One of the most troubling data points in the “Washington State Highlights 2014” report is that we are listed in the bottom half of states in both our graduation rate and in the poverty-based achievement gap. Even more disturbing, is the fact that in 2014 that gap actually grew in both 4th and 8th grade NAEP results. A similar gap exists on our state assessments and in our graduation rates. That information points to the need for the ample school funding called out in the McCleary decision to support all students in achieving our state’s learning goals.
As Washington moved to a standards-based education system two decades ago, educators were often told that in the traditional approach to learning was the variable and time was the standard. With the new approach, learning would become the standard and time would be the variable. That made a lot of sense to anyone who worked with students and observed first-hand the wide variety in how quickly students mastered new learning. But while time as the variable sounded great in theory, the state has never really supported the cost of that approach.
Educators across the state have done remarkable work with limited resources to differentiate teaching around the learner needs. Students in poverty enter school without many of the opportunities provided to their more affluent classmates outside of school. Changing the learning trajectory of students to overcome poverty will take more than teacher individualization – it will take more time. Make no mistake, in education more time equals higher costs. The cost may be due to smaller classes which provide more one-on-one teacher time. Or it might involve extended learning opportunities in the form of a longer day or longer school year.
Closing the opportunity/achievement gap has been called the greatest civil rights issue of our generation. We cannot afford to stand by while a significant number of students fall through the cracks of our educational system. Everyone involved in public education has a role to play in closing that gap and yes, that includes the need for our Legislature to provide ample funding for our schools.