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Monday, November 19, 2012

How does dismantling Benson High advance "equity"?

The Portland school board will meet tonight, and of course, more "equity" talk is on the agenda. It's quite the rage in the local public school hierarchy these days to palaver up a storm about racial "equity." They've got all sorts of "equity" minions on the payroll, and a high-priced consultant touting "courageous conversations."

But actions speak louder than conversations, and we're intrigued by this message from a reader who laments the death by 1,000 cuts to which Benson High School in Northeast Portland is being subjected. She writes:

While PPS spends millions on unproven equity training, it is systematically dismantling Benson’s successful program that has provided many poor and minority students a ticket out of poverty to middle-class jobs. PPS could vote to approve another vo-tech charter school soon, which would siphon more students and resources from Benson.

Benson’s 81% graduation rate is second only to Lincoln, though many students are economically disadvantaged, and it is the only high school to graduate more black and Hispanic students than white students. Yet this year PPS cut engineering, computer technology and health technology programs and turned away 200 applicants to keep numbers up at Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Madison – identified as “drop-out factories” by the Oregonian.

The Portland Tribune reported that businesses such as Precision Castparts, Gunderson, Tice Industries, and Blount International want to work with Benson students and offer paid apprenticeships. Other businesses want to support Benson, but PPS is redirecting them to Jefferson through a partnership with Self Enhancement Inc. Perhaps powerful North Portland special interest groups aren’t making money off Benson students, because they have built-in apprenticeships.

As PPS starves Benson, advanced manufacturers such as Vigor Industrial and Gunderson have had to create their own welding training programs due to a lack of skilled workforce for high-demand fields that pay $45,000/year. While Oregon’s unemployment rate remains high, many well-paid positions go unfilled due to lack of an skilled workforce. Both the Washington Post and Oregon Legal Journal have reported on this national trend, calling it a skills crisis.

People have tried to mobilize Benson, but they have no political clout. Media will not cover this important story, though they've been plated up with compelling facts.

It's awful, but not too surprising. Talk loudly to the cameras, then do the opposite -- isn't that the Portland government way, through and through?

Comments (23)

This reader is right on. Self Enhancement, Inc. (SEI) pretty much has the corner of struggling African-American students in N/NE Portland, and they do not appreciate anyone cutting in on their market share. That's why you see their director front and center putting the kybosh on any discussion of closing Jefferson, because they have contracts to serve these "struggling" students. Certainly when folks in SE tried to ally with the SEI folks over the then impending closure of Marshall, they were referred to the office of "Go Kick Rocks", even though Marshall was a very diverse school. The decision to close Marshall was not "equitable", Marshall had more noteworthy programs that some schools that remained. Students were also restricted from transferring to Marshall that final year. That's the whole "starve-em-out" PPS plan.

I am no longer sure what's worse, the Portlanders that actually believe in the curing powers of the "equity" snake oil or the snake oil profiteers.

Question: isn't every other high school in Portland named after a US president? Why isn't Benson? Perhaps a movement should be started to rename Benson "Obama". This will focus the efforts and attention of the educrat, multi-culti types on something equally meaningless, but far less harmful than their current pursuits.

"How does dismantling Benson High advance "equity"?"

You miss the point, you need to set up some metric (preferably unmeasurable like "equity") to distract people from measurable things like test scores and job skills/placements.

It works - Then you ask voters to give you half a billion to blow on schools and they do it willingly.

Dismantle Benson (named after its founder) and then pump huge amounts money into the low enrollment at Jefferson. Even with spending more money on average per student, Jefferson is still a failing school. How can the superintendent or the school board call that equity when there is a growing need for blue collar job training?

Benson was seriously messed up years ago when they dropped the requirement that you needed a brain to be able to take science and math.

Benson become the refuge from other worse schools and so the academic level dropped off to where students with real aptitude couldn't fill enough seats in the high-level classes. Math for dummies became the norm, along with other "I'm with Stupid" classes.

