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Education legislation focuses on improving early childhood services
PENDLETON — The education goal set by the Oregon legislature in 2011 is clear.
But the way the goal is to be reached is still cloudy and will come into sharper focus during this year's legislative session, which begins today.
That is the message the 250 people who attended a public outreach meeting with four members of the new Oregon Education Investment Board Monday night at Blue Mountain Community College received.
The 13-member Oregon Education Investment Board, created by the legislature in 2011 and chaired by Gov. John Kitzhaber, is pursuing a goal of 40-40-20.
The board's aim is by 2025 to have 40 percent of Oregon high school graduates going on to earn degrees from four-year universities, another 40 percent receiving degrees from community colleges or vocational schools and the remaining 20 percent to at least have a high school diploma.
The new board, which will oversee all education in Oregon from pre-kindergarten through higher education, has developed proposed legislation to help Oregon reach the 40-40-20 goal.
The two main areas of this proposed legislation focus on streamlining and improving early childhood services to help more children arrive in kindergarten ready for school, and the establishment of achievement compacts.
Schools would be required to meet student achievement standards as part of the compacts. The proposed compacts, if approved by the Legislature, would go into effect if Oregon receives a waiver from adequate yearly progress standards now mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Mark Mulvihill, a member of the Oregon Education Investment Board and superintendent of the InterMountain Education Service District, said he is excited about the potential the new board has to make a lasting difference.
"This is a real opportunity to make real transformational change," Mulvihill said.
The change Mulvihill speaks of is desperately needed in an age when the importance of graduating from high school and later earning a college degree is becoming increasingly critical for anyone who wants to land a job.
Unfortunately, the percentage of students going on to earn college degrees is declining, said Todd Jones, policy advisor for the Oregon Education Investment Project.
He said Oregon is one of the few states in which "the present generation of students is on track to be less educated than the previous generation.''
Jones said the trend is alarming.
"There needs to be a sense of urgency,'' Jones said.
The Oregon Education Investment Board was created by Senate Bill 909. Under the bill, the hierarchy of educational leadership in Oregon will be changed.
The board will be required to select a chief education officer who will be in charge of coordinating the directing of early childhood education, the state's school districts, community colleges and the Oregon University System.
The chief education officer will answer to the Oregon Education Investment Board, which will hire and, if necessary, fire the individuals selected for the position.
Officials were asked at the Pendleton meeting how the appointment of a chief education officer will affect the roles played by and the authority wielded by the present state education leaders and boards.
The audience was told that this has not been determined yet.
The Oregon Education Investment Board public outreach meeting in Pendleton was the seventh its members have conducted around the state and the only one in Eastern Oregon.
The turnout for the meeting was as good and possibly better than any it has had.
Board member Samuel Henry, a professor of curriculum and instruction at Portland State University, said he was heartened by the turnout and the interest in education expressed.
"I loved having this discourse," said Henry, also a member of the State Board of Education.
Henry said this is important, especially in the wake of Measure 5, the property tax limitation measure passed in 1990 that ultimately gave the state much greater control of how school districts are funded.
"Measure 5 took the energy out of local participation," Henry said.
He said he would like to have the board visit outlying portions of the state more often in the future.
"We don't listen as much as we need to, to our neighbors across the state," Henry said.
Henry and Mulvihill were joined at the Pendleton meeting by fellow board members David Rives of Tigard and Johanna "Hanna" Vaandering of Portland.
Rives is president of the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon and a teacher at Portland Community College and Vaandering is vice president of the Oregon Education Association and an elementary physical education teacher.
Vaandering, like Henry, was heartened by the large crowd at the meeting.
"I appreciate the passion shown for education."