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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Gregoire, Dorn vie for education responsibility

Whom do you hold responsible for the problems Washington schools have graduating kids who can read, write, calculate and be intellectually flexible enough to have a dozen careers before they retire?

Put another way, whom do you blame for the fact that nearly 1 kid in 3 doesn’t graduate from high school, and among those who do, some go to college thinking a hypotenuse is one of those animals in tutus in “Fantasia” or that a dependent clause is a dead-beat relative?

Gov. Chris Gregoire believes you hold her responsible. Because of that, she wants to reorganize the state’s many and varied offices, agencies and programs that have anything to do with education, whether it’s teaching toddlers their numbers or awarding doctorates in astrophysics. They’d all be in one department, headed by the secretary of education, who would report to a governor the voters could hold accountable at elections.

Randy Dorn, the superintendent of public instruction, thinks you hold him responsible. He’s not fond of the governor’s plan, not the least of which because it would either do away with his job entirely or have a constitutionally elected official reporting to the education czar or czarina appointed by the governor.

At a hearing on Gregoire’s education reorganization plan last week, Dorn made a pretty strong empirical point that the voters are more likely to blame education deficiencies on the state school superintendent. After all, if voters believed schools needed fixing in 2008, they didn’t kick Gregoire out of office, but they did dump Dorn’s predecessor, Terry Bergeson.

I found myself torn by this debate, because when my youngest was struggling with fractions, I was sure it was Mike Lowry’s responsibility to explain numerators and denominators. But when my oldest got a day of detention, I immediately blamed Bergeson.

The fact is, voters are, by statute, adults. If we act like adults, we probably realize the state offers a wide array of education institutions, programs and policies that aren’t perfect, but are better and more numerous than we had as children, which were better and more numerous than our parents had as children. The system isn’t perfect and the state can move those institutions into different silos, tweak programs or rewrite polices to improve things on the margins. Maybe the persons to be held most responsible for failures as well as successes in the education system is us – or at least the subset of us sending those kids to school – not some elected or appointed official in Olympia.

Legislature: Rock on

Although much legislative attention is being paid to solving the state’s budget problems, there is still time in Olympia for other weighty tasks. Such as, what should be the state’s official rock?

If you said heavy metal or grunge or indie, put your iPod earphones back in. If you said classic rock, put your earphones in and go look up the word “oxymoron” in Webster’s.

Not that kind of rock. Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, wants to designate Tenino quarry sandstone as the state’s official rock, primarily because it was used in a few buildings, like the state Capitol and the Washington Monument. It probably has nothing to do with the fact that Tenino is in Swecker’s district.

Surely no right-thinking legislator from Eastern Washington, home of the world’s best volcano-formed basalt columns, would dare to vote for a sedimentary substance like sandstone.

Wake up and smell the state beverage

Eight members of the House, meanwhile, want to designate coffee as the official state beverage. The same bill would recognize Washington as “the espresso capital of the country,” so apparently they include lattes, cappuccinos and half-caf, triple-pump hazelnut skinny with a dollop of whip cream mochaccinos as well as a standard cup of joe.

Could test whether the coffee lobby has the clout of some other beverages, like beer and soda. But when you come right down to it, all of those are just add-ins to the state’s most common beverage: water.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at blogs/spincontrol.
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