A real shame that they had made Benson a babysitter for unqualified students fleeing dysfunctional parent schools.

PPS only plan to make everyone equal is to make everyone just as stupid as stupid.

Sounds like a class action lawsuit waiting to happen,,,,,,,,,,

I'm sure the lawyers here likely have their own definition of "equity". I have mine. My take is the use of this word, is similar to how the President uses the term "fairness".

In a similar fashion, if the GOAL is equality of OUTCOME (not opportunity), then it's far easier to bring a successful entity DOWN than the effort required to bring a marginal failure UP.

So when Benson has the same miserable grades, graduation rates, illiterate graduates and other measures of a failed educational system... THEN WE WILL HAVE ACCOMPLISHED "EQUITY".

It is just heartbreaking when you see this kind of crap -- courageous conversations, closing the gap, promoting diversity -- everything but giving kids the kind of education they need when and where they need it. Schoools are about educating period; they are not a political and social-engineering toy.

The local media adores the work "equity". So, we should be in for some "indepth" coverage.

I wouldn't worry about siphoning off resources from Benson, because of the establishment of another vocational charter school. There is a shortage of vocational training as Jack points out, and Benson's real problem is the School District which caps its enrollment. A better solution for Benson would be to allow it to break off from PPS and allow students to apply to attend it without a formal cap on student enrollment and allow students accepted in to move their public educational dollars to it (without the regular 20% charter school discount). Furthermore, allow Benson to expand its offerings.
Jack's article is to much a fixed pie view; Benson left to its own devices need fear not a competing vocational charter school, especially its long held traditional reputation as a place of technical excellence (a reputation being hurt by the District's socialistic ideals of governance. Equity makes us all equally poor, as what works is unrewarded and that which isn't working is rewarded.

"Schoools are about educating period; they are not a political and social-engineering toy."

Hear hear! Could you define "education?" My unabridged dictionary is a bit circular:

"Education 1 : the act or process of educating or of being educated * * *."

Feel free to use examples of what you include in "education" but exclude from "political or social-engineering."

It's Equity for the designated contractors, not the students.

What is/has happened to Benson turns my stomach. I am a Benson grad, and the greatest learning experience of my life was attending Benson, as it was for many of my schoolmates that went on to have highly successful lives and careers.

it is my personal opinion that PPS has been deliberately choking off Benson for years.
I'm a graduate of the class of 77, one of my daughters is class of 95. It was obvious when she was there the district was trying to monkey with the programs and that trend has accelerated since. Two years ago when the school board was deliberating I wrote them with my concerns and got an email back assuring me that they had no intention at all of harming the school.
I believe the only solution to PPS woes is a wholesale firing of the school board, the superintendent and and their assistants along with a fair number of the administrators. Clean house. And when hiring a new superintendent look to Oregon. The past crop of east coast "experts" haven't done us any good.

1. To Tankfixer- School Boards do not typically think for themselves. They do not have the background or experience to be able to see through the BS that educrats keep pushing on them. Most board members check logic at the door and are led to believe in the nonsense of whatever fad du jour the education establishment is pushing to make their profession seem more complicated than it is.
2. The equity issue involved in undercutting Benson is twofold. You can't have many schools (Roosevelt, Jefferson, Madison) doing poorly
with poor kids while one (Benson) does well. It is easier to kill the good school than raise the quality of the poor ones. This way they are all equal.

An unspoken discrimination at work here is the prejudice educators have for vocational education. This has always been the case. Society today values an almost worthless college degree that doesn't even warrant that the recipient can form a decent sentence or know the history of his/her country. And educators have always thought themselves better than mere tradespeople who may in fact make more money than they do. The jealousy is palpable. Educators cannot decide if they are "professionals" or union labor. There is probably some degree of shame and resentment that their bargain with the unions has not given them the respect they want and so they set themselves on a higher plane than the guys who they have to hire to fix their electronic cars or build their smart homes.

