Friday, November 03, 2006

Private Money is Evil

I've been trying to keep an open mind about the proposal for a TAF Academy and the Rainier Beach school and community opposition to it, but I think I need some help. I have been called naive at times (rightfully so), and so I am asking for more experienced and skeptical education advocates to help me out on my understanding of this issue.

This is what I gleaned from today's article in the PI, "At Rainier Beach High School, 'we're fighting for our lives'."
  1. Private money is evil.
  2. Any proposal that does not follow the current Seattle Public School model is wrong, and should not even be considered or discussed.
  3. The district has not supported Rainier Beach High School appropriately in the past.
  4. The district does a rotten job with communicating new ideas and getting public involvement.

I totally get #3 and #4, and completely agree. But I have serious problems with #1 and #2.

Based on discussions and testimony over the last year, I have also learned that:

  1. Many people do not trust the superintendent or district staff to do what is right for all children in Seattle, particularly children of color.
  2. Many people do not think the School Board has demonstrated adequate leadership, resulting in many students, especially children of color, being inadequately served.
  3. The district, and the state, are woefully under-funded.

So, if I were to put both sets of these statements together, we would end up with the following conclusions:

  • More public money for Seattle Public Schools would be good, but private money, no matter how it is received would be bad, and proposals involving it should not be considered or explored. Philanthropists and non-profits with money to give should go elsewhere.
  • The district has not been successful in helping all children be successful, especially children of color. But proposals for change from private foundations, educational non-profits, and educational research organizations should be rejected. The only route to success is to stay with current educational models and work within the current education system, despite the belief that it is broken.

I don't believe the school district should enter into public/private partnerships where the details are hidden from the public. And I have some serious concerns about the risks of such ventures. (See Public-Private Partnerships with Seattle Schools?)

But I think it is absurd and incredibly short-sighted to close the door to all public-private partnerships out of fear of the possible negative consequences. Let's keep the goal of high quality education for all students in focus, and explore all options that have the potential to improve education for students in Seattle Public Schools.

Why not explore public-private partnerships but require transparency? What about working to establish guidelines for what types of public-private partnerships would be acceptable, and which ones would not?

And finally, returning to the TAF proposal specifically, what exactly would success look like and what would it mean? The original proposal for Rainier Beach to become a TAF Academy, replacing existing programming, received strong opposition and has been dropped. The current proposal is for a co-location of a TAF Academy and the existing education program at Rainier Beach High School.

According to community activists, it sounds like "success" would be the rejection of this co-location proposal as well. That leads us to a scenario where we would rejoice over the rejection of an innovative educational program designed to help children of color, which would have also brought additional resources into the school. I find that hard to celebrate.

10 comments:

Melissa W. said...

I, along with several other activists I know, were puzzled about this TAF issue. I decided to look into it and I am aghast for several reasons. What I did was request the letter of intent between TAF and the District as well as read through TAF's website.

TAF is doing good work. I have to say I'm surprised their programs have been around for 10 years and so few people know about them. But, this academy is just wrong on so many levels.

One, on a big picture level, this district doesn't have a policy on public/private partnerships. Yes, each would be different but they need to have a ground level policy. It troubles me that each entity believes it can tell the district what to do in order to have a program (read: money) in a school.

Two, TAF's website does not make this co-location sound like a partnership. The tone is so cold that I would think they are coming in with a can of red paint and going to stripe a line through the middle of Rainier Beach and tell RB to stay on its side. Cheryl Chow mentioned a possibility of allowing RB students to take a technology elective at TAF Academy. TAF makes it sound like all of it; teachers, staff and curriculum will be completely separate.

Three, this timeline is fast (big surprise there). I requested and received the letter of intent and it says that the MOU will be introduced on Nov. 15th and voted on Dec. 6th. It says there has been a year of working and talking about this but I can't believe it has been with the larger community.

