Oregon's higher standards are still unfunded

By James Mattiace of Eugene, Oregon. James is a high school social studies teacher in Springfield, former Commissioner for Children and Families in Lane County, member of the OEA Legislative Advisory Council, and Chair of the Lane County Bus Project.

Well, the State Board of Education is at it again, and once again I find myself in the unenviable position of opposing something that on principle I would support, but can't stomach in reality. With ten years experience in both public and private schools in two states, I have seen enough 'new ideas' to be able to predict the outcome. The much abused and played out goal of 'raising the bar' will once again run smack into the wall of unfunded mandates. However, that little federalism problem has not stopped the Education Act for the 21st Century, CIM/CAM, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind), Career Related Learning Standards (CRLS), and the recent increase in Math and English requirements from becoming law.

To be clear: teachers are all about accountability. Find me a teacher in the world who doesn't test his or her kids in some format. We're also about setting high standards. Find me another teacher who thinks kids should do the bare minimum. What we do not support, in any shape or form, is the concept that if we just simply set the bar high, students will reach it. In track and field, the bar is set higher to eliminate competition. That is not what public education is about.

For some recent perspective let's examine the effects of HB 3129 which passed the 2005 Legislature and made it across the Governor's desk. Simply put, it requires all high schools to make four years of English and three years of Math a graduation requirement for the class of 2010 (current freshmen). Heck yeah! Of course they should take four years of English. I did. I also took four years of Latin, two years of French, four years of Math, three years of Science, four years of Social Studies, and four years of Philosophy/Theology. Missing from that formula are substantive courses in Music, Art, Metal Shop, Consumer Ed, etc.

We can mostly all agree that more academic classes means more learning in academic areas. Here is the rub: no increased funding came from the 2005 Legislature.

In fact, to operate the 2003-2005 budget at 2005-2007 levels would have required $5.4 billion dollars. What did K-12 get? $5.24 billion. For the people in the cheap seats, that means schools were cut. Again. Thirteenth straight year in a row of cuts. Thank you, Republican House leadership. To fund schools at the level of the Quality Education Model (QEM), a bipartisan plan adopted in 1997, K-12 would need $7.4 Billion for 2005-2007. Putting that aside for the moment, schools are faced with a big problem. Having already large class sizes and lacking electives, how is it possible to absorb HB 3129 with less money and less teachers? The creative solutions are endless. They range from proficiency credits to trimesters to slashing all non required classes where they still exist (read Music, Art, History Electives etc.)

So now, two years later, the State Board decides it wants to do it again to satisfy the right wing mantra of 'raising the bar'. This time they want to raise the Science requirement from two to three years, make it so that no Math class below Algebra I counts toward the three year requirement, and require two years of foreign language or fine/applied arts. I sincerely doubt the money will flow like a geyser from the people of Oregon. With schools already overwhelmed trying to meet HB 3129 and other unfunded mandates, this means that schools are being set up to fail the very people we are trying to help over the previous bar.

The QEM for the 2007-2009 budget cycle is $7.9 Billion. The Governor has said he would propose $6 Billion. If we agree that the QEM would be sufficient to fund these new mandates, which by the way, we do, then the Legislature must either fund the QEM or not adopt the new mandates. Or better yet, link all educational funding to the quality model and decide what a 'less than quality education' would look like.

Prior to 2003, many schools, including the one I teach at, already required four years of English and three of Math. Along with a variety of other cuts, we shifted down to the state minimum of three and two respectively to absorb the disastrous 2001 cuts and save what few electives were left. Then, without restoring that funding, the bar was raised in 2005. And now again, without a real proposed increase in funding the bar will be raised yet again if these 'college prep' requirements are added. The costs will be born out in even larger class sizes and loss of even more vocational, academic, and fine arts electives. It most definitely matters to the struggling student who is not going to college, it matters to the potential borderline achiever, and it matters to the student who has found his or her calling in metal shop, band, drama, or an elective social studies class.

So here is my mantra: if Oregonians want to increase 'rigor', which, again, I support, then they must also increase funding. The new proposal must come with a referral to the voters to fund it. Otherwise I suggest it becomes DOA. I applaud the sentiment, and in fact I would love to increase Social Studies requirements to 4 years so that we could do a full year of civics and really focus on areas that get lost in the mad rush to finish in a semester (like State Government). However, I am not going to ask my students to give up classes that help them succeed to fulfill my dreams of a graduating class of policy wonks.

I recommend that all citizens head to the Oregon Department of Education website and take their survey, but please, take it with these nagging questions in your ear -- Will I increase my taxes to pay for this? Will the rest of Oregon increase their taxes to pay for this? Should we really raise the bar when so many have failed to climb the first hurdle?

