An incredible two weeks in Oregon education reform

It’s been an amazing couple of weeks on the issue of education reform. I’ve seen the best and worst of public education since the last issue of TWR. Here are the major events in chronological order:

–On Sunday February 17, The Oregonian exposed the practice among Oregon public school districts who “strike secret settlement agreements with teachers who resign for sexual misconduct. In exchange for agreeing to resign, administrators agreed not to disclose misconduct to prospective employers.” This is called “Passing the Trash” within the bureaucracy. My friend Rob Kremer had the best reaction to this breach of trust.

Two days later, on February 19th, the Eugene Register Guard reported on why some school districts hate online charter schools that can enroll students from anywhere in Oregon. “I call this poaching,” said Bob De La Vergne, superintendent of the Coos Bay School District. “It drains the system.”

Kremer put it well on his blog: “It couldn’t be much clearer – he thinks of children as captives, his district’s exclusive property that exist to feed the system, rather than to be educated. If the parents think the kids will be better served in the charter school, they must be stopped, because “the system” is a higher priority.”

On February 25th, the Willamette Week reported that Democrat and U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Merkley was trying to have it both ways on the issue of charter schools. While Merkley has always voted against charter schools in the Oregon House, he and his wife tried to enroll their two children in a charter school in Portland that didn’t open. Merkley’s campaign staff strongly denied any hypocrisy and claimed the couple only expressed interest in the school. Eventually Willamette Week produced the “Enrollment” forms.

Then on February 27th, I flew to New Orleans for the annual Black Alliance for Educational Options symposium. A group of African-American leaders from Portland and I got a chance to see some of the charter schools operating as part of the new Recovery District created in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Katrina destroyed the old district-run system where 73 of the more than 120 schools were considered “failing” according to the State of Louisiana. Before Katrina, 96% of Orleans Parish students were below basic on English and 94% were below basic in math.

Some of the best charter school operators in the country are now running schools in New Orleans and the KIPP academy we toured will send 80% of their alumni on to college in neighborhoods where 25% was the norm. At KIPP’s 57 schools across the country, more than 80% of the students are black and 90% of their 4th and 8th graders pass their state tests.
In New Orleans, school choice is saving children’s lives.

Meanwhile, back in Oregon, liberal blogger and retired public school teacher Terry Olson reacted this way to Jeff Merkley’s Charter-Gate issue.

“To divert human capital –namely good students with strong parental support –from public schools is to undermine the ability of those schools to succeed. I completely reject the notion that the first responsibility of nominally public school-supporting parents is to consider the welfare of their own children while ignoring the well-being of others.

I cannot say, as others have, that their urge to seek out “better” options for their kids alone is either understandable or forgivable. To do so would be to acknowledge that the individual, or private, good trumps the common good. I don’t believe it.

Olson was immediately denounced by Libertarian Steve Buckstein and Conservative Rob Kremer. Good. But we only heard crickets from the establishment. Now you know what they really think.

Finally, The Oregonian wrapped up our two week odyssey with a final thought about the “Passing the Trash” scandal and why Democrat legislators were slow to act. In a rare admission about the politics of Oregon they wrote:

It’s true, the politics here can be overwhelming. Few Democrats are independent enough to stand up to the Oregon Education Association, a major donor and political force…The teachers union doesn’t want to give up job protections for any educator, even admitted perverts.

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  • Jerry

    I have been saying in three of my recent articles here on the Catalyst that Oregon’s students and parents ARE NOT BEING SERVED by public education in Oregon, from K-12 through higher ed. These events only strengthen my argument.

    And remember, I was a part of it for 16 years. Terry Olson is simply wrong. Parents have to do what is best for their own children. If all parents did what is best, his “argument” would hold no water. Not a drop.

    Sadly, the OEA does own the legislature in Oregon, so parents who make wise decisions about their children’s education are the only hope these kids have. No one else seems to care and certainly no one else is doing ANYTHING to improve the corrupt, failing system we have now.

    No one, from either party, I might add.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    At some point you have to wonder when this is all going to reach “critical mass” with the public. Maybe a decade ago people seemed content with the argument that the public schools were not doing well because teachers received low compensation. The system skated on this one for a while, but now we are at a point where the general public seems fairly well aware of the $10k or so per pupil cost, and has had it with money arguments.

    Now we have moved on to this “passing the trash” scandal, where it is clear students are not the priority.

    This combined with the recent court decision in California, essentially outlawing home schooling, really shows our schools have become not institutions of learning, but rather systems of Union enrichment.

