-Sen. Nick Harper
There are many variables that determine whether or not a child in our state is a success in the classroom. And yes, the ability and performance of a child’s teacher is near the top of any list, but teachers are far from the only deciding factor in whether a student succeeds or fails.
On Monday night, Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools and standard-bearer of conservative methods of education reform, sat down with Daily Show host Jon Stewart to talk about her beliefs as to why our nation’s public schools are failing.
Rhee, who shares many of the same ideas on reform as Republicans in our state, laid the vast majority of the blame for the lack of student achievement at the feet of teachers and said that poverty and other factors outside the classroom are “an excuse” for bad teachers and failing schools.
Unfortunately this is the view of many so-called “reformers” right here in our Washington. They’ll tell you this despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Over 40 years of education research has repeatedly and consistently found that a child’s family background is the most significant variable affecting achievement.
Reform ideas floating around the Washington Legislature also come with checkered results from questionable sources. Senate Bill 5328 would grade public schools using an A-F report card model. A similar program is in place in Oklahoma and a recent study of that model revealed concerns about the “validity, reliability and usefulness” of the system, which was described as “flawed” by 300 school superintendents in the state.
Another bill, SB 5237, would require third graders in our state to take and pass a reading test or risk being held back. This is practice in 13 states, and in addition to the foolishness of directing eight-year-olds to take a high-stakes test, research has revealed that states with this guideline see a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students being held back.
The common denominator of these reform ideas is that they take into account only what happens to students while they’re in the classroom. All of them fail to address what happens when these kids return home for the day.
There is no question that our schools are underfunded, the state Supreme Court’s decision in the McCleary Case drove that point home even further. But using taxpayer money to fund schools by diverting funds from programs that treat drug abuse, prevent domestic violence, provide food or housing assistance is little more than taking one step forward and two giant leaps back.
My concern is that the Republican Majority will use the McCleary Decision as cover to cut funds from programs that help kids live in a stable home. Let’s be honest; poor kids do not have the same advantages as middle class or wealthy kids. Poverty won’t be eradicated anytime soon, but we can address certain adverse situations facing these kids once they leave the classroom. And at the very least, we can stop making their situations even more difficult by continuing to chip away at the safety net.
But as I said above, there are many factors that determine a student’s success. The debate isn’t about whether or not our schools need reform, it’s about the best ways in which to reform them. Below is a list of bills Senate Democrats are pursuing that we believe will best suit students in our state, not the corporate beneficiaries in other states:
SB 5570 – School funding. Implements the final funding formula values for basic education as recommended by the Quality Education Council. Current values are left in statute with final values to be implemented in 2018. This is a direct response to McCleary.
SB 5117 – Family coordinators in schools. Implementing this piece of our basic education enhancements now is a key to helping student achievement, and giving families more access to the classroom.
SB 5573 – Education funding task force. Implements now the 2013-15 spending recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Education Funding. This is another response to McCleary.
SB 5649 – Collaborative schools. Using the collaborative schools process for required action districts that continue to struggle to improve student academic achievement.
SB 5038 – Teacher evaluation program support. This offers continued support for our new teacher/principal evaluation system and is necessary to fully implement the system statewide.
SB 5330 – Improving student achievement and outcomes. Omnibus education bill sponsored by Sen. Hargrove makes targeted changes to a wide variety of education programs through the use of practices that research shows has the best outcomes for students.
SB 5491 – Educational health. Creates statewide indicators of educational system health by requiring all education agencies to align their work with these indicators.
SB 5155 – Expulsion of students. Establishes a plan for the academic success of a student in the case of suspension or expulsion.
SB 5301 – Student suspensions. Eliminates indefinite suspensions, but designates a school official to work with the expelled student to help resolve the student’s issues.
SB 5365 – Recognizing and responding to troubled youth. Adding suicide training as a certification requirement for nurses, social workers and counselors and requiring school districts to adopt a plan on recognition and screening for emotional or behavioral distress for students.