Back in March, I wrote about the “achievement compacts” being instituted by the Oregon Education Investment Board to set performance goals for districts. Subsequently, you may recall that Rudy Crew, former chief of New York City and Miami public schools, was appointed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, to the post of chief education officer in the state, and that state superintendent Susan Castillo announced her resignation soon after the announcement of Crew’s appointment.
Among Crew’s duties was to exercise oversight of these compacts, which the districts would submit for investment board approval, and which the state said had to be sufficiently rigorous. It looked like Crew would have a lot of latitude in instituting the reforms Kitzhaber and others are interested in, and he has authority over preschool through college.
What’s the result? After reviewing compacts submitted by districts, according to a report in The Oregonian, Crew has announced that the districts have set their performance goals too low, and that they need to be “more aggressive and more thoughtful” about their compacts. Crew said he saw a pattern of low-goal-setting across the state’s 197 districts that mirrored an analysis done by the newspaper. This analysis showed that in 25 of the state’s largest districts, expectations for performance on measures such as third-grade reading scores and graduation rates, many expected only 1-percentage-point increases or none at all next year. In some areas, districts projected performance drops.
If you listen to the audio in reporter Betsy Hammond’s excellent piece, Crew says that those projected performance drops wouldn’t “pass muster” with him. He said he assumes that district officials either wanted to be safe and then “crow” about beating those low expectations, or else truly did not believe that they could meet significantly-higher goals.
“In a word, it lacks leadership,” he said, adding that he could ask districts in the end to set targets higher.
But there’s good reason for those less-than-ideal numbers, say Oregon school administrators: They haven’t had a lot of time to set goals, they said, and lacked reliable data to back those up. In addition, flat or declining funding has hurt their ability to meet higher goals, and some districts have had to cut teachers and school days, they say. The governor’s education advisor, Ben Cannon, told me in March that the governor’s office foresaw similar districts competing with each other to set the highest goals, instead of setting relatively low ones. That prediction appears to be at least somewhat off-base.
Clearly, Crew isn’t afraid to talk tough to the districts, although he did acknowledge that some additional funding will be needed to sustain the new compacts. (There are no consequences for districts not meeting these goals in the future, at least not yet.) Will some districts try to stare Crew down, or will all of them end up setting higher performance targets?
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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.