We would like to introduce Chris Chavez,  a new author at ChalkBloggers.
Chris currently teachers social studies at Liberty High School, in the Hillsboro School District. Previously he was a teacher in the Woodburn School District for ten years.


I recently read Dr. Hilda Rosseli’s piece Oregon’s Educators Workforce Diversity: Still Falling Short regarding the 2014 Oregon Minority Teacher Act Status Report.  As an educator of color I am, and continue to be, very conscious of the lack of diversity in education.  Since the passing of the Minority Teacher Act of 1991 we have seen a growth in the number of minorities entering and completing teacher programs but, according to the report, we saw only an additional 10 minority teachers added to the workforce in 2013-2014 from the previous year.  Yet according to the numbers compiled by the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission in June 2014, between the public and private Oregon educational institutions we saw 221 culturally and linguistically educators complete their initial teacher licensure programs.

Even with the new proposed change under Senate Bill 755 that was recently introduced that would redefine as a minority any staff member whose first language was other than English, parity across our state would still be CChavezpullqtefar from being achieved.  Given the current progress of the hiring of minority educators, I support the Oregon Educator Equity Advisory Group’s assertion that parity includes a re-examination of recruitment, interviewing, and hiring practices at the district and building level.

This would mean that districts consciously, actively, and systematically recruit more minority teachers, whether Latino, African-American, Asian, women, disabled, etc. As districts and communities embrace diversity, there is a need for us to address this re-examination proactively.

The incorporation of more minority teachers plays an important role in changing the perception of minorities in society, and in all students, regardless of demographics.  Especially if these teachers are hired to teach in the core subjects: science, math, English language arts, and social studies. In the case of some minority educators, we would even add the benefit of more bilingual teachers who are endorsed in core subjects, and increase our capacity to implement fully bilingual programs.  Furthermore, the different perspectives and experiences of these new teachers would be an invaluable resource to our staff as teachers and as future leaders.

I am often amazed how few educators—including educators of color—are even aware of the Minority Teacher Act of 1991. To move forward, I believe the issue of parity should be part of any school improvement plan, utilize current minority teachers to recruit teachers, and, most importantly, districts recruit from their own community of graduates.

We have made great strides and I applaud the progressive steps we have taken.  Parity is just another step in our long journey as a society and toward our goal to provide the best and most equitable education possible for all students.

Last month, the Distinguished Leaders Council (DLC) released its report and recommendations for improving school leadership in Oregon. Recognizing the urgent need, and grounded in the recommendations from the DLC, Chalkboard Project is partnering with the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington to launch a program aimed at building districts’ capacity to develop effective principals. The program’s goal—designed for current central office leaders who have supervisory roles with principals—is to strengthen central office administrators knowledge and skills in the leadership practices that ultimately drive significant gains in student achievement by increasing the capacity of school principals. As the DLC noted, principal supervisors who prioritize instructional leadership, emotional intelligence, and student-centered accountability are ultimately better able to support principal performance. I’m pleased to say that we are now accepting applications for the first cohort, due back to Chalkboard on October 30.


A hallmark of effective school principals is that they find a way to prioritize instructional leadership over traditional administrative tasks. While no two schools operate exactly alike, in my experience a common trait in schools led by highly effective principals is that they empower leadership at all levels of the organization, which allows them to focus more deeply on improving student achievement.

Through coaching teachers in the classroom, working with teachers and staff to respond to formative assessment data, and managing human capital, principals become a key lever in school improvement. Effective principals are highly visible in their schools. They provide useful feedback and ensure high-quality professional development resulting in strong school cultures of support, trust, and continuous improvement. They lead through an equity lens to develop and advance culturally responsive practices and close achievement and opportunity gaps.

Yet for many principals, the seemingly endless number of administrative tasks can often overwhelm their best intentions to devote significant time to instructional leadership. It can feel like a trap. As a former principal, I can attest first hand to the challenges of juggling administrative tasks with finding time for instructional leadership. I knew both sides of the job were critically important to the success of my school and both placed large demands on my time. I was often left having to, in the words of Kim Marshall “attend to the urgent at the expense of the important.” And, often I fell short.

