SB 284 makes our schools even worse

By William Mackenzie,

Even with Oregon’s public school students already suffering from abysmal scores on national reading and mathematics tests and one in five students failing to graduate from high school in four years, state politicians can’t seem to stop inserting themselves into school curriculum decisions.

State Senators James I. Manning Jr. and Deb Patterson​ want to add another labor-intensive, complicated and questionable instructional mandate on students and teachers.

SB 284, submitted by the two senators at the request of Oregon Educators for Climate Education, “a statewide group of educators working toward Oregon legislation that would integrate and infuse PK-12 climate change education across all core subject areas”, would:

  • Require each school district board to develop a written plan establishing a climate change instructional program for kindergarten through grade 12 no later than June 1, 2026.
  • Require school districts to submit their plan to the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) for initial approval and then again every seven years.
  • Require ODE to develop and adopt a model plan in consultation with other state agencies and stakeholders, to develop academic content standards, and to approve and make available list of resources and materials that meet academic content standards.
  • Require the Superintendent of Public Instruction to withhold distributions from Student Investment Account from school districts that fail to develop and implement climate change instructional program.
  • Require that career and technical education funding from High School Graduation and College and Career Readiness Fund be spent on programs that support climate-focused sustainability career pathways.

Meanwhile, state Rep. David Gomberg, D-Lincoln City, introduced  House Bill 2905 that would add to existing requirements for Oregon’s schools to teach about BIPOC, LGBTQ, immigrant communities and others by requiring that schools “Ensure that the academic content standards for history, geography, economics and civics include sufficient instruction on the histories, contributions and perspectives of individuals who…are of Jewish descent.” The bill has already cleared the House awaits Senate action.

SB 284’s climate change mandate would come on top of a K–12 Native American curriculum for all Oregon public schools created after passage of SB 13, a Tribal History/Shared History initiative, in 2017. The initiative has developed more than 45 lesson plans for grades four, eight, and ten across multiple content areas. The Oregon Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education (ODE/OIE) launched the first phase of implementation in these grade levels During the 2020/21 academic year.

It’s all fine and good to want Oregon’s K-12 public school students to be up to speed on topics of the day, but adding more costly and time-consuming mandates when even the basic curriculum isn’t being effectively delivered is a recipe for failure.

And the legislature doesn’t have a particularly good track record with earlier curriculum changes it has imposed.

Legislation requiring that all Oregon school districts teach about the Holocaust beginning with the 2020-2021 school year is a case in point.

Claire Sarnowski, a freshman at Lake Oswego’s Lakeridge High School, came up with the idea of mandating Holocaust instruction after hearing Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener tell his story. Sarnowski approached state Sen. Rob Wagner, who agreed to introduce a bill.

It all sounded so simple and straightforward at the outset, but the final legislation was a classic example of mission creep.

The legislation went far beyond mandating that students be taught about the Holocaust.  Employing the coercive power of government, teachers are now required to address a slew of social justice topics: the immorality of mass violence; respect for cultural diversity; the obligation to combat wrongdoing through resistance, including protest; and the value of restorative justice.

You can be sure that any mandated climate change curriculum would morph into similar broad terrain and impose even more demands on Oregon’s already overburdened teachers and students.