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    McKenna tries to draw some sharp differences on education

    There are key differences between the gubernatorial candidates, but Inslee so far has managed to blur the boundaries. Here's a survey of the major issues.
    Jay Inslee, left, and Rob McKenna at a debate.

    Jay Inslee, left, and Rob McKenna at a debate. State of Reform

    One of Rob McKenna's bigger education reform proposals has not seen much press. That's a proposal to allow the governor or superintendent of public instruction to appoint replacements for an elected school board in a district with 10 percent or more failing schools.

    McKenna's proposal does not define what "failing school" means.  In a phone interview a few weeks ago, the Republican gubernatorial candidate said that the definition of "failing" would be determined by criteria set by either the state legislature or the  the superintendent of public instruction.

    Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association, criticizes that proposal because such a replacement board would not be accountable to the voters of that school district.  "It's insulting that you'd take schools away from the public. ... It seems to me that Rob McKenna doesn't trust the public to make good decisions."

    McKenna replies that if local control leads to students failing, then the state should step in. "We've got to get beyond the current culture of not offending adults," he says.

    McKenna's Democratic opponent Jay Inslee has been fairly silent on this McKenna proposal, perhaps leaving it to the WEA to deliver the darts. Inslee does have a rejoinder, though. He proposes "intervention teams" if less than 90 percent of a high school's students graduate, according to Inslee spokewoman Jaime Smith.

    And so it goes in this election, with inslee and McKenna offering significantly different choices for improving Washington's schools. But you have to look closely to find these differences, since Inslee normally offers a modified me-too to McKenna's more specific and less teachers-union-friendly proposals.

    Still, the issues are not going away, even if one side downplays them. Regardless of who gets elected, the legislature will be in the thick of education issues next year because of a several-months-old Washington Supreme Court ruling , dubbed the "McCleary" decision, which declared the state is not meeting its consutitional duties. The budget clock is ticking loudly.

    Each candidiate has his backers in the education community. The Washington Education Association, the state's teachers union, has endorsed Inslee. Stand For Children, a reform coalition, has endorsed McKenna.

    Stand for Children, which endorsed Democrat Gov. Chris Gregoire in the past, interviewed both candidates. "For us, McKenna had a lot more depth," says Shannon Campion, the organization's executive director. She described Inslee as somewhat going through the motions during his interview, while McKenna tossed out  more facts and showed more passion. "We got the sense from McKenna that education is a priority. He has a track record of involvement with schools and of getting things done in Olympia," she believes. "McKenna seemed to be more of a change agent, a leader. Inslee, we suspect, would be more of the same. ... We're less concerned about McKenna walking out on education or wimping out on it."

    Stand For Children backs charter schools, which McKenna supports and Inslee opposes. Campion says that was a factor in Stand For Children's endorsement, but not the deciding one.

    The WEA, which opposes charter schools, endorsed Inslee early. Its leaders interviewed Inslee and invited McKenna for an interview.  McKenna turned down that request, saying that the Democrat-oriented WEA would endorse Inslee no matter what he would say. "I thought Mr. McKenna's remarks were over the top" about turning down the interview request, Lindquist says. She noted that the WEA in the past endorsed Puyallup's Bruce Dammeier, a leading Republican on education matters, for state representative.

    "McKenna talks about things that are not going to make a difference in the classroom. We're not going to have solutions by people throwing out the reform de jour. I don't know how you don't respect the people who work every day with children. He won't talk with them. He won't meet with them," Lindquist.contends.

    The WEA's priorities are more money for more teachers and smaller class sizes, she explains. Both Inslee and McKenna have discussed smaller class sizes in Grades K-3, an age in which experts say key fundamental learning needs to take place with results rippling into the higher grades. "So much brain development occurs in that age span," Lindquist says. Inslee's plan stresses this plank a little more than McKenna's proposal.

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    Posted Tue, Aug 28, 10:07 a.m. Inappropriate

    I understand but reject the idea that charter schools will hurt local school districts by "siphoning" off money that should be used for public education. Protecting my local school district's financial base is not my fundamental interest. My interest is my child's education, and if I believe a charter school will better serve that purpose, then I will elect a charter school. And I am a Democrat, a Democrat who believes in choice. Bottom line, this issue is all about choice, and who gets to make the decision for my child's education. The "decider" should be me.

