Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Real transformation in education still elusive

Editor's Note (Kathleen): The following is a guest post authored by longtime education advocate and activist John Stokes, whom we are pleased to welcome to The NPI Advocate. John's perspective has been shaped by his years of work as a local, state and national Parent Teacher Association (PTA) leader and as a Bellevue Schools Foundation trustee.

John has served on numerous committees within the Bellevue School District and the state, and in political and bond and levy campaigns, and is a recent appointee to the Bellevue Parks Board.

He was instrumental in mobilizing parent and community members to lobby for successful passage of the major education reform bill, ESHB 2261.

With the adoption of ESHB 2261, Washington has taken bold steps toward reforming - and some say, transforming - its K-12 public school system.

Considering where we are coming from, great strides were made by the Legislature in the 2009 session toward this goal. This bill expands the definition of basic education and sets forth significant steps for achieving a new education system to meet the perceived needs of the 21st Century and the global economy.

The promise of meaningful change is strong. The questions still hanging are many, however. Will this legislation, which is at best a plan, a platform, not an accomplished program of change, be adhered to and implemented as our state agencies begin work on the requirements of the legislation, and as new sessions of the legislature are convened? As they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men...”

Of great concern, of course, is the money. Best estimates of the additional cost for actually implementing the plans of 2261 are anywhere from $2 to $6 billion a year, real money any way we look at it. Will legislators have the gumption to step up and jump through hoops to get real tax reform in place that will alleviate our state’s gross revenue swings and provide for the additional funding? Will the latest Eyman initiative be embraced by a gullible public?

Will education advocates have the staying power to keep up the pressure on the legislators all the way through expected completion of the work in 2018?

Even more fundamental, is the question of whether this state is ready to make any real change, to move into a more equitable, progressive and truly transformational way of providing the best education it can for all of its children, and to tackle the challenges of the best use of current funding and whether the way we currently educate kids is the best for the future?

In a recent op-ed column, syndicated columnist Neal Peirce poses a question that touches on and deals with these concerns.

He asks whether the states are up to dealing with modern challenges and problems, noting the widespread ineffectiveness of states to effectively deal with the urban and suburban realities of life in the United States in 2009, when they are products of and largely controlled by the two hundred-year-old concepts and notions of a more rural and scattered country.

He proposes changes in the balance of power to the metropolitan areas so that the needs of a modern America can be met. As a consequence:
[T]he states could focus on their indispensable priorities. A lead item: to restore the quality and affordability of their community colleges and state universities. Another: to provide social safety nets, plus incentives for personal advancement, for underprivileged populations, rural or urban. And finally: to brush aside "dump the tax" movements and courageously raise taxes enough to finance forward-looking investments.
It seems to me that Mr. Peirce has zeroed in on the fundamental roadblocks to Washington state ever moving beyond incremental and inadequate change in the education system. Until we meet our self-imposed limitations that hobble efforts to make this state work for all of its citizens, we will still be talking about the need for transformation ten, twenty years down the road.

In the meantime, whole generations of our children will be denied an adequate - let alone excellent - education, and our economy and quality of life will continue to be compromised and stunted.

There are solutions out there, and there is hope for a new way forward, which I'll discuss in a forthcoming sequel to this post.


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