Helping schools should start with winning back federal funds

Guest Opinion: We need to create a new atmosphere where politicians in Olympia can work effectively to improve our mediocre educational system.
Cherry trees bloom in Olympia

Cherry trees bloom in Olympia John Stang

Ned Witting

Ned Witting

Washington state schools are No. 1. That’s right, Washington state schools are the first in the nation to lose their No Child Left Behind waiver. Losing the waiver means that Washington state loses control of $40 million of badly needed Title I funds. These funds, which are currently being used to help increase student achievement, will have to be redirected to sending students to better schools and private tutoring.

Why did Washington lose its NCLB waiver? Pure and simple, it was because the state Legislature was unable to integrate state test scores into teacher evaluations.

Washington state students take math tests and science tests, English tests and history tests, standardized tests and college boards. Their performance is tested day in and day out, and it determines what grades they make, what courses they take and what colleges they attend. Eventually, their scores may even determine what kind of work they do and what professions they pursue.

Progress and performance measurement are an integral part of our educational process for students, but apparently not for teachers. Only by tying teacher evaluations to student performance on state tests can Washington reclaim its lost millions.

As it has known for a long time, the state Legislature needs to find additional billions to fully fund education under the McCleary ruling by the state Supreme Court. It can ill-afford to start off by losing the $40 million of federal Title I funding for struggling students. Now it’s time to put in your earplugs, because the blame game in Olympia will ramp up. Gov. Jay Inslee and State School Superintendent Randy Dorn blame the Legislature, Republicans blame Democrats, and the Washington Education Association blames U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and NCLB. But before the rhetoric goes into overdrive, let’s look at what the tests can tell us.

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), administered in the U.S. by the National Center for Education Statistics, provides the most comprehensive comparison of math, science and reading skills and knowledge of 15-year-olds around the world. The assessment tells us that in mathematics, American students perform below the average of the 65 participating nations. We do better than Indonesia, Columbia and Kazakhstan, but fall behind Poland, Estonia and Vietnam.

Even worse, most rankings of Washington state show it falling below our national average. Is mediocrity the best that Washington can do? I believe the state that is the home to Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing can do better.

So, let’s try a new approach. Let’s admit that Washington state education has a problem and decide that anything short of excellence isn’t good enough for our kids. Let’s cut out the finger pointing and work together to fix what’s broken. Every journey must start with a first step.

The first step in this journey is to reclaim the $40 million dollars lost along with our NCLB waiver. The loss of the NCLB waiver came at this time because, in Education Secretary Duncan’s words, “those efforts were unsuccessful, and your legislature is not scheduled to reconvene until January 2015.” Gov. Inslee can get the ball rolling to reclaim those funds by simply calling a special session of the Legislature devoted exclusively to education. However, there is no sense in calling such a special session unless there is a reasonable chance that Olympia can put politics aside and do what is right for our kids.

We all need to cooperate to create an environment where achieving this goal is a slam dunk. Teachers can weigh in by telling the WEA that they are proud of their accomplishments and are not afraid of objective state performance measures. School administrators can weigh in by assuring teachers that weak performers will receive help, not harassment. Parents and students alike can call our legislators and let them know that education in this state needs the Title I funding.

In that environment, Democrats and Republicans would find it easy to reach across the aisle to pass the legislation needed to put that $40 million back to work for Washington kids. Once that happens, it will finally be time to play a little politics. Then an appeal by our Democratic governor to a Democratic administration in the other Washington will have the greatest chance of success.

So, in simple terms, let’s trade cooperation for conflict, fixing for fighting and success for failure. Then we can be proud of our collective grade. There will be no F for finger pointing, no D for double-talk, no C for complacency and no B for blame. We can all earn an A for both effort and excellence as we start making Washington state schools number one for the right reasons.

Ned Witting is a successful American business owner, entrepreneur, a political junkie, and the author of "Political Gridlock: It’s Time for a Reboot." A political moderate, he has attended both Republican and Democratic conventions but has never found a home in either party. He is the recipient of the Boy Scout Silver Beaver distinguished service award and is happily married to his sweetheart of more than thirty years.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 6:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Utter rubbish, the lot of it. We need less testing, not more, and that position is hardly limited to the teachers' unions.

ivan

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Ivan is correct. Ned Witting's opinion is lacking in key facts that appear to illustrate reduced or deliberate misunderstanding of Common Core, the Race to the Top (RttT) money chase and the federalization of education policy by the DoE, Arne Duncan and the payoff for corporate Deformers like Gates and the testing hardware and software companies. It's what we call "rhetoric opinion fail." Gates used his vast wealth to steer national policy to the dry and loveless task of higher scores on tests of unproven value. He wanted charter schools, and Arne Duncan, his faithful liege, demanded more charter schools, even if it was central to the Republican agenda. He wanted national standards and quite willingly paid out over $2 billion to prove that one man could create the nation’s academic standards by buying off almost every group that mattered. He wanted teachers to be evaluated based on test scores, and Ducan gave that to him too. Look, it's not too much to frame what's happening in terms of "The Final Solution" to the Teacher Question.

