Oregon’s Education Board Struggling to Find Upside

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber handpicked an education board three years ago with the mission to overcome the state’s mediocre educational standing. Last week the board reported on its progress — and the results were disappointing, at best, writes Betsy Hammond for The Oregonian.

One problem is that the Oregon Education Investment Board is either perceived by the public to be too powerful, or the public does not even know it exists.  This means the public is also not aware of the board’s mission.

The board members were, in fact, appointed to “better coordinate early childhood programs, public schools and public higher education to get 80% of Oregonians to earn college credentials”.

Other barriers encountered, according to the board, have been:

• Meetings and directives do not always focus on the stated mission.

• The group has not yet improved any significant student outcomes.

• Agency staff turnover and irregular attendance have made for sporadic progress.

• The board is not communicating effectively with the public.

• A method for receiving input from the public on key issues has not yet been established.

In spite of this, the annual one-day retreat maintained a positive tone. Two issues which the board viewed as constructive efforts on its part were changes where early childhood programs and elementary school issues intersect, and policy changes and constructive conversations at the high school and college levels.

It was the governor who asked the Oregon Legislature to create, choose members and chairs, and name this new council.  But, the name has become one of the negative topics.  The term “investment” seems to denote that the committee controls education spending, while in reality the board is mandated to establish how much money is required at each level of the educational groupings, and local school boards and college administrators are to decide how it will be spent.

“Our role is much more limited than what people perceive,” said board member Mark Mulvahill, superintendent of the InterMountain Education Service District in Pendleton.

“We don’t have the ability to increase the funding level,” said board member Julia Brim-Edwards, a Nike executive. “That is the purview of the Legislature and the governor.”

For the 2012-2013 school year, student achievement was down.  Not only that, but schools are not helping students of color and English language learners, “close the gap”.

The most important mission is to get students to the ” 40-40-20″ goal by the year 2025, meaning that 40% of the state’s young adults should attain college degrees; 40% of young adults should gain a two-year degree; and 20% of students should be receiving high school diplomas in any given year.

“If 40-40-20 is the post we are looking for, then we have to create the learning environment in which students can get there,” she said. “If we are not talking about all the pieces and what it takes to get there, if we are just saying with small strategic investments that we are going to get to 40-40-20, then we are not being honest with ourselves or with the public.”

However chief education officer Nancy Golden reminded the board members that they have achieved more than many are acknowledging, such as tens of millions of dollars being spent to develop good ideas from proposals they made in 2012.  Some of these ideas will become highly effective and will grow in their influence.

Two other proposals which will likely become new achievement targets are high school completion and reading by third grade, reports Rob Manning  for Oregon Public Broadcasting.  Yvonne Curtis, superintendent of one of Oregon’s school districts and a member of the investment board, said:

“It’s brilliant to focus on the thirdrd grade reading, because there’s so much that rolls up into that. This gives us an opportunity to really have the conversation focused around ‘what are the practices that are going to get us there, how will we hold ourselves accountable, what will we look like’.”

Another target for the board is working on report cards for public universities and community colleges.

Kitzhaber is weighing the advice from the board as he ponders his proposal for the next two- year budget.  By September, the board will vote on the proposals they deem most important based on whether or not they believe that these ideas are significant enough for the legislature to fund, according to The Oregonian.

08 18, 2014
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