Education has rarely been about meeting the needs of the students. Education of our youth is ALWAYS political, and as such, is always about social engineering in one form or another. Equity is just the newest fad to bring students into submission of the public thought machine. So let there be vouchers whereby parents can choose which set of beliefs, skills and performance standards they want for their children. When people can vote with vouchers in hand, programs like Benson's will succeed despite what the teachers' unions and administrators prefer.

I'm glad Nolo had a forum here. You'll never see his thoughts in the local media.

"An unspoken discrimination at work here is the prejudice educators have for vocational education."

Say what?

"Society today values an almost worthless college degree that doesn't even warrant that the recipient can form a decent sentence..."

Oh, I see.

"When people can vote with vouchers in hand, programs like Benson's will succeed despite what the teachers' unions and administrators prefer."

What happens when the kids with mild developmental disabilities, social integration difficulties, or parents who just don't care about their education use their vouchers to attend the school your kid goes to?

I speak from experience. As an insider (past) in the public education system, I was amazed to see the hierarchy of status the teachers assumed within secondary schools. The teachers who teach more advanced classes (AP, Honors or at least Sr. level) are on top. The newbies get the classes with the students who present behavior or learning problems. The teachers who have been around long enough but have no special talent get the rest. Of course this is an exaggeration and there are hard working, competent teachers at every school and at every level. But, the status thing exists nonetheless.

And education IS dogma. Every decade the textbooks and curriculums have to change because there are people making a living off of inventing them. There are not enough story problems in this one, or enough women and minorities featured in story problems, or this book didn't have enough graphs and tables for reading comprehension (seriously!), or the social studies classes were switching from the chronological study of history to thematic concepts of historic events instead. How to add group skits in English instead of a paper on the theme of a great novel? The list is long and every year a new fad promises to be the magic bullet. Snake oil salesmen called consultants just like the planners and eco-snobs who know what is best for us push the stuff out and call it scientific, but little evidence-based and peer reviewed to be of real use. Toss all common sense out the window and borrow just enough truth to make it seem plausible and sell it to the masses.

Obviously I did not make it as a teacher. Loved the students, but could not ignore the school culture. Parental choice is the only way to make things "fair". If one school is too popular, others of the same type will spring up to meet the demand. As for the kids with disabilities, where there is a demand, there will be a market to serve them. There is a private school for kids with dyslexia that might be locating in LO soon that I hear is very well supported. I do not worry that these kids will be ignored, however there is a distinct possibility that inclusivity will be an issue, but it doesn't have to be. The point is that with choice comes competition and desire to meet customer, not bureaucratic demand.

Just one thing - the unions will not let go easily of their money tree - the kids that bring in the dollars per student. The truth is that students (and education in general) are being held hostage for the good of the unions.

"I was amazed to see the hierarchy of status the teachers assumed within secondary schools."

Sure. This is no unique to, nor it caused by, the public sector.

"And education IS dogma * * *."

I don't see anything in this paragraph being the fault of teachers. The complaints listed see to be decisions made by the school board (civilians) and the school administration. I don't know any teachers (and I know quite a few), that want to anything other than teach their subject, and most want to do that in an efficient, non-fluffy way.

In my opinion, one goal of education should be to integrate people, not segregate them. Only public schools can accomplish this.

My last comment here -- my experience with school boards is that they are well-meaning people who get their information from "staff". Just like city councils. The bureaucrats (many in public unions) are shaping school and city policies.

Thanks for the posts, Nolo. They're outstanding.

As long as the governmental choir continues to pimp a four-year college degree as "The American Dream", trade schools are going to go on being the best kept secret out there for those who want a job that can't be outsourced and for which - in most cases - there will always be an immediate community need. My father, who was a teacher and later a concerned administrator, used to say that he wished there were more trade or work study options for students who simply wanted to get into a trade and work in the community. High schools focus on a combination of babysitting and then pushing the career bound toward lifetime debt and a four year education that may never be worth any more than a line on one's resume, and quickly noted by the McDonald's interviewer as they decide the applicant is too highly qualified to actually work.


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