Sierra Olivero, 13 year old middle school student who took the NY 2013 Common Core test.
“The current culture of testing with there being only one right answer, when in the real world there could be multiple right answers, is not beneficial to anyone going through this poorly put-together system. It teaches us to think inside the box and not out of it, which in no way assists in building a young generation of creative and innovative students. Instead, it creates an exclusive hierarchical system where some students can exceed and others cannot.”
Ken Eubanks “A High Schooler's Opinion on the American Education System” July 17 2015
In spring 2015, more than 62,000 parents in Washington State opted their students out of the new Common Core SBAC math test – a test that failed 71% of all high school students in Washington state – despite the fact that students in Washington state are among the highest scoring students in the nation and in the world on national and international math tests! This was not only the largest high stakes test protest in the history of Washington state – it was the largest high stakes test protest in the history of our nation. Nearly 10% of the students in Washington state failed to take the SBAC test – twice the rate of any other state. In addition, thousands of teachers in dozens of school districts in Washington state staged rolling walkouts in part to protest the excessive use of high stakes high failure rate tests to label and harm students. In addition, rank and file members of both the Washington State Republican and Democratic Parties passed Resolutions by overwhelming margins opposing Common Core and the Common Core SBAC test.
Students, parents and teachers are sending a clear message to state legislators that they are opposed to the latest high stakes testing craze. The question is what should our state use instead to assess students, teachers and schools? In this article, we will describe an alternative to current high stakes high failure rate bubble tests like the SBAC test. We will look at a holistic and authentic assessment system that takes into account a range of important factors affecting a child's educational development.
Surface Symptoms versus Hidden Causes
One of the first steps in problem solving is to identify the underlying causes of the problem. Unfortunately, there is a natural tendency to only look at the surface symptoms of problems rather than taking the time to examine the more hidden causes of complex problems. The failure to fully analyze the root causes of problems leads to a series of “band-aid” simplistic solutions – none of which are even remotely capable of solving the real underlying problems.
This tendency to promote simplistic “magic bullet” cures is especially prevalent among education reformers claiming to have the cure for improving our public schools. One of the favorite weapons of these reformers is the ever increasing reliance on high stakes testing to evaluate students, teachers and schools. Rather than accepting each child as a unique human being, millions of tax payer dollars have been wasted in an ill-advised attempt to reduce the achievement of every child to a single number based on unfair and unreliable high stakes tests. Millions of additional dollars have been wasted trying to assign a single number to every teacher – based on the same unreliable test scores. Thousands of public schools have been closed based on these same unreliable high stakes test scores – severely harming students and entire communities. In place of these community based public schools, under the direction of a locally elected school board, we have seen the rise of for-profit “charter” schools run by greedy Wall Street consultants. These new for-profit schools are promoted to parents using slick marketing campaigns. But they are little more than fraud factories utterly lacking in accountability to students, parents or the tax payers – wasting literally billions of tax payer dollars in the United States and destroying the lives of millions of students.
Those who promote unreliable high stakes tests ask how else can we assess students, teachers and schools except by using high stakes tests? It is strange that reformers demand accountability of students, teachers and schools, but do not demand accountability of test makers and the for-profit schools replacing our public schools. Nevertheless, to answer their question, in this article we will explain what a fairer and more authentic holistic assessment system might look like.
A Brief History of the High Stakes Test Craze in the United States
While individual states including Washington began experimenting with high stakes testing in the 1990s, high stakes testing as a national policy began with the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on January 8 2002. Required national testing to get federal funding began in the 2002-2003 school year. The promise was that the test scores of all children would double such that all children would be raised to A or B performance (also known as Proficient) by the 2014 school year. Whereas a grade of C had been a passing grade, under NCLB only A and B performance would be acceptable – something that had never happened in the history of the world. But instead of raising the scores of all children up to As and Bs, what the impossible to achieve misleading “proficiency” standard of NCLB really did by 2014 was lead to the closing of thousands of schools, disrupting thousands of mostly low income communities, replacing thousands of experienced teachers with inexperienced “Teach for America” fake teachers and declaring nearly every school district and school in the nation a “failure” by 2014.
