Olympia's education efforts: Mid-course correction needed

Guest Opinion: The Legislature has added some money but that will be inadequate without smarter strategies.
Chris Korsmo

Chris Korsmo

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2013 test results were heralded recently by many in our state for the increases in fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores.

The results are promising and the progress deserves to be recognized.

Yet when the results were announced, there was little to no mention of the widening achievement gaps among some groups of Washington students.

Specifically, during the past 10 years, the gaps between black/white, Latino/white, and low-income/higher income students widened at all grades and subjects tested.

Clearly, what we are doing for these students is not working.

Thanks to the state’s nearly billion dollar down-payment of new and redirected funding for K-12 public education, we have an opportunity to begin closing these gaps.

The majority of the funding is supporting “basic education” — mandated by the 2012 Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary decision that ordered the Legislature to overhaul how K-12 education is funded by 2018.

This includes paying for full-day kindergarten in high-poverty communities, as well as class-size reduction in these same communities for kindergarten and first grade classrooms. It also includes paying for K-12 transportation, materials and supplies.

Beyond funding for basic education, lawmakers also provided another $47 million to support gap-closing strategies and programs to help our students graduate college- and career-ready.

Is this modest state investment in K-12 enough? No. Many expect — and in my case, hope — the Supreme Court will say as much when it issues its end-of-the-year response to the Legislature.

The money matters. But so does how it’s spent.

As we head into the 2014 legislative session, we should all be curious to learn how districts are using these new resources to support student learning and close achievement gaps. Here are a few examples I’ve heard about:

  • Ensuring all students enter school kindergarten ready

Building on the state’s investment in early learning through the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, a number of districts are investing in preschool opportunities to help low-income students start school kindergarten ready. In Grandview, where 8 out of 10 students receive free and reduced price lunch, the school district is offering six sections of half-day preschool.

  • Preparing students for post-secondary success

Districts are taking a number of approaches to ensure that students are ready for life after high school. In Issaquah, the district is funding a longer school days — a pilot program adding a 7th period to the day — to expand core graduation and elective options for students. In Kent, a partnership between Kentlake High School and Renton Technical College enables students to participate in the high school’s Career Medical Pathways program. Students can take low-cost college courses and work with businesses such as MultiCare Health System to receive practical instruction in the medical field. In Bellingham, new funding supports the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advancing Via Individual Determination (AVID) programs that offer students the skills and knowledge to graduate ready for post-secondary options.

  • Supporting our classroom teachers

Great teachers make all the difference in the quality of a student’s school experience. Thanks to the new resources from the state, districts are able to increase their supports for teachers. In Spokane, the district added new curriculum aligned to Washington’s Common Core standards and restored the district’s Mentor Teacher program to help beginning classroom educators.

As our Olympia leaders consider how they will fulfill the state’s education funding obligations, it is critically important to be confident that our tax dollars are being invested wisely and effectively. 

We must ensure that in 2015, when the next set of NAEP results are announced, our state’s scores have improved and the gaps have begun to close so that each student in Washington state receives an excellent public education that provides the opportunity for success.

Chris Korsmo is CEO of the League of Education Voters, a statewide nonprofit working to improve public education in Washington state from cradle to career with ample, equitable and stable funding.

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Posted Tue, Dec 3, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Wait a minute. A longer school day in Issaquah? Partnerships with colleges? IB and AVID?

All that sounds so...innovative. I thought that we COULDN'T do any of this without charter schools.

I note that over in Spokane district, they are very excited about charters and the possibilities of Montessori and STEM and foreign language immersion/international schools. Interesting because Seattle School district - the one that Crosscut goes out of its way to malign - has ALL those things and has had them for years.

And as for Common Core, well, there is the issue that most districts have done little to let parents know what this means to the child's education. Telling the end users of a product about it before you roll it out is usually a good idea.

It's fascinating because if you keep up with education trends nationally, you would know that there is a HUGE backlash going on with Common Core because of the lack of supports for teachers, its prescriptive nature for curriculum selection and the sheer audacity of not bothering to explain it to parents. Not to mention student data privacy issues. Ask Bill Gates how his inBloom student data cloud is going as states run as fast as they can from it.

There is so much concern around Common Core that Secretary Duncan is flailing around, trying to fend off these concerns. He even used Twitter to attack "white suburban moms" who he says may find their kids aren't as smart as the moms think nor are their schools any good. You can imagine the reaction that caused.

There is a lot of work and explaining ahead for Common Core to be a success. It might behoove the Legislature and OSPI to keep this in mind.


