Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Oregonian's Anti-Union Agenda

Current contract negotiations between Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers are faltering.  Local media, thought to be responsible for investigating and writing in an objective manner in order to inform the community of the situation appears to be serving more as a place to bash teacher unions instead.

A recent piece came out which this phenomenon is analyzed.

"Since bargaining started, the Oregonian's editorial board has written a series of commentaries about negotiations that have become increasingly one-sided and anti-union. In multiple editorials, the Oregonian is misleading the public by distorting evidence and removing facts from important context. In doing so, they surreptitiously paint a picture of a powerful and greedy teachers union locked in a contract battle with a flawed but ultimately well-meaning school board."

Here is the full write article .

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Save the Date for Oct. 17th!

Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon I and Coronation of the Empress Josephine in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris on 2 December 1804, by Jacques-Louis David

Like brazen Napoleon crowning himself in the above art piece, the .  As OBA Board President Ryan Deckert states:

"Levin is being recognized for her hard work and leadership throughout the session around PERS and revenue reform in a herculean effort to ensure a bright future for Oregon's children."

 If one was ever in doubt as to the close and cozy ties between the OBA, Stand for Children, and the current corporate education policies and union bashing we now have in place, this event seals the deal.
OBA Board President Ryan Deckert said Levin is being recognized as a Statesman for her hard work and leadership throughout the session around PERS and revenue reform in a herculean effort to ensure a bright future for Oregon’s children - See more at:
OBA Board President Ryan Deckert said Levin is being recognized as a Statesman for her hard work and leadership throughout the session around PERS and revenue reform in a herculean effort to ensure a bright future for Oregon’s children: 
“Sue is a natural-born leader who showed uncommon courage standing for children and working diligently to keep these difficult discussions around PERS and revenue at the forefront of the session. Without Sue’s tremendous efforts, we would not be as close as we are today to achieving a sustainable revenue future for this state. She stood in the face of tremendous pressure and didn’t back down, won’t back down as we continue moving forward to solve big issues affecting Oregon and our citizens. She is truly dedicated to serving Oregon’s kids.”
- See more at:
OBA Board President Ryan Deckert said Levin is being recognized as a Statesman for her hard work and leadership throughout the session around PERS and revenue reform in a herculean effort to ensure a bright future for Oregon’s children: 
“Sue is a natural-born leader who showed uncommon courage standing for children and working diligently to keep these difficult discussions around PERS and revenue at the forefront of the session. Without Sue’s tremendous efforts, we would not be as close as we are today to achieving a sustainable revenue future for this state. She stood in the face of tremendous pressure and didn’t back down, won’t back down as we continue moving forward to solve big issues affecting Oregon and our citizens. She is truly dedicated to serving Oregon’s kids.”
- See more at:

When looking at the and its education policies, they are closely aligned to the agenda of Stand for Children.  Stand, who was once considered a real grassroots education advocacy group, has fallen victim to the lure and influence of the dollar signs their ties with corporate money now brings.  

Once Stand understood that they could no longer count on asking for more money as one of their goals, they instead turned to policy making that dramatically effected the way our schools and teachers are run.  Out went trust for our public school teachers and in came the language that planted the seed of the idea that our schools and teachers are "bad" and "failing."  They pushed for new teacher evaluations that tied worth to test scores.  They pushed for pension reform even if it would break long-held contractual agreements.  They pushed for charter schools.  They pushed for continued high-stakes testing that values kids as data points rather than human beings.  They pushed for alternative pathways to becoming a teacher.  They pushed for proficiency-based teaching and grading.  They pushed for Common Core State Standards.  They pushed for getting rid of the State Superintendent of Schools as an elected positions.  They pushed for the OEIB.  They pushed for the NCLB Waiver.  They pushed for more funding on the backs of public workers.  The OBC, OBA and Stand were in lock step.  Stand has several current or former supporters in position of influence at the state level of the OEIB as well.   So, it should really not be a surprise when the OBA announced their desire to honor Sue Levin, after all, without Stand, the corporate education reform model as well as pension/PERS reform, would most likely be non-existent.

Jonah Edelman, Chief Executive Office of Stand for Children, in , openly bragged about the goals of Stand and how they strategized to take down the Chicago Teacher's Union and ultimately spread their gospel all across the nation.  Of course Stand has lots of money to market their message with carefully crafted words to sound agreeable and "good for kids", but when one reads between the lines, it is all about busting teacher unions and running our community schools under a business model, not a human model.  Destroying our public schools is destroying the foundation of our democracy.

Luckily, Edelman underestimated the power of parents and teachers working together to take back their schools.

Several, now jaded , helped start up Oregon Save Our Schools.  We saw our public schools slowly being sold to the corporate model that wanted to measure, account, and micromanage every part of public education, not for the children, but to line their own pockets.  After all, once our public schools are no longer public, and when teacher unions are gone, then the profiteering can begin.

