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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

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February 18, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Olympia Watch: Should school bonds pass with majority vote?

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Some lawmakers want to make it easier for school construction bonds to pass in Washington state.

Under a bill proposed by 44 Democrats and one Republican, a school bond on a general election ballot would need only a simple majority to pass — instead of today’s required 60 percent approval.

At least one recent school bond in Highline Public Schools, which gained 55 percent approval in the Feb. 10 special election, would have succeeded if a simple majority was all it took. In the past five years, three bond measures in the Lake Washington School District have also gained more than half the popular vote, but failed because they fell short of the 60 percent mark.

If lawmakers back the idea, voters would ultimately get the final say; lowering the 60 percent supermajority to 50 percent would require a Constitutional amendment, which voters must authorize.

The House Education Committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday. You can watch live video of the meeting, which starts at 8 a.m., here.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Highline Public Schools, Lake Washington School District, Olympia Watch

February 13, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Charter commission head: More questions could have been asked

A classroom at First Place Charter School in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times 2014.

A classroom at First Place Charter School in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times 2014.

The state board governing charter schools heard an update Thursday on First Place Scholars, the state’s first charter school, which has run into a string of problems since opening in the fall.

Under a new probe launched last week, First Place has until Feb. 17 to supply a long list of documents assuring the state it has enough money to keep its doors open for the rest of the school year and that it is following the educational program it promised when applying for public money. If First Place can’t do so, the commission may close the school.

Steve Sundquist, the commission’s chairman, talked Thursday about First Place and the process the commission uses to vet charters, which are publicly funded, independently run public schools.

While Sundquist said he feels good about how the commission has selected which charter applicants to approve, he also said the commission could have looked closer at First Place, which previously operated as a private school in Seattle for 25 years. The commission did not ask for detailed financial records from the nonprofit backing the school.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools, First Place Scholars Charter School

February 12, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Study: Washington teachers rank high in commitment to their work

Washington teachers are more committed to teaching than their peers in the nation’s 15 biggest states, a recent Gallup poll suggests.

About 35 percent of the state’s teachers are actively engaged in their work, by the poll’s estimation, meaning teachers here are excited about and committed to teaching. Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts teachers ranked the lowest in Gallup’s study, finishing with just 22 to 26 percent of teachers at that level.  

Gallup’s results are based on interviews with more than 16,000 teachers between 2011 to 2014, asking each a series of questions about how the workplace affects performance.

The study defined actively engaged teachers as those who know the scope of their jobs and constantly look for new and better ways to meet their goals. Researchers said teachers who are not engaged may be satisfied with their jobs, but aren’t emotionally connected to their workplace and are unlikely to devote extra effort to the classroom. Actively disengaged teachers — the study’s lowest rating — are unhappy and that unhappiness affects their coworkers.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Gallup, Principals, teaching

February 3, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Olympia watch: Shake-ups proposed for Seattle schools

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Two proposals from Seattle-area lawmakers this session would shake up the way Seattle Public Schools does business, and Seattle school district leaders oppose them both.

The first, a bill to allow Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to appoint two of the Seattle School Board’s seven members, is scheduled for a public hearing before the House Education Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The other, a proposal to split Seattle Public Schools and its 52,000 students into two school districts, was introduced in the House on Friday.

In a news release, Seattle school district leaders said that, despite what the bill’s sponsors claim, Seattle Public Schools is not failing its students. In fact, they said, state test results show Seattle students lead the state in most tested areas.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Ed Murray, Olympia Watch, Seattle Public Schools

January 29, 2015 at 5:00 AM

More substitute work for retired teachers? Some lawmakers say yes

Substitute teacher Carrie Richardson, who has more than 50 years experience teaching, subs in for a third-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary School in Seattle last November. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2014.

Substitute teacher Carrie Richardson, who has more than 50 years experience teaching, subs in for a third-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary School in Seattle last November. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2014.

A bill introduced in the state House on Tuesday would temporarily allow some retired teachers more flexibility in how much they can work without losing their retirement benefits.

House Bill 1737 is a response to the substitute teacher shortage in Washington state, which has left schools and districts scrambling to fill substitute requests and combining classes when subs can’t be found. Lawmakers behind the bill say the shortage is partly caused by a state pension plan that keeps some retired teachers — a group that school districts traditionally rely on for subs — from substitute teaching.

Under the bill, teachers who retired early under a certain retirement plan would be allowed to substitute teach up to 216 hours — or about 27 days — before losing their retirement benefits, at least for a few years.

