Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington State School Director’s Association Conference
November 18, 1999
MY PRIORITIES HAVE CHANGED—I’M MORE COMMITTED TO EDUCATION THAN EVER
Cal, thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you all for having me here today. School board members are the ultimate community volunteers. You are the true heroes. When you get home from a long, hard day, you still have a fulltime school board job waiting for you. But you somehow find the energy and get the job done, because you know how important the work you do is. In fact, school board members are among our most important elected officials.
You all know that education is my number one priority. The foundation of our future success resides in our ability—all of us from all facets of society—to work together to make sure our children get the best possible education. Nothing matters more to me than to see citizens getting involved in the education of our children. You are setting an example for other citizens to follow. Thank you.
Yesterday I went to the sheriffs and police chiefs’ annual meeting. And you know what? They spent their conference discussing school safety strategies. And that warmed my heart. Here, just weeks after 695 hit—and it will affect our law enforcement officers — they still focussed their attention on the safety of our children in our schools. I know none of us want to even think about a tragedy like last year’s Springfield, Oregon and this year’s Littleton, Colorado coming anywhere near our schools But we have to be prepared. And the best way to prepare is to work together as a team.
Just a few weeks ago, a tragedy was averted in Snohomish because of teamwork. A teenager shared with his mother his concerns about comments a classmate had made. Comments about killing teachers and other students. The mother shared those concerns with the police who acted quickly. And then a search of that 15-year-old classmate’s house turned up two pipe bombs and four rifles in his room. “I thank God that she called,” said the police commander, about the mother.
This incident shows us very clearly: whether we are in education, law enforcement, business, government, or any other walk of life, we are in this together.
And we’re in the aftermath of Initiative 695 together, too. The voters have spoken and I will abide by their will. I will not try to make up the lost revenue by imposing or supporting the imposition of a property tax on vehicles.
We face some very difficult times ahead. When local governments, transit, ferries and highways suddenly lose $750 million a year, there are some serious consequences. All of us must tighten our belts even more and set priorities.
But I want to make it crystal clear that the principles that have guided my administration since I was elected have not been altered by I-695. When I ran for office, I made it clear that education was my number one priority. And that has not changed. Actually, it has changed. I’m more committed than ever before.
Our children are our future. We’ve got to insist on excellence in education NOW. When it comes to education, it’s pay now or pay a horrendous amount more later—and in the form of currency more dear than money.
I’ve always said education is society’s great equalizer. Well, education is also the economy’s great energizer.
And as we barrel into the 21st century, we can’t leave anyone behind. We must be impatient, not complacent! We can’t lull ourselves into believing that just because we’ve put higher academic standards in place, we can just sit back and wait for the harvest. We’ve done great work by putting standards in place. But frankly, folks, the hard work has just begun. We need to be able to reward those students who meet standards. Not just some of the students, but all of them.
This fall I hand-delivered some of the 2,300 Washington Promise Scholarships to the top high school graduates of 1999. These two-year scholarships are available for low-income and middle-income students who attend public or private Washington colleges or universities. 80% of these recipients did not financially qualify for any other state aid. We are trying to make the American dream of a college education affordable and obtainable for working, middle-income families.
It was great to see the parents, the grandparents and entire families attending these ceremonies. Lots of these kids represent the first in their families ever to attend college.
These students earned scholarships by scoring in the top ten percent of their senior classes. But that’s just the top ten-percent. We want every child who achieves in high school to have the opportunity to pursue a college education. I want scholarships to eventually go to all students who pass the 10th grade test. Because if we don’t reward our children for excelling, they will have little incentive to do so.
I don’t mean to imply that we haven’t already moved heaven and earth to reform our education system. Because we have. But we can’t stop NOW. If we stop now, we’ll lose our momentum and roll back down the hill to where we were two years ago when only 47% of our fourth graders met the tough new standards in reading. We’re up to 60% now, but what incentive do our children have to meet those standards if they can’t afford to go to college after meeting the standards? And what incentive do teachers have to get our children there?
We need to give our teachers and principals more freedom. We need opportunity school districts. Schools need to have the freedom to meet standards in the way they see fit. Every child learns differently. Our teachers and building administrators are smart, capable people. Let’s give them more control over their most powerful management tool—their budgets with less regulation from the state. Let’s let our educators do their jobs with less restrictions from the state.
We’ve raised teachers’ salaries to ensure that we attract and retain the brightest teachers. And that’s great. And we’ve initiated salary bonuses for teachers who go the extra mile and obtain national board certification. And that’s great, too. But, just as we’ve instituted standards for students, we also need to impose standards and tests for teachers to ensure competence in the subjects they teach. And we need to reward the teachers and the schools that improve student achievement and intervene if they don’t.
The A+ Commission had its first meeting this fall. It focused on recognizing schools that have excelled even in the face of demographic challenges, so that other schools can learn from these successes. The Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission will also focus on making sure we get assistance out there to schools that are truly struggling. So this is a step in the right direction.
But we also need to reduce our class sizes to increase the amount of individualized contact between students and their teachers. We’ve learned a lot from our Washington Reading Corps program. When those initial test stores came back a couple of years ago, and only 47% of our fourth graders were reading at the standards, we knew we had to do something. So we created the Reading Corps, which is a one-on-one tutoring program. Last year more than 11,000 volunteers stepped up to the plate so that teachers and volunteers were able to reach more than 22,000 struggling readers in our schools with one-on-one reading instruction. And guess what? The reading ability of those 22,000 students jumped dramatically. And the test scores of Reading Corps schools improved at almost twice the rate of schools that didn’t have Reading Corps Programs.
So imagine the benefits we could reap from reducing class sizes to allow more individualized instruction? Is it acceptable that Washington State ranks 48th in the U.S. in class size? I say NO. We need to get those class sizes down.
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. At the 1999 National Education Summit in New York, IBM CEO and Summit Coordinator Lou Gerstner delivered a powerful message.
He said, “If we’re serious about our kids performing at world-class levels, then we’ve got to commit to the 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.
I am more committed than ever to creating the strongest education system in the nation. 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 rewarded for excellence. I will not slow down until our classes are smaller so that our students get the individualized attention they need.
H.G. Wells said that history is a race between education and catastrophe. Well, the race is on and the future is here. Education is freedom, and it is our responsibility as the leaders of society to sustain the land of the free—to make Washington State a State of Learning.
Thank you, school board members, for everything you do for our children every single day. Thank you for your commitment to the education and nurturing of our children.
Thank you very much.