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.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Dismal State of Oregon Schools: Fact Sheet

Oregon Save Our Schools has been following the work of the Oregon Education Investment Board, the application for the No Child Left Behind Waiver, and the develoment of the Achievement Compacts since 2011.  Little, if any, of the development of such education reform efforts have seriously involved any public input.  One major concern we have at Oregon SOS is that funding solutions are "off the table" by those at the top.  However, at all of the OEIB education funding priority forums, the public has voiced that not only IS lack of funding the problem, but also WHERE our state is deciding to spend our limited tax dollars.  Our classrooms continue to suffer while the state dreams up new layers of bureaucracy in order to analyze our students and teachers.  This must stop.  Our children cannot wait another day for the Governor, Dr. Rudy Crew and the OEIB to put off the real education reform discussion they should be having insted: FUNDING reform!  Below is a list our co-founder, Tom Olson, has created that helps illustrate the declining health of Oregon's public school system due to lack of funding and loss of a well-rounded education program.   Contact your legislators and demand better.  Thank you!

Oregon's Education Funding Fact Sheet 

  • Oregon has lost almost 16% of our teachers, teaching assistants, and school maintenance and clerical workers over the past three years
  • From 2010 to 2012 the state lost 7,300 educator jobs.  That represents a drain on Oregon’s economy of more than $500,000,000 (see and further analysis by Our Oregon 
  • Our high school class sizes have soared by 28.6% (Do you think students get individual attention when physics classes have 45 kids?) 
  • Elementary class sizes have increased by more than 19%. (Do we really think 30 + kindergartners in a class meets their needs?)
  • In aggregate, our school districts cut 287 school days in the 2011-12 school year.  (Try helping struggling kids with 15 fewer learning days!).  The aggregate over the past three years amounts to 951 lost days for learning!
  • Oregon’s per student spending has declined from 15th in the nation in 1997-98 to 37rd in 2008-2009.
  • Oregon’s education funding received a grade of “F” in a new national comparative study by Rutgers University’s Education Law Center that examined Oregon’s  very low level  state education funding effort in relation to our State’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) value.
  • K-12 schools’ share of Oregon’s state budget has dropped from 44% in 2003-2005 to 39% in 2011-2013
  • Since 2003, Public Education has received less than one-third of the percentage increase that went to public safety. . We spend more on prisons than education.
  • According to the legislature’s own Quality Education Commission (QEM) research, the state is currently $3 billion short this biennieum of what it takes to provide K-12 quality education.
  • The last five years saw a 5% reduction in state spending on K-12 schools. Yet, the state’s total tax breaks grew by 12%.  These breaks amount to over $26 billion..
  • The number of Oregon children living in poverty continues to escalate (now above 25%), and these children have special health and learning needs.  The states’ response?  Ignore this reality and push harder on our educators as the sole “solution.”  This is a travesty that prevents improved achievement across the state.  Research indicates that effectively removing poverty’s barriers to learning through effective “wraparound” health and social services  requires at least1.4 times average per pupil funding.


Data Sources:  State of Oregon Tax Expenditure Reports;  Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office; Our Oregon;  Oregon Education Association Survey of Cut Days; Economic Policy Institute (Richard Rothstein); COSA/OASBO School Budget Surveys, Sept. 2009, 2010 and 2011;  Education Law Center, Rutgers University.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More Bureaucratic Malarkey


The OEIB met Tuesday in Salem to a crowd that showed little if any support of the OEIB's proposed education funding plan.  What is clear is that funding a well-rounded education is a top priority for the public and that the OEIB, Gov. Kitzhaber, and Dr. Rudy Crew need to make decisions that not only reflect the voice of the people, but also directly impact our students in the classroom.   Here is testimony from a counselor from Salem who attended the meeting.  --Oregon SOS

October 23, 2012

Good Evening Members of the Oregon Education Investment Board,

My name is Pete Teller. I am a middle school counselor in the Salem-Keizer Public School District. I am also on the organizing committee for the Salem Keizer Education Association, a member of Social Equality Educators, and I belong to Oregon Save Our Schools.

Recent figures show that 58% of Salem-Keizer’s students receive free or reduced lunches. The Marion County numbers show that 59.2% of all school-age children are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Marion Polk Food Share reports that in 2011, an average of 12,200 hungry children a month relied on emergency food. What are the implications of these figures? Over half of our students are likely to arrive at school lethargic, withdrawn or agitated, anxious, easily frustrated, and unable to concentrate.

We then compress them into classrooms with class sizes of 36 or more when the Oregon Administrative Rules governing registered family child care homes prevents registered child care providers from caring for more than ten children ages 13 or under at one time. And to make matters worse, the classes that are available to our children siphon off any creativity or inspired thinking they might have because the elective choices have been lobotomized from the curriculum. Those classes that feed the spirit and nourish the soul have been replaced with the drudgery of remedial classes that given the opportunity would be totally unnecessary if there were smaller class sizes that offered more individualized attention.

An extremely rational question now presents itself. Why has the number of remedial classes spiked across the state? Is it because we have seen a drastic decline in the overall intelligence of our 21st century students? Has our students’ ability to learn been so compromised that they can no longer master instruction at the same pace as their predecessors? I have not seen any literature to suggest that either of those two conclusions are correct but what I have seen is evidence that indicates that the over reliance on learning outcomes assessments generated by the insane emphasis on standardized testing has driven the miraculous desire to learn right out of the hearts of our kids!

Now think seriously for a moment, which students are likely to be the most impacted by this ridiculous emphasis on standardized tests that are written for the predominantly white affluent student? It is our students of poverty, our ELL students, our special needs students, and our students of color. These students are subjected to one intense class after another and required to go six straight hours or more minus a lunch break in our exaggerated attempts to get them to score acceptably on our OAKS test. How outrageous is that? Students who are no less creative, no less inspired, and no less competent are burned out before they finish eighth grade or act out just to get some relief!

We are failing our kids each and every day of the entire school year in this unrealistic quest for academic superiority! We are wasting the minds of this brilliant generation with the demands for conformity, unquestioning passivity, and the total disregard for any real critical thinking! And then the OEIB has the audacity to sit here after handing out salaries of $260,000 a year plus perks and not even suggest the need for more classroom teachers, school counselors and specialists, licensed librarians, and instructional assistants or paraprofessionals and expect us to believe that with your high powered salaries we should believe that you know what’s best for our students; well I’m sorry but you’ve got another thing coming! Si Se Puede!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Parent Speaks Against OEIB Funding Priorities

Karyn Servin attended the OEIB Community Forum on Thursday at Marshall High School because she was concerned about the direction the state is taking in its funding priorities for education--none of which alleviate her children's large class sizes or restore programs to their full capacity.  Here is the video of her testimony from Thursday, Oct. 18th.  Her voices speaks for thousands of parents around Oregon.  There are several more meetings scheduled around the state (see our "Upcoming Meetings" Tab on our website for details).  Please stand up and make your voice heard.  We need to take back out schools!  Great job Karyn! 

"Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are."  James W. Frick