Dear PPS Board member,
Welcome to the PPS Board and to the complexities of running a large, diverse school district. I am sending this same email to each PPS Board member.
The District-wide Boundary Review Advisory Committee will give you an "Update" at your 7/6/15 meeting. To date I have been disappointed in their work. I urge you to ask the following two sets of questions.
(1) Does the DBRAC think the large variations in racial demographics and family income demographics of student populations between many neighborhood schools is a racial equity issue? Does the DBRAC accept that " decades of research show that poor children do much better academically in economically mixed classes than they do if they attend school only with other poor children?"Does the DBRAC plan to develop potential framework values and policies to reduce those variations?
(2) Does the DBRAC think PPS will be significantly expanding dual languages immersion programs in the near future both to English-native students and to students native in other languages? If so, is the DBRAC planning to develop potential framework values and policies to recognize and accommodate the increase in dual language immersion programs?
On equalizing the student demographic at PPS Schools
(a) My public comment to the DBRAC on 3/5/15 began:
Portland Public Schools' system of neighborhood schools has large educational inequities due to large variations in the racial, ethnic, and family income demographics of the various neighborhoods. In many ways, this pattern of residential segregation is reflected in a system of schools segregated by race, ethnicity and family income. The current system of neighborhood schools, each reflecting the demographic characteristics of its neighborhood, cannot offer equal educational opportunities to all of its students. Change is needed.
This committee should recommend that:
PPS move boundaries to equalizes as much as possible the percentages of different racial, ethnic and family income characteristics of the students enrolled in neighborhood schools.
To further equalize the distribution of students eligible for reduced priced meals, neighborhood schools with forecasted enrollment of less than 25% students eligible for reduced priced meals should have their geographic boundaries reduced to permit students eligible for reduced priced meals to transfer in up to the 25%.
For more see here. Current PPS schools range from 2% eligible for reduced priced meals (Forest Park) to 89% eligible (Cesar Chavez). There are thirteen school with less than 25% eligible and seventeen schools with 75% or more eligible. The PPS school average is 45% eligible.
(b) My 6/12/15 public comment to the DBRAC began:
Economic segregation is a problem in Portland Public Schools. Today's NY Times op-ed "Let Rich and Poor Learn Together" by Clara Hemphill and Halley Potter offers a national perspective (here):
Economic segregation is a problem in preschool classrooms across the country. Decades of research show that poor children do much better academically in economically mixed classes than they do if they attend school only with other poor children. Research also shows that well-off children are not harmed academically by going to school with poor children
For more see here.
(c) In my 6/24/15 public comment to the DBRAC, and as another alternative, I said:
Cambridge Public Schools (Massachusetts) uses a "controlled choice" system to "balance" the percentages of students who do and do not qualify for the Federal Free & Reduced Lunch Program at individual schools to the School District's averages. The DBRAC should consider adapting the Cambridge "controlled choice" system to PPS.
For more see here.
On expanding dual language immersion programs:
From my 1/10/15 public comment to the DBRAC:
A successful boundary system would permit the ongoing expansion of dual language immersion programs throughout the entire district. It would permit additional, new dual language immersion to be added each year towards meeting the following PPS district goals:
(1) Every Emergent Bilingual (English language learner) who would benefit from a dual language immersion program should be in a dual language immersion program.
(2) Every kindergartener whose parents want their student to attend a dual language immersion program should find a slot in a dual language immersion program.
And a further characteristic of the PPS system should be that:
(3) Neighborhood applicants to dual language immersion programs should get admission priority over out of neighborhood applicants so that dual language immersion program are neighborhood friendly.
Near term, PPS need nine more dual language immersion programs. In my 1/22/15 public comments to the DBRAC, I said:
(1) PPS parents want more dual language immersion programs. 262 PPS kindergarteners, or 6.3% of the kindergarten class, were turned away from dual language immersion programs in the 2014-15 lottery. They each had made one of the dual language immersion programs their first lottery choice and they did not get in. They will not get to become bilingual in the best, most effective way. PPS let them down. The 262 kindergarteners were enough to populated five additional two strand immersion programs of 25 students per strand.
With no new immersion programs planned for 2015-16, with more marketing of immersion programs by PPS to families eligible for reduced priced meals, and with the ending of neighborhood to neighborhood transfers, the number of kindergarten applicants for immersion programs will probably increase next year.
(2) For 2014-15, PPS enrolled 713 kindergarteners, or 17.3% of PPS kindergarteners, in dual language immersion programs. That figure was an increase of 125 kindergarteners, or about 3.0% of kindergarteners, over 2013-14.
(3) There are at least four additional schools with high percentages of Spanish speakers and no dual language immersion program. Adding one strand Spanish immersion programs at each of those schools would add an additional 100 kindergarteners, or an additional 2.4%.
On my suggestions as to where to locate new immersion programs, I told the DBRAC on 2/2/15
PPS has six vacant or rented for other purposes schools that could be reopened as dual language immersion programs: Smith, Humboldt, and Kellogg are mostly vacant. Edwards and Terwilliger are currently leased. Tubman will be used as a swing site for the next several years while Faubion is rebuilt, then become available....
Locating new (non- ESL Spanish) dual language immersion programs at now vacant schools is less disruptive and politically easier than locating new dual language immersion programs at existing English only neighborhood schools and displacing some or all of the English only neighborhood students. As vacant schools become occupied, locating new immersion programs will become more difficult politically
Recognize that K-5 immersion schools take five years to grow and provide enrollment relief to neighboring schools. PPS cannot, as with English only neighborhood schools, just shift a boundary to create a K-5 dual language immersion schools with students at each grade. Dual language immersion schools typically start with just kindergarteners and first graders, and then add one grade per year.
Three of the vacant or leased schools (Smith, Kellogg, and Edwards) are in overcrowded regions. Dual language immersion programs need to be opened in them as soon as possible to begin the enrollment relief of neighboring schools. In 2013-14, six of the ten west side elementary schools were overcrowded ("density index" over 20). Reopening Smith would provide additional west side capacity. Kellogg needs to be reopened to provide additional enrollment capacity in far southeast. Edwards needs to be reopened to provide additional enrollment capacity in the Abernathy area.
Thank you for your consideration - Dave Porter