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Oregon Makes Impressive Progress in Early Learning on Statewide and School Levels

August 15th, 2012 by Paul Nyhan


Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber

In neighboring Oregon, early education work is gaining momentum, thanks in part to a supportive governor and one small but ambitious project.


Earlier this year, the state legislature approved a plan to develop two of the building blocks of high-quality early learning: a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) and a kindergarten readiness pilot project. Both initiatives are still in early stages, but represent a big move forward.


That move was facilitated by Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is working on a broader plan to reform Oregon’s education system. Within that plan, he made early education an important element and created an Early Learning Council to consolidate work and programs, improve school readiness and bring together leading thinkers in early education.


Overall, the governor set a 40-40-20 goal, which means that by 2025 he wants 40 percent of Oregon’s residents to earn a bachelor’s degree, 40 percent to receive a 2-year degree and 20 percent to graduate from high school, according to Swati Adarkar, president of the Portland, Ore.-based Children’s Institute.

“This (goal) has precipitated a number of exciting changes for Oregon, including the recent passage of legislation that mandates the creation of an early learning system in Oregon that is aligned and integrated with the greater education system,” Adarkar wrote in an email. “These legislative and policy changes have been the driving force behind Oregon’s efforts around early education, and have served a rallying cry for those of us in Oregon who are committed to closing the achievement gap and increasing the number of children who come to school ready to meet critical benchmarks that will ensure future success in school and life.”

Adarkar’s own group is working on a smaller, but arguably just as important, early education project. The Children’s Institute is building two models that run from birth through third grade.


The 11-year-old group began by building a model in one Portland school, Earl Boyles Elementary, and then began working this year to add a second school, Yoncalla Elementary, in rural Oregon. At Earl Boyles Elementary it will help open a preschool this fall that blends various federal funding streams, such as Head Start, Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, into a single classroom model.


The combination of statewide leadership from the governor’s mansion and effective early education models that other schools, policymakers and educators can learn from is an effective strategy. Washington has a similar approach, with an early learning champion in Gov. Christine Gregoire and great model work, such as New School, now South Shore School.


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