Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Testimony - School takeover

CON - SB 5329 - Creating the state superintendent school district

Testimony to Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee

(Note: The concern around voter disenfranchisment also underscored Washington State PTA's decision not to endorse the A+ Washington plan crafted by other education advocates, and not to support proposed legislation last year that would have set up "Innovation Zones" where the state hired management companies to run struggling schools. Concern about community oversight of and participation in schools also factored into the association's decision not to endorse the charter initiative. The association did back 2010's SB 6696, which laid out steps for state intervention in the perennially poorest performing schools. Implementation of the concepts introduced in that bill -- evaluations, family engagement and school/district accountability -- remain a top priority for WSPTA.)

Good afternoon Chairman Litzow and Senators,

Washington State PTA is not opposed to intervention. The idea of stepping in and saying “we have to fix this” is one that the association can support. The method you have chosen to intervene with, however, is not one we support.

In essence, you would be privatizing schools without evidence that Learning Management Organizations will do any better.  And absent in this bill is the required audit that is the hallmark of the state’s "Required Action" plan laid out in 2010's SB 6696. The audit focused on practices in the building and highlighted where the breakdowns were occurring. They changed behavior and practices in staff and community alike.

This bill includes public meetings with a parent and community advisory committee. And that’s good. But … Will this committee have any teeth? Will they be informed only, or will they be true partners? Who gets to choose who is on this committee?

This bill disenfranchises voters and creates a tiered system in our state where some citizens (mostly white and wealthy) will continue to enjoy civic protections around school government and oversight, while others (mostly of color and poor) will not. They will have a private group dictate the terms in which they can engage with their community’s school.

There is no evidence that schools are hurt when the local community is engaged in civic oversight. There is plenty of data to suggest students suffer when evidence-based practices are not implemented and when administrators and staff hired to run the schools do not build strong partnerships with the local community. And by that I don’t mean community-based organizations. I mean the community. The people to send their children and grandchildren to the school; who live across from the school; who graduated from the school.

The community around struggling schools needs to be brought into the civic process and truly engaged and empowered. The schools themselves need to better reflect the community, and those hired to run them need to understand how to build bridges into the community. Lack of authentic partnership and breakdowns in communication are brought up repeatedly by groups most affected by the achievement gaps, and this bill does nothing to address that.

2010’s Senate Bill 6696 provided for an audit and community participation in any plan going forward. It created a structure that required all the parties to acknowledge the school wasn’t working and together turn it around. Everyone had to pause and consider what they needed to do individually and collectively to meet the unique and demanding needs of the students.

That is empowering. That is change. That is intervention WSPTA can support.

-- Ramona Hattendorf, WSPTA government relations coordinator

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