Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
State of Education
September 8, 1998

It's always a pleasure to come to a school building this time of year. The beginning of a new school year is a time of fresh energy and new beginnings.

And there are always those great essays students write about "what I did during my summer vacation." I remember going on a couple of summer car trips with my sisters and parents when I was very little. We would all be crowded into the back seat, and we were constantly asking "Are we there yet?" "Mommy, Daddy, are we there yet? How many more miles? Are we there yet?"

Today, we've come together to confront the same question about school reform. We've been on this journey for a long time. Our educators and parents and community leaders have worked hard to establish high academic standards but also assessments to tell us whether our students measure up to these tough new standards. Last year, we presented to the public our first report on the results of these tests. Those results were sobering, to say the least. They showed that we still had a long way to go.

This year, our fourth grade test shows we're making some progress. But it's still not enough. So today I have to tell you, just as our Mom and Dad told us, "we're not there yet." And we're not getting there fast enough. So it's time to shift into high gear. In fact, it's time to move into the passing lane.

Make no mistake: these test results do show that when we set high standards, and focus on helping students master them, we make progress. The improvement in this year's fourth grade test scores is proof that setting high standards and holding our teachers and students accountable for meeting them is the best thing that's happened in our schools in a generation.

Our academic standards represent our best estimate of the level of skill and knowledge this generation of students will need to thrive in the coming century. And if we know what our students need and yet fail to provide it for them, we will be betraying our own children. We absolutely can't do that. So for every citizen in the state of Washington, today's test scores are a call to action.

Bringing our students and our schools up to the ambitious standards we have set will take more hard work on the part of teachers, students, parents and citizens. It will take the sustained and persistent support of all the allies of public education, and all those who care about the future of our children. And it will take a continuing commitment in our state capitol to giving schools and teachers the resources and the flexibility they need to improve their performance.

I urge every parent, every business owner and every taxpayer to look at the results of this year's fourth- and seventh-grade assessments for your local school. This is your report card on the progress of your school district and your neighborhood school. If you are a parent, this is the information you need to know whether your children will be able to get a job and move out of your house when they grow up.

If your school showed significant improvement over last year's fourth-grade test scores, the staff at that school deserves your thanks and your continuing support. And if they didn't improve, they need your immediate help to do so.

On this occasion last year, we learned that our schools needed immediate help to improve our children's performance in reading. We responded by creating the Washington Reading Corps, which has mobilized thousands of volunteers to tutor students who are struggling to learn how to read.

Over the last few months, our experience with the Washington Reading Corps has shown that citizens and business leaders all across this state are willing to help. But the most important lesson we've learned is that if we want people to help, we have to ask. And in the coming years, we need to ask more people for more help and more often.

But we also must recognize that even the most dedicated volunteers can never be a substitute for talented teachers and passionate principals. That's why I support the State Board of Education's proposal to ask of new teachers what we ask of students - namely, that they pass an assessment that shows whether they have achieved a high standard of skill and knowledge in the subjects they will teach. That's also why I support the work of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Teachers who have been certified by this Board have met a very high standard of effectiveness - a standard that ought to become universal throughout our state.

To achieve that high standard, we also need to do a better job of inspiring our best and brightest students to become teachers. And we need to re-think and re-invent the way our colleges and universities prepare people to teach.

To really get to our destination, we will also have to stop thinking of education as something that's just for kids. In the past, we've told our children that they should expect to get a good education, and then get a good job. But now we must give them a much different message: They should expect to learn for life. They should expect learning and working to go hand in hand for their entire careers.

This crystallizes the real mission of our public schools. That is to make learning a way of life, by inspiring, early in every student's life, an insatiable hunger to learn more, to use their minds more fully, and to master higher levels of skill.

Ours is a very ambitious education agenda, driven by a commitment to very high academic standards. And our ultimate destination is to make Washington a state of learning - a state where everyone learns, everywhere and every day. A state of learning is a place where everyone recognizes that our capacity to learn is our most abundant and most precious resource. A state of learning is a place where people are fully engaged in creating the future, and wholeheartedly open to new ideas, new technologies, and new ways of doing things. And a state of learning is a place where people learn their way over and around all the obstacles that block the path to hope, opportunity, and equality.

We have to hurry up if we're going to reach this destination in time to ensure today's students will thrive in a knowledge-driven economy. We just can't tell today's young people it's too bad you went to school before we figured out how to help you master the high levels of skill and knowledge you'll need to lead productive lives in the 21st century.

This year's test scores tell us how many more miles we have to go, but it's up to us how fast we get there. That's a responsibility that ought to weigh heavily on the shoulders of every educator and every citizen, in every community in this state.

The gap between our new, higher standards and our current achievement levels doesn't mean we're hopelessly lost. By all the traditional national measures, our schools are at or above the national average. Our students are as smart as any group of kids, anywhere on earth. Our teachers are as dedicated and as talented as any. Rather, we have set tougher and higher academic standards for our children because we want them to succeed in the new century. We know exactly what we want, and we have a clear and effective strategy for getting it.

Now we just have to implement that strategy faster, harder, and with a more focused commitment to giving this generation of students the level of education we know they need.

We are on the right road, traveling in the right direction. And with the continued determination of parents, educators, and civic leaders, we will reach our destination of higher achievement by all our students. One of the reasons we've come this far on our journey to higher academic performance is that we have an outstanding Superintendent of Public Instruction. Dr. Terry Bergeson is an educational leader whose commitment, competence, and courage is an inspiration to all of us. She shows all of us how to rise to the challenge of change, and create a legacy of educational excellence. So it's my honor to introduce her to you, and to ask that you join me in recognizing her immense contribution to the children and the future of our state.

Thank you.
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