Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blather from Blethen

Sorry to pick on the Times but their publisher (and fearless leader), Frank Blethen, put up a speech that he gave recently to a Rotary Club. 

He makes a lot of claims without backing up his stats or explaining his thinking.

To whit, 

 We graduate only 18 percent of our high-school students work-ready or college-ready. Let’s break that number down: One-quarter of our high school students fail to graduate.  Of those who do graduate, barely half enter post-secondary education, such as college or workforce training. Of those, half of them require remedial help. The result?  Only 18 percent are actually college- or work-ready.

This translates into an almost unfathomable 82 percent failure rate from our K-12 system.

Personally, I would never believe someone who throws out such a dismal stat without any kind of back-up.  I'm sure there's an 18% in there but do I believe that 82% is the failure rate of our state K-12 system?   I do not.

Yet, this year we failed to fund more than 25,000 qualified 3- and 4-year-olds for even the most basic early learning.

That’s 25,000 of our toddlers we have kicked to the curb for a lifetime of unemployment, minimum wage and even jail. We repeat this year after year, knowing that quality preschool is the basic foundation of a functional education system and the evolution of a successful adult citizen.

Again, I find it fascinating that so many people - at the same time - have gone and gotten themselves on the same page.  Today it's preschool.  I know many people who have advocated on this point for years but elected officials have thrown up their hands.  What's different now?

Also, what "qualifies" a student for preschool if it's "Preschool for All?"  

One thing that might help Blethen's thinking is the very study at the City's Preschool for All webpage. There are real numbers of parents who either want their child at home or want their child with a family member. Having preschool isn't necessarily going to change that.

And saying that toddlers "were kicked to the curb?"  That implies a level of lack of caring that I'm not sure I believe.

Also, the Burgess/Murray Preschool for All presumes a big lift from Seattle Public schools, both with curriculum and space. And yet, as he says, the district's mandate - every district in the state's mandate - is K-12. If he wants the "paramount duty" to include pre-K and higher ed, that falls to the Legislature where it was first defined. Don't get mad at the teachers union or anyone else for the definition the Legislature has legally created.

He goes on to talk about college/university issues.
  • We have severely restricted access through unconscionable state disinvestment and underfunding.
  • We have invoked unacceptably high student taxes — so-called tuition
  • And we have fostered unbearable student debt.
He is right on two points (access and debt) but again, whose fault is that?  Also, tuition as a "tax?"  If he wants everyone who wants to go to be able to attend college AND have it free (or near free), then people are going to have to pony up a LOT more taxes.  Tuition exists to help defray costs.  It's not a punishment.)

He then goes off on a tear about McCleary:

Two years ago our state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a case, which has come to be known as the McCleary decision. The Seattle Times cautiously agreed with their ruling that the Legislature needs to spend more money on education. Indeed, we hoped this would become a catalyst for spending in the two areas of serious underfunding: early education and higher education. And that it would accelerate the reforms needed to improve our abysmal K-12 outcomes.
However, we were uneasy because of our belief that the Supreme Court made two errors:
  1. That our constitution limits our paramount education responsibilities to only K-12, which is certainly not the case in terms of providing an adequate education in today’s world.
  1. That they seem to be indicating money is the only thing that matters in K-12, and not outcomes.
 Even if all this came to fruition and we could actually pump $7 billion into K-12, the bad K-12 outcomes would not change, and the destructive lack of access to early education and post secondary would continue.

Also, again with data, how does he possibly know that fully-funding education - meaning, more money to our schools - will not bring better outcomes? Because if you look at state spending, those states who spend the most - Mass, New Jersey - DO have better outcomes. I love the way he finds data to suit his beliefs without saying that Washington State is about 45th in the country for per pupil spending. We don't even spend to the national average.

To say that fully-funding our schools won't show some different outcomes is just wrong.

He also calls out the class size initiative 1351.  He seems to imply that it's all about expanding the number of dues-paying members of the WEA.  (If I were the WEA, this is NOT the way I would get more members. )

He may not want it (or believe it has any real impact) but teachers and parents disagree.

I also note that the age range he believes the "paramount duty" should cover - 3-23 - is the exact same one that Arne Duncan wants to create a database to track.  Great minds and all that?

Then he gets to his real point - McCleary and 1351 would cost too much money.

