I didn’t expect to spend the Thursday before the Independence Day holiday traveling to Western Washington. Especially not in a four-seater charter plane out of Pullman-Moscow International in the company of President Elson S. Floyd and Murrow College Dean Larry Pintak. But when the university president invites you to a meeting and offers you a ride …
When we landed at Paine Field, our plane was dwarfed by Boeing jets stacked up, awaiting insignia painting for many countries around the world. From there, we drove to three meetings with stakeholders in WSU’s initiative to operate the present University Center in Everett, starting in 2014.
We met in the lovely new convention center in Everett’s harbor area, joined by several other WSU deans and partner institution officials. Also present was WSU Spokane Chancellor Brian Pitcher, whose Riverpoint campus is seen as a model for WSU’s effort in Everett.
WSU’s first order of business in Everett will be to establish mechanical and electrical engineering programs, modeled on what we already offer in Bremerton. The programs will involve a clinical faculty member, distance education via video, and summer study in Pullman. But the stakeholders in Everett — including the mayor, Chamber of Commerce representatives, and state legislators — also want programs in nursing, media arts and, importantly, education. At the meeting, I shared my eagerness for the College of Education to provide educational opportunities to local school administrators, and to teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Western Washington University has traditionally provided education course work in Everett, and I look forward to working with them.
President Floyd said it is premature to think of Everett as being the fifth WSU campus. For now, we are exploring the opportunity and learning how we can collaborate. An advisory board and planning committee are already at work.
I am proud that the College of Education is so well represented in the leadership of this initiative. Paul Pitre of our Vancouver faculty will oversee WSU’s developments at Everett in the coming year. Joan Kingrey, our academic director in Spokane, led the discussions at the Everett meeting. And President Floyd has his faculty appointment in our college.
Our plane took off from Paine Field just before 5 p.m. I rode shotgun. Heading east, we flew above a blanket of clouds over the Cascades, with Mount Rainier peeking above that, off the right wing. A half hour later, I could see in the distance lush green fields, and Kamiak and Steptoe buttes. It was thrilling to see Pullman edge closer as we sped home. It was a fun and inspiring day.
Forty-seven percent. Within that statistic is news both wonderful and sobering.
Nearly half of all of the graduate students who received College of Education scholarships for 2011-12 are the first in their families to go to college. That’s the wonderful part. Those future educators are realizing the American dream of self-improvement. But the number also speaks to the need for financial support, which is especially acute for first-generation students and their families.
This spring, faculty and staff volunteers reviewed the scholarship applications. They weighed the students’ accomplishments and goals and stretched the contributions of our generous donors to award 96 scholarships totaling $171,150. The average per student was $1,782.
Amy Cox of our development team, who coordinates the scholarship selection effort, provided those statistics. Others that might interest you:
In all, 98 graduate students and 453 undergraduates applied for scholarship assistance.
Scholarships were awarded to 24 juniors, 31 seniors, and 41 master’s and doctoral degree candidates.
Twenty-eight percent of the scholarship winners are minority students. The largest groups represented were Hispanic/Latin America (seven) and Asian Pacific American (five).
Seventy percent of scholarship winners are women.
Seventy-six are enrolled in Pullman, six in Vancouver, eight in Tri-Cities.
More compelling than the numbers, of course, are the people they represent. Here are two examples:
Israel Martinez of Walla Walla starts our Master in Teaching program this summer. Israel, the first in his family to get a college degree, wrote in his application: “It has taken a lot of hard work and dedication, such as working two part-time jobs while being a full-time student, working overtime in the orchards during the summers to save enough money to stay in school.”
Kelly Frio’s home town is Brush Prairie, Washington. That’s near Vancouver, where she is working on an undergraduate teaching degree. She has a perfect 4.0 grade point average. One of her goals, she wrote, is to instill an appreciation of the elderly in her own children and those she works with. “The wealth and skills and knowledge that our senior citizens possess is often not only unappreciated, but dismissed.”
My congratulations to all of our scholarship winners and my thanks to those who support our scholarships. We only wish we could do more, for more. If you would like to help, look here for information.
Our college’s biggest contributions to educational leadership include the superintendent certification programs offered in Vancouver, the Tri-Cities and Spokane. So I was delighted to speak last Friday to 50 administrators enrolled in the Spokane program, which is directed by Gene Sharratt.
I shared my concerns about education with these folks, who must deal with reduced state funding for K-12 education. Their school districts face staff reductions, larger class sizes, reduced personal attention to student learning needs, and diminished support for professional development and materials to the classroom. I shared some personal history, as well as my ideas about the importance of collaboration and respect for educators. I received several gifts, including this Cougar portrait, signed by all the students in the program’s 2009-2011 cohort. I’ll display it proudly in my office, so please come by and see it.
By the way, I plan to get away from Pullman to visit our other campuses at least four times a year. Before heading to Spokane last week, I spent Thursday meeting with Vancouver faculty and with a friend of the college, Dan Harmon, a member of the Board of Governors of the WSU Foundation, at his office in Portland. Dan’s daughter is graduating from WSU in a few weeks in English Education (summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa), so it was great to connect with him. As a Governor, Dan is intimately involved and knowledgable about many aspects of the university, and I gained a great deal hearing his insights into the importance of good teaching.
