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Disturbing Questions about Education System

By Marsha Richards
Evergreen Freedom Foundation

Washington State - 12/1/05 - I’m disturbed by the questions that weren’t asked last week after state Superintendent Terry Bergeson admitted: “We can’t hide the fact that we gave diplomas last year to kids who couldn’t read.” She plans to remedy this outrage with a new $42 million, five-week summer program to teach basic reading, writing and math skills to high school students.

Here are some of the questions I think Superintendent Bergeson should answer:

  1. Nearly sixty percent of our state’s tenth-grade students failed at least one core subject on the WASL last year. How do you expect a five-week, $42 million summer program to make up for the apparent failure of ten years of full-time schooling at a cost of billions?

  2. You were leading the charge more than a decade ago in the state’s major education reform efforts, which promised that, by the year 2000, Washington’s students would “leave grades four, eight and twelve having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including English, math and science,” and that at least 90 percent of our students would be graduating from high school. You have been the state’s top education official for the last nine years. How do you explain these broken promises?

  3. Your office commissioned a review of the tenth-grade WASL, which concluded that reading standards amount to 8th or 9th grade content nationally and math standards amount to 6th or early 7th grade content internationally. Why do you continue to claim this test is rigorous and these standards are high?

  4. If our state’s education reform efforts are still not working (as shown by a large majority of students failing) after twelve years of implementation (an entire generation of students from kindergarten through high school), isn’t it time to admit we may be headed in the wrong direction?

Our current public education system is not a work in progress; it is a failure. It stifles rather than cultivates the most important factors in student achievement: highly qualified teachers in every classroom; clear and rigorous academic standards; strong school leaders; local control for parents, teachers and administrators; and meaningful parental involvement.

You can’t solve a problem until you acknowledge it exists, and you can’t solve it with the same kind of thinking that created it. Change is uncomfortable, but failure to change in this case is unacceptable. It’s time to do what works.


WHAT WORKS? Creating Successful Public Schools
To read EFF’s full report chronicling 1) claims vs. facts about education, 2) failed reforms, and 3) proven solutions, Click here.

Marsha directs EFF’s Education Reform Center. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Seattle Pacific University and trained with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., where she interned with syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Marsha was the 2001 “On the Right” columnist for The Olympian (Olympia), writes a regular guest column for The News Tribune (Tacoma), and is a contributing writer for Sound Politics. Her editorials have appeared in numerous state and national publications. She is a periodic co-host for Seattle’s Republican Radio, and a frequent guest on other state and national radio shows.

Contact: Marsha Richards | Director, Education Reform Center | (360) 956-3482


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