Wednesday, August 31, 2005
For years we were told "Oregon is #1 on the SAT." A couple years ago Washington passed us up, so we were #2. For several years they never even bothered to report that this ranking was actually only for a sub-group of states - those states with more than 50% of the students taking the test.
After we badgered the Oregonian's education reporters time and again, they finally started putting in their story that they were excluding about half the states by only ranking those with 50% of graduating seniors taking the test.
If you include all states, Oregon was 25th last year and 28th this year. But it isn't valid to even rank the states this way. Go the the College Board web site and you will see that they say:
"Media and others often rank states, districts, and schools on the basis of SAT scores despite repeated warnings that such rankings are invalid. "
But Susan Castillo and the Oregonian disregard this warning and do it anyway. Castillo's press release today says: "Oregon still ranks second...."
Here is the real news, which you won't find being reported: Since the implementation of the CIM, Oregon's performance on the SAT has gotten worse compared to the national average.
Five years ago, Oregon's combined SAT score was 1054, and the national average was 1019. Since then, the average has grown to 1028 (increase of 9 points) and Oregon's score is exactly the same - 1054.
At this rate of travel, Oregon will be below the national average in a little more than a decade. A far cry from the rhetoric that surrounded the School Reform Act, which brought us CIM/CAM.
It's time for some honesty about Oregon's SAT scores. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that Oregon is just about average.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Castillo Needs Reality Check
State Representative Linda Flores
(House District 51, Clackamas)
Oregon’s education system is much better off thanks to the 2005 legislature despite of what’s been reported. Even before the session ended our State School Superintendent was bashing legislators for what didn’t get done on her wish list. In many ways she has only herself to blame and now she’s asking Oregon voters to re-elect her.
Superintendent Susan Castillo says there were too many “missed opportunities”. She should call them “bureaucratic blockades” because her agency and its friends created them. Castillo is right about one thing she said: “turf and preservation of the status quo won out over what was best for students, schools and taxpayers.” Her turf and her status quo.
As Chair of the House Education Committee I know first hand the struggles we faced trying to implement the very reforms Castillo pretends to embrace, but in reality opposed.
For example, Castillo wanted a stable school funding plan. The Speaker of the House produced one and it wasn’t good enough for Castillo. She wanted more accountability and consolidation. The education bureaucracy fought hard and the result? Modest Education Service District reform.
According to Castillo we failed to make changes to the Certificates of Initial and Advanced Mastery programs. The House approved replacing that flawed system with a better, less expensive system to comply with federal standards. Once again, Castillo and her friends in the education establishment put a stop to that in the Senate.
As I said in the beginning the 2005 session did a lot of good things for Oregon schools. Things you haven’t heard from Castillo. We gave K-12 a 6-percent increase in state funding. We added two credits and an extra year of math and English in order to graduate. We allowed juniors and seniors to take college classes, paid for by their high school. In addition, we increased safety with stronger laws against child abuse and bomb threats in schools.
Some districts are still trying to make up from program reductions in recent years, but new test scores show significant improvement. I believe we have many hard working teachers and students focusing on basic skills rather than administrative tasks.
Yes, we have challenges ahead. Instead of taking up an entire day teaching kids the format for their next CIM test…teach them about Oregon’s rich pioneer history. Instead of two report cards on school performance, one for the feds and one for the state, why not consolidate? The list goes on and on.
Yes, there is plenty of room for improvement. It would be beneficial to Oregon if Superintendent Castillo and her allies would decide to partner to make progress. As a former legislator, Susan knows better than to block legislation, then turn around and blame the legislature for not passing it. As we prepare for the 2007 legislative session I am developing a long list of positive changes and I plan to keep pushing for needed reforms – for our children.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
I've never met him. I'm a faithful reader and occasional poster on his blog, which Willamette Week tabbed the best local blog in their recent "Best of Portland" issue. I've always been impressed by his crap detector.
I spoke to him briefly on the phone after e-mailing him to invite him on my radio show. It was immediately obvious to me that he will be great on the radio.
Don't be surprised if you hear him on the radio a lot in the next few years.
