Say Yes to Libraries: Why Portland Needs Measure 26-143 to Pass (by Guest Blogger Bryan O-Connell)

The following links to the text of Measure 26-143, which proposes “a permanent rate to fund library services,” as opposed to the current temporary levy system:

Many Multnomah County voters are wary of a permanent increase (though quite a small one) on assessed value taxes, an understandable stance given our current economic woes. However, I implore these voters to consider the many services and opportunities the library provides and may improve upon if this measure is successful, by creating a solid funding base allowing for extended hours (which were recently cut greatly) and a system of stability. In more ways than one, the Multnomah County Public Libraries are one of our greatest resources in fighting poverty and instigating community improvement.

Though the highly literate are often naturally associated with intelligence and success, statistical documentation of the correlation provides a more concrete basis for this commonly held understanding. One example of a study supporting the effect of reading upon IQ-enrichment, What Reading Does For the Mind, was conducted by Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich  published in 2001. In essence, the study found that the more people read, the stronger their “vocabulary and cognitive structures,” regardless of innate ability (Cunningham, 147). The authors reccomend providing as many reading opportunities as possible. Continue reading

The DREAM Act: Taking Funding Away from American Children/Students? (By Guest Student Blogger Kristin Saito)

Note: As part of this week’s multi-faceted discussion series on the many perspectives and issues associated with the DREAM Act, immigration and education, we have a post by Kristin Saito from the Enhancing Youth Literacy Capstone.  Kristin volunteered this summer with the Upward Bound Program on the Portland State University campus.  Here is Kristin’s post:

The DREAM Act, which stands for the Development, Relief and Education  for Alien Minors, would provide conditional permanent residency to illegal individuals of good moral character who graduate from high school, arrived in the U.S. as minors, and lived in the country for 5 consecutive years prior to the bill’s enactment (Wikipedia). The DREAM Act insists upon responsibility and accountability for young people before they are able to embark upon the program and face a long, exacting process of over 6 years to complete it before they can apply for citizenship (The Washington Times Community). The DREAM Act would give more than 2 million young immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16, the chance to become legal residents.

The DREAM Act could cost upwards of $20 billion and would cost taxpayers approximately $6.2 billion per year in tuition subsidies. The Center for Immigration Studies says that $6.2 billion is a conservative estimate and does not include the “modest” number of illegal immigrants expected to attend private institutions (Fox News).

President Obama has said that “It’s heartbreaking to see innocent young people denied the right to earn an education, or serve in the military, because of their parents’ actions” and that immigrants are a part of the American family (The Washington Times). President Obama was correct in stating that immigrants are a part of the American family, illegal aliens, however, are not. Illegal aliens have no rights under the United States Constitution and are, therefore, not being denied a right to earn an education.

During this term we have been discussing our public school system and how it has been failing our youth. There have been many suggestions that if more money were allocated to the public school system, the problems would be fixed, or at least have a higher chance of being fixed. The money that is being spent on the illegal immigrants could be spent bettering our own youth. It seems that we need to take a look at our priorities and show that OUR children really are the focus of our legislation.  My question to all of you is, how can one justify spending $20 billion on children that are not citizens of our country when there are so many American students that need help?

Works Cited

Fox News. “DREAM Act Would Cost Taxpayers $6.2 Billion Per Year, Group Says.” December 2, 2010.

The Washington Times Community. “DREAM Acts sparks debate, misinformation, and fear.” July 13, 2011.

The Washington Times. “Obama targets Republicans for blocking DREAM Act”. September 14, 2011.

Wikipedia. “DREAM Act.”

Limiting Our Nation’s Dream (by Guest Student Blogger Kaitlyn Smeback)

Note: We’re starting Week 2 of Portland State University’s Enhancing Youth Literacy and Summer Youth Enrichment Capstones in public discussion at PDX Education Action Network.  Last week’s student bloggers inspired incredibly rich conversations about the state of education, and this week, we’ll continue to dive into many perspectives on topics such as the DREAM Act, immigration and education, and other current events.  Here is our first Guest Student Blogger, Kaitlyn Smeback, and some provocative questions about the DREAM Act.

