Education Challenge Begins

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(Courtesy of The Register Guard)

A governor’s panel meets Monday to start crafting a plan for higher student achievement with less money.

On Monday, 12 Oregon educators, business people and academics will convene to begin working on Oregon’s thorny education challenge — meeting higher goals for student achievement with less money.

The 12 — picked by the governor under legislation passed last spring — make up the Ore­gon Education Investment Board. The group includes two area residents: Lane Community College President Mary Spilde and Springfield schools Superintendent Nancy Golden.

Spilde has been named to the board, and Golden will serve as alternate chairwoman when Gov. John Kitzhaber can’t attend. Golden served as Kitz­haber’s education adviser during his first six months in office.

The board’s broad goal: By 2025, all students will earn a high school diploma or its equivalent, 40 percent will earn a post-secondary credential such as an associate’s degree at a community college, and 40 percent will obtain a bachelor’s or higher academic degree.

Kitzhaber set these benchmarks to help give Oregon residents a path to family wage jobs.

It’s not an open-ended proposal. The board has been given specific instructions on how to meet the challenge.

For example, districts will be expected to sign achievement compacts with the state that spell out successful student learning and accountability, a way to diagnose what’s not working and ways to fix it on a student-by-student basis, according to a recent speech by Kitzhaber to the Oregon School Boards Association.

The board must also develop a more seamless bureaucracy across all learning levels from preschool on up through college, Kitzhaber spokeswoman Sarah Carlin Ames said.

That means more interaction among the many state agencies that work with preschool kids, for example, and easier systems for transferring community college credits to universities.

Educators and activists have been watching with interest, said Sue Levin, executive director of Stand for Children, a nonprofit group that supports public education.

Levin served on the governor’s task force that preceded the current board, and says that one sticky topic under consideration is outcome-based funding — that is, financially rewarding successful programs.

When people hear about it, their first question is: “Does that mean you’re going to take money away?” Levin said.

Educators are fine talking about “the carrot” for success, but leery when it comes to talking about “the stick” for failure, she said.

“Ninety-nine percent of districts need the carrot and not the stick,” Levin said. “But there are districts where the carrot isn’t working. So what is the answer?”

Levin thinks the board is up to the challenges it will face trying to transform education in Oregon.

“The governor picked some very talented and knowledgeable leaders from around the state,” she said.

The group has been meeting informally since August, even though the Legislature didn’t confirm them until Friday.

Their first deadline is Dec. 15 when they will report their progress to lawmakers and outline potential legislation for the upcoming session, which begins in February.

The governor wants the achievement compacts with the districts in place for the 2012-13 school year.

All of this must be done in a dismal financial climate, with fewer state dollars available in an ailing economy.

A look around the state, however, shows that some districts are meeting the current benchmarks set by the No Child Left Behind Act, Ames said. That means there’s an opportunity for schools and districts to learn from one another, another piece of the seamlessness the governor hopes to achieve.

“It’s a concept of rate of return on investment. For state funding, there’s an element of we’re not writing blank checks. How are you doing with the money against the outcomes we’re looking for?” Ames said.

“If we have some standards and we know what kids are struggling, and we intervene early, then maybe community colleges won’t have to spend 20 percent of their budgets on remediation,” she said.

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