A long overdue, honest look at our Oregon schools

By Dr. Michael Bratland
Dr Michael Bratland is a dentist and owner of Crisdental in Eugene, Oregon.  He’s a husband and the father of five of his own children and two foster children.

I came to Oregon at seven, when my dad moved our family from Iowa to Oregon for a better life. Better schools were part of that better life. I’m an Oregon public-school kid (Winston Churchill High, University of Oregon), a public-school parent – three graduated, and two still attend Sheldon High School in Eugene – and I’m the husband of a public-school teacher in the Bethel School District. But, all that said, our Oregon schools seem to have lost their way over the years. A quick look at how Oregon stacks up nationally – and what the state has done to make its graduation rates look better than they are – makes that depressingly clear.

Oregon’s high-school graduation for the 2022 rate stands was a miserable 81.3 percent. The national average is 86 percent. Oregon – our Oregon – finds itself among hanging around in the bottom of all states (38th) when it comes to students finishing high-school. (Iowa’s graduation rate, by contrast, stands at 91.8 percent.) And this comes after our state removed accountability measures requiring our high-schooler to show that they had at least 10th-grade proficiency in reading, writing and math before they could graduate. Oregon, it seems, is not only competing in a race toward the bottom but simultaneously redefining the bottom.

Oregon does rank near the top when it comes to drop-outs, which the state, for reasons only woke educrats would appreciate, now insists on calling “push-outs.” Oregon’s drop-out or “push-out” rate is now 4 percent. The personal finance website WalletHub’s 2022 ranking of states put Oregon just below Arizona, New Mexico and the District of Columbia. Iowa, by the way, had the second lowest drop-out rate in the nation.

In fact, WalletHub’s overall analysis of state school performance measures ranked Oregon No. 44 in 2022. (Iowa was No. 19.)

No wonder a June 2022 poll commissioned by the Oregon Moms Union found that 55% of Oregonians think our state’s education system is on the wrong track. They know something is seriously wrong.

Iowa’s ranking relative to Oregon was interesting to me because it’s where I came from when my dad decided to move the family to Oregon for a better life. But I’m not about to go back there. I do, however, think it’s time – maybe well pass the time – we start fighting for the better schools Oregonians deserve. They’re crying out for real educational reform with a renewed focus on academic success.

What’s that look like? From where I stand as a public-school graduate, a public-school parent, and the husband of a public-school teacher, it would include a laser focus on the basics – yes, unadulterated academics – in our schools and casting aside all politics (woke or otherwise) corrupting our classrooms. It would mean setting up rules and procedures that encourage robust parent-teacher partnerships that guarantee  classrooms are not hijacked by a handful of chronically disruptive students. It’s time to prioritize the kids who want to learn while at school and behave in the classroom and their parents who have every right to expect learning to be the top priority in our schools.

We also need to support the teachers who want to teach (the basics). We are losing teachers in record numbers and severely struggling to recruit new teachers because the profession has become so toxic. They are feeling abandoned and leaving because they don’t feel supported.  Administrators too often push unruly kids back in the classrooms without accountability on any level, ruining it for the kids who are there to learn. Children who wreak havoc in classrooms are rewarded with treats and playtime with the principals – then sent back into classrooms within an hour for more disruption ands havoc. Teachers are left to deal with classroom behaviors that are so egregious that they take early retirement or flee the profession for less stressful careers. Teachers aren’t being heard and respected as the professionals they are. We need accountability for the disastrous state of the classroom learning environment on the part of students, administrators, school boards and parents so teachers can teach and learners can learn.

My own school board has removed all security from our high schools. We need to bring security back to our high schools; law enforcement is a needed partner.  We need to back up teachers so they can teach their subjects free of disruption and disobedience. It’s good for the teachers, and it’s good for the students. It’s also reassuring to parents.

My guess is that such an approach to education on the part of teachers, parents and administrators, state education officials and school board members would also go a long way toward dramatically improving Oregon graduation rates and our state’s national rankings.

Michael Bratland practices general dentistry at Crisdental in Eugene and helps manage his practice’s other locations in Roseburg, Albany, Monmouth and Lincoln City.