Is PERS the Problem in Oregon School Funding?

One of the things I know about being an advocate for kids and schools is that I am always learning and always finding new gaps in my knowledge that I need to fill.  When I started teaching my educational equity … Continue reading

Back to School: Learning, Knowing, Sharing, Voting, and Acting in Fall 2012

After a few weeks on vacation from blogging, I’m back!  I spent the summer teaching educational equity courses in partnership with Upward Bound, the 9th Grade Counts Program, the CJCC Urban Day Camp, Puentes, and James John SUN School programs.  I also spent a great deal of time at the playground, the library, the community center pool, and the farmer’s market with my family.  I agonized over preschool options for my daughter, strategized changes in my teaching, and thought a lot about what it means to encourage deeper and more local civic engagement.  This season of blog posts is going to be a lot of fun and very focused on (1) providing information that will allow readers to be educated voters on issues that impact kids and schools, (2) showcasing student voices, and (3) keeping us all tapped in to current education happenings in Portland and beyond.  I’ll also be writing about how to get more involved in being an active community member and advocate for local schools and kids.

So, to get things started, let’s talk about what you  need to know to be in the know in Fall 2012:

  • Many Oregon classrooms (read about Beaverton classrooms here) are overcrowded as they start the 2012-2013 school year.  The reason?  Massive system-wide budget cuts have reduced teaching staff.
  • All eyes are on this year’s kindergarten kids.  The new promise of Governor Kitzhaber’s overarching education plan for Oregon is that 100% (yes, 100%) of these kindergarten students will graduate from successful high school experiences.  We’ve got a long way to go.
  • Oregon teachers have a mandate to work harder to teach Oregon students to be strong writers. Writing scores from last year indicate that students are struggling more with writing than other core subjects like math, reading, and science.
  • Schoolhouse Supplies gathered donations to give free backpacks and school supplies to hundreds of low income students.  Wonderful organization!  Check out how to get involved year-round here:
  • In case you hadn’t noticed (ha!), we’re in an election season.  The RNC and DNC revealed a few things about each presidential candidate and his views on education.  See ideas for integrating information on the election (and civic engagement in general) here.
  • The Portland State University has a great resource guide on national as well as local issues that will be up for the vote in November. In terms of what will impact local kids and schools, the upcoming PPS bond measure is a major item to become educated about.  I’ll be posting more in the next few weeks on this.  Also important to local kids is a vote for more stable library funding in Multnomah County.  Check out more information here.


What other issues are impacting schools in your neighborhood?  What kinds of volunteer work are you plotting for the 2012-2013 school year?  How will you become a more engaged community member as kids head back to school?

As always, I welcome your thoughts and look forward to an exciting fall!


Are Oregon School Districts Setting Low Standards OR Afraid to Take Risks? (Rudy Crew’s Response to District Achievement Compacts)

Dear All:

During this incredible week of student posts and conversations, I’m sneaking in a brief post because it’s important to keep informed about Oregon’s new Chief Education Officer, his role, and his possible impact on raising standards and achievement (and hopefully a love of learning) in Oregon schools.  In a recent article (“Oregon School Officials Set Low Goals, Angering Education Chief Rudy Crew”), we get a glimpse of Crew in his new leadership role.  Oregon has recently received a NCLB waiver and schools submitted their achievement compact plans (as per Kitzhaber’s new state-wide plan) to detail district goals for achievement in the upcoming school year.  In this article, it appears that Crew’s anger stems from a number of mostly unnamed (except for Gladstone) bigger districts that are setting low goals for student achievement in the next year.

The setting of low expectations and the response from Crew both deserve examination.  For me, both raise important questions.  We all know that students will rise to higher expectations if challenged to do so, but in an atmosphere geared toward standardized testing, evaluating teacher performance based on student scores, and labeling schools in a new but similar way to NCLB (we can not pretend that the labels “priority” and “focus” do not mean “in needs of improvement” even though they have a more hopeful tone), can we expect schools to set higher standards with the possibility of failure?  In my experience, those moments when I failed often ended up being my best learning experiences.  Being willing to take a risk means that we could have huge success or the opposite, but maybe in this culture of mediocre learning standards and restrictions on creativity and critical thinking, a risk is worth it.  And maybe Crew is asking us to take that risk?  

