Friday, October 26, 2012

The Truth About Education Reform in Oregon: How Did We Get Here?

The Truth About Governor Kitzhaber's 

A History Lesson We Should Learn From and Protest

by Tom Olson
Oregon Save Our Schools
October 23, 2012

The essential question parents, teachers, and community members should be: "How did we get here?"

Oregon Save Our Schools has been following the OEIB and the NCLB Waiver process since its inception in 2011.  In a little over a year, education reforms have been moving swiftly and without much discussion across our state.  So swiftly, many educator, parents, and even legislators aren't sure what the ramifications will be of such changes.  And these changes are big.

Currently, across Oregon, forums are being held by the OEIB to hear what the public has to say about the OEIB's list of education funding priorities.  We at Oregon SOS are gravely concerned not only about the priorities the state and OEIB wishes to pursue, but that the public's input continues to be ignored so these state reforms can be steamrolled through.  

After attending the last three OEIB community input forums on education funding priorities, it is clear that the public is upset and appalled at the clear disconnect between what the OEIB and state want and what our students, parents, and schools need right now: immediate relief!  However, those in charge, such as Dr. Rudy Crew repeatedly refuse to discuss the funding problem we have here in Oregon.  To do so is irresponsible and negligent in their responsibility to provide our children with a quality education.  

So back to the key question: How did we get here?

Below you will find a narrative that answers that question.  Oregon SOS has attended every public OEIB meeting in order to understand what these changes mean for our state.  Here, we wish to provide a chronicle of the chain of events and circumstances that have gotten us to this point in Oregon education reform.  After reading, the next question to ask is:  

How do we change direction and get Oregon back on track to providing a quality, well-rounded education to all of Oregon's children?

Education Funding Forums Being Held By OEIB

The Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) is currently holding a series of "Education Funding" forums. The OEIB is Governor Kitzhaber's centralized "superboard" charged with overseeing all levels of Oregon’s public education. The Board was authorized by Senate Bill 909.

These latest Forums ask for public input on a new set of recommendations from the Board's "Education Funding Team."  Three Funding Team Forums have been held so far, and the overwhelming public response to the recommendations has been highly negative!


The OEIB members were appointed by Kitzhaber and confirmed by the Oregon Senate in November 2011.  These appointments were delayed for about a month because Kitzhaber’s first list of appointees failed to include a practicing K-12 teacher!  Negotiations in the legislature then resulted in adding the Oregon Education Association’s Vice President (a Beaverton physical education teacher) to the Board membership.

The current OEIB Funding Team recommendations are the latest in a series of proposals by the OEIB after a year’s work.  The most notable previous recommendation was the unfunded and unpopular “Achievement Compact” mandate passed, at Kitzhaber’s urging, by the Oregon legislature (Senate Bill 1581).    OEIB is currently also toying with a series of testing and  “Longitudinal Data System” recommendations emerging---at a projected cost of $50 million over the next two years.

Work on Kitzhaber’s “Educational Transformation” proposals began in 2011--well before the OEIB was appointed last November.  In spring of 2011, Kitzhaber appointed an “Education Investment Team.”   Members were hand-picked by the Governor. 

Then, late in summer 2011, Duncan Wyse, the head of the Oregon Business Council (OBC) engineered a set of so-called “Learnworks” recommendations.  The Oregon Business Council bankrolled this “Learnworks” group of 30 people with grants from several special-interest private corporate foundations. The Learnworks group was handpicked by Wyse, several consultants and the Governor.   A Governor’s spokesperson told me later that “Learnworks” was NOT a Governor-sponsored activity.   Consultants drove the Learnworks recommendations.  These consultants were economists from two private corporations,”EcoNorthwest” and “Public Strategies, Inc".  They ran the meetings and wrote the recommendations.

When Duncan Wyse presented the Learnworks report to the Investment Team in late summer 2011, he described the recommendations as "a great gift to the Oregon Community."    Kitzhaber, in the same meeting, said that these recommendations were a "great handoff" to his newly appointed hand-picked Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB).  Investment Team member Sue Levin, Oregon Director of Stand for Children gushed with enthusiasm, saying “This is truly revolutionary!  I was worried it wouldn’t be!”  Strangely, there were NO recommendations about a) how to deal with poverty’s barriers to learning, b) how to redress the $3 billion Quality Education Model funding gap, or c) how to reduce the major over-testing that plagues our schools.  Apparently the “revolution” that excited Levin didn’t need to address Oregon’s rank of 37th among the states in per pupil spending, nor the $3 billion Quality Education funding gap.

Tim Nesbitt, the Governor's "manager" of the Investment Team, then immediately took these privately-developed "Learnworks" recommendations to a Joint Hearing of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee and the House Committee on Education.  The presenters implied that the report had been endorsed by the Governor and Investment Team.  But, when pushed hard by a couple of the legislators, Nesbitt quickly backed off, and described the recommendations as "only ideas at this stage."  Legislators at the Joint Hearing raised many penetrating questions; received obtuse answers; and ended with bemused looks.

The Funding Team’s New Recommendations

Oregon Business Council’s Duncan Wyse, buttressed by a group of highly paid private consultants, has now led the work of the Funding Team—even though neither Duncan nor any of the consultants are members of the OEIB.

The central idea of the Funding Team is "outcomes based funding”.   At the Governor's order, that Team met in six secret meetings—each meeting directed by with a group of highly paid consultants.  These meetings, most likely to public meetings Law, were not open to any public observation--let alone comment. (See Salem Statesman-Journal, June 9, 2012 story)

It’s important to point out the Oregon Business Council had been working on this same untested "outcomes based funding " ideological scheme since 2008.  Between 2008 and 2011, OBC received a Gates Foundation and other private grants to flesh out ideas on "proficiency based" education and fleshing out a statewide approach to "outcomes-based funding".

