Catching Up with Superintendent Randy Dorn

Talking about common core, school violence, education goals, and more

Photos by Shawn Kinney

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has a lot on his plate. He’s responsible for the public education of every K-12 student in Washington, making just about everyone a critic of his work. “Everybody has an opinion about education. They either went to public school, they had kids at public school or they went to private school and (believe) it’s better than public school,” he said. But Dorn tries to keep things positive. Most days he wears a little gold pin on his jacket lapel that says, “attitude.” While he flips it upside down on really bad days, most of the time his attitude and pin are right-side-up. Here’s what he had to say about education, life and what inspires him:

On growing older: When I was 27, I thought I knew everything about education. You just had to ask me, and I would tell you about everything. And now that I’m 60, I’m amazed at how much, on a daily basis, that I don’t know about education. It’s a really fast-changing, moving process.

On national ranks: If you look at (state) resources, we’re about 42nd in the nation in per pupil funding. We’re 48th in the nation in class sizes. (But) if you look at academic performances such as SATs, PISAs and TIMSSs — which are international tests — we end up in the high teens — ranking 17th or 18th.

On academics: Sometimes I think we try to be too academic. An example of that is we have all these college-educated people, all these really bright people, and we missed out on financial literacy. If more parents and more people in our society would have been financially literate, I don’t believe we would have had the big housing bust and the big financial meltdown.

Editor’s note: Since the economic crisis, the state has been working to integrate financial literacy into the curriculum.

On Common Core: What makes sense to me is that a fourth-grader in Oregon should have the same high expectations in fourth grade as a fourth-grader in Washington … there’s a dramatic difference from state-to-state, and in this state, especially because of being a military and influx state, we have lots of people moving in and out of our state. So [Common Core requirements] will help. (Learn more).

On challenges: Our biggest challenge in education — there’s no doubt about it — one answer: funding.

On charter schools: The way we’re doing [charter schools], I think, is the right way … We have probably one of the top three charter-school laws. I think if you can guarantee the quality of the charter school and if the quality isn’t there you can actually remove that charter school, that’s a really positive thing. (Learn more here.)

On school shootings: People came to me after Sandy Hook and said, “Superintendent Dorn, are you going to require buzz-ins for all schools? Are you going to require teachers to carry guns?” No, I’m going to ask for money for mental health.

On the future: I believe this country has to figure out a way to get all the teachers instructing on individual devices and have the ability for it to go home and everyone to be connected. I don’t think that can be in 20 years, I think that has to be in seven.

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is the managing editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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