Stand for Children also has influence with the Oregon Education Investment Board as Oregon Business Council leader, Duncan Wyse was asked by Governor Kitzhaber to put together a group of those with interests in education to give their input to Learnworks.  Several Stand supporters were chosen to give input.  The Oregon Business Plan has been in place for years, and when our economy tanked, they teamed up with Stand and others to strike while the iron was hot.

What is glaringly obvious, is that those who know best about our kids and our schools are repeatedly ignored and left out of the decision-making table.  After two years of work, Oregon Save Our Schools has attending every OEIB meeting only to find that Governor Kitzhaber never stays to listen to public testimony.  .   These are our schools and it is time to challenge the corporate takeover of our community schools. 

Does business have a role to play?  Donate money to help schools without strings attached? Sure!  Pay their fair share of taxes to provide quality neighborhood schools? Absolutely! Write education policy?  No way.  Instead, that should be left to the experts: teachers, parents, and students.

We the people want our schools back.  Please join us Thursday, October 17th at 5:30 at the Oregon Convention Center.  We will be there to protest the corporate takeover of OUR public schools.  While the rich celebrate their new power and influence over OUR public schools at a fancy exclusive dinner, the people will be out demanding our voice be heard at the public's dinner table instead.  We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

OEIB Makeover Brought to You by Nike

Talk to any teacher, parent, student, or community member and chances are, they can't explain what it is they Oregon Education Investment Board does or even why it exists.

Let's face it, the OEIB has an image problem. Even interim Chief Education Officer Nancy Golden recognizes this.

At the August 13th OEIB meeting, Nancy Golden, in her recap of where the OEIB has been, mentioned that they needed to basically get people to understand what it was they did.  Only Oregon Education Association President, Hanna Vaandering raised important questions regarding how important it is to support and fund what schools say they need to show success.  But unfortunately, her voice is outnumbered with the current make up of the OEIB board.

Even after Ben Cannon's speech about how much of what the OEIB does is "advisory with a capital A" (much to Ron Saxton's chagrin) and how they have "influence" in shaping education policy in Oregon, it was clear that the OEIB is seeking their own version of an Extreme Makeover.  They hope to reach out to various groups, such as parents and the clergy, so they have a better understanding of what the OEIB is trying to do with such things as the 40/40/20, inputs and outcomes, silos, and longitudinal data systems. What about the kids?  Anyone really paying attention to what kids need outside of being a data point?

But wait, there's more!  Nike is coming to the rescue, and Golden is excited about it, as she gushes to members of the OEIB  about a wonderful opportunity where Nike is offering to send one of their people to help "operationalize the strategic plan."  Huh?

The OEIB is about to be branded.  What do companies do when they can't sell their product as easily as they had hoped?  Go back to the marketing table and re-brand.  And as Golden says at the August 13th OEIB meeting, " I don’t think anyone brands better than Nike."
After all they made Air Jordan's a hot commodity.  

In Macklemore's song "Wings", he sings in reference to his shoes growing up:

"My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said
Look at what that swoosh did
See it consumed my thoughts
Are you stupid, don't crease 'em, just leave 'em in that box
Strangled by these laces, laces I can barely talk
That's my air bubble and I'm lost, if it pops
We are what we wear, we wear what we are
But see I look inside the mirror and think Phil Knight tricked us all
Will I stand for change, or stay in my box
These Nikes help me define me, but I'm trying to take mine, off."

Now the OEIB wants Nike to save them, because deep down they know they are a tough sell.  We as teachers and parents know what our kids need without a bunch of new bureaucracy, plans, and schemes.  We do need funding, but it is currently being sucked away to new positions and projects being created by the OEIB as they go. 

Getting Nike involved may have some celebrity cache, but it will come at a price.  The price will be the loss of our democratic public schools that serve all children and provide them with a well-rounded quality education--complete with a full school year, counselors, nurses, no more high-stakes testing, trusted teachers, smaller class sizes; PE, music, and library specialists, project-based learning, field trips, and locally-created curriculum.

Instead, the OEIB has to sell their version of corporate education reform that wants to run our schools and educate kids like a business.  The new system creates competition for funding as proof of being a good investment---that is proof according to a test score--which is a dangerous practice.  This idea of running schools like a business will never be successful--not when your "business" is educating the minds of growing children.  There is no silver bullet, one-size fits all solution to this, and to follow this approach will decimate our public schools.

But maybe that is the plan.  Because others want it to fail, so they can profit.  Who are the "others?"  Stand for Children.  Oregon Business Association.  Portland Business Alliance. Pearson--for starters. 

We parents, teachers, students, and community members need to see through this "commercial" for corporate education reform.  We have had it for over a decade and it is a failure--first NCLB, then the NCLB Waiver, and now the 40/40/20.  Their next hope is to sell it with the branding experts at Nike.

You can makeover the OEIB, but makeovers are usually surface changes with little substance.  Eventually you have to deal with what one is on the inside.

No amount of branding will work if we can see through their charade.

As Macklemore sings, "Will I stand for change, or stay in my box"?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Think, Say, and Actually Act!

by Steve Buel

Something is beginning to bother me a great deal. 

