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The Portland Miracle?

I just read an article in Education Week by someone named Caralee Adams about a supposed reform miracle in Portland. I cannot believe Education Week allows such cursory articles bereft of any serious analysis. Adams simply refers readers to the 156 page report. To pull out a few “highlights” without any critical look is problematic. The article begs for a rejoinder.

I do not have time to write a full report on this odd 156 page document but a glance shows that the article by Adams begs further – more serious- looks. Let’s look at the items Adams chose to pull from the 156 page report.

*Remember- these claims are being made just two years after “changes were made.”

**Four-year graduation rates increased from 53 percent for the class of 2009 to 62 percent for 2011 graduates.

Why are they comparing random years that do not involve cohorts? This is almost meaningless. Are they saying the kids who were sophomores in 2009 suddenly decided to graduate at a 9% higher rate? Did they give them more credit recovery options? Does a higher graduation rate indicate more learning?

** The achievement gap narrowed 11 percentage points, from 30 percentage points to 19 between white and Hispanic students.

Do you realize that according to the 2010 census that Portland is over 70% White? The Hispanic population is under 10%. What are we comparing? Why was there no mention of African Americans? They make up 6% of the population there. Are we now making policy statements based on two years? Are we making policy statements that do not look at cohorts or examine other reasons for the changes? It looks like Portland is.

**There has been a 12 percent gain in the percentage of students considered college-ready (25 percent to 37 percent), as measured by meeting benchmarks on at least three ACT performance subject-area tests.

But are more students taking the test? Why is Portland (like many others) assuming that a test score is the best indicator of being college ready? Why are they ignoring the massive evidence that HSGPA is a better indicator? Why are they comparing two, non cohort, groups? Well, they only have two years of information. Is there more test preparation over the last two years? Once again, why are policy statements being made with such little information or consideration of other influences?

Sample Size

The entire Portland high school system has about 12,500 students.

Questions

If things are going so well in Portland, why are they changing to Common Core?

Can Portland afford the massive Common Core testing regimen? According to a 2006 report, Portland is educating fewer students compared to 1925- despite the fact that the population has doubled.

My article offers a bit more of a critical look at the Portland report. I wish I had time to write about the entire report but I do not sit around at a think tank all day. Education Week needs to be a bit more demanding of those they allow to contribute. I like some of the things Portland is doing. The problem is a 156 page political document put out that is an attempt to get more funding. The report offers good reasons to stop Common Core. The fact that Portland is willing to switch gears after a few years and head to Common Core is very interesting.

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