WA Governor Gregoire’s Solution For Our Failing, Top-Down Managed Education System – More Top-Down Management

If you read the Education page on WA Governor Gregoire’s Website, I think you’ll come away with the impression that Governor Gregoire thoroughly understands today’s goals and challenges with our Education System. She should, for goodness sake! She’s a Teacher, herself, having earned her teaching certificate from UW.

Furthermore, I think you’ll find that Governor Gregoire’s stated Education Agenda makes good sense. And, since it’s based on the recommendations of a steering committee called Washington Learns, that seems to give it more credibility. Considering that Washington Learns is headed up by Governor Gregoire, one has to wonder whether the committee’s recommendations might be slanted to match up with Governor Gregoire’s views but, without looking into this further, I’ll consent to the legitimacy of this committee’s recommendations.

Where things don’t appear to be adding up is in real life – i.e. How is Washington’s Education System actually performing and how is management of our State’s present budget crisis impacting this? According to the American Legislative Counsel, Washington ranks 16th amongst our 50 States, with an overall grade of C+. I guess that doesn’t sound so bad, by comparison. However, when you look at specifics determining this ranking and see that, as an example, only 37% of Washington 4th Graders are reading at or above a Proficient level, while 63% are reading below that level, it’s pretty obvious that there is great room for improvement.

Although Washington Learns touts itself as “a diverse group of business, community, education, government and minority leaders”, Washington State appears to be continuing with a Top-Down Management approach that is about as far from being connected at the “community” level as you can get. It is, also, obviously failing. The primary reason that Washington ranks 16th, as compared to other States, with an overall grade of C+, is because most other States are being run in a similar Top-Down manner and those States are failing too. It’s probably, also, true that today’s Proficient Level is no place close to the higher proficiency required when I was in 4th grade, in 1956/1957.

Now added to “real-life”, with Washington’s Education System, is Washington State’s budget crisis. To bring this down to a more personal level, this means, that just in Vancouver Public Schools (VPS), in the present school year, Governor Gregoire’s budget (crisis) proposal will result in a nearly $3 million shortfall. Although VPS has already trimmed nearly $1.5 million through freezing hiring, limiting travel, etc. the primary options available to VPS for addressing the balance of this shortfall pretty much adds up to a Reduction In Force (RIF). Obviously, this will result in fewer Teachers working in our Education System. Do you think the percentage of Washington 4th graders who are at or above a Proficient Level will go up or down from its current 37%, as a result of a RIF? I think even those 4th graders who aren’t reading at a Proficient Level could answer this question.

So, what is Governor Gregoire proposing to meet the challenges of our failing Top-Down Managed Education System, now severely impacted by our State’s budget crisis? Gregoire’s proposal, as summarized in a Seattle PI article on this, is to “centralize authority for kindergarten through the university level in one giant department of education.” In other words, More Top-Down Management. “How could a woman who earned a teaching certificate from UW, who gives the impression that she thoroughly understands today’s goals and challenges with our Education System arrive at this conclusion?” you ask. The “real life” answer is that she’s worked in state government almost all the time since getting her JD from Gonzaga in 1977 and she’s held elected state office, as a Democrat, since 1993. In other words, Gregoire is a Big-Government-Democrat Career Politician.

I, on the other hand, am a Limited-Government-Republican who has spent almost all of my working life in the private sector. I believe that our communities (our businesses, our civic organizations, our places of worship and especially, our families) are what have made our nation great, not our government. And, I believe that the solutions to the current challenges our nation is facing can be found best in our communities. Thankfully, I’m far from being alone in this belief, as it applies to meeting the challenges faced by our Education System today. One of the best examples of this is StudentsFirst.org, the political advocacy organization founded by Michelle Rhee, the leading authority on education reform issues. A key foundational belief of StudentsFirst.org states: “Parent and family involvement is key to increased student achievement, but the entire community must be engaged in the effort to improve our schools.”

Generally, plans for the above-mentioned reform are aimed at moving authority away from Federal and State Departments of Education and placing more authority at the School District level. The plan I favor goes a step beyond this. Here’s an overview of that plan:

  • Eliminate Federal and State Departments of Education, as well as School Districts.
  • Leave in place or establish a State-wide organization, headed by an elected official. However, this organization should have minimal authority, minimal staffing, minimal hierarchy and minimal infrastructure. Its primary purpose is to serve as sort of a nucleus for a network of schools, operating as independent businesses. Legitimate roles for this organization would be along the lines of consolidated purchasing to leverage economies of scale – e.g. purchasing paper products, negotiating insurance coverage for all employees in the network, etc. Likewise, it would be legitimate for this organization to be supported through State taxes.
  • Establish schools in the above-mentioned network as independent businesses according to neighborhoods served by a respective High School – i.e. A High School serving a particular area plus the Junior High Schools, Middle Schools and Elementary Schools serving that same area. It may be desirable to include pre-K Education in this plan but Higher Ed should be managed separately. Otherwise, this plan is meant to cover K-12.
  • Each of the above-mentioned independent businesses would be managed by a Board comprised of the Principals of the respective schools, the most competent members of their school staff, the most competent parents of their school’s students and community members from businesses, civic organizations, places of worship, etc. Each Board would select a CEO who, along with the Board, would operate their business fairly autonomously. Their responsibility would include to determine the best way to get any remaining budget needed supplied by the community they serve and to operate according to a balanced budget.
  • Since present Union contracts are with organizations that are being eliminated, Union relationships with our Education System would be returned to Square One. I have to say that I’m particularly fond of this part of the plan. I come from a family of Blue-Collar Workers who were Union Members. I understand the legitimacy of Unions, as a safety net for workers. But today’s Unions, especially in the public sector, have gone way beyond their legitimacy. Union membership should be completely optional for workers. And, while it is legitimate for protecting workers to be a Union’s top priority, Unions representing Educators should also be able to easily provide evidence of how they benefit Students. I can’t imagine that today’s Unions can do that.

I know this plan may seem pretty drastic to some. It’s certainly not something that could or should be done overnight. But I’m convinced it’s the right direction to go. It’s become cliché to say that doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I don’t want to say anything unkind about Governor Gregoire and I do not think she’s insane but planning to fix our failing, Top-Down Managed Education System by applying more Top-Down Management just doesn’t make sense.

NOTE: Cross posted on Red County – http://is.gd/XSTxGy

NOTE: For a great example of an Educator who is getting the job done, in spite of our current Education System, check out:

“Train up a child in the way he should go …”

– The Story of an Exceptionally Good Teacher, Getting This Job Done – http://is.gd/fNDQJW