[Susan notes: Plenty to agree with in this letter, plenty to disagree with, too.]
Published in West Seaattle Herald
With our public education system in such disarray, it is really a surprise that parents are voting with their feet and taking their kids out of our public schools?
Because of the so-called education reform efforts that commenced in 1993, we have an education system geared toward the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL test. That test does not assess social studies, the arts, or physical education, so these subjects are not emphasized in our schools. Gov. Christine Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson recently admitted the WASL's emptiness by deferring the math portions of that test well past the 2008 election year.
Gov. Gregoire's commission, Washington Learns, argues for more money but doesn't talk about how the education system should use the money it has more efficiently or how it should be accountable to parents and the public for student achievement. It's the usual refrain: more money, more money.
Despite huge investments of monies, we continue to have achievement gaps for minority students, school buildings that are falling down around our children's ears, and disciplinary problems. The central administrative staffs of big school districts like Seattle have grown exponentially. School boards cannot seem to make a decision about our kids' educational needs. We have a mess in public education. "Educational reform" has failed. We need to discuss a different path.
A common sense educational reform proposal might include the following:
- Trust our teachers. This means let teachers educate our children without interference by central office administrators. Free teachers from unnecessary paperwork that districts and the state seem to heap upon them. Give them the authority to discipline disruptive kids.
- Dramatically reduce district administrative staff that serves no useful purpose.
- Close old school buildings that no longer are able to provide our children a safe place in which to learn.
- Ask the state auditor to do performance audits. We need to determine if basic education, special education, and vocational education, for example, are achieving educational goals.
- Diminish ineffective "in service training" for teachers. Children are not going to learn without contact with educators. This means more contact time for teachers with children.
- Emphasize vocational education. Training children for employment is valuable and should not be short changed.
- Lengthen the school year. Virtually all of our competitors in Europe and Asia have longer school years by 30 or 40 days than we do in Washington State and in the United States generally. It's ironic Washington Learns wants full-day kindergartens. Why? More contact time with teachers helps students achievement.
- Close the achievement gap. Enlist the leadership in the minority communities to effectively mentor kids and demand more support from parents.
- Dump the WASL. This test will not guarantee student achievement and it deflects us from what is important in public education. The original reason for public education was to train children to be good citizens in a democratic society. Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann would turn over in their graves if they knew that in Washington state social studies is not a part of the WASL.
The conversation about public education is too important to be left to politicians and bureaucrats. As parents and citizens, we need to make sure public education works. The answer is not necessarily more money but spending the money more wisely and focusing the money so that the citizens of Washington get the maximum bang for their bucks, not more of the same failures.
Philip A. Talmadge