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November 18, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Just Fix It: K-12 education

Posted by Letters editor

Don’t spend money on distractions, diversions and entertainment in schools

Editor, The Times:

Let’s get out of the box! The state is 42nd in the nation in high-school completion and we want to fund this process more?

Let’s look at successful educational systems elsewhere — in Singapore, Shanghai, South Korea and even Finland. They all spend less than we do and get far superior results.

Why? They are serious about academic accomplishment and spend little on distractions, diversions and entertainment in their schools. Their secondary schools are not teenage social halls with attached playgrounds. Gladiator training is left to others.

The adults in their children’s lives are focused on their children getting a good education, not excelling on the ballfield. Cheerleading? No funding for this in successful schools.

It isn’t money that’s the problem. It is distorted priorities.

— Charles Hoff, Kent

Every administrator should teach at least one class

Every one of our 295 school districts, no matter how small or large, has physical offices, nonteaching administrators and support staff.

Look at the feasibility of making the geographic region of a legislative district also a school district. We could eliminate about 240 school districts without affecting education adversely. Keep the school boards if necessary. If newspaper reports are correct, European and Asian schools, and U.S. private schools, operate more successfully than our public schools without being divided into hundreds of school districts.

Ask every administrator to teach at lest one class — again, as done in Europe.

— James Behrend, Bainbridge Island

Year-round school

What multimillion-dollar business could afford to close its doors and send most of its employees home for three months each year?

That’s essentially what our school business does, because that’s the way it has always been done.

We are no longer an agricultural society where the kids need to be let off for planting and harvesting. Why can’t the schools be run year-round? You could do it on a quarter basis with the students there just three quarters.

Obviously the quarters off would be different from how they are now — some winter, some fall, and so on. I’ve seen this done on a small scale during a school expansion and it seemed to be well-received. Not everyone wants the summer off for vacations.

The big budget saving comes in the fact that you could essentially teach the same number of students with a quarter fewer buildings and staff. Another benefit is that the teachers would be employed year-round. Their pay and benefits would be judged by the community alongside everyone else, rather than a group that only appears to work nine months a year. The devil would be in the details but somebody needs to think outside that nine-month box.

— David Raymond, Mercer Island

Parents must pay and volunteer

One way we can reduce spending on education would be to have families that make more than $50,000 a year and have children in public schools pay a monthly fee for their child’s education.

We could charge anywhere from $10 to $200 a month per family for their child’s education, depending on the family’s income.

We could have parents pay a fee for their children to play in after-school sports and have the families pay for their child’s uniform and sports equipment.

We could eliminate mandatory education. Teenagers who do not want to be in school or who cause problems for other students would be allowed to opt out of the education system and pursue other goals.

We could reduce expense by eliminating some paid positions like coaches and replacing those positions with parent volunteers.

We could have parents pay for their children’s school books.

These are tough times, and if we want to educate our children, we need parents to start paying more and volunteering more.

— Bill Healy, Seattle

Change math curricula, not standards

If I were Gov. Chris Gregoire, I would save more than $180 million by not changing the state math standards.

These were just redone a few years ago and the current standards are considered superior by many to the national standards she now wants to adopt. Pleasing [Education Secretary] Arne Duncan, President Obama and the Gates Foundation is not worth $180 million.

What I would do instead is change the math curriculum across the state. We are saddled with poor textbooks like “Everyday Math” and “Discovering Math,” which use a flawed inquiry-based approach.

According to more than 60 math and science professors at the University of Washington, this type of math is the reason a third of our students are testing into remedial math in college. Former UW President Mark Emmert said we are one of the states at the bottom in the production of scientists and engineers.

Our students in Washington will not meet any math standards if they are not served by a good curriculum. Better textbooks would cost a fraction of changing the standards and would benefit students much more.

— Georgi Krom, Seattle

State employees could pay more for health-insurance

I have a simple idea to preserve universities and K-12 teachers’ jobs — just increase the amount that all state-funded employees pay for their health insurance.

Right now state employees pay only 15 percent of their health-insurance costs. If we raised that to 50 percent, state workers would exercise more care to stay healthy and we could preserve the jobs of professors and university staff.

Now’s the time for all workers to sacrifice to protect each others’ jobs. It worked in Germany and it will work here.

— Jeff Herman, Seattle

Cut support staff

I heard on KOMO yesterday that there are more support people in the state teaching business (principals, maintenance, school bus drivers) than actual teachers.

It seems top-heavy with support staff to me. Maybe the school administration needs to start cutting costs and up the number of teachers.

— Mike McDowell, Seattle

Stop unnecessary testing

One way that the state could save money in K-12 education would be to stop all state-level testing from third-grade tests to the High School Proficiency Exam and end-of-course exams in high school.

Without these tests taking away from class time, students would have an opportunity to learn more. The tests have become mostly penalties anyway, falling disproportionally on the economically disadvantaged.

The state has already hurt the economically disadvantaged by not adequately funding public education. Class sizes of 30 or more hurt all students; they especially hurt students from disadvantaged backgrounds. There may be a time and a worthy purpose in the future to institute a state testing program, but for now, stop what is really unnecessary.

A former student who passed every state test she ever took put it this way. “For half of us they waste our time because they’re too easy; for the other half they waste time because they’re too hard.”

— John Freal, Blaine

Levy provides support for unsustainable immigration

One can only wonder how many people who voted for the Family and Education Levy realized they were providing an additional reward for what must now be seen as clearly unsustainable illegal and legal immigration.

A good portion of that money will be allocated to the task of providing them the kind of education they would have difficulty finding in their home countries at no cost.

In addition, this provides another of many magnets for more immigrants to come here, adding additional education, welfare, housing and medical costs, let alone all the population-growth problems that result.

— Richard Pelto, Kenmore

Vouchers would encourage healthy competition

Just as monopoly leads to higher prices and inferior products and services, competition leads to lower prices and better products and services.

Government-sanctioned monopoly of public education causes the same results. Let there be competition in the delivery of K-12 education in the form of a voucher system that would allow parents to send their children to any accredited school.

The resulting savings will allow the state to adequately support higher education.

— Bob Dorse, Seattle

Make public schools tax exempt

It appears time to designate public schools as tax exempt.

Aside from salaries, almost 10 percent of the education budget is returned to the general fund in sales tax. All supplies, equipment, books, and, yes, school construction projects are hit with sales tax. The education slice of the state pie graph needs to be proportionally smaller to represent the true expenditures. We also need to find out who or what is being subsidized through the general fund with money earmarked for education.

— Nancy Welsch, Yakima

Think outside the box

— Authorize charter/private schools.

— Give parents back a percentage of the cost of public school for each child in private school. Even more if home-schooled.

— Read Dr. John Medina’s books “Brain Rules” and “Brain Rules for Baby” on how to really educate kids.

— Give every 12-year-old female a Norplant, which will keep her from getting pregnant for seven years.

— Eliminate teacher unions and tenure for public schools/colleges.

— Encourage education courses via computers and tablets for all grade levels.

— Create neighborhood athletic and music competitions, leading to county and state playoffs for private schools, home schools and small charter schools

— Eliminate the Department of Education. Replace it with industry volunteers. Encourage industry to utilize “Brain/Baby Rules” methods of teaching at work location. Give industry a percentage of what public schools get on a per student basis.

— Create separate girl’s and boy’s schools for problem children.

— Test each child for fetal-alcohol syndrome at one year of age or earlier, and send them to a special school similar to AA.

— John Kropf, Shoreline

Cut the edu-fat

Budgets should be trimmed so as to have the smallest impact on the classroom.

Here are three chunks of “edu-fat” I identify as excessive and misguided.

First, stop requiring teachers to recertify every five years. This bureaucratic boondoggle is just one more annoying hoop to jump through that gets in the way of teaching our students. It costs us time and money, and costs the state money to follow the maze of clock hours, credits and certifications for thousands of teachers. It’s administratium at its worst.

Make it every 10 years and lower the required credits from 15 to five. Not one test score will drop from this.

Second, reduce the testing burden even more. I applaud Randy Dorn for reducing the size of the High School Proficiency Exam. The next step is to reduce the frequency of state tests. These cost millions of dollars every year and interfere with instruction.

Third, stop paying state education administrators so much money. Reduce salaries by 10 percent for anyone making six figures (because no teachers do, and our pay was cut this year).

When will we start considering these obvious areas rather than more cuts to the classroom?

— Dan Magill, Seattle

Cut support and administrative staff

I believe we can shore up education in our state to meet very high standards of excellence by prioritizing where the money is spent.

For example, only about 60 percent of the K-12 education budget is spent on classroom instruction. The 40 percent spent on overhead, multiple levels of administration and support systems is excessive and does not compare favorably to well-run private organizations.

Student learning should be our priority, not educational jobs. Every position in our educational system, from the smallest school district though the State Superintendent’s Office, should only be retained if it directly affects student learning in the classroom. Programs and positions that do not contribute will be eliminated or consolidated. The money saved will be sufficient to create very attractive salaries to recruit teachers and principals — the best and brightest.

Excellent teachers and principals do not need elaborate support services. They have the subject knowledge, motivation, energy, personality and ability to work with children, parents and community to facilitate student learning.

— Maxwell Carter, Redmond

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@ Extreme Moderate - If you are so convinced that the two week breaks would hurt the students then what kind of harm do you think the summer break...  Posted on November 20, 2011 at 1:46 PM by christianbuddhist26. Jump to comment
There were three great ideas here in addition to my own (Dan Magill, I had a letter posted): Bill Healy has two of them: Require people to pay...  Posted on November 19, 2011 at 12:32 PM by Extreme Moderate. Jump to comment
I remember when I was in fifth grade (I think) there had been an idea proposed that would have changed the school year schedule to a year round...  Posted on November 19, 2011 at 11:36 AM by christianbuddhist26. Jump to comment

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