This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Credit Gov. Chris Gregoire with out-of-the-box thinking for her plan to restructure the bureaucracy of education in this state. We just wish she’d thought a lot further out of the box.
Gregoire’s idea is intriguing, as far as it goes. She wants to lend some coherence to the collection of fiefdoms that reputedly oversees education at the state level.
Under her proposal, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Board of Education, Higher Education Coordinating Board, State Board for Technical & Community Colleges and other entities would all get folded into a new state Department of Education.
Gregoire is very right about one thing: Public education in Washington ought to be a seamless whole, from preschool through technical or academic higher education. The system is inexcusably fragmented, more to protect turf than to serve students.
The lack of coordination is appallingly evident in the abundance of discouraged college students mired in remedial education, studying what they should have learned in high school, and the abundance of high school students doing college-level work without earning college credits for it.
If redrawing the organizational chart promises better results, the Legislature ought to follow the results, not the entrenched interests bent on clinging to control and funding. It would arguably be better to centralize accountability in one elected official, the governor, rather spread it among six different entities, some of which answer to no one obvious.
If we were inventing an educational system from scratch, we’d certainly come up with something better than what we’ve got now.
What we’ve got doesn’t deliver a genuine high school education to most of the students in the state, if the number of unqualified graduates is added to the number of dropouts. Blacks and Latinos fall by the wayside at catastrophic rates.
What we’ve got makes it prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to fire ineffective teachers. What we’ve got produces one of the nation’s lower rates of graduation from four-year colleges.
But bureaucratic reforms, by themselves, will never solve the problems on the classroom level. That will require a wholesale change in the culture of public education.
We should acknowledge, for example that the trade-union model of teaching is broken and must be replaced with a professional model that links high pay to high performance.
As things stand, compensation is far too often linked to factors – such as longevity, graduation from (often mediocre) education schools and the accumulation of graduate credits – that can have precious little connection to success in the classroom. Seniority, not effectiveness, typically dictates job security and pay.
When public education starts drawing more young teachers from the upper quartile of college achievers and fewer from the lower half, the state will be making real progress.
The Legislature ought to give the governor’s plan a fair hearing. But if lawmakers are serious about fixing the schools, they won’t stop there.