Sunday, September 30, 2007

High school credit and accountability

Some time ago, I started looking into high school credit for courses taken in middle school. I asked around about it and eventually discovered a state law that requires Districts to award it. At the end of the last school year, in accordance with the state law, I requested high school credit for the Integrated I class my daughter took at Washington.

That's when the fun began. My request bounced around a couple times. I sent it to the student learning committee, who sent it to the Chief Academic Officer, who sent it to the Director of High Schools. Finally, I complained about the run-around and said that if we could not work on this cooperatively and collaboratively, then I would have to move forward unilaterally, and it would become confrontational. On August 7 I got an email from Ms Santorno saying that she would take care of it by the end of September.

Well, September has ended but I haven't heard from her. Not a peep. So I have written to her and made myself very clear. I think we could clear the whole thing up in 15 minutes if we could just get all of the right people into a room together to work it out. I told her that I will contact a lawyer on Monday to schedule an appointment and that she has until the time of that appointment to invite me to that brief meeting where high school credit for classes taken in middle school will be resolved. If I don't hear from her before I meet with the lawyer, then she can tell her story in Superior Court.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cleveland High School Remodel

After a full school remodel and millions of dollars spent, Cleveland High School is now paying additional money to bring in lockers, which weren't part of the original design.

Read Nina Shapiro's article in the Seattle Weekly: $67 Million for Cleveland High and No Lockers? for details.

I'm bothered not only by the waste and poor planning, but also by the fact that Cleveland High School (and I guess by extension the Seattle School District) are so quickly giving up on the four academies small-school design put into place only a few years ago with Gates Foundation money.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

District Seeks New Advisory Committee Members

New announcement on the District News and Calendar page:

School-Family Partnership Advisory Committee seeks new members; nominations due Oct. 12
Seattle Public Schools is seeking new members to serve on the School-Family Partnership Advisory Committee. The deadline to turn in nomination forms is Friday, Oct. 12, 2007. The committee will implement the School-Family Partnership Policy, and advise the Superintendent on ways to most effectively involve families in teaching and learning. Family engagement in education is critical to student success. If you are interested or know of someone interested in serving on the School-Family Partnership Advisory Committee, please complete and submit a nomination form by Oct. 12. Click here to download a nomination form or here for a description of the committee.

Are you in District 5?

Lunch announcement from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson:

"Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson cordially invites you to an informal community gathering with School Board District 5 Director Mary Bass from noon-1:15 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2 at Meany Middle School, 301 21st Ave. E.

Lunch (chicken Caesar salad, hamburger and fries, or turkey weiner wrap) will be available for purchase at Meany for $3.50. Please RSVP with your lunch choice by noon Oct. 1 to Pat McKenzie in Public Affairs at pmckenzie@seattleschools.org or 206-252-0200.

This community gathering is open to anyone in District 5, so please feel free to let your friends, neighbors, and colleagues know about it."

Shoreline District and Their Teacher Woes

This article was in today's Times about the Shoreline district and their teacher walkout that first was averted but is now back on for tomorrow. The issue:

"The Shoreline Education Association, backed by many parents, blames administrators for making elementary-school students bear the brunt of the latest cost-saving measure: boosting some class sizes three weeks into the school year."

Why did this happen? A new influx of students just 3 weeks after school started? Nope.

"The district's financial troubles blew up in 2005 when a series of mistakes by top staffers resulted in a $5 million shortfall. Two years and two superintendents later, the district has balanced its $85 million budget. The state, as part of its oversight, requires the district to be out of the hole in August 2008. If that doesn't happen, the state could assign a budget manager to the district or take other steps. Last year, Shoreline was still $1.5 million in the red.

In the latest dispute, changing the elementary-school class sizes is just being responsible, said School Board member Dan Mann, who is among three of the five board members running for re-election.

"We're trying to use our resources more effectively than we have in the past," he said."

So what's the situation?

"The latest dispute has to do with those class sizes at elementary schools. The district has to pay teachers extra if their classes are larger than 24 to 27 students, depending on the grade. At the beginning of the school year, Shoreline had 61 teachers with overloaded classes — an expense of about $500,000.

So starting this week at most of the district's nine elementaries, students were shuffled into different classes — in some cases combining two grades in one room — in order to designate some larger classes and keep the rest of the classes small. Then the district assigned an additional teacher to help out in the larger classes, usually for an hour or so a day. That way, the district doesn't have to pay any teachers extra.

The largest classes have about 30 students and could grow as new students move into the district."

Now, those of us that have had kids in programs like Spectrum or APP don't blink at 30 kids because that's the price we pay for our program and its popularity. But to do this to parents and teachers three weeks into the school year is, well, wrong. Parents know that kids do best with consistency and moving kids around is not consistency. Also, sticking an extra teacher in for an hour or so a day to save money is kind of pathetic. Also, what if you didn't want a combined grade level class?

If this was so important to do, why do it 3 weeks into the year?

To end the conversation, here's what the Board president had to say:

""I don't think the strike is going to change what's going on, and I think it sends the wrong message to the community," board president Mike Jacobs said. "Frustration and disappointment are my primary emotions at this point.""

Hey Mr. Jacobs, I'll bet there are lots of parents, teachers and students in Shoreline who would second that emotion.

Bus Problems?

I’m trying to figure out how widespread might be the bus problems that are affecting some families at my son’s school. Apparently because of consolidation and elimination of some routes, plus some cranky new software, there seem to be many more complaints of longer bus rides, less safe stops, etc.

Our own story isn’t that horrible I suppose (we have to be at the stop 24 minutes earlier in the morning), but it is annoying and frustrating, especially since it was hard to reach the Transportation Office for weeks, and now they say that there probably isn’t anything to be done. (They are still working through the situations where kids have no bus!) We’ve had the same stop for 4 years, and the bus seemed plenty full in years past. I’m a big fan of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it” philosophy, but maybe that’s just my privilege showing through, because the status quo was working for me.

Clearly it is a difficult and complex job to map out bus routes, and of course no one wants to spend any more District money on busses than necessary. But if, as seems to be the case, there are far more problems this year, I’d like to know hear the specifics. And as always, I have to wonder why we can’t think of more efficient ways to move kids around. Maybe we should move to a small fleet of mini-vans? How to people feel about sliding scale schemes (or FRL based systems) to defray costs?

I would love to hear your stories and ideas.

What Is She Trying to Say?

Help me out here. Lynne Varner, education editorialist for the Times, had a piece printed today. It is titled, "Privilege is the trump card, and not just in rural Jena".

