The University of Washington’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) issued a statement this morning support Seattle Public Schools teachers in their MAP testing boycott:
[W]e support the decision of teachers at Garfield, Ballard, Sealth, the Center School, Orca K-8 and other Seattle Public Schools who have decided to refuse to administer the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP®), a standardized test that has been imposed despite teachers' principled objections on pedagogic grounds. In keeping with our organization's commitment to faculty oversight of academic matters, AAUP-UW contends that teachers should be regarded as educated professionals fully qualified to advise the School District with regards to assessment of students learning. AAUP-UW therefore calls upon the Seattle Public Schools superintendent to work with teachers to develop a more adequate measure of student progress, and opposes punitive measures against Seattle teachers who are boycotting the MAP test.
This, of course, is the subtext behind the MAP debate—the issue that is both uniting teachers in opposition to MAP and uniting critics in their opposition to the teachers—it's the question of whether teachers should or should not be treated as "educated professionals." Sure, the surface controversy is over whether MAP tests are an effective use of classroom time. But after a couple decades of education "reform" focused on blaming and disempowering teachers, I kinda get the feeling that MAP is the final straw.
This controversy is not simply about whether MAP is useful or not. It's about whether teachers are to be given a say about what is useful or not in their classroom. It's about respect.
You might want to do something else with it—like, oh, invest in a marijuana grow-op. Something that'll make you money, not leave you bankrupt:
The American system of higher education is increasingly becoming a fiscal disaster for ever-larger numbers of students who move through it. That disaster is being caused by a combination of terrible incentives, institutional greed—and the pervasive myth that more education is the cure for economic inequality.
The extent of this myth is highlighted by a new report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity which indicates that nearly half of all employed college graduates have jobs that require less than a four-year college education. Despite such sobering statistics, the higher-education complex remains remarkably successful at ensuring that American taxpayers fund the acquisition of educational credentials that, in many cases, leave the people who obtain them worse off than they were before they enrolled.
Far from being “priceless,” as the promoters of ever-more spending on higher education would have Americans believe, both undergraduate and post-graduate education is turning out to be a catastrophic investment for many young and not-so-young adults.
Go read the whole thing—unless you're in your last year of law school, in which case 1. it's way too depressing a read and 2. there's not a lot you can do about it now anyway.
The teacher rebellion against MAP testing that started at Garfield High School continues to grow. On Friday, 18 Ballard High School teachers signed a letter announcing their intent to boycott the "Measures of Academic Progress" testing, with more teachers expected to sign on this week. Also late last week, 22 staffers at Graham Hill Elementary School issued a letter complaining that MAP is "a very limited tool with a very high cost," and explaining the particular burden that it imposes in their own classrooms:
This year we have elected to give the MAP twice rather than three times. As an elementary school with limited staff to set up and proctor this test, these tasks have always fallen to specialists, since they are not tied to a classroom. Until this year, that has meant that the most vulnerable students with special needs have taken a back seat for testing – for nine weeks. This year we have a computer lab teacher to set up and proctor the test, taking the computer literacy education we have lacked for years off of the table for six weeks. For all too many of our students, school is the one place where they have the opportunity to use a computer.
... We strongly urge the Seattle School Board to direct District staff to discontinue the MAP and consult with teachers to find more appropriate and accurate measures of academic progress
My daughter attended Graham Hill, and while I haven't seen the list of signatories I'm sure I know most of the names. This is a strong, caring staff, and I trust their judgment. As should the district.
Full letter after the jump:
"It's still a heck of a value," state Senate "Majority" Leader Rodney Tom said in October about skyrocketing tuition at Washington's public universities. Yeah, to somebody who lives in a Medina mansion, maybe. Or better yet, somebody who still lives in 1981.
Back when Tom entered his freshman year at the University of Washington, he paid a total of $1,059 in annual tuition and fees. But that was more than three decades ago. Inflation, right?
Not exactly. Adjusted for inflation, Tom's freshman year at the UW cost just $2,507 in 2012 dollars. That's actually a couple hundred dollars a year less than what House Majority Leader Frank Chopp paid for his freshman year a decade earlier, and about one-fifth the price UW students are paying today for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Now that's a heck of a value. And the same is true of the dozens of state lawmakers who got where they are today thanks to an affordable higher education at one of Washington state's public universities, colleges, and technical schools. Indeed, just to avoid accusations of cherry-picking the chart above includes Senator Joe Fain, the legislature's most recent state university grad, who paid just $4,793 in inflation adjusted tuition and fees just 13 academic years ago. But Fain is the exception. Most sitting lawmakers paid considerably less.
And to be absolutely clear: It's not the cost of a college education that's been skyrocketing, but the price. Adjusted for inflation, total spending per full-time student at Washington's public universities has remained relatively flat over the past two decades: About $18,000 a year. But as state funding has tanked—dropping from 70 percent of total spending per full-time student a decade ago to only 30 percent today—tuition has been hiked to make up the difference.
