February 7, 2000
Several recent national education reports leave the disappointing perception that Washington's teachers rank among the worst in the country. That's wildly inaccurate.
It's true that in Education Week's "Quality Counts 2000" report, Washington received a D-minus for teacher quality. Obviously, the grade is not good. But it's important to keep a few things in mind when considering the results.
There are several examples of teacher quality issues graded in the study that, in fact, we support and promote in Washington. But unless a state met the criteria in the report exactly, it got a failing grade in that area.
For example, whether a state requires teacher testing accounted for 35 percent of its overall grade. Washington currently does not require teacher testing, so therefore, 35 percent of our overall grade was an "F." No credit was given for working toward goals, as we are with teacher testing. In fact, teacher testing passed the state Senate last year and it will again be before the Legislature this session in a governor-request bill. It has strong support.
Additionally, no credit was given for states supporting certain concepts, but perhaps executing them in a different manner. Here's another example of an area in the study we "failed"--providing for mentor teachers in the budget. But this doesn't exactly fit what the report was looking for, so again, a failing grade was given. You see the pattern.
In fact, we are making excellent progress in many areas for which we received no credit in the report. Teacher testing, creating an accountability system, and providing financial incentives for rigorous national certification are just a few.
Additionally, in a separate report, the Fordham Foundation gave Washington's teachers an outright "F." Something worth noting is that this conservative think tank considers whether a state has charter schools as an absolute litmus test. No doubt the fact that we do not led to our failing grade.
It bears reminding that in 1996, the people of this state voted overwhelmingly against charter schools. The phrase, "The people have spoken!" certainly has been invoked with regard to Initiatives 601 and 695. I think it also clearly applies to charter schools which went down to defeat with a 64-percent "no" vote. Should we get a failing grade for following the will of the people?
The fact is that we're making outstanding progress in raising academic achievement thanks to the hard work of Washington's teachers. In 1993, we embarked on a dramatic improvement effort in our public schools. We set tough standards and created assessments by which to measure student achievement. The work is paying off. Test scores on state assessments in reading and math are going up. This progress clearly reflects the quality of teaching in our classroom and the success we are attaining in improving student learning.
Other improvements are on the way. The nine-member Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission is moving forward to create an accountability system that will identify and reward successful schools and recommend ways of assistance when a school needs help in getting students to reach the new standards.
We have highly-skilled teachers in our state who work hard every day at a very demanding job. At the Legislature, we are committed to finding ways to attract, support, and retain the high-quality teachers all parents want for their children, and we take steps in every legislative session toward that goal. Let's keep national reports with strong political agendas in perspective.
Rosemary McAuliffe is a state senator from the 1st Legislative District in Bothell. State Sen. Darlene Fairly represents the people of the 32nd Legislative District.