Something’s got to give

Something has to change in Oregon classrooms.

Oregon’s graduation rates have lagged behind for years. Currently, we are the third worst — you read that right — in graduation rates, with only Nevada and New Mexico doing worse than we are when it comes to seeing kids through high school.

We’re not sure what the problem is. We know funding is tight. We know teachers are doing their darndest to give our kids a good, solid, well-rounded education. We know they are trying to meet constantly changing standards and cover all of the state standards.

We’re not entirely confident that, if asked, taxpayers would support paying more to educate kids.

House Bill 4113 offers an interesting solution — or additional fiscal challenges — maybe both.

The bill would require the issue of class size to be discussed at negotiations between the teachers unions and the school district. Right now, class size is an optional negotiation point.

Let’s talk about class sizes. We know that, in Polk County, our public schools (for the most part) have large class sizes. When we say large, we’re talking roughly 30 or more kids in a room.

Former Central Superintendent Buzz Brazeau used to say that class size is not an issue. He touted that a great teacher can manage kids regardless of how many are in the room. He argued that larger classes get kids more prepared for college, where 150 students may be registered for the same English 101 class.

OK, we can agree that larger classes in high school may prepare kids for college. But in elementary school, it seems like the more faces a teacher has in one room, the harder it is to tell who needs more help. Who is acting out because they are bored and should be part of the talented and gifted program? Who is zoning out because they are lost, feeling so far behind in class that they don’t think they can catch up? Who has a hidden learning disorder? Who is being bullied? Or abused? Or coming to school hungry?

Teachers are great at noticing these things. They are with our kids most of the day, five days a week. But when we ask them to pay attention to 30 to 35 youths at a time, it is impossible to catch everything.

Even if the bill passes, it won’t be as simple as hiring more teachers or teachers aids. Where will we find more classrooms? Our schools are already packed. We can’t hold class in closets. Yet we don’t have the space we need to give them access to the state-required physical education. We struggle to fit them all in the cafeteria at some buildings.

Regardless of the outcome of the bill, it will fall on our shoulders — and on the State Legislature — to take care of the education of our youths.

The Legislature found ways to pay for health care for all, now it needs to make decisions on how to pay for education. Oregon needs to invest in our youths, and it’s up to our legislators to figure out how to do it with minimal impact to our pocketbooks.

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