Education Advocates, Students Share Strategies for Improving Oregon Public Education

Thursday, June 02, 2016
By Richard Greensted

A few times each year, the Oregon House and Senate Education Committees hold meetings in conjunction with Legislative Days, which provide an opportunity for constituents to share input on specific policy. At the Oregon Capitol last week, elected officials invited education advocates to share their work and knowledge on what we are getting right and where we need to improve in the state. There is no question that, when it comes to education, we have much to improve upon, as was noted on a few occasions by our leaders as they asked questions and commented. 
 
Testimony was heard from middle school students participating in a program called Researching and Empowering All People (REAP). They shared the leadership skills students are attaining through the program and ideas for improving our education system. The need for additional counsellors was noted, as was a desire for less focus on high stakes testing. Students also asked for culturally-relevant instruction including ethnic studies classes. 
 
Dr. Salam Noor, the recently appointed Deputy Superintendent for Public Instruction at the Oregon Department of Education, spoke at two meetings I attended – the House Education committee and the Senate Education Committee. Dr. Noor spoke alongside the president of the Oregon Education Association, where they discussed the work being done to develop a plan to meet the new federal requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Dr. Noor shared what he has learned from educators and the public across the state about how we should best assess and rate schools. He plans to have a draft proposal by fall that will include less of an exclusive focus on standardized testing, and a move toward a more balanced model that helps inform instruction. 
 
Finally, a discussion about out of school youth was presented. The Oregon Youth Development Council presented before the House Education Committee. They outlined the reasons we need to develop a statewide reengagement policy. The state average dropout rate is just over 4%, with rates as low as 0.41% (Wallowa) to rates as high as 17.59% (Crook County). Oregon law allows districts to educate students up to the age of 21, but most districts do not make efforts past the age of 19. Some districts, such as Portland Public Schools, have dedicated staff and allocate resources to reengagement. This work helps many students, but actually lowers PPS' official graduation rate. The OYDC spoke about the need to remove this disincentive and create incentives for reengagement. A statewide policy could incentivize all districts to improve their reengagement efforts and, in turn, provide opportunity to our most vulnerable students. I expect we'll be hearing more about this important issue in future legislative sessions. 
 
I left Salem with a renewed sense of optimism. So many are working tirelessly to make improvements. I find myself frustrated at the pace of change, but today I feel that we are on a path toward sustained investment in the education of future generations. Many moving pieces need to fall into place over the next year. IP28 is a proposed ballot measure that is likely to appear on November's ballot (abetteroregon.org). If passed, it could bring revenue up enough to adequately fund education. Most importantly, we must continue to push our leaders to act and we must make the case to voters that an investment in education is not only the right thing to do, but essential for the future success of our state. No matter where you live, get involved and let your representatives know that you support investment in public education! 
 
GtCNN is a founding organization of the Oregon Youth Reengagement Coalition, which advocates for a statewide policy to reengage out-of-school youth. Richard Greensted is a North Portland resident, school volunteer, and member of GtCNN’s Oregon Ambassador Council.
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