Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
PTA Parent Involvement Summit
September 19, 1997
As many of you may already know, I have just recently joined the ranks of Washington's parents.
Our little Emily is just six months old now, but Mona and I have already joined the PTA, and we are proud of our new membership.
I want to thank you all very much for providing this opportunity to us, and to thousands of other parents.
Your work to promote deeper and more effective parent involvement in the education of our children truly benefits all the families of this state.
And as you know all too well, your work is not easy.
In so many ways, promoting parent involvement is swimming against the tide.
It is swimming against the tide of economic reality.
More and more kids live in families where both parents work full-time, and more kids are living in single-parent families.
So the amount of time families have to devote to school activities has diminished.
And to make matters worse, our school schedules and our work schedules seem to be permanently at odds with one another.
While we're in a period of transition from the industrial age to the information age, our schools are still stuck on schedules that were designed for an agricultural society.
At the same time, the gap between rich and poor has widened, and we have more and more parents struggling with the stress of having bigger bills than paychecks.
These pressures on parents are truly daunting.
In far too many instances, they have caused a huge disconnection between parents and schools.
And in the absence of strong, collaborative relationships between parents and teachers, suspicion, mistrust, and blame often take over.
These are the obstacles we must either dismantle or find ways around, because right now, parent involvement is more important than ever before.
We all know that today's kids will need higher levels of skill and knowledge in the century to come.
That's why, in 1993, this state passed the sweeping school reform legislation that led us to the establishment of new, rigorous and higher academic standards.
I know that you will be discussing the first test results of how well our fourth-graders measure up to these tougher standards.
Those results are truly sobering.
But I want you to know that I intend to stand behind our new standards 110%.
We're not going to back away one inch from those new standards.
The test scores we've just received don't mean that our fourth graders are any less bright or capable than they've ever been.
The test scores mean we've raised the bar.
And for the first time, we've made the bar visible.
Now our students, teachers, and parents will know what we're aiming for, and how good is really good enough.
And by creating assessments based on high academic standards, we've finally broken out of the old, bad habit of just aiming to be "above average."
In fact, we need to get away from national or international comparisons.
It's not enough that our students do better than others if that means our students get three answers right out of ten questions, and students in other states got only two answers out of ten right.
We want to hold our kids to specific academic standards - standards that were set right here by Washington parents, Washington teachers,
and Washington business and community leaders.
I passionately believe that our standards are both achievable and vitally necessary to the future success of every child in Washington state.
What we learned from this year's test results is that the steepest part of the mountain of school improvement lies just ahead.
But we cannot turn back.
We must move heaven and earth to help all our students reach the summit of academic excellence.
And educators can't climb this mountain alone.
We are all roped together.
Parents, teachers, students, businesses, and communities will either make it to the summit together, or fall backwards into the abyss of mediocrity together.
And parents must lead this expedition up this mountain.
We are our children's first and most important teachers.
We are their advocates, their cheerleaders, and their personal trainers.
And parents, more than anyone else, must be the ones who push our schools and teachers to help all our kids meet or exceed our new standards.
Now that we have measured the distance between where we are and where we need to be, parents must sit down with principals and teachers
and help design the game plans that will close that distance.
We know that teachers are stretched too thin when kids come to school with unmet social, emotional and health needs.
We have to work harder to see that those needs are met before kids come to class.
But we also know that it is the nature of all institutions to resist change to some degree, and so it will take pressure from outside the education system to make sure the necessary changes happen.
That's why parents play such a crucial role in pushing our schools to improve.
The day is long over when PTAs and parents supported schools simply by baking cookies and helping with field trips.
Today, parents must push for full partnership in the decision-making processes of every school.
Parents and schools together must redesign their relationship, and make schools family-friendly places that welcome adult participation from both parents and other community members.
But even these changes won't be enough to get us where we need to go.
To really succeed in raising the academic achievement levels of Washington's students, we have to change our culture.
We have to create a culture that honors and supports learning by everyone, of every age.
Every home, every business, and every community in Washington must become a center of learning.
Parents need to show their children what it means to learn for life.
Businesses must give working parents time to be involved in kids' education, and bring children into the workplace, so that students can see how what they learn in school will affect their future.
Communities must make a conscious effort to show respect and appreciation for teachers, and to mobilize more volunteer tutors and mentors for kids who need extra help.
Just last week, I spent time in a school where senior citizens were tutoring children and reading to them.
After school let out, those same seniors were learning to use computers.
And this school was filled with parents and community volunteers from morning til night.
This school was truly a center of learning for the whole community.
And just day before yesterday, I spent a day visiting college students who were volunteering in schools in Spokane, Bellingham, Seattle and Vancouver.
This is the kind of total community mobilization it will take to meet the ambitious goals we have set for ourselves and our children.
Everyone - from college students to our most senior citizens - has a role to play in helping today's kids meet or exceed our new academic standards.
And everyone has a role to play in making all of Washington a state of learning - a state where everyone, of every age, is engaged in learning in one way or another throughout their entire lives.
These are immense challenges. But in this room, I see immense hope.
I see the diversity of this state represented by migrant workers, business leaders, parents from every ethnicity and walk of life, and educators.
You are truly the leaders of a new renaissance in public education.
And it is from your ranks that I have drawn a new member for this state's Commission on Student Learning.
As most of you know, the Commission has led the effort to design and establish our new academic standards and the tests that measure our progress.
The Commission is the guide on our expedition up the mountain of school improvement.
And the quality of the leadership on the Commission is critical to our ability to reach our destination.
So I am pleased to announce that I have appointed Pam Carter - a longtime PTA activist and community leader from Seattle - to help lead us into the century of learning that lies ahead.
Pam, will you please stand and be recognized?
I know that Pam will be a powerful and eloquent advocate for all the parents of this state.
As your advocate, she will need a constant stream of your ideas, your advice, and your support.
But most of all, she and her fellow Commissioners will need to know that all of us are behind her 100% on the steep, difficult journey we have embarked on.
Pam -- and most importantly all of you -- are creating the future that will shape the lives of our children and their children.
There is no more important work on earth.
And so, on behalf of all the residents of Washington state, I want to thank her -- and to thank all of you -- for your willingness to take up the challenge of ensuring that every child in our state will succeed academically in the 21st century.
Thank you very much.