The Times Have Changed—Our Schools Haven’t
What Worked in the 1950s Isn’t Acceptable Today
Our education system hasn’t kept pace with the times. Jobs in our economy demand higher skills and those who don’t have them are consigned on average to a lifetime of lower earnings and less job security.
Yet, for the most part, our education system doesn’t look much different today than it did in the 1950s. It still runs on an industrial factory model, moving students along in fixed blocks of time. Most students are expected to learn the material in the same way at the same pace. By and large, our schools still function implicitly as a sorting system. Sorting was tolerable in the ‘50s. Then, many students exited the system before, during, or just after high school with relatively good prospects of finding well-paying work in skilled trades or manufacturing. A smaller number of others went on to acquire degrees for managerial or professional careers. This education system fit the economy of that time, but not today.
Jobs now require more education than ever before. Family wage jobs have largely vanished for students trying to enter the workforce with a high school diploma or less. Yet a significant share of students struggle and fail – or they are passed along in the system without proficiency in requisite skills and knowledge.
Our schools have other new challenges, too. There’s more pressure on the state budget to fund other public service needs as well as retiree benefits under the Public Employee Retirement System. The share of English language learners and students with special needs is growing. Online teaching and learning will either complement or disrupt K-12 and postsecondary education in ways we don’t yet fully understand.
We’re Taking Steps to Do Better
Oregon leaders recognize that we can’t accept the status quo any longer. The past few years the Oregon Legislature has adopted sweeping, fundamental redesign of state support for our P-20 system. These initiatives set more ambitious education attainment goals, restructure state leadership and support for education, target the way we invest public funds in order to produce better outcomes, and create a more supportive policy environment for system wide improvement in teaching and learning.
These complement important changes that were already under way such as more demanding high school graduation requirements and Oregon’s decision to adopt the higher Common Core State Standards for English and math embraced by most states.