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Student Voice: Alice in Wonderland, Imagining McCleary

By MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters internNelson Mandela once said, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, and the child of farm workers can become the president of a nation.”

As promised, over the next few months I’ll be following the McCleary ruling and breaking down its significance and which benefits it will bring to the current K-12 education system for students, from my perspective.

What is McCleary? It’s what Malcolm X would call the New Passport or what Nelson Mandela might call the Great Engine of Personal Development. If we look at the K-12 system as the Leadership Academy that helps cultivate and guide students in the right direction in pursuit of becoming the next generation of leaders, it may be a little easier to understand.

Our Declaration of Independence says that every person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence is the great equalizer and, in this scenario, will act as the “The Boss.” So, The Boss says that every person who enters into this Leadership Academy will leave prepared, satisfied, confident, equipped, and ready to take on the challenge of becoming part of the next generation of leaders.

In fact, The Boss says it’s illegal to not fully invest in the Leadership Academy and prosperity of every student. In hindsight, students are not allowed to be robbed of a quality and enriching education. That’s both beautiful and cause of one of the biggest debates throughout the country. Are students really receiving the resources and guidance they need to prosper? In other words, are we teaching kids to drive but when it comes time for them to get behind the wheel, did we only really give them 2 ½ tires?

Unfortunately, not all students are leaving the Academy ready for the world and feeling confident to be great leaders, which makes The Boss sad. The appointees who have been entrusted with the funds to create and support the programs that help cultivate the leaders through the Academy, or making sure all kids leave the Academy with four tires and not 2 ½,  now have to go back to the drawing board.

Here at the League of Education Voters, we are advocating for a stronger Leadership Academy, or K-12 system for students. Under McCleary, we would like to redefine what basic education is, and which resources are really needed for student success to cultivate the strongest, confident and most prosperous leadership for every student, regardless of his or her background.

It should no longer be about who has the greater means; it should be about having an equal playing field in pursuit of helping every student make the economy and the world a better place. McCleary can give every student their own individual and valid Education Passport – one that won’t just get them through high school, but to college and beyond. One that will take them to unimaginable and prosperous places.

When I applied for the Gates Millennium Scholarship (GMS) back in 2013, it was nine essays, no word limit, full creative control to answer all questions – a little gift I felt was just for me to be able to showcase my skill and love for writing. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave me my passport to prosperity and unimaginable places, college being the first stop and then the opportunity to study in Spain, Paris, Ireland, and next to Poland in just a few months.

Currently, it is required that all students receive 1,000 hours of instruction annually. How these hours are split up throughout the years to create the greatest leaders is dependent upon well, what the teacher can do with the resources the appointees give. I found through my own personal experience that my teachers needed more support with what they wanted to do to help my classmates and I learn as much as possible in a way that works for us. Look at it like this, if students create the best art by using color instead of lead pencils, but with 21 students in a class and only enough money to buy colored pencils and paint for 15, do you see how that could be problematic and could potentially make The Boss unhappy? If a teacher has 21 students and needs 21 sets of paintbrushes and colored pencils because it is a pathway to help students understand the material to get them to the next stage of the leadership academy successfully, then that should not be up for debate.

I was a reluctant case. I was passing by through the K-12 system because I had to deal with what I was given. In hindsight, I had a few experiences being the student that “couldn’t paint” because there weren’t enough resources. However, I had a lot of outside practice thanks to my dad making my sisters and me the Jackson 5 of Education growing up. He made us work on our skills and passions for what felt like an additional 1,000 hours throughout the school year. I’m sure as a parent, he understood that there were many cracks in the K-12 system, but probably felt that there was no sense in fighting a system that was broken and probably wasn’t going to be repaired anytime soon.

