are hired by the school district and not Trillium. Luckily both of them understand and appreciate our educational philosophy. In many places that I have taught, teachers that have children that are “difficult” in their classrooms, are quick to test them and look to get special ed. support. However, because Trillium is so individualized for kids, that often isn’t the case. Many kids “act out” because they are bored or because they are not doing appropriate work. At Trillium kids can really direct themselves and this often takes away the need to label kids as “struggling, special ed, etc”.

    #3. While Trillium is built around a philosophy of having kids be self directed (internal structure) as opposed to having the teachers do all the directing (external structure) we have kids at all levels of that ability. The goal for all kids is to become self directed, they don’t have to start at that place. More often than not, it is the parent who doesn’t trust their kid enough to become self directed over time. When parents come to look at the school I always make it clear what we do, what the struggles may be and what the successes may be, but I never tell a parent not to send their child to our school. As long as the parents can support them on their quest for self direction, I am there to help.

    #4 Wacky mom, made a list of things that do or don’t happen at various charter/specialty schools in Portland that she/he seemed to dislike. Knitting, singing Swahili songs, etc. I could make that same list about any and all places of learning. There are always going to be things that people don’t like and have to live with. As a parent, to make a list of things so trivial really doesn’t make a lot of sense. You may hate all those things, but what if your kids loves them. What if how they are done change your child’s life. In the end, so much of these conversations have little to do with education, and even less to do with educating our children. It reminds me of the story of the 7 mice and the elephant. Each mouse touches a different part of the elephant and thinks they know what it is (a rope, a cliff, a pillar, etc) but until one of the mice has a chance to walk all over the entire thing can he point out that it isn’t a bunch of disconnected parts but rather a whole elephant.

  76. Comment from Steve:

    Thanks for stopping by. My concerns are about pulling funding out of the teachers’ bargaining unit, and using it to hire teachers at non-union wages, half of whom don’t even need to be certified.

    Furthermore, as I wrote above, charter schools skim enrollment and funding from neighborhood schools that are already hurting for enrollment due to PPS’ transfer policy.

    I’m sure the teachers and administrators at Trillium are trying their best. But what percentage of Trillium students are on IEP? What percentage qualify for free and reduced lunch? What percentage are non-white? How do these numbers compare to the neighborhood population?

    I would bet dollars to doughnuts all of these numbers are lower than the neighborhood population. No matter how good intentions may be, this is a predictable pattern with charter schools.

    As for sending grade school kids out jogging on Interstate… seriously, you call that P.E.?

  77. Comment from Rene:

    Steve: According to the numbers I found, there is a vast racial difference between Trillium and the nearest school:

    Trillium: 74 percent white, 17 black
    Ockley: 26 percent white, 45 percent black

    I echo your concerns that charters only worsen the racial segregation of our city.

    This is not to say that the parents, staff or children at these schools intend to cause this effect. I think there are several reasons.

    RVN: Among your many points (and thanks for writing) I am one who considers the culture of a school, whether it is John Denver songs or yoga instead of a more well-rounded PE program, to be far from trivial. They often signify a certain ideology that can be unaware or even inadvertently hostile to other viewpoints and backgrounds. One charter has rules against junk food which could prove mortifying to a poor child whose family is eating from donations, for instance.

    I agree that parents do best to be open-minded (I was tested by the public school teacher who had my kids sing Grand Old Flag, and they adored her). But such issues are not trivial, because they often signal a certain mindset that is less than welcoming to minorities and the poor.

    I’d also be curious to see if the Trillum percentage of IEP students matches Ockley, which I believe is one in five. Also what are the strings attached to free and reduced lunch, if you don’t mind?

  78. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    Dear RVN,
    Oh, good. They *run* up and down Interstate Avenue for exercise, they don’t walk. Good, good, good. Thanks for correcting me.

    Also, it’s not that I’m opposed to knitting — I love knitting. I myself am a knitter. Some of my best friends are knitters. Well, one of my best friends, anyway. She’s not here, though, so let me tell you what she would say, were she here, and I will chime in, too. We are not in favor of children knit, knit, knitting to the point of forgetting about reading, as in: Learning How To.

