There’s something of a united front in the state when it comes to education. That’s one of the findings of the Oregon Values and Beliefs Project, a wide-reaching collection of surveys designed to take the pulse of Oregonians on issues that matter to them.
Eighty-percent of Oregonians in every region of the state, from Medford to Portland to Baker City, say public education is an important service. It’s the one service that a majority says is “very important.”
It’s a message state Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton, appreciates.
“I think that’s affirming certainly, and I think people are recognizing that your educational attainment is the greatest predictor now of your opportunity to be financially successful,” Saxton said.
Oregonians also agree on what they want improved. More than 80 percent want more civics and financial education. And 90 percent want parents to be more involved in their kids’ education.
But do people think those improvements are going to happen? In a word: No.
On parent involvement, civics education and financial training, only 20 to 26 percent think improvements are “likely to occur.”
DHM Research founding principal Adam Davis said the pessimism also showed up in responses to a basic question about whether people of different backgrounds can find common ground to solve a range of problems.
“Desirability? 84 percent,” Davis said. “Likelihood? 42 percent.”
Davis said he’s finding more pessimism and less trust of government than in previous ten-year surveys. “We’re hearing more about that today, and that takes some of the air out of education.”
Saxton suggested that past reform efforts may be turning people off, too. But Saxton said the state saw benefits from Oregon’s graduation certificates of the 1990’s and the federal No Child Left Behind law.
“As an educator, when I look at them, I see some things that really moved us down the road, and that the amount of learning that our students have, as compared prior to 1990, is significantly higher,” he said.
DHM’s last “values survey” was in 2002. Oregon’s economy had stalled in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack, and education activists were trying to avoid budget cuts.
Portland school board member Bobbie Regan was in the thick of it.
“Back then, I was one of the founders of the group called HOPE - Help Out Public Education,” Regan said. “And it was an enormously exciting time - parents marching across bridges, looking for bridge funding to get us through the next financial crisis. And again, we’ve taken an unfortunate deep cut as a nation in terms of our resources. But I am still full of hope.”
Regan said she hears a mix of pessimism and hope about public schools. She says Oregonians may not realize how students learn civics through service learning and constitution teams, or how parent engagement is changing with more grandparents and foreign language speaking families.
Regan has a suggestion for the pessimists in Portland: Come to the sparsely-attended meetings to design four brand-new public schools.
“This is the first time in 40, 50 years that Portland has built a new high school,” Regan said. “It’s such an incredible opportunity. And I wish that people would take the opportunity to come out and talk to us about what they envision for these future high schools, because they won’t look like the high schools we have now.”
Oregon is overhauling public education from early childhood through college.
The results from the new survey suggest people have doubts about government’s ability to deliver on far less ambitious efforts.
School leaders, like Bobbie Regan and Rob Saxton, say when they’re able to really talk to people about proposals for schools, Oregonians see the value.