Stopping the Cradle to Prison Pipeline (by Guest Blogger Jason Fillo)

The numerous socio-economic problems existing in our society often feel overwhelming and insurmountable. Children born into poverty are more likely to become incarcerated early in their life and end up in a cycle of imprisonment and violence that ends up … Continue reading

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.  

Committing to Mentorship: Guest Blogger/Former Capstone Student John Dictson on How to Stay Focused in Civic Engagement

John Dictson recently completed the UNST 421: Enhancing Youth Literacy Capstone and was volunteering with kids at the University Park Community Center Homework Club program. His final submission was an action plan committed to focusing his community work on mentor relationships that are long-term.  Read through John’s plan and please feel free to leave him comments or questions!  His words appear below in teal:

I’ve been involved in a number of volunteer activities over the last few years, including helping out with the Sunday school at my church, working with a local nonprofit, and assistant coaching a little league baseball team. One thing that really struck me during my time at University Park Community Center this term was the potential for relationships. The kids I worked with are so much fun, and it is clear that they really appreciate  and benefit from healthy adult relationships with the volunteers and staff. Most important, though, is the consistency of these relationships. I have done a lot of hopping around from one volunteer opportunity to the next and not developed many lasting relationships with those I was serving. This next year, I would really like to commit to something long term and relational.


The first thing that comes to mind is mentorship. I’ve actually explored this avenue a couple of different times over the last few years and never followed through. The first time because I thought I would be moving out of Portland and the program required a one year commitment. The second time because I just got lazy and never finished the paperwork. I would really love to get connected with an at risk youth in my community, perhaps someone who doesn’t have a strong male figure in his or her life and really get to know them, encourage them, and help them grow.

My plan—to connect with The Mentoring Project, “an advocacy and training organization that serves as a liaison between faith communities and matching agencies to provide mentors for fatherless youth,” and get connected with a local youth who I can commit to spending quality time with over the next year.


I have been so spread thin with small volunteer opportunities that I have failed to really invest myself in any one thing. My hope with mentorship is that I can really pour my heart into one relationship that will benefit both of us for life. This also just happens to coincide with a recent decision I have made to pare down my volunteer commitments which are causing me to feel burnt out and frustrated, which is not where I want to be when I am serving my community.


I got a rough reminder in this class that I am terribly ill informed when it comes to social and political issues that are shaping the world around me. Just coming back to school for this last year has been an eye opener to how ignorant I really am. In addition to really scaling back and focusing on one or two significant volunteer opportunities, I am committing staying informed on current issues. I plan to utilize the technology that I so often take for granted like my smart phone and subscribe to relevant social and political content. And I’m committing to actually researching and voting in local elections, which I have been terribly negligent in participating in, well, since I became old enough to vote.


I would love to find a way to contribute more to libraries. I love reading to kids and something I’ve always wanted to do but never have is get involved in a reading program at a local library. Getting kids involved in reading is something I’ve always been passionate about and it’s high time I actually did something with that. So my plan with respect to that is to sign up as a reader for Family Story Time or Pajama Story Time at the Tualatin Public Library (I’m moving to Tualatin in August), and commit to reading to kids there once a week if possible.


The best way for me to stay on track with these goals is to share them with my friends and family. I’ve recently started a blog ( where I’m posting updates on an upcoming trip to Africa and writing there has really helped me to stay connected to what I’m doing. It is challenging to keep up with (I’m well over a week behind on posting right now), but knowing that people are reading it helps motivate me. Along that vein, I would be happy to put my plan up on the PDXEAN blog if it would inspire others to get and stay involved. And yes, a periodic email would be great. Having some outside accountability would be motivating, I think.

What “Highly Motivated” Looks Like: Jeana McClure’s Plan to Support Language Development & Emerging Literacy

Please note that the following is Jeana McClure’s final submission for the Portland State University Course UNST 421: Enhancing Youth Literacy.  While this was an assignment for class, it is also an actual plan for action beyond the classroom .   Jeana is an excellent example of someone who has been working in the community and who is dedicated to continue to do so.  This is an inspiring start for our series of student action plans here at PDXEAN:

This course has confirmed my belief that investment in and support of early childhood education is absolutely critical to preparing children for success in life. The research seems indisputable: Investing early in support for children is less expensive and has long-term benefit, for the individual child and the community at large, than investments made later in life.