    It is not trivial at all when your kid can’t read, even though he’s in the fourth grade, because he’s been too busy at school making his own knitting needles and handcrafts.

    And no, I’m not opposed to Swahili Sharing Songs, per se, they do have their place in the world. I am opposed to singing about and preaching “inclusiveness,” we are the world, we are the knitting, Swahili-song singers, when in fact, you’ve got an exclusive little operation going on.

    I would like to see hard numbers, too, thanks.

  79. Comment from Rene:

    I wanted to respond quickly to RVN’s #2 above. I don’t think there should be any shame attached to a child being identified as special ed. And it is mistaken to equate special ed with acting out behavior issues. Many IEP students including my daughter have no behavior issues at all. She has academic needs.

    I wanted to respond to this because I think there is an undercurrent of stigma here that assumes kids that are special ed are behavior problems, or are have been wrongfully labelled because they are “bored.” There are many special education reasons, such as MR/DD, Down, FAS, and autism that are not miraculously cured by letting a child redirect themselves.

  80. Comment from RVN:

    Well it looks like I have a few things to respond to.

    First, I can get the numbers for you for Trillium. I am actually working with Rethinking Schools on a book that looks at charter schools around the country and am getting those numbers for them anyway.

    I believe that we are at about 17% of kids on IEPs, which isn’t the one to five ratio that was referred to above, but it is close. (As I mentioned earlier, in my class alone I have 30% of my students on IEPs) Title I funding is given to schools that meet certain percentages of students from poor families, and we meet those requirements. I don’t have all the numbers in front of me here, but I would be happy to provide you with these numbers. While I agree we don’t have the same racial makeup of Ockley, it is incorrect to assume that white equals rich. That may be true in many areas, but a large percentage of our students on free and reduced lunch are from white families.

    Secondly, to say that charter schools worsen the racial segregation in our city is to demonize a pretty small population. The number of students that actually attend charter schools in comparison to the rest of the schools is quite small. Most of the less than 10 charter schools have few than 100 kids each. We aren’t sucking money from the district, but we are offering options to any student who wants to come to have a different type of education that they are getting at their neighborhood schools. The district actually is making money off of the students that come to charter schools. The state sends the district money for each child that attends a charter school and then skims off up to 20% for “administrative fees”. These are all kids in Portland Public remember. Anyone who wants to come to Trillium can. We don’t and legally can’t select who comes. The worsening of the segregation isn’t because of charter schools, come on. Be real. There aren’t a lot of white families in my North Portland Neighborhood (a few blocks from Jefferson and Ockley) that are sending their kids to Trillium but a hell of a lot of them are trying to get into Grant or Lincoln, and that has been going on for a long time. The segregation is deep seeded and it is naive to suggest that charters are making it worse. Victory Charter School (a middle school that was open for just 2 years) was primarily made up of African American students.

    Thirdly. Rene, I would fully agree with you that IEP and “behavior student” should not be categorized together. That, in fact, was not my point at all. I think that students that need special ed support need it for a reason. Most of my students that are on IEPs are not “problem kids” at all. My point was that at many schools IEP and special ed and problem kid ARE lumped together by the teachers. There is a lot of labeling that goes on in most schools and IEP kids are seen as having a problem. This is not only with the staff but also by students themselves. This isn’t the case at Trillium. At Trillium we have a range of students that get support, from basic reading and writing IEP support to students with Downs and brain damage who need one-on-one assistance every day. Many families who have children with special learning needs come to Trillium specifically because their old neighborhood schools could not support the needs of their children. Most of those families do feel that Trillium can provide them with better support. That isn’t to say that we can support all special needs children. We don’t have the facilities of the resources to do that. However, philosophically we are very open to a large range of learners and because we do cater to individual needs we can do a really great job.

