Traci Price is the former Education Director of The Freshwater Trust, Board Chair of The Environmental Education Association of Oregon, and task force chair of the No Oregon Child Left Inside task force that completed the development of “The Oregon Environmental Literacy Plan: Toward a Sustainable Future” on October 1st, 2010. Oregon is the third state in the union with a completed environmental literacy plan.
Since the earliest evidence of humans in Oregon, our relationship with the state’s natural resources has defined the Oregon way of life. Our landscapes, waterways, coastline and wildlife have inspired our stories, supported our livelihoods and provided our legacy. Oregon’s natural resources serve as a foundation of our state’s economy and represent a vital heritage, one that Oregonians want to ensure for generations. Preparing Oregon’s children to protect this valuable legacy is complicated by the fact that many of our youth are disconnected from the natural world and have little understanding of their relationship to it.
In order to address this challenge, the Oregon Legislature passed a law in 2009 (HB2544, the No Oregon Child Left Inside Act) to create a statewide environmental literacy plan. As per HB2544, the Governor appointed an eleven-member task force to develop the Oregon Environmental Literacy Plan (the Plan). The Plan is directed to state policy leaders, schools, districts, teachers, nonformal educators, community partners and other interested parties, and is intended to serve as a roadmap for the development and implementation of an educational program for environmental literacy.
I woke up one morning last week fully expecting for there to be snow on the ground as that’s what the weather report the night before said. Hmmm…it was sunny and 42. Then I got to thinking, after decades and decades of precise data on weather patterns in Oregon, we are still only able to predict the weather some agonizingly small amount of time. Yet, I still believe it every time I see the news report, I yearn for that predictability and clarity in how the world around me is going to be. Sometimes I long for this ability to make things simple and clear and somehow with this simplicity and predictability a little more within my control.
So, why am I talking about the weather? It’s my imperfect analogy to the school reform debate. It sounds agonizingly desirable for the solutions to be simple and clear.
Should we have charter schools? I love the thought of simple and straightforward neighborhood public schools that take all kids and give them all a world-class education. Yet, I believe in a family’s right to choose what is best for their child and I know that there are charter schools doing amazing work for kids and families, using new techniques and ideas to stimulate learning.
As teachers are one of the key factors in our kids’ success, shouldn’t I support their union without question? I believe in the right of workers to gather together, to demand conditions, wages, and benefits that might otherwise be lost as a part of a large and inflexible institution. Teachers deserve this strong voice. Yet, to protect those who should not be teachers, to insist on a system that promotes bureaucracy over effectiveness, to not participate fully in the difficult navigation of today’s schools, and to continually harken to the perceived and real wrongs of the past as we perpetuate wrongs of the present is unacceptable.
Don’t we need to know how and whether our kids are succeeding? Of course! We have to have both formative and summative indicators that help drive our decisions, our hiring, our resource allocations, our teaching methods, and our strategies as parents and caring adults. Yet, we must design a system that is kid-centered, that takes in to account all the good and bad baggage that each of us carries around – our race, our socio-economic status, our history, our faith, our trust.
What I fear in our debate is that we are all too busy seeking simplicity and clarity. We are sticking to our guns and drawing lines in the sand – and as we do, many of our kids are literally disappearing before our eyes. Simple would be nice, clarity would be wonderful, and one right answer would make decisions delightfully easy. I did not live in other times, I live in these times – and in these times, there is very little in my life that seems so simple.
We must stop being surprised each time the weather report is wrong. Life is not simple, educational answers are not clear. We must have strong convictions, and be willing to adapt and change to find the answers that are best for our kids. We must seek idealistic clarity through a lens of pragmatic gray.
Jacqueline Jannotta Rothenberg and Katy Mayo-Hudson are two Portland moms who have worked collaboratively to create ScoopOnSchools. They conducted interviews, visited schools and researched to create this comprehensive online tool which helps Portland Parents make more informed decisions when choosing schools.