After watching “Teen DREAM Act Documentary,” I find myself again disappointed by my own ignorance of the contemporary issues and by the inherent injustice in our educational system.

I read many articles, as well as some blatantly hateful responses to the articles, in an attempt to see the side of the opposition. While I do feel the opponents have a few valid points, I think that positives of the DREAM Act massively outweigh them.

How terrible to tell a whole generation that no matter how hard they work, or study, that they will never be allotted the opportunity to reach even partial potential. That even if they get into college, and find a way to pay huge tuition bills out of pocket they risk deportation at any moment and not even being able to get a good job once they graduate.

The whole time I read and watched, I was reminded of the Kozol article we read a few weeks ago, when Kozol discusses the way we keep certain minorities at a low level of education, that way we will have a low-wage workforce, and the culture of power won’t have to compete for the top paying jobs. WHY AS A COUNTRY STRUGGLING FINANCIALLY—OUR JOB MARKET AND NATIONAL DEBT–WOULD WE WANT TO TURN AWAY HIGH PERFORMING, HARD WORKING STUDENTS? Students who could give our country a competitive edge, and another cultural perspective–which becomes ever more important as the legal Hispanic population is grows.

New Oregon School Ratings: Let’s Show Kids They Truly Are a “Priority”

In my Friday morning Enhancing Youth Literacy class at Portland State University today, we started our session by taking a look at Oregon’s newly released school ratings.  What should we all know about this new system of rating?  Oregon was recently granted a No Child Left Behind Act waiver and has now developed its own rating system that includes labels of “priority,” “focus,” and “model” schools.  These labels only impact schools receiving Title I anti-poverty funding.  Priority schools appear to be the ones in the bottom 5% of achievement; focus schools are those in the bottom 15% of achievement, and model schools are the schools with the best performance that will be used as resources for best practices.  Priority and model schools will receive additional state support.  It’s a little unclear what that additional state support will look like, but hopefully it will actually be the kind of support these schools need.

Back to my moment in the classroom…

We did a bunch of searches to see how various local schools are doing.  We looked at the schools of the students that we have been volunteering with at Upward Bound (Madison, Grant, Roosevelt), we looked at schools that my own students had attended (Reynolds, Clackamas, etc.), and we checked a few schools in neighborhoods that are more affluent to compare them with schools in neighborhoods that struggle economically.

The result?  Concern for those schools who have historically done poorly and that continue to do so.  Worry for the kids and parents in schools that have struggled so hard.  Anxiety for the teachers in those struggling schools.  Dispair at graduation rates as low as 20%.  And a little bit of hope from the fact that Oregon is now looking at the growth in schools rather than just the scores.  If we can focus on growth, encourage more growth, and show kids that they can actually learn and grow, then we’ll be on the right path.

Here are some of the local news stories that have resulted from a first-glance analysis of the data:

  • Portland Schools Get More ‘Focus” on Achievement from State” (Portland Tribune): In this article, education journalist Jennifer Anderson points out that out of the entire state, Portland has 6 priority schools, 6 focus schools, and no model schools.
  • New Oregon School Ratings Show Familiar Patterns bu Highlight Little-Known Schools” (The Oregonian):Here, Beth Hammond talks about the ways the new school ratings show the same kinds of patterns we have seen under the No Child Left Behind ratings system.  Schools in higher poverty areas are doing worse than schools in more affluent areas.   Schools that serve families who are learning English as a second language are also struggling more than the schools that don’t.  Elementary schools are doing better than middle schools; middle schools are doing better than high schools; high schools are struggling.  No surprises here.  This grim picture has been painted again and again.

Of course, it’s not the data that’s most important in this story — it’s the kids, teachers, and families involved in the school system; it’s the community members who must come together to actually help schools see improvement.  If this NCLB waiver really works, we may see growth.  Let’s show “priority” schools that they’re not failures and that they’re not “in needs of improvement” — let’s show them that they are our priority in this next school year.  Please volunteer, vote to support kids/families in November, become a member of an advocacy organization like Stand for Children (or other similar groups), join the PTA, and/or become a mentor.  All of these acts show kids that they are our priority and that they are our focus. Let’s show kids that the change in language isn’t just another empty promise.  