    Fourthly. I find it funny that several people are focusing on the “running on interstate” as some kind of sign that we are doing a bad job with our students or not providing them with adequate exercise. As I mentioned, this one one activity that kids can choose to do a few times a week. It isn’t a PE class, but as we don’t have a gym or a track or a functional park at the moment, we do what we can to let the kids do some jogging. It seems kind of elitist to me to assume that a school that has its student jog around a track for PE is any better than running on pavement. The kids like it, they get their heart beats going for a while and it works. If you really want to know what we do for PE I could give you a whole list of things, but I don’t have a sense that people are really interested in having a dialog with someone who actually has very first hand experience working within a charter school. It seems that minds are made up and you want to throw some stones. That’s ok. I am used to it. Fire away.

    Charter schools are not perfect by any means. Issues of hiring, pay and collective bargaining are ones that are near to my heart. As a very active ex-union member, it has always been a priority. I have been lucky to work at Trillium because the pay scale and issues of equity in hiring and work are constantly discussed and respected. I believe that eventually teachers at charters will work to unionize. But it IS something that needs to be talked about and addressed for sure.

    While charter schools only have to hire 50% certified teachers, No Child Left Behind does require a certain percentage of teachers to be Highly Qualified, which I believe is at 70 or 80%. That trumps Oregon’s 50% law. At Trillium I believe that about 78% of the staff have their masters, and the ones that don’t are working on them and happen to be extraordinary teachers.

    Fifthly. (Sorry for the long list, but I have some passion about this subject). I agree with Wacky, that knitting all day probably isn’t the best way to learn to read, but it could be. Now don’t roll your eyes yet. Stick with me for a minute alright. There is an assumption by most people (parents, teachers and just about anyone who went to a regular public or private school) that reading is key. I would agree that reading is very important for success (although Jim Trelease pointed out a study to me that suggested that success in school can be determined by the age of 6 years old. Much of that had to do with how many stories a young child heard up to that point) it isn’t the key that opens things up. That key, from my 13 years of teaching, is self direction and desire. If someone really has the desire to read, even if they struggle, they will figure it out. Any type of learning works that way. So, back to my point. If a student knits a lot in school. Really loves to do it and spends hours doing it, they develop an inner drive. They not only knit, they learn new styles, challenge themselves, and find ways to become better. This could lead to reading on its own, as reading would be the avenue to learn more. But more importantly it builds up in a child the ability to stick with something, work hard on it, deal with frustrations and seek help. Once those seeds are developed in one thing, they are so much easier to transfer to other areas of life. As for reading ALL kids want to read eventually. Our society has SO MUCH that is literacy based that kids have a sense that they really need it.

    The thing, however, is that their need may not come at the same pace as every other kid, an more importantly at the pace their parents want. However, given time all kids can and do become literate if they are not pressured and cajoled. I can give countless examples from my own teaching experience, but let me give just one.

    I had a student for 3 years who left my class as a 5th grader two years ago. He started with me almost unable to read a word. He came from a very literate family. At home they read all the time, they listened to books on tape constantly. They were immersed in books and the written word. But as a third grader he could hardly read the word “the”. I worked with him a lot. Gave him support and backed off when he got frustrated. He didn’t want an IEP (his sister had had one and hated the experience) for most of 3rd and 4th grade. We are talking about a 4th grader who can barely read. That scares the hell out of people. But this student had a passion for numbers and building and spent hours in my class doing just that. He spent most of 2 years really avoiding reading and focused on the things that he could do well. Eventually, as a 5th grader he asked for and IEP. He was tested and easily qualified. He was a brilliant kid who really struggled with reading. He continued to struggle for another 2 years. But suddenly, this past summer, before his 7th grade year it started to come together. It just started to happen for him. Something suddenly clicked and the words woke up for him. It wasn’t constant “instruction” from the outside that made it happen, it was his own way of finding thing that made it happen. That is my answer to the Learning How To Read question. I say the same to Learning How To Do Anything.

    Wacky, I invite you to come spend some time in my classroom at Trillium so you can get a sense of what is really happening. Actually, I invite any of you that are posting on here to come check it out. Come see first hand what can happen. Anyone care to take me up on that challenge.

    In the end it isn’t about charter, or public, or private, it is about how we look at learning, and how we have forgotten (or maybe never really understood) what learning really is all about.