Portland parents place a high value on an education that is both dynamic and matches their values. In our case, being daughters of teachers (and one of us a teacher by trade), we’ve been especially interested in learning as much as possible about Portland schools in order to make the best choice for our children. So when our own kids were ready to enter the school system, we were surprised and frustrated that there was no easy way to gather good information about our school options. Along with thousands of other Portland parents, we scoured the Internet, talked to people, and visited schools – trying to get a clear take on our neighborhood school and other options that went beyond test scores and reputation. We quickly found ourselves swimming in the muddy waters of conflicting information and weathering the winds of strong opinions. Fortunately, we had the time to check and recheck what we were learning, but couldn’t even imagine what it must be like for parents who didn’t have the time to do this kind of legwork.
Several years and many research hours later, we reflected on all we had learned and how challenging it had been to learn it all. Why should a whole new crop of parents have to blindly figure out “the school thing” every year? Why not articulate a straightforward process so that all parents can be thorough and focused on what’s important to them in a school. So we set out to create www.ScoopOnSchools.com in the hope of saving others some of the stress we went through by providing them clear information about Portland school decision-making.
ScoopOnSchools takes parents through a six step process, beginning with an introduction to what’s out there and how the school scene is organized. We then encourage them to think deeply about what makes their child thrive and consequently what they are looking for in a school. Next, we guide them in gathering and interpreting data so they can walk into a school knowing what questions to ask, and how to look with a discerning eye. And after parents make a balanced and strategic school choice plan, we offer tips on how to get involved in their child’s learning experience.
It’s our belief that by supporting parents in becoming more knowledgeable about the school decision process they will become more invested in the school they ultimately choose. More invested parents, in our minds, result in better schools – whether those schools are public neighborhood schools, magnets, charters, or private schools. And better schools in Oregon will benefit us all.
Jacqueline Jannotta Rothenberg & Katy Mayo-Hudson
A new report suggests that Oregon could benefit from significantly changing its school and district accountability system. The report, commissioned by the Chalkboard Project, Stand for Children, OBA, and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and prepared by Education First Consulting, recommends that Oregon overhaul the indicators used and reported in its current accountability system to include a richer set of information that suggests how well schools are helping students prepare for college and careers.
The report suggests that states with successful accountability systems communicate results effectively, provide meaningful resources to interpret and use accountability results, and base their systems on rigorous college- and career-ready expectations. The authors of the report synthesized promising practices in state accountability systems and compared those identified promising practices to Oregon’s accountability system.
Additional recommendations for Oregon include revamping and streamlining the state’s reporting system, including considering the reporting timeline, the number of reports, and the usefulness of the data to inform instruction and decisions, and exploring the use of incentives to motivate schools and districts to continually improve or to maintain success. The report also recommends that Oregon improve its measurement and use of student growth scores, and suggests adopting the Colorado Growth Model.
Download the full report. For more about Education First Consulting, see www.educationfirstconsulting.com.
My class of teacher candidates and I are reading Teaching 2030, a book that uses wonderful ideas from practicing teachers to discuss their changing roles. As the title suggests, the authors (Barnett Berry and the TeachersSolutions 2030Team) offer analyses of the present to project a positive future. The book discusses the union movement and its effects on the present roles; learning ecologies and technological changes; differentiated pathways and careers for teachers; and teacherpreneurism and innovation. It is the latter concept – teacherpreneurism – that most intrigues my teacher candidates and me.
First, a definition. Teacherpreneurism is not educational entrepreneurism: recruiting people from outside schools to “fix” what is inside the present schools. Instead, teacherpreneurs are “teacher-leaders of proven accomplishment who have a deep knowledge of how to teach, a clear understanding of what strategies must be in play to make schools successful, and the skills and commitment to spread their expertise to others – all the while keeping at least one foot firmly in the classroom.” (Teaching 2030, p.136) In other words, the goal of these people would be to work from within to make schools better. The premise is that good teachers, especially, but not exclusively, young ones, want to stay within teaching but not within the cradle to retirement of working only in a classroom. Instead of moving to administration, these newly envisioned roles would allow teachers to work with students but also with their colleagues and students beyond their own classroom in a variety of ways – and they would be paid accordingly, both in personal satisfaction and in salary differentiation.
