On February 3, East Washington County Dems meeting took a deep dive into K-12 education - How we can support and celebrate our educators, how we can remedy the many problems created by past funding and decisions, how can we achieve genuine equity, and how we can move forward to create a system that lets all of our children and educators feel pride and success in what they are accomplishing. This is a tall order. I will try to briefly summarize some of the main points of the presentations, but also will attach a link to the video of the meeting and a transcript of Laurie Wimmer’s presentation.
Laurie Wimmer served as a Government Relations Consultant for the Oregon Education Association for almost 26 years. She outlined what a truly responsive, equitable, effective educational system would look like, what our educators say they need, and how we might make changes to get there. We face a crisis of staffing, misinformation about schools that is being used to undermine public education in favor of for-profit models, and a failure to realize that schools are being to asked to provide a range of supports beyond traditional educational models. All of this is occurring while our students have unprecedented challenges because of Covid and societal disruptions.
We need to stop micro-managing our teachers, burdening them with multiple demands beyond teaching. We need to fully fund schools and then not chip away at that funding for other purposes so that we can consistently educate our children. We need to support systemic economic justice initiatives beyond the schoolhouse door. This is a brief summary - please read the whole paper.
Dr. Shaheen Munir McHill currently serves as program coordinator for the Special Education K-12 initial endorsement an and added endorsement programs at PSU and teaches coursework in elementary literacy and academic assessment. She serves on the board of Decoding Oregon. She joined us to answer the question, How can we be sure that teachers enter the classroom prepared to teach and what supports are important to let them equitably support all kids to become proficient and successful readers?
We face vast differences among groups in who is a proficient reader, with about 1/3 of our students overall meeting the proficient level in 4th grade and other groups falling far below this. We need to respond to equity issues around literacy. It is imperative that we both train our teachers and support practicing teachers in applying effective research based instruction. We know how to teach reading and need to realize that 50 to 65% of students need code-based, explicit, systematic, sequential instruction. Achieving literacy is the core of succeeding in school. Please watch the video to learn much more from this powerful presentation. ****** Last night we heard that we need to find a balance between:
giving teachers a break from constant new program implementation and demands that have little to do with classroom success and
the immediate need to give teachers the tools to be effective professionals in the classroom.
True preparation to teach, with ongoing supports, seems to be the way to move beyond micromanaging teachers, to recognize them for the professionals they are, and to let them practice effective pedagogy in their classrooms. Of course, fully funding education with reasonable class sizes and effective social supports is also essential.
Discussants Chelsea King and Ben Bowman brought their perspectives as school board chairs and legislative candidates highlighting both the success of schools in providing both education and social supports for students during these times and the severe challenges facing education today.
Actions we might take in response to these powerful insights include:
Advocate for fully and consistently funding schools, including funding the many societal roles they play beyond just classroom education. Recognize that we need to disrupt the system of tax breaks and pull-outs that denies our K-12 public education system the funding they need.
Support increased wages and benefits for educators at all levels.
Urge our legislative leaders to examine the imperative of equity through an authentic lens that encourages greater local, parent, and community involvement.
Don't expect the schools to solve the problem of poverty. Support systemic economic justice initiatives beyond the schoolhouse doors.
Advocate for full funding for teacher preparation - and hold programs accountable to fully prepare teachers to succeed in diverse classrooms.
Support educational leaders in your community, learn what they are doing, and lend your voice to advocate for equitable, effective public education.
We are so grateful to those who participated and helped us think deeply about how we can build back better in our K-12 public schools.
The link for the video of the meeting is here: Topic: ewcdems, February 3, 2022 Start Time: Feb 3, 2022 06:16 PM
2. Wynne Wakkila invites us to join with Oregon Peace Builders to watch and discuss the movie "Standing on My Sisters' Shoulders" on February 16 at 6 pm. You can register here: Register now for this FREE, online event at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/238635634607
3. Congratulations to Tigard High graduate Dan Rayfield on being elected speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. He is an example of the good work our schools are doing. TTSD school foundation provides exceptional support to our families and teachers. You can donate and learn more here: https://the-ftts.org
4. Next month on March 3 we will be hearing from candidates as they share a personal reflection that has influenced their lives. ***************EAST WASHCO DEMS PRESENTATION by Laurie Wimmer ENVISIONING K-12 AS IT OUGHT TO BE Langston Hughes once wrote: "That Justice is a blind goddess Is a thing to which we black are wise: Her bandage hides two festering sores That once perhaps were eyes." Though I’ve been invited to share with you tonight my perspective about Oregon’s public education system from my perch of 26 years as a public schools advocate, I’m hoping that your eyes will truly see in my remarks that the institution of public education is the key to economic justice, equity, and the sustenance of our grand democratic experiment, and that its challenges depend on contextualizing short-term issues against the backdrop of larger forces that divide and impoverish too many. And so, to begin.... If the COVID pandemic has taught us anything about our public school system, it is that our failures to visualize its infrastructural and human needs long-term will always come into sharp focus during a crisis. Everything that you read about how our students and educators are doing are problems rooted in long-term neglect. Whether we are talking about the morale and attrition of educators, the lack of adequate services for our students experiencing trauma, or infrastructure needs (such as building and tech upgrades), COVID has shone a bright light on enduring problems. The biggest, most acute challenges are these:
A demoralized and overworked staff that is heading for the doors. Perhaps as much of 50% of our workforce may disappear by next fall, according to recent polling by the OEA, and 25% of our educators are currently retirement eligible.
