When he launched the Race to the Top competition in 2009, President Obama sparked urgency in state legislatures across the country to adopt accountability measures in their public education systems. States that ignored the president’s call not only risked falling behind states that did implement performance-based standards, but they also risked not qualifying for greater federal investment in their public schools – potentially setting them even farther behind.
Race to the Top prompted Washington State to take action and adopt a few of the recommended policies, but it wasn’t enough to qualify for federal grant funds. At a time when our state budget is being stretched in many directions, it was disappointing not to receive these additional federal dollars. But more distressing was the continued slow pace of our state’s adoption of proven, student-centered policies putting student success as the single most important outcome against which our entire education community – policymakers, businesses and schools – is measured.
The connection between an individual’s education and his or her economic opportunity and overall well-being has never been clearer. At Microsoft, we see providing youth with the skills they need to succeed as the most important issue of our time, particularly in our home state of Washington.
That’s why we were especially pleased that education reform has a key focus in the Washington Legislature this legislative session, and even more pleased that significant progress has been made, thanks in large part to tireless efforts of four key lawmakers from both chambers and on both sides of the aisle: Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island), Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Medina), Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle) and Rep. Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup).
When Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed her supplemental budget in November, Microsoft General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal and Corporate Affairs Brad Smith offered comments of support for her recommendations, but also noted the imperative for lawmakers “to adopt outcome-based reforms that will help ensure that all Washington students receive a quality education.” We were encouraged in December when Gov. Gregoire announced her education reform proposals, including specific reforms to Washington’s teacher and principal evaluation system.
During this time, Microsoft joined Boeing, League of Education Voters, Stand for Children and Partnership for Learning in supporting additional ideas to strengthen and accelerate the implementation of our state’s teacher and principal evaluation system, including tying the evaluation outcomes to human resource decisions. Brad wrote a guest editorial in the Seattle Times suggesting a political path forward for this new coalition’s recommended changes, which had been seriously considered during the Race to the Top process, but not acted upon.
Throughout 2012, newspapers all across the state have come out in support of these important reforms. Like the coalition members advocating the changes, they recognized that these reforms were not only necessary here in Washington, but that they also were already helping educators and schools improve in other states.
In February, Microsoft sent Gov. Gregoire a letter identifying the steps the coalition believed were needed to strengthen the legislation and improve student success. We were very encouraged when the state Senate approved legislation that incorporates each of these recommendations, and on an overwhelmingly bipartisan 46-3 vote. On the last day of the month, the House of Representatives approved the bill on an also strong 82-16 vote.
Yesterday, as Gov. Gregoire signed these reforms into law, Brad Smith had this to say:
“We at Microsoft commend state lawmakers and Gov. Gregoire for taking this important step to address education reform this legislative session. This law will help ensure that all Washington students receive a quality education from the teachers best able to prepare them for the future.”
This is important progress for Washington students, parents, citizens and educators. But if these reforms are to truly deliver the promise they hold, we all must work together to ensure their thoughtful implementation across the state. We at Microsoft are committed to continuing working to build on these efforts in the months and years ahead.