A contest all should support

Washington’s fragmented K-12 education system, with its 295 school districts, is being asked to do the unfamiliar: work together. In this case, by committing to a common set of goals that could yield some welcome federal dollars.

The potential reward is considerable: $250 million over four years to help turn those goals into reality.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and state Superintendent Randy Dorn are practically pleading with school districts, along with their principals and teacher union locals, to join the state’s application in the second round of the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top.” Each district is being asked to sign a partnership agreement that will become part of the overall application. The deadline is May 17.

Gregoire and Dorn warn that if all or nearly all fail to sign on, Washington is likely to get nothing. The only two states to win money in the first round of competition, Delaware and Tennessee, were applauded by Education Secretary Arne Duncan for passing reforms that had the unanimous support of school districts, and the backing of teacher unions.

As of Tuesday, Gregoire said, only 19 of the state’s 295 districts had signed the required paperwork. “It would be a travesty if we walk away from at least a shot at $250 million,” she added.

Indeed. Especially since the goals district school boards are being asked to support — along with their superintendents, principals and teacher unions — are so essential. They’re also practical and achievable, and are already widely shared by school boards and teachers.

  • Have kids enter kindergarten prepared for success. Our state has made more headway here than any other, establishing a Department of Early Learning and a groundbreaking private/public partnership called Thrive By Five.

    Make strides in math and science, as students already have in reading and writing. Given Washington’s position as a leading exporter in a competitive, high-tech world, this is foundational to our economic future.

    Attain high standards for all, which means closing achievement gaps related to race, gender, income and geography.

    Leave high school ready for college or a good-paying career.

    Race to the Top money would go to support those goals. Snohomish County districts would share roughly $12.6 million over four years. Any worries that accompanying mandates will be too onerous should be put aside: Any district can opt out later. We can’t see why any would, though.

    Of the $250 million at stake for Washington, $55 million would be set aside for grants that encourage districts to team up and create innovative programs together. Talk about your teachable moments.

    There’s no downside to joining this effort. The potential upside for students is huge.

    And with districts feeling the pain of budget cuts, the money wouldn’t hurt, either.