"Houston, we have a problem."

Last week, LEV’s CEO Chris Korsmo gave a “TED Talk” at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Regional Leadership Conference. Below is an excerpt from her talk:

Over the past few years there has been a lot of attention paid to education and how we as a nation are doing compared to others. Some of us have been down right freaked out by the decline in results and the fact that this generation will be the first in our nation’s history to be less educated than our parents. Some have called for  a “sputnik moment”  like when we chased the Russians into space and beat them to the moon. We need to find that uniting mission that kicks us in the pants and gets us moving.

I’d argue that we need an Apollo moment.  Apollo 13 to be precise.

In one of the more intense moments of film Apollo 13, a group of engineers and designers and others in the pocket protector set sit in a room wringing their hands about how to save the men aboard the ship.  The work is focused on figuring out how to restore electricity and stay powered up to get the space capsule back into earth’s orbit. But they discovered something more urgent; the men are literally dying from lack of oxygen.  The engineer need to build a filter that fits a certain size and shape, to remove CO2 from the air, so the men can breathe. The catch? They can only use what’s on board the ship.

So a box of odds and ends is dumped on the table  At first there’s a bit of geek  grousing – we can’t possibly, and how do you expect us to, blah, blah. But they get down to work. They’re focused,  there’s no blame, and the team solves the problem. The crew is saved.

I think of this scene whenever I hear of a school or district that has dumped its box upside down to solve an urgent need. Like in Bridgeport, a rural and mostly low income school district primarily serving Latino students that managed to get 100% of their kids to graduate from high school – and that got all of their graduating seniors  – 100% of them – accepted into college. Or in Federal Way where Advanced Placement is the default for kids who pass their state tests. They don’t opt in – they have to opt out, with their parents. Or the investment in early literacy in Auburn, that has their third graders knocking it out of the park in reading. These school leaders addressed the urgent while simultaneously looking at the bigger system issues.

These districts didn’t wait for Washington Supreme Court decision or a check from a wealthy benefactor. They just got busy working the problem.

We need more of that.

Let’s take the Apollo approach on a different issue; When I moved here in 2007, the state board of education was debating graduation requirements and how to get kids college and career ready. Despite passing new requirements at least twice, we’re still talking about it. In the five years that this conversation has ebbed and flowed, we’ve lost 60,000 kids to dropping out, we’ve seen college remediation climb, and our economy’s demand for more rigorous job preparation spike.   In other words, while we did nothing to address the urgent, the system got worse.

If we had an Apollo moment on this topic, we’d start by taking one urgent step – something done while we’re fixing the ship. How about, making sure all kids get algebra in 8th grade? If kids are proficient in Algebra before they leave in middle school, implementing more rigorous math requirements in high school wouldn’t seem so hard. And then maybe upping the ante for high school graduation wouldn’t seem impossible.

We have the box on the table. And the kids are in the capsule. The question is; What are we going to do about it?


PreK Now. It’s Basic!

Today LEV Foundation board member Janet Levinger testified in support of HB 2731 – including preschool for at-risk 3- and 4-year olds in basic education. I have pasted it below. Janet was joined by 20 parents, providers, sheriffs (yes, there were two!) and child advocates who also testified in support of including preschool in basic education. At least 15 people also signed in to support 2731 without testifying.

Thank you Janet for standing up for Washington’s youngest learners.

Good afternoon. For the record, my name is Janet Levinger. I am here today as a community volunteer and child advocate. I currently serve on the boards of United Way of King County, Social Venture Partners, the League of Education Voters, Child Care Resources, and the Bellevue Schools Foundation. I am also on the advancement and communications committees of Thrive by Five Washington.

I am here today to speak in support of HB 2731 and applaud your vision to include PreK in basic education. I also like the mention of infant toddler programs in HB 2867.

Ever since I joined to Child Care Resources board – 13 years ago this month – my husband and I have focused our philanthropy and volunteer time on improving outcomes for all children by ensuring they have a strong state in life. Here’s why:

Imagine yourself as a 5-year-old. It’s your first day at school. You have a new lunch box and a new backpack and you’re all excited. But when you get to school, you have a hard time. You have trouble sitting still to listen to a story. You fight with other kids over a toy. You get in trouble with the teacher because you can’t wait until the end of circle time to play with the blocks. Other kids laugh at you when you don’t know how to write your name and have trouble holding onto a pencil. By the end of the week, the teacher now that you are one of the kids who is not ready for school and she can guess that you are one of the kids who will not graduate from high school.

Imagine yourself as a 5-year old – and you are already projected to fail.

My husband and I invest in quality early education because is shows that it makes a huge difference for kids.

Kids in quality programs enter kindergarten with a solid foundation of social skills and learning skills. They are less likely to repeat a grade, to be placed in special education, to commit a crime, or to become pregnant as a teen.

My husband and I invest in quality early education because it is a good investment for our community.

Research from prominent economists has shows that for every dollar invested in high quality PreK saves taxpayers up to $7 later. Not only are there savings from remedial and juvenile justice programs, but over the long-term, these kids are more likely to graduate from high school, gain stable employment, and contribute positively to our community.

