[Susan notes: The opinion piece that provoked all the letters was written by someone who "consults with" the Oregon Business Council. Enough said?
That said, it is useful for us to read letters that run the gamut of opinion about schools. Some are excellent. Others are pitifully ill-informed and/or hateful. You don't need to be told which is which, but we all need to remind ourselves of what we're up against.]
Published in The Oregonian
John Tapogna urges Oregon to compete for federal dollars under a $4.3 billion program designed to "test new ways of teaching" ("Time for Oregon schools to stretch," Aug. 2).
Free money sounds nice, but Tapogna fails to mention the larger price to be paid. The Obama administration is using the so-called Race to the Top Fund to strong-arm states into adopting its "core beliefs" about education reform. To qualify for grants, Oregon would have to expand charter schools, use test scores to evaluate and pay teachers, and support national standards (probably leading to a national curriculum and national tests).
"Beliefs" is the right word here, because such policies are entirely unsupported by educational research or experience. On the other hand, we have abundant evidence about what makes for good teaching.
What's lacking is not more "data" about schools, but the political and financial will to apply what we already know.
Not long ago, Portland Schools Foundation convened the Connected by 25 initiative, which helped our city wake up to a staggering reality -- less than 60 percent of our kids are graduating from high school.
Poor families and families of color had been living the reality of this statistic for years. It took clear, indisputable data to wake up all Portlanders.
Through the Race to the Top Fund, President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have laid out their broad vision for reforming America's education system: smarter use of data, innovative ways to evaluate educators, and new strategies to turn around schools that consistently fail.
State Superintendent Susan Castillo should be commended for assembling a stellar team to bring home a piece of the national pie by proposing bold plans for Oregon's future.
Regardless of the outcome, this opportunity has created a catalyst for critical conversations that will make us stronger. From Washington D.C. to Salem, to the distressed neighborhoods in outer East Portland, the message is clear: It's time to get engaged, get going and get smart about our most important asset in this community -- our kids.
The Race to the Top Fund represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all Oregon children. Let's place this effort where it belongs -- at the top of our statewide priorities.
CEO, Portland Schools Foundation
Why is it that when there is a push to change public schools, those who have the best, most current experience in the classroom are left out of the process?
Oregon's "Race to the Top" design team is composed of individuals who have little, if any regular interaction with the students the program is trying to reach.
There must be representation from teachers in the field who interact with these students daily. Without this expert input, once again teachers who are asked to implement the plans for improving education are not asked what their ideas may be.
Secondly, there must be representation from those in teacher education programs who are training the next generation of teachers. Without this input, new educators will not be trained in how to implement the recommended changes.
The design team must be expanded if
it is to be of any benefit to those who will be expected to incorporate the mandates of the program.
Stand for Children joins John Tapogna's call for Superintendent Susan Castillo, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and education stakeholders to write and commit to a long overdue plan for improving Oregon's public schools.
While many teachers and principals do impressive work, Oregon's overall results for kids are mediocre. Only 15 percent of Oregon's high school sophomores will graduate from high school and complete college within six years of graduating. The national average is 30 percent. We can and should do better.
In addition to Tapogna's suggestions, Oregon should provide needed support to new teachers and principals, make professional development meaningful, and base educator evaluations on multiple factors (not just principal visits and test scores).
The quality of a child's teacher and principal are the most important in-school factors contributing to his success.
Even in the midst of the recession, the Legislature smartly held on to Oregon's cost-effective and nationally-recognized program to provide experienced mentors to new teachers and principals -- reducing turnover and increasing effectiveness.
Of course, ensuring children have stable housing and don't come to school hungry are critical outside-of-school factors that help kids succeed.
Let's seize the opportunity provided by the Race to the Top Fund to create a needed plan for improving Oregon's schools for all kids.
Advocacy Director, Stand for Children
John Tapogna suggests that our schools need to improve and be more innovative. That's about all I can agree with.
As an educator in public schools and a professor teaching teachers how to teach, I can say that Tapogna is probably being paid a lot of money to preach old fashioned, out-of-date ideas.
Schools are not factories and students are not products which you can measure by testing, just as the College Board's SAT exams do not predict success in college.
Merit pay for teachers is a great idea if you want teachers to be less creative in the classroom and less collaborative with fellow teachers.
There are no studies to suggest that competition increases student achievement, while there are hundreds of studies to suggest that collaboration does. The same goes for teacher excellence.
Let's get over the myth that teachers chose teaching because of the "great pay" they receive. The hundreds of teachers I've taught are most successful, innovative and creative when they don't have the hammer of evaluation based on testing hanging over their heads.
We have a long way to go in education, but not in the direction Tapogna suggests.
All education stakeholders need to be engaged and need to support the progressive and important reforms advocated by President Barack Obama and Education Secretary, Arne Duncan.
We need to look at expanding charter schools and other education options. We need to look at new ways of evaluating and rewarding teachers. We need a clearly articulated agenda among state leaders and the business community for improving K-12 education. States that are not open to innovation will be left out of the race and their economies will suffer.
Too often, the education community in our state has been hesitant to accept innovation, focusing instead on securing funding. The state now has the chance to put a different foot forward -- embracing change and rewarding innovation. Our only hope of securing these federal stimulus dollars for Oregon is for all of us to embrace educational innovation.
Education Committee member
Oregon Business Association
I hope Oregon can develop a winning application to get our share of the $4 billion in the Race to the Top Fund. The application process might be as valuable as the cash if it can bring Oregon's education and political leaders together to focus our efforts and resources on a few key innovations.
Here in Oregon's second-largest school district, we have seen much-needed gains in student achievement, especially among our English language learners. We are doing this through a focused, research-based approach in partnership with our staff, parents, community leaders and elected officials.
Perhaps the Race to the Top application can help us focus on our areas of common agreement while we work through our disagreements. Winning the grant would be fantastic. Coming closer together as a state committed to doing the right new things for kids would be even better.
Salem-Keizer Public Schools
I have an idea for fixing the school system. Hang on to your seats, because it has nothing to do with testing. Find a way to cut class sizes in all grades in half. I don't care how good of a teacher you are, it is hard for learning and growth to take place in a class of 46 students (which I've had).
However, I've also had a class of 19. The difference is night and day. In smaller classes, teachers can focus on individual skills, personal relationships and specific motivational strategies for each student more efficiently.
The answer is quite simple for public education: The more time a teacher can spend with a student, the better chances of success for our young people. It's not rocket science, it's common sense. Solutions are found in people, not in testing and "nimble organizations."
Betzelberger is a social studies teacher at West Linn High School.