For education, there is a plan
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Reform of public education is something everyone says they want, but progress remains frustrating in its absence. Even if we all see the problems, and we agree on the goals, we don’t agree on the means. Students suffer as we squabble. Society’s burdens grow.
There is hope. The Legislature has approved key reforms, redefined basic education, changed funding formula and implemented performance evaluation system for teachers and administrators. The courts have stepped in to hold lawmakers to their constitutional duty to fully fund the system. To keep the momentum going a coalition of 36 education reform groups called Excellent Schools Now — the League of Education Voters, Partnership for Learning and Washington Roundtable among the prominent members — have compiled a plan: “A+ Washington: A Way Forward for All Students.” It is comprehensive, inclusive, specific, with wide-ranging support. It is frequently called “a roadmap for education,” intending to build on actions already undertaken. The group presented the plan to the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce last week.
The plan was compiled with a great effort to hear a wide range of opinion, to learn from many with a passionate interest in improving public education. That’s important, to move beyond the divisiveness and bickering that kills education reform and builds resentment better than great schools. In many ways its techniques and goals are similar to Wenatchee Learns, the vast participatory effort under way in the Wenatchee School District. We have to get together before we move ahead.
The problems are easily seen. A quarter of high school freshmen don’t make it to graduation, the failure rate much higher among minorities and the poor. Half of the students who make it to college need remedial education, because they aren’t prepared for college work. To reverse these trends, the A+ Washington strategies call for greater access to early childhood education. They would work toward multiplying the supply of excellent teachers through evaluation, support and preparation. They would raise expectations and standards, and align high school graduation and college entrance requirements, let students “move at their own pace,” and expand access to technical and career training. They would increase the flexibility of local leaders and staff to meet the goals.
Of course, it takes money. Estimates rise to the multiple billions, and that will always be a problem. But the Legislature already has moved on some of these goals and is under court order to keep its promises. Republican candidate for governor Rob McKenna has adopted the A+ plan for his campaign. Democratic candidate Jay Inslee is hesitant about some provisions, but in general supports it. Both have promised additional funding.
It has to be worked out. We as a state are not so derelict in our duty and so attached to our special interests that we can let schools founder. The A+ plan is a way ahead, so those who agree on goals can at least find some common ground and devise the means to meet them.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.
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