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)
(Algebra II, 1 in senior year beginning 2012)
Science 2.0
(1 lab)
(2 lab)
(1 lab, 2 lab beginning 2012)
Social Studies 2.5 3.0 3.0
Fitness 2.0 1.5 0

.5 0
Arts 1.0  


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

(includes Culminating Project)

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

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma

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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

Posted in: Blog, Early Learning

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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.

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma, Media Clips

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Helping Kids in the Critical Years

Last week, Gov. Gregoire signed the 2008 supplemental operating and capital budgets.  One of the major highlights of the capital budget was the significant investment to support one of Washington’s early leaning initiatives – the Thrive by Five communities.  White Center and Yakima County are the two communities that were selected more than a year ago to design comprehensive early learning networks for children ages birth to 5.

The White Center Early Learning Initiative is the first private-public model for early learning in Washington.  It has brought local stakeholder groups and businesses together to develop plans to make positive early learning opportunities-whether at home or in child care centers-available to families in the White Center community.

One of the most exciting parts of the capital budget was the $2 million allocated to the construction of the Greenbridge Early Learning Center in White Center in addition to the $7 million provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The center will serve as a headquarters for education and outreach services in the community.

In addition, funding, both private and public, will be used to support a range of programs targeted at children from birth to 5, their parents, and caregivers, including:

  • Outreach services to pregnant women and recent mothers through the Community Doula program, which pairs new mothers with trained women who provide emotional support and guidance;
  • Nurse home visitation for expectant families through their children’s first years;
  • Play and learn groups for toddlers; and
  • Literacy resources for parents.

Existing Head Start centers in the community will receive grants to improve teacher qualifications and program quality. In addition, grant funds will enhance the learning environments of licensed child care centers, preschools, and family child care homes through professional development for staff and a quality rating and improvement system that will make better information available to parents.

Plans to get the Yakima program started are underway and should be unveiled soon – just watch the blog for the latest news.

These two projects, once fully implemented, will not only greatly improve these communities, but they will most importantly improve the overall early learning infrastructure in Washington.  The lessons learned and the insights gained by these projects will be leveraged to improve the programs and interventions available for families and children throughout our state so they will be successful in school and life.

Posted in: Blog, Early Learning, Funding

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Better than bad does not equal good

Two interesting reports were released this week: One on high school graduation rates for urban districts (including Seattle) and the other on state writing exam scores.

Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation, published by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, ranks Seattle seventh in graduation rates among the 50 largest cities with a graduation rate of 67.6 percent (the 50-city average is 51.8 percent). It should be noted this graduation rate does not represent a specific class’ graduation rate, or the graduation rate of districts over a specific time frame. Instead, it is an estimation based on the continuation rates of high school students between the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years. This probably explains why the report’s graduation rate is higher than the graduation rate Seattle Public Schools reported to the state. Here are the graduation rates for Seattle Public Schools, as reported through the Washington State Report Card, for the last five years available:


Academic Year

On-Time Graduation Rate











So what does this mean? The difference between the EPERC report and Washington’s report card highlight a real need for not only a uniform system of calculating graduation rates, but also a more accurate system to track students. Fortunately, all students in Washington’s public schools now have a unique student identifier, allowing the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to accurately track students and calculate graduation and dropout rates. Before, OSPI could not always identify who transferred out of the system and who dropped out, affecting graduation rates. For the Class of 2008, we will hopefully have truly accurate data to show how many of Washington’s (and Seattle’s) students are graduating on time.

In The Nations Report Card: Writing 2007, published by the National Center for Education Statistics, Washington comes out average, again. In an effort to make it sound like we are doing better than we are, references are made to the 88 percent of Washington 8th graders who scored at Basic or above. That’s like patting ourselves on the back for having 88 percent of 8th graders earn D’s or higher. The real proof of how we are doing as a state is the percentage of students who scored Proficient or higher-only 35 percent of 8th graders. Ten states performed better than Washington when comparing Proficient or higher scores, including Connecticut (53 percent), Massachusetts (45 percent) and New Jersey (56 percent). Here, again, we see Washington achieving average results with below average resources. Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey all spend more per pupil than Washington (upwards of $2,500 more), and offer higher average teacher salaries (upwards of $11,000 more).

While Washington’s system fares better than most states (and Seattle’s than other large cities), that doesn’t mean it’s “good.”

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, LEV News

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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.

Posted in: Blog, Elections, Funding

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