On Gregoire’s Watch, Key Education Measures Didn’t Budge Much

By Austin Jenkins

OLYMPIA, Wash. – One measure of success for governors is their ability to get better results out of schools. As Washington Governor Chris Gregoire prepares to leave office, the state’s high school graduation and dropout rates have improved, but not a lot. And there’s still a significant achievement gap between white and non-white students.

Three out of four Washington high school students graduated on-time last year. On the flip side, nearly one in six high schoolers dropped out. Go back to 2005 when Democrat Gregoire first took office and the numbers today are only slightly better. Another common measure of how schools are doing is the achievement gap. Take 4th grade reading scores during Gregoire’s eight years in office. The gap between white and Hispanic students and white and black students actually grew larger. Now there is an asterisk. The test did change in that time.

Chris Gregoire: “You can’t turn that around overnight.”

Speaking with me on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program recently, Gregoire said to achieve big changes in education, you have to start at the beginning.

Chris Gregoire: “You’re not going to change suddenly the outcomes of seniors in high school if you didn’t start in early childhood education.”

Gregoire didn’t always see eye-to-eye with state schools superintendent Randy Dorn. Even so, he still gives the outgoing two-term governor a “B” for education.

Randy Dorn “If we were able to hold our own on graduation rates and achievement gap for that to happen in the toughest economic times we’ve probably done as well as we could do as compared to other states.”

It wasn’t just the Great Recession that hit on Gregoire’s watch. So did a Supreme Court ruling that Washington is not living up to its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools. The high court recently weighed in again to say the state is not moving fast enough to remedy the situation. Still, Gregoire believes she has helped set in motion a new focus on early learning, all day kindergarten and a seamless pre-k through college approach. Education reform advocate Lisa Macfarlane calls that legacy “spot on.” But the longtime Gregoire backer adds the governor ran into political roadblocks along the way.

Lisa Macfarlane: “I think there’s a long line of Washington governors that are frustrated they couldn’t do more and I think she’s in that list and it doesn’t mean she can’t be proud of what she did accomplish.”

As Gregoire hands off to Governor-elect Jay Inslee the challenge remains: how does the state ensure the money it spends translates into better grades for Washington schools.

On the web:

Governor Gregoire education: http://www.governor.wa.gov/priorities/education/default.asp

Supt. Randy Dorn 2013 Agenda: http://www.k12.wa.us/Communications/PressReleases2012/Dorn2013Agenda.aspx

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