Questioning Social-Emotional Learning

Why should parents trust PPS to provide effective social-emotional learning (SEL) to students when PPS cannot get students to read and do math at grade level?

At the beginning of March, I watched current PPS board members participate in a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lesson currently taught at PPS. The demo was a lesson from CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) that was focused on anger. CASEL is a national purveyor of SEL curriculum. Its business is to “support states, districts, and schools nationwide and convene leading thinkers to ensure SEL is a priority in every school nationwide.” PPS is using CASEL’s curriculum to guide SEL learning in PPS schools. 

According to PDK (Phi Kappa Delta), an international education journal, since the 2015 passage of “Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal education law that allows states to use one nonacademic measure for accountability….(CASEL) one of the leading SEL organizations has seized the moment and launched initiatives to push states and districts to adopt.” The article explores the heated debate among educators about the effectiveness of the SEL curriculum.

To measure a school’s SEL climate PPS uses Panorama. Panorama, a Boston-based start-up company launched in 2011 by two Yale undergraduates, received seed funding from Google and the Chan/Zuckerberg Education Foundation. There are student privacy concerns with how Panorama uses this information because our student data is stored in their databases.  

Here are the posted samples of The 5th-grade survey, which has 43 questions, and the middle/high school survey, which has 49 questions. These questions are repetitive and overly focused on finding out what specific vulnerable characteristics students get bullied about. Parents concerned about standardized testing may find many of these survey questions problematic.

If you’re interested in knowing how Panorama rates your school, you can check PPS data on Panorama’s website. One highlight that won’t surprise most parents is that only 51% of elementary students and 21% of middle and high school students find PPS schools engaging. 

The bottom line is SEL is more of an investment opportunity than a proven education strategy.  Since the passage of ESSA, think tanks, philanthropic organizations, and venture-capital firms are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to support and eventually take advantage of SEL implementation opportunities. In 2015, NPR reported that school districts are spending 30 billion dollars a year on SEL. SEL is sponsored by giant corporations. Here are the funders for  CASEL and Panorama

While I believe schools need to provide social and emotional support for our schools, I am concerned that the curriculum is replacing cultural practices, common sense, and competent counselors. The questions the board needs to know are: How much does this curriculum cost? Is it effective?  Is the curriculum more important than providing our elementary and middle school students with engaging electives and extracurricular activities? 

Again, if PPS is failing to teach students to read and do math at grade level, why should parents entrust PPS to provide effective social and emotional learning to our kids? 

Ethics Matter

One reason I entered the school board race was PPS’s anemic response to the Secretary of State audit. Fearing public outrage, my opponent claimed the audit was “overtly political.”

The audit was not a political hit job. The audit was written by Scott Learn, a respected journalist with the Oregonian and past candidate for Multnomah County auditor. Also, he is a Certified Public Account who worked at Price Waterhouse conducting financial audits. 

In Jan. 2019, Dennis Richardson, the Oregon Secretary of State, wrote an op-ed for the Portland Skanner, an African-American newspaper, summarizing the audit’s findings. His op-ed is clear, concise, and provides a road map to improving our school. A month later, Dennis Richardson died from brain cancer. 

With seemingly little regard for ethics, my opponent took a central role in establishing his interim replacement: Bev Clarno. Sec. Clarno quickly ousted aides critical of PPS. My opponent put politics ahead of being accountable to our students. In April 2019, she stepped down after having successfully retaliated against critics of PPS. 

My opponent has played a key role in PPS’s poor follow-through in response to the audit. After writing a 27-page response, PPS created a two-page excel sheet to track the progress of implementing the recommendations. PPS has only implemented two of the 15 recommendations and there have been no updates since December 2019! 

While my opponent espouses the benefits of conducting audits, she rejects being subjected to them. The Secretary of State audit detailed alarming issues that need to be addressed, not buried. As a lobbyist for Nike, my opponent excels at politics and fundraising, but she has failed as a school board member. 

PPS is the largest school district in Oregon, we should be setting the standard in education. Instead, we have the largest achievement gap in the state. My four step-plan addresses these issues by taking ownership of the problems, establishing clear goals, and implementing an improvement plan. 

If elected, I will respond to fair audits and criticism with responsible leadership, not play political games. As a school board member, I will work with the Superintendent and other board members to make sure we are accountable to our students.

Our students deserve more black teachers

My daughter, a soon-to-be PPS eighth-grader, has had only one black teacher. This makes me sad because black teachers and principals played a central role in my education. I went to school at East Hills Elementary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the 1980s, many white parents bused their kids to black schools.

My elementary Principal was Mr. Richard Nicklos. As a first-grader, I remember his kindness when I was sent to his office for fighting a kid who teased me about my freckles. At my fifth grade graduation, he surprised me with The Principal’s AwardJune 7, 1985, same day that Goonies was released–my mom cried proud tears. My second-grade teacher, Ms. Garret, saw my horrible handwriting and recommended that my parents teach me how to type. By fourth grade, I was typing all of my written assignments.

In middle school, Dr. Lightfoot (Dean of Students), Ms. Qualls (Language Arts), Dr. Holmes (PE, Health, and Soccer Coach), and Mr. Murray (Science) improved my writing, my sportsmanship, and my thinking.

In high school, Mr. Roebuck would read aloud any notes he caught being passed in his Social Studies class. Ms. Coates taught algebra 2 to me and other struggling sophomores. My principal Mr. Fisher shaped generations of Pittsburgh students. In fact, Nobel Prize winner, Frances Arnold, saved a note he sent to her parents warning about her expulsion for skipping class.

At Ohio University, Dr. Frank Henderson, a brilliant political science professor, taught political theory with zest and gusto. He challenged convention, incited classroom debates, and had really hard tests. He encouraged me to spend my Junior year abroad and wrote a letter of recommendation for my application to study in Wales.

The teachers I had growing up shaped and challenged my thinking. In college, I took courses in Black Political Thought and Black Media to challenge my intellect and expand my perspective.

PPS can do better. If elected, it is my goal to get more black teachers in our schools.