Chris Reykdal is a native of Washington state and attended WSU. He serves as a representative in the legislature from the 22nd LD. He is the Vice-Chair of the House Education Committee. He was also the Deputy Executive Director for the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. He and his wife, Kim, were both teachers earlier in their careers; she is still a high school counselor.
Rep Reykdal's campaign website.
Why are you running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction and what do you believe the role of the superintendent is to public education in Washington State?
I’m running for Superintendent because we have good schools that with full funding, local control, and parent empowerment can become great across the state. It is clear to me that the well-funded forces of school privatization threaten the very fabric of what it means to be a highly accountable, locally-controlled PUBLIC education system. We have a dropout rate around 23% that holds back the lives of young people, especially communities of color, students with disabilities, and especially low-income communities across all racial lines. This dropout rate also holds back our employers and our economy. A high school dropout will earn almost $400,000 less than a high school graduate over their lifetime. This doesn’t include the massive costs to taxpayers by way of lower health outcomes, higher costs in criminal justice and so much more. The answer is NOT to produce education systems that are essentially a call for separate but equal – privately run charters, voucher programs, and pure competency-based programs. These “reforms” line the pockets of the operators but there is no statistically significant evidence that they improve the quality of education.
Having grown up in poverty, it was my public education that empowered me to be the first in my family to go straight to college. Every kid deserves the opportunity to achieve their highest ideals. I am running for Superintendent to restore the excellence of our locally-controlled PUBLIC schools (less federal government influence and less corporate influence). This will take a McCleary funding plan that goes beyond basic education; it will take a budget forecasting process that does not continue to assume existing inequities; it will require us to restore multiple pathways for kids to demonstrate proficiency of standards without relying on a single standardized test. It will also require us to actually enforce the law that every child is entitled to a basic education through the age of 21. We cut off tens of thousands of students who need transition services and help from K-12 to post-secondary despite existing laws that empower those kids and their families.
We absolutely need partnerships between the public and private sector but the voters and taxpayers should control their schools. Teachers should control curriculum, and parents should ultimately have all of the information they need to make the best choice for their child. OSPI can and should take a lead in all of this. It will require a competent, skilled and experienced leader in public-sector finance and budget, education policy, higher education transitions and legislative processes and relationships. OSPI should not aim to further control local districts, but rather to empower districts and then more effectively fight for the resource and policies to create greater student achievement.
What do you think is the number one concern with special education in this state? What is your view of the OEO's report on special education? What would you do, specifically, to improve special education in this state?
The number one concern with special education in this state is that we are using money constraints to determine the type and amount of services a student will receive, despite clear laws that establish students’ rights to accommodations, specially designed instruction, individual learning plans, and transition services. The most recent report from the Office of the Education Ombuds is solid. It’s nothing we didn’t know intuitively, so its value is that it puts real ideas on paper. It captures data and feedback and provides real steps we could take to improve results for kids – especially our most vulnerable.
The first step I would take is to improve special education in this state is to document and report on the impacts of underfunding special education – and use this evidence to push for full funding immediately as a civil rights issue. Not just generic fully funding via McCleary, but an outcomes budgeting model that provides the Governor and the Legislature the true cost of comprehensive special education services. Current budget models essentially assume status quo on student achievement. The models are entirely input driven (# of students, S/F ratios, facilities, supply costs, transportation miles, etc.). We can build a budget tool that clearly represents the actual costs necessary to move every child through the system with the statutory services they are entitled to; all the way through a successful high school completion (age 21 if necessary). This budget approach would shed light on what it takes to be truly successful, not just what it takes to comply with an inputs-driven, court mandated, McCleary concept of “full funding”.
Step two is to engage the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association (these two groups work closely together for national-level education advocacy) to get them to put their attention on fully funding special education where the federal government has controlling statutes. When these groups finally aligned on a rewrite of NCLB, Senator Murray and others picked up the mantle and finally got something done. CCSSO and NGA need to turn their attention now to special education and disability services. Much of the regulatory framework comes from federal code and federal rules so it’s time we get Congress to take a new look.
Step three is a complete revisit on the paperwork processes and the testing requirements for special education students. Making kids fail tests that are not developmentally appropriate and then requiring reams of paper to prove those kids need additional support and accommodation is simply shameful. It is expensive, time consuming, and demoralizing for too many students, parents, and educators. It’s time for a management approach to special education testing and the regulatory process that focuses more on student needs and success than on maintaining the bureaucracy.
Finally, we need to follow current law! Students with basic education needs beyond age 18 should be provided fully funded basic education and transition services through age 21. We have taken this approach in many aspects of foster care – education, housing, food assistance, and more.
What is your position on charters schools personally? What would be your view if you were elected superintendent and there was a charter law in place that did not support your role under Article Three, Section 22 of the state constitution?
