Education Reports Preview the Year of Reform in Washington State

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As Washington State lawmakers prepare to reconvene next month, three education-study groups have begun to issue recommendations--some of them very similar--on improving elementary and secondary education in the state. All three efforts represent what the president of one of the groups calls a recognition that the education-reform movement "has finally come to Washington State."

Last year, Washington legislators approved an omnibus education bill that included some, but not all, of the items requested by Gov. John Spellman in his Education for Excellence Act of 1984. The legislature is expected in the coming session to consider initiatives dealing with teacher preparation, teacher compensation, and staff development, items that all three of the education-study groups have considered in their reports.

"Part of what's been going on here is a major dialogue for the first time among the educators themselves and with the public," said Richard Page, president of the Washington Business Roundtable, a one-year-old group of 32 chief executive officers of the largest corporations in the state that has called for $150million in school-improvement measures over the next two years.

"Our hope is that all of this effort will make next year the year of education in the state of Washington."

Anne Hallet, executive director of the Citizens' Education Center3Northwest, a five-year-old grassroots organization that presented its education recommendations to a legislative panel last month, agreed. "The three groups are all going to be working together during the legislative session to make sure the citizens' voice is heard as they do their wrestling on the issues. There's a fair amount of unanimity on some of the major issues."

"Last year was not the year [for education reform in Washington]," Ms. Hallett said. "We were really all aiming at this year."

And the Washington Temporary Committee on Education Policy, Structure, Management, a legislative group appointed in April 1982 by Governor Spellman, is scheduled to issue its final report in January. The Temporary Committee worked closely with both the Roundtable and the citizens' group in formulating their recommendations.

Interviews and Visits

The Washington Business Roundtable, the latest group to present its list of recommendations, has called for a state-financed preschool program for all disadvantaged children and a five-step career ladder that would also raise teachers' salaries. These recommendations and 10 others would cost the state an estimated $150 million over a two-year period, according to Mr. Page.

The Roundtable's study was conducted by executives on loan to the group at a cost of $1 million over 18 months, according to Mr. Page. It is based on 280 interviews with educa-tors and officials of education organizations, and on visits to about one-fourth of the state's school districts. The report calls for three major changes in education, Mr. Page explained.

First, the state should pay for a comprehensive preschool program--patterned after the federal Head Start program--for all low-income and disadvantaged 3-to-5-year-old children in the state. At this time, about 15 percent of the state's low-income children attend some form of preschool program, Mr. Page said.

The state should also increase its monitoring of day-care centers, the report recommends. In centers that care for more than six children, Mr. Page said, at least one of the staff members should have some background and/or training in preschool education.

Teacher Training

Second, the state should improve the training and preparation of current and new teachers. Teachers' and administrators' school years should be lengthened by three days so that they can attend mandatory, paid inservice-training sessions to improve their subject-matter and team-building skills.

In addition, the group recommends that the state pay teachers to become fully qualified in the subjects they now teach. "According to a report published by the state superintendent [last spring], as many as one-third or even 40 percent of teachers in the core subjects--Eng-lish, math, science, and social studies--are not qualified by state standards to be teaching in those subjects," Mr. Page said. The state should require that new teachers entering the system be fully qualified by 1990, according to the report.

Career Ladder

And third, the report urges that teacher-compensation scales be converted to a career ladder consisting of four steps and a fifth master-teacher tier, according to Mr. Page.

Calling teachers' salaries "probably the single most important issue" the Roundtable studied, Mr. Page said the group supports the adoption of four steps--probationary or provisional, professional, senior, and career--and a fifth master-level step made up of teachers selected by the state, up to a limit of 5 percent.

The group also recommends that beginning teachers be retained at the provisional level for three years and be paid a 20-percent bonus to compensate for attending school during the summer to earn a fifth year of teacher training.

Under the career-ladder plan, beginning teachers, who now earn $15,000, would earn $18,000, Mr. Page said. And master teachers with 20 years of experience would earn $48,000, up from the current yearly salary of $33,000 for a teacher with 20 years of experience.

Achievement Test

The Roundtable also recommends that Washington adopt a statewide achievement test for 10th graders to measure acheivement, compare schools, and identify students who are in need of remedial assistance, Mr. Page said. Washington now gives achievement tests to 4th graders and added a test for 8th graders last year.

"We studied carefully the question of a minimum-competency test as a requirement for high-school graduation," Mr. Page said. "We're against a minimum-competency test; we think it's expensive and results in a narrowing of the curriculum and probably a lowering of achievement because it doesn't raise sights; it tends to lower sights."

But the group did recommend increased high-school graduation requirements, Mr. Page said. Currently, Washington requires that students complete a minimum of 16 courses for graduation; the Roundtable recommended that the minimum be raised to 20. Both the achievement test and the increased graduation requirements should go into effect as soon as is practical, Mr. Page said.

Other Studies

The Washington Temporary Committee's report, which will be presented to the legislature in January, includes a number of provisions that are similar to the Roundtable's report. The 13-member group met last month in Seattle to review its final recommendations.

The committee's preliminary report, issued a year ago, recommended that the state require exit tests for graduating high-school seniors and competency tests for candidates for teaching positions. (See Education Week, Nov. 9, 1983.) The panel also recommended: tightening graduation requirements, consolidating the elementary-school grades into two blocks of K-3 and 4-6 to provide more flexibility in accommodating variations in pupils' development, developing a career ladder, and establishing special certification for early-childhood educators.

"The recommendations that the committee is considering now go quite a bit beyond the recommendations proposed in the interim report," William Chance, executive director of the committee, said last week.

The panel has decided to recommend that high-school students take an achievement test in the 11th grade to determine whether they have mastered core competencies, and has dropped the proposal for a minimum-competency test for graduation, Mr. Chance said.

In addition, the group has recommended changes in the state's education-governance structure, Mr. Chance explained. The state board of education, now an elected body, should be appointed by the Governor, they recommend, and the superintendent of public instruction, now an elective position, should be appointed by the board.

$300 Million Per Year

"The total package as it presently stands [including K-12 and higher-education recommendations] would cost $300 million a year," Mr. Chance said. Twenty percent of the package's cost would fund early-childhood initiatives, 20 percent would go toward a reduced student-teacher ratio, and 20 percent would go to a career-ladder plan that is similar to the Roundtable's proposal.

"We have common interests with the Roundtable," Mr. Chance said. "They've supported the committee, they've given us some direct funding. We are fairly close together."

Mr. Chance also noted his group's agreement on many issues with the Citizens' Education Center Northwest, a grassroots organization that recently presented a list of 24 recommendations to the Temporary Committee.

'The Education Campaign'

The citizens' group's goal, according to Ms. Hallett, the executive director, was to "make sure that citizens and parents around the state had an organized way to participate in the discussion, to be informed on what the issues were, to help shape any proposals that emerged, and then to take action."

Toward that end, the group, which is made up of 15 state citizens' organizations ranging from the American Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, and the Urban League, sponsored "The Education Campaign." In a series of meetings around the state in the spring and fall, the group solicited public opinion on the Temporary Committee's 35 proposals for K-12 education. The citizens' group then presented its recommendations to the Temporary Committee to consider in their draft of proposals for the legislature, Ms. Hallett said.

Among the items the citizens' group presented to the committee were recommendations for a redesigned evaluation system as part of a career-ladder program; a more effective method for school-based management so that parents may participate in local decisionmaking; and improved early-childhood-education programs along the lines of those suggested by the Temporary Committee and the Roundtable.

Vol. 04, Issue 14

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