Oregonian ed reporter finds spine, questions district PR fluff

by Steve, April 8th, 2011

News flash: After over a decade of rewriting school district press releases, The Oregonian’s main education reporter has written not one, but two news stories critical of Portland Public Schools. Since they even cite sources outside the district, one might go so far as to call the stories almost “investigative.”

Today’s front page story (Warning: Oregonian link; will be 404 two weeks after publication) details how the district is violating state election law by campaigning for its half-billion dollar bond measure on the public dime.

This article comes less than a week after another article (Warning: Oregonian link; will be 404 two weeks after publication) critical of the cost basis of the bond measure.

Nice to see some critical ed reporting in the usually complicit, complacent O. Too bad it only comes when the reporter’s property tax is in danger of going up. Think about it.

What did you learn in school today?

by Steve, September 3rd, 2010

I love Pete Seeger, here singing a Tom Paxton song, apropos the start of a new school year:

Wacky Mommy on STARBASE

by Steve, March 13th, 2010

My wife friggin’ rocked the school board last Monday… they didn’t voter our way, but I think we made them uncomfortable. All power to the people, sister!

What I’ll have to say about STARBASE this evening

by Steve, March 8th, 2010

I was planning on addressing the school board tonight, but they’re limiting us to three speakers. So they’re having me address the rally ahead of time. Here’s what I’ve got:

Regardless of the curriculum offered by STARBASE in exchange for access to our preteens, there is a civil rights question to be answered: Is this military recruiting aimed at poor and minority students?

The second half of that question is easily answered. The Portland STARBASE Web site says the program is aimed at “at-risk youth.” Fourteen of the 18 schools participating this year are Title 1 schools, and the students at these schools are disproportionately non-white and poor when compared to the district as a whole.

The recruiting question is pretty clear to me, too, even though students, parents and teachers may love the program, and even if they don’t detect recruitment.

I want you to join me in a thought experiment tonight.

Some of you have been ten-year-old boys, and some of you have had ten-year-old sons or grandsons or nephews. I want you all to pretend, just for a minute or two, that you are all ten-year-old boys.

Boys of all ages love things that go. Things that go fast: even better. Now, as a ten-year-old boy, listen as I describe some of what you will see at Portland Air Base.

This base is home of the 142nd fighter wing, a fleet of F-15 Eagle fighter bombers. This supersonic twin-engine jet airplane is so light and powerful that it can accelerate into a vertical climb, like a rocket. The thrust of its engines is greater than its total weight, so it can make sharp turns without losing air speed. The F-15 has a thrilling combination of speed, maneuverability, high tech weapons, and avionics, including heads-up instrumentation display. This is one of the most performant vehicles in the world, and the only people who get to fly them are in the military.

The F-15 Eagle is typically outfitted with a variety of industrial weapons, like the Sparrow, AMRAAM and Sidewinder missiles and a 20 mm Gatling-style cannon, capable of firing depleted uranium shells at up to 7,200 rounds per minute. A modified version of the F15, the Strike Eagle, can deliver the B61, a multi-kiloton thermonuclear bomb.

In use since 1974, the F15, with all its various armaments, is among the deadliest, most formidable weapons systems on the planet. It continues to be a key piece of US air superiority, able to outperform every conceivable enemy aircraft. It is widely used by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as by Israel, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Now, I know a lot of ten-year-old boys who would be getting pretty excited about this. The STARBASE Web site shows children climbing into the cockpit of an F-15 Eagle.

Without knowing anything about the curriculum, or anything about the base tour, or anything about the hour and a half talk about military careers that ends STARBASE, I’m here to tell you that showing a ten-year-old boy this aircraft, possibly introducing him to its pilot, is a form of recruitment.

The military’s recruiting manual notes the importance of contact with very young students as soon as they start thinking about the future. Many of the boys in my daughter’s fifth grade class are already talking about joining the military, even before they go to STARBASE.


It doesn’t matter if students return from STARBASE and say there is no recruiting.

It doesn’t matter if some parents don’t think their children are bein recruited.

It doesn’t matter if teachers say the curriculum is great.

It doesn’t matter that the program is taught by civilians, and no recruiters are present for most of the program.

If the Departement of Defense considers this a recruiting program, it is a recruiting program.

A military recruiting program aimed at poor and minority preteens is a civil rights violation, and we should not be taking part.


by Steve, March 3rd, 2010

STARBASE, the Department of Defense’s childhood recruitment program, has been buying access to our children through Portland Public Schools for something like seventeen years. The school board is poised to approve selling access to another round of predominately poverty-affected, non-white fourth and fifth graders Monday.

