Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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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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Low-tech education means outsourced opportunity

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Washington has a high-tech economy, low-tech students, and way too many graduates frozen out of high-paying jobs that require skills they never learned.

So says a new report from Change the Equation, a presidential initiative aimed at stepping up STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – education in the United States.

Change the Equation, a two-year-old nonprofit led by CEOs, assessed each state’s performance in producing engineers, blue-collar factory technicians, nurses, computer specialists and other professionals in tech-intensive fields.

This kind of survey almost always yields dismal findings, but let’s first hit a couple items of good news.

Since 2003, Washington’s eighth-graders have made some gains in math – modest, but it’s progress. The state has also opted to use the national Common Core standards in math, which promises to provide solid measurements of its students’ performance.

Otherwise, Change the Equation pretty much reaffirms something observers have been saying for years: Washington is not preparing most of its graduates for the 21st-century economy.

A couple of ratios sum it up. In this state, according to the report, there are 2.1 STEM jobs for every one unemployed STEM worker – but only one non-STEM job for every 3.7 unemployed non-STEM worker. Twice as many tech openings as tech-savvy job-seekers; nearly four times as many nontech job-seekers as nontech openings.

This might be excusable if the state of Washington were doing its part to give its youth the intellectual skills they need for the expanding technology sector.

It is not. The state’s voters and lawmakers are too comfortable with a status quo that forces employers to hire talent from out of state while relegating native Washingtonians to low-wage jobs or the unemployment lines.
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