State supt. backs fight for basic education funding

Randy Dorn, the Washington state superintendent of public instruction, said his legislative agenda for 2012 will focus on keeping education funding — and also helping ineffective teachers improve.

Dorn revealed his strategy for Olympia on Nov. 18 at the Washington State School Directors fall conference in Bellevue.

“This state is in a tough economic situation,” Dorn said in his speech. “But if we cut basic education, that affects our children and their futures. We can’t let that happen.”

One of the proposals that’s come down from Gov. Christine Gregoire is to shorten the school year by two days, something Dorn says he can’t let happen. With the state constitution’s Article IX saying that the state’s top priority is funding education, Dorn believes shaving two days from the school year is a “cut to basic education.”

Dorn said a number of one-time savings can be achieved in 2012:

• Delaying when schools receive their levy equalization by two months

• Delaying when districts receive some of the “apportionment” money by two weeks

• Delaying depreciation payments for school buses for nine months

Beyond his fight with the governor and state legislators over funding, Dorn said he will focus on improving ineffective teachers, and developing a system on what should happen when a school district finds itself financially insolvent.

Dorn said he’s on board with the Teacher and Principal Evaluation pilot program, an entity tasked by the state Legislature to create a new and uniform methodology for evaluating teachers and principals.

“The piloting they’re doing now is some of the best in the nation. Plus there’s a lot of support for their work, both from teachers and administrators,” Dorn said.

Even with that program in place, Dorn said he’s concerned about underperforming teachers.

The first step, he said, is to try and help those teachers improve. If that doesn’t work, then Dorn feels district’s should have more latitude in dealing with them.

“My proposal is this: teachers who receive the lowest rating in their evaluations two years in a row should revert back to probationary status,” he said. “Districts can then work with those teachers on a plan of improvement, or remove them without the elongated system of appeals we have now.”

When districts go financially insolvent, Dorn said his office needs to have a procedure in place. As the economic crisis continues to drag on, Dorn feels the chance for district insolvency is still very much possible. He said he hopes the state’s 295 districts continue to stay afloat financially, but is still interested in developing a set of rules for districts that go belly up.

The state superintendent will continue to fight the good fight for education funding, he said.

“As I’ve said many times, it’s in our constitution as the state’s paramount duty to amply fund basic education,” Dorn said. “I plan to hold the governor and the Legislature to their responsibility. There can be no cuts to basic education.”

Goals, etc.

According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Dorn created five goals to guide his tenure when he took over the position in 2009. Although the financial fight hasn’t gone as well as he would like, the superintendent feels he’s had some measure of success in the other goals he set for himself and his office.

The first was improve academic achievement and reduce dropout rates. According to OSPI, in 2011, the state’s extended graduation rate, which includes students who take longer than four years to move on from high school, got over 80 percent for the first time.

“That’s a big accomplishment,” Dorn said. “Our schools and our educators should be applauded for their efforts in this area. We want that number to be higher, but it’s going in the right direction.

The second goal Dorn set for himself was to promote early learning opportunities. Dorn said the effects of investing in students at their youngest and most malleable ages means success later on in their academic careers in Washington schools. OSPI and the superintendent credit the expansion of all-day kindergarten classes in schools throughout the state, along with the development of the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills, a data system that gives “teachers an understanding about where students are, socially and academically, when entering kindergarten.”

Dorn and OSPI feel they’ve been successful in expanding career and technical education opportunities, along with moving the state towards online testing for state administered tests. In spring of 2012, the grades 3-8 Measurements of Student Progress tests will be available online for reading, math and science. Washington is also part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is developing an online testing system for “the common core state standards in math and English-language arts.” Moving online is a cost saving measure, according to Dorn and the OSPI.


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