VisionPDX and Portland Public Schools

by Steve, September 18th, 2007

Amanda Fritz got her hands on the proposed visionPDX report, and correctly dings the authors for its wishy-washy statement on education: “The public and private sectors jointly provide a K-20 educational enterprise that serves the intellectual, cultural and economic needs of the region, the city and its people.”

VisionPDX is an initiative started by mayor Tom Potter. According to its Web site, “visionPDX is a City-supported, community-led initiative to create a vision for Portland for the next 20 years and beyond. The project provides an opportunity for all Portlanders to share their hopes and ideas for the future.”

Sounds real warm and fuzzy, but the process has been criticized for being light on statistical methodology and heavy on the feel-good factor.

I am not surprised by the lack of a strong statement on education in this report, since our city leaders have consistently spoken platitudes about our public schools while consistently failing to hold our school board to account for its policies that threaten our public neighborhood schools, even as they refer to them as our “crown jewels”.

I don’t mean to be rude or take Amanda’s discussion too far off track, but I had to call her out about this. I support her in her drive to fix the visionPDX document, and hope to nudge her — and any other potential city council candidates — to take a hard look at PPS policy and to at least take a stand as firm as the Flynn-Blackmer audit (230 KB PDF).

Obviously, this is an issue that impacts the entire city, and the silence of our city leaders (and would-be leaders) about our radical school transfer policy is puzzling, to say the least.

4 Responses to “VisionPDX and Portland Public Schools”

  1. Comment from Nicole:

    The education section in the Vision PDX report is so atrocious I would vote to scrap the whole Vision document rather than see that go into affect as Portland’s long-term vision for our education system. As a former city planner, I am horrified that this could be the outcome of Portland’s community visioning process.

    There is a complete disconnect between the public input on education as reported in the “Voices from the Community” report, and the section on education in the final product called “Learning Portland.” There is also a disconnect between the “Learning Portland” section and some other key sections of the Vision document (Built Portland; Environmental Portland, and Social Portland).

    It sounds like someone from the business community and Portland Schools Foundation drafted the section on Portland’s vision for education.

    Shame on Mayor Potter for overrepresenting the corporate interests and for not listening to the community’s desire for a strong, equitable system of K-12 neighborhood schools that are integrated into a walkable, bikable built environment.

  2. Comment from Margaret DeLacy:

    Despite all the praise being lavished on it, the Flynn-Blackmer audit is riddled with errors of logic and interpretation, some of which are the result of the authors’ ignorance of education issues. Over and over again, the authors confuse “pull” with “push”. That is, in my view, high achieving students are being pushed out of local schools by a lack of instruction appropriate to their needs. Forcing them to stay there without addressing this issue merely makes the problem worse by further reducing any incentive for the local school to improve its instruction. The net result will be an overall downgrading of the quality of all schools in PPS and an accelerated flight to schools elsewhere in the metro area (particularly Vancouver) or elsewhere in the country.

    To give just one example of the flaws of this document, they write that :

    “Transferring from an AYP school to a non-AYP school does not tend to positively impact the performance of the transferee. Data from our Research and Evaluation Department indicates that while students who transfer under NCLB were higher achieving at the time of transfer than
    students who did not transfer, the students who transferred often did not achieve as much growth as those who stayed.”

    Well, duh. Higher achieving students make lower gains than their lower achieving classmates across the entire district. If they transfer to another school and continue to make lower gains than the lower-achieving students they left behind, we still have no idea whether the transfer was on balance a good thing for them. The only way to be sure would be an “apples to apples” comparison–that is, to compare the gains obtained by students who had transferred with those who did not, matched by both demographics and ability level over a three-year period (to compensate for the initial drop caused simply by not being used to a new institution).

    A further problem is that transferring is especially common among High School students. AYP schools are disproportionately High Schools. High School students only take one test–in tenth grade. So there is no data about their gains while in a given school, and we know nothing at all about those important last two years. Aggregate High School test score averages tell us far more about the elementary and middle schools a student attended than they do about the quality of the High School.

    My guess would be that high-achieving students who transfer to a school with more high-achieving students would prove to be more successful in the long run. These schools simply offer more advanced classes. I don’t believe that families are wasting enormous amounts of energy and time chasing a chimera.

    However, for lower-achieving students, this may not be the case. They are leaving schools with more services tailored to their needs for schools that may not have such services available, particularly if they are leaving a Title 1 school under NCLB, given the extra Title 1 funding. Furthermore, they pay a very high price in terms of time wasted on transportation–time that may be taken out of learning opportunities such as after-school programs.

    An analysis I did of Jefferson test scores a couple of years ago showed that it was doing a better-than-average job with lower-achieving students, so I would be surprised if they got a better deal elsewhere. (That was, of course, before Jefferson was dismembered).

    These are just guesses, however. Only a properly conducted analysis will tell us what the true situation is.

    The Blackmer audit was not a properly conducted analysis and should not be used as the basis for making policy decisions.


  3. Comment from Steve:

    I’ve responded to Dr. DeLacy’s comments here in a new post.

  4. Comment from Diane Hanfmann:

    Dear Ms. Delacy,
    Your post reminds me of the Individual Gains and School Success report/paper. If only such information was understood by a larger number of people, I believe it would make advocacy much easier.
    I, in another state, spend a great deal of time differentiating between learning gains and proficiency levels. In my neighborhood, many parents of the gifted are happily complacent rather than screaming from the rooftops,
    as they fail to realize the difference between
    an age based proficiency level and growth. Unfortunately, sometimes even reporters fail to grasp the difference, and thus present data in a less than
    helpful manner.