GREGOIRE VS ROSSI (EDUCATION)
by Harvard West
Neither Governor Gregoire, nor former State Senator Rossi can really claim to be champions of public schools or higher education. Gregoire’s base is rooted in environmental issues, while Rossi is a big-business Republican who is fond of reminding voters that taxes are too high. Nonetheless, both are aware that education is an issue, and both are doing their best to convince the public that they in fact represent the number one choice for Washington’s Schools.
Washington State Republicans are fond of telling voters that “the Republicans in Washington State are different from the Republicans in Washington DC.” Generally speaking it’s their hopeless cliché for consideration from an electorate that has faithfully voted overwhelmingly Democrat from 1984 onward and has been totally turned off by the actions of the Bush Administration. Nonetheless, the mantra is somewhat accurate. Republicans in Washington State are in fact “different” from Republicans in Washington DC (though they still campaign and vote for their DC counterparts). For one, they are much-more issue focused.
Dino Rossi is a perfect example of a genuine “compassionate conservative.” Yes, I can say that now without stifling a smirk because the fact of the matter is that – unlike Senator McCain – Dino Rossi is aware of the real issues, including education. How do I know all this: because he took the time to bullet-point his website.
So what does Rossi support?
MAKING EDUCATION OUR PARAMOUNT DUTY
Rossi is of the opinion that Democratic Olympia has failed to adequately fund public education, thus placing an undue burden on middle-class homeowners who have been forced to shore up their local school districts via levies and bonds. Quoting the State Constitution, Rossi vows to make education the State’s “paramount duty.”
Rossi further goes on to say: “As governor, I will make funding education one of my top priorities” confusing the reader who is thus forced to uncover the unspoken multiplicity inherent in Rossi’s use of the term “paramount.” What if one of Rossi’s other “top priorities” – say, cutting taxes – comes into conflict with funding public schools? Which priority do you think he will honor?
TEACHING A FULL SCHOOL YEAR
“One-third of our public school students are in districts that do not teach a full 180-day school year. I will change that.”…..WOW! Very articulate Dino. Obviously your daddy wasn’t an English teacher because the grammatical structure of your “plan” is so ambiguous even Senator Obama wouldn’t dare use it.
So you’re going to shore-up a third of the State’s school districts without raising State revenue or hurling us into debt….ok, I’m on board!
REWARDING SUCCESSFUL TEACHERS
Rossi wants to reward “successful” teachers with higher pay. He is thus recommending a “pay-for-performance” model for Washington’s schools, which naturally assumes that there will be carrots for “successful” teachers accompany sticks for others. My biggest concern here is that how one measures success is a relative thing.
At present there is an undeniable corporate culture creeping into public education that seeks to compare grades and standardized test scores to profits in order to run public schools more like businesses. These influences argue that at present schools have no incentive to succeed – AKA deliver high test scores – so there must be some sort of gain or “profit” to improve public education.
Personally I have never seen this approach successfully implemented in any state where it has been tried (by both Republican and Democratic administrations) and I disapprove of any effort to establish a universal standard by which students should be evaluated. I can only assume that Dino intends to implement some sort of standardized test to separate the “wheat from the chaff” in our public schools, and that our “successful teachers” will thus focus on getting students ready for said test, which is the same problem school districts are already struggling with around the State.
Furthermore, I would just like to add that higher grades are not necessarily a sign of academic achievement. If only we could measure the percentage of students who leave public school with a sense of purpose and direction, with the confidence to succeed in the real-world, perhaps then we could more accurately evaluate the performance of our local school systems. But instead, we chose to focus on grades – knowing full well that many successful members of society are too often the B and C students: not the As.
FOCUSING ON MATH AND SCIENE
Dino argues that our current school system doesn’t provide students with the resources they need to succeed in math and science. He also states that the current establishment does not “give school districts the flexibility to pay qualified math and science teachers higher salaries.”
