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Oregon education adrift.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Nancy Golden never intended to play more than a supporting role in Oregon's education reform effort, but she became one of its key leaders by default. And when Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday that Golden was retiring as chief education officer, it amounted to an admission that the reform program had become rudderless - if indeed it had ever had a rudder at all.

Pulling the public education system up from mediocrity should be the state's top priority. And in next year's elections, Oregonians should seek legislators and a governor who have practical ideas for how to do it.

Golden's departure was preceded by Rob Saxton's resignation in April as deputy superintendent of education. The governor became Oregon's superintendent of education after the Legislature abolished the superintendency as an elective position in 2011. The deputy superintendent is supposed to be implement the governor's policies as the person in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Oregon Department of Education.

The chief education officer is supposed to coordinate education at all levels, from preschool through college, working as the Oregon Education Investment Board's executive. The new position and the investment board, also created by the Legislature in 2011, got off to a rocky start when the first chief education officer, Rudy Crew, left after little more than a year of flamboyant and high-paid unproductivity.

Gov. John Kitzhaber asked Golden, a former superintendent of the Springfield School District who had become a key education adviser, to succeed Crew at a much lower salary and get the investment board's coordination effort back on track.

Exactly how the lines of authority run between the deputy superintendent and the chief education officer, and from them to the state's classrooms, college campuses and preschool programs, never has been clear. The idea of improved coordination and smoother transitions among the various levels of education makes intuitive sense. But school districts and community colleges are governed by locally elected boards, while universities were given autonomous boards of trustees at the very moment they were expected to become units of a seamlessly united larger enterprise.

The one person who really understood how the system was supposed to work, and to whom both Golden and Saxton reported, was Kitzhaber - and he resigned in February amid allegations of influence peddling. The Legislature abolished the investment board not long after Kitzhaber left office, with no visible opposition from Brown. Golden's position increasingly looked like one with a lot of responsibility but not much authority.

It takes time for educational reforms to take hold and begin to show measurable results. But the reforms have been in place long enough to give rise to an uneasy sense that all the rearrangements of bureaucratic boxes at the top of the education system haven't made much difference where it counts - in student performance. Oregonians should not allow a focus on the structure of the education system to distract them from improving the quality of what the system delivers.

Right now, what it's delivering is not good enough. The state's education system at all levels shows poor to mediocre results - a surefire prescription for long-term social and economic stagnation.

Kitzhaber's reforms do not appear to have turned things around. The state needs a vision for real progress from leaders with the honesty to say that it will be painful, expensive or both.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 25, 2015
Previous Article:Hanging in the balance.
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