He's a law perfesser up at Lewis & Clark. L&C is mostly known as one of the premier "environmental law" schools, which basically means they print a lot of lawyers who can't stand American-style capitalism. I don't think Jack is from that mold, but we will see tomorrow.
Hope you tune in.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
Vicki Phillips fired Steve Goldschmidt and refused to pay his obscene severance package that was negotiated back when Ben Canada was the super.
Right after she did it she was on my radio show. I told her then that I admired her guts and I still do.
She was taking a chance. She basically dared Goldschmidt to seek arbitration to get his obscene severance paid. She hoped that he might be ashamed to insist that $325K or so be extracted from a district already in total financial disarray.
But looking for shame from a Goldschmidt reminds me of when Kevin Mannix said he would solve the PERS crisis by "sitting down with the unions in a positive way and talk about the long term public good."
They just ain't concerned about it.
So, Vicki Phillips miscalculated. If she is to be criticised at all, it's not for the gambit - but because she obviously didn't create much of a paper trail that would support her contention that Goldschmidt had a "gross neglect of duty." She's been around long enough to know that if you want to fire someone you have to document their performance.
And just a couple months prior Goldschmidt had a glowing review from Jim Scherzinger, who approved the $14K performance bonus called for in his contract. Kind of hard to argue he was incompetent after that.
(Easy, though, to argue Scherzinger's incompetence. Goldschmidt had been a problem at PPS virtually since he started. He makes about $130K before all the goodies such as annuity, car allowance and whatnot. Why would Scherzinger approve the bonus?)
So, while I admire her guts in looking Goldschmidt in the eye and making him sue to get his severance, she miscalculated, and that cost the district another quarter million plus whatever they spent in lawyers.
But for her the good news is she comes out a winner anyway. She looks like a fighter who will clean up the excesses of her predecessors.
And while that is probably true and certainly necessary, it is far from sufficient if she is serious about getting PPS on track.
And that is where I'm afraid Vicki Phillips is NOT being as bold as she should. We don't need any more "five year strategic plans." (See my blog post below.)
It is very disappointing that she is headed in this direction. Kudos for the Goldschmidt gambit, even though it failed. But PPS will only survive if it makes structural reforms, and I've yet to see anything out of Phillips that would suggest she is a reformer.
You may have read the front page Oregonian hit piece on ORCA, Oregon's first and only virtual charter school. The article was about what you'd expect from the O - time and again it chose phrases intended to invoke negative feelings.
Right off the bat - the opening sentence:
"SCIO -- This tiny Western Oregon farming town is about to become home to Oregon's first public school run by a private, for-profit company."
As if the most important thing about a new way of educating kids is the fact that somewhere someone might make money doing it. Smelling salts please.
I think it might be more important to point out that in a very short period of time ORCA has enrolled more than 650 students in its virtual school program, despite the fact they have been actively marketing for less than a month. Obviously there is a huge pent up demand for what they are offering.
Did the Oregonian bother to quote even a single parent who has signed his or her child up for ORCA? Nope. Apparently not really interested as much in what positive benefit might come from a new and innovative way to teach kids as they are in pointing out ad-nauseum that there might be profits involved.
As if nobody is making any money on traditional schooling. All the textbook companies, of course, are non-profit organizations, right?
And teacher unions.... they don't benefit financially at all from the current system, right?
OH WAIT! Maybe I'm on to something here. Turns out that the teachers ORCA hires will not be part of the teachers union. That means no annual alms to union bosses. If ORCA enrolls 650 students, then it will need 13 teachers. It plans to grow to as many as 3000 students, which means 60 non dues-paying teachers will be employed.
They can't let such a dangerous idea spread, which explains why the OEA put so much weight behind insisting that their lapdog Peter Courtney push through SB1071.
Perhaps they can't kill ORCA, but they can make sure that there will be no others.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Larry nails it.
It appears that the Portland business community is having an identity crisis. First Tim Boyle, President of Columbia Sportswear, in a speech to the Portland business community, unleashed a sharp critique of the anti-business attitudes that are pervasive in the Portland/Multnomah County local governments. Boyle knows of what he speaks. He finally moved his business from Portland to Beaverton when local officials thought his corporate building site on the banks of the Willamette River would be a better fit for their county offices than for Boyle's business.