When my children enter school, I can only hope that they will be allowed to take chances without fearing punishment or utter failure.  As a newish parent, I’ve already realized that if something is not good enough for my own children, it’s not good enough for any child in my community.  And if it’s not good enough for any child in my community, it’s not good enough for any child in Oregon.  Let’s find concrete ways to support schools, kids, teachers, and administrators this year to really work together for real achievement…even if we have to take big risks.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts?  Do you think schools are at fault in these low expectations or is there more to the story?

Becoming an Activist: Little Steps, One Week (A Picture Diary)

I have been teaching community-based learning courses for about four years now.  I have been working in the community since I was a little kid, first through standing with my mom at rummage sales and helping out in the Saint Francis School soup kitchen.  As I first started teaching education-focused classes on social justice and volunteerism, I volunteered at the schools where my students worked.  And now, I’m exploring other roles.  The last week was a whirlwind of networking and trying new things.  I present my picture diary and the ups and downs of finding my new place as an activist for equity in education.

Thursday, May 31

Thursday, May 31, was the Save Our Schools Day of Action.  I’m still feeling out all of the official organizations that work to support schools, advocate for kids and teachers, and talk about school funding.  I am a Stand for Children member, I attended the UPSET (Underfunded Parents, Students, and Educators Together) rally, and I decided to test out the SOS Day of Action as part of my journey.

One of the actions the group was taking part in was a rally outside the Oregon Education Investment Board’s meeting with the new Chief Education Officer, Rudy Crew.  Both Crew and Governor Kitzhaber spoke to the small rally group; this earned both points in my book, but I am curious to see how this new CEO will turn around Oregon schools in the next 3-10 years.

On a side note, there was much talk about the last-minute change of location for the meeting (from PSU to Parkrose High School).  PSU would have undoubtedly had a much higher turn-out.  Was the change of location a way of avoiding more protestors?

Later in the day, I attended the Harvey Scott SUN showcase and was privileged to witness the work of my colleague Sabina Haque with SUN school kids and PSU Capstone students.  They produced beautiful community maps in addition to video shorts that filled the auditorium with the students’ honesty, real experience of the world, and ability to overcome obstacles even at such a young age.  This showcase really embodies one kind of community work that I am completely dedicated to — the sharing of our abilities and talents and the guiding of new mentors to work one-on-one with students in areas such as art that have been cut from so many of our schools.

Friday, June 1

I started the day early with a big cup of coffee and a muffin.  I then kissed my two children goodbye and headed to PSU where the Portland Action Summit: Leadership for the Next Generation was taking place.  I was able to listen to an incredibly articulate group from Lincoln High School (the “We the People” Constitution Team) answer audience-posed questions about the role of the community to support equity in education.  Very inspiring; here’s some video footage from the Classroom Law Project (also inspiring).  If all young people could be this well-educated in civics, what a community we would have!

I also participated in a community mapping project (a vision of what our community looks like now and what it should look like with adequate support for youth voices) and networked with Hands on Portland, the Classroom Law Project, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the Oregon Student Association.  Meeting people face to face is what this work is really about.  I feel like I have some good resources for future partnering and had many offers of groups to attend my class and speak to my students.

Later in the evening, I was honored to attend the Portland Teacher’s Program graduation ceremony.  I ran into students from my last five years of teaching and was so happy to hear that some of them are now in the classroom doing the important work. A powerful quote from the program: “The country is in deep trouble.  We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it.  We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice” (Cornel West).

Saturday, June 2

I attended the opening day of the St. Johns Farmers Market with my family.  We listened to the Roosevelt High School jazz band.  I encouraged my husband (a jazz trumpeter and educator at PSU) to volunteer with their program next year.  The work continues little step by little step.  I think that’s the most important thing I learned in the last few days.  Each little step builds upon the last, and these steps do add up.  The more I get involved, the more I want to be more involved.  And the more I want to be more involved, the more I want my students and family members to be more involved in building the community of people dedicated to social justice and to supporting education.

