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Nick Hanauer, one of the founders of the League of Education Voters (LEV) and a proponent of charter schools has lately decided to take it upon himself to publicly target teachers in general and the teachers’ union specifically in his quest to turn the state of Washington into charter school country staffed by none other than TFA temps putting students in front of computers for their online learning courses. As you might recall, just last week Rainier Beach High School said “Thanks but no thanks” to the paternalistic approach that LEV was taking in “helping” the children on the south end of Seattle. That ended with Rainier Beach High School demanding an apology from LEV for basically pushing the organization’s agenda in an extremely bold face manner.
Now Mr. Hanauer has decided to turn it up a notch by trying his best to demonize the teaching profession in our state. To follow is a letter written by Mary Lindquist, the President of the Washington Education Association in response to Mr. Hanauer’s most recent attack.
Your most recent letter begs for a response centered on facts and what is actually taking place in our public schools. To those of us who work with students every day, you appear unaware of what is actually happening in our schools and what WEA is doing to support the work of outstanding educators.
Let me start by disabusing you of one significant misunderstanding presented in your letter. You write:
“But in my experience as a business leader and entrepreneur, I have observed that all high-performance organizations share elements that are largely missing from our state’s public education system: relentlessly high standards, a culture of excellence, and a systemic commitment to innovation.”
It is not true these qualities are missing from our schools. Educators all across Washington are, each and every day, bringing high standards, requirements of excellence and dedicated, focused commitment to our students, in spite of the chronic underfunding of our schools. Educators working in our schools do not accept a “culture in which outstanding performance is resented or even discouraged, mediocrity is accepted, and low performance is tolerated.”
Here’s what I can state based upon what I see in our schools:
• The SPRINT program in Spokane, the Tri-Tech Skills Center in Spokane, Beacon Hill International School in Seattle, Aviation High School in Highline, and the School of Arts and Academics in Vancouver are all examples of innovative schools – and there are hundreds more across the state. Just last week the Seattle School board approved the Creative Approach Schools document to encourage innovation in Seattle – an agreement reached with the Seattle Education Association to promote “new different and creative approach that supports raising achievement and closing the achievement gap.” I’ve been in these schools. The teachers there are inspiring. I invite you to join me in visiting some of these innovative schools so you can see, firsthand, the commitment to academic excellence which our educators have and how our Association supports that work;
• At West Seattle Elementary, Totem Middle School in Marysville, and in 17 other schools across the state, “School Improvement Grants” (SIG) are transforming schools previously classified as low-performing or under-achieving. I’ve watched the dedicated teachers and principals working to transform these schools. I’ve seen them cry out of frustration and celebrate their successes. What do they all have in common? High expectations, an unwavering commitment to student achievement, a shared responsibility for student achievement and an infusion of federal and grant money. After school programs, parent outreach, and other social services provided at the schools demonstrate that it takes more than just the educators to boost student achievement. Do we need to do more to address the problems in our neediest communities? Absolutely. And it will take a better funding system than we currently have to do that. The Washington Supreme Court just came firmly down on the side of these educators and students;
• Two years ago WEA lead the charge for a new evaluation system with Senate Bill 6696. It created a system that will provide meaningful feedback to improve every principal’s and teacher’s performance. Working with superintendents, principals and school board members, WEA has been supporting the work in Anacortes, Snohomish, Central Valley in Spokane, and in 14 other schools districts for nearly two years. This year we added over 70 new districts while Seattle, Peninsula and other districts pioneered this work years ago. That’s nearly one-third of our districts moving in the right direction in less than two years. As teachers we knew we needed a new data-driven, research-based and fair system to provide every teacher with the opportunity to improve. The key here is research-based and what will really make a difference in student achievement, not some theoretical scheme from someone who has never stood in front of a classroom of students;
• Washington now ranks fourth in the nation for the number of teachers who have achieved National Board Certification, with nearly 10% of our teachers earning this highest honor, a rigorous, objective, uniform and national standard of what it means to be a great teacher. WEA is there to support these teachers from start to finish in the year-long process of achieving national certification. Each summer I speak to the new group of candidates. The energy in the room, their passion for teaching and their commitment to strengthening our profession is palpable. Engaging professionals in improving our schools is the only lasting way to produce change;
• For the ninth consecutive year, the average score for Washington students on the three major SAT exams – reading, writing and math – was the highest in the nation among states in which more than half of the eligible students took the tests. This consistent result, year after year, belies your sweeping rhetorical statement that, “Washington public schools are not delivering the kind of results that families in this state deserve and our economy requires.” What do our best schools have in common? The same dedicated educators combined with communities of high social economic status, parents who are engaged in their child’s school and resources beyond the current inadequate level of state funding.
You write of the lack of outrage around South Seattle public schools. I invite you to join me in visiting some of those schools – and hearing, firsthand, from teachers not only about the challenges they are confronting, but what they are also doing to turn things around. We can start at Hawthorne Elementary where amazing things are happening. Maybe you could ask the educators there how you could contribute to their efforts and what would really make a meaningful difference in the lives of these students.
Finally, you write of “The WEA’s efforts to stop any of the changes needed to transform our system puts you and the politicians who support and enable this intransigence on the wrong side of kids, families, and history.”
You are wrong. As the professionals on the frontline of public education every day, we are putting our children and families first. We – not you – are the ones who see, firsthand, what is needed to ensure all our children and students are equipped for the significant challenges of the 21st century.
We do not have the luxury of theorizing from behind locked doors of high rise office buildings in downtown Seattle. We work with students every day. Often we work without enough books for every child, in buildings desperately needing repair with more students than we faced last year or the year before. And every day we focus on providing all of our children with the best, well-rounded education we can provide, one tailored to their individual needs and talents, given the resources we have. I invite you to work with us instead of attacking the professionals who are asked to do the most important work for our state’s future.