On Jan. 8 the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office released an audit of Portland Public Schools and the state Department of Education that was unflattering, at best. Since then auditors have been accused of playing politics, among other things, by those whose problems the audit made public.
That’s to be expected, in part because the Secretary of State’s Office is headed by Dennis Richardson, the only Republican statewide officeholder in Oregon. Richardson’s staff began work on the audit about a year ago and released it less than two weeks before the 2019 legislative session begins.
Gov. Kate Brown wants at least $2 billion in new money for education during the coming biennium, and with both houses of the Legislature firmly in Democratic control, she’s likely to get it. If that’s true, at least the audit will have forced educators and politicians to pay attention to the serious problems it highlights.
As the audit points out, DOE does a bad job of enforcing its own rules — rules that are supposed to give the state the means to help struggling school districts improve. Too, while it is overseeing more than $1.6 billion in federal and state grants during the 2017-19 biennium, it doesn’t do a very good job ensuring money is spent wisely on things that actually work.
But the most damning takeaway for ODE is this: The state’s efforts to improve education are splintered and lack coherence. Thus in 1991 lawmakers re-created high school education in Oregon with the CIM-CAM (certificate of initial mastery and certificate of advanced mastery) program. It ended in 2007. Then, in 2011, they redrew the oversight of secondary education, setting statewide goals and creating the Oregon Education Investment Board. The board was dissolved in 2015, and the 40-40-20 goals apparently have disappeared.
Rather than dissing the audit as a partisan attack on education, lawmakers should use it to shape their discussions about Oregon education. They must fight the temptation to redo a system that’s been redone too many times already and concentrate on making this one work.