Keeping Informed: The Good, the Bad, and the ? in Current Oregon School News

In paying good attention to my writing students, my community-based learning students, and my additional service learning duties (trying to get funded to attend a conference that will help me discuss the benefits of community-based learning for young writers), I have neglected my blog.  It’s hard to do it all, but it’s important (right now, in particular) for us to all keep informed because there’s a lot happening in Oregon as the school year winds down.

The Good

  • Oregon higher education officials are trying to keep rising tuition costs from rising quite as much as was indicated earlier in the year.  A 6% increase (with some breaks on fees) will result in an approximate 3% increase in costs.  While college costs in Oregon (and across the country) are still prohibitive for many would-be students, this could be worse.
  • The Portland Action Summit: Leadership for the Next Generation conference will take place this Friday (June 1) at PSU.  This is an amazing, free opportunity to network, gain advocacy skills, and find out what’s happening around Portland to support youth.

The Bad

  • Oregon schools could have saved money in the last few years by paying a little more attention to energy efficiency policies.
  • School districts across Oregon (including Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Tigard-Tualatin) brace for major cuts to teaching staff and programs.  While Portland’s teacher jobs may have been saved by Mayor Sam Adams, this doesn’t solve PPS woes — and in some cases, has exacerbated issues within already struggling schools.  Schools that already made changes to programming or support personnel are now faced with adding back teachers while still lacking the programming and aides they might need.  And while administrators take furlough days and continue to turn down annual raises, tension grows and schools still lack steady support.
  • There has been increased tension among local education advocacy organizations in the Portland area.  Increased tension means that unity will be hard to achieve if needed to make the big changes Oregon faces when it comes to education and equity.

The ?

  • Oregon has a new Chief Education Officer, who has been appointed to work on all of the plans we’ve been hearing about in Kitzhaber’s speeches and documents.    Is Rudy Crew the man for the job?  Could anyone turn around Oregon’s schools in three years (the term for the Chief Education Officer position)?  Only time will tell.

That’s a little bit of news from Oregon.  Don’t forget to check out my post on the May 31 Day of Action and the June 1 conference — two upcoming opportunities to get more involved!


Spring Cleaning & School Budgets: Can We Resist Blame and Take Action?

It’s spring term at Portland State University, and I’ve been feeling the itch to do some spring cleaning.  While I haven’t had the time to go through the dresser drawer full of children’s health records, photographs, and barrettes, I have done some spring cleaning of the way I think about my work.  And I’m finding ways to narrow focus in my goals when it comes to educating my students (and the public) about educational equity.  One of the top issues that I want to focus on in the upcoming months is having more discussions about and education on the state budget and school budgeting.  It’s not glamorous, but someone has to do it!

If you’re not up on the current conversations surrounding the cuts that have to be made to budgets in Oregon schools, catch up on your reading.  Here are a few recent articles that might be of interest:

Everyone is in an uproar about the cuts that will have to take place due to a significantly smaller than projected state budget.  Schools are being closed, teaching jobs are being cut, buildings remain unmaintained, and classrooms become more crowded with larger class sizes.  Some seek to blame teacher salaries and benefits (shouldn’t teachers be fairly compensated for the important work they do?), others point the finger at administration costs (check out the Open Books Project site to see that administration only accounts for 9% of the total school budget for Oregon), while still others say that schools have plenty of money but are merely spending it in the wrong places.

In the Tribune article titled “School Cuts Fuel UPSET Uprising,” Ben Cannon, Kitzhaber’s education advisor, is quoted as saying  “I found 400 emails into Kitzhaber related to wolves and cougars, and 12 related to education. I wish that was reversed.”  This is a call to action, people.  While teachers are driven to the edge of a strike and students take to the streets, where will you be?  These groups alone will not be loud enough and powerful enough without the rest of us joining in.

As I see it, it is our duty to fight for educational equity and fair and stable funding for ALL kids in Oregon.  Spring is here, and it’s time to clean house, to fight through the cobwebs and open the windows to let the fresh air in.  And what is the fresh air in this scenario?  Fresh air is tax reform for stable schol funding.  Fresh air is more community members coming together to speak out against more cuts to our schools.

Check back here in the next week for ideas about how to get more actively involved!