Education historian Diane Ravitch outlined "The Final Solution" strategy with spot on accuracy. Here's her list, quite accurate, on how their plan is formulated: 1) Proclaim austerity for the public schools, while continuing to expand charters; 2) Create incentives for non-educators to be in positions of power, from Assistant Principal on up; 3) Maintain a climate of scapegoating and witch hunting for “bad teachers,” who are posited as the cause of poverty and student failure, doing everything possible to keep debate from addressing systemic inequities; 4) Neutralize and eventually eliminate teacher unions (the first part largely accomplished in the case of the AFT). As part of that process, eliminate tenure, seniority and defined benefit pensions; 5) Create and maintain a climate of constant disruption and destabilization, with cascading mandates that are impossible to keep up or comply with; 6) Create teacher evaluations based on the not-in-the-public domain but copyrighted Common Core-related high stakes tests for which no curriculum has been developed. Arbitrarily impose cut scores on those exams that cast students, teachers and schools as failing; 7) Get teachers and administrators, whether through extortion (see RttT funding) threats or non-stop propaganda, to accept the premises of “data-driven” everything, even when that data is irrelevant, opaque, contradictory, or just plain wrong; 7) Get everyone to internalize the premises and language of so-called education reform; 8) The system must show that parents are not citizens with rights, but “customers” who are provided “choices” that are in fact restricted to the decisions of those in charge, based on policies developed by an educational industrial complex made up of foundations, McKinsey-type consultants and captive academics; 9) Students are “valuable assets” and “products,” whose value is to be enhanced (see the definition of VAM) before being offered to employers; 10) Teachers are fungible units of “human capital,” to be deployed as policy-makers and management see fit. Since human capital depreciates over time, it needs to be replaced by fresh capital, branded as “the Best and Brightest.” 11) Schools are part of an investment “portfolio,” explicitly including the real estate they inhabit, and are subject to the “demands” of the market and the preferences of policy-makers and management. 12) Create an intimidating, punitive environment, where the questions and qualms are either disregarded or responded to with threats; 13)Get the university education programs on board under threat of continuing attack. Once they are on board, go after them anyway, and deregulate the teacher licensing process so that it’s easier to hire temps. 14) Eliminate instruction that is deemed irrelevant to the most narrowly-cast labor market needs of employers, getting rid of art, music, dance, electives, etc., thereby reducing the focus of education to preparation for passive acceptance of low-wage employment. 15) Embed software and electronic gadgets in every facet of the classroom and school, from reading to test-taking, with the intention of automating as much classroom input and output as possible. 16) Use the automation of the classroom to enlarge class size – something explicitly promoted by Bill Gates – and transform teachers into overseers of student digital production that is connected to massive databases, so that every keystroke is data to be potentially monetized. Finally...17) Cash your bonus checks, exercise your stock options, and declare Excellence and Civil Rights achieved! Mr. Witting, you need to go back to school. Because we are a compassionate state of second chances, we'll welcome you to research and substantiate this issue better and re-sumit your essay.

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 7:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Ivan is correct. Ned Witting's opinion is lacking in key facts that appear to illustrate reduced or deliberate misunderstanding of Common Core, the Race to the Top (RttT) money chase and the federalization of education policy by the DoE, Arne Duncan and the payoff for corporate Deformers like Gates and the testing hardware and software companies. It's what we call "rhetoric opinion fail." Gates used his vast wealth to steer national policy to the dry and loveless task of higher scores on tests of unproven value. He wanted charter schools, and Arne Duncan, his faithful liege, demanded more charter schools, even if it was central to the Republican agenda. He wanted national standards and quite willingly paid out over $2 billion to prove that one man could create the nation’s academic standards by buying off almost every group that mattered. He wanted teachers to be evaluated based on test scores, and Ducan gave that to him too. Look, it's not too much to frame what's happening in terms of "The Final Solution" to the Teacher Question.

