Is the PPS Equity Glacier Starting to Move?

by Steve, December 31st, 2007

schoolsAt the risk of sounding naive or overly optimistic, signs continue to appear that some Portland Public Schools administrators (if not the school board — yet) are starting to “get it” on issues of equity.

We’re going to look through the equity lens on what we’re offering. And we’re going to stay focused on what kids need. Is every school one where you would send your niece or nephew? Is every classroom a place you would put your own kid? If the answer isn’t yes, we have work to do.

— Judy Elliot, Portland Public Schools Office of Teaching and Learning. (Melton, Kimberly. “IB and AP not as easy as ABC” The Oregonian, Monday, January 31.)

Hey, that’s what I’ve been saying for almost a year now! And what my friends at the NSA have been saying for much longer!

Of course actions speak louder than words. The proving ground for the district’s intent on equity issues is Jefferson High School, the poster child for PPS inequity.

District administrators are clearly getting out ahead of the school board on this. Board members continue to insist that we need to increase enrollment at Jefferson before we can increase the program offerings there.

But with Jefferson administrators receptive to the community consensus of “if you build it, we will come,” and administrators sounding like concerned parents instead of ideologues, the school board will eventually have no choice but to fall in line behind us. (Honestly, who could think “come and we will build it” has any hope of success after all the broken promises at Jefferson?)

Another district administrator who’s saying the right things is Zeke Smith, Superintendent Carole Smith’s chief of staff, who asked parents at a recent Jefferson meeting for “proof points” that the district could implement by fall 2008 as signs that the district is serious about making Jefferson work. You mean the district wants to not only listen to parents, but actually implement their suggestions?

Now that’s a breath of fresh air. Let’s make sure that wind continues to blow and brings real change and real equity for the children and young adults of Portland.

How to Save Jefferson High

by Steve, December 27th, 2007

schoolsSounds lofty, eh? Well, I don’t have all the answers, but now that I’ve got your attention, I’ll tell you there is a growing consensus about what we need to do.

Over the last decade or so, the once proud, comprehensive Jefferson High School has been allowed to stumble through a combination of malign neglect, massive out-transfers, and corporate grant-funded experiments that amount to a pattern of institutional racism. Enrollment now stands at around 600, with a catchment area population of around 1,700. The student population is disproportionately black and poor, and their educational opportunities are starkly limited compared to the wealthier, whiter students who live in the Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland and Franklin clusters.

What remains of Jefferson is a segregated, balkanized, underfunded shell, carved up into four separate academies that benefit neither the black community nor the larger North and Northeast Portland area Jefferson once served.

The attendance area of Jefferson is the most diverse in Portland. There is no single ethnic group in the majority. Imagine if the school looked like the neighborhood, with a focus on unity and understanding. This is exactly what Portland (and the world) needs right now. Imagine Jefferson CommUnity High School, where every student has the same opportunities as children at Lincoln or Grant, and then some. Imagine a championship athletic program, world-class performing arts, and a rigorous academic program that serves the full range of students.

Portland Public Schools and the City of Portland have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to offer the young adults of North Portland every opportunity that is available elsewhere in Portland. There is a growing cross-community consensus that Jefferson needs to be returned to its comprehensive roots. There also appears to be a growing openness on behalf of the district to really listen to the community, admit mistakes, and move forward.

Let’s not beat around the bush. It’s going to cost money — a lot more than the district is currently spending — to bring Jefferson back to its once proud status.

There are two ways to pay for it (assuming we’re not getting any new funding any time soon): by phasing out neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers (the biggest source of the current inequity), or by shifting funding and resources away from schools like Lincoln, Cleveland, Franklin and Grant. The former makes the most sense, and would be the most equitable, but we can’t force students back to Jefferson without first rebuilding it. That means the latter is required, at least in the near-term.

