Friday, July 7, 2017

The End Of An Era

Yes, it's true, my term on the Hillsboro School Board is complete, and I have now returned to ordinary civilian life.    I'll continue to occasionally post here on education-related topics, but probably not quite as often, and with a slightly more detached perspective.  

This is probably a good time to reflect on what my 4 years on the board have accomplished.   I know many of my friends in the district have been somewhat disappointed by the recent election, where all four of the candidates who I endorsed ended up losing.   (In any case, it justifies my decision not to run again, as I would be in for some frustrating times if I had held on to my seat!)   Unfortunately, some of our policy victories, such as removing the hate-based "Equity" training and preventing schools from dispensing birth control without parental notification,  can be easily and quickly undone by the new board.   However, there are a few areas where actions of the past four years by myself and my board colleagues will have a lasting impact.

  • Open Communication.    I believe I have blogged more openly and consistently than just about any recent Hillsboro board member, and brought issues into the public eye.   This is combined with the fact (largely due to a request from myself and colleague Glenn Miller) all board meetings are now recorded-- audio for "work sessions", and video for full meetings.     While this could technically be rolled back, I doubt any future board would dare.   As a result, future board members and school officials will never be able to claim ignorance about public concern on issues like spending tax dollars to advertise, quietly appointing  insiders to major positions like the ESD board, or using students as political pawns.   And I believe I have contributed to a more informed public that is ready to confront the district about these issues.
  • The Boundary Exchange with Beaverton.   This was primarily the initiative of board colleague Glenn Miller, but was a very important one, which I helped to pass.   As discussed in this blog, it is a regional optimization which will save around $20 million through better distributing the populations in a way that removes the need to build an additional school.     There was some grumbling from board liberals that more of the benefits would go to Beaverton than Hillsboro, but when looking at the region as a whole, it's a clear win for education.
  • Improved terms for City View Charter School.   While I was disappointed that efforts to add an additional charter school fell through,  we renewed City View's contract with some significantly improved terms.   They got a much higher enrollment ceiling (although their lack of a new location has limited their ability to take advantage), and an additional 5% credit for district services on top of the per-student funding they receive.    
  • District educational achievements.   Our district has demonstrated positive achievements in a number of areas over the past few years.   This is of course the core mission of the district-- I list it last here only because it's the area where it's least clear how much the board has mattered, with the achievements mainly due to the efforts of our dedicated staff!    Graduation rates have continued to consistently outperform demographically comparable districts (they may look low, but only when you fail to control for our level of poverty vs the top areas).   HSD's "College and Career Pathways" continue to offer impressive programs in a variety of practical career skills.  And I have been very impressed with the Hillsboro Online Academy, which has continued to grow over the past four years, offering a radical alternative to traditional classroom education that is a lifesaver for certain types of students.

So, although I did not achieve everything I was hoping, and was often frustrated at the huge, immovable walls of bureaucracy and state law, I think my term on the board has been worthwhile, and all those hours of meetings over the last four years have had some tangible results.   I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Education Savings Accounts in Oregon?

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are one of the many proposals to make it financially feasible for a wider range of families to educate their children outside the confines of the standard K-12 public school system.   Our state legislature is having an informational hearing this week on SB 437, a proposal to bring ESAs to Oregon.    Actually enacting this seems like a huge longshot, given our current union-controlled legislature-- unions oppose this even more strongly than charter schools, and they have already given us some of the weakest charter school laws in the nation.    But the ESA advocates do want to raise awareness of the issue, so I have gone ahead and submitted some testimony on the topic.   Here's what I wrote:


Dear Chairman Roblan and members of the Senate Education Committee:

My name is Erik Seligman, and I am both a resident of Hillsboro and a member of the Hillsboro School Board. I am writing to support SB 437 and the -1 Amendment.

