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Schools Doing Great Things

Posted by Molly

Sometimes I feel like I spend all of my time thinking about the problems in our education system — kids falling through the cracks of a broken system, teachers struggling to effectively teach a class of nearly 30 students, and school districts making tough budget cuts while navigating the levy/bond gauntlet.  Reform often seems daunting, intimidating, overwhelming, and at times impossible.  However, there are teachers, schools and organizations doing amazing things for our kids.  I want to highlight just a few that I have had the opportunity to see firsthand.

The New School

The New School is a Seattle public school that receives supplemental funding through a private foundation.  With the additional funds, the New School is able to provide a comprehensive curriculum to its students, with a strong emphasis on quality programs and excellent and enthusiastic staff.  During my visit, I was amazed to see kindergarteners counting by tens to 100 and second graders making graphs to illustrate data.  It was inspiring to see these students rising to the challenge of high standards in such a supportive learning community.

Meany Middle School

Located in the heart of Capitol Hill, Meany is dealing with the typical problems that most urban schools in our country face — large populations of free and reduced-price lunch, ELL, and special needs students.   However, the teachers, staff and students of Meany are working hard and doing some really great things.  Due to private financial support from the Nesholm Foundation, Meany has recently undertaken the challenge of integrating the arts into the curriculum and the evidence is apparent when you walk into the building.  Poems, self-portraits and drawings line the hallways and the students’ pride is palpable.  I was lucky enough to be there on a day when students were sharing poems from their poetry portfolios.  Some of the themes of the poems were very mature; it was clear that a lot of these students are grappling with some very serious issues in their lives.  I was touched by the strength, wisdom and empowerment of the students as they were sharing.  This was just one day in one classroom, but it was clear that the students of Meany are flourishing.

The New School and Meany Middle School are combining quality programs, high standards and excellent staff that lead to higher student achievement. Progress does not come without costs however. Private foundation grants provide critical additional funding to allow for smart, strategic investments in programs that work. I was lucky enough to see progress at work in the classroom. With statewide per-student spending lagging far behind (43rd in the nation currently), clearly there is an urgent need to increase smart investments across Washington.

I encourage everyone to look to these great schools and programs for inspiration.

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Second Time’s a Charm in Renton

Posted by Molly

Good news for the Renton School District — it looks like their $150 million construction bond is going to pass. The bond failed to get the required 60 percent supermajority during the first election in March by just 78 votes. As of Thursday, the bond was receiving a 61.56 percent “yes” vote, which is above the 60 percent needed for passage.  Although levies can now pass with a simple majority, bonds still require the 60 percent supermajority.

The election results won’t be certified until June 4, but it is looking really good.

Congratulations Renton School District!

Posted in: Blog, Elections, Funding

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Two Million Minutes: An Essential Wake Up Call

Posted by Bonnie

Last week I attended a film screening of Two Million Minutes, a documentary comparing college preparation in India, China and America. The film was introduced by creator Robert Compton, a venture capitalist who travels to India and China frequently for business and decided it was time for Americans to wake up.

Robert Compton introduced the film by showing some shocking statistics. Alone the statistics wouldn’t bother you. They might seem trivial and even silly. Together they illustrate an intimidating picture of an America that has already fallen behind.

– Tallest building is in Taipei
– Largest publicly traded company is in Beijing
– Biggest refinery is being constructed in India
– Largest passenger airplane is built in Europe
– Biggest movie industry is Bollywood
– Largest casino is in Macao
– Only two of the world’s ten richest people are American.

Only ten years ago America would have topped almost every one of these categories.

Two million minutes is the four-year period that a student will spend in high school. How a student spends their Two Million Minutes—in class, at home studying, playing sports, working, sleeping, socializing—will affect their economic prospects for the rest of their lives. The film follows a male and female high school student in China, India and America and analyzes how each of these students prepares for their next step. Admittedly these students are the cream of the academic crop, however the differences in their preparation is shocking. Case in point, here is a comparison of math and science courses taken by high achieving students in the US and India:

America
Not required for graduation, but typical of high achieving students. Keep in mind, Washington currently only requires two years of math.
Physics – 1 year
Chemistry – 1 year
Biology – 1 year
Math – 4 years
Computer Science – 1 year

India
ISCE National Standard that starts in 8th grade and is required for graduation on technology track.
Physics – 5 years
Chemistry – 5 years
Biology – 5 years
Math – 5 years
Computer Science – 5 years

The movie also showed that the students in India and China are not only doing math and science to a higher level—their education is more rigorous across the board including music and language.

