New report examines Senate education plan; HS graduation rates rises; STEM education tops national legislative agenda

A few education items we wanted to call to your attention this week:

Budget and McCleary

The Washington Research Council has analyzed the Senate’s K-12 plan. Last week, we linked to the WRC report on the plans offered by the governor and the House. The Research Council concludes,

SSB 5607 represents a significant overhaul of the current K–12 system. It has the potential to both comply with the McCleary decision and improve outcomes for students. A recent report from the Washington Roundtable and Partner- ship for Learning recommends a student- based funding system similar to the one proposed by SSB 5607: “By driving additional resources to students with greater needs, this easy-to-understand system can improve equity and outcomes” 

Also, given the safeguards the bill puts in place to keep local funds from being used for basic education, it could help keep the state from being in this situation again. The bill’s substitution of state for local funds would reduce the uncon- stitutional reliance on local levies to fund education and increase property taxes overall, but the Legislature will have to find additional resources to fully fund the proposed spending.

After briefly comparing the plans, the Council notes, 

Budget writers have their work cut out for them this session.

Graduation Rates

In our Friday Roundup we highlighted one story on the improvement in the state’s high school graduation rate. Here we’d like to expand on that a bit. Graduation rates are among the metrics we use in calculation our Opportunity Score. Our latest release show’s Washington ranking 38th in the nation, far from our “top ten” goal.

The News Tribune reports,

New data on the success of Washington public high school students shows four-year graduation rates at an all-time high of 79.1 percent for the Class of 2016…The state average is up a full percentage point from 2015. And that single point means 1,528 more students, the equivalent of a large high school, graduated in 2016.

That’s good, but

The graduation data, released this weekby the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, was accompanied by more sobering data on how students fare in their first year of high school, on the way to a diploma.

That data indicate that just over one in five Washington ninth-graders — 22.5 percent — failed at least one math, English or science course in the school year ending in 2016. This is the first year the state has released the ninth-grade data, but OSPI calculated the data for the previous two years. In the school year that ended in 2014, the ninth-grade failure rate was nearly 25 percent, so the rate has fallen slightly.

The nation’s high school graduation rate was 83 percent for the 2014-15 school year, the most recent data available…

Broken down by gender, the statewide rate was 82 percent for females and 76 percent for males. Those rates are up from three years before, when they were 80 percent and 72 percent, respectively.

Among racial subgroups, Asian students had the highest graduation rate, at 89 percent, while American Indian/Alaskan Native had the lowest, at 61 percent. However, the American Indian/Alaskan Native rate made the most improvement, up from 53 percent for the class of 2013.

 Progress, to be sure, but still a long ways to go.
STEM Education
We’ve written much about the importance of STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), particularly as a pathway to enhanced career opportunities. A skilled STEM workforce is also critical for expanding economic opportunity. Washington has routinely ranked high among the states for its innovation economy. Nationally, legislatures are making STEM education a priority, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The United States Department of Education’s STEM 2026 report, estimates that major American companies will need to add nearly 1.6 million STEM-skilled employees over the next five years.

Growing state economies is always a big focus for legislators and many are looking towards improving the STEM workforce as a way to address job growth in their states.

The competition to provide the best possible education for students across the county is a good thing, a competition in which the winners will be the students themselves.