As part of a six-year plan to overhaul K-12 schools in Washington, the state’s new superintendent of public instruction wants all students to learn a second language before they get to high school, and all high-school students to earn some college credit before they graduate.
Chris Reykdal, the state’s new superintendent of public instruction, has put together his to-do list. And it’s a big one:
1. Provide preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.
2. Add 20 days to elementary and middle-school calendars, and make their school day 30-60 minutes longer.
3. Start teaching students a second language in kindergarten.
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4. Pay for all high-school students to earn college credit before graduation — and no longer require them to pass state tests to get a diploma.
5. Create post-high schools plans for every eighth-grader before they enter the ninth grade.
And, of course, 6: Finally resolve the landmark McCleary school-funding case — and Reykdal has some ideas about how to do that.
After serving in the state House of Representatives for five years, Reykdal last month celebrated his first 100 days as Washington’s chief of K-12 schools. In that time, he’s come up with an ambitious plan that — if he can persuade the Legislature to adopt it — would reshape public education over the next six years to compete with school systems in countries like Germany, South Korea and Switzerland.
“Part of the long-term vision here is you’ve got to imagine a K-12 system that is very different,” he said in an interview last week.
“We should be the first state in the country to have a universal second-language framework,” he added.
In Olympia, lawmakers remain deadlockedover how to pay for public schools and satisfy the state Supreme Court’s 2012 order in the McCleary case.
After a special session to resolve that dispute ended Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee called the Legislature into a second overtime session to finish the 2017-19 state budget.
In a Wednesday news conference, Reykdal announced his proposal for a McCleary compromise, one that borrows ideas from competing Democratic and Republican proposals.
His hybrid plan would preserve much of the existing school-finance structure, as House Democrats prefer, but also include a boost in resources for low-income, bilingual and gifted students that Republicans had hoped to support in a per-pupil funding model. It also would have more money for career and technical education, and for students with special needs.
Under his plan, the state would add about $4 billion per year for K-12 schools, or about $3,500 more per student.
“It requires sacrifice from everybody,” he said Wednesday. “This will cost additional resources.
“Not the tens of billions of dollars that people have talked about in the past, but probably a lot more than the $2 billion that the Legislature will settle on this year.”
Reykdal acknowledged he’s asking for a lot, especially during a legislative session in which McCleary fatigue may be taking hold.
He also can’t enact the plan on his own. The state superintendent has only a bully pulpit at his disposal, but Reykdal hopes to use it to persuade lawmakers to do more than just invest more money in a broken K-12 system.
“No one’s excited about raising billions of dollars to satisfy a court order. That sounds very perfunctory, very hostage-like,” Reykdal said.
“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, you want transformation, not faux reform,” he added. “I’m offering a vision that gives them something to shoot for versus something they have to do.”
Reykdal’s plan would take at least six years to accomplish.
By 2019, he wants to resolve McCleary, provide better staff training for teachers, and eliminate a requirement that students pass state standardized tests before they can graduate. That last proposal has drawn opposition.
“Not a single Washingtonian for the past 130 years has had to do that,” Reykdal said.
Starting in 2008, the state has required students to pass the math and language-arts exams (or a number of alternatives) to earn a diploma. The Legislature later added science to that list but postponed that requirement to start with the Class of 2017.
Reykdal’s predecessor, Randy Dorn, also wanted to end the testing requirements, but never got enough support among lawmakers.
Granting students relief from the science test — or all three — has gained some support in the Legislature. But Steve Mullin, president of the business think tank Washington Roundtable, is urging lawmakers to keep the testing requirement for math and language arts.
On-time graduation rates in Washington, even with the test requirement, have increased from 72 percent in 2007-08 to 78 percent in 2014-15. And the share of graduates who enroll in remedial classes at two-year colleges has declined, from 58 percent in 2008 to 50 percent in 2015.
Reykdal estimates that dropping the test requirement would save the state about $25 million, which he wants to funnel back into creating post-graduation plans for eighth graders.
He also will ask lawmakers to pay for independent studies to determine how much it would cost to teach all students a second language before they get to high school, and to extend the school day and year through eighth grade.
His proposal calls for longer recess and lunch breaks, too.
“We’re not in school too much,” Reykdal said. “Particularly for students most at risk, that summer (break) becomes an enormous step backward for them …
“The rest of the world is doing this,” he said. “It’s not 1889 anymore.”
By 2021, Reykdal wants the state to cover fees for all students who want to earn college credit while finishing high school in what’s called “dual-credit” programs. Examples include Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Running Start.
About 47 percent of high-school students in Washington enrolled in at least one dual-credit program in 2014-15, and a 2012 study by the Community College Research Center at Columbia University connected participation in dual-enrollment programs to increased rates of high-school graduation and college enrollment.
Reykdal in particular wants to improve participation among low-income students and students of color.
By 2023, Reykdal hopes the Legislature would have embraced his whole vision.
“The long-term vision of our state has to become the guiding force of our policy,” he said. “Otherwise we come here (Olympia) every year … wondering what the next big idea is going to be.”