Listening Tour Recap: Olympia – 3/7

The Council received input from over 45 education leaders, parents, students, business leaders, teachers, administrators, and citizens in Olympia. Here are some of the thoughts they heard about how to improve student attainment and achievement in Washington State:

Theme Area #1:  Alignment and coordination of credits between higher education institutions as well as programs like Running Start into college needs improvement

Students and educators in Olympia pointed to the lack of transferability of many credits between institutions across the state as well as from the K-12 system into college.  They highlighted the fact that this is costly to students as they sometimes have to repeat elements in order to gain credits they have already completed, or lose credits when they transfer.  Many students are trying to graduate early or take additional credits to reduce their debt burden, and transfers can add an additional barrier.  As Angie Weiss, Government Relations Director for the Associated Students of University of Washington pointed out, “If we could have aligned course numbering systems it would help transfers across institutions.”

Theme Area #2:  Participants were concerned about the funding pressures that both K-12 and higher education is facing

Students, administrators and faculty alike expressed concerns about choices that will be made over the next few years to address funding pressures.   Faculty members were frustrated by the fact that they had not seen an increase in pay in 5 years.  Students pointed to reduced class offerings and increases in tuition.  The resulting funding structure, highlighted participants, is a shift from public to private funding.  As President Les Purce of The Evergreen State College remarked, “Evergreen has always been committed to giving all levels of society an education. But I am truly concerned about whether we will be able to continue this in the future.”

Theme Area #3: Online learning will clearly be an integral part of the future of education, but it must complement other aspects of the educational experience.

Council members listened as several education leaders shared their experience and discussed the power and pitfalls of online education.  Participants shared stories about the importance of access for online learning to be successful, especially for K-12 students, referencing the initiative “Bridging the Digital Divide” from the Clinton administration.  They also discussed how it has the power to change lives by giving access to opportunities that individuals might not find in their local environments.

The value of online learning in giving students skills to prepare them for college and for the workforce was discussed.  One participant shared that he had done some research and found that a number of states are now requiring online classes as a prerequisite for high school graduation.  “It’s a recognition that students will need to have these skills and be fluent in online learning for college and beyond.”

On all aspects of learning, both online and classroom, the participants agreed that creating the need and desire for learning is a prerequisite. Another participant commented, “Access itself isn’t enough.  Perhaps the value of what their goal is – what do they want to learn and become – is the critical piece to make the intrinsic value of learning attainable at an earlier age.”

Theme Area #4: There is a need for rethinking how we teach and how we prepare teachers

Much of the discussion in Olympia focused on rethinking our teaching models. President Jim Walton of Centralia College shared his impressions of the TED talk by Sugata Mitra, who describes a series of experiments in self-teaching of students conducted in India.  His findings were that if children are interested, they educate themselves.  “I think it’s important that we not just take how we’ve taught in the past and do it better, but rather that we fundamentally rethink how we teach,” said President Walton

Other participants echoed this theme.  Some expressed the need for teacher education programs to change.  Many expressed frustration with teacher education programs which prepare teachers as content experts, but not with the skills they need to be effective teachers. “The powerful piece of the TED talk that President Walton has shared is that the children were working together to learn.  We know this is one of the most powerful tools we have – that children learn through collaboration.  So our teachers need to become facilitators of collaboration,” suggested Michelle Andreas, Director, Student Services and Transfer Education, State Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Theme Area #5: Different students need different paths

The Council heard many participants who recognized that a 4-year college education is not right for everyone.  Garrett Havens, Executive Director of the Washington Student Association, said “I know a lot of our students come in to college thinking that’s what they want, but once they get there, they realize it may not be for them.”  The discussion focused on many different paths to a career, including straight from high school, a 2-year technical or community college, or a 4-year college.  Randy Dorn, Superintendent of Public Instruction, commented, “Today we have shifted to say ‘every kid is going to be college and career ready’…I’m not sure people understand what they mean when they say college and career ready.  But what we really need to do, is to get them career ready, 2-year college ready, technical college ready, and 4 year college ready.”

Theme Area #6: Improving student transitions in the education system

Participants pointed out that one of the key weaknesses in the education system is the transitions – at Kindergarten, from elementary to high school, from high school to college, and from college to career.  Both in Olympia and across the state, Council members have heard many suggestions on how to improve those transitions.

Jonelle Adams, Executive Director, Washington State School Directors’ Association, shared the WSSDA’s report, “Strategies for Improving Key Transition Points in the P-20 education system.”   As Dr. Adams pointed out, many of these strategies are already being implemented across the state.  “We have bold school board members who are willing to do this,” she commented.

Other participants echoed the theme of letting local communities decide how to address this issue.  Kristine Bartanen, Academic Vice President, University of Puget Sound, highlighted the Access programs at Puget Sound which give middle school through high school student’s access to the college experience through a series of ongoing programs, including a full-time, month-long math and science focused summer program.

