The Senate Republicans' K-12 Agenda
Republicans share many of our same goals for our students, teachers and schools – but there is a vast difference in the methods applied to achieve those goals. Senate Democrats have consistently favored a proactive approach of intervention and support, whereas the Republicans have consistently favored a reactive approach of remediation and punishment.
This difference can be seen in the Republicans’ key education proposals for the session:
- SB 5242 – Using the evaluation system results to determine assignments; requiring teachers to consent to new assignments or risk termination.
- Our view: This bill is coercive, punitive and unnecessary, and principals do not support it. If principals are using and implementing the evaluation system we passed into law in 2012, teachers with poor evaluations will be removed from the system if they do not improve. Also, beginning in 2015 – after the evaluation system has actually been implemented – the evaluation system must be used in assignment decisions.
- SB 5246 – Changing the teacher evaluation criteria so that student growth data represents half of the overall determination and seniority represents no more than a tenth.
- Our view: Democrats began developing a new evaluation system in 2010 with full implementation set for 2013 – tinkering with the new system before it is fully implemented is premature and unwarranted. Student growth data must already be a “substantial part” of the new evaluation process. Dictating an exact amount and continuing to change the system is universally opposed by education stakeholders.
- SB 5329 – Creating a new state school distinct for low-performing schools to be governed by charter.
- Our view: Our state has an accountability system that has worked exceptionally well when funded. Our low-performing schools that qualify for federal School Improvement Grants outperform schools in every other state in every category: math and reading in elementary, middle and high school. But this bill would skip this phase-one intervention and jump straight to a punitive, privatization phase.
- We disagree with this approach. We have a proposal, SB 5649, that would retain the intervention phase and fund it, and add a second phase that would link to the collaborative schools process, pairing struggling schools with colleges to help them improve rather than punish them.
- SB 5237 – Holding back 8- and 9-year-olds who do not meet the third grade reading standard.
- Our view: We agree with the goal of ensuring that every third-grader can read. But we disagree with the punitive Jeb Bush, cookie-cutter approach that hurts kids (and, disproportionately, children of color and those in poverty). We believe a proactive approach that helps kids is a much better one. Studies show that retention is a poor solution, and experience proves that supporting kids early with intervention is more effective and less costly than remediation.
- Sen. Andy Billig proposed an amendment to improve the bill by focusing on early intervention – which is far less costly for our system and for our children than punitive measures – and by dedicating $30 million to support these programs. Republicans rejected this amendment. They did improve the bill by including Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program enhancements, professional development for kindergarten through third grade teachers, and identification of interventions for students reading below level prior to grade three. But they only offered these improvements “subject to appropriation,” which means that unless they are included in the Republicans’ budget, they are just additional unfunded mandates.
- SB 5328 – Giving schools an A-F grade.
- Our view: Another punitive Jeb Bush, cookie-cutter idea, this is not real reform. Even the prime sponsor of the bill has said this this would use the existing achievement index developed by the State Board of Education, but would simply change the assessment terms (i.e. “needs improvement”, “on track”) to letter grades.
- But simplicity is not the same thing as transparency or accuracy. Before it developed the achievement index, the State Board reviewed this idea and specifically rejected it in favor of an approach tailored to Washington state. Research in Oklahoma (where this approach was tried) shows that giving schools a letter grade is neither transparent nor effective. We believe we should continue to work on our existing accountability system to ensure that it works and is understandable to parents.