Is PPS Hiding the Truth About Inequity?

by Peter Campbell, January 17th, 2008

Like many PPS parents, I’d like to know which school would be best-suited for my children. How do I determine this? Ideally, I’d be able to look at a single document that lists all of the schools in PPS on the left and the offerings (art, music, etc.) at the top. In addition, there should be a column next to each of the offerings that lists the amount of time devoted to each offering, e.g., “3 times per week for 45 minutes.” This should be all programs in all schools, not just the FTE levels for the various offerings.

Finally, there should be a column that lists information about recess and the amount of time devoted to it at each school.

Cynthia Gilliam (Director, Office of Schools) sent me a document (21 KB PDF) several weeks ago, outlining the various FTE allocations in the district for PE, music, art, technology, dance, drama, second language, library services, and counseling services.

The information in the document is useful, but it’s not complete. It’s also misleading. While I may be able to surmise what the offerings are at each of the schools based on the information provided in this document, I have no idea how often they are offered. Nor do I have any information about recess. Moreover, the document does not include programs that are funded beyond the district, e.g., through school foundations and other private means of funding.

In other words, if you took this document at face value, you’d assume that Chapman — for example — had no arts program because it has zero FTE allotted to art. Yet Chapman students benefit from an artist-in-residence program. You might also assume that, because Chapman has no FTE allotted to drama, that no drama instruction exists at the school. Wrong. K-2 students at Chapman are currently working on a musical production of Cinderella. Chapman has these programs because a large percentage of Chapman parents are wealthy enough to contribute to the school’s foundation. Yet, according to the district data, these programs don’t even exist.

Cynthia Gilliam, Sarah Ames (the district’s Senior Strategic Communications Officer) and Nancy Hauth (a district Resource Specialist affiliated with the enrollment and transfer office) all said the district could not provide this information. Ms. Gilliam said there are lots of elements that parents want to know about, including the ones I’m interested in. She used this as a way to justify the argument that since there are so many things that different parents want to know, there’s no way to satisfy everyone. Ergo, the information is not compiled and not released publicly.

But surely Ms. Gilliam’s response provides an even greater justification for making all of these elements publicly available and easily readable. In other words, why not create a single, comprehensive source of information that includes things like level of teacher experience, the square footage of the classroom, the curriculum materials, class size, diversity, achievement scores, discipline data and school climate, as well as information about enrichment offerings — art, music, etc. — and recess?

Here’s the thing: all of these pieces of information exist. Ms. Ames acknowledged that the information is available, but it’s all stored inside each principal’s head. She said that the district asks a lot of the principals in terms of reporting, and she woudn’t want to burden them with an additional task.

Her solution to the problem? I contact each of the 60 or so principals myself.

While it’s certainly conceivable to visit and/or call the 60 principals, it’s not terribly practical. But if I felt like my requests would get responses, I’d be glad to do this (even though the district could do this much more efficiently and, presumably, would be part of a district employee’s job description). But let’s face it: it’s extremely unlikely that a principal of a school that my daughter does not even attend will bother responding to my request. Why should they? Principals have lots more important things to do.

There are, admittedly, a large number of things that parents need to know about each school. I understand that the information changes year by year and often differs from grade to grade within a school. The information is also, admittedly, complex. But the district underestimates the capacity of concerned parents to make sense of the information, essentially deciding for them that they would not be able to understand it. This is, at the very least, a gross assumption and, at worst, offensive and patronizing.

Ultimately, it’s simply a matter of putting all the pieces together in one place.

So why doesn’t PPS take the time and make the effort? Why does the district tell parents like me (and presumably other parents) to do this work, either by calling each of the 60 principals themselves or by going to the Celebrate PPS event and visiting each of the 60 booths? I’m going to the Celebrate! event, and I’ll bring my spreadsheet to collect data. But I doubt I’ll be able to cover all 60 by myself in the time allotted. And I also doubt rather seriously that I’ll get straight answers in the context of this event, which is essentially a giant sales and promotion event for each school. But I’m still going. Just not expecting much.