On July 29 2009, NCLB was replaced by an even worse policy called Race To The Top (RTTT). The promoter of RTTT, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, announced that $4.35 billion in tax payer funds would be used to bribe states into signing up for national high stakes high failure rate Common Core tests called SBAC and PARCC. These new high stakes tests were administered nationally for the first time in the Spring of 2015. In the state of Washington, the passage rate fell from 60% on the prior MSP state math test to only 29% on the SBAC national math test. The absurdity of this result is that students in Washington state are among the highest scoring students in the nation and in the world on national and international math tests!
The SBAC and PARCC tests claim that they can predict which students are “college ready.” However, this is nothing more than a misleading marketing slogan. No high stakes test has ever been able to predict college readiness. Instead, the best predictor of college readiness is actual day to day course work as confirmed by a students cumulative high school grade point average. Here is a chart comparing the ability of student grades to predict college graduation versus the ability of the SAT College Entrance test to predict college graduation (based on a 2007 study of more than 81,000 students entering the University of California).
As a consequence of legislators realizing that SBAC and PARCC have no real value, Race to the Top has been an utter failure. Of the 45 states who originally signed up for SBAC and PARCC, only 22 states remain – with more states deserting this sinking ship every month.
In July 2015, due to the revolt against NCLB and RTTT in many states, the US Senate passed a bill called Every Child Achieves Act (ECEA) to replace NCLB and RTTT with a more flexible policy. Also in July, Congress passed the Student Success Act. Both bills return control over assessments to each state and prohibit the federal government from denying funds to states based on the assessment policies of the state. While there are differences between the two bills, the final bill will give each state, including Washington, the ability to adopt a wiser test policy.
A Decade of High Stakes Testing Failed to Improve Test Scores
Before we look at the components of a wiser educational assessment policy, let's first look at the result of more than a decade of what No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top, Test Til You Drop has done to our kids and our schools. We will start with Washington state math scores:
You can see from the graph that Washington state students have always scored above the national average on the national math test called NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). In fact, in 2009, Washington state was second in the nation on the NAEP math test. Meanwhile, our state's high stakes math tests have been so poorly designed that they have no relationship to student actual performance on national or international tests. The worst of our state mandated math tests is the newest test called the SBAC math test which was so badly written that only 29% of high school students were able to pass the test in the spring of 2015.
Compare the huge decline on the SBAC test to the gradually rise scores on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Math test since 1992:
While US student math scores have been going up since the early 1990s, the scores have leveled off since 2011. Thus, students subjected to an entire school career of NCLB Drill and Kill testing are making no progress at all. In fact, the 11th grade NAEP math average score has not changed at all. It was 305 in 1992 and 306 in 2012.
Here is how the US is doing on an international math test called PISA compared to Finland, whose educational system and students are among the highest performing in the world:
Note that students from wealthy families in the US do almost as well as students from wealthy families in Finland. But students from poor families in the US do much worse than students from poor families in Finland. Also note that test scores of US students on international tests have not changed much since NCLB Testing Hysteria began in 2002. The only thing that has changed since 2002 is the huge increase in the amount of time American students spend getting ready for high stakes tests and the amount of money US tax payers pay private for profit testing companies to administer these pointless tests. In short, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top were both a complete waste of billions of tax payer dollars. The only good news is that passage of the new Every Child Achieves Act will give each state the opportunity to move away from these destructive high stakes tests and create our own educational assessment system based on actual child development research.
Finland as an Example of Holistic Authentic Educational Assessment System
Now let's turn to what we should do instead of high stakes common core testing. Those who promote unreliable high stakes tests ask how else can we assess students, teachers and schools except by using high stakes tests? One way to determine what an authentic and successful assessment system might look like is to examine the educational and assessment systems in other nations. Studying the educational systems in many other nations leads to the conclusion that Finland has the most effective and successful educational and assessment system in the world. Not only do Finland students score among the highest in the world on international tests, but more important from a holistic standpoint, Finland students and Finland citizens are among the happiest and most successful people in the world. A recent report by the United Nations based on Gallop World polling data indicates that Finland is one of the six most happy nations on earth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Happiness_Report
Many of these same happy nations are among the nations that spend the most on Education:
Denmark spends the most of any nation on Education at nearly 8% of GDP. Finland actually spends the least of any Scandinavian nation at just over 6.4% of GDP. The United States as a whole spends 5.5% of GDP (which is also about 5% of income). Washington state spends much less than the US national average at 4.5% of GDP which is about 4% of income. This is why Washington state has among the highest class sizes in the United States at nearly 30 students per class while Finland has some of the lowest class sizes in the world at 20 students per class.