Listening Tour Recap: Pullman, Richland and Walla Walla – 2/25 and 2/26

On Monday, February 25 and Tuesday, February 26, the Student Achievement Council met with over 30 educators, school administrators, and community leaders in three cities in Southeastern Washington: Pullman, Richland, and Walla Walla. Throughout two full days of meetings, some key themes were heard by the Council:

Theme Area #1: There is frustration among education leaders that we “keep changing the system” and that we are overly reliant on a “one size fits all” approach.

Listening tour participants, especially K-12 administrators, highlighted their concern that data reporting requirements keep changing, resulting in the need for additional resources to help them keep up. Some administrators expressed concerns that local levies are now supporting some of these state mandated programs when it should be funding programs that are deemed a priority by the local district.

Higher education leaders stressed the importance of defining a unique point of differentiation for each campus in order to address funding constraints while still maintaining a focus on research and innovation. “We are Washington’s university, geographically dispersed. Each of our campuses offers a different set of specialties, each of which is critical to our collective future,” said a Washington State University administrator.

They also pointed to the perception that many programs are often mandated by the State, rather than allowing local districts to fund what their specific needs are. “Each district is very different,” said one administrator in Pullman. “We need more flexibility in middle schools and high schools, especially, for getting the results we need.” Both K-12 and higher education administrators mentioned the importance of a focus on what students need, not what our system needs.

Theme Area #2: While Running Start has been successful at bridging the transition between high school and college, significant differences exist in how it is implemented by each college.

Both higher education and K-12 education leaders pointed to “Running Start” as a success in their communities and a way to both ease the financial burden on students as well as give them a successful start in college.

However, differences in how Running Start is implemented can result in some barriers for students. For example, each college can determine their own policy for how Running Start credits are earned and how they transfer. Also, in some cases this is implemented as “College in the Classroom,” taught in the high schools, and in other cases, it is taught by the college. As a result of this diversity of approaches, administrators believe the program may be underutilized and could reach even more students if it were standardized.

Theme Area #3: Participants feel strongly that it should be “STEAM” not “STEM” – the Arts are missing and need to be added.

In Pullman, this was a theme that was consistent across a wide variety of education stakeholders. A local community college leader emphasized that the Arts bring “critical and creative thinking skills which are crucial to this knowledge economy.”

In addition, Listening Tour participants said that “soft skills”, which employers often say are missing from our graduates, can be built through participation in the Arts. “My experiences in theater and in student government helped keep me engaged and able to work successfully in teams,” said one student participant.

Theme Area #4: Importance of educating first generation college-bound students and their families on the right path to college.

Listening tour participants highlighted the fact that, often, the achievement gap is not the result of lack of effort or offering, but rather a result of lack of experience and knowledge about college preparatory requirements, particularly amongst families of first generation college-bound students. K-12, higher education and community and technical college leaders pointed to the need to educate these families on student academic requirements as well as extracurricular enhancements that will support their student in achieving their educational goals. As one education leader in Pullman mentioned, “We must recognize that their family experience often doesn’t help them get and stay on a path to the right college. That requires deliberate institutional attention to help them know about and make effective choices that support their success in college.”

This education needs to start very early, even in elementary school, as parents and students have choices about curriculum (e.g. math and reading).

Theme Area #5: High school counseling in Washington is challenged to appropriately and sufficiently prepare all students for the decisions they need to make about college and career.

Echoing comments the Council has heard in other parts of the state, many roundtable participants in Southeastern Washington cited the need to provide more high school counselors, and to arm those counselors with the information they need. Courtnee Grego, a student at WSU Tri-Cities, recalled the counselors she recently had in her high school: “The counselors in high school weren’t the greatest in helping us find the courses that we needed to take. I think there could be a lot more connection [to the higher education institutions].” The responsibility for this connection lies on both sides. As one university administrator said, “I’m not playing the blame game – it’s really about the back-and-forth communication. We have failed K-12 in some ways by not clearly communicating what the expectations are.”

When students do have access to counselors, those counselors may unintentionally frame a binary choice between a four-year institution and no higher education at all. Shane Reeder, from for-profit Charter College said, “High school counselors talk about that to students – if it’s not four years, it’s not moving on. They put emphasis there, and not on other options.” Rich Cummins, President of Columbia Basin College, had a similar perspective: “Another faculty counselor [was heard to say] – if you want to go to Harvard, take four years of writing, four years of math, etc. If you want to go to the community college, they will just give you a test when you get over there.”

This isn’t a new issue – high school counseling has been stretched thin for generations. Whitman College President George Bridges recalled, “My high school counselor told me that I probably couldn’t cut it in college and should look into a vocational program. He had over 300 students to work with. He could only base his recommendation on a standardized test score I had received. Fortunately, my mother and I had a different vision.”

Theme Area #6: High-stakes testing may be having unintended consequences.

The graduation requirements that are being rolled out in Washington raise issues for many education professionals and other community leaders. Concerns mostly revolve around the single point of pressure that these high-stakes EOC tests put upon graduation rates, as well as concerns that they may act as psychological barriers to further education. A local school district board member said, “Then there is this exam they are expected to pass to graduate. I think it does nothing to encourage anyone. I think that’s an incredible thing to put over people’s heads.”

Other participants expressed concern that these tests were a “one size fits all” tool designed without the perspective of the variety of students in the state, and that they may force students who are otherwise on track for graduation to drop out.

Walla Walla Schools Superintendent Mick Miller summed it up: “I’m very concerned with high-stakes testing as it relates to the Certificate of Academic Achievement. The CAA was originally supposed to be added to the diploma, not be a requirement to attain it.”

Theme Area #7: In addition to providing workers, targeted education programs can spur development of whole industries in a community.

Walla Walla Community College President Steven VanAusdle declared that, “Investing in talent is a job creator. The common wisdom is that companies create the jobs and we educate students to meet those needs, but talent investment is a job creator.”

He cited the Center for Enology and Viticulture – wildly successful by almost any measure – as proof: “This program has created 9,000 jobs, and has had a 230 million-dollar impact. And it’s attracting talent to Walla Walla like you wouldn’t believe.”

Part of VanAusdle’s strategy has been to cut marginal programs and re-invest in other areas, always with an eye to the eventual job prospects of his students, and the economic development of the city. Further, integrating basic educational content into the technical portions of the education makes those portions have more relevance, and shortens the pathways to success for his students. “Talent development is your major economic development strategy,” he said.

The Council heard about several specific initiatives, programs, and partnerships that are working to boost student achievement and attainment in Southeastern Washington:

AVID program – Walla Walla Public Schools

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a program to prepare students for college through accelerated learning electives. AVID targets students performing in the middle academically (i.e. not high achievers nor low achievers). More than 4900 schools throughout the United States offer an AVID program. www.avid.org

John Deere training program at WWCC

WSCC offers two two-year programs in association with John Deere: the Technology program designed to prepare students for technical careers related to Deere, and the Dealership Management program designed to educate students in topics of relevance to store management (including general agriculture science topics). The second program also offers a four-year track. In addition to classrooms and laboratories, the programs provide on-site opportunities at dealerships.

Gear Up Program – Richland

  • General info on Gear Up: www2.ed.gov/programs/gearup/index.html
  • Washington State program: www.gearup.wa.gov

Gear Up is a federal program (administered in state by WSAC) that provides college readiness aid to low-income students. Services include mentoring, tutoring, college visits, test preparation, and admissions/financial aid assistance. Roughly 75 school districts in Washington received Gear Up-related support in 2011-2012.

MESA – math engineering science – Tri-Cities

MESA is a national program that provides opportunities to underrepresented students in math, engineering, and science. MESA targets students in grades 6 through 12 by using a partnership between higher education, school districts, business, government, community organizations, family, and alumni. MESA prepares students for college paths and careers in STEM fields.

  • Tri-cities website: www.tricity.wsu.edu/mesa
  • State-level website: depts.washington.edu/mesaweb

Listening Tour Recap: Seattle 2/20

On Wednesday, February 20, the Student Achievement Council heard from over 30 educators, school administrators, students, and community leaders in Seattle. Key themes discussed include:

Theme Area #1: Socio-economic disparities influence educational outcomes, but educational institutions can remedy socio-economic disparities.

Throughout the Listening Tour, the Council has heard about the profound effect that socio-economic factors have on educational outcomes throughout the educational system. What is becoming clear, however, is that we can turn that situation on its head by partnering higher educational institutions with communities, K-12 schools, and community support services to deliver an integrated support structure that enables communities to improve educational outcomes.

Programs such as the Seattle University Youth Initiative have already proven the potential of this approach, having helped Bailey Gatzert Elementary ­— which has a 96% Free/Reduced Lunch population — achieve the greatest test score gain in the Seattle Public School system last year.

This supports the goals of the University as well: about 1,000 Seattle University students are involved in the program, and school administrators cite the tremendous benefit this has had on their educations.

Theme Area #2: Educational structures must be coordinated so we can deliver services that will otherwise fall through the cracks.

Many services that are essential for student success have distributed responsibility throughout the education system, and when nobody is “in charge” of them, they are likely to be delivered inconsistently. For instance, the more graduating high school students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the more federal education dollars that are likely to flow into our state. But, as Mary Jean Ryan of the Road Map Project put it, “Whose job is it to help? Nobody’s job. We need coordinated structures so we can deliver these services that fall in the grey area.”

Similarly, every higher education institution puts forth considerable effort to attract students, and these efforts could be aligned. Independent Colleges of Washington President Violet Boyer said, “Every college is out there encouraging kids to go to college: bringing kids on campus, etc. If you created a group of the outreach people on campuses to talk about best practices, how they do what they do – you could facilitate the conversation. We need a coxswain – somebody who gets us to row in unison.”

Theme Area #3: Higher-ed institutions should find and develop unique niches so we have a system that is more comprehensive than it is competitive.

