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September 15, 2008

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Your "good student" hypothesis-students from (1) affluent families with (2) parents (guardians) involved in their education- makes a case for defunding public schools as we currently know them. Those students' affluent parents would pay to send their kids to private schools if satisfactory free schools were unavailable to them.

Since today's public schools are already 3 tiered- mostly excellent in affluent areas; good enough in the middle and mostly bad in low income areas-perhaps taxpayers and "bad students" would be more economically and better served in a single tier of good enough publicly funded schools while parents wanting more for their "good students" pay for private schools.

It would be a good idea for public school advocates, particularly in large districts, to remember that public schools were established in the common belief that as Jefferson said: "It is the responsibility of government to educate the children of the poor."

I started commenting on this thread, then went off to the "yet another new charter school" thread, and after reading all of the comment thread there, decided this would be the better place to not get dead-threaded.

I absolutely agree with everything you've laid out here, and I understand the "hot-button-ness" of the whole Charter issue. (yes, you can see the "but" coming on the horizon, can't you?)

--PART I of my rantavation--

So we have a group of issues that are killing the Public school system (and PPS in this specific issue)--I don't know how many we can characterise at once, but I'll try to be (sorta) brief:
1. De-coupling of property taxes to school funding
2. Opening up of "Free enrollement" across the district
which lead to defacto segregation and income gaps across the district
3. the creation of "Magnet" schools
(which I think, but do not know, followed after 1&2 by some time and exacerbated the problem)
4. The mandatory testing regime (even before NCLB, this created a "pay for performance" issue within schools and the district.)
5. The Charter School "thing" (I don't know how to characterise this one. Creation? Expansion?)

I make no mistake in saying all 5 of these are all part of the same coordinated effort to gut government and public programs--allowing them little room to succeed so that they can be shown to have failed. And now, after all this time has gone by, what are the options left for parents who want their children to get a "quality education" (and I would posit that that is universal. No parent wants their child to get a "crappy education." (Heck, I will even give the benefit of the doubt that no parent wants (consciously, at least) anyone else's child to have a crappy education.)

So what recourse is there to solve the issues above, given the state of the current system? I'm going to put in, as another of our given "states" of the system, that we're not going to change in any quick order those first 4 problems. "We" (the benevolent and wise people of the Great State of Oregon) are not going to invest in public schools. We have been brainwashed for too long that "our money" should stay in our (or Wall St's) "pockets." And without that first pole, the rest of the tent isn't going up.

[end part I]

Fred, you make some very thoughtful points.

#1 is a tough one... To a certain extent, funding schools out of the state general fund has brought a measure of state-wide funding equity that we never saw before, particularly in rural districts without an industrial tax base.

But it has been brutal to PPS. The citizens of Portland (unlike the superset of Oregonians) have shown themselves willing to repeatedly put local option bandaids on the problem, but there doesn't seem to be any political will (least of all from the City of Portland) to create a long-term solution to funding stability.

Given that the state revenue stream has been a shameful mess since Measure 5 (with no solution in sight from a second-term Democratic governor and his Democratic legislature), we're going to have to deal with the funding issue locally. But other than the bandaids we've almost spent through, there's nothing on the horizon in that regard either.

Still, there's no reason the money we do have can't be spread around in a more equitable fashion. PPS is the only district in the Portland metro area where you can walk into a school and accurately gauge the wealth of the neighborhood by the wealth of offerings at the school.

It's shameful, and no amount of blaming the state or NCLB can excuse our local policy makers who continue to tolerate and even encourage a two-tiered system with their decisions.

--part II--

So we're left with the following "choices" (cake or death?):

1. we work diligently and passionately and give the resources we can give to those neighborhood schools that don't have the resources, involvement, etc. that allow their students to achieve to their greatest potential. Of all the solutions, this one, I think, carries the greatest reward but also the greatest frustration: your influence is constrained by the scope of your involvement; your resources are restricted by your own limits--time, money, life...But you get immediate reward and satisfaction, and you have a direct and lasting influence on those that you were involved with. Hopefully, in this case, your involvement brings in others who will "continue" or add to your legacy.

Of course, this option only works if you have the time (or the temperment) to help out in the classroom. This also works if you have the money instead of time.

2. There are those of us that just don't have one or the other of those resources to commit. That may or may not be the "best" parenting decision--but we all have lives to lead and housholds to keep. Some parents in this group don't have the opportunities or choices to send their children to the schools where other people are committing the time and/or the money, and those children get stuck in the "failing neighborhood school."

