Saying it is sure to lose, Oregon quits contest for federal school innovation money
By Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian
Oregon dropped out of competition for a federal Race to the Top school innovation grant Tuesday because the state is too far behind the rest of the pack to have a shot at winning, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Tuesday.
Oregon needs to go back to the drawing board on basics such as how to turn around chronically low-performing schools and how to include student achievement growth when evaluating teachers and principals, he said.
What's more, Kulongoski said, Oregon's nearly 200 district school district superintendents and teachers unions aren't interested in gunning for the federal grant, which could have brought $175 million to Oregon but would have required big changes, including more state say over schools.
Nearly 7 1/2 years into his eight years as the state's top official, the governor now says he will convene a group of education advocates and other interested leaders to craft a package of school reform policies for the 2011 Legislature to act on.
"Simply put, Oregon needs to build a stronger foundation for K-12 reform," he wrote in a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to announce that Oregon has quit the federal contest.
Oregon was one of 40 states that applied in the first round of competition for a share of $4 billion in federal funding. States had to show they have already improved student achievement and offer specific plans to fix low-achieving schools, raise academic standards, use data to improve instruction, and strengthen teacher evaluation.
Oregon's proposal, written by more than 100 educators and school advocates after months of work, was graded seventh worst. The state was judged to have some strong areas, but the application was deemed vague and the state's progress to date too tepid. The state was dinged for having too little authority over low-performing schools, and raters weren't convinced that student growth would be used to help evaluate and reward teachers.
Becca Uherbelau, spokeswoman for the state teachers union, the Oregon Education Association, said dropping out was smart because Race to the Top officials wanted a cookie-cutter reform plan that didn't fit Oregon.
But she said the collaboration among public school leaders, universities, state officials and others to design the state's application was a healthy development that will continue.
"Oregon is in a good place to move forward and improve achievement for all students because of that collaborative partnership and coming together," she said. "We remain committed to working together to develop sound education policy," which should revolve primarily around better funding for schools."
Sue Levin, executive director of Stand for Children, a school advocacy group made up mainly of parents, said Oregon's decision not to apply the decision was a "sad" acknowledgment of how little the state has done to improve education.
"Oregonians are still in denial about the troubles of our educational system," Levin said. "In other states, either the governor or the state superintendent of public instruction or legislative leaders are serious, committed champions for education reform who have decided that is going to be their issue and they are going to tackle it. That hasn't been the case in Oregon since the 1990s. Absent that ... you can't just whip it up in three months.
"Hopefully this is a call to action for Oregon parents," Levin said. "I think there are folks around this state who are ready to have the difficult conversations, and they are going to be difficult conversations, about how we are going to educate all our children."
I don't think they want cookie cutter reforms but want evidence-based policy: so they want states to collect and analyze data, create real performance measures and have in place incentive mechanisms to encourage good teachers, schools and districts. Not all of this is easy, nor is the evaluation mechanism obvious and so on, but to give up is unforgivable.