Education historian Diane Ravitch outlined "The Final Solution" strategy with spot on accuracy. Here's her list, quite accurate, on how their plan is formulated: 1) Proclaim austerity for the public schools, while continuing to expand charters; 2) Create incentives for non-educators to be in positions of power, from Assistant Principal on up; 3) Maintain a climate of scapegoating and witch hunting for “bad teachers,” who are posited as the cause of poverty and student failure, doing everything possible to keep debate from addressing systemic inequities; 4) Neutralize and eventually eliminate teacher unions (the first part largely accomplished in the case of the AFT). As part of that process, eliminate tenure, seniority and defined benefit pensions; 5) Create and maintain a climate of constant disruption and destabilization, with cascading mandates that are impossible to keep up or comply with; 6) Create teacher evaluations based on the not-in-the-public domain but copyrighted Common Core-related high stakes tests for which no curriculum has been developed. Arbitrarily impose cut scores on those exams that cast students, teachers and schools as failing; 7) Get teachers and administrators, whether through extortion (see RttT funding) threats or non-stop propaganda, to accept the premises of “data-driven” everything, even when that data is irrelevant, opaque, contradictory, or just plain wrong; 7) Get everyone to internalize the premises and language of so-called education reform; 8) The system must show that parents are not citizens with rights, but “customers” who are provided “choices” that are in fact restricted to the decisions of those in charge, based on policies developed by an educational industrial complex made up of foundations, McKinsey-type consultants and captive academics; 9) Students are “valuable assets” and “products,” whose value is to be enhanced (see the definition of VAM) before being offered to employers; 10) Teachers are fungible units of “human capital,” to be deployed as policy-makers and management see fit. Since human capital depreciates over time, it needs to be replaced by fresh capital, branded as “the Best and Brightest.” 11) Schools are part of an investment “portfolio,” explicitly including the real estate they inhabit, and are subject to the “demands” of the market and the preferences of policy-makers and management. 12) Create an intimidating, punitive environment, where the questions and qualms are either disregarded or responded to with threats; 13)Get the university education programs on board under threat of continuing attack. Once they are on board, go after them anyway, and deregulate the teacher licensing process so that it’s easier to hire temps. 14) Eliminate instruction that is deemed irrelevant to the most narrowly-cast labor market needs of employers, getting rid of art, music, dance, electives, etc., thereby reducing the focus of education to preparation for passive acceptance of low-wage employment. 15) Embed software and electronic gadgets in every facet of the classroom and school, from reading to test-taking, with the intention of automating as much classroom input and output as possible. 16) Use the automation of the classroom to enlarge class size – something explicitly promoted by Bill Gates – and transform teachers into overseers of student digital production that is connected to massive databases, so that every keystroke is data to be potentially monetized. Finally...17) Cash your bonus checks, exercise your stock options, and declare Excellence and Civil Rights achieved! Mr. Witting, you need to go back to school. Because we are a compassionate state of second chances, we'll welcome you to research and substantiate this issue better and re-sumit your essay.

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 7:55 a.m. Inappropriate

What a joke. Testing is a waste of money, and people like Ned Witting are concern trolling for the testing industry. Judging by the reported $207+ million in direct costs for the WASL (Source: PSBJ, below), we'd be fools to take a mere $40 million to add more testing to the mix.

http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/stories/2006/03/27/editorial3.html?page=all

swendr

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 8:16 a.m. Inappropriate

No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top are the problem.

Get rid of these failed cookie cutter federal policies which do more harm than good.

As Ned says, cooperate to find solutions.

How many hours of standardized testing do the taxpayers of WA want to fund?

How much testing computer infrastructure does the public want to fund?
Unless some benevolent tech wealthy person drops a few billion on WA schools for computers, we should stick to paper fill in the bubble tests.

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 7:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Getting rid of cookie cutter everything would go a long way to resuscitating the good in this country.

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

This guy obviously knows zero about the issue. I always have to question someone whose title includes "entrepreneur". Usually translates to "kept getting fired". This opinion-piece is based on free-market logic - profit at any cost. I think Nit Witt needs to stick to opinions on his distinguished Silver Beaver award.

AIC70

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 2 p.m. Inappropriate

"Pure and simple, it was because the state Legislature was unable to integrate state test scores into teacher evaluations."

Wrong. The change was "can use test scores" to "must use test scores." There was nothing stopping districts from negotiating with their local unions to use test scores.

