Oregon’s education reform experiments are among the boldest and most comprehensive in the country, but the Feds are throwing a wrench in the works. Since 2011, the state has been pursuing an ambitious “40-40-20 plan,” which aims to have 40 percent of the state’s adults holding a bachelor’s degree, 40 more holding an associate’s degree, and the remaining 20 with a high school diploma or equivalent in the next 15 years. This ambitious goal naturally involves a major overhaul of the state’s education system, one that de-emphasizes standardized tests.That’s where the state runs into conflict with the Obama administration, which is threatening to revoke the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind because it hasn’t implemented higher standards for teachers and principals in its teacher evaluations. As the Corvallis Gazette-Times editorializes:
State officials have said they have no interest in creating a system that evaluates teachers primarily on the basis of standardized test results – one of the big knocks against No Child Left Behind. So more than two dozen school districts have been piloting different approaches, and the state Education Department will evaluate the results and make a recommendation to the federal government by May 1.We like the state’s approach considerably more than the one-size-fits-all approach laid out in No Child Left Behind. But the onus now is on state educational officials to persuade a skeptical federal government that their approach makes the most sense for Oregon students and teachers – and to keep giving Oregon the space it needs for its educational reforms to take root.
We aren’t entirely convinced that Oregon’s 40-40-20 idea is the right framework, in part because measures intended to realize that goal could wind up taking away too much autonomy from local schools. But we’re glad to see Oregon making subject proficiency the educational priority rather than hours spent in the classroom, and are intrigued by its efforts to do away with college loans. In general, states should be allowed to experiment with different approaches, giving everyone a chance to see what works and what doesn’t. When federal policies keep states and cities from running their schools as they judge is best, that potentially dynamic process grinds to a halt.