I find it in administrators and sometimes teachers who I talk to in PPS. I find it in OEIB members and other government officials I have talked to over the past few months. It is that people tell me they personally support something and then go on to not support those things in their work, either in government or in the schools.

“I am against over testing” but support our district’s and state’s testing programs.
“I think we need more engagement by our students especially in the middle grades,” but support our lack of engagement in our testing focused curriculum. 

“I am for equity,” but support curriculum for poor children which doesn’t have a well-rounded component to it.
 “I believe a half hour is not enough time for direct services for a kid from Africa to get oriented to American education and the English language,” but I can’t support a new comers’ center.
 “I think it is important that we hear from and dialogue with the public,” but don’t support asking questions of citizens at school board meetings. 
“I think we should have the best teacher working conditions in the state in PPS,” but support full management rights. 
“I think play is an important component of kindergarten,” but support its absence in the Common Core Standards. 

And on and on and on.

Now, I can understand a teacher afraid to voice their opinion in their school for fear of being marginalized or just getting in trouble. I have been there, for many of the 40 years I taught.  But when you are an elected official or a district-wide administrator or an appointed OEIB member you need to put those fears aside if you can and truly work for what is best for the children in our district and the state. At least once in a while speak your true mind. 

Go ahead and say what you think. You might be surprised that a lot of other people are right there with you.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why Portland is Chicago

This next blog post is important to read and understand, as the largest school district in our state, Portland Public Schools, is in a critical contract negotiation process. 

Oregon Save Our Schools has four core values: an end to high-stakes testing to evaluate schools, teachers, and students; education policy developed by those closest to the classroom (teachers, family, and community), curriculum developed locally rather than top-down mandates, and fully funding and providing a quality, well-rounded education.  

These issues are at the forefront with the latest contract negotiations with Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers.  We at Oregon SOS understand and agree with the actions taken by the Chicago Teacher's Union as they put a child's learning conditions as a focus in their negotiation process.   A teacher's working conditions are a student's learning conditions whether it is lack of air conditioning, smaller class sizes, teacher-created curriculum, or stable and adequate salaries and health care coverage so teachers can focus on teaching instead of worrying about feeding their family as well.  

Negotiations of late in Oregon (for example, Parkrose, Reynolds, Gresham-Barlow, Eagle Point, and Medford) have taken a less collaborative path as districts seem to be taking advantage of the economic situation to push a more top-down created corporate education agenda, to expect teachers to do more with less, to support high-stakes testing in evaluating teachers, and to weaken the voice of the union--a voice that is working to give students the education they deserve.  The following is a blog submission/post by a PPS teacher who shows how Portland is like Chicago.  It is important to pay attention to Chicago, because what happens there can, and is happening, elsewhere--even here.  It is naive to think that is won't.

By Portland Teacher (writing anonymously out of fear of reprisal)

On July 11, more than 40 supporters of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) attended the ninth bargaining session between the union and Portland Public Schools (PPS). To their dismay, negotiations were cut short when the district blindsided the PAT bargaining team with a nine-page legal document that contained a detailed list of issues the district refused to bargain over.

In a press release after the recent bargaining session, PAT President Gwen Sullivan responded to the district’s maneuver:

"Portland's teachers have been working in good faith to come to an agreement that is in the best interests of our students and classrooms. The District is wasting the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about how to make schools better for our kids. That's why our members teach for a living, and why they are here volunteering their time to settle this contract. We are deeply disappointed that the District is refusing to talk about issues that matter a great deal to teachers, parents and students – like class size, standardized testing and evaluation."

The district’s move is part of a calculated strategy to pigeonhole negotiations into a discussion about teachers’ salaries and benefits. This will allow PPS to increase class sizes, attempt to close schools in low-income neighborhoods, and tie teacher evaluations to students test scores—. District officials know that their stances on these issues are highly unpopular among most parents and students, so they are using the law to restrict bargaining to “mandatory” issues.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THIS MOST recent move is part of an aggressive public relations strategy that emerged as the school year came to a close. At the end of May, the school board attacked the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) in a , a mass , and an . The school board declared its dedication to “transforming Portland’s outdated teacher contract” and unveiled a new proposal that offered teachers 1 percent cost-of-living raises for the next four years while maintaining the vast majority of their initial proposal’s regressive contract language.

By slightly increasing their compensation offer while ignoring all other areas of the contract, the school board hoped to paint the teachers’ union as greedy and unreasonable. This is also the reasoning behind their more recent attempt to restrict bargaining to issues of compensation and benefits.

Their hope is that parents and community members, who are losing their jobs and homes in some cases, and struggling to get by on low wages in other cases, will side with the district because teachers have better salaries, health plans and pensions than they do. In reality, however, , a successful attack on the teachers’ union will make it easier for other employers to attack workers.