When knocking on local doors while campaigning for my board position, I remember meeting a mother in tears due to the fact that her 1st-grade son still could not read. Her local school had made several unsuccessful attempts to help, and she realized that due to his unique needs, he needed a different type of school environment. But lacking the resources to pay for private school, or the luck to win the lottery drawing for our district’s one charter school, she felt the situation was hopeless. If Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) had been available, she may have been able to make alternative educational arrangements.

There are many parents in this situation across Oregon, who need another choice for their child’s education, but cannot afford it under our current system. Every child in Oregon is a unique individual with their own needs, and our results continue to show that many fall through the cracks rather than receiving the education they deserve.

Thus, as a concerned parent and neighbor, and a board member in Oregon’s 4th largest school district, I strongly support the idea of ESAs. Please learn more about the potential benefits of SB 437, and support efforts to bring this opportunity to Oregon’s children. 


The hearing is on Tues, so there is still time for you to submit written testimony.   See this site for some hints on submitting such testimony, if you would consider doing so as well.    We won't get ESAs this year, but we might be able to make more people aware of this future opportunity to improve K-12 education in Oregon.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


You have probably heard us talking about STEM programs, designed to improve student skills and interest in the focus areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math.   These areas are important due to a nationwide crisis:  Americans just aren't studying or sticking with science and math topics, often preferring easier but lucrative areas like law and business.   This may seriously impact our national competitiveness in the long tern.     Success in STEM topics requires a level of persistency, focus, and discipline that is significantly tougher than most other subject areas, so students tend to be easily discouraged or scared away.   Thus STEM programs try to encourage students to get more excited about these areas starting at younger ages, increasing both their excitement and level of confidence, improving the chance that students will eventually get a STEM degree.    I think these programs are a great idea.   But recently, they have been modified slightly in many districts to add Arts, changing STEM to STEAM.   Is this a reasonable change?

We need to focus on the original goal:  addressing the national STEM crisis.   We simply do not have a similar crisis related to lack of arts graduates.   If anything, we have the opposite:  an over-abundance of spoiled middle class kids who think that maintaining a B average in the arts at a mid-ranking state college makes them the next Michelangelo.   There just aren't enough jobs for artists (or art teachers) to absorb all these graduates.   I'm not arguing that nobody should study art;  it's a nice enrichment or recreational activity, but we need to recognize that if you're not at the very top of the field, making a decent living in an art-related area is very unlikely.   In contrast, even the average STEM graduate is fully prepared for a solid and well-paying job.    And of course I don't object to integrating art into STEM lessons when appropriate- creating computer art programs, for example, is a great engineering exercise--  but the STEM topics need to remain the focus and the key motivation.   

I think STEAM arose because some politicians who were never good at STEM topics had fond memories of art classes in their youth.  But adding unrelated topics to the STEM acronym dilutes the focus, and risks directing scarce funds targeted for STEM into other topics.   If money targeted for the STEM crisis is going towards the arts instead, then we have missed the whole point of STEM.  If we really want to let every busybody insert their pet subject into our STEM programs, instead of incrementally adding letters to the name, I propose a new acronym: STEAKS:  Science, Technology, Engineering,  And the Ktichen Sink.   This way every politician can direct the funding to whatever subjects they find personally meaningful.    But then STEAKS will be yet another random bureaucratic money hole, and we'll have to come up with new strategies to address the STEM crisis.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Make Hillsboro a Real Sanctuary

Recently I heard that the City of Hillsboro is thinking of declaring itself a “sanctuary city”, willing to defy unjust laws that are enforced by other levels of government.   This sounds like a great idea to me.  There are so many good people who have never hurt anyone, and never intended to break any law, yet must tremble in fear that at any moment, federal agents or other police officers will lock them up (or worse) for peacefully exercising their human rights.    We need to step in and protect these people from the violent actions of a runaway government, which destroys lives and breaks up families.   I am, of course, talking about legal gun owners.
As a key example, you may be familiar with the recent Mike Strickland case in Portland.   Mike was attacked by an angry mob at a protest, and pointed his gun (without touching the trigger) in order to get them to back off.    Mike had good reason to fear this mob— a similar protestor had beaten him so badly last year that he ended up in the hospital, and the attacker was never prosecuted, despite his identity being known and the attack being caught on tape.   Although none of his attackers was ever charged, the Portland authorities were offended by Mike’s possession of a gun:   he was quickly convicted of “menacing” each member of the mob, which may result in over 50 years in prison.  (You can read more details about this case at .

