Friday, November 30, 2012

Governor Kitzhaber: Think Finland Not Oregon Business Plan

Finland is number one in the world when it comes to public education.  And all of Oregon's leaders, parents, teachers, and students should be asking why.

Oregonians seem to want more Finland, less No Child Left Behind, and less GERM.

This is supported by hearing and reading the public testimony made in response to the state's Education Funding Team (who, by the way,  met in secret rather than in public to make their list of priorities).

(read links to 11/7)
Community Forum Briefing
Community Forum Testimony Email
Community Forum Testimony Submitted at Location

Community voices mentioned small class sizes, strong school libraries, the importance of counselors, well-rounded education, less if not disappearance of standardized testing, affordable college tuition, and adequate funding.  In other words, more like Finland.

Instead, the public was ignored as noted in this Oregonian article dated November 7, 2012:

"But in a series of public hearings on those ideas, parents, educators and others mainly   ignored those strategies. Instead, more than 1,000 testified, and overhwhelmingly, they complained about big classes, high tuition, lack of counselors and many other things they see lacking in their schools and colleges."

The real questions that should have been at the forefront of any financial decision should have been this:  how much of the funding is going directly into our children's classrooms and schools to effect learning and benefit kids.  What are successful school models like Finland doing and what can we learn from them?  What does our public want and how do we fund it in a stable way?  How do we "take care of our own"?

Instead, none of this is found in Kitzhaber's plan.
Instead the Governor wants to have districts compete for money and prove what supposedly 'works.' Which then begs the question, "How is "what works" measured?"  Currently, for most students up until later in high school, it is standardized tests, and with the new Common Core State Standards, this will cost the state even more money.  Why not trust teachers to develop and judge assessments for their students?

Per the Oregonian article of Nov. 30th, 2012:

"He (Kitzhaber) said the money won't necessarily be spread evenly on a per-student basis, as most Oregon school funding is. He said school districts might have to compete for grants or that his chief education officer, Rudy Crew, might make discretionary awards."

How is this okay?  Shouldn't the state provide equal funding across the state and then add more for schools of poverty to equalize the playing field?  This is what Finland, the top education system in the world does.  Pasi Sahlberg on his blog post of April 22, 2012, states:

"First of all, although Finland can show the United States what equal opportunity looks like, Americans cannot achieve equity without first implementing fundamental changes in their school system. The following three issues require particular attention.
  • Funding of schools: Finnish schools are funded based on a formula guaranteeing equal allocation of resources to each school regardless of location or wealth of its community.
  •  Well-being of children: All children in Finland have, by law, access to childcare, comprehensive health care, and pre-school in their own communities. Every school must have a welfare team to advance child happiness in school.
  • Education as a human right: All education from preschool to university is free of charge for anybody living in Finland. This makes higher education affordable and accessible for all.
As long as these conditions don’t exist, the Finnish equality-based model bears little relevance in the United States."

This blog post by Salvatore Balbones also notes the strengths and values of the Finnish education model and how schools are funded:

"We could learn a thing or two from a country that consistently beats us on all those tests we seem to care so much about: Finland.  Finland has local control with national funding.  The poorer the district, the greater the national funding.  Finnish education encourages local experimentation by freeing local districts to focus on education rather than fundraising."

The other insult to the teaching profession, and other public employees, is the Governor's insistance that the funding will only work if there is reform to the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).  What about corporate tax reform instead? The state cannot continue to try to create a budget on the backs of its public employees.  How is that good for our economy and public education?  In Finland, teachers are highly-trained, treated with respect, paid adequately, and are trusted to educate the children of their country.

Our Governor is clearly out of touch with the voices of the community who strongly opposed the Education Funding Team's recommendations on funding priorities. Rather than ask the experts such as teachers, parents, and students, Gov. Kitzhaber has surrounded himself with voices of the business community to make education policy decisions.  He feels Oregon's education system has to prove its worth to the business community instead of the other way around.

Our public education system is being set up for a corporate education reform takeover.  Time is running short, and we have to take it back.

It will take us contacting our legislators and demanding a resounding 'NO' most of the the Governor's recommendations.

We need to remind our Governor that this is a democracy, and he won't take our public education system without a fight. 

And we want more Finland because they get it right.

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