Saturday, November 28, 2009

Washington Education Week #3: Thanksgiving Turkeys Edition

The Race to the Top: With the lull between budget announcements and Legislative Assembly Days, most of the blog chatter this past week has been looking at how Washington State measures up in the federal Dash for the Cash Race to the Top grant program. The League of "Education" Voters has done a 6 part series on their blog that's worth your time to read; also with several blog posts that boil down to "Teachers suck, change everything" are the Partnership for Learning, here. And, just to clear out my RSS reader: Publicola.

I'm working on my own posts on each of the impacted areas, but one thing I do have to chuckle at is just how earnest some of the folks on the pro-RttT side are. "We have to allow the state to just take over failing schools!" they'll protest, without seeming to make the connection that we have laws regarding school boards and local control that are every bit as ingrained in the people of this state as dams and snowy mountain passes.

You can get an inkling of the fight if you go and look at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's School Report Cards. Using their metrics, the worst high schools in the state are in places like Toppenish, Walla Walla, Pasco, Aberdeen, Puyallup, and Coulee City--all represented by Republicans, all places where the community will revolt if you try to send in a bunch of "outsiders" from Olympia to run their schools. "It's for the kids!" needs to be overwhelmingly supported by the evidence to make school takeovers work, and I'm not convinced in the slightest that plan that the State Board of Education has in place gets us where the LEV and SFC want to go.

Randy Dorn Cares for Children/Randy Dorn Hates All Children: The reaction to the recent proposal by Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn to delay the math and science graduation requirements is still bringing in a ton of reaction. Dorn tried to get out in front of the storm, and a hell of a storm it is: when papers like the Walla-Walla Union-Bulletin are saying that you "continue to undercut the effort to reform — and improve — education", you've got a publicity problem.

Personally, I think that the best, most sensible reaction came from Cliff Mass, a meteorologist of some note at the University of Washington. Keeping science and math as graduation requirements punishes the kids for the failures of adults to get the system right, whether it's the 20 different iterations of testing that we've had in the last decade or trying to define exactly what standards we want to hold them to. The failure of the kids is also the failure of the system, and right now we certainly don't have the system in place to get them all where we want them to be. This thread from the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession is also quite well written and on point. Check out Crosscut as well.

Also not really working in Dorn's favor: President Obama came out this week with a new initiative on expanding STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. When the Department of Education is saying higher standards, and the President is saying higher standards, it's pretty clear that Dorn is going against the tide.

The State Budget: Amber Gunn of the EFF stirred up a hornet's nest over on Crosscut when she echoed Sen. Zarelli's call for a special session to start cutting into the state budget right now. You've got some elected officials in the thread saying pretty incendiary things, and that's always fun!

(Personal aside: You don't hear anyone from any of the professional school organizations talking about a special session, because in a special session there's absolutely nothing good that could happen for schools.)

Publicola has a link to a video that Governor Gregoire put out talking about just how bad things are; consider it the anesthesia before the emergency appendectomy come January. The Capital Record also has the video and some pull-out quotes, here.

"Merit" Pay in Action, and Inaction: The Superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, met 4 of her 20 performance goals last year. That's a bad batting average, a really bad spelling test, and not exactly anything to write home about on the job.

That's also $5,280 more in her pocket, according to the Seattle Times.

The way that Goodloe-Johnson's contract is strucutred she can earn up to 10% on top of her base salary for meeting her 20 goals; that means that each goal met is worth $1,320. Under the goose/gander school of thought, if the state designed a plan to allow every teacher to earn up to 10% of their salary in incentives, the legislature would have to allocate about another $250,000,000 just to cover the costs.

Other bits of note from the week:

  • Joanne Jacobs on Why Arts Education Isn't a Luxury. The half-time art teacher in my district already knows that she's at risk of getting cut in the budget crunch to come; hopefully, I can use this to help mount a good defense.

  • I love this and want to marry it.

  • The United Faculty of Washington State has put together a great blog on higher education issues here in Washington; you can check it out here.

  • People are flocking to community colleges, which isn't a surprise given high unemployment and a down economy.

  • This commentary on what happens when school levies fail is important, particularly given the current state budget realities.

  • When the teachers take over the schools.

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