Let’s say you have a very smart child, and you live in Portland, Oregon. You want your child to be challenged and encouraged, and given every opportunity to reach his highest potential. What are your options?
First of all, let me say that I realize I’m hardly the one who should be writing this post. I am just a parent, and in many ways I feel like I’m just peering in through the windows of a house, wondering how many bedrooms there really are. But here is what I see, and if there is more out there I hope that someone from PPS will let us all know.
First of all, there is the ACCESS program:
If your child tests in the 99th percentile in verbal or math skills, you can enroll him in the ACCESS program that is housed at Sabin school in Northeast Portland. (If you have an older sibling in the program already, then only the 90th percentile is required for entry.) The program used to run grades 1-8, but this year seems to have been cut back to grades 2-8. And once your child reaches high school, it’s back to business as usual, which means that PPS can’t even guarantee access to AP classes for academically qualified students.
As far as I know, there are no other TAG programs anywhere in Portland Public Schools. Is that not unbelievable?
So, what if your bright little guy (or gal) is a first child, and is only 95th percentile?
The options, as far as I was able to discover for myself, are roughly as follows:
1) Local Public
You can send your child to the local public school and hope that the teacher, already overwhelmed by a crowded classroom of kids, will be able to provide some extra challenges to keep your kid busy & engaged. Good luck.
2) Lottery Public
Try to lottery in to the schools that are regarded as “better.” This type of activity becomes a positive feedback loop, as engaged parents cluster towards certain schools. Winterhaven is one such school here in Portland – I often think about the fact that although I live nowhere near the school, I know three families who send their children there.
3) Lottery Charter
As has been noted ad nauseum in blogs around the country, Charters are not a panacea for what ails public schools. But. They do tend to attract families who are engaged & committed to education, and teachers who are enthusiastic. And they may have a learning environment, or specific curriculum, that really suits your child. I know two families that have really loved the Opal school (at the Children’s Museum) and another parent who loves The Ivy School. I’m sure there are other really great charters around town.
You can dig deep and find an extra $1000-2000/month per child in your household budget. The cost is overwhelming and painful, and obviously out of the reach of many families – but if you can manage it, you get a lot more control over what your child learns, in a supportive, small-class setting.
Homeschooling is increasingly popular in Portland, which is understandable given the combination of counter-culture and libertarian threads that run through the fabric of this city. The ultimate in flexibility, customized education, and a loving & supportive environment for your child. Obviously, not an option for many working families.
There are so many federal mandates to provide extra services for students below the academic median. But very little to address the needs of students above norm. States are really on their own with this one. This chart from the Davidson Institute says that in Oregon, “Gifted programming is mandated: no gifted funding is available.”
I have frequently heard the phrase “unfunded mandate,” but what does that really mean? I don’t know. But what I guess this means is that there is lip service paid to the idea that academically gifted students need unique services, but no one is going to pony up for any actual money to support it. Is it possible to force the issue from a legal perspective? I would be curious to know. And how would you define how much in the way of services is actually necessary? For example, one class per week may fulfill the legal requirement but not actually provide meaningful benefit.
I would be interested in hearing from other parents or PPS school representatives what they recommend for families with very bright students. Most importantly: is this something that Portland is willing to support? Are we willing to put our resources behind our brightest students? To me, this is a much more critical issue than the current bond measure for physical facilities.