  • John Napolitano (unverified)

    I don't really understand the math here. If we require a high school student to take a English of Math class instead of an elective class, how is that going to cost the school district more? I would think that if the number of teachers in a school does not change, what they teach should not make a difference in the overall cost. If anything, having more students take the same core classes tends to be slightly more efficient in terms of teaching resources, with the potential for reduced costs.

    Personally, I like what we are doing here in Hillsboro, and I believe the same is done elsewhere in the state. We have three different high school diplomas, with different requirements. The "chancellor" diploma requirements match the requirements for admission to state higher education colleges. The "standard" diploma will get you out of high school but not into a state college. And then we have the "state" diploma that meets the even lower minimum requirements for graduation set by the state of Oregon. The choice of what to graduate with is up to the student.

  • lin qiao (unverified)

    I don't really understand the math here. If we require a high school student to take a English or Math class instead of an elective class, how is that going to cost the school district more?

    Apropos Mr. Napolitano's query, I believe the answer is fairly simple. More teachers are required unless various other course options are cut. After all, it's not as though the English teachers magically can teach 7 classes in a 6-class school day.

    The Hillsboro scheme described by Mr. Napolitano is troubling to me because it seems like a pretty obvious way to track kids by social class: the middle-class kids will be encouraged to go for the so-called chanellor and standard diplomas, while the working class kids (and in Hillsboro, does this mean brown-skinned? Sincerely wondering here.) will be encouraged to go for the so-called state diploma. This sort of tracking is routine in Europe, say, and arguably just reinforces societal class structure.

    What about this idea for graduation requirements? All students to be required to take some classes that entail hands-on activities, such as shop, in addition to those English and mathematics classes.

  • Curt (unverified)

    Yeah, I'm a little fuzzy on letting kids graduate with a cut-rate diploma, myself. It sounds like a way to do less teaching while claiming you aren't doing less teaching.


  • John Napolitano (unverified)

    I still don't understand why having the same number of teachers in a high school, with more of them teaching core classes and fewer teaching electives would cost more money.

    In Hillsboro, as far as I know very few students (if any) graduate with the "state" diploma. The district has graduation standards that are (slightly) highter than the minumim state requirements, but if a students meets the state standards, they are legally required to grant that student a diploma. It is not a matter of "social class" or skin color. It is a matter of personal choice: If you want to go to college, you need to understand that the minimum requirement for the "standard" diploma will not get you there. You have been warned.

    This sort of tracking is routine in Europe, say, and arguably just reinforces societal class structure. Having lived in Europe for 25 years, where I attended public school from elementary to college, I have to admit that have no idea of what you are talking about.

  • (Show?)


    I went to school when shop was required for boys and home Ec was required for girls. Let's just say that I got as much out of shop as the kids who were good at shop got out of advanced physics. (Yes I know that some could be good at both.) We need to recognize that different kids have different talents. We should not force everyone on to the college track or force people like me to be frustrated by mechanical classes that I hated, have no talent for, and got nothing out of except an ugly ash tray.

  • lin qiao (unverified)

    Mr Napolitano: You and I agree, if the number of teachers and the budget stays the same, but more English is required (say), then electives will have to be cut. Pretty simple, eh?

    In terms of tracking that reinforces division by social class, I am in particular thinking of the British system (I lived in the UK for awhile), with all kids taking a series of tests at a fairly young age and then being tracked (roughly speaking, university-track vs. vocational education). The British system has been slowly changing, and more awareness given to encouraging working-class kids to go to university, but it's a slow change.

    Something we have in spades in the US, but which barely exists in the UK (don't know about the rest of Europe), is a widespread community-college system that gives people what amounts to a 2nd chance to orient themselves towards a university education. I think it is no accident that there is more social mobility in the US than the UK, for example.

    Mr. Calhoun: You and I went to school in the same era. I also got an ugly ash tray :-) My points are about tracking kids at an early age, and about giving kids an appreciation for how the other half lives, more or less. I had a working-class youth but now live the life of a middle-class professional. I would like my child to understand that there are other people whose lives are quite different than hers. I do not want to see the public schools reinforcing class divisions.

  • James Mattiace (unverified)

    Perhaps I should clarify:

    It is a trade off.

    Schools are already overwhelmed trying to meet current mandates. If this new mandate is added then something must go to hire the teachers needed in Science, Math, and English. You choose: A) cut elective classes which help students who are NOT going to college; B) If electives don't exist and there are still some extracurriculars then cutting them may pay for the additional teachers; C) not allow any students to retake a class they failed, they must go and pay for summer school, night school, or at the community college - this is an AWFUL idea, by the way, as it shifts the cost of public education onto those most unable to pay and most in need; D) pack students in to even larger classes; E) allow students to test out of basic courses (which of course would only aid those who would most likely be planning on taking 4 years anyway.)

