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Eighth Grade Equity
I mentioned my high school on today's show about education equity — specifically offering the fact I was able to study Russian at what was my neighborhood school as one example of how what's available in high school can have a significant influence on what happens next.
(I got into journalism by moving to Russia in the mid-1990s, then finding work reporting from there.)
But my eighth grade experience resonates more with the equity issues behind today's discussion of transfers and magnets. After passionate fights over desegregation in 1980, Portland Public Schools opened Harriet Tubman Middle School. It was a magnet middle school, available to students from all over town. It was designed in large part to attract white students to travel to school — an effort at voluntary school desegregation.
It sounded exciting to me: a new place and a lot of new people to meet after going K-7 to the same elementary school. Tubman was also supposed to have cool classes and a great new computer lab.
As I remember it, Tubman tried to do some of what PPS' John Wilhelmi described today as a goal of Portland's new high school plan: offering opportunities at all schools that fit all kinds of students, from college credit courses to electives that expose students to a wide range of careers.
That's possibly why I ended up in a geometry class at Tubman with five other students. All of us were white, and we'd all bussed in from across town. That was true of most of the students in my core classes.
I mentioned Tubman to our guests after today's show — only to learn that John Wilhelmi had taught there that first year! And five more years as well. I told him I remembered feeling disappointed it wasn't easier to break through geographic, economic, and ethnic boundaries. He remembers that first year as a kind of "chaotic" implementation.
Rebecca in Oregon City, one of our callers today, worried that might happen with the new high school plan, as well.