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OR Teachers Voice Concerns to U.S. Education Secretary

October 13, 2011

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon educators Wednesday night shared their concerns with the top man in the federal Department of Education. From "No Child Left Behind" to the proliferation of for-profit online and charter schools and the impact of state and federal budget cuts, the crowd had plenty to say to Education Secretary Arne Duncan at his "teacher town hall."

Duncan was invited to Portland as a keynote speaker for the Oregon Business Association. During his visit, he asked for time to talk with educators, to hear their views about how federal education policy and reforms are affecting them.

Suzanne Cohen, a seventh-grade math and science teacher in Portland, isn't convinced that federal regulations always are the best fit for Oregon classrooms.

"I think what's happening is we're seeing more and more federal policies that maybe sound good but don't necessarily play out the way they're intended. I'm hoping that he really hears what they're looking like in our state and why we have such concerns."

Cohen worries that charter schools, some run by for-profit companies, are siphoning funds and students from neighborhood schools without delivering any better education.

Participants agreed that poverty is one of the main problems making it tougher for children to learn. To help change that, Hanna Vaandering, vice president of the Oregon Education Association, believes Duncan's agency should rethink some of the projects it funds.

"We're tying a lot of grant money to issues that don't really matter for student achievement. We'd like the secretary to really look at the practices that are being implemented by the department and determine whether those truly impact student achievement."

Cindy Johnson, part of a team of preschool educators in The Dalles, says every Oregon school has experienced cutbacks that can't help but affect learning.

"I would like to see them just back off and let the educators, early childhood educators, have the funding that we need so that we can help get these kids ready for school and ready to learn."

The educators also shared with Duncan the most recent survey that says more than 20,000 Oregon students are homeless at least part of the school year.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR