Friday, October 19, 2012

Education Funding Priorities Start With Us

Thursday night.   A long line of people arriving to sign in to testify to the OEIB about funding priorities for our state.  Over 45 people spoke out at a packed meeting of roughly 200 people at the now defunct Marshall High School.  Ah, the irony.   And that irony wasn't missed by the public.   

Only one OEIB member was in attendance, Hanna Vaandering of the Oregon Education Association--the only teacher out of 12 on the board.  Dr. Rudy Crew sent a video clip of himself to give the audience an intro to the purpose of the Funding Priorities list.  Two members of his staff were there as well taking feedback from the audience.

For two minutes at a time for nearly two hours, speech after speech was made by the public advocating with much passion for something different than the ridiculous list put out by the Education Funding Team, a team who met in secret to come up with the list of priorities.  In secret. 

Based on the testimony, it was clear that the public (made up of many teachers, parents, and students) could have saved them a whole lot of time, money and energy in offering suggestions for the EFT as it was clear there was a complete disconnect.  The public called for:  smaller class sizes, well-rounded programs to include  librarians and counselors, and end to expensive high-stakes testing, more Special Education services, early childhood support,  making college affordable, trusting teachers, investing in creating modern schools, keeping corporate interests out of our public schools, giving teachers more time to plan and collaborate, and of course, increasing funding for education.  One speaker told them to go back to the drawing board as the list was clearly not created by parents and teachers.  Another teacher invited them into her school classrooms to see what teachers, students, and the teaching conditions are really like-- hoping that maybe that would help in designing education more realistic funding priorities.  Other teachers and parents noted their children were in classes with excessive class sizes: 40-56-60!   Others often reiterated that we are in crisis and that the state must address this now.

In Eugene earlier in the week and in Hermiston, the same message rang through:  listen to your public, and work on funding schools, not reinventing them.   We do not need to fund any more bureaucracy.  Money needs to get to our schools and classrooms, not to items like longitudinal data systems which will cost up to 50 million dollars.

The question now is: will the OEIB really listen?

Below is the passionate speech by one of Oregon Save Our School founders, Susan Barrett.  Her speech earned a standing ovation.

Susan Barrett's testimony to the Oregon Education Investment Board Public Input Meeting 10/18, 2012 at Marshall High School in Portland.

"My name is Susan Barrett. I have a 2nd & 5th grader in Portland Public Schools. I am also one of the founders of Oregon Save Our Schools, a truly grassroots group that came together because we were concerned that corporate interests were having more of a say in public education than we do. My two kids have experienced cuts throughout their entire short school careers. What does that say about how we value them and their education? 

Teachers have been laid off, no more music, class sizes at 36, and I see nothing in these plans to address any of that. But, at least they have a school. What about the kids whose neighborhood school has been closed down? We have seen several close in Portland. I see nothing in these plans to address that either. 

What I see is a plan created by a few people in private, far removed from the very people who should have the most significant input - the students, teachers, and parents. And, let's face it...we're not that hard to find. We're a captive audience in our schools! If they really wanted to get our input, it is not that hard to get! 

How is it that my school principal can send out a survey to families and teachers about what we should cut, but we don't get a survey about what our funding priorities are? Instead you roll out a show in what - 8 places across the state? And, the parents, teachers and students don't even know about these meetings? Why have we not received notices in our schools and districts about these meetings? 

Seems to me you don't really want our input! 

And then you have the AUDACITY to come in here with a list of predetermined education funding priorities that the public never had a say in, and you put in bold at the top that these are our priorities?! Then you want us to pit one against the other?! I don't have any college students, so what do I do...rank that a 10 and let my young kids duke it out with college kids? English Language Learner services - those are important, but do I pit that against early learning or special education?

And, why is it that the OEIB gets 10 priorities on the front, and they only give me room for 5 of my own on the back? This has not been a democratic process. I urge you all not to participate in this form. Cross it out, write your own priorities. These are our schools and the priorities should start with us."