All four-year institutions in Washington are not cut from the same cloth. Likewise, the Community and Technical colleges each serve unique needs of different student populations. However, this story is not often told. The Council has heard from many education leaders who say we could do a better job of both defining and refining those differences. The result would be a patchwork of institutions that support a broad range of educational needs, while minimizing duplication of effort.

President Michael Young from the University of Washington had this to say: “How do we turn each of the institutions loose to be best in class? …If you are Evergreen [for instance] be the best you can be in that space.” Meanwhile, another higher-ed administrator asked about how we can better understand the “interlocking” of the various institutions: “I don’t think we would be competing so much if we had a better sense of why all the sectors are critical for the overall success of the educational system… how they are all part of the overall remedy.”

Efforts such as the Five Star Consortium of community colleges may provide a replicable model of collective engagement between higher-ed institutions.

The Council heard about several specific initiatives, programs, and partnerships that are working to boost student achievement and attainment in the Seattle area:

Road Map Project: The Road Map Project is a community-wide effort aimed at improving education to drive dramatic improvement in student achievement from cradle to college and career in South King County and South Seattle. The project builds off of the belief that collective effort is necessary to make large-scale change and has created a common goal and shared vision in order to facilitate coordinated action, both inside and outside school.

The Road Map Project Goal is to double the number of students in South King County and South Seattle who are on track to graduate from college or earn a career credential by 2020, as a path to close achievement gaps for low-income students and children of color, and increase achievement for all students from cradle to college and career.

College Spark: funds programs that help low-income students become college-ready and earn their degrees, and makes grants to organizations and institutions throughout Washington state that are helping low-income students improve their academic achievement, prepare for college life, and graduate from college.

Stand for Children: has more than a decade of experience working together with parents, communities and organizations as partners. Together, they elect state legislators and local officials who will be champions for education, deliver policy victories at the state level, and follow through to ensure new policies are effectively implemented in public school classrooms. Stand for Children staff work state by state, community by community in order to make the biggest possible impact.

Partnership for Learning, the education foundation of the Washington Roundtable, is a statewide nonprofit organization that communicates the need for all Washington’s students to graduate from high school ready for career and college. As a trusted source of information, Partnership for Learning makes complex education issues accessible.

PFL’s primary focus is to build awareness, understanding and demand for K-12 public education reform so that Washington state can lead the nation with an education system that prepares all students to succeed in college and career, and fosters our state’s economic competitiveness.

Seattle University Youth Initiative: The Seattle University Youth Initiative is a long-term commitment by Seattle University faculty, staff and students from all disciplines to join with parents, the Seattle School District, the City of Seattle, foundations, faith communities and more than 30 community organizations to help children of Seattle succeed in school and life.

The goal of the program is improve the academic achievement of low-income youth living in the Bailey Gatzert neighborhood while strengthening the education of Seattle University students and expanding professional development opportunities for faculty and staff, become a national model of campus-community engagement.

Middle College High School: Middle College High School at Seattle University is a small high school for students who want to improve their academic skills while earning their Seattle Public Schools high school diploma. They offer the following: a core curriculum of high school classes, preparation for college on a university campus, career exploration, and Running Start.

Five Star Consortium: The MOU to Establish Five Star Consortium states: “We, the leaders of Cascadia Community College, Edmonds Community College, Everett Community College, Lake Washington Institute of Technology, and Shoreline Community College are committed to the mission of community and technical colleges in the State of Washington. We recognize that through collaboration and coordination, we can better serve our students and our communities as we fulfill that mission. To that end, we hereby establish a consortium of our colleges, hereafter to be known as the “Five Star Consortium,” with the goal of maximizing efficiencies and promoting institutional coordination and collaboration.”

Member institutions have agreed to the following principles:

  • All students should be permitted to attend the member college of their choice.
  • Bureaucratic barriers for students attending any of the member colleges should be reduced and/or eliminated.
  • The strengths of the member colleges should be leveraged for resource development and community engagement.
  • Each member college will accept and honor the courses, credits and degrees earned by students at any other member college.
  • The member colleges will seek to align their programs, services, and/or administrative functions with each other.

Listening Tour Recap: Vancouver 2/11/13

On Monday, February 11, the Student Achievement Council met with over 25 educators, school administrators, and community leaders in Vancouver through a full-day series of meetings. Some of the stronger themes from the feedback they heard include:

Theme Area #1: Education is not a series of institutions; it must be a system (and one with many participants).

As the Council has heard in other locations, the efforts that have the highest success in improving student outcomes are often those that bridge across educational sectors and into communities. A true partnership is not just between elementary, secondary, and university levels but involves all aspects of the community – business, nonprofits, government, and education. One powerful lever for the Vancouver area is that the community understands the value of partnerships; this has permitted the implementation of programs such as the Family Community Resource Centers to support low-performing schools.

