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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