As a result of smaller class sizes, which allow struggling students to get the help they need to succeed, Finland also has one of the highest graduation rates in the world at 95%. By contrast, the graduation rate in Washington state and in the United States is only about 75%. Finland also has one of the most successful economies in the world and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. We will therefore take a closer look at the economic, educational and assessment systems in Finland and discuss how such an assessment system might be adopted here in Washington state and in other states in the United States.
Comparing the Poverty Rate in the US to Finland
Due to the different values of different currencies and the difference in cost of living in different countries, there are many different ways to determine child poverty. But regardless of the method used, the United States comes in near the worst of all developed countries in the world in terms of child poverty. Below are the poverty rates of Finland and the US using the United Nations UNICEF definition for poverty:
Because the official policy in the US since 1980 has been to focus on deregulation and “drill and kill” testing, rather than creating good paying jobs to reduce poverty, the poverty rate is increasing faster in the US than in any developed country in the world. In November 2012, the US Census Bureau said more than 20% of American children lived in poverty up from 18% in 2009. Meanwhile, the poverty rate in Finland is only 7%. A major reason students in Finland do so well in school is because their parents are also doing well at home.
Here in Washington State, the childhood poverty rate, as measured by the percent of students receiving free and reduced price lunch, has skyrocketed over the past 15 years. In 2000, only one in three students were in this category. Today, according to the OSPI State Report Card, nearly half of all Washington state students are living at or near the poverty level.
How Does Finland Compare to Washington State?
Finland has a slightly smaller population than Washington state – with just under 6 million people versus Washington state at more than 7 million people. The number of students in each grade, also called the Grade Cohort, in Finland is also slightly less than in Washington state. Finland has about 60,000 students in each grade whereas Washington has about 80,000 students in each grade. Since Washington state students score above the US national average, it is likely that students in our state from wealthy families and wealthy school districts are already comparable to students in Finland. So the purpose of reforming our assessment and educational system to be more like Finland is to improve the academic outcomes for students from lower income families in Washington state.
How is the school system in Washington state different from Finland?
I want to be clear that I am not proposing to change the entire school program in Washington state to the Finnish educational model. There are some areas where research supports the current Washington state educational model. For example, In Washington state, students begin school at age 5 with half day Kindergarten which is supposed to change to full day Kindergarten in the next couple of years (even though the state legislature has yet to provide the funding needed to build classrooms to allow for full day kindergarten). By contrast, students in Finland do not start school until age 6. So Finland students receive about one less year of formal education than students in Washington state. Child development research does support full day Kindergarten starting at age 5.
Another difference is that most but not all schools in Washington are divided into elementary schools with Grades K through 5 followed by Middle Schools with Grades 6 through 8 and then 4 year comprehensive high schools for Grades 9 through 12. This three stage model is closely aligned with research on the three stages of child development. However, most but not all schools in Finland are divided into primary school with Grades 1 through 10 followed by three year secondary schools for grades 10 through 12. This two stage model with only three years of what we consider high school is not as well supported by research.
However, Finland does something very interesting with their high schools in that they have two different kinds of high schools. These are technical-vocational high schools for students who want to pursue a trade and general high schools for students who want to pursue an advanced degree in college. About half of all students in Finland elect to go to a General Secondary School and half elect to go to a Vocational Secondary School. Only 5% of all students fail to continue their education past Grade 10. Even more remarkable, after completing 3 years of secondary school, nearly all students in Finland continue for 3 to 4 more years of free education with about half attending Universities for Advanced Degrees and half attending Vocational Colleges for Special Training Certificates associated with Apprenticeship programs.