[In case it missed your attention, Jena is this small town in Louisana where some white students hung nooses from a tree after a black student sat under the tree. The tree is "reserved" for white students to sit under. (Now, of course, the obvious question is why would any school administrator put up with such a designation?) Tensions ran high after the nooses were put up, words were exchanged and eventually, a white student was beaten up by 6 black students. The white student had injuries severe enough to go to the hospital but was able to leave the hospital and attend a school function the same night. The black students were charged with attempted murder and the case has gone from there.]

Now she takes the case and links it with...the racial tiebreaker case in SPS. The only thing I can get from her piece is that she believes Seattle is a place that hides its flaws behind "Nice" (she's alluded to this many times in her writing, no matter what the topic).

So if you understand her piece, could you let me know what point she's trying to make? I ask because this is a column in a major newspaper about our district that many people will read. I'd just like to know how it might be interpreted by people less savvy than this group about SPS.

Special Ed; Special Needs

This article appeared in today's Times about special education students and the struggles their parents have in trying to get "appropriate services". I put quotes on that phrase because it is how the federal government puts it in law. However, what is appropriate? The first story in the article is about a child whose bus has been late for the first weeks of school for several years now. I suspect that he is on a bus with other special ed kids who need a smaller bus to be picked up in and those kids may change schools often (through no fault of their own if stories I've heard are true) but how does that prevent the bus from being on time? A couple of days late but weeks?

From the article:

"Everett was one of 12 school districts that last year challenged the state's special-education funding formula. Under that formula, special-education students received a flat-rate payment about double of what is paid for basic education students, regardless of the level of services required.

"A student who is medically fragile, requiring toileting, tube feeding and all the special equipment, is going to cost a lot more than one who spends time with a speech therapist twice a week, but we receive the same amount from the state," said Everett schools spokeswoman Mary Waggoner.

In March, a Thurston County Superior Court judge refused to overturn the funding formula, saying it was consistent with national standards. But the judge did throw out a cap that limits districts to identifying no more than 12.7 percent of their students as special-education pupils."

It is disturbing that the state would say there is one formula for all special education students. That makes life pretty hard on both sides. Districts, because they are trying to stretch dollars to meet all needs, and parents who don't see enough of the services they would like for students.


New information available on WSS

New, detailed information is now available on the Weighted Staffing Standards. That information appears in a new FAQs document.

The WSS appears to replace the old foundation allocation of the Weighted Student Formula. It provides equitable funding for non-classroom "core" staff, including principals, assistant principals, secretaries, nurses, librarians, counselors, registrars, and the like. Funding for teachers doesn't appear to be addressed. Most of the additional funding for schools (Title I, LAP, bilingual, Special Ed, and FRL) remains pretty much as it was, although some of it has been untangled a bit.

Here is a link to the Powerpoint presentation that will be shown at the upcoming community meetings.

The meetings will be at these times and locations:

Monday, October 1, 2007 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Hamilton International Middle School
1610 N. 41st St.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
First AME Church
1522 14th Ave.

Thursday, October 4, 2007 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Madison Middle School
3429 45th Ave. SW

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Every student achieving, everyone accountable

There has been a lot of talk about accountability. The Superintendent is talking about it. The Chief Academic Officer is talking about it. The School Board is talking about it. The School Board candidates have been talking about it. But who, if anyone, is doing anything about it?

In a recent thread about the NAEP, I noted that the District Policy on testing isn't being followed. Dan noted two other Policies that aren't being followed. On any given day I can probably point out a whole list of Policies that are getting ignored. So where is the accountability?

A number of these policies are derived directly from the State law, so when the Policy isn't followed, a law is getting broken. But where is the accountability?

I believe that most of the people who violate Policy aren't even aware that they are doing it. They simply haven't read the Policy. Do the motivations really matter? If the District staff doesn't comply with a Policy, does it make any difference if their non-compliance is knowing, willful and intentional or if it is done out of ignorance of the Policy, or if it is a simple, innocent oversight? In any case, the Policy wasn't followed.

So what happens then? Typically nothing.

I cannot recall the Board ever publicly telling the Superintendent that one of his decisions is in violation of District Policy and must be rescinded. That's probably for the best since a conversation like that would be more effective in private. A correction of this sort could easily be seen as a rebuke, and there is good reason for the Superintendent and the Board to appear united and in agreement. Just the same, I have scant evidence that such conversations have occurred in private either.

When Mr. Manhas "re-classified" about 900 students from 10th grade to 9th grade without so much as a wave towards the policy on the promotion/non-promotion of high school students, did the Board step in and tell him to rescind the decision? It's hard to tell. Perhaps they did talk to him about it, because he didn't repeat it the following year (or maybe he did and it simply wasn't reported).

Some of the candidates for School Board were been talking about holding the Superintendent accountable. Now they only talk about holding themselves accountable. Perhaps that's because they came to discover that the Board has no means for holding the Superintendent accountable - let alone the other members of the staff.

This, by the way, is quite an intriguing new trend. Everyone is promising to hold themselves accountable. Few are promising to hold someone else accountable, and no one is offering to be held accountable by others.

Usually when a Policy is neglected no one notices. Sometimes the policy violation is noticed and reported, but that's where it ends. You can tell the person who broke the Policy about it. They may be mildly distracted to learn of it, but it is regarded as trivia. They are holding themselves accountable, so they forgive themselves the mistake and then move on without correcting it.

You could report it to Customer Service, but they aren't interested in such complaints and they have no authority to compel corrections. They may not even respond to you.

You could report it to the Board, but they are likely to tell you that they have bigger fish to fry. What else can they do? They don't have the authority to compel corrections either.

So what can you do? If the Policy violation is also a violation of state law, you could try to contact the legal authorities. I've tried it, with no success. The previous Board - through sloppy bookkeeping - broke a state law by overspending the ASB budget one year. According to the law, the Board members could be held personally liable for the overspending, about $100,000. I contacted the state attorney general's office, but they declined to pursue the matter. So did the King County Prosecuter's office. That was pretty much the end of it. These folks weren't interested in enforcing that law.

Last year the District violated another state law regarding school improvement plans. I discovered that the State Board of Education was responsible for enforcing that law. I contacted the person at the state board of education with that job responsibility and she sent Mr. Manhas an email asking him about it. I contacted her again a month later and her response was that Mr. Manhas had yet to reply to her email. That was the limit of their enforcement effort.