This was not due to inflation. This was due to a political decision by a generation of lawmakers who got theirs, and then decided to pull up the ladder behind them. Something to remember the next Rodney Tom attempts to convince current and future students that they are still getting "a heck of a value."
When it came to charter schools, our local ed board was all for flexibility in the classroom:
Public school students have different needs requiring different classroom techniques... Evidence continues to mount that students need creativity and flexibility in the classroom and the current system does not provide or encourage enough of it.
But when it comes to teachers demanding the flexibility in the classroom to, you know, teach, in lieu of administering MAP tests, not so much. Huh.
The history of education reform over the past couple decades has been one of steadily disempowering teachers through the imposition of ever more rigid curriculum and testing regimes, while simultaneously promoting charter schools as the the only alternative to the inflexibility inherent in ever more rigid curriculum and testing regimes. That the people who concomitantly advocate these twin "reforms" generally do so without a hint of cognitive dissonance, is truly remarkable.
After just a week of participating in the boycott of the MAP standardized test, teachers at Salmon Bay K–8 will resume testing on Monday. We haven't gotten a reason why yet, but Garfield teacher Jesse Hagopian, who hasn't heard from Salmon Bay, says that a lot of schools, including Salmon Bay, think they have levy funds tied to the MAP test and are worried about losing those funds if they boycott the test. He says his group is researching the relationship between funding and testing right now so they can reassure schools that might still want to participate. Orca K–8 is still participating in the boycott, as is Chief Sealth and possibly the Center School. (According to Hagopian, the Center School has already administered the test this winter, but teachers there are supportive of the boycott. We're following up.)
Hagopian says he has now heard directly from the district that it's willing to sit down and discuss the issue with teachers, but a date and time have yet to be set. The threat of a 10-day suspension without pay is still hanging over teachers' heads right now, although it would seem particularly difficult to suspend entire schools' worth of teachers—not least because the Seattle Substitute Association has also come out in support of the boycott.
I asked Hagopian what, exactly, teachers are proposing as an alternative. He says they would like the MAP test suspended for now, while they hash this out, especially since there's already a rigorous (some would say ridiculous) regimen of testing students undergo. Ninth and 10th graders, specifically, take five standardized tests a year aside from the MAP test. The MAP adds three more rounds of testing, bringing the total to eight.
Teachers' major problem with the MAP is that, unlike other tests students take (high schoolers take the High School Proficiency exam and the End of Course exams), the MAP isn't aligned to the state standards that teachers build their curriculum around. Ultimately, says Hagopian, some teachers would be okay with replacing MAP with a test that aligns with state standards. But many are hoping to work toward a very different form of assessment, something more like a portfolio of work with a strict grading rubric. Stay tuned.
Our entire news team is in the midst of talking pot with bureaucrats, so I don't have time to throw up more than a block quote about this, but the union that represents 1,000 faculty members at Seattle Community Colleges just passed a resolution in support of the Garfield teacher strike on MAP testing.
"AFT Seattle finds common ground in resisting the growing trend to reduce education to measurable 'outcomes' in both K-12 and our community colleges, a trend that is degrading the power of education," writes union communication chair Jeb Wyman in an email.
Despite the school district's most fervent secret bedtime wishes, this boycott isn't dying down.
Full resolution after the jump!
We've received a copy of the sternly worded letter sent by Seattle School District officials that threatens teachers with a 10-day suspension for insubordination unless those teachers drop their boycott of an unpopular standardized test.
As I mentioned last night, teachers packed a school board meeting to protest the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). They are supposed to administer the exam—which is criticized for being redundant and ineffective at gauging student performance—by February 22. The district contends the test is necessary under state law.
Sent yesterday by the district's assistant superintendent for HR, Paul Apostle, the letter includes sample language for a directive that can be given to teachers participating in the boycott. "I acknowledge that you are certainly entitled to your opinion," the sample letter explains, adding, "Your disagreement with the appropriateness of the MAP assessment, however, does not excuse your obligation..."
The complete letter from the district to principals, including that letter to teachers, is below the jump.
At last night's rally in support of Garfield teachers, there was a voice I hadn't heard so far during this debate: school librarians. They're furious that their libraries are taken over during testing, for weeks at a time, and that the precious tech resources the district has are devoted to testing instead of making sure the technology that students and teachers use in the classroom and the library is functional and up-to-date. Laurie Amster-Burton, who spoke on behalf of librarians, says she actually switched schools in part because of how invasive MAP testing had become in regard to library time and space. The district has told educators that it thanks them for their concern but it needs time to work out a solution, but Amster-Burton says that these problems have existed for years, and educators have been bringing them up with the district the whole time. She brought with her a letter to Superintendent Banda, signed by 35 Seattle school librarians, in support of the Garfield teachers and in opposition to the MAP test.
