What’s the matter with Oregon?

The Vice President of Research for Cascade Policy Institute’s sister think tank in Arizona, Matthew Ladner, just published a blog post about what struck him on a recent visit to Oregon.

“I noticed two things about Oregon while I was out there. First- the kids all have tattoos. Second, the place is very Anglo. All of this is a prologue to wondering: why is a place as well to do as Oregon score so poorly on the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress]?”

He goes on to note that “Florida’s K-12 population is majority minority (50.4%) while Oregon is not (26.4%). According to the Census Bureau, they spend about the same amount per pupil.”

He posts a chart showing Florida’s rising NAEP reading scores for 4th graders contrasted with Oregon’s sinking scores, and concludes:

“One of these states is making substantial progress, and one of them is not. So, what’s going on Oregon? Where is the progress part of being progressive?”

Read his entire post at What’s the matter with Oregon? and feel free to comment here and/or there.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.

  • hawkeye

    It would take more analysis than is shown here. Maybe my hero eagle eye will help out.

    White Oregon students at advanced levels do about average for white students natioanally, no?

    I don’t know why Oregon 4th graders are dropping. Because of larger classes? Rapidly increasing minority students?

    • sybella

      What do you consider a larger class?

      When I was in fourth grade our classes were about 35 and we were expected to learn. Play was for after school. This is something I’ve been curious about as to the level other people think is large. I didn’t think 35 was so big. Still don’t.

    • eagle eye

      You are very astute, hawkeye, even if you flatter me way too much.

      I don’t know why Oregon 4th grade scores are dropping. It could be larger class sizes after the end of the boom around 2000. (State revenues dropped, class sizes increased? It is known that class size matters in the lower grades).

      Or, as you say, it might be more minority students i.e. rapidly increasing (probably illegal) Hispanic population, who are known to lag drastically in test scores.

      Or maybe a combination?

      I don’t have enough information to sort this all out. It will be very interesting though to see if Oregon test scores drop in higher grades as these low-scoring 4th grade cohorts move up the age ladder.

    • eagle eye

      Actually, if you look at the link provided in the article, Oregon scores rose quite a bit after 1998, then have dropped, but are still above 1998 level. So from this I would say that Oregon 4th grade scores are about flat. (Notice that the graph has no error bars on the data, so the meaning of year-to-year fluctuations is completely unclear.)

    • Martha

      I read recently in another article that the decline after 4th grade was a national phenomenon. Personally, I think that may be an age when children no longer benefit from our new fangled ‘progressive’ method of teaching, ie memorization and test taking, how to figure out the answer your teacher wants. That perhaps something biological happens around then and they are ready for different kinds of input but they don’t get it so they just kinda brain atrophy after that without the proper kind of food:) Just a feeling.
      There was a time when the American education system was envied by most of the world. Guess what, it was before the department of education and it was before the introduction of socialist teaching methods that began in the thirties. Look at how awfully this comment is written. I went to public school.

  • John Fairplay

    Oregon spends a lot of money on items that don’t increase student learning. For instance, we’re spending about $10,000 per year per teacher for health insurance benefits which is quite a bit more than non-union jobs pay. While it could be argued that this level of benefit is needed to attract good teachers, the reality of unionization is that teachers aren’t evaluated as to whether they are good teachers or not. There’s no effort, for instance, to weed out poor teachers and give those great benefits to someone who will do a better job. Heck, the State and Districts won’t even make a strong effort to get child molesters out of the teaching “profession.” Oregon is also the only state that does not require its teachers to pay even one dime into their retirement plan. Again, none of these terrific benefits are tied to performance in any way.

    Oregon’s “large” class sizes are due more to mis-allocation of resources and poor management then anything else. Most Districts have a student-to-teacher ratio that’s in the low 20s. Unfortunately, union rules and general incompetence and fear of the union on the part of Principals and school boards give us 30 kids in a class.

  • Harry

    What is wrong with Oregon?

    In a word, “Unions”.

    “we’re spending about $10,000 per year per teacher for health insurance benefits which is quite a bit more than non-union jobs pay.”

    Actually, closer to $12K, or $1,000 per employee.

    Also remember, health care, unlike PERS benefits, is based on per person, while PERS is generally a function of your salary. For example, if you have $60K in salary, your PERS is much higher than a Janitor making $25K.

    So health care costs are high, but for all school district employees, not just Teachers. Much higher than non-union workers. Thank you Unions.