    The educational agenda has never really been about learning. If you look at American education in the past 100 years you will see that it is about power, and how to control it and who has it. This bickering about charter school vs neighborhood school clouds what is really going on. Would it matter if Trillium was 100% African American? No. Then would be some other reason why it was bad. The reality as it has always been in schooling is that who has the money and the power gets what they want.

    Trillium has a commitment to diversity. We are young and have only been in the neighborhood for a year and a half. Schools like Jefferson and Tubman and even Ockley aren’t working because EVERYONE but a few are abandoning a sinking ship. NO ONE knows what to do about it. Our mission at Trillium isn’t to heal a divided and troubled district, but rather it is to bring a new possibility to schools. Perhaps if more schools took some of our ideas, the ones that really worked, and implemented them, their own schools would begin to change.

    So much of schooling is about testing, and it means the very least to the kids at Ockley and Jefferson and Tubman and Humboldt, but it is rammed down their throats. Instead of bitching about some schools that are new and trying something different how about working to dismantle this testing machine that is making it almost impossible for struggling schools to get any better and making daily life tolerable for their students and staff.

    Did I push anyones buttons? :-)

  81. Comment from RVN:

    One more thing. I am always wary about people who say they want “hard numbers”. Numbers, as most of us know, don’t really tell much do they? They never tell the full story. Hell, the numbers that I could give you for the number of Ph.ds in the Nazi party prior to 1940 would be pretty impressive. But that isn’t really what matters.

    So if you want hard numbers and the personal story that goes with those numbers, well that is something else.

  82. Comment from RVN:

    Sorry, at 2 in the morning I really shouldn’t be responding to one more thing but….

    Rene. There aren’t any strings attached to free and reduced lunch. Title I, a program that was started in sixties to support schools in impoverished communities, uses how many kids are on free and reduced lunches as one of the numbers to determine if a school qualifies for Title I money. The strings that are attached to Title I money are the things I was referring. There are all sorts of ways that you have to spend the money, as well as account for its use (read that as testing). We determined that the strings would undermine our mission.

  83. Comment from RVN:

    Here are the “numbers” people were wondering about. Obviously numbers change from year to year so there is a range here.

    35-45 % free and reduced lunch (families in poverty)
    16-20% special ed
    less than 1% ELL,
    26% students of color, 74% caucasian

    One thing to remember is that kids do come from all around the district to come to Trillium and most other schools are mainly neighborhood schools. I believe that the longer we are in the neighborhood and the more people know about us, the more our makeup will be closer to that of the neighborhood.

    If people are looking for more numbers/stats you can go to but they don’t have much about ELL stats there. One thing to keep in mind with the posting of school stats, they can be incorrect. We have found errors almost every year in Trillium’s numbers when they are posted in the Oregonian and other media.

  84. Comment from RVN:

    Here are some more numbers. They are a little old, but they are from the 2000 school report cards on schools.

    Special Ed.
    Ockley Green 13%

  85. Comment from RVN:

    Sorry. These are the recent numbers

    Special Ed. ELL Free and Reduced

    Ockley Green 18% 8% 83%
    Beach 11% 23% 68%
    Chief Joseph 13% 5% 51%
    Jeff. Art/tech 20% 8% 64%
    Jeff. science/ 23% 12% 69%
    Trillium 16-20% 1% 35-45%

    found at:

    presently 13% is pretty average for number of special ed. students across the district. Trillium is well above those numbers and in the range of the neighborhood.

    In terms of finances, there are many areas where charters DON’T receive money. We get 80% of what other schools get per child (remember, we are a public school) but we don’t get money from things like bonds, in-kind gifting (Powells gives a lot of books away but doesn’t recognize us as a public school) from businesses, and other non-state money. The idea that we take resources aways from other schools continues to really be a false statement. Again, the district has about 50,000 kids and the charter schools have almost less than 1,000 kids. That is a pretty small percentage. You guys can do the math here.

  86. Comment from Rene:

    RVN, thank you for your responses and willingness to discuss these issues.

