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Olympia’s education efforts: Mid-course correction needed

This post was written by League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo and originally posted on Crosscut on December 3, 2013.

Chris Korsmo, CEO, League of Education VotersThe National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2013 test results were heralded recently by many in our state for the increases in fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores.

The results are promising and the progress deserves to be recognized.

Yet when the results were announced, there was little to no mention of the widening achievement gaps among some groups of Washington students.

Specifically, during the past 10 years, the gaps between black/white, Latino/white, and low-income/higher income students widened at all grades and subjects tested.

Clearly, what we are doing for these students is not working.

Thanks to the state’s nearly billion dollar down-payment of new and redirected funding for K-12 public education, we have an opportunity to begin closing these gaps.

The majority of the funding is supporting “basic education” — mandated by the 2012 Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary decision that ordered the Legislature to overhaul how K-12 education is funded by 2018.

This includes paying for full-day kindergarten in high-poverty communities, as well as class-size reduction in these same communities for kindergarten and first grade classrooms. It also includes paying for K-12 transportation, materials and supplies.

Beyond funding for basic education, lawmakers also provided another $47 million to support gap-closing strategies and programs to help our students graduate college- and career-ready.

Is this modest state investment in K-12 enough? No. Many expect — and in my case, hope — the Supreme Court will say as much when it issues its end-of-the-year response to the Legislature.

The money matters. But so does how it’s spent.

As we head into the 2014 legislative session, we should all be curious to learn how districts are using these new resources to support student learning and close achievement gaps. Here are a few examples I’ve heard about:

  • Ensuring all students enter school kindergarten ready

Building on the state’s investment in early learning through the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, a number of districts are investing in preschool opportunities to help low-income students start school kindergarten ready. In Grandview, where 8 out of 10 students receive free and reduced price lunch, the school district is offering six sections of half-day preschool.

  • Preparing students for post-secondary success

Districts are taking a number of approaches to ensure that students are ready for life after high school. In Issaquah, the district is funding a longer school days — a pilot program adding a 7th period to the day — to expand core graduation and elective options for students. In Kent, a partnership between Kentlake High School and Renton Technical College enables students to participate in the high school’s Career Medical Pathways program. Students can take low-cost college courses and work with businesses such as MultiCare Health System to receive practical instruction in the medical field. In Bellingham, new funding supports the International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advancing Via Individual Determination (AVID) programs that offer students the skills and knowledge to graduate ready for post-secondary options.

  • Supporting our classroom teachers

Great teachers make all the difference in the quality of a student’s school experience. Thanks to the new resources from the state, districts are able to increase their supports for teachers. In Spokane, the district added new curriculum aligned to Washington’s Common Core standards and restored the district’s Mentor Teacher program to help beginning classroom educators.

As our Olympia leaders consider how they will fulfill the state’s education funding obligations, it is critically important to be confident that our tax dollars are being invested wisely and effectively.

We must ensure that in 2015, when the next set of NAEP results are announced, our state’s scores have improved and the gaps have begun to close so that each student in Washington state receives an excellent public education that provides the opportunity for success.

Posted in: Funding

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