PREPARING for the new school year last summer, I realized that in setting our annual achievement goals public schools have been selling ourselves, and our students, short. In public education, we tend to set goals based on what we think is realistic.
That’s not surprising in a state where the Supreme Court has ruled that we are chronically underfunding education and where failing to meet student achievement goals is accompanied by punitive measures and public criticism.
In this environment, educators are likely to set timid, uninspiring — yet achievable — goals. When we do, we are not challenging ourselves, or our students, to be the best we can be.
By setting lower targets, we as educators are admitting defeat before we even start, which neither inspires nor supports those of us charged with meeting established targets. Perhaps more disturbing is the message we send our students.
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By setting a goal, for example, of 52 percent of students meeting a standard in science, we are tacitly admitting that we don’t believe we can do better than that, or that our students are capable of doing better. And trust me, our students listen to the messages we send, both intended and unintended.
I am determined that Highline Public Schools will not perpetuate this cycle of low expectations, uninspiring goals and even less-inspiring results. We will aim high, but we will also aim differently, investing intensively in the supports that will allow us to reach bold targets.
In my conversations with staff and community members so far it is clear the Highline community is ready and eager to embrace high expectations for its students, and with that enthusiasm we are ready to set ambitious goals.
We are currently crafting a new strategic plan and discussing goals such as 95 percent of next year’s incoming kindergartners meeting or exceeding standard in all core subjects by the end of third grade. These goals reflect our belief in our students and confidence in our staff’s expertise.
I see the energizing effect of this big, bold thinking on Highline staff and community. Our shared commitment and energy alone, however, is not enough to effect true change. In our current funding environment, if we are to invest the resources necessary to meet bold targets, we must shift resources from another area. It is a heartbreaking dilemma, one we and our children should not have to face.
All of us, as citizens of Washington state, have a vested interest in the quality of our education system. But that quality does not happen just because we wish it so. We must fund it now.
What educators, families and students across this state need is for our legislators, policymakers and advocates to focus their energies on having the right conversations that will lead to a fully funded system of basic education. We must have a fair playing field to accomplish goals worthy of our students and their capabilities. Without adequate state funding, we don’t have that field.
I face each day as a superintendent knowing that I have the responsibility to ensure that the more than 18,000 students in Highline receive the highest quality education possible.
I accept that responsibility, and I welcome being held accountable to meeting our goals. What I ask is for our state to recognize that accountability absent adequate funding will never move our education system forward.
Susan Enfield is superintendent for Highline Public Schools in Burien. She served as vice chair of the state’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding.