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A Principal Speaks Out on How Legislation/Education Reform Impacts Lives

In Washington state, and in other states across the nation. . .policy impacts our society. . .

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Gates,

We have come to a very dangerous crossroad in our state of Washington, and perhaps in other states across the nation. We have non-educators writing educational policy in isolation. You have built a fortress and their attack on education has been reflected in the punitive policies that have been written and voted upon. I hear the echo of false accusations and familiar spin that is so common with legislators: “We will tell you part of the story, but not all of it.”

It is my belief that our politicians have discovered that by attacking teachers and administrators, and by judging our schools with letter grades, that this provides them an arena to grandstand.

An attack on teachers, administrators and schools is an attack on children. Every punitive policy that Washington State legislators have written filters down to the students. Who are these students? They are our most vulnerable students who have no voice, no political ear, and they are the victims of the legislators’ efforts to have the strictest test standards in the nation.

The part of the story that has been kept from our public is that the cost of being ranked No. 1 are the 2,000 students who have been denied their high school diploma over one state math standard. Even though they met every other criteria — passing grades, attendance, and even passing other state-mandated tests — they are now high school dropouts, ineligible for most jobs, including the opportunity to serve our country in the military.

If this were 2012, all of these students would have graduated. I sent emails to many state senators about this issue. One of the few who emailed me back said, “We are always going to lose some kids every year.”

I fired back, “These are not your regular dropouts. These are kids who have stayed connected to their education for thirteen years, and you are going to judge their educational experience over one Algebra test?”

The students who are coming to us from home environments filled with toxic stress and who are accumulating adverse childhood experiences that are out of their control are the ones who make up a high percentage of the 2,000 students who were rejected and abandoned by our state.

The students who have shown great resiliency, who have been champions just making it out the front door to come to school each day, are the same students that put their trust in us.

Why is the new policy harmful?

It blocks opportunity by requiring all students to adhere to the “one size fits all” model.
It has no evidence-based research to justify the punitive outcome.
It judges a student based on one math exam.
It does not recognize or consider the other gifts and talents a student has developed.
It labels students as failures, rejects their efforts to move forward, and forces them into dropping out of school.
Without a diploma, a student is qualified for very few jobs; 90% of employers won’t consider hiring a person without a high school diploma.
How important is this policy to those who stand behind it, but hide from the general public?

When it was discovered in April that there were gross inequities across our state, and that not all students were given all of the options for meeting the math standard, the legislators chose the policy over justice.
The state legislators are pushing hard to add additional standards that will make it even tougher for our most vulnerable students to succeed.
The party leaders who were publicly stating that the children of poverty and minority were very much a concern of theirs and that they cared very much for these kids blocked an amendment that was to come up during the special session to ask for an emergency vote to not require the math test this year.
This “high stakes testing” is crushing our children who come from disadvantaged homes. We are failing the children whom the ACEs movement is advocating to protect. We can’t allow one math exam to define our kids and their potential. We can’t sit on the sidelines and watch this tragic policy continue to destroy lives.

Mr. and Mrs. Gates, who will speak for our children? Will you? Will teachers? When given the chance, please stand up and say, “Enough is Enough”. You and I are the voice for these students, you and I are the ears that listen……if we don’t carry their voice, then who will?

Jim Sporleder,

Principal, Lincoln High School, WA State

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