OLYMPIA – In the face of stalled student achievement and a dropout rate that has “barely budged,” the chairman of a high-powered Olympia task force is calling for a dramatic overhaul of Washington’s educational system.
“The status quo will be vigorously defended,” former state treasurer Dan Grimm writes in the new report. “The challenge before us is to resist the temptation to acquiesce.”
Among his recommendations:
•Repeal an initiative that promises teachers an annual Seattle-based cost-of-living increase.
•Guarantee state-college admission to students who earn a new college-track high school diploma.
•Repeal tenure for principals.
•Boost salaries for the lowest-paid teachers and add support staff.
•Have the state take over collective bargaining for all of Washington’s nearly 300 school districts.
Many of the proposals are “pretty blockbuster kind of talk,” said Liv Finne of the conservative-leaning Washington Policy Center. “When I first read this, I kind of fell off my chair.”
A deep recession may not be the ideal time to overhaul schools, but Grimm argues that children can’t wait. And school districts are going to court for more state cash, he noted.
Grimm wants bonuses for teachers whose students do well. He wants to replace the controversial Washington Assessment of Student Learning with a standardized national test.
Perhaps most striking, he suggests doing away with what he calls the state’s “fundamentally flawed” system for teacher certification, which tends to rely on teacher preparatory classes. Instead, Grimm would certify teachers solely on how they perform on a national test.
“All certification standards based on the completion of college courses, programs and degree requirements should be eliminated,” he writes. He said local districts, however, should be free to impose more requirements.
The report is circulating among education advocates. The state’s Basic Education Funding Task Force will meet next week to discuss Grimm’s recommendations and others.
Many of the proposals are likely to face strong resistance from teachers and school advocates.
Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said protecting the cost-of-living initiative is one of the union’s top priorities in the next legislative session. Teacher pay, Wood said, is not competitive with a lot of other professions that require similar education.
As for doing away with teacher-preparation requirements, that would reverse a longtime trend, he said.
“If anything,” Wood said, “there’s been a push toward higher standards for certification and teaching.”
The union is part of the Full Funding Coalition, a group pushing for more money for schools.
Grimm agrees that “improving student performance will require increased funding,” but he proposes changes there, too. He wants to:
•Boost teacher salaries to the base salaries of teachers in the Everett School District.
•Double the per-student cash that schools get for things like heat and lighting.
•Boost the number of aides, secretaries, and office and security workers.
•And give the governor the power to steer some money to struggling schools and to take over those that are failing.
Finne argues that more money isn’t necessarily the solution. Getting well-qualified teachers in front of students is, she said.
“The people that know about education in this state are really frustrated,” she said. “It’s not money that’s going to fix the system. It’s changing the dynamics. The unions have to recognize that the policies they have in place have resulted in a very mediocre education system.”
Democrats and Republicans have expressed skepticism that change will happen.
In an annual shot across the bow of the Legislature’s Democratic majority, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, loads up his Senate desk with dozens of old school-reform proposals and makes a speech pointing out that most were promptly shelved.
Cathy Allen, a Democratic political consultant, said Friday that Democrats had high hopes that 2009 would be a year for major changes in schools and school funding.
“This was going to be the time when we were going to see the most comprehensive educational reform in Washington ever,” she said.
Then the economy collapsed. And much of what Grimm is proposing, she said, “costs money.”
“I think what we’ll see next year will be the Year of Education Wringing of Hands,” she said.