Oregon leaders must push for more accountability while avoiding ‘hip’ political funding choices so schooling for the state’s 540,000 students can improve, new state report finds .
State auditors say the state’s $4.6 billion spent annually on education is at risk as education standards aren’t enforced, spending decisions aren’t always made carefully and state leaders expect quick results for long-term problems, disrupting reform.
The auditors drew their conclusions and recommended action after doubling down on state audits dating back to 2016. They put together what they said was not another audit, but rather a first-ever “risk report systemic”, published on Tuesday.
The work was done under the direction of Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who told a press conference that the report is “designed to head off problems before they arise.” We need strong leadership, especially at this time.
Both the report and Fagan said reforms at the state and local levels are needed, particularly to improve enrollment for students of color, those who don’t speak English, and other students who struggle in the current system.
Fagan said governor officials could help these students by acting on recommendations to close achievement gaps.
For example, she said, “We don’t need to see a gap for students who attend very poor schools or communities. »
Kip Memmott, director of the State Audit Division, said the team took a “cold and steely audit approach” to the work.
He said the results were presented to Governor Kate Brown’s staff, the Oregon Department of Education and members of the state Board of Education. He also said key legislative leaders, including chairs of education committees, have been briefed on the results and “they are very intrigued”.
THE REPORT: K-12 Education – Systemic Risk Report
Repeatedly in the report, auditors noted that state leaders must give the Department of Education the freedom to do its job, which means getting tough with local school systems.
They noted the tension between local control and state ownership.
“Leaders and policy makers must balance local control of school districts with reasonable and enforceable standards,” the report said.
There is now a “lack of clarity and applicability, allowing low performance to persist,” the report says.
And it wasn’t subtle in indicating that politicians should refrain from constantly changing state curricula and school funding.
“A large number of separate programs, unrealistic timelines, and frequent shifts in funding priorities and leadership can undermine reform efforts,” the report says.
Listeners said lawmakers often want progress reports on programs that have just started, then push for more new programs.
“State grants come and go, giving them a ‘flavor of the month’ distribution that increases skepticism and instability,” the report said.
The report notes that the Student Success Act, passed by the Legislature in 2019 to increase funding for schools, was the fourth major education reform implemented in Oregon since the 1990s.
“The previous three have all been dropped,” the report said.
And despite recent reforms, Oregon continues to rank near the bottom of the nation in high school graduation rates.
Additionally, “Oregon’s underserved student populations continue to face significant achievement gaps in overall graduation rate results and math and English achievement test scores,” the report states.
The auditors urged heads of state to act on the new recommendations.
“Failure to address this could allow student achievement lagging behind and equity gaps for low-income and historically underserved students to persist despite historic investment in the education system,” the report said.
Auditors repeatedly noted that the Ministry of Education was not enforcing standards intended to ensure that every student received a solid education. The agency must do more on this front – with the support of heads of state.
“A lack of ODE intervention, despite significant problems at the school and district level, was a bigger problem than violation of local control,” according to the report.
Auditors said the state needs to specifically hold online schools statewide and regionally accountable, noting the high dropout rate.
Scott Learn, a senior auditor who was part of the report team, noted that turnover in the governor’s office and the legislature has made it difficult for the state to stay focused on a long-term plan to improve education in Oregon schools.
“It becomes harder for people to maintain consistent focus,” Learn said.
The report urged a longer vision and more patience.
“Focus in particular on programs supporting struggling schools and vulnerable students,” the report says.
Memmott said the report was written with candor to provide public officials with a tool to more comfortably discuss what can often be a difficult school issue.
Colt Gill, director of the education department, “largely agrees with the report and is grateful for it,” said Marc Siegel, director of communications for the agency.
“Current education equity efforts are in their infancy,” Siegel said. “Oregon must maintain a long-term commitment to its education equity initiatives because educational disparities did not develop overnight and solutions will not come overnight.”