The short-lived legal case over the closures taught me that any action of the Board that violates state law can be challenged in Superior Court. Within a specific time limit - I think it's 90 days - any citizen can bring the District to Court in an effort to overturn the vote. This sort of action takes a lawyer, which means money, but it is sure to bring the matter to someone's attention. Trouble is, very few Policy violations include Board votes. Most of them are just decisions by the Superintendent, the CAO, or a manager. Most of the time you can't get anyone to hear you. Most of the time you just get the brush off.

It may be, with the commitment to track and respond to issues raised in public testimony at Board meetings, that you could get some sort of acknowledgement if you could talk about the policy violation in testimony, but that is probably expecting too much from such a flimsy platform.

So what can you do? Just do what you can. The fact that all of your efforts are futile doesn't absolve you of the responsibility to make the effort.

Seattle Woman Scientist Wins MacArthur Award

As reported in both the Times and the PI, two local scientists have won MacArthur Fellowships which grant them $500,000 each with no strings attached. The winners are

"Mark Roth is a biologist for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, whose studies of suspended animation hold out hope of new treatments for trauma, heart attack or stroke.

Yoky Matsuoka combines robotics with the study of neurology at the University of Washington to devise prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thoughts alone."

I mention Yoky (who is part of the faculty in my husband's department at UW, Computer Science and Engineering) because she's a great example of a person in science who isn't a nerd or a geek. (Not that being a nerd or geek is a bad thing; look at Bill Gates.) But Yoky is great example for girls who wonder about being a scientist. From the article:

"The MacArthur Foundation official who notifies genius-award winners issues a standard warning when the unsuspecting recipients pick up the phone: "I've got shocking news," he says. "If you're holding anything fragile — like a baby — you might want to set it down."

Matsuoka was.

"He told me I was the very first one in 20 years who actually was holding a baby," said the University of Washington robotics expert, who was nursing her 8-day-old son when the call came.

Matsuoka may also be one of the few jocks to receive the coveted — and intimidating — award.

"I in no way feel I am a genius," said the former tennis fanatic, once ranked 21st in her native Japan."

And why did she get interested in robotics?

"Matsuoka gave up her dreams of becoming a tennis pro after breaking her ankle for the third time. In search of an alternative career, she visited the robotics lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and announced she wanted to build a tennis-playing robot.

She soon realized that was a naive dream. But instead of giving up, she began delving into human anatomy and neurology to understand how impulses in the brain are translated into motion."

She wasn't interested in solving big problems - she wanted someone to play tennis with at her exact level.

Yoky not only has a newborn, she and her husband are also parents to 2 1/2 year old twins.

I'm sure she has plenty of challenges in her life but she didn't give up her dreams or her curiosity and her research may likely someday make a difference for stroke victims or victims of war.

Tell your daughters (and sons) to dream big and let their imaginations soar.

WA State Students Static in NAEP Testing

Reported in an article in today's Times, it looks like Washington State students are in a holding pattern as far as progress in taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress test is concerned. From the article:

"But none of Washington's scores were significantly higher than they were in 2005, the last time the exams were given, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the part of the U.S. Department of Education that administers the exam.

Washington's fourth-graders scored 224 out of a possible 500 in reading, compared with the national average of 220, and 265 in eighth-grade reading, compared with 261 nationally.

In math, Washington's fourth-graders scored 243, compared with 239 nationally; and eighth graders scored 285 to the nation's average of 280.

While Washington's scores didn't improve, 18 other states posted significant increases in fourth-grade reading, and six in eighth grade. And fourteen states and the District of Columbia posted gains in math in both grade levels. In Washington, the achievement gap between white and African American students widened."

About the NAEP:

"A representative sample of students takes the exams, which are given periodically in reading, math, science and a variety of other subjects. This year, a total of 702,000 fourth and eighth-graders from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools were involved, and roughly 3,000 from Washington state. Participation used to be voluntary, but has been required since 2003 under the No Child Left Behind Act."

I wish we would drop all the state tests and use this one national test that would give a clear picture of how students are doing, across the nation and locally. NCLB requires it anyway; why not make it the test of choice? The money and time it would save would be tremendous and both could go towards helping students.

Saturday Might Be a Good Museum Day for the Kids

Looking for something fun (and educational) to do with the kids this Saturday? The Smithsonian Museum is sponsoring a free museum day this Saturday the 29th. (You need a free admission card available at the Smithsonian website. Among the freebies, Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Industry and even Experience Museum Project.

Monday, September 24, 2007

NCLB Discussion on KUOW Today

I just caught the tail end of a discussion on KUOW's The Conversation today about NCLB. What I heard was interesting but I'd like to hear the rest of it before I post about it. You can listen to their archive of the program at KUOW.org

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Meet Steve Sundquist One on One

Steve Sundquist sent out an open invitation for people to meet him and talk about issues. I pass it on as informational (not in support of any candidate).

Thursday, September 27, 9:15AM to 10:30AM at the Starbucks at Green Lake (71st and East Green Lake Way N) upstairs.

News Items


On KUOW this Tuesday morning
9 - 10 AM: Textbooks: Beyond the Culture Wars

In this era of standardized testing, what role do textbooks play? In an era of multi-media access, how do textbooks fit into the education system? Are textbooks obsolete? How are they being updated? How are textbooks adopted (or rejected) in Seattle and other districts in the state and around the nation? Today we explore the changing world of textbooks with educators, authors and teachers. Call in to join the discussion.

From the Seattle Council PTSA:

Council PTSA GENERAL MEETING
Monday, September 24, Stanford Center Auditorium, 2445 3rd Ave S, Seattle,WA 98134, 6:30pm Extra bonus! Light dinner and networking
Meet other PTA leaders in your neighborhood or help us plan our legislative advocacy for the year!
7:00pm
Vote to Endorse EHJR 4204 and Donate to the Simple Majority campaign
Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson shares her academic plan for Seattle Public Schools and how families and PTSAs can support their students’ academic achievement under these new initiatives. Q&A.