Greater communication around standards and expectations is particularly needed between the sectors. While curriculum is being aligned informally, a more rigorous approach would minimize missed opportunities when students progress with skills not aligned to needs at the next level, whether that is the next step in education, or entry into the workforce. While the Council heard much agreement about the need to align, it remains unclear where the responsibility lies for making those changes.

A systems-based approach to education was urged by many attendees. As Edri Geiger, a Vancouver Public Schools board member put it, “We have a discussion that is talking about bits – early learning, K-12, etc. Those are just segments. By just talking in these bits, we allow for segments to protect their own.”

Theme Area #2: Cross-institutional data is needed, is currently lacking, and faces challenges.

The ability to track student progress has a wide variety of uses and is beneficial for many organizations. Good tracking can help determine what is working (success stories) as well as identify trouble spots (e.g. at-risk students). But there are currently huge gaps in data, particularly when trying to view information across multiple institutions. There is no ability, for instance, to measure outcomes from one educational level to the next, much less into employment outcomes. We have made some progress with data, but much remains to be done. One attendee put it this way: “We need the data to know if we are getting the results we need once they leave campus.”

Further, the lack of available data leads to inefficiencies. One administrator admitted to retroactively going back through records to reverse-engineer what made the successful graduates. If this data were more available at all levels, this could be understood more easily, and with much greater precision.

A practical issue facing such tracking data is privacy concerns, including what kind of unique identifier should be used for student tracking. Public perception of tracking students is often perceived as a “Big Brother” type practice, posing challenges to the implementation of any such system.

Theme Area #3: Access is vital, but there is no single best way to provide access.

Because there are so many different groups and types of students with disparate needs, there is no “magic bullet” for providing access to education. The Vancouver area has both urban and rural areas, and has both well-to-do and economically challenged populations. This diversity requires a collection of approaches to providing educational access at all levels.

The physical campus of WSU Vancouver has been a boon to place-bound students in the area, while online education offers many opportunities for the more rural portions of southwest Washington, providing opportunities for high school students to gain access to Running Start college courses, for instance.

More isolated campuses like Lower Columbia College can provide applied baccalaureate degrees, and can partner with universities to provide instruction on their campuses. At LCC, they have brought City University to campus with an Education and Teacher Certification program, and have plans to add programs from Washington State University and Eastern Washington University.

As one administrator said, “The community is thrilled – it gives more baccalaureate opportunity to people who are place-bound.”

Theme Area #4: Collaboration works, but transparency is key.

The Council has heard about many effective programs that boast collaboration between agencies, non-profits, and education providers. One key insight they gleaned involves getting all parties at the table to form a memorandum of understanding and agree to transparency with one another. This peer-accountability system promotes effectiveness, allows for organizations to mentor one another, and can keep a collaborative effort honed down to the most effective organizations working in that space.

The Council heard about several specific initiatives, programs, and partnerships that are working to boost student achievement and attainment in the Vancouver area:

Family-Community Resource Centers: a network of Family-Community Resource Centers assists students and their families, brings partnership resources together, and provides continuity between levels and across the system. The FCRCs initiative in Vancouver Public Schools is recognized as a national model by the Coalition for Community Schools and was one of 15 projects in the U.S. to receive a 2011 Magna Award “Honorable Mention” from the American School Board Journal.

AVID: Advancement Via Individual Determination is an elective class offering rigorous curriculum to promote student achievement. The class is offered for middle and high school students, and was created to help students be successful in school and to plan for college after high school graduation. The program focuses on students who are passing their classes, but may lack the necessary support to pursue a college education. Three main components of the program:

• Rigorous academic instruction
• Collaborative tutorial group support
• Motivational mentorship and college-going culture

MAP: at WSU Vancouver, the Business Growth MAP provides high-level consulting services to help businesses and non-profit organizations in Southwest Washington grow and create jobs in our community. The program pairs business students, faculty mentors and recent business graduate advisors with businesses that are looking to grow. The program consulted with 21 businesses spring semester.

Listening Tour Recap: Ellensburg 2/6/13

The Council received input from over 20 education leaders, parents, students, business leaders, teachers, administrators, and citizens in Ellensburg. Here are some of the thoughts they heard about how to improve student attainment and achievement in Washington State:

Theme Area #1: Both K-12 and higher education need to do a better job of preparing students with the “soft skills” required for employment, while business needs to make a commitment to internships and jobs for qualified candidates.

Employers are looking for employees who know how to work within deadlines, communicate well, know how to present themselves in a professional manner, and can work in teams. The Council heard from members of the business community that these skills are often lacking in graduates. In addition, faculty members indicated that research, while often considered an “optional” area, is actually the place where those soft skills are developed and assessed. “Start a project, propose a hypothesis, prepare a budget, manage a project, sometimes manage other people… and present that information. All of those things can be assessed in that one class. That’s why the research component is so important, “ said Mike Jackson, Professor and Chair of CWU Department of Physics.

