Oregon vs. Washington, a class apart?

Oregon vs. Washington, a class apart?
- By Dan Tilkin and KATU Web Staff

Washougal, Wash. - Ron and Dawn Hoesly love Oregon.

"I like the rivers. I like the mountains," says Ron, who grew up in Oregon, which is where his kids were born.

The state is home, but Ron and his wife made a decision to leave on behalf of their children's education.

"We just decided the best thing for us to do was to leave the area where I've grown up and been in all my life and come over here and give it a shot," says Ron. "So far, it's worked out great."

The once devoted Oregonians are now Washingtonians who moved from Oregon City to Washougal in search of better schools.

What do you think?

They made that decision based on a number of factors, including what they were hearing about the state of Oregon schools and how much better things were across the river.

"The schools are so much better here," says Jennifer Newman, who teaches in the state of Washington. "The level of education is a lot higher. They care about teachers as professionals."

The plight of Oregon's schools has been well-publicized, what with a Doonesbury comic strip making fun of the state's problems and lawmakers struggling to find the money to fund education.

However, is there real proof of a dividing line between Washington and Oregon schools, hard numbers that show schools are better in Washington than in Oregon?

The answer is no.

Washington and Oregon students both take the SAT. Washington is number one in the country, but Oregon is right there at number two.

Students in both states also take a test called the NAEP, but again, the states are neck and neck, with Washington having just a slight advantage over Oregon.

Otherwise, it's a real apples to oranges equation. There is no one test that every student in both states take, leaving a real mystery on the best way to compare education between Washington and Oregon.

Dr. Milt Dennison is a good person to start with. He worked in Canby before heading north to run Camas schools for 11 years.

Now, in Oregon again, he heads the Clackamas Education Service District. He is also married to a West Linn teacher.

"I don't sense that Oregon students are getting the breadth of education they used to and not the same breadth that kids in Washington will typically get," Dennison says.

He means sports, the arts and diverse courses in language, math and science.

"Academically, I think they're more advanced over here," says Dawn Hoesly. "Our children came over a little bit behind. When they told us that, we were like 'wow,' what did we do wrong?"

"The state of Washington has a system that is flawed in some respects, but it is more predictable," says Dr. John Erickson, Vancouver Schools Superintendent.

Erickson offers a valuable perspective because he runs Vancouver schools, but for 22 years, he educated kids in places like Lincoln County and Salem. He was even the state superintendent of Oregon schools before moving to Washington.

He now looks sadly back across the river, seeing teacher layoffs and 90 Oregon districts cutting their school years to make ends meet.

In Washington, that would be unconstitutional - 180 days is the minimum.

"When you contrast the environment that Oregon educators face with our colleagues in Washington, I think there are some arguments that it's probably better to be on this side of the river," Erickson says.

Each Washington district can also pass levies to pay for more programs and almost all of them do. Plus, Washington also has smaller class sizes.

However, it is not all rosy in Washington. It was not long ago that Washington teachers marched en masse in Olympia to show their unhappiness over class size, pay and benefits.

As for Oregon, teachers make more money, the dropout rate is lower and consider what Oregon educators have done in the face of such adversity.

"When I came back to Oregon, I was amazed at how well school folks have maintained things," says Dennison.

"I would hope that in time, residents in Oregon schools will be able to look at their own situation and restore the pride that was once there," says Erickson.

But will that be enough for the Hoesly's?

"Move back someday? No. No. We plan on retiring in Washington state," says Ron.