Sunday, January 25, 2015

SWOOSH! It’s Good To Be Queen

by Kathleen Jeskey

On Thursday, the Oregon State Board of Education approved a rule change which will require many districts to increase instructional time, also known as seat time, for students.  This decision was made in spite of the Board hearing from Oregon State Employees Association (OSEA) the Oregon Education Association (OEA) the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA) the Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA) and the Oregon Parent Teacher Association (PTA) that this rule change should not be made at this time.

While all of these organizations representing Oregon school employees, teachers, principals, superintendents and parents agree that we need to make this change for our students, all were also united in stating that it should not be done without serious study of the fiscal impact this would have on schools and districts, since no increase in funding is attached to this rule change. Many representatives of these groups are concerned because some Oregon districts that have chosen to preserve programs such as PE and music, or retain smaller class sizes rather than increase instructional hours, may be required to add as much as three weeks to their school calendars with no additional funding. The result of this would then be cutting programs or increasing class size due to the necessity to lay off staff; as one Oregon teacher said when she heard the news of this rule change, Just when things were starting to get slightly less horrible.

The rule change was adopted very quickly, with a timeline of only about three months between the initial reading of the proposed amendment and its adoption. There were only a handful of public hearings. You can read testimony from the December hearing (held three days before Christmas) here.

Some concerns result from the language of the hastily adopted amendment. For example, many believe that language that states that “ ‘Instructional time means time during which students are engaged in regularly scheduled instructionworking under the direction and supervision of a licensed or registered teacher…” will eliminate counting Outdoor School as instructional time. This would virtually kill the Outdoor Science School program that has been a capstone activity for over 200,000 sixth graders and a valuable learning experience for over 50,000 high school students who have served as counselors throughout Oregon since 1968.

Other examples of language in the rule change that are concerning include the requirement that 80% of students must receive minimum hours of instructional time. This fails to take into account special education students who may need to be on a reduced schedule, alternative education students whose schedule may be different, or students in poverty who may need to work in order to help their families make ends meet. Setting an arbitrary requirement of 80% does not allow schools flexibility to meet the needs of diverse student populations. Additionally, non-academicfield trips and assemblies will no longer count as instructional time. This is vague language that might result in some principals fearing that they must eliminate many or all field trips and assemblies in order to be in compliance.

With all these concerns, with all these organizations united in the request for nothing more than a deeper study of these rule changes prior to implementation, why did the State School Board decide to forge ahead? Could it be that the original complaint was brought by the Portland Parent Coalition, a group which counts among its members none other than Julia Brim Edwards? In case you are unfamiliar with Ms. Edwards, let me introduce you. She currently is employed by Nike as Senior Director of Global Strategy & Operations; Government and Public Affairs. She also serves on the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) to which she was appointed by Governor Kitzhaber. You can view her LinkedIn profile here.

The undue influence of Nike and the Oregon Business Association on our governor and his appointed Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton, and apparently the appointed State School Board as well, is unacceptable. When one small group of parents can push through their agenda over the protests of virtually every group representing all of Oregons students, this is cronyism at its most blatant. But hey, its good to be queen.

Its time for us to take back our schools. Please contact your legislators and let them know how you feel about this rule change. 

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