Many Washington high schools also offer a dual track program – with a more advanced series of courses for students wanting to go on to college. Washington also has a few vocational-technical colleges. However, Washington does not offer many vocational-technical high schools. It is important to understand that Finland does not force students to remain in any particular track. Any student attending a vocational school can change to a general high school and any general high school student can change to a vocational high school. In addition, students from vocational high schools can attend academic colleges and students from general high schools can attend vocational colleges. There are some assessment requirements that have to be met. But these are entrance requirements designed by and for each educational program – they are not general entrance exams which are unrelated to the educational programs.
Below is a diagrams of the Educational System in Washington State.
Perhaps the most shocking fact about the Washington Education and Assessment system is that nearly half of all young adults in our state ages 18 to 25 cannot find a good paying full time job after graduating from high school or college. Compare this to the Educational and Assessment System in Finland where over 90% of all students are given a path to a good paying full time job.
While young children in Finland do not have a Kindergarten program, they do have optional Free Daycare for parents who work. They also have a full year of Paid Parental Leave so mothers can stay home and form a secure bond with their child during the child's crucial first year of life. Since nearly all parents work, only 5% of children in Finland live in poverty. Once in school, not only do children enjoy the benefits of small class sizes, but any struggling students are given the option of free before school or after school tutoring. For the remaining students, homework is discouraged and limited to no more than 30 minutes per school night! This allows students to spend more time with their friends and family building relationships and pursuing other interests.
Authentic Assessments in Finland versus Worthless Stressful Tests in Washington
Finland does not use mandatory high stakes tests as we do in the United States. This has led some people to claim that Finland does not do anything to assess their students. This is not correct. Finland assesses all students on an annual basis. It is just that Finland uses holistic and authentic formative and summative assessment methods rather than a single test score from a bubble test. These “real” assessments are more useful for students, teachers and parents. While Washington state spends hundreds of millions of dollars on worthless high stress high stakes tests that have no academic value for students, Finland spends money hiring more teachers to lower class sizes and then trusts the teachers to provide students with diagnostic assessments to identify academic areas where a student needs improvement. These formative assessments occur throughout the school. There is also a “summative” assessment at the end of the school year. But even these summative assessments rely on student performance with assignments and projects rather than scores on tests. The goal is to aid student learning rather than to rank, label and punish students. In addition, ranking with grades is avoided because students are encouraged to cooperate with other students rather than compete with them. Social and emotional development are as high on the list of priorities as academic development.
Finally, teachers and students in Finland are given a great deal of freedom including freedom to teach, freedom to learn and freedom of thought. Teachers and students are treated with trust, respect and dignity. All teachers in Finland have Master's Degrees and are allowed to choose their own course books and write their own lesson plans. The latest version of Finland's Basic Education Act, passed in 2004, is only 22 pages long. It includes a list of general topics that must be covered in each grade. But there is no attempt to control the instruction of every minute or every class during every day as is done in the United States with the thousands of “Common Core” standards and thousands of pages of state and federal education related regulations.
Wall Street Consultants versus Teachers and Child Development Specialists
The Common Core standards were written in secret by a couple of Wall Street Consultants, David Coleman and Jason Zimba. The Common Core tests, called PARCC and SBAC, were developed in secret by awarding million dollar contracts to for-profit corporations such as Pearson. The resulting Common Core tests are so secret that parents and teachers are not even allowed to see the test questions given to their students. By contrast, the only high stakes exam administered to students in Finland, which is really an optional college entrance exam, is developed by a public committee of teachers and university professors.
For example, the entire 2014 Finish Math Test, released to the public and available online (in Finish) at the following link consisted of 15 math problems of which each student was free to pick the 10 problems they liked best to solve and demonstrate their competency in math.
Students use a paper and pencil to solve these ten math problems. Teachers at their local school then grade the student answers and assign students an initial score to give students immediate feedback on how they did. Students also complete tests in several other subjects. The assessments are then forwarded to the State Assessment Committee who review all test scores for accuracy and issue a certificate to each student which qualifies the student for entrance into the Finland University system. Students who fail the exam are allowed to repeat it. Even students who pass the exam are allowed to take it again to improve their scores. Students who want to enter the Vocational Colleges instead of the Universities do not need to take the exam at all. Instead, they take specialized entrance exams designed and administered by the Vocational Colleges. The passage rate on all of these exams is more than 90%!