I do not personally support privately run charter schools and I don’t believe charter schools will solve systemic problems. I voted against the bill recently passed by the Legislature. Charter schools attempt to create a separate but equal system. A better and more comprehensive approach would be fully funded public schools, more choices within districts, and stronger parent options within and between districts. There is nothing wrong with “choice” as long as the dollars are under the control of local voters who elect a local board. I don’t believe the recent bill passed by the Legislature is constitutional, and I don’t think it will survive in the courts.
I have nothing but respect for the parents who are seeking better opportunities for their children, but schools aren’t just owned by parents. They are also owned by the 4 million taxpayers and voters who don’t have children in schools. We, the people, own our schools. As soon as we believe that every “customer” of government can take their share of the tax contribution (and more) and use it in the market place, we will destroy what it means to be public. Imagine the breakdown of our parks, our fire fighting services, our police services, and so many others services if people could just take their share of taxes and opt out for private services. I believe in the free-market for things we are not entitled to, however, for the 25% of the economy that is guaranteed to us in the Federal and State Constitution – Safety, education, voting rights, and more: I will vigorously defend those as PUBLIC services to be paid for, controlled, and in the trust of the public.
How do you see the role of OSPI in enforcing education-related RCWs and WACs?
Under my leadership, OSPI would re-examine its regulatory role. I plan to shrink the number of silos and program areas at OSPI, that seem to be focused on regulation, and instead focus on data, research, and policy proposals to support students and families, based on the research. This approach will provide more flexibility for the districts in some areas and it will give decision makers a better sense of what they are getting from their investment in our K-12 schools, instead of what they are buying at our schools. As we shift from funding inputs to a focus on data and results, you need fewer barriers to resources by districts on the front end, but a corresponding increase in the expectations of disaggregated data to fully understand impacts on students.
That said, OSPI has a specific role in holding school districts accountable for meeting their obligations to provide a basic education. Students have an affirmative, constitutional right to the opportunity to receive a basic education – and OSPI can play a critical role in helping to ensure all students receive the services they need and deserve. I just believe that OSPI’s primary focus should be to help districts and schools to deliver those services – not to wait and “catch them” after students miss out on the opportunities.
What will you do to protect the privacy of all students in Washington State? How will you keep their personal information safe (i.e. not accidentally distributed to the wrong people) and, how will you protect them from having personal data collected and sold/used/shared as they go thru their K-12 years?
It is critical that we protect student, parent, and teacher personal data. With the use of so many third-party vendors to deliver content and materials, school districts need a consistent approach to student privacy. I prime sponsored the House version (HB-1495) of a bill last year to create common standards in privacy protection with 3rd party vendors. We ultimately used the Senate bill number but it passed almost unanimously and the Governor signed it into law. We can’t have 295 school districts taking 295 approaches to school privacy. This new legislation will put responsibility on districts to use consistent vendor contracts that establish the student privacy requirements that both districts and vendors must follow. This is one area, where OSPI can bring value to districts, especially small resource-starved districts that need significant help in dealing with third-party vendors.
How can you, as superintendent, assist parents who are frustrated with the education their children are receiving?
The most valuable relationship is between students, parents, and teachers. Most issues are resolved locally. However, there needs to be effective due process rights that involve district administrators, local boards, the Governor’s Office of the Education Ombuds and at times OSPI. I see the OSPI role as ensuring districts are following good due process policies and in facilitating conversations and possible solutions, but only when asked by OEO, districts, or parents to get involved. In this role, OSPI should serve as neutral facilitators that seek positive resolution for the students. OSPI should not be acting as legal counsel or an advocate for either side, – but should be looking for options that would meet the interests of both sides, while keeping the student at the center of the discussion. Too often these become adult centered issues – and the solutions are much easier to find when we stay focused on the student and what they need.
How can educators and education administrators support struggling students without ignoring the needs of students working beyond standard?
Supporting all students at their individual pace and interests truly requires fully funding our system. Differential instruction within a single classroom is one of the hardest tasks that teacher face. It takes additional resources for a school to truly be effective. Basic walk-to-read and walk-to-math programs, for example, provide some important differentiation, but this still doesn’t allow for the critical one-on-one time that many students need. We need more teachers, paraeducators, and other support staff to truly engage students with individual learning plans – from those with severe developmental disabilities to the “highly capable” programs. Just FYI, I don’t like the phrase “highly capable”, because it presumes some students have bigger potential than others. The entire language of education needs to shift away from labeling students. Our diverse student populations are often segregated into labels based on our funding silos – not good!
The last part of this issue is our next constitutional crisis and moral failure – capital budgets. Our facilities are so poor and our space is so limited in some districts that small group programs, advanced learning labs, intensive support centers, etc. are literally not possible in some schools. As we move to fully funded basic education the bump in operating revenue MUST be accompanied by a corresponding increase in state appropriated capital budgets. The inappropriate 60% local bond threshold is made worse by pathetically low state matching rates.
Name three things that are not currently being done that you believe will help close the opportunity gap for students of color.
