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Dr. Mike Trevisan

Dean's Perspectives

A super start to our film series

Dean A.G. Rud
A.G. Rud

Sponsoring a film series is a bit of an experiment for our college. Based on the first presentation, I predict it will be a success. Our goal is to address educational issues affecting children,  families, schools and communities.

Waiting for Superman” was screened Sunday at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow, launching the three-part series, Rethinking Education, that we’re co-sponsoring with our colleagues at the University of Idaho College of Education.  We had a large crowd, filling the first floor of the theater and part of the balcony. A special thanks to Amy Cox of our development staff and UI faculty member Melissa Saul for organizing the Sunday program.

“Waiting for Superman” revolves around five children whose futures depend upon winning a lottery to attend a charter school.  The discussion that followed Sunday’s showing was led by Cori Mantle-Bromley, dean of the University of Idaho’s College of Education. The eight panelists included WSU faculty members Kristin Huggins, who came over from Vancouver, Paula Groves Price, and Xyanthe Neider. Cori asked them to consider some of the ironies of the film as well as their reactions to the portrayals.

Kenworthy marquee advertising 'Waiting for Superman'
Our film series opened in Moscow

Kristin, who has conducted research on professional learning communities, noted shortcomings  in the film, such as a focus upon elementary and middle schools but not high schools, no mention of special needs students, and a concentration on only the good news about charter schools. For example, there was no mention of the corporate funding that helps support many of these schools, money that isn’t available to other public schools.  Xyan spoke about her son and his struggles with schooling and how some parts of the film resonated with her experiences. Paula said that her reaction to the film was powerful and unexpected.  While calling it overly simplistic, she noted that she is the parent of a young child and wants the best for her daughter as do the parents in “Superman.”  (You can see Paula’s response in this YouTube clip.)

My own reaction

I found the film powerful, disturbing, and frankly a mishmash of many narratives and explanations. The recounting of recent school reforms, such as No Child Left Behind and the embattled tenure of Washington, D.C., school chief Michelle Rhee, was fascinating. The tale of the triumphs of charter schools ignored studies that point to less stellar achievement and to some of the colossal failures of charters over the past decade. We cannot say unequivocally that public schools are doing a weak job of educating students or charters are one of the best solutions, as was implied by this film.

I was also struck by the sheer insensitivity of the charter selection process, the famous “lottery” held in a public setting as if it were a game show, with triumphant “winners” and many more disconsolate “losers.” This is perhaps the most poignant part of the film – you see the children whose stories you have followed for the past 90 minutes wait expectantly for the roll of the dice. It is profoundly saddening to think that education is reduced to such a spectacle.

Finally, I was dismayed by the drumbeat of emphasis put upon a college education by many in the film. It was not even any post secondary path they trumpeted, it was a “four-year college.”

Certainly many of our children are ill equipped for college, and for those who seek such an education we must do better. But to assert that a bachelor’s degree is necessary for a good life is foolish and biased. I did well in school, and hence became college educated, and now work in a university. But I don’t know much at all about how to take apart a motor, or build a house, or service a broken furnace. I admire those who have these skills, and I know I value them when my car won’t start. Why engage in idolatry about a college education? It is not for everyone, and it is particularly galling to see this emphasized in the film when President Obama is supporting community college degrees and post-secondary training.

More to come

The films and panel discussions in our series are free and open to the public. The other two documentaries will be shown on the WSU campus. “The Lottery” will be screened at 7 p.m. March 9 in Todd Hall 116.  In the words of its creators, the film “uncovers the failures of the traditional public school system and reveals that hundreds of thousands of parents attempt to flee the system every year.”  Kelly Ward, the interim chair of our Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology, will moderate that panel.

I will lead the discussion after “The Race to Nowhere,”  set for 6 p.m. April 14 in the CUB auditorium.  The film features “the heartbreaking stories of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills they need, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids.”

We look forward to seeing you there!

Faculty weigh in on governor’s proposal

Dean A.G. Rud
A.G. Rud

When Gov. Gregoire proposed a major overhaul of the state’s education programs last week, I needed some expert input in order to have an informed opinion.  I’m still learning what I can. So far, most educators I’ve asked agree on the need for change, but have reservations about the governor’s approach.  Or they like her proposal, but doubt it will get past the political hurdles.

Here are some of the comments I’ve received from my best source of information, the College of Education faculty:

Darcy Miller: It is a long overdue change. Folks involved with education from preschool to graduate school need to work together.  As it is, their efforts are fragmented and disjointed. One group requires one thing, and another group mandates something else. While the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) sees its job as working only with K-12 schools, we in college teacher education programs must work with OSPI. It is involved with our accreditation, impacts the quality of our programs, and influences many aspects of teacher education. We need that office to view colleges of education as partners in preparing teachers.

Chad Lochmiller:  There are two elements in the proposal that could, if implemented and funded, result in serious reforms. First, the governor’s idea of consolidation is good, except that she’s consolidating the wrong elements of the system. It  makes more sense to consolidate the Department of Early Learning, OSPI, and the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges into one seamless system while leaving the university system independent. This would mean that the state is responsible for early learning through an associate’s degree. My belief is that we need to think in terms of a P-14 public education system. Every child should graduate with the skills and knowledge that comes with an associate’s degree and have access to the job market that the associate’s degree creates. Second, I like the creation of launch year for high school seniors — a concept that could work if OSPI and SBCTC were consolidated.  Allowing students to begin exploring their professional interests in high school makes sense. We’re making a big mistake to route every child onto a college/university path. For some kids, that’s not what they want to do.

Leslie Hall:  A new Department of Education is a great idea for several reasons. First, the state’s biggest expense after personnel is education. As the executive officer of the state, the governor needs to know what is going on in all areas of education. In addition, the current bureaucracy does not make it easy for K-12 educators, OSPI, or higher ed and their multiple committees to talk about the common goal of educating students. My hope is that a Secretary of Education would facilitate conversations so that efforts would not be duplicated and a common vision for P-20+ students would inform all who work in Washington’s education arenas.

Janet Frost:  In my experiences related to the Riverpoint Advanced Mathematics Project, I strongly agree that the educational system is fractured. For example, although a uniform college mathematics placement test was developed for use by all institutions of higher education, it is not being enacted because of those very divisions. Likewise, education funding is often split up in a way that limits projects like ours. For example, we cannot be funded to provide professional development for college math faculty, only for high school math teachers, thereby losing an opportunity to strengthen teaching at both levels so that students can make the transition successfully.

Gene Sharatt:  There is no question that overlapping and conflicting commissions, committees and boards of directors often impede  improvements in educational attainment for our students.  However, it is unclear how one secretary of education would streamline the efficiencies of these organizations, because it would be essential for the new secretary to form advisory committees for sound counsel.  More importantly, maintaining public accountability is critical and the highest form of public accountability is the general election.   Maintaining independent bodies to ensure checks and balances is preferable to appointed leadership under one party.