In March, the Obama administration announced its plans to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The last time the act was reauthorized, in 2001, it was called No Child Left Behind and became the cornerstone of the Bush administration’s education efforts. NCLB brought with it an increased focus upon testing and accountability in schools.
What have we learned from the act during the past decade? What changes would improve it? In my own search for answers, I asked faculty members from various education specialties for their views, which I share here.
Right now Secretary Duncan talks about NCLB as being too punitive and prescriptive because of its accountability measures. Why do we have accountability? Because we don’t trust people to do their jobs.
Surveys show that most people think their own children’s teachers are quite good, but that teachers in general are not. This says a great deal about the kind of negative messaging people receive in this country about teachers, and the political harm this has been doing to teachers for the past decades. The basis of any reauthorization needs to assume one thing: Teachers are professionals deserving of trust and respect. The many teachers whom I visit on a regular basis are some of the hardest working people I know. And certainly some of the most caring.
Under the NCLB, science education has not received the same attention that reading and mathematics have, because the law did not require yearly science assessments.
Though not necessarily advocating for yearly assessments, science educators would like to see students taking more science courses and being exposed to the reality of science in their science courses. There also needs to be an ongoing conversation about which important scientific knowledge and skills our students should be exposed to so that they become scientifically literate citizens. We need to open their eyes to the development, meaning, value, and limitations of scientific knowledge. As students engage in more authentic science in their K-12 science courses, they will be exposed to the creativity and innovation that science involves, strengthening their passion and causing them to consider careers in science.
If higher standards and more assessments can produce more opportunities for students to receive quality science instruction, then these certainly should be a part of the ESEA revisions involving science education.
There is much about No Child Left Behind that I personally support—most important to me is that it requires schools to examine data, including student achievement data, high school graduation rates, and the qualifications of teachers as to teaching assignments. These areas of examination have “shined a light” on important areas that all too often prior to NCLB were not well examined.
I believe most teachers and principals today are intentional in their efforts to address the learning needs of all students and to improve high school graduation rates. Many teachers have changed how they work together and many innovative programs have emerged to provide the needed support to students. The role of principals also has changed from one of manager to leader—an instructional leader focused on assisting teachers with their classroom practice and student needs.
The downsides of NCLB are the heavy reliance on standardized tests data to determine how well a school is doing and the use of test results to punish teachers and principals as a means of motivating them. It is my hope that a reauthorized NCLB will focus on targeted support for teachers and principals.
The public and policy makers have every right to expect high performance from their schools and every right to hold teachers and principals accountable, but should be realistic about the challenges schools face and recognize that schools need authentic support in their efforts to improve. Only after such efforts should punitive measures be taken.
I greet reauthorization of the act with mixed feelings. The intentions of actually meeting the educational needs of all children were noble, and the federal funding provided the opportunity for extensive professional development work my colleagues and I do that seems to be making a difference for teachers and students. However, the means of accountability and implementation of NCLB seemed misguided.
Most teachers and administrators with whom I have worked have felt that this legislation forced them to take steps that seemed educationally bizarre and the opposite of the legislation’s intent. They learned to focus their efforts on those students whose scores were just below passing, cutting back attention for lower or higher students. Schools reduced or eliminated time for science, social studies, the arts, and physical education — all areas of study that engage students who may be less interested or successful in mathematics or literacy learning. Teachers’ emotional energy became so focused on meeting Adequate Yearly Progress that they were less aware or considerate of their impact on students. I learned of students who couldn’t sleep the night before the high-stakes tests because their teachers had told them they were responsible for the school’s score and future. Some principals couldn’t be bothered with improving grade 11-12 students’ preparation for college success because yearly progress was focused on grade 10 scores.
The attention given to achievement testing will not wane with reauthorization. It will only increase as common standards are applied to schools nationwide. First, there is the challenge of producing high quality assessments. The timeline and budget may not be sufficient to ensure proper development and implementation of tests.
Second, the magnitude of the common core project is almost overwhelming to the states and organizations charged with implementing the assessment system. For example, changing from paper-and-pencil tests to computer adaptive assessments sounds simple. However, having enough adequate working computers is a major barrier to implementation. Plus, there is a heavy bet being placed on technology for success for this system–technology that may not yet exist.
Third, achievement tests are designed for measuring individual student progress. However, the scores are put to many other uses (such as promotion, grades, teacher effectiveness, program accountability) with no assurance that they are valid measurements for those purposes.
Fourth, teachers will be asked, if not required, to make use of assessment scores to modify instruction, see and understand individual student mistakes, and convey student progress to parents. The challenge is to ensure they are prepared to do so.
Those first two films deal with mostly low-income students in sub-standard public schools who are looking for a way out. Their goal is admission to successful charter schools. “Race to Nowhere” deals with the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum, where parents and students are frustrated with education for other reasons.