Posted Tue, Dec 3, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Well another PISA test has come and past, and once again the United States results are underwhelming. Clearly there is something wrong and given all the rancor that exists about education it's not surprising that there's no agreed upon solution.

The current teachers don't like evaluations, don't like common core, don't like teaching to the test, among other things. What do they like? It seems that creativity is valued above all other attributes, that and more money. Knowledge is somewhere on the list but not at the top.

Oh well, we'll always have reality TV and the Kardashians.



Posted Tue, Dec 3, 10:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Okay, the PISA test. Actually, reading carefully, you can see what the real story is.
1) the U.S. has ALWAYS been in the middle. It's been true since the early '60s and yet, as noted education historian Diane Ravitch points out, the U.S. went on to become the major economic power and major innovator country of the world. It actually proves that tests don't always prove who's best.
2) when you tease out the numbers, our high performers are just as well as the top tier countries. Massachusetts, which spends over $14k per pupil, does extremely well. Florida, which spends under $9k - like Washington - does worse. Yes, you get what you pay for (at least in PISA scores).
3) U.S. is a huge, non-homogeneous country. Not Finland for sure.
4) U.S. education, unlike most Asian countires, does not do "kill and drill" test prep. Chinese students are great test-takers but ask them to think outside the box and they can't. In fact, China has ordered schools to back off the homework AND the emphasis on testing to try to encourage more creativity.
5) the U.S. tests across the board unlike many Asian countries which only test their top learners.


Posted Wed, Dec 4, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

The statistic that most closely tracks student performance? The number of kids in the school eligible for free/reduced lunch.

Charter schools are not the answer. Numerous studies show they perform no better, and in many cases worse than public schools. Wanna make a big hit w/o raising teacher salaries? Cut class sizes in half. Ask any teacher (several in the family and I volunteer at a K-8) and they will tell you the number one challenge is the number and range of kids in the class.


Posted Wed, Dec 4, 9:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh - and full disclose - Chris Korsmo is a board member on the WA State Charter School Association - guess she just forgot to put in that tag line.


Posted Wed, Dec 4, 9:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Teachers will tell us anything and have. I suspect that no matter how many students there are in the class, the percentages won't change. There are less students in classes today, in fact the trend has been downward for years. Has there been an upward trend in results? No, it more of running in place without going anywhere. Mediocre best describes the situation.




Posted Wed, Dec 4, 9:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Apparently there isn't that much difference between FL and MA.





Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Congratulations, you have managed to hit just about every cliché justification for our mediocrity. But your grammar reflects the kind of thinking involved. Just one example: "Performers..are well?"

Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

We now have a public school system that reliably provides some of the worst education in the industrial world, and a higher education industry that provides little more than job training—much of which is training for jobs that don’t exist. A person who makes a bare minimum effort can now easily pass through both systems with good grades, and never learn how to work through an argument to see if it makes sense or check the credentials of a purported fact. Democratic politics work only when the people who have the right to vote get an education in the basic skills of thinking.
But little media attention is given to a possible need for a major analysis of just how the educational system is now constructed; that it mirrors societal priorities, and how that plausibly explains diminishing results.
The most egregious educational factor that escapes media coverage is our nation’s immigration policy. Somehow selective perception is universal about what is happening in immigrant-ridden districts in New York, Los Angeles, or Seattle, Washington’s South King County. Teachers are faced with a very challenging task—trying to teach Shakespeare, let alone “comic-book” literature--to ever-larger numbers of students whose primary language is not English. And then to further exacerbate the problem the administrators require mainstreaming all students causing teachers to teach to the lowest common denominator of capability and boring the hell out of the students with some intellectual capability. In addition, at the same time requiring curriculums filled with politically-correct clichés and mind-numbing cant.
What are the consequences? Periodical handwringing that "the problem remains the same." Scores are low and disparate, employers continue to complain about skill-less employees, and we continue electing politicians who ably reflect this lowest common denominator of intellectual capability.

Posted Sat, Dec 28, 6:42 p.m. Inappropriate

There very little truth anywhere in this comment. Our public school system is not among the worst, not at all. Didn't Unsustainability read the article? Our higher education "industry" is the envy of the world - that's why students from all over the world want to come to college here.

How's that for working through an argument and showing that it makes no sense? I would check the purported facts, but no actual facts or data was offered. I can only presume that is because the actual data would argue against the absurd hypothesis.

The rant about immigrants and politically charged curricula that follows is indicative of the poor quality of thinking that went into the entire comment.


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