Don’t follow Portland school district’s lead


The recent deal between the city, county and school district and teachers’ union restored 24 days to the school year, but it is not a model for other cities and school districts to emulate. The city and county’s intervention sidetracked the school board from efforts to control spending and improve education.

Much attention will focus on the failure to control health care costs, despite various ways to reduce spending and give employees greater discretion over benefits. There is another important area overlooked by many observers.

Administrators wanted greater discretion over teacher placement to supposedly improve education quality, but the change was opposed by the union and did not happen. Assuming the school boards wants to improve education two conclusions follow: 1) changes in teacher assignment would not raise achievement; or, 2) teacher assignment would improve schools, and the board dropped the ball. Neither is comforting.

Teachers are justified in opposing administrative fiat over employment, but principals shouldn’t have to employ ineffective teachers or give priority to in-district teachers. The best approach is to let teachers apply to any school and let principals select the best-qualified applicants. The central office can hold schools accountable for performance, but it doesn’t need to control personnel decisions.

Those outside of Portland should not be jealous about the city and county effectively sharing management of the district with the school board. More cooks in the kitchen will not improve education, and the outside meddling perpetuated Portland’s high cost structure and poorly designed employment policies.

Nick Weller is an education policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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