Sunday, February 17, 2013

Thoughts on Oregon Education Funding Team Recommendations to the Governor


By Pat Muller
Oregon Save Our Schools

Students and teachers have recently faced many obstacles to success for English Language Learners (ELLs).  Layoffs have increased workloads for remaining staff.  Class sizes have increased.  There is reduced support from the central office as a result of increased administrator workloads.  Assistant time has been reduced for classroom support and interventions.

These conditions are made worse by tighter timelines for exiting students, higher goals for progressing students through proficiency levels at a rate not supported by research, rising cut scores for the English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA) and the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS), and increased expectations for percentage of students passing the ELPA and the OAKS.

We have been doing more with less for some time now and we have reached the tipping point.  Yet, the Governor’s office and the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) say, “Show us the results and then we’ll give you the money.”  

The current system of funding for ELL students gives an extra .5 of the state funding as long as the student is classified as “active”.  Active means that the student is eligible for and receiving ELL services.  There is pressure to exit students out before they are ready using the AMAO formula which contains goals for the following:  percentage of all ELL students exiting the program, percentage of ELL students who have been in the program five years or more exiting, percentage of students who gain one proficiency level on the ELPA test, and percentage of students who pass the state OAKS exams.

If you examine testing results trends, you will see that ELL students perform below the “all student” population at all grade levels, with the gap widening in middle school and high school.  While the funding provides for the services of the ELL teacher, there are not a sufficient number of programs in place for intervention, regular classroom support, and adequate monitoring for recently exited students who are to be followed for two years.Pushing students out of the program before they are ready to survive with no support will result in even further widening of the gap.

The proposal presented to the Governor and the OEIB Board was to restrict the funding to a certain yet unknown number of years, which will result in even more inappropriate exiting.  The report also alludes to some schools being able to move students faster to proficiency.  When I asked the Governor’s office to provide the names of those places, they have so far been unable to provide them.

The current funding formula provides little enforcement as to how the ELL dollars are spent.  While most districts are better now than in the past, there is no mandatory reporting for showing what percent of ELL dollars are spent on ELL services.

The Governor’s office claims that they will eliminate the achievement gap.  The majority of corporate education reform policies embraced by that office do little to help ELL students and in some cases, make things even worse for ELLs.  Examples of these are:  charter schools that don’t enroll ELLs proportionate to local demographics, teacher incentive programs that fail to adequately weight ELL performance, online programs, inter-district transfer policies mostly accessed by non ELL parents, and new teacher evaluation programs that will make ELL students less welcome in the classroom as they traditionally perform worse on the state exams.

Alternatives to the Governor’s Proposals:

·     Support to better serve ELL students.
·     Eliminate poverty and hunger.
·     Educator effectiveness programs that honor wisdom, experience, and qualifications.
·     Address class size issues.
·     Reduce or eliminate high stakes testing to offer a more comprehensive education.
·     Mandatory teacher input in professional decisions.  Board members need to be present when the public is testifying and meeting times should be when teachers can actually attend.
·     Protect student privacy.
·     Continue to fund after-school programs when the 21st Century Grants expire.
·     Restore TOSA and mentor positions.
·     Restore the annual Closing the Achievement Gap Conference and Awards where teachers can share best practices.
·     Create an online resource for sharing common formative assessment and resources aligned to standards.
·     Teacher-designed professional development.
·     Improve technology to share resources and assessment.
·     Restore Title I reading positions.
·     Restore interventions lost to recent budget cuts.
·     Restore school specialists and teacher librarians.
·     Fund public libraries.

 Wouldn’t it be nice if these were the kinds of things being brought up at the legislature this session?

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