The Choice We Face... Assess and Assist versus Test, Rank, Label, Punish and Control
If we truly want to help struggling students, instead of a toxic testing system based on ranking, punishing and controlling teachers and students, we should use a diagnostic assessment system that identifies areas where students need improvement and provides teachers with the resources they need to assist struggling students in a timely manner. Instead of an expensive and time consuming testing system aligned with Common Core standards, we need a holistic and authentic assessment system that is aligned with Child Development research. Instead of a high failure rate SBAC testing system developed in secret by Wall Street consultants, we need a high success rate assessment system developed in the open by teachers and child development specialists. Most of all, instead of trusting for profit corporations to run our schools, we need to return to trusting and respecting teachers as the real experts in the design and implementation of a program of educational excellence for all students.
15 Point Plan to Insure Success for Students in Washington State
Such an authentic assessment system, to be successful, requires numerous additional investments in our education system in Washington State. Here is a 15 Point Plan that will create an authentic assessment system similar to the Education system in Finland.
#1 Hire at least 20,000 additional teachers
We cannot have among the best performing schools in the United States or the world with the highest class sizes in the nation as high class sizes prevent struggling students from getting the help they need to succeed. It would require hiring at least 10,000 additional teachers just to lower class sizes in our state down to the US national average and hiring another 10,000 teachers to lower class sizes down to the 20 student maximum in Finland.
#2 Build at least 25,000 additional classrooms paid entirely by the state not local school districts
Washington already suffers from a staggering $20 billion school construction backlog – leading to one of the highest rates of un-housed students in the nation. More than 100,000 students in Washington state (more than 10% of our one million students) are already forced to spend their school days in temporary buildings. At 25 students per class, we would need to build 4,000 classrooms and at 20 students per class, we would need to build 5,000 classrooms just to deal with the current backlog. Lowering class sizes for the other 900,000 students would require an additional 20,000 classrooms for a total of 25,000 classrooms. Each school with 20 to 40 classrooms for 400 to 800 students costs $20 to $40 million. So each real classroom costsabout one million dollars. So the total needed for school construction is about $25 billion. We will need to invest at least $4 billion per year for 6 years to address the school construction backlog and build the thousands of new classrooms needed to permit lower class sizes in all grades. It takes one to two years to build a new school. So even if we got an additional $4 billion per year immediately, it would take 6 years to build the needed classrooms.
#3 Provide Free Higher Education and Vocational Apprenticeships
According to a 2015 Wall Street Journal article, 7 out of 10 college students in the US are forced to take out loans to pay for their higher education and the average amount of each loan for a graduating senior is now $35,000. This is three and one half times the amount of students debt from just 20 years ago.
It would take about $2 billion per year to lower tuition back down to what it was 20 years ago and another $2 billion per year to make all colleges and vocational institutions free in our state.
#4 Create hundreds of thousands of living wage jobs
Washington state has a workforce of over 4 million adults. But we only have 3 million full time living wage jobs. This means that the real under-employment and unemployment rate in our state is 25% and among young adults ages 18 to 25, it is even higher. Each billion dollars in state investment is estimated to create 10,000 public sector jobs and an additional 20,000 in private sector jobs. Investing $6 to $7 billion additional dollars in public schools and higher education will therefore create about 200,000 additional living wage jumps – helping to jump start our economy and restoring prosperity here in Washington state.
#5 Restore a Fairer Tax Structure by Requiring Billionaires to Pay their Fair Share
According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Washington state also has the most unfair tax structure in the nation. While the poor and middle class in our state pay more than 12% of income in state taxes, billionaires in our state pay less than 2% of income in state taxes. Unfortunately, billionaire control of the main stream media has resulted in the defeat of Initiative 1098 – which would have created a Millionaires Income tax. The only other way to achieve a fair tax structure is by repealing a tax break used by billionaires to avoid paying their fair share of state property taxes. Senate Bill 6093would repeal the tax break for intangible property raising $4 to $6 billion per year in additional state revenue which can be used to build schools, hire teachers and lower the cost of higher education – creating 200,000 urgently needed living wage jobs.
