Challenge old assumptions and invest money in proven methods to help students achieve.
AS school districts wait for the Legislature to resolve education funding in Washington, it is imperative that we invest all of our resources wisely in ways that expand educational opportunities and increase the likelihood that all students will succeed, no matter where they live.
We have learned a lot over the past decades about what works in education. Thoughtful, targeted investments in two key areas — a broad and rich curriculum and increased instructional time — have the potential to move our state’s public-education system from one that is good to one that is world-class and meets the needs of all students.
The biggest mistake since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act was a lack of full understanding of the research about reading. In pursuit of high test scores, curriculum in elementary schools shifted to reading instruction. After almost two decades of this hyper-focus on reading scores, our nation and state have not seen dramatic gains in reading.
Catch up on the rich discussion at the recent Seattle Times LiveWire event. Shelley Redinger was joined by other educators and policy experts for a robust discussion. Go to:
However, this is not due to the efforts of classroom teachers, but to the mistaken assumption that reading comprehension is a skill that can be taught like learning to ride a skateboard.
In reality, reading — especially as a student moves into upper grades — is more dependent upon background knowledge than anything else. Having a broad background in social studies, science and the arts brings meaning to passages and helps make sense of the world.
Schools need to make time to study ancient civilizations, U.S. history, modern world government, languages, our natural world and the full range of the arts.
Schools that have restored content knowledge to its rightful place in the curriculum have discovered that students enjoy school more and ultimately read at higher levels on comprehension tests than schools that focus predominantly on reading comprehension.
Parents and policymakers should ask for fewer tests on reading comprehension and demand that schools teach a coherent, rich curriculum in all grade levels. Once students can read, these tests are largely a measure of students’ content knowledge. Schools can and should be held accountable, but they should be held accountable to presenting students a rich liberal-arts education first and foremost.
If schools, parents and policymakers teamed up, our classroom teachers would be restored to their proper place — as key purveyors of the wonder and excitement that is inherent in our world. In short, investments in a broad, rich education would have an incredible return on investment.
Another key investment is more instructional time. More than ever in our nation’s history, it is imperative that students both graduate from high school and pursue some form of technical or military, two-year or four-year education.
While we can celebrate historic high graduation rates in our state and nation, every school district continues struggling to reduce the number of students who drop out and to increase the number who are college and career ready. These goals require more time for many students in the education system, particularly starting in preschool.
Our state should invest in universal preschool to ensure that all students are ready for elementary school. If our state had universal, quality preschool, our youngest students would have a seamless transition to the K-12 system when they were ready.
Additional time shouldn’t be limited just to preschool. More time in the K-12 system would also ensure that our schools could adequately teach a full liberal-arts education. Middle- and high-school students would also benefit from access to additional courses and credits.
Students should not have to choose between career exploration, world languages, the arts and other electives versus science, social studies and English. All of these subjects deserve equal access and time.
If we thought of our school year and day differently, we would be able to deliver this rich, broad curriculum to all students.
Our state’s educators are working harder than ever before. We need to maintain our existing investments — in areas like student support and counseling — and focus new investments toward providing all students with the rich content knowledge they deserve and the time to learn it beginning in preschool and through 12th grade.
The success of our next generation of students and our state’s economy depends on these key investments and decisions. We all benefit when every student is adequately prepared with a quality, rich education.