Robert’s argument throughout the film is clear: our culture needs to change. High poverty and rare opportunities for achievement in India and China have fostered a culture where ‘cool’ is equated with success. While success is most often equated with engineering or computer science, other fields are pursued. Most importantly, their plans are ambitious. The students in India and China seemed to reach for the highest possible achievement and realized that even if they didn’t make it, plans B, C, & D were still well above average. Apoorva’s father described it best by saying, “I want her to be able to face any situation fearlessly.” For him, her education is about giving her options and opportunity in an increasingly globalized world.

Click here to check out the trailer.

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Talk to the State Board of Education

Posted by Michael

The Washington State Board of Education will hold 3 community engagement meetings in June to hear your thoughts on high school graduation requirements and accountability. It’s important that education advocates weigh in at these meetings.

The State Board will consider your feedback when they convene in July to make key decisions about the number of credits Washington’s students need to graduate from high school. Currently, our state’s minimum high school graduation requirements do not match minimum college admissions requirements.

Luckily, I had a great high school counselor who told me to take 3 years of math, instead of the minimum of 2 to graduate. But we shouldn’t rely on luck to ensure Washington’s students have the opportunity to go to college or enter the workforce with the skills needed to succeed.

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Standing room only

Posted by George

It was standing room only at Tuesday’s meeting of the Basic Education Finance Task Force. As the Task Force bears down on the work of designing a better, more ample funding plan for schools, the room is filling with advocates, educators, print reporters and TVW. Soon we’re going to need a bigger room.

Most school advocates were encouraged by the sense that the Task Force is finally grappling with the rude question of what should be included in the cost of basic education. There were no academic discussions or presentations by visitors from out-of-state, just our own officials wrestling with the situation on the ground here in Washington.

Steve Aos, with the Washington Institute for Public Policy, the state agency that is staffing the Task Force, led off with his conclusions from the institute’s two major lines of research on compensation and class size. The state’s teacher salary schedule, which stretches incremental pay increases over 16 years, does not align well with the research that shows that the biggest gains in teacher effectiveness are in the first six years. A smarter system would aim to reward productivity gains, not simply years of service. On the issue of class size, the evidence is clear that reduced class sizes in grades K-3 matter. Mr. Aos even quantified the return on that investment: 10 to 16 percent over the lifetime of students.

That led to a vigorous discussion among members over the relative value of master degrees and years of experience. Experience won. Chair Dan Grimm was struck by Bremerton Superintendent Bette Hyde’s observation that her teachers all too frequently moved to other districts where they were paid more for the same job. How does that square with the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a “general and uniform” system of public schools?

Next, Rep. Ross Hunter presented his vision for a cost-based model for K-12 funding. He begins with a simple, bold—and unassailable—premise: build the K-12 budget around what kids need to meet the state’s high school graduation requirements. Because the State Board of Education is proposing to raise the minimum requirements so that high school graduates are prepared for college or meaningful employment, he starts there: fully fund 24 core credits, including three years of math and four years of English. At a minimum, this would mean funding six periods of high school instead of five.

Rep. Hunter would have the state build and cost out four model school programs (K-4, 4-5, 6-8 and 9-12) and then write the K-12 budget to fund them. He also proposes the state build and cost out model programs for English Language Learners, free and reduced-price lunch and special education students, programs reasonable people would agree are needed to provide all students with the opportunity to meet the state’s graduation requirements.

Rep. Hunter wants to require the Legislature to make explicit decisions about key cost drivers that are now obscure: class sizes, number of periods per day, and amount of teacher preparation time. He proposed further adjusting the high school model program costs to reflect four kinds of students: typical, struggling, honors and Career and Technical Education. And to avoid descending into the weeds, he imposes on each model school program the one-page rule.

Rep. Hunter wants the state to allocate funding for these model programs as a single block grant, and allow local districts to make actual spending decisions as they think best. To the extent districts choose to spend funds differently than the state allocation model, let them defend those choices to their parents and voters.

Next, Jennifer Priddy, finance guru at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, presented a sobering snapshot of current financing trends in districts. Declining fund balances have become the norm. The bottom line is districts are too reliant on local funds ( levies and I-728 ) that don’t keep up with inflation to support their current staffing levels and salaries. Expect to see more and more districts facing financial insolvency.

Chair Grimm asked, how much of the problem is due to the State’s underfunding of basic education and how much to districts’ own spending decisions? Superintendent Hyde responded that districts are facing a perfect storm. The very year that students must meet the WASL graduation standards, all the superintendents she knows are being forced to make cuts. The responsibility for the problem falls squarely on the State.

Last up was Mary Jean Ryan, chair of the State Board of Education, who made a compelling case for raising graduation standards. Unlike the rest of the modern world, and every previous generation of Americans, today’s students will be less well-educated than their parent’s generation.