Public meetings scheduled to explain new method of allocating funds to schools
Seattle Public Schools is proposing a change in the method of how funds are allocated to schools – from the "Weighted Student Formula" to "Weighted Staffing Standards." Work is under way to develop the details of the model, which will be presented in more detail at the meetings listed below. The School Board is scheduled to vote on the new budget process at its Oct. 17 board meeting.
Oct. 1, 6:30-8pm: Hamilton International Middle School, 1610 N. 41
Oct. 2, 6:30-8pm: First AME Church, 1522 14 Ave.
Oct. 4, 6:30-8pm, Madison Middle School, 3429 45 Ave. S.W.
(Interpreters available for Cambodian, Chinese, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese at the Oct. 4 meeting.) For more information, visit http://www.seattleschools.org/area/news/0708/WSS_FAQ.pdf" www.seattleschools.org/area/news/0708/WSS_FAQ.pdf

Seattle Public Schools Curriculum Audit Drop-in meetings
October 1,2, 3 and 4, 4-6pm,
John Stanford Center Family Room
Seattle Schools is conducting an external curriculum audit to examine their instructional systems. As part of the audit process, will be drop in/open times for parents, guardians, and/or teachers who with to speak to an auditor regarding curriculum. These will take place from 4-6pm on Monday October 1, Tuesday October 2, Wednesday October 3, and Thursday October 4 in the family room on the first floor of the JSCEE lobby. Please feel free to “drop-in” and talk to auditors about curriculum. For more information please contact the curriculum department at 206.252.0050

Seattle School Board Candidate Forums
Thursday, September 27, 7pm, Franklin High School Room 205
Hosted by the Franklin High School PTSA and Beacon Hill PTSA,
Thursday, October 11, 6:30-8:30pm, JSCEE Auditorium, hosted by a city-wide coalition of education organizations including Seattle Council PTSA.

A Town Hall with Governor Chris Gregoire
Monday, October 3, 2007
Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. – Please plan to arrive early. The program will begin at 7:00 p.m.
http://www.townhallseattle.org

I find the curriculum audit posting to be interesting. Does anyone have a good idea about what this would entail and what feedback they would be looking for?

Friday, September 21, 2007

From the Times: Letters to the Editor on DWT

Editor, The Times:

Regarding "Billing in 'pro bono' cases is fodder for ethics debate" [Times, Local News, Sept. 17] and "Winner ought not take all" [editorial, Sept. 18]: I am utterly disgusted with the decision of law firm Davis Wright Tremaine to bill the Seattle School District for its "pro bono" representation of the plaintiffs in the school-discrimination case before the Supreme Court. It claims it is doing so to "punish" the district, but it needs to ask: Who is the district?

It's us, the residents of Seattle who send our kids to public schools.

Davis Wright Tremaine may have the right to bill the district, but it is still morally wrong. I don't imagine that any of the bazillion lawyers there send their kids to public schools, but they ought to drive by one of the southend schools sometime and look at the kids whose money they are about to take.

Perhaps then Davis Wright Tremaine would find a sense of shame.

— Steve Roberts, Seattle

Close the books on this

Yes, Davis Wright Tremaine may get the right to sue Seattle Public Schools for $1.8 million (or probably more), but at what cost?

My daughter is a white girl from Ballard who was a part of the entering class of 1999 to which the original racial-tiebreaker suit applied. That suit was more about the parents than it was about the kids.

And this suit is all about the adults and not the kids. I would have hoped the high-minded "Parents Involved In Community Schools" group would have supported these same community schools, although their children (like mine) are now in college or beyond. Instead, it spoke of "repercussions" for ignoring civil rights.

How can the schools make any progress when they are confronted with lawsuits like this each time they try to make any changes? There was no malice here. Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson deserves our support — not threats — to improve our schools for our kids. Our schools are finally in reasonable financial shape. "Repercussion" lawsuits will affect that status.

Davis Wright Tremaine may have a right to sue the school district legally, but I would hope it would follow the higher road and keep the case "pro bono" for all.

After all, what would Atticus Finch do?

— Sharon Longaker, Seattle

Hocking our moccasins

I understand you, Davis Wright Tremaine, are seeking financial compensation from the Seattle School District for the expenses incurred for the recently decided "pro bono" case.

On the day you have to set buckets on the floors of your law office because the rain from the leaky roof comes inside, I will support your actions.

On the day others have to send food and snacks to your attorneys and staff because they do not otherwise get healthy and adequate food at home, I will support your actions.

On the day your attorneys are paid the same salary as a teacher in the Seattle Public Schools, I will support your actions.

On the day the majority of your staff takes public transportation to work — meaning that a 15-minute car ride will take one hour — I will support your actions.

On the day you are so short on supplies that attorneys spend their personal money to buy books for the firm, I will support your actions.

On the day you have to sell brownies or wash cars to go on a trip, I will support your actions.

On the day you have a public-health nurse assigned to your building because you otherwise would not get adequate medical care, I will support you.

— Elaine Dondoyano, mother of two in Seattle Public Schools, Seattle

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Promises kept

Who remembers the Board and the District staff saying that the school closures would result in significant savings for the District?

Who remembers the Board saying that half of the savings from school closures would be reinvested in the consolidated schools?

Who remembers the Board and the District staff saying that the consolidated schools would be able to offer more outside-the-classroom services, such as nurses, counselors, P.E. teachers, art teachers, and such when they have an enrollment closer to the model size? This was the presented as the REAL reason for consolidation, the academic reason. This was purportedly of greater importance than any budget crisis.

Now let's look at the school budgets. Where is the savings from consolidation? I don't see it. In the Blue Book for High Point this year I see no additional funding as a consolidation bonus. Does High Point have more nurse FTE than last year? More counselor FTE? Any additional FTE of that sort? Show us.

Chris Vance on the WASL (Part Two)

There was a Part Two to the article by Chris Vance that appeared in Crosscuts. This one is how to fix the graduation standards. He first charts what was meant to happen and then, what did happen. One paragraph caught my eye:

"This is the real crisis of accountability. Education reform was not intended to help the high achievers achieve more, it was designed to prevent at-risk kids from falling through the cracks. By setting minimum mandatory standards, we intended to prevent schools from passing on from one grade to the next kids who weren’t learning the basics and weren’t ready for post-secondary education or the workforce. Without the accountability measures called for in H.B. 1209, especially the mandatory graduation requirement, common sense and all available data indicate that practice continues today. Without clear standards and real accountability, we are failing the kids who need help the most."

I had to shake my head over the phrase "not intended to help the high achievers achieve more". No, of course, not because "those" kids will always do well. Their academic needs? Well, they're smart, they'll be okay.

I mean, he's right. Education reform was about reaching and helping at-risk students. But education itself is supposed to be for all.

Here's what he says primarily went wrong:

"Our great mistake in 1993 was allowing the Commission on Student Learning to set the bar and define the minimum graduation requirement. We felt that this task was best left to “experts” rather than 147 politicians sitting on the floor of the House and Senate. We were wrong. Reform this fundamental needs to be compelled from without, rather than evolve from within."

He also says what needs to be done:

"At the same time, the Legislature and governor need to resurrect the issue of educational deregulation and local control. If we are truly going to make the system accountable to results, rather than process, we don’t need the bureaucratic time measurements of the Basic Education Act of 1977, and we certainly don’t need to force school districts to all teach the same way."

