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Originally published Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 4:06 PM

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Washington state sank to near the bottom in Race to The Top

Washington state failed to make the grade in the latest round of Race to the Top federal education grants, but more distressing was the news that the state ranked 32nd out of 36 states.

WASHINGTON state failed to make the grade in the latest round of Race to the Top federal education grants. More distressing: the state ranked 32nd out of 36 states.

A federal review panel's critiques detail how this state fell to the bottom weighted down by a ponderous application lacking credible and specific plans.

Washington's stance as a strong reformer was hobbled by an absence of vigorous support from the teachers unions. The panel pointed out support from 90 percent of school districts and 95 percent of individual schools but from only two-thirds of the teacher's union locals. Less than robust union buy-in, reviewers said, did not reflect a high level of commitment to statewide reform.

Washington lost points for its anti-charter schools law, but muddled language around teacher effectiveness and accountability sealed the application's fate.

"(Washington) is completely silent on the issue of compensating, promoting and retaining teachers and principals on the basis of evaluations where student growth is a significant factor," a reviewer complained. Nor did the application speak to any fair and rigorous process for removing ineffective tenured teachers and principals who have had ample opportunities to improve but haven't.

Goals around increasing the numbers of teachers in mathematics, science, special education and other hard-to-staff subjects were dismissed as weak because they included no steps for achieving them or benchmarks by which progress could be measured.

Washington's policymakers were credited for cogent thoughts around raising student achievement in reading/language arts and mathematics and narrowing the achievement gap. Similar clarity and planning was praised in the sections on raising high-school graduation rates and increasing college enrollment.

But overall, reviewers saw a state that jumped on the education-reform train late and has a lot of catch up work to do. In a proposed third round of Race to the Top, school districts will be allowed to apply. Districts should learn from the state's experience and start now making systemic changes in K-12 education.

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