Waiting for Superman,” the much-talked about documentary on education in America, has spurred debate in this country about what ails our system and who is to blame, but the indisputable fact remains that too many children are not succeeding.
This is as true across Washington as it is in the gritty cities highlighted in the movie.
Consider Washington’s grim realities. Student scores on national achievement tests are flat, and we are one of very few states with a growing achievement gap. On state tests, the deficiencies are even more stark:
• Only one-third of our minority students are meeting standards in math and science.
• An inexcusable number of our students never graduate from high school (only 40 percent of Native Americans and roughly 50 percent of African-American and Hispanic children graduate).
• For those who do graduate, their diploma has little meaning – almost 40 percent of our graduates end up in remedial math and English courses when they enter college.
These statistics add up to losses that are both moral and economic—we cannot stand to lose another generation of children.
Washington needs to take bold actions if we hope to reverse decades-long trends of discouraging outcomes. Our educators are working hard, but we continue to lag behind the rest of the country.
On the federal Race to the Top competition for hundreds of millions of dollars awarded for showing past achievements and ambitious plans for students, Washington came in 32nd out of 36 states.
The 12 winning applications have a lot to share about what ambitious reforms look like. They have targeted strategies to get strong teachers and leaders into high-poverty/high-minority schools and can swiftly remove ineffective teachers; they are closing low-performing schools and offering high-quality choices through both traditional and charter schools; and they have adopted demanding graduation standards and assessments so that students leave high school capable of attending college and ready for careers.
There are many reasons outside education for why low-income and minority children face tougher odds, but high-poverty schools can and must overcome those factors. We need only look to schools like the KIPP Academies for proof.
KIPP offers low-income families high-quality options with rigorous expectations. By all accounts, KIPP is changing life trajectories by effectively eliminating achievement gaps within three years and setting students on the path to college.
There are others. In California, Rocketship Public Schools are propelling first-generation Latino students to top state scores by combining classroom teaching with individualized tutors and technology – and save money doing it.
New York City has launched its iZone, with more than 80 schools innovating in the use of teacher time, new technologies and access to world-class virtual instruction for inner-city students.
But in Washington, we’re blocked from importing or incubating similar innovations. State law makes it impossible for Rocketship or KIPP, which runs 82 charter schools across the country, to open a school here. High-quality public charter schools that take all comers and close achievement gaps have been in operation for almost 20 years. This is not a fringe idea. We need them here.
“Waiting for Superman” at times paints an overly simplistic picture of the problems and solutions in public education. But there is one simple truth: The consequences of inaction are too evident in our state.
Washington needs to put all viable reform strategies on the table and start using them if we really mean to educate all our children.
Christine Campbell, a research analyst at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education, helped score state Race to the Top applications.