OLYMPIA—Washington schools aren't preparing students adequately to compete in a tough global marketplace, and top-to-bottom overhaul is needed, Gov. Chris Gregoire said.
Gregoire said Monday the state needs to blow up the separate "silos" — the turf-conscious higher education, K-12 and pre-kindergarten establishments — and devise a well-oiled, well-financed, seamless system of cradle-to-the-grave learning.
The Legislature made some smart moves this session, including creation of a cabinet-level Department of Early Learning and help for students who are struggling with the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, the governor said. But much more must be done, she added.
Gregoire made her sober comments at the post-session gathering of Washington Learns, her education reform panel that is midway through an intensive two-year look at early learning, K-12 and public higher education.
Gregoire picked up on sharply critical comments from Microsoft Chair Bill Gates that the nation's public school system is broken and isn't equipping students to compete in the new global economy.
"We don't believe our system is ready to meet the needs of that global marketplace, for our students to succeed," the governor said, adding, "We are literally going to have to re-form education in Washington state if our children are going to compete in the global marketplace."
The state won't measure itself against other states, but against the other industrialized nations, Gregoire said.
"We need to go toe-to-toe with the systems in Japan, Germany, Ireland and the top schools in India," she said.
The 13-member panel, which includes educators, lawmakers and private sector members, intends to provide a useful roadmap — not some report that will gather dust, she said.
Gregoire said the new emphasis on early childhood learning will pay big dividends as kids arrive in kindergarten ready to learn. The new wave of students will be less likely to drop out of school, get pregnant as unwed teens or burden society with social service and prison costs, she said.
The state will link up with the private sector and nonprofit foundations to vastly improve early learning, she said.
Washington may be the first state to figure out how to get all players working together, rather than in vaguely warring fiefdoms, Gregoire added.
"We want to do something that frankly no one else around the country is doing," she said. "Our system has been all too territorial, a lot of protectionism. It is our job to focus on students and students' success.
"The nation is watching us."
Final recommendations, including financing, are due in mid-November, after the elections. Gregoire gave no hint what the financial portion will look like, but did tell reporters she will renew efforts to allow local voters to approve special school levies by a simple majority, rather than the current 60 percent.
— The Associated Press