Oregon’s 2012 Legislative Session Ends: How Did Kids & Families Do?

If you were unable to follow the back and forth of Oregon’s 2012 Legislative Session, now is the time to catch up!  Two heavily covered bills (one that requires schools to create achievement compacts detailing performance and plans for improvements and another that consolidates decision making for early childhood education (with the desired result being more oversite and more support?).  Read more about these bills below:

In an effort to acclimate Oregonians to the newly created Oregon Education Investment Board, Kitzhaber (and others) are hosing upcoming public outreach meetings, two of which are in Portland.  One of these outreach meetings will be held tonight at SEI.

On a side note:

In one of my student’s presentations on the DREAM Act, she was referencing Legislative Sessions from Oregon past and importantly noted that if you want information on what’s going on in Salem you should not go to the Oregon State Legislature homepage;  So true.  I’ve often forgotten how horrible their website is and gone to it only to remember that this definitely needs a redo. Maybe some of the money spent on the time haggling could have been spent to modernize the website and actually give Oregonians clear, understandable access to what is going on in the state capital?


Oregon Education This Week: Keeping Informed

My teaching duties have been consuming all of my extra time, but I’m sneaking away for a moment to give you all some links to current education happenings in our state.  Some of these are very hopeful, so do read on!

  • Project Harvest is recognized for helping black male high school students find paths to college.  Hopeful!
  • Grant High School’s principal is lauded for facing the tough issues (an inequitable two tracked system of class offerings, for example) and making rules that will shift the system and provide more access to achievement for all students.  Very hopeful!
  • Districts try to figure out the implications of Oregon’s new open enrollment law.  Lots of districts are opening their doors to transfer students.  While this may give some students the opportunity to attend a better school outside of their district, it does nothing to address the fact that ALL NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS should be good enough that the students in their area will want to stay there and will receive a high-quality education.  It feels like this law allows some to get around asking the harder questions and doing the harder work…just my two cents.
  • We are still waiting to see what happens in the last few days/hours of Oregon’s short 2012 legislative session.  Still up for decision?  Kitzhaber’s initiatives on early childhood education AND achievement compacts.

Read up and spread the information — the more informed we all are, the better we can advocate for kids and families!


2012 Oregon Legislative Session Winds Down: How Will Education Fare?

I finally graded enough papers so that I can blog again — hooray!  This term, I am teaching a ridiculous number of classes and feel like every spare moment is spent providing feedback, returning emails, and worrying about the next class day.  That said…let’s catch up!

As February winds down, so does the 2012 Oregon Legislative Session, and education and other issues that will impact kids and families (including health reform).  Have you been keeping up?  It has truly been a whirlwind, and, if you’re a teacher like me, as we head toward spring break, the work load piles up, and it can feel difficult to stay informed. So, here are a few tidbits so that you can catch up on the session and other current issues:

  • The latest article out about Kitzhaber’s goal to get these education bills passed before the session ends (meaning that they are not yet passed)
  • Track the bills that have and have not passed yet here.
  • Recent U.S. Census Data shows that Oregon students are unprepared for higher ed.  We have far fewer students graduating and going on to get college degrees than many other states across the country.
  • A rally at PSU showcased the tension coming from rising tuition costs in higher education.

What are your thoughts on the proposed reforms to education in Oregon?  How do you feel about higher tuition costs in conjunction with the fact that Oregon students are unlikely to graduate from college?

Kitzhaber’s “Achievement Compacts”: More Unfunded Mandates?

Declaring education to be one of the state’s top 10 priorities, Kitzhaber has proposed that schools be required to create achievement compacts each year to clarify each school’s goals for its students and to, eventually, direct money toward programs that will support kids in effective ways.

We all want to see schools create goals for student achievement and to find funding for programs that work; however, the achievement compacts proposed come along with no incentives to schools who create them.  With no new funding, how will achievement compacts impact already-strained school systems who may dream up all sorts of ways to support students but that rarely can hire trained staff to create the programs that are needed?  Is this another unfunded mandate to follow in the footsteps of the underfunded NCLB, that highlights gaps in student achievement without being able to fully fund interventions?

I’d love to hear your thoughts?  Are you for or against these “achievement compacts”?