Last week I attended a luncheon that celebrated many fine leaders in Oregon’s teaching community. Each one of these educators showed courage, modeled leadership, and worked tirelessly to build a pathway for children to achieve their dreams.

One teacher’s story especially inspired me. It was told by her son, Kerry Tymchuk, who himself is a recognized civic leader in Oregon’s public life. The story is about Marlene Alspaugh, and it begins in 1955.

Marlene was a student teacher at the Oregon College of Education and was completing her practicum at Monmouth Elementary School with Margaret Perry, a fourth grade teacher. In 1955, Ms. Perry was selected as Oregon’s first Teacher of the Year and later that year also was selected as National Teacher of the Year. As she prepared to travel to Washington, D.C., to accept her award from President Eisenhower, Margaret Perry left her classroom in the hands of her student teacher, Marlene Alspaugh. (more…)

The Oregonian recently concluded a series, “Empty Desks,” which chronicled the distressing rate of student absenteeism in Oregon schools. I appreciated their investigation, because I know that even a miracle worker teacher can’t do much unless her students are in class. Yet when I finished reading the series, I wished there had been greater exploration of the underlying causes of student absenteeism.  

A recent visit with my friend Michael Lindblad, a state Social Studies teacher of the year, crystallized one possibility. Mike is an infectiously enthusiastic educator, one whose students regularly say changed their lives. But when I saw Mike this time, he lamented that he was starting to see kids slip through the cracks because he didn’t get to know them anymore. Mike’s classroom size has mushroomed to between 45-50 students a class. In that environment, how can a perceptive teacher like Mike engage enough with students?   

An overlooked dimension of the classroom experience is the interpersonal relationship between student and teacher. If my teacher knows me, by name and interest, it is much harder to disappear because that teacher will ask where I was and care that I wasn’t there. When Mike, who didn’t flinch when his classes crept from 20 students to 40 plus, said he was feeling the pinch, it made me realize we needed to rethink the relational impact of expanding class sizes. In The Oregonian series, they portray the efforts of Clackamas High School staffers to keep kids in class, which I agree deserve applause. Yet those Herculean efforts would be less needed if teachers were given greater ability to develop a rapport with a smaller cadre of kids. The articles suggest that teachers should not be burdened with worrying about absenteeism. But maybe they are a better front line defense for schools, if they had fewer children per class to engage. (more…)

TimNesbittTim Nesbitt writes on public affairs, has served as an adviser to Govs. Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhaber, and is past president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. He writes an opinion column for The Oregonian on Wednesdays. This column was originally posted to on March 20, 2014 and can be found in its entirety here.

“Real knowledge arises through confrontations with real things.” That was the conclusion of Matthew Crawford in his 2009 book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” in which he offers a thoughtful defense of hands-on learning and a spirited affirmation of the fulfillment that comes from mastering a trade.

Kids sense the truth of that statement. Parents know it. Educators are preaching it. Politicians are embracing it. (more…)

In January, we released preliminary findings of the condition of education for members of Oregon’s Indian tribes. Today, we are pleased to release the final report that probes deeper into the educational achievement and attainment of tribal students in Oregon public schools. The analysis was conducted by ECONorthwest and commissioned by the Spirit Mountain Community Fund and the Chalkboard Project.

For the first time, we have an opportunity to outline existing conditions and define the challenges Oregon’s tribal students face. Prior to this study, tribal leaders could not accurately ascertain how tribal members were performing in school. Thanks to a data-sharing agreement among the tribes, the Oregon Department of Education, and ECONorthwest, we were able to discover some outcomes and needs of tribe-enrolled students.

Tribal students in Oregon face many hurdles in educational achievement and attainment. The findings show that 75 percent of Oregon tribe-enrolled students live in low-income households, almost one-third are enrolled in underperforming schools, and nearly 50 percent are attending rural schools. These conditions, along with other factors, have led to significant achievement gaps among Oregon’s tribal students relative to their peers in the state. For example, Oregon tribe-enrolled third grade students have a 5.1-point gap in reading as compared to their peers. In math, tribal-enrolled eighth graders had a 4.7-point gap. (more…)

A good friend of mine recently found himself on a plane with a nuclear physicist from India who had just completed writing a crime novel. Needless to say, my friend engaged in an interesting conversation.

Eventually, the conversation turned to education. The physicist shared that in India students take tests to see if kids can move on, similar to the LSAT or the Bar exam. Kids who pass the assessment are put into schools with students who had similar scores—tracking. The physicist shared that he did not like entry requirements that looked at race, gender, or background—only test scores.

This 3-hour plane ride prompted a great conversation about the challenges that come with assessment. For kids, assessment is a four-letter word. Anyone who works in education knows that we test our kids ad nauseam. We all learn in our teacher preparation programs that assessment is a measure. We want to be able to measure the growth of a student in his or her mastery of skills and content. I have been teaching for 12 years now and assessment is still incredibly challenging.

