19 November 2006

Is Our Legislators Learning?

Some of my fellow edubloggers here in Washington have already posted a thing or two about the new Washington Learns report. For those of you living elsewhere, Washington Learns was an initiative by our governor to take a deep look at the educational system in this state. The report is meant to prod the legislature into making a commitment to providing a quality/world-class system here in Washington.

In general, there are some good suggestions here. Every dollar spent for early childhood education saves eight dollars that would be spent for remediation later. It's a no brainer that the Washington Learns group suggests phasing in full-day kindergarten and reducing class sizes k-3. A first grade teacher in my district referred to her role as one of "baking the cake." She meant that if teachers at the primary levels didn't create a basic foundation, no "icing" could be added in later grades.

Other things in the report are a bit scary. As much as I like the idea of supporting high quality math and science education, this part bothers me (emphasis added):
  • By December 2007, the State Board of Education will adopt international performance standards for math and science benchmarked to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) or the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and will adopt high school graduation requirements aligned with those standards.
  • By July 2008 for math and by July 2009 for science, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education will identify no more than three curricula for elementary, middle and high school, along with diagnostic and other materials that are aligned with the new standards.
  • By December 2007, the State Board of Education will incorporate into their accountability plan the requirement that schools must use one of the state curricula, with exceptions granted by waiver from the State Board of Education for districts that demonstrate outstanding student performance in math and science.
Um...are we really going throw out the state standards that we've developed over the last ten years? The same ones that the WASL is aligned to...not to mention all of the districts who have developed alignments to those standards? I don't mind a state approved list of curricula, but only three? This seems quite limited. Meanwhile, what happens to districts like ours which just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on new math and science materials...let alone little districts which can afford change even less than we can? Some publishers out there are vicious lobbyists. How will we ensure that the selection process for these materials doesn't line the pockets of those with flash instead of substance?

Mind you, none of the items listed above has the caveat that most of the things in the report do: "Subject to appropriations..." This means that the legislature isn't going to consider subsidizing or supplying these materials, once they are chosen.

Some people in my district aren't too concerned about the report simply because of all of the items that the legislature would have to find a way to fund (and in a hurry). I suppose that a "wait and see" attitude is called for. The legislature won't convene until early next year and their extended session could well last into the summer. Whatever things happen as a result of this report will likely not occur according to the suggested timeline. Legislators may not choose to accept all of the report. Their ideas about what learning should look like in Washington could be more broad.

In the meantime, I'm off to have a closer look at the TIMSS and PISA benchmarks. I haven't the heart to tell teachers that it's possible we could be starting all over again.

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