Hey PPS School Board: Why Do We Have Open Transfers?

by Steve, October 16th, 2007

Now that the transfer and enrollment office has produced data revealing the racial and economic segregation brought on by Portland Public Schools’ open transfer enrollment policy, bolstering my earlier research (383KB PDF) showing a massive shift of public investment away from poorer neighborhoods, I have one little question for the school board. (I know some of you read this blog, so don’t be shy about responding here.)

It’s a three parter:

  1. What problem is open transfer enrollment designed to solve?
  2. How exactly (please cite data) do neighborhood-to-neighborhood transfers solve this problem?
  3. How is this unnamed problem more important than the increasing racial and socio-economic segregation and multi-million dollar annual neighborhood funding inequity caused by open transfer enrollment?

It is becoming increasingly clear, through correspondence and conversations I’ve had with board members, unpublished remarks by superintendent Carole Smith to the press, and comments by Ruth Adkins on Terry Olson’s blog, that we aren’t going to see any changes to the transfer policy for at least another year.

When the Flynn-Blackmer audit (230KB PDF) was released in June 2006, it requested that the school board explain the purpose of the open transfer policy. Vicki Phillips waved her hands around about the importance of “School Choice,” and the board punted, claiming it was too late to do anything for 2007-08. Now, over a year later, I’m hearing the same kind of murmurs: It’s too late to do anything about it for 2008-09.

And still nobody on the board can articulate, in simple, clear terms, what the purpose of the transfer policy is and why it is of such paramount importance.

Obviously there is more here than meets the eye. The board seems to be protecting some hidden constituency that is more important than public divestment and reduced educational opportunities in the red zone and overcrowding in the green zone. Either that, or it’s just entropy, and nobody on the board has the political courage to admit mistakes and propose a course correction.

The devastation caused by open transfer enrollment is clear. If the school board has to invent a purpose for this policy after the fact, isn’t it time to start dismantling it?