    Posted Tue, Aug 28, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    "That's a proposal to allow the governor or superintendent of public instruction to appoint replacements for an elected school board in a district with 10 percent or more failing schools."
    I find that shocking, especially coming form a Republican. Republicans traditionally do not like Big Government. Taking away control from a locally-elected school board and replacing them with appointed members?


    Posted Tue, Aug 28, 10:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    Given how much power superintendents have, if you are going to replace the boards, you should also replace the superintendent. And what a mess that would be.

    Inslee's idea of "intervention teams" has already shown great success in places like Everett which used to have a 53% graduation rate and now, with the use of such teams, is up over 80%.

    That McKenna couldn't see fit to even try to sell his ideas to the WEA speaks volumes about who he will or will not talk to if he were governor (well, that and the fact that he is picky about which reporters he talks to or what questions he will answer).

    To charters:

    "The conflict getting the most press has been charter schools, even though they would have only a slight impact on the state, if allowed."

    Really? It's at least $3M of new spending, most of it at the state administrative level. It creates a Charter Commission (and this state certainly needs more state commissions) that once appointed has ZERO oversight by anyone, elected or not. The fiscal note also points out that there will be other costs but they can't determine them right now.

    "Washingtonians will vote in November on whether to experiment with charter schools."

    No, it's not an experiment OR a pilot program. It will be a law. And, as someone with experience in deciding about closing schools, I can say that NO one wants their school closed, low-performing or not. The Feds say that more than HALF of charter school authorizers complain about their inability to close low-performing charters. This is no experiment.

    "If I-1240 loses, charter-school bills could surface again in the 2013 legislative session."

    You think? If I-1240 loses (and it should), you think that after the 4th time that Washington State voters say no, that mere weeks later that someone in the Legislature will bring it up again? That's going to certain tell voters how dumb that particular legislator thinks they are. I'm sure that will go over well and would speak volumes about who is REALLY pushing charters. Because the vote would show it isn't Washington State voters.

    "The non-profit corporation would have significant leeway in how to run its school."

    Let's get the technical details straight. A non-profit has to start a charter but can then contract out nearly any service, including management and educational services, to a for-profit company.

    Supporters argue that charter schools have good track records elsewhere in the 41 states that allow them; that they are aimed primarily at disadvantaged children; and that they use only the public money that would ordinarily go to fund students who voluntarily transfer to charters

    Actually they don't. The largest peer-reviewed study (over 70% of charter school students included in it) found that only 17% did better. Those that do better tend to cherry=pick their students and, as the GAO reported this summer, charter schools underserve Special Ed students (not to mention ELL and homesless students as well).

    Yes, money follows students but the problem is that it usually is following a student from an EXISTING school to another existing schools. This would be to a NEW school and that thins the pot. And there are many other ways that charters take money from districts including charters get right of first refusal for any for sell or for lease building at or BELOW market value.

    That's a loss of funds for districts AND taxpayers if districts have to sell a building for less than it is worth.

    Washington State should NOT follow the 41 other states because over 20 years and 41 states charters have not fulfilled their promise of more accountability and better results.

    Vote no on 1240

    Melissa Westbrook, No on 1240


    Posted Tue, Aug 28, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ms Westbrook states "You think? If I-1240 loses (and it should), you think that after the 4th time that Washington State voters say no, that mere weeks later that someone in the Legislature will bring it up again?"

    My guess is that this is quite likely. As long as the efforts to bring charter schools to Washington State continue to fail because of what proponents view as a campaign of misinformation by special interests that oppose them, the idea is likely to continue to resurface.

    Ms. Westbrook likes to cite the Stanford study which Crosscut readers can themselves find at http://credo.stanford.edu. That study is written in a spirit of trying to elucidate what approaches work in charter schools and which ones do not, rather than trying to provide a blanket condemnation of them all. One of the premises underlying the research is that newly forming charter schools can learn from the mixed record or earlier ones and thus be more effective. Indeed, more recent analysis by the Standford group of charter schools in regions not included in the 2009 study (e.g., Indiana) show good evidence that this is indeed the case.