What was most striking about PPS’s end-of-the-school-year media assault is that the school board repeatedly attacked Portland teachers for looking to the Chicago Teachers Union—one of the most innovative unions in the country— for inspiration.

in which PAT President Gwen Sullivan appeared alongside Sara Chambers from the Chicago Teachers Union, the school board lied to parents, claiming, “Before these negotiations even opened in March, PAT leaders brought in organizers from the Chicago Teachers Union to prepare for a strike in Portland…Portland is not Chicago. A teachers’ strike doesn’t have to happen here. It’s not what Portland students or families deserve.”

But ironically, just a month after making this declaration, PPS is using a tactic directly out of the Chicago playbook. By restricting bargaining to “mandatory” issues, the Portland school board is using —a strategy which ultimately led to a strike.

Of course, the school board absurdly obvious statement is true: Portland isn’t Chicago, neither is it Seattle, nor is it San Francisco. But what the board doesn’t realize is that Chicago has become a battleground between two visions for education.

One vision wants our schools to be run like a business—with CEOs at the top, teachers as the workers, and students as the products that teachers are supposed to “add value” to. On the other side, there is an educational justice movement that says our students are human beings, not test scores, and that children deserve participatory, critical curriculum grounded in their own lives—and that teachers should be respected and given the autonomy and the time to individualize instruction, plan and prepare engaging lessons, and give meaningful feedback to every student and parent.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

FOR THOSE reading the Portland school board’s propaganda and trying to figure out which vision for public education the district subscribes to, , written by Steve Duin, might help shed light on PPS’s priorities. Duin examines the district’s choice to extend a no-bid contract to consultant Yvonne Deckard, hired to help gut the teacher contract, while simultaneously laying off a well-respected social-service worker. Duin’s article begins:

and have one thing in common. Their employer, , doesn't track the hours they work. Deckard is a union negotiator who bills $300 per hour and has a no-bid $15,000-per-month contract with the district.  She was paid a half-time salary this year to work a ridiculous number of hours on the health, addiction and hunger issues that cripple students in the classroom. Guess which one the district decided it can no longer afford? Wednesday was the last day in Lehnhoff's six-year run at Roosevelt."

Duin goes on to describe the hundreds of students that Lehnhoff has helped despite receiving less than one-tenth of Deckard’s salary. He then hits the nail on the head when he explains why PPS would fire Lenhoff while rehiring Deckard: “Because in a world obsessed with test scores and graduation rates, the district can't track and quantify the difference Lehnhoff makes.”

So while Portland and Chicago certainly have many differences, the corporate reform agenda is driving the actions of both school districts.

In Portland, the district is not closing down 50 schools in Black and Latino neighborhoods, but PPS did shut down two predominately Black and Brown schools two years ago, and tried again this year to shut down another two low income, high-minority schools. And like Chicago, . Like Chicago, the Portland school board wants to get rid of limits to class size and teacher workload. Like Chicago, the Portland school board wants to increase the amount of unpaid labor teachers do every day while getting rid of our job security.

So whether the school board admits it or not, they are playing the same role in Portland that Mayor Rahm Emanuel played in Chicago, and they are fighting for that same corporate vision of education.

It will be up to Portlanders to learn the lessons from the other side in Chicago—.

The Portland Association of Teachers is making it clear that this fight is about more than just better pay. , “Portland educators have come to the table not just to discuss salary and benefits, but to begin a conversation about equity, appropriate use of student assessment, class size and allowing professional educators the time and space to do what they do best--teach our children.”

Like Chicago, PAT will need to help build a movement of parents, students and teachers that can fight for our vision for public schools—the schools our students deserve.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dr. Crew's Office: To Serve the Governor or the Public?

Oregon Save Our Schools met with Dr. Rudy Crew last year, a few months after he was hired in Oregon.  We wanted to open a dialogue with him to share concerns of the voice of the public to include parents, teachers, and community members.  After meeting for over an hour, which Dr. Crew and his staff graciously stayed longer than what was scheduled, it was obvious that the voice of the public was not in his job expectations.  It was clear that   It was a true disappointment, but it was also a reveal as to the agenda put forth by those in power, and that the public was at best, an irritant.  Below is a reflection of one of our members, Tom Olson, from that meeting.  -- Oregon SOS

by Tom Olson

Right after our 90 minute "dialogue" with Crew shortly after he arrived, several of us decided to launch a poll contest. The question was: "Guess how long he'll stay in this job?" The answers clustered around 2 years.  He firmly committed to a three year contract. But we all had done the research on his past history. Left Tacoma under a test cheating cloud.  Then left after being fired from the New York superintendent's job (left with a $500 million" "parachute" that he negotiated; left after being fired from the Miami job (guess what....ANOTHER half million $ parachute). Many other issues--some even more concerning--- arose when we did our research on his background (obviously  the OEIB or Kitzhaber either didn't know about this shady past, or they didn't give a damn.)

Throughout our entire 90 minute interview with him, he never asked us ONE question. He bloviated throwing meaningless phrases around like fairy dust, and then lost his cool when I, as moderator, said that we needed to move on in the discussion.