    I’ll write more later, when I have time, but I do think it is important not to blanket label Ockley as “not working.” It is working great for my kids, who have very diverse needs (one TAG, one IEP). A lot of the diversity and excitement in learning you describe happens there. For example, last year my daughter’s class went to Salem to present their findings on racial inequality, and this year is engaged in a long hands-on science program building rollercoasters (not full-size, fortunately).

    While I agree that charters have a smaller number of students, I disagree that charters do not play a role (especially a signifying one) in the segregation of education here. The white flight from schools in N and NE is certainly not helped by charters. Such schools do seem to play up parental fears of minority schools. I know I have heard more than one charter advocate denigrate Ockley and other N and NE schools, and more than one parent refuse to even step a foot inside Ockley to investigate for themselves. I would much rather charters give credit to community schools which can and do provide good educations.

    It sounds as if Trillium has a far higher rate of minorities and poor than most charters, however. I am glad to hear that. I am also glad to be corrected on the percentage of IEP students and the presence of those with significant needs.

  87. Comment from RVN:


    I didn’t mean to imply that Ockley wasn’t working for most kids. Like any school it works for some and not for others. Frankly, I don’t know enough about the place to say much of anything. Last year I did have a student that was at Tubman for a short while and he didn’t care much for it, but his sister is fine there. This year I also have a few Tubman students who were a Tubman and didn’t feel successful or that their teachers understood them. Of course I will hear from the students it “isn’t” working for, more often then who it is working for. It sounds like your kids are feeling good about their experience, that is great.

    I know that kids have left Trillium because it didn’t work for them. Part of the idea of charters is to give some choice to families to find places where they can feel successful.

    As a charter school, Trillium has no desire to denigrate other public (or private schools). We don’t think we are better, but rather offer something different. I am a strong believer in public education and know that there are good teachers in all schools. Teachers who work hard, who care about their students and whose classes do amazing things. Trillium actually has interest in partnering up with neighboring schools to share ideas and support. One of the requirements of charters is to share what they do with other schools. At Trillium we do some innovative things and have a lot of flexibility to try new things.


  88. Comment from Rene:

    RVN: In my opinion it is the facade of choice that lies at the heart of this issue. And is probably where we disagree. There is no true choice when issues of transportation, services, afterschool care, free meals, etc are barriers to low-income and working families.

    For instance, Ockley offers the SUN program, for free afterschool care. Trillium charges for afterschool care. A community school offers busing. Charters expect parents to have cars or arrange transportation. Community schools offer free breakfast and lunch. I don’t think all or even most charters do.

    I am not blaming you personally for these realities, but they are realities that mean “choice” benefits wealthier and more sophisticated families far more than it does those who limited means. I mean this on an overall level, not aimed at Trillium, which deserves credit for reaching out to low income families.

    I personally would much rather see stronger schools that are accessible to everyone, whether it is the Hispanic family down the street that has no car, to the white student that is homeless and living in a section 8 hotel and doesn’t just want free breakfast and lunch but needs it, to the longtime residents of a neighborhood who might have big families and not want to drive kids all over the place so everyone can get their needs met.

    I think those things are far easier to obtain in solid, well-funded, well-rounded neighborhood schools than they are by fragmenting education into a variety of speciality schools.

  89. Comment from RVN:


    Those are some really good points. Ideally, we do need stronger schools that are accessible to everyone. Ideally our local schools would be there to help everyone and meet all kids needs. I think that Portland was much better at doing that 20 years ago. We were an example for the country in many ways. However, the political landscape continues to move away from allowing schools to really be the kind of places that do work for all our kids. If it was just in Portland, I think that would be one thing, but the issue we are talking about is a national (and some might say) an international problem. The direction that schooling is taking is one of increased pressure, testing and stress. The machine of schooling is very much broken and part of that is because things are done on such a large scale.

    Charter Schools, no matter how you might view them, have the local flexibility to do some great things for ALL kids. Trillium, can be, and is, a local option for the kids that live nearby. The things you mentioned (free breakfast and lunch and services) are things that are available at Trillium and can be available at other charters. We do have an aftercare program that charges, that is true, but we are also working to find ways to make it more accessible to all families (sliding scales, scholarships, etc).

