Dem CD-1 contenders don’t support education reform

by Chana Cox

Oregonian editor, David Sarasohn recently moderated a debate between District One congressional candidates. Although education was mentioned, it was clear that the three leading Democrats do not support fundamental educational reform.

Our public schools are a disaster. It’s not just inner city schools that churn out dropouts and graduates with minimal reading skills.  Even middle school 8th graders are not reading at established standards.  Until last year Oregon ranked in the bottom 10% in reading and math tests.   This year 46% of Oregon schools fell short of federal education standard under No Child Left Behind1.  Many students drop out and even among those who graduate, few are ready for college: “By the senior year in high school, just 4% of black students, 4% of Hispanic students, and 36% of white students meet ACT college level benchmarks.”2

Brad Avakian stated that he had improved schooling by reintroducing shop classes into middle schools.  That is probably a good thing, but it is not fundamental reform.  All the Democratic Congressional contenders claimed to be firmly committed to bi-partisanship, but they are not bi-partisan on educational reform.

Fundamental educational reform, based in part on the establishment of charter schools and school choice, is one area in which most Republicans and many Democrats agree.  Democrats for Educational Reform, and Barack Obama’s Department of Education concur that expansion of charter schools is necessary.

Efforts to research and promote and establish charter schools have been funded by benevolent foundations from all across the political spectrum.   The Democrats for Educational Reform and President Obama’s Department of Education are strong supporters of the establishment of charter schools – particularly the so-called “No Excuses” charter schools which are characterized by small size, frequent testing, a long school day and year, selective teacher hiring, a strong student work ethic, and an emphasis on discipline and comportment.  These schools are proven successes; preparing inner city children for college in New York, Boston, and New Orleans – hardly Republican strongholds. Although Portland has good charter schools like SEI, it is exceedingly difficult to establish schools like the KIPP academy and Harlem Success schools in Portland.

This year the Oregon Legislature passed bills to ease requirements for starting charter schools, allowing sponsorship by public colleges. Legislation allows virtual charter schools to continue to operate and expand. And now, Oregon students may transfer to any public school in the state that will accept them without permission of home district school. Suzanne Bonamici voted “no” to all three bills. Brad Witt voted against two, and Brad Avakian is a strong advocate of the anti-school- choice organizations opposed the passage of each of these laws.

All the Democratic Congressional contenders have failed to show that they are bi-partisan on education reform.  They are rejecting school choice ideas that the majority of Oregonians support according to a 2008 poll.   Do we really want them making educational policy at the Federal or state level?

1 Oregon Capital News Sept 9, 2011
2 Ron Herndon, Observer, 9/7/11


Chana Cox is a Senior Lecturer Emerita at Lewis and Clark College, and she has a Ph.D. from Columbia University and a BA from Reed College. She has been a featured speaker at U-Choose events.