Archive for March, 2008

Attention! Atención! Attenzione!

It is time to pay attention to the State Board of Education.  This group, which used to be not very relevant, is now a force to be reckoned with.

I’d argue that their work and the work of the Basic Education Task Force (a.k.a the Grimm Commission) will profoundly impact class room realities and student outcomes for years to come.

The State Board members are thinking deeply (and soon they will be acting) about system reforms.  They seem to be united around the goal that all kids graduate from high school with maximum options to succeed in life.  They do not want to move to a system where there would be different kinds of diplomas for different kinds of kids.

Here is the short-hand version of where the State Board is headed:

  1. Meaningful diploma
  2. Multiple pathways
  3. No unfunded mandates

Board members are listening hard.  Like me, several have become new, strong CTE (Career and Technical Education) converts.  The fact that they are looking ahead to implementation and resource issues is refreshing.

Education policy does matter.  If you go to the State Board website, you will find all kinds of presentations and meeting notes.

Know that the State Board is on a fast-track to drive some important system reforms.  Board members feel the same urgency that we do.  James Kelly, President of the Urban League, hit the nail on the head when he said “we need to do the right thing for kids; waiting is not the right thing.”

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Pathways for Success

Yesterday, I attended a conference at South Seattle Community College about Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.  Success for All Students: Exploring Career and Technical Educational Opportunities brought together business, industry, teachers, principals, higher education officials, and policy makers in an effort to explore ways to help youth transition to adulthood with a full range of positive career choices after high school.

This conference was timed perfectly with recent media coverage of CTE programs and the growing demand in the workforce for skilled laborers. The articles show that there is a real need for skilled laborers in the workforce and that these jobs pay good wages. So why the low interest and low enrollment numbers?

The conversation at the conference that resonated with me the most acknowledged that there is real stigma surrounding many, if not most, of the CTE pathways.  The current discourse in the education world is that kids should have options after high school that enable them to be successful in life-earning a family wage and contributing positively to their community. We all know that there are multiple pathways to success, but do we really believe that all of these paths are equal? 

Parents, students, teachers, advocates and policymakers alike don’t necessarily believe that success can be attained without a diploma from a college or university. “Those programs are good and fine for some kids, but it’s not for me or my kid,” is what principals and counselors said they hear all the time.  There seems to be a very real sense that somehow completing a certificate or apprenticeship program is simply not as good as earning a college degree. 

Changing this attitude is the first step in making CTE programs successful and meaningful to students.  The consensus in the room yesterday was that increasing awareness of all the different programs and showing kids the wide range of jobs these programs prepare them for is the best way forward.

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma, Higher Education

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Talking Teachers

As I sat in the back of the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) meeting yesterday (agenda) listening to testimony and discussion, I couldn’t help but wonder—where are all of the other stakeholders? Joining me in the peanut gallery were representatives from many of the state’s schools of education, WEA and a few school districts. I didn’t see any reporters, or incensed citizens, teachers, what have you. Surprisingly, everyone was on their best behavior, even when things got a little heated-the heat being the reason I was surprised at my solo alien status.

The main reasons I rode MT194 to SeaTac were to hear about developments with implementation of Standard V and review of the WEST-B cut score. Standard V is one of five standards the PESB uses to evaluate teacher training programs in colleges and universities. Standard V lays out four competencies teacher candidates must meet through evidence-based outcomes, including incorporating math across the curriculum. Standard V is not yet fully implemented; a pilot program will begin this fall with five or so programs.

Representatives of schools of education highlighted their progress with implementing Standard V and brought up what I thought were some interesting points. Namely, the schools of ed are trying to define what these evidence-based outcomes look like and how the schools of ed can obtain that information. They also expressed a rising concern with K-12 schools’ use of scripted curriculum and concerns over the WASL-factors effecting teacher candidates in their programs. So what does that mean for kids? It looks like the PESB is working to increase the quality of teachers coming out of the state’s schools of education, which is a good thing. Asking teacher candidates to demonstrate competencies with not only their work, but the work of their students, before they graduate can only help their future students.

After lunch, the board reviewed the passing score for the WEST-B, the state exam all prospective teachers must take for entrance into a teacher preparation program. Previously, the PESB set an initial WEST-B passing score below the Passing Score Panel’s recommendation, wanting to study the impact of the test. Now, with five years worth of data, PESB staff recommended the board raise the passing score to the panel’s original recommendation. After some aggressive questioning and debate, the PESB voted to maintain the passing rate as is, below the panel’s recommendation. Board members wondered at the need to increase the passing score, and opted to maintain the passing score because of this lack of evidence. Many good points were made, but what I found glaringly lacking was the relation to student achievement. Washington students are not at the level we would like them to be (as evidenced by low WASL scores and high college remediation rates), and some of this comes back to teachers. The PESB was correct in asking for more information, but didn’t ask about the impact on student achievement of teachers who scored between the low and high cut scores. In the end, the kids are who it is all about, and they were largely missing from the conversation.

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More Good News for 4204 Supporters

The preliminary results from Tuesday’s elections are out, and come as another pat on the back for 4204 (Simple Majority) supporters.  Most of the 47 levies are passing—more than a third thanks to simple majority—while the 13 bonds are faring less well.

