Local View: A+ Washington ready to move state's schools forward

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As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently observed, we have to invest in education if we want to remain an innovative hub. We need to make sure all students in Washington state receive education opportunities that prepare them for work and life.

Combining research-based approaches, a laserlike focus on results and providing educators flexibility are parts of the Excellent Schools Now coalition's plan to dramatically improve Washington's schools called "A+ Washington: A Way Forward for All Students." The coalition is a diverse alliance of parents, teachers, education advocates and business leaders. Lawmakers already approved part of A+ Washington this year, passing a new law creating an educator performance system that will support quality teachers, provide flexibility in personnel decisions for school leaders and tie student performance to teacher evaluations. But much remains to be done to make the core ideals of A+ Washington a reality. Those ideals are:

• Quality pre-kindergarten for every child.

• Supporting excellent teachers for all students.

• Preparing all students for work and college.

• Flexibility to do what's needed to turn schools around.

• Accurate measurements and data so schools and teachers can be held accountable for their students' performance.

The need for A+ Washington is real and urgent. There are more than 1 million public school students in Washington. Nearly 30 percent of Washington high school students don't graduate on time. Fifty percent of low-income students and students of color don't graduate on time. Even among those earning a diploma, 50 percent of community college students still need remedial courses because high school didn't adequately prepare them.

Meanwhile, we have the largest concentration of high-tech jobs in the nation, and we have employers willing and wanting to fill those positions with homegrown talent. By 2018, nearly 70 percent jobs in our state will require education or training after high school. But we're not training our kids to take those jobs.

A criticism of education reform is that some of the ideas won't work in practice. We have proof in places such as Covington Middle School in the Evergreen school district, Lincoln Center High School in Tacoma and Mercer Middle School in Seattle that they do work.

Education reform is also too often cast as a struggle between education advocates and hard-working teachers. One goal of A+ Washington is to get past the divisiveness so that we can all work together for the sake of our students. A+ Washington supports our teachers. We know a quality teacher in the classroom is the single biggest factor in improving student performance. Covington's success wouldn't exist without great teachers.

The ideas in A+ Washington are overwhelmingly supported by educators and the public, as evidenced by a recent poll of voters and public school teachers. The survey, conducted in January for Excellent Schools Now by the nonpartisan firm DHM Research, found impressive agreement on proposals to improve education for all our kids. These are numbers that our state lawmakers and gubernatorial candidates should closely examine and act upon.

As a parent and citizen member of Stand for Children, I encourage you to attend A+ Washington's upcoming events and Tele-Townhalls scheduled throughout Clark County and across the state. If we are to succeed in the global economy and as a society, we must make working together to create the finest and most effective educational system in the world our No. 1 priority. I believe A+ Washington is our best plan to do so. To learn more about A+ Washington and related events, please visit its website, www.apluswashington.org.

Gimi Larsen is a lifelong resident of Clark County. She graduated from Battle Ground High School, Montana State University at Billings and Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College. She works as an attorney in adoptions and family law and has been an educator at Clark College and at various local high schools.