Part of running a successful school, I learned, required enlisting leaders at all levels of the district. Slowly, and with lots of help from my amazing staff, I learned how to build a culture of trust that created the conditions and expectation that our staff (and students!) could take ownership for many facets of our daily operations. This allowed me to shift how I spent my time and gave me the time I needed to support educators to do their best work.

We’ve known for a long time that school leadership matters. After educators, effective principals have a significant impact on student achievement. Helping central office supervisors to create the conditions that lead schools to new levels of student achievement can only happen with an intentional focus on leadership, and because district leaders have been given training, support, and experiences that deepen their knowledge and skills. I’m excited to see this work take shape.

DLC report release
Photo: Official release of the Distinguished Leaders
Council report and recommendations,
September 17, 2014.

This past summer I received a phone call from a student at a Portland Metro Area high school who was a reporter for her school newspaper and was on assignment to seek out “expert” opinion why teachers leave certain schools but not others.  The reporter’s school (which I was familiar with) was losing eight faculty members (from a staff of about 65) and among those moving on were several of the school’s more effective and popular teachers. The reporter seemed personally hurt by this teacher exodus and when I replied to her questions, I attempted to discuss the possible reasons for their departure while avoiding a painful reality: her school is simply not where teachers want to stay.

That effective teachers appear to be in short supply in many schools was the subject of a California court decision in early June. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down several California education statutes revolving around teacher tenure, dismissal and seniority as part of his ruling in Vergara vs. California.  Vergara was seen in some circles as a major victory for school advocates, particularly those who feel that union rules stand in the way of meaningful change in education. United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lauded the judgment, noting it was a “mandate to fix…problems” that stemmed from “laws, practices, and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students.” On the heels of the verdict, Duncan announced his “Effective Educators for All” initiative. In his estimation, freeing school districts from the bonds of union-driven tenure laws was one step toward putting the best teachers into the neediest schools.


While I believe in the spirit of the initiative—and agree that the neediest schools need the best teachers—neither it nor the Vergara decision will lead to any substantive change.

Why? Because Secretary Duncan’s solutions address none of the root causes for why the neediest schools lack effective teachers. While some analysis of the initiative seems to indicate that Secretary Duncan is at least aware of the need for equitable (read: more) pay for teachers in needy schools, he makes no effort to address other factors that steer teachers away from disadvantaged schools, such as high student-teacher ratios, demanding and often hostile conditions, poor classroom environments, and lack of parent and community support. And, since the only real money that the Department of Education will commit to the project is a paltry $4.2 million (which is less than $100k per state) for a “technical assistance network,” I am unconvinced Secretary Duncan will be able to help the states rectify the one area he even does address.

All of this leaves teachers in a position where they are effectively “guilted” for choosing to work in schools and communities that are more supportive of teaching and which provide a more pleasant working environment. Because teaching is a “vocational profession,” there exists a perception that teachers should ignore market and social realities and sacrifice where necessary for the good of the whole, even if that means shunning raises and staying in poor schools with even poorer working conditions. To leave is to “abandon” the neediest students and to risk a moral judgment by others. Whereas a pilots union is celebrated for standing up to an “unjust” airline, a teachers union is maligned for doing the same to a district or state. The individual teacher is put into an unwinnable position as a result.


Until school environments are given greater support so that teaching loads are reasonable (a high school English teacher shouldn’t be expected to teach five classes of 35+ students daily), buildings are maintained, and communities support teachers’ efforts, good teachers are going to continually seek out environments that maximize their effectiveness and offer them the healthiest opportunities for their professional and personal lives. To ask them to do anything differently is absurd. It’s simply not fair to expect a teacher to make decisions that aren’t predicated a fuller range of factors than their monetary compensation when we encourage numerous other professionals to do so.

When I was talking to the student reporter what I really wanted to tell her was that community and district had failed her and her school, and that’s why the teachers were leaving. Her community, and the school district in particular, need to do a better job creating school environments that makes it more attractive for the great teachers to stay. To be fair, the power to create that environment is likely not within the community or even the district’s power.
To blame them for picking a better working environment is to miss the much larger realities truly at work.

