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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

February 15, 2009 at 4:00 PM

Education reform

Go on, build the barrier

Editor, The Times:

Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mt. Vernon, said, “Education should have no borders” [“Controversial student-aid bill,” Times, Local News, Feb. 12]. Of course it should. The border should separate students who are here legally from those who aren’t.

Why must hardworking, taxpaying American families, struggling through the worst economy in 80 years, subsidize students who are here illegally?

Quall complains that because illegal students have been able to take advantage of our free-education system and get through high school, we should then roll over and pay for college too.

He calls the lack of tuition assistance for illegal immigrants a “huge barrier.” Isn’t this the whole idea? Illegal immigrants are not entitled to a free education.

I guess this is what it comes down to for Rep. Quall and the rest of the tax-and-spend crowd in Olympia: Everybody is entitled, whether they’ve earned it or not. Incredible.

— Craig Torstenbo, Poulsbo

Forget about fear

Why do arguments for school reform always have to begin by hand-wringing about how awful our education system is? A tone of terror runs through the entirety of state Board of Education Chairman Mary Jean Ryan’s oped [“Let’s pull this state out of education cellar,” guest column, Feb. 12].

She moans that Washington is 35th in high-school graduation requirements. Where does this statistic come from and, really, who cares?

She also laments that Washington is 44th in total expenditures per student. In fact, she wants to pass legislation so that “Washington’s children can move out of the cellar and into the forefront of states.” Yet, if one examines the 2007 scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading and math for grades four and eight, one finds Washington outscores the nation in both subjects at both grades. The difference amounts to about a third of a year in achievement.

And, few states have a higher proportion of students scoring at the “advanced” level on the NAEP tests. Those that do are mostly states that have the highest proportions of parents with college degrees like Massachusetts and Minnesota.

The Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance’s work might have been grand and the bills might be fine. And as one who thinks money makes a difference, if it didn’t, why do wealthy districts spend so much of it.

Why do we have to make our case playing to fear? It’s never been the right approach or even accurate.

Many of the things Ryan wants are deserving: more early learning, more time for teachers to plan and more arts, for example. But we should provide funds for these items on the basis of pride and appreciation, not fear.

It should be to move Washington education more to the forefront, not getting it out of the cellar.

— Gerald Bracey, Port Townsend

Statistical flub-up

A false generalization of research findings has led Washington state legislators to craft a bill that could substantially set back science and mathematics education in this state.

It appears, after misinterpreting a result in the December 2007 “Report to the Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance: School employee compensation and student outcomes,” legislators wrote House Bill 1410. Part of that bill (Section 204) stipulates that a new teacher-salary scale “shall not provide increased salaries based on continuing education credits or academic degrees.”

It seems legislators wrongly based a decision to remove salary incentives on “averaged” meta-analysis results of the effects of graduate degrees on student academic performance. Even the report’s researchers cautioned about the lack of refinement in their preliminary findings, stating, “A relevant question is whether infield or mathematics and science graduate degrees improve the effectiveness of teachers in particular fields.”

While it is true teaching ability is not solely based on content knowledge, respected mathematics-education research clearly links this kind of knowledge to teacher effectiveness. Certainly, common sense dictates this to be the case also.

Perhaps this flub-up begs for better science and mathematics training, especially where high-stakes decisions depend on statistical studies.

As Washington state continues to struggle with ways to raise mathematics and science achievement, please tell me the Legislature will not cut out incentives for teachers to learn. Instead, let’s look to those degrees and continuing-education programs that are tied to student performance.

— Associate professor of mathematics Michael Lundin, Central Washington University, Ellensburg

Competing with an anti-intellectual culture

From what I read and hear, all we need to improve education is “better teachers” and more money for schools. This would help, but the problem is much larger than this.

The abominable educational standing of our young people when compared with other nations, many much less wealthy than the U.S., jeopardizes the future of our nation. I firmly believe the low-educational attainments of our children can be traced to parents and a popular culture that is strongly anti-intellectual.

A good place to see the effects of parents who value and support education can be found in our many immigrant students, who have done remarkably well since their arrival in our country. Many came as recently as their early junior-high years, not speaking English. And yet, by the end of high school, they were honor students — in schools that were or are considered “failing.”

The difference is they have strong support from parents who value education.

However, in Washington state, it is the parents who are complaining about the dreaded Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) and who want the standards reduced. They do not want their children to have to work.

It is the parents who threaten or sue school administrators who take action to corral disruptive students, who are stealing from the teacher’s time.

It is indifferent parents who neglect their children, who have turned our schools into social agencies, which, therefore, cuts down teaching time and resources.

It is parents who do not want their kids to have homework. They do not want the responsibility of seeing that their children do their homework, turning off the blaring TV so they can concentrate.

Why is there not a single politician with the courage to even intimate that parents might be part of the problem?

We need to look further to something even harder to correct: our anti-intellectual popular culture.

Maybe it would be possible to find a teacher with the ability to captivate students and provide the incentive to learn, despite such obstacles, but how many could be found? Would they be willing to work the long hours? How much would we have to pay someone with this ability? When teachers have to compete with popular culture, they are competing with very highly-paid entertainers.

— George Hoke, Bellevue

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