Protecting PreK under basic education would ensure that the program could not be cut and that all eligible children would be served.

I grew up in Iowa and when I was 10-years old, my family moved to a new house. We were one of the first in a new development. My mother planted all sorts of trees – but they were scrawny twigs when she put them in no bigger than I was. I asked her what she was doing and she told me she was planting trees so we would have shade from the sun, apples to pick in the summer, and privacy from our neighbors. I remember looking around from our prairie hilltop and noticing that we did not have any neighbors and I thought she was crazy. But of course she was right. Over time, the small plants she carefully watered and pruned sheltered us from the sun, gave us fruit, and offered us privacy from the neighbors who did move in.

I know it’s hard to think 5, 12, or 20 years ahead. But I hope you will be like my mother and have the foresight to know that caring for our children now will bring many benefits in the future. Imagine that 5-year old – we can offer her a hopeful future instead of failure.

Including a program of early learning in Basic Education will guarantee that our limited resources are focused where the can make the most difference in the life of every child, and to our community.

Thank you.

What our early learning town hall meetings accomplished

In the past two weeks hundreds of parents in Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham and Kirkland met with Bette Hyde, Director of the Department of Early Learning, Nina Auerbach, President of Thrive by Five Washington, and Superintendent of Public Schools Randy Dorn to talk about the challenges they face as they care for and educate their young children. You may have heard about the early learning town halls as a member of LEV or  MomsRising or the other great groups who made these meetings happen (Foundation for Early Learning, local PTAs, Children’s Alliance, CCR&R, and Washington Head Start/ECEAP Association).

So, why did parents brave the rain and cold?

Their feedback will help shape early learning recommendations for the 2010 Legislative Session and a ten-year early learning plan to be delivered to Governor Gregoire next month. These parents wanted to make sure that Washington’s Early Learning Plan will help their children succeed in school and life.

Did our input make a difference?

Access and affordability. We heard you loud and clear – but will the Early Learning Plan reflect that? Our discussion made a big difference on many levels, but we’re far from finished. While the 2010 recommendations are not final, the Department of Early Learning released preliminary recommendations to Gov. Gregoire and much of the feedback has been incorporated in these thoughts. The full document is available on the Department of Early Learning’s website, and here is a short summary:

  1. Birth through 3 Continuum. Build and fund an aligned, integrated continuum of supports, services and programs for all children birth to age 3, and their families. Ensuring that infants and toddlers have good health, strong families, and positive early learning experiences will lay the foundation for success throughout their lives. Because this is also a critical period for meaningful intervention for children at‐risk, and with special needs, a first focus will be on early invention programs and services, such as: developmental screening; home visitation; programs consistent with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part C; Family, Friend and Neighbors support; and Early Head Start.
  2. Voluntary Universal Prekindergarten for 4‐year olds implemented in mixed‐delivery system. Prekindergarten programs for 4‐year olds aim to promote the acquisition of skills, knowledge, and behaviors that are associated with success in elementary school. “Universal” means that the program is universally available (or nearly so) but that parents are free to enroll their children or not as they see fit.  Create voluntary universal preschool program for 4‐year‐olds as part of basic education; phase in to serve highest poverty communities first. Integrate and coordinate phase‐in of all‐day K with phase‐in of universal preschool for 4‐year‐olds.
  3. State‐Funded Full‐Day Kindergarten Enhancing Equity, Continuity and Quality Based on research, the Legislature prioritized full‐day kindergarten funding for schools with the highest percentage of students living in poverty (as measured by the number of students eligible for free and reduced‐price lunch). Full‐day kindergarten gives young children, particularly those living in poverty, the time to learn the foundational skills and knowledge that is so important to future school success.
  4. Early Literacy. Promote early literacy and reading success in school for children birth through 3rd grade in the context of whole child development.
  5. Early Learning Educator/Provider Supports. Continue to implement and expand a Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) so that early learning and school‐age providers have the support and resources necessary to improve the quality of their programs and environments and so that families have the necessary consumer education to choose high quality programs for their children. Ensure that licensing is the foundation of QRIS, and that all licensed early learning programs participate. As QRIS is implemented, ensure that it is: tied to child care subsidy (e.g. tiered reimbursement); and integrated within the Professional Development Consortium’s recommendations for a comprehensive professional development system that focuses on achieving high‐quality, and that promotes a qualified and well compensated early learning workforce.
  6. Enhance/Strengthen the Early Learning System Infrastructure. Continue to develop, strengthen and resource infrastructure elements needed to support the early learning system so that it functions effectively and with quality.
  7. Strengthen Partnerships with Families and Communities. Promote and support parenting education and information. Engage parents, families, caregivers, and communities in shaping policies and systems.
  8. Health Insurance and Medical Home. All children have health insurance and a medical home.

We are far from finished.

If you weren’t able to attend a meeting or if you did and have concerns about the list of priorities, there is still time to weigh in! The Drafting Team will be completing their recommendations in the next week and delivering them to Gov. Gregoire on December 1st. Please continue to weigh in on the Department of Early Learning survey or email me at bonnie@educationvoters.org.

For more information on the 2010 Legislative Recommendations and the Early Learning Plan, you can visit the Department of Early Learning website.