He does not care about classroom teachers/administrators or board members. He only cares about his own damned Herculean ego. Any competent person assigned to do a background check on this guy would discover this.

I cannot find one iota of indication that he has listened carefully to educators on the "front line". I cannot find one bold position that he has taken that would respect educators' much deeper knowledge of teaching and learning than he has. Clackamas County hosted an Education Summit involving more than 200 people. He "blew in/blew off/ and then....blew out---BEFORE hearing reports from 13 discussion tables of people who represented the front lines. When I asked why he left so abruptly, I was informed that he explained to the conference coordinator that he was "simply too tired to stay." Our district has an international reputation for its teacher-driven uses of technology. When invited to visit and see our schools's work on this, he didn't even have the damned decency to return the call. He only attended two of the 8 public forums that OEIB held---supposedly to seek public input on the "strategic investments".

Even worse, he actually violated Senate Bill 1581 when he rejected 1/3 of the school districts' achievement compacts. He had absolutely NO authority under that law to reject them. Then he, worse, BLOVIATED about how too many local districts had too low standards and how they were "gaming the system" (THAT's a direct quote!)

Bottom line, I don't know how we would do much worse than Crew. But Looking at Kitzhaber and his business buddies on the OEIB record so far....I'm now convinced they could actually do worse!

Since Crew committed to a three year stint as CEO, his desire to interview for greener pastures is a gross violation of professional ethics. If, on the other hand, this is a ruse that covers up that Kitzhaber is trying to push him out, why not just do that instead of playing this game? And why did Crew's Chief of Staff (formerly his "marketing director" when in Miami) leave her $130,000 job after only a year? I never have been able to discover whether there was actually any search/competition for this job---or did they just let Crew decide to hire her? So much for affirmative action?

But "Game playing" is what it's all about when it comes to Kitzhaber/OEIB/Crew. So enjoy watching the game now.

Ain't nothin' gonna get better until the legislature "sunsets" the whole OEIB charade. But I'm not counting on that. That would take some courage, and some examination of the actual facts that this whole thing is a stinkin' travesty.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Six Million Dollar Plan (and Counting)...

Times are tough.  Money is tight.  Teachers are losing jobs.  Programs such as music, PE, art, and library are being eliminated.  Class sizes are ballooning.   

Suddenly, you have six million dollars!   

What would you spend it on?  Smaller class sizes?  A music, library teacher, or counselor for your school of 500?  No, that would be too obvious.  Let’s think outside of the box and away from the classroom….miles away.   

Instead, you think what could be better than a room full of adults who dream up new policies, programs, and job duties that will cost just about six million dollars…for starters? 

What?  That doesn’t sound like pure genius?

Well, that is exactly as one of their corporate education reforms.  In June 2011, the state got rid of an elected position of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Then a new state bureaucracy, the , was built which has done little to provide immediate benefits for our students and teachers in the classroom.

At a time when budgets are hard to pass and , how can this be allowed to happen?  Who is minding the store? 

If six million isn’t enough to make you irked, then realize it won’t stop there.  The Governor, , and the OEIB have proposed the following:

  • Longitudinal Data System price tag: $50 million
  • Strategic Investments to include Network for Quality Teaching and Learning: $100 million
  • Common Core to include Smarter Balanced testing:

So when groups like , the , the , and the office of ask for PERS reforms and education reforms, you have to wonder--why isn’t their primary question this:

 “How can I make sure every possible dollar goes into the classroom to directly benefit the students of our state?”

Sadly, have lost sight of what is best for kids and our public schools, but instead have their sights aimed on promoting the corporate education reform model.  Teachers have been shut out of the discussion.  Parents have been shut out of the discussion.  Students have been shut out of the discussion.  Now it will be up to our legislators to listen to those shut out voices as well as their own values to get back to a more democratic public education system with local control.  We wish them luck.  Their voices may be shut out too.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Parent Questions Common Core in Oregon

A bit of background:

Common Core State Standards, an unproven set of curricular standards has been adopted for use in most states across our country to include Oregon WITHOUT public input.  As part of receiving the NCLB Waiver, Oregon used CCSS as their set of standards which would prove to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that we were agreeing to use "career and college ready standards" in our plan to get the waiver.  What hasn't been discussed or analyzed is the cost of implementing these standards--not only in money, but also in time.  

At a time when school budgets are still being squeezed so that students are getting lost in large class sizes, schools are losing important programs, and districts are cutting school days to make ends meet, one has to wonder if this is the best decision right now for our kids.  As a result, many educators and parents, are starting to question not only the necessity of these standards, but also the effects they will have on our public education system.  Are they really worth having?  Can we say no thank you, we will do it OUR way?

One teacher and parent writes our state leaders to share her concerns.  Here is her letter which she has given us permission to share.  Thank you Elizabeth!

