Everyone from Olympia to Washington, D.C., has jumped on the education wagon of late, and rightly so. With achievement gaps widening, inner city schools failing and graduation rates well below our global competitors, we need an education overhaul. And that costs money.
Another billion dollars for schools sounds good, especially when both Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna say it can be done without raising taxes, something that Gov. Chris Gregoire has insisted cannot be done.
We’re also skeptical whether either candidate can deliver on that promise, yet glad that those who would lead our state for the next four years are making education one of their top priorities.
But even if McKenna or Inslee do find the money, that will solve only part of this state’s education problem. Elected officials, the public, the teachers’ union and myriad education advocacy groups haven’t been able to agree about exactly what we should do, or how we would spend that extra $1 billion, if we had it.
The Excellent Schools Now coalition has been trying to harness the cacophony of voices on education for the past few years, hoping to speak louder and stronger in a tone that fairly represents the diversity of its 36 member organizations. They are making significant progress.
The Washington Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers in collective bargaining, is not part of the coalition.
After Washington finished nearly dead last out of 36 states competing for Race to the Top federal funds, the coalition recognized a vacuum of leadership in developing a comprehensive education plan that could get us back on track. They took it upon themselves to write a plan that would improve and support Washington’s schools.
The result is “A-Plus Washington: A Way Forward of All Schools.”
The plan is built around five core strategies: expanding access to early learning, recognizing that great teachers matter most, implementing flexible and transformative approaches to K-12 education, developing new tools for accountability and aligning secondary school and college curriculums so that high school graduates are ready for post-secondary learning.
A poll of 500 registered voters and 500 public school teachers shows that teacher and voters are closer in their thinking about education reform than you might imagine. For example:
• 88 percent of voters and 94 percent of teachers agree that teacher and school leader evaluations should be based on multiple measures, not just student achievement.
• 81 percent of voters and 70 percent of teachers agree that professional developments should be aligned with individualized needs as determined in their performance evaluations.
• 86 percent of voters and 71 percent of teachers agree that teachers and school leaders who consistently fail to provide their students a quality education should be removed from the classroom.
Many of the ideas in the A-plus plan used to be controversial, but have become more or less mainstream today, including expanding access to pre-kindergarten and all-day kindergarten, and strengthening teacher and school leader evaluations.
The A-plus plan has given us a way to move beyond the divisiveness within education for the sake of our students, and the competitiveness of our state generally. It has received support from McKenna and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. Inslee has given it qualified support, remaining vague on some items affecting teachers.
Excellent Schools Now has given the state a carefully constructed and thoughtful starting point around which we hope the education community and elected officials can come together.