    At some point people have got to say “enough”. If there is ever any actual enforcement of the California decision, I think at least the residents of that state will have reached that point. Taking kids out of home schooling, the only proven superior alternative to public schools for parents who cant afford private ones is horrendous. Degrading a child’s education so that Union pockets can be filled should demonstrate to Californians that priorities are seriously wrong. One can only hope the same is apprehended in Oregon.

  • steve

    What are they doing about people who hit their son on the head so hard it leaves a lump? You know, convicted child abusers.

    • Sassy

      So, steve why don’t you run for office and then we can gossip about you too!

      Have you no comment on our education system here in Oregon?

      • steve

        Why don’t you?

        I’ll tell you what, if you file, I will file. If we live in the same disrtict I will run against you and win.

        Na, Na, Na, Na, Naaa, Na..

        • Sassy


          You file as steve Na, Na, Na, Naaaa, Na..

          I will file as Sassy.

          Here’s an idea for your campaign slogan ………..Vote for steve, I was the “child left behind”.

  • Anon

    Matt Wingard won’t be speaking out on that issue any time soon, since his campaign is backed by the National Association of Child Beaters. They stick by their own.

    • cc

      What clever comments!

      Did you two learn that in Public School?


  • Stressed Out

    Could the union be protecting their upcoming gay agenda push like California? Don’t talk about it, don’t support it, keep it quite. You are either for the kids or against them, no fence sitting. Zero tolerance just like drugs and violence right? No this is different this is a ends justifying the means.

  • Steve Plunk

    Thanks to SB 2 school districts around the state are quietly changing their employment policies to add protections for sexual orientation. That would include gender identity disorder.

    I’m not against gays teaching if they don’t make an issue out of it and stay away from inappropriate situations. But protecting those with recognized psychological problems exposes who is the protected class, public employees instead of children.

    Next time you see one of our Democratic state legislators give them thanks for such a short sighted law. I’m sure the unions are thanking them with cash contributions on a regular basis.

    • Rupert in Springfield

      How would protections for sexual orientation include “sexual identity disorder”? “Sexual identity disorder” is an orientation? News to me. Is this specifically laid out in the policies or is it an assumption?

      >I’m not against gays teaching if they don’t make an issue out of it

      What exactly is “making an issue” out of being gay? I mean sure, no one is interested in teachers conducting political rallies in the classroom, whether it be for Global Warming or Gay pride. Would a teacher simply acknowledging they are gay be a big deal or making an issue out of it? Don’t most heterosexual teachers acknowledge they are straight in some way? Wives or husbands pick them up from work, or give them a kiss dropping them off. Does anyone really think some kids, seeing this sort of acknowledgement in a gay situation, are going to be psychologically scared for life?

      >and stay away from inappropriate situations.

      I think most are against teachers staying away from inappropriate situations regardless of their orientation. I wouldn’t limit it just to gay teachers myself.

      Is there any evidence that teachers who are gay have more of a propensity than the population at large for inappropriate conduct with students? Frankly the majority of the time I have heard of it lately, it seems to be some 30 something female teacher running off with a HS boy.

      • Steve Plunk

        Gender Identity Disorder is a recognized mental disorder. It is confusion over a person’s own gender identity.

        You know what making an issue out of it is.

        Parents have a legitimate concern of having gay teachers in their child’s locker room. Would that be an inappropriate situation? Some would yes.

        • Rupert in Springfield

          >Gender Identity Disorder is a recognized mental disorder. It is confusion over a person’s own gender identity.

          I wasn’t asking for a definition of it. I was asking why you seemed to think laws regarding sexual orientation would pertain to it?

          >You know what making an issue out of it is.

          No I don’t actually. That’s why I tried to elicit from you what you considered “making an issue”. If you cant give examples, then maybe you haven’t thought this through.

          >Parents have a legitimate concern of having gay teachers in their child’s locker room.

          Really? How is this concern legitimate? There are studies showing gay teachers have more of a predilection to pedophilia than others? How surprising!

  • Jerry

    Just because it is recognized doesn’t mean it is real.
    And even if it is, that is no excuse for shared showers and restrooms like many of these people advocate.
    What a sham.

    • dean

      Steve P…not to worry. Kids today apparently do not use the showers, or so my track and cross country son informed me as I drove him home reeking after practice once.

      Jerry…”real” is in the eye of the beholder? I don’t think so. And who are “these people?” Or are we supposed to know?

      As for the original post…”an amazing 2 weeks in Oregon education reform.” Really? Matt sets a pretty low bar for either amazing or reform.

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