Education Reform: More Than Two Decades of Involvement
OBC has a long history of working to improve public education. OBC directors, Education Task Force members, staff, and consultants have done considerable research and policy analysis on education issues, have advised elected officials on education redesign, and have served on key boards and commissions.
Oregon Learns. The Oregon Learns initiative addresses Oregon’s newest and probably its biggest challenge in overhauling public education. Between 2011 and 2014, at the behest of Governor Kitzhaber, the Oregon Legislature adopted an extensive package of measures to redesign public education from early learning to college and career readiness. OBC was involved in much of the research and policy analysis leading to these measures and recognized that implementing this much change would require the understanding, support, and involvement of policy makers and stakeholders for years to come.
Along with education, foundation, and business leaders, OBC created Oregon Learns in 2012 to help meet this need. The idea of Oregon Learns is to communicate, convene, and consult with policy makers and stakeholders on the core ideas in education redesign and how they can support its implementation and improvement to achieve better student outcomes. The vast majority of the implementation is being done by state officials, but Oregon Learns offers an independent, credible third party voice to the effort, and the ability to contribute OBC’s network of talent and resources.
CTE and STEM. In 2012 and 2013, OBC provided organizing and staff support to the Oregon STEM Employer Coalition, a coalition of business leaders advocating for greater focus on science, technology, engineering, and math education in the state’s public schools and postsecondary institutions. With OBC support, the coalition made a compelling case to legislators that resulted in adoption of HB 2636. This bill established the STEM Investment Council to assist Oregon’s Chief Education Officer in developing a strategy to double the number of 4th and 8th grade students who are proficient in science and math and to double the number of STEM college graduates by 2025. The 2013 session also made an $8 million investment for incentive grants to boost STEM education in Oregon schools.
The coalition recently expanded its focus to include Career Technical Education (CTE). The newly renamed Oregon CTE-STEM Employer Coalition is now also advocating greater state support for applied technical education in high school and postsecondary programs. Such courses offer students engaging, hands-on learning that has value whether or not they obtain a technical certificate or go on to a four-year or graduate degree. Students who do obtain such certification are in demand for well-paying jobs among Oregon industries that are suffering talent shortages from business growth and the retirement of older, skilled employees.
E3. From the late 1990s through 2010 OBC operated E3: Employers for Education Excellence, which forged partnerships between businesses and schools to make workplace learning experiences more available to high school students. The OBC Charitable Institute has succeeded E3 as OBC’s 501 (c)(3) organization for the purpose of receiving grant funds to support OBC’s public policy work. The Oregon Learns program has replaced E3 as OBC’s principal vehicle for supporting improvement in Oregon education.
Small Schools Initiative. E3 went on to operate the Oregon Small Schools Initiative for a number of years. This jointly funded effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Meyer Memorial Trust demonstrated that breaking large high schools into smaller self-contained learning communities can greatly improve learning and student achievement.
Proficiency Project. Between 2008 and 2011, OBC operated the Oregon Proficiency Project, which documented and supported efforts by Oregon schools and teachers to adopt proficiency-based teaching and learning practices. Proficiency-based education, also known as competency-based education, is gaining traction in Oregon and around the nation as a set of practices which better engage students in learning and yield better outcomes. These practices include basing student progression and credit on demonstrated acquisition of skills and knowledge pegged to high standards (rather than advancing students on seat time), using ongoing assessment as a part of the learning process, giving students greater ownership in their learning experiences, and according students a variety of learning formats and venues that work best for them.
Education Roundtable. Through the Oregon Education Roundtable, funded by the Oregon Community Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, OBC brought together thought leaders and did significant research over 2004 and 2005 to focus on Oregon’s education challenges and the overhaul needed to address them. The white papers produced in that project laid the conceptual framework for the state education reforms promoted by Governor Kitzhaber and enacted by the Legislature between 2011 and 2014.