SEATTLE — Terry Bergeson is asking Washington state education leaders to continue her efforts as she leaves her job as superintendent of public instruction.
Her final “state of education” speech, delivered Friday, comes after 12 years as head of Washington’s education department and 45 years working in the field.
She said the two biggest challenges the state’s education system will face in the years ahead will be a lack of money and the punitive side of federal education laws.
“Any cuts to our already strained and underfunded system will be devastating,” Bergeson told the Washington State School Directors’ Association at its meeting in Spokane. “Education is our paramount duty, regardless of the fiscal crisis that we face.”
She expressed optimism about the work of a legislative task force assigned the job of figuring out how to fix the way the state pays for education.
The Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance, which is scheduled to meet again next week, is working to finalize its proposal for a new teacher pay system, goals for better student-teacher ratios and ideas for paying for classroom technology and more help for struggling students.
The task force is still debating how to pay for a longer school day and whether teacher salaries should be negotiated by the state instead of by individual school districts.
Bergeson congratulated Randy Dorn, who was elected to take her place as superintendent of public instruction. However, she spoke out against his plans to get rid of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning and said she continues to support the goal of higher education standards.
“As President-elect Obama says: ‘Mend it, don’t end it,’” Bergeson said.
Dorn, who spoke later in the day to the same group, said in a telephone interview that he also supports high standards but feels it will take a lot more than a simple “mend” to turn the WASL into a useful tool for teachers, students and parents.
“I’ve championed having an assessment as a tool. I don’t think the WASL is a tool,” Dorn said.
He said the WASL needs to be shorter, the results need to get to people faster, it should be hooked up to technology and the information it provides should be understandable to parents, students and teachers.
Dorn said the WASL should help parents and teachers design a better education program for each child and that simply isn’t possible when the results aren’t available until four months after the test is given.
In his speech, he shared an idea for helping both the economy and education. Dorn said he is lobbying in Washington, D.C., for a share of the economic stimulus package to be redirected toward the nation’s schools.
“I propose that we go after $100 billion to invest in universities, community colleges, technical schools and K-12 education so students don’t suffer the effects of the economy,” Dorn said, adding that he is discussing the idea with Washington’s congressional delegation.
He thinks this investment in education would help many more people and save many more jobs than putting the same $100 billion into one corporation, and it would send a message to the rest of the world: “In a downturn, you invest in your people.”