In a criticism of Boyle's speech, Randy Miller, chairman of the Portland Ambassadors program noted, "We're so collegial in Portland. It didn't exemplify the culture." And so what is the culture of the Portland business community? What kind of culture tolerates the loss of 30,000 jobs between 2000 and 2004? And what kind of culture then concludes that the best way to attract new business is to support not one, not two, but three efforts to increase taxes on business in Portland/Multnomah County?
Well, last Sunday's Oregonian contained an inescapable clue. John Barrows, a well-traveled and successful businessman, may have given us the answer. In a guest editorial, Mr. Barrows writes:
"Finally, someone's spit out what no Oregonian will admit: We're an also-ran and we don't much care."
Barrows continued, in explanation:"Oregon is an also-ran when [it] comes to education, business competitiveness and leadership. . .
"But let's be honest with ourselves: The policies and politics of Portland and Oregon are purposefully constructed to reflect the desires of the residents - low energy, uncompetitive and hard work adverse - at least compared to other states and cities that drive the American economy.
"Trust me, Barrows' list of Portland's shortfalls is thorough and accurate. But here is the stunning part - the part which helps define the culture of the Portland business community. Barrows thinks that's okay. He's a very happy camper. His analysis is not meant as a criticism but rather as a request to "don't worry, be happy." Barrows is an admitted "burn-out" from the corporate wars:
"I chose this lifestyle because I was tired of working so hard. I wanted to watch my grandchildren grow up because I missed my children's early years; I was working all the time.
"So let's just admit to ourselves what the rest of the country and the nation's business community already know: We're not competitive. We choose not to be...It's the lifestyle stupid.
"There it is folks - Portland's great solution-quality of life. When I was an active participant in the Portland business community associations, the business leaders eschewed issues like taxes, regulatory burden, and land use restrictions in favor of salmon recovery, bike paths and light rail. I would point to states like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah and Idaho that had robust and growing economies and ask, impolitely apparently, how Oregon intended to compete. The standard response from local politicians and business leaders was always - our quality of life. And while I grant you that the quality of life is worth a premium, it is not, contrary to their views, unlimited.
But there are two problems with Mr. Barrows' view of the world. First, while it may be fun to coast through life, it seldom provides you the financial means to build or enjoy the quality of life to which he refers - that is both on the micro and macro levels. It is also much easier for someone who has already achieved financial independence to proffer such foolishness than someone who is trying to find or hold a job to put food on the table.
Second, while Mr. Barrows' reggae attitude might reflect the attitudes of Portland's business community, he is dead wrong that it reflects the attitudes of all of Oregon. According to a July 26 report by the Oregon Employment Department's Oregon Labor Market Information System (OLMSI), Portland remained a drag on Oregon's job recovery. While the state as a whole has recovered the 64,000 jobs lost during the recession, Portland is still 14,000 jobs shy of recovery-and that is after four years.
It appears from the report that Medford, Bend and Salem have shouldered the largest share of job growth accounting for over 25 percent of the total state job growth. And these statistics don't tell the whole story. When OLMSI refers to Portland, it really refers to the seven county metropolitan area, including Clark County (Vancouver) Washington which is experiencing unprecedented growth. Business has been fleeing Portland in droves and relocating to Washington (Beaverton/Tualatin) and Clackamas (Lake Oswego/Milwaukee) counties and Vancouver. The job recovery for Portland/Multnomah County is far less than its surrounding counties.
And so while Portland focuses on its quality of life through more skateboard parks, bike paths and light rail, it appears that the rest of state is focused on building quality of life through a good job.
But don't worry, be happy - it's all about the quality of life.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
It is not only on-point, but also funny.
Sadly, what passes for teacher education in this country, mostly due to folks such as those who run NCATE, is a very bad, sick joke.
KATU keeps an archive of all of the commentaries, available here.
