The Land Of Opportunity

Compiled by M.D. Wisdom, 1909
Oregon Commission of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition

Oregon's Educational System
By J.H. Ackerman, Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Photo Left: Columbus Public School
McMinnville, Oregon

With no design to be invidious, W.E. Chancellor, lecturer on History of Educational Theory, Johns Hopkins University, says in the Atlantic Educational Journal: "I have read the school laws of every State in the Union; Oregon has the best." It is the purpose of this article to describe as fully as limited space will allow, the educational system of Oregon, which is necessarily based upon her school laws.

The school district governed by an elective board of from three to five directors is the unit of the school system in Oregon. This board manages the finances of the district, and elects teachers. Once a year the school district holds a school meeting, which all legal voters of the district are privileged to attend, and special meetings are called from time to time by the board of directors as the need arises. The districts of a county have a supervising officer called the county superintendent, who looks after the interests and welfare of all the districts of a county. This officer visits each district at least once a year, inspects the buildings, looks after the school itself, and supervises the work of the teacher. In the same manner, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction cares for the educational interests of the entire State.


The schools of Oregon use a uniform course of study, which provides for eight grades in the grammar schools, and four years of work in the high schools. The State uses also a uniform series of text-books. If a pupil moves from one part of Oregon to another he may keep the same books, enter school and be very easily classified. When the eight grades are completed, the pupil takes the eighth grade examination on questions prepared by the State Superintendent, and graded by the county board of examiners. If successful, he receives a diploma signed by the county superintendent and his teacher, which entitles him to enter any high school in the State.


The high schools are now in a period of development in Oregon. Some have one year, some two, three and four. The course requires four years of high school work, so when a pupil leaves in a district that has only a one, two or three-year high school, he usually goes to some four-year high school to finish his course. These smaller high schools are adding to their courses each year and more than 50 new high schools were organized during the past year.

The State institutions, the University of Oregon, the Oregon Agricultural College, and the normal schools have their courses so arranged that they correlate well with that of the high schools, and these schools, together with a large number of good private and sectarian colleges, finish the free education that is offered to the boys and girls of Oregon.

Space will not permit the mention of all the schools of the State, but it may be said that the Catholics are well represented throughout the State by grammar schools and academies, and have also the Mt. Angel College at Mt. Angel, The Columbia University, and a women's academy at Portland. The Presbyterians have a college at Albany and an academy at Portland; the Methodists a university at Salem; the Baptists a college at McMinnville; the Friends a college at Newberg, and the Congregationalists established the Pacific University, situated at Forest Grove.


The last Legislature, passed a compulsory educational law which is as near self-operative as any law well can be. Truant officers and teachers are in danger of penalty if they neglect their duty in seeing to the regular attendance of the children under their attendance. A humane feature of the law is that the children are never placed under arrest. Parents or guardians are arrested and fined if they fail to keep their children in school. County superintendents report that the law is working well and that they are having no difficulty in enforcing the law. At the recent conference of state school superintendents held at Washington, D.C., it was the consensus of opinion of those who spoke upon this subject that the educators of Oregon had framed a compulsory educational law superior to that of any other State in the Union.


By these various meetings, teachers and school officers are kept in touch with the progress of the day, not alone in the line of teaching, but with the progress of the nation, economically, socially, financially and intellectually.

The law requires each county superintendent to hold an annual teacher's convention in his county, and the attendance of teachers is compulsory. The State Superintendent is also required to attend these conventions as far as practicable. Most of the counties are now able to procure for these conventions at least one instructor from some other State, and two or three of the best institute instructors of this State.

Once each year state associations are held, one for Western Oregon and one for Eastern Oregon. The attendance at the Western Oregon division usually reaches one thousand or more, that of the eastern division not quite so large. For these meetings the best talent of the State is employed, and two or three instructors, the most noted in the United States, are also secured.

The conventions held thus far have been well attended, and the directors have shown that they are interested in their schools, and that they are willing to spend time and money to forward any plan tending to better the public schools, that will on its face show itself to be of practical working value. For example, the writer has been advocating the plan of a number of districts uniting to employ a specialist who will instruct the children in elementary agriculture, have an equipment of necessary tools, and teach the children how to bud, graft and prune the trees of the orchard, how to prepare the ground for the different seedings, the best way to cultivate each of the different garden products, and above all to cultivate an abounding interest amont the children for such work. Many of the school directors have become interested in this, and the plan, it is believed, will be given a trial in the near future. By these meetings, too, many smaller, vexatious problems have been solved simply by open discussion and suggestions by the delegates attending.

There are several defects in our laws, or a number of phases of our laws that will bear improvement, and the State department is now working out plans to this end. It has already been noted that the county is divided into a large number of districts, and each of these districts has a controlling board, and that the supervising officer is the county superintendent. Here, in order to secure good work, the power must be more centralized. To illustrate, if a county superintendent finds certain defects in fifty different disricts, he must go to work with fifty different boards, or with one hundred and fifty men, in order to have the conditions made right. It may be a matter of bad ventilation, or one of no playgrounds, or one of unsanitary conditions, and many of our schools are suffering from all of these ills. If there were one central board for the entire county, and the county superintendent had authority to execute its plans, school buildings might be made more comfortable, playgrounds might be provided, and the district with a few pupils might have as good a school and as competent a teacher as the one with a large number of pupils.

In order to make this last possible, another change must be made, and that is the plan of distributing the school money. Now it is distributed according to the school census. The property of the whole State must stand back of the education of every child in the State, and therefore, the district as a taxing unit is not a fair unit in that some districts are too poor to maintain a good school for a sufficient number of months, while other districts with no greater number of children have a greater amount of taxable property and, therefore, can, without any great sacrifice on its part, have a good school for a greater number of months. If the State were made the taxable unit this unequal division would cease. The method of apportioning money according to the census of children is not a fair method for the reason that children of a district which has a small census is entitled to a good teacher for as many months as are the children of a district containing a greater number of children. The idea being that a few children need a good teacher as well as a large number of months as the large number; therefore, money should not be distributed in accordance to the number of children in a district but in accordance to the number of teachers employed.


Thus while a careful reading of Oregon's most important school laws - the law in regard to grading and text-books, the high school law, especially that part pertaining to union high schools, many of which are now being formed, the compulsory education law, and the library law - will show that Oregon's school system is equal to that of any other State, yet we mention these defects and their proposed remedies to show that the system is being improved continually. The tendencies of the present day for vocational work in the schools is being met in a practical manner, while the plan for centralizing the power of school districts will give the present generation the benefit of facilities and advantages in keeping with the progressive spirit of this century.