Editorials from Oregon newspapers
The Bulletin, Feb. 12, on the successes in Oregon's public school system:
The state of Oregon is in the midst of a grand re-creation of its educational system, based on the notion that it isn't preparing students for the jobs of the future. Yet last week, state education chief Rudy Crew said schools are doing an adequate, even exceptional, job for about 60 percent of students.
In an interview with The Oregonian newspaper, Crew said the solution for the other 40 percent lies in technology and in experiences outside the classroom.
It's worth pausing a moment on that figure: 60 percent. For all the hand-wringing about the inadequacies of our education system, Crew says it's doing well by more than half its students.
Let's acknowledge right away that 60 percent is not a passing grade. It's critical to reach the other 40 percent. But let's also acknowledge that the schools are doing something right if even Crew sees 60 percent well-served.
What's worrisome is the technology bandwagon. Technology — and especially online education — is touted as the answer to many educational woes. It's where the excitement is and where lots of energy and dollars are focused.
And, indeed, the potential is great, though there's a long road ahead to discover the ways it can help students learn rather than just generate enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, who's paying attention to the successful things we're already doing for the 60 percent? What are they? How do we preserve them? How do we adjust them so they work for less-successful students? It's not that this isn't happening — we're sure thousands of classroom teachers do it every day — but it's not what's getting the attention, and so it's not where the dollars will flow.
And in the end, where the dollars flow is a critical factor. If we decide online classes are the answer, that's where we'll invest. Crew told The Oregonian that one reason to turn to technology instead of more classroom teachers is that it's more cost effective. We disagree.
Online classes have an important role in education's present and future success, but they can't replace the human connection and inspiration of effective teachers, something we suspect is critical to the 40 percent.
The Oregonian, Feb. 11, on why Oregon should emphasize detection, treatment of young adults with mental illness:
It would not be unreasonable to argue that if we eliminated obesity and mental illness, just about everything would improve: Medical and social service costs would plummet, people would stay in school and lead productive lives, the prison population would decline by up to one third, government agencies would no longer need to compete for more and more funding to meet the needs of more and more medically and emotionally hobbled citizens. Heck, we might even find a path forward in the post-Newtown gun debate.
But it would be unrealistic, if not unreasonable, to assume that Oregonians could find the discipline and money required to tackle obesity and mental illness and to eliminate their threat to prosperity and government. But that's what they are — a threat — when you put a meter on them.
Mental illness, especially, has caught the full attention of a sometimes fire-breathing Peter Courtney, the Oregon Legislature's most veteran member and Senate president. He announced last week that "it's game-changing time" in setting the state's spending priorities and told The Oregonian's Harry Esteve: "I don't want to hear another statement about mental health" unless lawmakers are willing to put up money to back their rhetoric.
Courtney scaled the burden, by the way, at $331 million, identifying no promising new revenue sources.
But Courtney had been working up a head of steam on this for some time. He previously recalled to the Statesman-Journal of Salem that he felt overwhelmed with the pervasiveness of sickness in society and its corollary costs. The scale of the problem is such, he argued, that "we've really got to prioritize mental health in ways we cannot even imagine ... and transition our civilization in ways we cannot comprehend."
That's a high bar anywhere, let alone among Oregon lawmakers considering their support for a new Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. But we agree with Courtney's sentiment and even more so with his admission that buying our way out of the mental illness problem is impossible — "The amount of money needed for this is unimaginable," he'd said before tossing out the $331 million tag.
There are, however, things we can do without finding a fortune. The overwhelming mental illness problem becomes scalable when broken down into pieces that show affordable opportunities now that can pay off big-time down the line. That means getting to young people first.
A compilation of Multnomah County data on alcohol, drugs and mental health issues from 2000 to 2012 states: "Among adults reporting a mental or substance use disorder in their lifetime, more than half report the onset occurred in childhood or adolescence." A 2005 report in the journal General Psychiatry is more stark: Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three quarters by age 24.
Early intervention helps not only the suffering child but society later, when families and jobs and citizenship call for fully functioning adults. Now, so many adults are lost to prisons or addictions, while even more are hampered to such a degree they need public assistance and treatment — most of it at the public's expense, with new demands brought to the cash-strapped Legislature.
Investments in the state's participation in a nationally recognized practice called The Wraparound — a team approach to integrate services for a troubled child and family — help. Oregon's psychiatric hotline for kids, allowing pediatricians to manage treatment in collaboration with child psychiatrists, needs continued support. Screening for adolescent depression, implicated in suicidal behavior as well as lifelong depression and illness, comes relatively cheaply, as does a program that works directly with health care providers to identify trauma in children and help set for them the right path forward.
Courtney noted the bulk of mental health spending goes to programs serving adult cases and housing for the mentally ill, while a comparatively small share goes to services for children and young adults. We don't want anyone of any age left out in the cold. We also recognize nothing's free. But calculated steps to fund services in the early years are a bargain when the savings can be so large later.
The Legislature should heed Courtney's railings about mental illness but also listen to experts already helping our young. The needs of the young, left unaddressed, become the adult challenges whose collective costs are unimaginable.
The World, Feb. 11, on finding a consensus among Oregon timber executives and environmentalists:
Give Oregon's governor an "A'' for effort. His panel of timber executives, county leaders and environmentalists was a noble effort to find consensus on a persistent logging standoff. And it made some progress.
In the end, however, Gov. John Kitzhaber has to hand the problem back to its rightful owner, Congress. The so-called "O&C" funding crisis is a creature of the federal government, and only the feds can tame it.
The policy issues surrounding the O&C timber lands can best be summarized this way: The 2.6 million acres of formerly private forest in Western Oregon provided wood-products jobs and fed county budgets for decades. But 30 years of environmental lawsuits and legislative deadlock have starved local economies and county governments alike.
The governor released a 94-page report last week on the panel's work. Notably missing was a specific proposal. That's a disappointing outcome for Kitzhaber, but he gave it a positive spin as he returned the issue to Oregon's congressional delegation.
"We prepared a menu," he said. "Now they have to take it back to D.C. and prepare a meal."
The ingredients of that meal are far from settled. Conservationists continue to advocate raising property taxes and timber taxes to fund county services — a solution that would worsen rather than relieve economic hardship. Any solution that repairs county budgets while ignoring rural Oregon's economic plight is only half a solution. In short, we need to harvest more timber.
One panelist, Allyn Ford of Roseburg Forest Products, commented that the project helped build a better working relationship among the parties. The governor alluded to this improved relationship in a letter to Oregon's congressional delegation, suggesting the lawmakers reconvene the same panel to help craft a legislative proposal.
That suggestion may be useful. Any solution to the O&C deadlock must come from Congress, but if Oregonians can come closer to consensus, the governor's project will have been worthwhile.