Chris Reykdal’s first new idea for Washington’s education system — creating a financial incentive to attract bilingual educators — is a winner. Here’s hoping the incoming superintendent of public instruction applies the same kind of creativity to other challenges in the public school system.
Reykdal notes that 65 of the state’s 295 school districts now educate more students of color than they do Caucasians. Since 2014, national statistics show the majority of students attending public schools across the nation are members of minority groups. Washington state is expected to get there soon.
A growing number of Washington students are immigrants who do not speak English at home, with Latino students the fastest-growing group of bilingual students. In 2014, just over 10 percent of the students enrolled in Washington public schools were learning English as a second language. The National Education Association predicts one of four students will fit that description by 2025.
Reykdal says Washington policymakers need to pay particular attention to this fact. That’s because it’s also true that among the kids most likely not to graduate on time — or at all — are students of color.
Effectively serving a student population that is less than 50 percent white is a challenge for a state teaching force that is 80 percent to 85 percent white.
Reykdal wants to create easier pathways to teacher certification for paraeducators who work in Washington schools. He believes this will help bring more bilingual teachers into the classroom. It’s also a creative approach to Washington’s teacher shortage.
He’s also suggesting a pay boost for bilingual teachers, similar to the $5,000 a year incentive paid to Washington teachers who have achieved national board certification.
Reykdal’s list for the new year should already include a focus on improving graduation rates and reducing the achievement gap.
More than 20 percent of Washington’s students are not graduating on time or at all. State test scores show a similarly concerning picture. Only about 40 percent of African American and Latino students in grades three through eight are meeting the standard in statewide English tests, while 60 to 70 percent of their white classmates are passing in each grade.
Fresh, effective ideas are welcome and should be shared. Reykdal should look to Tacoma, Spokane and Tukwila, among others, which have made impressive progress in graduation rates over the past few years.
OSPI collects an impressive amount of data to help pinpoint which schools and districts are beating the odds. Understanding why and spreading those ideas around the state is the hard part.