Oregon Save Our Schools

Dear Oregon Legislators,

Thank you for your dedication to Oregon’s public education system.  There is nothing more important to our state’s future than a thriving public school system.  I am writing to you as a devoted teacher and concerned parent who is deeply troubled by our state’s involvement with the Common Core State Standards, and the upcoming high-stakes assessments to which they are connected (in development by the Smarter Balanced Testing Consortium).  High-stakes testing is sucking the life out of Oregon’s public schools, and we need to change course, not double-down.

Oregon’s schools are in a state of austerity.  At my school, this looks like 34 7th graders in my class next year (we haven’t yet figured out how to fit in that many desks); our Special Education teacher has 15 students at once, all of whom she is expected to work with one-on-one; essential supports for our school, like our nurse, counselor, and librarian, are only funded part-time.  This year, the “stability budget” you are fighting for barely preserves a bare-bones remnant of the great public schools of Oregon’s past.  How is it that with so little funding for our children’s education, we are talking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars implementing the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced tests?

These new standards and tests will be extremely expensive.  SBAC tests are estimated to cost at least twice what we are currently paying for OAKS testing.  Besides that, there is the cost of technology to run these tests, and staffing to administer them.  Every teacher will need hours of retraining, and then countless additional hours to retool curriculum to match the tests.  New curriculums will need to be purchased to align with the new standards…  the list goes on and the money flows out of our schools.  I can’t find an estimate for the cost to Oregon (has anyone done the math on this?), but Washington has estimated the cost of at least 300 million dollars.

The greatest cost of these tests, however, is the time they take away from meaningful instruction.  At my school, our computer lab has been booked solid for testing for the last three months.   The majority of my students have spent 12 instructional hours on OAKS testing this year, plus another 6 hours on tests to predict their OAKS scores.  Students who didn’t meet the benchmark the first time have spent up to 4 hours a week in additional support classes.  Common Core tests will be lengthier and more difficult, potentially adding weeks to our already-bloated testing season, and countless hours to the test-prep regime.
These new standards and tests come with huge costs, but what are the benefits?  There is no evidence that raising standards raises student achievement.  We are already well aware of the achievement gap, and that too many of our students are not meeting the standards we have already set.   This gap has been well-documented for decades, and is stubbornly correlated with poverty.  The problem for these kids is not that our standards are too low; the problem is poverty, and schools need more resources to make more headway to mitigate the effects. Rather than lifting our struggling students up, the Common Core standards will leave them further behind, as teachers have no choice but to march forward with the more “rigorous” curriculum, regardless of the levels and needs of the students in our classrooms.

High-stakes testing is sucking the life out of Oregon’s schools.  Instead of wasting our limited resources to diagnose a problem we are already well aware of, we need to invest in real solutions: smaller class sizes, wrap-around services, and a well-rounded, engaging education for all kids.  More high-stakes tests will do nothing but widen the gap and waste out tax dollars.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this important issue.

Elizabeth Thiel
Portland, Oregon

Friday, May 24, 2013


by Oregon Save Our Schools

Please contact members of the Joint Ways & Means Committee and urge them to say NO to the proposed strategic investments in education of the OEIB and redirect those funds into classrooms!

See sample letter and background information below.

Senator Richard Devlin 503-986-1719
Representative Peter Buckley 503-986-1405
Senator Betsy Johnson 503-986-1716
Representative Dennis Richardson 503-986-1404
Representative Nancy Nathanson 503-986-1413
Senator Alan Bates 503-986-1703
Senator Rod Monroe 503-986-1724
Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward 503-986-1717
Senator Chuck Thomsen 503-986-1726
Senator Doug Whitsett 503-986-1728
Senator Jackie Winters 503-986-1710
Representative Jeff Barker 503-986-1428
Senator Chris Edwards 503-986-1707
Senator Fred Girod 503-986-1709
Senator Bill Hansell 503-986-1729
Representative Lew Frederick 503-986-1443
Representative Tim Freeman 503-986-1402
Representative Bruce Hanna  503-986-1407
Representative John Huffman 503-986-1459
Representative Bob Jenson 503-986-1458
Representative Betty Komp 503-986-1422
Representative Mike McLane 503-986-1400
Representative Tobias Read 503-986-1427
Representative Greg Smith 503-986-1457
Representative Carolyn Tomei 503-986-1441
Representative Jennifer Williamson 503-986-1436

For easy, you can cut and paste these addresses into your email:

Sample message (please personalize):


Dear Members of the Joint Ways & Means Committee:

With our kids sitting in ever more crowded classrooms, our Governor chooses to make a series of poorly thought out and disconnected “strategic investments” which have not be properly vetted by the public. Many of the dollars proposed in these bills are for “competitive grants” that will reward only a few districts, while the rest of our districts struggle. Additionally, most of these so called “investments” were developed by a private team cherry picked by the Governor. When these ideas were presented to the public in a series of forums, the public was outraged and noted how out of touch they were with reality and what we as parents, teachers, students and other community members know is needed to close the achievement and opportunity gaps. Restore common sense and democracy by voting NO on these bills, and redirect these funds into our classrooms!