Our summers were not typical summers. It was the Jackson 5 Academy of Learning, which I appreciate now but hated back then. This is why McCleary is such a big deal. It could be the start to fixing the system. I was constantly writing, reading, and writing some more to the point where I was confident enough to give birth to a dream and pursue it, because I had the perspective and knowledge that I could succeed. In fact, it became quite ridiculous how much I started writing over the years. In college, the only kind of partying I really did was in the UW’s Suzzallo Library with the Dewey Decimal System or in my Ballard studio with my laptop and Google docs.

When it came to applying to one of the most prestigious undergraduate scholarships in the country (Gates Millennium), I didn’t consider the odds that were against me. Instead, I felt confident enough in my ability to write because that’s all they were asking me and every other student in the country to do, just write. So I went to town because at this point, it wasn’t about any challenge or obstacle in front of me, but it came down to skill, experience and ability. I also knew my rights that Thomas Jefferson outlined for all individuals in the Declaration of Independence. So for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I applied to that scholarship.

I’ve always believed that someday I could be a great writer and reporter. If I wanted to be on the New York Times Best Seller list or even be skilled enough to work at CNN, it had to start with a confident and disciplined belief. That’s what my dad, Michael, taught me. As I grew older, I recognized that I couldn’t dream and hold on to doubt at the same time. One was a heavy load and the other always made me feel like Alice in Wonderland.

McCleary questions whether students have the confidence to pursue their wildest dreams. Do they feel capable? If not, how can that change? I see my mentors and colleagues at LEV really trying to figure that out.

When I received the Welcome to the GMS Family packet, I felt as if I could take on the world and nothing was out of my reach. Not only did it guarantee me a free undergraduate education but a free education through earning my doctorate. One of my best friends from Colorado is also a Gates scholar with a compelling story and an astounding amount of what I like to call Alice in Wonderland Confidence, as well. Her name is Michael and when I met her, I didn’t feel crazy that my dreams seemed to go far beyond the stars or like I was stuck in some kind of Wonderland.

On the phone one day, I asked her what she wanted to do as a career and what her dreams were. She told me that she wanted to work for NASA. I will never forget that moment. I was looking for the Caesar croutons in aisle 4 at QFC and I remember stopping in my tracks, unsure if I heard her correctly because it was such a confident response. Her dream job was to be an astronaut. This is a true story. People would always tell her that she had a better chance of becoming president of the U.S than becoming an astronaut for NASA. Nelson Mandela had a great point –education is the fuel that drives a student to believe in the possibility of the things they may see as impossible.

Does the current K-12 system allow students to believe in the possibility of a great future?  I imagine McCleary as the hope and challenge to the impossible that students may feel. I imagine it giving students the same Alice in Wonderland confidence that Michael and I had in order to go after our dreams and challenge the status quo of our backgrounds. I imagine McCleary being the engine that fuels the confidence for many other students to dream of being great writers, reporters, and astronauts.

I believe that McCleary could give birth to a new system of belief for every student. When considering McCleary, I think a lot of people involved in the issue are asking, do we need more arts and leadership programs? Better use of testing and more conversations? I’ll be reaching out and sharing their perspective and experiences, as well. The debate over how the 1,000 hours of instruction in all grade levels will be supported and spent is heating up, so stay tuned – it’s interesting business that you won’t want to miss.


Read MyKaila’s first post, Following McCleary

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding

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Every Student Needs an Effective Teacher

Teacher Helping Student - League of Education VotersAs discussed in our previous blog post on teacher compensation, investing in our teachers is critical to closing the opportunity gap in Washington state. Research has found that effective teachers* are inequitably distributed between districts and between schools within districts according to student poverty**. (Adamson and Darling-Hammond, IES brief, IES study, WA Equity report). This means that some of the students with the highest needs don’t have access to the teachers that can meet those needs. Research also indicates that improving the distribution of effective teachers can lessen the achievement gap between low-income and non-low-income students. So, how can we make sure that every student has access to effective and well-supported educators?

