Why You Can’t Expect Needed Reforms in Washington State Schools


July 16, 2013-

An additional $1 billion was added to funding of Washington state schools in the 2013 legislative session for a total of $15.2 billion in the biennial budget. But Democratic lawmakers – at the urging of the Washington Education Association (WEA) – refused to allow reforms.

“Though the new budget will increase state funding by about $1,000 per student, to an all-time high of $11,300 per student, only about 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom, and restrictive seniority policies prevent students from learning from the best teachers,” wrote Liv Finne, the esteemed director of the Center for Education at Washington Policy Center in a July 2013 Seattle Times Op Ed.

“A little context is first necessary,” wrote Ms. Finne. “Last year, 23,000 Washington students, or 31 percent of the total, failed to pass the state’s third grade reading test. And 26,000 students, or 34 percent, failed to pass the third grade math test.”

That’s not all.

“Fully one-third of Washington’s schools rank as only ‘Fair’ or ‘Struggling,’ the lowest two categories on the State Board of Education’s School Achievement Index,” she explained. “These and other dismal results led the state Supreme Court to rule in the McCleary decision that ‘fundamental reforms are needed for Washington to meet its constitutional obligation to its students. Pouring more money into an outmoded system will not succeed.’”

She pointed out that student achievement is largely influenced by the quality of teachers, and that best schools have terrific teachers with an assertive principal who demands “high academic standards for students.”

Reform-minded lawmakers

Ms. Finne saluted efforts by state Senators, including Majority Leader Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue), as well Senators Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island), Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup) and Andy Hill (R-Redmond).

She commended their four proposed reforms:

  1.  Allowing school principals to hire the best teachers and end the practice of endlessly transferring bad teachers from one school to another in the infamously bureaucratic “dance of the lemons”
  2. Giving schools A to F letter grades so parents can easily understand how well their local school are performing
  3. Ending the social promotion of students who cannot read at grade level by third grade 
  4. Directing that future compensation adjustments for teachers, beyond an adjustment for inflation, be provided in the form of professional training in methods that actually work at teaching underachieving students how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide.

She pointed out Democratic leaders blocked the reforms.

“Supported by the powerful WEA union, these lawmakers are strong defenders of the educational status quo, fearing policy changes that may threaten the position of adults in the system,” she theorized.

But wait there’s more.

“The WEA union is also working to cut education services for children,” she revealed. “Many school districts, at the request of WEA representatives, are seeking to close school house doors at noon Wednesdays or Fridays.”

Seriously? Yes.

Common sense

“While the cuts would certainly reduce classroom work hours for adults, they would deprive students of important instructional hours,” she asserted. “In addition, last week the WEA union filed a frivolous lawsuit in an attempt to deny students access to charter schools.”

Her conclusion:

“In many states, like Wisconsin, Indiana and Florida, lawmakers are improving public education by giving parents more choice in selecting the school that works best for their children,” she wrote.

“Similarly, Washington voters enacted the new charter school law to provide school choice for parents in a few districts across the state,” she added. “Given the record of the just-ended legislative session, however, it is clear reforms that give most Washington parents a greater voice in their children’s education will have to wait for another day.”

Ugh. Why is it too much to ask lawmakers to do the right thing for Washington’s kids, not their political allies and donors?

Little wonder Washington’s employers complain about the lack of quality applicants, and the state’s technology companies are strong advocates for Congress to increase the number of H1-B visas to alleviate the shortage of skilled workers (see: Seattle Tech Recruiter Provides Career Advice, Makes Prediction).

Remember this debacle the next time you vote.

The authoritative think tank’s Web address: www.washingtonpolicycenter.org.

From the Coach’s Corner, see the Keys to Economic Development: Managing Ignorance.

“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

-Abraham Lincoln

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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.