Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Portland turns down four charter schools

Displaying an unyielding commitment to the status quo, the Portland School District board denied four separate charter school proposals at their board meeting this week.

Now, PPS hostility to charters is not really news, but there were some interesting - and revealing - aspects to the whole process. Two of the proposals were rejected unanimously. I know nothing about these proposals - for all I know they were horrid, and should have been rejected.

Two of the proposals, however failed on a split vote, and only after the board subcommittee recommended that the proposals be approved. In the testimony and discussion over these two proposals, some educators and board members made some pretty revealing comments.

During the testimony a teacher from Madison High School, Tom Conry, spoke against the proposal to start a "Leadership & Entrepreneurial High School" not far from Madison. Conry and others are in the middle of trying to reform Madison High, and they are afraid that if they let a new charter school open nearby, it might hurt their efforts. I've met Conry - he's a nice fellow. Here's what the Oregonian reported:

He said charter schools, even though they are public, are in a larger sense part of the movement toward privatization because they turn schools into commodities that cater to a few rather than institutions that whole communities support for the benefit of all.

This is the kind of statement that we get all the time from people opposed to charters. How does providing choices in the form of charter schools turn schools into commodities? What does that mean? The funny thing is that Mr. Conry's objection is completely irrelevant. He was trying to convince the school board to deny a charter school, which they can do only for specific legal criteria. These criteria don't include his handwringing over school commoditization.

Conry went on to say:

"This devaluing of the common good is the cancer that will kill us all if we let it," Conry said. "To believe in public schools . . . you have to believe that our lives are important to one another on some noncommercial, nonmarket-based level."

Again, totally irrelevant. But revealing. He's clearly a collectivist. I've read the statement a dozen times and still don't know quite what it means. But what I do know is he is spreading this gobbledygook in his classrooms.

Now, onto the board members. There is good news here: apparently, new board member Sonja Henning has a lot on the ball. Not just because she supported the school, but because she was the one board member who seems to understand that they are dealing with a statute that has specific legal criteria for how they deal with charter proposals.

New member Dan Ryan also seems to get it. He voted in favor of the school, brushing aside concerns that the charter school would hinder plans to reform Madison, saying that high school students not being served don't have another two years to wait to see how reforms take hold at existing schools.

But the old guard on the board; they are hopeless as ever. Doug Morgan admitted that he was "confused." Well, I can't argue with that. He voted no, fretting that the new charter school might "undermine the flexibility and creativity that the board is already trying to encourage at existing schools."

They offer this stuff up as if it has some meaning. How on earth would one school undermine flexibility at another? It doesn't even come close to qualifying for a valid reason to deny a charter school.

I guess what he is saying is that he is against this school because he is afraid that some students might choose to go there.

Later, Morgan told everybody that he has training as an "ethicist," and that this charter proposal presents him with a moral dilemma, presenting him with "two equally compelling goods." He wanted everybody to know how tortured he was about his no vote, saying that in all of his years serving on boards and advisory committees, "None of the weightiness and moral conflict equaled the moral conflict I personally felt in voting on some of the charter proposals."

Oh, brother. It's all about you, Director Morgan. He casts the deciding vote against a charter that would give a choice to students who desperately need it. He willingly sacrifices these kids, for what? Because of some imagined decrease in flexibility and creativity in the other schools.

Sorry, Director Morgan, that doesn't even come close to meeting the standard for a valid reason to deny a charter school. And I doubt that the students you are denying a school they and their parents want care very much about how much moral conflict you personally felt.

In fact they might point out that we all feel moral conflict when we do something we know is wrong.


Foxtrot13 said...

I don't understand how serving the children most likely to drop out is "competing" with the PPS.

The PPS had their chance with these students. I realize its a complex issue with variables that transcend what a class room can address, but the current system fails a huge swath of todays students.

Regardless of what the teacher's union is selling, no amount of "community" instituition is going to alter the current trend.

A change, any change, is better than locking them into a system that has obviously failed their educational needs. No, these charter schools that address the drop-out or GED candidate aren't competition. Instead they retrive students the PPS has already lost.

Rustifer said...

Charter schools are another option for our kids; our responsibility to them is to help them learn to make good choices, giving them the best possible chance as they make their ways in the world.

I fail to see how offering more choice in the realm of education is a detriment to the common good, when at the least it will encourage the non-charter schools to challenge themselves with their offerings to our kids.

I cited you here:Portland Parents

gus miller said...

The core elements of Portland Public School District 1J are 11 high schools each fed by its own cluster of neighborhood middle and elementary schools.

PPS has done far more damage over the years to itself by establishing 19 special focus schools that attract students from neighborhood middle and elementary schools. It is hypocritical of PPS board members to now reject charter schools because they too will attract students from neighborhood schools.

PPS administrators and board members are opposed to charter schools because they represent real competition beyond PPS control and a measurable challenge to results achieved in similar PPS schools.

Dare!PDX said...

Hey, isn't this the first time the Oregonian has reported PPS and the charter school program without mentioning that bastion of green party opinion the Environmental School (or whatever its called).

I like the fact that when a school's religion is environmentally tilted partial-science for wealthy students its progress. When the program is basic business skills for at-risk kids who disparately are effected by poverty its a "drain of school resources."

Detect a bias - I do.

Amanda said...

See "The Amanda Show" at You can see firsthand how a charter school is a travesty of the educational process. I was told point blank by my employer, a noneducator, that the most important aspect to my employment was that the kids "had fun." Mind you, my supervisor was somebody who had enough money and connections to get a charter approved. He has no educational qualifications...he is a former police officer. My program is/was ostensibly a program for "Gifted Support." Actually, it was a program reserved for children of Board Members, teachers, and friends of the administration.