There are a number of reasons for the inequitable distribution of effective educators. In Washington, differences in salaries between districts because of local levy dollars and teacher shortages in particular endorsement areas have been found to contribute to the issue. Working conditions, school leadership, and available supports are also factors in teacher’s decisions of where to teach. In order to address these factors and ensure every student has access to effective teachers, we should pursue strategies to attract and better prepare new teachers as well as encourage and better support existing teachers to teach in high needs schools. Below are some of the strategies that could help us accomplish that.

Attracting and Preparing:

  • Increase starting teacher salary to attract more individuals to become teachers.
  • Create alternative pathways to certification to enable paraeducators and other career changers to pursue teaching. This will not only help give more effective individuals the opportunity to pursue teaching, but could also increase the number of teachers from historically underserved communities and diversify the teaching force.
  • Increase teacher preparation standards to make sure that teachers have received the training they need before they enter the classroom. This includes raising expectations for content and pedagogical knowledge, standardizing those expectations across preparation programs in Washington, and increasing preparation program quality.
  • Include more student teaching and practicum in teacher preparation programs. This will help future teachers gain more hands-on experience before entering their own classrooms. This can include partnership with districts, such as the Seattle Teacher Residency Program or Heritage University’s Residency program, and mentoring programs once teachers are placed in schools.

Supporting and Encouraging:

  • Provide state-funded professional development for all teachers. By supporting all teachers in their professional growth, we can increase the effectiveness of all educators.
  • Provide targeted professional development for teachers and principals in high needs schools. This will support teachers in meeting the specific needs of their students, and principals in meeting the needs of their teachers. The professional development could also be designed as an incentive to encourage teachers to move to high needs school, by providing additional opportunities for professional growth.
  • Institute mentoring programs in high needs schools. This would provide a leadership opportunity for veteran teachers and additional support for new teachers, improving the working conditions and growth opportunities for both.
  • Allow more flexibility for principals in high needs schools. Flexibility in staffing and programming could attract effective principals and allow them to set the culture and working conditions that will attract effective teachers.
  • Provide student loan forgiveness for teachers and principals who work in high needs schools for a sustained period of time.

Additional Strategies:

  • In order to really have a sense of whether students have access to effective educators, we must improve data collection and indicators of teacher effectiveness. Our current indicators of certification, education level, and years of experience do not provide information about actual teacher performance and impact on student learning. The Washington Equity report outlines some potential options for using the teacher evaluation system to enhance our effectiveness data.
  • Move bargaining of teacher salaries to the state level. This would eliminate the differences between districts in salary levels, thus decreasing the recruiting advantages one district may have over another.

How else can we make sure that every student has access to effective and well-supported educators?


*Effective educator is defined differently in various studies. Some use value-added measures that incorporate student growth and others use definitions based on credentials and years of experience.

**Two of the studies also found similar inequitable distribution based on student race and ethnicity.


Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding, Teacher Prep

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Student Voice: Following McCleary

By MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This is a quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The novel tells a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris during the French Revolution. When I went to Paris by myself for Thanksgiving last year, I thought about everything I pictured going on in this book I read as a child. Two Cities was one of many on the shelves at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, a family shelter on 15th and Yakima where I used to live with my mom and sisters. The book didn’t have any obvious connections to my life like my favorite book of all time, Life Without Principle by Henry Thoreau. I was ten years old when I picked up out that piece of literature from the shelves.

A little bit about myself: I am a Tacoma native, senior at the University of Washington studying journalism, and I want to be a great author, writer and reporter someday. I love writing. In fact, if you were to ask me what gets me out of bed every morning, I could tell you that writing nearly makes it impossible for me to even get to bed. I could stay up all night writing.

I’ve probably read Life Without Principle a dozen times. Henry Thoreau gave me something to think about and challenge. His thoughts and perspectives intrigued me. I wanted to know what he was talking about and if there was any truth behind his wisdom. Naturally, I started questioning and challenging everything. On the subject of poverty, I wondered what makes a person poor. With education, who was really in control of what I was able to learn if we allowed individuals like Henry Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Aristotle on the shelves at public libraries and in peculiar places like shelters?

