Some Ideas for Education Reform in Washington State
1. Establish an endowment fund to benefit K-12 schools in Washington. Rather than use the multi billion-dollar tobacco settlement as a budget balancing slush fund, use it to establish an education trust with the income dedicated to schools. Deposit the annual lottery profits (remember the promise that lottery money would go to schools?) into the trust and solicit private donations to build a significant endowment more quickly.
2. Put the Governor in charge of schools. The state constitution says, education “is the paramount duty of the state.” Well then, put the chief executive officer of the state in charge. Let the governor appoint the Superintendent of Public Instruction and be responsible for proposing an adequate education budget.
3. Use the World Wide Web. We need to modernize how the education product is delivered. Why not have a highly skilled teacher use interactive web based technology to teach a course like advance calculus to students at multiple locations? While not all classes lend themselves to on-line technology, with a little thought, many would.
4. Operate schools year around. Divide the school year into quarters or semesters with students starting school at age appropriate times. Studies show that boys, in particular, may benefit from starting school at a later age. Yet, a child may be forced to start school at an inappropriate age just because their birthday falls a day or two before or after an arbitrary September “schools open” date. A year around system would allow teachers to make more money and students to better pace their academic progress. It also provides better facility utilization.
5. End the advance degree/salary linkage. To earn more money, teachers must get more higher education hours and advanced degrees. While continuing training is needed, an advanced degree is not always desirable. Teachers are forced to pay for more college credits, usually during summer vacation, and the higher education system (read taxpayer) has to provide the college courses. Local or regional skills training could be provided at less cost and probably to better effect.
6. Reduce regulations. One of the big selling points of the charter school movement is that charters can operate without all the regulations that hamstring regular public schools. So why can’t some smart people in the Legislature or the SPI office identify these onerous regulations and rescind them?
7. Restrict lawsuits. Remember the $10,000 dollars plus legal costs the Seattle Schools paid to settle a dispute over whether or not the Superintendent could require an alternative school to prepare report cards? It is not only the dollar cost but also the fear of legal action that hampers proper discipline, limits common sense and distracts from the mission of schools.
8. Fund social costs outside of the education budget. Schools today are expected to act as social service agencies as much as educational institutions. Excess costs for special education, counseling, low-income programs and other social services should be funded by the government outside of the education budget. While this may not save money, it will make clear the cost of education and improve the public’s perception.
9. Consolidate schools. How much money could be saved if two or three high schools where housed in a downtown high-rise office building? Each school’s size and configuration would be very flexible. Transportation could be handled by public transit. Administration and even teaching staff could be shared.
10. Reform school boards. Budget constraints, racial tensions, curriculum battles, political infighting, public abuse; it is too much to expect unpaid, part-time members elected for four year terms to be successful unless some way is found to stabilize the system and attract better candidates. Some new thinking is required in the area of school leadership. Pay commensurate with responsibility, required training for new board members, professional staff hired by and working exclusively for the board would be a good start.
11. Treat teachers as professionals. Take on the political “third rail” of teacher pay and compenstate them for performance rather than time in grade and number of post graduate course hours. Pay math and science teachers more. Eliminate tenure. In return, significantly increase teacher salaries.
12. Revise anti-comercialization restrictions. Seattle Schools virtually ban advertising on school property. This is far too restrictive. Selling ad space on a school scoreboard is hardly giving in to evil corporations and it helps the taxpayer.
These ideas need not be expensive to implement. They are not Democrat or Republican. They would go a long way in improving the image and public perception of Washington’s K-12 system.