Oregon’s Worsening Educational System
A recent headline in the Oregonian screamed “Nearly 40 Percent of Oregon High School grads don’t go to college.“ The article by Betsy Hammond was replete with statistics. It declared that Oregon was trailing the national average for matriculation from high school to college and that the figures for Oregon remained stubbornly low indicating a continuing problem. These results parallel the continuing decline of testing scores in Oregon when compared to other states and more so when compared to other countries.
Ms. Hammond notes the probable results of this continuing decline:
“In all, 14,000 students in the class of 2011 didn’t try college and are likely stuck working jobs such as sales clerk, security guard, waiter or parking lot attendant, according to Brenda Turner, occupational economist with the Oregon Employment Department. Few such jobs pay more than $9.50 an hour, she said.”
What is lacking in Ms. Hammond’s articles is any exploration of the cause of the continuing decline of Oregon’s schools as demonstrated by declining test scores, abnormally high drop out rates and “near-the-bottom” matriculation rates from high school to college. But there are constants in the past twenty years that point to one of the major problem in Oregon’s declining school system.
No, it’s not money. Oregon has routinely increased school funding over the past twenty years and while it is no longer near the top of spending per student it continues above the norm. Granted a smaller and smaller percentage of that money reaches the classroom in the form of additional teachers but that is due to the increasing cost of benefits (Oregon’s gold-platted PERS and its richly generous healthcare plans). So much so, that several legislative sessions ago, the legislature found an additional $350 Million – over and above its regular increase in education spending -–for the alleged purpose of mitigating the growing teacher /student ratio in the classrooms only to see virtually all of it diverted to pay for the increase cost of benefits to existing teachers. Virtually every study conducted on a national basis shows there is little or no correlation between the amount of money spent per student and the educational results. Some of the highest spending states are stuck near the bottom on performance and some of the highest performing states are those among the national average.
There is a lack of accountability in the expenditure of educational funds. Emblematic of this lack of accountability is the nearly fifteen years of waste in pursuit of the Oregon-centric CIM/CAM educational testing program. [CIM/CAM refers to the Certificates of Initial Mastery and Certificates of Advanced Mastery] A former state senator estimated that those programs ate up nearly $500 million per year with zero results. So contentious and contrived were the tests that the students couldn’t pass them, the colleges refuse to accept them and the business community its back on them. And yet for nearly fifteen yearsthose programs were used by the teachers unions and the Democrats to demand increased educational spending on the theory that new programs required additional funding.
Oregon’s educational system is dominated by the teachers unions. Their unlimited financial resources available to Democrat candidates ensure that the status quo remains in the educational system. Instead of merit pay, Oregon has teachers’ tenure and a disciplinary system that makes it difficult to terminate a teacher for anything short of sexual abuse. Every major change that has been proposed to improve Oregon’s educational system has been opposed by and blocked by the public employee unions. Those same unions have a singular solution that has remained unchanged in over two decades – more money. But more money hasn’t worked as evidenced by the continuing decline of Oregon’s educational outcomes. More money has not resulted in more teachers, or better methods, or greater accountability. What more money has resulted in is larger salaries, greater benefits and more paid non-working days for teachers.
And yet each year Oregon’s business community meets under the aegis of the Oregon Business Council (OBC) and supports increased educational spending. And while the OBC has set forth numerous proposals for educational accountability it has never conditioned support of increased spending on adoption of those proposals. It has occurred so routinely that no one pays the slightest attention any longer.
One might ask, how paying more to incompetent teachers in an incompetent system could possibly result in improved performance? But Oregon’s public employee unions remain in full control of Oregon’s political system and the result will be an increasingly more expensive educational system with an increasingly poorer educational result. And the same Democrats who swoon over the plight of the ch-i-i-ll-d-r-r-e-e-n-n (yes, I said it with the mandatory moan) will continue to resist change in the educational system so as to protect their campaign benefactors – the public employees unions.
Until the Oregonian and the state’s other media outlets start identifying the causes of such crises as the failing educational system, the increasing financial burden of PERS and the disparate political campaign advantages enjoyed by the public employee unions, Oregon’s woes will continue unchecked. Good luck but don’t count on it.