I’m not 100% sure what Rossi is suggesting here. In many ways, this bullet-point sounds like an extension of prior statements he’s made about the need to single out and reward “qualified teachers.” On the other hand, what Rossi might be suggesting is that we should pay one scholastic discipline higher than another, which I would fully support, as it is difficult to persuade the best math and science students to forsake a lucrative career in – say engineering – to become teachers instead.
On the whole, however, his statements remains too vague to evaluate.
LETTING TALENTED PEOPLE TEACH
“Did you know that Bill Gates is not qualified to teach computer science in our schools under current regulations? We must make it easier to allow talented people to teach part-time by changing the rules of accreditation.”
I don’t pretend to know much about teacher accreditation in Washington State, but I just feel the need to ask: what makes Bill Gates qualified to teach anything? I don’t deny that he is fabulously talented and incredibly successful, but how does his financial success suggest that he is capable of communicating his skills to young people – many of whom struggle with learning disabilities like dyslexia and ADHD, while even more come from single-parent families that lack either the emotional or financial support to provide their students with the kind of encouragement they need to thrive in the classroom?
The modern educator ultimately serves a higher role than a mere “instructor.” Often they are all but surrogate parents charged with everything from educating young minds about sensitive subjects like sex and drugs, to settling playground disputes, to comforting fragile hearts that struggle to overcome traumatic disappointments on a daily basis.
Teaching is a commitment that entails constant sacrifice, in every sense of the word. Each year, Washington’s high-school educators write scores of reference letters to students applying to colleges and universities like Harvard, Yale and Stanford, knowing full well that they will never be able to send their own children to such schools because they made the sacrifice of accepting a teacher’s salary. Most teachers who spend four-years or more in a school district end up caring so much for their students that they find themselves compromising their time parenting their own children. And even with the media broadcasting a perpetual slew of school violence across the country, teachers do not even think of coming late to class.
Is Rossi really suggesting that Bill Gates is prepared to just walk into all that without serious training and accreditation? Does he really believe that knowledge of subject is all that is necessary for someone to be a teacher? Anyone who witnessed their parents’ lecture on Career Day should know better than that. I didn’t even bother to pay my own father any attention when he attempted to describe his position as an “electrical engineer” to my third grade class.
Furthermore, why does someone with so much wealth need the government to assist him by removing barriers like those aforementioned? If Bill Gates truly wants to teach computer science in our schools, then he can earn a teaching certificate just like everyone else.
Rossi supports testing “to make sure that every graduate from high school is competent in reading, writing and math” but believes we “need to reform the WASL as the measuring tool for student performance.” VAGUE – VAGUE – VAGUE. Will anyone just come out and say “the WASL must die!”
DEMANDING SUCCESS FROM OUR SCHOOLS
Rossi supports using testing to “judge the system – not just the students. And failure must be dealt with accordingly.” Could Rossi be suggesting mass executions for teachers who fail to produce results? Perhaps, but it’s more likely that he’s proposing some pseudo No-Child-Left-Behind bill at the State Level.
“When we see consistent failure, I want to make it easier for local school districts to encourage failing teachers to find another profession. When a school or school district consistently fails, I want to empower principals and communities to be able to select better teachers and new school board members.” At least we can appreciate the latter, given the hell we in Tacoma went through during last year’s superintendant fiasco.
CREATING ALTERNATIVES FOR STUDENTS
Rossi supports alternatives for students who struggle to succeed on the WASL…..As I said, Rossi does have a compassionate side.
ROSSI AND THE WEA.
Recently Rossi has become the unwarranted target of a WEA (Washington Education Association) smear campaign, which in my opinion has tarnished that fine organization’s image. There’s no need to play such games, we should be able to defeat opponents without dumping such trash.
Nonetheless, I am tickled by his retort to a WEA accusation, in which he braggs about the fact that new teachers in Washington State earn $30,000 their first year in the classroom. That’s $30K BEFORE taxes. I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I already earn more than that and: I only have a BA, I’m not accredited in anything, I’ve only been out of school for five months and we’re in the middle of a national recession. Rossi, if I were you I would not be going on YouTube bragging about teacher’s salaries.
