The Equalizer

An Oregon school superintendent proposes a controversial plan to improve education for poor and minority students. Will it work?

Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith
Photo by Leah Nash, Willamette Week

In 2015, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Carole Smith proposed a bold and controversial plan to redraw school boundaries and shift enrollment patterns. Her goal: to fulfill a commitment she made to offer poor and minority children the same quality education that the district provides white, affluent children. For decades, writes Beth Slovic, “students in Portland Public Schools have inhabited a two-tiered system divided by black and white, and by rich and poor.”

As a result, economically disadvantaged students in Portland are far less likely than their middle-class peers to hit third-grade reading targets and graduate high school on time. And students from poor families too often end up in small schools that lack the funds to provide an academically challenging curriculum.

Slovic posits “six big questions” that city leaders, parents, educators and students need to ask Smith as she begins to challenge the status quo and shake things up in Portland in the name of equity.

This story appeared in Willamette Week, an alternative weekly serving Portland and the Willamette Valley, on January 13, 2015. It was updated on December 9, 2015.

Read Slovic’s story The Equalizer.

Beth Slovic is a staff writer at Willamette Week in Portland, Oregon, and a journalism instructor at Portland State University. She has been a staff writer at The Oregonian, and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle in Montana. She graduated from Amherst College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.