Special thanks to University of Portland Professor Eric Ancti, who contributed to this post. 

I am not a great traveler. I love to do it, but I’m not great at it, whether it’s for work or for play. First, I never know what to pack. Second, I can’t imagine how my husband and three girls will manage without me. Finally, I never know if it will be worth the effort. On August 14 and 15, I overcame these personal hurdles and attended a briefing about the evolving role of state education agencies.

The briefing, The state as the unit of change: Building capacity to impact learners, was held by Grantmakers for Education in Denver, Colorado, and asked funders to ponder whether state education agencies could act as primary change agents and innovators; or whether public-private partnerships are the driving force behind innovation and change at the state level.Kyliepullquote

There are many examples of public-private partnerships in education, though they have traditionally and most often had to do with leveraging community stakeholders as a part of the educational resources available to schools. The breadth and pace of the various state-level education reform initiatives seem to suggest that public-private partnerships are critical to supporting state education agencies and their ability to drive innovation, build capacity, and support stakeholder collaboration.

In Colorado, for example, the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) has created a strong private-public partnership with the Colorado Department of Education. The commissioner of education, who sits on the board, has said, “What CEI has been able to do for Colorado is to bring things to fruition so fast, in a way the Colorado Department of Education alone would never be able to do.

Here in Oregon, we frequently see these types of partnerships when we talk about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, and many kids in our area reap the benefits of a close proximity to Intel. And Chalkboard Project has had a longstanding private-public relationship with the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), working on issues such as teaching effectiveness, educator evaluation systems, and more recently, on improving school leadership.

Some believe a minimal state education department is ideal: identify those functions that only a state agency can do and hand everything else to outside organizations. Others believe that state agencies have handed over too much to outside organizations, creating negative impact on the quality of education. What do you think? And, where would you suggest Chalkboard be on that spectrum?

At Chalkboard, we see our role and value in helping to create statewide, systemic reform by (1) providing independent research as the basis for reforms; (2) partnering with educators and experts to design and implement pilot programs and advocate for transformation; and, (3) serving as an independent voice to citizens, educational stakeholders, and decision makers. We’ve also seen the Oregon Department of Education work toward becoming a more nimble and efficient agency—one that is shifting its focus from compliance to one of support and service. We applaud and support these efforts. But we strongly believe that the department cannot move the needle fast enough on all the complex education issues without the funding, innovation, and resources that private partnerships offer.

Back in the conference room in downtown Denver, the room full of funders—some big ones with names you can guess and some very small ones with names I can’t remember —honed in on the need to support organizations like CEI and Chalkboard as the best way of ensuring a return on their investment in the education arena. Without organizations that can come alongside state education agencies and act as both a critical friend and as a catalyst for change, the success of many of their other investments is left in doubt. For sure, states that shy away from public-private partnerships will likely fall behind in transforming crucial areas such as education.

You’ll be happy to know that my packing job turned out to be just right, my family survived (I could say thrived but I’m choosing not to), and participating in a thought-provoking conversation about the evolving role of state education agencies was more than worth it!

In the spring of 2012, I worked with Chalkboard Project to form the Distinguished Educators Council (DEC). Chalkboard’s idea was to convene a team of educators recognized for their teaching excellence. The goal was to bring them together at meetings to discuss current issues important to teachers, and engage them in amplifying teachers’ voices in Oregon’s education policy-making arena.

Thirty-four distinguished teachers applied to be part of the new council, and after a thorough and thoughtful review process thirteen were invited to join. Through my role as an advisor and facilitator, I maintained that Chalkboard was asking the DEC for one important thing—ideas to support and strengthen teaching in Oregon.

After five months of reading and discussion, the council adopted five research-based recommendations to help teachers. The recommendations centered on teacher preparation, evaluation, professional learning, leadership opportunities, and supporting all students. The council’s full report is on Chalkboard’s website.

