Monday, January 31, 2011

Recent Education News from Across the State

We've pulled together several press clips over the last few days from papers across the state, as various education bills have dropped in Olympia.

The Columbian
In Our View: Disregard Seniority  
Countless owners of downsized businesses throughout Washington state can recall the “been there, done that” horror of reducing a work force. The process begins with sadness, then surrender, and proceeds to the painful task of assigning value to each position. Business owners and personnel directors keep reminding themselves that they’re talking about jobs, but they can’t escape the fact that they’re talking about people. In the midst of the heartache, it all comes down to a purely business decision: Keep the best, lay off much of the rest.

That’s not the way it works in Washington’s public schools, where collective bargaining contracts typically dictate laying off teachers according to seniority. Usually, a teacher’s ability or value doesn’t matter. A group called Excellent Schools Now wants to change that awkward system, and the intent is reflected in Senate Bill 5399, sponsored by Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina. If passed, the bill would require the use of teacher evaluations in determining layoffs. A companion bill is expected soon in the House.

This is an excellent proposal and deserves support of all legislators. The list of co-sponsors shows no lawmaker from Clark County, but they are urged to recognize the merit of this proposal. Particularly, state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, is encouraged to help lead the effort as a member of the Education Committee. [...]

SEATTLE (AP) -- The sponsor of a bill that would make teacher effectiveness the main determining factor during layoffs says the proposal is worth billions of dollars in school improvement.

But the president of the state's largest teachers union wonders why lawmakers are spending time on distractions like this proposal when they should instead be focusing on how to avoid teacher layoffs in the first place.

Mary Lindquist of the Washington Education Association says lawmakers started last year to move toward a new teacher evaluation system. This new approach likely will change the way school districts lay off teachers. But Lindquist says school administrators and teachers need time to develop the new system. She says Sen. Rodney Tom's proposal would get in the way of that work. 

The Olympian 
Washington state must close achievement gap
Washington's African American students cannot wait 105 years to realize the same levels of academic achievement as their peers.

That is the amount of time that is estimated it will take if Washington state continues to improve at its current rate. In a report issued last month, the Center on Education Policy studied more than 40 states to find out how long it will take to close the achievement gaps that exist between low-income and students of color and their highest achieving counterparts at their current pace. When compared with Louisiana, a state that has faced much adversity in communities and schools because of historical inequities, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, Washington should be ahead in providing for our students. Yet, if Louisiana continues on the path it’s headed, its achievement gap will be closed in 12.5 years. [...]

Seattle Times 
Legislature must keep bar high on science education
Washington's students aren't at the bottom in science education but neither are schools preparing them for an economy ever more reliant on science, innovation and technology. 

WASHINGTON'S students do not rank anywhere close to the bottom in science education but neither are they prepared for a future economy reliant on scientific innovation and technology.

Scores released this week from the National Assessment of Educational Progress confirm Washington students' grasp of basic concepts in physical, Earth, life and space sciences.

But basic is not good enough, fueling a call by Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn to delay until 2017 a looming requirement that students pass a science test to graduate. No more delays. [...]

Study questions seniority-based teacher layoffs
A study of Washington state teachers has found that deciding layoffs based solely on which teachers have the least seniority has a significant impact on students' ability to learn, adding to a growing chorus calling for schools to take a hard look at union contracts dictating who gets to keep their jobs.

The study comes as tens of thousands of teachers around the country stand to lose their jobs next year as federal stimulus money dries up. In most places, union contracts and other policies generally dictate that the least experienced teachers are the first to go.

But that comes at a price, according to the study released exclusively to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington, which studies the relationships between education policies and student outcomes, looked at the 1,717 Washington state teachers who were given layoff notices in either of the past two school years. [...]

No more delays in Washington state's math and science requirements
STATE Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn's most recent proposal to delay mathematics and science graduation requirements would be a step in the wrong direction for Washington students. It also calls into question whether our state is serious about ensuring all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in career and life.

