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Originally published Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 4:08 PM

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Editorial: Teachers, districts should focus on new reforms

School districts and teachers negotiating over pay and working conditions should work together to implement important school-accountability measures.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE Seattle Public Schools and nearly 100 other districts around Washington still negotiating teacher contracts should embrace the smart reforms passed by the state Legislature.

Districts should move swiftly to use new funding to implement initiatives that include a focus on improving third-grade reading.

Lawmakers ramped up K-12 funding by about $1 billion. That’s a 12 percent increase and it is all new money.

Lawmakers also gave districts $500,000 to pay for transportation and school materials and supplies, items districts had typically paid for using local levy funds. Districts could use it to pay for smaller class sizes, fewer early release days or other academic efforts.

The Washington Education Association and its affiliates need to press forward with initiatives proven to help kids.

Third-grade reading is one important example. Just 68 percent of the state’s third-graders read at grade level. Nearly one in three students struggles to grasp increasingly complex lessons in science, math and other subjects.

Fixing the reading problem will boost the state’s stagnant graduation rates. With only 76 percent of Washington public-school students graduating on time, we rank 32nd place among states.

Teachers and districts must also reach agreement around professional development in light of the tougher, more comprehensive teacher-evaluation system passed by the Legislature two years ago. One weakness of the law is that it allowed the evaluation system to become a bargaining chip between districts and unions.

Districts should push hard for full implementation of the new system, including its use of student-performance data such as test scores, to measure teachers. Teacher unions should see the reasonableness of using multiple measures, including test scores.

Lawmakers in the last session added money for development and training around the new evaluation system.

For districts that do not reach an agreement by Sept. 1, terms of the expired contract continue for a year. Teachers could refuse to go to work without a new contract but that should not happen. Districts and union leaders ought to reach agreements that benefit students, not just adults.

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