Testimony in opposition to SB 1581 before the Senate Committee on Education and Workforce Development

Opposing More Top-Down Control of Oregon Education

Chair Hass, Co-Chair Morse, and members of the Committee, my name is Steve Buckstein. I’m Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization based in Portland. Our mission is to promote policies that enhance individual liberty, personal responsibility, and economic opportunity in Oregon.

I’m here to oppose SB 1581 because I believe that the legislature is continuing to fall into the “bigger is better” trap. The goal of unifying everything from early childhood through graduate school education can’t be accomplished without pushing power and control even farther away from the people who should matter most—parents and students. This bill, by giving even partial control over a number of positions in Oregon’s public education system to the new Chief Education Officer, simply continues movement into that trap.

Before you approve any further Oregon Education Investment Board legislation, please ask yourselves how it squares with the Oregon Education Act for the Twenty-First Century, which overwhelmingly passed the legislature in 1991 when Governor Kitzhaber was President of the Senate.

It was full of new committees, new high school CIM and CAM tests (which were eventually abandoned), and a promise from the legislature that it would produce “the best educated citizens in the nation by the year 2000.” So, how did that work out?

In both 2010 and 2011, Education Week’s Annual Education Report Card gave Oregon a grade of C-. It ranked our public education system 43rd in the nation―not exactly best in the nation.

And how does this new effort square with the Quality Education Model, which then Governor Kitzhaber supported in 1999 by appointing the Quality Education Commission? The Model proposed entirely theoretical prototype elementary, middle, and high schools that, again theoretically and with enough funding, would get 90% of our kids to state standards. Does anyone really think that spending another two billion dollars this biennium, as the Model suggests, would do any such thing?

Why haven’t such big revolutionary reform efforts in the K-12 education system achieved their goals? Because, they “…suck power upward and away from parents and students into top down, centralized and inflexible political arrangements, where unions and other special interests have more political clout. This causes accountability to decline and results in higher per pupil costs and lower educational results.”*

Is the answer really to produce an even broader revolutionary reform effort, putting everything from early childhood education through graduate school into one centrally planned system?

I’m sure the Governor and the people he’s appointed to the Investment Board are very smart people. But no such group can hope to design a system that meets the needs of all Oregon children and their parents.

In conclusion, I want to quote from a 1991 Wall Street Journal column, “Education by Committee in Oregon,” in which we warned what would happen if the “revolutionary” Oregon Education Act for the Twenty-First Century went forward:

“…[T]o be ‘revolutionary,’ educational change must be systemic. It must reform the system, not just add to it. Oregon’s educational reformers are unwittingly legitimizing the very system that needs reform. Well-meaning politicians have once again increased state control over education in order to mandate desirable goals. The Oregon plan provides the nation with an important lesson in reform: how easy it is to fall into the bureaucratic trap of good intentions.”

Our 1991 critique could just as easily be said about the current “revolutionary” reforms through the Investment Board. It’s time to stop increasing state control over education and start moving accountability and control down toward parents and students.

Thank you.


* John T. Wenders, Ph.D., “Deconsolidate Oregon’s School Districts,”
Cascade Policy Institute, March 2005.


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