Communities for Alternatives to Starbase Education (Facebook and Twitter), a group of mothers opposed to sending children to military bases at a time of war, will be there to help educate the public about this program (since the district doesn’t seem to like to share much information with families, even if they share student information with the military), with a press conference and rally at district headquarters. They’ve got the support of Jobs with Justice, Whitefeather Peace House, Students United for Nonviolence, the Oregon Peace Institute and the American Friends Service Committee’s Peace Building Program.

This peace-loving dad is also supporting courageous mothers everywhere who stand up for their children, and would love to see other conscious parents and children there, too:

  • Blanchard Education Service Center (BESC) 501 N. Dixon St., two blocks from the east end of the Broadway Bridge, just north of Memorial Coliseum.
  • 6 p.m., Monday, March 8, International Women’s day.

From the CASE Facebook page:

Come out to testify against or bear witness as the Portland Public School Board votes to allow military recruitment, under the guise of science education, of our children in grades K-5.

Military bases are not designed for children, they are not playgrounds.

Military bases, including our local Armory, store toxic materials and jet fuels; not safe for children.

We are a country at war, military bases are not safe places for civilians, especially children, during wartime. They are targets.

Military personnel returning from active duty may suffer unpredictable and often violent behavior as a result of service. Luckily no children were injured on the base in Texas when such an incident occurred.

Of the 18 schools participating in this program all but 4 are Title 1 schools. All but three have higher percentages of minority students, and all but four have higher poverty.

Violence is on the increase in our public schools and culture. Exposing our young, impressionable children to exciting, high tech, high powered, weapons will not help in our struggle to move toward a more tolerant and peaceful society.

So that’s what I’ve been doing…

by Steve, July 1st, 2009

…beat blogging!

Two and a half years ago, I started ranting on this site about the gross educational inequities in Portland’s public schools. This eventually got the attention of the local mainstream media and the greater school district community. I didn’t set out with a mission, other than just speaking my mind.

Pretty soon all I wrote about here was schools, schools, schools. One day, while writing yet another blog post about schools, my daughter asked me, “How come you only write about school politics on your hockey blog?” “Good question!” I said, and started another blog all about schools.

Why? Because I can (my day job is “professional nerd”).

Eventually, PPS Equity started taking on the look of a… what? Online magazine? I settled on calling it a “new media publication.” I even came up with a mission statement: “to inform, advocate and organize, with a goal of equal educational opportunity for all students in Portland Public Schools, regardless of their address, their parent’s wealth, or their race.” Readership climbed steadily, with around 20% of visits consistently coming directly from school district computers.

Since I host my blogs on a server that I own, I decided to open up my platform to others working for the common good.

That’s it, I thought, I’m doing “new media publishing!” It’s got a nice ring to it.

But I’m also doing some kind of journalism, and that’s where it gets tricky. I have a great deal of respect for professional journalists, and a healthy disdain of bloggers who pick up the latest news reports, toss off 500 words of commentary, and call themselves “citizen journalists” or some such. The point being that they are leeching off of the professionals. The story doesn’t run if somebody doesn’t report it in the first place. That’s what journalists — a.k.a. reporters — do.

When I wrote for Portland Metblogs (moribund since last February), I floated the idea of doing citizen journalism there, which didn’t go over well with a couple other contributors who couldn’t accept that writing from a point of view does not disqualify one as a journalist.

When I was invited to be on a panel about blogging at a conference for professional journalists and journalism students last fall, I had a little trepidation about being chewed up and spit out. (It was a very friendly crowd, as it turned out.) The two other bloggers on the panel were very clear about considering themselves journalists, but I made a point of identifying myself as a community activist, not a journalist.

But… the kind of writing — and reporting — that I do is outside of the usual realm activism. I actually do reporting, is the thing, at the same time I’m doing advocacy and organizing. “New media publishing” captures the big picture of what it means to run a community blog, but the actual beat reporting I do is, in fact, journalism.

Which all became clear to me the other day when BeatBlogging.org, a project affiliated with New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, gave me a nice shout-out on their Leaderboard, which they describe as “a list of the most innovative beat reporters in the world.”

Wha….? You’ve got to be kidding me! (Seriously, I’m floored over here!)

Their summary of my work on PPS Equity highlights the combination of advocacy and journalism. “…[I]t is starting to seem like good beatbloggers — especially education ones — mix in a bit of advocacy with their journalism. It’s not that they are biased, but rather that they care to see change,” writes Patrick Thornton, editor of BeatBlogging.org.

I poked around their site… man, great stuff. It’s all about “how journalists can use social networks, blogs and other Web tools to improve beat reporting.” I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’ve already found great information that I’ll be trying to incorporate into my work at PPS Equity going forward, like how in the hell to use Twitter effectively. (Sadly, I also found out that BeatBlogging.org is losing its funding. Damn, talk about bad timing!)