The evidence is in: quality early education benefits children of all social and economic groups. There are both short- and long-term economic benefits to taxpayers and the community if early education that meets high standards is available to all children, starting with those who are most disadvantaged. Indeed, universally available quality early education would benefit everyone and be the most cost-effective economic investment(Calman & Tarr-Whelan, 2005, p. 1).

My personal interests in early childhood education are focused on supporting language development and emerging literacy. My community involvement will continue that focus through a combination of direction interaction with children and families, support for nonprofit organizations that provide literacy and other services to families, and advocacy at the local and state level for programs and policies that support early childhood education.

Goals: The next three months

In the next several weeks, I will work with the capstone students to get the library’s Summer Reading Program materials to the University Park Community Center summer camp kids. I think I’d like to work through the Kenton branch youth services librarian; I know they’ll be getting a new librarian July 1 (as part of the staff shuffling related to budget cuts). This is a perfect opportunity to help establish that relationship between the new librarian, Amourie and Danielle.

I will continue to volunteer at the Belmont Library on Saturday mornings for Family Story Time, and I’m signed up to volunteer again with the Summer Reading Program, which runs June 15-Aug. 31. Saturdays will be Library Days, as I’ll open the library at 10 a.m. with story time and close it with Summer Reading from 3-5 p.m.

I’ve also already signed up (through the Hands On Greater Portland website) to volunteer with Children’s Book Bank on Wednesday, June 27, 6:30-8:30 p.m. I’ll be working to clean up donated books that will be distributed to low-income preschool children in Portland. If that goes well, I’d like to do that once every month or so.

I’d love to be able to volunteer with SMART again in the fall, but I’m not sure my schedule will allow it. However, I contribute financially and get their newsletter, which arrived this week, and listed on their Board of Directors is someone I work with! I just happened to be in a meeting with him after I read that, and said I’d like to connect the UPCC staff with someone at SMART who could talk about their new pre-K program. I was excited to read about that, because when I was volunteering three years ago, they only served grades K-3. If SMART volunteers could be another source of support for the preschool, I think that would be fantastic.

I’ve had several conversations with the youth librarian at Belmont about the fact that the “white, middle-class, mainstream” kids are the ones whose parents bring them to story time, even in neighborhoods where libraries serve a racially diverse clientele. She said outreach to minority communities, particularly the Hispanic community, is more effective than expecting them to come to the library. It occurred to me this term that if I want to help the kids who are most at-risk, I will need to go to them. I will need to understand their cultural values and practices around literacy, so that I can more effectively communicate the value of literacy practices that contribute to school success.

I think the first step in that effort is learning Spanish. I’m going to buy the Spanish Rosetta Stone software and start that this summer, before graduate school begins. One of my teammates at work is a native Spanish speaker, so I have someone with whom I can practice!

Goals: The following three months

In addition to sustaining the ongoing activities at the library, I’d like to volunteer with an organization I’ve supported financially for more than a decade, Growing Gardens. Growing Gardens builds gardens for low-income families, “decreas[ing] chances of food insecurity by empowering low-income families to grow food for themselves, friends and neighbors in their own back yard” (GG website

When I discovered Growing Gardens and this wonderful mission, I was transported back to the days when I could go down to the basement on a frigid February morning and bring up a jar of home-canned peaches for the morning’s breakfast. When I was growing up, we always had a garden, or went to the “u-pick” fruit orchards and corn fields. When we were old enough, we kids weeded the garden rows, climbed ladders to pick fruit, and helped my mother can or freeze tomatoes, beans, corn, peaches, cherries, apricots. I would love to help install garden beds next fall, so other kids can eat healthy foods they helped grow and prepare.

Finally, I believe it will be important to be politically engaged for this fall’s vote on the Multnomah County Library district (assuming it gets on the ballot). Having just voted on library funding, it’s a likely possibility there will be voter confusion about the issue in November’s election (there is already unrest among the citizenry about libraries closing on Mondays even after the library levy passed last month).

I haven’t been politically engaged since 2004, so this will be the most difficult aspect of my plan. I haven’t the stomach for door-to-door canvassing or phone banks, so at this point, I’m not entirely sure what my support will look like. Fortunately, I have friends in the Government Affairs department at work who can provide guidance, as well as the library’s Volunteer Services. They have created a newsletter that comes out periodically keeping the volunteers informed about the latest developments with library funding, which has proven to be useful.

