What Are We Missing?

How do you know that you’re missing something if you don’t have it already? It’s not a philosophical question, it’s one Oregon’s schoolchildren face every day. Our kids are missing more individual help from teachers because class sizes are too large. They’re missing out on learning more subjects because Oregon’s school year is too short. The bottom line is: Oregon’s kids shouldn’t have to miss out on anything that’s in the best interest of their education.

School districts do what they can with limited resources, but they’re forced to choose among providing students with more instructional hours, lowering class sizes or funding programs that benefit struggling students. So what does that mean for kids here? It means that 7th graders may not learn about plant biology, because there just aren’t enough instructional hours in the day. It means that a student may have difficulty understanding a math problem, but the teacher doesn’t have time to answer all questions. It means that a student who may need extra support doesn’t get it.

In Oregon, the length of the school year and class sizes lag behind national averages. While state requirements vary on the number of instructional days or hours, most states have decided that a 180-day school year is necessary for kids to receive an adequate education. The length of the school year in Oregon is measured by instructional hours. Children in higher grades are required to have a minimum of 990 hours of instruction, which equates to 165 6-hour school days— three full weeks shorter than the majority of the United States. In addition, Oregon has the third largest class size in the country with 21.5 students per teacher, much higher than the national average of 15.6 students per teacher.

Thanks to the work of the Quality Education Commission, we know what kids really need for meaningful achievement. The Commission started 15 years ago to explore research-based practices for optimal student achievement and to determine the investments needed for children to succeed. Each biennium a workgroup is required to report a baseline level of funding that would assure a quality education and allow students to achieve the outcomes they need. If we are to create a true continuum of learning, from early education through high school and beyond; if we are to reach the 40-40-20 goals by 2025 (by the time this year’s kindergarteners complete 8th grade), then we must choose to make investments to allow kids to learn and teachers to teach.

Washington state, which has a 180-day school year and 19.4 student-teacher ratio, spends $800 more per student than Oregon and their Supreme Court has found the legislature in contempt for a lack of funding for schools. $490 million per biennium would get Oregon up to par with Washington state’s number of students per teacher in public schools. Investing $460 million per biennium in Oregon would give school districts the ability to offer every student in in our state a full 180-day school year.

We want our students to reach their academic potential, increase graduation rates and create a better future for our state, so it only follows that we must dedicate resources for children to achieve those goals. Our kids can’t afford to miss another day of academic opportunity, so let’s invest what is necessary to secure their future.