I’m a graduate of Snohomish County’s public school system and Washington’s community colleges and public universities. I’ve taught college courses for freshmen and upperclassmen. Now, as my own children soon enter our education system, it’s hard not to despair about what awaits them.
Our K-12 education system is designed for one thing: idling away time before funneling students into college, regardless of their skills or interests. To this end, we’ve devalued high school diplomas to zero, cut standards to the bone, shackled teachers to meaningless metrics unrelated to actual learning, and empowered administrators and bureaucrats who inflate costs ever higher. And all that was before the current push for remote learning, which for most students is not learning at all.
When students do reach college, many take on life-changing debt loads for decades despite being utterly unprepared for what awaits. I’ve taught many freshmen out of Washington public schools who had no understanding of basic arithmetic, much less the algebra and calculus required for the material. Yet universities respond by capping how many students can fail, financing endless resort-like distractions, and filling teaching roles not with their highly-paid professors but with low-wage adjuncts and graduate students.
We must do better than this. I believe a well-functioning public education system is vital to the future success of Washington’s children and economy. Let’s return to a core focus of empowering students, parents, and teachers. Let’s engage each student where they are. Let’s align the interests of schools and universities to collectively propel students toward the highest use of the talents and interests they have. Let’s educate better.
Rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all approach on each student, let’s craft a public education system which builds on individual strengths and competences, allowing students to specialize from a younger age what they actually want to do in life. Let’s allow students to choose (with the ability to switch) “tracks” by middle school based on their skills and interests. Let’s create more and smaller magnet high schools and schools-within-schools which allow students to focus on subjects they find relevant to their future, whether that’s vo-tech programs, the arts, digital and information programs, sports, or traditional academics. For those who are college-bound, high standards for math, including calculus and statistics, and writing would be compulsory to remain on track.
By having more and more specialized options, class sizes shrink, allowing more individual attention for each student. Further, in a system where schools specialize in their curricula, it makes little sense to apply a uniform evaluation measure across schools. As a former WASL-taker, I firmly believe standardized testing only incentivizes teaching-to-the-test and cram-and-forget study patterns which do not facilitate long-term learning. I cannot count how many students I’ve taught who immediately lose interest in a subject if it’s not going to be directly on a test, something our current system conditions into them.
Let’s shift school evaluation measures away from test scores and graduation rates (which only incentivize lowering standards) to value-added models and peer evaluation, flattening bureaucracy and reducing the need for expensive, unproductive administrators.
Let’s completely revamp 11th and 12th grade. Let’s divide all students into two camps for these years: the college-bound, who will move into the Running Start program at their local community college or university. Those who wish to pursue vocational training instead of college will be placed into a two-year apprenticeship with local businesses, gaining valuable hands-on experience for what they wish to do in life.
Let’s re-think how we fund our public universities: instead of charging tuition, let’s move to an income-sharing system where universities receive 20% of your first three years income post-graduation, only charging tuition to international students, retroactively for those who drop out, or for those not seeking a degree. Let’s provide a sunset window such that if a graduate can’t find a job after three years of searching, their tuition is free. This limits how long students are tied to funding their education and creates a strong incentive for universities to place students in the best paying jobs possible.
Other than healthcare, higher education costs have increased more than any other major good or service over the past two decades. Higher education costs have been enabled by federally-backed student loans, where up to 60% of increased student loan subsidies are passed through into higher tuition prices, but also by the swelling administrations at colleges and universities. Colleges and, less visibly, K-12 schools have greatly expanded the number of new administrators they’ve hired. Since 2000, K-12 schools have increased their hiring of administrative staff at a rate ten times higher than teachers, typically in response to sweeping government mandates. Neither these mandates nor the additional administrators improve education quality, only serving to constrain teachers and reduce the time they can spend actually doing their jobs.
With education funding making up roughly 60% of Washington’s operating budget, we must take unnecessary inflation in education seriously if we want to achieve our state’s most important policy goals. Let’s end this bloated growth by freezing administrator positions at current levels for ten years. Current administrative staff could be replaced, but not added to.
As a parent, I believe the role of educators should be to teach students how to solve problems and think rationally, to inspire interest in topics, and to teach information and skills I would not be able to. What I do not want from education is an attempt to push personal value judgments about what individual educators or administrators think is right or wrong on my children. I want school to teach my children how to think, not what to think.
I fully support schools teaching children about the ugly moments of American history, about different cultures, or about contraception– provided the information is factual. I do not support schools jumping from facts into divisive claims of morality or ideology.
I believe government should be neutral on matters of race. Growing up here in Snohomish County taught that we should judge individuals by their character, not their skin color. Unfortunately, the United States has an ugly history of racism from both individuals and our government. But we have always strived to improve upon our past, grasping ever upward toward the God-given dignity inherent in all people.
Teaching American history is incomplete without discussing intentionally discriminatory systems such as redlining, racially restrictive covenants, college admission rigging against Asian-Americans and Jewish people, or US military testing of chemical weapons mostly on tribal land (including Tulalip). It is similarly just as incomplete without teaching the universal ideals of freedom the country was founded upon, the great and bloody toll the country paid to liberate those without these freedoms, and the bountiful opportunities this country affords to all races– a fact which has consistently made America the hope of millions across the world.
Ideologies which shame students for the color of their skin, divide students against each other, reduce the ills of the world to a singular cause, and bludgeon those who disagree into silence have no place in our schools. They create as much or more racism and hatred as they solve. Special interest groups promoting these ideas extort schools, businesses, and agencies with threats of slander and social media mobs into funding endless and ineffectual diversity trainings and do-nothing administrator hiring. This inflates everyone’s costs of living, decreases time left for core duties, and injects racial tension into environments without it.
Teachers, especially, have seen increased administrative burdens from this movement. Instead of wasting time and money making racism worse, let’s let teachers teach the essential curriculum that will empower children of all races for the future: math, reading, writing, science, the arts, technical skills, and a complete view of history that leaves none behind.
For many low-income students, meals they receive at school may be their primary source of nutrition, but these programs only provide at most two meals and may not be accessible to all who need them.
- Let’s begin take-home dinner service for low-income students.
- Let’s allow alternative forms of income verification for student meal assistance such as home property values.
- Let’s bring together schools and local food banks to ensure students with limited transportation options can actually physically reach the meals they need.
Let’s provide low-income schools with dedicated funding for after school programs and pay teachers for summer training sessions teaching methods for dealing with behavioral issues.
Let’s dedicate ample time to recess and physical activity, which promotes mental health, behavioral improvement, and socialization while combatting rising childhood obesity.