Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Comments on the proposed PPS High School System Redesign

This is my response to the Thinkoutloud program on the proposed High School System Redesign. I don't believe the case for abolishing the transfer system has been made adequately.

You can read about it here:
http://www.pps.k12.or.us/depts/communications/hs_system/
http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/school-equity/

First - As a caller has already pointed out, it is impossible for every school to offer every opportunity. Attempting to provide "every opportunity at every school" will lead to situations where multiple schools each have a few students interested in a particular program but that program exists at none of them, where under the current system that could be provided at one school and those students could attend there.

Thinking a bit deeper, one sees the self-motivation behind the Education System's desire to end transfers and provide every opportunity at every school. Because we lose the comparative advantage of varied curriculae from school to school, the entire system loses efficiency. The resulting shortages will help to make a case for diverting more funding to Education.

Secondly - It is not difficult to make school funding work under a transfer system - even with the current system of funding. Even as this show's guest speaker talks about how the current system doesn't work, the truth is that no realistic attempt was ever made to make the transfer system work.

All that needs to be done is for more of each school's (proportional) funding to be fixed based on the facility size, meaning less money moves from one school to another when a student transfers.

This will have two benefits: First, this increases the per student funding at a school that has students moving away from it, thereby allowing the quality of programs to increase at that school. Similarly, the quality of programs at schools that become packed with students will decrease. An equilibrium is created from this shifting, and we will have achieved a natural equalization mechanism that is not subject to political manipulation by the ambitions of State Agencies. Secondly, the transfer between schools provides important, direct evidence of the relative quality of one or another school. This will force the very good schools to admit that they are overfunded. If we want equalization in education it means the nicest schools will have to get crappier, or more money will have to be injected into the system. There is no other alternative. How about decreasing funding for Lincoln and Lake Oswego in order to increase funding for Jefferson and Grant? Already I can hear the rich (oh, I'm sorry, "middle class") kids moaning. Only a quasi-market approach like what I have suggested here will overcome the rhetorical trump card of liberal urban wealth.

Finally, just to comment on some random things:

* The idea that bussing kids around the city is wasteful to the environment is really an unfair argument. When we are talking about the inner city schools, they aren't really that far away from each other in the first place, high school students can take the public busses, and most kids are within biking distance of their school. Plus, schools have a lot of incredibly environmentally wasteful practices, such as the emphasis on paper handouts instead of textbooks, the use of pre-made foods for the lunch program, the locating of new schools on the edges of town, etc. Picking one of them out like this is dubious at best.

* In order to implement this no-transfer system, a political battle will take place over where permanent funding is allocated. This battle will be political, and I have no doubt that the worst schools will come out of it underfunded. These schools don't have parents who are rich lawyers giving $1000 political contributions.

* What the system really needs is a move toward much more localized schools. The education system needs to become more adaptable to situations and more vigilant, with the resources to snap up choice real estate and have compromise building designs so that space can be utilized even when it is not ideal. This is a ways off, but most people I have spoken to agree we should move away from the large high-school model and toward smaller, more local schools that are anchors in the community. But moving toward a uniform curriculum will mean that schools can't be shrunk down, effectively blocking Oregon from moving in that direction.

* We should not sacrifice a few white students as the crucible to ethnic diversity in schools. From everything I have read, the black student body at schools that have a very small population of white students subject these students to the most horriffic racism. These white students are subjected to violence or the threat of violence on a daily basis, and they face constant harassment. White girls are even accused of being racist when theydecline the many dates and propositions they recieve from the black males at those schools.

In conclusion, I feel that we should give the transfer system a fair chance by making realistic attempts to get it to work. This will mean some schools have funding reduced, and that is simply how it needs to be. Sometimes in politics, it is bad to give the people what they want, but here there seems to be very little reason to proceed with this plan to end school transfers. Thank you for reading.

1 comment:

Susan said...

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Margaret

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