Check them out - and drop me a suggestion for future topics.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
A "Soviet" is a local elected council. In Russia, the Soviets were the instrumentalities that implemented their five year plans.
Well, the Portland School Board is trying to replicate the Soviet model. Five years ago, with great fanfare, at great expense, and with unparallelled hours of public volunteer involvement, the district developed its last five year "Strategic Plan."
It failed miserably to meet even one of its goals, so now Vicki Phillips is embarking on the next five year plan.
I'm pretty well versed in the last one. I volunteered to be on one of the seven planning teams whose job it was to develop a strategy to tackle one big challenge facing the district. I knew going in it was an exercise in futility, but I did it anyway.
Here is how they went about developing the Plan: A "Core Planning Team" made up of 25 or so well meaning but gullible education establishment folk and civic leaders met for a few days in a hotel in Vancouver to decide on the the "Core Values" that would be reflected in the plan. The group had a rule that governed the proceedings: "Consensus."
They defined "consensus" to mean that whatever the group decided upon had to be unanimous. In other words, any single person had veto power over any "Core Value" that the group proposed.
Right there I knew the process was doomed. To require unanimous agreement before any position can be taken is a prescription for banality.
Margaret Thatcher once said about consensus:
"the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner "I stand for consensus"?
And that is pretty much what we got out of the "Core Planning Group" after days of meetings. Go take a look at what the group came up with.
"We believe every human being has intrinsic value"
"Everyone has the ability to learn"
"Adult behavior is a powerful teacher for young people"
Bromide after bromide is all they could agree on - which was tragically and utterly predictable.
They also said that by 2005, they would meet the following "Strategic Objectives:"
1) 100% of our students will demonstrate significant growth every year toward achieving rigorous system-wide academic expectations.
Did they meet this goal? Do they even know if they met it? Have they even been trying to track the data?
2) 100% of our students will continually set ambitious learning goals, persist in pursuing those goals, and demonstrate evidence of progress.
I love this one... it is impossible to define or track - the perfect goal! How do you "continually set ambitious learning goals." Is it a third grader's job to set her own learning goals in the first place? Total nonsense.... but that's what you get from consensus.
3) 100% of our students will willingly and regularly contribute to the community.
This one I love. It's got such an Orwellian tone about it. "You WILL contribute, and you will do it WILLINGLY!"
Hard to believe, but it was otherwise intelligent adults who came up with this stuff.
But that was just the beginning. After the "Core Planning Team" crafted this nonsense, they had a big kickoff meeting. More than 600 well meaning citizens came, listened to a lovely presentation and then split themselves into seven groups, each which would hammer out plans and objectives to address one of seven challenges the Core team decided needed to be addressed.
I was on "Team 4 - The Achievement Gap."
The team was comprised of about 60 people. Our first big meeting was on a Saturday, scheduled to go for four hours. The first order of business was for the entire group to sanction the ground rules.
The facilitator sent out a sheet that stated that the group would operate on a basis of consensus, and it defined consensus basically as "Everyone might not agree to every detail of a decision, but commits to support the decision."
I raised my hand. "What it one of us doesn't agree that consensus is how we should operate?"
Hmmm. She thought about that for a minute, kind of stunned. I expanded: "It seems that "consensus" gives a minority of one the ability to veto any decision the group makes. So can a minority of one veto the decision to operate on a basis of consensus?"
Remember that Star Trek episode when the cyborgs were given a logical contradiction "everything I say is a lie" - and it literally blew their minds? That's kinda how the facilitator looked.
Of course all I did was mark myself as a troublemaker. She simply said: "Interesting question... anybody else have something to add?" And consensus was adopted.
It didn't get any better. The group met for a total of about 40 hours over 6 months. All the group-dynamics professional-facilitator garbage was rolled out. We spent time in breakout groups discussing issues and reporting out to the full group. We spent time sticking colored circles on statements written on butcher paper stuck on the walls. We spent time in countless pointless activities avoiding any inconvenient questions.
Here is the sum-total of the output from this charade, as it made its way into the final plan:
"We must increase our capacity to provide intense, immediate and innovative support for low-achieving students. The disparity in achievement has existed for too long, and the number of children at risk is growing. We must develop the capacity to do whatever it takes to help children achieve."