Full letter after the jump.
If you haven't been paying attention to this issue as it's developed, now is the time to start. To recap: On Thursday, January 10, Garfield high school teachers called a press conference to announce that, "in perhaps the first instance anywhere in the nation," they were universally refusing to administer the district-mandated standardized test, calling it "counterproductive" and a waste of "time, money, and precious school resources." Seattle Public Schools superintendent José Banda's response has been to announce a task force to "discuss concerns and find solutions" regarding the MAP test and then to tell teachers they are still required to administer it. A couple of other schools have since joined in, further schools have voted to "support" the boycott, and other organizations have voiced their support as well—PTSAs, Garfield High School's Associated Student Body, the school district's student senate, the Seattle Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, Parents Across America Seattle, and more. The two most salient concerns, though there are many others, seem to be (1) that the test was sold to the district while the sitting superintendent of schools, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, was on the board of the company that sold the test, which she did not divulge at the time, and (2) that the gains students are expected to make on the tests—at least at the high school level—are actually within the margin of error of the test grading, which makes the MAP appear pretty much statistically useless.
During the comment period at the school board meeting tonight, there were parents and students there to talk about their usual concerns—school lunches, siblings attending the same schools, etc. But the high-energy crowd was there for the folks testifying about the MAP test boycott. When they spoke, the room often erupted again into chants of "SCRAP THE MAP!" much to the seeming chagrin of the school board members. A memorable bit of testimony was given by Garfield High School reading specialist Mallory Clarke, who said she talked to a student just today who was grateful the teachers were boycotting the test. Clarke asked her why, and she said she hated taking it; she was just learning English and she didn't understand the questions. But, the student went on, she didn't mind it too much: "My favorite letter is c," she said, so she just bubbles in the c for all the answers. And: "I get a really high score!" she told Clarke.
"Threatening our livelihoods, before they even met with us, [is] egregious," Hagopian, who has a one-week old son, told me after the meeting. He's been calling Banda's office, and says "he didn't even get back to me." But are teachers backing down? No way, says Hagopian. "There's a lack of dialogue and process that needs to be restored," he said. "The teachers of Garfield are committed to building that alliance." These teachers have specific problems with this specific test and they want to see those addressed: "[The district's] response was so vague... We've done our homework on this." And, he says, teachers know what's best for their students. "We're facing climate change, endless wars, economic disasters. I need these kids to think outside the box. We need critical thinkers."
The coalition in opposition to this test is quite broad, and their reasons are varied. Special education and ESL teachers are frustrated by how poorly the test serves their students and worried that if the test is used to evaluate teachers, their students will be exiled from currently inclusive classrooms so teachers' test scores don't suffer. Librarians are furious that the libraries are off-limits during testing, rendering the collections they so lovingly curate totally worthless. Parents, students, and teachers find the tests to be annoying time-wasters administered multiple times a year, taking the place of classroom learning.
On the other hand, a meaningful coalition in support of this test does not exist. The only people who have spoken in support of the test are school board members, a few of whom gave toe-the-line comments today about how some people find the test useful, and Superintendent Banda, who has ordered teachers to administer it and yet so far has refused to sit down with the teachers themselves to discuss the issue.
After the meeting, I spoke with Garfield High School student body president Obadiah Terry, who told me the students are in full support of the teachers. "We don't take it seriously," he says of the test. "She just said they have to be positive role models," he said, referring to school board president Kay Smith-Blum's admonishment to the crowd before the comment period. "But [the school board and superintendent] are not being good role models" because "they're not talking" to these teachers.
At 4:00 p.m. today, Garfield High School teachers and others who support teachers' boycott of the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) exams are hosting a rally at the John Standford Center (2445 3rd Ave S) to continue their public campaign to get MAP testing removed from the Seattle School District.
The biggest question in my mind is, will parents show up? Following nearly two weeks of boycotts, just how much do parents know about the MAP exams and teachers' objections? Because in a fight against the district, well-informed, pissed-off parents could be a boycott's greatest ally. Kick-ass education blogger Melissa Westbrook touched on the issue of parental participation at a press conference on Monday, when she asked the president of Garfield High School's black student union, who was stating his objections to the MAP tests, if he believed students should write letters to their parents explaining their opposition. He looked stunned and responded something to the effect of, "That's a good idea. We should do that."
Yes, they should! Because parents from at least one public school, Salmon Bay K-8, are getting mind-fuckingly awful mixed messages about the boycott. One mother from Salmon K-8 sent me this anecdote:
I received an email from the school stating why the school supported MAP testing, and that if we wanted our 1st-5th grade student to opt out we would have to write a letter stating our opt out. The same week I received an email from my son's teacher saying they were not going to be giving the MAP test and that if we wanted to opt in we must write a letter stating so. Fast forward one week, and my son brought home two letters, one from the school and one from the teacher. Both apologized for the conflicting info and the possible confusion it may have created, and then both went on to say EXACTLY THE SAME THING as the first round of emails. I've always thought that standardized testing was heavily biased based on circumstance and opportunity so I am all for opting out. But these guys need to get on the same page even if it's opposing sides of it.
