The Big, yet Unnoticed Issue Portland Public Schools are Facing

By Noah Wali

A few months ago, on a cold and wet Wednesday Morning, an article was put out by a Portland Public School mother in the Oregon newspaper, “The Oregonian”.

The article was posted in the opinion section because the author is not a certified writer for the newspaper. Most of Portland probably woke up without seeing the article, maybe going through the day not even hearing about it. That, within itself, is a just a small piece of the bigger problem: Oregon doesn’t meet national standards with regards to funding, achievement gaps, graduation rates. And no one notices. According to US News, Oregon’s graduation rate, around 72 percent, is in the lower half of the country, with the average national graduation rate being around 83 percent (US News). Because of this, Portland Public Schools are facing serious backlash, more than any other district in Oregon. Yet the average Portlander doesn’t seem to be aware.

Natalie Hval, the guest writer, details and criticizes the inability for lawmakers, politicians, and district employees to prioritize the success of schools. Instead they focus only on corporate interests and the prosperity of the economy.

To begin, she simply states what she is most upset about: Portland suffers a deep history of socio-economic division and racism that, in 2018, is most evident in Portland’s schooling system. “New Portland Public Schools Superintendent, Guadalupe Guerrero, barely stepped foot onto ground when tasked with a tall order: turn a large underfunded, seismically unstable district around. But more than that, he’s been tasked to deliver equity to the larger fractured district community. African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, English language learners and those of low socio-economic status have long been relegated to schools which, while rich in cultural identity, have been starved of fundamental resources,” she writes.

Since upper class families typically all reside close to one another, the schools they send their kids to have high enrollment numbers. And because funding is tied to number of students per school, those schools typically have enough money from the government to provide a solid education for their children, not to mention the money from fundraisers as well. The problem is none of the money gets transferred over to poor neighborhoods, where schools are under-enrolled and therefore by measure under-funded and under-employed.

The other point she makes is that the predominantly white schools are consistently tied to upper class neighborhoods and schools, and the minority races attend the poorer schools. Everything begins with education. I believe that if all races can’t have equal opportunities when it comes to learning, minorities are more likely to progress slower than majority races and stay behind on the necessary education to succeed. Not only does unequal opportunity as a child affect education, it also can influence further racism and prejudice. Portland has a big obstacle to climb, and yet it still seems as if we are on a downward trend.

“Separate and unequal, by race and class…” Hval writes.

Boundary change will likely accomplish nothing according to Natalie. Since upper class families prefer their own community, they have fought against changes to boundaries and threaten to move if they occurred.

My favorite line from her article: “If Portlanders are so ‘weird’ as to not believe in equal opportunity, then perhaps a more pragmatic view is in order,” she says sarcastically. Calling or writing to a local politician may be the best solution to the problem at hand, for no one seems to be stepping up to solve the dilemma. “All children have a right to a free and appropriate education,” she declares.

I have no intent of stealing Natalie’s well written piece, my only interest is to forward her message further throughout the entire Portland Metro area so that change can come. I may be interviewing some members of the Portland Public School Board and/or students following the release of this article. Attached below are some other articles talking about similar ideas, as well as the main article I had written about, titled: “Portland Public Schools: Separate, unequal and begging for change.”

Since we are grateful enough to receive an amazing education, it is not only crucial to fight for justice so all kids have equal possibilities, but also to be aware and appreciative of our own situation.

Thank you.

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