The United States public education system is failing too
many of our children. Just a few decades ago, our nation
was an international leader in education achievement.
Today the U.S. Organization for Economic Cooperative
Development ranks our K-12 public education system 14th
among its 34 members in reading, 17th in
science and an even more dismal 25th in
Moreover, Oregon K-12 students rank about 40th
in combined English, reading and math skills among the
50 states. Our high school graduation rate is tied for
the fourth worst in the nation at 68 percent. More than
40 percent of those Oregon students that graduate from
high school, and apply to a state community college,
require remedial education in English, math, or both in
order to qualify for basic entry level community college
Although I am not a professional educator, I am able to
understand that Oregon’s K-12 academic performance is
near the bottom of rankings in a nation that is failing
to adequately educate its youth. Numerous attempts have
been made to reorganize the State K-12 education
enterprise during the nine years that I have served in
the Oregon Senate. Reasons for our failure to perform
are endlessly discussed, rationalized and excused. Blame
is laid on too little money, too much administration,
classes that are too large, too little teacher
preparation, inadequate facilities and any combination
of additional complaints.
The sad fact is that no one is willing to be accountable
and to take responsibility for the failing education
system. I believe that one salient reason why public
education achievement has declined so precipitously is
because we have so sharply diminished our expectations
from our students as well as from the professionals who
I graduated from Crook County High School more than 50
years ago. I can still remember the names and even see
the faces of those many teachers who fairly demanded
strict discipline and performance. I am eternally
grateful for their dedication and efforts to ensure that
we achieved proficiency in their courses. Conversely, I
can remember neither the names, nor the faces, of those
instructors that graded by attendance, who wanted to be
“friends”, and who appeared to care little for our
Behavioral and mental discipline is the cornerstone of
successful education. It is the single management tool
that is most important in determining the academic
outcomes in classrooms, schools and entire districts.
Discipline establishes education quality and drives
I am thankful for those teachers who forced us to
memorize English grammar, U.S. history, and the math
tables. It is my understanding that much of that Rote
memorization is no longer an expectation in many school
districts. I believe that failure to require education
fundamentals is a major cause of our national decline in
education achievement. The basic education building
blocks of reading, writing and arithmetic continue to be
practiced in other nations such as China and India whose
students place near the top of the international
I will never forget the arrival of Mr. Guy Delamater
during my eighth grade year at Powell Butte Elementary
School. He immediately recognized that the seventh and
eighth graders in his classroom had not learned our math
tables. He did not wring his hands or blame others for
our ignorance of basic math.
Soon we each had four sets of math flash-cards to take
home. We did nothing in his classroom for three weeks
except to study math and to compete to see which of us
could learn it faster and better. His expectation was
for every student to be able to perform two column
addition, subtraction, multiplication and division in
our heads on demand. He stressed the pressure of
competition and we thrived on it. Within three weeks we
were virtually all performing to his standards.
To master true expertise in any subject requires
constructive criticism and sometimes painful feedback.
The fact of the matter is that failure is a necessary
and integral part of learning. We learn critical
thinking ability primarily through failing and trying
again and again until we get it right. And in my
opinion, nothing in the education experience creates
more self-esteem and self-pride than overcoming failure.
The single most important quality sought by prospective
employers is critical thinking ability.
Many very intelligent students unfortunately never reach
their academic potential. They are too often praised for
their intellect but never challenged to perform to their
ability. The experience of being allowed to slide
through their education unchallenged is too often
continued in their post-education life.
Other less gifted students develop creative genius
through the exercise of grit and self-motivation. They
develop a work ethic that enables them to surpass the
education achievement of more gifted students and to
thrive in post-secondary education. The second most
desirable trait requested by employers is a
well-developed work ethic.
Modern teachers are encouraged to praise students for
virtually everything they do that could be construed as
positive. Unwarranted praise tends to diminish the
competitive edge that is so important in the
post-education work force. Moreover, I believe that
unwarranted praise is counterproductive to education
achievement because it really deters incentive,
discourages the development of a strong work ethic and
generally makes student education weaker.
Praise delivered for any level of effort soon becomes
meaningless and counterproductive. It should be reserved
for hard work and the completion of successful effort.
The receipt of praise for a job well done builds
self-confidence, self-esteem and pride in work ethic.
Finally, learning to deal with stress is an integral
part of an appropriate and complete education. We all
know that post-education life does not treat all people
equally or fairly. Students should not be isolated from
stressful situations; conversely, they must be exposed
to stress and taught how to work through and cope with
tense and hectic situations. To do less is to fail to
prepare them for the certainty of life.
From my perspective, we have failed to develop
accountability at all levels of Oregon’s K-12 education
Voters have generally neglected to recruit and support
school board members with appropriate business and
education experience, and to hold them accountable to
establish and maintain good management practices.
School Boards have too often failed to select school
administrators with adequate business acumen and to hold
them accountable for effective management practices. It
is really the administrators who are responsible for
establishing behavioral and academic discipline,
maintaining sound management practices, and demanding
excellent student outcomes.
Too many modern teachers fail to present themselves as
professionals and to perform up to their career
potential. I believe teachers must hold students to
much higher expectations. They should establish student
behavior and work ethic by setting the example.
Too many parents simply fail to prepare their children
for school both in behavioral training and in teaching
the incredible value of an education. I believe that
parents must make the time to be involved in the
management of both their schools and their school
boards. Our schools are the heart and soul of our
communities and they should be treated as such.
Students should be held accountable for both
disciplinary and academic failure by their parents,
teachers and administrators. Few students are incapable
of learning. Our state and communities are making
enormous ongoing investments in K-12 education. Students
must be held accountable to make the academic
achievement that we are all paying for.
Finally, our state legislature must focus on defining
and addressing the actual causes of our academic
achievement failure. Too often our treatments are
directed toward political cover through meaningless
reorganization and implementation of untried flavor of
the month programs.
We know that basic K-12 education worked for us in the
past and that the basics continue to work for other
nations in the present. Why not return to what we know
is effective and restore value to our once proud public
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon
no one will.