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Oregon Civics Conference for Teachers

Oregon Civics Conference for Teachers
December 2, 2011

Thank you for spending your day learning more about state government and, hopefully, bringing back tools and materials to your classrooms that will help improve students’ understanding of their civic responsibilities.

Thank you, also, for your dedication to students amidst some of the most trying conditions for our public school system in anyone’s memory: large class sizes, curriculum cuts, inadequate physical facilities.

Schools and teachers are straining under the burden of attempting to supply what many are not receiving elsewhere: safety and stability, food, basic health care, even clothing.  A child who doesn’t get breakfast is a child who is almost certain to struggle in math.

But you are here today because while schools must attempt to help students meet their basic needs, education by its very should be – must be – about more than that.  Indeed, it must even be about more than merely reading and math.

As part of our efforts to improve how Oregon finances and governs public education, I have asked the new Oregon Education Investment Board and the Legislature to train their focus on outcomes for students.  How would we build a budget for education that supports achieving our desired outcomes, not merely perpetuating existing silos, governance arrangements, and delivery systems?

So we’re at a moment where the OEIB and other policymakers are engaging the public and stakeholders in thinking very seriously about what the highest purposes of education actually are. 

To a significant extent this conversation will be driven by economic imperatives.  We know that to be locally and globally competitive, we must significantly increase the percentage of Oregonians who earn advanced degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and career-related certificates and training.

But we must not lose sight of the equally critical role that schools play in helping prepare students to be meaningfully engaged in the civic life of their community, their state, and their country.  This means promoting curriculums and programs – like Constitution Team and Mock Trial and Project Citizen – that help teach basic civic literacy.  It also means valuing skills – like collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity – that are necessary for human beings to flourish in civic life.

Just because these qualities are harder to standardize doesn’t mean that we should avoid prioritizing them.  Indeed, it may be the very reason they should be prioritized at the highest level in how we fund schools, set policies for schools, and hold schools accountable. 

In the short term, the people in this building will continue to understand our education system largely in terms of what can be measured today: proficiency in reading and math, graduation rates and degree completion, and the unacceptable gaps that emerge in those results based on race and income and geography.  Improving these outcomes is important, and we are working to do a better job of measuring them, for example by giving credit to schools and educators where students make significant gains even if they are still below the standard.

But over the longer term, we must build our system of funding and accountability upon the recognition that college and career readiness is not (merely) a cut score.  Through the work of the OEIB on achievement compacts and the work of ODE and my office on our application for a waiver from NCLB, we have the opportunity now to lay the groundwork for a system that takes a broader view of the purposes of education, including those that you are aiming towards with your conference today.



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