Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
WA Assn. of School Administrators & WA School Directors’ Assn. Leg. Conference
March 3, 2003
I am pleased and honored to be here.
We are all here today because of our commitment to education.
I became interested in a career in state government because I wanted to try to improve the education system.
I wanted to do what I could to give opportunities to all of our children.
My commitment has only grown stronger over the years, especially now that I am the father of two small children. Emily is in Kindergarten and Dylan is in pre-school.
I know that all of you here today share a passionate commitment to building a world-class education system.
Because education is the key to a vital economy and a prosperous future for our children.
We simply must continue to invest in the future—in their future.
There is plenty of bad news to go around these days.
But the good news is that we continue to make progress in education.
I see this progress across our state at the schools I visit every month.
I hear it in the words of the students and parents and teachers who share their stories and impressions with me.
The test scores of our students have consistently improved.
We’ve seen great progress at schools like Garfield Elementary in Spokane, where the percentage of 4th graders meeting the math standards has gone from only 14% to 81% in just a few years.
Schools like Union Gap Elementary, where the percentage of 4th graders meeting the reading standards has gone from only 21% to 74%.
We’ve seen reading scores climb for all grades in our state, thanks to programs like the Washington Reading Corps, which has helped tens of thousands of struggling readers in a few months advance in their reading skills by more than one full grade level.
At the same time that we’re making progress, we’ve identified areas where we know we must improve.
While test scores are on the rise for minority students, there’s a widening disparity between minority and white students.
This growing achievement gap is unacceptable.
A good education is a universal right and must never depend on circumstances of social or economic standing.
We will continue in our efforts to close the gaps.
One way is to reform the Learning Assistance Program to ensure that the schools with at risk kids receive and keep the money they need. LAP money shouldn’t be dependent on kids failing first.
We must step up to this problem, and make sure all of our kids are getting what they need to succeed.
We must prepare all of our kids to meet the higher standards envisioned in our state’s education reform efforts.
As you know, a key component of the education reform effort is the development of a Certificate of Mastery graduation requirement, beginning with the Class of 2008.
The Class of 2008 is in the seventh grade right now.
2008 is not very far off.
Yet we have not clearly defined for those students, their parents, and their teachers exactly what will be required of them for graduation.
I have long believed that we need to refocus the Certificate of Mastery requirements.
We need to focus on the basics.
We also need to maintain the high standards that we have set for Washington students.
Our kids deserve the best education possible.
Accordingly, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and I have introduced legislation that specifically identifies the content areas included in the Certificate of Mastery.
Under this legislation, passing the basics—reading, writing and mathematics—will be graduation requirements in 2008.
In 2010, science will be added.
Passing arts, physical education and health, listening and social studies would no longer be graduation requirements. Although I support a civics test akin to that required to become a U.S. citizen.
Our proposal is supported by the major education stakeholders including WASA/WSDDA. This does not mean that these subjects will be neglected.
They are all vitally important to a quality education.
Classes will continue to be required in all these topics.
But for the Certificate of Mastery, we need to focus on the basics and hold districts and students accountable for the basics so we will be on track five years from now.
These issues are being debated in the legislature right now.
But I am confident that we can and will give students, teachers and parents the certainty they need to plan and work toward and meet, the higher standards.
Another area we have energetically debated is assessment retakes.
We want high standards.
And we also want to make sure we give our students sufficient opportunity to show whether they can meet the standards.
The goal is mastery of the subject matter not whether one has passed on the first try so we’ve also proposed that assessment retakes be authorized.
And just as there are many ways to learn, there are many ways to show what’s been learned.
Given the importance of the Certificate of Mastery, we must be responsive to differences in learning styles and testing effectiveness.
Accordingly, we should authorize alternative assessment. Not all kids respond the same to a particular test.
I believe we can and must help all of our kids meet the high standards we’ve set.
They deserve a world-class education.
Let’s take the steps we need to take to help our students, our teachers, and our schools achieve that goal.
It is vitally important that we protect the core of education even as we make deep and painful budget cuts.
That’s why 56% of the proposed budget is allocated to education, K-12 and higher education.
K-12 education is one of the very few areas in which we will be spending more in the upcoming biennium than in the current one.
There has been some confusion about my intentions regarding Initiative 728 and 732.
I want to emphasize that my budget proposal delays—not cancels—both voter-approved initiatives.
During the past two years, Initiative 728 provided $400 million to reduce class size in public schools.
Under my proposal, schools will continue to receive that money during the next two years.
We just can’t double the funding as called for by the initiative in 2004-2005. Further enhancements will resume in the 2005-2006 school year.
And the automatic cost-of-living adjustments for teachers would also resume in 2005.
Last week my fellow governors and I met with President Bush and urged him to support the investments we need to make to continue improving education.
We agree with the principles and goals of the president’s “No Child Left Behind” policy.
We support raising standards and encouraging our children and schools to reach new heights of achievement.
But achieving higher standards requires investments in teacher training, high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, public schools, community colleges and universities.
Investing in and improving education is a shared responsibility between the states and the federal government.
IT and Special Education must be fully funded.
These are tough economic times—not just in our state but in nearly every state.
But we will get through this.
Difficult times remind us that we cannot do everything.
But we can do the things that matter most by being disciplined, creative and determined.
We can continue to make needed progress.
And when our economy recovers—and it will recover—we will be in a better position to know where we want to make additional investments.
We have identified our top priorities.
And education is at the top of that list.
I want to close by thanking all of you.
Thank you for your hard work in keeping our academic improvements moving forward, in spite of tough times.
I know how hard it is to plan and maintain effort when we face financial difficulties.
Thank you for staying the course.
Thank you to the school board members—you are a critical connection to our communities.
Without community involvement, we would not be able to succeed.
And thanks to all of you for caring about our kids.
You are stewards of our future, and I am grateful that our education system in this state is in such capable and caring hands.
I am confident that if we work together for our children, Washington will one day be known as “The Education State.”
Together, we will meet today’s challenges, and together we will build a better tomorrow.