U.S. Representative Suzanne Bonamici—whose Congressional district stretches from the west side of Portland all the way to the Oregon coast—spoke with Education Northwest staff on April 25, delivering a message on not only the importance of improving public education but also in using education research to support decision making and policy.
“We really know a lot about what’s critical for the success of schools," she said. "It’s good people, their dedication, and what they do, and it’s all made better with research and implementation of proven practices.”
Bonamici said that a passion for education is what led her to a career in public service. A product of Oregon’s public school system, she left a career as a lawyer to do volunteer work in the Beaverton-area schools that her children attended. After getting elected to the Oregon state senate and serving on the education committee, she realized that she couldn’t create as much positive change as she would have liked due to policy driven at the federal level. She has now served in the U.S. House of Representatives for four years and is a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and a conference committee that negotiated the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
“The bill that we passed is not perfect, but it is a dramatic improvement over No Child Left Behind,” she said. “One important part of ESSA is that it gives control back to the states and local districts where it belongs. But that means we have to make sure that districts are implementing it the way it was intended.” Her contributions to the bill included changes to make “fewer, better” assessments and an amendment to encourage schools to move from STEM to STEAM by adding components of the arts to math and science instruction as a way to grow an innovative workforce, encourage student engagement, and provide a well rounded education.
She also gave a brief update on the status of the Strengthening Education through Research Act, which is the reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act. “It is bipartisan, it has passed through the Senate, and I hope we can get it through the House as well,” she said. “I am committed to continuing to work on that.”
“I know how important education research is. There are many out there who find it easy to criticize public education and education policy,” she said. “What’s more difficult is making a case for what should be in place and what good policy is. That’s where evidence and research really make a difference.”