Senate Bill 1581: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Senate Bill 1581: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Senate Bill 1581 does nothing to solve the real problems facing local education: austerity induced overcrowded classrooms and insufficient number of courses for the majority of local high school students, who no longer attend a full day. More importantly, it will not set Oregon free from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). SB 1581 perpetuates the failed policies of NCLB with the use of standards-based test scores to drive performance of students, teachers, schools, districts and the entire education system with sanctions and rewards. NCLB mandates the unachievable goal that all students will be reading at grade level by 2014. As a direct result of this measurement system, half the schools in the country are now failing. Rather than identify the problematic goal, we blame teachers. We don’t ask teachers how we can help, we demand that all students achieve the same high standards regardless of the each child’s unique situation. Demanding that teachers produce the desired outcomes of high scores on large-scale tests under the current austerity regime is a nightmare from Kafka.

SB 1581 represents the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good is an attempt to avoid financial sanctions imposed by NCLB on so-called failed schools. Achievement compacts allow districts flexibility and more time in achieving the still impossible goals of NCLB. The problems with NCLB must be addressed at the national level unless Oregon opts out of federal education funding, an unlikely possibility.

The bad is the creation of a whole new hierarchy for Oregon education. Rather than relying on our publicly elected Oregon Department of Education State Schools Superintendent, or other elected officials, the new system positions the appointed members of the Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) at the top of a new administrative system. Four members of the OEIB represent multinational corporations and other businesses: the Director of Global Strategy for NIKE, the Chief Administrative Officer of JELD-WEN, the Co-President of Forest Capital Partners, which owns and manages millions of acres of timber in North America, and the Chair of Capital Pacific Bank. The OEIB wants to appoint and oversee a Chief Education Officer who will appoint and control the Chancellor of the Oregon University System, the executive director of the Oregon Student Access Commission, the Early Childhood System Director, the executive director of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission, and the Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction. This administrative boondoggle concentrates tremendous power in the hands of an appointed board, some of whom serve corporate masters, rather with elected officials who are directly accountable to the public.

The ugly is imbedded in the sentence “providing an integrated, statewide, student-based data system that monitors expenditures and outcomes to determine the return on state-wide education investments.” This artifact of the standards based movement assumes that the most important thing we can know about a student outcome is a number, a score on a large-scale high-risk test.

The OEIB promoted the P-20 Longitudinal Data System in its report, Oregon Learns. The P-20 is used to collect and analyze student scores on high-risk large scale tests in order to judge schools and programs. This system utilizes sanctions and rewards to drive success, narrowly defined as score on test. This is the application of a business model to the very human enterprise of learning. In the corporate world, a subsidiary that does not produce adequate profit for stock holders is broken up and sold for scrap. Our schools deserved to be treated with more respect.

Make no mistake, this data is collected from each student, but is not used to inform the instruction of any individual. Students are subject to rigorous grade level tests so that policy makers can judge teachers, schools, and programs. Would you submit to unpleasant medical tests so that others can judge the efficacy of doctors and hospitals? Why would you do that to children at school? Students, teachers, and parents know that there is already too much standards-based testing.

Trying to achieve NCLB goals is a fool’s errand. All children will not be reading at grade level by 2014, or in any other year. The waiver merely allows more time to attain unreachable goals. The use of the word “investment” in the board’s title reveals the view that we should manage our money to produce profit rather than focusing human energy to produce learning. Putting corporate appointees in charge of education cannot be expected to produce a different outcome.

We must move from the language of all students succeeding to optimal outcomes for each individual. Leaders from the education community who understand learning theory should provide research based strategies to improve learning, which would focus on equitable funding, school climate, teacher learning communities, and Response to Intervention, a three-tiered model of instruction and intervention. Testing is neither teaching nor learning. Tests which do not serve the individual student should be minimized, not drive the system. The OIEB is on the wrong track. Contact your legislator: http://www.leg.state.or.us/findlegsltr/. Public school employees will be rallying in Salem at noon on Feb. 20. Please join us.

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