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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

June 25, 2009 at 2:59 PM


Times editorial downplays dropout numbers

Regarding your editorial [“Strugglers, achievers: Support both groups,” Opinion, June 24], I have followed dropout rates in this state for more than 25 years as an educator and former associate research professor at the University of Washington.

I am concerned The Times is misreporting and consequently misrepresenting the significance of our dropout problem in Washington state and nationwide. To say that “cumulatively one in 20 students leaves school permanently between ninth grade and 12th grade” implies to many people that the dropout rates here in Washington are not problematic.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction annually collects data from every school district to determine the number of dropouts each year. Many school districts have little incentive to report their dropout rates accurately, especially when they are consistently high year after year. Also remember the state does not maintain annual records on the numbers of students dropping out before ninth grade.

That aside, the cohort rates here in Washington state have been fairly constant over the past 35-40 years at approximately 22 percent to 30 percent. Using the cohort method of compilation involves counting numbers of ninth-graders enrolled any given year, and then four years later counting the number of those same ninth-graders who graduate (on time) with their cohort of peers four years later.

When disaggregated by race, it gets worse, with approximately 50 percent of African-American, Latino and American-Indian students currently not graduating on time with their peer cohorts.

My read on the new superintendent is that he recognizes the significance of this situation to our state’s future well-being and consequently is publicly highlighting this ongoing dilemma.

By suggesting a mere 5 percent (0 percent is the only acceptable performance measure) are dropping out is, at best, misleading, and worse, it sends a message that the state superintendent is negative toward success measured by test batteries and that current state dropout rates are no big deal.

— Albert J. Smith Jr., Seattle

Stakeholders don’t have say in librarian cuts

At the June 2 Bellevue School District meeting, the board claimed it had listened to supporters of the secondary-school library program and were looking into possible remedies to proposed cuts [“Reassigned school librarians get attention beyond Bellevue,” NWWednesday, June 24]. But board President Chris Marks began the June 16 meeting by declaring the decision to eradicate the secondary-school library program would not be reversed. When a Bellevue High School student pointed out the board could choose to use stimulus money that can be earmarked for any purpose to reinstate teacher-librarians, the board declared it didn’t know yet how these funds would be spent.

While this may be true, it’s clear the board has no intention of restoring the library program to its middle and high schools, despite having enough stimulus funds to do so and despite hearing from hundreds of parents, teachers, students and business leaders that this should be a top priority. The board claims cuts will be temporary while at the same time claiming the decision to decimate the library program was made individually by principals.

If staffing libraries is a building decision the board has no control over, how can it possibly have control over whether the cuts are temporary? It is unfortunate the district administration and School Board did not allow any input from teachers, students and parents when determining community priorities before making painful decisions about where to make cuts.

The students of the Bellevue School District would have benefitted from the transparency demonstrated by the Lake Washington School District, where district administrators opened their budget and went through it line by line with community stakeholders to determine what the community wanted.

Lake Washington made $7.7 million in cuts. But the community is accepting of this, because stakeholders had a say in the matter.

— Kristine McLane, Shoreline

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