State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn gave his thoughts on several wide-ranging education topics during an address Thursday at the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce-sponsored Public Affairs Forum.
Dorn has repeatedly said he thinks the charter school initiative narrowly approved by voters in November violates the state constitution because it calls for the creation of a new, appointed charter school commission that would authorize and supervise charter schools.
Last month, in a letter to the Legislature, he asked lawmakers to amend the state’s new charter school law so his office supervises the new schools.
Dorn claims the charter school commission would not only bypass his office, it would create a whole new separate school system devoted to just one type of public education.
Dorn insisted it wouldn’t be a power grab. He said he wasn’t arguing for or against charters, just who oversees them.
“I’m not suing, OK?” he told the audience at Cottesmore of Life Care. “I’m asking the Supreme Court to do what? Their job.”
Dorn said he merely wants to know if the law is constitutional.
“That’s the issue with me,” he said.
Whether the law as it stands is constitutional or not, Dorn said he needs to be prepared.
“I have to plan both ways,” he said.
Charter schools should meet the same standards as public schools, he said, and he thinks that’s the purpose of the charter school law.
“I don’t think there’s an ill intent,” he said.
The new charter school law allows up to 40 charter schools to open in Washington state and gives school boards the chance to authorize charters, too, but also sets up the new commission.
Regarding the state Supreme Court’s January 2012 decision in the McCleary case, in which the court held the state isn’t doing its paramount duty to fully fund education, Dorn focused on the fact that the court has retained jurisdiction on the case to ensure schools are fully funded by 2018.
The high court is essentially grading the Legislature on how it handles the situation, Dorn said.
“There’s this little fight over separation of powers right now,” he said.
Dorn said Washington ranks 42nd in per-pupil spending, a reference to Bethesda, Md.-based K-12 national newspaper Education Week’s analysis of all states. Washington ranks 17th or 18th in academic performance in the same study, Dorn said.
The definition of what constitutes basic education came up during the discussion.
“The Legislature determines what basic education is,” Dorn said, noting that the high court ruled the definition can’t change in advance of the 2018 deadline imposed in the McCleary decision.
READINESS FOR COLLEGE
Dorn was critical of the fact that a significant portion of new college students have to take remedial classes. He said a student’s final year in high school should be a launching year to college, not a “slack year.”
Dorn advocated college and career readiness assessments for all high school students in their junior year, so any deficiencies could be addressed during their senior year.
“I’m a big believer in career and technical education,” he said.
COMMON CORE STANDARDS
Dorn indicated his support of the Common Core State Standards Initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment with each other by following the principles of standards-based education reform.
A national standard would be beneficial in comparing students to other students around the world, he said.
“Having a set of standards across the nation works,” Dorn said. “These standards will be higher than our standards.”
ELECTED VS. APPOINTED
Dorn, the state’s top school official, touched on a past controversy — namely then-Gov. Chris Gregoire’s floating of the idea that Dorn’s position should be appointed as opposed to elected.
“Our state likes to vote on everything,” Dorn said.
The state constitution likely would have to be changed, he said, to have his position go from elected to appointed.
Dorn said he didn’t believe Gov. Jay Inslee would pursue that idea.
During the next four years, Dorn said his office would focus on simplifying the state’s assessment system regarding student performance so parents can get a better idea of what’s expected of their children. He added he will work to better fund the school system and use technology to expand school time.
Dorn said there won’t be enough money to expand school time in terms of personnel, but it would be possible with today’s technology and modern personal electronic devices such as smartphones.
“I think that’s going to be the next big thing we’re going to have to pull off,” he said.