As the state scrambles to get a bid together to compete for a huge new pot of federal education funds, The Seattle Times today called for the state to boost its chances by granting authority to the Superintendent of Public Instruction to intervene in failing schools.
President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have states competing for education funds
In fact, the Weekly has learned, a legislative bill is already underway. But it's the state Board of Education that is drafting it and would be given the power to demand certain steps be taken.
Indeed, the bill would mandate intervention, according to Board of Education chair Mary Jean Ryan.
The influential Washington Education Association, the state teachers union, has traditionally opposed attempts to override local control. But with billions of dollars in the offing nationally though the "Race to the Top" program, an initiative of the Obama administration, the WEA says it has been discussing the idea with the Board of Ed. The "conversation is headed in the right direction," says WEA President Mary Lindquist.
Mary Jean Ryan is drafting the bill on accountability
Still, it's unclear whether Washington--which plans to sit out the first round of applications in January and apply in June-- can successfully compete for the funds without allowing charter schools, which the feds favor.
States are vying for $4.35 billion according to a range of criteria, one of which is their mechanism for school "accountability." The Board of Ed, which has not yet identified a legislative sponsor but should have no problem doing so given the support of the governor, would first require that an outside audit be done for poor-performing schools. That audit would be submitted to local school boards, which would be required to come up with a plan that chose one of three steps: closing the school, reconstituting its staff or creating a blueprint for "transformation." The state Board of Ed would then have the power of approving or rejecting that plan.
(As the feds envision it, turning the school into a charter would also be an option, something that the Board of Ed is not currently considering given local voters' repeated rejection of the idea.)
Lindquist says she likes the fact that local school boards, rather than the state, would be responsible for drafting the plan. Even so, she's wary of the possibility of school "takeovers" by the state, and has not committed to supporting the bill. "I would not say in any way it's a slam dunk," Ryan acknowledges.
If it passes, it still may not go far enough for the feds without a charter schools provision, opines Fred Jarrett, a longtime school reformer during his years in the Legislature, who has recently been named chief deputy for King County Executive Dow Constantine. "I think we have to fail before we reconsider our position [on charters]," he says. Ryan, however, points out charter schools win states only 40 points, out of a possible 500, in the Race to the Top evaluation system.
Forget the federal funds. Would the bill result in meaningful accountability? Note the vague language about "transformation." That's similar to rhetoric outlined in the No Child Left Behind act, which has proved to have more bark than bite. "It depends on how seriously it's taken," Ryan says, indicating that the Board of Ed intends to demand real change.