Education expert doubts School reform will work

He says Oregon and Washington are on the wrong track because their programs are

based on politics
















of The Oregonian staff


Education reform efforts are sweeping through public schools In both Oregon and Washington. Oregon’s

reforms. are based on House Bill 3565, the Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century, passed in 1991. It’s sometimes known as the Katz Bill, for Vera Katz then speaker of the House and the bill’s major sponsor. House Bill 1209 charts Washington’s educational reforms.

Both laws call for setting stricter academic and performance Stan­dards. The Oregon effort stresses ‘outcomes-based education,” or OBE, which attempts to assess stu­dent achievement via the demon­stration of specific skills, rather than grades or time spent in class.

Not everyone agrees that the two states are on the right reform path.

Donald Orlich, one of the North­west’s leading experts on education­al reform, is among the interested skeptics. Orlich, a longtime education professor at Washington State University is the author of “Teaching~Strategies: A Guide to Better in­struction,” and he has studied American educational reform efforts from their earliest appearanees in the 1780s. He says many American reform efforts have failed because they were cosmetic , they had no profound effect on instructional strategies, organization of schools or

       student learning-                           -


Q: What’s different about this wave of education reform?


A:   For about half century, we tin­kered: We fixed the parts, then we fixed the schedule, the people, the curriculum, and finally we’re look­ing at the entire picture. Education is a system, and we need to examine it to see what truly needs to be changed.


Q: Do you see any trends?


A:   Most of the reforms have been isolated, poorly planned, and do not rely on educational research that has demonstrated value to learning or to improve instruction.

Q: So you believe the better reforms have some substantive basis?


A:  if you talk about a reform move­ment, you have to ask what extent is it backed by any credible research. Elliot Eisner, an education professor at Stanford, has said most curricu­luiu study is based on a minimum of actual observation. Researchers, Eisner said, “conduct educational commando raids to get the data and get out’

There is one ray of hope that comes from Tennessee. This is the so-called Tennessee small-class stud­ies. The state appropriated $3 mil­lion per year for four years to de­termine the effects of class size on learning in grades K-& The design is textbook perfect. They had three treatments: One was a classroom with a teacher and 13 to 17 pupils, the second was one teacher and 22 to 25 pupils, and the third was one teacher and one full-time aide and a class. of 22 to 25 pupils,

This was a sample of 327 classes and 6,400 students. The students were selected from rural, suburban, inner-city and minority schools.

In every case, pupils in the small classes made the highest scores on achievement tests. These students in the small classes were followed for four additional years through the seventh grade, and they still outper­formed their peers in larger classes.

It is the single most significant study done in the United States in last 25 years. I am shocked that school boards, administrators and teacher groups are not flocking to Tennessee to work with them to see how class size has such a powerful impact on student learning. I

This study is totally ignored. But it is the kind that should be examin­ed by policy-makers for at Least the first three grades because today young children are coming to school with such bad social baggage that teachers in K-3 have become surro­gate parents. The elementary school has become the surrogatus domicili­Wa.

0: What do you see happening in Oregon and Washington reforms?


A: The reform In Oregon very closely resembles an evolution from the American revolving-door educa­tional model to the European.

Oregon students are going to be channeled into college prep or voca-.

tional tracks at about grade 10. There is one difference. Europe, es­pecially Germany, has an excellent educational and Industrial infra­structure to accommodate these stu­dents. I see no major commitment to building this infrastructure in-Ore­gon-

  I don’t look to Oregon for any leadership in school reform, al­though we should be watching it. The legislators deluded the .public

by passing the Katz Bill and did not assess the very negative impact of

Measure 5 (the 1990 property-tax limitation measure),

Washington passed its own educatlion reforms called House Bill 1209 in 1993. The estimate for the cost of the Initial reform was $87 million, and the reformers said there would be new spendingfor these sweeping reforms. In answer to the question of higher taxes to pay for it; the reformers said, “At

 this point the (Governor’s) Council

(on Education Reform and Funding)

 has not proposed a funding source, Ultimately, that will be up to future legislatures to decide?’

This is the single most irresponsi­ble statement that I have heard about public education in the state

of Washington,.


0: What do you think about out­comes-based education?


A:  If you get serious about this, you must examine the research

work of John Carroll, a Harvard  professor of education, and Benja­min  Bloom, a distinguished Uni­versity of Chicago professor. They devised formulas that say scholastic aptitude Is a function of time. Given adequate time, feedback, evaluation, learning materials and correctives, anybody can learn anything, That has led to the term “mastery learn­ing,” which has a very respectable  body of empirical studies supporting it.


OBE tries to piggyback off the mastery model The structure of schools does not lend Itself to either mastery learning or OBE, and that mean such major elements as the schedule, class hours, class  sizes, teacher assignments and eval­uations.


ORE has at least 11 major ele­ments to be implemented properly. The -big problem comes when the school districts do not have the human, fiscal or material resources to address these elements. Teachers become frustrated and school pa­trons develop false hopes of academ­ic achievement.


0: What alternatives would you suggest?


A:  Any changes will have to come from the local level People have to ask, what do we need to improve?

We need to examine what we are doing well. We begin to look at what we are teaching and ask ourselves, are we teaching students skills and knowledge and processes that they can take with them? We have to crit­ically examine all of our curriculum and the methods by which we are teaching the curriculum, Once we have found out what needs to be re­paired, dropped or expanded, we should then look to credible re­search to guide us In the formation of our answers. We need systematic, rational analyses of school problems at local levels. The site-based coun­cils will work if teachers are well-trained, in organizational development, and right now most are not.