At the same time, both higher education and community colleges believe they could recruit and graduate more qualified workers if they had commitments from employers. That commitment, either to internships or to jobs after college, is very appealing to college students. “I want companies to guarantee internships for the students majoring in our programs. The one thing I believe is missing is partnerships with the business community,” said Jackson.

Theme Area #2: School administrators, non-profit leaders and teachers agree that a collaborative, integrated approach to addressing the needs of at-risk and disadvantaged students is critical to improving student outcomes.

There is often a lack of connection between school, community, and human services for students in poverty. In order to provide them with the support they need to stay in school, they need a multi-faceted support system which works together with their family. As one K-12 administrator pointed out, “We used to have programs to get kids who were getting in trouble [support by] building a multi-unit plan where schools, juvenile detention, etc. worked together and gave strength to the system. Everyone was working together to get them out of trouble.” Community College and K-12 leaders point to programs like Running Start and GEAR Up as having a big impact on these students in Yakima and Ellensburg.

Theme Area #3: We need to strengthen and expand the pathways to becoming a teacher – and increase the training those teachers get.

The Council heard from many educators about the need to reinforce the “pipeline” for new teachers, starting with attracting qualified candidates: “We are good, but to get to great [the first thing I would do is] dramatically increase new teacher pay to attract better teachers. The best and the brightest are not interested in teaching,” said one administrator. Others suggested that a pathway for para-educators to become certified teachers would be a way to bolster the ranks of teachers with people invested in their local communities.

Another obstacle identified is the expense of getting a teaching degree and maintaining certification. Teacher education often requires additional semesters to complete, and student teaching means a semester where those teacher candidates may not be able to work other jobs. Further, the additional education required for certain teaching positions, or to grow salaries, can be a challenge to teachers, and presents a challenge to institutions looking to fill those positions.

Finally, participants suggested that changing demographics may mean that teachers of the future will need more robust training in working with English Language Learners (ELL), as well as training for dealing with other learning disabilities.

Theme Area #4: Students need to feel that they have paths to careers, and that all those options have value.

Many participants felt that an over-emphasis on four-year education as the “preferred” path gives short shrift to other pathways to careers. If the decision becomes a binary one of “college” or “not college,” then many students disengage early if they feel that they are not on the college path. Bob Hickey, a professor at CWU, put it this way: “The two most important places to pour resources are preschool and junior high. Kids need to be exposed to all of their options for the future. What I see as the largest loss is vocational and technical education ­­– the fact that a kid doesn’t get to play with a welder and figure out that they like fixing things. We are pushing kids away from these opportunities. It’s junior high where those decisions are made.”

The Council also heard that students tend to get sorted in education systems, and that this may contribute to declining outcomes for the student who is not college-bound. “They ask in eighth grade whether your student is college bound, and you had better say ‘yes’ or they will get slotted into remedial courses,” commented one participant.

Theme Area #5: Only so much can be steered from afar – communities need to drive their own success and form their own connections.

Particularly in rural areas and isolated urban areas, the Council has heard that decisions made in Olympia often don’t mesh with local context. The greatest gains made in these communities often come from their own deliberate efforts at collaborative work between education sectors, and with the local business community.

In some cases, local businesses provide opportunities for on-the-job learning, or partner with institutions to employ recent graduates. In other cases, local business groups are beginning to meet with higher education institutions to find alignment between programs and employment positions.

Educators often bear a great burden in keeping up with all the regulations and requirements that are put into law, cutting into the time they have for instruction and professional development. As one K-12 administrator put it: “The Legislature should be focusing on rights and responsibilities, not on which tests we should give third graders.”

The Council heard about several specific initiatives, programs, and partnerships that are working to boost student achievement and attainment in central Washington:

  • GEAR UP: provides services in each participating middle and high school building for seven years to build a sustainable culture of college-awareness and preparation by the project’s end. GEAR UP is a discretionary federal grant program designed to increase the number of low-income students prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education.
  • CAMP: The College Assistance Migrant Program offered at Central Washington University provides financial and academic support services to freshman students from migrant and seasonal farm working backgrounds.
  • Running Start: gives high school students the opportunity to earn college credit without the expense of college tuition. Through the Running Start program, students have the opportunity to take courses that may not be offered at the high school, including a wide range of elective courses.
  • College in the High School (CHS) programs provide college level academic courses in high schools to serve qualified high school students. CHS programs are established through a contract between a high school and a college or university. The high school and college or university together define the criteria for student eligibility.
  • Rural Alliance for College Success: provides more than 23,000 students from 35 rural school districts in Eastern and Central Washington access to relevant and up-to-date information to transition them from school to higher education.

Listening Tour Recap: Spokane 1/30/13

On Wednesday, January 30, the Student Achievement Council met with nearly 50 educators, school administrators, community leaders and students in Spokane and Cheney through a full-day series of meetings. Some of the stronger themes from the feedback they heard include:

Theme Area #1: Families and communities are key partners in the educational endeavor, and we need to find better ways to engage and support them.

