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Capital Chatter: 5 New Year's proposals

In the interest of stirring the political pot, Dick Hughes offers possibly provocative proposals for education in Oregon.

I've never been one to make New Year's resolutions or annual predictions. Instead, in the interest of stirring the political pot, I offer five possibly provocative proposals for education in Oregon.

1. Kill the idea that teachers and other educators have been underpaid.

Salaries are based not on one's worth to society but on the number of people deemed available and competent to fill the job. That's why Joe and Josephine Pro Athlete make more than you and I do -- although Joe is paid zillions more than Josephine, which is unconscionable.

However, there are caveats.

As the pool of qualified job applicants dwindles, school districts must innovate. Raising salaries is one approach, especially when union and district leadership agree to put the money into entry-level salaries.

Labor-management negotiations probably would look far different if the priorities were set by potential job applicants and new employees. For example, ditching the traditional seniority system for job placements, work schedules or other areas could make a district far more attractive to new hires. So could offering free childcare to young couples.

A related issue is that working-class Oregonians, like their kin across the country, cannot afford to buy homes. Student loans are one reason. Until Congress acts — if it does — the Oregon Legislature and school districts could take matters into their own hands by offering loan repayments. Should the state launch a program to support people going into education, rural health care or other desired jobs that meet the state's goals?

2. Require a full academic year of student teaching — and pay the student teachers, or at least cover their tuition cost.

Teaching is really hard work. Student teaching is time-consuming. However, future teachers need the experience of preparing for the school year, opening the year, going through the ups and downs, and closing the year.

One term of student teaching is inadequate. There is too much to learn, especially about classroom management.

Better-prepared teachers will be more effective teachers and more likely to last longer.

3. Bring back sabbaticals.

It's true that teachers and many other school employees get summers "off" and vacations during the year. But the good teachers, counselors and administrators put in an incredible amount of unpaid time during those supposed vacations.

Burnout is real. Research suggests that if a student starts the day in a class led by a teacher suffering from burnout, that student's learning will suffer throughout the rest of the day. Districts axed sabbaticals to save money, but people should be encouraged to take extended time off to get a fresh take on life and learn new skills.

This would be one way to retain experienced teachers.

4. Allow Oregon's community colleges and small institutions to unite.

Small private colleges are in a financial bind. Meanwhile, the regional state universities struggle to maintain their places.

Why not allow a community college to join with a regional or private university? That might bring down student costs while maintaining diversity in offerings, including varied approaches to teacher training.

I know, I know, there would be all sorts of things to work through. But are you going to be naysayer or a "Let's do it"?

5. Make classes relevant.

In my era, boring classes seemed acceptable. That won't cut it anymore. Dropping out no longer is considered appropriate.

The key is for each student to have a reason to come to school each day. That calls for profound redesign of curriculum and teaching methods to make classes interesting, perhaps transforming basic science into "crime science analysis," economics into "how to be a music mogul" and English composition into "how to create and produce a screenplay."

We've come to our senses by recognizing that career and technical education classes have tremendous value. It is common for 90% of CTE students to graduate, as Gov. Kate Brown frequently touts. What she and others don't say enough, however, is that music, theater, sports and other programs also can achieve those levels. For each student, the answer may be different – but it always involves a caring adult.

North Salem High School sought to raise its graduation rate through identifying a trusted adult to serve as an advocate for each student at risk of dropping out. For many advocates, that meant checking in daily with their student.

The school's goal was to boost the graduation rate 10 points within four years. It was accomplished in one year.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Facebook.com/Hughesisms, YouTube.com/DickHughes or Twitter.com/DickHughes.