If the PPS administration would like to perform a valuable service to the community and offer information upon which parents can make informed choices for their children, then I strongly suggest they make the information I requested available. If the district is committed to “choice,” then information needs to be made available so that parents can make informed choices. An informed choice cannot be made without information.

But if the district continues to keep this information from the public, then the public is justified in assuming that the district has something to hide. If there are inequities in the offerings at the schools, the public needs to know what they are so they can do something about it. Keeping them hidden virtually guarantees that nothing will be done.

Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

40 Responses to “Is PPS Hiding the Truth About Inequity?”

  1. Comment from Steve:

    My take is that this is not malice, but a lack of good information management.

    But how can we make a “choice” on schools without adequate information? The focus groups and phone surveys the district conducted over the summer showed that people make transfer decisions based more on gut feelings and hearsay than hard data.

    This is very troubling for those of us in high minority, lower income areas.

  2. Comment from rubycakes:

    Grand irony in this problem isn’t there? Many assume (rightly so) that PPS is top-heavy and overly bureaucratic especially at the district office level. Yet, we can’t find out the specific information you’re seeking–strange. Wouldn’t you think that the district would want to shout from the rooftops all the things they are doing well? Conversely, they may not want to expose the rampant inequities and lack of planning. There are a few things PPS does well but these areas are scattered in a patchwork fashion around the district without any forethought whatsoever.

    Would you believe that there is not one person at the district office level that has the first clue as to what the arts should look like district wide? Would you believe that there isn’t even a document in that building (called the BESC or not-so-affectionately the “Death Star” by those in the district) that lays out the hopes for what the arts should look like? We all know that the reason for education’s problems is laid at the feet of those in Salem that are too politically weak to come up with a feasible, reasonable funding solution for education in this state. BUT, even though we are consistently told, “when the financial situation improves…” there still is no plan in place for what the district would do if all the money they wanted suddenly plopped at their feet.

    Because there is no plan there is little chance that things will improve any time soon. Who will make sure that there is a comprehensive, sequential curriculum in the arts from K through 12 in all clusters? There isn’t a “gatekeeper” or shepherd in the district to oversee the landscape within each cluster to ensure a sensible, logical curricular path in the arts. In fact, the success and failure of the arts is at the mercy of a few factors: 1. Principals within each building that make the FTE commitment to the arts. 2. Traditions within those buildings with parents able to advocate for the continuation of strong programs (usually the more well off areas). 3. Strong teachers in these areas that build strong programs that have the last piece. 4. A sequential feeder pattern for programs in the arts (this is especially true in music).

    One last word about programs: would we entrust a non certified teacher to teach math, english or science? I don’t think so. When you are looking at schools and their programs make sure that you ask if the arts programs are curricular–are they a part of the school day, OR are they an after school “enrichment” (hate that word) that an outside organization charges students to participate? We need to strive for EQUITABLE ACCESS TO THE ARTS FOR ALL STUDENTS DURING THE SCHOOL DAY.

    (end of rant)

  3. Comment from Terry:

    Excellent post, Peter Campbell.

    The irony, however, may have escaped some readers. They may conclude from reading your post that all would be well with PPS if parents were given enough information by the district to make intelligent “choices” about which school best fits the needs of their children, even if that school were located ten miles away from the neighborhoods in which they reside.

    In short, they may falsely conclude that you, Peter Campbell, are seriously pro-school choice.

    Not me. I know that your real agenda is not “informed choice” but a concern about the inequities between rich and poor neighborhood schools. You say so clearly in the last paragraph:

    If there are inequities in the offerings at the schools, the public needs to know what they are so they can do something about it.”

    With that I agree completely.

    (My friend Steve doubts that any “malice” is intended by the district in withholding data from the public. Perhaps not malice. But much of what the district pays its large PR staff to write is propaganda. And that may indeed be worse than malicious intent.)