Others have the resources to get their kids to the magnet school or the private school. Maybe they are "*ists," maybe they just know that they don't have the ability to make the commitment in time, money, patience to send their children to a school that they know doesn't "perform" as well as their local school. They may or may not be victims of "marketing" about what it means for schools to succeed; maybe they just want to pull a "good" school off of the shelf and plug their kids in and feel that they got a good deal. And in the world that we want to live in (the one that doesn't drown the government in a bathtub) that's what we would have.

3) You can fight the good fight from the outside, push against the system itself; get like-minded school board members, state government and federal government. It's going to take a long time, thought, to fix things that way. And each day, as schools fall further and further into disrepair and $ neglect, it's going to be a bigger challenge.

4) You can take the resources and the conditions that are on the table, and you can try to do the best with what you are given, and in conjunction with #1 and #3, you can use the tools that are available (say, making a charter school) and try and solve the problems that way. It's not the most optimal solution--that would be to make every school better. It might look like "giving in" or "playing to the enemy" or "being *ist" and "abandoning the local schools." Maybe all of the above is true.

But maybe it can solve some of the problems with a lesser of the evils. Maybe just the conversation, with the school board/Superintendent, saying "please find some tactics that we, as a community, can put our energy into, please build a strategy (something say, longer than the next Superintendent getting fired/hired away) that builds on those tactics, and incorporate those into the schools in PPS."

--part III--

(sorry, work got ahead of me...it's hard stealing time from the man)

I live in North Portland--and Applegate Elementary was closed just as we were about to have to make a "decision" about where to enroll. Luckily, in some respects, we got into Winterhaven. But it's a long flippin' way from Winterhaven to our house, and we had many sometimes unpleasant discussions about what to do then and now. I really, really want to be in a neighborhood school. I also know that I don't have the time at the moment (and it's been 5 years now, so it's not like that's changing--that investment in AIG isn't going to let me retire) to invest in either Ockley or Chief Joe.

We talked all summer about going to Ockley, going to Chief Joe, and aside from the kids being upset with leaving their friends, we haven't had the time to spend seeing what the day-to-day is like at either school. I will say that when Ockley went to k-8, my wife and I went on different nights to their open houses. I thought it was a perfectly good school, and that the staff and teachers were very intent on providing what they could with what they had there. But I had already seen what Winterhaven was like--I knew the education that was being provided there (it's not perfect; it's white, it's rich, the program doesn't do much to help those that aren't extra-high achievers)--and the answers I got at those Ockley open houses made me feel cold. I had just finished reading Kozel's Shame of the Nation, and I heard them as teaching how to use technology and not how to make technology. It certainly wasn't compelling enough to leave my little bubble.

I know that my children won't get a "bad" education; I think, honestly, anyone having this discussion on this blog knows that much--because we actually have the resources (maybe not during the school day, etc) to ensure that they learn what they need to learn and achieve to the best of their abilities. It doesn't matter how well the school "achieves," because I'm obnoxiously over-educated, my children will be, if nothing else, exposed to that education on a daily basis.

But it's the difficulties for those that can't afford the time, or the money, or their own lack of educational opportunities that are the risk. They risk not getting the best possible education they could get, but they also are "at risk" for issues tied to economics, and situation, and a spiraling lack of opportunity.

So what do we do there? How do we fix that? You're so correct in the disparity in PPS--and it's a disparity that isn't tied to neighborhood per se. Those that "gentrified" the N/NE neighborhoods had the option to escape the responsibility to gentrify the schools because it was given to them. I'm not saying I'm not to blame, because I am. I'm human, and that means that often I will take an easier choice if I can. And I made the easy choice.

The bigger question is: Do I just hide in my bubble or do I go out and try to spread the wealth? And then the world intervenes and I have to get back to it...

Sorry about hijacking the thread. I promise to be quiet, now. And yes, I do have connections to the Emerald Charter School group. I don't claim it's the best possible solution, but the hope is that it can be a solution that we can show to PPS to attempt to get them to implement (philosophy, not charter school-ness) across the district.

Ok, lay into me.

Lay into you? Not likely, Fred. I appreciate your lengthy yet thoughtful comments.

In fact, you represent perfectly the dilemma confronting the district: either stick with choice and charters, or take the bold step of revamping the transfer policy and beefing up programs in low income and low enrollment schools.

I'm afraid, however, especially after watching portions of last night's school board meeting, that the district will stubbornly stick with choice and the transfer policy that enables it, DESPITE a clear realization by some board members that choice leads to gross educational inequities.

There is a slight glimmer of hope, though. Ruth Adkins cryptically mentioned that the board will have to deal with that "issue" --enrollment? inequity? choice?-- when the transfer and enrollment committee (or whatever it's called) meets this fall.

Rumor has it that Steve Rawley, our champion for school equity, will serve on the citizen's advisory committee for school transfers.

Isn't that so, Steve?

I just know that this is (and I suppose should be) a delicate conversation, sometimes it's impossible to give a simple answer when the subject is so loaded with mines.