Most of all, I’m glad to have a name for what it is that I’ve been doing: beat blogging. It’s not at all what I set out to do, but here I am doing it. One of these days, I’ll have to figure out how to monetize it so I can quit my day job.

Keeping Portland, uh… weird

by Steve, February 13th, 2009

News that the state of Oregon is considering reinstating the teaching license of an admitted serial child sex abuser is weird enough. But it gets weirder.

Roberta Weber, cited in the O as someone “who directed hard-of-hearing education and other special education programs in Portland for years”, defended the former teacher, Kimberly Horenstein: “Kim has a unique talent for working with this special population … and maintains clear and appropriate boundaries with staff and children. … I am fully aware of Kim’s … issues in her past, and can support, without reservation, that Kim should return to the field of education.”

But wait, here comes the really fun part.

Weber’s current job with Portland Public Schools: director of strategic partnerships” charged with building external relationships with “strategic community partners.”

Could that include our illustrious mayor Sam Adams and his well-regarded plan to increase high school graduation rates?

I just love how warm and tolerant Portland is… (unless you’re a child or other vulnerable member of society).

Fritz v. Lewis: The City Club Debate

by Steve, September 20th, 2008

Amy Ruiz does a great job capturing the blow-by-blow on the Merc’s blog, so if you didn’t hear Friday’s city council debate, you might want to check that out before reading this.

I pointed out in a comment on Ruiz’s piece the one glaring factual error in the debate, Lewis’ claim that Jefferson High School is “1/4 full” and David Douglas is bursting at the seams because of the lack of affordable housing in inner Portland.

Gentrification and displacement of non-white communities is a serious problem in Portland, and I appreciate Lewis’ attention to this. But it has nothing to do with Jefferson’s (or Madison’s, Marshall’s or Roosevelt’s) under-enrollment.

These schools are under-enrolled because Portland Public Schools has allowed the majority of high school students in these clusters to transfer out while they have dramatically cut educational and extracurricular opportunities.

For example, out of 1,603 PPS high school students living in Jefferson’s attendance area last October, only 403 were enrolled there, along with an additional 142 from other neighborhoods. The balance of Jefferson’s student population attended other PPS neighborhood schools (437), Special Programs/Focus Options (423), with the rest in PPS Charter Schools, Special Services or Community Based Alternatives.

So Lewis is factually incorrect to blame Jefferson’s under-enrollment on the lack of affordable housing even though he is correct that affordable housing is a serious problem (something he and Fritz clearly agree on).

I can’t expect Lewis to be as well-versed in public schools policy and demographics as me, but he’s made this statement before, and it is just plain wrong.

Fritz, by contrast, spoke to the City Council when they met at Jefferson last January. She told them about the injustice of the inequity in opportunity between schools like Jefferson and Wilson, her neighborhood high school, demonstrating a clear understanding of a critical problem facing PPS.

On other issues, Lewis showed himself to be reasonably well-informed, though it’s almost an embarrassment to try to compare his 10 years of experience in the non-profit sector (and a couple years as a small business owner) to Fritz’s 20-year history as a community organizer, public citizen and advocate for equitable, transparent governance.

Lewis is wise to dwell on his business experience, since his public policy experience ends at the intern level. But it all started sounding like “Ethos yada yada started from zero yada yada Ethos yada revolving credit for small businesses yada yada yada Ethos yada started on my credit card yada yada yada make payroll yada yada staff of 75 yada yada yada Ethos…”

People are quick to defend Ethos, and I don’t want to beat up all the low-wage teachers and volunteers there who have brought music to the lives of kids that otherwise wouldn’t have much.

But there’s a certain charity mentality to it. I wrote about it in a comment on PPS Equity last July:

My complaint is with the misconception that Ethos solves the problem of PPS not funding music education in poor schools.

…Lewis perpetuates this myth, as in this quote (since removed) from the Ethos Web site: “When budget cuts threatened to destroy music education programs in Portland Public Schools, Charles stepped in and found a solution.”

It’s not a solution; it’s not even a band aid.

These organizations foster a charity mentality toward the least well-off among us, and … give political cover to policy makers who maintain a system that takes pretty good care of students in wealthy neighborhoods but not in others.

I am a to-the-death supporter of arts education in our schools. Which is why I point out that Ethos reaching a couple thousand students with some small amount of music education is no substitute for an integrated K12 music curriculum, taught by certified, union-represented teachers, for all 47,000 PPS students.

I don’t see any way Ethos is helping us get to that realistic goal (they’re doing it in Beaverton with the same level of state funding and even less federal and local funding). To the contrary, I think Ethos may work against this vision.

