Results Washington will fail to improve the public schools
Yesterday Governor Inslee launched a new initiative, Results Washington, the latest announcement by a governor to improve state government and the public schools. Governors Gary Locke and Christine Gregoire tried similar initiatives.
In this one, Governor Inslee says the following about goals for the public schools:
"Increase the percentage of schools rated exemplary or very good on the Washington School Achievement Index from X to X by 20XX (TBD);
Increase percentage of teachers rated distinguished from X to X by 20XX [TBD]. "
The irony here is that Governor Inslee’s administration just recently weakened the School Achievement Index, so meeting the new performance goals becomes self-fulfilling. It is like telling a student she has to improve her grades, then letting her grade her own homework.
Also, the research shows Results Washington will likely fail, just like past efforts. For example, Seattle Public Schools already tried a similar performance targeting system - the 2008 strategic plan called “Excellence for All.” This plan has failed to meet its promised targets. District officials report that not one of 23 student improvement goals will be met this year. Now Governor Inslee wants to try a similar failed approach on the whole state.
Anyway, it's difficult to believe his new promises. During his campaign, Governor Inslee promised to provide parents with an A – F rating system for schools:
“We have a quarter of our children who are sort of forgotten children, and that is going to be unacceptable when I’m governor. That’s one of the reasons I’m proposing (that) every school will have a letter grade that will be given and disseminated then to the parents in the district so that we hold ourselves accountable.”
When the legislature met in January Governor Inslee failed to propose legislation to carry out his promise. Then, in March, when the Senate passed SB 5328 to create an A – F school ranking, he quietly dropped his support for the idea, letting the bill die in the House.
Our experience tells us more top-down "Results" won't improve schools. It's been tried before and failed. What will work is getting parents involved in local schools, as has been done in 24 states and Washington, D.C., that allow parents to choose their child's school. Washington Policy Center recommends offering parents, especially those assigned to failing schools, public education scholarships of up to $3,500 per student, for use at a public or private school of their choice. Most parents would use the scholarships to support their local public school.
Family scholarships would allow parents to choose what works best for their children. Parent-based accountability would replace top-down efforts like Results Washington, which some people see as a slick marketing campaign designed to mask the poor performance of many public schools. Results Washington will now join the long list of failed state and federal programs that once promised to improve the schools: Washington Learns, the WASL, standards-based reform, Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, Goals 2000 and many others. It's time for a new approach.