While there are a variety of OEIB related bills that should be thoroughly scrutinized and called into question, we call upon you to redirect the funds of SB 5548, HB 3232, HB 3233, and HB 2636 into classrooms immediately!

Phone #

Further background information (you can add as you see fit):

This is the OEIB budget bill currently at $7.2 million. Does the OEIB really need its own budget? Does it really need to hire a team of  researchers? A discretionary fund for the CedO? Money for a marketing campaign?? We think not.

Directs the OEIB to design and implement programs that make strategic investments related to education. This includes programs such as Oregon Reads, which public librarians, the Oregon School Librarian of the Year, and even members of the National Council of Teachers of English say is not the best use of funds to increase reading achievement at this time. Total right now is $39 million. Why is this money not being used to invest in our school libraries and library teachers instead?  Research shows that students, especially students of poverty, use their school library much more than the public library due to immediate access and instructional opportunities in information and literacy skills.

Directs OEIB/State Board of Ed to direct funds to public and private entities for a “Network of Quality Teaching and Learning.” This is the scaled down version of the “Regional Achievement Centers.” How effective can it really be if educators don't buy in? Stakeholders need to be a part of the decision making process in order for change to be effective. Even a good idea is doomed to fail if the stakeholders feel it is imposed on them without their input. Educators have ideas on how to improve achievement. Many are even more cost effective than what we put in place, yet these voices are ignored.  Morale of teachers is at an all time low. Is it any wonder why when we ignore them as professionals? Total right now is $30 million.

This directs $50 million of the General Fund to the STEM Investment Council for grants and articulates goals for K-12 and post-secondary STEM education. Rather than a grants based program, how about directing this money into actual career and tech training?

These four bills alone represent a total of $126.2 million. This is equivalent to 1400FTE or 700 teachers each year for the next two years. (That is more jobs than Nike promised with their tax deal!)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Portland Public Schools Targets Teachers

By Portland Teacher (writing anonymously out of fear of reprisal)

, PPS has found a new target: teachers. 

Negotiations between the school district and Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) began this month with such enormous differences between their two proposals, .

Given the widespread attacks on teachers nationwide, the decimation of the public school system in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit, and the relative success of union-bashing in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, PPS evidently believes now is the time to seize as much control as it can.

District officials recently appropriated the language of the Chicago Teachers’ strike that claimed their proposal was “updating” the teachers’ contract to give “our students the education they deserve.” In particular they point out that their proposal removes work rules that “have prevented many high school students from taking eight classes.” This letter reveals that until parents pressured the district in recent weeks to add teaching positions in order to provide a full eight classes to students, the district originally hoped to simply force high school teachers to teach another class. Their contract offer would allow this because it eliminates all restrictions on teacher workload in the contract—including the limit of 180 students per high school teacher negotiated last year.

But how is eliminating a cap on the number of students in a teacher’s classes supposed to benefit kids? Do the math.  If, say, a history teacher assigns an essay to all of her 180 students and devotes just five minutes to reading and commenting on each of these—an impossible task, in itself—this would take exactly 15 hours of outside-of-class time. Or, say, a science teacher wants to spend 10 minutes talking to each student’s parent about how to best serve a child’s needs. At the 180-student limit, that the district hopes to eliminate, this would add an extra 30-hour workweek for that teacher.

And while the district hopes to erase parts of the contract that put any restraints on the amount of unpaid labor teachers do outside of the school day, they also want to increase the “official” teacher workday and reduce the time teachers have to get non-instructional work accomplished during that day. With language that could have been written in the 19th century, the district’s proposal increases the official teacher workday from 7.5 hours to “generally” 8 hours. At the same time their offer cuts high school teacher planning and preparation time from 90 minutes to 60 minutes per day, a reduction of 2.5 hours per week. Does the district really believe that the education Portland students deserve is one where their teachers have little time to plan engaging curriculum, give students meaningful feedback, and develop individual relationships with them?

The Portland Association of Teachers’ proposal, on the other hand, recognizes that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. PAT’s contract proposal asks the district to reduce class size and caseload over the next few years setting goals for 2018 that are based on national research. The proposal also calls on the district to “work with the Association, parent groups, student groups, business groups, City, County, Metro, and State elected officials to secure adequate funding to achieve these goals.”

Another part of the district’s offer the community should be concerned about is the removal of language that prevents teacher evaluations from being based on students’ standardized test scores. How can the school district claim to be fighting for the “education our students deserve,” ? In fact, . Does the district think these students don’t understand what kind of education they deserve? In contrast, PAT’s proposal asserts that “standardized tests shall only be used in a manner supported by the test methodology and testing frequency” and that “standardized tests should only be one tool used for assessing student learning and growth.” 

The school district will also likely try to paint the union as self-interested because PAT is asking for cost-of-living raises that keep up with inflation. In its offer, the district wants a four-year wage freeze and a cap on district contributions to health insurance so all future costs pass directly on to educators. But is the education Portland students deserve one where their teachers find it hard to focus on teaching because they are worried about paying their bills?