I would like to suggest that my wrestling with assessment in my classroom mirrors our national conversation. Assessment is so darn hard to get right. (more…)

Sue Hildick February 26th, 2014 |

Oregon’s Common Core

In Oregon, we know a lot about lumber. A tree’s core is where it grows from and gets it strength. On a similar track, the core K–12 subjects of English Language Arts and math are essential for students to learn if they are going to be ready for college and/or careers.

That’s why we are proud Oregon decided, on its own, to adopt the Common Core State Standards. These math and English Language Arts standards are statements of the knowledge and skills that students need to master in order to be prepared for college and/or the workforce.

Our neighbors in California, Washington, Idaho and Nevada also have adopted the Common Core State Standards, as has almost every state. They were created through a voluntary, collective effort by states because the people closest to our communities and schools know what’s needed. In fact, teachers and administrators in our state, including principals and superintendents, are deciding how the standards are to be taught and will establish the curriculum.  (more…)

Dear Room 14 Families,

I want to take a moment and share some of my thoughts about the recent strike vote. I know it is a cause of concern for all involved and it’s important to have an open dialogue during stressful times like these.

I must start by saying that this is a terrible situation that we, the powers that be in this district, have put ourselves in. The thought of going on strike makes my stomach churn with anxiety and I hope it is something that never happens. I do not want to go on strike. I love my job and want to keep doing the work that I see as so very important. That being said, I believe in and support the action we teachers took last Wednesday.

My dad recently retired from the trades after working as an electrician for the last 40 years. He was part of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and so I grew up valuing unions. As I’ve gotten older and become a part of a union, I’ve begun to see how important unions are for creating a fair work environment. There is often a disconnect between the mangers and the workers. Workers have a perspective of the job that is unique because they are out there doing the work. Without unions, workers do not have the power of a unified voice regarding decisions made that directly impact them. This voice is critical to creating a cohesive and successful work environment. Because of this, I believe that unions are of great importance. I must make it clear that, although I believe they are important, unions are not flawless entities. As a union member, I do not agree with all of the outstanding issues on the table, but as a union member I understand that if we are not all in, then we lose our power and our voice. (more…)

It’s been less then six months since Governor John Kitzhaber signed into law House Bill 3233 establishing the Network for Quality Teaching and Learning. Like the spring bulbs in my garden that have suddenly sprouted, there are promising signs all over the state that are foreshadowing the potential that such a Network can fulfill once it fully blossoms. 

However, it’s easy to lose sight of the intended vision that guided funding for the Network. So here’s an overview of what a comprehensive system of support for educators looks like with examples of how many of the Strategic Investments being launched by the Oregon Department of Education connect to the Network.

The logic around developing a statewide Network is simple:

  • Invest in educators collaborating on the same educational targets.
  • Collaboration and sharing among educators then spreads effective practices.
  • Increased adoption and skill in using proven practices then improves student outcomes.

Too often there is a belief that strong teacher preparation and a few workshops for teachers once they are employed will do the trick. Instead, HB 3233 identified investments for each stage of a typical teacher’s career.



After months of review, Washington state just approved its first public charter schools!

Washington’s public charter schools were chosen carefully to provide more high-quality options for our most at-risk students, especially children of color and students from low-income families.

A high bar was set: of the 22 charter school proposals that were submitted, 8 were approved.

Here’s the list of public charter schools that were approved. Scroll down for the map.

Washington’s First Public Charter Schools: 

1) Excel Public Charter School, grades 6-12*

Opening in Kent, Fall 2015

2) First Place Scholars Charter School, k-5*

Opening in Seattle, Fall 2014

3) Green Dot Charter Middle School, grades 6-8*

Opening in Tacoma, Fall 2015

4) PRIDE Prep, grades 6-12*

Opening in Spokane, Fall 2015

6) SOAR Academy, K-8*

Opening in Tacoma, Fall 2015

7) Summit Public Schools – Olympus, grades 9-12*

Opening in Tacoma, Fall 2015

8) Summit Public Schools – Sierra, grades 9-12*

Opening in Seattle, Fall 2015

*Grades the school will serve at full expansion

mapforparasa (more…)

I recently read The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley, a Time magazine journalist. Ripley followed three American high school exchange students in Finland, South Korea and Poland for one year. As Ripley tells their stories, she directly and indirectly suggests ways to strengthen education in the U.S. based on the education systems in the other countries.

Here is my best attempt at summarizing her recommendations. And yes, these are brief snap shots; the book offers far more lengthy explanations. Like most educators, I have questions about these ideas, but all are worthy of discussion. Whether they can, should or will be implemented is open to debate, so let the conversation begin.

1)    Use a single set of clear, targeted standards. Will Common Core serve this purpose for the U.S.?

2)    Conduct fewer standardized assessments, and make them matter. The adoption of Common Core standards and Smarter Balanced assessments, along with more stringent graduation requirements, may be leading us in this direction. At least the “make them matter” part. (more…)