With the Oregon Education Investment Board and its achievement compact, Governor Kitzhaber and, to a lesser extent, legislative leaders are pushing a political experiment, more political drama than substance so far, in how to or how not to improve our schools. Much is still missing. In this increasingly global economy, for example, there are no goals to increase the foreign language skills of our graduates. There are no goals on the expansive use of online education. And, unfortunately, there is no clarity as to what the processes and purposes of achievement compacts are. Are achievement compacts meant to increase accountability between the state, which puts up the funding, and local school districts? I think this is their fundamental purpose. A school district which does not reach the goals it agreed to in a contract should be penalized. Perhaps their superintendent should resign. Perhaps their Board should resign. Teachers and administrators should be fired. Change should happen. That is accountability. They said they could accomplish something, we funded them to do that, they failed, consequences should follow.
On the other hand, there is the view, shared by the Oregonian Editorial Board, that the goals in the achievement compacts are merely motivational gimmickry, part of the political drama keeping us from actual educational reform. Regrettably, the governor and legislature with their unreachable “40-40-20” goals set the initial tone as one of aspiration rather than accountability.
From the editorial “Gaming the goals: Oregon students deserve more ambitious targets” by the Oregonian Editorial Board (here):
district aims to raise that graduation rate by at least 5 percentage points a
year. That's the general in-house goal, anyway. Yet the Portland School Board
voted 4-3 on Monday to submit a lower official goal to the state
Department of Education as part of its newly required "achievement
compact" with the state. The rationale was that the district should play
it safe, since the state hasn't yet decided on consequences for districts that
fail to hit their targets.
Three board members -- Trudy Sargent, Bobbie Regan and Ruth Adkins -- correctly opposed this decision. So did the board's sole student representative. Regan and Sargent were troubled by the idea of setting unnecessarily low targets for bureaucratic reasons.
Portland isn't the only district grappling with these goals. At least one out of every three districts set such low targets in their achievement compacts that Oregon's chief education officer, Rudy Crew, had to ask them to try again. Many Oregon districts are reluctant to aim high when resources are tight and class sizes have ballooned.
But it's a mistake to treat achievement compacts as mere compliance documents rather than as expressions of community values and institutional goals. And it's risky to plan for slow, slow progress -- as if getting a good graduation rate in a decade or so is an acceptable trajectory. It isn't. Not for the kids today who're at risk of dropping out. Not when virtually all teenagers need diplomas to become self-sufficient adults -- which is the real goal, after all.