Why Is the Discussion on School Reform Dominated by Charter Schools? (by Guest Student Blogger Maria Baker)

Note: Maria Baker is our fourth guest student blogger of the week.  She is currently taking the Summer Youth Enrichment Capstone at Portland State University and volunteered this summer at the James John SUN Program.  Her bigger questions about why discussion on school reform is dominated by charter schools is an important one to be asking!  Is the charter schools model significant enough to take over the conversation?  Who is in charge of guiding these conversations, and why is this model so talked about?

Charter schools are a big discussion point among the US educational system, but they only enroll about three percent of public school students. The specialized approach to learning is designed for disadvantaged or unhappy students in traditional public schools. When you factor in the lottery style admittance though, charter schools seem more like a special privilege rather than a program that will save the education system. With all the problems in the traditional educational system, should charter schools really be given so much time and effort when it only serves a small population?


Are Our Schools Putting the Needs of Adults Before the Needs of Children?: Reflections on Charter Schools and *The Lottery* (by Guest Student Blogger Emily Jasperson)

Note: In the Summer Youth Enrichment Capstone, Emily Jasperson volunteered this term through the James John SUN summer program and worked with elementary school students. She has a background in childcare and is thinking about becoming a teacher. She is the third student blogger in this series.

With all of the obvious issues with public education in the United States today, it is clear that something needs to be done to close achievement gaps and find new and better ways to educate our future. Charter schools attempt to accomplish these goals, and actually appear to do it quite nicely. After watching The Lottery, I think of these institutions in an entirely new way and find myself really agreeing with their practices. Before, I had heard mostly negative things about them. Like they were only for the rich and privileged, and while some are, a majority are located in poor communities, transforming struggling children’s lives for the better.

            One of the things that impressed me most about Harlem Success, the charter school featured in the film, was the high level of teacher support and encouragement. Most everyone can agree that a teacher has a great deal to do with the success of his or her students. The teachers at Harlem Success are routinely observed and evaluated, then given suggestions and guidance based on these observations. This does not happen in public schools. Here, teachers are spread too thin and do not feel supported, or so I’ve heard. With 100% of its students passing tests, it’s quite clear that they are doing something right.

            Another aspect of this charter school, and many others, is the emphasis placed on graduation. Even in kindergarten classrooms the graduation year of the students is prominently displayed. The goal for students at Harlem Success is graduating and going on to college, not test scores. And it actually works! Children at these schools are told, and it is expected, that they will graduate. In public schools in similar areas one is almost expected not to graduate. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have no expectations set out for your life, well no positive ones at least. It’s sad that this is a reality for many children today.

            With all of the positive outcomes of charter schools, there is still opposition. Watching the parents opposing Harlem Success was confusing to me. Don’t they realize that kids just like their own are receiving an education far better than they get at public school? Perhaps they just fear change, or maybe they are misguided about what charter schools actually are and do. In the film, there was talk about the teacher’s union and how charter schools are in direct conflict with their views. It does seem like charter schools are threatening the institution and bureaucracy of public schooling. The founder of Harlem Success made a great point when she said that we needed to stop “putting the interests of adults above the interests of children.” Why is this so hard for so many people to see? Does everything have to be about big business in this country, even when it comes to kids? Clearly, charter schools are doing something right, but when will the public school system start adopting their effective practices and actually educate our children for their futures?

Sex or Education: Which is the Biggest Factor in Sex Ed Curriculum? (by Guest Student Blogger Bryan O’Connell)

Note: This post references a recent article in the Huffington Post titled “Mississippi Sex Education: Majority of School Districts Choose Abstinence Only Curriculum” and was written by guest student blogger Bryan O’Connell.

According to a 2000-2009 survey by the United Nations Statistics Division, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of live births among teenagers out of all industrial U.N. nations (40-50 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19). Of our states, Mississippi has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy.

“Mississippi Sex Education: Majority Of School Districts Choose Abstinence-Only Curriculum,” posted on, is a recently-posted article describing the adoption of abstinence-focused sex education curriculums by most Mississippi public school districts.

