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My trip to History (better late than never)

I’ve never been part of history before. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen cool things and bad things, but saying I’ve witnessed History (capital H) would be a stretch.  As I prepared for my trip I imagined what it would be like and, I have to say, I was wrong. My idea of History didn’t compare with what I experienced.

Last week I took a very short trip to a very large event, the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I left on the red eye last Sunday and arrived in Baltimore on Monday morning at 9 am. I made my way to to the south end of the Capitol Building where so many of us would be fixated the following morning. As I turned the corner, it became closer to real. The barricades, porta potty lined walkways, and people everywhere – I mean everywhere. I stood in front of the Capitol. It was dressed up with American flags – flags that I have never been so proud to see. The choir was practicing – children were everywhere, their parents lift them up pointing and explaining what was about to happen to their world.

My trip built upon that moment. Every minute added another layer of power and depth. I spent the day walking the National Mall. Occasionally, I’d stop and talk to people, and they’d talk back. “Aren’t you excited?” “It’s really happening!” “This is my country.” Everyone was smiling. Everyone was helping one another whether by offering to snap a photo (I traveled alone), a piece of gum, a snack… anything. I slept only a few hours to board the metro just before 6 am and experience the start of a new day. The metro was PACKED, but no one pushed or argued or sniped. Instead people cheered, God Bless America broke out along with a short Happy Birthday to one girl who turned 21 (pictured at left).

It took me an hour  to find the end of my long line and I stood there for hours. I got to know the people I was standing by.  Black, white, young, old, rich, poor – none of that mattered on this special day. After I got through security, I literally sprinted to the Capitol and stood directly behind the reflecting pond. It was an incredible sight. The electricity and positive energy is something that I’ll never ever forget. It was a spiritual reminder that humans are all so similar, we want to be the best, we want to help, we want to understand each other. As I stood and listened to President Obama speak, I took a moment to turn around and take it in.  He was saying these words:

“Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.”

It hit me. It was not Barack Obama who blew me away that day. It was us. All of us. We had come together and already accomplished something truly historical. Yes we did! But this accomplishment seemed almost minor compared to the energy, hope, and team work it took to accomplish it. Hope won – and here I was standing next to three African American women my age crying, hugging, and cheering together.inaug

I spent the rest of the day dancing on the iced-over reflecting pond, calling all of my family and friends, and having a long lunch with four people who I had never met before from all different walks of life. It was one of the best lunches I’ve had – mixed with elation and deep discussion on ‘what now?’.

On my flight home I struggled to answer this question – almost to the point of frustration. What more can I do? How can I create real change? I need to do more.  Yesterday I finally got a chance to read President Obama’s letter to his daughters. The most poignant line to me reads, ‘it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.’ It was a great reminder to me that I’m doing some very cool work here at LEV helping ensure that all children are ready for life. Sometimes changing the world feels difficult (okay really difficult), but  last week reminded me that it is possible. That’s enough to keep me going. It takes team work and diligently chipping away at a common goal. More than that, it is what needs to be done.

I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential—schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college—even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.  – Barack Obama, ‘What I Want for You – and Every Child in America.’

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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BEFTF recap

The Basic Education Finance Task Force cast a number of preliminary votes in recent meetings on items to be included in its final report. To recap (and help you keep them straight), here is a consolidated list of decisions the Task Force has made, and those yet to be finalized.

Decisions made

Dispensed from consideration

Decisions yet to be made

Posted in: LEV News

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Voting and Volunteerism

City Year kicks off their year of service at Westlake Plaza

City Year kicks off their service year at Westlake Plaza

I spent last Friday with the 2008-09 City Year Seattle/King County corps, and it was wonderful to be back! This time last year I was wearing the red jacket, volunteering at Chief Sealth High School and running a service-learning program for high school youth. Last Friday I put on my alumna hat by speaking with City Year stakeholders and educating this year’s corps about why they should vote.