#6 Reduce the Tax Burden on Middle Class Families
Senate Bill 6093 also reduces or eliminates property taxes on all homeowners – saving every homeowner thousands of dollars per year. This provides each homeowner with additional income that they can use to spend at local businesses – generating another 20,000 private sector jobs.
#7 Reduce State Mandated Testing to the Minimum Required by Federal Law
Current state law requires students to take more than one dozen high stakes tests during their school career. Thankfully, the 2015 ESEA revision is certain to return control over testing to each state. However, it will also require changing state law to reduce the number of tests and type of test to the minimum required by federal law. Senate Bill 6122 provides for the number and type of testing to be reduced to the minimum required by federal law. It also allows for tests to be changed from the current unfair bubble tests to more authentic assessments.
#8 Provide Free Breakfast and Lunch for All Students
Currently about half of all students in Washington State qualify for free or reduced price breakfast and lunch. However, many of these students do not actually get free breakfast and lunch because their parents are too proud to admit that they are low income and apply for the program. The solution to this problem is to make free breakfast and lunch available to all students regardless of income. Any student who is hungry should be able to eat before school and during lunch. Students will do much better in school if they are not hungry. In fact, poor kids are more likely to come to school and stay in school if they know there are free meals waiting fro them at their school. The cost of this program would be about $1 per day per student for a 180-day school year – or about $180 per student per year. Assuming 100,000 additional students took advantage of this program, the total cost would be only $18 million per year – which is an extremely small fraction of the total spent on public schools here in Washington state.
#9 Offer Free After School Tutoring for All Students
School typically gets out at 3 pm but parents do not get home from work until after 5 pm. This leaves many kids unattended as latch key kids. Wealthy parents can afford tutoring for struggling kids but poor parents cannot afford tutoring even though poor students are more likely to need tutoring. We should do like Finland and offer any student free after school tutoring from the time school gets out until 5 pm. Assuming that 100,000 students took advantage of this program, and that one additional teacher was needed for every 10 students, there would be a need to pay 10,000 teachers to work an additional 2 hours per day for 180 school days. This is a total of 360 hours which is one third of the yearly hours for teachers meaning the equivalent of hiring 3,000 teachers or about $300 million per year.
#10 Supply Free Laptops and Internet Access for All High School Students
A 2010 poll conducted by the BBC World Service found that 79% of the people in the world and 76% of the people in the United States believed that the Internet should be a fundamental right of all people. Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a committee of the United Nations stated: "The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created. Governments should regard the internet as basic infrastructure - just like roads, waste and water. We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to the internet to participate."
In July 2010, Finland became the first country in the world to make internet access a legal right for all citizens. Finland currently spends about $100 million per year on this project. So to bring similar access to all students in Washington state either through public access or public private partnerships would hopefully cost less than $200 million per year – or about $200 per student per year. This is less than private internet access that runs about $700 per year per family. There is another benefit of public internet access in that it reduces traffic congestion and allows people to work online from home and live in smaller towns with lower living expenses farther from the cities. It also allows students and adults to study from home and take courses online from home.
But the real reason that internet access is becoming essential for high school students in Washington state is that many high school instructors simply assume that all students have internet access and assign students homework that requires internet access. So either we need to ban instructors from assigning homework that requires internet access or we need to make sure that all students have internet access so they can get their homework done. Giving students free access to the internet should be viewed like giving students free text books – because many text books are now available online – and because the internet can be viewed as the world biggest text book. We should not allow the current situation to continue where wealthy students have access to the internet and poor students do not.
Of course, access to the internet does not do poor students much good if they do not have a laptop to access the internet. Thankfully, Google is producing Chromebooks which can access and interact with the internet for as little as $100 each when bought in bulk. With about 300,000 high school students, supplying everyone of them with their own personal laptop, as a gift from the State, would cost about $30 million the first year and about $8 million every year after that for each new class of 80,000 9th Graders. We could expand this program to all middle school students for an additional $30 million.
#11 Create a Public Bank to Lower the Cost of Building and Repairing Schools
The State of North Dakota has had a public bank for nearly 100 years. Because their public bank dramatically lowers the cost of building schools and roads, the State of North Dakota has almost no state debt. By contrast, the state of Washington has more than $30 billion in state public projects debt and gives Wall Street bankers more than $3 billion per year to service these debts. The public bank would be funded entirely by funds generated from Senate Bill 6093 - repealing the intangible property tax break for billionaires to build urgently needed schools.