Due to in-class analysis of the factors influencing educational policy, I felt compelled to further contextualize Mississippi’s decision to now mandate sex education, which apparently had been more absent prior to the current date. The lack of sex education and new limited curriculum strike me as being representative of an attitude conducive to teenage pregnancy; an attitude of approaching the well-established problem by ignoring it. The question this raises for me is “why would Mississippi limit providing comprehensive sexual education to a population in which teenage pregnancy runs rampant”?

An investigation of the demographics of Missisissippi will reveal that, aside from being the state with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrial nation with the most teen pregnancy, Mississippi is also our most religious, and most impoverished, state (Newport, Handley). I do not see these as mere coincidences. Mississippi’s religious population likely objects to promotion of education regarding pre-marital sexual relations. More importantly, does Mississippi have the budget for it? Is the U.S.’s teen pregnancy rate a result of attitudes towards sex, or attitudes towards education?

 — Bryan O’Connell

Works Cited

Handley, Meg. “The 10 Poorest States in the Union.” U.S.News & World Report LP, 23 Sept. 2011. Web. 31 July 2012. <;.

Newport, Frank. “Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. State.” Mississippi Is Most Religious U.S. State. Gallup, Inc., 27 Mar. 2012. Web. 31 July 2012. <;.

“United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics.” United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics. United Nations, n.d. Web. 31 July 2012. <;.

Charter Schools and the Promotion of Segregation (by Guest Student Blogger Jeffery Fockler)

Dear Students & Regular PDXEAN Readers: This post is the first in a two-week series dedicated to giving a public space for student voices on educational equity and our school system. Please read, pass on these posts, and comment! The more we all contribute to the conversation, the better informed we’ll all be and the more able to act to support kids and schools.

Guest Student Blogger Jeffery Fockler on Charter Schools

Charter schools seem like a great idea in theory, while some have even proven great in practice. Charter schools are given the freedom to operate outside of the mainstream public-school curriculum, which we learned from previous lessons has been severely limited by the need for schools to improve standardized test scores. Charter schools may allow students the opportunity to learn subjects outside of the NCLB limited curriculum. They can experiment with alternative methods to improve student achievement and test scores other than teaching to the test and pass their results on to other schools. In this way, charter schools can be an outlet for public school reform; and, given our education system’s previous record with reform, they may be our best chance for such reform.

However, charter schools are not at all without controversy. Firstly, what happens to the children in charter schools that fail? Is the risk of leaving these children without a proper education worth the possibility of innovative education reform? My initial reaction is that it is a risk the parents of these children are apparently willing to take when they sign their children up for a charter school.

Second, many critics argue that charter schools take already limited resources away from the public schools, which are attended by the majority of the nation’s students. They argue we should focus our attention and resources on these public schools (“Oregon charter school debates lead to little progress”, Oregon Live). Worse still, Jonathan Kozol in “Stop Bargaining for Crumbs” argues that Charter schools have further contributed to education inequality. Many Charter schools explicitly target African American students, while others are clearly intended for children of white middle-class, liberal parents (Kozol calls them “woodsy Walden schools”). Subsequently, many charter schools are even more segregated than public schools (which we‘ve learned have not much improved since Brown v. Board).

At the risk of bringing back the “separate but equal” debate, I ask: are students at a charter school like “The Black Success Academy” really limited by the fact that their peers are all African Americans? Might students in an all-black charter school benefit from cultural solidarity and at the same time receive a comparable liberal education to their peers at the “Woodsy Walden School”? Is Kozol implying that black students need to assimilate to a white curriculum if they wish to have as good as education as the Woodsy Walden Students? (perhaps more white students should learn about black culture?)

It seems to me that these charter schools, if they receive equal funding and effort, can be equal, or at least can be a sort of experiment to help us learn whether the schools can actually be equal.

Ultimately, my question is whether y’all think charter schools contribute to inequality and the achievement gap in the way Kozol describes, or do you think the nature of charter schools might allow a sort of separate equality?

Raising Our Voices: Two Weeks of Student Public Education Discussions HERE! (07/30-08/12)

Preview alert! This week (starting tomorrow), my Capstone students will be blogging in public here at  These brave, smart, compassionate, active students give me hope everyday that we’re together in the classroom, and I am privileged to share their voices here with you.  Please support them in this first step to make their voices louder by reading and responding to their questions in the next two weeks as their posts are submitted!