What a powerful group of young people — 53 idealists from across the nation, ages 17-24, who have come to Seattle to serve youth in the Pacific Northwest. A few corps members are from Washington; most are from out-of-state. Yes, that’s right — here’s a fresh crop of new Washington voters, young adults eager to learn about Washington’s public schools.

These are our most valuable education voters. They are our future teachers, school administrators, non-profit leaders, social workers and perhaps even our future legislators. City Year places these energetic, passionate young adults in schools around Puget Sound, including Wing Luke Elementary, Dearborn Park Elementary, Denny Middle School, Asa Mercer Middle School, Chinook Middle School (Highline), Chief Sealth High School and the African-American Academy. Corps members also serve youth at Treehouse, South Park Community Center and the Center for Young Adults (part of the YMCA of Greater Seattle), .

City Year corps members are familiar with education issues because they are in classrooms as tutors and mentors, providing academic support to K-12 students and facilitating afterschool programs and weekend service-learning programs. They are invested in the issues because they know the students, parents and teachers affected by key issues like the WASL, graduation requirements and funding.

Last Friday was productive and inspirational. It started with the Breakfast of Champions, a community engagement event attended by a variety of stakeholders including Cheryl Chow (president) and Harium Martin-Morris (director) of the Seattle School Board and Davy Muth, Wing Luke Elementary principal and City Year service partner.

Following the breakfast, I delivered a presentation to the corps called, “You, Washington State and the 2008 Election.” My goals were to register new voters, remind out-of-state voters to check their state guidelines and to highlight why every vote counts. Here in Washington State, we’re all quite familiar with tight races. If the 2004 gubernatorial race and last year’s Simple Majority Campaign won’t convince you that your vote matters, I don’t know what will!

According to a USA TODAY/MTV/Gallup Poll of registered 18-29 year-old voters (see the October 6th USA Today article, “Young voters hint at electorate shift”), Obama leads McCain 61 percent to 32 percent among this age group, making this “the most lopsided contest within an age group in any presidential election in modern times.” The young voter turnout rate jumped 9 percentage points from 2000 to 2004, and in the presidential primaries, it nearly doubled in 2008 (since 2000).

Volunteerism is on the rise, especially among young people. Involvement in community service raises social and political awareness. Greater knowledge and investment in pressing social issues fuel the fire for change. It’s no wonder young voters support Obama. He inspires greater participation in national service programs like City Year, Teach For America and AmeriCorps because a) he’s mobilizing youth and b) he’s willing to financially reward those who commit to national service.

City Year, keep up the great work! Friday was a reminder of the importance of outreach and the ripple effect that it has on social change.

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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African American Achievement Gap Advisory Committee meeting recap

Posted by Heather

The African American Achievement Gap Advisory Committee (created by HB 2722) met at UW-Tacoma yesterday. The main attraction of the meeting was Paul Ruiz of The Education Trust. Mr. Ruiz is one of EdTrust’s experts on the achievement gap, and brought along the latest version of “Education Watch: Washington.” You can read the 2006 version here.

Mr. Ruiz made a number of interesting and thought-provoking points during his presentation to the committee. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Not all kids learn the same way, but all should learn to “respectable levels.”
  • Kids should leave high school with ability to pursue options (college, trades, etc).
  • When looking at NAEP and WASL scores, Washington is telling two different stories about proficiency (Of 4th graders, 77 percent passed the 2007 Reading WASL, compared to 37 percent scoring proficient or higher on NAEP).
  • The faculty of low-income/high-minority schools should mirror the faculty at affluent schools (meaning our teacher workforce should be more equally distributed).
  • We shouldn’t force teachers to teach where they don’t want to go, but the Legislature can set money aside to be used by high-poverty schools as incentives to attract teachers.
  • In order to improve student achievement, the Committee (and State) should set goals and then allow districts and schools to figure out to meet those goals.

After a brief Q-and-A session with Mr. Ruiz, the Committee broke for a working lunch to discuss the efforts of its three workgroups.

