Editorials from around Oregon

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 11, 2014 at 12:03 pm •  Published: August 11, 2014
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Newspaper editorials from around Oregon

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Albany Democrat-Herald, Aug. 4

Headline: "School districts wise to watch Common Core controversy"

Linn County's largest school districts say they won't be joining their counterparts in Portland in an effort to delay the use of Common Core test scores to evaluate both teacher and students.

That seems smart. We think watching from the sidelines as this controversy continues to boil likely is the wisest (and safest) course for our local schools.

Opposition to the new Common Core academic standards is growing nationally — and locally as well. Oregon is replacing its state academic standards with the Common Core, a series of national standards for reading and math. This coming school year will be the first for students to be formally tested on the new state assessment system, known as Smarter Balanced.

The latest salvo against Common Core came last month, when the Portland School Board passed a resolution asking the state not to use the test results right away for fear of slapping "punitive labeling" on teachers, students, districts and schools.

But back in May, the Oregon Department of Education asked the federal government for a delay in using the test scores to evaluate teachers — and administrators in Albany, Lebanon and Sweet Home say that request, which the feds are expected to approve, will suffice for the time being.

It also will allow administrators a bit of additional time to watch how the national dispute over Common Core plays out.

To date, more than 40 states plus the District of Columbia are on board with the new standards.

Supporters of the Common Core say the higher standards will better prepare students for what they'll need to do in college and in the work force. Also, the fact that students in most every other state will be tested on the same program and against the same standards will allow meaningful (and, possibly, useful) comparisons, education officials say.

Opponents say the standards haven't been fully tested, cost too much, will lead to a loss of control on the part of local school boards and will rely on data mining that delves heavily into students' personal information.

The arguments against Common Core have some merit. But we still fail to see the wisdom of pulling the plug on Common Core even before it's had a chance to go into effect. As it stands now, parents already must sort through a dizzying array of test results and report cards to try to get a feel for how their schools are performing. It sometimes seems as if the measurements change every year. Why make that task any harder by yanking the rug from underneath Common Core and moving to something else?

We do like the idea of holding students, teachers and schools to higher standards — and preparing today's students for tough global competition after they graduate. Whether Common Core provides an effective way to do that remains to be seen, and you can be sure that Linn County school administrators are keeping a close eye on the debate.

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The (Bend) Bulletin, Aug. 5

Headline: "Don't delay Smarter Balanced testing"

The Oregon Education Association says its members like the increased rigor of the Common Core State Standards but believe teachers haven't been given enough time and training to implement them. The union wants a moratorium on the new Smarter Balanced tests, which are aligned with the new standards and due to launch in spring 2015.

Rob Saxton, the state's deputy superintendent, rejected the plea to delay Smarter Balanced tests when the union first proposed it in May. But OEA representatives are still promoting it, as they did during a visit last week with The Bulletin's editorial board.

We supported Saxton's decision then, and were pleased to hear last week that the state has no plans to reconsider. As Bend-La Pine Superintendent Ron Wilkinson told The Bulletin months ago, "Four years into having the standards, it's time to have the assessment aligned to those standards so we can see how we are doing."

What better way to move the process along than to have a test that shows who's doing it well and who isn't?

In addition to the rejected moratorium, the OEA wants the state to support more substantive training for teachers, as well as a teacher-led study of the best ways to assess Oregon students. That study would develop a system of routine, smaller tests that guide instruction along the way and possibly offer an alternative to Smarter Balanced.

We have no reason to doubt that some districts have done better than others in preparing teachers for this big change. And no matter how good the training, facing a test that compares your results with other states is daunting.

It's also one of the huge pluses of the new system. Finally, most of the country is operating on the same standards, with large segments taking the same test. It will allow us to see what works and what doesn't over time and distance and give our students a sense of how they compare across a larger population. In this global world, comparing only with other Oregonians doesn't tell us what we need to know.

Teachers unions don't like standardized tests, which they say fail to reflect what children learn and distort classroom efforts by forcing too much emphasis on what's in the test. Resistance is also fueled in this case by the expectation that fewer students will pass Smarter Balanced tests than the older tests.

State education leaders should try to address gaps in training and preparation where they exist, but they are wise to move forward with the Smarter Balanced testing.

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The (Eugene) Register-Guard, Aug. 8

Headline: "An awkward transition; UO president's abrupt departure invites speculation"

Six weeks after a university's independent board gains governance powers, the university's president resigns, effective the following day. Two possibilities leap to mind: One, the board exercised its authority to seek new leadership just about as soon as it could. Two, the president found himself in conflict with the new board and beat a hasty retreat.

Chuck Lillis, chairman of the University of Oregon Board of Trustees, insisted in a meeting with The Register-Guard editorial board that neither is the case. UO President Michael Gottfredson had the respect of trustees before and after the board was formally empowered on July 1, Lillis said. The chairman described both the board's composition and its structure as hallmarks of Gottfredson's two-year tenure, undercutting the idea that the president suddenly found that he couldn't function in the UO's new environment of institutional autonomy.