At this point, I don’t care how we fund it; it is imperative that we create a school with equal opportunities for our most disadvantaged students. It is not fair to punish students who chose to attend their neighborhood school as opposed to playing the lottery and commuting on public transit to school. The transfer policy states that students have a right to attend their neighborhood school, but is silent on the fact that this gives extra privilege to students who live in the wealthiest neighborhoods at the expense of the rest of us. I propose an amended policy statement to the effect that every student has a right to attend their comprehensive neighborhood school.

It’s important to define comprehensive, of course. So here’s what I’d like to see:

  • a rigorous academic core
  • business education
  • vocational education
  • college prep (A.P.) in all disciplines
  • special education
  • foreign languages
  • performing arts (dance, theatre, band, orchestra and choir)
  • visual arts
  • athletics
  • journalism (TV, newspaper and yearbook)
  • science
  • technology

The district excuse that Jefferson doesn’t have the enrollment to fund these things can no longer stand under the bright light of public scrutiny, especially given that it is district policy that has allowed — and even encouraged — enrollment to drop so low.

I propose we immediately fund Jefferson at a rate at least two times the district average per student, and return a full slate of electives, foreign languages and performing arts beginning in the 2008-09 school year. I also want to see the firewalls between academies softly and quietly dismantled, to the extent that students aren’t limited in their academic options based on a choice they make in the ninth (or sixth) grade.

Believe it or not, Jefferson administrators are open to these ideas. They are relieved that the glaring inequities are a concern to the community at large. They understand that the biggest struggle is with the district, specifically with funding.

Our two-tiered system of high schools belongs in the Jim Crow south of the past, not in a city that prides itself on its diversity and civic-mindedness. It’s time to move past the debacle that was the Jefferson redesign under Vicki Phillips. It’s time to come together and demand equitable opportunities for our children, no matter where they live.

Merry Christmas From Me to You

by Steve, December 24th, 2007


Even though I’m an atheist, I still love It’s a Wonderful Life.

The Election and Me

by Steve, December 21st, 2007

politicsI never quite know what to say when people ask me about the upcoming presidential election. People are generally well-meaning, but if you know me, you know I haven’t been registered Democrat since the 1984 election (I caucused for Alan Cranston who won me over with his support of the nuclear freeze movement).

So when asked about the current election cycle, I have to assume people want to know what I think of the Democrats. The truth is, I tend to see all of the mainstream candidates, Democrat and Republican, bunched up way to the right of my belief system. Oh sure, there’s Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, but who really believes they have a prayer?

Anyway, I found this site today that asks you some overly-simplistic questions and matches you up with a candidate.

The questions cover Iraq, immigration, taxes, stem-cell research, health care, abortion, social security, line-item veto, energy, gay marriage, and the death penalty.

My top dog, not surprisingly, was Kucinich, with Gravel as a close second. What did surprise me was that this quiz scored John Edwards the lowest of all Democratic candidates as a match for me, tied with right-libertarian Ron Paul. Which goes to show you how little you can glean from such a simplistic quiz.

For a better view of where I stand in relation to the candidates, I took the slightly more nuanced test at politicalcompass.org. This test will place you on a grid that has the traditional left-right continuum for economics, coupled with a north-south axis for social values, with the top being “authoritarian” and the bottom being “libertarian.” (This may be confusing to some people. The bottom point should be called “civil-libertarian” to make clear the distinction between this and what is known as libertarianism in the US. Ron Paul’s position on the grid is about where most US Libertarian Party acolytes would fall. That is, they are economic libertarians but hold generally moderate social views.)

They provide some context, including placing the 2008 US candidates on the grid. Here’s where I stand:compas.png

So you can see the source of my consternation when people want me to discern between Clinton and Obama. They’re both so far away from me, they appear indistinguishable from one another, and barely distinguishable from the mainstream Republicans.

Politicalcompass.org also publishes this chart for reference, with some more meaningful labels on the endpoints:axeswithnames.gif

I’m glad to share the southwest corner with Gandhi. The food’s better over here, for one thing.

