State threatens to withhold funding for Portland Public Schools over class time

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon's deputy superintendent of public instruction, Rob Saxton, is threatening to withhold funding for Portland Public Schools if it doesn't take corrective action with regard to student class time. He's also warning that high school credits for students in the 2014-2015 could be invalidated.

At issue is a complaint filed by the Portland Parents Coalition. The group turned to the state last fall after a member analyzed the Portland Public Schools class schedules, compared them to the state's administrative rules, and discovered students were being shortchanged on their education.

The coalition's complaint to the Oregon Department of Education actually covered three topics: 
  • The failure of PPS to provide a minimum of 990 hours of instructional time per year in grades 9-12
  • The failure of PPS to offer students 130 hours of instructional time per credit
  • The failure of PPS to establish a process for complaint resolution
Of these three matters, Saxton agreed in his ruling with the latter two, and said he had grave concerns regarding the district's compliance with the spirit of the law on the first.
 
Caroline Fenn, with the Parents Coalition, credited fellow member John Richardson for meticulously counting instructional hours built into the class schedule and factoring assemblies, testing time and parent-teacher conferences.
 
She says when the district implemented an eight period schedule in 2011-2012, there was a lot of testimony that spring, and a lot of parents realized then the district wasn't meeting the 130-hour requirement.
 
She says another issue is that the district is actually restricting how many classes kids are allowed to take; students weren't allowed to forecast for eight classes. The coalition's take was the district had to allow students to take the classes they want to take in order to claim it's meeting the 990-hour per year requirement.
 
Both Saxton and Fenn say the state's ruling won't affect high school seniors slated to graduate this June, but Fenn adds there is still work to be done around the verification of assurance compliance reports produced by schools. 
 
"There isn't a really good auditing process in place right now, so it would be great to get that improved. That might have helped resolve the situation earlier if there had been more checks and balances," said Fenn.
 
Saxton is giving Portland Public Schools some hard deadlines. The district needs to officially report to the state that it is out of compliance by April 15. By June 11, it needs to put together a corrective action plan that is approved by Portland's school board.
 
Portland Public Schools responded with this statement Friday on behalf of PPS Chief Academic Officer Sue Ann Higgens:
 
"The final approved high school schedules for the 2014-2015 academic year will meet all ODE instructional time requirements and comply with the new contract with the Portland Association of Teachers. The new contract with the Portland Association of Teachers will allow PPS to add two days to the school year in 2014-2015."
 
The statement says the district is currently taking the following concrete steps to address the findings by ODE:
 
PPS is in the process of finalizing both seven and eight period high school schedules for 2014-2015 that will be in compliance with the requirement of offering courses with 130 hours of instructional time. All students will be forecasting for eight classes unless their family chooses to opt out.      
 
PPS has re-established and is in the process of hiring for the District Parent & Family Ombudsman position. This position will be filled by June 1, 2014. The first responsibility of the new Ombudsman will be to review and develop recommendations for improving PPS parent-complaint processes. PPS will ensure that all complaint procedures are simplified and in compliance with state standards.  
 
To see Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton's ruling click here.
To see Portland Public Schools' statement in full click here.