Next, we heard from Janell Newman (of OSPI) and Dan Barkley about district and school improvement and accountability. Dr. Newman and Mr. Barkley gave a presentation on Washington schools in improvement steps (as defined under No Child Left Behind) and how the State works with some of those schools. In the data recently released by OSPI, we learned 628 schools (of 2,115) are in an improvement step. This is up from 280 schools last year and 180 schools in 2005. And while OSPI only has the resources to help about 100 schools, they were able to make progress with those schools.

The big challenge here is the State cannot intervene in schools in improvement steps unless it is asked. If all goes well with the State Board of Education, Washington will have a new accountability system that gives the State the ability to intervene when schools are struggling. To learn more about the effort of the SBE, click here.

The Committee ended by reviewing its interim report, due next week. These are typically status reports, and the Committee seems on track to meet its final draft deadline in December.

Posted in: LEV News

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Becoming Señora Wallace

In case we haven’t met yet, my name is Katie, and I’m an aspiring teacher. I joined the League of Education Voters at the beginning of July as a stepping stone to my next challenge. Teacher quality and preparation is something that comes up in conversation daily in the LEV office. Fortunately, I am on the brink of knowing firsthand what teacher prep looks like in Washington State. Let me tell you about it…

They say nothing makes sense in your twenties. You’re young. You don’t know what you want.

But I do know what I want, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I want to teach Spanish in Seattle Public Schools, preferably at a high school in south Seattle beginning in fall 2010.

I thought I “needed” to do “other things” first. For six years I was convinced that I would be a sportswriter. A few weeks into my first quarter at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, I woke up to the reality that writing about baseball everyday was not going to be as fulfilling as it was fun to dream about.

The funny thing is that I have always wanted to teach, yet I always had an excuse as to why I should wait, why I should pursue other careers.

Then again, maybe there were reasons that I was discouraged from teaching. It is pretty daunting to waltz into a broken system. Our failure to adequately fund our schools is aggravating. It is disheartening that we don’t invest more in our youth and our teachers. When you look at teacher salaries and school funding, it appears that we don’t put a high value on education.

Why would I spend roughly $80,000 on Bachelors degrees (journalism and Spanish) and eagerly apply to graduate school for my Masters in Teaching (which means another $30,000 on top of outstanding student loans!) to go into a career where I work 10-12 hours a day, take my work home with me and start out earning less than $40,000 per year?

Because there’s nothing else I would rather do. I have never felt so compelled to commit to anything in my whole life. Despite the pessimism and harsh realities of the education system, I can’t wait to have my own classroom.

As a corps member with City Year Seattle/King County last year, I had the opportunity to tutor in a Seattle high school two days a week. Those two days a week clearly reminded me of a) why I’m up for the challenge and b) why I can’t wait any longer.

Two years from now I will be standing in front of my own classroom. However, until then, I have my work cut out for me.

First step – grad school applications. Eek… October 1 is closer than I thought… I’ve been sensing the urgency of jumping into education, but this quickly approaching application deadline adds a different kind of pressure! Thankfully, I have already passed my entrance exams – the WEST-B and the Praxis II in Spanish. We’ll dive into a discussion of these educator skills tests next week…

I invite you to join me in this adventure. I’ll update you every Friday, and if something comes up during the week that I can’t wait to post, I’ll fill you in. Oh, and by the way, starting Tuesday of next week, I’ll be volunteering in high school Spanish classes once again… stay tuned!

Posted in: Teachers

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Back to School and Back to Quality

Posted by Chris

This is a special week. One million children will fill their backpacks with new books, nervous energy and optimism and board yellow buses to return to school. Some are all but guaranteed to end the school year far ahead of where they are now. Too many will be less fortunate, experiencing less opportunity for growth, or worse yet, stagnation.

This school year we citizens have an opportunity to partner with educators, principals, and policymakers to ensure that all of our kids are headed back to school and back to quality.

