The start of school is an opportunity for new beginnings, reconnecting with friends and teachers, and setting goals. And yet for Portland Public Schools’ older students, it appears we’re entering the fourth year running of part-time high school, with a majority of students forecast for late arrival, early dismissal or non-academic study halls.

The class of 2015, above all others, has been fully penalized for PPS’s failed experiment of “less is more.”

Take those headed for community college: many will have to pay for remedial math and science courses first. Those positioned to apply to four-year universities will likely find themselves less prepared for college entrance exams than their peers in other states. Such dismal statistics point to the need for more time with teachers and in class.

And yet Grant, Madison, Franklin, Wilson, Lincoln, and Cleveland will open without enough teachers to provide the state-mandated minimum amount of instruction per year. Promises to add teachers in October — late and disruptive timing — amount to a dodge.

During 2012-13, only 17 percent of Portland high schoolers attended school for a full day. Principals were forced to shorten the school day for juniors and seniors during the very years those students should have been ramping up. That inched up to 30 percent last year, after the Parents Coalition mobilized, bringing student stories out in public.

Unfortunately, 2014-15 will likely show incremental improvement, with PPS providing only about half of all high school students with what Oregon calls the bare minimum of instruction (which, as an aside, ranks low nationally). July forecasting data, called “preliminary and incomplete” by PPS, has students “underenrolled”: for example, only 43 percent of Cleveland freshmen, and fewer than 10 percent of all seniors attending our large comprehensive high schools, are slated for a full day of school.

Some School Board members argue that students “aren’t interested in taking a full schedule.” Scratch the surface and you will find that PPS fosters that mind-set by staffing high schools inadequately, leaving principals unable to offer engaging courses and troubleshooting how to best cope with the hundreds of teens who will be out on the streets for hefty chunks of the day, shortchanged by the system once again.

While the Parents Coalition awaits real follow-through on Superintendent Carole Smith’s 2013 commitment to build a framework for staffing high schools sufficiently, we allow that this past year saw positive shifts: 1) PPS improved its communications with families, at our request; and 2) limited teaching staff was added to high schools. Note: many of those additional teachers are likely going toward reducing workload — a good thing, but not one that allows students access to a full day of school.

All this points to what could be another year of disappointing decisions and lack of investment in a group of students who arguably have already paid too steep a price for the district’s unwillingness to own up to mistakes made, disinvestments allowed and excuses encouraged.

Add teachers now, and make part-time high school the exception, not the rule.

Mike Rosen, Monique McClean, Lisa Zuniga and Tracy Barton are Portland high school parents and representatives of the Parents Coalition.

Contract Publishing

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