If you are the parent of a student who currently is in 5th or 8th grade, then you could be facing a major decision about which school to send your child to next year.
Students in 8th grade will be moving up to high school next September, while students in 5th grade will be moving into the middle school years. And even if your child attends a K-8 school, you can apply to the school district for a transfer to a middle school instead.
"Families have a lot of choices in Portland, more than in most places," says Judy Brennan, director of family support and school choice for Portland Public Schools. "The first thing we suggest advise families to do is to find out about their neighborhood school."
Here is how it works. Students always have a place at their neighborhood school. If you don't know which school you are assigned to you can find out by entering your address into the school locator on the PPS Web site. In fact, you can find all kinds of information on the Web site including which programs are offered at each school and detailed information about the student populations at each of Portland's high schools.
If you and your student decide to continue in your assigned neighborhood school, you don't have to do anything. But if you want to send your student to a different school, you can apply through the school choice lottery.
For 8th graders the lottery period runs from Jan. 23 through Feb. 27. For 5th graders the lottery period starts Jan. 30 and runs through March 13. Results of the lottery are mailed about six weeks later with April 10 and May 1 as the target dates for each group.
If you are considering entering the lottery you should know two important facts.
First, there is no guarantee that your child will "win" the lottery and get into the school of their choice.
"Because it is a lottery just like Powerball, you have a chance, but you have no guarantee of getting into the school you want," Brennan says. "That's just the reality – that there just isn't much space at the high interest schools."
Second, some programs require you to attend an information meeting in order to apply for the program. The meeting list will be available on the PPS Web site Jan. 23.
Some Portland schools are highly popular but have very few transfer places, meaning only a small number of those who apply through the lottery will get in.
Several factors increase students' chances of "winning" the lottery. Having a brother or sister at the school is taken into consideration. Chances also are higher if your neighborhood school has been designated a "No Child Left Behind" school. For example, students assigned to Roosevelt and Jefferson high schools, which are NCLB schools, have priority in the school choice lottery over students assigned to Lincoln, Franklin or Madison, which are not NCLB schools. Students at NCLB schools also can get help with transportation.
If you are offered a place at a school other than your neighborhood school, you have 10 days to refuse the placement. If you don't turn it down, your student will be assigned to that school. If you decide to turn down the place, you still are guaranteed a place at your neighborhood school.
Brennan stresses that parents should visit schools to make sure the environment and the program is right for their students. Schools will be holding open nights and other events soon for prospective students and their families. Details will be posted on each school's Web site.
In offering the lottery, PPS administrators are simply carrying out policy set by the school board. Parents lobbied the board for choice after the No Child Left Behind legislation required school districts to allow students in schools with low test scores to transfer out. But the school choice lottery is controversial. School equity advocates say it concentrates poverty and increases segregation of schools in poor and minority neighborhoods. That's because better-off families with time to advocate for their students and the resources to send them to other schools, look for schools with better test results and more electives. The result is a flight of middle class families from poorer schools – pushing down enrollment, removing money for electives and leaving behind the most disadvantaged children.
"It too (PPS transfer policy) robs poorer neighborhood schools of students, money, and staffing, increases segregation, and exacerbates inequities in the programs schools are able to offer," writes Terry Olson on his blog.
For help with transfer issues contact the PPS transfer and enrollment staff at 503-916-3205 or visit www.pps.k12.or.us and click on the enrollment and transfer button.