Parents could be teachers' greatest ally in getting MAP testing killed, but first these boycotting teachers and their allies need to focus their ground-game on getting parents up to speed.
The 45-minute, computer-based MAP exams are currently administered to all students in the district (except those whose parents opt out) twice and sometimes three times a year. Garfield teachers launched a boycott of the tests on January 10. They argue that the tests are a stupid gauge of academic progress as the margin of error on the tests is often greater than the recorded progress, that they eat away valuable classroom learning time, and that the tests are being unfairly—and improperly—used to evaluate teachers. Teachers at several other schools have joined the boycott since then, while faculty at other schools have taken a slightly more toothless approach: voting to stand in support and solidarity with the boycotters (but nevertheless not committing to not administer the tests).
I've reached out to the school district for comment but they've not yet returned my calls.
At the risk of flogging my own Slog posts, I'd just like to emphasize the obvious and utter financial absurdity of Senate "Majority" Leader Rodney Tom's campaign to close the GET program, Washington's prepaid tuition plan. From the Seattle Times editorial:
State lawmakers should be seriously concerned about a projected $631 million future shortfall in GET. The program’s $2.1 billion fund was set up to be self-supporting, as long as new investors continue to enroll.
[...] Closing GET to new enrollees would cause a $1.7 billion hit to the state treasury over an 11-year period. That’s because without new investors GET’s current fund balance is expected to be depleted by 2025. The state would then have to step in financially.
For the sake of argument, let's just assume that the editors' numbers are correct. If GET is facing a projected $631 million future shortfall, where's the sense in paying $1.7 billion to shut it down? That would just be stupid. Worst comes to worst, you'd think we'd be better off spending $631 million to make college more affordable than spending $1.7 billion making it less.
I mean, GET stabilizes once tuition stabilizes, and we've already been through the worst of the double-digit tuition hikes, right? Right?!
The Seattle Times editorial board makes "The case for closing GET, state’s prepaid tuition program." But fortunately, they're the Seattle Times editorial board, so they don't make a very good case for it.
THE state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition program is a special deal for people with the foresight and money to plan for college.
Hear that? GET is "a special deal" for elitists like me who had the "foresight and money" to save for our children's education. We're everything that's wrong with America. If only the impoverished masses would finally rise up against their slightly-better-off oppressors in the lower middle-class, college tuition would become affordable once again!
Given wildly escalating tuition in recent years, those credits are like gold.
Nail me to a cross of gold (credits).
First, here is how GET works: Parents saving for college can buy tuition units (100 units cover a year’s tuition) and then redeem them at one of Washington’s public higher-education institutions in the future — without having to pay more because of tuition increases. A tuition unit could be purchased in 1998 for $35 and today for $172. The investment yields a handsome return, especially because tuition has soared — more than double in the past five years — as state universities have struggled to make up for deep state cuts.
If you're going to start off a paragraph with the words "here is how GET works," you might want to make a genuine effort to explain, you know, exactly how GET works. For while it is true that "a tuition unit could be purchased in 1998 for $35 and today for $172," those figures intentionally misrepresent the so-called "handsome return" on investment. The actual return on investment is the GET payout value—currently $117.82—the amount one would receive if a GET unit were redeemed today.
That's still a pretty good return, but about a third less than what the editorial implies. And at an annualized return of 8.4 percent over the 15-year life of program, it's still considerably less than historical stock market returns. Indeed, over its first decade, GET barely returned more than 6 percent a year—it's only the recent out-of-control tuition hikes that have dramatically pumped up its payout value. So this "deal" only became "special" when lawmakers like Rodney Tom decided to fuck the current generation of college students by denying them access to the same affordable college education that they enjoyed.
The Garfield High School teacher's strike against ineffective student standardized testing is gaining traction: At a press conference this morning, supporters announced that two Seattle schools have joined the boycott of Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) exams on the grounds that the tests are a stupid gauge of student progress in the subjects of math and reading, and are unfairly used to evaluate teachers.
"We've seen that boycotts are effective in the pursuit of justice," said Garfield teacher and boycott leader Jesse Hagopian while drawing parallels between the teachers' pursuit of a more valuable and equitable testing system and Martin Luther King Jr.'s own celebrated push for equality. "They say we should wait for the process to unfold. That we’re disrupting the process. We’re reminded on MLK day that those seeking justice are always told to slow down, to wait. We’ve come to find the words wait almost always mean never. This is about a city that is in revolt against a test that is harming our children... We want to use the boycott in the struggle against the MAP tests."