So, while our city council is in a mood to protect selected classes of people from the police, I believe they should include those like Mike Strickland.   Anybody who is being unjustly persecuted for possessing a gun for self-defense should know they have a safe haven, since there is one city that will defy all outside law enforcement agencies and stand up for what it thinks is right.   I urge Mayor Callaway and the Hillsboro City Council to support justice and the Constitution by declaring Hillsboro a Second Amendment Sanctuary City.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Questions for School Board Candidates

It’s school board election season again.   As usual, I find myself a bit frustrated as I read candidate websites and statements— 99.9% fluff, “I’m a nice guy who loves children”, etc, with barely a hint at any actual issues.   It’s even harder during this election season:  since I’m stepping down, I’m anticipating that several new candidates will be asking for my endorsement.  Thus, I’m supplying a set of questions which I believe should be asked of every board candidate.  
I know some candidates will try to resist making direct statements on any of these issues, trying to please everyone.   Or some will say “Many of these are political questions, and I’m above politics, I just do what’s best for the children.”   Saying “I don’t know” is OK— but in that case I expect some info on how you would go about deciding.  These questions are all based on real issues that have been faced by HSD or other school boards— and when your choice of candidate really matters is when these controversial issues come up, not when everyone agrees.  It doesn’t matter if someone claims to be non-political; when these issues come before the board, members must vote one way or the other.   
Thus, I will be asking that any newcomer seeking my endorsement answers each of the questions below.  And I believe you should too.   They don’t have to agree with me or you on every answer, but they do need to demonstrate a drive to seek reasoned, intelligent opinions on these issues, rather than simply evading them or voting with the crowd.    (Though of course you will be able to infer my opinions pretty easily by reviewing past entries in this blog.)   If any candidate refuses to answer these questions on the basis of being “above politics”, they are actually the worst kind of politician— an evasive weasel who can’t be honest about their beliefs.  Keep that in mind when deciding your vote!

  1. How do you believe we should judge overall district performance?   What kind of actions should we take if particular schools are found to be low-performing?
  2. Should the property taxes be raised for the citizens of HSD in order to provide more money for schools?   If so, by how much?
  3. What should we do about the fact that the state is showing complete incompetence in the school funding area, continuing to increase unfunded mandates (full day kindergarten, expanded PhysEd, etc) while failing to reform a thoroughly bloated PERS?
  4. If we find during some year that the district is lucky enough to have more money than we projected, should we spend the remainder on new programs and improvements, or save some for leaner years?  
  5. Are there any general changes or improvements you would suggest to HSD’s  budgeting process?
  6. If a local housing complex that contains many low-income tenants petitioned the district for a specific hardship-based tax break for their residents, would you support or oppose it?  Why?
  7. Should our college and career pathways program encourage each student to “follow their passion”, or try to guide students into likely career paths using other criteria?   What criteria would you suggest?
  8. How do you feel about School Based Health Centers, and their overall role in the district?
  9. Should a 13-year old girl be able to get birth control prescribed at school, during the school day, with no form of parental notification?
  10. What accommodations do you believe the schools should make for the proliferation of new gender identities?
  11. When choosing members for appointed boards or subcommittees, what kind of process do you believe the board should follow?
  12. Do you think we should focus on providing advanced and honors classes for high achievers, or push more towards mixed-level classes that bring all students together? 
  13. If we are directing resources according to “need”, does this mean we should spend more on at-risk students than currently successful ones?  What kind of spending differences between students are acceptable?
  14. How do you feel about charter schools and other educational alternatives?   Should our district aim for more charter schools?
  15. Do you believe it’s fair that City View Charter receives several thousand fewer dollars per student than the rest of HSD spends, even after subtracting services (like busing and special ed) that City View is exempt from?   Why?
  16. Should HSD be able to use taxpayer money to launch a marketing campaign, in hope of getting more taxpayer money allocated?
  17. Should HSD staff be allowed to form student “leadership clubs”, whose activities include traveling to Salem and lobbying state officials to take positions favored by our district?
  18. If a district boundary change is identified that will save the region several million dollars in costs overall, but cause a few dozen students (and their tax money) to be moved from Hillsboro to Beaverton, would you support or oppose it?  Why?
  19. What should our schools be teaching our children about the merits of the American system of government, in comparison to the rest of the world?
  20. Should our schools be teaching that we live in a fundamentally racist society, permeated with White Privilege, which is inherently unfair to anyone who is not a white male?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Graduation Rates and Credit Recovery

