At the Oregon Leadership Summit, Oregon Governor Kate Brown offered a peek into her 2016 education agenda and declared that she wants to improve high school graduation rates. She is calling for new funding for technical education, and announced that there would be a new “education innovation officer for Oregon.”
The education innovation officer will focus on student assessment. Testing has become a policy and political hot potato in the realm of education, but the governor pointed out that the education innovation officer’s role will primarily be improving graduation rates. And, although she insisted that students should take the standardized tests required at the end of the school year, she signed a bill that would facilitate the act of opting out of tests, reported Denis C. Theriault for The Oregonian.
Brown outlined in her speech at the Summit the three goals she supports as part of the Oregon Business Plan: adding 25,000 new jobs per year, raising the per capita income above the national average, and reducing poverty levels below 10% by 2020.
She added that investing in public education will work to make these goals possible. Education will create a skilled workforce and will make it possible for fewer Oregonians to live and raise their children in poverty.
She continued by saying she wanted to create a seamless path to education from cradle to career. She explained that during the 2015 session, she and state lawmakers worked to increase the number of state students who graduate from high school and are ready to enter college, post-secondary training, or the workforce.
The investment begins in the early years of a child’s education and includes assuring that children can read proficiently by third grade, stated Brown.
Brown touched on other elements during her speech: support for English Language Learners, help for African-American students, improved attendance among Native American students, students’ health, students’ social and emotional well-being, and making a college education more affordable.
She spoke of every child deserving a qualified, caring and competent teacher. The new Education Innovation Officer will work with local schools and parents and will implement a more balanced system of assessment. The new officer will also ensure that practices and programs that foster student success are in place.
Toya Fick, executive director of Stand for Children Oregon, said:
“Gov. Brown’s speech today shows that she understands the opportunity Oregon has to lead the nation to ensure our students receive the education they deserve,” Fick said. “She will be one of the first governors to take advantage of the new flexibility under ESSA to employ state-driven leadership that could lead to more equitable and effective policies and change the odds for Oregon students.”
She added that although this was a significant step, it is also just the beginning of the work that needs to be done to bring the state’s graduation rates from very near the bottom to the top, writes Natalie Pate, reporting for the Statesman Journal.
KMTR-TV reports that as of now, Gov. Brown’s education policy is not significantly different from former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan-of-action. This year’s session did away with Kitzhaber’s Oregon Education Investment Board, but kept the staff led by the chief education officer.
The governor has not yet hired the new education innovation officer and a description of the new position is still being finalized. The hiring will take place in early 2016.
For the last school year, Oregon had the 4th lowest graduation rate in the nation. John Tapogna of ECONorthwest said that rate is a deterrent to employers looking to relocate in Oregon. He said, however, the graduation rates do not align with the state’s test scores, according to Paris Achen of the Portland Tribune.