Navigation 101: An idea that should be rescued from budget cuts

Back in the 1980s, educators in the Franklin Pierce School District realized there was a gulf in the way our students were being guided through middle and high school. Traditionally “college bound” kids got guidance that helped them graduate ready for the next level. Other students, often from disadvantaged backgrounds, got counseling that was aimed simply at getting them through high school without much thought toward the world beyond. They often graduated without the skills they needed, or worse, dropped out entirely.

A team of Franklin Pierce educators began working on the program now known as Navigation 101, which is now used in 52 percent of secondary schools around the state, as well as many schools around the country. It has improved graduation rates and helped more kids prepare better for college and career. But now this valuable homegrown program is under the budget axe in Olympia. It should be saved and even expanded.

Navigation 101 revolves around a handful of key elements: Curriculum-driven student advisory classes, student planning portfolios, student-led conferences student-informed scheduling, and evaluating data.

In short, it’s career planning that leads kids to understand what is required to reach their goals, and consistent, ongoing guidance from the concerned adults that serve as their advisory teachers.

Without this program, many Washington high school students would receive little or no information about the benefits and consequences of their work in school. Here are some of the accomplishments of the program.

 • High schools with Navigation 101 graduation rates 20 percent higher than comparable schools.

 • Hispanic and African American students from Navigation 101 schools are more likely to go to college.

 • Students at Navigation 101 high schools are more likely to take chemistry, physics and advanced math.

 • Students in middle schools that use Navigation 101 are more likely to take algebra in the eighth grade, a key indicator of future success in science and math in the future.

Franklin Pierce educators built this program from the ground up, working from the work of leading experts in the field and best practices elsewhere in the country. We tested and refined it in our own schools, and our teachers agreed that it should be part of the core of their work as educators. It soon drew the attention of then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, who helped take the program statewide.

In 2005, the Legislature wisely invested state money in supporting and spreading this program around the state. Now, more than half of middle and high schools around the state use it. Even better, the program is spreading around the country, thanks to Envictus, an education technology company that acquired Navigation 101 and developed an online version of the program.

Today, the state’s support of this program is matched by College Spark Washington, a nonprofit dedicated to improving college access throughout Washington. That makes it a really good deal for Washington students and for the taxpayers.

And yet this successful program is at risk as the Legislature scrambles for money to meet the Washington Supreme Court’s mandate to improve spending on basic education. That’s a false choice. Helping middle school and high school students navigate through those turbulent years safely and successfully is basic education. Please call or write your state representative and senator and ask them to help preserve Navigation 101, a homegrown program that helps Washington students.

James Hester is principal of Washington High School. Tim Stensager is deputy superintendent of the Franklin Pierce School District. Both were involved in the development of Navigation 101.