In It With You, for the Long Haul


August 18, 2015


Educators are pack rats. If you work in education, you already know this. When I moved to Portland to work for Education Northwest, I had to throw away about 30 boxes full of lesson plans, tests and quizzes, assignments, teaching materials, banners, posters, pens whose ink had dried up years before, and countless knickknacks. At that point, I had been out of the classroom for nearly 20 years but still could not bring myself to throw out anything!

Photo of NWRELs Chronological Planning Documents: February 1965 – June 1966
The Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory Chronological Planning Documents: February 1965 – June 1966

Many of my colleagues at Education Northwest are no different. In an age in which almost everything is digitized, they still hang on to long-ago reports and studies—and refer to them with justifiable pride. So, I enjoyed seeing a recent display in our office of historic artifacts from our nearly 50 years of existence.

Among the treasures on display is a bound volume titled Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory Chronological Planning Documents: February 1965 – June 1966. As a former history teacher, I was thrilled to have access to Education Northwest’s founding documents. Here were the words—often in fuzzy photocopies or blurry mimeo sheets— that link the founding of our organization to the Great Society vision of using research and evidence to provide an excellent education for every student.

The opening sentence of the June 1965 draft proposal to create a regional educational laboratory for the Northwest identified a central challenge in education: “The value of basic research in the form of discovery of new knowledge, applied research findings, and organization of knowledge into related structures is frequently lost because the results are not widely adopted.”

Fifty years later, the words that led to the creation of Education Northwest still ring true: We have not yet fully harnessed the power of evidence to drive sustained and successful educational system improvement.

Does that mean that nothing has changed? I don’t think so. We have made improvements in education and in the use of evidence. But the challenge we chose to address 50 years ago—to significantly improve the educational and life outcomes for every child and youth—is one of the toughest our nation faces. Meeting it requires better and more useful evidence, support for instructional improvement, and more systemic solutions.

Just as the challenge has not changed, neither has our commitment.

Since our founding, we have connected our work to the needs of Northwest educators, communities, and policymakers. Examples of our current work demonstrate this long arc of commitment. We are still highly active in the improvement of both rural and Indian Education. One example is our support to the Oregon Department of Education and its advisory group in the creation of a new American Indian/Alaska Native State Plan to improve student outcomes. Another is our partnership with small, rural schools across our region that has led to the creation of a dynamic Northwest Rural Innovation and Student Engagement (NW RISE) Network.

We have also demonstrated a historic commitment to improving teaching and learning in literacy, mathematics, and science. Our 6+1 Trait Writing workshops and resources, pioneered three decades ago, continue to be the nation’s leading, research-proven approach to improving instruction and outcomes for student writers. Our long-standing support for the implementation of standards-based instruction in math and science has gained new impetus with the adoption of more rigorous standards across the region.

And we are not standing still. We are also responding to new needs in the region. For example, in the past decade educators in the Northwest have seen a significant increase of English language learners in their schools and classrooms. We offer a variety of applied research and technical assistance resources and support to ensure these students can thrive.

Since 1965, we have worked with you to address perennial and emerging challenges facing learners in the Northwest. As we enter a sixth decade of existence, we are more convinced than ever that the tough path we walk together with our stakeholders is the right path.

I mentioned a few educational challenges above; are there others you think we can help you address? I’d love to see your list of critical challenges.

Education Northwest is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a regional leader in evaluation, applied research, and training to schools and communities in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. This post is the part of a series that will run through summer 2016.