December 11, 1998

O'Donnell on prohibition; Hering on schools


The News-Times' editorial policies have changed recently, along with changes in ownership and management (new publisher). The editorials have become much more relevant to local and state issues and no longer are readers subjected to right-wing statements from obscure papers in the Deep South. The continuing need for a local cartoonist is obvious.

Overall, N-T editorials have become more provocative, as well as relevant. "The voters speak," by Leslie O'Donnell, N-T, 11/20/98, is possibly the most courageous, progressive, and enlightened statement the N-T has ever made. [Sadly, we cannot offer a link to the prize-winning editorial because the paper's webmaster arbitrarily refuses to archive some material] While carefully specifying she is not advocating drug use or abuse, Editor O'Donnell recognizes the wisdom in the recent electoral results - in which Oregon voters soundly rejected M - 57, criminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana. Voters also approved the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana as medicine in particular cases of serious illness. The editorial compares the dismal failure of the current "War on Drugs" with the prohibition of alcohol which also produced a vicious criminal industry in contraband during the 1930's.

In contrast, Hasso Hering's simplistic editorial "The funding debate:Just let schools teach," N-T, 12/9/98, dismisses the State of Oregon's responsibility to determine an equitable and adequate funding level for Oregon schools. Lurching between topics, Hering also discounts the need for modern academic standards or uniform core curricula among Oregon's schools.

The editorial proposes "letting good teachers teach the subjects they know, and getting out of their way." Unfortunately, the real situation is not so simple. For instance, many teachers are misassigned. That is, they are required because of inadequate funding levels to teach subjects which they do not know well. Local school districts are allowed by state accreditation standards to misassign teachers, but this practice is supposed to be monitored and closely restricted. However, funding levels affect state monitoring and enforcement as well.

Hering says, " Some students may prove brilliant computer scientists without ever being able to put two spoken words together in a speech.... So they can't meet the speech requirement, but if they're brilliant at analyzing systems, for instance, who cares?" If this statement is to infer that speech-impaired individuals are required under the CIM (Certificate of Initial Mastery) standards to comply with the oral speech standard, it is just incorrect. If it means non-handicapped individuals should be passed through public schools on the basis of particular specialized skills, Hering has no appreciation of the broad purposes of public education.

Local control over academic standards was limited even before Measure 5 was passed in 1990 (with the support of the News-Times). That law put most of the funding responsibility for schools into the hands of the state government. The public got property tax relief - businesses got 75% of the breaks, residences 25%. But, the strings attached to state funding included further politicizing of public education and put Salem politicians, with all their ulterior motives, in charge of setting education policies. Few, if any, state legislators have any expertise or experience in education. Many policy decisions are now based on re-election strategies and the need for bumper-sticker philosophies ("Just let schools teach"?).