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.