Testimony to the Oregon Legislature by our affiliate, SOS Oregon

Oregon Save our Schools is the newest affiliate of Parents Across America; for more information, please contact Susan Barrett at barrettpdx@gmail.com

TESTIMONY TO OREGON’S SENATE EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE & HOUSE HIGHER EDUCATION COMMITTEE

On behalf of OREGON SAVE OUR SCHOOLS, an affiliate of Parents Across America

Dear Committee Members:

Members of our grassroots coalition have carefully followed the work of the Oregon Education Investment Team (OEIT). The team’s work has now concluded, and their recommendations will soon be put in the hands of a newly created Oregon Education Investment Board (OEIB).

While we have numerous, specific remarks we could make, our main overarching concerns are:

1)    These plans which will affect our public school students have not had public input.  It appears they are headed only for public buy-in after the plans have been created. Curriculum should be developed for and by local school communities, yet we see no opportunities in these plans for this effective community engagement. There has been no opportunity for parents, teachers and students to weigh in. There has been no opportunity to hear criticisms from communities that have adopted proficiency-based learning models and were not happy with them. The process was not transparent, and did not provide the public input needed.

2)    These plans do not address poverty issues facing many of our students. We cannot ignore poverty. It is a proven factor impacting student learning that needs to be addressed.  According to the U.S. Census,  American Community Survey, Oregon’s 2010 poverty rate was higher than the national average. Almost 22% of Oregon children are living in poverty, and our minority families are especially affected.

3)    We fear this is a distraction for meaningfully addressing revenue reform. The LearnWorks members were praised for spending 3,000 hours developing this plan. We think it would have been wiser to have a group of people spend 3,000 hours working on plans for revenue reform, especially when we do know what works to increase student achievement, while the LearnWorks plan is unproven. These plans, unfortunately, seem like a distraction to ever addressing revenue reform, that would allow us to lower class sizes, add back days to our school year, and bring back and enhance valuable programs.  The LearnWorks plan was praised for its ability to attract funders such as the Gates Foundation. We need to create education policies and plans that benefit Oregonians, and more specifically, the students in Oregon’s public schools.

4)    The methods promoted are unproven. At a time when we are told we need to do better with the already substantially short funding we have, we cannot afford to try unproven methods. We need to stick with what is truly proven to work for all students. While one can certainly find research to prove almost anything, bear in mind that The Institute of Education Science, the research arm of the United States Department of Education, has concluded that there are only FOUR, evidence based reforms that have been proven to increase student achievement through rigorous, randomized experiments (the “gold” standard of research). These reforms include: class size reductions, one-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at risk-readers in 1st-3rd grades, life-skills training for junior high students, and instruction for early readers in phonics. That said, we cannot discount the other valuable programs that engage our students, such as art, music, sports, school libraries, and more that we keep cutting back on due to funding shortages.

5) We oppose the use of high-stakes assessment measures that will be used for the purpose of student, teacher and school evaluation. While the LearnWorks group has been careful to say they are not promoting standardized testing, but rather formative assessments, please know that by turning this once very natural process of assessment into something “high-stakes” for the purposes of reporting outcomes, we do a disservice to our children. We are also deeply concerned at further testing done on students at age 6 and in pre-K. Please note that if we were to eliminate standardized tests, we could dramatically increase funding for all schools and students in the state. In the age of needing to do better with less, this is an option worth exploring.

6) To scale-up these methods to all public schools successfully would require a huge infusion of funding. Where will this funding come from, and have the costs truly been considered? We certainly approve of more funding for schools, but not just to roll out an untested plan.  We fear this plan does more for for-profit entities than it does for our public school students. Has anyone done a projection of costs necessary to implement this, not just in test sites, but to scale up to all Oregon public schools?

There are also further questions to consider:

1. Will “proficiency based learning” and “outcomes based budgeting” be applied ONLY to K-12, or will it be applied pre-school through college/university levels?

2. Have investments  been considered to help overcome poverty’s barriers to learning?

3. What research have you examined to suggest that your specific proposals are viable as a statewide strategy?  We would like to review the research. When reviewing research claims, it is imperative to look at who published it, who funded it, review the sample sizes, time period for analysis, comparison districts, schools, etc.

4. Given the proven inadequacy, inaccuracy and unfairness of current standardized testing in use, have you considered the huge investments that will be necessary to improve how outcomes are to be measured (accurately, adequately and fairly) under this new “system”?  We are over-testing our kids, and teaching them to live up to the ideal of a test, rather than their full potential.

5. If you reward high performers for achieving outcomes, how do low performers get the resources they need? And, if you pay for improvements, but take away the money once the improvements are attained, often the underlying conditions lead to a reversal. Have you considered this? While the Governor explained that he is being “tight and loose” in his approach, the schools, or rather “delivery entities” not making progress are on the same punitive track established by No Child Left Behind. We need to work to improve schools, not close them and hand them over into “receivership” to other entities. This does not benefit our children.

6. Given that you recommend a $100 million investment for proficiency based learning “demonstration sites” during the next biennium, have you considered the research on the historic failure of education demonstration sites’ ability to help “scale up” reforms that you are seeking? Where would this $100 million come from?

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our concerns and questions. Members of our coalition would be happy to speak further on these issues. Please feel free to contact me at barrettpdx@gmail.com if you should have any questions or comments.

Sincerely, Susan Barrett, Oregon Save Our Schools

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