  4. Comment from Steve:

    Terry, it’s probably actually a combination of negligence, lack of planning (i.e. poor management), bureaucratic laziness, and lack of appropriate information management technology, with a little malice thrown in for good measure.

    Any way you cut it, it doesn’t look good.

    Ruby, you make an excellent point about arts curriculum. Yes, most districts have a standard general music curriculum in the elementary grades, feeding into instrumental and vocal programs in the secondary grades.

    The local control that principals have over not just arts, but also P.E., counseling, literacy, etc. guarantees that most schools will rob Peter to Pay Paul.

    Zarwen, or somebody else who’s taught music at PPS, did we have a standard elementary music curriculum before the big Measure 5 slaughter?

  5. Comment from Gretchen:

    I am against school choice, and I don’t think PPS should spend its limited resources making huge amounts of information available. School choice leads to school shopping and exacerbates the inequities between schools. A school has 3% higher test scores because it is in a wealthy neighborhood with high acheiving parents. More kids transfer to these schools and they get more and more funding and the test scores go up more. Meanwhile the school with good test scores, but 3% less than the neighboring school, loses the high-acheiving students to transfers, and loses funding and its test scores go down. And then PPS closes the school and the cycle continues. School choice is a trojan horse designed to destroy public schools.

  6. Comment from Peter:

    Terry – I’m not for “school choice” as it is defined currently under PPS policy. If the district promotes the idea of “choice,” then it behooves the district to give parents the tools to make informed choices. As I said, an informed choice cannot be made without information. As Steve R. noted, most parents make choices based on hearsay, anecdotal data, and gut instinct. What this amounts to is parents at well-heeled schools sharing insider info with other parents in the surrounding well-heeled area. I was really happy to learn that Chapman is doing a musical of Cinderella for its K-2 students. Bully for them. The school where my daughter attends pre-K does not have a foundation. The school is not doing a musical production of Cinderella. I wish they were. Do I envy Chapman? Absolutely. Do I wish all schools could offer musical productions of Cinderella for their K-2 students? Absolutely.

    So what would happen if the district made this sort of information publicly available? It would undoubtedly make more people interested in schools like Chapman and less interested in schools like where my daughter attends. Why? Because schools like Chapman have more to offer their students in terms of art, music, drama, etc.
    So what would happen to schools like where my daughter attends? Schools like this would undoubtedly suffer declining enrollment.

    This is where my argument comes in. The reason for the appeal of schools like Chapman and the lack of appeal for schools like my daughter’s is patently clear: some schools are better off than others. This is commonly referred to as “inequity.” Once the inequities are made obvious, and once the consequences of these inequities are made obvious, it puts pressure on the district to do something about these inequities. But if the inequities remain hidden and the consequences of these inequities benefit only those well-heeled parents or insiders or people who are “lucky” at winning the transfer lottery, then absolutely nothing will be done.

    In short, this position ties in directly with Steve R.’s call for an end to the school transfer policy as it reveals some of the factors driving this policy, i.e., why parents are interested in transferring at all. If all neighborhood schools were given the same kind of high-quality offerings that schools like Chapman enjoy, no one would want to transfer.

    I was looking at Forest Park’s web site the other day. Holy cow! If my daughter’s school only had their problems! Their foundation is now trying to raise $75,000 to . . . wait for it . . . expand their playground! As part of their fund raising efforts, they are going to offer tours of people’s homes in the area (see meeting notes here). The notes reveal that Ainsworth’s tour grosses about $20,000 to $30,000 annually.

    No offense to my neighbors, but not many of them are going to be opening their homes up for holiday tours.

    What would parents at my daughter’s school think about Forest Park’s problems? What would they think about Chapman’s musical? And what would they think if they knew that lots of schools took art, music, PE, drama — all the “extras” — for granted? I bet they’d be pretty upset. But they don’t know any of these things because the district is not telling them.

  7. Comment from Terry:

    Well I knew you weren’t for school choice, Peter.

    I agree pretty much with everything Gretchen said in her comment. Parents shouldn’t be put into a position of having to “shop” for schools.

