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Yikes, it looks like the OEA’s recommended candidate for Governor is in for a tough uphill primary battle.  These numbers don’t look promising.  Good luck, Bill.

Rogue Pundit reads the same Register Guard endorsement of Maurer that I did- but comes to a vastly different conclusion. He writes,

However, we need–and deserve–more than a placeholder.  If nothing else, it’s time to remind our Democratic leadership that they need to do more than demonize Republicans and promise fealty to the government unions to earn our votes.

What, exactly, does Maurer propose to do that will make him more than a placeholder?  And how exactly will he get any of this done?

In a move that I find both disappointing and shocking, the Eugene Register Guard endorsed Ron Maurer’s campaign to be Oregon’s next Superintendent of Public Schools.  Having heard both speak, and talked at length with Supt. Castillo, I have some issues with the RG’s endorsement.

Regarding Maurer:

Maurer, 47, has some conventional qualifications for the office that Castillo lacks. He has a Ph.D. in education from Northern Illinois University…

Those of us in Education know the value of a Ph.D in education.  It’s not much.  I’m not sure it’s actually a benefit given the sorry state of education schools around the country.  This is not to say that Susan Castillo’s bachelor’s in communications is particularly noteworthy, I’m just pointing out that a Ph.D in Education isn’t as useful as it sounds.

He believes there ought to be a “healthy tension” between the superintendent and the school employees’ unions, a tension that does not exist under Castillo.

This is just wrong.  There’s a huge tension between the school employee unions and Castillo.  Virtually no local associations signed onto Oregon’s Race to the Top grant application.  Castillo is routinely (and roughly) questioned by teachers all across Oregon.

The RG criticizes Castillo’s pursuit of stable and adequate funding for education:

One primary difference between Castillo and Maurer boils down to money. Castillo believes the shortcomings of Oregon’s educational system — a stubbornly high dropout rate, crowded classrooms and poor showings in national rankings — could be addressed with more resources, or at least a more stable system of school finance. Maurer believes the school system ought to make better use of available resources.

Are you kidding me?  A Superintendent for Public Instruction should do everything in his/her power to get stable and adequate funding for schools and the RG is criticizing Supt. Castillo for doing just this?

And here’s the crux of it all:

As with the matter of money, Maurer’s orientation toward doing more with less could be a good fit with the times — particularly given his thoughtful, pragmatic manner.

Awesome.  More unfunded mandates.  Districts all across Oregon cut school days this year.  Teachers were fired in huge numbers.  Class sizes are huge.  Arts education is nearly dead.  Vocational training is too.  How, exactly, can we do more?  Should I just work for free (more than I already do, grading papers and planning late at night)?

So many believe that if educators would just do more with less, things would work out.  This is simply ridiculous.  I don’t agree with everything Supt. Castillo does, but her advocacy for a stable and adequate funding is enough to get my vote.  Especially when compared to Maurer’s vague “Do more with less”.

Does anyone think that Google and Oregon’s announcement today regarding Google Apps for Ed being free in Oregon is anything but a political maneuver by Supt. of Public Instruction Susan Castillo?  She’s in a reasonably tough election that will be decided in less than a month.  The Oregon/Google deal is giving her fantastic press state (and nation) wide.

Most students (and teachers) can’t even access Google’s non-search services from school computers so it’s going to be a massive switch for school districts to get on board with this.  Computers in my district will need massive upgrades to run the javascript that powers Gmail.  District bandwidth is restricted. School cultures don’t encourage the kind of collaboration that Google offers with Docs and Chat.

But, Susan’s definitely gotten a whole lot of positive, free name recognition and is now far closer to re-election than before.  She’s still way better than her opponent in this race, but this whole deal reeks of politics.  Is this, by chance, another instance where Oregon’s Department of Education talks a good talk but isn’t really looking out for the students of our state?

That said, I still welcome our Google Overlords.

News breaks today that Oregon has signed up to utilize Google Apps for K-12 email, document collaboration and calendaring services.  Districts do not have to adopt Google services, and many may choose to continue providing their IT systems, but at the bargain price of free I’d imagine many Districts are going to seriously consider a switch.

Privacy concerns abound but, with the recent fiasco regarding webcam pictures in Philadelphia I’m not sure that Google is inherently any less secure than the in house options we’ve got already.  I understand not wanting Google to own every piece of data created in our schools but unless students are managing their own data on personal thumb drives, I think Google is as secure (or more secure) than District based solutions.  I’m not sure why I’d trust the guy across town who currently manages my network to not pry into my students’ personal details more than a faceless Google employee who doesn’t know (or care about) any of my students.

And, as a service, I’d love to be able to collaborate with students on documents using Google Docs.  Just getting each student a reliable, fast email service is a huge win.  Any district knows that email is a huge technical headache- outsourcing (for free) to Google is a no brainer.

Savings for Oregon are estimated at 1.5M a year.  I find that number shockingly low and won’t be surprised if it’s far higher, once staff who previously administered these systems are eliminated.  1.5M is roughly 15-20 tech employees (with benefits) and I can imagine cutting more than 15 positions as a result of Google Apps.  Additional savings from servers, software and disk space probably aren’t as significant as personnel costs, but they add up.

Now, if I only had a computer lab with systems capable of adequately opening Gmail.

I, for one, welcome our Google Overlords.

Much has been (and will be) said about Portland’s proposed redistricting.  A significant debate about high school size is playing out in the redistricting plan and Portland has strongly sided with “smaller” neighborhood schools. Put simply, smaller schools offer a more tight knit community, while larger ones offer more diverse elective offerings.

I’m sure you can find examples of successful large and small high schools around the state, which leads me to think that the Deputy Superintendent of the Beaverton schools has it right when she says:

…good teaching trumps school size. She urges Portland to give teachers enough time to plan and collaborate for how they will increase the rigor at every high school.

“Kids love their teachers. There is nothing as important as a good teacher,” Boly said. “Teachers have to be supported throughout this change and they’ll make it work.” 

Frankly, I think the school size argument is a non-starter.  Fill a school with good teachers and good things will happen.  Get community involvement and great things will happen.

I have some real concerns about the changes going on at Benson Polytechnic– Career and Technical Education works best over four years and I’m not sure how the two year program that’s being proposed is going to work.  I wish Portland had made a real commitment to CTE, rather than proposing a 1/2 time program that’s going to have transportation and enrollment issues.  Those looking for a testbed for CTE will probably need to look elsewhere as Portland isn’t really giving it a fair chance here.

For too long, I’ve been reading uninformed newspaper articles (or, even worse, the comments on those articles) and have threatened to start a blog focused on teaching and education policy within Oregon.  This is that blog.  For full disclosure, I am a practicing public school teacher, a union activist and strongly believe that public schools play a vital role in protecting and enhancing our democracy.  The posts on this blog in no way reflect the opinions of my employer or the Oregon Education Association.

I plan on remaining anonymous as I write in order to protect my ability to speak freely.  All blogging is done during non-school hours using my own personal computer.  If I’ve learned anything from Beaverton teacher Jason Levin’s recent run in with the right wingers, it’s that public employees should not have even the slightest tinge of impropriety when speaking out on political topics.

I hope you enjoy what I have to say and find my work to be informative.  Tips are always accepted by email or tweet.