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How the union saved one teacher from leaving the profession for good
Engaging my students in a suicide prevention project
In an op-ed piece for the Oregonian, Molalla High School teacher John Flavin expresses concern that the Oregon Department of Education is keeping educators in the dark about what they can expect to replace the Smarter Balanced assessment. ODE has said that a new testing model can be expected as early as next school year, but have yet to determine exactly which test they plan to require. This puts teachers in a predicament when it comes to preparing their students for the test; they can’t teach students to pass a test that they themselves have not studied.
Flavin says that since ODE chose Smarter Balanced as their statewide benchmark test in 2015, “math and English language arts teachers have scrambled to learn the test so they could prepare their students. And now, after just three years, it’s back to square one.” He suggests that ODE suspend mandating changes once a decision has been made for at least one school year to give educators the opportunity to review the new standardized test and plan their curriculum in a way that meets state requirements without sacrificing the learning needs of their students.
The Integrated Design Studio (IDS) program at Newberg High School has melded required subjects like math and language arts into a nontraditional, hands-on learning environment that creates a vision for the future of education. The course is a three-period semester-long class that is structured around learning the skills necessary to complete a community-based design project. Students learn basic construction principles, including math and language arts concepts, in the first semester. In the second semester, students in the two sections of the program must address a problem in their own community with a capstone project.
This year, students chose to tackle the housing crisis and homelessness by building two tiny houses. The program has partnered with Love INC to put the tiny houses to good use once they are complete. Principal Kyle Laier says that presenting conventional education subjects in a real-world environment gives students valuable experience that they wouldn’t get elsewhere. “Some of them have not done well in the traditional classroom and now they're getting engaged in those core subjects in a very non-traditional way,” says Laier.
Over one-third of students in Oregon identify with one or more ethnic minority groups, and the achievement gap between students of color and white students can no longer be ignored. Research overwhelmingly suggests that having just one single teacher that looks like them can greatly improve a student’s academic performance, so what can Oregon do to put more teachers of color in the classroom? The Graduate School of Education at PSU thinks we need to start from the top.
The Educational Leadership & Policy department has received a generous grant to fund their Diversifying School Leadership program. The funding will allow them to actively recruit mid-career teachers of color into their Initial Administrator Leadership program, with a special focus on recruiting from districts where the ratio of students of color to teachers or administrators of color is particularly disparate. “Administrators have a lot of influence over programs and curriculum and opportunities for culturally and linguistically diverse students,” says Susan Carlile, an associate professor involved in the program. “We’re not going to sit back and wait for people to come to us,” Carlile says. “We’re going to actively communicate and collaborate with the superintendents in those districts we identify.”
The program will help candidates through the application process, offer financial aid to make sure that there are as few barriers as possible, and provide mentorship during their transition to teaching in their first year.
The thought of going off to college after graduation can be daunting for high school students. Rising tuition costs and academic demands are some of their biggest concerns, but Western Oregon University is aiming to put those fears to rest so students can focus on their education. The Willamette Promise is a partnership between the university and local-area high schools which gives students the opportunity to earn college credit before they even set foot on campus.
Teachers collaborate with WOU faculty to align their curriculum with college-level coursework, and hold their students to grading standards used by the university. Students pay $35 per year to take as many college-level classes as they want in subjects like English, mathematics, psychology, Spanish, and biology.
Forest Grove High School students are taking full advantage of this partnership, to the tune of 1,011 WOU credits earned last year. That translates into over $200,000 in potential savings, based on current tuition rates at WOU. Principal Karen O’Neill says that many students are earning enough credit to take a year or more off their total time at university, which saves them thousands of dollars on tuition costs. Forest Grove students are also relieved that they will be able to take on a more manageable workload in college. “It will be less of a burden knowing I won’t have to take those classes again,” says Briana Larios, a junior.
The program allows students who are unsure if they are prepared for college-level classes – any student can sign up – to test the waters, oftentimes finding that they are more capable than they thought. "It helps kids understand college is within their reach. They can handle the rigor and it's encouraging,” says O’Neill.