When Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a major overhaul of the state’s education programs last week, I needed some expert input in order to have an informed opinion. I’m still learning what I can. So far, most educators I’ve asked agree on the need for change, but have reservations about the governor’s approach. Or they like her proposal, but doubt it will get past the political hurdles.
Here are some of the comments I’ve received from my best source of information, the College of Education faculty:
Darcy Miller: It is a long overdue change. Folks involved with education from preschool to graduate school need to work together. As it is, their efforts are fragmented and disjointed. One group requires one thing, and another group mandates something else. While the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) sees its job as working only with K-12 schools, we in college teacher education programs must work with OSPI. It is involved with our accreditation, impacts the quality of our programs, and influences many aspects of teacher education. We need that office to view colleges of education as partners in preparing teachers.
Chad Lochmiller: There are two elements in the proposal that could, if implemented and funded, result in serious reforms. First, the governor’s idea of consolidation is good, except that she’s consolidating the wrong elements of the system. It makes more sense to consolidate the Department of Early Learning, OSPI, and the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges into one seamless system while leaving the university system independent. This would mean that the state is responsible for early learning through an associate’s degree. My belief is that we need to think in terms of a P-14 public education system. Every child should graduate with the skills and knowledge that comes with an associate’s degree and have access to the job market that the associate’s degree creates. Second, I like the creation of launch year for high school seniors — a concept that could work if OSPI and SBCTC were consolidated. Allowing students to begin exploring their professional interests in high school makes sense. We’re making a big mistake to route every child onto a college/university path. For some kids, that’s not what they want to do.
Leslie Hall: A new Department of Education is a great idea for several reasons. First, the state’s biggest expense after personnel is education. As the executive officer of the state, the governor needs to know what is going on in all areas of education. In addition, the current bureaucracy does not make it easy for K-12 educators, OSPI, or higher ed and their multiple committees to talk about the common goal of educating students. My hope is that a Secretary of Education would facilitate conversations so that efforts would not be duplicated and a common vision for P-20+ students would inform all who work in Washington’s education arenas.
Janet Frost: In my experiences related to the Riverpoint Advanced Mathematics Project, I strongly agree that the educational system is fractured. For example, although a uniform college mathematics placement test was developed for use by all institutions of higher education, it is not being enacted because of those very divisions. Likewise, education funding is often split up in a way that limits projects like ours. For example, we cannot be funded to provide professional development for college math faculty, only for high school math teachers, thereby losing an opportunity to strengthen teaching at both levels so that students can make the transition successfully.
Gene Sharatt: There is no question that overlapping and conflicting commissions, committees and boards of directors often impede improvements in educational attainment for our students. However, it is unclear how one secretary of education would streamline the efficiencies of these organizations, because it would be essential for the new secretary to form advisory committees for sound counsel. More importantly, maintaining public accountability is critical and the highest form of public accountability is the general election. Maintaining independent bodies to ensure checks and balances is preferable to appointed leadership under one party.