Our vision: Every student is able to read by third grade. Every child deserves to arrive on their first day of kindergarten prepared to succeed. Unfortunately, over the past five years pass rates on the 4th grade Reading WASL have declined. One of the most effective ways to get us back on track is to invest in high-quality early learning programs, like Washington Head Start, and professional development for child care providers. As the Basic Education Finance Task Force redefines basic education, early learning must be included as one of the most promising avenues to impact student achievement from the very beginning.

Our vision: An excellent teacher in every classroom. Every child deserves a quality education from kindergarten and beyond, and excellent teachers are profoundly important to this journey. But three in five students in Washington attend an underperforming school where they may not learn what they need. That’s unacceptable. Fortunately solutions are in the works. The Basic Education Finance Task Force will propose measures to professionalize the teaching profession, which is likely to include an evaluation system to reward and support great teaching. Additionally, the State Board of Education will propose a series of steps that aim to turn around schools that underperform year after year.

Our vision: Every high school graduate is ready for college and work. Every child deserves to choose his or her path after high school. Unfortunately, not all high school students are given this choice in Washington. Only 41 percent of high school graduates meet college entrance requirements — and over half of entering community college students take remedial classes they should have mastered in high school. To help ensure a high school diploma means college and work ready, the State Board of Education adopted CORE 24 as the new graduation requirement framework. CORE 24 aligns high school course work with college entrance requirements and workforce expectations. Before the Board can implement these new requirements, we need to persuade the Legislature to fund more than just a five-period day.

The time for bold solutions is now.

The reform efforts mentioned above will be debated and decided during the upcoming 2008-09 school year. In this year of education, it is appropriate to assess not only student achievement, but citizen involvement. What will our citizen report card show?

Join us to change the world by changing our schools. We’re parents and community members who saw a need for a more independent voice and real results for all children. We’re dedicated to the idea that every one of our million school children deserves an excellent education and we need you.

Visit didyouknowcampaign.com to learn more about what you can do to make a difference for kids.

Posted in: Closing the Gaps

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Katarina’s trip to Vancouver

Boarding a bus at seven in the morning to attend a State Board of Education meeting was not at the top of my summer to-do list. Honestly, I would have never guessed that attending a State Board of Education meeting would ever be on my calendar.

With my eyes a little puffy and my stomach empty, my excitement meter was running on the low side as I headed to the office two hours earlier than normal. As I slowly dragged my body out of my dad’s car, I was instantly greeted with smiles and eager faces ready to show the State Board what we’re all about.

As the bus arrived at the meeting, our show-stopping swag captured the eyes of many in the room. Our message was even stronger than our fierce red shirts – every student should have the opportunity to succeed. We all brought our own stories, each one as powerful and unique as the next.

It was not until this summer that I realized how fortunate I was. Hearing some of the testimonies really helped me see how difficult it may be without the guidance, mentoring and encouragement I received through family, school and Rainier Scholars. Every student is not offered a chance to know success but I believe everyone should be able to know what it feels like to succeed. Through Core 24, every student will have the opportunity to make decisions that will directly affect their future. It offers a solid academic foundation with flexibility to alter courses in order to accommodate post high school graduation plans.

I can now say I have attended a State Board of Education meeting, learned a lot and had fun at the same time. Not only did we show everyone at the meeting how Core 24 would be beneficial to all students, but we also showed them how important student voices really are. We are the future and the time for change is now.

Katarina is our summer intern and also a Rainier Scholar.

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Simran’s testimony, Western Washington Student

Just shy of spending two weeks as an intern here, I attended the State Board of Education meeting in Vancouver yesterday to testify in support of CORE 24. As I watched the number of miles decrease on the exit signs, my thoughts were about how the Board would react to the proposal, if much of the public would attend, if they would be in support of CORE 24, and if the students’ testimonies would be enough to sway the Board.

Upon arriving, I was ushered into a crowded room. I was intimidated by the formality of the meeting, yet comforted by the red shirts scattered throughout the sea of people. As I began listening to one woman testifying against CORE 24, I was taken aback by her opinion of students struggles in education. I can’t get over how people use technical issues like finances as an excuse for not supporting issues like CORE 24 and how easily people forget why Washington State made a board that makes decisions on public education. For the students, of course!

