For 22 years, Roscoe Caron wanted to form a group to question the state’s education system.
A former Eugene School District teacher and current professor at the University of Oregon’s College of Education, Caron said he experienced firsthand how the voter-approved property tax limitation Measure 5 and the surge in standardized testing took a heavy toll on schools in the last two decades.
Passed in 1990, Measure 5 cut property tax rates by an average of 51 percent, restricting the amount school districts could tax property owners, which resulted in fewer dollars for schools.
At the same time, standardized testing has limited the types of classes offered to students, Caron said, because such tests generally focus on reading, writing and math.
In September, Caron and nine other members of the Eugene Education Association teachers union’s human and civil rights committee formed a group to organize community forums on such topics as school funding, standardized testing and the privatization of education.
The group — called Community Alliance for Public Education, or CAPE — has so far organized two public forums in a series called “Reclaiming and Renewing Our Public Education.”
The goal is to get people talking about big issues in public education, like testing and teacher evaluations, Caron said.
Ultimately, the group hopes to establish some sort of decision-making influence over state education policies.
“We view quality education as a civil right,” Caron said of the group’s 25 members. “And it’s very apparent to teachers and to so many people that there have been many detrimental changes in the quality of public education.”
The first forum, held last month, featured chief state education officer and former Springfield School District Superintendent Nancy Golden, who talked about her goals for public education in Oregon.
The group’s second forum, to be held tonight, will explore standardized testing, and feature a teacher and student from Garfield High School in Seattle.
Teachers at that school earlier this year refused to give students a reading and math test after the school district announced students’ test scores would be factored into teacher evaluations.
The Eugene Education Association and Springfield Education Association are co-sponsoring tonight’s event, which will be held at Springfield High School.
Caron described the current testing climate in classrooms as “excessive” and said teacher evaluations shouldn’t be based solely on test scores, but rather should include input from parents and students.
CAPE members include teachers and parents from the Eugene, Springfield and Bethel school districts, Caron said. Professors from the UO and from Pacific University’s campus in Eugene are also a part of the group, as are community members, he said.
At upcoming forums, the group plans to discuss the nationalized and more rigorous “Common Core” standards and teacher assessment.
The forums aren’t meant to simply criticize standardized testing or the Common Core, said John Lockhart, CAPE member and education professor at Pacific University.
CAPE wants to start a discussion about those topics, he said, and question whether current testing and evaluation practices are effective.
“I think that what this country lacks is a healthy, robust debate about the pubic education system,” he said.
Lockhart, who used to teach high school students in Portland’s David Douglas School District, said standardized testing has resulted in fewer curriculum options for students and a rash of cheating in schools.
Standardized tests don’t offer teachers much quality feedback, he said, and should not be the only method used to evaluate how much students know and how well teachers are doing their jobs.
Aside from testing, the group will also discuss the privatization of the educational system in future forums.
For example, Lockhart said he’s leery of standards, such as the Common Core, which he argues are financially supported by corporate interests, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Education “would be multibillion dollar industry,” Lockhart said. “Some corporations would love to see it privatized. It’s important we have a public dialogue about this.”
CAPE has received funding from the Eugene Education Association and the Oregon Education Association, as well as through individual donations, Caron said. Members have discussed turning the group into a nonprofit agency so as to create a more stable funding source to pay for forum speakers.
Lockhart said CAPE’s goal is to “bring you these experts … and to talk about some difficulties in the education system. We need to have discussions about what we want and what we value in the school systems that we pay for.”