Monday, December 10, 2018

OSOS Responds to Joint Committee on Student Success Recommendations

Oregon Save Our Schools submitted the following testimony to the Joint Committee. Follow the Committee here:

Members of the Joint Committee on Student Success-

Having read the recommendations of the College and Career Ready Workgroup, we would like to respond to the suggestion that 40-40-20 is a goal worthy of continuing pursuit. Oregon Save Our Schools co-founder Tom Olson (now deceased) wrote this policy paper back in 2014. We are including it along with this link to a recent Willamette Week article that seems to reinforce how incredibly on target Tom was in his research on this.

The 40-40-20 slogan was created by the business community and is not based on education expertise, research, or proof that's where the future job market will be for today's students. It's not a goal, it's a goose chase that amateurs have set our schools on. Please focus instead on relentlessly pursuing the goals of providing broad curricular offerings, opportunities, and support to every student according to their needs and interests.

Still Another Destructive Goal Pursuit? Oregon’s “40/40/20”

By Tom Olson, Co-Founder, Oregon Save Our Schools
January 7, 2014

Introduction: The Concept of “Destructive Goal Pursuit”
Business management experts D. Christopher Kayes (1) * and Oliver Burkeman (2) have studied many cases of goal setting that is blind to actual realities.  They call it: “Destructive Goal Pursuit.”  They cite numerous examples where a business goal was dreamed up by executives, and then pushed heavily in a top-down fashion. Then, when evidence emerged that the goal was likely unattainable and unattached to any real facts, the executives “doubled down” even more heavily on the same goal.   Instead of revising course, they adopted counter-productive tactics focused on the original goal, and ignored facts that the pursuit of the goal was actually having destructive impacts.    

Burkeman cites General Motors as one example of destructive goal pursuit.   A little more than a decade ago, General Motors had lost significant market share to Japanese auto makers—due largely to poor quality of GM autos.  Corporate executives adopted a goal to recapture 29% of the American automobile market.  A major media advertising campaign was launched. All GM executives proudly wore a “29%” pin on their lapels.   Burkeman describes the results of this goal-setting: “Twenty-nine %” became a fetish, distorting the organization in damaging ways, fueling short-termism and blinkered vision, all so that the numbers in the business news headlines might match those on the vice-presidents’ lapels. But that never happened. GM continued spiraling towards failure, and went bankrupt in 2009; it ended up taking a bailout from Washington.  (3)

Recent History with Oregon’s Education Goal Pursuits 
Oregon’s efforts at education “reform” and “transformation” have witnessed similar phenomena, as follows.

Oregon’s Education Act for the 21st Century: “Proficiency Education Through  CIM and CAM!”
Oregon’s  “Education Act for the 21st Century” passed in 1991 held the bright promise that Oregon students could all become much more “proficient” in acquiring and applying knowledge.  They would demonstrate that “proficiency” through Certificates of Initial Mastery (CIM) and Certificates of Advanced Mastery (CAM)   

* Source citations are indicated in bold parentheses.  Full citations provided on Data Sources, below. This effort was later quietly folded away when the necessary investments to change Oregon’s public education system from a “seat time” orientation to strictly “proficiency demonstration” one were not forthcoming.  CIM and CAM?  Now gone from Oregon.

“No Child Left Behind: All children will be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014!”
After more than a decade, the Nation now has realized the folly of this goal that drove the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal legislation.  The ruins caused by the federal requirements to achieve this impossible goal remain with us---an ever-increased focus and escalating expenditures on narrow high stakes testing; failure to deal with the necessary real investments to remove poverty’s health and welfare barriers to learning; and, most sadly, a public saturated with inaccurate press reports using narrow test scores to portray our schools as “failing.”    

Like most states, Oregon has now received a federal “waiver” to the “all children proficient” federal goal.  In this waiver, the state accepted many federal “strings” to receive the waiver and its federal money flow.  Indeed, they have now actually cast these federal requirements into unwise new state policies---at the direction and demand of federal officials, not Oregonians. 

Now, Another New Goal Pursuit in Oregon
But, in place of “CIM & CAM“ and “all children proficient,” Oregon now has an official new state goal to drive education “transformation.”  It announces:

By 2025, Oregon will have:
  • 40% with bachelors degrees or higher
  • 40% with post-secondary associate degrees or certificates
  • the remaining 20% will attain a high school diploma  or equivalent 

Between 2005 and 2011, the “40/40/20” goal was quietly discussed at Oregon corporate board tables.(4)  Then, in 2011, without any broad public dialogue about the wisdom or attainability of the goal, Governor Kitzhaber and the business community successfully lobbied to get the goal encased in legislation as Oregon’s “driver” for education transformation at all levels.  

Since it was conceived by Oregon business leaders as a necessary goal, the 40/40/20 rationale has been portrayed in solely economic terms.  The claim is that higher levels of educational attainment must be the requirement to fix our economic woes.  Advocates claim higher levels of citizens’ education attainment will make Oregon a bright beacon for attracting many new and different businesses to the state.  And, not surprisingly, the business community and many in the press have continued a drumbeat of wrongly depicting our schools as “failing.”  The assumption they offer is that “failing schools” are at the very heart of the state’s economic doldrums.

But, even the consultant who encouraged business executives to push for the “40/40/20” concept from its inception in 2005, actually told the OEIB in a PowerPoint briefing on August 7, 2012, “Oregon’s population appears to have broadly sufficient levels of education for the jobs projected to 2020... There seems to be a decent match between Oregon’s education levels and the likely jobs of tomorrow at the competitive level.”(5)

The Governor and OEIB apparently chose to ignore this reality.  They proceeded to develop a group of disparate and disconnected “strategic investment” projects and recommend them to the legislature.  Their rationale for these recommendations?   To “achieve 40/40/20.”