From fall of 2012 to spring of 2013, the council shared their ideas with policy-making bodies, which included the State Board of Education, the Oregon Education Investment Board, and the Oregon Legislature. And, the council was thrilled to see the legislature form the Network for Quality Teaching and Learning, a new OEIB-initiative that reflects the council’s recommendations.

The council spent last summer discussing over 50 concrete ideas for making their five core recommendations realities, and narrowed those ideas to two areas of focus – support for cooperating teachers working with new teacher candidates, and providing teachers time for collaboration and professional learning. Since then, the council has been researching and considering these topics in depth, and they are excited to advocate specific ideas to policy-makers in the coming months.

When the council first convened I wondered if these teachers trusted the sincerity of Chalkboard’s charge, to generate ideas to support and strengthen teaching in Oregon, and were they assured that Chalkboard was not simply looking for a rubber-stamp of its own agenda? Yet in the fall of 2012, I read comments from the DEC council about their participation that expressed how invigorated and empowered they were by this work, and several called it the most meaningful professional development experience of their careers.

Which brings us to the present. I’m excited to continue to work with the Distinguished Educators Council and engage teachers directly in Oregon’s education policy-making process. And I am excited to announce that Chalkboard Project is now accepting applications from teachers to join the Distinguished Educators Council. You can find details and an application form at this website.

It seems like the topic of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is central to many of my recent conversations. We all seem to share the same objective–to figure out what is best for our kids and educators in Oregon. Yet there’s so much confusion and conflicting information out there that sometimes it prevents us from even entering into the conversation.

During one of my conversations with a fellow parent about the “Common Core”, it dawned on me that while I was talking about what the Common Core State Standards would mean for our kids’ classrooms, she was talking about the Smarter Balanced state assessment (SBAC). In many of the conversations that are happening right now it’s not easy to differentiate which of the three new components that are being grouped as “Common Core”–the actual standards, the potential for new curriculum materials for classrooms, or the new state assessment that will be used to measure student achievement towards the new standards.

It seems like since I’ve had this realization it’s been easier to have meaningful conversations with friends and colleagues because we first decide what we’re talking about—the standards, the curriculum, or the assessment—they are not all Common Core, but pieces of a new system. Each of these three pieces has their own implementation needs, challenges and even successes that need to be supported, overcome or celebrated. Our discussions need to differentiate between the three components clearly, or I fear decisions will be made holistically and one or two very important parts will be left misunderstood.

Simply put the CCSS are statements of what students should know in math and English/language arts at each grade level to be college or career ready; “curriculum” are the resources and tools (like textbooks and teaching materials) educators will use to help students reach the standards; and the SBAC will help us determine if our curriculum aligns to our standards.

When emotions are running high, you may find it easier to frame discussions by narrowing the focus. Many resources are available online that describe each of these three facets of Common Core. For example, can you explain why and how the standards in education have shifted to focus on colleague and career readiness?

If the conversation shifts to a “federally-mandated curriculum” can you speak to how this is not the case in Oregon and that curricular decisions are still made by individual school districts?  Or, can you share your thoughts on why various organizations are advocating for a delay on the use of SBAC until educators can get the support they need to implement the new standards in their classrooms? (Especially if those new assessments are tied to an educator’s or school’s evaluation?)

We need to have a serious conversation in Oregon about how to best make this shift and what our priorities for kids and educators are, but first we need to make sure we are having the right conversation.


For more information

Achieve website 

The Aspen Institute 

Oregon Common Core Standards Website




Introduction The U.S. Department of Education, using four year adjusted cohort rates, reported Oregon was forty-ninth in high school graduation rankings for the 2011-2012 year. While alarming, the resulting discussion over how the rankings are formulated and what these figures measure within each state is an intriguing one. This blog post presents a perspective on this rating process.

President of ECONorthwest John Tapogna specializes in education, social, and fiscal policy.

He has directed evaluations of dropout prevention programs, the impacts of small class sizes, and the efficacy of small schools. Prior to joining ECONorthwest, John was an analyst at the U.S. Congressional Budget Office. He holds degrees from the University of Oregon and Harvard University’s School of Government.

