Sunday, August 10, 2008

VG: Superintendent of Public Instruction

After the relative thinning of the ranks downballot, we hit a bumper crop at the Superintendent of Public Instruction, because it all about the WASL.

The WASL (pronounced like the yuletime rum punch)sounded like a good idea at the time, and starts with a simple concept - are our kids learning? The Washington Assessment of Student Learning test is for all Washington students. Since then it has become a regular feature of debate every time the SPI post comes up. It has been years in the planning, has not been fully implemented, and depending on who is running, is either a complete success, a dismal failure, or somewhere between the two points and needs some hefty fine-tuning.

Oh, and this is one of those "Non-Partisan Positions", which means you get even less information than normal to make your decision. So you have to read (and do a little homework) before making a decision. Look on the bright side - if you're old enough to vote, you don't have to worry about taking the WASL, so don't belly-ache about it.

The incumbent is Teresa "Terry" Bergeson, who has been in the position since 1996 and been deeply involved in developing and applying the WASL, which has been a slow, frustrating uphill process. From her candidate's statement, they have succeeded, as "Washington leads the nation in accountability with some of the most rigorous academic standards in the U.S". SAT scores are up, and 91% percent of the class of 2008 met graduation requirements for reading and writing (math and science not so much). She says things are getting better. Her opponents beg to disagree.

Randy Dorn is a former teacher (Note: EVERYONE here is a former teacher) who points out that Bergeson has had 12 years to make things better, and things still are not done. He's pushing junking the unfinished WASL and replacing it with a simpler test that will take up less time and curriculum (and take longer to implement). He's also got the backing of the State Democrats, the WEA (teacher's union) and PSE (non-teachers/support staff union). The latter is not a surprise since Dorn is the executive director of the PSE. These two are the likely candidates for fall, though it is not inevitable.

John Patterson Blair favors "alternate education" and you have to run through his candidate statement a couple times before you key in on the word "vouchers". Unfortunately we don't have a position for Superintendent of Alternate Instruction. On the other hand, he's WASL-neutral, though overseen by Neighborhood Education Districts. And you thought the PTA was time-consuming.

Enid Duncan wants to free us from the WASL obsession of the incumbent, and that the goals of education reform are good but have been abandoned (probably having something to do with cleaning out the swamp and suddenly discovering the presence of butt-level alligators). Citing a return to basic principles, she wants to give teachers the best tools for teaching while being fiscally responsible. And there, as they say, is the rub.

Don Hasler of Spanaway has a plan - unfortunately its nor available for the Internet. Said plan involves paying teachers more (which I always in favor of) and revising the WASL (mend it, don't end it). No idea if he plans to revise it up or down, but if I send him my land address, he'll mail me the plan. It is good to have a plan.

David Blomstrom invokes Hugo Chavez of Venezuela as a suitable role model for education reform, is angry that the race is being reduced to the WASL, has been fighting WASL for a decade, deplores "software terrorists who exploit children" and is attacking Bill Gates "right in his home town". His committee is called "David Blomstrom vs. the Seattle Mafia". He also wants to know why the Seattle Media ignores or even lies about him, creating the first recursive candidate statement which answers its own questions as it asks them.

Remember, I'm reading these things so you don't have to. No, I won't take the WASL for you. There are limits.

More later,