It’s encouraging to see approval rates above 60 percent for half of the levy elections, but it’s even more rewarding to know an additional 66,000+ children will benefit from the passage of Simple Majority last November.

Here are the preliminary results, as of today, separated by approval rate to highlight the impact of Simple Majority:

Approval Rate  




% of total  




% of total  


60% and above  




















49% and below  










A number of bonds are close to the required 60 percent supermajority approval rates. Both failing King County bonds (Renton and Snoqualmie Valley) are within 3 percentage points. Another three bonds (Woodland, Snohomish and Ferndale) are failing with 55+ percent approval.  If bonds needed simple majority approval rather than supermajority (60 percent), all but one of the bonds would be passing—impacting almost 54,000 kids.

As Bonnie noted in her blog posting after the February 19th election, everyone involved with passing 4204 can sit back and smile. Your work continues to change the lives of kids across our state.

Posted in: Blog, Elections, Funding

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The Levy Lady Chimes In

Asking a 50-something person who doesn’t “blog” (and until recently didn’t know what one was) to write one seems awfully risky. But the younger, hipper LEVitators assigned me a topic they knew I would bite on—tomorrow’s school levy elections. The reality is that I got infected by the school levy virus back in 1996 when Seattle failed its operating levy, and I have been fairly obsessed with wanting to help other districts pass their funding measures ever since. One example is our Levy Library. Check it out and be sure to send us samples from your last campaign.

It is a strange system we have in Washington, where existing operating levies for schools have to be re-approved by local voters every few years. Until recently, those renewal levies needed an undemocratic supermajority of 60 percent to pass. After the passage of “simple majority” last fall, school districts all across the state are breathing easier. But hopefully school districts are not getting lazy and taking their voters for granted. They still need to get voters’ permission to just keep up the current level of spending, much less ask for more, and they have to prove that they are spending tax dollars wisely.

Bonds have always been tougher sells and they still need 60 percent approval to pass.

  • 13 districts have a bond measure on tomorrow’s ballot
  • 12 districts have a capital levy
  • 35 school districts have operating levies up for renewal

One district (Renton) has all three.

These last few hours before the vote counts come in are nerve wracking. You wonder whether you have done everything possible to remind your voters what is at stake. But the decision–including the important one about whether enough people will even bother to mail in a ballot or show up to cast a vote–is out of your hands.

One thing is for certain. Every vote counts. Remember our over-time simple majority win. Schools are unfortunately used to winning and losing these ballot measures by just a handful of votes. I am just hoping that voters all over the state do the right thing tomorrow and say yes to investing in kids and schools.

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No, I didn’t see Elvis!

Last week I attended a two-day conference in Nashville, TN on teacher pay at Vanderbilt University. Day one started at 7 a.m. and ended about 15 hours later. The information was dense and overrun with formulas and cohort talk. Having said that, I left the conference with two simple yet overwhelmingly clear conclusions:

First, this conversation requires collaboration.

More often than not, the debate in the room was a little top-down and too removed from reality. The room seemed to be 70% economists and another 20% psychometrists. I was part of a grand team of four advocates that I counted (out of roughly 500 attendees). In addition, the union voice felt dangerously low to nonexistent. Sure, there were two union members who were panelists and NYC’s UFT President Randi Weingarten delivered the keynote address (she did a great job by the way). However, considering the importance of the topic and potential effects on the teaching profession, it felt pretty unbalanced.

This is more than a little ironic considering that the most successful pay for performance plans involved intense local collaboration from the get-go. Minnesota’s Q-Comp is a voluntary program that districts can adopt after a local plan is developed by a team that includes teachers, union representatives, and other leaders. Oregon’s Class Project has modeled many elements of Q-Comp in their demonstration sites. While these projects are new and data is next to nonexistent, intense local collaboration is leading to positive changes in local culture.  Education leaders have come together and are working on solutions to improve support for teachers and results for children.

Second, change is necessary.

In many ways, I was the perfect focus group for this conference. I’m an advocate and I’ve studied data enough to know where the problems are. However, I’m not an academic and know relatively little about pay for performance programs across the country.  Whether the research discussed a specific program or market supply economics – the research overwhelmingly revealed that the statewide pay scale exclusively based on seniority is outdated for several reasons.

First, it doesn’t recognize the fact that times have changed and college graduates today can expect to have three to five career changes in their lifetime. The current system is too inflexible and turns off potential applicants. Second, uniformly paying teachers based on seniority has led to dangerous economic effects by creating teacher shortages in subject and geographic areas. In addition, more experienced and effective teachers tend to move to districts with less challenging populations. Finally, the starting point is too low. How can we expect to attract the highest quality graduate with such a low starting salary? It just won’t happen. If we’re serious about raising student achievement, we need to get serious about treating teachers with the professionalism that they deserve.

Research increasingly shows that the teacher is the most important element in a child’s educational progress. Kati Haycock of Education Trust reminds us that students who have two years of ineffective instruction in a row never catch up. This is a lose-lose-lose situation – teachers lose, students lose, society loses. Teachers need support in terms of compensation and professional development opportunities that lead to results in the classroom.  They also need better tools so they know how their students are doing and can ensure that every student makes at least one year of academic growth within one year of instruction. It is only by working together that we can develop a solution where teachers and students win, not to mention society, our economy … the list goes on.

Conference information (including papers) can be viewed here:

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