That's all. Just "increase capacity." What on earth does that mean? How will they know when they have done it? Seemed to me strategic objectives should be measureable. You want to narrow the achievement gap, let's measure it, track it, and use teaching methods that are proven to narrow it. Wouldn't that have some meaning?
But no, the group of 60 or so people operating on "consensus" decided we should attack the problem by throwing our hands in the air, and saying let's do "whatever it takes." So, five years later it is fair to ask: was this objective met?
Again - these were othewise intelligent adults, well meaning and trying to do the right thing. Their time was utterly wasted.
So here we are five years later, and Vicki Phillips wants to do it all again? I'm sorry, but that is very disappointing. She was supposed to be a leader. This type of exercise is an excuse not to lead.
The structure for the next five year plan looks an awful lot like the last one.
Well, the Soviets never learned, either. The fundamental flaw of the Soviet model was only apparent after it was piled high on the scrapheap of history.
The tax raises about $15 million per year and is scheduled to expire soon. House Republicans defeated the bill in some last-minute shenanigans after it appeared it had passed. With $15 million snatched out of their grasping fingers, the Democrats are really steamed.
Let me suggest that the object of their anger shouldn't be House Republicans. After all: every other school district in Oregon has to ask its voters if they want a local option levy. That's how PPS got the tax in the first place - it was passed by PPS voters.
So if they want to extend the tax, they can simply put it on the ballot and make their case. Obviously, they don't think the voters would approve it.
Does that cause any introspection on the part of PPS administrators or Portland area politicians? None that I have witnessed. Last Sunday Randy Leonard was slamming Republicans on his radio show for killig the tax extension. Rep. Mitch Greenlick has a letter to the editor in today's O basically doing the same.
Maybe they should direct their ire at PPS voters. After all, apparently it is they who aren't willing to pay the tax; otherwise the district would certainly put it on the ballot. I'm hearing from those in the know that PPS polling shows voters are not about to extend the local option, the ITAX, or renew the expiring bond - leaving the district with a budget hole in the neighborhood of $80 million over the next year.
So they tried to get the House Republicans to agree to shove a $15 million tax that the voters obviously don't want right down their throat, then acted outraged when they wisely refused.
What a farce. Maybe they should be asking why they have apparently lost the public's trust so completely that they aren't even willing to renew existing taxes, much less vote new taxes in.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
I did however hear from a reader who called the Speaker's office multiple times during the last couple days of the session while this bill was in play, only to be told by the staff at various times that "as far as they knew, the bill was dead," and "they are doing everything they can to kill it."
Now, it is not hard for me to believe that the first of those statements is true. The speaker's staff quite often is in the dark about what is actually going on, especially the staffers who are handling public inquiries.
The second statement, however, is pretty sad. It is blatantly false, of course. If the speaker wanted that bill dead she had full authority to kill it. The only reason it survived was because she agreed to make it part of the deal she agreed to in order to end the session.
So it is pretty disappointing that a citizen would be told a bald faced lie when calling about a bill. Imagine the cynicism that breeds. Imagine how alienating it is for a faithful Republican to call the Speaker's office and be assured of something that he finds out later was baldly false.
Now - the good news:
Connections Academy will indeed open this fall, despite the language of 1071 that would require it to enroll half its kids from inside the Scio School District. We believe that Connections Academy is grandfathered, since it was approved before the effective date of the legislation. In addition, the record is clear that the only reason some of the key votes in committee were cast in favor of SB1071 was because the committee members were assured by the Oregon Department of Education that Connections Academy would not be affected.
If and when the OEA files a lawsuit claiming that ORCA must comply with this provision of the law (and in my view very well could happen) we will have this legislative history on our side.
So Oregon's only virtual charter school continues to enroll students. More than 400 have enrolled already.
I was extrememly dissapointed that SB1071 became part of the end-of-session deal, but even though it did, ORCA will continue. They can't kill something that easily.
I'll report further developments on this site.
