Cindy Robert is the founder of Rainmakers LLP. She has been lobbying the Oregon State Legislature for more than two decades, with clients ranging from local governments to Fortune 500 businesses to non-profits. The founding of Rainmakers allows her to combine her government experience with her quest to make long-term significant difference in public policy that goes beyond politics. Cindy works in all aspects of government relations, legislative strategy, campaign development and advising, organizational development and policy research.
I feel angry, conflicted and frustrated. I know schools took huge cuts (but was this really cuts to growth, but still more than last year?). I know class sizes had to be bigger (but was this really that unions would not budge?). I know specialties have been cut (but was this really staff inflexibility?). I know teachers are underpaid (but was this a balancing effort due to big benefits?).
All the things “I know” because my school district and the media tell me, yet I cannot make the facts fit with the numbers I saw at the legislature. The cuts to school budgets were not huge – the lack of increase was the key. So why so much change? No more library or computers at my son’s school. No more music options at my daughter’s school. Both have classrooms too big for even the best teachers. If we are just working with the dollars of last year, why are these schools so different?
Meeting agreed upon salary and benefit increases seem the answer to me – can any of you show where I am wrong?
As Chalkboard’s state government relations team, Phil Donovan and I believe this was an incredibly successful session for Chalkboard Project and its parent foundations. Our partnership with the Oregon Business Association and Stand for Children served us well and resulted in a formidable advocacy team of business, grassroots and research entities. Despite a devastating state budget, CLASS Project and mentor dollars were achieved and a new teacher evaluation system was put on a timeline for implementation in 2013.
You have probably all heard about the “education package” that passed and the concerns that many have voiced about the politics that engineered the seemingly disparate group of policy reforms. It is this kind of “horse trading” that turns so many off from politics, but such is the basis of how things get done, especially with close margins in the party makeup.
The new annual sessions and the House divided 30-30 for the first time made this session part of Oregon history on two accounts. Politically, the House makeup and the very close margins in the Senate (16 Democrats and 14 Republicans) led to “bipartisanship” being the term most used by the media, pundits and the legislators themselves.
But to many, “bipartisanship” connotes a friendliness and agreement of important issues—a common sense, middle-of-the-road route to public policy. Publicly that may have been the image portrayed, but others describe the drama behind the scenes more along the lines of a hostage situation where bills advanced that one party did not like in order for them to see their own issues move ahead. Is this a strong-arm strategy, rather than a philosophical meeting of the minds?
Education policy was the key area where one might ask this question. But certainly it cannot be denied that the legislative leaderships’ choreography of the process was masterful, the trading intense, and even the purported strong-arming effective in leading to significant changes for Oregon.
Although I had other clients when I first started with Chalkboard Project in 2005, I knew that my time commitments would need to shift to effectively advocate for the education issues that I truly feel passionately about. But what would that mean for the Fridays that I dedicated to volunteering at my children’s elementary school? Would I need to be there less regularly? Could I do that to the teachers who seemed to have so few parent volunteers and were desperate for assistance? Sue Hildick talked to me about “talking the talk and walking the walk” and encouraged me to find a way to continue with my school involvement. With few exceptions, and some shifting of days, I still dedicate one day a week to the elementary school.
Five years later, my daughter has moved on to middle school and I thought I might again need to revisit my schedule to figure out how to get there and volunteer as well. Would the difference in school hours allow me to work a few hours at each on Fridays? Should I alternate between the two schools from week to week? With the change in legislative workings lead to the previously slow Fridays in Salem being ramped up? Would I go insane trying to do all this?
But wait! Wrong! I found out the middle school did not need me! Maybe some lunchtime oversight assistance or fundraising activities were available, but certainly no classroom work was desired. No homework checking. No reading assistance. No cutting and pasting for bulletin boards.
I am new to this middle school thing, and am feeling shut out. So how am I supposed to know what is going on there? Who are the good kids? Has my daughter fallen into the wrong crowd? Does she wear the clothes she left the house in? Does she take cold lunch and also buy hot lunch? Am I too controlling and should just trust I raised her the right way???
When Chalkboard first began its public engagement, we found that the number one concern among Oregonians when it came to education was not financing, length of day or year, or curriculum – it was lack of parental involvement! So now I wonder what that means….parental involvement in their kids’ lives and in their formation as a person, or parental involvement at the school? Is what Oregonians were really saying was “pay attention to your kids, love them and lead them” more than “go to the school.” I ask each of you, did I miss the meaning behind Oregonians’ disgruntlement and, if so, is there a way schools help resolve this parental involvement problem?
As the State Board talks about adopting common core standards that a majority of other state have taken on, I find myself wondering about how we determine our progress in meeting those standards. It seems to me that if these states all have the same standards, they should all use the same ruler by which to measure. Makes sense for apples-to-apples comparisons of how school districts are doing across the nation. Yet, I have only just leaned it is not that simple.
Summative vs. formative testing seems to be an issue, as is what some perceive as the cost of implementing new standards, curriculum for standards, and assessments of meeting standards. The later argument does not work with me – we cannot use cost as a reason to not evolve, and, frankly, Oregon schools adopt new standards regularly and already pay for assessments of some sort anyway. It is the former issue that I need your help with.
It seems to me that a summative test at the end of a school year should be used to show how, in general, a school did getting a grade level to meet the standards adopted. This summative test would be the same in every state. The formative tests, however, not only should be state specific but even grade, subject and teacher specific. The teachers should choose the formative tests that they believe will best enlighten them on how to teach the class and where it needs improvement. If the teacher’s goal is to do well on the summative test, shouldn’t they be given the power to figure out how to get there?
Cant’ wait to hear your thoughts on this……
Recent figures released by the National Center for Education Statistics list Oregon public schools as having the fourth-largest class size in the country (See Betsy Hammond’s article in the Oregonian). While this is a horrible statistic and certainly a fact that bodes badly for both our teachers and our students, it made me wonder just where we should focus maximum efforts with minimal dollars.
When I was first working for Chalkboard Project at the Oregon legislature, we advocated for reduced class sizes, but only for kindergarten and 1st grade. (more…)