    We located Trillium in N/NE just because we wanted it to be accessible for lower income families. I believe that is true also of some of the other charters that want to locate in these neighborhood. The intention IS to provide choice for families.

    The fact that some of these charters don’t offer all the things that would make it more accessible isn’t because they can’t. And that is a key point. At Trillium we have the flexibility (we staffing, budgets, etc) to work to make it more accessible. The present system of choice in Portland (if you don’t like Jefferson you can apply to get into Grant and then you need to find a way to get there) is MORE restrictive than a charter school is.

    Let me address one other point, that I think is crucial as an educator who has worked in many different kinds of schools. Even in the best “well rounded” neighborhood schools, the learning tends to shoot toward the middle. The reason I believe that happens is that most schools don’t have a strong mission or focus. Of course we want all kids to learn, but without a strong vision or mission (other than the typical “Working for Excellence” kind of thing) you never really allow all kids to learn in a way that really works best for them and their families. You are trying to please everyone all the time, and from my experience that just means everything gets watered down.

    One way that I think works, would be to have smaller “school within school” situations. So at a neighborhood school there may be several choices of how your kid learns. I think that choice and flexibility are crucial and that the way that education has been happening in this country for the past 100 years just doesn’t work anymore. There are so many different needs (language, style of learning, etc) that it just doesn’t fit into the way monolithic schools work.

    When I worked in North Clackamas I was in the process of developing a “school within a school” to address this very issue. I wanted to create a place like Trillium (based on individual interests and democratic learning) that would be in one wing of a traditional school. At the time (6 years ago) the district was open to the idea. I ended up jumping ship and going with Trillium when it opened because I wasn’t interested in starting and running a school (I wanted to remain a teacher) but it was opening in my neighborhood.

    6 years later there is no way I could open that type of school within a school in North Clackamas. The political climate just wouldn’t allow for it.

    I know that charters, in general, are lambasted for a lot of reasons (many of which I agree with), but they are an attempt to make some changes to a very broken system (one that many of us who have been in it for some time (almost 15 years) realize might not be fixable.

    I think that we need new ideas, fresh ways of educating kids, and charters provide one possible solution. Again, of all 50,000 kids in PPS, only about 1,000 go to charters. I think they get a lot of flack because it seems like it is “us” or the public school, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Trillium, as one of the largest charter schools in state, is working hard to create a charter school climate that addresses the types of concerns that you mentioned. I think that is a positive thing. We care about issues of poverty and equity, it is a founding principle that we have. If we can have that kind of vision, all charters can.

  90. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    RVN, I am sorry to say this, friend, but you need to learn to love bullet points. We are kinda anti-charter here. Have you not heard? I am, personally:

    * pro-union
    * pro-neighborhood schools
    * pro-hockey (pro hockey, get it? ha)
    * pro-knitting
    * pro-getting some inclusiveness going on

    I have a solution for students who can’t get into Grant: Go to Jefferson. National Honor Society, PCC right across the street, AP classes coming up, Jefferson Dancers, basketball, football, and much more. I like Jeff so much I accepted a part-time job there. And I have been a member of the PTSA for two years, even though my kids are still in grade school. Future Demos!

    At least try this bold move: Walk through the doors. We have a nice big building that can fit about 1,500 more students.

    Go, Demos!!! Woot! And now, a brief public service announcement (like it wasn’t, so far. Ha):

    Mayor Tom Potter is bringing City Hall to Jeff, Jan. 14-18. We have a huge community night celebration planned for 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17th. Music, food, fun; free childcare, Penny’s Puppets and face painting; meet with the mayor, PPS Superintendent Smith, Jefferson Principal Harris. See you then!


    Cheerleader for Jeff, Who Refuses to Ever Again Discuss Charter Schools

  91. Comment from RVN:

    Wacky Mom,

    Bullet points for you….(kind of)

    *I know about Tom Potter at Jeff. I live in the neighborhood and I have been in there many times (I have a relative who went there almost 50 years ago) and I think that the way to make it a better place is to change around how people can choose the schools they go to AND change federal education policy that allows people to run away if test scores drop without money to help the schools improve. Why did so many people flee Jeff? There are reasons and it isn’t the fault of charters. But you know that already right?

