Both voters, teachers must make changes

You said it: 'It's about the kids.' (Schools should act now, Rethinking Portland Public Schools editorial, Feb. 24).

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing (it's about the kids and going forward, remember?). Asking voter-taxpayers to pay more for the present school system is like recruiting new investment for Enron Corp. (An extreme example? Perhaps.) If the voters were convinced or had hope that more tax dollars would make a difference, we might loosen up those tightly held purse strings on a purse that holds less each year in spending value.

Rewarding teachers who are rewarded primarily for staying in school for 12 years (not getting fired) is a poor motivation tool. Kids who stay in school for 12 years (not getting flunked) don't always get an education that prepares them for life, either. Is there a correlation?

Teachers don't believe in testing, for themselves, to evaluate progress? How do they quantify progress for the students if not by test results? The business world will insist that goals and progress be measured. Working hard won't cut it for the Portland Public Schools grads if goals are not achieved. That's life as it really is, as the taxpayers know so well but the teachers seem slow to comprehend and accept with regard to their rewards.

The Oregonian ran a column recently about a teacher making $61,000 a year for nine months' work who couldn't make ends meet. Sorry about that, but most students' parents have to make it on much less. They work hard and must achieve goals to provide for their kids.

Change is clearly needed. But as long as both sides are not open to changing themselves (it's all about who again?), the kids lose, and Portland loses. The voters must give up some things to be able to pay more for schools Ñ are PPS and the teachers willing to do the same?

Show how goals (kids moving forward, for real) will be met for less (cut waste, work efficiently), then maybe the voters will become more willing to invest more. But, if nothing changes, nothing changes. Education does not occur unless someone learns Ñ there's room for improvement on both sides.

James Butler

Southeast Portland

Class sizes alreadyare too big

Thank you for your great special section on Portland Public Schools. I read it cover to cover and found some very interesting and useful information.

However, I do think that Tribune President Steve Clark did the children of Portland a disservice in his editorial by calling for larger class sizes to match suburban school districts.

I would like to invite him to spend the day in my son's first-grade class. One teacher is in charge of 26 6- and 7-year-olds. Our school's blended fourth- and fifth-grade classes have 31 children and one teacher. I have talked to parents of middle and high school kids whose children are in classes with 30 and more in the class.

Despite the stated average student-teacher ratio of 18.8-1, my children have been in Portland Public Schools for five years now and never have been in a class with less than 25 kids.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that your special section prompts people to want to save our great PPS. I certainly agree that we don't want to follow Detroit, Miami, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and all the other cities that let their public schools crumble, waved goodbye to the middle class and were left with only the children whose parents couldn't afford to flee to something better.

Jane Greenhalgh

Southwest Portland

Let the answers comefrom the purpose

We need to start the process by changing how we think about solving problems. We should be asking: 'What is the purpose of a school?' And the answer to that should be the goal, not how to cut costs. Cost cutting will result naturally if you go back to the basic purpose. Both Edmonton, Alberta, and Denver figured this out.

Anything that does not directly contribute to that purpose should be subject to potential elimination. Every school should be run by the principal, responsible for the results and the people employed there. Mandated but unfunded programs should be separated from the basic purpose. Costs for mandated but unfunded programs should be submitted to the taxpayers for approval.

Dennis Netsch

East Multnomah County

Why isn't per-studentspending enough?

Your article on school finances in the Feb. 24 Rethinking Portland section has a very important statistic, one that I'm sure flew by most people.

Portland Public Schools spent $8,753 per student in 2003-04. If you assume a class size of 18.8 (the average in the same article), that comes to $164,556.40 per classroom.

How on Earth is this not enough money to educate 18.8 students?

We need a top-down audit to see where the money is really going, and if it's not going into the classroom and the direct education of our children, then something needs to be done about it.

Jordan Lund

Southeast Portland

Political leadership is lacking

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has come up with a brilliant plan to save Portland Public Schools for next year by having the city, county and schools dip into their reserves for the $57 million.

Then he proposes partnering with the district to get more money from the next group of legislators. Unfortunately, the governor provided no details whatsoever on any reform plan to stop the roller coaster. He apparently has no idea of what needs to be done other than to chase the rabbit around the track that has a hold of the money.

His only interest is protecting the status quo for the entrenched special interests. It makes it tough to restore faith and trust in government and its officials.

We have flawed leadership in this county and city. However, we have allowed ourselves to be taken in by politicians who give used-car salesmen a good name. For example, there is an indication that not much thought was given to what the South Waterfront would eventually cost and who would pay for it. The same goes for the tram for which nobody knows what the final cost will be. It's a project that was put together on the back of a napkin without thought to the details Ñ purely a dream. What a sad day for Portland.

Harry Doyle

Northeast Portland

Don't championa flawed system

The writer of the Rethinking Portland commentary 'Take a closer look at our classrooms' nails what is wrong with our schools and probably does not know it (Insight, Feb. 28). Quote: 'Teachers skillfully orchestrated the kind of self-directed and group learning that mirrors the requirements of our globalized economy,' and 'students were getting less individualized attention than they would have received with smaller classes.'

How about classrooms where the teacher is in charge and is imparting knowledge to the students, and the students demonstrate how well they understand by reading, writing and doing math, then taking exams to test their knowledge of the subject matter?

It is the foolishness of the idea that elementary kids can 'self-direct' their learning in groups and that teachers are simply facilitators of the smaller group processes that should be examined. We can't afford a teacher for every child.

Parents need to understand that the schools are not doing their very best and that standards are slipping, not improving as many would want us to believe. Educators say they want children to be prepared for a global economic world, but how are they doing? Is that what the average parent wants, and what does it mean, really? And, how do you measure results?

Our schools, and most schools across the country, are producing youngsters with barely the skills needed to become a simple cog in an ever more complex and greater economy.

What you described as a skillful teacher has been in place for a very long time. If her methods were really working, the results would be different. It is time to examine what is going on and make some changes. Certainly, parents with options need to get their kids out of the schools in order to protect them from what I believe to be a failing system.

Championing this flawed process only continues the great harm being done to our most precious resource, so educators can continue to plunder the taxpayers for more and more money for less and less productivity.

Ray Dickerson


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