You should read the Comments below the article. One struck me:

"I found the Vance items very interesting and well written, and the comments are as well, but I don't see any focus on the two big subjects around the water cooler of schools when WASL comes up. One is the simple fact that schools have turned largely into classes wherein the only goal is to teach to the upcoming WASL tests. There is no flex, no response to issues or needs as they arise, just a deadening emphasis on the test. Nothing else is of importance.

The other is the utter destruction of any capacity in classrooms for the inspiring teacher. SPS and Bellevue Schools are now taking total and intrusive control of the curriculum. Teachers are expected to be on the same page in all classes at all times. Teachers as professionals are not able to speed up or slow down or change direction as student needs arise. In Seattle elementary schools all math teachers are being forced to teach the same (deficient) curriculum, even when they know and can teach other approaches more effectively. Rumor has it that Bellevue teachers are running away from the district as fast as possible, the intrusion into the classroom is so offensive and depressing."

Interesting. Teachers, what do you think? I get that teachers need (and should be able) to make adjustments but I also want to know that my school is teaching in a unified manner and that the principal is able to make assessment school-wide and not just classroom by classroom.

Danny Westneat's column

There were some requests to post Danny Westneat's column that was in the Times yesterday. Here it is:

The Bill Just Keeps Going Up

On Jan. 2, two lawyers for Davis Wright Tremaine met to talk about what to do next in the big discrimination case against Seattle Public Schools.

They had just argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court. A decision wasn't due for months. So they went to work on another pressing matter: How to get paid. For an hour, the lawyers discussed ways to recover attorneys' fees from the schools if they won. One lawyer was tasked to research the matter, and the meeting ended.

Cost billed to Seattle taxpayers for that meeting: $635.

That's $370 for one lawyer's time, and $265 for the other one. All now being charged to the public schools.

You've probably heard that Davis Wright Tremaine, after successfully arguing that the schools must stop using race in making school assignments, is billing the district for its costs. Though it took the case pro bono — "for the public good."

They're allowed to go after the money. I can't see the public good. But they have the right and almost certainly will win.

But while pawing through the firm's expense sheets, I noticed they're not just billing for their work on the case. They're also billing for any time they're spending on their bill.

And they seem to be spending a LOT of time working out that bill.

In all, the firm has charged the public for 287 hours of work related to its own billing. This includes researching how to collect the fees. Tabulating the hours everyone worked and expenses they incurred. Writing up memos defending their bills as reasonable.

The hours were put in by paralegals ($140/hour) on up to a senior partner ($460/hour). The total bill to make out a bill that runs about 400 pages? $83,380.

That's the total for now, anyway. The firm says more bills are on the way. That's because there will be more work related to the billing, especially if it gets contested. They also say it's part of the penalty when you lose a case like this — you may have to pay for compiling the bill.

Hey, Davis Wright Tremaine, and your clients, the parents who sued the district: This is insane.

You argue this isn't to enrich the firm, but to punish the district. The theory is that the fees, at $1.8 million and rising, are a lash to whip the district for its bad race-based deeds.

When I called the lawyers Tuesday, they compared it to, among other cases, their pro bono defense of a prisoner beaten by L.A. jail guards.

This makes no sense. Seattle's policy wasn't intended to hurt anyone, let alone beat them to a pulp. It was to help the kids who need it most.

That doesn't mean it was a good policy. I agree we're probably better off with it gone.

But how does fining the schools now serve anybody? It's the very opposite of what we need, which is to pour more energy and resources into struggling schools. Someone ought to move to settle this billing fight.

Of course this debate does serve somebody. That would be the ones charging us for having it, hour by exorbitant hour.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Teachers With Guns (What's the Problem?)

Okay, you've divorced a guy but have reason to believe he may have gone into your home while you weren't there. You get a restraining order and a concealed weapons permit and a gun. Problem? You're a teacher and want to carry the gun to school but the district (in Oregon) has a no weapons policy. What to do? Sue, of course.

This story appeared in the Mail Tribune newspaper in southern Oregon.

Where to start? First, I feel for this woman but, as a parent, I would feel worried if I knew my child's teacher was in a situation that she felt her life endangered and she was with my child for 8 hours a day. It's a horrible situation for everyone.

Second, this article points out that her lawyer says that state statute is contrary to the district's policy and that the law trumps the policy. (I wonder if that is true in Washington state?)

"Both state and federal laws prohibit carrying a firearm on campus, according to Gerking. However, the laws come with exemptions, including one for holders of a concealed handgun license."

From the article,

"Following the shootings at Virginia Tech, in addition to shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and Thurston High School in Springfield, a desire among teachers to carry guns has risen. A university in Utah challenged a law that allows concealed weapons on public property and lost, thereby permitting guns on campus."

Some problems?

"Even if it's a totally legitimate person with a legitimate permit — can you adequately guarantee that it will not fall into the hands of a student?" Moran asked. "You can't."

Long said he worried about what would happen if a crisis broke out on campus, and someone other than law enforcement officers was in possession of a gun.

Crisis plans worked out with local law enforcement agencies are "predicated on the idea that if there's someone on our campus and they have a weapon, they're not supposed to be there," Long said. "The law enforcement people would act appropriately." "

I like that phrase "act appropriately" meaning the police would open fire without asking on anyone who was carrying a gun during a crisis situation. That's exactly what I would expect to happen. They don't have time to figure out who the good guys with the guns are versus the bad guys with guns.

Also frightening was this comment from a reader posted at the bottom of the article:

"If teachers cannot be trusted to have guns at work, then they should not be trusted to teach our children."

Only in America.

Under the Category: You Never Know

This funny article in the NY Times tells the saga of how Warren Buffet getting rejected from Harvard, then asking a professor at Columbia for help, getting into Columbia, going on to form an investment firm (which the professor invested in and got rich off of) lead to the daughter of the professor to endow a private high school in Pennsylvania to the tune of ....$128M.

It pays to be a mentor to young people sometimes in the most surprising ways.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More Thoughts on Student Assignment

So now the Seattle Times weighs in on the pro bono issue with an editorial this morning entitled "Winner Ought Not Take All". Considering that the Times' is a client of Davis Wright Tremaine, this might be considered a not-so-subtle hint to DWT.

Good for them. The Times' did make an odd statement:

"But in our view, the better method was investment in the struggling schools, not in a protracted legal fight. The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling last winter outlawed the racial tiebreaker. As we predicted, the judgment came at a high cost, $435,000 in legal fees and growing racial isolation in some, mostly South End, schools."