Growing up, I dreamed of being many things, including an astronaut. I was fortunate to attend schools that encouraged, challenged and prepared me for success. In 1978 I realized my childhood dream, eventually flying on three NASA space missions.

Washington's students deserve the same support to obtain the knowledge, skills and confidence to pursue their dreams. Regardless of the path a student chooses after high-school graduation, be it an astronaut or auto technician, mathematics and science literacy is critical for every student's future. These subjects give students the power to think clearly, solve problems and design innovative solutions. [...]

Tacoma News Tribune 
Gov. Chris Gregoire still opposes delays in math and science grad requirement
Bills in both houses of the Legislature are responding to state schools chief Randy Dorn's request to delay from 2013 to 2017 the requirement that state students pass math and science assessments.

Today, however, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she is not interested in delaying the graduation requirement for four years.

"We're letting our kids down," Gregoire said during her weekly press conference. "When we say we haven't been able to get our programs up and running enough to meet the needs of our students, that's us, it's not our students."

Gregoire was referencing concerns that new assessments called end-of-course exams in math and biology are not ready for the class of 2013.

"I'm very troubled by the fact that we are delaying," she said. "The last thing we should be doing in this economic recession, in my opinion, is delaying the recovery of our students to compete in a global marketplace in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. [...]

Bill looks to sidestep seniority issues in future teacher layoffs
It could be seen as adding insult to injury. As state teachers face layoffs under Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget plan, some education reform groups now want to alter who would get the pink slip. Why now? The backers say this is the crucial time to alter the traditional – and collectively bargained – seniority-based layoff rules. Otherwise, good teachers who suffer from a lack of seniority might be jettisoned while less-competent teachers stick around.

The current system is transparent and clear. But it hits struggling schools harder as they already suffer from high turnover among teachers and tend to get the newest teachers.

A bill proposed by Excellent Schools Now – a coalition of 32 organizations including Stand for Children, The League of Education Voters, the Washington State PTA and the Black Education Strategy Roundtable – would require the use of teacher evaluations to govern layoffs. Seniority would only break ties between equally evaluated teachers.

The House bill is expected to be sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle. The Senate version, Senate Bill 5399, is sponsored by Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and has a bipartisan group of cosponsors. [...]

Union Bulletin 
Layoffs that unnecessarily damage children’s education must be avoided
It is the responsibility of school superintendents to evaluate their districts’ teachers and needs.

A study of Washington state teachers recently concluded: Teacher layoffs based solely on seniority aren't in the best interest of the students.

It took a study to figure that out?

Whether it is the teaching profession, the journalism profession or any other job, if you determine who gets laid off using only seniority you aren't always going to end up with the best remaining staff.

There is great value in on-the-job experience. Your most experienced teachers should be your best teachers. But that's not always the case. There are older teachers who have "retired" on the job, content to just put in their time. There are young teachers who bring an excitement and a different way of looking at things that can translate into success. There are other teachers up and down the seniority scale who are able to inspire students and spur them to greater achievements. [...]

Spokane Spokesman-Review 
Gary Crooks: Smart Bombs Column
Add it up. Some sobering figures from Excellent Schools Now, a coalition of Washington state interests that want to reform education:

• Half of children are not ready to succeed by the time they reach kindergarten.
• Washington state is one of only a few states where the achievement gap is growing.
• We rank 46th in the nation on the chance for college by age 19.
• To fill current shortages, the state will need 400 science teachers and 460 math teachers.
• In the class of 2008, 54 percent of students entering community or technical colleges needed remedial course work.
• Of the 36 states that vied for federal Race to the Top funds, only four finished behind Washington state.

The simple response is to indict the educational system. In fact, we all need to look in the mirror. [...]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

SAVE THE DATE: The Alliance for Education Community Breakfast

Join us at the 2011 Alliance for Education Community Breakfast as we celebrate our educators and students! 

There is no cost to attend the breakfast, though we hope to inspire guests to make a gift in support of our work.

For more information or to RSVP, click here