In less than a decade, it is estimated that 70 percent of our region's jobs will require post-secondary education. Right now, only 32 percent of Bellingham-area residents, ages 17-44, have a post-secondary degree. The success of our education system is ultimately measured by our ability to deliver students who are ready to learn and work.
For too long our education sectors of higher education, K-12 and early learning have been viewed to the exclusion of the other. Education reforms are often debated as stand-alone policies. This fractured approach to our education system does not work for our students and communities.
It's the fundamental reason why the Legislature created the Washington Student Achievement Council, the state's newly formed agency charged with connecting our now-splintered education sectors into a seamless, collaborative system.
With your input, the council is developing a 10-year road map to revamp our approach to the state's entire education system. This plan will be delivered to the governor and Legislature at the end of the year.
The council has identified five critical obstacles to student achievement and catalysts for fundamental change:
Readiness: Prepare, support and inspire students to move through the entire system;
Affordability: Make post-secondary education more affordable and accessible, regardless of family income or location;
Institutional capacity and student success: Increase capacity at our universities, community colleges and technical schools so they are ready for more students as our population grows and our economy evolves;
Capturing the potential of technology: Use technology to make college more effective, affordable and convenient for more students;
Stable and accountable funding: Develop a sustainable, long-term funding plan that is based on measurable outcomes.
This short list is only a beginning. We launched our statewide listening tour in Bellingham last month to hear from you. We heard from education leaders, parents, students, business leaders, teachers and citizens. One thing is clear: our community wants more flexibility and ownership to shape the programs and investments for our students and our community.
There are many programs that are clearly on track. Whatcom Community College faculty told us programs like Achieving the Dream are successful because they provide valuable data to identify students who need extra help in our community colleges. Whatcom leaders say they are proud of their collaboration with local business leaders to develop relevant programs vital to training the workforce our employers need here at home. At Western Washington University, college students are mentoring middle-school students with diverse backgrounds to ignite the college-bound dream early on. At WWU, professors have broadened their reach by assisting migrant youth to develop leadership skills so they thrive in school and aim for college, rather than dropping out.
Our education leaders understand our communities are an extension of our schools and college campuses. We still have more work to do. Our higher-education institutions are still spending too much time on remedial teaching of the basics. We heard that while technological innovation brings more opportunities, it is not a substitution for classroom learning with teachers and professors. "Our job is mostly teaching people how to be good learners. We give them the content of a two-year college education and teach them how to learn at the same time, which I think is nothing short of heroic," said Dr. Ron Leatherbarrow, vice president for instruction at Whatcom Community College.
Bridging the cultural and financial divides to student learning is critical to ensuring our community thrives. It also means we cannot afford to price our kids out of colleges and technical schools.
Each community shares in the responsibility and opportunity to contribute to the success of Washington students. As we travel across the state, we will continue to report back on what we hear and learn. We invite you to share your ideas and comments to help us build Washington's education plan for the next decade at feedback.wsac.wa.gov
Scott Brittain is district projects director for the Ferndale School District. He serves as the K-12 representative on the Washington Student Achievement Council, wsac.wa.gov.