Garfield High teachers and other boycott supporters are hosting anti-MAP rally for Wednesday, January 23 at 4:00 p.m. at the John Standford Center (2445 3rd Ave S) to continue their full-court press on the Seattle School District.
The boycott is also gaining national attention: Garfield High staff announced that a slew of prominent national educators, including former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, education author Jonathan Kozol, and even noted critic and philosopher Noam Chomsky, have signed a letter supporting the boycott of MAP tests.
Calling such testing "overused and overrated," the letter notes that "no student's intellectual process can be reduced to a single number."
Since Garfield teachers announced the boycott on January 10, two Seattle middle schools—Columbia city's Orca K-8 and Ballard's Salmon Bay K-8—have followed suit. (To clarify: A Salmon Bay teacher tells me that the elementary K-5 teachers at the school voted nearly unanimously to support the boycott, while teachers in the 6-8 grades have not yet voted on the issue.)
Yes, yes, YES:
[T]he White House is considering a major step to boost early childhood education. According to sources close to the administration, Duncan and the Department of Health and Human Services are outlining a plan to create universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds from low- and some middle-income families — approximately 1.85 million children. The plan, which is projected to cost as much as $10 billion to implement in full, is still under review by the White House, but sources said that last Tuesday, Linda Smith, an HHS official, discussed the proposal at a meeting of early childhood advocates.
Personally, I'm not a big fan of Arne Duncan and his bullshit corporate reform agenda, but universal preschool (and yeah, I know the proposal is not technically "universal") would more than make up for it. And $10 billion? Such a bargain when you consider the enormous return on investment.
There's been all this talk about President Obama making guns, immigration, and climate the top three priorities of his second term, but if he manages to push this through, universal preschool ("Obamaschool?") could be his most lasting legacy after Obamacare.
State House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) and Senate "Majority" Leader Rodney Tom (R-Medina) both got to where they are today thanks in part to a University of Washington undergraduate education. Chopp graduated in 1975, Tom in 1985.
Their educations were clearly excellent, but they were also surprisingly affordable. Back when Chopp entered the UW, tuition and fees totaled only $495 for the entire academic year. A decade later, Tom paid just $1,059 for his freshman year. But adjusted for inflation, Chopp and Tom paid roughly the same tuition rate: $2,704 and $2,507 respectively in constant 2012 dollars. (That's right: Adjusted for inflation, Tom actually paid slightly less than Chopp.)
By comparison, the UW's 2012-2013 freshman class is paying $12,383—almost five times the cost of what Chopp and Tom paid for their freshman years. Again, adjusted for inflation.
"It's still a heck of a value," Tom said in October. Yeah, to somebody who lives in a Medina mansion, maybe.
More than anything, this is what pisses me off about the attitude of state lawmakers towards higher education. There seems to be a total lack of embarrassment or shame over the fact that they are denying current and future generations the same affordable access to the middle class and beyond that previous generations afforded them.
The irony is, thanks in part to our once-affordable university system, we are a much wealthier state now than in the 1970s and 1980s when Chopp and Tom went to college largely on the taxpayer dime. It's not that we can't afford to offer current students the same opportunities, it's that we won't. And future generations will suffer from our selfish refusal to invest in the future for all the same reasons our current class of leaders benefit from the generosity and forethought of generations past.
For all the talk about how we need to graduate more STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), there's a growing movement in Olympia to actually make these studies more expensive. Some lawmakers, like Senate "Majority" Leader Rodney Tom, want to grant our public universities the authority to set "differential tuition" pricing, charging more for more expensive degrees like engineering:
Tom called that idea a win-win solution... "Most people understand that these are more expensive programs," Tom said of degrees such as engineering. And even if the price went up "it's still a heck of a value."
Uh-huh. So we want to incentive students to pursue STEM degrees by charging more for them? That just sounds stupid. So stupid, that even Florida—arguably the stupidest state in the union—can see through the illogic:
A task force created by Gov. Rick Scott has suggested lowering tuition for students majoring in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math as a result of growing costs in education across Florida’s state universities and a poor economy.
That's right, Florida wants to incentivize STEM degrees by charging less for them, not more. Go figure.
Personally, I'm opposed to differential tuition for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it's kinda antithetical to the whole notion of a universitas magistrorum et scholarium. As a history major, I availed myself of a couple engineering classes simply because I found them interesting, and I would hope that engineering students might want to learn a little history in the service of getting a broader liberal arts education. The traditional university model makes this sort of interdisciplinary study possible.
But if producing more STEM degrees really is as crucial to our economic future as everyone says it is, stupid Florida seems to be choosing the smarter strategy.
If you want more celebrity bullshit posts, post 'em. And please note that the two Seahawks posts were by regular actual employees of The Stranger, and one of them was so disdainful as to actually constitute a Golden Globes post.