The problem, as I see it, changing the way the choice and transfer policy works, is how do you get the horses back into the barn? I think that the big fear from the school board is that those that can leave will leave without making the effort to make their nhood schools better. And without a major reimagination and some serious cash, those schools that don't "perform well" are not going to suddenly be seeing an influx of shining, happy (white) faces that were going to (Winterhaven?) last year.

The issue is about students having parents that either have the time to invest in the schools, money to invest in the schools, or schools that have enough of the first two to allow for a more stable learning situation. And getting the first two requires...I don't know. New! Improved! works sometimes. Something unique and compelling seems to work, but breaking a cycle of neglect somewhere is a challenge.

OTOH, right about now seems to be a pretty good time to say "sorry folks, we're going to shut down the free enrollment policy. But, in return, we're going to take this bit from Emerson, this bit from Winterhaven, this bit from MLC, and we're going to evenly distribute them around town. You see, we actually know what works about those schools, and we can replicate them everywhere to some degree. But to succeed, we need your help, your time, your money and your trust."

It's not like a lot of people are going to be able to up and move, and it's not like they're going to be able to afford private schools, at least for a few years, so let's blow it up and make it right.

Of course, that requires PPS to not pull the rug out from under in the 3rd year while it's still toddling shakily along. That might be the hardest sell of all.

"Rumor has it that Steve Rawley, our champion for school equity, will serve on the citizen's advisory committee for school transfers."

Well, that's what I'm given to understand, and possibly on the overall equity committee and possibly the high school committee, too. Still waiting for my phone to ring on that, though.

Fred, I feel your pain. But I'm in the Jefferson cluster, and our two kids are thriving in their regular old elementary school. It ain't perfect, but nothing is. I've learned to let go of that. A lot of people are fixated on pedagogical approach, be it PPS's assessment obsession or an idealistic yearning for whole-child education.

The truth is, my generation survived "A Nation at Risk" and my kids will survive "No Child Left Behind" in their public schools. Ultimately, kids are way smarter than grown-ups give them credit for, and will transcend whatever trendy methodology comes their way.

Arguably, their parents and their social cohort are more important than pedagogy anyway... Are their parents involved with their life (not just their education)? Are they learning to deal with people who look, act, and think differently than them? Are they imbued with values and then trusted to make the best decisions in life?

These things have way more to do with student "success" than anything a school can do.

"Do I just hide in my bubble or do I go out and try to spread the wealth? And then the world intervenes and I have to get back to it..."

Fred, all I have to say is: Go, Demos. Go, Rough Riders. Go, Senators and Go, Minutemen. Go watch some games, meet some of the kids, meet their parents, and you'll find out -- we have a great community here. I don't want you to miss out on that cuz you're too busy in your bubble.

I am agnostic about the larger argument presented here. But I will tell you this: my child attends Lincoln High School, and if the quality of that school declined for any reason, I would send her to a private school, in a heartbeat. With regret. But I would do it. My wild guess is that 20-30% of the parents there believe the same thing.

Would that a problem for you? Maybe, maybe not...but you might think about it.

Could the quality be maintained, or even improve, with greater academic diversity? Sure. Would that be certain? I'd have to see it to believe it.

Ian, it's not a zero-sum game. It is potentially win-win. Lincoln, Grant and Cleveland are over-crowded. Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt are under-enrolled.

With the existing funding formula, this means the latter schools offer significantly less educational opportunity than the former.

If we simply adjusted the funding formula, we would be essentially bringing cuts to schools like Lincoln to bolster the programming at schools with high rates of out-transfers.

But I have long advocated for balancing enrollment. Instead of cutting programs in wealthy neighborhoods to pay for programs in poor neighborhoods, we send students to school in their own neighborhoods, along with their federal, state and local funding. This solves the over-crowding in wealthy neighborhoods and the under-enrollment (and underfunding) in poorer neighborhoods.

It's a simple, common sense solution. But nobody on the school board, even those who want "equity," will touch it. They think it would be "social engineering" to have an enrollment policy based on neighborhood schools (much like most PPS parents grew up with).

I say, if there is equity of opportunity in the schools, who would want to send their kids across town for pretty much the same thing?

But common sense ain't so common, I guess.

Private school has always been an option for affluent parents, Ian, so no, it's not really a problem for me. I'd think twice about going that route, though. Do you really think your child would benefit from an exclusive private school experience?

But let me elaborate on Steve's comment. I pretty much oppose public school choice of any kind, but I especially dislike the PPS policy that encourages transfers from one neighborhood school to another. It's a policy that essentially steals from the poor and gives to the rich.