Staying on track

I’m already highly motivated, and staying committed won’t be a problem. The unknown is how much time my graduate program will take; I was told by the director of the program that I should expect to “give up” all my outside activities. If it turns out that graduate school really does become all-consuming, I still will be working toward supporting literacy. My master’s program is in library science, and I plan to specialize in children and youth services.

However, I’ve worked full-time while taking 8-10 credits a quarter at PSU for the last three years (the master’s program is 6 credits on the semester system), plus volunteering every week at the library since June 2010. At this point, I’m going to plan for being able to maintain a similar level of community involvement. I also would like to take advantage of staying connected through the PDXEAN blog and Facebook page!


Calman, L.J. & Tarr-Whelan, L. (2005) Early Childhood Education for All: A Wise Investment. New York, NY: Legal Momentum. 

Please contact me at if you’re interested in following up with Jeana.

Should Teachers Be Able to Teach “Contemporary, Controversial Issues?”: Classrooms as Sites for Social Justice Learning

I’ve been following the news and public outcry following the death of Trayvon Martin and having lots of conversations with fellow educators and education advocates as the story unfolds.  This morning, as my husband (also a teacher) and I drank our morning coffee, we listened to a story on NPR titled “Trayvon Martin Story Sparks Difficult Conversations.”  The radio program featured multiple guests talking about the conversations they’ve been having as well.  One guest, a high school teacher who sounded very able to facilitate conversations with his students on social justice issues, noted that his fellow educators were not as comfortable doing so: “Some are not as comfortable about, you know, basically dealing in a real, contemporary, controversial issue.”

This quote really struck me.  Some educators are in classrooms but are not comfortable, knowledgeable, and/or equipped to handle discussions with their students about what is happening now in education and for youth.  Why is this the case? And shouldn’t there be public outcry about this?  What are classroom spaces really for?  And what is public sentiment surrounding the work that should be done in schools?

The program I teach in at Portland State University is all about working on and discussing contemporary, controversial issues.  Capstone students volunteer in the community and have the opportunity to become more educated about the roots of the issues in these courses.  I love teaching these classes because I see students becoming better citizens and more thoughtful community members as they realize the intersection among things like poverty, systemic racism, the history of redlining, issues of standardized testing, state budgeting, etc., and can become more active based on their knowledge.

But shouldn’t this kind of education be happening on all levels?  Students shouldn’t make it all the way to their senior year in college to have these kinds of conversations and to do this kind of work, should they?  Shouldn’t we be rallying in the streets not only for Trayvon but also for the millions of students who are disenfranchised everyday because they are educated differently and treated with different expectations?

While all of these thoughts have been swimming around in my head, I also received the most recent edition of Rethinking Schools.  The article by Mark Hansen titled “Persuasion from the Inside Out” gave me the hope that I needed.  Here is a teacher of 3rd graders who believes in them as thinkers and as community members and who isn’t afraid to talk about social justice.  Supporting this kind of teaching may be just what we need to shift the entire system that leads to violence against black youth in our communities and so many other kinds of inequities for kids.

Ending this post, I will reiterate what I say to my students every day that I teach:  it is amazing to have knowledge, but it is more important to do something with it.  And it is great to volunteer for a term or for a weekend, but it is more important to work in the community for a lifetime.  One easy way to get involved?  Join the Portland Area Rethinking Schools group and/or think about mentoring a young person: Oregon Mentors.

From the Capitol: Community Makes the Grade

Here’s an interesting post from someone who recently attended one of Stand for Children’s discussions on the Achievement Gap.  Don’t forget that Portland has an upcoming meeting on 11/30, 6:30-8:00 at Concordia.

The blog’s author talks about the idea that struggling schools and students don’t just need money (or maybe don’t need money at all?) but really need mentors and community involvement.  I’d argue that the money and the community involvement really do go hand in hand and that struggling schools need both.  I think it was Jonathan Kozol who said that no one argues that wealthy private schools are being flooded with money and that it doesn’t make a difference…but that this is argued for our struggling public schools all the time.

But this blogger has a point — money without the proper supports from an engaged community will go nowhere.  So, PDXers, what do you think?

From the Capitol: Community Makes the Grade.