    One thing that’s been left unsaid. Most parents seem more concerned with a school’s demographic profile than they are with specific academic offerings. The depopulating of Portland’s lower class schools is primarily due to “white flight”, metaphorically speaking. I’ve used the term on my blog many times.

    New school board member Ruth Adkins even used the term herself a few board meetings back.

    Anyway, I liked your post, Peter. And your comment.

  8. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve,

    Sorry I arrived late. The short answer is YES—back in the ’80′s and 90′s, there was not only an organized K-12 music curriculum, there was even a person called a “Curriculum Coordinator” to provide support for us teachers! That position continued to exist (albeit with consolidations and modifications) until its occupant retired about 5 years ago.

    Rubycakes articulated the problems very well. I could add a little history by explaining that, after Measure 5 passed, things held together fairly well until the mid-90s. At that point, when principals were (stupidly) put in charge of FTE, things started to unravel, and inequity started rearing its ugly head. (That is also when the Foundation was born.) Music started falling away in chunks here and there. As we all know, the wealthy neighborhoods have come through fairly unscathed; poorer schools were at the mercy of their principals’ priorities. To give one especially egregious example, Roosevelt cluster used to have a K-12 strings program. It was the MIDDLE SCHOOL that cut first: so they were left with strings in the elementaries, but the HS lasted only about 2 more years because it lost its MS feeders.

    Ruby is quite right about the lack of planning and prioritizing, but what bothers me even more is the lack of institutional memory after only a decade. Tragic.

    As far as Peter’s column goes, the only reason PPS isn’t collating and distributing this information is that it does not serve their agenda.

  9. Comment from rubycakes:

    Measure 5 is an important line of demarcation (before and after) but it is time to move on from that. I don’t think that blaming Measure 5 is valid anymore. Why are all of the surrounding districts stronger than PPS in music? It’s not because of Measure 5. All of the neighboring districts suffered under M5 too but guess what? They brought music back or cut it carefully enough to leave it functional until times got better (or less bad).

    If you want to see how music is supposed to be planned look to the Salem-Keizer SD. They are the flagship of Oregon, maybe the NW and maybe more. Why can they do it and we (Portland) can’t?

    We Portlanders act as if Portland is the cultural center of the state but yet our education system does not reflect this. What possible future can the arts have without a functioning arts programs in the schools? At the most shallow level this would at least provide an audience for Symphony, theater, dance, art shows decades down the road. How can we expect to have any sort of informed audience or customers if they’ve never been exposed to, or participated in the arts?

  10. Comment from Zarwen:

    Rubycakes,

    The short answer to your question is that the other districts did not relegate the allocation of FTE within a building to the individual building principals. In that, Portland IS unique. The rationale given for this was the 21st Century Schools Act and the implementation of site councils (“site-based management”). The site councils were supposed to have some level of decision-making authority about programs, and maybe a few of them did, but my own experience with site councils has been rubber-stamping of whatever the principal wanted. And some schools never had a site council at all, in spite of a state law requiring every school to have one. From the district’s point of view, the principal was responsible to report to the district whatever the site council “decided” regarding FTE.

    I don’t know whether “site-based management” figured into anything at the other districts, but if it did, clearly they did a better job with it than Portland.

    Also, as a point of clarification, I was not trying to “blame” Measure 5, I was just trying to give some historical background on how we got to where we are today. If you re-read my earlier post, I actually “blamed” the principals who were put in charge of FTE and misused that responsibility (some cut teacher positions to keep multiple secretaries, for example), as I have reiterated in this post.

    I also “blame” the Portland Schools Foundation
    (founded by mayoral candidate Sho Dozono) for increasing the gulf between the haves and have-nots. This may be another example of how other districts have performed better: other districts have Foundations, but maybe they have a better way of allocating Foundation funds. I know PPS’s grant-based system is set up for the rich to get back what they put in and for the poor to get as little as possible. A reverse Robin Hood system, perhaps.