If you’d like to hear Rossi not talk more about improving public education. Click on the link below.
Respectively, I have to say that Governor Gregoire’s campaign website is insulting. Rossi’s criticism is warranted: Gregoire is failing to engage in a discussing about anything this election cycle, preferring instead to sit on a record of largely indirect achievements.
More detailed info, however, can be found on the Governor’s public website.
Since Gregoire didn’t bother to outline her educational priorities, I will – as usual – assume the burden of summarizing:
EDUCATION AS A DOMESTIC INVESTMENT
(SUMMARY) Washington needs the most skilled and educated workforce in the world so that domestic business will no longer need to buy-brains-abroad. To achieve this, we must strengthen our math and science programs.
Right, like trade barriers don’t matter. Is Gregoire honestly saying that our students are intellectually inferior to anyone else’s? Or is she just using test-scores to justify globalization as a search for higher quality, rather than profits?
After all, when the USSR fired Sputnick into the air they proved their intellectual superiority in the maths and sciences. But Russia’s ability to hurl projectiles into orbit did not translate into a superior economy. Personally I would rather go back to being “dumb” and well paid, than “educated” and “uncompetitive” in the global economy.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor worker productivity in this country is at an all time high, and over a decade ago we were hearing about how American’s receive less vacation time than any of our industrial competitors. Yet our jobs muscle jobs continue to migrate South, while our mental labor moves East.
Honestly, what incentive does a student have to strive to excel in math if his future employer decides to save 80% on employee salaries by outsourcing his job to India or China? There’s a reason Business is the most popular major in college – overall it has the highest return on a student’s scholastic investment. And that’s precisely what they are looking for after having shelled out 10-100K over the past 4 or 5 years: a serious return with healthcare.
Of course, no single party or individual is to blame for all this, but personally I cannot understand how Gregoire can hope to campaign on keeping jobs here just two years after she hosted Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao before the PRC executive even made his way to the White House to speak with President Bush. Plus she’s been courting Asia’s business interests throughout her entire administration. Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama in one term, talk about “working across the aisle.”
EXPANDING HIGHER EDUCATION
“Today, a high school diploma is essential, but it is not sufficient for most good-paying jobs. In order to compete, more of our students must have access to higher education. We need to make sure that there is enough room in our colleges and universities and that the quality and relevance of programs is the best available.”
Ok, but why not take advantage of this surge in collegiate growth by supporting more alternative learning programs that allow students to learn online from home. Many Community Colleges already allow this to one degree or another, but “attendance” remains a universal pre-requisite. Why not encourage our major university’s to have a small percentage of their professors lecture online, and require attendance only on days where exams are taken? This would dramatically lower commuting costs to students, and heating/air-conditioning expenses for universities (one of several popular excuses for rising tuition costs).
Also, can we talk about making higher education more accessible to students without merely expanding their access to debt? Why can’t public colleges and universities guarantee a tuition freeze for students entering their freshman year that will not increase – assuming they graduate in four-years. This would allow students to more effectively budget for their collegiate experience, instead of taking out new loans following unexpected rate increases.
Finally, if we can’t convince our public schools to boycott hard-covered textbooks (which always cost twice as much as soft-covered) can we not at least expand students’ access to textbooks through our public library system or through some sort of publically funded interlibrary loan system that would specialize in textbook lending. (This is already partially a part of the academic infrastructure, but it could be dramatically expanded and save students between $400 – $1600 every year in material costs alone.)
“To build the best education system in the world, Governor Gregoire created Washington Learns, an 18-month comprehensive study to examine our state’s schools and recommend ways to improve it. Washington Learns will finish its work and present its final recommendations in November 2006.”
Actually, Gregoire didn’t “create” Washington Learns. She was appointed co-chair of a committee that was established by the Legislature in 2005 when then newly elected Democratic hell-raiser, Senator Brian Weinstien, introduced SB5441, calling for a general investigation into the state of our public school systems for the greater purpose of measuring our students competitive edge in a global economy. Most of the Republican Party voted against the bill.
