Losing Choice in the Portland Public Redesign

The Portland Public School District is considering a redesign that would close Marshall High School, convert Benson from a four-year vocational magnet into a two-year technical program, and eliminate most families’ option to transfer to other district schools. The plan is to make every neighborhood school big enough to support a wider variety of classes by keeping neighborhood children in their local schools.

This will trap many kids in schools that don’t serve their needs. Families with means will move close to the school that best fits their children’s needs. Families without means will be left behind, creating more inequity for the neediest families.

The perfect example of school failure today is Jefferson High School, which already has lost three quarters of its neighborhood kids to other schools. Those who remain are performing dismally, despite decades of school reforms.

Yet, the district superintendent wants to remove students’ educational options and force them to go to a failing school, on a promise that it will get better. Similar promises have been made in the past, never to materialize. Why should parents be forced to invest their children in an unproven experiment when there are many successful schools in Portland? Rather than eliminate choice, district leaders would be wise to listen to the demands of parents by observing where they send their kids and what is already working. Then, they should get out of the way and let families make these all-important decisions.

Christina Martin is a policy analyst for the School Choice Project at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.