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« Adventures of an Accidental Activist (part 2) | Main | Catlin Gabel - profile »

Adventures of an Accidental Activist (part 1)

This week's postings are written by Jen Barth, who is currently serving as Oregon's Delegate for Parenting Magazine's Mom's Congress on Education & Learning

...Four (of Many) Lessons I’m Learning on My Journey To Create More Compassionate Kids…And A More Connected Community

I have a confession to make: I never set out to become an “education activist.” In fact, it was the farthest thing from my mind when we moved to Oregon in 2009. Yet today, just 2 ½ years later, I somehow find myself deep (and getting deeper) into the trenches of trying to understand, and work to improve, our local school scene.  Along the way, I’m learning a lot about local education issues — and about myself, too.  Here are just a few of them.

First Things First: How I Got Here

Before I begin, I should probably introduce myself.  I’m not an educator. I’m not involved in local politics. And while I’m an active volunteer with several local nonprofits and community organizations, I don’t represent any of them in any sort of official capacity as a Board Member or Officer. I’m simply a preschool parent —and relative Oregon newcomer —who is passionate about doing what I can to carve out a stronger educational path for my own daughters. Even more importantly, I want to live in a community where I’m as proud of our schools as I am of our street food scene. That seems like a small thing to ask of the city we know and love, doesn’t it?

We moved to Oregon in 2009 with twin toddlers in tow. My husband is a former Oregonian, and we had been talking about moving back here to raise a family for as long as I can remember.  Soon after we arrived, and got our daughters settled into preschool, I began to scratch beneath the surface of what I was hearing and reading to learn about the many challenges our schools are facing. To help navigate the many issues I started discovering, I launched a blog,, to start documenting what I was learning. And then, in January 2011, I applied to represent Oregon Parenting magazine’s Mom Congress on Education & Learning, More on this in a moment….

What Oregon Schools Are Up Against: A Quick Snapshot

I’m guessing most of you reading this have a pretty good sense already of the challenges facing our local schools. But just in case you don’t….a few not-so-fun-facts to set the stage. Did you know that Oregon has…

  • The 4th largest class sizes in the country, the second shortest school year in the country, and per-student spending 7% below the national average?
  • Above average dropout rates for both students and teachers? Only 33% of Oregon’s 9th graders who finish high school in 4 years go onto college; what’s more, 30% of Oregon’s teachers leave their positions within the first 3 years.
  • One of the largest achievement gaps largest achievement gaps in the country? We’re one of only 5 states where the gap widened (and pretty significantly) between 2003-2007. Read more here

We also struggle with lagging early intervention support, rising high school and college dropout rates, complex union dynamics which make reforming teachers’ contracts extremely challenging, and students across the state being educated in buildings that don’t meeting basic safety requirements.

What’s more, Oregon’s unique economic system that makes funding education improvements more challenging than most. Because we have no sales tax, Oregon is more reliant on one source of revenue —personal income tax — than any state in the U.S.  Most states have a reserve "Rainy Day Fund”) to help supplement this, since income taxes are highly volatile. Oregon does not. Beyond the obvious strains this puts on schools, our under-funded schools impact our broader economy, too; a recent study revealed that Oregon loses $35 million each year due to the fact that 40% of students who enter college dropout before they graduate. So even if the sheer social injustices between what some students have — and most do not — don’t get you fired up, the implications for our local economy today, and down the road, certainly should.

And Yet, Despite All of This, I Am Optimistic About Change Here In Oregon...  

On Thursday we'll find out why Jen is optimistic & how we might invigorate some of our own activism.

Jen Barth runs the small business marketing firm, Big Small Brands, and recently founded Books Make it Better, a grassroots early literacy movement. She can be reached through her local education advocacy blog 


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