Published Online: January 15, 2010

Wash. Governor's Plan for School Reform Shared

Gov. Chris Gregoire has a long list of education reforms she wants the Legislature to approve to set Washington up to compete for federal Race to the Top dollars, including a plan to put experienced teachers back on probation after several years of poor evaluations.

The governor's K-12 education policy adviser, Judy Hartmann, presented her reform plan on Thursday to a group of lawmakers and community leaders gathered in Olympia to talk about the federal reform initiative that promises to distribute $4.3 billion to states that embrace school reform.

The governor's plan also includes extending the probationary period of teachers from two years to three; approving the new school accountability plan from the State Board of Education; establishing the first state evaluation criteria for principals, who have been evaluated under general administrative guidelines; adding alternative new ways to become a teacher; and creating a plan to pay teachers more for innovation, improving achievement gaps or developing a program that focuses on science and technology.

A bill including these reforms will be formally proposed next week, Hartmann said at the event presented by a coalition of education advocates calling itself Excellent Schools Now. The state's application for Race to the Top is due in June.

The chair of the state Senate Education Committee said after the event that everyone who works on behalf of education in Washington is lined up to support this collection of reforms.

"We're there. All working together to make it happen," said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. "I'm very excited. I want to sponsor that bill."

The state's largest teachers' union is going to wait until it sees the governor's bill before commenting, said Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood.

A recent statewide survey of teachers shows many support the kinds of reform ideas being discussed, at least in a general sense.

The poll conducted in November by Portland-based Davis, Hibbits and Midghall, and paid for a coalition of nonprofit groups — League of Education Voters, Partnership for Learning and Stand for Children — was released Thursday as part of the Race to the Top presentation.

The random telephone survey of 500 Washington public school teachers found nearly 70 percent support for paying teachers more for growth in student achievement and for filling shortages in math, science and special education. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

The survey also found most teachers are in favor of higher standards, turning around the lowest performing schools and adopting national education standards, but uncovered a mix of opinions on extending the probationary period for teachers and allowing principals to grant, deny or extend contracts based on evaluations.

The Race to the Top event also included a speech by Bill Gates Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gates chastised the state education establishment for not giving Washington students the opportunities they deserve, highlighting dropout rates and too many students graduating without the skills to fill the jobs of the future.

He said the Seattle-based foundation gave the state money to help prepare its Race to the Top application, but not for the same reasons the foundation helped other states with their proposals.

"The Gates Foundation is helping Washington with its application, not because we're seeing a big push for reform," Gates said. "We're doing it because this is our home and we're still hopeful."

Gates urged lawmakers and government leaders to not waste time defending the status quo, to be bold, to think about the needs of children and "let's do this right."

State schools Superintendent Randy Dorn echoed Gates' message, as did a teacher, a principal and the education advocates who spoke.

Dorn said he expected the federal government would only give money to a fraction of the states applying to Race to the Top.

"I think you have to be bold to get the attention of Race to the Top," he said. When asked by a member of the audience if he thought the governor's proposal — which he helped craft — was bold enough, he said, "nobody knows."

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