Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
December 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM
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. (more…)
December 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Someone 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:
Judge rules that charter schools are unconstitutional because they aren't accountable to voters. Read it here here: http://t.co/PITbuTc0cE
— Washington EA (@washingtonea) December 12, 2013
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. (more…)
December 5, 2013 at 6:00 AM
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 admitting he had crossed an ethical line.
But yesterday, the judge told the Associated Press that he should not lose his job. Censure would be enough, said the 72-year-old who was first elected in 1984 and has not decided whether he will seek a sixth term next year. Baugh apologized, saying that while he should not have made the remarks, his views did not influence the sentence he handed down.
I beg to differ. The teacher, Stacey Rambold, was 47 in 2007 when he assaulted the young girl three times over several months in 2007. Deepening the tragedy, the girl killed herself before the case went to trial. The office of Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, calling Rambold’s sentence illegal and too lenient, has appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.
The Montana Judicial Standards Commission has yet to rule on Baugh, but the judge told the AP Tuesday that he expects to be censured by the judicial ethics panel over his comments. Do you think the judge should be censured or removed from office?
December 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM
“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.”
With 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: (more…)
November 27, 2013 at 1:00 PM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature on the Opinion Northwest blog. Here editorial writers Lynne K. Varner and Jonathan Martin debate whether an armed robber on a Seattle Metro bus indicates an unsafe city.
Did you see The Times story about the 19-year-old man who got on the King County Metro RapidRide C Line bus at Third and Pike Street wearing a nylon stocking over part of his face and began robbing passengers at gunpoint? He got personal property from a few before he was tackled by other passengers and held until police arrived. The suspect was “agitated and belligerent” during the arrest, reported the West Seattle Blog.
This was not only a scary moment that could have ended more tragically (was that gun loaded?) but it also was not good advertising for public transit. I’m sympathetic to calls to ride public transportation as both a cost-saver and a way to reduce our carbon footprint. I’m willing to strike a bargain with King County Metro: I’ll get out of my car and ride the bus, saving personal money on gas and saving the public coffers on costly repairs to heavily used and clogged roads. In exchange, it must reassure me that I’m not taking my life into my hands each time I board a bus.
This morning I took the 70 bus to Third Avenue in the heart of Seattle’s downtown retail corridor. People hung out in front of the Macy’s, McDonald’s and other points along the city street. The 7-Eleven did a robust business selling beer and malt liquor. Police sat on bikes nearby, but did not engage anyone. The time it took my bus to show up, no more than 15 minutes, I was accosted by a couple of guys who thought I looked extra good today (Nope, never met them before.) I grew more cognizant of the dirty unswept street and the smell of weed. I sidestepped people who were hanging out on the street as though they were at a block party. Yes, others were commuting to work or going shopping, but I felt we were in the minority.
To endure that and get on the bus and be confronted by an armed robber is more than any commuter should be expected to bear. Bus-related crime is up and, given the armed robbery and shooting of a Metro bus driver last August, more brazen. Bus operators have reported 45 assaults on passengers inside buses between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, a Metro spokesman told The Times in a news report. There were 27 assaults during the same period last year. The same story quotes a Seattle police spokesman noting a spike in cellphone robberies on buses, light-rail trains and near transit centers countywide.
I do not suggest we put armed guards on buses or wall off drivers from passengers, but we should consider whether a brazen armed robbery at dinnertime is a harbinger of bad things to come.
Here’s what that incident yesterday tells me: when hundreds of thousands of strangers mingle each day, weird things very occasionally happen. According to King County Metro, there were 137 arrests or infractions issued on buses during the entire month of September. That month, there were 385,768 people boarding buses every weekday. By my rough calculations, that works out to .000016 arrests per weekday boarding.
Contrast that with the national rate of fatal car crashes per 100,000 of population: 10.39. It’s not a perfect analogy but, Lynne, you get my point. You are far more likely to get into a crash, or even die, on your commute across Lake Washington than I am to even witness an arrest on my bus ride in from Wallingford. Your car is a death trap! Take a bus!
This incident, and the bus-driver shooting in August aren’t good for public perception. But these crimes didn’t happen because of the bus. They just happened on the bus. If we’re going to anecdotally tie location to crime (which the news media often does), you’d have to never walk into a coffee shop because of the Lakewood police and Café Racer shootings both happened in cafes.
Okay, Metro bus riders can be kooky. Toenail clippers. Heroin nodders. The ranters. But mighty Seattle grinds to a halt without Metro. One bus removes 40 cars from the street. Weekday mornings, my bus, the 358, stops at Denny and Aurora, and dozens of Amazon workers (along with Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien and myself) hop off and walk a few blocks. If your answer to perceived (not statistically-based) fear of transit is for us to instead make single-occupancy car commutes, Amazon could not plop 15,000 jobs into downtown Seattle because their workers would be stuck in traffic.
Public perceptions are easily made and hard to reverse. But the data do not support your premise. I’ll bet you one of those soy London Fog drinks you favor that if you hop on my bus any random morning, you’re more likely to find a city council member than a gun-waving nutso.
November 26, 2013 at 6:00 AM
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. (more…)
November 21, 2013 at 12:19 PM
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. (more…)
November 20, 2013 at 12:39 PM
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. (more…)
November 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM
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.
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. (more…)
November 18, 2013 at 12:36 PM
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 research and public policy advocacy by Alan Berube, a senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. He is co-author of Confronting Suburban Poverty in America (Brookings Press, 2013). Berube was in Seattle early Monday to talk about the poverty’s shift beyond urban centers. There are now four times as many people living in poverty in the suburbs compared to a decade ago. Indeed, there are more poor people in suburbs now than in cities. Part of the story is the migration of low-wage jobs, chiefly in hospitality and fast-food restaurants, as well as limited affordable housing in cities like Seattle.
Berube’s talk was sponsored by the Equity kNOW project, a smart partnership between King County and Futurewise to promote more understanding of poverty and general agreement on solutions. I’m encouraged by all of this. King County has the capacity to offer forward-looking mapping and analysis of changing demographics countywide. Anti-poverty efforts need this type of regional leadership, Berube notes. He also credits smart regional cooperatives around the country, giving a nod here to the Road Map Project, a nonprofit organizing South King County communities around improving public education.
Poverty will always exist, just as there will always be unemployment. Efforts to raise incomes should be joined by efforts to ensure everyone, regardless of income, lives in communities helping them not simply survive, but thrive. That means close residential proximity to healthy and fresh foods, public parks, quality schools and reliable bus service. There is a large correlation between people who do not have access to these things and their race, ethnicity and income.
Consider the following in King County:
- The number of people of color has quadrupled over the last 30 years.
- People of color account for more than half of young people under the age of 18.
- Tukwila, Renton and SeaTac are majority minority cities.
- Three ZIP codes – Skyway, SeaTac-Tukwila and Seattle’s Rainier Valley – are the most racially and ethnically diverse in the nation.
The YouTube video by the Brookings Institution below offers a vivid snapshot of poverty’s changing face nationwide.