Oregon’s 68 percent high school graduation rate has been the subject of considerable debate. But, relative to other states, does Oregon really deserve its bottom tier status?  Probably not.

On-time, cohort graduation rates are a new measure. To illustrate this, we dug into the graduation rates for the 2010-11 school year.  Oregon’s near the bottom of the pack. Then we looked four years earlier—spring 2007—at the performance of Oregon eighth graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics exam. These are largely the same kids—just earlier in their educational careers.

Seventy-three percent of Oregon eighth graders met the NAEP standard for basic math proficiency in 2007. That was middle of pack—twenty-fourth in the US. Four years later, 68 percent of the cohort graduated on time.

Connecticut and Maryland students performed similarly on the 2007 NAEP—73 and 74 percent at basic math proficiency, respectively. Yet, both states registered 83 percent on-time graduation rates in 2011—15 percentage points higher than Oregon.

So, what’s going on?


One interpretation is that Oregon’s high schools are a disaster—dropout factories—while Maryland and Connecticut’s are over-performers.

But that’s unlikely the case. Two factors are more likely.

First, Oregon is holding itself to a tighter standard and doesn’t count diplomas that other states include (e.g., modified diplomas to students with special needs).

Second, the growing popularity of five-year high schools, which blend community college work into the final years, is probably depressing Oregon’s rate. To date, federal statistics haven’t looked at graduates who take extra time.

The upshot?

Interstate comparisons of newly devised high school graduation rate figures are misleading. In recent years, they have overstated the Oregon K-12 challenge. Were one to devise and implement a common national standard for high school graduation, I suspect you’d find Oregon right in the middle the pack. That said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

More information

Oregonian article, “Oregon graduation rate barely budges…”, Feb. 6, 2014

My great nephew recently announced to his parents his intent to finish college and get his teaching license to teach science at the high school level and coach soccer. His father, a business major, tried to dissuade him, not because teaching is not an honorable and noble profession, but because spending the money on a master’s degree, teaching license, and the debt that his son might incur in the process and the entry level salary and increases he would make did not make good economic sense.

One of the major challenges faced in teacher preparation program reform work today is attracting and recruiting bright, young, talented students to careers in teaching.

A new report released recently from The New Teacher Project (TNTP) sheds light on the problems with an inflexible archaic pay structure built solely on degrees and years of experience. It clearly illustrates the inherent problems with the pay structure used in more than 90 percent of our school districts in the U.S. today.

Some people say that pay is not important for teachers, yet in a survey of 11,000 teachers in three of the nation’s largest school districts, two thirds of the respondents indicate that they would choose to teach in schools offering either a base salary increase, or bonuses to the top performing teachers over a school with a traditional pay system, all else being equal.

There are numerous districts in the U.S. that are working with new pay structures and are gaining ground in dealing with the aforementioned problems. Their work serves as a model for the rest of the country. While pay is only one piece of the solution, it is a big piece and one that we can tackle.

Key Factors

  • Moving to a new structure is a process and not an event; it will take time and teacher input.
  • The use of performance pay increases will require strong teacher evaluation systems that are consistently implemented, clearly communicated to teachers, and generally understood by all involved.
  • School leaders will need to be trained in the use of the evaluation system with observation skills and tools in order to avoid inflated ratings.
  • Teachers will need a clearly articulated way to address any concerns with their evaluations.
  • Strong differentiated and relevant professional development will need to be available for teachers to feel supported in improving their teaching.


More Information

Shortchanged: The Hidden Costs of Lockstep Teacher Pay (2014)

The Irreplaceables:Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools (2012)

Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top third graduates to a career in teaching (2010)

White Rhino Blog on Why I discourage Latino students from becoming teachers


We’ve been talking a lot about equity recently. Whether it’s about student achievement and opportunity gaps or about ensuring our teacher workforce is culturally and ethnically diverse, the truth is Chalkboard has been committed to equity in education since its inception. In fact, we’ve had an educational equity policy embedded in our vision statement for several years now. Our vision is to see Oregon’s K-12 public schools among the best in the nation as measured by student achievement and educational equity. Yet, Oregon’s achievement gaps remain stagnant, even while states similar to Oregon in demographics and funding are narrowing theirs. Our CLASS districts are consistently narrowing the poverty gap, but fluctuating in their results along racial lines.

