27 May

With OEIB, one more sweeping Oregon vision is swept away

R.I.P., OEIB.

Last week, without even a playing of “Taps” – we don’t have that much music in our schools these days – the governor and the legislature quietly dumped the Oregon Education Investment Board over the side. The board’s demise was collateral damage in the implosion of its patron, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, and its end came quickly; like too many Oregon high-school students, the board didn’t even complete a four-year career.

OEIB, we hardly knew ye.

But the abandonment of such a major effort – a blue-ribbon committee of 13 prominent Oregonians, chaired by the governor, intended to make shrewd decisions transforming all of Oregon education from birth through graduate school – deserves some sort of ceremony. Admittedly, a eulogy couldn’t have much to say about the career and achievements of the OEIB – a funeral needs to last long enough to let the pallbearers catch their breath – but perhaps we could say something about the attitude behind the board.

The OEIB was yet another expression of the indomitable Oregon spirit that says we’re not really going to fund education, but the brilliance of our restructuring strategies will cause us to triumph anyway. It’s hard to pinpoint a birth date for that spirit, but the OEIB was preceded in death by its siblings the Certificate of Initial Mastery, the Certificate of Advanced Mastery, the State Board of Higher Education and the chancellor’s office.

Nobody has lately seen much of another sibling, educational compacts that required institutions to pledge to meet certain standards; we’ve kind of lost touch since people realized there was no penalty for failing to fulfill a compact and no benefit for succeeding. We’re obliged to note that an even more aspirational cousin, 40-40-20 – the pledge that by 2025 40 percent of Oregonians would have at least a four-year college degree, and another 40 percent at least a two-year degree – at the moment doesn’t look very healthy.

Unlike OEIB, 40-40-20 may never be officially proclaimed dead; we’ll just lose sight of it, and eventually even stop sending Christmas cards.

In previous inspiring restructurings, the Certificate of Initial Mastery and the Certificate of Advanced Mastery were part of the 1991 Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century, which barely survived into the century it was named after. Like OEIB, it was intended to transform Oregon education, envisioning both universal preschool and high school graduates bearing dazzling portfolios instead of boring transcripts.

During the 1990s, this expansive restructuring was combined with repeated budget cuts.

Somehow, it didn’t work.

The Certificate of Initial Mastery now survives only in some old graduation photos, reflected in some honorific cords carrying a significance nobody can remember. The requirements for the Certificate of Advanced Mastery were adopted just in time for the entire program to be dropped in 2008, although the state then promised that “Oregon schools will make the transition to a new and more meaningful high school diploma with rigorous standards and assessments and personalized learning that prepares each student for their next steps – advanced learning, work, and citizenship.”

One more vision, no more money.

Oregon’s recent restructuring of its university system was actually driven by the prospect of getting more money into higher education – specifically, by the University of Oregon’s belief that it could raise a lot more money disconnected from the other universities. But we then moved to a complete restructuring of the system and an end to central coordination and support, although there’s no reason to think it improves the financial situation of all universities – and it takes a notable bite out of several.

Of course, not all of Oregon’s hopeful educational restructurings have been so sweeping. Toward the end of his first term, in 1998, John Kitzhaber had a plan to link any additional school funding to demonstrated student performance. It was an ambitious, bold, far-seeing new vision for Oregon education, even if Senate President Brady Adams, R-Grants Pass, couldn’t quite see how it was going to work.

“I’m all for motherhood and apple pie,” agreed Adams, “but how much does it cost to bake the pie?”

This is, of course, the question that we never want to ask about any of our bold new visions and creative restructurings. Instead, we cling to the idea that with bursts of imagination and punchy initials, we can transcend our steady decline into below-average K-12 funding and bottom-bumping higher education funding.

Does it work?

As we were reminded last week, whatever our snappy codings – OEIB, CIM, CAM, OUS, 40-40-20 – we seem to end up with the same initials:

DOA.

Note: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 5/27/15.