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You are currently viewing all posts written by Lynne K. Varner. Seattle Times editorial columnist interested in all things related to education. You can contact her at lvarner@seattletimes.com

December 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

A columnist bids a heartfelt adieu

M. Ryder/Op Art

M. Ryder/Op Art

Today is the last day you’ll see a post from me in The Seattle Times editorial page’s Opinion Northwest blog. Monday’s edition of the Times will publish my final byline as a columnist. I could have easily and happily stayed here within the confines of 1000 Denny Way, mining the deep pockets of education policy and chronicling the alchemy of teaching and learning. Journalism is a powerful public service and I’ve been lucky to share this calling and platform. From United Press International to The Washington Post, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Seattle Times, I have worked hard in this profession and been rewarded with great opportunities. As I note in my upcoming and final column, I will miss readers the most. You could have been doing anything else with your time, but you read my writing and you were generous with your thoughts.

But let me bury the lede no longer.

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December 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Charter schools pass court scrutiny mostly intact

EducationSomeone at the Washington Education Association needs to brush up on their reading comprehension. The state teachers’ union crowed with jubilation Thursday, saying that King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel had ruled Initiative 1240, the charter schools law, unconstitutional.

Here’s the WEA’s tweet:

Except she didn’t. Judge Rietschel upheld most of the law passed by voters last November.

“Considering the requirements the charter schools must comply with, namely, educational goals, student assessments and other related measurements, the court holds that the charter school act meets the definition of a general and uniform system,” Rietschel wrote.

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December 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Censure or remove judge for comments about 14-year-old rape victim?

Remember District Judge G. Todd Baugh? He’s the Montana judge who remarked that a 14-year-old rape victim appeared “older than her chronological age” and was probably as much in control of the situation as her rapist, a teacher at the girl’s school – before sentencing the rapist to one month in prison. The public furor that ensued had even Baugh…

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December 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Readers offer their views on the parent-teacher school dance

“Many of us are guilty of the wretched excesses of overparenting. Not all the time. But there’s something about education that makes us sometimes sip from the crazy cup. I’ll cop to it if you will.”

EDUCATIONWith those confessional words, I use my most recent column to launch an exploration of the delicate dance between parents and teachers and principals. Reader responses have been thoughtful. Everyone is in agreement that parents deserve a voice and teachers deserve respect. But there are shades of gray when it comes to our children.

Thomas Munyon, who taught school briefly after a career as a naval officer, laments the days when parents concentrated less on teachers’ failings and more on holding their own kids accountable. Here’s an edited version of his email to me:

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November 26, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Saving the children at Childhaven

Cheryl Mason and her husband John (older couple on bottom row)  adopted seven children who came to them as foster children receiving services at Childhaven. Their children are now successful adults starting their own families, underscoring Childhaven's powerful role helping abused or neglected children grow into healthy adults. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Cheryl Mason and her husband John (older couple on bottom row) adopted seven children who came to them as foster children receiving services at Childhaven. Their children are now successful adults starting their own families, underscoring Childhaven’s powerful role helping abused or neglected children grow into healthy adults.
(Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Many in philanthropy and social services were caught off guard by federal Medicaid officials recent decision to cut off funding to Childhaven, which provides child care and therapy for abused and neglected children. Childhaven would lose $4 million a year, the combined total of the 50-50 match between state and federal Medicaid dollars — nearly half its revenue. Federal officials should reconsider.

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Comments | Topics: child abuse, children, Education

November 21, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Poll: Weighing the JPMorgan Chase bank settlement

In 2010, former Washington Mutual bank executives spoke at U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on high-risk loans. The bank was later bought by JPMorgan Chase which has just settled litigation brought by the federal government for $13 billion. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In 2010, former Washington Mutual bank executives spoke at a U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on high-risk loans. The bank was later bought by JPMorgan Chase, which has just settled litigation brought by the federal government for $13 billion. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $13 billion, including $4 billion for consumer relief and $6 billion to investors who lost big during the bank’s risky mortgage securities schemes. This settlement with the U.S. government is larger than any other Wall Street settlement and is roughly equivalent to half the bank’s annual profit. JPMorgan also agreed to a statement of facts, in which the bank admitted to key failures in buying toxic mortgage securities from 2005 to 2008. This NPR report offers a breakdown of the settlement and who gets the money.