A student population whose ACES scores, based on social determinants of health, have gradually crept up and up, and now are through the roof – causing daily learning disruptions, despondency, and worse. AND
Ongoing threats from pro-privatization forces, which are exploiting the current crisis to further exacerbate a weakening of the public education system in a way that could inexorably damage it for decades if successful.
So if I were Queen for a Day, or perhaps for a Legislative Session, what would I do to respond to the urgent needs of our schools? First and foremost, I would make it my top priority to champion the hard-working, caring educational staff in our schools. I would listen to them, believe them, and trust them. Instead of pushing yet more legislation to micromanage how they teach, or to add one more responsibility to their plate, I would ensure that our schools are finally funded at a sufficient level to enable every student to have access to a school nurse, a counselor, a school psychologist, or a social worker so that classroom educators do not have to try to be all things to all people. CLASS SIZE: I would make sure that K-3 elementary classrooms have no more than 15 students per licensed teacher, especially in high-poverty schools. EARLY LEARNING: I would make sure that every student has the early intervention and preschool supports they need to come to school learning ready. CHILD CARE: I would better-fund child care to eliminate caregiving deserts; improve access for low-income families; and make sure before- and after-school programs exist near every elementary school. SUMMER SLIDE: I would make sure that summer school – fun, not just academic, punitive, or credit-recovery oriented – is offered to every student. WELL-ROUNDED ED: I would make sure that every student has access to art, music, theater, technology, library education, media literacy, Career Technical Education, adequate PE minutes, field trips, and other enrichments outside of core courses. OUTCOMES: And finally, I would insist that we center our efforts on meaningfully supporting the learning of our increasingly diverse students, nurturing their hopes, dreams, and capacities – rather than obsessing on how our kids’ data points stack up to those of students in other states. In short, I would INSIST that the state finally, and consistently, fund our schools to the level prescribed by the Quality Education Model. And while meaningful accountability is welcome, micromanaging professional educators is not. Nor are high-stakes tests that play politics with our students’ futures. Policymakers have always met this clear vision with their myopic excuse that it cannot be afforded. And so we worked for years to create the political will to raise new revenue to bridge the 20% funding gap between average actual funding and the full amount needed to fund our schools adequately. In 2019, we came close. I was privileged to help write and pass the game-changing Student Success Act, which should have narrowed the funding gap to 92% of full funding. Unfortunately, the money has strings attached, and it has never fully generated the predicted returns. In 2021, Ways and Means leaders reduced the core operational funding of the State School Fund so that it did not hold even with the prior biennium. They then used some SSA monies to plug a portion of the shortfall. The Student Success Act was supposed to be additive, but because it is a statutory, not a constitutional law, using SSA to supplant, not supplement, the State School Fund is legally – though perhaps not morally—allowable. OEA also helped to create more school resources in 2012 by proposing and passing Ballot Measure 85, which captured the corporate kicker for the State School Fund. Most people – including the press – dutifully recite the myth that this money goes to schools. The legislature has, however, ignored this constitutional mandate and has distributed the money across all General Fund budgets every session since Measure 85 passed. We could, and SHOULD, try again to raise new resources for education, preschool, and child care, enabling us to build a revenue system that matches our values. But to do so, there are huge political hills to climb. Let me give you an example. Do you know what Oregon’s largest housing program is? It’s a tax break that benefits the wealthy most of all, the mortgage interest deduction. For years, we have worked with our allies to cap this tax break so that Oregon no longer subsidizes the top 5% of affluent people’s home ownership. The most recent effort would have recovered $200 million in biennial revenues to fund true housing programs for affordability and ending houselessness. This particular example of good tax policy may not seem like an education matter, but our students and young teachers are directly affected by Oregon’s housing crisis, with educational implications. Mostly, though, I use this example to illustrate the point that logic, morality, sound policy, and publicly supported fund uses are all embedded in the idea, and yet, year after year, the bill has stalled out in committee. Powerful interests have
blocked common-sense revenue ideas such as this one at every turn, aided and abetted by supermajority vote requirements passed in the 1990s and referendum threats to send tax increases to the ballot box. And so we remain a system with gigantic problems, corporate interference, systemic underfunding, and a student body whose needs for universal pre-school and childcare, lower class sizes, well-rounded education, behavioral and physical health supports, and summer school are still only a dream. But I still dare to dream of creating a well-funded, well-run, equity-based, opportunity-filled school system for Oregon’s school children. That’s not the system in which COVID 19 found us, however. Instead, we have witnessed the exodus of 30,000 students, mostly white and affluent, to private institutions and homeschooling, aided by a voracious and powerful for-profit virtual market that is hungry to grow its footprint in this state. We have a shrill, mostly political backlash movement that essentially blames teachers and administrators for the educational impacts of this pandemic. We also have a mischaracterization of facts, such as the oft-quoted line that the 18 months our students spent in comprehensive distance learning increased teen suicide. In fact, the opposite was the case: we lost fewer students during lockdown, perhaps because kids were less exposed to toxic bullying. This fact was reported to the Senate