  11. Comment from Peter:

    I gotta tell ya: the community of people this blog attracts is phenomenal! Thanks esp. to Zarwen and Rubycakes for their input on this thread. Zarwen’s resuscitation of the corpse of institutional memory is especially useful. It really goes to show how a set of really bad decisions sets in motion, almost inexorably, a really bad set of policies. It’s precisely this historical context and the examples of our neighbors (e.g., Salem-Keizer SD) that gives me hope. We really CAN see the errors of PPS’s ways and we really CAN see alternatives.

    It’s up to us now to keep emphasizing these policy errors and these alternatives, not to lambaste the district and the board, but to provide leadership on ways that we can improve conditions for kids and schools.

  12. Comment from Anne:

    How hard is it to figure out that things are woefully inequitable in this district? Take the dozens of course offerings at Wilson and compare it to the minimal course offerings at Jefferson. Yet the district administration and the school board acts in ways that perpetuate and WORSEN the inequities. I am sorry, Steve. I do not believe this is simple bureaucratic error.

  13. Comment from Steve:

    Anne, did you see the comment above where I blamed “a combination of negligence, lack of planning (i.e. poor management), bureaucratic laziness, and lack of appropriate information management technology, with a little malice thrown in for good measure”?

    And that’s just talking about the reporting of numbers to the public. About the actual inequity, I’m talking about a combination of malign neglect combined with considerable pandering to an elite living on the west side and in select clusters in inner NE and SE Portland.

    That’s certainly more in play than bureaucratic error. But I’m willing to give the new leadership of Carol Smith time to trickle down through the bureaucracy.

    While many of us felt her predecessor had a personal agenda behind her every move, I’m thinking our new superintendent has far better intentions with regards to equity. I’m not sure about some of our school board members though, but at least a handful of them have told me they get the problem, at least.

  14. Comment from Zarwen:

    Care to tell us which ones are in that “handful”? After all, there is a school board election next year!

    Also, thanks to Peter for his kind words.

  15. Comment from Steve:

    Dan Ryan, Dilafruz Williams, Ruth Adkins, and David Wynde have all made remarks to to me to the effect that they “get it.” I’ve heard Trudy Sargent say things at board meetings that lead me to the same conclusion. And of course Antoinette Meiers gets it. You can guess where Bobbie Regan stands, but Ms Henning remains an enigma. But a significant minority claims to get it, any way.

    The open question is: How do we address it? So far, the transfer policy remains off the table. I’d like to change that.

  16. Comment from rubycakes:

    Zarwen,

    You’re right you didn’t blame Measure 5–I just didn’t want the discussion going down that road of thinking that things were great before then. Fact is, Portland has never really had outstanding music programs. There were always those exceptional moments but as a whole the district does not have big enough dreams for how the arts should be.

    As for your comment about site based mgt,FTE allocation and principals I think you’re right to a degree. I think in most districts the principals make the FTE decisions but at least there they are told that they must have music, art. PE, health. I wish we could do that here–why couldn’t the school board or supt. mandate that every school have these essential classes (these are NOT enrichment but core experiences of the human experience).

    [Indoctrination alert]
    If you have 20 to spend on a wonderful talk please watch this talk by Sir Ken Robinson about the necessity of creativity and how schools tend to squelch it. This is an amazing site
    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/66

  17. Comment from rubycakes:

    Oh, Dan Ryan certainly gets it. He’s a Roosevelt alum so he knows about the haves and have nots. He’s development director for Oregon Ballet Theater so he knows how important the arts are for the human experience. He is quite approachable. I just wish we could get all of the people who “get it” to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

  18. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Let’s keep the facts straight:

    Music, art, social studies, and P.E.– all were possible with very little expenditures in the lower econonic old middle schools. The people on the school board did nothing about it and then moved to K-8′s where the arts and other electives for upper graders are more expensive.

    Stand for Children did nothing to help. The school foundation did nothing to help.

    The school administration worked directy against the arts.

