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Oregon’s once proud education system is sorely in need of repair

Monday, February 13, 2012

The erosion of efficient, effective education in our public schools concerns me greatly because it means there are fewer skilled workers entering into the workforce.  As a small business owner, this tells me that I will have fewer and fewer of the skilled workers I depend upon to build my company.

The perceived decline in education throughout the United States has resulted in record numbers of parents opting to educate their children in private or charter schools, and in many cases, homeschools.

These refugees from traditional education fear that, despite the presence of many dedicated, concerned teachers, their children might not even graduate from high school.  And their fears are justified.  Recent statistics tell us that the percentage of students who earn their high school diplomas in four years is just 66.4% and in five years only 69.1%.  For non-Asian minorities this figure is a pitiful 49.8% to 55.2%.  For students with disabilities, the graduation rate is an even more dismal 41.8%. (1)

Many in our State Legislature advocate increased funding for Oregon’s schools without addressing serious structural issues imbedded in the system itself.  Instead of searching for ways to set the bar higher and challenge students and educators to perform at the peak of their capabilities, these legislators have opted to lower the bar so that more children can clear it by any means possible.

Looking forward, I fear that the result of a lowered bar will be an endless cycle of diminishing returns wherein each successive generation will perform at a level at or, more likely, below the previous generation.

What to do?  Let’s begin by asking the right questions.  First let’s look at how we’re using the resources already in the system.  With a current budget of approximately $10,000 per student per school year, we need to look carefully at how these funds are allocated.  With a classroom of 25 students, what competent administrator could not provide an effective and efficient learning environment with $250,000 per classroom?  This leads us to ask if the right people are controlling the allocation of funds.

If Federal and State control of our local education systems were significantly reduced and authority restored to local school boards and educators, more money could be given directly to  schools and administrators, enabling them to use their judgment, based on their knowledge of local conditions, to hire the very best instructors and provide the very best educational resources for our children, who must be prepared to face an ever more complex and competition driven economy.

As the system is set up now, the stakeholders – educators, parents and children – have minimal  control over the education system for which they are nominally responsible.  As the system is set up now, a distant, detached bureaucracy makes life-shaping decisions for countless educators and children to whom they are not accountable.  As the system is set up now, it will continue to erode the foundation of our free market economy.

The education crisis currently facing Oregon is not terminal if the challenges we face are addressed immediately. However, it will take organized and strategic efforts to unclench the fist of an increasingly sclerotic education system and return to local communities the responsibility, authority and resources required to provide educational excellence.

Chris Gergen is a Springfield based financial advisor and is the author of The Quality Paradigm: Why You and Your Business Need it to Succeed.  He blogs at Be Epic.Daily. He can be reached via email at chris@chrisgergen.com.

(1) Source: http://www.ode.state.or.us/news/announcements/announcement.aspx?ID=7273&TypeID=5

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2 responses to “Oregon’s once proud education system is sorely in need of repair”

  1. DKendra says:

    I appreciate the article, although it merely presents a problem and doesn’t give a practical solution. The most useful articles present the problem and at the same time, present at least one workable solution.

    You’ve presented the problem as you see it; you’ve told us WHAT needs to be done to change the current failings. You said that Federal and State control needs to be returned to the school districts and parents of the affected children. That is the WHAT.

    HOW would you go about doing that? Which “organized and strategic efforts” would you use to wrest the funds from the bureaucracy? Can you give at least one possible, practical solution that might work if implemented? We both know that wresting any funds from any bureaucratic fist is difficult at best and nigh-on impossible at worst. Despite that, what solution (or plural) would you suggest to start the fisted fingers unfurling?

  2. DKendra: Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I will have to disagree with your opening critique of my article where it reads, “…it merely presents a problem and doesn’t give a practical solution.” In fact, in the next paragraph, you disagree with your own critique where you write, “…you’ve told us WHAT needs to be done to change the current failings. You said that Federal and State control needs to be returned to the school districts and parents of the affected children. That is the WHAT.” I must ask, isn’t “what needs to be done” the solution to the problem? I presented the problem and what needs to be done about it (the solution). The focus of this article was not tactical in nature, but focused on larger strategic solutions to the problems with our education system as I see it.

    I think you were looking for the tactics (how) needed to execute the “organized and strategic efforts to unclench the fist of an increasingly sclerotic education system and return to local communities the responsibility, authority and resources required to provide educational excellence.” Yes, how do we execute tactically this strategy? Although it is beyond the scope of this article, I would suggest first, elect thoughtful competent members into the legislature who are committed to addressing this issue directly by taking a fresh approach—not more of the same—to facilitating our education system in Oregon. Secondly, create a grassroots awareness of the educational challenges and organize these grassroots people into one voice calling upon their local legislators to take action. Thirdly, move to decentralize the Oregon Department of Education through transferring by legislative decree the responsibility, authority and resources required to facilitate a school district into the hands of individual school districts, their School Boards, and their Superintendents. Additionally, there are further solutions such as vouchers, charter schools, et al that can be utilized as tools to heal this dire situation and to address challenges that appear on localized levels.

    Again, thank you for your thoughtful reply.

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