Nowhere in the policy discussion have the following critical facts (6) and questions been considered.:

  • FACT:  Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the Oregon Employment Department projected in 2012 that 19% of Oregon’s projected job openings between 2010—2020 will have a minimum requirement of a Bachelors Degree or above.   

QUESTION:   So... Why are we calling for 40% attainment???

  • FACT: Using the same Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Oregon Employment Department projected in 2012 that 12% of Oregon’s projected job openings between 2010-2020 will demand a minimum requirement of a community college associate degree or certificate.   

QUESTION:   So…..Why are we calling for 40% attainment?

  • FACT:  The goal calls for the remaining 20% of Oregon adults to have attained a high school diploma. Yet, Oregon’s Employment Department has projected that 69% of Oregon’s projected job openings between 2010-2020 will have a minimum requirement of a high school diploma or less.

QUESTION:  So... What are the projected impacts of preparing 80% of our workforce for only 30% of the projected available jobs with minimum requirements  for post-secondary education credentialing? What will be the human impacts?  Wage and other economic impacts?

In addition, nowhere have the Governor and OEIB specifically detailed a clear chain of thinking that directly links their grab-bag of recommended “investment projects” to directly accomplishing the 40/40/20 goal.

Another set of realities also demands attention. The following questions relate directly to whether there is now any real meaning to the term “investment in public education”. Namely: How are the proposed “strategic investments” expected to:

  • specifically impact Oregon’s stagnant job wage picture that has changed little over the past decade.
  • specifically impact the 19.8% unemployment rate of young people below age 25, (and their underemployment rate of 34.1%) (7)
  • specifically overcome the reality that Oregon’s continued disinvestment in public higher education has heaped a huge increasing burden of tuition paid by Oregon’s young people and their families?  (8)
  • help overcome the current reality that Oregon higher education graduates’ debt in 2011 was nearly 30% more than in 2007? (9)
  • reverse the following facts (10) that, without reversal, will make 40/40/20 just another goal folly:

-A  current 2 billion state funding gap in providing a quality K-12 education.

- Oregon has dramatically cut career and technical preparation/education opportunities in middle and high schools---along with dramatic cuts in music, art, counseling and library services,

-Oregon now spends just 5.8% of its total state budget on higher education. The national average percentage of state budget devoted higher education is 11.8%.  So we now have the third smallest percentage among all 50 states.

-State spending per public university student is less than it was 15 years ago---and enrollments are at all time highs.

-Oregon community colleges enrollments are now 30 percent greater than in 2007.  Yet, current total state aid for them is less than the $500 million the state appropriated in 2007.

Socrates admonished, “An unexamined belief is not worth holding.”  And Thomas Edison reminded us, “Goals without execution are hallucinations.”

Are Oregonians willing to finally seriously examine “40/40/20” sloganeering?  If so, how long will it take to finally accept the goal for what it is----Destructive Goal Pursuit.  Maybe we should just retrieve and paint over our old “CIM & CAM!” and “All Children Proficient!” lapel pins. Our shiny new pins will now say 40/40/20!  And our new slogan will have the same sustainability as the erased efforts had---none.  Will we still continue to play “let’s pretend” and ignore facts about reality while wrongly placing all the blame on public education?  

Data Sources
  1. D. Christopher Kayes, Destructive Goal Pursuit: The Mount Everest Disaster. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
  2. Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. Faber and Faber. 2012
  3. Burrkeman, Ibid.
  4. See Oregon Business Roundtable, “Raising the Bar for PreK-20 Education in Oregon,” Five White Papers (2005).  Also. annual Oregon Business Plan’s “Policy Playbook and Initiative Guide”, 2005 through 2011.  Also, Oregon Business Plan’s “2006 Competitive Index: Indicators of Oregon’s Global Economic Competitiveness: Measures of Pioneering Innovation, People, Place and Productivity,”2006.  Also EcoNorthwest’s “Opportunities and Options for Oregon Education Philanthropy” prepared for the Oregon Community Foundation, August 2007.  Also Oregon Business Roundtable’s “Taking Promising High School Practices to Scale: Challenges for Oregon,” 2008.  Also, Lumina Foundation for Education, “A Stronger Nation through Higher Education—And Oregon’s Role in That Effort.” Policy Brief, January 2011.
  5. Joe Cortright, Impresa, Inc., comments included in an Oregon Employment Department PowerPoint presentation to Oregon Education Investment Board, August 7, 2012.
  6. Drawn from:Worksource Oregon. State Employment Department. “Labor Market Information: A Careful Analysis of Oregon’s Middle-Skill Jobs,” Table 6 on page 7. July 2012.  See also Heidi Shierholdz, Natalie Sabadashi and Hilary Wething, “The Class of 2012: Labor Market for Young Granduates Remains Grim” Economic Policy Institute, May 2, 2012.  See also projections from U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics, Division of Employment Statistics in Peter Cappelli, “The Skills Gap Myth,” School Administrator, June 13, 2013. 
  7. Shierholz,,   Appendix Table A1 and Table A2 Ibid.
  8. Our Oregon, “The Shifting Costs of Higher Education,” The Sockeye. June 18, 2013 and “The Weight of One Trillion Dollars,” June 18, 2013.
  9. Molly Young, “College Grads Take on Record Debt, Weighing Down Oregon’s Economy: Diminished Expectations,” The Oregonian. December 1, 2012
  10. State of Oregon 2012 Quality Education Commission Report, and Our Oregon’s “The Shifting Costs of Higher Education” Ibid.