As long as I had access to education and sources of knowledge, no one person, institution or experience would ever make me feel poor. In fact, I considered myself very wealthy because of all the knowledge that was made available to me.

Throughout Life Without Principle, Thoreau emphasized the importance of separating ourselves from society as a whole and living life according to our own works and decisions. Ultimately, after reading this book several times as a kid, I began to understand that just because I was poor and didn’t have everything that students whose parents could afford to send them to expensive private schools, with a wealth of resources that most public school students couldn’t access, it didn’t mean that I would never amount to anything or be able to go to college and excel.

I separated myself from the expectations of poverty, believed in myself, and viewed myself and my life situation as two separate entities. Growing up poor with a series of adversities, you have to find something or someone to believe in. Kids in poverty face a different experience than kids who grow up with the necessary means and resources. I continued to read and immersed myself into writing, mainly reflecting on the thoughts of many of my favorite authors, humanitarians and philosophers that I began to discover.

When I got my first public library card, I knew I could do anything. If I knew what the kids in the private schools knew and more, and still had access to public education, I was going to be fine. I was never working to prove anything; I was working to become all that I could be, because I remember how I felt growing up having to move homes so often because we didn’t have very much money, living in the shelters, watching my mom struggle, and a wide range of other hardships that I had to face. I wanted better for myself, and it wasn’t fair to my heart if I didn’t do something with this life that I was given. I felt it was a part of my greater birthright to be all that I could be and more.

The McCleary education funding debate is one that intrigues me. It makes me wonder how the opportunities it presents could change everything for kids adversely affected by the current system. I remember my experience going through the K-12 system, how hard it was, and how tenaciously I had to work outside of school hours to get to where I am today.

Over the next few months, I’ll be following the McCleary case and sharing the perspectives of educators, students, community leaders, and a little about my experiences in college.

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding

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LEV’s Perspective on the Latest Supreme Court McCleary Response

League of Education Voters - McCleary family

Stephanie McCleary and her son Carter McCleary, 17

The League of Education Voters is hopeful that the Legislature will finish the job to fully fund education in the 2017 session, and focus on doing what is best for Washington’s students. For LEV, this means ensuring that the additional resources put into our education system go to the students who need them most.

A comprehensive solution to funding education will require work on local levies, along with increased revenue. Any gains to the K-12 system should not harm social services, early learning, and higher education. And more money alone will not close the achievement gap.

The Washington Supreme Court’s latest response on the McCleary education funding lawsuit says:

  • The legislature remains in contempt of court
  • The Court said that state still has not come up with a plan to fully fund education or laid out a  plan for how it will provide for ‘dependable and regular revenue sources’ to pay for the needed increases in education funding.
    • The Court did not specify new revenue sources were needed, rather that shifting funds from one account to another or other one-time fixes that have been used in recent years to come up with the money to fund education will not be adequately reliable to meet muster with the court
  • The court sanction of a $100,000 daily fine continues and the court reserves the right to impose further sanctions pending the outcome of the 2017 legislative session
  • The Court is requiring the legislature to fully implement their plan to fully fund education by September 1, 2018
    • Previously the official deadline was unclear, but the court has now specified the deadline for implementation is for the 2018-19 school year
  • The plan to fully fund education must be passed into law by the end of the 2017 legislative session.
  • The legislature’s plan to fully fund education must include:
    • Funding to lower K-3 class sizes to 17 students per teachers
    • Provide for capital facilities to enable districts to pay for the full cost of smaller K-3 class sizes and full-day kindergarten
    • Pay for the full cost of K-12 staff salaries

Interested in what could be possible through the McCleary debate? Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Posted in: Blog, Funding, Legislative session

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Celebrating Our 2016 Donors: Third Quarter

July 1–September 30, 2016

Thank you!Donations are made to the League of Education Voters (LEV) and the League of Education Voters Foundation by individuals, groups, and businesses throughout the community. These generous donations from you who believe in high-quality public education allow us to ensure measurable progress toward LEV’s vision that every student in Washington state receives an excellent public education from cradle to career.