Four, TAF has 7(!) non-negotiable points for the district. Among them are admission ability (TAF makes no bones about the Academy being for children of color but wants to be sure they control the enrollment). This is a problem because aren't we going to the Supreme Court over the right to use a racial tiebreaker? I mean if any white kids live in that neighborhood, wouldn't their parents fight to be able to get them in? This is a serious legal issue. Other points, limited the number of special ed students, control over the principal (district gets final veto but TAF picks the candidates).

Five, TAF complains on its website that Washington State is not "friendly" to public/private partnerships because the voters turned back charters 3 times. That not being unfriendly, that's saying we don't want charters. There's a difference. They state "the way to get around that" is to go directly to districts with partnership ideas. The sad thing here is going to the district actually gives them a better deal than they would get if we did have charter law. (There's that "be careful what you wish for" idea.)

Frankly, RB should be worried. I think they will be marginalized and the school will be the haves and have nots. I don't understand how a majority of the Board came out against charters and yet would allow this to happen. TAF has a large number of partners (Microsoft, Starbucks, Perkins-Coie, etc.) and probably A LOT of muscle.

The PI had a story on it and I just got through talking to Emily Heffter at the Times about doing a story.

Beth is right; transparency is key. However, when the district brings in the larger community at the eleventh hour for "discussion", it is patronizing and disrespectful.

I have no problem with public/private partnerships but we need to keep the public in public schools and not be bullied or hypotized by money. We also don't need to set up a system of haves and have nots even it we're talking about children of color.

I'm going to do all I can to stop this from happening. No matter how noble the cause or great the program, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Melissa W. said...

I did forget to mention one other point. Thinking about it (and from what I heard from parents in my CAC work), I feel far more comfortable with a K-8 than a 6-12 (which is what TAF Academy would be). Parents seem to have a comfort level for the middle schoolers at K-8s because of perceived safety issues, less acting out by middle schoolers because of the presence of younger students and a continuance of community because of the drop off in parent participation in traditional middle schools.

I'm not sure I see a lot of benefit on the social/emotional end of a 6-12. From a curriculum/programming standpoint, there are probably numerous ones.

Charlie Mas said...

A policy on public/private partnerships would be a good thing. In particular, I would like it if the District would publish a price list. Exactly how much does an elementary school cost? a middle school? How much is TAF putting into the pot at Rainier Beach. The District is still paying for the teachers, the principal, the building, and the transportation.

I hope the price list will be itemized. What does it cost to dictate the enrollment? the teaching staff? What does it cost if I just want to dictate the curriculum?

I'm thinking this could be the solution for APP. How much would it cost the APP community to get the District to house an APP 1-8 in John Marshall? If it costs $7 million to fix up the building, do you think that the District would let us use it any way we wanted if we kick in 30% of that amount or do you think they would hold out for 40%?

Beth Bakeman said...

Melissa, is the letter of intent between TAF and the District available on the web somewhere we can provide a link to?

If not, would you be willing to send it to me and I will type it up and post it so that everyone can see it?

Beth Bakeman said...

Melissa, thank you for doing research and posting on the TAF/Rainier Beach issue.

I agree strongly with a couple of your points. The district needs a policy on public/private partnerships. And bringing in the community at the last minute for discussion is patronizing and almost guaranteed to create opposition.

I'm also concerned about the race-based admission and some of the non-negotiable points apparently presented by TAF in the letter of intent.

Where I disagree is the TAF intent and what the district next steps should be.

From what I can tell, the description on the TAF website of the TAF Academy was not written with Rainier Beach High School in mind. Instead, I believe it's a general vision / plan of what a TAF Academy could look like. I don't think it's fair to judge how the Rainier Beach experience would be based on that generic write-up.

Also, you write "RB should be worried. I think they will be marginalized and the school will be the haves and have nots." This is somewhat ironic since the original proposal was to have the entire high school be a TAF Academy, which would have prevented the issue many are complaining about now of "haves and have nots."

But in any case, I believe the district's next step should be to continue exploring this potential partnership, communicating clearly and openly throughout the process.

