Thursday, March 19, 2009

Conversation Recap for March 1, 2009

We welcomed two new participants today, and welcomed back some folks we had not seen in a while.

Today we heard a part of Sid’s story.

Part of the story focused on teaching about the current wars, and

Thursday at 10am, at Pierce College’s Puyallup campus, James Yee will speak and show a slide show. He was a captain in the Army, a muslim chaplain who was arrested and harshly treated in response to his criticisms of our handling of prisoners. He was actually charged with sedition and spying. Charges against him were eventually dropped

Cara Bilodeau, Pierce County’s organizer for Stand For Children, visited today. You can check the Tacoma website of Stand For Children.

We talked about education and children’s issues. Some examples of things we are concerned about: Tacoma’s loss of 1,000 students per year, the achievement gap, high dropout rates, the quality of education students are acquiring—and a fairly widespread perception it is declining, unacceptably so. This is connected to accountability standards. Several mentioned concern with the the focus on testing and its effects on what happens in classrooms. Upside down priorities—an emphasis in Tacoma public schools on “the house,” the physical facilities, and too little on what does on in the rooms with students. Not all students are placed on the path to college, and selection criteria are worth a close look. Pressures on budgets seem to lead to fewer programs in art, music, and physical education.

We discussed the March 10 school bond election, and we have an interesting example of one path to accountability. We read in the News Tribune that “The Tacoma Chapter of the NAACP and the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance each voted this week to oppose the measure on the mail-only March 10 ballot.”

Yet this model of accountability is not the same as looking carefully at the purpose for which we run a public education system, and how well we fulfill this purpose.

We approached this from several ways, and came to a single answer: we need to have candidates who will willingly share information about the priorities in education, will be responsive to these education needs, and who will actually lead to fulfill these priorities. This Fall two School Board members’ terms are over. There are opportunities to find a couple of new leaders. Stand For Children will be actively involved in this, and they invite us to be active around this upcoming election.

We discussed the state’s Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance, whose final report you can read here. It was just published in January, 2009, and recommends several reforms in state education policy. One of the more controversial elements is a tougher path to teacher tenure, which would take longer and be more tightly focused on performance of students.

Their proposed new definition of basic education is:

Students must have the opportunity to learn the skills to:

(i) Read with comprehension, write effectively, and communicate successfully in a variety of ways and settings and with a variety of audiences;
(ii) Know and apply the core concepts and principles of mathematics; social, physical, and life sciences; civics and history, including different cultures and participation in representative government; geography; arts; and health and fitness;
(iii) Think analytically, logically, and creatively, and to integrate different experiences and knowledge to form reasoned judgments and solve problems; and
(iv) Understand the importance of work and finance and how performance, effort, and decisions directly affect future career and educational opportunities.

The Full Funding Coalition, (check them out here) made up of the Washington Education Association, the school superintendents’ association, and other professional organizations, published their own report, which you can see here.

The Full Funding Coalition has so far been successful in deflecting the Task Force recommendations. It does not hurt their cause that the estimates of the cost of funding Task Force recommendations are probably about 68% increase in the State funding for basic education—an extra one and a half billion dollars in a year when the state legislature is trying to find eight billion dollars to cut. Their approach is largely to identify possible sources of new funding for education.

At several points we went back to that idea of clarifying the purpose of basic education. Neither the Task Force nor the Full Funding Coalition address the issue squarely. For example, Conversation members might recall the HB2722 advisory committee, and its focus on a plan to address the achievement gap, made some different recommendations about how to handle education. You can read their final report, issued in December 2008, here.

Conversation participants are urged to contact their legislators this week, as the Washington Legislature is deciding over the next week or two what is to be done this year about education.

AND, we celebrated the birthday of our own TacomaLaurie. Happy Birthday, from all of us.

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