Chair Grimm asked, why not let local districts set their own graduation requirements? Ms. Ryan answered, in an increasingly globalized economy where our students need to compete with their peers from all over the world, local standards just don’t work.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson noted that district superintendents are telling her they can’t imagine how to fund 24 core graduation requirements with current resources. But once the State Board adopts these requirements, it’s hard to imagine how the State can evade responsibility for providing the programs students will need to meet them—which is precisely Rep. Hunter’s point.

Next meeting, stakeholder groups and concerned individuals are invited to make presentations. The League of Education Voters plans to be one of them. Our focus will be ample funding and needed structural reforms.

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma, Funding

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How to ensure teacher success?

Yesterday, Rep. Deb Wallace (Vancouver) hosted an online discussion on issues surrounding teachers and their success. Topics ranged from training programs to mentoring to shortage areas to data systems.

While the web dialogues shied away from proposing solutions to many of the issues presented, they provided an engaging forum to talk about many of the issues facing our teachers, schools and, by extension, the students they serve. One of the largest takeaways from the day-long conversations was the need for K-12 and higher education to work together when attempting to tackle many of the issues facing our schools.

We know teachers play a HUGE role in student achievement, and we also know teachers need support to ensure student success. I couldn’t help but silently cheer when strong mentoring and induction programs were highlighted as an area Washington can and should work on to improve teacher practice and reduce teacher attrition. A UW study found that the attrition rate for new Washington teachers in the first five years is 26.5 percent, just over one in four. It would be great if more K-12 districts partnered with institutions of higher education to create mentoring and induction programs.

This dialogue comes at an important time for education in our state. The State Board of Education and OSPI are working on new math and science standards, and the SBE is looking to raise high school graduation requirements, which may include Algebra II. As Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, said at our town hall meeting Monday, raising standards is a good thing and leads to higher success rates among students.

Ready to take action? Join us at DidYouKnowCampaign.com and become involved in making our schools No. 1.

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Inspired. Maddened. Informed.

 

For those of you unable to attend Monday’s presentation by Kati Haycock, let me tell you – you missed something incredible. It was inspirational, maddening, informative – and I hope, viral.

  • Did you know that students who have two ineffective teachers in a row never recover?
  • Or that we can’t catch kids up by slowing them down?

Would you have known the answer? Now that you do, you also know that the time for bold solutions is now.

Of all the lessons that Kati Haycock imparted this past week, for me, the takeaway was her six characteristics of successful schools. They seemed to me as straightforward as they are honest.

  1. They focus on what they CAN do, rather than what they can’t.
  2. They don’t leave anything about teaching and learning to chance.
  3. They set their goals high.
  4. Higher performing secondary schools put ALL kids – not just some – in a demanding high school core curriculum.
  5. Students who enter behind get extra instruction.
  6. Good schools know how much teachers matter and they act on that knowledge.

While she was here, Kati met with some folks at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Today’s editorial page reflects part of that conversation. As she said Monday night, Kati was shocked to learn that the state only funds a five period day. If we want to achieve the goal of getting all kids college and career ready, we’ve set ourselves up for failure, especially kids who need extra instruction.

The last thing Kati said Monday may have been the truest. Basically, it comes down to us to make the current system change. Without strong advocacy for a system that serves all kids, we likely won’t see one. For every one of us who was in the Library Monday night, there are dozens, maybe hundreds more that each of us know SHOULD have been there.

Help build momentum today by telling your friends about your takeaway lesson from Kati. If everyone connected just five more people, we’d have a network of 1,000 educated citizens ready to change the world by changing our schools.

Aside from pestering your friends, there’s more you can do on your own. Monday night, State Board Member and event host, Eric Liu asked, “Did you know that the State Board of Education is getting ready to change the high school graduation requirements” – removing the barriers and the guesswork from preparing for post-secondary education. Please call or email the State Board of Education and let them know what you know about higher standards, preparing all children for college and careers, and making our high school diploma meaningful. The SBE can be reached at 360-725-6025 or by email at sbe@k12.wa.us

Thank you for your steadfast commitment to all our kids’ success. We are inextricably linked whether all of us act like it or not; they are our future, and we are theirs.

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Higher standards for success

There is a whole lot of moving, shaking and contemplating going on in Washington’s K-12 community. In addition to the Basic Education Finance Task Force looking at our K-12 finance system, the State Board of Education is tackling math and science standards (along with OSPI), accountability and high school graduation requirements.

The Meaningful High School Diploma was the focus of a SBE work group meeting Tuesday. The SBE is considering increasing the minimum high school graduation requirements from 19 to 24 credits. Our current graduation requirements do not match entrance requirements to Washington’s four-year colleges and universities.

The proposed change to graduation requirements, called Core 24, ups credit requirements for core classes and certain electives.