"Eventually, their scores may even determine what kind of work they do and what professions they pursue."

Ah, and there you have it. Most don't know but the Department of Education and Department of Labor are trying to set up a massive database of students. Now they would say they are trying to "help personalize education" but what it really looks like is trying to sort and slot children early based on many facts. Ever hear of Big Data? This is Big Data for public education.

Sigh...PISA testing. Look, until the same number and kinds of students are tested in every country, it is NOT a balanced view of how students are doing. And, to note, the U.S. has been in the middle since about the time the test started. We still got to the moon with those lousy scores.

Also to note, Washington state has nearly the highest SAT scores in the country (and has for multiple years). Be fair and take ALL data into account.

"The first step in this journey is to reclaim the $40 million dollars lost along with our NCLB waiver."

Absolutely delusional. This is the first step? You'd be hard-pressed to find any parent or teacher to believe this is job one. It may be for those who find some kind of humiliation in losing the flexibility for those dollars but some of us are proud that our state stood up to Duncan's bullying. (And his little move may backfire on him and then won't we look like the smart ones.)

Job one is McCleary and the Legislature knows that. Let's not get distracted with things like NCLB that in 5 years or less, won't matter a bit.

westello

Posted Thu, May 1, 7:36 a.m. Inappropriate

"Washington state has nearly the highest SAT scores in the country (and has for multiple years). "

Can you please cite your source?
According to a few searches, WA is ~25th.
http://www.statisticbrain.com/sat-score-statistics/
http://www.businessinsider.com/average-sat-scores-by-state-2014-1

jeffro

Posted Thu, May 1, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

My source is none other than OSPI: http://www.k12.wa.us/Communications/PressReleases2010/StateSATScores.aspx

This is based on states where more than 50% of students participate (which is a great number to have as well).

"For the eighth consecutive year, Washington state SAT averages are the highest in the nation in reading, writing and math among states in which more than half of the eligible students took the tests, according to figures released by the College Board today.

The ranking is based on students taking the SAT who were 12th graders in the Class of 2010. More than 37,000 Washington students took the SAT last school year, including nearly 29,000 public school students.

Washington students scored higher in critical reading, math and writing than all states in which at least 25 percent of its students tested. The percentage of students tested is significant because generally the more students who test, the lower their scores. However, Washington has bucked that trend through most of the past decade. "

westello

Posted Thu, May 1, 1:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for your response.

The fact that it was the State of Washington touting this achievement made me a bit skeptical.
"Washington’s SAT participation rate of 54 percent remained the highest among Western states (43 percent) and the nation (47 percent). Among states with at least half of the eligible students taking the SAT, Washington ranked first in critical reading and math, and fourth in writing."

The 50% cut-off seems a bit arbitrary. If we looked at highest SAT scores amongst states where 47% participated (the national average), then we're back in the middle.

This makes the claim that WA scores are highest in the country a bit disingenuous, as if they sought out the right combination of participation/score to show the system in the best possible light.

I agree the 54% is a good number (relative to other states) but still remarkably low.

jeffro

Posted Thu, May 1, 3:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Did you manage to note that Washington State is also increasing its numbers in minority participation?

How is 50% (half) arbitrary?

Half full, half empty; I prefer half full.

westello

Posted Fri, May 2, 11:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr Whitting,

I suspect you are aware that Wa. State has adopted Common Core tests and implementation is being questioned. Are you aware that 23 states have JUST piloted Smarter Balanced Assessments and school districts won't get results? Are you suggesting that the state should have adopted legislation that would link tests to teacher evaluations...even if we don't know if the tests are valid?

http://koin.com/2014/05/01/set-fail-implementing-common-core-curriculum-oregon/

Melissa Goff has the ability to speak-out:

Head of Portland Public Schools Teaching and Learning Melissa Goff said the reliability and validity of the tests won’t be known until December of the year students begin taking the assessment because the data simply isn’t there.

“It’s very worrisome,” she said.

“I’m not as concerned with students not being able to develop the writing skills, I am concerned about the rapidity with which we’re implementing this assessment,” said Goff.

The article indicated that some children take up to 7 hours to complete CC tests. Is this really reasonable?

Watching

Posted Sun, May 4, 1:46 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, Mr. Witting, for this demonstration of how you do not allow your ignorance or thoughtlessness hold you back from sharing you ill-informed and mis-informed opinions with the world.

Everyone can now be sure to avoid doing business with you or reading your book.

coolpapa

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