Table of Contents:   


Pre-K-12 Schools


back  |  next


Portlanders cherish their public schools and want quality public education
readily available to every pre-k-12 student.

Section Summary

Portlanders cherish their public schools, respect the hard work of educators and hold an unwavering commitment that all young people receive a high quality education. To that end, they call for increased community involvement and financial investment in public schools.

Respondents especially value their neighborhood schools, and many advocate reinventing them as multiple-use facilities that unite communities. A number of Portlanders are troubled by the practice of parents removing their children from neighborhood schools because they believe it weakens the public school system and creates racial and economic segregation. A smaller group of respondents appreciates being able to choose high performing schools, charter schools and private schools for their children.

Community members often raise their concern over educational inequity, particularly for students of color, those with special needs, low-income children and youth, immigrants and refugees. They want equal opportunity for educational attainment and diverse, engaging learning environments that meet the needs of all children.

Respondents are concerned that, in addition to cost of living, the school system is a major reason families are moving to the suburbs, and they promote improving the quality of pre-K-12 schools as a way to attract and keep families in Portland

Summary of Main Ideas

  1. Improving the quality of pre-K-12 public education is a top priority.
  2. Portlanders generally appreciate educational choice.
  3. A thriving public school system will keep families in Portland.
  4. High quality teachers are essential to achieving educational excellence.
  5. Schools should be inclusive and supportive of all children.
  6. Every student should have access to diverse and engaging learning opportunities.
  7. Portlanders want accountability for student achievement levels, but they question the effectiveness of standardized tests.
  8. A community-wide discussion is needed to better define educational objectives and priorities.

Summary of Tensions and Disagreements

  1. Should Portland offer greater school choice or prioritize systemic reform?
  2. Opinions differ on the purpose of public education and how to measure its success.


  1. Improving the quality of preK-12 public education is a top priority.
  • Many express concern about the state of Portland’s public schools.
  • Portlanders want the city to lead and innovate in education—as it does in many other areas—serving as a national example of educational excellence in which every student is equipped with the skills and abilities to succeed in higher education and in the workforce.
“We moved to Portland … because we thought the schools were good but have seen them go downhill in the time we’ve been here.”

  1. Portlanders generally appreciate educational choice.
  • Respondents value the diversity of educational opportunities offered by magnet, charter and special-focus schools, including language immersion programs, arts programs and environment-focused programs.
  • There is widespread support for the Schools Uniting Neighborhoods (SUN) schools and their associated programs.
  • Many believe magnet and special-focus schools provide greater opportunities for academic excellence.
  • Parents appreciate charter schools for their immediate impacts, and often choose them over waiting for system-wide change to trickle down to their neighborhood school.
  • Those who oppose school choice and charter schools do so because they believe underprivileged communities, low-income neighborhoods and the overall public school system are weakened when parents choose to remove their children from neighborhood schools.
  • A smaller portion of respondents actively support the school choice program and view the policy as a major strength of the Portland Public School District.
“Our reason for living in Portland is so that my daughter can attend the Chinese Immersion Program at Woodstock Elementary School.”

“[I want] a bigger and broader commitment to educating our best and brightest, with multiple charter schools for bright kids.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Maintain and expand SUN schools.

  1. A thriving public school system will keep families in Portland.
  • Portlanders are concerned that perceptions of poor school quality are leading families to either move to the suburban fringes or place their children in private schools.
  • Many believe that enhancing educational quality is essential if the city is to remain an appealing place for families to live (see Urban Livability: Family Friendly and Social Issues: Family/Youth).
  • Portlanders link quality schools to housing, believing that availability of family-friendly, affordable housing boosts public school enrollment and the tax base necessary for successful schools.
  • Some suggest reinvesting in or rethinking neighborhood schools—making them the hub of community activity—to attract families to close-in neighborhoods.
“Families are moving out into the suburbs where housing is affordable, leaving only the ‘well to do families’ and poor families here in the Portland Public Schools district. Well, it doesn’t take much genius to see that the ‘well to do families’ are sending their children to private schools which is a catalyst in the hindrance of our city.”

“I’m saddened and frustrated by the struggles experienced in the school system right now and feel overwhelmed by the number of people choosing to move out of the city.”

“Our schools are failing because all of the kids are moving away. We need to get families to move back and provide excellent education.”

"We love our neighborhood but want a high quality, stable education for our children. Even as much as I love my house and my neighborhood, if faced with a decision we will move ourselves out of Portland and into a school district that provides the quality of education we are looking for.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. “Create an aggressive multi-faceted strategy to keep the city family friendly, including excellence in public K-12 education.”
  2. Increase affordable housing options for families as an incentive to keep them from moving to the suburbs.
  3. Businesses should financially support public schools.

  1. High quality teachers are essential to achieving educational excellence.
  • Many respondents want to attract and maintain quality teachers by providing them with the following resources:
    • Appropriate compensation (salary and benefits);
    • Adequate educational resources and tools;
    • Supportive work environments;
    • Access to training; and
    • Manageable class sizes and workload.
  • Some Portlanders suggest increasing teacher quality by paying them based on performance as a way to reward good teachers and motivate those that need improvement.
“I value education and it is very hard to feel this way if we keep on losing teachers at the Portland Public Schools.”

“Make good teachers want to teach here, not afraid of it.”

“Remember your favorite teacher? I bet you learned more in that class than any other class you took. We need more teachers like that.”