Education Committee, but it generated no press. And, we have a disgusting tactical effort to politicize racial equity in education by making a phony issue of “CRT”-- a dog whistle for those confused souls who still vote their fears, not their hopes for a better world. And, we have the ever-evolving virus itself, which has knocked so many education staff out of the system, temporarily or permanently, that some schools have had to close. Our teachers are regularly giving up the very crucial time they need for lesson planning, paper grading, and collegial interaction so that they can cover for their fallen comrades. School secretaries, building principals, and TOSAs are stepping in to “teach” when the teacher is quarantined. The substitute shortage caused the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission to suspend licensure requirements for people to become substitute teachers, meaning that anyone age 18 or older who can fog a mirror and pass a background test is now able to step into a classroom. We are not, in this instance, seriously talking about teaching our students on the days that these are the adults in front of them. In the meantime, the pandemic continues to plagues our schools and communities, which are ever vulnerable to new variants. You may have read that some educators tried to deal with the staffing crisis by proposing some out-of-the-box thinking to keep our educators from fleeing a profession they would love to love again. In Portland, for instance, they proposed an alteration to the schedule that would build back in the planning time they need to do their jobs well, without falling from exhaustion. The district leaked the contours of the idea to the press and fomented a nasty public response. Understandably, parents in the labor force who lack caregiving options are as desperate for a solution to this crisis as are our educators. Had a healthy child caregiving infrastructure already been in place, the blowback to the PAT proposal surely would have been less strident. In this moment, COVID is showing us who we are. The mirror it is holding up reflects a profoundly divided and confused populace who may care deeply about our education system on the one hand, yet misunderstand its capacities on the other. Good people are being pitted against each other and fingers of blame are being pointed in the wrong direction. If the educators we’ve spoken to really do quit, our system will collapse. And no for-profit, algorithmic-based virtual outfit will be able to replace what will be lost. To leave this on a more positive note, however, there are solutions for the short run, in addition to the long- term ideas I’ve already laid out. As Albert Einstein once famously noted, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” So here are some of the ideas our educators have advanced, to help them NOW:
To create more time in the day and more contact time with students who need it most, the state and district-level administration could pause implementation of new programs, to keep the focus on the work in front of educators.
Professional development requirements could be suspended or more flexibly administered so that teachers may devote their entire bandwidth to meeting student needs.
Intensive evaluations of education staff could be set aside for the time being.
Skip the high-stakes summative testing for now, too, so that students may focus on real learning.
Expand lunch, recess, and other non-class time for kids, to take the pressure off and infuse more play time in their days.
Limit staff meetings and other non-essential group meetings in gatherings.
And most of all, districts should do everything in their power to bring in additional staff – licensed teachers to support students who are behind, mental health providers for students with behavioral health issues, and classified staff to support lunch and recess duty, and other student supports. As to the staff retention crisis, a fix must rest on increased wages and benefits at all levels. Some ideas are college debt relief, easing licensure for teachers coming in from other states, speeding up background checks, bonus retention pay, and probationary licenses for long-term education assistants. The first step, of course, is for our policymakers to truly understand and respond to this current emergency. And after that is done, we must return our focus to the long-term issues that the pandemic did not cause. Instead of thinking in session-by-session objectives, our Legislative leaders need to dedicate their attention to the long-term project of restoring the progressive vision of public education, with all its promise of social justice, individual well-being, and communitarian goals. It must resist the tremendous corporate pressures and neoliberal push to privatize, over-test, and constantly “reform”. It must re-examine the Orwellian notion that private control of public resources somehow makes charter schools a “public” institution, especially in the abysmally performing virtual environment. It must reject the overheated drive for test-based “accountability” and return to an embrace of the broadening – instead of narrowing – of public education. It must examine the imperative of equity through an authentic lens that encourages greater local, parent, and community involvement. It must lift up its public education work force and knock off the union-bashing that even holds forth in some Democratic circles. And finally, it must reject the claim that schools can “solve” the problem of poverty – that’s the job of policymakers, who must close the gaping economic inequality gap and help increase fair-wage work opportunities for a greater number of our people. You don’t get that by declaring reductive “40-40-20” goals or by carving out of the State School Fund a couple more dollars for CTE. We can get there only by supporting systemic economic justice initiatives beyond the schoolhouse doors. After all, our schools are just a reflection of the communities in which they are located. This radical reimagining of how to help our schools may seem daunting, but recall the wise words of the late, great Nelson Mandela, who observed that:
“Where people of goodwill get together and transcend their differences for the common good, peaceful andjust solutions can be found even for those problems which seem most intractable.”
Though I have recently retired from my role advocating for Oregon’s public educators, I will never stop pushing for a better tomorrow. I hope you will all join me in that effort. Thank you. Laurie Wimmer