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.