The Seattle Times’ LiveWire event on visions for the public education system focused on what’s working in schools, and how issues can be addressed through more than just money.
In a sometimes fiery discussion Wednesday at Town Hall Seattle, seven educators, policymakers and education advocates shared successes they’ve seen and ended by offering their vision for what a perfect education system would look like in 2022.
In-between, there was some back-and-forth with the audience around funding issues, along with discussion on everything from teacher pay to the need for more social and emotional support for students.
Among the ideas for 2022: counselors at every school, a smooth transition from high school to higher education, a teacher workforce that feels fully supported and compensated, and free preschool for every child.
How the state can get to goals like those was the main topic of The Seattle Times LiveWire event, “K-12 visions and outcomes: Solving the education problems money can’t fix.”
Jeff Charbonneau, a teacher at Zillah High School in Central Washington and the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, started off the panel by saying the narrative about the public-education system needs to change.
“I do not believe we are a nation or a state of failing schools,” he said to applause. While the current graduation rates — about 78 percent — aren’t high enough, he added, “No CEO would go in front of their company and say their employees are failures.” And he stressed that students are achieving more than they have in the past.
Highline Superintendent Susan Enfield focused on her view that teachers have more responsibilities than just academics, and those responsibilities keep growing as support services diminish.
“We have students whose families are in crisis,” she said. “ … It’s not just paper and textbooks. It’s bigger than that.”
The panelists also talked about money, especially given the 2012 Supreme Court ruling that Washington is violating the rights of the state’s 1 million school children by underfunding public education. Lawmakers have added more than $2 billion to the state’s education budget but still haven’t fully complied with the decision; the court is fining the state $100,000 a day.
The two state legislators on the panel, Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, and Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Renton, agreed that education is the most important focus for lawmakers. But all districts want different things, Litzow said. And it’s difficult to balance competing interests.
Pettigrew stressed the need for giving individual schools more power over how money is spent.
The panel also included Spokane Superintendent Shelley Redinger; Mia Tuan, dean of the University of Washington College of Education; and Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable, a business group.
At the end of the event, the moderators — Kate Riley, Seattle Times editorial-page editor, and former Seattle Times executive editor Michael Fancher — asked each panelist what their 2022 vision was — but also how they were going to work to achieve it.
Redinger said she planned to lobby in Olympia, while Enfield said she would continue in her role, saying most superintendents leave too soon.
“What am I going to do?” he said. “I’m going to teach.”