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Don't base education quality on money alone

In our opinion

 


Last week, the state Legislature submitted a report to the Washington State Supreme Court, detailing its progress to fulfilling the now-infamous McCleary decision, requiring the full funding of primary education in Washington. The decision set in stone a timeline to recoup education budget cuts made at the state level.

In June, $1.03 billion was set to be appropriated to public schools over the next two years, $982 million of which includes spending for basic education. A task force stated the state would need to increase public school funding by $1.4 billion in this budget cycle and yet again in the 2017-19 biennium by $4.5 billion.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn labeled the report as “incomplete,” saying the Legislature had fallen short.

There are a great many things in education that need sufficient funding to provide students with the best learning materials: computer software, textbooks that aren’t crumbling at the seams and facilities in which it’s safe to learn.

Across the country, the rhetoric is that schools need more money in order to educate students. The message is that we’re not spending enough in one particular area. But just look at the percentage of your property tax breakdown that goes to education and you’ll realize one thing: we aren’t stiffing students.

In 2011, Washington dipped below the national average in funding per student to $9,483 (the national is $10,560). While that has been a rallying cry for many to increase the amount of money spent on students, are students really getting a better education with those dollars?

Common Core, a set of curriculum standards set by the federal government meant to unify the different states’ curricula, will likely demand new textbooks and different materials used in class.

Education used to be about ensuring students performed as best as they wanted, in a learning style that tried to make accommodations for each student. With the No Child Left Behind act, however, results from standardized testing became more prevalent than ever before. It took the exploration out of education and continually hammered students to meet standards in order to show the effectiveness of the school district’s teaching abilities.

That legislation put teachers in a tough spot, looking like villains for not allowing deviations from the curriculum while at the same time being victims of a policy that seized control of their chalkboards (or the new smartboards).

When test scores didn’t improve under No Child Left Behind, we listened to calls to increase education funding, as districts revamped various technologies in schools. And when results still didn’t show dramatic changes, we again listened as schools requested new buildings, as better surroundings would surely encourage success.

The rallying cry “It's for the children” became the go-to statement for school districts across the region, and remains entrenched to this day.

The true damage of No Child Left Behind has yet to be determined, and despite a name change, the Common Core State Standards initiative is just another attempt to glorify test results. Instead of looking to test results, let’s take a look at what made our education system one of the best in the world: the freedom to innovate.

Homework is the scourge of any child’s evening, and has an important place in education. But letting students experience freedom while at home after school is invaluable. Parents are the most important influence in a child’s life, and having those precious few hours at home to impart lessons outside of the classroom will shape their future far more than any homework assignment from the latest curriculum.

In the end, we have to ask ourselves as the West Plains, as the state of Washington and ultimately as a nation, what we want. Do we want to see students who are better test-takers, or students who are better innovators?

The McCleary decision was no doubt a victory for school districts in Washington and the West Plains. However just as spending money won’t lead to someone having less debt, having the latest curriculum and technology in a classroom won’t create to better students.

 

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