I found it confusing that the Times says they had been for the District settling and that continuing created "growing racial isolation" in some schools. Well, wasn't that the point of the District continuing on - to fight racially segregated schools?

The Times' also says:

"The matter goes before a judge at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judicial temperament ought to rein in the legal fees. Somewhere between the costs of photocopying and billable hours lies a figure both sides can live with."

And I agree. If DWT is set on exacting a price from the District, then let the judge decide if the plantiffs did prevail (which has to be done legally, no matter what) and then the judge decides on a fee.

The other article which speaks to this on-going issue of school assignments was on the front page of the NY Times yesterday about a rezoning plan in Tuscaloosa, AL. This city of 83,000 is 54% white but the 10,000 student school district is 75% black. They have segregated neighborhoods similiar to Seattle and the schools tend to fall that way as well.

From the article:

"After white parents in this racially mixed city complained about school overcrowding, school authorities set out to draw up a sweeping rezoning plan. The results: all but a handful of the hundreds of students required to move this fall were black — and many were sent to virtually all-black, low-performing schools. " The plan ended up moving about 880 students, a little less than 10% of their student population.

The issue?

"Tuscaloosa’s rezoning dispute, civil rights lawyers say, is one of the first in which the No Child Left Behind law has become central, sending the district into uncharted territory over whether a reassignment plan can trump the law’s prohibition on moving students into low-performing schools."

From the school superintendent:

"Dr. Levey said that all students forced by the rezoning to move from a high- to a lower-performing school were told of their right under the No Child law to request a transfer."

However, the article notes that nationally, less than 2% of parents have used this law to transfer their students. But, since the rezoning in Tuscaloosa, at least 180 students (out of the 880) have requested a transfer.

How did this get started?

"At a meeting in February 2005, scores of parents from the two majority white elementary schools complained of overcrowding and discipline problems in the middle school their children were sent to outside of the northern enclave.

Ms. Tucker [a parent of a child in the district] said she, another board member and a teacher were the only blacks present. The white parents clamored for a new middle school closer to their homes. They also urged Dr. Levey to consider sending some students being bused into northern cluster schools back to their own neighborhood, Ms. Tucker said. Dr. Levey did not dispute the broad outlines of Ms. Tucker’s account."

To me, there's a ring of familiarity to this story (but, of course, there are many differences). What I wanted to point out was that we currently have a 90% first choice rate when parents enroll their children in SPS. I am pretty neutral on the issue of whether we should change from a choice system to a feeder system. I do believe, however, that if we do change, we will just have a different 10% people not happy with their assignment. We may gain more predictability but more happiness?

And, as this article makes clear, parents whose assignments place their children in underperforming schools can ask under NCLB to be reassigned. So when would this happen? After the feeder assignments which could force some high performing schools to open their doors wider? Or would the district have to take this into account during the assignment process so as to not overcrowd popular schools?

The District is taking the right steps now to shore up some south end schools. But that isn't going to happen overnight so NCLB may play an important role in our assignment plan especially as more parents become aware of this option.

Crosscut Article (with a new link)

I just wanted to repost this valuable article about the WASL that appeared in Crosscuts with a new link.

It's always good to learn the history about an issue. It seems, somehow, the WASL has gone off the track initially desired by the people who set its birth into motion.

Article in Crosscut

Hello

Chris Vance has published an interesting article about the history of how the WASL came about and what the original intentions of the people who wrote the laws surrounding the WASL were. It is a two part series. It is an interesting read.

http://crosscut.com/k-12/7508/The+WASL+test%3A+What+went+wrong/

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Ethics Discussion" on Pro Bono in Times Article

The latest salvos in the on-going issue of Davis Wright Tremaine collecting "pro bono" fees for the racial tiebreaker case against SPS were in this article published in today's Times'. A couple of interesting statements:

- "If a judge agrees to award the fees, Seattle Public Schools officials don't know whether the district's insurance will cover the amount; the district is self-insured up to $1 million. The rest would come out of either an insurance pool spread among several school districts or the district's own $490 million general-fund budget."

I had been under the impression that the District was liable for all of the amount. If insurance covers $1M that would help.

-"Anticipating backlash, Davis Wright Tremaine cited the Georgetown University-based Pro Bono Institute. According to that organization's Web site, collecting fees in pro bono cases is fine, but attorneys should donate the money, for example, to charity."
And later in the article,
"Davis Wright Tremaine spokesman Mark Usellis said the firm hasn't decided whether to donate money it may collect in the Seattle case."

Interesting that DWT would cite one source and then say they might not follow what that source advises.

-DWT says that many civil rights groups are left-leaning and disagree with the outcome of the case and therefore, they disagree with DWT getting paid. But then there was this:

"American Lawyer magazine, which publishes an annual ranking of firms based partly on the amount of time they spend on pro bono work, doesn't consider work pro bono if attorneys get paid. Davis Wright Tremaine was No. 72 out of 200 firms in this year's American Lawyer ranking.

"Our position is that if fees are granted in a pro bono case, that those fees should be moved along to a charitable organization," said executive editor David Brown. "It can't go into their pockets, because that's not pro bono." "

I doubt if American Lawyer magazine is left-leaning. It seems the magazine's position on pro bono is pretty clear.

And the last word from plaintiff Kathleen Brose,

"Kathleen Brose, president of Parents Involved in Community Schools, agreed.

"It sends a message to the school district that, if they're going to violate their students' civil rights, there are repercussions to their actions," she said. "The school district got themselves in this pickle." "

She's right. If there are no consequences, entities, both private and public, can do as they please. However, the other side of the coin is that is public entities back off of policies the minute someone says "lawsuit", then those entities might never change or work to right past wrongs.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

WASL Numbers Disputed in Times Story

This article appeared in today's Times. It is about how well the class of 2008 did on the WASL, depending on how you count the numbers. From the article:

"Bergeson's office this year didn't count all the students it has counted in the past. For the first time, it looked only at seniors who've passed enough classes to be on track to graduate this June. That left out 5,457 members of the class who are considered juniors or sophomores because they're behind in credits.

When those 5,457 students are added back, the passage rate drops from 84 percent to an estimated 81 percent — leaving about 15,000 students who still need to pass reading or writing on the WASL, or an alternative. When dropouts are considered — which some argue they should be — nearly a third of the class of 2008 has either left school or has yet to pass WASL reading, writing or both."

Terry Bergeson, State Superintendent, and her office promise a more detailed report in a couple of months. Well, that's a little late once you get those first numbers into people's heads. It doesn't negate her original statement on pass rate (for that group of students) but if you are talking about every student who entered as a freshman for the class of 2008 then she needs to account for them.

