As Student Success In Oregon Plummets, Teachers’ Unions Deserve Blame

As Student Success In Oregon Plummets, Teachers’ Unions Deserve Blame

When it comes to public education in Oregon, the Oregon Education Association (OEA) makes a bold promise: “to provide the basic right of great public education to every student.” The union’s direct involvement in school closures and watering down basic graduation requirements, however, indicates the opposite. In truth, the OEA has played an essential role in the deterioration of Oregon’s public schools.

COVID School Shutdowns

In response to the COVID pandemic, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, whom OEA endorsed, ordered the statewide closure of schools for over a year. During the first six weeks of Brown’s shutdowns, no online alternative was offered to students enrolled in public schools. In response, thousands of Oregon families began the process of transferring their children to Oregon’s online charter school programs. 

That is, until the OEA stepped in. Citing a 2011 law that sets a three percent enrollment cap for students transferring to online education in the state, the OEA argued that even a one-half-of-one-percent increase would redirect $55.5 million from district budgets. Siding with the OEA, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) not only placed a temporary hold on virtual education enrollment, but included all publicly funded online schools in statewide closures despite zero risk of COVID exposure.

Further, email correspondence reveals that the OEA not only developed a set of strict standards for return to in-person instruction for the ODE, but requested that the state “put pressure” on Oregon school districts to adopt similar requirements preventing students from returning to the classroom. 

The effects of OEA-sanctioned school closures continue to weigh down Oregon students. Data from the Nation’s Report Card ranks Oregon among the top 10 states in the nation for pandemic learning loss in both reading and math. In addition, students experiencing anxiety and depression in the state climbed to 40 percent from 2016 to 2020. 

Graduation Requirement Suspensions

Prior to the pandemic, Oregon students were required to demonstrate basic proficiency in reading, writing, and math through statewide standardized testing. Naturally, learning loss caused by school closures led to lower test scores. But instead of focusing on helping students get back on track academically, the Oregon Board of Education discarded standardized testing graduation requirements entirely through the 2023-2024 school year.

The OEA played an active role in the passage of legislation that authorized the suspension of graduation requirements. A member of the OEA’s Special Education Committee boasted that the committee “helped to develop…and helped OEA pass…Senate Bill 744 during the last legislative session” to address “several equity concerns” surrounding Oregon’s graduation requirements. On October 19, the Board of Education voted unanimously to extend the OEA-endorsed suspension through the 2027-2028 school year.

While graduation rates in Oregon have unsurprisingly skyrocketed, the value of a high school diploma in the state has plummeted. In the 2021-2022 school year, just 43 percent of students were proficient in English, while only 30.6 percent of students were proficient in math. 

Continued School Closures

As if a year of school closures wasn’t enough, roughly 45,000 students in Oregon’s largest school district continue to lose out on instructional time due to the Portland Association of Teachers’ (PAT) inaugural strike

In addition to typical demands such as increased salaries and smaller class sizes, the union’s proposal includes fringe stipulations that have little to do with education, such as district support for first time house buyers, housing assistance for families, and professional development with a focus on “addressing implicit bias, anti-racism, and culturally responsive practices.” 

The union’s demands come with an enormous price tag and would require the district to come up with an additional $372 million over the next three years. If the OEA affiliate refuses to budge, Portland Public Schools may need to fire up to 300 current teachers to balance the district budget. 

The OEA’s demands are not only financially “irresponsible,” according to Oregon Governor Tina Kotek, but could keep Portland students out of the classroom for weeks or longer

OEA And The Future Of Oregon Education

As student success continues to decline in Oregon, it’s clear that the Oregon Education Association has broken its promise to ensure “great public education” for students. In truth, every action that the OEA has taken regarding school closures and graduation requirements has solidified the deterioration of public education on the taxpayer’s dime.

The OEA’s willingness to leave students behind is in stark contrast to its mission statement and begs the question of which promise the OEA will break next. OEA members, parents, and the Board of Education need to take a closer look at the union’s impact on education and act accordingly. The future of Oregon’s students depends on it.

Jason Dudash is the Northwest Director of the Freedom Foundation.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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