Quantifying educational quality – Part 4

Editor’s note: This is part four of a five-part series about the statewide problems in Oregon’s education system, and how it affects local schools in the Southern Willamette region. This week’s story follows the Quality Education Model, and Creswell and Pleasant Hill school districts’ aspirations for the future.
As the Oregon Legislature prepares to head into session this year to discuss the new biennium budget, the Quality Education Model (QEM) report stands as a resource for policymakers to estimate the level of funding required to operate schools in the state.
Yet, the key findings for the 2018 report shows that Oregon’s current funding is ”inadequate to meet Oregon’s ambitious goals,” according to the QEM key findings. The K-12 system is being funded at nearly $2 billion less per biennium than is needed, and it’s making the State play catch-up.
Currently, Oregon ranks 29th nationally in funding per student – down from 15th in 1990-91. However, even if Oregon funded schools at the recommended QEM level, the national ranking would still only rise to 18th.
”Part of the misnomer is, when you get more funding in education, you’ve gotten enough money that you should be able to do what you want to do,” Scott Linenberger, Pleasant Hill superintendent said. ”But if we’ve been underfunded according to the QEM, it would take multiple biennium to catch up to whatever that standard is.”
He said that as the budget is moving from $8.2 billion in funding, the business managers across the State are projecting to need a minimum of $9.1 billion just to maintain the current level of service. To fund at the recommended QEM level, it’s estimated at $10.734 billion.
”All we’re trying to do with funding levels is see if we can offer a few more classes or opportunities to better engage our students,” he said. ”That’s what we’re looking at realistically.”
The QEM started in 1999, and it utilizes information on the most effective practices as well as data from district’s expenditures to estimate the cost of implementing those ideal practices. To accompany the best educational practices, are the adopted Common Core State Standards, which contains the aspirational goal known as 40-40-20.
By the 2025, the goal shoots toward a 100 percent graduation rate, with 40 percent of students earning a bachelor’s degree or higher, 40 percent earning an associate’s degree and 20 percent having a high school diploma.
The problem with this goal, Superintendent Todd Hamilton pointed out, is that information isn’t always shared with the school district, and even if the data is shared, that doesn’t mean the district will know two-to-four years later if the student completed the program.
”I have no idea how we’re doing because there’s no data available to support looking at that,” he said.
Even with the best educational practices, the QEM the report quantified their practices by saying that ”simply collecting a set of programs, no matter how good they are, does not necessarily result in a coherent, effective system.”
Instead, building a system of highly effective schools is looked at through a broader lens. The QEM described it as a system grounded in a ”shared vision about what an individual school wants to accomplish and a common understanding of problems to be solved.”
Recommended tools to achieve this are effective teachers, strong and stable leadership, as well as coordinated support by other staff, community partners and parents.
Although Pleasant Hill doesn’t have a formal document for their shared vision, Linenberger said that all the major initiatives put out by the State are what all the superintendents across the board want to see.
Creswell’s district mission is simple: Preparing students for success. Hamilton elaborated that success is through preparing all students for college, an apprenticeship or a career.
While the QEM does look at each recommended tool for examples of success, it also lays out specific promising practices for schools. At the elementary level, it’s targeting class size and improving the transition from elementary to middle school.
In middle school, providing additional resources and better preparation for high school can have an impact on improving graduation rates.
For high school, it’s providing support in the ninth grade to ensure students earn enough credits to be on track moving forward, providing more counselors, promoting activities that foster student engagement and improving relationships with parents.
Hamilton said that although he would like to see things like class sizes in the elementary school to be smaller, the district is balancing keeping ratios like that within reason.
”The district has done a good job balancing resources and prioritizing people,” he said. ”It’s great to have better ratios, but that we have a full time music teacher at the elementary school is amazing; but it’s still not enough when you look at the 600 plus students.”
For Linenberger, the QEM in general is not a realistic goal or expectation to shoot for.
”(Former Governor John) Kitzhaber was in control of the State for years and never implemented it. Why should I go chasing that dream if he can’t make it happen?” He said. ”It’s just one of those goals that’s utopian and unreachable.”
Instead, he would like to see the State fund a pre-kindergarten program and free meals for students. He said that right now, the school charges some students and not others, and if the State could cover the costs of meals ”that would be significant.”
In Pleasant Hill specifically, his personal addition would be mental health practitioners coming to the district.
Looking ahead to the legislative session, Linenberger has already reached out to multiple legislators to do his own lobbying. His idea to allocate more funding involves the controversial Oregon’s income tax kicker.
If State revenue exceeds the close of session budget forecast by more than two percent, the surplus goes back to the taxpayers, according to an Oregon School Board Association news story. Linenberger suggests proposing to the taxpayers that the State keep the kicker and use it on paying down the PERs expenses, because that indebtedness is driving up costs in the education world.
Although he admitted it being ”radical,” beyond lobbying it to legislators he is going to hold onto the wait and see approach.
”I’m encouraged by the governor’s office to get much closer to the number we need,” he said.

The conclusion of the series will focus on Board Directors Lacey Risdal and Natalie Smathers advocating at Salem Lobby Day for Lane County.



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