Maybe Rainier Beach isn't the right location for the TAF Academy. Maybe placing a TAF Academy at any Seattle school isn't a good idea. But maybe it is. I, personally, need to know a lot more about the details. And I would advocate for addressing and changing problematic elements of the letter of intent, rather than shutting the door on potential innovation and change in our schools.

Beth Bakeman said...

By the way, I've noticed that not a single person who has opposed the TAF/Rainier Beach proposal in public testimony, on this blog, or in the discussions I'm having on the Alternative Schools Yahoo Group, have claimed that this proposal would have a negative impact on academic outcomes for the students at Rainier Beach.

Melissa W. said...

The negative academic outcomes would be that the district would feel no special need to put an honors program at Rainier or a performing arts department. Also, it is hard to quantify how kids will perform academically when they see (or perceive) their school to be stratified. It is a frequent complaint about Garfield and it makes me wonder what is the future for Rainier Beach.

Also, there is specific language at the TAF website about Rainier Beach. I can find it and post it.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

It seems like there are two issues here which ought to be independent but are unfortunately intertwined and politically loaded.

The first issue is the TAF academy idea (assuming no specific location). TAF is a non-profit organization founded and run by a woman of color. They have demonstrated a strategy that closes the achievement gap and prepares kids for high-paying, high-demand technology jobs. This is not an evil organization with hidden agendas: this is a work of passion that should be celebrated. TAF has achieved what SPS has not been able to achieve--so SPS should find a way to incorporate this strategy, and it should be even better if it comes with outside funding, no?

The second issue is the hornet's nest that TAF has stepped into is: What is the plan for Rainier Beach high school? By all accounts, there are great things happening at RB right now. Unfortunately (as we heard at the CAC proceedings), there were great things happening at schools like MLK also, but change often comes slowly and perceptions are hard to break. If you look at the data, you can see why SPS is struggling with RB: too many people in RB's own neighborhood are choosing other high schools, the building has too much unused capacity, the test scores still lag, the expenses are high, etc. Last I saw, the numbers on RB were worse than most of the elementary schools that were closed. If the CAC had been asked to look at high schools, it is likely they would have proposed closing Rainier Beach.

So, someone clearly thought giving this community a TAF Academy--a program that should attract students & offer so much potential for the community--would be a great idea.

I suspect the controversy that has arisen is once again the result of poor leadership. The idea was not communicated and the public was not really heard. And, the idea of putting two programs in a building to compete against each other sounds like a compromise more than a final solution.

Beth Bakeman said...

I found the Rainier Beach language you mentioned Melissa at http://www.techaccess.org/tafacademy/tafaq.aspx:

Are you going to close Rainier Beach or is TAF taking over?
No. TAF is not closing or taking over Rainier Beach High School. Because we want to open the first TAF Academy in the Seattle School District, we will co-locate with Rainier Beach, meaning both Rainier Beach High School and TAF Academy will exist in the same building. However, each school will remain independent and autonomous; there will be no overlap in teachers, students or curriculum.


Will TAF Academy affect the current Rainier Beach students or faculty?
The only difference that the Rainier Beach High School student and faculty will notice is that they share the school building with TAF Academy students and faculty. The two schools will be kept separate and autonomous; teachers and students will not overlap. The co-location will, however, necessitate that the two schools share some of the building facilities. TAF will negotiate these terms with the district.

Charlie Mas said...

Can any non-profit set up a school in the unused empty space of one of Seattle's public schools? And the district will provide the usual funding, pay the teachers and the principal, and pay for the building, the transportion, and the curricular materials?

What restrictions are there on such arrangements? Do they require Board approval? How are they managed in the assignment policy? What will happen if too many White students apply for TAF? What happens if the FRE enrollment at The New School drops under 45%?

What will happen if the TAF grows and begins to compete with RBHS for space?

Who else will be allowed to set up shop inside Seattle Public Schools and how can the District discriminate between offers?

The District cannot fly by the seat of their pants on this. They need leadership and policy here and without any further delay.