    *If you want inclusiveness you need to be willing to discuss the possibilities of other schooling. Period. Part of inclusiveness is talking with everyone, even if you don’t always agree. Too few people are willing to have conversations in this country. They only want to talk to, vote for, and listen to people that think and act just like them on every issue.

    *I am pro-union and have been a member of one for a long time. While unions are vital and important, they also do a lot of things I don’t agree with when it comes to teacher support.

    *I played hockey and miss it. (indoor hockey just isn’t the same).

    *I will continue to discuss charter schools with those people who are open minded enough to have a conversation. Charter schools are not perfect, nor the only answer, but neither are neighborhood schools as they are now. The system has been sick a lot longer than charter schools have been around.

    *If you call me friend, you should mean it. Sarcasm never builds community or inclusiveness.


    Cheerleader for kids, how they learn and what they need to learn best, not institutions for the sake of institutions, who will talk to anyone open to a good discussion.

  92. Comment from Wacky Mommy:

    I’m not being sarcastic one bit — I mean it. Friends. Associates. Community members. Parents. Teachers. Staff. Business owners. Everybody gets one vote; no one should get more than one vote.

    We do all need to keep the conversation going, you’re right. I have a very hard time with charters, especially as I feel them (and De La Salle) pushing in and on our neighborhood schools and sucking students away.

  93. Comment from RVN:

    I can totally understand your concern about charters. As you can probably tell from the recent school board vote, they aren’t going to be coming around as easy as they once did. I think that there are a lot of problems with charters myself, but wishing them away isn’t going to do anything. There is something to be said about the freedom that charters have, and maybe neighborhood schools should have more of that freedom rather than having them take their marching orders from the head shed.

    Charter Schools can really be about the communities that they support because the parents, the staff and the kids can be the ones running them. If the community that Jeff comes from had more actual say in how it is run I think that is would be a much better place. There is no one vote system there. It is a top down hierarchy and that needs to be addressed. Imagine if the community was really listened to, really had some power in making choices (not just listen to on occasion or when people got angry).

    I also think that it isn’t looking at the facts when you say that charters are “sucking” students away. A large portion of the kids who are at Trillium from the neighborhood came because their other options were just not working. We also ended up getting quite a few kids who were actually kicked out of other schools. So rather than “sucking” kids, we were actually a place that would take them in when others wouldn’t. There have been many kids, (especially troubled ones) who came to Trillium as middle schoolers and ended up going back to their neighborhood schools when they “straightened” themselves out. In that way we actually “saved” kids from leaving. Rather than being out on the street, or at an alternative school, they had a place where they could figure themselves out.

    That is something that is often overlooked by the charter school bashers. We are here to help kids out. We aren’t here to save a dying system. We care about kids and what is good for them. And you have to agree that neighborhood schools are not always good for kids.

    So what do you say to the parents of kids in my class that used to go to Ockley and felt horrible about their experience and whose kids didn’t want to go to school anymore? Do you say just hang in there and hope that eventually things will get better? What do you say to them after being at Trillium (just a 15 minute walk from their house) for less than 4 months and they are happy and excited about school?

    Are you going to say they are selfish because they are taking their kids out of a place that wasn’t working? They should have kept their kids there because by them leaving they are giving the rest of the kids at Ockley less?

    I think that it is great that you are so involved in Jeff even without any kids there. It is great that you want them to go there. It would be great if everyone in the neighborhood had your willingness. It is definitely needed. BUT, what if your kids went to Jeff and hated it? It is one thing if it works for them, but what if it didn’t? What if they didn’t want to go to school anymore? What if you had other options where they would feel happy and successful? What then?

  94. Comment from NoPo Parent:

    Major props to Wacky and RVN for hanging in there and having an excellent, enlightening exchange on this extremely thorny issue. Way to model civil, civic discourse!

