Vicki Phillips has them Wowed at Education Week

by Steve, September 5th, 2007

Try not to gag when you read this. Ed Week’s Eric Robelen didn’t have to look any farther than the good ol’ Portland Business Alliance to kick off the hagiography.

“Vicki is very focused on creating opportunities for all kids, and reaching out to less advantaged populations,” said Sandra McDonough, who heads the Portland Business Alliance, which advocates for the city’s business community. “It’s in her DNA.”

Robelen did manage to get a couple sound bites from Portland Association of Teachers president Jeff Miller, who called Phillips’ approach “trendy and shallow” and dinged her for “lip service” to the idea of collaboration without any follow through. He also put in a call to Portland Schools Alliance president Martin Gonzalez who took Phillips to task for not taking public input seriously and not sticking around to finish what she started.

But not a word from the Neighborhood Schools Alliance, the most important and visible grass roots group to rise up in opposition to Phillips’ devastating policies, which often exacerbated the very problems they were supposed to solve.

Robelen had no problem finding someone from the much less visible (and much less challenging) Community and Parents for Public Schools, the group that founded the annual school choice fair. President Doug Wells calls Phillips “action-oriented” (ooh!) and “found her style refreshing” (ah!). He also notes “some found it challenging.” (Those of us who live in the red zone found it especially “challenging”.)

Robelen seems bent on assuring his readers that Phillips is actually quite mainstream. First he quotes Eugene Hickok, former deputy U.S. secretary of education under President Bush, who naturally doesn’t think she goes far enough: “I don’t think she’s a dramatically different thinker.”

Then he turns to Jeanne Allen, president of the charter school advocacy group Center for Education Reform, who also doesn’t find Phillips’ privatization efforts bold enough: “She’s pretty much ‘in the box’ and representing a conventional way of thinking.”

Lost in all of this (as it was in Portland), is that Vicki Phillips is an ideologue, who fits perfectly with the Gates Foundation’s market-oriented schools reform agenda. The biggest tool in her shed is “School Choice”, and with this hammer in hand, every problem that she sees looks an awful lot like a nail.

She bludgeoned the hell out of Portland Public Schools with it, and left a segregated, two-tiered school system in her wake. Too bad Education Week couldn’t sniff out the real story here.

Living With the Vicki Phillips Legacy

by Steve, September 5th, 2007

One of the most puzzling things about Vicki Phillips’ agenda at Portland Public Schools was the way her policies either contradicted or competed with one another. “School Choice” (note the capitalization) was a held so dearly, that it may have cost the district $1.1 million in federal grant money.

With open transfers causing massive divestment in North and Northeast Portland, school closures were inevitable. Unfortunately, one of the schools on Vicki’s chopping block was Applegate Elementary, which was one recipient of a $5.2 million US Department of Education grant awarded to help desegregate the Jefferson cluster.

Without the efforts of Lynn Schore, a Neighborhood Schools Alliance activist, PPS would have happily swept this under the carpet. But Lynn was dogged in filing and following up on the Freedom of Information Act request that brought this to light.

Schore’s work has exposed yet again that an open transfer policy is at odds with other district goals, such as strong neighborhood schools and ending racial segregation. The sad fact is that even with Phillips gone, we’re stuck with a strong “School Choice” bias in our administration and, evidently, on the board (the degree to which we will discover as they take up the issue this fall).

PPS seems quick to dismiss this loss of money as a problem. “When the buildings closed, the need was reduced,” Willamette Week quotes an unamed PPS spokesperson as saying.

There’s a lot more to this story, and hopefully we’ll get more of it in the weeks to come. How was the rest of the grant spent, for example? Will this stick to Vicki Phillips, or did she cover her ass? If she covered her ass, who will take the fall? Stay tuned, folks, this could get interesting.