In my work under the new Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB) over the past three months, I have been exposed to a lot of data, a lot of statistics. Some have surprised me, and some not at all. Some have given me hope, and some have discouraged me. But one statistic has shocked me:
Of the 45,000 children born in Oregon each year, an estimated 40 percent carry significant risk factors, ranging from family poverty and instability to parents engaged in substance abuse or criminal behavior.
In 2005, I taught 2nd grade in East Oakland, California. I had enthusiastically accepted a teaching position at a school with a predominately African American and Latino community, where most families were living under the poverty line. As a young, white, middle class, female, I had little knowledge of the experiences of the families at the school, but I wanted to learn.
There was coursework in my credential program designed to teach me how to work with families. I learned that family members who were involved behaved a certain way – they would come into the classroom and help me staple papers, attend field trips with the class, and bring food to class parties. I was also told to expect that most parents wouldn’t return my phone calls or come to school-wide events. At the time, I didn’t realize that this style of family engagement wasn’t inclusive of all families.
I still think back to one student named Rachel. Rachel’s mother was raising seven children as a single, working parent. I had met her on the first day of school and was so excited to get to know her and her daughter. Throughout the school year, I did everything “right.” I called her to let her know how Rachel was doing in school, I sent personalized invitations home to school family events, and I made sure to offer plenty of time slots for parent-teacher conferences so she could attend. She never came. I was really disappointed and felt that Rachel’s mother just didn’t care about her education.
The recent release of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides results that should give all Oregonians cause for great concern. Most NAEP measures for Oregon students are disheartening. Oregon is now one of five states where the overall achievement gap widened between 2003 and 2011. Additionally, low-income students in Oregon rank among the lowest performing in the nation and have lost ground since 2003. This information invites questions that should be in the forefront of Oregon’s attempt to restructure educational delivery. What will it take to declare a statewide breakdown? What is Oregon’s commitment to close the achievement gap?
NAEP Report Overview
Also known as the Nation’s Report Card, NAEP is the only tool we have to assess which states appear to be making progress in academic achievement. While we recognize the limits of NAEP, simultaneously the results should not be ignored. One advantage of this national assessment is the opportunity to assess progress over time. Another dimension of interest is the opportunity to disaggregate results and examine how different student subgroups fare compared to others across the country.
Eduardo Angulo, Executive Director of the Salem-Keizer Coalition for Equality, shares his thoughts on public education reform in Oregon.
Oregonians’ drive for public education reform has taken many years to arrive at its climax. Finally, we are in the middle of it and are being driven by Governor Kitzhaber’s bold actions. He put it best when he said; “I am intending to wear out my welcome to make sure we have equal education for all our children in Oregon.”
In the past four years, I have been in the middle of it all by being part of the three-year Harvard-Wallace Foundation Education Reform Initiative with the four largest school districts in Oregon and Massachusetts. I was also part of the Oregon Race to the Top Design Team to develop the state’s federal school reform grant application. This past August, I was part of the Governor’s LearnWorks Team to develop the new Outcome Based Budgeting and Proficiency Based Teaching and Learning Framework to guarantee that every student is successful – from birth until college graduation.
How can we support teacher and principals to do their best work? This is a frequently asked question and creates a robust conversation among students, staff, parents, community and business representatives etc. One strong asset for supporting educator effectiveness statewide and across all districts is to identify performance standards of effective teaching and principal leadership.
On December 1, 2011 the Oregon State Board of Education took action by unanimously adopting core professional standards for teachers and principals. This is a “hallmark” action for Oregon to more strongly support effective educators in every Oregon classroom and school.
This action is the “heart” of SB 290 and will require that all Oregon districts align their teacher and principal evaluation systems with the newly adopted standards by 2013. In addition, Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) will use these newly adopted standards for teacher and administrative licensure to better align a system for educator effectiveness. The standards and administrative rules are available on Oregon Department of Education’s (ODE) website for your information. (more…)
Colleges of Education are being challenged to “prove” that their graduates can improve student learning. At Pacific University in Eugene, our students (called candidates) student teach for 18 weeks. During that time they work with the classroom teacher (called the mentor teacher) during the first few weeks and then ease into the full planning for and teaching of the children. In some cases, the mentor feels they need to give the student teacher his or her plans and tests to ensure the reliability of the lessons. (In fact, this decision is being made more frequently as the mentor is being held to test results.) Some teachers feel comfortable allowing complete independence; however, some are always in the classroom and will make changes or intervene. In all cases, our candidates are expected to create units and lessons that assess their students’ learning.
This background information should raise some questions about the ways Pacific can actually prove that it is our candidate who is making the difference in student learning. Given the present collaborating system, we need ways to identify what the candidate actually knows and has done him or herself to improve learning. Certainly each teacher (candidate or mentor) should be held accountable for improvement in learning while in his or her class. The devil, as always, is in the details: the measurements we use.
“The essential question is not, ‘How busy are you?’ but ‘What are you busy at?’”
It’s probably safe to say that public education professionals in Oregon have never been so busy. They have larger class sizes, fewer staff to do more work due to budget cuts, a need to invest time in professional development to keep pace with changing technology in the field, and strong pressure to adopt fundamental changes to boost student achievement.
In a word, they are being expected to continuously improve at a time of historic cutbacks in education funding.
Needless to say, these are challenging times. But with the third year of Sisters School District’s CLASS grant under way, a significant culture change is evident. Teachers are operating less in silos, and collaborating across grades and school levels to close gaps in student knowledge. They are more open to being mentored and evaluated by peers, and see these evaluations as valuable tools for improving their instructional practices. Student achievement data is posted prominently in the District office and in all teacher lounges, and helps shape what goes on in classrooms.