Extraordinary times command extraordinary measures and grant extraordinary opportunities. Our state’s budget crisis calls already for kids and schools to sacrifice. It does not have to be. This is Olympia’s chance to substantially improve our entrenched education system and save some money.
Here are three problems Olympia must tackle to make a real difference:
1. Washington taxpayers support 295 independent school districts. Each district is top-heavy with too many administrators: superintendents, assistant superintendents, executive directors, curriculum directors, special ed directors, human resources directors, finance directors, transportation directors, purchasing directors and other nonteaching executives.
2. The second problem is lack of stability. Administrators introduce too often “new” educational theories. With each new administrator come new ideas. What was the silver bullet in education one year ago is toxic with a new principal or new superintendent.
I experienced over a period of 12 years changes from a six periods day to a four periods “block system” (several years in the planning). After starting the block, my school planned for two years to establish five to six autonomous Small Schools, but only one was eventually organized. In the midst of those disruptive changes, Best Practices was contemplated but never enacted; special ed and ESL students were mainstreamed, and NovaNet, a computerized distant learning, was initiated with former Gov. Gary Locke present and praising our vision. Finally, all honors classes were abandoned and differentiated instruction was introduced.
Eventually, all these new methods were delegated to the trash heap of other failed educational experiments. By 2008, the school was where it had been in 1996, minus some very good teachers and more than a few dollars.
3. The third problem is the disconnect between endorsements and competency. A sociology major gets a social sciences endorsement from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and may teach history, or math, or Spanish. A PE teacher may instruct students in English literature or history. A German or English teacher may teach U.S. history.