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.

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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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Cutoff Day in Olympia

We’ve reached cutoff day in Olympia!

Most of the bills I’m tracking for the League of Education Voters have passed the floor of the Senate or House.

Last night, I tuned in to TVW to view floor action in the Senate and House.  Lawmakers were working well past sundown in a rush to approve bills by today’s 5 p.m. deadline. Despite all those extra hours at work, legislators left two important early learning bills to the last minute — HB 3168, creating the new Washington Head Start program, and HB 2449, authorizing collective bargaining authority for child care center directors and workers.  


However, at 1:30 p.m. today, I caught Sen. McAuliffe speaking to the good merits of HB 3168.  Her colleagues agreed and voted unanimously to approve the bill to set the stage for the creation of the new Washington Head Start Program. I’m still watching the Senate for action on HB 2449, but I’m discouraged that it hasn’t made it onto the floor calendar as of 2 p.m.  


For play-by-play action, watch TVW’s live television feed. 

These include legislation to help students not on track to meet state graduation standards (SB 6673), require the Basic Education Finance Task Force to report back by Dec. 1, 2008 (SB 6879), and expand a program that provides accessible and affordable child care options for students attending our state’s public colleges and universities (HB 2582).


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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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4204 Supporters Have Reason to Cheer Again

Posted by Bonnie, 2/22/08

After what turned into a somewhat depressing Election Night last November, I spent two days accepting that we had lost Simple Majority.  Few dislike losing as much as I do – but when a loss has a direct negative effect on one million students, it is especially hard.

I think it was on the fourth day that things began to change.  I remember sitting at my computer at 4 p.m. waiting patiently for Pierce, Snohomish and King counties to update their vote totals. By 4:15 p.m. suddenly we were winning – and man did it feel fantastic. I never thought I could match the excitement I felt that afternoon. I was wrong.

This past Tuesday, 127 school levies were up for election statewide. But this time it was very different. The levy elections are now like the majority of elections we have, needing 50 percent plus one to pass rather than the old, unfair supermajority requirement. The results are pretty incredible. As of today, 122 of these levies are passing.

Here are the results separated by approval rate to show how the results might have looked under the old supermajority requirement:

Approval rate

Number of School Levies

Percentage of Total

49% and below






60% and above



As you can see, it would have been an entirely different story under the old barrier. An additional 53.5 percent of school levies statewide would have failed. Even more compelling, this group of 68 levies adds up to more than $485 million.  Almost $500 million to help school districts reduce class size, increase professional development for teachers, and purchase new text books … the list goes on.

I admit there were moments during the campaign when I got tired. I phone banked nearly every night for a month straight with a dedicated group of staff and volunteers. We all had moments of exhaustion, but we kept going. Now we see why – and we will continue to see our efforts pay off in future elections. It took a huge amount of collective hard work to pass Simple Majority and we should all feel proud. So, if you talked to a neighbor, picked up the phone, wrote a check, or simply voted to APPROVE 4204, ­- this is your moment to sit back and smile. Your work is changing the lives of one million students statewide.

Thank you!

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