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Northwest Voices | Letters to the Editor

Welcome to The Seattle Times' online letters to the editor, a sampling of readers' opinions. Join the conversation by commenting on these letters or send your own letter of up to 200 words

September 17, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Education reform in Washington state

Defining charter schools

The Seattle Times editorial made mention of how charters are mostly the province of suburban school districts in this state, particularly the well-off ones. [“A new vision for education,” Opinion, Sept. 9.]

While I wont argue that point, because the fact is few school districts have taken advantage of the state’s existing choice law, I do want to take issue with how charters are defined. Two years ago, when I was president of the Washington State School Directors’ Association, I had the opportunity to visit with staff at the U.S. Department of Education to discuss their view of charter schools in relationship to Race To the Top.

Two of the explicit examples we gave were of Aviation High School in the Highline School District and Delta High School in the Tri-Cities. We were told that Delta which has a lottery that provides and equal number of slots to the Richland, Kennewick and Pasco districts was not a “true” lottery.

Anyone who knows the Tri-Cities understands that Pasco is a school district of overwhelming crowding, ELL students and poverty, with low test scores to match. If Delta were a true lottery, the likelihood that Kennewick and Richland districts would have taken all the available slots for students is very high.

My point is that the dysfunctionality of the law of agency often prevents real reform from taking place. You do the right thing for the right reasons, but there’s a technicality that will keep the education system from firing on all cylinders for the students most in need.

— Kevin Laverty, Mukilteo

Consider volunteering

I totally agree with A. Eric Anderson’s letter [“Citizens can help, too,” Northwest Voices, Sept. 16], in which he described his frustration in trying to find an avenue to have his expertise utilized in the public schools.

As a former college professor of mathematics, and also having significant experience in industry at Boeing and AT&T, I also could not find any existing program where I could volunteer my knowledge to assist the overworked and undersupported teachers. Luckily, I eventually found a receptive environment at Cleveland High School, which is undergoing an educational transformation to highlight STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects for all their students.

It is hard to imagine that there are not many, many professionals in our community who would consider volunteering to help our next generation in their educational pursuits.

— James W. Fernandez, Mercer Island

Focus on success

Nicholas Kristof’s column [“Why school reform is vital,” Opinion, Sept. 15] addresses one important issue regarding improving the education and subsequent quality of life for children. He also leaves out another.

Yes, there are outstanding teachers unions, with strong leadership, that support kids and community, by holding high expectations for the classroom performance of all teachers. Sadly, others do not, focusing primarily on compensation and work conditions but not on the learning of children.

But, the state and school districts, in their narrow emphasis upon test scores, fail to address and emphasize criteria that contribute to success in life and, importantly, are desired by parents: Character and compassion, creativity, persistence to difficult tasks, encouraging kids to identify and pursue unique, individual interests are important goals for all children and can be included in the curriculum early in a child’s education with significant implications as the kids move through life.

Reading, writing and math are important but other outcomes are equally, or perhaps, more important is assuring success for all children.

— Jeff Newport, Duvall

Face-to-face instruction

The current economic and political thinking is that our graduates from high school and college need to be curious, creative, innovative, bold, thoughtful, questioning and need to be able to work in teams and communicate clearly verbally and in writing.

Everyone throughout the world will have up-to-date technology; technology travels at the speed of light. The question for the future economic leadership of the world is who will have the most talented workers.

I would argue that to educate innovative and capable workers, education will need to be face-to-face — teachers challenging, discussing, criticizing student thought. Computers can grade multiple-choice tests. But this is not a multiple-choice world. So, in the last few years, 300,000 teachers have been fired. Dah.

— Dean Shoemaker, Kent

Fully fund existing schools

This November, we will be asked to vote on Initiative 1240, to create an expensive, new system of privately operated but publicly funded charter schools in Washington.

I say No I-1240 because it doesn’t address the primary problems faced by our public schools: overcrowded classrooms and underfunding.

Our schools have the fourth-largest class sizes in the nation. Teachers must spend more time on crowd control and less on teaching.

The state Supreme Court recently ruled that the Legislature is not meeting its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. Washington is ranked 42nd in the nation in funding for schools. Instead of creating more underfunded schools, lets fully fund existing schools and restore music and art programs to all of them so that all students can achieve.

Instead of resolving these issues, I-1240 would make matters worse by adding a new $3 million bureaucracy to regulate the new schools. This commission would be composed of appointed officials who have demonstrated a pro-charter bias, despite the fact that charters don’t have a proven track record. What kind of watchdog group is that!

— Sarah Morken, Tacoma

Merit semifinalists show what’s possible

Thank you for listing the names of approximately 250 National Merit semifinalists in our region [“National Merit semifinalists here hail from more than 50 schools,” NWSunday, Sept. 16]. The students and their schools deserve applause.

By our rough count, 72 percent of the semifinalists are from public schools. We are aware that the public schools enroll a far higher number of students than private schools do and that this skews the percentage picture. Still, the numbers are impressive, and they help give the lie to Melinda Gates’s declaration on television that “schools are broken” (interview with Hari Sreenivasan, “PBS Newshour,” June 4).

That struck us at the time as an outrageous generalization. Many American schools have problems, and even more could use improvement. But these National Merit figures remind us that great teaching and learning are going on in schools in all regions of our country.

— Michael and Beret Kischner, Seattle

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