Lawmakers Gamble with Education

[Oregonians for Liberty in Education]

Oregon’s Education Gamble: Lawmakers Say Students No Longer Need Essential Skills

Over the last year, Oregonians have been learning lots about what lawmakers believe is  “essential.” Essential workers. Essential services. Essential travel. We have been told that pandemic-related changes are “not forever–just for now.” But 2020 school shutdowns and “Reimagine Oregon” agendas influencing lawmakers have spurred legislation that may have long-lasting effects on Oregon public education.

On June 16, the Oregon State Legislature passed Senate Bill 744, which  places a three year moratorium on the Essential Skills graduation requirement that students demonstrate basic reading, writing, and math skills to receive a standard high school diploma. In actuality, those three years turn into seven, since, as written in the Oregonian, “Oregon has long insisted it would not impose new graduation requirements on students who have already begun high school, new requirements would not take effect until the class of 2027 at the very earliest.” The Oregon State Board of Education had already waived the requirement through June 2022 due to concerns that students  were falling too far behind as a result of the pandemic.

SB 744 requires that before Essential Skills-type requirements can be reintroduced, the Oregon Department of Education must “review state requirements for high school diploma options.” Requirements must be “equitable, accessible and inclusive,” and must “reduce disparities and ensure that every student will be on track to earn one of the high school diplomas offered in this state.” So essentially–in the name of equity–Oregon lawmakers are suspending standards for seven years until the ODE comes up with standards that every student will meet?

A little history. The Essential Skills requirement was adopted in 2008 as part of an effort to align graduation requirements nationwide. Struggling kids were the priority: extra help, multiple means to demonstrate proficiency, and modified diploma and alternative certificate options for students with learning differences.

It’s common sense that requirements (and measuring) increase effort and achievement, and lead to better prepared graduates. Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council, provided testimony on May 13 to the Oregon House Committee on Education urging the Legislature to preserve the Essential Skills requirement:

I was a member of the State Board of Education when the Essential Skills were adopted…These requirements, which have been in place for a decade, were established through a long, consultative process by the State Board. They addressed a critical challenge communicated by employers and post-secondary institutions alike that many students did not have the reading, writing and math mastery needed to succeed. It was considered critical for ensuring an equitable education.

It is ironic that “equity” claims are now being used as a rationale to erase the Essential Skills.

It seems Oregon lawmakers are taking a radical approach to “reimagining” education. They are giving hostage to fortune when they remove requirements, without review or a plan in place to replace them, based on activism, not evidence, all in the name of equity. Why are lawmakers gambling with the futures of the very kids they are trying to help?

In order to examine that issue, we need to address the agendas influencing lawmakers. Last September, the radical group Reimagine Oregon presented their legislative wish list to the Senate Committee on Education, stating: “BLM is a priority in Oregon.” It was the Committee who sponsored SB 744. In March, a Reimagine Oregon-affiliated group called Oregon Partners for Education Justice submitted testimony in support of SB 744.

Oregon Partners for Education Justice recently rebranded itself as Foundations for a Better Oregon. “With SB 744, Oregon can ensure high school diplomas are rigorous, relevant, and truly reflect what every student needs to thrive in the 21st century,” the group said in a statement supporting the legislation.

Oregonians should be wary of activist groups claiming–without evidence–that removing requirements makes diplomas more “rigorous.” Removing requirements is not rigor. Rigor is not equity. And equity is not equality or excellence in education. Whether or not adults agree on vocabulary, the bottom line is that SB 744 uses equity as a euphemism for scraping standards and shortchanging students.

SB 744 was passed by the Oregon Legislature in a party line vote and now awaits the signature of Gov. Kate Brown. Will she double down on equity at the expense of education?

Date: 2021-06-29 12:02

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  1. How about we not have to pay property taxes which about 90% of it goes to fund public education for the next three years, since students dont have to learn anything during that time?

  2. I was thinking the same thing! Schools have become nothing more than glorified daycare centers. All they teach is how to make babies, disrespect everything and drive cars . . . fast.

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