McCleary Decision is not about spending money, but about improving schools, say Senate leaders

December 13, 2013

On Tuesday, the Majority Coalition Caucus held a press conference to announce their plans for the 2014 Legislative Session.  When a reporter asked what plan A is for the Majority Coalition Caucus, Senator Tom said:

“We still have a lot to do as far as education reform. When it comes to McCleary, McCleary is not about dollars---McCleary is about making sure our kids will have a world class education.  Dollars alone will not get you there. If you look at what we did in the Senate, I think we passed out 12 pretty substantial education reforms that would put us to that next level. Remember that when it came to Race to the Top, our own friends, the Obama Administration, ranked us 32 out of 36 states. If the Seahawks were in that position, we’d all have our heads down. But education is so much more important than athletics. We need to make sure we are putting our best players on the field. We had seniority legislation out there making sure that when there are terminations it is based upon performance, not how long you’ve been there.”  At: 29:25.  

Senator Tom is correct about the meaning of the court’s ruling in McCleary. The McCleary decision’s central concern is not about money, but about improving the schools. The McCleary decision concludes its long analysis with this statement: “fundamental reforms are needed for Washington to meet its constitutional obligation to its students. Pouring more money into an outmoded system will not succeed.” (Page 69, McCleary opinion.)

The McCleary decision calls on the Legislature to meet its constitutional obligation to its students.  Structural reforms are needed to improve the way dollars are spent, including efforts to retain only the best teachers for Washington's children, and to substantially increase the role of their parents.



Only the best teachers

I see the WPC's zeal for retaining only the best teachers.

Where is the zeal to retain only the best principals, district administrators, and state-level education bureaucrats? Where is the accountability for them?

What is a structural reform?

I agree that our education system needs to change to serve the significant number of students who arrive at school without the preparation, support, or motivation to succeed, but changing the teachers who get laid off when budgets are cut is not the way to do it, nor does that constitute any kind of a structural change. In fact, that won't budge the outcomes at all.

Universal access to high-quality pre-school is a structural change that will directly impact student preparedness. Right now half of the academic achievement gap is present on the first day of kindergarten. Of course, this reform would cost money.

An extended school day, week, and year is a structural change that will directly impact student preparedness and support. Right now the state only pays for five classes a day in high school and only pays for about 1,000 hours of instruction each year. Of course, this reform would cost money also.

We need a real and fundamental shift in the understanding and perception of the teacher's role. We don't need the teacher to dispense information; Google can do that. We need teachers to be more like coaches - to teach skills, to provide skills practice, and, more than anything else, to motivate students. A focus on motivation will be a structural change that will directly impact student motivation, the primary determinant of student achievement.

More culturally relevent curricula and materials is a structural change that will directly impact student motivation. Right now the curricula is focused on European history, epistimology, standards, and social norms. Our children, however, have heritages from Asia, Africa, and the Americas in addition to Europe. Of course new curricular materials would cost money.

We are not going to see any real structural reform without spending money. Changing the order in which teachers get laid off when education budgets are cut only matter when education budgets are cut. This is plan to spend less. That has nothing to do with McCleary.