If the Supreme Court is successful in its McCleary effort and the WEA is successful with their dues-expansion program, the consequences are truly devastating. Our state biennium general fund is about $33.8 billion. K-12 already receives about 45 percent, or about $15 billion. (Higher education receives about 8 percent  or $2.7 billion; early education receives less than 1 percent.)
Each of these two actions would cost about $3.5 billion, resulting in about $7 billion in increased taxes and diversion of funding from other parts of the budget.

This would devastate funding for early education, post-secondary education and much of our social-service system, including our critical needs in foster care and mental illness.

Or, we could pass a state income tax.

I do agree with his last bulleted items. Those are worthy goals.
  • All children should start kindergarten ready to learn.
  • Children who fall behind, at whatever grade level, must get the help they need.
  • All students should graduate high school ready to go to college or vocational training.
But this state is NOT in any status quo. Not when our SAT scores are so high. Not when the rate of taking the SAT is rising...across all groups. In fact, our state does fairly well for a state so underfunded for public education.

Imagine what might happen if our public education system was fully-funded.


Anonymous said...

I love how Frank Blethen pulls education policy and stats from his behind. What's sad is how many people actually listen to him and think he knows what he's talking about. I wish he'd just change the name of his rag to the Blethen Bellevue Times. More truthful that way.


dan dempsey said...

Wow!!! Brethren has zero use for the WA State constitution as written.

Brethren chooses to ignore significant data as it would contradict his position.

Check NAEP data changes for 2011 to 2013 for WA State and the nation.

4th grade Math
WA - 2011 - 243 : 2013 - 246 = +3
USA- 2011 - 240 : 2013 - 241 = +1

8th grade Math
WA - 2011 - 288 : 2013 - 290 = +2
USA- 2011 - 283 : 2013 - 284 = +1

4th grade Reading
WA - 2011 - 221 : 2013 - 225 = +4
USA- 2011 - 220 : 2013 - 221 = +1

8th grade Reading
WA - 2011 - 268 : 2013 - 272 = +4
USA- 2011 - 264 : 2013 - 266 = +2

"To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data." -- W. Edwards Deming

Brethren clearly selects a position he wishes to push and then goes data fishing. -- This a fraudulent approach used by those with no interest in the truth.

Anonymous said...

Where'd Blethen's only 18 percent are prepared for college or career figure come from? It is such a flat out falsity that I laughed when I read the editorial.

He might be a newspaper publisher but he is clueless. No doubt he is one who didn't learn to think critically in school.


Anonymous said...

Did the fact that Melissa simply states that she doesn't "believe" someone who throws out stats without offering any stats of her own to refute it make anyone else chuckle? Is she a diviner of truth through her gut or something?

"Many Americans go to college, but a large proportion of them are not
ready in the sense that they take one or more remedial courses. Not surprisingly,
there are large differences among types of institutions; at doctoral
degree-granting institutions, approximately 20% of students take one or
more remedial courses as compared with 30% at other 4-year institutions,
60% at community colleges, and 50% in other subbaccalaureate institutions
(Adelman et al., 2003). There are also racial and socioeconomic status (SES)
differences in remedial course-taking rates—61% of Black students in
National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS 88) enrolled in remedial
courses as compared with 35% of White students; 50% of low-SES (below
the median) students enrolled in remedial courses as compared with 32% of
high-SES students (Attewell, Lavin, Domina, & Levey, 2006). ACT (2009)
estimated that only 28% of their high school graduating test takers were prepared
for college biology, 42% for college algebra, and 67% for college
English composition, with readiness “defined as a 75 percent chance that a
student will earn a grade of C or better and approximately a 50 percent chance
that a student will earn a grade of B or better” (ACT, 2004, p. 35). With these
findings in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that approximately half of
1st-year students at community colleges and approximately 25% of 1st-year
students at 4-year colleges do not go on to a second year (Adelman, 1994)."

Porter, A. C., & Polikoff, M. S. (2011). Measuring academic readiness for college. Educational Policy


Melissa Westbrook said...

Chuckles, I'm not sure I get the section you posted; is that to prove the 18% claim?

When I write a thread, I don't always put the source for a couple of reasons.

One, I may have already put it in a previous thread.

Two, unlike Blethen,with me, just ask. I will always back up what I say unless it is my opinion. Lynne Varner, to her credit, used to answer questions about editorial she wrote. As of this writing, Blethen hasn't.