Opinion

True education reform in Washington state | Walter Backstrom

When President Barack Obama rolled out a $4.3 billion stimulus package for education, Washington state's initial share was 43 cents — the cost of a stamp to remind us that we received an "F."

We in Washington state have an educational system that has been mismanaged, is inadequate and puts us 37th out of 50 states in educational excellence.

Using that as a backdrop, I interviewed what some people consider a true educational reformer. Some people don't like him. His name is Scott Oki, former vice president of Microsoft and now a self-styled education reformer and philanthropist. After three cups of coffee, we sat down to discuss his views on education reform and his new book, "Outrageous Learning."

He started the interview by quoting several mind-boggling statistics:

• Washington state's K-12 education system has more non-teachers than teachers.

• 43 percent of minority youth don't graduate from high school.

• The U.S. spends $667 billion on K-12 education, but we currently rank last out of 27 industrial countries in the passage rate for math and science tests.

• If you were a scientist at Microsoft, the rules and regulations from Olympia make it impossible to teach science at a local high school.

• The unions have been a major roadblock to real education reform by fighting tooth and nail against merit pay. Merit pay is a system that allows school districts to pay great teachers more than they pay lousy ones.

• Washington state's school districts are governed by a 2,000-page document full of rules, regulations and unfunded mandates.

• Washington state spends $13 billion on K-12 education — and what do we have to show for it?

Scott Oki and I talked for two hours about his life and long-term goals for this state. His goal was simply to revolutionize education in Washington.

I thanked him for his time and drove home. His thoughts and goals took center stage in my mind. It reminded me of the same fights that I have had with the educational establishment. They said I wasn't an expert in education, and that I should be quiet and stop being so negative. I remembered a teacher urging me not to write that second-graders use calculators on math tests.

That is when I really got angry.

What type of system fosters mediocrity? A system that doesn't believe in students, parents or teachers, that's who. If you listen to the spin coming out of Olympia, then all we have to do to improve education is have our 201st commission, followed by more diversity classes. Our scores should then shoot through the roof.

I wonder if all these politicians think the public is stupid. Their actions are nothing but a band-aid approach, guaranteed that we will come in last at the expense of the next generation. We know what it will take to change education in Washington, but it will not be found in Olympia. The answers will from outside the educational bureaucracy. The answers will come from parents and other people who just fed up with the status quo. It will not be easy, and the entrenched interests will fight us every step of the way. We will need parents to turn off the TV and demand excellence from their children. These parents will have to be more involved with their children's learning than they are with "American Idol: Season 8."

Scott Oki suggested that we have a "million mom march" in Olympia to pressure politicians to change education. I don't know if we will get a million moms, but you will sure as heck get this one dad. No excuses.

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