Below are our donors from the third quarter of 2016, July 1–September 30. We regret any omissions or errors to the donor list. Please contact our Major Gifts Director, Robin Engle, by emailing or by calling 206.728.6448 with any questions or to correct any information.

Thank you to all of our donors!


Posted in: Blog, Development, LEV News

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A Teacher’s Perspective on Contracts and Collective Bargaining

By Cate Simmers, LEV Board Member

Teacher Helping Student - League of Education VotersAs conversations around the McCleary decision continue to spur discussion around the state, I’ve been prompted to think about my teaching career over the past 15 years and the changes that I have seen during this time. Yes, there have been significant changes (the implementation and implications of the Common Core State Standards being one of the biggest), but many programs and structures remain the same. As our society changes and as our students’ needs change, I wonder if it’s time to consider policy changes that affect these structures? Following are some thoughts around two education issues that I believe should be viewed through a new lens.

The Teacher’s Contract

Currently, teachers are paid by the state for 180 days of work, the 180 days of contact time with students. Different districts around the state use creative ways to add days to this contract or to use regular early release or late arrival schedules to allow time for teachers to participate in collaborative work or professional development opportunities. These different approaches create an inequity between districts and the supports that are offered to their teaching staff. What if, instead, the contract changed to a year-round contract?

A year- round contract is not to be confused with a year-round school year. In this proposal, the school year would remain the same for students, but teachers would be asked to extend the number of contracted work days. Extending the contract an extra week or two after the school year ends and/or before the school year begins would give the opportunity for teachers to receive professional development and to work with their colleagues to plan high-quality, rigorous instruction as demanded by Common Core.

Currently, teachers often take time off from work or take classes once the workday is done when receiving professional development. Additionally, it is a teacher’s tradition to work late into the evening and on weekends and breaks when collaborating with their colleagues and planning for their instruction. Instead, having dedicated time in the summer to complete these activities would allow for fresh, energetic participation. It would also give the opportunity for teachers around the state to gather together to learn from and work with one another. Lastly, it would bring more equity to our profession and compensate teachers for the work that is required outside of the classroom.

Salary Bargaining at the State Level

Teacher salaries in Washington state are provided by two funding sources. The majority of a teacher’s salary comes from the state and is then supplemented at the district level. This is called TRI (time, responsibility and incentive) pay and the amount of compensation varies from district to district. Teachers receive different amounts in TRI compensation based on what is bargained at the district level and districts are increasingly using their levy dollars to fund teacher salaries. In my district, over 25% of teacher salary comes from TRI pay. There are two relevant issues at play in this scenario.

First, teachers receive inequitable compensation depending on the district in which they work. Many of my colleagues have left one district for another simply because the pay was better. Higher paying districts tend to attract higher quality teachers, which can lead to an inequity in teaching staff from district to district.

Second, if salary bargaining was completed at the state level, individual districts would be able to spend their bargaining time working on issues that affect their population’s individual needs. Instead of designating a large percentage of their budget toward teacher salaries, districts could use this money in other ways. I think of my current district and the lack of staff and resources that we are able to fund. Examples include counselors, librarians, and intervention specialists as well as curriculum resources. District bargaining could potentially focus on needs such as these instead of teacher compensation.

As Washington state grapples with the definition of basic education and how to allot funds to pay for it, we are beginning to look at education policy through new eyes. As a teacher, I welcome this timely opportunity for us to examine traditional education structures as well.