From the article:

[Assistant Superintendent Joe Willhoft] "Willhoft chafes at the suggestion that those students are being written off.

"I don't think anybody is losing track of what students need in order to get through high school, and get their diploma," he said."

A cynic might say yes, there are students who are written off albeit by looking the other way. I don't think anyone would dispute the difficulty of helping students who have hard life circumstances that may be compounded by an unwillingness to come to school regularly. I am sure there are administrators and counselors and teachers who try their hardest but may find, at the end of the day, that they feel they are losing a battle for that child and energies might be better directed to kids who are trying. This is a classic educational problem and what to do? How to better those kids' circumstances so they will want to stay in school? Or, again, is a cultural problem of school is for someone else and not them?

Back to the issue at hand, from the article:

"Many think it's a good idea for students to be called freshmen or sophomores until they have earned the credits to advance — one reason why districts such as Seattle hold them back. That way, they don't take the WASL until they've completed the classes they need to be successful.

If students haven't yet had geometry, for example, it doesn't make much sense to force them to take the WASL, which includes geometry problems, says state Rep. Dave Quall, a Mount Vernon Democrat and chairman of the House Education Committee.

At the same time, Quall also wants to know what's happening to all students in the class, not just the most successful ones."

Representative Quall is one of the hardest-working legislators we have on the issue of education. I haven't always agreed with him but he has tenacity and passion.

First Sign of District Direction from Carla/Maria

On the News and Calendar page of the SPS website there was a headline - West Seattle High School to Move to a Six-Period Schedule Format - and this link to a letter from Carla Santorno.

In it, she outlines how WSHS is the only comprehensive high school with the 4-period format, how the review went, data used and that she has come to the decision that WSHS will go to a 6-period schedule for 2008-2009. Her reasoning is about academic achievement, availability of course offerings, system alignment within the district and mobility (interesting data: examining the high school classes between 2001-2007, excluding alternative schools, finds that about 10% of students will attend more than 1 high school. This might have some implications for the student assignment plan.).

She then writes about strategies in helping the switch work smoothly.

I wrote about this issue previously and once again, I am surprised that it has occurred (it was a parent generated complaint). Her reasoning seems pretty rational in terms of the benefits to students AND the direction the District wishes to go.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cell Phones (again)

This article appeared in today's Times' about cell phone usage in schools. This stuff just drives me crazy. There had been another article previous to this in the Times and a letter to the editor said it all, "Who's in charge - the kids or the school?"

One of the key issues here (and I'll probably write a related post based on a meeting I attended this week about underage drinking in northeast schools in Seattle) is ...parents. What is up with parents and this need to be able to reach your child at all times? Your child is at school; find out what time their lunch hour is and call then. It's the same with the district and the school administrator. If you have a policy, enforce it. Tell teachers "this means you" and do not allow differences from class to class. As a parent of a teen, I can tell you that the minute there are "exceptions" teenagers crack that loophole wide open.

This is a good article because it talks about the myths of cell phones at schools. Like number one is "teachers don't like gadgets". Under this myth there was this:

"Students don't wear watches anymore, preferring to use cellphone clocks, Fox-Bailey said." Hey kids, that big thing on the wall? It's called a clock.

"When students work on group projects, he tells them to get out their cellphones and swap numbers. Some download audio books or vocabulary lists to review on iPods."

Okay, fine, this is the world of education with today's technology. But all the teacher has to say is "Do not take out your cell phone until I tell you to for any class-related work."

"He allows students to listen to music in class during free reading time. "Some kids can't read unless they have something to distract them from the ambient noise," he said."

I heard this from Eckstein teachers and I don't buy it. It is a distraction and it turns the classroom into the haves and have nots. What is this coddling of students? They can't work unless all conditions are perfect for them?

"Students use electronics as "a way to accessorize their identity," Fox-Bailey said. "This is how they express themselves." "

They can do this to their hearts content outside the classroom.

Myth: phones are the worst. From a middle school principal in the article:

"There's a lot of stuff out there," said Tom Duenwald, principal at Bellevue's Tillicum Middle School. "I don't want to spend all my time policing electronic devices. What really matters to us is instructional class time."

Yeah, and that's why you DO spend time on policies with clear expectations and consequences. The class time is for naught if the kids are not on task. You aren't teaching if kids aren't focused.

The article also discusses real problems with cellphones:

"They're also put to more nefarious purposes. "We have had students text each other back and forth about tests," noted Bellevue's Odle Middle School Assistant Principal Alexa Allman in an e-mail. Anderson, who estimates more than 70 percent of Skyview's students own phones, found students using camera phones to capture test pages."

In addition, I had read about problems in schools in other states where they had to ban the use of cellphones in locker rooms and bathrooms because of the problem of students taking intimate pictures of other students.

Again, why is this so hard? It's not banning cellphones from schools. Many parents and students do need to keep in contact. But no one needs to use or check their cell phone in class. If districts and principals do not create and enforce policies that protect all students' rights to learning in a classroom, then where does it end?

Friday, September 14, 2007

WASL From a Teacher's POV

This op-ed piece appeared in yesterday's PI. It was written by Fred Strine, a teacher from North Bend. His viewpoint?

"Under political pressure tax-supported public schools have simply degenerated into WASL factories."

He also says,
"I honestly believe most parents will be appalled that their children cover 25 percent less than in pre-WASL years. Some high schools even have half-day Fridays so teachers can brainstorm WASL prep."

His piece is a bit of a rant - he clearly hates the WASL, the strictness it requires, the time it requires (I am with him on the time to give it - just too much time to take a test. Also, his comment about poetry being on last year's WASL so it gets a bump the next year kind of rang true. I was really surprised at how poetry-heavy my son's LA class was this year. It seemed odd but maybe that's the reason.)

You should also read the replies; they mostly say that teachers are lazy, incompetent and that there is no teacher accountability. They have a point on the accountability. The WASL was created to check teachers' abilities, not students. It is unclear to me what happens when a teacher's class doesn't have good scores year after year.

BUT, many of these people lay everything at the feet of teachers and that's just patently ridiculous. One person even said that it's teachers' jobs to teach, not parents. Whoa! Parents are their children's first teachers and I find, by talking to my son about his classes, that I can add to what he is learning. Anyone who expects it all to happen in the classroom is likely to be disappointed.

New Board Action Report

Have you noticed the new format of School Board Action Reports?

