Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Strategic Support of Washington Schools Conference
November 13, 2002

Good morning. I’m honored to be here. Improving our educational system requires a vital, active partnership. And it’s great to see so many partners here this morning.

As you know, our state faces a $2 billion deficit in the next biennium. Everything the state does will be scrutinized. There will be deep cuts and tough decisions. We must make sure we’re giving Washington citizens the services that matter most within the resources that we have. Things will change.

But one thing won’t change. When all is said and done, education must still be our highest priority.

We’ve made good progress in overall improvements since 1993, when we enacted education reform legislation. But we need to make far greater progress.

We need to strengthen our current focus and integrate our state’s systems and programs today. And we must work together toward a shared vision for tomorrow. Our kids deserve the best education system we can give them.

Our immediate challenge is, as I said, more focus and integration, especially in tough economic times. Government, business, schools, communities and philanthropic organizations must work in closer partnership.

We need to collectively focus on the same critical issues and programs. Our efforts must be integrated. We need to leverage the capabilities of every organization represented here today.

The power of our partnership far surpasses the power of an assortment of individual programs. But only if we work together.

Since 1997, WASL scores in the fourth, seventh and tenth grades have modestly but consistently improved in reading and math.

Still, last year only 66% of fourth grade students met the fourth grade reading standard. And scores in other subjects and at other grade levels are lower. We can and must do better.

We’ve also seen WASL scores document a significant, persistent achievement gap between white students and other ethnic groups. We can and must do better.

I am committed to standards-based education reform. I am committed to the Certificate of Mastery. I am committed to using the WASL to both identify progress and identify targeted assistance.

The WASL is essential for educational accountability. We must continue to have statewide assessments in core subject areas. Schools, parents, and students must know what is expected from them and what is required for graduation.

For reading, writing, math and science, we must administer statewide tests as part of our state’s commitment to high education standards. We must make sure our students have mastered basic literacy, math and science skills.

And the federal government now requires statewide tests in reading, math and science.

I also believe that the arts, health and fitness, and social studies are critical aspects of every student’s education. These subjects should continue to be integral parts of their learning experience.

We should continue to create a set of optional tests linked to the standards in arts, health and fitness, and social studies.

These tests can be administered by teachers in the classroom. They can be made available to local school districts. They can be used by teachers in the classroom. The tests can be administered, scored and reported at the local level.

But as a state, we need to focus on the basics for the WASL—the core subject areas.

We have another fundamental issue to resolve. Ten years after adoption of education reform, this state still does not have a meaningful graduation requirement in place.

I am concerned that we have not yet laid the groundwork for successful implementation of the Certificate of Mastery as a graduation requirement.

The Certificate is designed to indicate achievement of high academic standards, as measured by a passing score on each of the 10th grade WASL exams.

I remain committed to maintaining the Certificate of Mastery as a graduation requirement, beginning in 2008, in the subjects of reading, writing, and math and, later, in science. But we have significant work to do to get there.

We need to take a hard look at our WASLs to determine what level of proficiency should define minimum graduation requirements. We need to provide for “re-takes” of the 10th grade WASL.

We also need to develop some solid alternative ways for students to demonstrate proficiency in the core subjects. All kids do not perform the same way from one test to another. There cannot be only one way of testing proficiency.

If we want to successfully implement the Certificate of Mastery in 2008, we’ve got to get moving. We need to have the “rules of the game” in place by 2004.

There are other areas requiring more strategic focus and integration of systems and programs. I mentioned the achievement gap. Too many students of color and students from low-income households are being left behind today. That is not acceptable.

A good education is a universal right. It must never depend on circumstances of economic or social standing. Achievement gaps reflect an injustice we must not condone. It is our responsibility to close the gaps.

We’ll do that not just by identifying the disparities, but also by targeting the students and schools that need our help. And we’ll close the gaps by engaging our schools and communities to step forward and work harder.

Part of the solution to closing achievement gaps is in developing and implementing a statewide data system. Many disadvantaged students end up moving from school to school. New teachers don’t know about old problems.

Such a data system would allow teachers and schools to share information, exchange ideas and pool resources. Information about individual students would follow the student grade to grade, from school to school.

Sharing data and information would make it easier to customize learning plans for individual students who need extra assistance.

We will also narrow the achievement gap by focusing our resources better. As I said, we must target the highest need schools and children. We need to focus our money and time on these schools better than we do today.

We should start by reforming the way the Learning Assistance Program (LAP) is allocated.

Research indicates that the best predictor of academic achievement in a school is the concentration of students in poverty. Schools with greater concentrations of children with limited English proficiency also face greater challenges getting all students to standard. We should allocate funding accordingly.

At the same time, let’s strengthen our accountability system. More money will not help a low-performing school that doesn’t know what to do with it. Such schools need school improvement plans with measurable achievement goals.

