Audit finds racial disparity in outcomes at Portland schools

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — There was an achievement gap of more than 50 percent between white students and black students in Oregon's largest school district, Portland Public Schools, according to an audit released Wednesday by the state Secretary of State's office found.

The year-long audit also found similar achievement discrepancies for Hispanic, Native American and low-income students. The report blamed the results on the fact that schools with the most vulnerable students faced chronic turnover among principals and teachers; that the district doesn't monitor its spending on programs to help those students closely enough and that it spends more on support services such as administration, substitute teachers, benefits and school buses than it does on instruction.

Teachers in the district's high-poverty schools were absent an average of one-month out of a nine-month school year and most absences fell on Fridays and Mondays. Not all of the teachers are always replaced by substitutes, leading to uneven instruction, the audit found.

The audit found an achievement gap between white and black students of 53 percent, versus a statewide average discrepancy of 29 percent. Nineteen percent of black third-graders met or exceeded the standard in Portland schools and 34 percent of Hispanic third-graders did so.

"Portland Public Schools has more funding per student than all Oregon peer districts and more than many national peer districts, yet management challenges and an inconsistent focus on performance are hurting students and teachers, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson said in announcing the findings.

The report also flagged excessive spending on retirement parties and gifts, including $13,000 to rent a Portland Spirit river cruise ship and money spent on crystal retirement gifts and leis shipped from Hawaii.

Portland Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero told reporters it's important to provide extra training, support, and pay to principals and teams of strong teachers at high-needs schools so they will stick around.

"This is going to take some work. But it's work we've already embarked on," he told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Guerrero said he had "begun the conversation" with the teachers union.

Leaders of that union refused to speak with state auditors.

School board member Julia Brim-Edwards and board chair Rita Moore both took issue with the state's audit, contending it gives an outdated picture of their district, the newspaper said. Guerrero's arrival and their election to the school board are part of a change in direction, they said.

Meanwhile, Portland schools compare favorably to other districts both in and out of the state when it comes to white students who aren't low-income.


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