Bring in the Cavalry of Educated Educators

Tried to post this multiple times last week, but for some reason was unable to-so here are some thoughts on last weeks article:

When reading Betsy Hammonds article about the REAL charter prep school debacle, I was totally blown away. The one thing people seem to always be overly critical, and watchful of, is money–so when alf a million dollars is allocated for a school, one might think there would be a serious, and communicative process that is involved with each dollar spent.   She does note, however, that “Federal law specifies that grants to launch charter schools go to states ‘that ensure each charter school has a high degree of autonomy over the charter school’s budgets and expenditures,’ ” which I find to be an important aspect, but this is not were my trouble lays. My frustration is with the ” list of seemingly qualified board members the district had been given was a fiction.” The overwhelming, and recurring problem in many failing schools, and businesses, is with mismanagement, typically with poorly allocated funds. Schools, especially new ones that are attempting to offer something new, and push the envelope, need well equipped professionals that can do their best to ensure success in the school. Volunteers, parents, and teachers are all very much needed to make things run, however, in situations such as these, the money should be placed in more capable hands. I understand at the same time that those are the folks who might cost more, but I am reminded of a clip Megan shared on the Harlem Children’s Zone- they worked to be involved with members of the business community that had fine tuned skills they were willing to share. The future of our schools depend on the people that know how to make them run, and teaching the children what they need to know to keep the cycle spinning.

The photo is Juan McGruder, shown at the school, who was named board president sometime this year.


Most Children Left Behind

After reading chapter 6, NCLB: Measure and Punish, from Diane Ravitch’s novel, The Death And Life Of The Great American School System; How Testing And Choices Are Undermining Education, I question the validity of NCLB. Ravitch tells us that NCLB … Continue reading

A Lottery Mentality: The Recent Lotto Buzz, School Choice, and the Superintendent’s 2012-2013 Budget Proposal

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the lottery.  Late last week, my Facebook homepage was jammed with status updates about buying lottery tickets for the big jackpot.  There was a buzz to each update and lots of planning about what each person would do if they won.  It struck me that my friends and acquaintances were convinced that this would actually be a way to find the financial stability they have been desperately seeking during this time of economic instability and pressure that far too many of us have experienced over the last few years.  And all of this in the face of the fact that the chance of winning is completely and absurdly small.

How does this relate to schools?  It relates to the so-called saving grace of the public school system — school choice — and the lottery applications that were due at the beginning of March.  A friend of mine was torn between submitting a bid for her child at the school of her dreams with a very slim chance (less chance than the average person applying to Harvard) to get in or submitting a bid for a school she felt was adequate but not ideal (with a 50-50 chance of being picked).  She was devastated that (a) her neighborhood school wasn’t providing the kind of creative, individualized, strong learning that she feels her child (and all children) deserve and (b) that she has to roll the dice for even a small chance for her child to go to a school that will provide the kind of stimulation that will help them grow.

For all of the students who don’t get their names submitted into the lottery (for so many reasons), for all of the students who don’t have schools that are well-funded or well-supported but don’t have the option of having a parent drive them across town to a charter school, for all of the students who don’t get chosen for the school of their dreams…this system is not working.  A system that is based on the small chance that a child may get the education that they deserve is not an equitable system.

With that said, there’s a buzz in the air about the PPS Superintendant’s budget proposal for the 2012-2013 school year.  The proposal includes over 100 teaching positions that will be cut, over 30 administrator positions cut, no additional funding for the Outdoor School program, changes to Title I funding distribution, the merging of Humboldt with Boise-Elliot school, and the closing of the Young Women’s Academy.  Read the proposal, and let me know what you think.  The linked proposal also includes information on the upcoming community meetings where you can raise your voice to discuss the proposed changes/cuts (April 9 at Cleveland High School, 5:00 p.m. & April 11 at Roosevelt High School, 6:00 p.m.).  Most importantly, Carole Smith is quoted as saying the following:

“As a state, we must commit to a different approach to funding education in alignment with the outcomes we want for every student … We cannot continue to build a vision for education in the 21st century, while we dismantle the foundation of our educational system every year.”

Think on this, fellow community members and voters.  We do not have a stable funding source for our schools.  What are you willing to do to make a change?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.  And I also encourage you to check back here in the next few days for a guest post by a passionate, amazing Portland Public School teacher and long-time community member on this topic!

Happy Spring Term…


What Does “School Choice” Mean? And Who Really Gets to Choose?

My mom texted me two days ago that a story on school choice was going to be on the OPB Program Think Out Loud.  While the interview style often strikes me as a little stilted, this is still one of the best programs to listen to if you’re trying to keep informed on local issues.  As I was feeding my children a breakfast that was stretching into its second hour, I listened to the school choice piece and couldn’t help but madly gesturing, furrowing my brow, and trying not to say anything that I wouldn’t want my children to repeat in good company (Vera is in the copy-everything-anyone-says phase of being two years old).

Why did this particular show make me irritable?  It presented the school situation in the area as full of abundant and diverse choices for each individual student so that he/she may thrive in the perfect learning environment that is suited to him/her.  While I will not deny that there are many, many good teachers in Portland AND many, many schools that have solid programming, I would not say that all students in the area have abundant options and choices.    We do not have equitable public schools, and many students in the poorest performing schools (and those with fewest resources) do not have the same choices and options as their peers in other neighborhoods.

The Portland Metropolitan area is going through some fairly major changes to transfer policies and with new open enrollment laws that will allow students to apply or lottery in to a school outside their district.  We also have a fair number of charter school options in addition to private schools placed in communities throughout the Portland area.  But just because a few hundred students may have parents who find a way to go through the process of applying for a transfer to a different district or charter school OR scrape up enough money to send their child to a private school does not mean that we have an equitable system where all students can learn and grow.

We’ve been talking about this issue a lot in my classroom at PSU, and many of our discussions lead back to the same place — charter schools, transfer policies, vouchers, and open enrollment policies do not fix the root of the problem, especially for those students in the most need.  We need to focus our energy and resources on creating a strong, thriving public neighborhood school in each neighborhood so that even students whose parents choose not to bus them out of the area, to place them in a themed charter school, or to apply for a scholarship for a private school will have the education they need and deserve.

Okay…stepping off my soap box.  I think that all of the education issues that I’ve been teaching about are coming more vividly to life as I think about school options for my own daughter.  The struggle to find a beautiful, thoughtful, strong, affordable preschool program alone has driven home the fact that not all of us really have the choice to send our children to bilingual school, to an art program, to a wonderful music class…and that these options really should be open to all.