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Education Lab Blog

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

Category: Opinion
November 30, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Guest: Why diversity matters in tech and engineering

Susannah Malarkey

Susannah Malarkey

Diversity in our technology and engineering workforce is a hot topic, and with good reason. Washington has the highest concentration of science, tech, engineering and math (STEM)-related jobs in the country, but the lack of women and people of color in this sector is glaringly obvious.

It isn’t enough to simply complain. We must tackle the root causes of this issue, not only for the good of individuals who will find livelihoods in this sector, but for our innovation-based industries as well.

Pursuing a career in STEM is a smart move for many students. These professions offer above-average pay and a range of fulfilling job opportunities. So why isn’t there more diversity? According to a study by the U.S. Census Department last year, African Americans hold only 6 percent of the jobs in these fields, and Hispanics only 7 percent — numbers far below their representation in the overall workforce. Women hold only 26 percent of these jobs.

In order to grow our technical workforce, the talent pool from which STEM companies find their employees must grow much more diverse. As someone who works with leaders in the tech industry, I can report that CEOs believe that diversifying their workforces is not only the right thing to do, it is also seen as a business imperative.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion, Your voices | Topics: higher ed, STEM, Technology Alliance

November 26, 2014 at 11:52 AM

Guest: How the Legislature can help empower teachers

Mike Lundin

Mike Lundin

The most volatile period of my 35-year career in education is happening now. Across the country, teachers have begun to react to downgrades in their status, credibility and authority.

According to a 2014 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, the annual attrition rate of first-year teachers has risen by 40 percent over the last two decades, and 40 to 50 percent now leave the teaching profession within five years. Every year, 13 percent of teachers abandon the profession or migrate to more appealing schools, often leaving the disadvantaged more so.

The Washington state Legislature, charged with scrounging billions of dollars in additional funding to improve education and comply with the McCleary decision, must take the lead in funding effective training programs for our state’s teachers and give them the opportunity to collaborate and support each other.

In Washington and elsewhere, the insidious loss of professional power among American educators is eroding our quality of education. Many schools find it difficult to hire teachers in some subjects, such as mathematics, but only half the math and science teachers in disadvantaged schools have a degree and a license in their fields. Locally, we have seen teaching veterans bail, as outside meddling displaces learning. Not surprisingly, “highly qualified” means less when comparing our teachers across cultures or across nations.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: education funding, teacher training

October 27, 2014 at 2:17 PM

Guest: When speaking to infants, aim for quality over quantity

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy Cutchlow

Corrected version

Here’s one thing you can do to jumpstart your child’s literacy skills, whether or not Seattle voters approve one of the two early learning measures on the November ballot.

One of the most important ways you can interact with your infant is simple: Talk. A lot. If you do, you greatly increase your baby’s future language skills. That includes vocabulary, rate of vocabulary growth, listening, speaking, semantics, syntax and, later, reading comprehension. The amount of talk that gets these results, according to a landmark study? Two-thousand, one hundred words per hour.

That number freaked me out. So I dug into the research as I wrote my new book, “Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science.” Here’s the story:

Betty Hart tried everything she could think of to improve the vocabularies of the 4-year-olds in the low-income preschool where she was teaching. She couldn’t do it. Finally, she and Todd Risley, her graduate supervisor at the University of Kansas, figured out that, by age 4, it was too late.

They wanted to know why.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: early education, Tracy Cutchlow

September 25, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Guest: New graduation rules will help all parents get more involved


Maria Estrada

Parent engagement is key to helping students make good decisions about their future and successfully achieve their dreams, particularly during students’ high school experiences.

But for me, parent engagement isn’t just about what I can do for my daughter. It’s also about what I can do to benefit all children.

My daughter Paulina and I moved to Washington from Mexico a few years ago. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand how the school system worked or what classes my daughter was enrolled in.

Parents need to be engaged, but they also need accessible information about their child’s education. From personal experience, I can tell you that remaining engaged in your child’s education isn’t possible when you’re struggling to understand complex, bureaucratic information in a foreign language.

As a result, while in high school, Paulina took Algebra 1 four times, despite earning good grades and passing the class each time she was enrolled. This fall, Paulina must enroll in remedial math classes at a community college to learn the math she didn’t learn in high school before she can apply to a four-year institution.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion, Your voices | Topics: graduation requirements, parent engagement

September 20, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Guest: What early research can teach us about the merits of pre-K


Dale C. Farran

As cities like Seattle consider substantially expanding their public preschool programs, officials have turned to scientific research to help steer the decision-making process. But it’s important to remember that evidence for positive effects of pre-kindergarten comes primarily from studies of preschools that may not be very applicable to large-scale programs today.

One highly referenced study of preschool effectiveness, the Abecedarian Project, enrolled four cohorts of 14 infants from low-income homes between 1972 and 1977. The intervention began when infants were 6 weeks of age and lasted through age 5, when the children began kindergarten. I was part of the research team from 1974 until 1984.

The concerns of the 1970s are not those of today. Care for infants in groups was rare, and possible health problems were a major concern. As a consequence, Abecedarian infant and toddler classrooms were on the same floor as two pediatricians and a nurse practitioner who provided care to the participants. Interestingly, a recent Science magazine article presented long health benefits into adulthood for those who had participated in Abecedarian.

Another aspect that makes scaling Abecedarian difficult is that it operated nine hours a day, 12 months a year, and provided extensive services to the children and families involved. No programs being proposed today can match this level of intensity.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Abecedarian, early education, prek

September 15, 2014 at 4:08 PM

Guest: Project-based classrooms help kids become active learners

Michael Golden

Michael Golden

With the new school year under way, a major initiative related to class size on the ballot in November, and an unrelenting race-based achievement gap across the country, how we educate our children and prepare them for the world is under the microscope. It should be a wake-up call that we continue to fall behind other countries in educational outcomes. The world is changing at a remarkable pace, yet how we educate our youth remains largely the same.