    The Stanford study is quite critical of charter schools in several ways and in particular of the difficulty of closing underperforming ones, but it also makes some positive observations. As one example, the authors of the Stanford study write in their executive summary (http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/MULTIPLE_CHOICE_EXECUTIVE%20SUMMARY.pdf):

    "In our nationally pooled sample, two subgroups fare better in charters than in the traditional system: students in poverty and ELL students. This is no small feat. In these cases, our numbers indicate that charter students who fall into these categories are outperforming their TPS counterparts in both reading and math. These populations, then, have clearly been well served by the introduction of charters into the education landscape. These findings are particularly heartening for the charter advocates who target the most challenging educational populations or strive to improve education options in the most difficult communities. Charter schools that are organized around a mission to teach the most economically disadvantaged students in particular seem to have developed expertise in serving these communities."

    I find this statement from the experts at Stanford difficult to reconcile with Ms. Westbrook's post above. My hope is that Ms Westbrook and other opponents of Charter Schools are misrepresenting the Stanford Study because they have not bothered to read it carefully and understand it rather than because they have deliberately chosen to misrepresent it.

    Posted Wed, Aug 29, 9:43 a.m. Inappropriate

    Similarly, David, you and Liv have both made the CREDO study out to be something that it absolutely is not--the only research that questions the validity of charter schools. There's the NCES study, there's everything that was covered in "The Charter School Dust-Up" from Teacher's College Press, there's a thousand local stories as well. And for fun, here's another quote from the study:

    "The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools."

    So who is mis-representing what, exactly?


    Posted Tue, Aug 28, 3:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    What special interests? I am with a group of parent and community, purely grassroots. If there are any special interests, it is with Bill Gates and his millionaire friends who first paid to get this on the ballot and now are pushing the initiative.

    Yes, a few charters do well with at-risk and ELL students. But this is a hit or miss proposition with 1240. There is NOTHING in 1240 that guarantees ANY charter will open serving those students. Nothing. There is a vague "preference" that is in no way specific.

    And, if there are more than 8 approved charter proposals, will there be any "preference" given to ones serving at-risk students? No, and, in fact, rather than re-reviewing all those charter proposals to find the very best ones - it all goes to a lottery.

    Basically it is a crapshoot for those kids under this initiative, not a beacon of hope.

    It's easy to cherrypick out relevant parts you like in the CREDO report and leave out others. I am not misrespresenting anything and I, too, invite readers to carefully read the entire report.


    Posted Tue, Aug 28, 9:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is an interesting if somewhat broken chain of comments pro and con.

    Some argue that Charters are not uniformly good. Duh. And that "they" cherry pick students. I love the sinister "they!"

    To be fair, it is the parents who chose the school. Not the school that chooses our children. Others argue about Bill Gates and his financial support. That certainly appeals to the populists among us! And then there are those who cite academic studies and analysis in which they are thoroughly invested in supporting or deriding.

    An entire industry has built up around this issue. No matter how I-1240 is decided it will always be with us. The consultants can't afford to let it go:)

    Not to belabor the point but no one has satisfactorily answered my simple question: Why can't I chose a charter school if it is in the best interest of my children? Am I to have no choice unless I am wealthy enough to afford private school tuition?

    You wonder why some of us -Democrats - are supporting I-1240? Do you really have to ask?

    Posted Tue, Aug 28, 9:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    " ...Crosscut . . . does thoughtful and fresh analysis of the important issues of the day, not routine breaking news.

    Crosscut finds and highlights the best local journalism and the best local commentary . . . Editors select all out-links, not computerized programs.

    Crosscut publishes its own journalism and commentary. Our news coverage aims to deepen exploration of events and issues, and to encourage resolution of long-standing issues . . .

    Crosscut also welcomes content that suggests new ideas or ways of looking at problems. We have no editorial page and do not endorse candidates, though our writers often take their own stands.