And the Seahawks game was more important: There's a Golden Globes every year. The Seahawks do not make the post-season every year.
State Representative Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick) wants to introduce a bill allowing teachers to carry weapons in the classroom:
Klippert, a Benton County sheriff's deputy, said he wants to collaborate with recently elected state Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, who suggested similar legislation in late December.
[...] The law he wants to draft would require any teacher wanting to have a weapon in the classroom to undergo a mental health evaluation and firearms training.
Pike could not be reached Thursday, but she has suggested in a Facebook post that teachers also would have to pay for their gun training, provide their own weapon and keep it on their person at all times.
I don't mean to generalize, but Republicans are fucking crazy.
"We don't need to be in that business," state Senator Rodney Tom (R-Medina) insisted about Washington's GET program (Guaranteed Education Tuition) while speaking at yesterday's AP forum in Olympia. It was a sentiment with which Senator Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) and Representative Ross Hunter (D-Medina) later agreed.
That's three lawmakers from two of the wealthiest zip codes in the state dissing a program that has proven a godsend for tens of thousands of middle class families statewide.
Talk about being out of touch.
GET is Washington's prepaid tuition program, a variant of the federally sanctioned tax-free "529 plans." Families buy their children college credits at today's prices, plus a (sometimes hefty) premium, and then cash out in the future, tax free, at the value of the tuition and fees at Washington's most expensive university. One hundred GET units equals a full year of tuition and fees, and the current $172 unit price represents a 39 percent markup over the University of Washington's $12,401 tuition and fees for the 2012-13 academic year. Tuition can't (and won't) keep rising at 20 percent a year forever, so as an investment, GET isn't particularly a very good value at the moment; there are many other financial instruments that promise a higher rate of return.
But what GET does buy participants—what no other college savings plan can possibly offer—is peace of mind. As its name implies, GET is guaranteed, backed by the full faith and credit of the State of Washington to deliver the college credits purchased. From the GET program's web site:
With a college savings plan, you shoulder all of the investment risk and worries associated with volatile financial markets. With GET, the state assumes the investment risk so you don't have to worry.
In that sense GET is more of a college insurance plan than it is an investment. Families buy into the program knowing they can likely get a better return on investment elsewhere—but no other investment guarantees that their children will get the college education they're paying for, regardless of market fluctuations and state budget turmoil.
And that's exactly why we bought into GET more than a decade ago.
Washington's public university presidents are kvetching about Governor Chris Gregoire's proposal to freeze tuition rates, without promising additional state funding.
One possible alternative would be to freeze enrollment, but [Eastern Washington University President Rodolfo] Arevalo said that idea would be the opposite of what Washington citizens want. They need more places to go to earn bachelor's degrees to qualify for the jobs businesses want to fill, he added.
Or, you know, our university presidents could take the lead in advocating for higher taxes. I mean, if Washington citizens really want more access to quality higher education, then who better than a university president to educate our citizenry that higher education costs money? And yet, our state's university presidents continue to refuse to provide that leadership.
At a higher education funding forum last February, all six of our state university presidents gathered before a liberal audience at Town Hall Seattle, and yet not one of them had the balls to discuss the only possible solution to their budgetary problems: Raising additional tax revenue. "It's above my pay grade," the UW's Mike Young finally shrugged evasively. Young's total compensation package comes to $802,000 a year, making him the highest paid state employee funded out of general fund tax dollars (Governor Chris Gregoire, by comparison makes $166,891). So if the question of whether to raise taxes is above Young's pay grade, I guess the issue is completely off the table.
I don't mean to blame the university presidents for the untenable situation they're in. They didn't creating this funding crisis. But they're not doing anything to solve it, either. The truth is, there are a lot of things that Washington citizens want, many of them contradictory. And until voters understand that we can't adequately fund K-12 and higher education without raising additional tax revenues, our lawmakers will continue to unrealistically demand that our universities provide even more with less.
What's missing here is leadership. And as long as these university presidents continue to merely kvetch about their woeful underfunding, instead of taking a lead in educating the public about the only viable long term solution, nothing is going to change.
One of the education buzzwords we hear a lot about these days is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), the course of studies we should allegedly be emphasizing if we want our children to remain competitive in a 21st century economy. Which is why I find it so confusing to see so many of the same folks who relentlessly argue for STEM (at the expense of a broader liberal arts education) also advocate for financial disincentives to its study:
WASHINGTON lawmakers are legitimately concerned that higher education’s ability to charge more for certain degrees will raise the state’s obligation to families who prepaid college costs.
But permanently repealing the 2011 law that gave colleges and universities the flexibility, as a few legislators have proposed, would be the wrong move.
[...] Differential tuition ought to be here to stay. In higher education, less-expensive programs, such as philosophy, subsidize more-expensive majors such as engineering. If schools could charge higher tuition for high-demand, high-wage fields, they could rely less on subsidies.