Posted in: Blog, Funding, Teacher Prep

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Listen to the Superintendent of Public Instruction Candidates in Their Own Words

Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates Erin Jones (L) and Chris Reykdal

Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates Erin Jones (L) and Chris Reykdal

The League of Education Voters interviewed both candidates for Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

Listen to Erin Jones HERE

Listen to Chris Reykdal HERE

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Elections, ESSA, Funding, Higher Education, Media Clips, Podcast, School Discipline, Teacher Prep

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Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System

Teacher Compensation - League of Education VotersWe begin our discussion of redefining basic education with the most important part of our education system: our teachers. Research consistently shows that teachers have the strongest school-based impact on student performance, but that is not reflected in their current pay. The Washington State Supreme Court is requiring the Legislature to increase the state contribution to teacher salary as part of its duty to fully fund education. As the state grapples with how to meet its McCleary obligations, we must continue to advocate for meaningful investments in education—which starts with investing in teachers.

Teacher salary in most districts comes from a combination of state and local levy funding. Currently, the state pays districts only $35,700 for first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree. To provide a wage that accurately reflects the job responsibilities of teachers, districts use local levies to supplement state funded salary. The ability to pay teachers additional salary and the amount of additional salary varies from district to district and is dependent on how much districts are able to raise through local levies.

The average teacher in Washington gets paid $64,867, but the state only pays for $53,767 of that. The state must contribute more towards teacher pay, but simply changing who pays for teacher salary will not change the experience of teachers or students. Improvements to our state’s compensation system are needed to better recruit, retain, and reward high-quality teaching, including increasing starting teacher salary.

Our current state salary schedule focuses on years of experience and educational attainment rather than difficulty of the teaching assignment, job performance, or teaching certifications. Aligning teacher compensation to career advancement and attaining higher certification levels, as recommended by the Compensation Technical Working Group, would better align salary increases with the knowledge and skills teachers have accumulated. Teachers who have demonstrated excellence in teaching should also be given opportunities to take on additional leadership roles, such as serving as a mentor for beginning teachers, and be compensated for these additional contributions.

Ideally, compensation reform would include an extended contract that more accurately reflects the time and work teachers dedicate to their students outside of the school day or year, like evaluating student work or meeting with students after school. Providing teachers with a competitive salary along with an extended contract can allow more time and resources for parent teacher conferences, job-aligned professional learning, and lesson planning. An extended contract allows for restructuring professional development so it limits disruptions for students and families during the school year.

Establishing a better way to compensate teachers will help to attract and retain effective teachers, but compensation isn’t the only way we should be investing in teachers. Dissatisfaction with professional support, leadership, and other working conditions are leading causes for teacher turnover. We need a thoughtful approach to more effectively retain high-quality teachers that is informed by what causes teachers to leave the classroom. If Washington wants to address teacher retention in the long-term, we must do a better job of supporting teachers and school building leaders to tap into their incredible drive and passion for their students. We’ll be exploring ways to do this in upcoming blogs.

Our teachers are our most effective resource for closing the achievement gap and improving student outcomes. How can we move beyond the status quo and rethink the way that we compensate our educators?


Read LEV board member Cate Simmers’ view on teacher compensation, A Teacher’s Perspective on Contracts and Collective Bargaining

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Posted in: Blog, Funding, Teacher Prep

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Rethinking Our Education System

Rethinking Basic Education - League of Education VotersIn the 2017 legislative session, Washington state is poised to make historic investments in basic education. But what will those dollars buy? The current program of “basic education” is not robust enough to meet our “paramount duty” and ensure that all students have the knowledge and skills to compete in today’s economy and participate in our state’s democracy. The upcoming investment provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our system of education and the resources and tools at our disposal to provide Washington students with the education promised by our Constitution.

What is required of our educational system will continue to change over time. We need to develop a program of basic education that can evolve based on current and future student needs and a funding mechanism that is flexible enough to support that shifting program. Let’s envision a program of basic education that is aspirational and that creates a new path forward for Washington state. The vision should include best practices, teaching and instruction that closes achievement gaps, supports that allow students to be the best learners, a program that doesn’t start with kindergarten and end with high school, but consists of the full education continuum—early learning through postsecondary.

