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Metropolitan Briefing Book

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Academic achievement, Education and state, Education standards, Workplace literacy -- Oregon, Education -- Oregon -- Statistics, School enrollment -- Oregon


Any region’s reputation in education is a key to its economic vitality. Businesses look for signals of a quality workforce. Families want good schools for their children. The Portland-Vancouver region is making progress in education, but the news is not uniformly good. On the positive side, Portland is rising in the ranks of so-called “well educated” cities—a reputation that benefits the region as a whole. Portland’s attractiveness to young, recent college graduates is well documented and has played an important role in the trend. The influx of young professionals is a plus for the regional economy. However, instability of K-12 school funding continues to cloud the region’s image. During the most recent recession, the national media frequently cited funding woes of Portland-area schools to illustrate the broader fiscal issues facing state and local governments. Despite the return of economic growth (and in some cases because of it), school-funding measures remained prominent on last November’s ballots. Fast-growing districts needed capital for expansion while the region’s largest district—Portland Public Schools—requested supplemental operating funds after two rounds of high-profile school closures. Unstable school finances remain a recognized problem, particularly in Oregon where volatile income taxes compose the majority of school revenue and the state plays no role in funding capital. During the past 15 years, the standards-based movement has focused attention on the achievements of elementary and secondary students like no other time in history. Across the region, a higher percentage of students in early grades meet state-established reading and math benchmarks than do middle- or highschool students. State legislatures and individual districts have responded with a host of reforms to address underachievement in the higher grades. Students in Washington State will take high school exit exams in reading, math, and writing beginning with the class of 2008. In Oregon, the State Board of Education is crafting more rigorous high-school diploma requirements, and school districts are experimenting with K-8 and small high school designs. The federal No Child Left Behind Act ensures that student achievement and school quality will remain in sharp focus in the coming years. Performance on state and federal reports will shape the region’s educational reputation and play a role in determining where in the region families and businesses locate.

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