Monday, May 7, 2012

The Disconnect

By Steve Buel

There is a huge disconnect between the budget cuts that have taken place in district after district in Oregon and the educational plan Governor Kitzhaber has embarked upon.

Actually there are three strands that are simultaneously taking place in Oregon education circles. First is the effort by the state department of education to obtain a waiver from NCLB. Certain things are required, but the state, including the Governor’s advisors, have some latitude in what is included in Oregon’s plan. At the same time the Governor and the Oregon Education Investment Board are pushing Achievement Compacts which are based upon data including the high stakes testing which permeates Oregon’s schools. Some parts of these two efforts overlap. The third strand is the large budget cuts which are taking place at the local level. Some districts are making large cuts for the fourth straight year. People are up in arms. They are losing programs, teachers, and increasing class sizes. In some cases a lot of teachers. Over 300 in Beaverton, over 100 in Portland. Millions of dollars in some districts.

But while parents, teachers and district administrators worry about the loss of librarians, counselors, music, PE, electives, closed schools, teachers of all sorts, and increasing class sizes, the Governor and his advisors talk about more data collection, a common core curriculum, achievement compacts, teacher evaluation changes, and more use of standardized testing.

So while local communities are angry over things which directly impact children the Governor and his advisors take part in intellectual exercises which don’t directly affect children and then push more top down programs onto already overburdened school districts.

In essence, their top down approach is totally disconnected to the realities of Oregon’s schools.

One thing the Governor and the OEIB could do is separate the necessities of the waiver from the Governor’s plans. Yes, we need to do the waiver they could argue, but we also understand we need real help with programs which have a direct affect on children. So pursue the waiver but begin to tie their plan directly to what is actually happening in the schools. This means no more effort on things which the school reformers love (for many reasons, not the least of which is they make money or justify their organizations need for grant money) like data collection, common curriculum, standardized testing (which they mistakenly call achievement), teacher evaluations and a whole mess of alternative educational options which make people money at the expense of the public schools.

Unless the Governor and the OEIB begin to make their plans directly relevant to the classroom and get serious about revenue and tax reform we will see several more lean years in Oregon’s education just like OregonSOS predicted when we fought SB1581.