Sam Carpenter on Education

“Every year, Oregon spends more and more on education – and every year, Oregon schools continue to fail. Money isn’t the problem. The educational system itself is the problem, and it needs to be changed.” – Sam Carpenter

In 2017, Oregon had the third worst high school graduation rate in the nation – ahead of only Nevada and New Mexico. A quarter of Oregon high school students do not graduate. In comparison, only 9% of Iowa students do not graduate. In addition, Oregon students lag in test scores and preparation for college and the workforce.

Governor Kate Brown has referred to the state’s low graduation rate as “dismal” and has attributed the low national ranking to the “under investment” in Oregon’s public schools. And yet, Oregon’s education spending has increased steadily. The $8.2 billion for education in the 2017-2019 Oregon budget is the single largest expenditure of state funds – and doesn’t even take into account the additional funding from federal grants and local taxation. Oregon schools receive almost as much federal and local funding as they do state funding. All told, Oregon schools last budget received over $13,000 per student – above the national average – and that’s before this year’s spending increases. But only about half of that spending makes it into classrooms.

Oregon’s schools are failing. Throwing money at them is not the solution. Half the money we spend is wasted on administrative overhead that does nothing to put good teachers into schools or provide resources to students. The education system is broken and needs to be repaired.

Nearly half of education spending in Oregon is wasted on administrative overhead. A significant chunk of that is due to ongoing PERS liability. Reforming PERS alone will free up hundreds of millions of dollars in the biennial education budget. In addition, there is tremendous bloat at the top – schools and school districts have needless layers of bureaucracy that do little to further the actual mission of the schools: educating our children.

Oregon is ranked 5th worst in terms of students per teacher, at 20 to 1. In contrast, the national average is approximately 15 to 1. By reducing administrative overhead and shifting spending to the classroom, we can increase the number of teaching staff without increasing the budget.

Our working professionals – doctors, lawyers, engineers, skilled laborers, and veterans – have a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to offer our children. Many would like to transition from their profession into teaching as a way to give back to the community – but are put off by restrictive teacher credentialing requirements that limit the pool of qualified teachers. The requirement to obtain an additional “education” degree – which also requires a period of student teaching or experience working in a classroom environment – means additional years of expensive schooling and unpaid work on top of a professional’s existing education and work experience. This isn’t necessary.

A doctor should be essentially qualified to teach a high school health class. A lawyer should be essentially qualified to teach a high school civics class. An engineer should be essentially qualified to teach a high school math or science class. A skilled laborer should be essentially qualified to teach a high school vocational class. And our veterans possess many skills and experiences above and beyond other professionals – and can provide our youth with wisdom and insight about service to their community and their country.

Teachers have a difficult job, and most of our teachers perform admirably. But even a good and noble profession has a few members who cause problems. Unfortunately, the evolution of our educational system has produced too many barriers to holding the problem teachers accountable. We support tenure reform and periodic performance review to ensure schools have the ability to act when problems arise.

Moreover, it will be easier to replace those few problem teachers with new staff from an expanded pool of teachers. This cycle of continuous improvement will lift up the entire educational system.

Almost everything each of us spends money on is the result of a choice. Competition forces producers to improve their quality and lower their costs to win your business. But when it comes to schools for our children, most of us have no choice. Private school tuition is an expense many cannot afford, and moving to a better school district – which usually entails paying considerably more for housing – is an impossibility. Most Oregonians are stuck sending their children to the public schools in their local communities, even if those schools are failing. Moreover, even if you are able to make the choice to provide a private school education for your children, you are still paying taxes towards your local public school. And that means these schools have no incentive to continuously improve to win – and keep – your business.

When you want to buy a car, you can go to a dealership in a bigger city where there are more options and lower prices. When you shop for your household, you can go to the Walmart down the street, or drive all the way across town to an upscale mall, or go online to Amazon or a myriad of other options. But when it comes to educating your children, you are stuck with the school based on your home address, because that’s the school designated by the government to receive the funding. This shouldn’t be. Everyone should have freedom to choose where they do business – especially when that business is education.