The Council heard from many meeting attendees about how much of an influence parents and communities can have on academic success – both in positive and negative ways. Programs that give parents the tools to support their children’s education have terrific potential to boost attainment. However, this is outside of the traditional purview of education reform, and schools aren’t able to provide these services. Partnerships with programs like Head Start were cited as meaningful examples of how to address this gap.

As former WSU Spokane Chancellor Brian Pitcher put it, “[We need to] stress that it’s a partnership. Business needs to get involved again, and parents need to get involved. This absolutely needs to be more localized.”

Theme Area #2: Silos within the educational system can be broken down, but not without significant effort.

The Spokane area boasts a vital conversation among educators at various levels — bringing subject-matter instructors from K-12 and higher education together, for instance. When these partnerships have invested the effort required, they have been able to align on standards and improve transitions, making them more of a hand-up than a hand-off.

This isn’t easy to do, however. Jim Minkler, VP of Learning at Spokane Falls Community College, had this to say: “How did we do it? A lot of it was being able to tolerate discomfort. There’s a lot of blaming the first couple of meetings. And you need to get through that.”

Higher education leaders likewise said that they have been working together, but that it has required frank discussion and a willingness to collaborate from all parties.

Theme Area #3: Educators want to innovate, but they get change fatigue, and need clarity around the ultimate goals.

Educators on the front lines feel as if they are serving multiple masters, and that winds of change can blow in from many directions, often before they are able to get traction on the last change. While all share the desire to improve student outcomes, many decried the lack of consistency in what is expected of them. As one educator put it: “In K-12, we keep changing the standards that we are chasing.”

Rex Fuller, Provost at Eastern Washington University, summed it up for higher education: “President Arévalo is telling us to go out and watch the data – be farsighted. Eastern has always been innovative, and our faculty are willing to be innovative. [But] they need some ways to secure resources to be innovative.”

Theme Area #4: Students need choices, and they need for those choices to be better-defined for them.

Given the ever-increasing expense of higher education, and a challenged job market in many fields, there were many who felt that students should be given the resources to make more informed decisions about their education, and in particular about what those choices might mean for them.

Sally Jackson, Director of Planning, Institutional Effectiveness and Research at Spokane Falls Community College had this to say: “One of the challenges I am seeing is the impact of financial aid changes. We have a culture that has promoted the prolongation of adolescence, and yet we are asking 18 year-olds to know what they are doing for the rest of their education. Or asking eighth graders to know what track they are on – there are undue expectations put on the students.”

Students, too, felt that they could use more guidance. Jonny Whitmore, Associated Students of Whitworth University, said, “I don’t remember anybody telling me what the market is like. People told me to go after my passions, do what I wanted to do. I would have appreciated more guidance that would have matched my passions to what kinds of open jobs there are.”

This pointed to what some called a deficit in the availability of high school counselors to help students make those choices: “We have 2000 students, and four counselors. We aren’t funded at the level that I think our counseling needs to be,” said an area school district administrator.

Theme Area #5: Socioeconomic factors must be addressed as part of any solution, and they must be addressed as early as possible.

Many students are impacted by socioeconomic factors, which schools are ill-equipped to overcome by themselves. In the Spokane area, community groups are becoming partners to help alleviate some of these effects, but more could be done.

A school administrator expressed his concern this way: “We haven’t touched the subject of the barriers that students bring to school, and we get into ideological fights instead of asking ‘what we can do?’ Are we willing to ask the questions about what it means to intervene with social programs at an age that can make a difference?”

Michele Cook, a GED instructor from the Community Colleges of Spokane, emphasized that most of the students in her program have socioeconomic challenges: “It’s rare that I see students who don’t have something else going on outside of class.”

All agreed that the potential impact of solutions to these challenges would be profound: “If every child comes to school ready to learn, that is half the battle. Bring ‘em ready,” said one educator.

The Council heard about several specific initiatives, programs, and partnerships that are working to boost student achievement and attainment in the Spokane area:

  • The BELIEF program at Whitworth University provides Spokane high school students in low-income areas with resources and practical tools to make higher education an obtainable goal. Twenty students from Rogers High School participated in the inaugural conference.
  • The Spokane STEM Network, which seeks to:
    • Build a community consensus for the importance of STEM education
    • Increase readiness for postsecondary STEM-related education through improved curriculum and instruction
    • Increase Readiness for postsecondary STEM-related education through effective and transformational professional development for educators
    • Increase Completion of postsecondary degrees and certificates in STEM fields
    • Advocate for positive change in rules, law, and policy affecting STEM education and workforce development
  • Higher Education outreach to young science students from Eastern Washington University through LEGO Education Advisory Panel (LEAP) and the state Science Olympiad tournament.
  • Head Start has contributed greatly to early childhood education and development in the Spokane area.
  • The Gateway to College program reconnects high school dropouts with their education. Through the program, students complete their high school diploma requirements at community and technical colleges while simultaneously earning college credits toward an associate’s degree or certificate.
  • Collaborative Schools for Innovation and Success Pilot Program, a collaboration between Gonzaga University and Spokane Public Schools to establish collaborative schools for innovation and success serving particularly at-risk and low-achieving students.

