A New Deal with Portland Schools
It’s hard to exaggerate the hits Portland schools have taken in the past 20 years. Before 1990, we used to have well-funded schools. Then (a) statewide ballot measures slashed property taxes and (b) the Legislature adopted a statewide school funding formula that, frankly, takes a lot of money out of Portland and spreads it around to schools in the rest of the state. Portland schools have never recovered.
The City of Portland has a strong interest in strong schools. The City can’t afford to say “schools are the school board’s problem.” Portland can’t be a great city, and certainly can’t compete economically, without strong schools.
True, the city government can’t replace everything the schools have lost – but I think that, just as Dan Saltzman has created a pot of City money to make targeted investments in social services for at-risk children (the “Children’s levy”), the city can make some targeted investments in the schools, paying for things that are politically or financially difficult for the school districts to pay for out of their own budgets. In return for making these investments, the city would ask something from the schools in return – something that I describe at the end of this section.
Among the investments I would suggest are:
A summer forum for schools across Portland to share effective practices.
Every once in a while, you read an article about some school, somewhere in Portland, that seems to be doing something innovative and effective. But during the school year, teachers and principals don’t get much time – if any – to study what’s going on in other schools.
I think that we need to make sure that educators have the time and opportunity, during the summer break, to share promising practices. We should pay the principals and at least some of the teachers in each school to come to a week-long forum, hear presentations of what’s happening at some “seemingly surprisingly successful” schools, ask challenging questions, satisfy themselves that the “successful” schools aren’t just “teaching to the test”, and hopefully pick up some ideas that they conclude are worth trying in their own schools.
Giving every teacher at least two days a year to spend in another teacher’s classroom, to learn and to give feedback.
Educators from famed New York inner-city principal and author Deborah Meier to Oregon’s own Krista Parent of Cottage Grove, who was the 2007 national School Superintendent of the Year, say that cross-classroom visits are an extremely powerful professional development tool, for both the visitors and the visited. But you need to hire a substitute for the day, for the visiting teacher. When the schools are struggling just to stay open a full year, it’s hard to come up with the money. But I think that if the City of Portland can afford $20 million to renovate Memorial Coliseum, it can afford to spend a couple of million dollars a year to give Portland’s schools a powerful professional development tool.
Scholarships for teachers to go through the National Board Certification process.
There are endless arguments about how best to measure (or even if it’s possible to measure) “teacher quality,” and endless arguments about what forms of professional development are most effective. But one indicator of teacher quality that I’ve never heard questioned is National Board Certification. As nationally acclaimed education sage Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford wrote in her book “The Flat World and Education,” the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards awards board certification “to veteran teachers based on a structured portfolio of evidence about practice – including presentations that illustrate specific practices, student work samples, and teacher commentaries … as well as tests of content and pedagogical knowledge … In addition to the fact that teachers’ performance on this measure has been found in most studies to predict their effectiveness in supporting learning gains for students, teachers often find it one of the most powerful professional learning experiences they have ever had.”
Recently, when Roosevelt High School got a grant from the Federal government, both the teachers’ union and the school district agreed to spend some of the money paying the expenses involved for some teachers to go through the National Board Certification process. I think the City should set a goal of having two National Board Certified teachers in each school, and paying the expenses involved. The teachers receiving the scholarships should be nominated jointly by the union and the district. When teachers receive their certification, the city could also pay for them to serve as mentor teachers for the next year – reimbursing the schools for the cost of substitutes during the time the National Board teachers are leaving their classes to act as mentors.
Field trips to colleges for 6th, 7th and 8th graders.
This is actually school board member Bobbie Regan’s idea. She thinks that many kids, going into high school, just don’t have any concept of college. She has a very simple solution: take them there. She suggested taking sixth graders on a trip to a community college, seventh graders to PSU, eighth graders to the U of O. I like it.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, I think that the city should make some targeted investments in the schools – but I think the city should ask for something in return. The something is this: I think the city should ask high schools to start school later in the day – preferably no earlier than 9 a.m.
Why? Well, for one thing, extensive research has shown that teenagers just aren’t wired to get up early. When they have to get up early, they half-sleep through class. They’d get a better education if they got to sleep in.
Second, studies show that people who are sleep-deprived eat more. A lot more. Letting high school students get more sleep would help fight childhood – and adult – obesity.
But the third reason – and the reason this proposal would be a benefit to the city, with its responsibility for public safety – is that the worst hours for juvenile crime, especially low-level crimes like vandalism and petty theft, are between 3 and 5. Kids are on their own, bored, and unsupervised; their parents aren’t home yet. (Also, sleep-deprived people have less impulse control). In his book “When Brute Force Fails,” criminologist Mark Kleiman repeatedly returns to the idea of late high school start times as a crime-reduction measure.
One concern I heard about this idea is that you can’t start sports later in the evening if your school doesn’t have lighted fields. Okay then, let’s get the city to pay for some lights.
Again, I know some people think the city shouldn’t meddle in the schools’ business. I disagree. We can’t have a great city without great schools. The schools are basically broke; the city isn’t. And when you’re broke, just trying to survive, it’s hard to justify spending money on anything other than the bare-bones essentials. I think that if it makes sense for the Federal government to fund innovative ideas at Roosevelt High School, it makes sense for the city to fund some innovative ideas citywide.