Everything Bremerton: Opening doors to real education reform

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend an educational advocacy seminar put on by the League of Education Voters. It was a collective gathering of about 100 people currently operating in a variety of ways to improve education in their own districts and also at the state level. These were people with innovative, out-of-the-box ideas and solutions who are not afraid to take a non-traditional approach to get what they want in the way of improvements that include increased accountability and transparency.

Recently Gov. Chris Gregoire rocked the entire education system in this state to its very core by proposing the elimination and or consolidation of existing educational agencies under a newly created state Department of Education.

The majority point of view is that the current system of K-12 education in this state has been in a seriously steep decline for at least the past couple of decades, if not longer. This decline includes an understandable affordable education funding system and funding accountability, a drop off in graduation rates, test scores and college ready graduates, a decline in the amount of local control and flexibility an individual district and/ or school board has to be the best stewards they can be over the education decisions that our children need. This also includes a decline in the ability to address the need for a complete and tailored education that will make graduates the most effective newly created resource pool for continuation into higher education or trade and apprenticeship programs.

The creation of the Depart-ment of Education is and will continue to be controversial for a very long time. The constitutionality of it all has already been called into question, even with so few details being released to date. What it has done is bust down some walls, opened up some conversations that were not even possible before and has created the opportunity for reform to finally reach the forbidden, rarely-seen inner sanctum of the union stranglehold on quite a number of financially un-sustainable demands, practices, operations and special privileges currently in place.

The most telling moment I took from the League of Education Voters’ event was the fact that the majority of the day was focused on learning, improved advocacy and information that came from some fantastic conversations. Conversations where people from all walks of education — parents, teachers, administrators and citizens could agree to disagree and still continue to work toward a compromised solution without taking it personally. Even a veteran advocate like me was lulled into thinking that solving the education problem in this state could be a little easier and a little less painful on everyone if we could all work together just like this. It was somewhat of a “Kum Bah Ya” moment.

That is until the topic of a piece of legislation introduced last year to strengthen accountability of teachers was presented from representatives of the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Even before the presentation had ended, the gloves were off and the kids were forgotten. Several employed educators in the room grabbed hold of the conversation and attempted to keep it hostage to answer questions about their own personal situations. They took everything that was said in the presentation personally and in a negative way and then proceeded to play the walking-out-crying-hurt-feeling card.

It reminded me in a very visual display that education advocacy only goes so far with individuals whose employment and livelihood hang in the decision making balance. It really left an unfortunate sour note on the end of the day. It was a good reminder that reform will be hard, it will be ugly and it is going to get really, really personal for every single person who profits from the current system and blindly opposes any changes to their individual status quo.

To move forward, the system needs to hear from all of us that don’t rely on the system for our career advancement or our livelihood. As a taxpayer make yourself heard in one form or another this year. Be an honest straightforward voice for compromise and money saving solutions. The walls are coming down. Doors are opening that have stayed closed for much too long. Your two cents now will matter more than ever.

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