Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
State of Education Address
October 19, 1999
THE SUPREME ART OF THE TEACHER
Thank you Rachel Valentine. That was a truly wonderful introduction. I know when I was in eighth grade I couldn’t have stood up in front of a crowd and given such an articulate and forceful speech.
Those of you in this room and many of you watching this broadcast know the value of education and have dedicated your lives to it. Thank you. The work you’ve accomplished through our Education Reform efforts has been tremendous. It was a lot of hard work establishing standards for our students. But it’s paid off. There was intense debate over standards at the time, but today there is consensus: The standards are a good thing. Two and a half years ago when we gave the first tests only 47% of our fourth graders met our tough new reading standards. This year, 60% did. Our Reading Corps is going strong with over 11,000 volunteers tutoring over 22,000 students, students’ scores are getting higher, more and more Washington teachers are stepping up to the plate and trying for National Board Certification (…in fact, I’m having dinner with this year’s candidates this evening…), and Washington State is gaining the reputation of being a State of Learning. Thank you all. But now it’s time to think about where we are going, as we barrel into the 21st century.
Terry Bergeson and I participated in the 1999 National Education Summit in New York a few weeks ago. IBM CEO and Summit Coordinator Lou Gerstner delivered a powerful message. He said, “We’ve got to have the guts and the political will to press forward with the commitments we’ve made to one another, to our nation, and most importantly to our kids and their future.”
He said, “If we’re serious about our kids performing at world-class levels, then we’ve got to commit to transformation of every convention and process of what our schools are doing today: Everything from what we teach, to how we teach it; the way we train and compensate our teachers; and the accountability we demand at all levels.”
He said, “We either change it all—we commit to go all of the way—or we fail. There is no in between. And there’s no more time to study, ponder, and procrastinate.”
And he’s right.
This is a crucial time. If we don’t continue to push forward with education reform, all of the work we have done so far will be pointless.
There are four things we need to focus on if our education reform efforts are to be successful. We need to continue to reform the system until all of our students who meet standards are rewarded for doing so. We need to raise standards for teachers just as we have for students, and reward teachers when they meet those standards. If we’re going to hold schools accountable for student learning, let’s give them the flexibility they need to get the job done. Let’s free them from all but the most critical rules and regulations! Finally, and most importantly, we must put the focus on kids and get those class sized reduced to provide more individualized attention so that every child achieves our new standards.
We’ve done great work by putting tough new standards and assessments in place, but in many ways the hard work has just begun. Our newly appointed Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission has just gotten underway. They are taking on the tough work of recommending how we will reward schools that meet the standards. And how to provide assistance and eventually intervene when schools aren’t performing well. Because standards without consequences are meaningless.
And we must make these consequences real to our students as well.
These last few weeks I’ve been around our state meeting some of the 2,300 Promise Scholarship recipients. All of these students scored in the top ten percent of their graduating class, and 80% of them did not financially qualify for any other state aid. We must keep the Promise Scholarship program alive, because it makes the American dream of a college education affordable and obtainable for working, middle-class families.
But we must do more than that. These students earned scholarships by scoring in the top ten percent of their senior classes, but we need to move forward on education reform by putting in place the Certificate of Mastery and making that the criteria for receiving a Promise Scholarship. We want every child who achieves the high standards to have the opportunity to pursue a college education. If we don’t reward our children for excelling, they will have little incentive to do so.
We also need to set higher standards for our teachers just as we have for our students and reward teachers for excelling. And we must call upon our best educators to help us do this. We give about a dozen other professions in our state, like doctors, real estate professionals, nurses, architects and engineers the authority and responsibility for setting high standards for entering and remaining in the profession. Why is it we don’t do this for educators? We need to create the Washington Professional Standards Board for educators.
Other than a parent, a good teacher can have more influence in an individual life than just about any other adult a child encounters. But to be a good teacher is very hard work. Albert Einstein said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” And that’s hard work. Teachers have to be “ON” every day, and capable of turning on the minds of our youth. Teachers need to be enthusiastic and creative and inspiring every single day of the week. There’s none of that hiding behind a computer screen. There’s no down time for teachers. Their influence is infinite.
And I want to make sure we are rewarding teachers that excel. A good start on this is the 15% pay bump I proposed and the Legislature provided for teachers who meet the very rigorous certification standards of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
We need to do everything in our power to empower our teachers—to make sure that they have an atmosphere conducive to learning. We need more computers, training for teachers, compensation for work well done, and we must deliver on the promise we made to schools—that in exchange for holding them to high standards, we would give them freedom from the regulations that block their path. Finally, we must reduce class sizes.
Washington currently ranks 48th in the nation in terms of class size. That is simply unacceptable. It will take time and a substantial investment to lower our class sizes to a level that can have a significant impact on student learning, and that is what we must be committed to doing.
No matter how good teachers are, students in large classes cannot get all the attention and help they need. Student learning suffers as a consequence. I was in Tacoma last month and visited classrooms of just 16 students. The students were so enthusiastic. And the teachers in those classes said that they thought they could be done with the course work by March. Imagine the impact our teachers could have if they only had the opportunity to offer students more individualized attention!
I promise I will remain committed to our excellence in education agenda. I will not slow down until every child meets our tough, new education standards and is rewarded for doing so. I will not slow down until every teacher is tested for competence and is rewarded for excellence.
We’re here today to tell you that we are behind you every step of the way as you push forward towards excellence in education. And to thank you for the dedication and commitment you have displayed so far. And to encourage you to keep pushing forward. We will get there, and we’ll get there before Rachel Valentine’s children enter kindergarten. We know we can count on your help to make Washington a State of Learning. Thank you.
Terry Bergeson is a model of the kind of commitment and dedication necessary to get the job done. It’s my pleasure to introduce our own Superintendent for Public Instruction, Terry Bergeson.