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Education Lab Blog

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

Topic: guest opinion

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March 24, 2014 at 3:21 PM

Guest: It’s time for voters to get serious about school funding

Bill Keim

Bill Keim

On Jan. 9, in its latest order related to the McCleary decision, our state Supreme Court required the Legislature to submit a plan on April 30 indicating how it will fully fund our schools by 2018. Many legislators responded that the court overstepped its bounds by issuing that order. This impasse between two governmental branches has the makings of a constitutional crisis. Given the lack of significant progress in the recently completed legislative session, it is likely that the court will become even more adamant in its subsequent orders.

The resolution of this conflict will likely require new revenue. With the power Washington’s citizens have through the referendum and initiative process, they could ultimately decide whether the state provides that revenue. Given that fact, it is critical that voters become informed about this issue.

Any review of how we got to this point would include the passage of House Bill 1209 in 1993. It was intended to improve both the funding and performance of our schools. Two decades after that bill passed, there has been a remarkable increase in student achievement. Washington is now among the top 10 states on the National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP), but the funding hasn’t followed.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Bill Keim, guest opinion, McCleary

March 18, 2014 at 2:28 PM

Guest: Playing by the rules of the SAT game

Dennis McDuffie

Dennis McDuffie

On the surface, the SAT makes sense. In an era where standardized testing has become the focal point of American education, requiring tests for college admission seems logical. But what does this exam really measure?

Some universities argue that SAT scores directly correlate with success in college, but far too many students are exceptions to this generalization. The test material measures how well students can follow the rules of a game, which is not relevant to success beyond the testing room.

Unlike college, the test requires little critical thinking and primarily assesses students’ ability to withstand six hours of purposefully deceiving questions. Those who can readily detect deceptive responses are not necessarily any smarter than those who fall for the occasional trick. I can testify to this statement from my own experience.

After three SAT tests and three SAT subject tests, I have both lost and won in this game. I took the SAT last May and again in June, and my cumulative score increased an insignificant 10 points the second time. My scores were well above average, but I did not attain the level necessary for the highly selective colleges on my list.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: guest opinion, higher ed, SAT

March 11, 2014 at 2:45 PM

Guest: Applied bachelor’s degrees help local employers fill skills gap

Marty Brown

Marty Brown

Consider this scenario: A radiology technician with an associate degree does top-notch work, but can’t get promoted without a bachelor’s degree. Starting over at a four-year institution doesn’t make sense. She’s working at a hospital, has practical experience, and can’t start over as a traditional four-year college student. The hospital, meanwhile, is eager to hire a manager with a bachelor’s degree. The employee faces a glass ceiling; the employer faces a void.

This scenario plays out across Washington in high-demand fields with a shortage of bachelor’s degree graduates. And it is the very reason community and technical colleges offer bachelor of applied science degrees.

Applied bachelor’s degrees are practical, career-oriented degrees that meet employers’ needs in high-demand fields. They add junior and senior levels to two-year professional-technical degrees that would otherwise not transfer and count toward bachelor’s degrees at universities. The degrees vary from a two-year management track on top of a two-year technical education, or a continuation of a technical degree.

These degrees offer the best of both worlds: hands-on training in a career embedded within a four-year degree. Employers seek graduates because they have technical expertise combined with communication, computation, critical thinking, and people-management skills. A report from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges found 82 percent of applied bachelor’s graduates in 2010 and 2011 were employed seven quarters after graduating. Students’ earnings increased by an average of 26 percent after graduation.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: applied bachelor's, Community colleges, guest opinion

February 25, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Guest: Endless testing fails to measure true strengths of special-needs students

Jim Strickland

Jim Strickland

Imagine that we live in a society where running a mile is a highly valued skill. Young people are trained from an early age to increase their distance, speed and stamina until they are finally tested to see if they have achieved a given standard. Those who are successful receive a diploma that serves as a rite of passage and opens doors to future opportunities. Those who fail can keep trying or move on with life as best they can.

Now imagine someone has a disability that makes it hard for them to run or even walk. We still value being able to run a mile, so we make special accommodations, such as letting them use a crutch or extending the time allowed. And if they can’t do that, perhaps we have a caregiver push them around the track in a wheelchair. Remember, the important thing is for them to make it around the track four times.

Well, you can see this could get pretty silly after awhile. We could have students in comas being pushed around the track on gurneys, meeting the run-a-mile standard, and getting their diplomas. But would this really mean anything for these young people? Would their diploma be a legitimate rite of passage or a useful indication of their skills?

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Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: guest opinion, special education, standardized tests

January 27, 2014 at 3:37 PM

Guest: How colleges can better serve veteran students

Wesley Jones

Wesley Jones

More than 1 million veterans have taken advantage of their military education benefits in the years since President Bush signed the Post-9/11 GI Bill into law. With the drawdown of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, colleges and universities across the United States can expect to see even greater numbers of veteran students on campus.

As a prior veteran student and current veterans program manager at Bellevue College, I have several ideas for how colleges can better serve veteran students.

