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Public Comments - Published Writings

Public schools: Getting out of our education morass
September 22, 2010

By Paul Evans

As a school board member in a rural area of Oregon, I'm concerned as well as frustrated with our circumstances. With experience in local and state government spanning the past 22 years, I've never before seen such an example of scatter-shot planning and structural impotence.

We have a public education system that yields neither the benefits of effective local control, nor the benefits of an efficient statewide system.

Accordingly, I offer the following:

First, we must determine whether public education in Oregon is a local responsibility or a state program: It cannot be both. Existing funding mechanisms provide insufficient local control and scarce resources for programming.

Past ballot measures must be repealed or school districts must be consolidated into regional functions of and for state programming. Continued state and federal mandates are driving unsustainable policies in small and medium school districts.

Second, we must suspend all new requirements for public K-12 schools until 2013 or later. It's unconscionable for the state to demand on-time implementation as we face successive deficits and are asked to hold stimulus dollars. It's also time for a review of the seemingly endless cycle of new requirements from Salem.

Change can be good, but it's always costly. School districts struggling to retain even the shell of a comprehensive curriculum menu cannot successfully implement the flood of expectations from Salem and Washington, D.C. It's wrong to expect it, counter-productive to try.

Third, we must recognize total education cost is dependent upon more factors than previously considered. English as a Second Language and Special Education are understood to require additional support for success. But it's time we acknowledge additional factors impacting our students and the learning environment.

At-risk youth, hunger and regional economics are all factors that warrant additional study and formulaic considerations. There is a mandatory baseline necessary for quality learning: It's more costly to provide a comprehensive education to students living in economically distressed areas than in affluent locales. It's not fair, but it's the truth.

Fourth, a few "old school" ideas are still valuable. Chief among them is "student-teacher contact time." It's a force multiplier for learning. Whether the mechanism is mandated class size and/or formulaic investments in teacher support, right now we're expecting too much and getting what we pay for.

It's vital we understand these issues are larger than pay/benefit arguments. All of us want progress; we want targeted resources for demonstrable gain. And while we may differ on means, we must focus upon ends. What we can and must agree upon is that we need to find ways to increase the average time students receive from motivated, well-trained professional educators within K-12.

I'm asking for us to recognize the value of public education and work together to ensure it receives the attention deserved. No republic can withstand an undereducated body politic. Public education is not something "just for kids" -- it's our guarantee of a lasting state and community.

Paul Evans is on the school board of Central School District in Independence.


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