Fully Funding Basic Education
Our state constitution makes it abundantly clear that the paramount duty of the State of Washington is fully funding our public schools. This obligation has grown more serious as the global economy has compelled us to reach higher. An 8th grade education was the standard 100 years ago. Even a few decades ago you could find solid work in manufacturing, agriculture, and a host of other career fields with a high school diploma. The data is very clear that our students need to be prepared for education beyond high school with 70% of jobs requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a baccalaureate degree. I am prepared to work as hard as it takes to ensure all of our kids have affordable access to community colleges, universities, technical colleges, apprenticeships, military service, or a host of on-the-job training opportunities. We don’t need every student in a one size fits all pathway, but we do need every student to find their passion and to be prepared to pursue education and training beyond high school.
Recommitting to Career and Technical Education
Our world is becoming more complex, more technical, and more specialized. Yet, we have seen a steady deterioration of technical education programs in our schools. You and I had the benefit of wood shops, metal shops, and a host of other technical options. Sadly, our need for “higher education for all” has been morphed into “university for all”. This has narrowed the offerings of our high schools. It has forced too many kids into traditional lecture and listen courses when their learning style is often more hands-on. This has taken a toll, especially among boys who drop out of high school at a 25% higher rate than girls. Boys make up just 40% of higher education enrollments. Hands-on learners often don’t see themselves as successful in our schools, this leads to dropouts and substantial harm to our economy. Every student that drops out loses at least $370,000 in lifetime income. These same folks struggle in life and they cost tax payers, on average, an additional $292,000 in social services, healthcare, and criminal justice costs. WE ALL HAVE A STAKE IN GETTING EVERY STUDENT GRADUATED!
As Superintendent, I will work tirelessly to ensure that every student has a pathway to graduation. This does not mean lower standards – the carpenter still needs geometry; the welder still needs chemistry. I will work hard to restore capital budget funds to ensure our schools and skills centers have the highest quality programs and equipment to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. Yes, Boeing needs thousands of engineers but they also need 50,000 machinists! There is a place in this economy for anybody willing to work hard.
We all had to take tests in school, they are an important part of the teaching and learning process. However, few of us ever had to pass standardized tests and exit exams to earn our diploma. As Superintendent, I will partner with our educators – the experts in teaching and learning – to ensure that we use high quality assessments; not to hold back students or to punish teachers, but instead to use the results of those assessments to bring personal attention to our students so that they can continue their growth and pursue their career and college-ready options.
I believe strongly in high standards for all of our kids! Tests are not standards however; they are merely benchmarks of progress. When students struggle in a content area, they don’t need more tests, they need more classes and instruction so they can meet standards. If you break your arm, your doctor performs tests but then treats the arm. They don’t keep testing you without treatment until you get lucky enough to get one positive test result. It is critical that we return our education system to one that emphasizes local control – district, school, and classroom based solutions that help all of our students to achieve.
High School Completion
We cannot achieve our highest ideals as a state until we make a commitment to get 100% of our students graduated from high school with a high-quality diploma. Unfortunately, we still have an unacceptable dropout rate around 21%! Every student that drops out or is pushed out of our schools loses an average of $370,000 in lifetime earnings compared to a high school completer. Not only do these folks struggle mightily in life, they are much more likely to depend on taxpayer services in the form of food assistance, emergency medical support, criminal justice resources, and sadly a much higher incarceration rate. As we face this challenge together, the first thing we have to be committed to together is keeping students in school and graduating. Sadly, right now we are pushing away students because some of them do not perform well on standardized tests in a particular subject. No generation of students in our state’s history has been subject to more standardized tests. And no generation in our state’s history has been denied a diploma because of their performance on one test, until now. I am a strong believer in high standards and even the use of standardized tests to measure student progress and to diagnose where they need help, but I am committed to making sure that we are not increasing our dropout and pushout rate because of standardized tests. Our students deserve multiple ways to demonstrate their proficiency, their ability, and their passion. Our economy needs all kinds of talent and our students deserve multiple pathways to graduation.
The Opportunity Gap
For too long, we used the phrase “achievement gap” to describe the persistent difference in academic performance between Caucasian students and students of color, English Language Learners, and other diverse communities. This leaves too many people believing that students have vastly different abilities. The raw truth is we have an opportunity gap that results in an achievement gap. Our students are diverse and may learn, develop, and achieve at different rates, but they are all capable of remarkable things. Our failure to address inequitable resources in our communities and in our schools leads to the opportunity gap. Native American students, African-Americans, Hispanics, and a host of other ethnic and racial populations are systemically discriminated against in the way we fund schools, our inability to address poverty, our discipline policies, and our narrowing definition of how students demonstrate proficiency by use of standardized, often culturally biased, and generally English-only exams. We cannot approach 100% graduation rates until we take a more sincere, more persistent, and more honest approach to how we connect our diverse communities with our public education system. Our education system was designed by people of privilege, it reflects their advantages, right down to the nine month agrarian calendar. Our communities of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners, and students in poverty, deserve a fully funded education system that is not a function of where they were born, or to whom they were born, or the property wealth of their neighborhood. Students of color deserve school boards that are as diverse as their communities, administrators as diverse as their schools, and teachers as diverse as their classrooms. State resources must be targeted beyond formula funds to schools that need additional support. Our data systems must drill down to understand the disproportionate impacts of our education policies and our funding decisions.
As Superintendent I will diversify the OSPI staff and create a policy framework for the organization that embeds solutions to the opportunity gap in everything we do! Not a single policy will be promoted from my office that does not fully examine the impact on our diverse communities. From policy development, to grant funds, to professional development for our school districts and education service districts; everything OSPI does to approach 100% graduation rates must have an acute eye to the populations that have been systemically denied opportunity in our past and still today. Embracing diversity is not an exercise in being color blind. Quite the opposite; it is absolutely about seeing color, seeing diversity, seeing barriers, having crucial conversations, and strategically moving our communities to a greater passion about their public schools and the expectations of all students.
