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A public school accountability bill? Still a chance

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Feb. 8, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
February 8, 2012 5:33 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Education reform – serious education reform – remains alive in the Legislature. No thanks to the Legislature’s education chairwomen.

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, and Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, have used their peremptory power to squish two measures that would have nudged Washington toward the national mainstream.

One bill would hold educators genuinely accountable for student performance; the other (now dead) would have authorized a limited number of charter public schools.
Both strategies are strongly encouraged by the Obama administration and have been embraced by states trying to shake public schools out of mediocrity. Both are opposed in this state by teacher unions and other stalwarts of the status quo.

As usual, the Legislature’s powers-that-be crouch like defensive NFL linemen, ready to tackle anything that might challenge the failing trade-union model of public education.

This year, though, McAuliffe had to deal with a bipartisan rebellion that effectively shut down her committee last week. A majority of the Senate Education Committee wanted to at least hold a vote on the charter school bill; when she refused, they refused to act on any other education legislation.

Credit is due the Republicans and Democrats who forced this crisis. And some credit is due the Senate leaders who revived the accountability bill – though not the charter bill – by shifting it to the Ways and Means Committee.

Revived with it was a watered-down “teacher evaluation” bill with few teeth; it is favored by K-12 establishment types who want to claim credit for a weak alternative that can be labeled as reform.

The real thing is Senate Bill 5896, which would make performance an overriding factor in hiring, firing, layoffs and transfers. Seniority has traditionally dictated these employment decisions, a policy that treats highly educated teachers much like factory workers.

SB 5896 is supported by people who want much more from our schools, including the League of Education Voters, Stand for Children and companies weary of barely literate job applicants.

Let’s be clear: The teaching profession is packed with effective educators who give their all to their students and deserve substantially more compensation. But they share the pay scales and job protections of ineffective teachers who belong in another honorable line of work.

Teaching in the public schools is as important as surgery – arguably more important. Real education reform will reward teachers like surgeons, on the basis of ability and results, not on how long they’ve been able to hang on to their jobs in a system that makes it almost impossible to fire them.

Someday, perhaps even Washington’s Legislature will figure this out.

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