Who’s failing? It’s the system, not the schools

The needs of one Washington school illustrate why lawmakers must put a lot more money into public schools.

Cascade Middle School in Auburn has been labeled a failing school by the Washington Policy Center. Too few kids are passing statewide tests. The numbers aren’t improving. And the unexcused absence rate is high.

But Principal Isaiah Johnson says the school and its students aren’t failing. Washington’s education system is what needs to try harder. I agree.

His school has 720 students, 61 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Cascade has a lot of needs that its current budget can’t meet, even with a substantial local property tax levy. Immigrant kids just learning English need focused attention. The special-education program is underfunded. Homeless children and those dealing with trauma at home need more help from the most stable part of their lives, their school.

Johnson has a list he thinks would help Cascade Middle School’s students. This is not a wish list. It is a need list for a struggling school. Johnson is persuasive, and so is his school. The parents and kids at Cascade haven’t given up. The state Legislature should answer that hope by fully funding schools and giving all students the same opportunities that kids have in richer school districts.

Cascade’s list starts with counseling. Johnson estimates more than half the kids at Cascade Middle could benefit from mental-health counseling. The school has just two counselors.

The school doesn’t have someone to call parents when a student doesn’t show up for class. A parent outreach coordinator could help with that, plan family events and help parents who don’t speak English navigate the system, but the school can’t afford the position.

Cascade is working on improving school discipline, but Johnson wants to make sure those students who get suspended can use their time out of regular class to catch up on their work in a room…

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