    My .02’s worth on this: I’m interested in sending my two kids (one of whom is in pre-K at Chief Jo) to a charter school primarily because of the different approach that schools like Trillium, Portland Village, Opal, and Emerson take to teaching and learning. As much as I’d love for my kids to attend Chief Jo, and as problematic as charters are, I have a much greater problem with the issues that RVN described so eloquently, i.e., teaching to the middle of the pack, teacher-dominated vs. student-directed approaches, etc. The matter is complicated further by the district’s adoption of the Scott Foresman curriculum (called “Reading Street”). As a result of district policy, all neighborhood elementary schools are required to teach kids how to read according to this very scripted, one-size-fits-all approach. Not so the charters. The Scott Foresman curriculum not only assumes/demands that all kids learn to read the same way and at the same time, but it essentially guts any kind of professional judgment that a good teacher used to be able to make. Now that teacher’s judgment is being replaced by a canned, scripted solution. This is completely antithetical to the needs of children, yet it is nonetheless district policy. This situation does not exist at the charters.

    Finally, as part of this new scripted curriculum, Kindergarten students are subjected to a regular series of “benchmark assessments” to determine if they are “at grade level” or not. Even worse, pre-K students — my daughter included — are subjected to a set of tests. In fact, the week before she started pre-K, my daughter was asked to come in and be tested. The teacher asked my daughter to write her name. Write her name? The week before pre-K? My daughter didn’t know how to hold a pencil, much less write her name.

    The new policy is symptomatic of a much larger phenomenon that is happening all over the country, which is essentially about (1) testing, testing, testing and (2) pushing the 1st grade curriculum down into Kindergarten and pre-K. I have a much longer post on this subject here.

    Bottom line: charters are not subject to this same kind of top-down, one-size-fits-all nonsense. They have much more say in crafting solutions that meet the needs of each child, not the schools’ or the district’s needs to boost test scores and make AYP.

  95. Comment from Zarwen:

    My hat’s off also to RVN and Wacky for their educational exchange, and esp. to RVN for hanging in here and giving us a perspective that would have been unavailable otherwise. Thanks also to NoPo for her perspective. Another factor making charters attractive is PPS’ ridiculous “400” mark for granting FTE and programs to schools. Charters are allowed to exist with as few as 50 students. They are ideal if the best fit for your child is a really small school, and they may end up being the only small public schools left in PPS. (We chose a magnet over our neighborhood school partially because of its smaller size.) Although, there have been a few hints that the board is revisiting this policy fiasco. It would be so nice if it got the death it so richly deserves.

    Now, my real reason for posting here: I have a friend who enrolled his only child at a charter, so I am offering up his thinking to add to this discussion. He immediately ruled out their neighborhood school because of 4 (yes, 4) competing programs under one roof, and the opinion he developed after multiple visits to the school that there were too many students behaving out-of-control there. He considered two language immersion schools, rejecting one for insufficient safety of the building and the other for unsatisfactory English instruction. Wanting to stay close to home, he finally settled on the nearby (within walking distance) charter school, which caps classes at 25, overall enrollment under 200, behavior kept under control, and a very strong reading program.

    Just to clarify, these are the opinions of my friend, not my own. I researched some of the same schools before my child entered kindergarten, so I agree with some but not all of his points. On some other schools I have no opinion because I have not done any research.

    Bottom line: given the same choices, how many of us would have made the same decision?

  96. Comment from Steve:

    Thank you all for your thoughtful and passionate comments.

    I’ve said it over and over again: this is not about individual choices. Every family has a responsibility to do the best they can with their children.

    The issue I’m concerned with is public investment policy.

    Over the past several years, Portland Public Schools has allowed its open transfer policy to radically reshape the geographic pattern of its public investment without regard to demographic trends.

    The real culprit in this is neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers, which account for most of the out-transfers from our most beleaguered clusters. But charter schools are an affront to those of us who believe we should first fix our neighborhood schools, which can and should serve the vast majority of our students, before we add any more “choice” to a system already suffering from too many options.

    With that, I’m closing comments on this post. Ninety-six comments is enough for any post, I’d say.