Guest OpEd: Brad Toft: The School Reforms

This is the second in two-part series on education priorities by Washington State 5th District Senate Candidate, Brad Toft.  You can read part 1 HEREThis article does NOT express the views of Living Snoqualmie, which has NOT endorsed any candidates in this election. Brad’s opponent, Mark Mullet, will share his education priorities on Living Snoqualmie tomorrow.

Earlier this week, I called for the state teachers union to abandon its attack on those who call for school reform. I suggested they instead come to the table ready work on a plan that will bring us world-class schools. Of course, I was immediately attacked by the WEA for doing so. While it may seem a long shot here in Washington, I look to other states and see that accord on education is possible. Assuming that it is, I propose three significant reforms.

Funding, In The Classroom

The Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision looms over the legislature requiring it to adequately fund education by 2018. In reading our state constitution, it is a wonder that a Supreme Court decision was needed to clearly identify the state’s paramount duty. Fortunately, the process to accomplish this goal exists in the Priorities of Government Budget model. We just need to start using it. Those in power have given us a false choice by starving education funding in favor of social services. Later, they return to say we need more money for our kids. The real funding discussion should be concentrated around funding of social services, not education. It is little wonder that people across the political spectrum think Olympia doesn’t have a fiscally responsible bone in its body.

For the record, I believe the first dollars in the budget should go to educating our children. This is a position in contrast with my opponent. He says we must raise taxes and reform healthcare to fund education (you read that right). Funding the whole system is one thing. The state also needs to reward schools that deliver the most money to the classroom. When I served on the board of Habitat for Humanity of East King County, we held ourselves to a standard that 75 cents of every dollar raised needed to go to building houses for our partner families. This kept us focused on the mission and credible with our donors. The legislature should conduct the same focus on public education. It should reward schools that send more money to the classrooms. We can develop the guidelines for what qualifies, and we can establish a target of 70 cents of every dollar. That should start things in the right direction.

Flexible & Responsive

Charter schools are now illegal in the state of Washington. Someone in the 5th District recently assailed me for my support of charter schools. His rationale was that they are a failed experiment. It appears his argument, however, was based on talking points straight from the WEA weekly newsletter. Charter schools may be a failure when it comes to unionizing, but not with educating kids.

It’s true; there are examples of success and failure of charter schools around the country. However, it is false to claim that they are all a failed experiment. Charter schools are legal in 41 states, are extremely popular with parents, and are supported by President Obama. The waiting lists for charter schools would fill an additional 600 schools nationwide. Stanford University’s 2009 study shows that “for students that are low income, charter schools had a larger and more positive effect than for similar students in traditional public schools. English Language Learner students also reported significantly better gains in charter schools.”

In Washington State, no solution should be off the table when it comes to educating our kids. Administrators and educators alike are calling for more flexibility in the system that allows for decisions concerning best practices to be made closer to the student. We need to offer what students and parents want.

Develop Our Teachers

I believe that teachers and the quality of instruction make the biggest difference. Great teachers energize the learning environment. So, we need to invest in them. Some of the dialogue around teacher evaluation is troubling because there are those who see it simply as a tool to remove under-performing teachers. I believe teacher evaluations have much more to offer. The purpose of any evaluation in any organization is to develop the workforce, not fire them. Firing is expensive in many ways. The evaluation process may show that some personnel are not a good fit, and the teacher may need to move on. But our system should be promoting career development and implementing proven criteria to rigorously evaluate teacher effectiveness, so that we can advance our talent field. These evaluations should include self, peer and supervisor reviews for greater accountability. Improvement in overall student achievement scores should be considered a component of a teacher’s evaluation.

We can do better and we must. Our children deserve the best possible education we can give them. I believe that these reforms will help.

Thanks for reading,

Brad

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