The truth is that PPS’s initial contract offer is more about union busting than it is about providing students a quality education. This is why their proposal excludes temporary employees from the union, eradicates the role seniority plays in determining layoffs, gets rid of union members’ ability to grieve evaluations while removing restrictions on when principals must complete those evaluations, and eliminates the ability of the union to grieve discriminatory practices based on race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and political activity.  In fact, the district’s initial offer deletes more than 30 pages from the teachers’ contract. According to the PAT, PPS’s proposal includes over 70 take-backs.  At a recent bargaining session, district spokesperson Brock Logan was clear about their intention to use the erasure of PAT contract language to vastly expand management’s rights while stomping on teachers’. According to Logan, “If the contract doesn’t specify it, management can do whatever they want.”

Fortunately, PAT is standing strong and genuinely attempting to advocate on behalf of students and parents in addition to teachers. As Susan Nielsen, writes in the Oregonian, “Their proposal reads less like a standard contract than an education manifesto written by your favorite teacher. We want smaller class sizes, the union says in a. We want more electives for kids! We want every child to have access to a full curriculum that includes music, art, PE, world languages and staffed libraries. We want less time spent on endless standardized testing and more time spent developing the whole child.”

The PAT preamble titled “The Schools Portland Students Deserve,” is an intentional effort to incorporate the inspiring example of the recent Chicago Teachers’ Union fight into the union’s bargaining proposal. The preamble attempts to codify the spirit of the recent school closure fight into the teachers’ contract demanding “priority shall be placed on maintaining enrollment in neighborhood schools instead of school closure” and that “a school closure due to under-enrollment is a last resort and shall only be done in the most extreme circumstances.” 

In one of the boldest sections of the preamble, PAT flips the script on “accountability” in education by demanding that administrators, not just teachers, be held accountable. They ask for “creating a mentoring/feedback program for administrators” that includes “feedback surveys from students, parents, professional educators and mentor administrators.”

The preamble also calls for a coalition of parents, students, and other supporters of public education to push back against reforms that limit curriculum and wrap-around services and to work to find new sources of revenue that restore electives and services and lower class sizes.

Such a coalition will be needed now if there is any hope that the union’s vision of the schools Portland students deserve wins out over the district’s. Just last year three Oregon Education Association locals—  If those struggles are any indication of the battle ahead, the PAT will need all the support it can get. Representing nearly 3,000 teachers, the PAT is the largest teacher local in Oregon and its fate will determine the tide of education reform in the region.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

State Testing: Educational Growth Model Defies Logic

by Allen Koshewa

Education is under attack again.  The state has ensured that some schools will once again be labeled failures, thanks to the new categories it has created, its distorted definitions of success, and its continued use of tests to punish rather than to inform instruction. 

 It will come as no surprise to most people that the state is using students’ scores on the OAKS  (Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) in reading and math as the sole determinant of educational growth.   Under the new system, implemented last fall, some schools have been labeled as “model” schools, “focus” schools, or “priority” schools while other schools have not been labeled at all.  Since the new labels only apply to Title I schools (in which the majority of students come from poverty), schools in higher-income areas are immune to the scrutiny and sanctions of schools labeled focus and priority.

 State number crunchers have come up with a new formula to establish what they are calling a “growth model,” which will determine the label a school gets (or doesn’t get).  In a travesty of equity, students who scored the lowest scores last year are expected to improve the most.  For example, students with low scores must demonstrate up to three years of growth (according to how OAKS scores are analyzed) to meet the “growth target” the state has established for them, whereas some students with higher 2012 scores only need to demonstrate half a year’s growth after one year.  This disparity of expectations will probably increase the achievement gap, rather than close it.

As a fourth/fifth grade teacher, I have several students who began the year stumbling through simple picture books who now can read chapter books with confidence.  On the OAKS test, they showed what is deemed the equivalent of two to three years of improvement, yet they were demoralized when they saw their scores and realized they had not quite met the benchmark, still required as one component of the state’s expectations for focus and priority school. 

Highly capable students are also getting the short end of the stick.  Those who attained a designation of “exceed” in 2012 can make a higher score and maintain their “exceed” status, yet still not meet “target growth.”
Another problem is the way the state is comparing students’ scores with those of other students across the state.  Students who live in poverty are being compared to students from high socioeconomic backgrounds.  English language learners are being compared to native English speakers.  In short, this is NOT an individual growth model.  Although there is no common agreement about what constitutes a good growth model, the state has implemented an inequitable one and has failed to logically articulate its rationale.

To make matters worse, exactly fifteen percent of schools will continue to be labeled “focus” and “priority.”  This means that no matter how much all students in the state improve, fifteen percent of our schools will be construed as failing schools. 

 It is clear that the standardized tests, along with the ludicrously unfair “growth model” the state has invented, will continue to ensure that students and schools are framed as failures.

Until a large number of students and parents opt out of these tests, the tests will continue to demonize children and schools.