BARR: Oregon Officials Are Dragging The State’s Education Standards Into The Abyss

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For centuries, and certainly to Thomas Jefferson and other Founders, the value of an educated citizenry has been understood to be an imperative for good governance, if not for the very survival of a free people. Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli stated the principle clearly in an 1874 speech to the House of Commons, declaring that “Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.”

Based on recent decisions by top education officials in states like Oregon, however, the fate of our country in this 21st century is indeed bleak.

The Oregon Department of Public Education recently teamed up with woke Democratic Gov. Kate Brown to render virtually meaningless the value of a high school diploma from any public school in the Beaver State.

Dragging the already sinking ability by Oregon students to read, write and calculate into the education abyss is the unanimous decision just last month by the Public Ed Department. Thanks to these bureaucrats, a 2021 policy to not require Oregon students exiting high school to prove they can read, write or perform mathematically to any particular level will continue for four more school years.

In the Bizarro World that has transformed many Democrat-run American cities and states into cultural and economic wastelands, those who support Oregon’s profoundly disturbing education policy decision may laud the fact that it has led to an historically high graduation rate of 81.3 percent. The fallacy of this artificial calculus is that in virtually every other state or city that has sacrificed educational standards on the altar of “equity,” proficiency in basic subjects like math, reading and writing have dropped.

For example, Ohio in 2020 traveled the same policy path as Oregon. According to a report by Ohio State University, the Buckeye State’s reward for such foolishness has been a “substantial” decline in math and English proficiencies.

If Oregon’s Governor, its Education Department or the Oregon Education Association – the union representing tens of thousands of teachers in the state – had wished to find further evidence on which to base the state’s boneheaded new policy, it could easily have discovered that Baltimore schools, which for years have repeatedly lowered the math standards for public school students, has more than a dozen high schools in which not a single student tests proficient in math.

The most deeply disturbing aspect of what Oregon has decided to do by making it easier for students to graduate but far more difficult for them to succeed in the real world is the cavalier manner by which the state’s Department of Education justified its policy. Their rationale can be found in a statement claiming that the subject-matter proficiency standards were being discarded because they had become “burdensome.”

Obviously for Oregon’s education leaders, making the jobs of teachers and administrators less “burdensome” is more important than ensuring that students can read, write and calculate. 

The initial move by Oregon to loosen “Essential Learning Skills” (as permitted by the federal Department of Education) occurred in the wake of the education debacle that Oregon and other states brought on themselves by forcing students into stay-at-home schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oregon’s “temporary” policy was supposed to end after the 2023-2024 school year, but obviously was deemed such a success that it now has been extended through the 2027-2028 school year. It would come as no surprise if, as 2028 approaches, there will be moves to extend the policy again, or simply make it permanent, so as to provide true “equity” for future high school seniors.

Speaking of “equity,” the fact that 18.7 percent of Oregon’s public high school seniors still fail to graduate even without having to prove basic subject-matter proficiency might fuel a move to simply hand out diplomas to every senior just for showing up, in much the same way that youth sports teams have taken to giving every player a participation trophy rather than recognizing only the truly superior players.

Such “equity” might be viewed as acceptable and perhaps considered benign in the world of volunteer youth soccer. But for young men and women about to leave high school to enter the real world, such an education policy places them at a distinct disadvantage — a travesty that must be laid clearly at the feet of the adults in the room.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.