School Transfers – Guaranteeing Choice or Sabotaging Diversity? (by Guest Blogger Andy Swinford)


Portland Public Schools’ transfer policies have historically been some of the most generous in existence. The intent of them was to allow parents to choose schools freely regardless of where in the city they chose to live and to keep kids from leaving the public school system for private options.

This high degree of choice, however, has been accused of “sucking” students from some schools and leading to overcrowding of others. It is also being credited with lessening the diversity within individual schools as parents who have the savvy and the capability to seek out transfers leave their neighborhood schools for more highly preferred schools with specialized programs or better evaluations.

PPS is revising, revamping and outright changing their transfer policies to address these issues and in hopes of finding more funding somewhere. Transfers for students younger than high school age have already been limited and other changes are underway.

How to balance choice and the needs of neighborhood schools? The needs and interests of individual students with the good of the school district as a whole? The ideal of racial diversity in theory with the reality of diversity in practice?

Read the background articles here!



12 thoughts on “School Transfers – Guaranteeing Choice or Sabotaging Diversity? (by Guest Blogger Andy Swinford)

  1. For me, the bottom line is that all people (children, adults, etc) should have the exact same opportunities in life. These opportunities include education, respect, living conditions, love, employment, and the list goes on. If people choose not to take opportunities, that’s one thing. If opportunities aren’t provided, that isn’t okay. By easily transferring schools, we are restricting opportunities for some children and giving more to others. You’re providing already more privileged children (judged by the ability of their parents to get them into a different school) with a better opportunity for success and making sure that the children who’s parents don’t have the time or money to transfer them continue to be stuck in a system that is depriving them of equal opportunity. To ensure equal opportunity, everyone should work together when a school is struggling — and give all the students a chance to succeed, instead of jumping ship.

  2. I wonder at the funding aspect of school transfer policy in PPS. When a parent transfers their child to a school other than the one indicated by the school’s neighborhood boundary, does that also mean that they are withdrawing their tax dollars from the school their child would have attended and funneling the money into a school of their choice? Or do their taxes continue to go towards the nearest school?

      • So, because the money follows the student, in addition to taking students (and families that could benefit a school) away and putting them into a better school, the old school is getting less money and the new school (which is already better) is getting more money? Increasing disparities? Right?

      • Yes, that’s how it works, Callie. The money follows the student; when students transfer out of schools that are already underserved, they are depleted of those funds.

  3. I totally agree that we should support struggling schools – not abandon them, Liz! I have to admit to personally not putting my kids where my mouth is, though on this. My kids both attended private school through 5th grade, and one has remained in private school into high school. We made this choice for them as we felt there was no way it was fair to them or to the local public school to put them into an environment and a system that we felt had no hope of meeting their needs as students or as individuals.

    One of the problems PPS was trying to avoid with the liberal transfer policies of the past was the loss of students – again, almost certainly more affluent with access to resources not available to many – to private schools. The transfer freedom was a kind of “lesser evil” option. If that freedom is removed, the polarity and loss of resources within the school system is not likely to resolve, but only increase. Yet another tangled mess of educational policy with no easy answer to be had.

  4. The problem I have with this subject is I completely agree with parents who want a better education for their child so they want to transfer to a better school. I don’t think it would be fair to tell parents they can’t transfer their students from a failing school. Yes, this won’t help it stop failing, however, if it is failing then the child most likely isn’t getting quality education. So until schools have more equal programs and teachers, I think the transfer policy shouldn’t be tightened.
    Although, I do think if we can find a way to better fund the schools and bring in higher graduation rates, kids shouldn’t be allowed to transfer (especially because most of them transfer for sports reasons, which keeps a failing team failing and games boring to go to; yes this was the issue at my school).

    • I’ve known kids who went to what is considered a struggling school (Jefferson, for example) and who’s parents considered pulling them out. Instead, those parent’s recognized their own ability to protect their children’s education. Because they had the resources, the education and the energy, they were able to keep a close eye on their children and pick up in areas where the school was lacking. The school was struggling, but that didn’t mean there were no good teachers or nothing good about it at all. In addition to providing a lot of opportunity and attention to their children at home, they volunteered and remained extremely active within the school. As a result, their children played sports and were involved in student government and fundraising, got good grades and went on to be accepted into the honors program at UO. And, those parents and the family made a positive contribution to the school that they could have abandoned. If every parent with the resources to transfer their child could put some energy into the school and remain supportive and engaged in their child’s education, wouldn’t that be a better answer than transferring out?

  5. I think that choice is always nice, but not when it hurts the system. Obviously bad schools shouldn’t be rewarded, but should’t we work on fixing the ones that students want to transfer out of? Is there some kind of exit survey, or process that a student/parent has to go through before they are allowed to transfer their students? I feel like if that was their it would enable more transparency around why these schools are failing their students.

  6. This is a tricky topic! We see a school struggling and want to do what we can to help, but do not want to put our own children in the school for fear of providing them with sub-par education. Zapoura, you struggle with this, don’t you? But what I think is the difference between you and most other parents who transfer their children, is that you still donate your time to the school being left behind. However, I have a question for you, Zapoura: Is time enough? What about the funding that goes with each child? When a child leaves, money leaves, money that could be going directly where it is needed…What do you think? Considering your roles as a mother in this predicament as well as an expert in this field, I am very curious what you think!

  7. So the money follows the student? That is unfortunate to hear. I would like the ability to choose where my child will go to school because I want what it best for her. At the same time, I don’t want poor school getting poorer, I think every child deserves the best education that they can get. I just wish the money didn’t necessarily follow the child.

  8. I think choice is a necessary solution to a failing school, however, I don’t think we should necessarily give up on those failing schools even though a parent’s child is attending a school outside the community. I think that involving the community on how to restructure their schools can be beneficial not only to the school but to parents wanting what’s best for their children. Service-learning can be a plausible solution in helping underfunded and failing schools because it provides reciprocal learning and collaboration between the school educators and administrators and the community. With enough support and legislative action, it might be possible to turn a failing school into a successful school.

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