Sunday, February 11, 2018

Business on Parade - Wonder How Amazon Would Run Public Education?

The Puget Sound Business Journal recently had an op-ed with this usual type of business headline, "Money Won't Fix Our Education System." I would link it but they have a paywall; a friend sent it to me. Its author, one Bob Wallace, a CEO of something, said the tired old standards:

- The Legislature just gave them more money.  He left out for his readers that 1) they had to under court order after decades of not fully funding public ed under our state constitution and that includes the word "amply."
- "We continue to throw billions more dollars year after year at public education, and by and large, the results remain awful (I know, not universally, but generally)."  Quite the indictment given he lives in Bellevue.  (He even has something to say about Bellevue SD despite their pretty great schools).
- That it's no good to listen to "the education establishment" or teachers or federal or state education entities, and not elected officials.  No, the only people you should listen to are....business types.

He cites former Seattle school Board director, Don Nielson, who was on the Board for eight years in the early 2000s.  Mr. Nielsen is sincere person, a nice guy  (he and his wife gave SPS a $1M gift before he left - I never found out what the district used it for) but the brilliant mind that Wallace says he is on education thinking?  Nope.

Nielsen and Wallace want things like "tying graduation requirements to competency rather than credits, abandoning seniority based pay scales for teachers and permitting pay based on excellence."  So I'm not sure if they know but kids can't graduate with seat time so those credits do have to be earned.  but yes, competency would be great but how to enact it?  And the other two?  All based around teachers (and their union).  I'm not buying that is all you need for better schools.

Here's what I wrote to the editor - doubtful that they will publish it but someone has to try to keep them honest.

Dear Editor,

As the moderator/writer of the most widely-read public education blog in Seattle, I read your Feb. 2, 2018 Observations  column, "Money won't fix our education system" with interest.

Sadly, it misses quite a few points and it is important in this discussion to full disclose all the facts.

To Mr. Wallace's point about more money won't fix the system, of course, he is right.  Just throwing money at any problem won't fix it.  There have to be common goals, an understanding of who is in the system, the people who run it and what we spend the money on.

Mr. Wallace says the Legislature "just enacted one of the largest general fund tax hikes in history to supposedly supplant the local levies."  There is no "supposedly" to that increase.  It came because the Washington State Supreme Court found, years ago, that our state does not fully fund public education which, under our state's constitution is the "paramount duty " of the state and it should be "amply" funded.  You can look it up.

And, the State is not done with that full funding.  That tax hike comes from a new state property tax - one passed by the then-GOP majority in the Senate, mind you - to fund our schools.  I'm sure in the coming weeks those gasps you will hear from homeowners like myself across Puget Sound will come from the increase in our property taxes.  And, it was decided that schools in King County will get some increase but some of it?  That goes out of regional to backfill districts with lower property values. 

That's right - you will pay more and get less.  But that was the decision made by the Legislature.

Public education is "not by and large awful" in Washington State.  In fact, for being near the bottom in funding and near the top for class size, it comes out just about average for the nation.  That's quite the bang for the buck considering how underfunded our schools are.  Also:

- "Washington state students performed higher on SAT exams than the national average and increased participation from 2016, according to results released today by the College Board." (OSPI,  September, 2017)
- Washington state has the highest rate for board-certified teachers for last year. (OSPI, Jan 8, 2018)
- The New York Times had an article in December, 2017, "How Effective Is Your School District? A New Measure Shows Where Students Learn the Most" that showed that the Seattle School District had the 3rd highest growth rate in the country.  In the country.

That's what our state is accomplishing with fewer dollars. Imagine what we could do with fully-funded schools.  (And I imagine that the proud parents of public school students in Bellevue must be distressed to hear how poorly Mr. Wallace thinks of their district, despite the acclaim many of their schools receive.)

On Don Nielsen.  Mr. Nielsen was indeed generous with his time (and his money as he and his wife gave Seattle Schools $1M gift).  However, he also installed a business guy, Joseph Olchefske, as the superintendent after Superintendent John Stanford died.   Many of us protested that there should have been a search especially since Mr. Olchefske had no background in education.  The school board was packed with business types who liked his "run the district like a business" philosophy.  What we ended up with was a $32M financial scandal (that never was resolved even to this day), the resignation of Olchefske and the overturn of the majority of the board in the next election. 

There are many reforms that we could make in public education; I think we could all support that.  But the last reason that we need more money in public education is because we are educating many different kinds of students especially in a urban district where many kids need more supports.  That means counselors, family support workers, college and career readiness, etc.

We have to do online testing (Common Core, remember; that came via George W) and the amount of hardware and software you need is amazing.  We want more STEM graduates to work at our tech firms? You need school building that can support that learning especially with science labs. 

And lastly, poverty does not stop at the schoolhouse door.  We have more homeless students than ever and we need to stop blaming public education for all the problems outside of its control.

Melissa Westbrook
Seattle Schools Community Forum blog


Anonymous said...

I support awarding credits based on competency as another pathway to graduation. We already do this for world language credits and the state allows it for any subject in high school. This became legal around the time that the instructional hours per credit requirement was removed.

This would be easiest to administer for math credits - give students a district-created end of course exam and give them credit for receiving a particular score. SAT reading & writing scores could be one basis for receiving ELA credits. I’d like to see district-wide final exams in each subject in high school eventually and those could be used to award credit.

This would allow students to self-study material and move on to more rigorous classes earlier in high school.

Fairmount Parent

NNE Mom said...

There are already a growing number of fully online, accredited degree programs that work like this at the post secondary level (like College For America, Western Governors University, and Capella University). Where the credits are for competency and not seat-time. Driver's Licensing also works this way (and thank goodness!)

Anonymous said...

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