Whitney Swander Appointed to Oregon’s Quality Education Commission

Named to the post by Gov. Kate Brown, FBO’s Data and Research Director will help define the investments needed for a quality and equitable public education.

Louis Wheatley is Strategic Communications Director at Foundations for a Better Oregon.

Louis Wheatley is Strategic Communications Director at Foundations for a Better Oregon.

We are thrilled that Whitney Swander, our Data and Research Director at Foundations for a Better Oregon (FBO), has been selected to serve on Oregon’s Quality Education Commission (QEC).

Appointed by Governor Kate Brown and confirmed by the Oregon Senate, Whitney joins the QEC at a time when the COVID-19 crisis shines stark light on the systemic inequities embedded in Oregon’s education system. Every two years, the commission issues a report to Oregon’s Governor and Legislature, analyzing the best practices and funding levels necessary to provide a high-quality and equitable education to every Oregon child. 

“It’s an honor to join the Quality Education Commission alongside a roster of equity-minded education leaders,” says Whitney. “As the QEC continues to inform statewide policy, I look forward to elevating community-connected research that expands our understanding of the many factors that underpin a quality education, like a sense of belonging and youth agency.”

Based in Bend, Whitney joins the QEC with deep roots in Central Oregon and deep experience in research and policy. For much of the past decade, she has partnered with school districts, local governments, and community-based organizations to study and actively advance data- and research-informed strategies that address persistent opportunity gaps and improve public education for young people, especially those from historically underserved communities.

“We are thrilled to welcome Whitney Swander to the Quality Education Commission,” said John Rexford, chair of the Quality Education Commission and former superintendent of the High Desert Education Service District. “Whitney’s experience and expertise will make her a valued addition to the Commission and a great resource to support student success in Oregon.”

As Whitney begins her four-year term on the QEC, we asked her about the commission’s work, how it defines a ‘quality education,’ and how it can help reimagine Oregon’s education system. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The QEC designs, updates, and implements Oregon’s Quality Education Model (QEM). How does this model determine what’s required to deliver a quality education?

The QEM focuses on two elements: first, the cost of running a public school in Oregon; and second, the performance of our education system, based on the state’s accountability data. What’s really interesting about the model is the way it ties together professional judgment with statistical analysis. For example, the QEM estimates both the cost and effects of implementing different policy options, but it requires some professional judgment to select those policies and estimate the effects appropriately. To do this, QEC Commissioners consider available research and data when they set the assumptions and scenarios that drive the QEM’s statistical analysis. 

You’re a champion for community-driven research and community-centered data. How will that inform your leadership with the QEC?

Too often, education research and best practices are created and tested in very specific places, with certain communities, and under unique conditions. It simply doesn’t reflect the rich reality that Oregon’s communities are extremely diverse, both across our state and within unique places. For example, there is tremendous diversity across communities and identities and cultures in Central Oregon where I live, and what works across the region is just as diverse.

So I’m a big proponent of co-designing models and evaluation with community. And in that vein, I’m curious to learn how the QEC gathers wisdom and input from across Oregon’s communities to identify the best practices they’d like to see in play at our schools. It’s something I look forward to advocating for as a QEC commissioner.

The last year has uplifted new opportunities—and uplifted the long overdue need—to reimagine and reinvent the systems that serve children. In what ways is that true for the work of the QEC?

Yes, the traditional ‘model’ of education delivery and accountability has, in many ways, been turned upside-down. We’re entering an important moment where we can reconsider the inputs and outputs of our public education system, and what’s missing from Oregon’s current formula for a ‘quality education’—factors like inclusive school climate, connections to caring adults, and a sense of fairness and belonging for every child.

The movement for racial justice is refocusing what we mean by public education as a public good. I’m hopeful that the QEC will look at the traditional indicators of student performance and system accountability embedded in the Quality Education Model with fresh eyes. We have to apply a racial justice lens, especially in light of the COVID-19’s disproportionate impacts on student experiences, learning conditions, and access to education.