A good education is a continuum, from birth to beyond high school and into college, apprenticeships and vocational education.
Los Angeles Times columnist Karin Klein writes about the importance of nurturing in children a habit of reading for pleasure that will unlock untold pathways to success. Too many young people are missing out, distracted by social media and other digital activities.
On the other end of that education continuum in Washington, Jeff Vincent wants to unlock pathways for Washington citizens into higher education, whether college or vocational, into well-paying careers.
Vincent is chair of the Washington Student Achievement Council, and he is bent on cracking the code for sending more Washington students into post-high school education. Washington imports much of its highly educated work force, while the percentage of Washington students who seek post-high school credentials has been stuck at 60%. That lags the national average by 10 percentage points.
We can do better, Vincent believes. The key, he says, is not legislating solutions from Olympia but finding successful local programs to support and igniting others to take off. So under the Career and College Pathways Innovation Challenge, the state would provide grants to worthy community-based programs with data-driven approaches. Read more about the program in our editorial.
That community focus put me in mind of a program my mother participated in after she retired in Spokane. Pat Knutson was an elementary school teacher for five years before her four children came along, and she returned to preschool teaching when they were launched. Books were always around us, spilling off bookshelves, in gifts under the tree or in armfuls from the library. Dr. Seuss and Nancy Drew for us kids, usually political thrillers or nonfiction for her.
As a retiree in 1998, she answered the call of former Gov. Gary Locke to join the Washington Reading Corps.
Dismayed by dismal fourth-grade reading scores, Locke set his administration to figuring out how to retrain teachers and revise curricula to set things right, a process that would take years.
So, like Vincent is doing now, Locke also sought a community solution, calling for 8,000 volunteers to tutor struggling students. Within a year, 11,000 people had volunteered.
“That’s one of the least known programs we started, and it’s one that I’m very proud of,” Locke said when I called him recently. He rattled off stats of the difference the program made: “Kids who participated averaged about one year behind. After a year, they had made two years of progress.”
I know mom was proud to be part of the Washington Reading Corps, to be helping students unlock the pleasures of reading. She passed away recently, and among the memories shared was from my cousin, Traci Knutson Daly, who gave me a glimpse of what Pat imparted to her students.
“I remember her patience listening to me read ‘Heidi’ to her over and over on Grandma Frances’ porch and telling me once you learn to read you can learn anything in the world you want to know,” said the girl who grew up to be a school social worker. “And I say it to my girls now.”
Education is a continuum, indeed. The success of our children, our businesses and the whole state depend on that continuum well working from birth to work. Government policy can guide and government spending can boost, but communities can provide the fuel for solutions that fit best.