Inside Opinion

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Tag: public education

June
29th

A surprisingly good budget from a divided Legislature

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The 2013 Legislature can’t be judged a success because it failed to approve the major highway improvements needed to keep Washington’s economy growing.

That said, lawmakers deserve praise for pulling together a surprisingly good operating budget last week in the face of deadline pressure.

For months, the Legislature was locked in the kind of partisan gridlock that has all but paralyzed the budget-writing process in Congress.

The Democrats who run the state House of Representatives were pushing to preserve the social safety net by ending a collection of tax breaks and

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June
15th

State lawmakers: Miles to go before they sleep

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The Legislature’s inability to approve a budget is starting to look dangerous, not just loopy.

State lawmakers are now in their third session, the Senate and House of Representatives having failed to agree on a spending plan in the first two.

The paralysis is partisan: The Senate is controlled by Republicans, the House by Democrats. Without action, much of state government could be shut down as of midnight June 30. That’s when the existing budget expires, and the Washington Constitution requires legislative approval for further spending.

While a shutdown isn’t likely, it’s got better odds than the Mayan doomsday. In the meantime, the state is running up against deadlines for preliminary actions, such as warning school employees of potential layoffs.

The Senate and House absolutely must agree on three things: an operating budget, a construction budget and a transportation package that would pay for critical highway projects around the state – including the completion of state Route 167 between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma.

Republicans and Democrats may be within striking distance on overall spending, but they’re far apart on some of the specifics.

A couple of measures being pressed by the Senate aren’t worth fighting over. One is a move to “fix” compensation for injured workers.

As the law stands, permanently disabled workers in their 50s have the option of taking lump sum payments in lieu of lifelong pensions. A Senate bill would extend that option to workers in their 40s. This can hold until next year.

So can a measure that would let the state’s payday lenders loan more money for longer terms. It’s dumbfounding that some lawmakers cherish this industry so much that they’d hold the entire state budget hostage for its sake.

But the Senate deserves credit for trying to force education reforms. Compared to the House, it would spend more money on the K-12 system and earmark more for efforts to lift the performance of disadvantaged students.
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March
24th

Dollars alone won’t ensure first-rate public schools

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Last year’s McCleary decision is not just about money.

As the Washington Supreme Court noted 14 months ago, the state constitution mandates that the Legislature “make ample provision for the education” of all the state’s children.

What does “education” mean? The court defined it – logically – as “the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.”

It’s a question of quality as well as quantity.

You could spend fortunes feeding fast food to kids, and they’ll grow up malnourished. Likewise, the Legislature could dump another

$5 billion a year into the K-12 system without offering students the skills they need to survive in the 21st-century economy. More money is necessary, but not sufficient.

Lawmakers this year have been taking important steps toward improving the quality of public education in Washington.

One pair of bills would create a date certain – July 1, 2015 – for increasing state high school graduation requirements to 24 credits.

More important, the credits must mean something. The plan is to align graduation requirements with college admission requirements. Students shouldn’t just be given a piece of paper when they graduate; they need the intellectual tools to succeed in a four-year college, two-year college or technical-vocational program.

As things stand, many students – especially from low-income families – have only a foggy understanding of what college demands. They often wind up with a hodgepodge of credits that don’t add up to a marketable high school diploma.
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Oct.
18th

More dollars, more graduates

Does more money spent on public schools translate into better performance by students?

People have been arguing over that question for decades. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy – which does non-partisan research for state government – just published what looks like a thorough “meta study” of other research, including some from other countries.

It did conclude that more money can make a difference, though mostly when it’s targeted toward lower grades. Spend 10 percent more, and WSIPP estimates the high school graduation rate could be raised from 76.6 percent to 79.5 percent. That’s not a huge gain

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Sep.
1st

A global reality check on American public education

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Statewide third-grade reading: down 4.1 percent.

Statewide fifth-grade science: up 10.4 percent.

Statewide 10th-grade writing: down 1.1 percent.

These are among the multiplicity of student test numbers released Wednesday by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Don’t be overly impressed.

The scores are important. Tacomans need to know, for example, that their third-graders slipped in reading between 2011 and 2012 while their eighth-graders held their own. Sumner parents should know that their district’s third-graders improved by 6 points in math while fourth-graders fell by 9.

One year’s third-graders are the next year’s fourth-graders, and the tests change by grade level, so the scores can’t always tell you much in a given year. But over time, they can provide a sense of which direction a district or school is headed.

What’s missing, though, is the most important context. Not just how kids, or schools, or the state are doing from year to year, compared to themselves, but how public education in Washington and the nation as a whole is doing compared to the rest of the world.

The K-12 system excels at patting itself on the back and promising big things just around the corner. Sometimes, in some school districts, it even delivers. But an important new book, “Trapped in Mediocrity,” splashes ice water on claims that American public education is on the right track.
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July
28th

Charter schools: Not a cure-all, but a sign of health

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Other education reforms are more urgent than charter schools. Washington could have a fantastic public school system without them.

But we don’t have a fantastic system, and one of the reasons is a reactionary K-12 establishment that can be counted on to resist efforts to bring rigorous standards and greater accountability to public education.

Charter schools aren’t a magic cure for all that ails the schools, but the fact that they are prohibited here –­ while allowed in the vast majority of other states – is another symptom of the backwardness of “progressive” Washington.

Initiative 1240, which would legalize charters in Washington for the first time, has just officially qualified for the ballot. The usual suspects are lining up against it, notably the Washington Education Association – which tore into the measure like a pit bull the moment it got traction.

The WEA’s mother organization, the National Education Association, takes a more nuanced position on charter schools. Here’s a line from its position paper:

“NEA believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children.”
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Feb.
18th

Lawmakers finally take a step toward education reform

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It rarely pays to get too hopeful about education reform in this state. But the Legislature – the Senate at least – has actually taken a major step toward accountability in Washington’s public schools.

Senate Bill 5895, which cleared that chamber Tuesday, requires the use of objective student-performance measures in the evaluation of teachers. It also requires that feedback from teachers be used in the evaluation of principals.

Teachers and principals can lose their jobs if they keep flunking the new tests. This turns Washington tradition on its head. In this state, it can take a felony to separate a faculty member from his or her job. Only the bravest administrators have dared tackle the convoluted, expensive process required to fire the incompetent.

Let’s not get giddy, though. The Senate’s move to tie “student growth data” looks impressive only in terms of the state’s benighted history. SB 5895 is not radical. It would not make Washington a leader in education reform. It would merely help the state catch up to the middle of the pack.

But the 46-3 vote in the Senate is impressive. Most education reform measures are throttled in committee. Once this one reached a floor vote in open daylight, lawmakers embraced it – if only to avoid shame in some cases.
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Jan.
13th

School reform can’t wait for a booming economy

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The middle of an economic crisis is not the time to stop fixing public education. On the contrary.

A legislative push for new school reforms – including charter schools and greater teacher accountability – met with instant resistance this week from the usual suspects.

Singling out the bill to authorize a handful of charters – which are oddly easy to demonize in this state – the Washington Education Association issued a statement describing the measure as a “distraction from the real debate.” The real debate, naturally, is about pumping billions of dollars the state doesn’t have into a K-12 system that doesn’t work well enough.

Charter public schools are hardly the most important reform out there, but they do serve as a barometer of a state’s willingness to give every possible option to parents and children.
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