A council appointed by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recommends major changes to how the state trains and supports teachers.
Research shows that the quality of teachers is the most important part of a child's education. A new report from the Governors Council on Educator Advancement targets a teaching initiative that started three years ago.
Oregon legislators launched the Network of Quality Teaching and Learning in 2013. It allocated to the Network of Quality Teaching and Learning Fund $45.6 million for the two-year budget cycle from 2013-15. The network's 2015 report to the Legislature said it provided 300 organizations with more than 1,200 grants. A map of allocations submitted at the same time found the grant awards heavily concentrated in population centers like Multnomah and Washington counties, with far less money going to rural areas such as Lake and Josephine counties.
Funding has continued in the 2015-17 biennium, though with lower funding levels and fewer priority areas, according to the Council on Educator Advancement report.
The council’s report concluded that the Network of Quality Teaching and Learning needs new direction.
"[C]urrent levels of funding and competitive grant award processes have been inadequate in supporting all educators in Oregon," the report stated.
The goals remain largely the same as those identified in previous discussions about the shortcomings of Oregon's teacher workforce. The latest examination from the Governor's Council used a familiar approach in Oregon education, with a focus on equitable outcomes for all student demographic groups and an emphasis on collaborating across "fragmentation and silos" in pursuit of a more seamless education system. Gov. Brown pulled together primarily working teachers and administrators to provide recommendations — a process similar to what former Gov. John Kitzhaber used to chart a new course for how Oregon approaches the controversial topic of standardized tests and assessments.
The goals remain familiar: mentoring new teachers and administrators, making training relevant to classrooms, and diversifying the teaching ranks.
The Council's report offers numerous strategies to help reach those goals. For instance:
1) To diversify the teaching ranks, the report suggested offering college-credit education courses as early as high school for students of color who aspire to be teachers and then prioritizing financial aid (such as loan forgiveness programs) for students who go on to earn teaching credentials and enter the classroom.
2) To help teachers and administrators early in their careers, the report focused on supporting educators in schools serving low-income families. The report said that about one of every three first-year teachers in Oregon worked at a high poverty school, but "only 36 percent of the state's high poverty schools received state mentoring funding — leaving the majority of new teachers without support. Furthermore, the distribution of mentoring funds through competitive grants has often precluded participation by all districts."
The inequity of distribution, particularly as it relates to small, rural districts and high poverty schools pointed to the report's most sweeping proposal: the creation of a public-private group to supervise spending of the Network of Teaching and Learning dollars, rather than a state-supervised grant program. The report found such a shift was also needed to make the investments more sustainable. It argued that two-year competitive grant cycles force school districts to compete, rather than collaborate, and show results quickly, rather than invest in long-term improvements.
The report's tenth and final recommendation would create this new structure, called the Educator Advancement Intergovernmental Coalition. It would "be appointed with membership representing Early Childhood educators, school-based educators, state agency designees, partners with educator resources to leverage." The coalition would be responsible for distributing not just state money allocated by the Legislature, but also possible federal Title II money directed to educator learning — as well as private dollars that the coalition could seek from philanthropic foundations or individuals.
The coalition would no longer use a competitive grant process that the Governor's Council argued tended to favor some school districts over others. Instead, the proposed coalition would lean heavily on advice from educators. They would be part of the coalition itself, and they would sit on local committees, called Regional Educator Networks, convened to identify local priorities that are most in need of financial support.
Council members concluded the report by acknowledging that moving ahead with the coalition proposal should "be intentional in vetting their actions and decisions," but also underscored "an urgency in implementing the recommendations in this report in support of one of Oregon's most valuable resources: our educators."
The recommendations have already garnered support from one Oregon non-profit that's focused for years on teacher quality — the foundation-backed Chalkboard Project.
“In convening this educator-led council, the governor has acknowledged the importance of including teachers in decision making around their profession,” said Sue Hildick, Chalkboard Project president. “We have learned through our work in districts that teacher engagement and leadership are critical.”
The introduction of non-state dollars may prove one of the more pivotal aspects of Oregon's teacher improvement efforts, at least in the near future. Oregon revenue forecasts show budget shortfalls facing the 2017 legislature, likely putting a tight rein on money the state can invest in services, such as improving the quality of teaching in the state's public schools.