Monday, December 3, 2012

Oregon education board - is that best for the children?

The good doctor proposes an education board whose goal is to establish an "unified public education system for Oregonians from birth to age 20."  The board would be under the control of the governor's office. [Gov. John Kitzhaber plans a powerful Oregon education board, connecting school funding to performance].

We don't know how this will work out in the future, but can mandatory attendance through age 20 be merely an extremist's concern? Although it seems hardly unlikely for the foreseeable future - the control of the education system by a least appealing governor, whatever the party, ought to be a red flag.

Politicizing the education system is wrong. And from the Oregonian report - it would seems that the rationale is wrong too - it is merely economic. If so, it clearly demonstrates the expected failure of taking the k-12 public school system, possibly expanded to two more grade levels (community college), and putting it (k-14) in the hands of politicians.

Under the guise of valuing proficiency -
"Gov. John Kitzhaber aims to fix Oregon's broken school funding system by consolidating power and money into a single board for all levels of education -- a board that he would chair.  
What youths need, he says, is a system that allows them to improve at their own pace, with funding that is targeted at schools and programs that are getting results."
The concept behind this proposal is that money will fix the problem, but it is clear that the governor hasn't a clue as to the problem. The system the governor foresees is one for those students on an advanced track. Further cluelessness of the good doctor - his analogy:
"Kitzhaber's reform proposes to base student advancement through the system on the mastery of skills and knowledge, or proficiencies, rather than on course credits. He compared the change to the way he earned his pilot's license as a young man. He not only had to pass a written test, but he also had to land the airplane."
I am sorry - but isn't the purpose of an elementary and a secondary education system to pass the written test? High school doesn't prepare one for a particular purpose, e.g., flying a plane, it provides (or should) the basics so the graduate will be able to choose his or her future.

The argument being made too is to value students proficiencies and chart their progress not with a grade (A,B, ...) structure but with a standards based (Proficient, partially proficient, . . . .) structure.  Educational Leadership:Expecting Excellence:Seven Reasons for Standards-Based Grading provides a decent introduction into the two structures.

The standard based grading is the trend, but it seems more subjective, i.e., leaving the student open to the whims of the teacher. And see too Standards-Based Grading Slow To Take Effect In High Schools which raises the issue, among others, of translating the standards based grade to GPA type grades demanded by college admissions.

There is a certain objectivity to the letter or number grades lacking in the standards based grade. The latter is more akin to pass/fail grading. The goal seems to be to root out competition among students somewhat akin to the award giving to all students regardless of how poorly they did. Thus there is no losers. You compete by mere presence.

Public education obviously needs government funding, but not government management. Professional educators must be in charge with little to no interference by government. It is enough that government controls the purse strings, and that the state maintains the elected position of superintendent of schools.
"Ideally, education shouldn’t be political, but as long as taxes fund the system and government builds and operates the schools then politics will be a more important consideration than what’s best for individual children." [Will an Education Czar solve Oregon’s education problems?].
You will note in all the rhetoric that teachers and their unions are left out of the solution despite they are definitely part of the problem. It is prime example of having politics in the mix. The governor in crafting his educational investment board will be influenced by union money.

The next governor might well be elected merely on the amount of dollars the teacher unions will throw at the politician that reflect their views. Yes - it exists today, but it will be much more enhanced especially given the super-pacs of today's politics.

An interesting view is from BethAnne Darby, director of public affairs for the Oregon Education Association, that seems to belie a public opinion of teacher unions. According to the Oregonian she said that "she wants to make sure the new system is built on research-based practices that are good for kids." "We're not interested in the flavor of the day," Darby said. "Show me the research and the sustainable funding and we're in."

Research-based practices and sustainable funding - that is a good start. Don't hold your breath.