Subject Current

19 credits
Core 24 HECB Min.
15 Credits
English 3.0 4.0 4.0
Math 2.0 3.0
(1 in senior year)
3.0
(Algebra II, 1 in senior year beginning 2012)
Science 2.0
(1 lab)
3.0
(2 lab)
2.0
(1 lab, 2 lab beginning 2012)
Social Studies 2.5 3.0 3.0
Fitness 2.0 1.5 0
Health   

.5 0
Arts 1.0  

2.0  

1.0
(HECB allows subs, UW/WWU require .5)
Occupational Education (changes to Career & Technical Education) 1.0  

3.0
(includes Culminating Project)
0  

World Language 0 2.0 2.0
Electives 5.5 2.0 0
Culminating Project/High School & Beyond Plan 0  

0  

0  

Within Core 24, the SBE wants to allow some flexibility for students with post-secondary plans not best served by Core 24’s default requirements. Some elective requirements can be met in middle/junior high school or through CTE courses.

Raising high school graduation requirements should help to better prepare students for post-secondary life, regardless of what their plans are. Too many (52 percent) of Washington’s recent high school graduates take remedial courses at community and technical colleges. Even those students who pursue options other than a two- or four-year college need the same skills as those who do, according to employers. Research shows that when the bar is set higher students actually perform better, regardless of their achievement level.

This is an exciting time for education in Washington. We have many decisions ahead of us, and the time for bold solutions is now. This is one of the reasons the League of Education Voters has invited Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, to a town hall meeting to discuss some of these issues and solutions. Please join us in a conversation about the future of education in Washington.

Monday, April 28
7 – 8:30 p.m.
Seattle Public Library, Microsoft Auditorium
1000 Fourth Avenue, Seattle

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Seeds of Compassion

The Dalai Lama is in Seattle for a 5-day gathering to cultivate compassion.  The focus throughout the event has been on nurturing kindness and compassion throughout the world starting with children and those who touch their lives.

This special focus on young children and early learning was what drew me to attend the Compassion Forum on Sunday afternoon.  The forum brought together a diverse group of more than 500 citizens, policy makers, teachers, parents, youth, community leaders, philanthropists and children’s advocates to discuss action steps to sustain the goals of Seeds of Compassion.

I spent the day engaged in conversations with a special-needs pre-school teacher, a care-center owner, an employee of the Department of Early Learning and a conflict-resolution counselor.  It was really incredible having so many people gathered and focused on one thing – improving the lives of young children!

There were lots of bold ideas being discussed on how we can all contribute to promoting successful and healthy young people.  The keystone to all of the ideas, discussion and brainstorming was that we, as children advocates, need to build an awareness campaign that increases public understanding of the importance of the healthy social, emotional, and cognitive development of children.  Unfortunately, many policymakers, community leaders, parents and the general public are just unaware how critical this time is in a child’s life.  Increasing awareness and understanding is necessary so decision-makers can take better-informed, more effective action!

The forum yesterday was meant to collect the thoughts and ideas from those who are deeply engaged in the early learning and education fields.  The recommendations that were gathered will be used to create a set of priorities by the forum leadership which will be translated into action in the coming year.

“Compassion is not just being sentimental and feeling with someone, but seeking to change the situation.  If you are going to be compassionate, be prepared for action.”         

                                                ~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu

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The Time for Bold Solutions is NOW!

Telling truths and dispelling myths about education is what Kati Haycock, from The Education Trust, does extremely well. Kati makes a very persuasive case for why we need to raise standards higher for all kids of all races.

Chances are that if you hear Kati speak, you will be moved to action.  And that is what is needed if we want to really give our kids-all of our kids-as many opportunities as possible to succeed in life.

 

Our state’s education system is currently at an important crossroads. Not everyone realizes that right now we are in the process of deciding whether or not we should update (and yes, raise) high school graduation requirements to better align with the expectations of post-secondary education.

Sounds like a no-brainer given the new realities of the changing work force and the knowledge economy that surrounds us. Not to mention the fact that every young adult should have the choice of going to community college or university. But, change is not easy.

While we have made real progress in the last decade, there is no getting around the fact that too many kids are still struggling and losing out on key opportunities.

We need more parents and concerned citizens engaged, demanding change, and communicating with policy makers.  That is why the League of Education Voters Foundation is bringing Kati out to Seattle.  We could not think of a better person to come rally the troops than Kati or a better time to do it than now.

You won’t want to miss this important conversation with one of the nation’s leading education reform advocates.  Eric Liu, one of our State Board of Education members, will moderate and help put Kati’s recommendations in the context of things we can do right here, right now to create more opportunities for all of Washington’s kids.

Join us and together we will discuss bold solutions to ensure that every student will have the opportunity to build the future they desire.

Kati Haycock and Eric Liu
Monday, April 28 from 7:00 – 8:30 pm
Seattle Public Library, Microsoft Auditorium
The event is free and open to the public.
Please RSVP by Friday, April 25th.

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