We need performance agreements between the state and the school. And we need to give the Superintendent of Public Instruction the authority to intervene in schools that fail to meet the terms of their performance agreements.

Just as we plan to hold students accountable for minimum WASL scores, we should hold schools accountable as well.

As we focus more sharply in the areas I’ve mentioned, other efforts will be better defined. Businesses wanting to contribute to education, for example, can focus on the few most critical issues and programs. We will all be better able to integrate our efforts and get more mileage out of our partnership.

More focus and better integration of our various efforts will be a big step forward. But we obviously need a long-term vision as well. Our vision should reflect a few key priorities that I’d like to share.

Priority: Kids need a healthy start. The K-12 experience begins early, and everything along the way affects the outcome. Preschool kids need an awareness of skills and abilities young students should bring to school when they enter kindergarten.

Decades of research show that high quality preschool experiences mean higher academic achievement in elementary school. And better high school graduation rates. Our kids deserve to start school prepared, engaged, and confident.

Our future efforts must support parents, childcare providers and preschools. We must provide the information they need to prepare young children better for kindergarten. We must also expand access to high quality preschool programs.

Our kids have the opportunity to begin a lifetime of learning in high quality preschool programs. There are 19,000 three- and four-year-olds in government funded preschool programs in our state today. But that’s only 60 percent of eligible kids. We need to get the assistance to the kids who need it most.

Priority: Good teaching should be rewarded. Teachers are the single most important school-based factor in a student’s success. We need to pay teachers better, and we need to pay them smarter.

We can’t just keep wishing teachers made more money. We need to develop a new system that rewards teachers better for their knowledge and skills, rather than just experience and education credits.

The public supports higher teacher pay but with greater accountability. We must work together to figure out how to accomplish that. It’s a big change, and we need to be careful. But we simply must move forward.

Priority: Families and communities are key. Thirty-five years of research show that greater family involvement in children’s learning is a critical link to achieving high quality education.

Let’s get families and communities more actively involved in the education and emotional development of their children from the time of birth!

Priority: Schools are for students. We need to improve the relevance of middle and high school to students. This will increase student engagement and achievement.

We need to expand our efforts to link the K-12 system to postsecondary opportunities. For example, the Running Start program allows 11th and 12th graders to go to community colleges and universities for courses that earn college credit.

Running Start is a good program but it isn’t being used to its full potential. As it operates, there is actually a financial disincentive for public schools to have their students participate.

We need to change that, because Running Start is a good concept. Programs like this help make high school more relevant to students. They also reduce families’ college costs by earning transferable college credits while in high school.

Priority: Keep higher education opportunities open. We have to expand college and university enrollment capacities. The baby boom echo generation is beginning to move into colleges and universities. It is time to think creatively about how we’ll accommodate the larger numbers.

We also need to align colleges and universities with the WASL. We should use WASL scores as an admissions criterion for higher education. If we’re serious about making our standards more meaningful, then K-12 and higher education should work to similar standards of excellence.

We must have a more stable tuition and financial aid policy. Students and families need a better chance to plan for the costs of college and workforce training. We will also need to expand state investment in financial aid programs for low- and middle-income families.

A healthy start, good teachers, family and community support, engaged students—these are our priorities. They are the basis of a strong education system. And a strong education system is the basis for our progress as a state.

I’d like to close by issuing a challenge to this group. At the outset, I said that, “The power of our partnership far surpasses the power of an assortment of individual programs.” I would like to challenge this group to focus collectively on a key education issue—literacy.

Learning to read is an essential foundation for success—not just in school, but also in our society. Strong reading skills are essential to a student’s success in all areas of learning.

Research shows that children who are not proficient readers by the end of 3rd grade have difficulties throughout the course of their schooling. They perform poorly in other subjects and often never graduate.

In a technological society, the demands for higher literacy are ever increasing. And the consequences for those who fall short are dire.

You can make a big difference by deciding as a group to focus on reading. We’ve implemented programs like the Washington Reading Corps and the Summer Reading Challenge.

But that’s just a good start. Literacy is a huge, ongoing issue.

I challenge this group to embark on a literacy crusade.

We need your resources—and we need your commitment and leadership. You can provide the framework and structure to entice other organizations and businesses to participate.

A lot of businesses and organizations want to help in education but don’t know how. You can lead the way.

We face tough times and a budget crisis. Our state has made it through worse times, and we’ll make it through this time. But we must revitalize the public dialogue and re-engage our citizens on the future of Washington education.

We must never forget that the basis for our state’s long-term economic vitality is a strong education system. It is the key to a skilled, qualified workforce. And it is the key to personal fulfillment, lifelong learning and an informed, engaged citizenry.

Washington state should not settle for a mediocre education system. And we will not settle for that!

Together, and with your help, we will improve our education system. We will not settle for anything less than educational excellence in our state.

Thank you.

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