January 25, 2009 in Opinion

Smart Bombs

Bad report card
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The presentation by League of Education Voters representative Kelly Munn on Wednesday night triggered many thoughts about public education in Washington – some old, some new:

•How did education become the chief concern of women? There were only four or five men at Munn’s session. Relatively few men join parent-teacher groups and they rarely volunteer in classrooms. Yes, I know more women stay at home, but that doesn’t fully excuse the absences. It seems that if they can’t have positions of power and money – superintendent, principal, state schools chief – it isn’t worth their time. I have to think if men got more involved on all levels, our educational system would be stronger. And, yes, I’m guilty, too.

•Two people told anecdotes of foreign exchange students coming to America and discovering they were ahead of the curriculum. Munn told a story about a Russian girl who got straight A’s in a Washington high school, went back to Russia to attend college and was ultimately booted because she was too far behind. Now she’s back in Washington at a junior college trying to shore up her academics so she can take advantage of free college in Russia. The beauty of our system is that we attempt to educate everyone. It is also a weakness when equity is the reason smart kids cannot excel.

•Soon, three out of five jobs in the state will require some education beyond high school. In recent years, about 20 percent of ninth-graders went on to get a college degree. Only about 7 percent of Microsoft’s work force was educated in Washington schools. The last time the state changed its high school graduation requirements was 1985. So as high technology transformed the global economy, the state held fast to its meager math requirements. As a result, the state plummeted to 44th in the nation on that score. How did that happen?

•“Core 24” is the state’s answer to the dawdling. The state Board of Education is pursuing a plan that requires students to attain 24 credits, rather than the current 19, which isn’t enough to qualify students for many state colleges. Students would need to take more math and science classes. However, Core 24 wouldn’t kick in until the state funds it. It won’t be cheap, because it would require longer school days and more math teachers, which can be hard to find. Then again, if the state had reacted 23 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this jam.

Public service announcement

The state’s budget crisis aside, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn’s complaint about his pay was annoying because of its specificity. He knows that 121 (not 120, not 122) local superintendents make more than he does and that 22 of them make more than $200,000 a year. Those aren’t the numbers he was elected to crunch.

His argument is that money begets quality. So does that mean the people – like he – who take pay cuts to become school officials or judges or U.S. presidents have suspect abilities? Or is there a public service factor in this equation?

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.


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