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.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Teachers Give Race to the Top an "F"

By Adam Sanchez

The Portland Business Alliance , The Oregonian Editorial Board, and the Portland School Board  have lined up to denounce Portland teachers for refusing to sign on to the district's Race to the Top application. While they all claim to support Portland students, they are backing policies that would further deepen inequity and worsen educational experiences.

All of these editorials misleadingly leave out the fact that the Race to the Top grant cannot be spent to hire teachers or help with class sizes but instead must be dedicated to areas like professional development, which further adds to teacher workload, while not solving any of the real problems in our schools.

They also claim that the Portland Association of Teachers refused to collaborate with district administrators in crafting a Race to the Top Application and The Oregonian holds up Hillsboro as a model of collaboration. But both the Portland Association of Teachers and the Hillsboro Education Association told their district officials that they would only collaborate on an RTTT application if it did not include tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. The only difference is that Hillsboro administrators agreed to collaborate with their union, while Portland officials did not. Rather than craft a RTTT application based on the hundreds of places where we agree, the school board insisted on including the one thing we disagree on—tying teacher evaluation to student test scores.

So why are teachers opposed to tying our evaluations to test scores? If you've been reading Oregonian editorials you would think that we’re doing this because teachers don’t want to be held accountable and that those who dedicate their lives to working with children also happen to want horrible educational experiences for them. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Contrary to what these editorials have claimed, while state law currently mandates that “student growth” be part of teacher evaluation, the district’s Race to the Top application would take this one step further by implementing a value-added evaluation model that would label teachers “highly effective,” “effective,” or “not-effective” based on their students’ standardized test scores.

Several studies have shown that value-added models are highly unstable. Up to 35 percent of teachers move from being labeled "highly effective" one year to "not-effective" (or vice versa) the next.

But our stance against Race to the Top isn't just about rejecting an error-prone model of evaluation. It's about standing up for students, because our working conditions are students’ learning conditions. Students will be hurt by further emphasis on standardized tests and by punishing good teachers who-- for reasons often outside of their control-- cannot improve their students’ standardized test scores. Because standardized tests tell more about a student's zip code than their academic ability, this model of test-and-punish unfairly labels public schools—and its students, parents, and teachers—as failures.

The single most important factor contributing to low student achievement is poverty. Study after study has shown that there is a strong correlation between family income and test scores. Those who have wealthy parents are at the top, and low-income students are at the bottom.
Evaluating teachers based on student test scores punishes teachers who choose to teach the least fortunate. Even value-added models that try to take into account student’s prior achievement assume that all students will improve at the same rate. This does not hold true for English Language Learners, students with disabilities or others who have traditionally performed poorly on tests.

And while teachers can play a crucial role in student success, evaluating teachers through standardized tests assumes that teachers can overcome any obstacle in students’ lives. But as educator Jesse Hagopian writes, "a student whose home is foreclosed on will not be able to do their economics homework. A student whose loved one has been killed in a war in the Middle East will have a difficulty connecting with the science teachers’ attempt to bring alive the learning of human body systems. A student whose parents have been deported will have difficulty crossing the barrier of the parent signature needed for a field trip to the civil rights museum. A student with parents who have been laid off may see their dream of going to college deferred for lack of funds. A student whose family lacks affordable health insurance may find themselves chronically absent from health class."   Societies ills don’t magically disappear the moment a student enters a school.

Race to the Top’s evaluation model isn’t about measuring teacher effectiveness, but driving a political agenda that weakens teachers’ job security, puts even more emphasis on standardized testing, and attacks teacher unions and public schools. The $400 million in RTTT funds that are being offered to districts is less than 1/25th of what Wall Street gave out in bonuses in 2011. If the federal governments can bailout the banks with virtually no strings attached, why can’t they fully fund our schools?

And at the state level we need real revenue reform. Oregon has a regressive income tax and one of the lowest corporate taxes in the nation. Yet in 2010 both the Oregonian and the Portland Business Alliance urged a "no" vote on Measure 66 and 67, that temporarily raised taxes on  the rich and corporations to fund our schools. It's clear that they only want money for our public schools when it doesn't inconvenience wealthy Oregonians.

We need to demand progressive income and corporate taxes that fund quality public education for all and aren’t attached to biased standardized test scores.