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The State School Board Flunks Out 

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"If at first you don't succeed, lower your standards" makes a funny bumper sticker, but it's a rotten way to run a public education system.

For some years now, Oregon's public schools have not been a shining example of educational excellence. Early this month, 71 Oregon schools - a record for the state - were identified as "inadequate" according to the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

For the past 10 years, Oregon also has been issuing its own "report cards" on schools. When the 2008 report cards came out, many of them were the kind that, in the old days, would have meant a trip to the woodshed for the kid who brought it home. Two-thirds of the state's biggest high schools got grades of "satisfactory" or "low," the equivalent of a C or D. A record number of 12 schools were graded "unacceptable."

"This really does sound the alarm bell that we need to do more to help all students, and we need to act with a sense of urgency," state Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo said when the report cards came out.

But there was no sense of urgency evident last week, when the state Board of Education voted 5-2 to delay requiring high school students to pass tests in reading, math, writing and speaking before graduating.

Last year, the board decided to require every Oregon high schooler, starting with the class of 2012, to pass tests in those four basic skills. But last week, under pressure from school principals and superintendents, the board agreed to push the writing requirement back to 2013 and the speaking requirement to 2015 - or later. (The board already had set the math requirement back to 2014.)

School administrators had wanted the requirements delayed even longer, complaining that recession-pinched school budgets will make it tough to implement them. The excuse is lame, considering that Oregon school budgets have been pinched for as long as we can remember. And it's hard to believe they'll be unpinched very soon, raising the likelihood that the administrators will be back whining to the school board for more extensions.

Oregon has a long and dishonorable tradition of undervaluing education, and last week's move shows it hasn't changed much. State leaders agonize about the economy, but still don't seem to understand that its long-term health and stability depend on having a first-rate public education system. Companies don't decide to locate in a state based on the scenery or the quality of the trout fishing. They look for, among other things, a well-educated workforce and schools that their employees will be happy sending their kids to.

Oregon is one of the few states that doesn't have graduation test requirements already. Nationwide, 70 percent of high school students must pass such tests to get their diplomas. The board's decision means this state will continue to lag behind the rest of the country for several more years. For its display of cowardice and short-sightedness, we hereby confer THE BOOT - summa cum lousy.


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