    To be clear - this is a good idea, but is a disaster if it is not funded.

    We want all kids to go to college. Not all kids will go to college. We can't keep cutting the programs that help the non -college bound. AND - if we increase class sizes less kids will make it to college AND as college gets less and less affordable and accessible (ie lack of classes at community college) who's going to be able to go anyway?

    So why are we doing all this if we are not going to fund it?


  • anon (unverified)

    We were in Miami.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    John Napolitano writes:

    "I don't really understand the math here. If we require a high school student to take a English of Math class instead of an elective class, how is that going to cost the school district more? I would think that if the number of teachers in a school does not change, what they teach should not make a difference in the overall cost."

    I think you're missing something important. Pay scales differ by what people teach. If you increase the amount of science and math and foreign language that high school students need to take, you're going to have to pay more to get the teachers. You can't shift the shop teacher into teaching Mandarin, or Algebra II, or Physics. By high school, teachers have to be credentialled in specific subjects and English teachers don't make as much as Physics teachers. Worse still, there is a shortage of qualified math and science teachers because people who can teach these subjects can also go to work in industry and earn a heck of lot more money.

    So, there is no way these changes (a) won't require more or differently qualified teachers and (b) won't cost more money.

  • (Show?)


    This debate is not new, but it has been resolved in many European schools. We have a structure that requires all schools to be self-contained, all-purpose learning units. This costs tremendous more because of the substantial overlap.

    Europeans have much better systems on less money because they divide their schools into niches. Americans see the downside to this as students getting stuck in a particular niche. There are creative ways around this such as Summer transition or a general curriculum that students can always return to.

    What you will find is that European high schools look similar to American universities, except the "school of business" and the "school of engineering" might not be in the same city. YES, the Europeans even have dorm rooms at their high schools to accomodate.

    We are so close yet so far behind.

  • waytoogeeky (unverified)

    I am a student in the Portland public system, and I find this very disturbing. Another thing I find very disturbing is that the entire district is using textbooks which have been found to be almost two grade levels behind the previous cirriculum!

  • james Mattiace (unverified)


    Sorry, but nowhere in Oregon is pay differentiated for K-12 teachers on subject. That would violate the concept of "collective" bargaining. It also serves to illustrate that all subjects are important. The current ODE proposal would force districts to eliminate those other subjects in favor of preparing kids for college. Although it may allow for science credits to be earned through applied classes like drafting or metals, the real impact throughout the state will be the elimination of all electives. Unless of course, the State increases funding to provide for both.

    I guess it would be possible for school districts to offer incentives or bonuses for science or math teachers, but it is not a topic I am familiar with, so can't say for sure.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    "Sorry, but nowhere in Oregon is pay differentiated for K-12 teachers on subject."

    I stand corrected. I got my information from a high school science teacher in the Salem area and a math teacher in the Lake Oswego district. Perhaps there is a recruiting bonus coupled with retention bonus that drives the difference. I didn't think to ask about those. Now I'll have to do so. Both report serious recruiting and retention problems in their districts.

    If recruiting and retention bonuses are required for credentialed math, science, and foreign language teachers and teachers are not moveable pawns on a chessboard, this proposal will involve reducing elective choices for HS students, will require additional specialized teaching staff at a time when fewer of these specialists are available, and will cost additional money in whatever form is required.

    In short, I strongly agree with your assessment of the situation and think this is another ill-conceived, unfunded mandate from the Oregon Department of Education.

  • (Show?)

    I apologize in advance but I wanted to answer some questions on this subject if I could...

    Q. Why is the change is necessary? Our high school graduates are entering a world that is more competitive than ever before.  Non-college family wage jobs requitre higher skill sets and entrance into colleges and universities require a higher skill set that when I was in High School (go class of '86!). 

    Our country, and Oregon, is facing a skills gap in the next ten years as many baby boomers retire.  Highly qualified high school graduates are going to be needed to meet the demands of a 21st century society.  Employers consider the quality of local schools as an essential factor in deciding to invest in Oregon. They tell me that see a strong education system as an important factor to their employees in locating in Oregon.

    We live in a complex world and having citizens who are well-educated and capable of full participation in our democratic processes is essential for Oregon and America to thrive.

    Other states across the country are raising their graduation requirements to earn a high school diploma to prepare their students for the challenges ahead.  Twenty states have already completed this work.  Oregon is one of 12 states currently discussing change.

    Q. What is the State Board Proposing Oregon is looking at increasing the number and type of credits required for graduation.  All students will be required to demonstrate a set of essential skills in order to graduate. They are also looking at 4 years of English, and 3 years of rigorous math and science.  In addition, each student will plan a course of study based on personal interest and goals (Education Plan and profile). 

