I asked readers to tell me about good school districts that manage to offer a good education despite the testing mania. This reader in Tacoma explains what is happening there.
I am adding Tacoma, Washington, to the honor roll because it is an exemplar of good public education:
In Tacoma Public Schools, some schools do better than others, but overall I think we’ve done as best we can to follow the laws while also ensuring that the students are well-served. We are innovative. We have a high school extended day program modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone program. We have a School of the Arts, a Science and Math Academy, and two Montessori programs (1 that’s K-8 and 1 that’s K-5). We have an arts focused elementary school, IB high school and middle school, and AP options in all 5 high schools. We have middle and high school sports programs and after school clubs in all levels. We do what charter schools propose but we include ALL students – SpEd, ESL, 504, everyone.
We still give the tests mandated by the state and it does take a great deal of instructional time, but rather than teach to the test, we focus on AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) strategies throughout the district so that students learn both the skills to succeed in any subject area and the subject area content necessary to progress to higher level.
Our state is fighting a charter school initiative for the fourth time. I suspect (strongly hope?) that it won’t pass. Kevin Johnson came to speak and while the Tacoma mayor was there to support him, only about 100 people showed up and many of them just came to see a former NBA player and didn’t even stay for the whole show. Our district has proven we can be innovative, get results, keep kids in school and do it all without charter schools as an option.