When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it, always. — Mahatma Gandhi

A Little Bartok to Sooth Your Nerves

by Steve, December 17th, 2007

Since I’m on a YouTube faves kick, here’s a movement from one of my favorite string quartets. The Hugo Wolf Quartet plays Bartok’s fourth string quartet, first part, Allegro, with a little cinematic treatment. (Sorry, the clip kind of cuts off at the end.)

Oregonian: a Day Late and a Dollar Short

by Steve, December 13th, 2007

Isn’t it ironic that the Oregonian, whose Web site is the crappiest of all local news outlets, has suddenly discovered (thanks to the folks at Nielsen) that blogging is kind of a big thing in Portland. The front page of today’s living section features a story — yet to be published on the Web, evidently — about how Portland is the #2 bloggingest metro area in the US.

With a cutesy blog style article, complete with comments from Real! Live! Portland Bloggers!, the big O barely scratches the surface. In typical lazy Oregonian style, Steve Woodward did a cursory browse of ORBlogs and didn’t quite mention this blog.

He quotes the blurb on my ORBlogs page (“This may well be he only anti-war hockey blog… in the universe”) without mentioning the title or URL, and lumps me in with sports blogs.

Lordy, I’ve tried to be a sports blogger, but I just don’t have what it takes. All my hockey fan readers have left in droves since I’ve become more about politics than pucks. So it’s obvious that Woodward has no clue that this is one of a small handful of sites where Portland Public Schools policy and politics are discussed with any depth and regularity. The Tribune has pegged me and this blog as “the leading voice for equity issues” at PPS (I don’t think I’m worthy of that, but at least they’ve got the general drift). To the Oregonian I’m a sports blogger.

Most glaringly, there was no mention of Wacky Mommy, the internationally adored blogger I share a bed with.

Naturally, there’s no mention of the Portland Mercury’s very popular, pop culture-saturated Blogtown, or the less popular, more newsy Willamette Week WWire.

The fact that the Oregonian is trying to get current, with their generally irrelevant blogs and Oregon Reddit on oregonlive.com, doesn’t make up for the fact that they have the most outdated, least usable Web site of any local media source. The fact that I can’t even link to the story I’m writing about says it all. Even if it were published on the Web, the link would go dead after a couple weeks, since the O refuses to keep archives online.

Paquito D’Rivera

by Steve, December 12th, 2007


One of my favorite alto players, showing his range as a musician and band leader. Paquito D’Rivera!

What is… Get Well Soon, Alex?

by Steve, December 12th, 2007

All of us at Chez Wacky are sending our good thoughts for a speedy recovery to Alex Trebek.

The Weight

by Steve, December 11th, 2007


One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite movies… The Band with the Staple Singers, for your enjoyment.

PPS to Charter Schools Applicants: No, No, No, No.

by Steve, December 11th, 2007

schoolsIt is refreshing to be on the same side of an issue with the entire school board. The Portland Public Schools board of education unanimously voted down all four charter applications in the current cycle last night (with Sonja Henning absent).

Following a rhetorical lead by David Wynde, who enumerated the myriad choices already available in the district and explicitly rejected an absolute free market approach, several board members made sweeping statements in opposition to increasing the competition for our neighborhood schools. One might get the sense (if one were an optimist) that the pendulum has reached its maximum free-market position and could conceivably begin to swing back.

In the interest of equity, let’s hope so.

At several points during the discussion of the four proposals, board members expressed concern about the schools being able to provide “comprehensive” education to their students. I hope the irony isn’t lost on the board members that this is a concern for the students of Jefferson boy’s academy, not to mention all the other “small schools” that were carved out of the formerly comprehensive Jefferson, Roosevelt, Madison and Marshall.

Also on the agenda was the facilities plan, and some prep work for floating a capital bond.

Here’s a preview of my position on any new construction bond: I will not support any PPS bond unless and until the board articulates a goal of a comprehensive high school in every neighborhood. I will actively campaign against a bond that sets in stone the narrowly-focused academies at schools in our working class neighborhoods.

I seriously hate to sound like a libertarian, but until this board and administration demonstrate a commitment to equitably distributing what they’ve already got, I will fight against any further revenue.