If you have read parts one and two in this series, then you are probably saying to yourself, “so what do we do?” in a somewhat exasperated tone. I do not blame anyone who is frustrate by this situation. We were lead here by poor leadership, and now we have a crisis that seems to have no solution. Whatever we do will not be pretty, but it can at least be effective.
The first thing we need to do is to rewrite the 2009 law that redefines basic education. It is the law that the State Supreme Court says creates our funding obligation. We can rewrite that bill to make our current funding sufficient. Some critics will say that we need to increase funding to education so that students have better outcomes, and that this plan will do the exact opposite. They are correct that this will not increase revenue, but they are incorrect that more spending leads to better student outcomes. In fact, as we have increased student spending, our test scores for students in reading and math have decreased. Texas spends about $1,500 less per student, and they get essentially the same outcomes that we do, and Texas has a far larger minority population. A population that has been shown to do much worse on standardized tests, generally because of a bias within the test. New York spends almost $10,000 more per student and their outcomes are also worse, and D.C. is the worst of the offenders. They spend about $8,000 more per student, and yet have the worst outcomes in the nation.
Some of the reasons for poor student outcomes are social, while other can likely be dealt with using better teaching methods. For example, Washington D.C. has one of the largest divides between test scores for whites and African-Americans (50 percentage points), and white students are more than three times as likely to live in a two parent home. You can see this divide within this state as well. Seattle Public Schools have far lower test scores than the Issaquah School District, and a larger number of single parent households. These single parents can also find themselves working two jobs as single parent households are almost always near the poverty line. No amount of school funding is going to help put families back together, nor will it give students a home where a parent is always around to help with homework, or give emotional support. And school funding will not create safe homes for at risk youth.
There are cost neutral options we can employ that will assist in student outcomes. The first is adaptive learning software. These are computer programs that allow curriculum to be tailored to individual students. The technology is currently a major focus for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It would reduce the amount of work that teachers would have to do, and could create a system where students need less face to face time with educators. Thereby creating a net savings. Charter schools are another example of something that allows for personalized curriculum and increased student outcomes. These are just two ideas that can be implemented to help students succeed in our educational system without having to pay huge tax increases.
We cannot confuse spending with commitment. In fact, putting the two together does a great disservice because it makes it easier to just throw money at a problem without actually enacting change, which is exactly what the current legislature, and Supreme Court, want to do. If all we care about is spending money in a futile attempt to cover up an issue, then the current legislature and court are exactly the people that you want to re-elect. But if you believe that student outcomes need to be prioritized over rhetoric and waste, then it is time to send a message to Olympia that we demand better, and it is time to send new people to the legislature.