More on teaching in Massachusetts; a look at challenges ahead for Washington education funding

Seattle Times reporter, whose series on successful education reform in Massachusetts we linked to here, writes today about the Bay State’s commitment to teacher improvement

Measuring schools and student performance doesn’t get far without examining those who stand at the front of the classroom…But several years after the state passed its ambitious Education Reform Law in 1993, teachers had to take tests demonstrating knowledge in their area of specialty (more than half failed the first time). Then they had to renew their credentials every five years.

In our foundation report we emphasized the importance of quality teaching.

…research and anecdotal evidence tell us that teacher quality is the critical classroom factor impacting student achievement. As a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation study recently found, “Effective teaching can be measured.”

And, as the Rand Corporation and Partnership for Learning have noted, teachers matter more to student achievement than any other factor. Washington must take steps to ensure that the very best teachers are in every classroom, every day. The state can meet that challenge by continuing to assess teacher performance, providing opportunities for current teachers to enhance their skills, making assessment of student outcomes a factor in personnel evaluation, and ensuring principals have authority to hire the best teachers.

Rowe reports, 

Washington, meanwhile, makes less stringent demands on its teaching corps. A new evaluation system ranks educators from unsatisfactory to distinguished, but a beginning teacher may remain at “basic” for five years and would not necessarily be fired for failure to move up right away.

One lesson drawn from Rowe’s series is stark: how you spend the money matters. Expect that to be a key focus of the new task force appointed to shape Washington’s compliance with the state Supreme Court’s school funding mandate, the McCleary decision.

As Lens reporter TJ Martinelli writes, the primary issue confronting the task force is the use of local levy money in support of basic education, which is the state’s responsibility.

The task force’s charge is to make recommendations so lawmakers can act by the end of the 2017 biennial budget session to “eliminate local school district dependency on local levies for implementation of the state’s program of basic education.”

Yet, shifts in funding responsibilities have broader policy implications, a point made by state Sen. Ann Rivers. Martinelli quotes her,

Rivers said if legislators ultimately okay new revenues for education, “We have to instill as much confidence as we can in our voters that we’re spending their money wisely, that children are really benefiting and that we’re doing everything possible to prevent new taxes.”

“We have to have everything on the table for discussion and then make the best case for why something will or won’t work,” she said.

Little regarding the McCleary decision has been easy for legislators. This won’t be either. And it’s important to get it right. The lessons from Massachusetts may provide useful guidance in the coming, critical months of deliberation.