Is the PPS Equity Glacier Starting to Move?

by Steve, December 31st, 2007

At the risk of sounding naive or overly optimistic, signs continue to appear that some Portland Public Schools administrators (if not the school board — yet) are starting to “get it” on issues of equity.

We’re going to look through the equity lens on what we’re offering. And we’re going to stay focused on what kids need. Is every school one where you would send your niece or nephew? Is every classroom a place you would put your own kid? If the answer isn’t yes, we have work to do.

— Judy Elliot, Portland Public Schools Office of Teaching and Learning. (Melton, Kimberly. “IB and AP not as easy as ABC” The Oregonian, Monday, January 31.)

Hey, that’s what I’ve been saying for almost a year now! And what my friends at the NSA have been saying for much longer!

Of course actions speak louder than words. The proving ground for the district’s intent on equity issues is Jefferson High School, the poster child for PPS inequity.

District administrators are clearly getting out ahead of the school board on this. Board members continue to insist that we need to increase enrollment at Jefferson before we can increase the program offerings there.

But with Jefferson administrators receptive to the community consensus of “if you build it, we will come,” and administrators sounding like concerned parents instead of ideologues, the school board will eventually have no choice but to fall in line behind us. (Honestly, who could think “come and we will build it” has any hope of success after all the broken promises at Jefferson?)

Another district administrator who’s saying the right things is Zeke Smith, Superintendent Carole Smith’s chief of staff, who asked parents at a recent Jefferson meeting for “proof points” that the district could implement by fall 2008 as signs that the district is serious about making Jefferson work. You mean the district wants to not only listen to parents, but actually implement their suggestions?

Now that’s a breath of fresh air. Let’s make sure that wind continues to blow and brings real change and real equity for the children and young adults of Portland.

4 Responses to “Is the PPS Equity Glacier Starting to Move?”

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Steve, wouldn’t it be nice. But the administration is new and SFC and the members of PSF haven’t applied the pressure yet. It is nice you are getting off to a new year with such an optimistic attitude. I like to see it.

    Here are some “proof points” to look for in your quest for a school board and school administration that are working toward equity.

    1) An admission that money is not the determiner of equity, but programs and meeting students’ needs.

    2) A serious attempt to bolster up the middle grades in the lower economic parts of the city.

    3) A serious change in the hiring and teacher transfer process which doesn’t favor the upper middle class schools as it does now.

    4) A guaranteed system which equitably distributes the new bond levy if it is proposed.

    5) Defining what makes a good education (not the worthless and stupid vision statement) and trying to implement the missing parts in each of the schools.

    6) A genuine addressing of the transfer programs and an admission that it is having disastrous effects on poor schools. Then following through with either eliminating it, changing it, or making sure the schools in poor neighborhoods are genuinely attractive and good places for kids to go to school.

    Let me know when you see any of these. In the meantime, I am working under the same assumptions that the school district favors the same four attendance areas, Lincoln, Wilson, and parts of Grant and Cleveland.

    I have offered help to the new superintendent on some of these issues. Same result as the last one. Zip response. I have offered help to school board members and offered to serve on committees. Same response as always. Zip. Ruth Adkins will usually return an email. Short and terse. The others will not. Same as always. Zip.

    Of course, even a slight admission that there is such equity is a move in the right direction. Can’t hurt. And I have seen that too.

  2. Comment from Steve:

    Thanks for the reality check, Steve B.

    Those are some excellent proof points, and far more nuanced than my broad stroke “equity now” battle cry.

    What Carole Smith recommends for the transfer policy this month will be very telling. That will probably be the first real indication of whether the district is serious about equity or just trying to placate us with platitudes.

  3. Comment from Rubycakes:

    Steve B.

    Can you say more about your statement, “that money is not the determiner of equity, but programs and meeting students’ needs”

    I’m curious about how we get those programs and meet those needs without investing more resources (money),

  4. Comment from Steve:

    I can’t speak for Steve B, but I think he’s saying you can’t say “we’re spending the same on students at Jefferson as we’re spending at Grant” and have it be okay. There has to be a recognition that poorer kids are more expensive to educate.