    The only high school working decently well for poor kids was Benson. The school board and administration wrecked it. Stand for Children and the School Foundation did nothing to help.

    The school board and administration supported a school to school transfer policy that has devastated the outer SE and NE and North Portland and the Jeff cluster.

    The school board and administration refuse to create a system whereby people can have serious input in the poorest communities in Portland.

    The school board and administration refuse to directly address problems within the schools (not testing) throughout Portland’s lower economic areas.

    The school board and administration refuse to address the incredibly weak hiring and the unfair teacher transfer policies in PPS.

    The school board and administration refuse to take seriously the lack of counselors in lower middle class neighborhoods.

    The school board and administration refuse to address the rediculous approach to TAG programs in PPS.

    That’s just for starters.

    No one on the school board has addressed any of these problems in a meaningful way. Neither, to this point has the administration. Fact of life up to now.

  19. Comment from Zarwen:

    THANK YOU Steve Buel!

    I would feel especially circumspect about David Wynde and Trudy Sargent saying they “get it.” Are we sure that whatever it is they “get” is the same thing we “get”? These two in particular have DONE nothing, so far as I know, to SHOW that they actually “get” anything! If anything, their voting records show the opposite.

    Rubycakes asks “why couldn’t the school board or supt. mandate that every school have these essential classes” (in arts and wellness): prior to “site-based management” and the draconian funding cuts of 1996, they DID. The only thing stopping them from returning to that policy is a failure of will. And as Steve B. points out, the community-based organizations that are supposed to be helping with that (e.g., Stand, Foundation) have not, nor have they given us any reason to expect that to change anytime soon.

    Let us also not forget how influential these organizations are in helping candidates get on the school board. Think maybe there is some connection between that and the failure of will?

  20. Comment from Steve:

    I’m not saying they actually get it (though it would be hard for any reasonably intelligent person to see the numbers and not get it).

    Again, the real test is not whether they get it, but whether (and how) they think we should fix it. That’s the real struggle, even with those who seem to get it the way we do.

  21. Comment from Peter:

    As for your comment about site based mgt,FTE allocation and principals I think you’re right to a degree. I think in most districts the principals make the FTE decisions but at least there they are told that they must have music, art. PE, health. I wish we could do that here–why couldn’t the school board or supt. mandate that every school have these essential classes (these are NOT enrichment but core experiences of the human experience).

    I don’t get it. Why don’t they mandate it? Do they argue this is a cost issue?

    Someone throw me a bone here!

  22. Comment from Steve:

    The district-wide curriculum in the arts (what they like to call “enrichment,” but what was considered part of the core curriculum when I went to school) was chucked out, along with district-wide P.E., after Measure 5.

    Site administrators were later given the latitude to selectively bring back these programs, which, of course, has led to the patchwork of inequitable offerings we have today.

    Trudy Sargent brought up the specter of a mandated music curriculum at a board meeting last fall, but was met with the sound of crickets chirping.

    I’m prepared to start making a stink about this. It’s just another aspect of the “free market” model of public schools we’ve had foisted upon us, and it’s clearly uneven, unfair, and confusing to parents.

  23. Comment from Peter:

    I’ll join you in the stink parade. It’s time we start speaking up about this.

    In the end, I fear that good schools –both here in PPS and all over the country — will become like good restaurants. There are some here and there, but their quality is up to the individual owner. And it’s up to the patrons to find out where they are and to make reservations to get in. No good restaurant in your neighborhood? Too bad. No reservations available at the high-quality restaurant across town? Tough luck. But what if schools were less like restaurants? What if every child had access to a free, high-quality education?

    If we’re serious about leaving no child behind — really serious — we have to wrestle with that question: how can every child gain access to a free, high-quality education? To cast the net as wide as possible and to increase the likelihood that more poor kids will make it, we have to level the playing field. And we have to be willing to pay for it.

    As far as funding is concerned, we can only do so by building public consensus. But to build public consensus, you have to let the public know what there’s a problem. If the information is not there, then no problem exists.