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Listening Tour Recap: Bellingham 1/28/13

The Council listened to the input of over 40 education leaders, parents, students, business leaders, teachers, administrators, and citizens in Bellingham. Here are some of the thoughts they heard about how to improve student attainment and achievement in Washington State:

Theme Area #1: Readiness for education begins before Kindergarten and is inadequately supported at present.

Many participants, both in the K-12 system and in higher education, pointed to early childhood education as a key lever for change. As one public school administrator pointed out, “If a student gets off to a great start in Pre-K, and then begins to see themself as a learner in early elementary school, that is going to take them forward into life in really powerful ways.”

Theme Area #2: HS students are coming to college in need of significant remedial support.

All higher education institutions agreed that they have high numbers of students who require remedial support when they start college. This puts a burden on both families to fund this support and institutions that need to offer remedial services.

Community college representatives see this as a key part of their mission – to teach students basic skills at the same time as they are getting a college degree. “Our job is mostly teaching people how to be good learners. We give them the content of a 2 year college education and teach them how to learn at the same time, which I think is nothing short of heroic,” commented Dr. Ron Leatherbarrow, Vice President for Instruction at Whatcom Community College.

Theme Area #3: The rising cost of higher education is creating a barrier.

Council members heard a clear recognition that financial constraints are limiting the ability of many programs to meet the educational needs of all our citizens and in particular the opportunities of economically disadvantaged and minority students.  The significant increases in the cost of higher education have created a barrier to access for many of Washington’s students. “We are constantly talking about the budget and what needs to be cut,” said one college trustee. A student added, “I wouldn’t be able to afford college without the GET program.”

Theme Area #4: Technology is an opportunity, but also has challenges in how it is implemented.

While participants believe there are significant opportunities for the use of technology, many cautioned that it is also challenging to implement. One faculty member who teaches online courses clarified the opportunity. “The classrooms are where the learning happens… Hybrid courses worked well, I could see what they were getting and what they weren’t. The online part allowed them to work at home, but the in-person part allowed for student-to-student interaction and interaction with the professor.”

Participants also encouraged the Council members to see the technology opportunity more broadly, not just about Massive Open Online Courses but about how to integrate digital learning into all aspects of the education system.

Theme Area #5: Institutions are collaborating locally to bridge gaps in the system, but need more flexibility to innovate.

Council members heard a need for improved collaboration, coordination and alignment across educational sectors and to meet the workforce needs of our area and state. Education institutions, including school districts, universities, community colleges, technical colleges, tribal colleges in Whatcom and Skagit County are collaborating and working together to create close connections between the K-12 and higher education systems, ensure little overlap in programs and offerings, and connect to employers to ensure they are meeting workforce needs. Patricia McKeown, President of Bellingham Technical College, commented, “We are very responsive within the two-year system. When there are changing workforce needs, we have independently or collaboratively developed the programs to meet those needs.”

Many institutions in both the K-12 and the higher education systems pointed to the need for more flexibility in offering the programs that students need. One trustee commented, “We are hampered by our overall system and the controls that are put on us….We would like more flexibility to be as innovative as we want to be.”

Examples included:

  • Allowing school districts the flexibility to fund full day Kindergarten and pre-K programs
  • Creating opportunities for flexibility with school calendars, including summer school and all-year school options
  • Allowing community colleges more flexibility in how they structure programs and collaborate with employers, from work-study to entry requirements for programs

The Council heard about several specific initiatives, programs, and partnerships that are working to boost student achievement and attainment in Bellingham.

There is tremendous work being done and a number of innovative and successful initiatives are addressing such things as readiness and access, improvements in STEM education, and mentoring.  Several particularly encouraging programs were identified including:

  • Achieving the Dream: At Whatcom Community College the Council heard about the success of this program in aligning and inspiring faculty, staff and administration behind a singular purpose: ensuring student attainment. Campus administrators shared that they believe the success of this program lies in the fact that it is data-driven and that it is wholeheartedly embraced by the faculty.
  • “Building Bridges with Migrant Youth” program: Francisco Rios,
    Dean of Woodring School of Education at Western Washington University,
    shared the variety of programs, including activities at middle schools in
    Bellingham that are focused on helping Latino kids to develop leadership
    skills, stay in school, and develop literacy competencies. He also mentioned
    the Building Bridges with Migrant Youth program aimed at increasing the
    number of students from migrant backgrounds to consider higher education.
    Rios said, “We are working to get professors out of the college and into the
    communities to work with education professionals.”
  • Compass 2 Campus: a program at Western Washington University designed to increase access to higher education by providing an opportunity for 5th-12th grade students from traditionally underrepresented and diverse backgrounds in Whatcom and Skagit counties to be mentored by university students.

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