FEBRUARY 17, 1997

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Opinion

Guest Column

Supporting education reform

education reform by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, Washington State Legislature
Recently, a University of Washington report entitled "Future of Washington Schools Project" graded Washington's public schools. It revealed what many already suspected: Some 5.4 million children in classrooms throughout our state are receiving an "average" education--far from the goal of excellence the public expects.
   There is plenty of room for improvement. As ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee, I measure every education issue that comes befroe me with this goal in mind. I believe our public schools have great potential to be excellent as long as we in the State Legislature remain focused on one goal: supporting education reform.
   House Bill 1209, Washington's 1993 Education Reform Act, established measurable student learning goals. It created a Commission on Student Learning with the mission to develop clear, challenging standards for all students, and to create a statewide system of testing so that teachers, parents, and students have a clear way of measuring achievement. It focused on continuing to develop and improve teachers' skills through new certification requirements, Student Learining Improvement Grants, and mentor programs for beginning teachers. Finally, it emphasized a commitment to preparing students for the workforce by integrating academic and vocational education and to sustaining students' "readiness to learn."
   In short, it created a yardstick by which we can measure success and achievement. I hope it signifies to the public our commitment to raising standards and giving schools the resources to meet our expectations. Now it's time to carry out that commitment.
   Still several years away from when schools statewide must enact on these standards, we face a pressing threat, and it's called history. As "Conditions of Education" correctly points out, our state has a track record of jumping form one major reform agenda to another, without giving previous reform efforts a chance to work. The resulting loss of focus jeopardizes the future of our most valuable resource: our children.
   We must keep focused on our goal: improving student learining. Last month, I stood with other Legislative Democrats as we revealed a comprehensive plan focused on supporting and improving schools. Our mission?   We can help students achieve the goals set out for them by investing in the classroom. This investment means providing stable and ample support of education for students in public schools, thereby making schools accountable, locally controlled, and uniform. And it means fully funding basic education, a strong K-20 technology backbone, and cost of living adjustments for teachers and staff.
   Under our proposal, every school district would receive a $52-per-student grant to be used however it chooses to improve student learning. For example, while some school districts might use the money to reduce class size, others may dicide to increase security measures or deal with disruptive students. Whatever their decision, they will be accountable for achieving results.
   Our proposal would also invest in our teachers, giving them the skills to meet the high standards by providing teacher and staff training. And we would give teachers, who have had just a 4% cost-of-living adjustment in the last four years, a much-needed increase.
   Our public schools cannot improve without communinty and parental support. Our students cannot improve without smaller class sizes, fewer disruptions, and better trained teachers and staff to guide them. And finally, the entire public school system cannot move forward purposely without our united support of education reform.
   If we are to turn that report card form "average" to "excellent," we must stay our course. We must remain focused on the target: excellent public schools and the opportunity of a future for our children.