Son of Cim/Cam Coming Soon!

Last week Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo announced in a speech to Portland’s City Club that Oregon’s CIM and CAM programs should be chucked. Eight months earlier, in May, Castillo led the defense of CIM and CAM and convinced Senate Democrats to block passage of Rep. Linda Flores (R-Clackamas) House Bill 3162 which would have chucked CIM and CAM. Predictably, Oregon’s education elites and major newspapers sided with former television newsreader Castillo when she opposed elimination of CIM/CAM and praised her now that she advocates dumping it. So what’s the difference?

Could it be that HB 3162 was a Republican initiative and therefore “bad” and now Castillo’s speech is a Democrat initiative and therefore “good?”

Be that as it may, the death of CIM/CAM is long overdue. It is the penultimate fuzzy-headed, liberal boondoggle. It began without much thought in the waning days of the 1991 session as a gift from former Speaker of the House Vera Katz (D-Portland) in cooperation with Ira Magaziner, a fellow East Cost liberal elitist who deemed it necessary to instruct the “hicks” in Oregon about their cultural shortcomings. Like most such boondoggles, it began without knowing where it was going, without any direction on how to get there, and with no clue as to the costs that would be incurred along the way. It was just a splattering of cute phrases and lofty aspirations that exuded concern for “the chil-l-l-d-d-r-r-en-n-n.” But the liberals were in control and there was harmony, rhapsody, and a rush to hurry off to the next good deed. CIM/CAM became the playground of the education elites and the teachers unions. It was an excuse to spend more, work less and devote copious amounts of time to “training and professional development.” It fostered the next boondoggle, the Quality School Model, for financing schools at a level that would bankrupt the state.

Never mind that the teachers hated it, the students didn’t understand it and the parents were left wondering just why the education system continued to founder and decline. Never mind that despite assurances that there would be no extra cost attendant to CIM/CAM, (and no line item for it ever appeared in a legislative budget), Sen. Gary George, using data from the Legislative Fiscal Office, estimated CIM/CAM consumed about ten percent of the planning, administrative and classroom teachers time. Never mind that after a staggering delay in implementation, it was so out of touch with school curriculum that less than one third of the students taking the exam can pass it. Never mind that it was so pointless that neither universities nor employers gave it any credence. And never mind that the CIM (certificate of initial mastery) portion of the program was such a mess that they didn’t even try to implement the CAM (certificate of advanced mastery) portion.

And yet it survived for these fourteen years. It survived without ever producing a positive result solely on the ballyhoo that it put Oregon in the vanguard of education reform and would be the standard by which other states would guide their educational programs. But like Oregon’s vaunted land use planning process, no other state has ever implemented this train wreck and for good reason. Superintendent Castillo (and her predecessors) should have apologized for wasting the time of teachers and students for the last fourteen years. She should have apologized for wasting taxpayers money that could have been better spent in classroom teaching and delivery of critical curriculum. The elimination of CIM/CAM does not translate into a savings of $500M per year, as some would claim, it simply frees up that amount of classroom, training and administrative time to focus on the real educational needs of students. (There is probably some significant savings in Castillo’s state education office but since both the legislature and the education lobby refused to segregate and keep track of costs associated with CIM/CAM the amount of savings may never be known.)

It was a predictable result. Oregon’s schools are a monopoly and like other monopolies they have no way of determining whether their services are adequate or efficient. Like other monopolies, they create these artificial guidelines as a substitute for demonstrable performance. But unlike most monopolies where you can instantly see whether the telephone rings, or the lights stay on, or the furnace still works, the effects of these experiments on Oregon’s children won’t be known for years – and when it is known it will be too late to correct.

But there is a final rub in Superintendent Castillo’s remarks. She hasn’t abandoned this bone-headed idea completely; she just wants to start over with new performance measurements. So get ready. If Castillo and the education lobby have their way Oregon will pump another $500M per year into another decade long social experiment and another generation of children will be sacrificed on the altar of “education reform.”