Saturday, March 22, 2014

Boundary Adjustments, Biased Equity, And Other Springtime Issues

Sorry for the long gap since my last update. Here's a roundup of the most interesting issues I'm currently watching in our district, or that have been discussed at recent meetings:

  • The boundary adjustment. As many of you have heard, due to the population moving to locations in numbers that don't precisely match the current elementary school districts, we had to move some boundaries. I want to commend Adam Stewart and the boundary adjustment committee for an impressive performance: I was very surprised that we were not beseiged by angry parents at Tuesday's vote. While not everyone was happy, it seemed like the affected parents all felt that they had been listened to. However, we shouldn't sugarcoat the fact that this process resulted in forced transfers (or revocation of already-approved transfers) and broken promises for many families that liked their current school and are now being made to go elsewhere. I pointed out at the meeting that we really need to take a longer-term view of these issues, to avoid the need for these painful adjustments in the future: on a continuous basis, we should analyze whether each school is growing beyond its capacity, and provide incentives (free transport, special programs, etc) for those students to transfer voluntarily to another school.
  • The Hillsboro Online Academy (HOA). HOA is continuing to succeed and grow, due to a great job by Principal Harrington and the rest of the staff. We had a meeting of the HOA steering committee on Monday, and there are lots of great ideas for expanding the online education opportunities. I'm especially excited to see the plans for offering more classes online to students who aren't in HOA full time. This could play a significant role in helping to relieve some overcrowded classrooms, as well as allowing students advancement or remedial opportunites that are hard to offer at their current school. I have helped to arrange an HOA info session at Intel; if you know of other groups of parents that want to know more, be sure to fill out the contact form or send an email.
  • Class Sizes. HSD earned another Argus headline last week related to its large class sizes, highest of any district in the Portland metro area. In the budget discussions, Superindentent Mike Scott proposed that we do some focused reduction in class sizes for the youngest grade levels (K-2), which makes a lot of sense. But we really need to look at new approaches for addressing this issue, since we don't expect lots of new money coming in any time soon, especially with the failure of last fall's bond vote. I think approaches like better utilizing the HOA, or encouraging other forms of independent study for the students who are responsible enough to handle it, could play a major role here. We also need to think again about calling for more charter schools, given their well-documented "unfairly small" class sizes.
  • Budget Discussions. It looks like we have slightly more money than expected this year, with current proposals directing it at targeted class size reduction, investing in arts programs, technology enhancements, and other high-need focus areas. I'm still a bit worried by the fact that current projections show a deficit in future years; is it really safe to spend rather than banking the extra money in our one good year, with the economy still iffy, and significant job reductions recently announced by major local employers?  I still think we should have more of an emphasis on spending money on specific items that will likely reduce long-term costs, such as greater investment in online education.
  • High School Math Adoption: The staff and the Curriculum Committee are looking at updating our high school math programs. I was very happy to see that the Curriculum Committee is more actively involved this year. Another bright spot is that the group is not limiting themselves to static textbooks, but looking at ways to leverage online materials, and at Tuesday's meeting we approved a pilot study where several classrooms will attempt to teach math using these new methods. It's also good to see that while being pro-active in adoping innovations in teaching methods, they are currently looking at maintaining the traditional math sequences (algebra, geometry, calculus, etc) rather than bringing in radical new curricula like the controversial CPM that you have read about here
  • Biased Equity: Recently some truly vicious attacks on conservatives were posted at the facebook site of "Uniting to Understand Racism" (UUR), the organization providing the district's Equity programs.   You can see a great citizen statement against this group at this link . But I think focusing on a few offensive posts obscures the greater issue. The program this group has been teaching, based on Critical Race Theory, is inherently political: whether you agree or disagree with it (see my opinion at this link if you're curious), the CRT thesis, that our society is permanently racist and filled with invisible White Privilege, is a central teaching of the Left side of our political spectrum, and one that nearly every conservative would disagree with.  Our Equity classes should be based on giving individuals tools to make their own behavior more fair, not on teaching one-sided political doctrines.   For a great example of politics-free equity programs, check out Microinequities.   
As always, if you have opinions or questions on any of these issues, be sure to email me (, or come to my monthly Constituent Coffee, 10am on the first Saturday of every month, at the 10th & Oak Human Bean in Hillsboro