Ample and equitable funding is necessary to build a robust education system that works for all children. However, money is a tool, not a solution. New dollars should be seen as a tool to improve our system for all students. We believe that this can be done by rethinking how we:

  • compensate teachers and staff
  • leverage funding and human resources according to meet student needs
  • recruit, retain, and train teachers
  • provide additional student supports
  • measure the effectiveness of our investments and improve practice

How should we redefine basic education? Well, we don’t have to look far. There are programs and practices across our state that are working but need the proper investments in order to be sustained and spread to other schools and districts. Over the next few months, we’ll share how money can be used as a tool to fix teacher compensation; recruit, retain, and train qualified teachers; and add necessary student supports that yield positive outcomes and close achievement gaps. We’ll also share stories from around the state on how districts, community-based organizations, and citizens are closing gaps and subsidizing “basic education” with local resources. Asking the paramount question: How can money be used to go beyond our current basic education?


Read Part 2 of our McCleary blog series, Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning, Funding, Higher Education, Teacher Prep

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Closing Gaps in Higher Education

SEA_162_blog photoBy Joyce Yee

Seattle Education Access (SEA) is a college access program that helps low-income, non-traditional students aged 16-29 in King County obtain a post-secondary education. SEA is the only college access organization in Washington state, and one of few in the country, that works with out-of-school young people and specializes in serving those who have experienced homelessness, students of color, foster youth, single parents and immigrants.

Over the past five years, SEA has served over 1,000 students: over half have experienced homelessness, 10% have been in foster care, one-third are single parents, 45% are the first generation in their family to finish a high school diploma or GED, 80% are the first generation in their family to attend college, and one third are immigrants, many of whom are undocumented.

SEA’s Education Advocates work with partner organizations throughout King County including nearly every community college, Open Doors (drop out retrieval), and organizations that provide basic needs to low-income youth. At community colleges, SEA staff often work in adult basic education, GED, and High School 21+ programs. High School 21+ serves young people over 21 who are not eligible to attend Open Doors schools. In these competency-based programs, students can earn high school credits through project-based learning or life experiences, rather than by taking assessment tests.

There is a language, culture and shared understanding, expectation and support that middle and upper-middle class families often have about their children going to college. The children of college-educated parents are more than twice as likely to go to college as the children of high school graduates and seven times as likely as those of high school dropouts. Only 5% of Americans ages 25-34 whose parents did not finish high school have a college degree.

Students from low-income backgrounds often do not see themselves as potential college students, so SEA Education Advocates help create a college-going culture at partner sites. When  a student sees their peers going to college, they are more likely to think of themselves as potential college students.

In the first phase, the College Prep program, Education Advocates works one-on-one with students to help them set goals for post-secondary education, put together a career and academic plan, and assist them with overcoming barriers. SEA staff have a vast knowledge of the degree, certificate, apprenticeship, technical/professional, and college programs available to students in King County and how they may fit a student’s life circumstances and earn them a living wage upon graduation. SEA teaches students how to navigate the education system, find a high school completion program to fit their needs, obtain financial aid, compete for private scholarships, make a budget, secure housing, register for classes, choose the right campus and degree program, and effectively access campus services. In addition, they provide tutoring, study guides, and funds for testing fees for the GED and college entrance assessment tests. This phase is typically from 6 months to a year, depending on how much support the student needs and where they are in their education pathway.

The second phase, the College Success program, begins the day a student starts classes, and supports students to stay in school and graduate successfully. Supports include tutoring, mentoring, continued career exploration, and program transfer assistance. SEA gives small scholarships to students, mostly under $350, to help them close budget gaps for books, bus passes, child care and first month’s rent. Ideally, Education Advocates’ support of students tapers off after they finish their first year as students learn the skills to navigate the education and financial aid systems themselves. In the past five years, 84% of SEA’s students have graduated from their program or are still enrolled in good academic standing.

Shouldn’t this be part of basic education?


Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Higher Education

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