Here's the reality. Overcrowding at Portland's desirable schools has already thrown a wrench into the transfer conveyor belt. Unless the school board acts on Steve's "common sense" solution, transfers will inevitably slow to a trickle if not grind to a halt altogether.

That's something to think about.

Transfers into Lincoln, Cleveland and Grant have already ground to a halt, if I'm not mistaken. Benson is the last refuge for students fleeing the "small schools" implementation at Jefferson, Madison, Marshall and Roosevelt, which has stripped away significant opportunity and public investment from Portland's least wealthy neighborhoods.

(Jefferson, at least, has backed away from its small schools model, but it still remains a far cry from what you could call a "comprehensive" high school in terms of course offerings.)

Fred - welcome to the conversation! I appreciate your take on the situation. My greatest hope for the charters here in PPS is they can serve as incubators for best practice and as models for the rest of the district in terms of pedagogical approaches.

Steve R's suggestion: "we send students to school in their own neighborhoods, along with their federal, state and local funding." Could be accomplished by dividing PPS into separate districts as defined by current cluster boundaries.

Top PPS administrators and the PAT would object strenuously, but aren't the pupils supposed to be the primary beneficiaries of public education spending?

The way PPS is shrinking, more Portland students will eventually be attending Parkrose David Douglas etc. anyway. Every time there is a midyear funding crisis to satisfy PAT demands PPS shrinks a little more.

Terry Olson: Are you retired from the Hillsboro School District? If so please email me. Thanks, Joe Rodriguez [email protected]

There have ALWAYS been poor parents, uninvolved parents, and downright criminal parents throughout our history of public education.

I have to say that my own parents were poor and not involved in school or even my own schoolwork (my dad worked at a 60-hour/week hard labor job, my mom worked 40 hours a week on an electronic assembly line.)

But one thing my parents and, moreso, my immigrant grandfather drilled into me is that "you gotta have an education". They desired to see me have a better life than they did. My dad even took on a second job as a janitor to help me with college tuition.

Nonetheless, if it were not for a high school that had rich curricula with many electives, some really dedicated teachers, and a national program to upgrade public education (NDEA), I don't believe I would have made it. The dropout rate in my high school was around 30% in those early 60's.

Ten years later when my brother went to the same school, funding had been reduced. Other than sports, there were virtually no extracurricular activities. The dropout rate increased to more than 40%. Drugs, alcohol, and teen sex/pregnancy were now major problems affecting high schoolers. my own brother dropped out.

So no one will ever be able to convince me that financial support is not the main force for excellence in education. We need those science clubs, math clubs, chess clubs, music programs, language clubs, theatre clubs, etc. to occupy the spare time of our young people and give them an exposure to what they can accomplish. Schools do have the ability to fill in the gap caused by parental shortcomings, But somehow we have lost the will to provide it.

I guess I have a problem with the belief that good students are generally white because their parents are more involved. I read that as tacitly saying the black and latino families are inherently dysfunctional when it comes to school involvement. I'm sure that's not what you meant, based on other things that you've written.

I think when we live in a country where women or paid less than men, and people of color are paid less than whites when education and qualifications are the same, then of course there will be inequity in how much you can volunteer. Survival becomes a more primary goal.

As a parent of color, and also someone who once had a job engaging parents at a high school, I can say that all parents are not encouraged to participate in their child's school and/or eduction. Often, we are left sentiments like "Mom, it's time for you to step back" about a 10-year-old who suddenly stopped acheiving in class. It turned out that expectations were lower for some children than others, despite their abilities. Some teachers have been extremely unresponsive to parents of color. Parents become disengaged. I worked at a school where a parent repeatedly took off work to meet with a teacher only to have the teacher repeatedly cancel at the last minute. When I talked to the VP, they were aware that this particular teacher targeted kids of color and actively avoided their parents. There was a counseling meeting for the teacher but no real consequences.

I say on this to say, that they're are a million reasons that parents can't/don't participate. Not the least of which is being actively or passively discouraged by school staff. My brother who teaches math and science in California was not supported by administrators when he required that parents of his more troubled students meet with him. The parents more often happy to be considered important enough to call. There is sometimes this patronizing philosophy of "We know what these kids need more than their poor, undereducated parents" I have both witnessed this as a service provider and experienced it as a parent.

There are curriculums, conferences, etc. about the keys to parental engagement because it has traditionally been diffcult for a system geared towards white, middle class families to accomodate families that differ from that "norm". But when it works, it works. Back to School night at Ockley Green School was packed when we were there. Parent-teacher conferences were pretty well populated as well.

so there! : )

You make some good points, Blackfriend.

Class plays a bigger role than race in determining the degree of parent concern and involvement in their students' educations. But as you point out, Blacks are statistically more likely than whites to fall into the lower class demographic.

Thus the generalization.

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