One of the most critical issues facing our state is the matter of education reform and student achievement. This issue and how we deal with it will have a socio-economic impact that will set the trend for the future success of our children and society itself. Our public education system must offer our children the opportunity to succeed in a global economy and compete for the best jobs available.
The General Assembly has a responsibility to reform the funding mechanism and the "Unit Count" process to adequately fund public education. When elected I will work to accomplish those needed changes. The formulas have not been significantly adjusted in decades while testing and technology expenses have grown. No Child Left Behind requirements for accumulating and processing necessary data have caused a huge funding shortfall in technology and secretarial assistance needs while the state has not increased the resources or funding available.
One of the keys to implementing successful education practices is a willingness to solicit and accept the counsel of professional educators and a refusal to legislate "feel-good", politically expedient mandates that are most often under funded and frivolous.
Accountability cannot be limited to the negative connotations of a punitive measure. The process must be used to determine shortfalls in methodology and curriculum to allow for necessary changes and improvements in our education practices. We must move the entire education accountability model to one that uses a cohort-over-time model. We must expect from our educators (that means school board members, superintendents, principals, and teachers) that their targets include a year or more of growth for each child every year. The "Kids Count" data continue to be compelling and the General Assembly needs to use this data to make appropriate decisions for the districts. We do not train deeply enough in early childhood methods and protocols frankly, by kindergarten, we have already left to many children behind.
Districts in the state are struggling financially. If districts could live within the state earned units, why does every district in the state go out for referendums? The answer is, because they can't. The lack of proactive efforts by the incumbent 25th District Representative has enhanced the prospect of more Christina-like situations in the future. Confronting a crisis as it occurs rather than preparing and anticipating needs always results in a much greater expenditure of resources and undermines chances for long-term success.
PreK-12 funding needs to be student driven, not employee unit driven. Give state dollars to districts via a formula driven by expense of the child. ( Regular ed children would command less than a special ed child, a free/reduced lunch child etc.) Then hold Superintendents accountable for spending these dollars to serve the children.
We should use a national test (NAEP for example) to evaluate student progress in satisfying the requirements of No Child Left Behind, giving us a better accuracy and consistency. The DSTP then should be used as a measure of individual student progress and to align teaching practices with student learning. In addition we need to perform periodic assessments such as MAP testing that will allow our teachers to track improvement and needs throughout the year enabling adjustments to be made for the individual and in the curriculum. The DSTP is a lagging indicator. It comes too late in the year for teachers to address problems. Properly applied the DSTP is a useful tool to track progress, implement necessary changes and adjust curriculum to educate children.
D) Tiered diploma system:
Legislators have said that they had to institute a three-tiered diploma in order for most of the state's seniors to graduate. One long term stated that it would have been "politically devastating" not to support it. The concept of a tiered diploma system is untenable. It is a punitive strategy vs. one that celebrates varying degrees of success. The argument that this was a good compromise to the two camps arguing whether to have an exit exam from H.S. was the wrong argument. There is plenty of research that speaks to the weakness of a written test being the single point of clearance for any milestone. The best argument against the current arrangement is that no credible adolescent psychologist or prudent educator would endorse a 10th grader receiving any sort of label, basic, distinguished, whatever with two more years to go. This will continue to yield unfortunate and unjust inflated and deflated effects on our students' self-esteem, no matter how many times they are allowed to retake the test. I will offer legislation to apply uniform H.S. diplomas based on GPA compilation, past performance, classroom evaluation and test results, all given weighted consideration.
E) Full day kindergarten:
I have consistently proposed implementation of state funded full-day kindergarten availability as an option for all public school children whose parents choose to take advantage of it. It was remiss of the House Education Committee to table H.B.444 in 2004. A commitment to early childhood education by implementing full day kindergarten is critical to narrowing the achievement gap. Locally and nationally there is an abundance of full day kindergarten programs. The legislators, insistence on further study of pilot programs only serves to deprive more children of the advantage of this proven educational practice. The largest school district in our state had nine full day kindergartens prior to 2003 and is adding four more under local funding in 2005, and could easily have been used as a model for success.