A number of institutions will receive money in the settlement. Investors in JPMorgan appeared positive about the settlement. Shares of the New York-based bank rose 41 cents, or 0.7%, to $56.15 on Tuesday, as major U.S. stock indexes edged lower. This Los Angeles Times story offers more investor details.

I’m glad JPMorgan gave up trying to argue that it should not be held culpable for problems that came from the banks it acquired, including investment bank Bear Stearns and thrift Washington Mutual. But this does not end the anger and emotion surrounding the bank. Critics of the settlement call it a sweetheart deal engineered by a Wall Street-friendly Obama administration. Defenders call it precedent-setting, comparing it to the $4.5 billion in fines and penalties paid by British Petroleum over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. A Seattle Times editorial welcomed the BP settlement.

The JPMorgan settlement could become a template the federal government would use to guide future action against other banks. If so, is the settlement letting JPMorgan off too lightly or is it in proportion to the bank’s transgressions? Take this poll.

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Comments | Topics: barack obama, economy, housing

November 20, 2013 at 12:39 PM

Lesson from the Horace Mann school building

Photo: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

Photo: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

Invoking the name of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager shot and kill by a neighborhood watchman in 2012, can be a powerful symbol of racial profiling and the challenges of being a young, black male in America. But on Wednesday, it was used by the remaining holdouts in the Horace Mann school building takeover in their crass attempt to gain public sympathy for an ill-conceived, and illegal, seizure of a public building.

Seattle police did their jobs. They pushed past chained doors and threats of a rooftop sniper and explosives-laden booby traps to arrest four people. The building is back in district hands and renovations on the school — delays of which had cost the district around $1,000 a day — can start.

AfricaTown Center for Education and Innovation, an umbrella organization for community groups that may or may not have been connected to those arrested yesterday, should have learned a lesson from all of this. The organization allowed its name and agenda to be co-opted by people with no interest or qualifications in building a school.  As Superintendent José Banda told the Seattle Times: “It’s hard to distinguish at this point who’s part of that group or not. The hangers-on are not necessarily part of the academic focus of that group.”

How did AfricaTown allow Omari Tahir-Garrett to speak for them? He was convicted of second-degree assault in 2002 after hitting a former Seattle mayor in the face with a megaphone, breaking several bones in the man’s face. Background checks, required in all educational settings, would seemingly have led to Tahir-Garrett’s exclusion rather than inclusion.

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Comments | Topics: children, Education, k12

November 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Building steam under science, technology, engineering, math and the arts

The dearth of women in technology professions or girls taking STEM classes has been well-documented. But I found reason for hope recently during an afternoon with young girls studying STEAM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics education, during full-day workshops on six consecutive Saturdays.

Robotic vehicles designed by girls in the BUILDING STEAM program by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc.

Robotic vehicles designed by girls in the BUILDING STEAM program by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc.

The girls were recruited from Seattle-area middle and high schools and community organizations by the Greater
Seattle Chapter of The Links, Inc., a volunteer service organization for women. At the TAF Academy, the Federal Way public school run by the Technology Access Foundation, the girls engaged in hands-on learning about robotics and gaming technology using NASA STEM education guidelines developed for the U.S. Department of Education. I met the girls on their final day when they had gathered at Rainier Beach Community Center to model their robots – including some talking ones – and debut video games they designed.

The games had stunning graphics and creative twists. I was especially wowed by those inspired by Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Who says girls are not gamers!

Also, who says STEM should not include arts. The aesthetic of the games, their design and usability, was all about artistic values. The afternoon was a celebration of the girls’ accomplishments but for me it was also a glimpse at the promise of STEAM, rather than STEM, education.

President Obama has emphasized STEM education as necessary preparation for a global and tech-driven economy. I’ve written here and here about the sizeable gap between the number of tech jobs available and the number of job seekers with the training and education to fill those jobs.  The inbalance is greater for young people of color. National efforts draw attention to the dilemma, but it is dogged work at the local level, by advocacy and commnity groups like The Links, that moves the needle.

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Comments | Topics: children, Education, race

November 18, 2013 at 12:36 PM

South King County’s Road Map Project is a national anti-poverty model

Anti-poverty efforts must move away from a singular focus on inner-cities and go where poverty is growing fastest: the suburbs.  People with limited economic means are stereotyped as living in inner-cities, but America’s poor more often than not live and struggle in suburban communities far from the things they need most, including public transportation, health care and jobs. These points rest atop rigorous…

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Comments | Topics: children, Education, health care

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