Kids today live in a world that engulfs them in stimuli, changing the way their brains process information and how they learn. What might have worked in the classroom 20 years ago does not work today, but it is still widely used.

To engage today’s students, lessons have to be truly meaningful to them. One effective approach is the use of project-based learning.

What does project-based learning look like? It could be a language arts teacher facilitating a student-initiated project to write a screenplay about a local female rapper. The students would need to learn the mechanical structure of a screenplay, research the nature of the music industry, identify a handful of venues where rappers perform and who some of her fellow musicians might be. Their teacher would guide them through the project and connect them with experts such as screenwriters and music-industry executives in Hollywood.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion

September 3, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Guest: How to set up evaluations that help teachers improve

Rosaline Zhang

Rosaline Zhang

In March, Washington state lawmakers ended the legislative session without passing a bill to incorporate student test scores in teacher-principal evaluation systems. As a result, Washington became the first state to lose its No Child Left Behind waiver, along with control of $40 million in federal funding. The U.S. Department of Education requires states that have received waivers to use statewide standardized tests as a factor in evaluations.

Legislators need to move past the debate on whether to use testing data in evaluations. The failure to pass the bill puts Washington’s evaluation system behind the rest of the country. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia Public Schools have already changed their laws to require that measures of student achievement be a significant or the most significant factor in teacher evaluations. The new generation of evaluations is here to stay.

Critics can argue over what measures of student achievement are the most accurate, or how much these measures should factor into evaluation ratings. But these arguments miss the bigger picture: When executed properly, evaluations can help guide teachers’ professional development. Only after Washington state law is changed can lawmakers and district leaders begin focusing on what will really make a difference for our teachers and students: evaluations that help teachers get better.

So what is the key to maximizing an evaluation system’s potential to help teachers improve their craft? Important lessons can be drawn from early adopters of the new generation of evaluation systems. In the 2012-2013 academic year, an urban school district serving Houston piloted a system that incorporated both classroom observations and student learning measures.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Rosaline Zhang, teacher evaluations

August 30, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Guest: Special-ed programs fail to meet needs of immigrant families

Ginger Kwan

Ginger Kwan

Research has demonstrated that meaningful family engagement leads to better student performance, and yet our local schools still struggle to engage families from racially, ethnically and culturally diverse communities, particularly when it comes to parents who have limited English proficiency or have children in special education programs.

As a result, many special-needs students from these diverse backgrounds end up getting left behind as their peers advance.

At many school districts in King County, more than 50 percent of students speak a language other than English at home. Serving and communicating with parents who have limited English proficiency should not be a new thing for schools. And yet, many parents are left wondering why it is so difficult for schools to engage diverse families of children with special needs. Is it because the schools lack knowledge of the best family engagement practices? Or because schools do not value special-needs students from other cultures? Or are schools simply unwilling to make needed changes to correct their own cultural bias and the institutional racism against this target population?

The answers are multi-faceted and not easy to answer. The challenges from schools to engage these diverse families are no less than what these families encounter when trying to interact with schools.

Across the system, schools generally lack the language and cultural capacity to engage these families meaningfully. School-hired interpreters are often not trained properly, are not familiar with special education, or speak different dialects than the family. Some families are also told to bring their own interpreters or have their children to interpret for them. In addition to verbal communication challenges, written information has been primarily printed in English or posted on school websites only. All of these obstacles can prevent meaningful communication between families and schools.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Ginger Kwan, Open Doors, special education

August 28, 2014 at 4:37 PM

Guest: Educators must do more to reach young men of color

Amy Saxton

Amy Saxton

It’s my first time at the New Schools Venture Fund conference, and I’m excited to exchange ideas with entrepreneurs, educators and policymakers. The day will be brimming with innovative approaches to transforming public education for underserved students. But what strikes me first is that, for once, my reflexive search of the room for brown and black faces comes up full.

The conference won’t necessarily be better or worse, the discussions more or less fruitful, but that simple moment of recognition, the feeling of an invisible but meaningful weight lifted off of my shoulders — that I don’t have to represent, and I can, just a little more than usual, simply be— gives me a powerful moment of connection with a subject never far from our minds at Summer Search: reaching and serving more young men of color.

Despite our best efforts, Summer Search, a national non-profit focused on creating opportunity for low-income and underserved students, has enrolled only three males of color out of every 10 students. Over the last two years, we have focused on recruiting and retaining more of these young men through pilot programs and innovative strategies, but it remains an uphill battle.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Amy Saxton, Summer Search

August 8, 2014 at 3:29 PM

Guest: 7 ways to help kids with summer reading

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

The Shaw Island library has a cozy reading section for children. Photo by Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times 2012.

Summer is a perfect time to start a new habit in your home: reading together. Here are a few simple tips that can help parents support their young readers as they are learning, and then practicing, how to read. It is never too young to start. Even toddlers can benefit from these ideas.

1. Let them shine

Watch eyes light up when she or he corrects you! Pretend to not know a word. Mispronounce a word. Look to the child for the answer.

2. Take turns.

Take turns reading pages. “I will read one page to you, then you read one to me!” Books like Mo Willems’ “Elephant and Piggie” series are great to get started with.

3. Point to words

Point to the words as you read to your child. Use your finger to help the child keep pace. This can even help toddlers learn basic words. As she or he is sounding out a word, use two fingers to keep the child’s eye on the part of the word being pronounced.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: reading, summer learning loss

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