No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.
Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.
IDEA #4 program placement reform.
A lot of people are not aware of how program placement decisions are made in Seattle Public Schools. These are the decisions about which schools will have special education, bilingual, and advanced learning programs. There's an excellent reason why most folks don't know how these decisions are made; it is because they are made in secret. According to Policy, the Superintendent makes these decisions. In real life, the decisions are made by the Program Placement Committee.
This Committee is chaired by the Chief Academic Officer. Other than her, there is no knowing who else is on the Committee. The membership is not public knowledge. The Committee meets weekly but no one knows what they discuss; the meetings are not open to the public and their minutes are not part of the public record. No one knows how they come to their decisions; they have no published guidelines or criteria. The Committee does not take public input nor does it consider public input as a factor in their decisions. The Committee's recommendations go to the Superintendent and he approves them.
So, in short, despite a lot of lip service paid to the values of openness, honesty, transparency, engagement and accountability, critical decisions about students' education - where they will go to school - are made through a process which represents the antithesis of those values.
The process is not open. The public may not attend the meetings and the minutes are not available.
The process is not honest. We have no way of knowing how this Committee reaches their decisions, the horse-trading that is done. The Student Learning Committee recently reviewed a decision by the Program Placement Committee and the revelations were astonishing. The Committee kept changing the facts to suit the immediate needs of their defense. They would not provide the Board with a complete set of facts despite repeated requests.
The process is not transparent. There are no set criteria or goals for these decisions. There are no metrics or benchmarks. There are no rules and no indication that everyone is treated the same. The decisions do not appear to be data-driven. They don't even appear to be fact-based.
The process is not engaged. Public input is not solicited and unsolicited public input is not regarded as a factor in the decisions. The Committee provided a matrix of the considerations for a recent decision and, despite unprecedented public input on the decision, that input did not appear on the list of factors for the decision.
The process is not accountable. The members of the Committee are anonymous and therefore unaccountable. The decisions are ultimately the Superintendent's, thereby leaving the Committee unaccountable. There is no feedback loop on the outcome of the Committee's decisions. A number of them have been disastrous, but that never reflects on the Committee, the members of the Committee, or the process.
This is clearly a dysfunctional process which runs directly counter to the District's stated values. I would not prescribe a replacement process for the Superintendent. Instead, the Board should direct the Superintendent to develop a replacement process that reflects the District's stated values. It is the Superintendent's job and to determine how this will be done and entirely within the Superintendent's sole authority to make that determination. It is the Board's job to make sure it is done in a manner consistent with the District's values.
Until that new process is developed and implemented, however, the Program Placement Committee meetings should be opened to the public and the Committee's minutes - past and future - should be made publicly available.
So, what do you think? Would this innovation help lead to achieving our goal of making the District's processes more open, honest, transparent, engaged and accountable? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?