When my turn came, I hope to channel the importance of this decision, and how the Board is responsible for an uncharted number of children who would go through our state’s school system. I wanted to convey how we could set the students up for failure if we weren’t decisive. As another testifier said, “…..not making this decision would be criminal”. I was pleased that the Board seemed eager to listen to the students, and that my words proved to be meaningful.

It was a tangible experience and I found it empowering that people can make a difference despite the obstacles. My goal is to help other students realize that it isn’t difficult to speak out, but it takes having someone to listen that makes it count.

Here is an excerpt from my testimony:

My name is Simran and I’m a public school graduate heading into my third year at Western Washington University. I was fortunate to have parents and an older brother who were familiar with high school four-year plans, and knew how to prepare for success in enrollment in college. By taking AP courses and being highly involved in my high school, I had gained enough experience to ensure my position at a four-year university. I was lucky. We need to make sure that every student is just as lucky . . .

Despite the obvious technical issues that lie ahead with Core 24, it is important for you as a member of the State Board of Education to understand the fundamental theme behind this proposal. This is for the betterment of all students and will give them an opportunity to excel. They are the future of society and I believe that all of you have their best interests in mind. Thank you for continuing to do what you do for all students.

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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Sea of Red

Posted by Heather

The State Board of Education are meeting today and tomorrow in Vancouver to vote on the proposed Algebra II requirement and have further discussion on CORE 24 (proposed new high school graduation requirements).

To show support for CORE 24, a busload of 50 students, parents and advocates rode down with us to the meeting. Wearing red “Change our world, change our schools” t-shirts, we were literally a sea of red in the room. Even more amazing than our visual presence was the student perspective offered by 10 members of our group.

Public testimony on CORE 24 was heard for more than an hour, and our group took up about a third of that time. After hearing from some of the usual suspects — most of whom support CORE 24 despite their concerns over funding and implementation — our speakers offered some perspective a bit closer to the ground.

Student speakers Roxana, DeAngela, Sebastian and Simran gave great testimony about how CORE 24 will help prepare ALL of our kids for success after high school. They all spoke to how raising expectations will benefit students, not hurt them, and creating a post-secondary plan will help students visualize their futures. All four asked the SBE to not wait to raise graduation requirements for fear of leaving more of their peers behind.

Let’s hope their testimony leaves SBE members seeing red over our current low expectations for students and voting to continue with CORE 24 as a framework.

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism

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Our exciting new addition: Katarina, A Rainier Scholar

Posted by Katarina.

Hi, I’m Katarina. Born here in Seattle, I am an upcoming high school junior. I have attended private school my whole life but I’m very interested and eager to learn more about issues in the public schools. Through Rainier Scholars, I was offered this opportunity to intern at the League of Education Voters office.

I consider Rainier Scholars more than just an academic program but as a family. The positive and continuous encouragement from everyone at RS has led me to truly believe an individual can make a difference in this world. By helping to develop future leaders, Rainier Scholars has helped me and my peers see our potential and have motivated us to step to up and prove that success is for everyone. I have been a part of Rainier Scholars since fifth grade and looking back, I can see the difference they have made in my life.

In two years I will be off to college. At this point, I am still unsure about what school I want to attend or what profession I want to pursue but with the support of school counselors, family and Rainier Scholars, I know I am heading down the right path. As a child I wanted to be everything. Now that I am older I know I can be anything, I just have to believe in my dreams and know my options.

I enjoy playing volleyball and just kicking back in the summer sun with friends. I spend a majority of my time with my two sisters and parents. Art is a large part of my life. I danced ballet for six years and I have recently started to draw and paint more. I played the piano and flute for a little and I listen to music whenever I can. I am also an active member of my church and youth group. Summer is my favorite season and I’m always up for an adventure.

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