Pull quote Sue 7 29 14We are determined to align our internal and external resources for greater equity. We especially want to better understand the underpinnings of racial equity. One year ago, Chalkboard staff started down a learning path to build awareness and a shared understanding and analysis of structural racism, and the challenges that deep institutional and societal inequities present to our work. We’ve accomplished quite a few milestones—from completing an organizational assessment to developing a strategic framework and action plan. This has led to Chalkboard staff drafting its first-ever racial equity policy, which was reviewed and adopted by our board earlier this month.

Our policy reflects the core values and principles we have set forth to inform and drive our transformational work on equity, diversity, and inclusion. These are:

  • Diversity as it drives discovery
  • Collaboration and shared leadership
  • Quality education as a basic human right
  • An inclusive and dynamic workplace
  • Mutual respect and understanding

We recognize that we cannot do this work alone. Chalkboard will invest in partnerships with diverse leaders and community organizations to help us build a better Oregon for our children. We will deepen our relationships with communities of color. And we will promote greater understanding among policymakers that the achievement gap has social and economic implications.

We acknowledge that we will achieve our equity, diversity, and inclusion goals only as we assume individual and collective responsibility. Chalkboard Project is committed to these goals and moves forward with great enthusiasm and engagement.

Recent events have once again raised the question of equal access to quality education, and how far we must still go as a nation to close the achievement and opportunity gaps for all our students.

In June, a Superior Court judge ruled against the state of California and the teacher union in Vergara v. State of California, asserting that the state’s level of funding disproportionately disadvantaged minority children, and tenure laws led to the hiring and retention of poor-performing teachers, who often taught in schools with large numbers of low-income and minority students.

A month later, the US Department of Education announced a new initiative to provide all students access to great educators through its three-part Excellent Education for All. States will be required to put in place comprehensive educator equity plans, the Department will launch a new educator equity support network, and also will publish educator equity profiles starting this fall, which will help states identify gaps in access to quality teaching for low-income and minority students

At Chalkboard Project, we welcome the strong focus on equity in education. And more importantly, on the role high-quality teachers play in the equity equation.

We have spent the last decade working to improve the effectiveness of the classroom teacher—first through our CLASS project, then through the state’s School District Collaboration Fund and the federal Teacher Incentive Fund grants, and more recently through our teacher preparation program, TeachOregon. We believe that every child deserves a highly effective teacher and all children are entitled to a high-quality education regardless of their race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.

The good news is that our efforts are paying off. The districts that have participated in our initiatives, have continued to move students to proficiency on state tests faster than the rest of the state. These districts also continue the promising result of closing the achievement gaps between traditionally underperforming student groups and the rest of Oregon students.

We know that teachers are the single most important in-school factor for student learning. And we understand the importance of supporting teachers throughout their career pathway—from preparation, to recruitment, retention, and advancement. These are the tenets of Chalkboard’s initiatives.

In TeachOregon, for example, we are collaborating with 13 districts and 11 higher education institutions to pilot new ways of improving Oregon’s teacher preparation programs. And soon, we will launch a school leadership initiative to meet the demand for excellent school leaders.

We have, indeed, made progress toward raising the bar of teaching effectiveness in Oregon. But until all districts adopt a laser-like focus in supporting their teachers and working collaboratively to improve the quality of instruction, Oregon will continue to hover in the middle of the pack as compared to other states in the nation. In fact, if Oregon had fully implemented the CLASS Project, we would be among the top 10 states in the nation as measured by eighth grade achievement, and could achieve our statewide goal of 100 percent high school graduation three years faster than the current trajectory.

The Office for Civil Rights names education as the civil rights issue of our time. We couldn’t agree more. It will take equal access to high-quality teachers for all students to accelerate student achievement and to help all students reach their potential. It will take breakthroughs in how we engage and support teachers. It will take courage and determination to work collaboratively to move the needle toward eradicating social inequality through effective teachers and a high-quality education system.