Additional Graduation Requirement Misses the Point

Last week, Oregon’s state House passed a bill that would require students to apply for post-secondary education, the military, or an apprenticeship or to attend an informational session on a training program in order to receive their high school diploma. Bill supporters argue that this could increase the number of kids who enroll in higher education.

Yet, there is no evidence that such a program will increase enrollment in higher education. Already, 70% of U.S. students enroll in college within two years of high school graduation. But around 30% of students drop out, and many more fail to graduate on time according to the NCES, a division of the U.S. Department of Education. One major cause is that students are commonly unprepared for college-level work.

Around 40 percent of Oregon’s community college freshman enroll in remedial courses. And surveys by the NCES have found that about 1 in 4 freshmen in 4-year public universities enroll in remedial courses. Students who take remedial courses are far more likely to drop out of college. Yet startlingly, in a 2008 survey only 14% of such students thought their high school coursework had been difficult.

Rather than heap more top-heavy mandates on schools and students, the legislature would be wise to free schools to do what they are supposed to do: educate kids. And rather than manipulate children to apply for post-secondary education or the military, the legislature should empower kids to seek out and choose a high school education that will challenge them and prepare them for life.

Is Kitzhaber’s Oregon Investment Board a Good Investment in Kids’ Education?

Governor Kitzhaber is seeking to consolidate power over education. Early childhood, K-12 and post-secondary education would be overseen by a single board, the Oregon Investment Board.

Surprisingly, most of the education establishment approves of these changes, saying they will improve things at the ground level. Yet, how would shifting power upward improve educational outcomes for children at the bottom? For decades, we have tried that as the state and federal governments have gotten increasingly involved in our neighborhoods’ classrooms. Likewise, consolidating school districts to find savings and improve outcomes has not borne fruit.

But empowering individuals at the bottom – kids and parents – has made a world of difference to those on the ground level. Likewise, it has freed teachers to use their talents and passion to innovate at the classroom level. Choice programs like charter schools, vouchers and K-12 education tax credits have improved outcomes for kids, saved money and made parents happier in places like Milwaukie, Florida and Washington, D.C. Oregon parents, too, see the value of choice as waiting lists at local charter schools persist even as charter schools grow.

This issue boils down to your belief in freedom and governance. Do you believe a handful of elite individuals can determine best how to meet your children’s needs? Or do you believe that you know your children’s needs better than a distant group of bureaucrats?

Who know public schools best?

Test scores are one way to judge our public schools. But no one likely knows the condition and quality of public schools better than the teachers who work in them every day. Whether these teachers send their own children to public schools more or less frequently than their neighbors may thus be a strong indicator of how good our schools really are.

Now, an analysis of the 2000 U.S. Census Long Form data gives us this answer.* That year, 17.5 percent of all families in the nation’s fifty largest cities sent their kids to private schools, while 21.5 percent of public school teachers did the same.

In the Portland Metropolitan area the disparity was greater.** Here, only 12.7 percent of all families sent their kids to private schools, but 20 percent of public school teachers apparently decided that their children deserved a better school than their districts offered. Doing some basic grade school math shows us that, on average, teachers in the largest cities are 23 percent more likely to send their children to private schools, but inPortland, they are 57 percent more likely to do so.

Those who know our schools best are exercising school choice the most. They know that some schools are better than others. Offering all families comprehensive school choice is long overdue.

* Denis P. Doyle, Brian Diepold and David A. DeSchryver, “Where Do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?”, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, September 7, 2004,
** The Portland Metropolitan area is officially known as the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Approximately 80% of its population is in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Columbia and Yamhill counties in Oregon; the remainder is in Clark and Skamania counties in Washington. About one-third of the cities in the study, including Portland, included nearby suburban areas. Since private school enrollment is generally higher in urban areas, the urban-suburban area results in the study are likely somewhat smaller than if the researchers had been able to find urban-only data for those cities, again, including Portland.

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