    Q. What remains to be decided? - Funding:  We will identify funding proposals and levels of investment to assist all students in achieving the new standards.  Additional funding will be focused on expansion of capacity, capital investments, and class size issues to make it possible for students to achieve success.

    • Capacity: We will work with parents, students, teachers, legislators and administrators to identify the current capacity of our school system to deliver these new standards and to identify needed new investments.  We know that many districts already offer the proposed course of study to all of their students.  We will identify the gap between current and needed capacity and develop a clear picture of needed investment.

    • Student Support: Implementation plans will provide for additional support for students who need more time and assistance in achieving the standards.  The intention of the board is to make a commitment to the student and the student's family to provide additional help when it is needed for the student to earn the new diploma.

    • Assessment: The board is committed to basing the decision on whether a student has earned a unit of credit to be based on demonstrated knowledge and skill (proficiency) and not just a minimal passing grade.  The decisions about what constitutes evidence of proficiency and how to collect and maintain it will be developed with teachers, administrators and other stake holders.

    Thank you for providing this forum for discussion.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)

    Ed Dennis writes:

    "Q. What remains to be decided? - Funding: We will identify funding proposals and levels of investment to assist all students in achieving the new standards. Additional funding will be focused on expansion of capacity, capital investments, and class size issues to make it possible for students to achieve success."

    Like others here, I don't disagree with the concept of increasing high school graduation requirements to better match Oregon High School students' need to remain competitive in the "flat" world. But,.........

    Do you honestly believe that the legislature and the public will support the proposal once they realize what it will cost? What does ODE plan to do if the legislature and/or the school districts balk at the required funding? Has some "sugar daddy" offered you a substantial revenue stream to fund this statewide or do you expect to have to seek increased state funding to implement?

    In short, how do you respond to the criticism that this is just going to end up being another unfunded mandate imposed on Oregon public schools?

  • (Show?)

    Thank you for your feedback.

    Do you honestly believe that the legislature and the public will support the proposal once they realize what it will cost? What does ODE plan to do if the legislature and/or the school districts balk at the required funding?

    I do belive that the Governor and the legislature are going to fund at levels that will dig us out of the hole that we have been put in.

    Also, many of these new requirements are not new, and are going to be very similar to things that schools are already doing. Educators and students told us over and over again if you want students to do these things you have to make them count. As a diploma requiremets they will carry more weight and that will make a difference.

    In short, how do you respond to the criticism that this is just going to end up being another unfunded mandate imposed on Oregon public schools?

    1. Many Oregon school districts are already doing this.
    2. Half of this is not new to schools.
    3. We will roll it out as we have the money to get the job done.
    4. Governor and legislature are poised to do good things for state school fund.

    Please give us your feedback, go to the web site and weigh in.

  • caren (unverified)

    i'm a student doing a paper on art education in school systems and came accross this article. i agree that it would cost money, and the state needs to be make sure they can fund the programs before deciding anything. my question is, do you really want this to go through if it does get funded? that would mean the arts would get less funding and elective courses would be taken out of the curriculum. as a student in a school in which english is required for 4 years, along with other higher requirements, i feel as though this is not such a good idea. its hard to fit all the requirements in while still taking the classes that appeal to you, such as art, band, or home ec. I'm lucky enough to go to a school that offers a wide range of electives, that will engage every student, and i feel that all students should have that same opportunity. by increasing the requirements for core classes, such as math and english, it lowers the students chances to take an elective the could be beneficail to them.

  • LT (unverified)

    All due respect, Ed, but here in Salem I wonder how many will consider any of what you say until the school goverance questions are answered. Maybe you should go to Salem City Club this week and see what kind of questions people ask the speaker Supt. Husk or ask a question yourself.

    ORS 342 says that school boards supervise administrators but the new SK administrator seems to think it is the other way around.

    http://www.statesmanjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2006612030309 Schools chief pushes new leadership model System would give Husk many powers of the school board TRACY LOEW Statesman Journal December 3, 2006

    A school board member who doesn't go along with the rest of the crowd: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2006611290308 Guest Opinion District fails to show data on raises Hanten Day

    Database of Salem-Keizer administrator salaries on Statesman Journal website: http://news.statesmanjournal.com/state/sk_salaries.cfm November 29, 2006

    Notice that there are 3 personnel administrators, and that administrative salaries begin above $60,000. But all the rhetoric we have heard in recent years has been about how overpaid and underworked teachers are. Isn't it time to examine the role, job description and effectiveness of school boards and administrators and justify the pay packages and work of administrators? A friend emailed me saying something about having heard administrators have better benefits and retirement. Unions don't set management pay, district management does--regardless of the rhetoric in recent years. And are elected boards obedient to hired administrators across the state? Time to debate that.

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