Opinion

Back to school and back to quality education

Chris Korsmo
Island Forum

Back to school is a special time. One million children filled their backpacks with new books, nervous energy and optimism and boarded yellow buses to return to school. Some are all but guaranteed to end the school year far ahead of where they are now. Too many will be less fortunate, experiencing less opportunity for growth, or worse yet, stagnation.

This school year, we citizens have an opportunity to partner with educators, principals and policy makers to ensure that all of our kids are headed back to school and back to quality.

Every student is able to read by third grade. Every child deserves to arrive on their first day of kindergarten prepared to succeed. Unfortunately, over the past five years, pass rates on the fourth-grade reading WASL have declined. One of the most effective ways to get us back on track is to invest in high-quality early learning programs, such as Washington Head Start, and professional development for child care providers. As the Basic Education Finance Task Force redefines basic education, early learning must be included as one of the most promising avenues to impact student achievement from the very beginning.

An excellent teacher should be in every classroom. Every child deserves a quality education from kindergarten and beyond, and excellent teachers are profoundly important to this journey. But three in five students in Washington attend an underperforming school where they may not learn what they need. That is unacceptable. Fortunately, solutions are in the works. The Basic Education Finance Task Force will propose measures to professionalize the teaching profession, which is likely to include an evaluation system to reward and support great teaching. Additionally, the State Board of Education will propose a series of steps that aim to turn around schools that underperform year after year.

Every high school graduate is ready for college and work. Every child deserves to choose his or her path after high school. Unfortunately, not all high school students are given this choice in Washington. Only 41 percent of high school graduates meet college entrance requirements — and more than half of entering community college students take remedial classes that they should have mastered in high school. To help ensure that a high school diploma means college and work ready, the State Board of Education adopted CORE 24 as the new graduation requirement framework. CORE 24 aligns high school course work with college entrance requirements and workforce expectations. Before the board can implement these new requirements, we need to persuade the Legislature to fund more than just a five-period day.

The time for bold solutions is now.

The reform efforts mentioned above will be debated and decided during the upcoming 2008-09 school year. In this year of education, it is appropriate to assess not only student achievement, but citizen involvement.

Join us to change the world by changing our schools. We’re parents and community members who saw a need for a more independent voice and real results for all children. We’re dedicated to the idea that every one of our million school children deserves an excellent education, and we need you. Visit didyouknowcampaign.com to learn more about what you can do to make a difference for kids.

Chris Korsmo is Executive Director of the League of Education Voters Foundation, a statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging ordinary citizens, educators, policymakers and the media in the effort to provide a quality education for all students in Washington state.

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