Drop… The… Puck

by Steve, August 29th, 2007

Here’s Thirteen reasons I’m glad hockey season is almost upon us.

1. Winter Hawks owners Jim Goldsmith and Jack Donovan seem to have struck a lease-to-own deal with the city and Paul Allen’s arena management company to install Goldsmith’s replay screens in the Memorial Coliseum.

After a whole lot of bluster on Goldsmith’s blog with the boss (later removed) and with an assist from play-by-play guy Andy Kemper who questioned the “moral compass” of a couple city commisioners, Hawkey Town’s new hero Randy Leonard contacted Goldsmith and worked a deal with the Hawks, Allen’s people and the city, approved today.

2. That means I will eat crow (I said I’d believe there are replay screens when I see them installed) and buy a ticket package this year

3. which means I’m going to be seeing some hockey.

4. Live.

5. Real soon now.

6. (Hopefully they’ve cleaned the stinkin’ beer lines from last season at the old Coliseum.)

7. I love the old Glass Palace.

8. And I love the smell of the ice.

9. School’s back in session next week, so us old farts can reclaim the lunch hour scrimmage at the old rink.

10. Which means I can get my tired old arse back in shape (at least somewhat!).

11. It’s been a really long and interesting off-season for the Winter Hawks, and also for me.

12. But I’m ready to get back into the game.

13. See you at the game!

PPS and Open Transfers: Slaughtering the Sacred Cow

by Steve, August 29th, 2007

I’m struggling to figure out why it is, and when it became so, that open transfers are sacrosanct in Portland Public Schools. Even after Multnomah County Auditor Suzanne Flynn and Portland City Auditor Gary Blackmer condemned the PPS policy in June of 2006, noting that “the transfer policy competes with other Board policies such as strong neighborhood schools and investing in poor performing schools,” Portland’s school leaders are still loathe to even discuss curtailing the open transfer policy.

Not surprisingly, my search for answers leads me to a familiar old nemesis: Vicki Phillips. In her response to the searing Flynn-Blackmer audit (included at the end of the audit report linked above), Phillips shows her cards early by capitalizing the phrase “School Choice.” This is, after all, a capital idea in the corporate-funded free-market schools agenda.

Phillips notes in her response “[t]he majority of our transfer requests are for transfers from one neighborhood school to another. A major consequence of this practice is the increasingly intense competition among neighborhood schools to attract students.” She prances around the issue, asks a lot of questions we already know the answers to (“Why do students and parents make these requests? …what is the impact on neighborhoods within our city of allowing the current level of transfers?”), but leaves off the most important one. If we have strong and equitable neighborhood schools, why do we need neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers?

This question is especially poignant given that the audit report “found that there was significantly less socio-economic diversity in schools than would be the case if all students attended their neighborhood school.” (Something I’ve pointed out myself on this blog.)

There is only one reason I can come up with for the sanctity of open transfers. Vicki Phillips was hell-bent on creating a model “free market” school district in Portland, with the generous help of the free marketeers at the Gates and Broad foundations. Unfortunately, what she left behind is a segregated, uneven hodge-podge of failing experiments. Her supporters on the school board invested a lot of political capital in supporting her, and are afraid now to admit they made a mistake.

I know it’s hard to admit when you’ve got it wrong, and the further you go down the wrong road, the harder it is to turn back. But it’s never to late to do so.

You don’t have to look far to see a school district doing it right, with results to show for it. In Beaverton, there are no transfers in elementary school. Every school has the same programs. Vicki wonders why students opt for transfers? I’ll tell you why: the schools in poor neighborhoods don’t have the options the richer neighborhood schools offer. It’s so flippin’ obvious, it’s an insult to even ask the question.

My proposal: start with the elementary schools. Equalize programs across all neighborhoods. Either every school has music, art and PE (or some combination) or none of them do. Curtail all neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers immediately. It is time to finally slaughter that sacred cow. Remove any legitimate reason to transfer, and then remove the ability to transfer.

Once we have equitable, integrated elementary schools, we can work our way up to middle schools and high schools, which are admittedly harder problems. But still, the same approach should be taken. It’s time to admit that the “free market” is no way to run our public schools. Chalk it up as a failed experiment and get back to what we know can work: equal opportunities and spending across all of Portland’s neighborhoods.