    “There’s no effort, for instance, to weed out poor teachers …”

    Not only is there no effort to weed out bad teachers. But there is a very active effort to also PREVENT rewarding good teachers, even if you use Bill Gate’s own money, and not tax payers money. Yes, the Gate’s Foundation offered free grants for financial rewards to deserving good teachers, but the Washington State Public Teachers Unions fought that effort, using the false excuse that that incentive pay violated the employment contracts. NY state and other states gladly took Gate’s money to reward excellence among teachers; but not Washington. Thank you public unions.

    “Oregon is also the only state that does not require its teachers to pay even one dime into their retirement plan.”

    True, they pay nothing, and have one of the country’s most lavish retirement plans. That is why class sizes are growing and already too high (35 is too high, given today’s reality of kids getting promoted above their competence, and other factors). School Districts are forced to pay existing teachers ever higher salaries, instead of opting to pay for additional teachers to bring the class sizes down. Better to pay for more teachers a little bit less, than pay for fewer teachers a lot more. But the Unions said “No!”

    “What’s the matter with Oregon?”

    In one word: “Unions”.

    They are the cause of:
    -out of control health care cost (teachers pay almost nothing towards their own health care, it is all borne by taxpayers)
    -out of control PERS (ditto)
    -no accountability (teachers are never fired, regardless of performance)
    -no school choice (charters, vouchers, nothing that forces the bloated public schools to be more competitive will get past the unions).
    -teacher and staff focused priorities; never putting the kids first.

    In a word, unions.

    • NotYourDaddy

      I agree with Harry. The NEA consistently lobbies against proven methods of providing better education (charter schools, home schooling, voucher programs for private schools) because any method that proves more effective at educating children than the current failed public school system cuts into their power base and erodes their control. And that’s what they care about most.

  • Joey Link

    Education is one of my favorite topics for political discussion because it’s so clearly evident what we’re doing wrong and how we can improve.

  • Jerry

    I would say the elephant in the room, aside from the union, and because of the union, is the low, low, low amount of contact time between teachers and students. Virtually no student in Oregon is actually getting anything close to the revised statute requirements for length of school day and number of school days per year. None.

    Every single year there are new ways devised to stop educating the students. The list is long, indeed, and includes “inservice” days, “conference” days, “grading” days, “planning” days, holidays, etc., etc. There are entire months in the Oregon school schedule where every week will include a day or a half day “off”. The days are very short, too, as schools more and more start later and dismiss earlier. There are numerous interruptions during what is left of any school days, too, like assemblies, fairs, picture day, and other folly that robs from instruction time.

    My contention is simple, factual, and unshakeable: you can not do well at anything if you don’t work at it for a significant amount of time.

    I can assure you there is no significant amount of instructional time in most districts across the vast educational wasteland called Oregon.

    Class size has nothing to do with anything, by the way, because what difference does it make how many students you have in the class if the class hardly ever meets???

    • eagle eye

      Your hypothesis might make sense but only if class time has been dropping during the period when 4th graders’ scores dropped. Do you have any data to support that?

      • Jerry

        Yes, as I said, it has been steadily dropping every year. My data would be to ask you if you remember going to school when you were young? How long was the school day? How many days did you go to school. I can assure you both were longer in the past. Most assuredly.

        • dean

          Jerry…an individual experience is not much help as data. I do remember long school days, especially in high school, but we had 2 hours of “study hall,” which was not classroom time.

          Class size shows up as important in studies of education. And if it is not important, why do colleges adn universities stress their teacher to student ratios and average clas sizes when they are trying to attract the best students? why do honors programs have smaller classes and no lecture halls?

        • eagle eye

          You are going to have to do better than “I said”. Where are your data on class time year by year and how does this correlate with 4th grade scores?

          Actually, if you look at the link provided in the article, Oregon scores rose quite a bit after 1998, then have dropped, but are still above 1998 level. So from this I would say that Oregon 4th grade scores are about flat. (Notice that the graph has no error bars on the data, so the meaning of year-to-year fluctuations is completely unclear.)

  • Jerry

    Gee, I guess your right. Everything is fine! Thanks. I think the school year should be shortened to 150 days. And the days are way too long now – they need to be cut to 5 hours maximum.

    Guess what – they still have study halls in schools and that is still, as you pointed out, wasted time.

  • eddie

    I’ve always understood Unions to be a measure taken by employees who because of the low skill requirements of their profession face management who have all the leverage in terms of pay and benefits. By banding together, the workers then make it an all or nothing call for worker replacement, decreasing the competition from potential new employees… In the case of teachers, the position is supposed to be a skilled one, with ability and experience providing great value. Considering that protecting substandard employees directly hurts students… why do we have unionized teachers at all?

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