In the end, I was pleased that Lewis stayed positive and did not reveal his bombastic side, which was on display in the Willamette Week endorsement interview for the primary (and in his supporters’ comments on this blog and others). In that, besides going after John Branam about his salary as a PPS employee, Lewis seemed to cite his beef with PDC snubbing Ethos as a major reason for wanting to be on the City Council.

He seems to be maturing as a candidate, and I agree with him (as does Fritz, I believe) on several critical issues. But there’s little doubt who’s really the best prepared to lead, and to lead in the direction Portland needs to go.

Amanda Fritz has been significantly involved with the official planning of Portland’s future, and is uniquely qualified to bring citizen’s voices into City Hall and implement the Portland Plan. I stand by my primary endorsement and say “Fritz for City Council!”

Military & Draft Counseling Project Action Alert

by Steve, April 28th, 2008

This just in from the Military & Draft Counseling Project:

Portland high school students need your help. Jollee Patterson, chief legal counselor for Portland Public Schools, is now advising high school administrators and the Portland School Board to no longer allow counter-recruitment activists equal access to respond to military recruiting in Portland high schools.

This is a change in long-standing practice. For many years, the assumption has been that, if military recruiters maintain a presence in schools, then counter-recruiters have a right to a comparable presence. In practice, this usually means that, if military recruiters do tabling during the lunch hour, then counter-recruiters should be granted the opportunity to do the same.

The National Lawyers Guild has written a letter to Jollee Patterson, at our request, challenging her arguments and her advice to the school district. Her main argument is that, if Portland Public Schools grants access to counter-recruiters, that opens the door to a myriad of other political groups who might want to set up a literature tables in a high school. This is a bogus argument because it ignores the crucial fact that military recruiters are already in schools and spreading their lies and a response is required!

ACTION #1: Please email all 8 school board members and/or phone the two school board co-chairs and assert our right to equal access Tell them:

  • Students deserve at least a balance of information about military enlistment.
  • Military recruiters cannot be trusted to tell the truth about what students can expect from military service.
  • Most school districts throughout the nation grant some form of access to counter-recruiters because it is morally and legally the right thing to do.
  • Jollee Patterson should be told (by the school board) to stand down on this issue and stop advising high school administrators to exclude counter-recruitment activists.

Portland School Board members

ACTION #2: You are invited to the next Portland School Board meeting on Monday, April 28th at the school district admin. building (BESC), 501 N. Dixon St., Portland 97227.

  • Meet at 6:45pm at the main entrance. We will stand with signs as people enter.
  • After the meeting begins (7pm), we will stand with our signs in the foyer behind the board meeting room. We will be very visible to the school board members.
  • School board meetings often last until 9 or 9:30pm. Stay as long as you can, an hour is great.
  • There is an opportunity for citizen comment at the end of the meeting, but you must sign up ahead of time. Call me if you are interested.

For more information, please contact the Military & Draft Counseling Project, 503-238-0605.
Email: jgrueschow@comcast.net.

Navy Offers All-Expense Paid Trips to PPS Educators

by Steve, March 12th, 2008

With two wars raging and an all-volunteer military, the armed forces have to be pretty crafty to meet their recruitment goals. Inner-city high schools are a favorite place for them to target youth who might not have much in the way of opportunity, and Portland is no exception.

But here’s something I’ve never heard of before: The Navy is offering all-expense paid trips to San Diego for PPS educators.

Here’s the text of an e-mail that went out recently.

Dear Educator,

As the Education Services Specialist for Navy Recruiting District, Portland I would like to invite you to our upcoming Educator Orientation Visit to Naval Station San Diego, Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and Naval Air Station North Island, in Sand Diego, California this April 14-18th. As space is limited, please contact me via email or phone as
soon as possible.

The purpose of the tour is to familiarize educators and community leaders with the education, training, and occupational opportunities that are available to young men and women in today’s Navy.

While at the bases you will have an opportunity to view many young men and women who have taken advantage of the training and job opportunities only the Navy can provide. You will visit naval vessels and aircraft and receive first hand knowledge of the outstanding training that our sailors provide and receive. The Naval Station is homeport for approximately 60 ships and the workplace for 48,000 military and civilian personnel. During the tour, you will have the opportunity to observe training and interact with the officer and enlisted personnel in the work environment. Attached is a proposed itinerary.

As a guest of Navy Recruiting, the Navy will pay all transportation costs from Portland to San Diego. Lodging and meal expenses will be reimbursed by the Navy as well. Tour size is limited to 15 educators. Please contact me as soon as possible and we can go over the details.

I hope you will be able to join us in San Diego. I am confident the trip will be both educational and enjoyable. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact me at 503 xxx-xxxx.

Warmest Regards,
[name withheld], M.Ed.
Education Services Specialist
NRD Portland