You probably read the recent newspaper articles reporting graduation rates in Oregon high schools, including in our district.   Hillsboro once again did very well, with small increases in grad rates in 3 of the 4 main high schools, leading to a 1.26% increase overall.   This is excellent news, and reflective of multiple HSD programs providing active outreach and assistance to struggling students who might otherwise be on track for failure.   However, we need to be a bit cautious here:  if you think about it, you can increase graduation rates by lowering standards as well as by educating students.   You may recall that last year a departing teacher made a number of critical comments about the district, which I summarized in my blog .   One of his major concerns was a lack of standards in the credit recovery system, based on an online tool called “Plato”.   In the last few months, I followed up and took a closer look at our credit recovery program.

To start with, if you just look at the Plato system in isolation, I can indeed see why there was a serious concern.   This system is much more bare-bones than the “real” online classes largely used by our Online Academy (which you may have seen me praise in the past ), sometimes amounting to little more than an extended outline plus a 20-question multiple-choice test for each major unit.   So I followed up by meeting with Assistant Superintendent Travis Reiman, along with teacher Jeff Gower, who runs the credit recovery at one of our schools.   I was very impressed after speaking with Jeff.   He explained that Plato is just one tool, and that the real goal of credit recovery is to work with the subject-area teachers and find appropriate ways for a student to demonstrate mastery after they have been failing under the standard instructional methods.   Some of these students just need some individualized attention and coaching, and are not truly incapable of absorbing the material— it is just hard for a subject-area teacher with hundreds of students to properly identify and address their unique issues.   He shared some success stories of students who were able to return to the regular classroom after catching up in the credit recovery program.   As to the question fo whether this involves lowering standards to rubber-stamp students through to graduation, Jeff pointed out that each year a number of students in his program fail to achieve mastery and are not granted credit.   After speaking to Jeff, I am much more confident that our credit recovery program has solid goals and processes, and is doing the right thing for our students.

Now, we need to remain vigilant for several reasons.   I only had a limited amount to time to look into the credit recovery program, so if you are a student or teacher who has been involved in this area, I would love to hear more about your experiences, positive or negative.   Also, of course, issues like credit recovery and graduation rates only show that our district is doing well at keeping the students near the bottom from dropping out, and do not really say anything about how well we educate the rest of our students.   To truly claim that HSD is a high-achieving district, we also need evidence that academic achievement is rising, both for average and top students.   (As I have mentioned before in my blog, this has been made harder by the redesign of curriculum and standardized tests in the past few years under Common Core.)   I would really like to see our district start to appear at the top of academic rankings, providing solid evidence that all our students are well-served, including the ones at the top, middle, and bottom.  But for now, I’m joining the rest of the HSD community in congratulating our staff for its exceptional achievement in once again increasing our graduation rates.