When my students talked about these ideas, they became interested in what happens in schools now and wondered why these sorts of opportunities don’t seem to exist. So I had them watch videos of the CLASS Project, especially the Sherwood District which is trying anew salary schedule to allow teachers to move in that direction. http://educators4reform.org/participating-districts/sherwood-school-district/ I wanted them to see that in Oregon change has begun. (A side note: many were really surprised how the teachers in the CLASS project talked about the lack of supervision and evaluation before implementing these changes. Most of them have a very limited understanding of the profession they are entering, and I often think how their lack reflects society as a whole.)
We here in Eugene are experiencing yet another round of deep cuts, school closures, and furlough days. All of this publicity discourages my class – will there be jobs for them? And that is why I have them read this book so they can envision an alternative kind of schooling. While Rahm Emmanuel’s comment of “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” came back to bite him, I do agree that this present funding crisis offers us a way to rethink how we teach. Or, more specifically, how children learn. Whether we reexamine our outdated high school Carnegie units and the structures that result or apply technology to allow for individualized instruction in our over-crowded classrooms or some other yet-to-be-thought-of idea, we have the opportunity to create a new future. We Oregonians pride ourselves on innovation in environmental and health issues; why not in education?
There are many proposals for reforming education. And new proposals continue to appear regularly. Over the past several months I have tried to sift through dozens of proposals and integrate the most important of these, those most likely to produce results, into a coherent framework. In developing this framework I tried to improve our fundamental understanding of public education in the United States and to clarify the purposes of education reform.
I then organized a limited number of “high leverage” improvement ideas into three themes: teaching and learning, education infrastructure, and accountability. Next, I attempted to show how these parts fit together as a coherent whole. Finally, I considered the policy changes needed to implement education reform.
I have argued that policy makers at many levels should work together to establish common purpose, focus attention on what matters most, and sustain a strategic effort over time. I’ve also asserted that substantial progress can made using the resources already available and that meaningful work can commence immediately.
If the topic of education reform interests you, you can find my monograph here.
You’ll note that the Chalkboard Project’s current emphasis on teacher quality issues is strongly supported by my own research. Over the long term, work in this area is essential to improving student achievement and creating meaningful accountability.
I consider the monograph a work in progress. Consequently, I welcome feedback based on all points of view. I intend to revise it periodically based on suggestions for improvement and the availability of new evidence.
I hope you find my proposal interesting and that you’ll join me in an ongoing discussion.
After convening in January to swear in new members and establish committees, the Oregon Legislative Assembly has been in recess until this week. The Legislature reconvened on February 1st to begin regular legislative business. There are a number of important education-related bills this session to keep your eye on, including two from Chalkboard and I wanted to provide an over of important information about the session as well as highlights from a selection of the education-related bills.
There are quite a few new faces in the Legislature this session and, accordingly, the Senate and House Education Committees look a bit different than in previous sessions. Committee membership is as follows:
Senate Education Committee:
Mark Hass, Chair
Frank Morse, Vice-Chair
House Education Committee:
Sara Gelser, Co-Chair
Matt Wingard, Co-Chair
Jason Conger, Co-Vice Chair
Lew Frederick, Co-Vice Chair
John E Huffman
Senate Bill 252
Establishes a “School District Collaboration Grant Program” to provide funding for school districts to locally redesign and implement programs and policies that integrate new:
- Career paths
- Professional development strategies
- Evaluation processes
- Teacher designed compensation systems
This legislation builds on the promising work being done by educators in the CLASS Project. Funding for the grant would come from a portion of dollars currently allocated to Education Service Districts (ESDs). ESDs currently receive 4.75% of the State School Fund. This bill calls for the .75% to be put in the fund to support investments in effective teaching. Read More
Senate Bill 290
Directs State Board of Education to work with stakeholders to develop statewide performance standards to determine effectiveness of teachers and administrators. This bill calls on the State Board of Education to work with the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission to adopt statewide performance standards to assist school districts in determining the effectiveness of teachers and administrators. The bill requires the performance standards to: take into consideration multiple measures of student, school and district performance; be research-based; and be separately developed for teachers and administrators. Read More.