America's public schools have been the primary mechanism for children to climb the economic ladder and achieve their American Dream. As Oregon's Department of Education reports that our high schools suffer the lowest achievement scores, as a state senator, my first priority will be to reform Oregon's high schools by:
1) Maximizing teachers' instructional days to get a longer school year and reduce teacher burnout by easing their workload through flexible scheduling.
The single most valuable asset public schools have to educate children is our teachers' instructional days. We need to ensure that those days are safeguarded, not wasted. Universities routinely have exam schedules to administer end of the term tests. By implementing proctor programs for semester and final exams, staffed by community volunteers with the ratios the College Board uses to administer the SAT, we could add 6 days to the high school year.
If successful, expanding this program by periodically adding exam days throughout the school year could better increase teacher retention rates. The National Education Association currently estimates that the average teacher has a 55-hour work week. We need to help our teachers avoid burnout by limiting their 5-day weeks and adding in 'testing days' while further expanding the school year.
2) Adding 'Communication Intensive' electives that focus on writing and speaking, in subject areas that will engage students' passions.
The Bill Gates Foundation survey of high school dropouts revealed that boredom, not academic struggles, is the primary cause of losing interest in school. We need to get electives back in our high schools to better engage students' passions, and have those electives be graded on the quality and quantity of writing, speaking that is produced. When the answer to any question is one mouse click away, written essays and oral arguments will be the best measure of a student's progress.
3) Creating incentives for large school districts to digitally stream classes across Oregon so that all students can achieve their American Dream.
Students in rural Oregon shouldn't be limited by their geographic location to take advantage of upper level classes that their smaller school districts can not offer. Finding ways to use the Internet to reach children in isolated communities simply makes sense.
4) Offering public-private partnerships to allow certified teachers to earn money, experience, and recertification through fellowships in the private sector rather than by paying tuition for classes.
Oregon teachers are the most qualified in the country. By engaging the private sector, we can offer a different path to recertification: Letting teachers earn market level wages while gaining private sector experience during summers. This will put more money in teachers' pockets, reduce their recertification costs and allow teachers to share their experiences in a science lab, advertising firm or accounting office with their students.
5) Building a central online repository for syllabi, lesson plans, and curriculum to help teachers across Oregon collaborate.
By making it as easy as possible for Oregon teachers to work together, we can quicken the spread of innovative ways to reach students, especially for teachers who are often asked to teach new subjects at the last-minute, as August faculty changes often require.
6) Ensuring that our K-12 education system is integrated with our public colleges and universities.
University placement exams in math and writing should be incorporated into the high school curricula, so graduating seniors who place below expectations can take remedial classes over the summer, without falling behind their first year in college and avoid extra terms of tuition.
With the right reforms, Oregon can give our children the 21st century high school education they deserve. Through flexible scheduling, restoring electives, and finding new methods to connect teachers, students and the private sector we can increase teacher salaries, lengthen the school year, increase teacher retention rates, reduce student dropout rates, and better prepare our children for the future, before seeking new sources of revenue, or additional taxes.