We support school voucher programs. A voucher would allow a parent to designate a particular school to receive that parent’s share of tax funding. This could be used to enroll a student in a different public school district. It could also be used to pay tuition to a private school. This will create competition, which will force schools to improve in order to thrive. It will also give parents the same freedom they have with every other expense: freedom to choose what is best for them and their children.

Not all students do best in a traditional classroom setting. Not all educators perform best working under the same cookie-cutter bureaucracy. Alternative schools provide both teachers and students the opportunity to do new and different things to produce better educational outcomes. They also allow innovation on a small scale to test new ideas and measure results before rolling out across the educational system. We support expansion of alternative schooling options and providing more flexibility to schools pursuing new methods – with strong accountability for outcomes and encouragement to share success.

There is too much top-down management from Salem (and DC) and not enough local control and oversight from school boards. What works in Salem or Portland might not work in Astoria, Burns, La Grande, Coos Bay, or Klamath Falls. Sam Carpenter believes in moving as much control as possible back to local communities, where parents can take an active role in their children’s education, free from the shackles of bureaucracy.

While schools devote more and more class time to concepts like environmentalism, diversity, and sex and gender study, students continue to fall behind on basic subjects of reading, writing, arithmetic, science, history, arts, and civics. We believe schools should return to these proven fundamentals – and teach them without any political or social agenda. School should be the center for learning facts, logic, and reasoning – not opinion and indoctrination.

Our schools have become indoctrination centers where parents are excluded from social experimentation on their children. Children are instructed as early as kindergarten on subjects such as sexuality and gender fluidity. Students are taught to oppose traditional values and that progressive far left ideas are “normal.” And leftist ideology on subjects such as global warming, war and peace, foreign relations, drugs, guns, and even the validity of our constitutionally elected President are presented as absolute truth without any exposure to alternative views. Parents often have no idea what is taught – and schools and school boards actively keep parents out of the loop.

Even more alarming is the trend turning Oregon’s educational institutions into social service agencies, providing all services to students while at school, including medical exams, treatments, and pharmaceutical drugs without knowledge or consent of parents. Believing the obligation to inform parents and obtain their consent is a significant barrier, many Oregon school boards are giving the nod to providing reproductive health services for all students without parental knowledge or consent.

We find these radical policies in our schools appalling. The governor must appoint a Superintendent of Public Instruction who shares his/her beliefs to restore parental rights in education, keeping politicization out, and basic morality in. We must limit school clinic services to basic healthcare. We must return minor rights to reasonable protection, not emancipation for rebellious teens. And we must return the purpose of schools to educational institutions, not social service agencies. Parents’ rights in education MUST be restored.

Education for non-English-speaking students costs Oregon upwards of $600 million each year, and foreign-language students lag behind their English-speaking peers in test scores and academic achievement. Rather than teach students in foreign languages for years, Oregon should require English-language immersion to bring students to English fluency quickly – then transition them into regular English-language instruction. Every student should graduate able to speak, read, and write English fluently.

No student should graduate from high school unprepared to enter the workforce. While some students go from high school to college, too many are thrust into the adult world, unable to compete for employment and unable to succeed in a trade school. Students lack a foundation in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – necessary to succeed in many careers and vocational programs. Every student should graduate ready to earn a living – even if going to college. Sometimes, the student on the academic path runs into a life-changing situation and must go to work.

We believe Oregon schools should provide students with sufficient vocational training to provide entry-level skills into the workforce, in addition to the academic training for college and beyond.

Oregon schools are failing. The system is broken. It must be fixed. And the changes must come now, before we throw another dime towards a broken system.

“A few years ago, IBM ran a humorous television commercial depicting a business problem as a quest for the knights of King Arthur: a giant ‘sloth’ threatening business needed to be slain – as a knight would slay a dragon. The solution a knight came up with was to build a giant catapult to hurl ‘mighty projectiles’ at the monster – as he heaved a bag of gold onto the Round Table. King Arthur sighed as he realized he needed a better solution than ‘throwing money at the problem.’ Oregon’s schools are the giant sloth – threatening our future, as our children enter adulthood unprepared for work, college, and adult responsibility. Throwing money at the problem isn’t a solution. Oregon needs a new educational system.” – Sam Carpenter