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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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John P. McNamara: Washington already leads in education innovation

John P. McNamara

On Jan. 20, The Spokesman-Review ran an editorial titled “Olympia needs to go back to basics.” In that editorial was this paragraph on education: “Education is one of those primary responsibilities, and for the first time in many years, the state is on pretty good footing when it comes to education funding after the state Supreme Court forced lawmakers to act. What schools lack now is oversight. If the Legislature tackles anything with education, it should be reforms aimed at promoting learning innovation and accountability. For example, Washington needs strong graduation requirements and curriculum paths that treat vocation-ready as equal to college-ready. And charter schools need parity in transportation and facilities funding.”

I speak from 50 years in higher education, science research, community education, K-12 education, 4H, FFA and presently the president-elect of the Washington Science Teachers Association. In my 35-year career in Washington state, I have worked with all these groups and have been actively involved in Washington state K-12 and higher education as a parent, teacher, professor, school board committee member, professional educator, scientist, FFA and 4H consultant, member of the Washington Agriculture Career and Technical Association, professional development provider in STEM. I have worked with thousands of youth and adults on many aspects of K-12 science, career and technical education. I have consulted to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (I have never worked for OSPI) on curriculum development, assessment, teacher training, teacher accountability, teacher assessment and student assessment. So, all that is to basically say I know what of I write.

In short: The state of Washington is a national leader in educational innovation, especially in STEM and the Next Generation Science Standards. The National Science Teachers Associations works with us to develop student and teacher training, accountability and assessment programs. Our educators help write, review and assess the national standards. The NSTA Area Science Conference is in Seattle this December, I am the chair and I invite you to come and listen while Washington state educators train others from around the region in innovative education.

This state has a requirement that all teachers receive at least 15 hours of STEM continuing education to recertify, regardless of their subject or grade level. The OSPI, the Educational Service Districts, school districts and schools all partner with Boeing, Microsoft, Battelle, WASTEM, WSU, UW, EWU, CWU, WWU, Gonzaga, Whitman, Whitworth, Energy Northwest, Fred Hutchinson with hundreds of innovative programs; you can simply look these up online.

The OSPI is committed to accountability at every level. Recertification requirements are among the strongest in the country. Teachers have district and ESD support for on-the-job improvement. There is professional development through the year from a variety of sources.

We have among the highest of all graduation requirements, including math, science, technical and all liberal arts subjects. There are core paths as well as individual paths for all students to any kind of postsecondary life they want. We have one of the strongest CTE programs in the country. CTE stands for Career and Technical Education, which replaced “vocational education” years ago. Our former superintendent, Randy Dorn, was a champion of CTE and strengthened this program, and Chris Reykdal is continuing that. We follow the “All Standards for All Students” philosophy and students all must have graduation paths set up with their schools, regardless of whether they are going right to work or to community college, trade school, college or university.

Of the points you raised, these three – innovation, accountability and graduation requirements – really were dumbfounding. To suggest that this state is not innovative or accountable and does not have strong graduation requirements just demonstrates a lack of awareness.

The final point on charter schools I disagree with completely. I do not think charter schools are the answer to fixing a public education system. They simply have become a way for people with money to get their children out of public schools. Years of trials and research have just proved the same thing: Schools in areas where ed, whether they are public or private or charter or state, in areas that support education with money, do well. Others do not. You don’t “fix public education” by pulling money away from it.

John P. McNamara is president-elect of the Washington Science Teachers Association, chair of the NSTA 2019 Seattle Area Conference, and a Washington State University emeritus professor.