Sunday, February 3, 2013

When Portlandia Looks like Mississippi


The City of Portland, Oregon is 76% white and known for being progressive and young, the setting for the popular Portlandia television series, a parody of Portland's hep, environmentally conscious scene.   Portlanders tend to be better educated than Americans as a whole and politically liberal.

Northeast Portland however is the outlier. Though increasingly gentrifying, the population of northeast neighborhoods is about half white, a third black with the balance mixed race and Hispanic.  The schools in NE Portland tell us a good deal about how charter schools are changing the face of urban education. 

There are four elementary schools in NE Portland's most diverse neighborhoods:  Boise, King, Rosa Parks and Woodlawn.  These schools are located in neighborhoods where less than half of the residents are white.



School
King
Down 22%
Added 6-8 2007
33.5% White
11%
52%
29%
Boise-Elliot
Down 22%
Absorbed a closed school; added grades 6-8 in 2008
45% White
14%
62%
14%
Woodlawn
Down 5%
Absorbed a closed school; added grades 6-8 in 2008
46.5% White
13%
48%
29%
Rosa Parks
Down 20%

39% White
11%
48%
30%


The Portland District has struggled to keep these neighborhood schools viable, closing and merging schools as enrollment declined and converting three of them to K-8.  But in spite of Portland's reputation as a liberal enclave, comparing ethnicity in each school's attendance area with the school's actual enrollment reveals an unmistakable white flight pattern. In all four schools, less than a third of the neighborhood's white families have their children in neighborhood schools.

Here are those same schools fifteen years ago, prior to Oregon's charter school law.  Figures are for school enrollment by ethnicity of students.



School
2012 White
2012 Black
2012 Hispanic
King
16%
72%
6%
11%
52%
29%
Boise-Elliot
40%
47%
8%
14%
62%
14%
Woodlawn
14%
73%
6%
13%
48%
29%
Rosa Parks
New school in 2006
11%
48%
30%
 
The dramatic drops in white students attending these schools came at a time when the neighborhoods were rapidly becoming more white.

North/Northeast remains home to the highest concentration of African Americans in the state. But in 2000, people of color outnumbered whites in 10 of the area's census tracts. A decade later, all of those tracts had flipped to majority white. One tract alone, encompassing the Woodlawn neighborhood, saw a net loss of 915 black residents and a net gain of 840 white residents, shifting from 33 percent white in 2000 to 53 percent white in 2010. (From The Oregonian)

Meanwhile three charter (elementary) schools have opened in northeast Portland. Two are charters under the Portland Public Schools umbrella and one (Ivy) is state monitored.


School
White
Black
Hispanic
Portland Village Charter School
Up 85%
83.5%
4%
7%
Trillium Charter School
Up 4%
80%
4%
6%
Ivy Charter School
New school
77.5%
15%
4%

Nationwide, less than a quarter of charter schools operate in rural areas and small towns.  They are predominantly an urban phenomenon.  When charter school proponents insist that charter schools are more diverse than public schools nationally, remember that fact.  Charter schools are substantially less diverse than the neighborhoods they feed on.

Governor Wallace blocks schoolhouse door
In 1954, the Supreme Court ordered school desegregation throughout the South in its Brown v. Board of Education landmark decision.  White southerners responded by establishing separate academies for their children, offering "school choice" for those who did not wish to integrate.  These were particularly popular in the Mississippi delta.  Many of them are still in operation, still mostly white.

Portland is not the South and the reasons for white flight from the city's neighborhood schools are more complex.  But the next time you hear a politician championing "school choice", understand what that term means, both in its intent and its outcomes.

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