These families live in places where, by any measure, there are excellent public schools. Lafayette, California, where the “The Race to Nowhere” was mostly filmed, is an affluent East Bay suburb where the median family income is $150,000 and the average home price is $1.2M. The film’s director/producer drives a Lexus SUV. These students aim for elite selective colleges and universities. They work constantly at homework, squeezing it in with other activities deemed necessary to success. They are pressured to the point of illness or desperation by the high expectations of their parents and the community.
As an admissions officer for a selective college early in my career, I was aware of the kinds of pressures that students endured in order to be admitted to a selective institution. I also have worked for less selective institutions where many students get an excellent education and have never worried to the point of insomnia or anorexia about their life choices. I think the anxiety over college and career choices portrayed in this film may be lost on many families. As blogger Jay Mathews points out in the Washington Post, a bigger problem for students may be the low expectations of parents and schools.
The pressure that most college-bound families and students do feel is financial, especially if they want to attend state-supported institutions where programs are being cut and tuition raised. They may worry that they are being pushed aside in favor of out-of-state students who are willing to pay higher tuition. They may be faced with taking out large loans to complete their degrees.
“Race to Nowhere” might have a selective message, but I think it will inspire some important conversation about social pressure to succeed and what’s most important about life and school. I’ll be there to watch the film, and moderate a panel discussion afterward. If you’re in Pullman next Thursday, please join us for the free presentation at 6 p.m. in the Compton Union Building auditorium.
On Friday, the president, provost, and chief budget officer led a budget forum in Pullman. As I was out of town, I watched online as President Elson S. Floyd gave a hard-hitting and plainly spoken overview of the difficult state budget and how it could affect the university.
He had no clear answers for us, as the Legislature is still in session and the situation changes almost daily. A new revenue forecast is expected on March 17, and we should know more in the coming weeks. College administrators are being asked to plan, but we’ll need solid information on which to base decisions. I will keep the college and our constituents informed as I know more.
For those of you on spring break, enjoy it and travel safely.
A New York Timesarticle about the shortage of people prepared to lead our schools reminded me of the value of the College of Education’s principal certification program and Ed.D. degree in educational leadership. Our colleagues in WSU’s Department of Human Development also offer a graduate certificate in early childhood leadership and administration.
But solid university programs are only part of the solution to inadequate school leadership. For a faculty perspective, I turned to Assistant Professor Chad Lochmiller of our Tri-Cities faculty, whose research interests include support for school leadership. The comments that follow are Chad’s.
The Obama administration’s emphasis on removing principals from failing schools rests on the assumption that principals alone drive student learning improvement. Yet we know from extensive research that there are many other factors, including ineffective instructional practices, lack of accountability, and absence of meaningful student supports.
In some cases, changing a principal can disrupt reforms already under way and cause the school’s best teachers to leave. As research in Washington state has shown, classroom teachers cite support from their school principals as one of the most important factors influencing their decision to stay in their buildings. If the goal is to stabilize the school and refocus its efforts on instruction, then removing a principal may not only prolong that effort but derail it altogether.
The administration’s approach also assumes that the problem is inadequate principals, not inadequate support for those educators. Principals will tell you that they are in desperate need of support given the plethora of new initiatives and reforms being thrust upon them. They need supervisors who understand and advocate for the specific needs of their buildings. They need access to data, instructional strategies, and other professional development to help them acquire the skills needed to support classroom teachers. They need opportunities to reflect on their practice, identify areas of growth, and target ways in which their leadership can best help students.
The administration’s focus on school leadership challenges universities to make a stronger investment in preparing principal certification candidates. We must provide principals with the knowledge and skills to effectively improve classroom instruction starting in their first year on the job. This may require prep programs such as WSU’s to develop a much tighter relationship with K-12 educators. We must take shared responsibility with school district efforts to improve failing or under-performing schools.
While I have several concerns about the administration’s approach, I do credit federal officials for their willingness to be creative. I’m hopeful that they will see the professional development of all educators—teachers, principals, and superintendents—as part of the solution to improving the nation’s schools.
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.
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.”
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.
It’s true that pedagogy is shifting from a teaching to a learning model, from the “sage on the stage to the guide on the side.” But social and constructivist learning theories have not permeated all classrooms. Many of us still just teach rather than create environments where learning can take place.
That is why I am pleased that WSU has become the first institution on the West Coast, and only the fourth in the nation, to be designated a Project Lead the Way affiliate in the biosciences. Students are pleased, too, with the chance for hands-on biomedical education that the nationally recognized K-12 program provides. In the words of one high schooler quoted in a WSU article, “We actually do stuff in class.”
We at the College of Education are particularly excited to be involved in the growing biomedical education venture under way on Spokane’s Riverpoint campus. Our academic director there, Joan Kingrey, and her colleagues are heading up Project Lead the Way. WSU’s College of Nursing and College of Pharmacy also are exploring ways to better teach their students through similar pedagogies. It is a terrific, inter-college synergy occurring on the nation’s next great medical sciences campus.