#12 Restore a Fair High School Equivalency Diploma
For nearly 70 years, Washington state has offered students who were forced to drop out of high school for any reason the opportunity to take a fair high school equivalency test. Sadly, this test formerly called the GED test was replaced in January 2014 with a College Entrance test run by Pearson a private for profit mega corporation. As a consequence, more than 10,000 students were unfairly denied a GED certificate in 2014 and another 10,000 are being denied a GED certificate in 2015. Lack of a GED means these 20,000 students are unable to enter college and unable to get a living wage job. About 10% of this high risk population will commit major crimes and wind up in prison at a cost of about $100 million per year to our state's tax payers. Providing a fair high school equivalency test will therefore save tax payers $100 million per year. It makes more sense to invest in jobs and education than in jails and incarceration.
#13 Replace Common Core with Community CORES.
After 5 pm, every school night, instead of shutting down our high schools, we should make every high school a Community Organizing Recreation and Education Center. Rooms in the high school should be made available at no charge for adult education courses and community organization meetings similar to a public library. Gyms and fields at the high school should be available for community recreation programs. Every fall, every high school should be encouraged to sponsor candidate forums with announcements sent to students and parents.
#14 Establish Student, Parent and Teacher Bill of Rights
Currently students, parents and teachers have almost no voice and few rights. We should empower all three groups by establishing a Bill of Rights for Students, Parents and Teachers. Students should be given the right to a maximum class size of 20 and free after school tutoring. Parents should be entitled to see all materials and exams used in all questions and the right to opt their child out of any assignment or exam that they feel is harmful to their student. Teachers should be entitled to select their own course books and be responsible for no more than 20 students at the elementary school level and no more than 100 students at the middle school and high school level. Each group should be given the right to petition for additional rights that will improve our educational system.
#15 Replace the State Board of Education with the Washington Education Council
Currently, Washington State Education Policy is determined by an unelected and unaccountable group called the State Board of Education (SBE). This group consists basically of friends of the current and former Governor. The SBE is largely responsible for the current high stakes testing nightmare in Washington State. We should replace this group with a group of ten elected officials and education system stakeholders. Members of the Washington Education Council (WEC) would include the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a representative of the Governor, a representative of the State Treasurer, four representatives from the four major caucuses in the State legislature and representatives from the Washington State PTA, the Washington Education Association and the Washington State School Board Directors Association. The WEC would be responsible for overseeing the Washington State Public Bank, approving the Student, Parent and Teacher Bill of Rights, approving the Washington State High School Equivalency Test and all other educational policy matters currently under the direction of the SBE.
How much will all of these programs cost and how will we pay for them?
The total cost of all fifteen of these programs would be about $6 billion per year. Our state currently spends $8 billion per year or 4% of income on Education. We are proposing increasing spending on education to $14 billion per year or 7% of income.Seven percent of income may seem like a lot. But if nearly all Scandinavian countries can afford to spend 7% of income on Education than so can Washington state. After all, Washington is one of the wealthiest states in the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. This entire program could be supported simply by passing Senate Bill 6093 and repealing a single tax break for the rich.
Restore Prosperity of the 1960s by Restoring the Tax Structure of the 1960s
In 1981, Washington state was 11th in the nation in school funding. There were no high stakes bubble tests. Local property taxes were half of what they are today and tuition was one tenth of what is it today. College students graduated with very little debt and good prospects for getting a good job. So the program described above is much like the educational program we used to have before the education reformers began their war against our public schools. The difference in the 1960s and 1970s was that billionaires paid much higher state and federal taxes than they do now. We know how to have a better economy and better schools. The question is whether we have the wisdom and political will to pass Senate Bill 6093 and Senate Bill 6122.
In our next article, we will take a closer look at how Senate Bill 6093 can provide the funding needed to improve both our schools and our economy. In the meantime, if you have any questions about our proposed Authentic Assessment System, feel free to email me at springforschools (at) aol (dot) com.
David Spring M. D.
Coalition to Protect our Public Schools.