    P.S. – Rubycakes – I watched the Sir Ken Robinson video from the TED conference. Fantastic. Thanks for sharing this.

  24. Comment from Zarwen:

    Peter,

    I already threw you a bone. See above under “failure of will.”

  25. Comment from Peter:

    Zarwen – I guess that’s where I need the bone thrown! I’m not sure what the failure of will is all about. Why would this take such enormous will to accomplish? On the surface, it looks like a no-brainer: all schools should have the same set of “enrichments,” e.g., art, music, drama, PE, etc. I can imagine that paying for all of these things for all schools would be difficult. Is this where the failure of will comes in, i.e., the challenge of making a stink about this and making it happen?

    The other thing I don’t get: if these were mandated in the past, then how did they get around the funding hurdle? How did they make it a reality?

  26. Comment from Zarwen:

    Peter,

    Remember, the “funding hurdle” did not exist until the passage of Measure 5—or at least, that is what we were told. But that is also what instigated the birth of the PPS Foundation, and that is when priorities REALLY started shifting around the District. Rules were written to foster EQUITY by requiring that wealthy schools share with poor schools; ever since, the people who run the Foundation, under pressure from their “benefactors,” have created ways to get around those rules (e.g., the grants-based system of allocating the funds). Every decision they have made has served to increase the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. A seat on the Foundation Board has also become a ticket to a seat on the School Board; do you see how this is all connected?

    The “failure of will” applies to those folks like the District administration, Stand, CPPS, and others who have stood by and not only allowed but perhaps even encouraged these things to happen, if by no other means than not speaking out against it.

    For further information on this topic, Steve Buel has posted eloquently and often, both here and on Terry’s blog.

  27. Comment from Steve:

    I think the key element here is that before M5, we had district-wide PE, music and art. All were cut after M5.

    By giving site administrators autonomy to bring them back selectively, the district, without committing to funding these programs across the board, can say “we have music, PE and art.”

    Of course we all know the resulting mess, and the complete inability of the district to tell us which schools offer what.

    Yep. They created the mess, then blame their inability to provide information on the very mess they created in the first place.

  28. Comment from rubycakes:

    A couple of things,

    School funding in this state has been screwy for years. School districts had to float operating levies when that became problematic for some areas the “safety net” was implemented and then came along M5 and equalization, etc. I don’t think music, arts and elective teachers have ever really felt secure in the last 40 years without frequent thoughts of, “what if measure “X” passes or levy “Y” fails.

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, 2 things need to happen if we are going to have viable, healthy, vibrant music programs in the Portland Public Schools:

    1. There must be a mandate from someone, somewhere that EVERY school has music.

    2. There must be someone put in place to make staffing and curricular decisions to oversee the entire program K-12.

    My question is, who is that someone that can make this happen? Can Carol Smith do it? Does it need to be a board decision? It can’t happen building by building (that’s what we have now).

  29. Comment from Zarwen:

    Carole Smith is authorized to make such hires. No, it does not have to be a Board decision.

  30. Comment from Zarwen:

    “By giving site administrators autonomy to bring them back selectively, . . . .”

    Don’t forget, Steve, that their ability to do so is dependent upon outside funding, e.g. the Foundation—which is why schools in low-income neighborhoods have so little, and why the District gets away with saying “we have this” without funding it AT ALL.

  31. Comment from Steve:

    Not necessarily outside funding… a school with high enrollment has more leeway to use their FTE budget on these “extras.”

    For example, compare Peninsula, with .75 P.E and .25 Technology, to Arleta with 1.25 P.E., 1 Music, .79 technology, .5 library and 1 counselor.

    Arleta is slightly larger (369 vs. 301.5), but neither school is funding any FTE from outside grants. Arleta also has a higher FTE ratio (18.05 vs. 12.82), but still manages to offer the “extras,” most likely at the expense of class size.

    What some might call “robbing Peter to Pay Paul.”

