By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA – What goes on each day inside thousands of public schools is a vexing question Washington lawmakers want to answer.
For the second year in a row, there’s an effort to find out how teachers, administrators and staff spend their time and use what is learned to guide future decisions by the Legislature.
The Senate education committee held a hearing Wednesday on Senate Bill 6064 to compile data on how each of the state’s 295 districts defines and uses school time.
“Are (schools) being productive? What’s actually going on, nobody knows,” Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, the bill’s author and chairman of the committee said before the hearing. “The more information we have, the better understanding we’ll gain of what’s going on.”
He deflected concerns that lawmakers might use the information to impose new mandates on public schools.
“At the end of the day, if you’re a high-performing school, you’ll keep on doing what you’re doing,” he said.
Most speakers at the hearing welcomed such an analysis because they are convinced it will illuminate the dedication of school employees.
“Bring it on. Find out what’s really going on in our schools,” said Jim Kowalkowski, superintendent of the Davenport School District, near Spokane.
A year ago, lawmakers passed and Gov. Jay Inslee signed a nearly identical bill. It requested the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee carry out the work but it couldn’t. This time, they are asking the Washington Institute of Public Policy to undertake the task.
The bill seeks information on how districts determine classroom and non-classroom time as well as instructional and non-instructional time. They want researchers to see if the use of time is spelled out in collective bargaining agreements. The report would be due Dec. 1, 2015, and cost an estimated $137,000.
Meanwhile, lawmakers did include $25,000 in the budget for Central Washington University to begin gathering data on what a typical work day looks like for a public school teacher.
Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, then a representative, argued for the money.
At the time he said he had tired of the back-and-forth between reformers convinced teachers spend too little time teaching and the teachers contending they can’t spend as much time as they want because of a growing number of non-teaching responsibilities.
He said he thought teachers are weighted down by state-imposed chores and wanted to find out if it’s true.
The Center for Teaching and Learning is trying to get an answer. In September, its researchers began collecting information from 5,000 elementary and secondary school teachers from 159 school districts.
Teachers, who hail from small, medium and large schools, are completing online surveys. Some also are logging in their hour-by-hour teaching and non-teaching related duties one week each month.
In the survey, teachers are answering questions about the amount of each day which is devoted to classroom planning or assessment, interaction with students and parents, preparation for standardized state exams, professional development and duties assigned by the school or district.
The final report is due to lawmakers June 30. The university received $25,000 in the state budget to cover the study.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah asked if the new study would be redundant of the university’s effort.
Steve DuPont, assistant director of government relations for Central Washington University, said the two studies would complement one another. And he also offered to have the university conduct the research if desired.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org