For support of education, we get poor grades

April 5, 2013 

I’ve heard it said that “What gets measured gets done.” We see this in action when our kids bring home their report cards. Unfortunately, the same isn’t true for our state when it comes to education.

The fourth biennial League of Education Voters 2013 Citizens’ Report Card found that, in education, our state is earning mediocre grades and making mediocre progress.

We know we can do better. We know we can do better because individual schools and districts are taking what little they are given and doing amazing things. The report describes communities such as Auburn, where an emphasis on early learning has boosted third-grade reading scores, and Walla Walla, where a new approach to school discipline is keeping kids in school and learning.

But we need more than pockets of success – we need a system that works for every student in every school in Washington state.

Regrettably, the report card reveals that we are not making enough progress toward that goal. Despite hard work from individuals across the state, overall progress has stagnated or reversed.

In fact, the report found that Washington earned a C or lower in all categories analyzed. Only one category – Early Learning – maintained its progress, while four categories — STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Meaningful High School Diploma, Success After Graduation, and Funding & Accountability – got lower grades than the 2011 report.

Particularly alarming is the D+ grade Washington received for funding its schools. In many measures of funding – including public effort and per pupil spending – Washington ranked well below other states and the national average, meaning Washington’s students have less support than their peers across the nation. Washington ranked 49th in the nation when it came to spending for public schools relative to individual income.

If we are committed to ensuring the best education for every student in Washington, we each must make investments that reflect our commitment. Bold, systemic change is not easy. But failing to change means denying our children the futures they deserve and denying our community the prosperity we aspire to.

Students deserve an education that gets them started on the right foot. An early start can help students, particularly those from low-income families, enter school ready to learn. However, 54 percent of low-income children eligible for existing preschool programs are not being served.

Students deserve an education that gives them rigorous coursework and guides them through school to graduate ready for college or career. Right now, Washington is 37th in the nation for on-time graduation, with more than a quarter of students failing to graduate on time. Large gaps in graduation rates between white and Asian students and African-American, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander students persist.

Students deserve an education that prepares them for 21st-century careers in fields that can provide family-sustaining jobs. Our state is a leader in technology and industry, but more than half of students who enroll in community or technical colleges must take remedial math courses.

Because we are not giving our students the excellent education they deserve, we’re earning C’s and D’s. I know if my children brought home these grades, it would be time for serious action.

And now is the time for our state to take serious action. What are we going to do to improve our grades?

Fortunately, we know how to move forward.

The way forward means providing our schools with the financial support they need to implement reforms that make a difference. It means supporting early learning programs that can yield a sevenfold return on investment. It means implementing rigorous coursework that culminates in a meaningful diploma, and making sure that all students graduate on time. It means making sure students are prepared for and can afford a higher education if they choose it.

An excellent education system is a remarkable asset to our state. Together, we can make the investments students need. The 2013 Citizens’ Report Card shows us the facts – let’s use them to fuel our fight for progress for all kids.

The full report card can be found online at educationvoters. org/reportcard.

Janet Levinger serves on the boards of the League of Education Voters, United Way King County, Thrive by Five Washington and Eastside Pathways.

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