Outstanding School Support Staff
Too often, we assume that the culture of schools is determined solely in the classroom. The truth is, our students’ most basic needs – safety, nutrition, emotional support, and so much more are most often delivered by our school support staff. Who is the first point of contact every day for most students? The bus driver. Who feeds our students? Lunchroom staff and cooks. Who keeps our buildings safe and healthy? Custodians and facilities directors. Who often delivers intense one-on-one academic and emotional support? Educational Assistants or Para-educators.
Great schools take a whole child approach and our support staff are vital partners in school climate; they deliver critical services and without them, no school could function.
Sadly, too many of these folks can’t make ends meet with low pay, part-time work, and inconsistent schedules. There are quite literally, part-time school employees that work only for healthcare benefits – zero take-home pay. All work should bring dignity and sustainability! Especially when that work involves the safety, security, and wellbeing of children.
As Superintendent, I will offer policy solutions that lower healthcare costs for our classified employees, increase their compensation, and ensure predictable, sustainable work schedules. To empower every student to their fullest potential, we cannot take shortcuts in supporting the people that support our kids.
We cannot have excellent schools without excellent educators. I was the benefactor of outstanding teachers growing up. I believe in my heart that our educators have only gotten better! They are more data driven, more individual kid focused, and our teacher preparation programs are now better focused on research-based teaching, learning, and assessment techniques. Sadly, our educator pay relative to the growth in pay for similarly educated professionals in our society is falling behind. We cannot continue to recruit and retain our highest achieving students to the teaching profession if we aren’t willing to compensate them more appropriately in the market place.
As Superintendent, I will transform OSPI into a data-driven policy organization that better partners with our Professional Educators Standards Board and our teacher preparation colleges to ensure that we recruit excellent teachers – yes recruit! We need to strive for greater excellence and that means seeking talent. Our best and brightest need to see teaching as a career of first choice even as they are being courted by Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Boeing, and others. This means identifying talent, recruiting that talent, challenging them with robust prep programs, market-rate compensation and persistent high quality professional development. We need only look at the research coming out of South Korea, Finland, Poland, and a host of other top performing nations to understand that teacher quality directly impacts student success.
It is an honor and a massive responsibility to teach in our public schools. As citizens, parents, and taxpayers we should have high expectations of our teachers AND a willingness to compensate them as necessary to attract the most diverse, high-quality, committed teaching core our state has ever seen. With our new teacher-principal evaluation project (TPEP), we have an incredible new opportunity to recognize excellent teaching, support those that need growth, and dismiss those teachers that are not performing to our expectations. This TPEP system needs to be fully funded and I will partner with the Legislature to ensure that fully funding our schools means fully funding our teacher professional development and evaluation.
Expanding Dual Credit Options
In our state, we are a national leader in offering college credit to students while they are in high school. Running Start, College in the High School, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and a host of other programs empower students to use their precious time to achieve college credit while also earning high school credit. These dual credit programs save families and taxpayers substantial money every year. Running Start alone saves families in our state over $50 million each year. Students complete their college degrees sooner and pay less tuition once they attend a college or university.
As Superintendent, I will develop a comprehensive policy to ensure that every student that is willing to work hard to achieve college credit while in high school can do so at an area college, in their home high school, or online. Dual credit programs save families money, but they still come with costs and we need to eliminate these costs as a barrier to low-income families. Your income should never be a factor in how high you reach or how hard we work as a state to assist you in achieving your greatest potential.
High Standards with Local Control
Perhaps the greatest failure of the last two presidential administrations has been their overzealous efforts to control states’ education systems from the federal level. I have been an outspoken voice in support of 10th amendment guarantees to ensure that Washington State citizens are in control of Washington State’s education system. And that locally elected school boards and local communities remain in charge of local schools. Congress has every right to demand high standards across the states, but to remain constitutionally sound and to further innovate our excellent schools, states need to control all of the means by which student achievement occurs. States should control their own curriculum policies, course options, graduation requirements, student assessment systems, and teacher evaluation systems. The federal government should set high expectations but the states need to control the path to success. I will join chief state school officers from around the country to be an active voice at the national level for minimal federal intrusion into our schools.
A Long-term Vision for OSPI
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is made up of over 400 dedicated champions of public education. They are talented, hardworking, and they are challenged to balance the need for statewide efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability with essential local control. I will examine the organization from top-to-bottom, including a comprehensive performance assessment of the organization vis-à-vis it’s constitutional, statutory, and agency determined goals and objects. This is hard work, but it is invaluable! I will include employees at every level of the organization to shape the future of OSPI. At a minimum, we will transform from an agency rich in data and regulatory obligations to one that is much stronger in research and policy development. The State Constitution places supervision of the entire K-12 system at the hands of OSPI. Therefore OSPI needs to be the most data-driven education organization in the state. We will need to translate quality data into high quality research and ultimately make policy changes, in partnership with local school officials, educators, the Legislature, and the Governor’s Office, based on that research. The biggest thinking in education excellence should not be outsourced, farmed out, or privatized. OSPI needs to be THE leading research organization in the state when it comes to K-12 education policy and transformation.
As a former Deputy Executive Director at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges I have hands-on experience balancing state and local control. I have direct experience balancing a $1.5 billion biennial operating budget, and I have direct experience helping to transform a talented organization into an even better data-driven organization. The management challenge at OSPI is immense, but the mission is right, the talent is there, and the urgency to transform has never been greater. It is time to substantially evaluate the organization and make the critical changes necessary to establish OSPI as the educational organization of excellence that our State Constitution contemplated 127 years ago!