Sunday, November 22, 2009

WEWee #2: The End of Education Edition

It was a week full of downs, and then more downs, and then a big, big down, and then more going down.

Item 1--The State Budget: This is going to be one of the biggest, bloodiest legislative messes any of us have ever seen or should ever hope to see in our lifetimes. I wrote earlier this week about what's at stake for education in this short session, but even with Governor Gregoire making good speeches about "raising revenue", I'm as pessimistic as I've ever been, and that's saying something.

Great work was done by the Washington State Budget and Policy Center on this narrated slideshow that they put together--it's a great compilation of the information that's floating around. For another pro-revenue viewpoint I agree with Goldy in spirit, but Olympia tends to be the triumph of pragmatism over populism. No one's going to carry that torch.

(Aside: the comedy stylings of Arun Raha are what they are, but I think I prefer my dismal scientists far more dismal, especially when they're giving news that bloody bad)

(Aside #2: Governor Gregoire pushing to release her budget early just means my holiday season can also be ruined that much earlier. She's going to be the Grinch that steals my Christmas.)
Item 2--Speaking of Dismal and Science...... Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn made a splash on Thursday when he recommended delaying the math and science graduation requirements until 2015 and 2017 respectively, with the stated reasoning being to give teachers and students more time to adjust to the new expectations.

I'll be candid; I don't frankly believe that science should be a graduation requirement in the same way as math and reading. Some kids just don't gravitate to science the way that others do--in high school, I was one who was much more comfortable with the language arts, and there really isn't anything wrong with that. I'd rather we focused on offering higher-level instruction more widely to those who want to go down that road, instead of trying to get everyone over an artificial bar.

The Governor came out in strong disagreement with the proposal, and it sounds to me like it would be DOA in the legislature too, but I think that feeds into Dorn's point even more--in an era where we're raising class size, firing teachers, and cutting support for property-poor districts, does the onus of failure on those tests lie with the kids or the system?

The Washington Policy Center points out in an unsigned post (Is that you, Liv?) that if the Governor appointed the SPI you wouldn't have the executive branch bickering with itself like this, a notion that I've written about before and that Randy Dorn actually seemed to somewhat support during the 2008 campaign. One wonders if he still feels that way.
Item #3--The Race to the Top and Washington State. Governor Gregoire made it official on Friday that Washington State would be competing in the 2nd round of the Race to the Top grant program. A round 1 application would have been DOA because of our lack of charter school laws and the state's inability to take over failing school districts, according to the Everett Herald and backed up by several short, readable posts on the League of Education Voter's blog. There's two pieces in the whole discussion that I think aren't getting enough attention, though:
  1. The amount of money that we're talking about is significant--between $150 and $250 million dollars, according to Education Week--but that's an amount of money that pales when paired up with what we've cut from the schools already and what we're preparing to take away this very year. Consider, too, the scale: in a public school system of about 1,000,000 students, were talking between $150 and $250 per kid. Significant? Sure! Overwhelming? Debateable.
  2. The voters of Washington have said no to Charter Schools 3 times, much to the consternation of the Washington Charter Schools Resource Center, and the last bill especially had a lot of good reasons to say no.
I'm working on another, longer post looking at charter schools specifically, but if this is truly going to be a Race to the Top and not a Dash for the Cash then we have to the thinking on both sides, not just blindly grab for the money.
Item 4: Rumors Are Awesome! Did you hear the one about how every school district in the state is going to be forced into a 4-day week next year? That one came up at a school board meeting in Mead, percolated through the NEWASA network, and came to me at a Labor/Management meeting last week.

The other fun rumor that I heard last week was that the Governor was actually going to prepare two budgets, one all-cuts based off of the revenue forecasts we have now, and another with tax increases in it. Legally she can't, but I'm sure she'll be prompting people like mad to "live up to the state's values."
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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