Oregon K-12: We Can Do Better

Oregon K-12 school test scores are headed in the wrong direction. In the 1990’s, Massachusetts also had a poorly performing K-12 education system that was failing too many of their students and their families. The bold Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 dramatically improved that system. Now, Massachusetts’ K-12 public education system is considered one of the best in the nation.

Here’s what Massachusetts did:

First, Massachusetts defined what students are expected to learn and how long they should spend at it. A statewide core curriculum was established. Frameworks and standards were created with required hours to be spent on core curriculum. How can one teach students, if it is not clear what they are expected to learn and are in school too few days? In the 2014-2015 school year, Oregon averaged only 169.9 days in the classroom compared to an average minimum of 180 days in other states.

Massachusetts students are tested in grades 4, 8, and 10. Extra effort was put forth for students who failed to pass the tests. No more pretending when students are not learning, no more social promotion.

A structure of accountability was established at the local level. A school council was established at each Massachusetts school. The role of the council and school committees was clearly defined, and principals were given more authority and accountability at each school. Let’s have true local control in Oregon, with the principal and local school council in charge of their schools and accountable for school performance.

Massachusetts teacher standards were noticeably toughened. The most important factor in educating students is a great teacher. In order to teach in Massachusetts public schools, newly hired teachers were required to pass tests of their knowledge of subject content and of their ability to communicate. Veteran teachers were required to take and pass similar tests if they wished to teach a new subject matter. All teachers were given increased continuing education requirements. In Oregon, let’s have many more teachers with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the subjects that they are teaching, so they can truly lead in the classroom.

Public charter schools and public academies were encouraged. This gave Massachusetts parents more options for their children’s education. The requirements on charter schools was that they be open to all students and that they meet the same standards as traditional public schools. Let’s give school choice to all of Oregon’s students and their families, not just to the well-off.

The Massachusetts State Board of Education had oversight over school performance. Chronically underperforming school districts could be taken over by the state to improve their performance. The buck must stop at the state level to ensure that Oregon’s children are being properly educated.

As schools were reformed and improvements made, more funding was allocated to Massachusetts public education. We in Oregon must link increases in education funding with educational reform and improvements in performance. We must not simply increase funding with the promise to “do better.” Empty promises are no longer enough. Too many of Oregon’s children are not being properly educated and trained for successful adult lives.

Accepting that the current mediocre Oregon K-12 educational system as good enough for Oregon’s children is the greatest enemy of change and excellence. Our legislature must lead, if we are to have real K-12 educational reform in Oregon. Our timid, afraid-to-offend career politicians are unable to enact real educational reform. They fear that taking such a stand will cost them their next election.

Support Term Limits for state legislators. Replace our current timid and unimaginative legislators with new people of courage and vision. We can do better. We must do better.