Monday, October 15, 2012

Achievement Compact Authority and Rudy Crew Press Release


October 5, 2012            

Oregon Save Our Schools (SOS) announced today they are challenging the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB), and its Chief Education Officer, Rudy Crew, with violating Senate Bill 1581, which established the Investment Board and Crew’s position. Senate Bill 1581 clearly mandates that every public school district prepare and submit an “Achievement Compact” to the Investment Board stating its projected targets for student performance.  
The law states that … “the governing body of the education entity (local school board) shall identify target numbers and percentages for the Achievement Compact.  The power to order changes in those targets was not provided to Crew or the OEIB, yet Crew sent letters to 69 school districts demanding they raise their targets and re-submit their revised Achievement Compacts.
SOS will present testimony, as well as provide detailed information regarding their assertions, at the Investment Board’s meeting on October 9 in Salem.
Oregon Save Our Schools is also taking issue with Crew’s recent message that “funding is off the table,” which he delivered to the 275 participants at the September 19 Clackamas County Education Summit. SB 1581 requires that the OEIB notify districts regarding what their actual funding level will be and what the funding level would be based upon the state’s Quality Education Model.  
This information must be provided to each district BEFORE the district sets targets for the Achievement Compacts.  The law also specifies that school boards shall prepare their Achievement Compact each year AS PART OF THEIR BUDGETING PROCESS. SOS will demand that the state Board and Crew abide by this section of SB 1581 as well. SOS will also remind the Oregon Education Investment Board and Rudy Crew of the powers and duties provided local school boards in the Oregon Revised Statutes #332.
Oregon Save Our Schools is a volunteer advocacy organization of parents, private sector leaders, and educators advocating for improved funding for public schools, ending “high stakes” testing, and preserving local control and public engagement in developing state education policies. 


What Happened to Local Control?

Back in March 2012, Oregon Save Our Schools fought to keep SB 1581 from passing, but lost due to pressure from Governor Kitzhaber who wanted to make sure his plan succeeded.  The goal of SB 1581 was to establish Achievement Compacts so that the state could then move one step closer to receiving the NCLB Waiver.

Why did we fight this?  Reasons are outlined here from our blog.  However, one key reason was the fact that there were so many unknowns, one of which was the power of local control.

What is becoming more "known" with the future of these compacts is that local control is in question. Did legislators and school board members understand what they might be giving away when they passed SB 1581?

However, after school districts wrote up their first Achievement Compacts (which were done on a short time line with no committee input and that were based on the current funding model), Dr. Rudy Crew was outraged and demanded more from districts who didn't set the bar higher.  The real question we have at Oregon SOS is this: does he have the power?

Furthermore, the compacts were designed to not have any consequences, so what can Dr. Crew really do about it if districts ignore his outrage?  Perhaps withhold state money as inferred by this quote by Ben Cannon, the Governor's education policy advisor, in the Oregonian on March 27th: 

"There are no consequences for failing to meet achievement targets, but the investment board hopes it will help districts focus on key weaknesses and develop innovative solutions.

The investment board, which will decide where education dollars flow at every level, may also use the achievement compacts in making decisions about where it wants to invest, Cannon said."

Who knows the reality of their districts better, Dr. Crew who was just hired a few months ago, or those who are elected to represent the community and hired to work with students and families every day?

Oregon Save Our Schools has recently questions the powers and potential loss of local control with an October 9th press release and testimony regarding this recent development in how Achievement Compacts are being designed an approved.  Our next blog posts will not only post our testimony, but our press release.

Oregon SOS October 9th Testimony to OEIB

by Tom Olson

My Name is Tom Olson and I am speaking for Oregon Save Our Schools

My testimony addresses recent activity of Rudy Crew and the OEIB on the subject of Achievement Compacts with Oregon’s k12 school districts

Last year the Obama Administration offered waivers regarding NCLB performance if States would, among other requirements, create a system of ‘Achievement Compacts’ between the state and each educational unit within the state.

The Governor requested legislation that would permit achievement compacts to function in the statewide education system. Senate Bill 1581 is that legislation.

- SB 1581 clearly sets forth that the OEIB was responsible for establishing the form of the Compacts as well as the outcomes and measures of progress that would allow each (district) to quantify progress.

- SB 1581 also requires that the OEIB inform districts of their actual funding level AND the funding that would be ‘full’ funding as identified by the QEM process.