What you won't hear is credit given for the test score gains to President Bush for his No Child Left Behind law that for the first time put real consequences on schools that don't meet test score targets.
Now, to be clear - I am critical of certain elements of NCLB. I'm on record with my specific criticisms. But I am not against the notion that schools and teachers should be held accountable to test score targets - and that is one of the central elements of NCLB, and one of the things that we hear the most caterwauling about from educrats.
And so I find it very amusing that these same educrats are taking bows for Oregon's test score gains as if they would have happened without NCLB, as if they would have had these same results even if there were no real consequences if test scores did not improve.
I'm still waiting for the first school administrator to publicly credit NCLB for providing the incentive that made these test score gains possible.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
I will post the entire sequence of events when I have more time, but the short version is that Speaker Karen Minnis traded SB1071 for who-knows-what, knowing full well that the effect would be to give the state a monopoly on virtual schooling and very possible shut down the Oregon Connections Academy, the virtual charter school started by the Scio School District.
The OEA wanted this bill because they are deathly afraid of the ramifications of school districts creating virtual charter schools and competing statewide for students who could be taught by non-unionized teachers.
They got Senate President Peter Courtney to insist that it be passed without amendments as part of the session ending deal. Minnis agreed.
Why did she agree? Well, she obviously traded it for something, but we know not what.
But she made the trade without bothering to find out what the ramifications of the bill were for the existing virtual school. Her staff completely dropped the ball - I personally told them that the bill had major flaws that would have to be fixed if for some reason the bill became part of the end-of-session shenanigans.
Yet behind closed doors, without any input from anybody who understood the policy ramifications of the bill, and without even bothering to check on them, she sold the 275 kids who have signed up for the Connections Academy (and the 2500 or so who the school intends to serve in the future) right down the river.
When it was pointed out to her the result of her deal, she still refused to change course.
I'll soon write out the whole sequence of events for those who are interested in the inside baseball side of things. It is a case study of the lunacy that legislative end-game politics has become.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
This is the time that any and every bad bill that has been introduced all session long is possible trade fodder - as long as the Democrat or Republican leadership wants it bad enough to make it part of what they negotiate to get out of the building.
I'm in the middle of one of the sorry bills that seems to be part of this session's end game.
Background: You may have read about Scio School District's virtual charter school, which is ready to open this fall. I helped steer the school through the approval process. It has already enrolled 270 of its planned 500 kids for this fall, and it will serve as many as 3000 kids in a few years. It is truly innovative - they have figured out how to marry technology and education in a way no other school in Oregon has even contemplated.
But Speaker Karen Minnis apears to have agreed to an end-of-session deal in a trade with the teachers union that would kill this virtual charter school before it ever opens, leaving the 270 children who have enrolled in the lurch.
Here's the deal: Senate Bill 1071 authorizes the state to start its own virtual school. Ok, no real problem with that. But it also contains a poison pill for virtual charter schools such as the Scio school: the bill says they must get 50% of their students from inside the district boundaries.
Obviously this is an untenable requirement for a virtual charter school. The whole point is that on-line courses allow students to enroll no matter where they live.
So I wrote amendments to the bill that removed the offending provisions. Today, the bill came up in committee. Right before the hearing we got word that the bill was to be passed without the amendments, because it was part of an end of session deal by the Speaker.
A deal that would kill the only on-line charter school in Oregon and give the state a "virtual" monopoly on virtual schools.
Rep. Linda Flores wrangled a temporary reprieve that got the bill sent (with my amendments) to the budget committee. But nothing prevents the amendments from being removed in Budget committee, and if the OEA deal is to stand, that is precisely what will happen. Perhaps tomorrow.
To give Speaker Missin the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she did not know the ramifications of the "deal," she made, and now that she does, she will realize it is the wrong thing to do.
What will she do on Wednesday? Will she keep the deal with the OEA that kills the only statewide virtual charter school before it can even open? Will she let stand the provision that gives that state a monopoly over on-line courses in Oregon?
Or will she realize that the deal is a mistake and she can't send the 270 children in the Scio virtual charter school packing so she can gavel down sine die?