    We welcome contributions ... but whatever you provide should be a rendering of reality supported by facts and evidence.

    ...We are "multi-partisan" and so are interested in points of view that may not readily find expression in mainstream media, . . . We write stories and link to stories based on their journalistic value, not according to their ideological slant or appeal to a certain demographic or mindset."

    The above is from Crosscut's own mission statement. Trust me, you are failing your mission. You are slanted and politically biased. There is nothing fresh about your coverage or analysis. From the article above: "McKenna's Democratic opponent Jay Inslee has been fairly silent on this McKenna proposal, perhaps leaving it to the WEA to deliver the darts." That is opinion and a put down.

    Frankly, The Seattle Times presents more balance than Crosscut and is far more honest about its blatant partisanship.

    Posted Tue, Aug 28, 10:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    Not to belabor the point but no one has satisfactorily answered my simple question: Why can't I chose a charter school if it is in the best interest of my children? Am I to have no choice unless I am wealthy enough to afford private school tuition?

    ~I don't know what district you are in but there are interdistrict exchanges. You can ask to go to a school in another district. Also, within many districts there are magnet or alternative or option schools.

    I had no idea the word "they" was sinister. I meant the charter operators make decisions on their enrollment. That it is proven and well-known that that charters underenroll Special Education and ELL students should mean something.

    Doctors say, "First do no harm." There is far more harm to this initiative than any good. And, you can talk broadly about charters but what will be the law here is what is in this initiative. It is poorly written and vague.

    That even the Washington State PTA - who voted for the idea of charters in May at their own convention -read it and said no should tell you something about the quality of 1240.


    Posted Wed, Aug 29, 8:32 a.m. Inappropriate

    "Supporters argue that charter schools have good track records elsewhere in the 41 states that allow them; that they are aimed primarily at disadvantaged children; and that they use only the public money that would ordinarily go to fund students who voluntarily transfer to charters. Advocates say the charter schools would have adequate public supervision."

    Supporters say . . . this is exactly my point. You don't present facts. What "supporters say" may or may not be factual. Where in the article is presented the other side? Where is the fact checking? This is not true journalism. Crosscut has presented nothing aside from advocacy for reform and charters. Nothing more.

    Posted Thu, Aug 30, 2:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    I finally must speak up about charters. My son is getting his MEd in Chicago at this moment and planning to teach in inner city high schools. He views education from a social justice perspective.

    Last winter/spring he worked at a Chicago charter school as a hall monitor/disciplinarian, so saw everything from the ground up. What he witnessed was a 9-12 charter school run by a for-profit as a "business". There was a highly inept principal with no vision or leadership skills and no education background, hard-working teachers that were mostly let go (called in during the school day, abruptly fired and had to return to their classrooms, even those considered the best teachers) in the last days of school for the third year in a row of the 5-year contract; calling of the Chicago police by the administration on a regular basis for incidents that should have been handled by staff; threatening students with pressed charges if they didn't leave the school, (thereby clearing the school of "problem" students); parading the same small handful of students in front of the press or other visitors to show "success" and more.

    This is not to say that all charter schools are exactly like this, but when people talk about charter schools, they should talk directly to those that have experience in them.

    I trust my kid's description of his experiences. I trust him when he says that this school did not serve the students and he was appalled by the behavior of the administrators. In all the public schools he attended and those he has observed and tutored in, he has not had this kind of experience.

    I have heard more stories from other teachers. The sneaking privitization of the schools - whether it is requiring on-line classes developed by for-profit entities to graduate or cherry-picking students for charters.

    Everyone wants a good education for their children. We should all work for that within a unified public system. Choices are offered through the public schools if parents partner to create those. But no school district can provide a good education with inadequate funding. And in our country there are competing forces and lack of money. Everyone is throwing something at the schools. For teachers it is trying to teach amidst the chaos.

    Can you imagine what it would be like to be an educated professional and be told exactly what to be teaching at any moment on a given day. Entire districts where teachers have to be on the same page of a text, delivering the same information and the same test? I can't. But teachers still work hard to teach our kids.

    I personally am very saddened and tired of hearing teachers be maligned. There are much better ways to progress.


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