Prominent Democratic donor calls Washington an education reform backwater, a joke
PubliCola's Morning Fizz reports today on an e-mail from venture capitalist, high-dollar investor and major Democratic donor Nick Hanauer in which he expresses his thoughts, and frustrations, about the need for education reform in our state.
Two important observations stand out, and are confirmed by our own research findings.
Mr. Hanauer says, "We prioritize the needs of adults over the interests of children."
Our long-term research bears this out; only 59 cent of every education dollar reaches the classroom, the majority of school employees are not teachers, and union contracts receive first-dollar funding over every other education budget item. The key metric, whether children are learning and graduating on time, is not the basis for setting personnel policy in public education.
Mr. Hanauer adds, "Washington State is now known as a reform backwater, a joke."
Whether a state is a "joke" cannot be determined through objective research, but we have found Washington lags far behind other states in enacting innovative school reforms that help children. The following education policies are illegal in Washington: opening a charter school, paying a high-performing teacher a bonus, hiring a qualified math or science teacher without a special certificate, seeking parent input in teacher evaluations, allowing placement choice among public schools, retaining younger teachers during layoffs...and so on.
The list continues. Nearly every creative education idea tried in other states has been blocked here. Not long ago Washington schools lost a $13.2 million national math education grant because powerful union officials objected.
Children in Washington are assigned to schools managed on a 20th century industrial model – strict central control, heavy unionization and minimal parental choice, resulting in a widening achievement gap, low student achievement and high drop-out rates.
As Mr. Hanauer rightly points out, "The primary business and paramount duty of the state is to educate our kids. We are failing and we have no one to blame but ourselves."
We need fresh ideas to help kids and move our state forward. Catching up with other states in adopting proven education reforms would be a good start.