Actually, the notion that less-expensive programs subsidize STEM is not technically true. Philosophy and engineering, for example, are both subsidized by taxpayers, if perhaps to different degrees. This sort of rhetoric just strikes me as an unseemly effort to play liberal arts students off against STEM students in pursuit of, well, raising tuition rates even further.
But my bigger concern is the total lack of research addressing the impacts of differential tuition on education access. Educators talk about the achievement gap—but what about the opportunity gap? What will be the impact on lower income students of charging a premium for STEM degrees? Why rush headlong into differential tuition before the impacts have been studied, and without the guarantees that the financial aid will be there for those who need it?
Angie Weiss of the Associated Students of the University of Washington tells me that both the ASUW and the statewide Washington Student Association actively oppose differential tuition for exactly these reasons. Weiss says the ASUW has received more emails from STEM students on this than on any other issue.
"We need predictable tuition rates," says Weiss, "so that students in high-demand majors can afford to study them in the first place."
Instead, the editorial above is essentially arguing for hiking tuition rates even further, if selectively. And it's hard to see how that on its own is a long term solution to anything.
There are so many things wrong with the NRA's proposal to put armed police officers at all 130,000 of our nation's K-12 schools, it's hard to know where to start. But one obvious consequence of inviting the police in to patrol our schools' hallways is the way it tends to escalate minor disciplinary problems into confrontations with the law, particularly for children of color:
KENNETH screwed up. The 11th grader made a crude joke about the police officers in his Bronx high school — and an officer overheard.
“What did you say?” the officer demanded. “Say it again and I’m going to punch you in the [expletive] mouth.”
“You can’t [expletive] touch me,” said Kenneth, who has Asperger syndrome.
And so it began ...
The officer pulled out his nightstick, with one hand, grabbed Kenneth (whose name I’ve changed) by the throat with the other, and pushed him against the wall. Then he pinned the boy’s arms behind his back and pulled him, by the neck of his hoodie, down the fourth-floor hallway.
The officer, who said Kenneth pushed him, arrested Kenneth and drove him to the local precinct, where officers took his photo and his fingerprints, and detained him overnight in a locked cell.
Kenneth says he was not permitted to call his mother — or a lawyer — until much later in the day and it wasn’t until the next morning, when he was taken to court and charged with resisting arrest, that he was read his rights. On the advice of court-appointed counsel, Kenneth pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and emerged from the incident with an arrest record.
The story is disturbing, but not unusual.
I suppose one could say that this kid wouldn't have gotten into so much trouble if he hadn't stupidly mouthed off to a cop. But mouthing off isn't illegal. And now this kid has a criminal record, a permanent black mark that will make it harder for him to get into college or get a job, and that statistically raises his chances of being incarcerated. All because an officer was there to assert the authority he had.
We've all seen the penchant some Seattle police officers have for escalating incidents beyond reason, and the SPD are a bunch of pussycats compared to police in some other cities. Post police officers at every school in the nation, and thousands of kids a year—mostly black and hispanic—will find themselves in jail for behavior that might otherwise just earn them a trip to the principal's office.
It is ironic that the NRA, an organization that insists the citizenry needs to arm itself against the potential tyranny of government, is also one of the strongest advocates for transforming our nation into a police state.
The Seattle Times editorial board might want to actually read the McCleary decision before opining on it:
Simply pouring new money into an old, dysfunctional system is a non-starter. Partisan divisions must be eliminated. Democratic lawmakers must broaden their view of the challenge before them. The task is not to find a way to get a few billion dollars more from taxpayers for the K-12 system, but rather how to better spend the money it has now and grow the state’s investment in education, from early learning to higher education.
Actually, finding more money for K-12 education is pretty much the legislature's main task. I know that Republicans and their surrogates on the editorial boards would like to co-opt McCleary into an opportunity to dramatically redefine public education in Washington state, but that's not what the court ordered.
Article IX, section 1 of the Washington State Constitution makes it the paramount duty of the State to amply provide for the education of all children within its borders. This duty requires the State to provide an opportunity for every child to gain the knowledge and skills outlined in Seattle School District, ESHB 1209, and the EALRs. The legislature must develop a basic education program geared toward delivering the constitutionally required education, and it must fully fund that program through regular and dependable tax sources.
The State has failed to meet its duty under article IX, section 1 by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that falls short of the actual costs of the basic education program.
If you read the decision in its entirety you'll see that the court actually accepts the legislature's definition of basic education, but concludes that it is not amply funding it. There's nothing in McCleary ordering the state to "better spend the money," as the Seattle Times implies. Rather, the court demands "regular and dependable tax sources" to fund reforms that are already in place.
