Legislator is concerned about Oregon's low high school graduation rates

Each week the bulk of concerns from constituents and officials confirm what the Oregon Values Project found, that "Oregonians consider education funding and quality the most important issue they want their state and local government… to do something about."

And yet Oregon has one of the worst graduation rates: "For the class of 2012, Oregon's on-time graduation rate was second-lowest among the states… "

Oregon students' absenteeism is the worst among states measured, with 16.8 percent of K-12 students chronically absent during the 2012-2013 school year.

According to Education Week's "Quality Counts 2014: State Highlights Reports," Oregon students are 45th in both fourth- and eighth-grade math achievement, and 42nd in preschool enrollment, and our system is 45th in the quality, incentives and support we provide our teachers.

Clearly there is a divergence between Oregon's value of education and the results we are producing in our kids. Why this great divide?

Although the causes are numerous, a growing consensus is emerging that Oregon's educational deficiencies stem from a fundamental failure to place our kids - the students - first.

Not teachers first, nor administrators first, as much as they care. Not the state budget, nor pet ideas, nor the system that perpetuates mediocre results. Certainly not Rudy Crew.

But the status quo and systemic inertia are extremely difficult forces to overcome. It will take both systemwide redesign and targeted investments in short-term measurable goals. Some key examples:

Kids need to learn to read by dedicating funding and focus ensuring third-graders reach reading benchmarks.

In 2011-12, nearly 28 percent of Oregon third-graders did not demonstrate proficiency in reading.

Of underserved students, the percentage of third-graders who were not reading proficiently was 37 percent.

Kids need to be in school by extending Oregon's school year, one of the shortest in the nation. Oregon should incentivize districts to pilot a year-round schedule with shorter, more frequent breaks, rather than the summer-long "brain drain."

Kids need job training and options by expanding access to charter and magnet schools, career and technical education (modern shop class), and focused investments on science and engineering (STEM) initiatives for students to develop usable skills for available jobs.

Kids need stable funding by setting funding "floors," prioritizing Pre-20 budgeting in our state processes, and saving adequate reserves.

Kids need effective teachers: The majority of our educators (including my mom!) are well-trained, well-intentioned and effective. But the negative effect of the few "bad apple" teachers and the benefits of replacing them with average or excellent teachers is well documented.

On the flip side, "A good teacher not only improves a child's test scores in the classroom, but also enhances his or her chances to attend college, earn more money and avoid teen pregnancy, according to a new seminal study."

Want to learn more about these efforts? Oregon has pioneering organizations such as The Chalkboard Project and Stand for Children working to support our educators, and their results can be replicated in districts statewide.

Oregon Learns is another initiative bringing the business and education communities together on a vision to create a student-centered education system in Oregon.

The question remains: Are we willing to take these attainable steps to put kids first?

John Davis (R-Wilsonville) represents Dist. 26, which includes King City, in the Oregon House.

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