07/30/2013 03:44 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2013

The School Bell Is About to Ring for Education Advocates

Students aren't the only ones sharpening their pencils and getting their highlighters ready as a new school year is about to start. Those of us who advocate for policies and programs to strengthen K-12 education, are ready to do the tough work that is needed to improve our schools. In fact, we have been at it throughout the summer.

In my state of Oregon, we've backed a statewide system that encompasses supports for educators at every stage of their careers. The Network of Quality Teaching and Learning, funded right now at a total of nearly $46 million, will focus on a school district collaboration fund, a beginning teacher and administrator mentoring program, new models of teacher preparation, implementation of new performance evaluations systems required by legislation passed in 2011 and a professional development clearinghouse.

The bottom line is that our state will have a stronger focus on supporting and strengthening teaching which is especially important as great teachers have the most significant impact on student learning in the classroom.

Here are some other subjects we and other education stakeholders will studying up on this school year:

Better Teacher Preparation

Each year the PDK/Gallup Poll presents details about the public's attitudes toward public schools. The 2012 poll found that at least three out of four Americans believe that entrance requirements into teacher preparation programs should be as rigorous as, or more selective than, engineering, business, pre-law and pre-medicine. In addition, two out of three Americans believe increasing the rigor of college teacher preparation programs would produce more effective teachers.

Our teacher preparation programs have work to do. A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality stated that these teacher prep programs have "become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity."

While some have quibbled with the wording and the methodology, it's clear teacher candidates need better training.

In Oregon, we are doing our part with TeachOregon, which is an initiative that brings together K-12 school districts and their community college and higher education partners to create innovative models of teacher preparation.

School districts that previously had little say are driving the conversation about the skills and training new teachers require to meet the needs of all students. Chalkboard Project funded five partnerships to work collaboratively to create models that address the issues of recruitment and selection, clinical practice, hiring and placement and mentoring and induction. After an intensive review process, we will soon announce the partnerships that will receive three years of funding to implement their designs.

Read the Report Cards

Education advocates strongly believe in tracking outcomes and we take our lumps when we have to. In our state, we aren't proud of the C grade Education Week gave us for K-12 education (making us 42nd in the nation). We get an A+ for hazelnut production and microbreweries, so we know we can do better in an area that truly matters to our economic future.

Furthermore, The Education Trust just evaluated each state for how ready its students are for the new college and career-ready standards that will be fully implemented in the 2014-15 school year. Ed Trust analyzed data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the "Nation's Report Card") and said that "Oregon generally has a weak track record. More often than not, the state showed below average performance and improvement for students overall, low-income students and Latino students."


States such as Maryland and Massachusetts are at the head of the class in these report cards. We are aiming to do better through initiatives such as CLASS (Creative Leadership Achieves Student Success), which is an innovative program designed to empower teachers and raise student achievement.

Based on ECONorthwest's independent analysis of state data, CLASS districts move students to proficiency on state tests faster than the rest of the state. CLASS districts are also closing the gaps between all students and underserved students.

Extracurricular Activities Matter

Education advocates are busy people, just like you. We have families and responsibilities. But ensuring a bright future for our schools and our community's future is not an only-during- school-hours gig. This extracurricular is open to all -- no cuts to make or participation caps to prevent you from joining.

It's the kind of tough work that is extremely rewarding. Even if you enjoyed every class you ever took and your kids excel in school, there is always more to do.

This year, when you see the school buses on the road and the students heading back, don't feel left behind. We need you in this fight.