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A classroom view of school reforms

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Jan. 14, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
January 19, 2010 2:17 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Many people presume to speak for teachers: lawmakers, parents’ groups, the Washington Education Association, various K-12 lobbies. But there’s no substitute for letting teachers speak for themselves.

What teachers think is a particularly timely question right now. Last year, Washington forfeited any claim it might have had to $4 billion in “Race to the Top” funding the Obama administration has offered to states pioneering cutting-edge reform strategies. In Olympia, the political resistance to some of those strategies – merit pay, for example – has often been framed in terms of what’s best for educators.

After the Race to the Top failure, a partnership of pro-education organization decided to find out what a scientific sample of actual rank-and-file teachers thought of the proposed reforms. The Excellent Schools Now Coalition surveyed educators in November. As it turns out, they appear much more receptive to the Race to the Top policies than some seem to think.

Excellence in Schools Now is a high-credibility group that includes the College Success Foundation, Black Collective, League of Education Voters, Stand For Children and the Washington Roundtable. Some of the results from its survey:

• Asked whether students should be required to earn enough credits to apply to a university before graduating from high school, 78 percent of educators said yes.

• Asked whether there ought to be a way to distinguish more effective educators from less effective ones, 62 percent said yes.

• Asked whether effectiveness should trump seniority when making assignment, layoffs and other staffing decisions, 55 percent said yes.

• Asked whether educators should be paid more for carrying more responsibility, improving student achievement or handling such teacher-scarce subjects as math, 69 percent said yes.

• Asked about intervention to turn around chronically failing schools, 52 percent said favored it (20 percent were neutral, 25 percent disagreed).

On Thursday, Excellent Schools Now released a follow-up survey of 500 Washington voters. It also showed strong support for higher standards; more accountability for students, teachers and schools; and better pay for the most effective teachers.

Both surveys suggest that teachers aren’t that far apart from the public (and the Obama administration) when it comes to these essential school reforms. The question is, are lawmakers on board – or will they continue to reject remedies that would both improve public education and qualify Washington for its share of the Race to Top money?

With the 2010 Legislature in session, we’ll soon know the answer to that question.

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