Better Education Is Vital to Oregon, to Oregonians
Lives, Community, Economy at Stake
More than ever before, increased levels of education determine the life prospects of individuals, the vitality of communities, and the competitive prowess of businesses and economies. Oregon’s future literally rests on the quality and output of its education system, in particular its public institutions because they serve the majority of students.
A great many of our young make it through the public education system just fine, but too many falter and fail – with devastating consequences. Most individuals with less than a high school education are confined to unskilled employment, lower income, and less job security. This often contributes to higher rates of poverty, family breakdown, and community instability that can extend for generations while burdening the public safety net and public budgets. Those without a postsecondary education face similar hurdles. This unrealized human potential also hurts businesses and local economies, which depend on educated employees for quality performance, productivity, and innovation.
The figure below, from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, illustrates the correlation of unemployment rates and earnings to education attainment.
Unemployment Rates and Earnings by Education Attainment
The Equity Gap Must Be Closed
An important part of our education imperative is helping children from less advantaged backgrounds to excel and go as far as their more privileged classmates. By any number of indicators, there is an unacceptable gap in opportunity, achievement, and attainment for poor children, children of color, and English language learners. For lack of sufficient support, too many are not prepared to start school and then too often fall behind, struggle, and fail as a consequence. Raising the achievement and attainment of our learners generally is a huge challenge in and of itself. It is even more challenging when over half of the learners of PreK and K-12 age come from low-income homes, and when significant segments of them are new to the United States, speak a first language other than English, are culturally different, or have been under served historically.
Improving their education access and success is an issue of fairness and equity, but doing so also builds stronger communities and local economies. We fully subscribe to the Equity Lens that the state government adopted in 2011—and that’s been embraced since by many school districts. (See this Education Week update on the Equity Lens in Oregon.)
The upshot? Oregon needs to do better. If anyone doubts that, consider the facts in the summary of where we stand.