If indeed Gottfredson left on good terms, his departure was awkwardly executed. Most people who quit a job are expected to give at least two weeks' notice. The leaders of big public institutions usually announce their intentions months in advance, allowing time to arrange an orderly transition. Lillis said he learned of Gottfredson's plans to resign — both as president and as a tenured member of the UO faculty, and one year short of his three-year contract period — only a few days before they were publicly announced.

On Thursday, the trustees named Scott Coltrane as interim president, six months after he was appointed provost, the UO's chief academic officer. Lillis said it's expected that Coltrane will return to the provost's office at the end of his interim presidency. Presuming a permanent successor to Gottfredson is hired by this time next year, the UO will have had six presidents in a six-year period.

That's a lot of turnover, but Lillis sees the glass as half full. Gottfredson came to the UO in a period of uncertainty: Proposals for the creation of independent boards for Oregon's larger universities were still taking shape, the UO's football program was under investigation by the NCAA, and faculty members were preparing to negotiate their first-ever collective bargaining agreement. "I think he did a good job wrestling with those," Lillis said, and now that they have been resolved Gottfredson leaves the UO in a period of relative stability. That will make recruiting the next president easier, he said.

Even if Lillis is fully candid in his assessment, and even if he's correct in judging that "the university is better for Mike's being here," the trustees will be looking for a different type of president. Gottfredson never seemed fully at ease in his role, a perception amplified by contrast to the charismatic Richard Lariviere, the UO's previous noninterim president. Fundraising, which has become the modern university president's primary job, has been lackluster under Gottfredson. His handling of allegations of sexual misconduct against three UO basketball players early this year was clumsy and inspired little confidence in the university's openness.

Encouragingly, Lillis said there has been no interference from Salem or from Beaverton — he informed Gov. John Kitzhaber and Nike co-founder Phil Knight of Gottfredson's decision shortly before it was made public, in wise obedience to the rule that the governor and the UO's biggest benefactor should not learn of such events from the newspapers. The board of trustees appears to be the seat of authority in dealing with the university president, which is how it should be under the new governance structure.

So the most positive interpretation — the version offered by Lillis — is that Gottfredson saw the UO through a couple of rough years and by leaving creates fresh opportunities for the new board. This version would be more plausible if it weren't for the abruptness of the president's departure. At 63, Gottfredson could have announced that he would retire in a few months, allowing time for a smooth handoff to Coltrane as interim president or a permanent successor. Instead, Gottfredson's quick exit invites speculation about intrigue and bad blood, disrupting the stability that Lillis called the president's biggest achievement.

The manner in which Gottfredson's brief tenure ended has the effect of hardening convictions that new leadership is in the UO's best interest — he ensured, at least, that no one would be begging him to stay. The UO needs a president with enough staying power to build relationships on and off campus, as the benefits of Edward Ray's 11-year tenure at Oregon State University make clear. Whatever else may have occurred, Gottfredson has allowed the UO to take the first step in that direction.

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Corvallis Gazette-Times, Aug. 11

Headline: " UO Search offers first big test for governing boards"

It'll be interesting to keep an eye on the University of Oregon's search for a new president to replace Michael R. Gottfredson, who announced his sudden resignation last week after two years on the job.

Actually, "sudden" seems to be a little bit of an understatement: In a letter dated Wednesday to the university's still-fledgling governing board, Gottfredson announced his resignation, effective Thursday.

The University of Oregon's governing board, which officially started its duties on July 1, met Thursday and appointed Provost Scott Coltrane as the school's interim leader. It also approved a $940,000 severance payment to Gottfredson. (That works out to about $54 for every hour, waking and sleeping, that Gottfredson spent as president of the university.)

There was speculation last week that the resignation was not entirely voluntary, and it's true that it bears some of the earmarks of a forced decision: The very quick effective date, for example, the fact that Gottfredson apparently has no other job lined up and the classic explanation in his letter about how one of the reasons for the resignation is that he wants to spend more time with his family.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the university's governing board now proceeds with its search for a new president. It's likely to be a high-stakes, high-visibility search — the first big test for any of the new governing boards now in place at the state's three largest public universities. (You can bet that members of the new Oregon State University governing board will be watching with interest.)

Gottfredson was a major advocate of the plan to break governance of the university away from the state Board of Higher Education. One of the results of that effort was the formation of these university governing boards, which now are in place at the University of Oregon, Portland State University and OSU. (The state's smaller regional universities will move to self-governance next year.)

The boards at Oregon, OSU and PSU officially got rolling on July 1. And now — leaving aside the question of what role, if any, the Oregon board had in compelling Gottfredson's resignation — that board will be responsible for hiring the university's next president.

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