So the “script” for the OEIB Funding Team recommendations was already written long before “Learnworks” or the current Funding Team recommendations. 

Here’s the the REAL meaning of what they propose as “outcomes based funding”:

  • They advance a  "private market" philosophy quoted in the Learnworks documents:  "The state will be the 'buyer' of outcomes; the local school districts will be 'sellers" of outcomes".   So we treat kids like widgets to be counted, and, if the count is good, the state will send some money your way.  If the widgets aren't up to snuff, then, schools, don't get paid as much.

  • Their central “lever” for reform is to overload our schools and teachers with more and more testing data.  Their "theory" for improvement?---create a tsunami flood of "data" to wash over our schools and teachers, and improvement will automatically happen.  And one of the Learnworks members actually told legislators in a Joint Hearing, “Teachers are just crying for more data!”  One skeptical legislator replied, “My, isn’t that sweet!”

  • They propose to wring more "efficiencies" out of our school districts' already dramatically shrunken budgets. One of their more questionable recommendations is to shift funding for special education and ELL programs to “block grants”.   In the economists’ zeal for more “efficiency,” they are concerned that serving our students with special learning needs costs more.  Yes, it does.  Why?  Because their learning needs are greater!   Yet, the EcoNorthwest and OBC “experts” (none of whom are educators) search to cut costs of special education and ELL even more (under the guise of “block grants”.)

  • They are recommending an immediate statewide implementation of "outcomes based funding" for public education.  OBC and its many consultants had a lot of help with this plan from A.L.E.C (The American Legislative Exchange Council, a private right-wing Koch brothers-sponsored group that writes and pushes "model" legislation aimed at cutting costs of education and bashing teachers).  Of course, Wyse and his economists conveniently ignored the fact this ideology has not been tried by any state.  This hasn't deterred the funding idealogues. They propose "full scale ahead" with statewide implementation---no “try outs,” no “bench testing”---nothing but full speed ahead with an untried ideaology.  But the only proposed “investments” are in more state bureaucratic structures---nothing that will directly help students and teachers in our local schools!

Here’s more about the members of the OEIB Education Funding Team (in addition to their “leader,” Duncan Wyse).   There are only two educators on the Funding Team.  David Rives, is President of Oregon's American Federation of Teachers, and Dan Jamison, is the retired superintendent of the Sherwood District.  Jamison retired from that position, and was immediately hired on to work for the Chalkboard project.  Jamison has been one of  Kitzhaber’s “transformation” advocates and has often spoken in favor of these schemes.

Pam Curtis is another Funding Team member.  She's Kitzhaber's lead advocate on the early childhood initiative.  Unlike proposals for reform in K-12, community colleges and higher education, the early childhood education proposals are yet not widely publicized.  

Julia Meyer is the final member.  She's Coordinator of the Coalition of Communities of Color in Portland.  I can only wonder if Ms. Meyer thinks these "Outcomes Based Funding" recommendations will actually help students from communities of color—when the Funding recommendations are silent about how the state can and should make an all-out attack on removing poverty’s barriers to learning.

Also, recognize this.  The same economists from EcoNorthwest and "facilitators" from Public Strategies, who in 2011 "facilitated" and wrote the private Learnworks group recommendations have now been hired to "facilitate" and write the Education Funding Team recommendations.  The state handed these consultants a large $225,000 contract to run the recent secret Education Funding Team meetings.  Competitive bidding procedures for making this award are unclear.   But, the large contract authorizes up to $300 per hour for the consultants--all of this to direct and write up 6 secret Funding Team meetings?   That calculates to $37,500 consultant cost per meeting!!!  We have received a copy of the detailed contract through a public records request.  We have analyzed it in great detail.   The contract includes consultant time estimates for each task in their "scope of work.”  There are three major faults in this contract: 

a) They have overpriced their tasks (example…. the consultants estimated they would need to spend almost a full week of consultant time to prepare for  their first meeting with a single person, the Governor's Education Policy Advisor.) 

b) The consultants promised to interview state agency people they arrogantly call "bidders" for state money.”   And, of course, the consultants will use their own interpretations to write up the results of these interviews

c) Out of the total 2,107 hours the consultants estimate they’ll need  to run and write-up these 6 secret Funding Team meetings, they only propose to devote 48 hours to "interview key stakeholders"!  This equates to 0.02 % of their to effort to engage any "outsiders".


Oregon citizens, we conclude with one question.  Are you satisfied with this effort at “education transformation?   If not, please join Oregon Save Our Schools and demand the Governor, CEO Rudy Crew and the OEIB  make a major “mid course” correction in their flawed proposals.  Ask them to begin really “ investing” directly in our students, teachers and schools!

Contact for source documents substantiating the facts cited in this document.


  1. Thanks, Tom, for laying out what's at stake for Oregon's public education system.

  2. This takeover is everywhere. I moved from Oregon to NC because I was laid off. North Carolina is a cautionary tale, and--at the risk of sounding rude--I invite your readers to read our (my) story:

  3. Hi Kris,

    Many of us have read your "I Quit" piece and it resonated on so many levels. We will check out your site. Oregon SOS is also on Facebook, and we encourage you to keep up to date with what is up in Oregon through that too. Yes, the takeover is everywhere, for sure. Many in Oregon SOS have been following this for several years and noticed trends outside or our state borders. Hopefully, Oregon would have seen this coming, but it came on so fast and without much questioning. We at Oregon SOS are the only group right now tracking and questioning the corporate education reform trend here in Oregon. Keep in touch.