The Seattle Times Gets It Wrong

I was disappointed with today’s Seattle Times editorial; but it does offer the opportunity to clarify my position on the McCleary decision and class size initiative. To me, it seems that the Times based their endorsement on one question, “Will you vote for the class size initiative?” My answer is yes and it is surprising that they could extrapolate that I have no suggestions on how to proceed on school funding issues—I would have expected more from the Times in an endorsement decision.

Many people, and it seems that would include the Times, see things in a black and white manner, you are with us or against us, either you fit one box or another, you either want to spend or you want to cut. The Times sees a local teacher’s association leader is the same as the WEA. For the record, I have received no support from the WEA at this time. Having said that, I am proud of my record as a teacher and leader of the Enumclaw Education Association in working with our local administration to build a strong student centered collaborative relationship – this community would expect no less.

I would like to suggest that we step back and reframe the conversation over the funding issue. I do not see the class size initiative as separate from the McCleary decision—they address the same underlying problem that we are simply not doing our kids right when it comes to their education. The Times assertion that the class size initiative adds too costly a burden to the state beyond McCleary is wrong minded. Our state ranks at the bottom in terms of class size – that is a fact. The Supreme Court has asserted that we need to fully fund education and offer our kids a quality education – that is a fact. The voters want us to address the issues and be responsible and I believe we can do it if we look at what we spend and offer solutions that are cost effective and add efficiency to the system.

I would like to point out that we do not have an objective analysis of the cost of class size initiative. Perhaps billions that the Times talks about are the same billions that many detractors of the McCleary decision argue that will cost. The issue at hand is how we are allocating resources and how to focus our attention to realize savings and drive resources to the classroom. This is the essence of what the Supreme Court is demanding the Legislature do – and we can do it without “busting the budget.”

We all want to improve education and many seem to think that “Reforms” are magic bullets, this is short sighted. It is actually a distraction to the real issue of improving instruction in our classrooms. If we look at the entire system with a different focus, we can improve schools by being smarter with what we do spend our resources on. Here are a few examples:

Testing our kids every year just so we can assign them and their schools a number costs us millions in materials, technology and time. The tests are stressing our kids, schools and families out. Having benchmark tests is important; a reduction to every four years can give us the necessary data at a huge savings. Currently we test kids for a week and a half every year, and then add three to four weeks of test preparation on top of that. Multiply that time over eight years and we’ve just taken a full year’s worth of instruction away from every child from 3rd to 10th grade – at a cost of millions.

We can all agree that teacher evaluation systems need to improve, but the new TPEP system relies on unreliable measures and impractical expectations. Many districts have devoted so much of their principal’s attention to simply learn and apply a new and intense system and some have added additional administrators to accomplish all of the new requirements. The result is that it takes principals away from their job which should be observing classrooms, helping improve teacher’s instruction, and using the existing process to eliminate bad teachers. This has come at the cost of millions to local districts and it doesn’t have to. We don’t need to scrap the whole system, just look at how it is implemented and look to do it more efficiently to save resources in time and money.

Over the past twenty years we have implemented new state standards like ELARs and GLEs and tests like the WASL and MSP. The Gates Foundation created “Small Schools” eventually abandoning the effort because it didn’t work. If we recovered just a portion the millions we’ve spent on these “reforms” and put it towards smaller class size and improving instruction, we may not have had the McCleary case or the need to address the class size issue in the first place.

Let’s also look into national reform efforts which are only growing in the form of the Common Core. This will cost state and local resources for materials and technological upgrades that add up to hundreds of millions. For example, the smarter balanced consortium’s cost is currently $12 million annually. That’s just for the test; it does not include the computers required and the other curriculum being recommended by the Feds– not to mention that it is making my kids dislike school. Don’t take my word for it, ask your own kids.

 The bottom line is that we started reforming schools in 1993 with the shift to what we labeled, “Outcome Based Education.” The business community was demanding a stronger workforce coming out of our public schools—we all agreed that was important, but was the current situation the “outcome” they intended? I think we’ve missed their target by enriching the reformers at the cost of our kids. This profiteering on reform has gone national, and this is just the beginning unless we stand up and take charge of our own direction here at home.

I’d like to offer a voice to take the good parts of the reform without the cost. I’d like to offer a view of how things are working and not working in the classroom. Many of the ideas that are coming at us have merit; a good teacher is always looking for better and different ways to connect with kids. The point is a good teacher in a good system can implement changes without Olympia or Washington DC forcing us to overspend our scant local resources to do it.

Unlike the Times, I do not look at these issues as black and white; I want to provide some balance and moderation to the discussion. Reforms are needed but we shouldn’t buy costly federal and state mandated systems as the only way to accomplish it. We can provide a meaningful system of evaluation and addressing teachers that are underperforming by allowing our principals to do their jobs and cut costs doing it. We can stop spending millions on a new set of standards every couple of years. We can also use savings within the system to address the fact that our class sizes are almost the worst in the country.

I’d like to offer a middle ground when it comes to how we fund our schools and it’s going to take more than a simple black and white position on one or two issues—it’s going to take hard work and smart choices and perhaps some conflict. The Times says that I’m conflicted—I guess that’s the only thing I’d agree with them on.

Welcome!

Dear Neighbor,

I am excited to announce my campaign for State Representative from the 31st District.

I decided to  run because too many of the challenges I’ve seen in local government and as a teacher come from the partisanship and bickering in Olympia. I decided to run because like so many of you I’m frustrated by the gridlock in our state capital.

The Supreme Court has made it clear we aren’t making our public schools a priority.  Our kid’s futures are too important to sit on the sidelines and hope that things will improve.  I believe that it’s important to bring a teacher’s perspective to the table and work to make our schools better.

I’m excited to step up and confront the issue that we face in our classrooms and communities.  In my work as a teacher and in local government it’s time to bring a fresh common sense approach to Olympia.  It’s time to cooperate and work together to improve our future.

I’ve included on this website my stance on issues and my contact information. Please get a hold of me at anytime to talk through how we can best solve the challenges facing our economy, our schools and our community.

Thanks,

Mike Sando