  32. Comment from Zarwen:

    When did Arleta get full-time music and PE? I worked there until 2000; those classes were only half-time then. And music was cut completely in 2001.

  33. Comment from Steve:

    I don’t know when, but according to this chart, they’ve got it now.

    New principal, maybe?

  34. Comment from Zarwen:

    No, same principal. I know because I ran into her a couple months ago at a meeting.

    Steve, I am familiar with this chart, and I am sorry to tell you three things about it:

    1) It does NOT differentiate between district and grant funding. For example, it lists full-time PE at Winterhaven, which is true, but only .75 comes from the district; the other .25 is from a grant. I have also received confirmation from one of our mutual friends who has worked on this issue that PPS did not make this differentiation when compiling the chart.

    2) It does not differentiate between certified and classified personnel filling the positions. For example, a .5 library or technology position may be filled by a full-time classified aide as opposed to a half-time teacher. This situation exists at quite a few schools.

    3) It is not accurate.

  35. Comment from Steve:

    As for #1, it’s still an equity issue, regardless of how it’s funded.

    Good to know about #2. Is it only library and technology that don’t need to be certified? Or are they counting the dad with a six string doing after school Grateful Dead sing-alongs as “music?”

    As for #3, in what way is it inaccurate?

    We need to let PPS know if they’re publishing inaccurate data.

  36. Comment from Anne:

    Hey Gretchen–
    Are you the Gretchen from Brooklyn?
    Anne

  37. Comment from Peter:

    Not necessarily outside funding… a school with high enrollment has more leeway to use their FTE budget on these “extras.”

    For example, compare Peninsula, with .75 P.E and .25 Technology, to Arleta with 1.25 P.E., 1 Music, .79 technology, .5 library and 1 counselor.

    Arleta is slightly larger (369 vs. 301.5), but neither school is funding any FTE from outside grants. Arleta also has a higher FTE ratio (18.05 vs. 12.82), but still manages to offer the “extras,” most likely at the expense of class size.

    What some might call “robbing Peter to Pay Paul.”

    Steve R. – not following you on this one. So Arleta can offer more of the “extras” because it has a higher enrollment? What’s the relationship between higher enrollment and “extras” — more money per student, more students, so more money? Or is it something else?

    The “robbing Peter to pay Paul” reference refers to giving “extras” but having large class sizes, correct?

  38. Comment from Steve:

    If you have, say, two classes in every grade with an average 22 students in them, vs. two classes in every grade with 28 students in them, you’re going to have less FTE budget to spend on “extras.”

    Higher enrollment generally means more FTE to spend on non-classroom teachers, to a certain point. Of course, once a grade level rolls over and you have to bring in another classroom teacher, you take a little step back.

    You got it on the “robbing Peter to pay Paul” comment.

  39. Comment from Zarwen:

    Steve,

    Re #1: Yes, it is still an equity issue, I agree, but I believe that the district should be forthcoming about what they are funding and what they are not funding. Based on this chart, we have some idea of what programs exist at what schools, but we don’t know what kind of fund-raising, grant-writing, or other means they have used to get those programs. So when you wrote (and Peter repeated) “neither school is funding any FTE from outside grants,” you cannot be sure unless the principals have verified that. Furthermore, programs that are supported in that manner cannot be counted on from year to year; if the grant expires, if the fundraiser falls short, then the programs are gone, unless some other means of funding is found.

    2) I believe you are correct about classified vs. certified. As far as I know, they are not counting volunteer activities, because there is no revenue stream attached, and volunteers cannot be counted as FTE.

    3) My take on this? I think this chart is part of a deliberate disinformation campaign intended to mislead people into thinking that the promised “enrichment” is already in place, so now it’s time to give our attention to the buildings and pass that bond! That is why I feel so strongly about #1, esp. since so many schools get nothing from the Foundation and any little grants they get from other sources are short-lived.

  40. Comment from Steve Buel:

    If the kids in classrooms behave better — i.e. generally the upper middle class schools — then you can have larger class sizes and more F.T.E. left over for music etc.