02-19-2017  3:27 pm      •     

One step forward, two steps back. That's the picture with higher education in Oregon in 2007. So what's going wrong? For a start, fewer first generation students are attending college. Then, colleges say, high schools are not properly preparing students for higher-level courses. More students are taking 5 or even 6 years to complete their degree. And many students of color are simply not going on to college, because of increased costs and uncertain financial aid.
These are just a few of many critical problems outlined during a Portland State symposium Oct. 11. "Breaking the Barriers" looked at problems affecting students' access to postsecondary education. The issue is crucial because of the impact education has on future employment and earning capacity. Unemployment for African Americans aged 25 or older is just 3 percent for those with a college degree or better. But for those with only a high school education unemployment is 8 percent. 
According to almost all of the speakers, Oregon, and the nation, has a long way to go before all children – especially those from impoverished or nontraditional backgrounds – have equal opportunities to attend a university. The reforms will have to begin at the middle and high school levels.
"In the absence of a relevant curriculum, the system is not supporting individual heroic efforts," said Matt Coleman, principal of Westview High School in Beaverton.
Coleman said plenty of teachers and mentors can inspire students, but that inspiration is often crushed with a curriculum or teaching methods that students find entirely irrelevant.
Carolyn Leonard agrees. Leonard is a lifelong educator and currently compliance director for Portland Public Schools.
"There are students going to school every day who think this prepares them for entry into college," she said.
Often they are dead wrong.
"Many (impoverished students and those of color) put in work that doesn't prepare them for the minimum level required by a university," she said, citing one Jefferson student who made straight A's in high school and ending up flunking out in college.
Part of the problem, she says, are teachers who settle for "good enough" when they should be pushing for the best.
In fact, just 42 percent of the African American students who go to college in Oregon complete their degrees compared to 47 percent of Native Americans, 55 percent of Latinos and 60 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.
Another problem affecting the ability of lower-income families to send their students to college is cost. It's obvious to anyone who has attended or has a family member attending school in the last several years that college costs have skyrocketed, and one of the reasons may be the shift in costs from taxpayers to students. In 1999, the state paid for 51 percent and students paid for 41 percent of college tuition costs. In 2007, the state pays 35 percent and students pay 55 percent. Recent budget announcements do reveal a two percentage point reduction in students' share of the cost.
But money, as many of the problems previously discussed, is again only part of the problem. Deborah Cochrane, director of the Portland Teachers Program at PCC-Cascade, says students of color face an all too familiar 21st century foe – invisible and unchallenged systemic racism that begins long before a student arrives in the dorm room, if they arrive there at all.
"Students of color are often marginalized and made to feel their expressions are not important or valid," Cochrane said, adding that there is a lack of cultural competency in both secondary and postsecondary education – a sentiment shared by many others.
So how do we improve the Eurocentric view of our education system? We need more cultural competency training and also a method to identify successful teachers who can teach other teachers, says Cochrane.
Another method?
"We need to blow up the teacher's union," says state Sen. Avel Gordly.
And yes, she means it. Gordly, a teacher herself at PSU criticizes "schools of education that don't provide the quality of teacher needed for today's classroom." She says systematic education reform is required to change the current, dysfunctional system that is not properly serving minorities.
A host of changes – maybe an entire revolution – is needed before schools will be equipped to prepare more students for college and the real world, says Leonard, and the base problem is quite simple. We simply need to teach children the joy of learning.
When her own children attended Portland Public Schools, Leonard had one thing to say to school staff: "Do not destroy my child's initiative."
For the most part, she said, they didn't listen.
Teaching teachers to teach properly should be priority one – including the need to teach cultural competency and the need to hold students to high standards, she said.
"The under-education on planet Earth of even one child is a loss to me personally."

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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