The bill, if passed, is designed to give school districts enough time to adjust to the substitute shortage. If it passes, its provisions would sunset in 2019, and the teachers would go back to losing their pensions any month they worked even a day for a public employer.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: substitute shortage, substitute teaching, teachers

January 28, 2015 at 5:41 PM

Downtown school update: Federal Reserve bid deadline extended

The deadline for bidding on a vacant bank building that Seattle Public Schools hopes to turn into a downtown school has been extended.

The auction for the former Federal Reserve building was originally slated to be finished Wednesday, but under federal auction rules the bidding continues until the highest bid goes unchallenged for 24 hours. The Fed can also choose to decrease that time frame.

As of early Wednesday evening, six bidders were vying for the property and the high bid was $7.6 million. The online auction started Dec. 5, but the auction’s website shows the first bid was cast on Jan. 24th.  Earlier this month, the General Services Administration, which is running the auction, lowered the starting bid from $5 million to $1 million.

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Comments | Topics: Downtown school, Federal Reserve, Seattle Public Schools

January 27, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Key Democratic committee condemns Common Core

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

The governing body of the Washington State Democratic Party voted to condemn the educational benchmarks known as the Common Core at a party meeting in Olympia on Saturday, saying private and corporate interests pushed the reading and math standards without evidence they will improve student learning.

A resolution, adopted by the party’s Central Committee, asks state lawmakers and schools chief Randy Dorn to revoke the standards, which Washington — like most states — adopted in 2011.

David Spring, a leader in the party’s progressive caucus and a precinct committee officer from North Bend, announced the resolution on a website he and two other teachers created to publicize their viewpoints.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: common core, David Spring, Olympia Watch

January 16, 2015 at 4:45 PM

Murray defends annual tests, quiet on score use in evaluations

Sen. Patty Murray, who will be one of her party’s principal players as Congress works to reauthorize the law known as No Child Left Behind, talked about the law in Seattle on Friday, following her speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate earlier this week.

After reading to some first-graders at Seattle’s Madrona K-8 School, Murray basically reiterated what she said in the other Washington — including not revealing her views on whether student test scores should be part of teacher evaluations.

While Murray said she thinks the No Child law is “badly broken,” she continued to stay quiet on the contentious issue of using student test scores to help gauge teacher effectiveness. Last year, Washington became the first state to lose its waiver from the No Child law’s requirements because lawmakers here refused to require school districts use test scores as part of teacher evaluations.   Many states have been granted waivers from most of the law’s requirements since 2007, after Congress failed to reauthorize the law on schedule.

When asked whether she supported requiring school districts to use test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations, Murray said that’s a decision for state legislatures.

“But really, the answer to your question is we need to fix No Child Left Behind, so that those issues are not what we have a dividing line (over),” she said.

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Comments | Topics: No Child Left Behind, Patty Murray, teacher evaluations

January 15, 2015 at 5:23 PM

Seattle arts-in-schools program to double its reach in 2015

A program meant to correct historic gaps in art classes across Seattle will nearly double in size next fall, adding art and music classes at 10 more schools, city and school district leaders announced Thursday.

The Creative Advantage Initiative, a program paid for by the city of Seattle, Seattle Public Schools and the private Seattle Foundation, this school year helped 1,659 students in about 12 schools — mostly in the central part of the city — who wouldn’t otherwise have received regular music instruction.

Next year, the group will help 10 more schools offer arts and music classes. In general, schools in the program are able to hire more arts teachers and buy supplies, but they also get about $7,500 a year to hire artists or connect with organizations from the community, like the symphony or ballet.

Speaking at a press conference at Leschi Elementary on Thursday afternoon, Seattle schools chief Larry Nyland said art has historically been an important subject in schools, adding that his father taught art as a Seattle Public Schools employee.

“Then, for the last two decades, we’ve been focused on test scores and we’ve had financial crises,” Nyland said. “And so arts have been pushed out somewhat, certainly more than we would like.”

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Comments | Topics: arts education, creative advantage, Seattle

January 12, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Olympia Watch: Besides money, what will lawmakers debate?

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Washington state lawmakers convene today in Olympia, where hulking budget decisions loom. The Legislature must show the state Supreme Court that it is making substantial progress on increasing public school spending under the court’s McCleary ruling and must deal with a sweeping class size initiative passed by voters in the November election.

Beyond budget talks, several other policy proposals are brewing. Here’s a short list of bills that leaders of education committees expect to see this session:

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Comments | More in News | Topics: 2015 legislative session, Initiatve 1351, McCleary

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