It's true, McCleary does state that "pouring more money into an outmoded system will not succeed" (language that the editors echo), but this is in a section titled "Funding the Basic Education Program with Local Levies." That's the "system" that McCleary is referring too: The outmoded funding system. It is not referring to the public school system as a whole.
That said, the editors do get one thing right:
The McCleary ruling pointed lawmakers to a framework, the 2009 education-reform law that laid out a vision, including more early-learning programs, all-day kindergarten, smaller classes and school transportation.
How the editors think we can pay for these programs without finding billions more in revenue is beyond me.
As Charles and Dave have already Slogged, the NRA's solution to the Newtown massacre is, of course, to arm our nation's schools:
"I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation," LaPierre said.
Hmm. Let's see. There are about 100,000 public K-12 schools in the nation, but since this is a public safety expense, not an educational one, we should probably protect children at the 30,000 or so private schools as well. So LaPierre's proposal would require hiring an additional 130,000 police officers. At least. Some large campuses would probably require more than one officer. So let's round up to 150,000 armed police officers, just to be safe.
What would this cost? According to the US Department of Justice, the national average annual cost of employing a police officer was $116,500 in 2007. Rounding up to $120,000 to account for inflation, that's $120,000 times 150,000 officers: LaPierre's proposal would cost taxpayers about $18 billion a year.
But budgets are tight—how to pay for it? Well, as the NRA likes to remind us, freedom isn't free, and who better to pay this cost than the gun owners themselves? Various estimates place the number of civilian firearms in the US at about 250 million. So, $18 billion divided by 250 million guns: An annual license fee of about $75 per gun should adequately cover the expense of the NRA's proposal to put armed police officers at every K-12 school in the US.
Personally, I'm somewhat horrified at LaPierre's suggestion that we need to militarize civilian America. If I wanted to live in an armed security state I'd move to Israel, where at least I'd get universal health care in return. But the more I think about it, $75 per gun per year might just be enough of a financial disincentive to irresponsible gun ownership, that it could start making a dent in the problem all by itself. So maybe LaPierre is onto something...?
Like many Americans, some of my friends are teachers. I emailed some of my teacher friends today to find out how they were addressing today's shooting in their classrooms, and to let them know that I adore them for being paid peanuts to potentially act as human shields for thousands of students every day.
Here is one friend's response, which he's allowing me to reprint with the caveat that I not use his name or geographical location for fear of getting his ass fired:
Thanks for the note. I am bummed. I know that sounds like an understatement but I'd rather understate the severe bummage I'm feeling than overstate it, as some politicians in the media seem to be doing today. I've read the words "heart-wrenching," "dark sorrow" and "unavoidable tragedy"—without any mention of gun control. I look at the news pics of those Newtown kids and I see my own kids. Politicians look at them and see a political liability.
So many hearts are going out to that community it's a wonder they're not smothered, and yet legislators are too cowardly to discuss reforms that could actually change the landscape of violence. On days like today, I cynically see my students as sitting ducks. I am a slightly larger sitting duck. And what am I supposed to tell them? "Here is a place that you already hate, filled with math and gym and hormones, and guess what! The odds are small but you might die here because discussing ways to make you safe is deemed 'too political'! Hugs!"
State Senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle) just released the following statement on the tragedy in Connecticut:
“Our nation is stunned and grieving today over the horrendous, senseless shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. This kind of unthinkable gun violence is becoming all too frequent. While tragedies like this are impossible to predict, it’s time we had a public conversation about how our communities – and especially our schools – can be best prepared. And I believe we are long overdue to have the politically difficult discussion of how we prevent them.”
As for preventing such tragedies, closing the gun show loophole and repealing state preemption of local gun control laws would be a good place to start. But of course, Murray is in the minority now, so I've called and emailed Senator Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), the new chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, for his view on possible gun control legislation. Haven't yet heard back.
But on the issue of preparation, one of the horrifying aspects of today's tragedy is that the school obviously was prepared for a mass shooting. I watched multiple interviews this morning in which students said, upon hearing the gunshots, that their teacher locked the door and huddled them in the far corner of the classroom until police or firefighters came to rescue them. This wasn't just quick thinking. It was apparently standard procedure.
In fact, mass shooting drills are becoming a common practice at American schools, in the same way we've long conducted fire drills and earthquake drills. Little children are being routinely drilled about what to do should an armed madman start gunning down their schoolmates, because, you know, like fires and earthquakes, sometimes that happens.
Only in America.
I don't want to dwell on it, but when the Seattle Times editorializes in favor of a “bar exam” for teachers that assures "only the most rigorously vetted and well-trained teachers make it into the classroom," do they suffer even the slightest twinge of cognitive dissonance from knowing that just nine months ago they argued that Teach for America teachers, with their five-weeks of training, "perform well enough in classrooms to justify continuing, even expanding, their presence here"...?
I dunno. Just strikes me as a pretty glaring inconsistency.