Flexible & Transformative Approaches
Transforming Low-performing schools
While many Washington schools are performing well, there are some schools that are chronically underperforming. These schools consistently have lower numbers of students reading on grade level and higher drop-out rates. A growing body of evidence shows that successfully turning these schools around requires visionary school leaders who build “no excuses” cultures, transformative teaching staffs, and strong community engagement. By restricting leadership, state and district polices can unintentionally block efforts to improve. In other places, states have played a role in school improvements by intervening in low-performing schools and granting principals increased authority and flexibility in exchange for heightened accountability. Washington lacks explicit authority to intervene and our school improvement efforts have been less bold than in other states.
Do you support state intervention in chronically low-performing schools? Do you support empowering school leaders to manage improvement efforts with increased flexibility in hiring staff and in directing budget resources?
Leadership is such a critical component to the success of a school. Our kids deserve principals with strong leadership skills, a no-excuses approach to learning, and the compassion and wisdom to know what their students need most.
Paul Pastorek’s work in Louisiana’s turnaround showed the dynamic results that can be achieved when leadership skills are cultivated and taken seriously. We need a program focused on training motivated principals as “turnaround experts” and assigning them to improve schools that are chronically underperforming. These schools need a shakeup in their culture, something turnaround principals will be trained to provide while also training the educators with effective strategies for teaching at-risk and struggling students.
A no-excuses school culture means believing that every child can learn and be successful in an effective school with high quality teachers and principals. School leaders should be empowered to make decisions based on students’ needs, including the ability to control and allocate their resources to meet those needs. If they want to reward teachers to work overtime with struggling students or bring in more math and science teachers to fill gaps, they should be able to do so. Leaders should be given the opportunity to compete for the best, and this includes the ability to offer teachers raises when, for example, they face losing them to a higher paying job. We cannot handcuff our principals who are trying to create the best outcomes for their students.
We should also consider a new state law to allow intervention when 10% or more schools in a school district are failing. Elected school boards in these districts could be replaced by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the Governor, who will appoint a new school board. This type of intervention would help us achieve swift transformations.
I support the State intervening in chronically low-performing schools with bolstered support services, flexibility, mentoring, and new partnership abilities. I plan to target the chronically underperforming high schools by focusing resources on these high schools to help them reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020.
I want to expand our corps of dropout coaches, counselors, and community outreach personnel targeted at our most high-need school districts. These faculty members visit homes, speak multiple languages, re-engage struggling students and their families, and significantly increase chances of returning to school and earning their diploma.
I also plan to expand additional extra-curricular and after-school programs targeted at schools with the most at-risk youth. Whether it’s a science club, arts classes, or some athletic activity, these programs provide kids a safe place to go, additional learning opportunities, and a reason to stay engaged in school after the school day ends.
I’ve witnessed many successful schools and districts make great progress towards a 100% graduation rate and virtually eliminating the opportunity gap. What it most often comes down to is leadership at the top – from superintendents who know how to think creatively and be pro-active, to principals who foster more parent participation.
My goal is to take the best practices occurring in many pockets around the State and spread them throughout Washington.
Public Charter schools
Washington is one of the few states where the achievement gap is widening instead of closing. Last session, bills (HB 2428 and SB 6202) were proposed by Rep. Pettigrew and Sen. Tom that would have allowed for nonprofit public charter schools aimed at serving low-income and educationally underserved students. Studies have found that public charter schools’ performance is mixed overall, but the same studies found that charter schools are significantly better at serving low-income students and English language learners and that some public charter schools perform better than their regular public school counterparts.
Do you support allowing public charter schools that have a proven track record of success in other states to serve low-income and underserved students, as part of a strategy to close the achievement gap?
Washington is part of a small and shrinking group of states that do not allow public charter schools as one tool in the toolbox. While this is unfortunate, it has given us time to see which charter school models are the most successful and how that success can be replicated.
We can adopt models that have a proven track record of success, such as KIPP, Rocketship and Harlem Success Academy. Parents and children in chronically failing schools need alternative, high-performing options. Public charter schools can be learning labs for best practices that could be extended across all schools, and will improve the quality of public education for every student in the state.
I want to spread the best practices occurring in small pockets around the State all across Washington. Pasco High School increased its graduation rate from 55.6 percent in 2005 to 82.9 percent in 2010 through greater intervention by administrators and achievement specialists. Cascade High in Everett has gone from a 64.2 percent to an 88.2 percent on-time graduation rate over the past eight years. The Renton School District has virtually eliminated the achievement – or opportunity – gap in their middle schools in the past few years. Those are all examples of traditional public schools striving to meet the high expectations we have for all students simply by creating a culture of excellence from the top throughout their staff of educators.
The evidence clearly shows charter school performance has been mixed. Therefore, I believe our model of both encouraging and enabling innovative schools while retaining public accountability is the right way to move innovation forward in Washington.
I propose the expansion and support of more state innovative schools, collaborative schools, as well as more avenues of online learning. Innovative programs these schools support, such as the TAF Academy in the Federal Way school district, and Washington STEM in several schools around the state are proving that innovative, applied learning techniques can achieve great results within the current public education system.
These schools and districts are now the exception, but as governor, I will make them the norm.