Officials should start by reviewing the process for accepting transfer credits from military training and other colleges. Many veterans don’t have the opportunity to take all of their courses at the same college and often have credits from numerous institutions. By evaluating your process for accepting transfer credits, a veteran student will be able to make the most of his or her benefits. The American Council on Education has a free recommendation guide on accepting credit for formal courses and occupations offered by all branches of the military.

Most veteran students have a hard time adapting to college life. Veteran students are typically a few years older than traditional students and deal with issues that younger students haven’t experienced, such as providing for a family and paying a mortgage. For some veterans, college will be the first time they’ve slowed down enough to process their experiences at war.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: guest opinion, higher ed, veterans

January 12, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Guest: What other states can teach Washington about dropout re-engagement

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Illustration by Donna Grethen / Op Art

Efforts on behalf of the nation’s huge pool of young people who have not completed high school are gathering steam under the name of dropout re-engagement.  Full-scale re-engagement means reaching out and finding young people who need high school credentials, assessing their educational status, referring them to school completion options and other services, and providing support to enroll and continue in a new school.

Last year, 14 re-engagement programs across the country, including those in Washington, provided education referrals to more than 10,000 young people. Programs received confirmation of enrollment of more than 6,000. Of those who enrolled, 73 percent completed a full additional year of school or graduated.

This new wave of re-engagement activity began a few years ago in the form of physical centers — youth-friendly locations where the assessment and referral takes place — and the approach has spread rapidly. In an interesting variant, several Denver-area school districts deploy staff to the coffee shops and bus stops where young people gather and provide support one-to-one at multiple locations.

Re-engagement professionals have taken note of the rapid growth of Washington’s HB1418-Open Doors program. Indeed, Washington’s recent progress stands in some contrast to what is happening in other states. Washington led with state policy; nationwide, most re-engagement initiatives began locally.

Common challenges and opportunities face re-engagement initiatives, whether the begin at the state or local level.  These include structural factors such as the local mix of alternative schools, as well as practical items such as whether to offer credit recovery services in tandem with re-engagement referrals.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: dropouts, guest opinion

January 7, 2014 at 2:58 PM

Guest: Para-educators provide vital outreach to state’s most vulnerable students

Kim Wilson PSE President

Kim Wilson

Corrected version

From guest columnist Kim Wilson:

Education is changing. Our schools are turning to para-educators to supplement instruction, especially in programs that serve at risk students.

Para-educators are education’s equivalent to paralegals, paramedics and physician assistants. However, unlike paramedics and paralegals, para-educators in Washington state have inadequate standards and insufficient support to effectively serve their students.

Most para-educators receive little training before being sent into our classrooms, often to provide instruction to our most vulnerable students.

Public School Employees of Washington is asking lawmakers to change this by introducing legislation that would create professional standards and training programs for para-educators. The proposed bill directs the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop a long overdue specific new training program for para-educators.

The use of para-educators is a trend that makes sense. Using para-educators puts more educators in the classroom in a cost efficient manner. It is para-educators, not teachers, who provide more than half of all the instruction time to students who are struggling in Washington.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: guest opinion, legislature, para-education

December 24, 2013 at 2:23 PM

Have opinions about education? Submit a guest column to Education Lab

Education Lab’s purpose is to both examine promising approaches in education and to facilitate a meaningful dialogue around what’s working — or not working — in our schools. Your voice can help us accomplish these goals. The Seattle Times welcomes submissions of guest commentaries for the Education Lab blog. We’re looking for pieces that make a strong solution-oriented argument about…

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, News, Your voices | Topics: guest opinion

December 16, 2013 at 3:14 PM

Guest: Form a Washington institute of technology and keep STEM grads in-state

A recent graduate from one of our public high schools scored a 29 on the ACT, which placed him in the 95th percentile nationally. With high math and science scores and career interests in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), he was the kind of student Washington state companies complain they can’t find to hire…

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Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: guest opinion, higher ed, STEM

December 12, 2013 at 4:03 PM

Guest: Common Core offers promising alternative to letter grades

Joan Tornow

Joan Tornow

As we adapt to the Common Core, our traditional grading system of A-F is on the chopping block, and rightfully so. This system, grading on a curve, has tended to perpetuate the status quo.

Because of socioeconomic factors, students with access to fewer educational resources have made lower grades, and students with greater access to educational resources have made higher grades. There are numerous exceptions, but this method has not championed equal opportunity and upward mobility — at least not in accordance with the American dream we tout.

A bell curve on a graph describes random variations in naturally occurring outcomes. But education is not a random undertaking, so critics have rightfully begun to question whether a grading curve is appropriate. In other intentional efforts — such as building a bridge or removing an appendix — we do not expect or tolerate a bell curve. If a bridge collapses into a river, or a patient dies from surgery, we do not chalk it up to a bell curve. Rather, we examine the situation to determine what went wrong and how we can prevent future calamities.

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Comments | More in Guest opinion | Topics: assessment, common core, guest opinion

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