- SB 1581 then places the Compacts and the funding data in the hands of each District and requires the governing body (school board) to identify target numbers and percentages AS PART OF THEIR BUDGETING PROCESS.

In this temporary first year the calendar was not in place and 1) OEIB had not provided the amount of QEM funding in time for district budgeting and  2) Districts did not have previous years statistics to benchmark their achievement compacts which were to be submitted by July 1.

This failure hampered the ability of districts to fulfill the objectives of SB 1581.

Unbelievably, even with this failure, in September, Rudy Crew declared that 69 Achievement Compacts were not acceptable and demanded resubmittal with higher targets.

This is where Oregon SOS moves from criticizing the overall structure of the bill and instead suggests that Mr. Crew, under the auspices of the Governor, is not following the law.
SB 1581 does not provide any authority for his call for resubmittals. The responsibility of setting targets is solely the responsibility of the local school boards. . SB 1581 clearly outlines the authority of the Chief Education Officer as the following:
Section 1 of the Act states that the "direction and control" authority of the Chief Education Officer is "limited to matters related to the design and organization" of the State's education system"
And in Section 14 the Act specifies, "the governing body of the education entity shall set the targets for the outcomes and measures of progress it intends to achieve, and may add other measures approved by the OEIB,"
We believe these two sections clearly show that Mr. Crew is acting outside his authority as specified in SB1581 when he overrides both of these sections by his actions.  
 One of the things our organization observed during our discussions with many legislators since the advent of this bill is that they recognized the strong protections in it for local control. If Mr. Crew is able to act outside of the confines of the law these protections are lost.
             This behavior is not a precedent that can be allowed to stand. The Governor and the OEIB must
             operate within the law as written. Oregon SOS urges the Governor, the OEIB and its officers to
             correct these errors and make sure it does not happen again.

            We know the OEIB does not respond to public testimony and the Governor never stays for this
            testimony but we need to have those assurances either now or later in writing.
            Oregon SOS is open for discussion on these matters as always. Thank you.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ravitch's October 17th Letter Writing Campaign

Diane Ravitch asks her blog readers to "write your thoughts about what needs to change in federal education policy and send a letter to President Obama by October 17." Instructions are at this link. My letter follows.

Dear Mr. President,
I am an endocrinologist.  The endocrinologist understands growth. Gene expression responds to hormones and a complex socio-emotional milieu. Nature cannot be separated from Nurture, though physicians clearly understand that potential growth is maximized when the child is nurtured in a healthy environment.

Education policy makers exclaim the virtues of measuring growth, much like the pediatrician does.  Create education growth curves and plot results with formative and summative assessments. Intervene when the child falls off the normal curve.

What, President Obama, is “potential” and what is “normal” when “best practices” endlessly change and, more importantly, when crucial environmental variables are not addressed?

With an equation that factors a mother’s and father’s height, the pediatric endocrinologist can estimate “mid-parental” height. That’s Nature.  But statisticians know this equation falls short when Asian children grow taller raised in the United States, rather than in their homeland.  “Normal” growth curves don’t apply to the child born prematurely, exposed to intrauterine stressors or with some genetic or anatomical abnormalities. Further, the obesity epidemic throws any notion of “normalcy” out the books.

Poverty narrows choice and “Nurture” intervenes beyond control of any physician or teacher. Faceless, shapeless forces deprive a child’s potential. As such, the pediatrician plots a new normal while politicians wring their hands about preventing diabetes. And so it goes for the “failing” homeless child who misses school and meals and a roof above his head.

Mention a tax on sugary drinks and conservatives devolve into accusations of a “Nanny State.” Mention progressive taxes on the wealthiest and conservatives shout, “Class Warfare!”

How can austerity and a “free” market coexist?

Poverty is the over-arching enemy to “accountability.” Junk food. Junk education. Mass-produced and standardized for the consumer. BIG DATA to micro-target prescriptions that grow more products for PhRMA and Pearson.

President Obama, America’s values needs to be realigned for our kids to reach their creative, emotional and intellectual potential. Stop this Race to the Bottom.

Kris Alman MD