When considering topics for this post, I looked into some similar education-focused blogs. I was quickly reminded that: 1) people bring profound passion to the public discourse on educational policy, and 2) I am no expert on the public discourse on educational policy. For a relative newcomer like myself, this combination can inspire one minute and intimidate the next. Fortunately I’m with an organization (and in a field) that thrives off of questions.
I’m the newest addition to the Chalkboard team (and a fairly new addition to the state of Oregon). And while I come from a family of educators, and have worked in various forms of education, my participation has been more peripheral than the day-to-day, direct involvement of a teacher or principal, and has lacked the big picture perspective of a superintendent or legislator. This, of course, has its benefits and side effects.
For example: whether teaching ESL to first-graders in Vancouver, WA; finding funding for arts education programs in Salem, OR; building parks and athletic facilities at NYC public schools; or providing at-risk high school juniors in Oakland and LA with college admissions support, the student tended to exist in a vacuum. These efforts worked to supplement what public institutions either couldn’t or wouldn’t, and they often bridged gaps without delving too deeply into either 1) in-school or inter-district dynamics, or 2) the sometimes-overwhelming world of local, state, and national education policy.
While this can be an ideal role for some to play, it can be a frustrating place for someone ready to fully commit to bettering public education. As I started to feel the effects of that detachment, I began looking at my options. Fast forward to today: I couldn’t be happier with where I’ve ended up. I do, however, think it would be safe to say that I, along with many others, could be happier with the state of public education in Oregon. I suppose that explains why we’re here.
Fortunately, there are encouraging signs. From recent leadership appointments in education across the state to building momentum towards Oregon’s 40-40-20 goal, Oregon appears to be showing a renewed commitment to finding ways to improve the student experience. More parties are joining the conversation, and this diversity of thought will surely be of benefit to Oregon’s students.
One last key development that has been dominating many conversations lately: Oregon has received federal approval for its ESEA flexibility application. While many would say this is long overdue, or that it is more symbolic considering much of the work is already underway, one thing that can be agreed upon is the waivers’ increased flexibility. According to the Center for American Progress, “this means that some states will experiment and move ahead . . . while others may backtrack.” When put that way, it sounds as if a challenge is being presented. Is Oregon ready to answer that challenge? Signs point to yes. But to better address that question, I’ll quote Mark Twain, who once said “the man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” We in Oregon have a chance. And if we don’t take it properly, we’ll be no better than those who’ve never had the chance at all.