1) We just took the first big step – passing HB-1541, brought to us by the Equal Opportunity Gap Oversight & Accountability Committee (EOGOAC).
This bill addresses student discipline reform, cultural competency training, teacher and staff of color recruitment and so much more. While this bill didn’t implement all of the recommendations from the EOGOAC, and there are additional recommendations that should be considered in future legislative sessions, this will lead to a huge improvement in addressing equity issues. This has been years in the making!
2) Equitably funding our schools. Lowering our dependence on local levies to fund basic education is an opportunity gap issue. Mostly white suburban communities with high property values pay MUCH less of their disposable income in local property taxes compared to rural and very urban communities more often populated by communities of color. The property value/property tax differences also drive much less supplemental support and programming to the communities that often most need them. Fully funding basic education at the State level is more than a court case – it is our quickest path to closing the opportunity gap. See Massachusetts or Finland as models of more centralized revenue models but highly targeted investments in the areas of greatest need.
3) Produce an annual cost model not on fully funding inputs (student/faculty ratios, supplies, etc.) but fully funding on-time graduation for 100% of our students. Only in producing an outcome-based cost model can we begin to raise awareness that McCleary funding is only the beginning. McCleary basically calls for equality of funding (same amount per kid based on input formulas), but an outcome-based cost model will move us to equity. With equity funding models we answer the fundamental question: what does it take for each kid to be successful? This kind of model will demonstrate what it truly costs to bring struggling students to grade level, what it takes to truly provide comprehensive special education services to students so they graduate with their peers. This kind of model would also account for what it takes to graduate all kids including those who need transition services post high school. Our current formulas are input driven based on past practice so they assume a more than 20% dropout rate. This is pathetic! I will produce an outcomes-based cost model for 100% on time graduation for ALL kids. It will be tough for policy makers to face this truth, but the contrast to the traditional input model will finally shed light on what “fully” funding education means.
4) I know you only asked for three things – but teaching Social Emotional Learning in every school would make a huge difference in addressing the achievement gaps that exist in our schools. Students that access SEL see an improvement in attitudes about themselves, others, and their school; have improved classroom behavior and fewer discipline referrals, suspensions and expulsions; have reduced emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression, and; have documented increases in assessments.
How does “EduTech” – the increasing use of technology and learning-based instruction – fit into your view about the future of education?
As a former classroom teacher and an almost fourteen year executive in the community and technical college system, I’ve watched edutech evolve. Like so many industry-driven things it was not good as a stand-alone approach in the early years of online learning, competency-based assessments, and open-course materials. While still problematic in places and with some tools, we have learned that blended instruction is the strongest model – teacher led instruction infused with technology. To do this well at scale, it requires professional development. Our educators are growing their skills in the use of edutech but it requires constant investment in their knowledge, skills, and abilities. What we must never do is replace high touch with high tech, especially when the issue for many students is not academic struggle but rather social-emotional needs. There is no software for love, caring, and diagnosing emotional distress. Technology is a supplement to instruction; it should never be used as a parallel system of instruction. When we believe we can ignore income inequality, generational poverty, and racial inequities in our schools with canned software and dynamic standardized tests we are in trouble.
What would be the first thing you would seek to change/establish if you become State Superintendent of Public Instruction?
The organization will need an internal diversity audit. We can’t expect schools to embrace true cultural competency if we won’t look in the mirror as an organization. From hiring practices to how we build cross organization and system teams, right down to the language we use, OSPI (and many other organizations) would be well served by a total diversity audit.
But I wouldn’t be changing just one thing on my first day in office. Under my leadership the organization will also shift from almost pure regulator to district and school facilitator. We will also transition the data team to a data and research team so that we empower districts, the Governor, and the Legislature to focus resources on where we get the best results. The constitutional office in charge of all manner of supervision of the system can no longer yield the research agenda to outside interests that don’t always have the best interest of kids in mind.
I am so grateful to have this chance to present just of the values and approaches I bring to this office. I’ve now worked in public education and higher education for over twenty-four years. I’ve touched this system from nearly every angle, including both sides of the bargaining table. I bring three core values to the office:
1) keeping the system public. Every district and every school should be accountable to students, parents, voters, and taxpayer via locally elected boards.
2) We have to return standardized testing to its proper place – a snapshot in time of districts, schools, and students for the purposes of bring meaningful interventions and supports – not as a tool to label districts, schools, or deny students access to growth opportunities, including graduation.
3) We need to re-invest in multiple pathways so ALL kids have the opportunity to obtain a high school diploma with a sense of direction for something they are passionate about. Yes we need more baccalaureate degrees, but we are also desperate for more students to enter the trades directly, apprenticeships, community and technical colleges, and even the military. We can empower kids with multiple pathways to graduation without lowering standards. It’s a matter of allowing students to demonstrate proficiency in the standards in ways beyond standardized tests. It’s time to bring back a 21st century approach to career and technical education.