Washington Learns has resulted in several important successes for our state’s pubic school system. More college scholarships were established, a cabinet level Department of Early Learning was created and more mentoring programs were introduced. The most revolutionary idea was a push for all-day kindergarten – a concept I still struggle with as it both confirms and distorts my personal pedagogical ideology.
THRIVE BY FIVE
“Governor Gregoire’s leadership was instrumental in creating an innovative new public-private partnership, Thrive By Five – The Washington Early Learning Fund. Thrive By Five brings together private, philanthropic and public sector leaders to support and invest in early learning. The new Department of Early Learning, as an active partner in Thrive By Five, will work with corporations, charitable foundations and other leaders to support parents and improve the quality of early learning.”
Like Senator Obama, Governor Gregoire believes that the key to getting underprivileged children into a higher ed. program rests in their ability to excel in the classroom and earn scholarships. Thrive by Five is literally about preparing students to compete in a global economy by focusing on a student’s most primordial development. They encourage education from birth, particularly early-reading programs.
On the whole, Thrive-By-Five is a good program, but it’s rooted in the naïve ideology of the free-traders who site Asia’s emphasis on early learning as the cause of their economic success. Also, it is not enough to invest in early learning, as such instruction offers no guarantees for students who develop at different rates. Both my parents graduated from Ivy League intuitions and were able to provide me with lots of intellectual opportunities, even as an infant. My father was even a professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering at Oregon State: yet I could not read until 3rd grade, and only after receiving private instruction.
KINDERGARTEN THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL
“Students today benefit from smaller class sizes and experienced teachers who received a well-earned cost of living increase, thanks to Governor Gregoire’s commitment to fully fund two initiatives overwhelming passed by the voters. We owe our students the tools they need to succeed and excel. Governor Gregoire led an effort to invest more than $28 million in additional tutoring for students who need help to graduate on time. Running Start lets college-bound students earn college credit and make their high school education really count. Governor Gregoire supports this program and she championed Running Start for the Trades, a new pre-apprenticeship program for high school students who want their high school education to set them on a path toward a family-wage job in the trades.”
These are Gregoire’s strongest selling points on education. Gold-Stars and Smiley Faces galore. See Gregoire on Education
“Governor Gregoire understands how hard it is for families to afford higher education and has focused on expanding access to colleges and universities for working families. She helped increase financial aid by $26.9 million, expand grant eligibility for working families, create enrollment slots for 7,900 new students and create four-year programs in Tacoma, Vancouver, Bothell and the Tri-Cities.”
Again, Gregoire has over-stepped her bounds. Yes, she supported the development of four-year programs in Tacoma, Vancouver, Bothell and the Tri-Cities – but many of those project were long underway before she was even governor.
Again, I am troubled by politicians who speak of “expanding access to college and universities” by increasing financial aid and not also tackling unnecessary collegiate expenses and scams.
MOVING WASHINGTON FORWARD
“Governor Gregoire knows that education is important in every job and she is committed to moving Washington’s education system forward. If we invest in the best education in order to prepare students for the future, everyone benefits.”
VAGUE VAGUE VAGUE !!!
SO WHO TO ENDORSE?
As this analysis suggests, neither candidate fully represents my personal pedagogical perspective but, the incumbent Governor Chris Gregoire has a proven track-record of keeping her commitments to public education. Under her administration: funding has not been seriously compromised for K-12 programs, Early Education has increased in importance, The Simple Majority 5440 campaign successfully passed by initiative, and UW remains one of the best bargains in higher education.
Gregoire is hardly committed to revolutionizing public education, but she has honored her most important financial commitments to our public schools.
Rossi pedagogical platform is rooted almost exclusively in the funding of public schools, while Gregoire makes a point to discuss improving the experience of the classroom itself.
She is therefore my choice for governor in 2008.