Policy experts are calling today's announcement from Governor Christine Gregoire "a bold move." Critics have labeled it "smokescreen."
In a morning news conference, the Governor announced that she wants to re-build Washington State's education system from the ground up. Actually, her exact words were, "We do not have an education system." What she wants to do is build a new, cohesive education system to replace the disjointed one that is currently in place.
I've previously written about problems within Washington's education system. Graduation requirements at the high school level don't mirror entrance requirements at the university level. How one district translates a grade level expectation (GLE) like, "understands and can analyze causal factors that have shaped major events in history" frequently differs from another district's translation of that same GLE. And, what a Manson or Walla Walla freshman learns in their algebra 1 class may not be the same as what their counterparts learn in the same algebra 1 class in Seattle or Bellingham, even though the state expectation is the same. There is very little consistency or cohesion to the system that now exists.
Governor Gregoire today took the first steps needed to change those inconsistencies. The Governor is proposing legislation that will build "a cohesive system with common goals, shared priorities, coordinated efforts and linked outcomes." To do this, the Governor says, she needs to eliminate the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and create a cabinet-level position of Secretary of Education - a governor-appointee.
Needless to say, the plan isn't setting well with State Superintendent Randy Dorn, an elected official, not an appointee. He's already promising a fight and has leveled charges that the Governor's proposal is nothing new.
"Every Governor I've known has wanted more power," Dorn said. "This is a smokescreen that takes time and energy away from the more important issue of funding. In February 2009, a King County Superior Court Judge ruled that basic education is underfunded in the state - and that ruling was based on financial data from two years before. Since then, education has been cut even further (under Governor Gregoire's administration.)"
Dr. Tom Halverson, Director of the University of Washington's Master in Education Policy Program, sees it another way.
"The Governor has really put her political capital where her mouth is in terms of saying, 'I want to move forward in this direction and this is where I'm going,'" Halverson said.
Almost six years ago Governor Gregoire was in the audience at a National Governors' Association meeting when Microsoft founder Bill Gates leveled a bombshell of his own in calling the U.S. education system "obsolete." If today's announcement is any indication, it would seem obvious that she had been listening.