  1. Schools should be inclusive and supportive of all children.
  • Portlanders worry that neighborhood schools are segregated by race and income level.
  • They want to address the disparity in educational attainment between white students and students of color, and urge the development and implementation of means to ensure the educational success of low-income and minority students.
  • The learning environment should incorporate opportunities for all types of learners, including those with disabilities, special needs or a limited knowledge of the English language.
  • A few Portlanders suggest school uniforms as a way to make the learning environment more equal for children of differing economic backgrounds.
  • A small number of respondents request time and space in public schools for prayers (this was true of Christian and Muslim respondents) and more religious influence in schools generally.
“I want ALL students to succeed. We need to improve support for low-income and minority students in Portland’s public schools.”

"I want inclusive schools. Stop the segregation of children with disabilities.”

“More ESL resources for public school students.”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Cultivate mentorship opportunities for minority students.

  1. Every student should have access to diverse and engaging learning opportunities.
  • There is widespread agreement that every student should have access to a rich and engaging educational curriculum, including foreign language options, art, music, physical education, environmental education and access to technology and innovative educational tools.
  • Many respondents want to enhance high school learning options and environments with internships, apprenticeships, credit-based work experiences, vocational training and school-to-work opportunities.
  • All students should have the opportunity to take part in community service and informative, hands-on learning experiences.
  • After-school programs are valued as important tools to keep children and youth engaged in positive activities that help them learn.
  • Respondents want to ensure equal access to safe and supervised after school education and recreation.
"Encourage the community to support schools more through internships.”

“Students need more than writing, reading and math. They need art, music, PE and other creative outlets that allow them to discover who they are and become functional adults with great things to contribute to society.”

“[I would like] every child to receive an exiting, stimulating and creative education, such that they want to graduate from high school and maybe go to college.”

“Support kids staying in school (after school programs, college incentives, etc.)”

Sample Strategies:

  1. Fund programs that enhance the learning experience, such as language immersion programs, special education, internships, after school activities and early education programs.
  2. Develop programs that provide children an opportunity to learn about locally grown food.

  1. Portlanders want accountability for student achievement levels, but they question the effectiveness of standardized tests.
  • Respondents value accountability, but are concerned over current models that fixate solely on the results of standardized testing to measure student achievement.
  • The effectiveness of these models is called into question and a broad view of student achievement that goes beyond testing is desired.
  • Some believe that test-based accountability devalues critical thinking and other important skills in favor of the basic content knowledge that can measured on standardized tests.
“I would love to see … more teachers being allowed to teach a curriculum rather than teaching to tests.”

“Teach critical thinking not just how to take a test!”

“Hopefully, the national obsession with standardized testing will abate in the next 20 years, so that teachers can focus on creative lesson planning and emergent curriculum, and stop teaching to the test.”

  1. A community-wide discussion is needed to better define educational objectives and priorities.
  • Many want school officials to engage in a community-wide conversation that includes students, parents, businesses, government, community members and organizations to clearly determine and prioritize what students need to learn and what skills they need to acquire to be successful in the 21st Century.
  • Respondents define educational objectives in terms of intellectual, social and career development, and young people’s development as productive community members and leaders.
  • Portlanders often mention wanting the school curriculum to change; comments ranged from focusing more on Portland values (such as sustainability and civics/volunteerism) to concentrating on the fundamentals of reading, writing and math.
  • Respondents would also like to see the high school learning experience better aligned with higher education and workforce needs.
“High school students need to be prepared for the changing demands of the workplace. They need to be taught the skills of the day!"

“As a recent mom, I want a school district with … a dynamic and unique curriculum that matches our local love of nature and civics.”

“We need a better vision for schools and what we want our children to learn.”

“The public school system is broken … and is not developing the type of citizen students that will be essential to maintain our economic and political viability. I want to see a real discussion on completely redesigning the schools system from the bottom up. Portland should start the trend towards looking at how schools should be organized for future needs instead of continuously patching a system that most acknowledge as untenable for the long term.”



  1. Should Portland offer greater school choice or prioritize systemic reform?

    Portlanders disagree about whether greater school choice is a solution to the school crisis or part of the problem. The majority of respondents mention wanting systemic public school reform—from updating curriculum to stabilizing school funding—with the aim of improving education for all. These Portlanders want the focus placed on a well-performing, functional system.

    Others want an expansion of charter schools, magnet schools and school choice, believing that equity in education only comes with school options. This group values the specialized schools that already exist in the Portland area, and they foresee a need to expand them to offer this type of educational experience to more students.

  1. Opinions differ on the purpose of public education and how to measure its success.

    Respondents have varying perspectives on the purpose public education should serve—ideas range from teaching youth about morals and incorporating religion, to lessons about civics and community service, to developing greater critical thinking skills, to enhancing qualities that help young people become the next generation to drive our local economy.

    The disagreement over public education's role becomes clear when Portlanders discuss how to measure its success. One of the more pronounced disagreements over measurement comes with the idea of school testing. Many are concerned about how the national trend toward standardized tests affects our local schools and what curriculum options are diminished by the time taken for test preparation. They want teachers to focus on developing students' critical thinking skills and/or preparing young peope for the workforce. Another group would like to see our schools attain educational excellence, and believe that the way to prove student success on a local, national and even international level is through testing.

back  |  next

Economy | Education | Environment | Government | Health | Safety | Social Issues | Transportation | Urban Livability


Vision into Action / 1900 SW 4th, Suite 7100 / Portland, Oregon 97204 / Phone: (503) 823-9585