Opinion

Failing students, failing schools, or failing teachers?

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WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) is still the 800-pound gorilla on the backs of state legislators who cant decide whether to abandon it, dilute it or delay its taking effect until, hopefully, a miracle brings students up to par so they can pass it.
Looming over them is WASLs mandate that students in the class of 2008 must pass reading, writing and mathematics exams, or an approved alternative, to graduate. So far, the miracle hasnt appeared here or elsewhere in the nation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress released in February shows that nearly 40 percent of high school seniors scored below basic level on the math test. About the same time that study was released, one came out that was commissioned by the Washington Education Assn. claiming that we just arent spending enough money on education. We spent only $7.7 billion of state money in the 2004-05 school year, it said, when it should have been $11.16 billion. Gov. Christine Gregoires budget for K-12 for the 2007-09 biennium is $12.3 billion.
Well, money is always the answer from the WEA and the NEA although many a school system paying the big bucks, like the District of Columbia, turns out duds while poorer districts prove it isnt lack of money. Its lack of dedicated teachers.
A talk given by Apple CEO Steve Jobs at an educational conference in Austin, Texas, last month got very little publicity but the WSJ pounced on it. I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation, said Jobs, is that theyve become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.
The real crisis in public education, he said, is the fact that union work rules prevent principals from firing the bad teachers and rewarding the good ones. What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them, when they came in, they couldnt get rid of people they thought werent any good in the first place? A recent WSJ editorial commended the Knowledge is Power Program in Houston, Texas, which received $65 million in private funding to create charter schools which are freed from the grip of the public education bureaucracy. These schools can have longer school days and years than union work rules usually allow, and can pay teachers based on skill and performance rather than seniority. Principals can fire and replace staff for poor performance.
There are now 52 of these KIPP schools nationwide serving 12,000 kids. More than 80 percent of the students are low income and 95 percent are black or Latino, yet they regularly outperform their traditional public school counterparts in math and reading tests. Regular charter schools nationwide now number more than 4,000 and enroll over a million students. Black parents want them, unions stymie them at every opportunity.
Ive told you before, the reason you find so many Democrats on school boards is because they are there to squelch vouchers and charter schools at the behest of their unions. Public schools dont need more money to improve education. They need to be given the wider latitude allowed charters without being dictated to by the unions.
Im glad other mainstream media besides the WSJ are beginning to lay the lash where it belongs. Newsweeks Jonathan Alter said its wrong for the Ds to kiss up to teachers unions bent on preventing accountability. Its time to move from identifying failing schools to identifying failing teachers. Sounds obvious, but it hasnt happened in American education. Bully for them.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.

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