Like any diligent parent, you’ll be researching school districts before you move to a new city. Be prepared to read some criticism of Portland Public School system. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of great and innovative school districts in Portland. Neighborhoods like Beaverton, Lake Oswego and West Linn are thriving. It’s inevitable, however, that you’ll come across some controversy in your research. This article provides context, resources and information on local schools. Think of it as a launching point to aid your search for the perfect school district.
Resources for researching schools in the Portland metro area
If you’re looking for pure school rankings in an easy to navigate format, PDX Monthly’s Top Schools list. You can compare public and private K-12 schools in Clackamas, Multnomah, Washington and Clark (WA) counties. It’s a useful snapshot and the data was collected from the Oregon Department of Education and Washington State Board of Education. The data is from 2015 but this is the most recent list as of right now.
For more in depth research, take a look at Scoop on Schools. This blog was created by a couple of Portland moms as a comprehensive guide to selecting a school for new Portland parents. There is a lot of info and community collaboration available on the site. The creators stopped blogging in 2012, but the info is still useful and specific to the Portland community.
There are plenty of private school open houses and tours you can take advantage of if you’d like to visit a school you’re interested in. PDX Parent offers a regularly updated list of open house dates and tours.
One last helpful tool is Portland Maps. Enter in your prospective address and you can view all kinds of zoning information including utility companies, nearby parks and, of course, the school district that home falls under.
Advanced and special needs programs
Oregon schools offer many fantastic programs to make sure your child is receiving the attention he or she needs.
- International Baccalaureate
- Immersion/Dual language programs
- Special needs
- A good place to start researching information for services to diverse learning programs is the Oregon Department of Education’s Student Services page. There you can find out about early education, secondary transition and other special education programs.
There are many more programs to explore. Check out the main pages of both the ODE and PPS sites to get a good overview of what kinds of programs are available in Portland and its surrounding communities.
What key factors are Affecting The Portland Public School System?
If you’re looking within the PPS district, you’ll run across some controversy, and a good deal of passion from local parents. It’s a complicated issue, but there are a couple of larger catalysts affecting the situation.
- In 1997, Oregon SAT scores were the best in the nation. That same year, Oregon voters passed measure 50, reducing property taxes and limiting future tax increases. Property taxes were the primary source of funding for public schools. The Great Recession further impacted school funding and it’s been a bit of a compacting issue ever since. In 2016, Oregon ranked 25th in SAT scoring with a 48% participation rate.
- Funding these days comes mostly from income tax which fluctuates much more than property tax. The Great Recession, and the subsequent dip in incomes, deeply impacted school funding.
- Administration Confusion
- A recent article by Bethany Barnes from The Oregonian calls PPS a “system without systems.” There is some confusion within the higher levels of administration and employees sometimes don’t know what they are responsible for.
- PPS is currently searching for a new superintendent to lead the school system after Carol Smith was let go following a scandal involving lead in PPS drinking water (the problem understandably receives plenty of news coverage, here’s a good overview).
What’s Next for Portland Education
The energy from the community has been helpful in creating resources for incoming families, such as the Scoop On Schools guide. It also helps to spur the school district forward as it implements changes to improve Portland schools.
The Oregonian article above explains some of the ways PPS is responding to its ailments. In August of 2016 Bob McKean, a veteran school administrator, was assigned as temporary superintendent and immediately started addressing problems. He has simplified the structure of the administration system and is working to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy.
Oregonians, who are known for being tax weary (no sales tax!), have been passing large bonds in Portland recently for school funding. One for $443 million in North Clackamas and another for $291 million in Tigard-Tualatin. There is another bond on the May ballot for $750 million in the PPS districts. These funds will be used to address issues ranging from overcrowding to school modernization.
Check the ‘resources’ section of this post for related articles concerning the efforts of Portlanders working to address school systems.
Cultivating success through relationships
Progress in Portland schools isn’t just in funding and department shake-ups. If you’re feeling a little disheartened by some of friction in PPS, look no farther than Oregon City High School. The 2,300 student school recorded 2,033 ‘F’s on report cards in 2014.
Using this stat as fuel for change, the school instituted a program focusing on building caring personal relationships with students. Leaning heavily into this philosophy with everything from hiring practices to having discrete mental health services available to students has produced a class of 2016 that left only 24 students still working to get a diploma.
Read the full article here.
Don’t forget about summer camp
Portland has some fantastic and unique extracurricular opportunities to supplement the traditional school year. One such organization is Trackers Portland. They offer great outdoor programs, with themes ranging from archery to blacksmithing, both during the summer and in year-long weekend formats.
For this author personally, when I moved away from my hometown at the age of 12, I retreated into a pre-teen fit of mopiness and self pity strong enough to make Eeyore blush. Sorry mom and dad. If my parents had told me I could attend a “Stealth, Archery and Wilderness Survival” or “Ranger’s Survival: Trackers Craft” camp, I would’ve been first in the U-Haul.
PDX Parent offers a guide to summer programs in the area that can be searched by age or activity if you’d like to shop around.
We hope you found some information helpful to you as you navigate the important question of finding a school in the Portland area. If you have questions or feedback, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Long a mess, Portland Public Schools starts to fix confusion at the top
Scoop on Schools
PPS Considers Big Ask For Voters: $750 Million
Ranking Portland’s Best Schools
PDX Parent – School Open Houses
PDX Parent – Summer Camp Guide
Portland Maps – zoning information
Oregon Department of Education
Portland Public Schools