They have some new sections. Each Action Report now has a section for each of several basic bits of information. They are:

Date
From
Lead Staff
Strategic Theme/Focus Area
Title and brief description with introduction and action dates
Timeline for Implementation
Recommeded Motion
Issue
Best Practices
Research and Data Sources
Policy Implications
Fiscal Impact/Revenue Source
Community Engagement process
Conclusion/Recommendation
Attachments

This is TOTALLY COOL! We cannot make data-based decisions unless we bring the data to the decision point. If people are going to be held accountable for doing community engagement, then we need to document when and how it was done. These action reports are WAY better than what we had before. Congratulations to those who created the new format. Good job!!

Times Editorial of Sept 13

The Times ran an editorial on the 13th, and I've read it through a few times now, but I'm not sure I understand what they are trying to say.

They are hoping for detente. Detente is a guarded truce between enemies. Is that the best we can hope for from the relationship between the District and the City? Is cooperation not on the menu?

The Times says that the Mayor and other City officials have voiced concerns about incompetence on the School Board. Have they? I searched the Times back issues for a report of such concerns but could not find one. In a Times article of November 7, 2006, reporter Bob Young wrote: "Nickels isn't even talking about his concern for Seattle schools and what he wants to do. At least not publicly."

The myth of School Board incompetence was largely created by The Seattle Times and is actually rooted in the former Superintendent's incompetence - not the Board's.

When I hear people talk about Board incompetence, I always ask them for evidence of this incompetence. I ask them to name something that the Board either should or should not have done. The critics usually fall quiet. They have no specific complaint which can be laid at the feet of the Board. Most of the complaints - lack of action on failing schools, lack of action on poor teachers, inability to raise test scores more quickly, sloppy fiscal controls, etc - are the Superintendent's responsibility, not the Board's. Other complaints which are appropriately directed to the Board - transportation policy, student assignment policy, school funding formula - are being addressed by the Board. These issues are, for the most part, being addressed in a prudent, collaborative, and effective way.

The spark that lead to all of this talk about an incompetent School Board was an unruly Board meeting in October. A few unstable characters appear in the audience at a Board meeting and act out and that makes the Board incompetent? If these folks had shown up at a City Council meeting and acted up would that make the City Council incompetent?

As for the quality of people who run for the Board, I recognize that they don't compare with the some of the heavy-hitters on the City Council, such as Jean Godden, a woman who made her reputation writing human interest stories about chats with her hairdresser and people with aptonyms. But perhaps some of those folks who complain about the quality of Board candidates would like to run for the Board themselves. They had a chance to do that this year, but there were few takers. A lot of people complained about how Director Butler-Wall did her job, but only two people ran to replace her. That doesn't indicate to me that there are a lot of highly qualified people who could replace the existing Board members. I didn't see anyone from the Times toss their hat into the ring.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New P-I Blog

Linda Thomas' Educating Mom blog closed, but the Seattle P-I has a new Education Blog, Chalkboard: A Parent Perspective on Education in Seattle, by Denise Gonazlez-Walker.

Librarians

This article appeared in today's Times about librarians, their role in schools and how some districts are cutting back. I have never been in a school where there was less than a full-time librarian but I know some schools need the money and only have a half-time librarian. I wonder how prevalent that is in SPS.

One interesting fact I didn't know:

"Washington is one of the few states that doesn't fund school libraries; instead, they are supported by local levy dollars."

From the article:

"In the age of information overload, librarians say their skills at finding authoritative and accurate sources and helping students think critically about what they read are more important than ever. But some districts around the state, including Darrington and Granite Falls, have cut librarian positions to balance their budgets.

"The reality is that some districts and principals try to get test scores up by spending more time on test-taking and less time on open-ended projects, what we call discovery learning," said Marianne Hunter, president of the Washington Library Media Association and a high-school librarian in Lacey, Thurston County."

Also,

"Monroe officials say district libraries are crucial for teaching students research and critical-thinking skills. The district last year adopted an information-literacy curriculum called Big 6 developed by the University of Washington.

Under the program, librarians are trained on how to work with teachers and students to define a research question, gather relevant information, synthesize their findings and evaluate its accuracy and usefulness."

I remember saying this type of information on school tours at Whittier to let parents know that librarians' days of just helping students find a book are long gone. That second paragraph above is what I think is the goal of most librarians (that and fostering a love of reading).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

News from the Seattle Council PTSA

Bernardo Ruiz named new SPS Family and Community Engagement Coordinator

“The Family and Community Engagement Division of Equity, Race & Learning Support was recently developed to begin taking a systemic approach to family and community engagement. The Family and Community Engagement Division works collaboratively with other district programs, student families and diverse community organizations to support student academic achievement. This division plans and provides professional development on best practices to enhance school and district staffs’ ability to engage families from diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds. It also provides trainings for families on how to support their child in school and acts as a resource connecting them to services in the community.”

Bernardo Ruiz 206.252.0693 - bjruiz@seattleschools.org

Hung Pham (Bilingual Community Liaison and Consulting Teacher for the Asian Community)
206.252.0163 -
hpham@seattleschools.org

Mohamed Roble (Bilingual Community Liaison for the East African Community)
206.252.0696 -
maroble@seattleschools.org

Diversity Calendar for 2007-08

SPS has published their new Diversity Calendar for 2007-08 showing dates important to a number of different cultural communities. Many PTSAs have asked for similar information and Bernardo Ruiz’s office will be happy to e-mail you this SPS calendar. You can also contact us at info@seattlecouncilptsa.org and we will forward the documents to you.

Election web site update

With the primaries of August 21 three weeks behind us and the general election of November 6 still several weeks away, talk about the upcoming school board elections has gone pretty quiet. And in this quiet, candidates have been working on their web sites.

In District I, the candidates are Peter Maier and Sally Soriano.

Mr. Maier has updated his web site. His picture is friendlier and he has added a page called "Read More" where he lists a few ideas which could serve as priorities for the District. Mr. Maier writes:

"The job of the School Board, through a process of listening, outreach and collaboration, is to establish with the Superintendent a long-term vision, measurable goals, and achievable strategies for the District so that every child in every school has the opportunity for a quality education and a chance to succeed."

Whether you agree with that statement or not, five of the six priorities that Mr. Maier lists (establishing effective financial practices, turning around low performing schools, improving the principal corps, strengthening math instruction, and increasing the rigor of middle school courses) are jobs for the Superintendent and the staff - jobs they should do without direct Board involvement.

Mr. Maier's slogan is "the leadership we need", but Mr. Maier wants the Superintendent to provide the leadership on these initiatives. He wants the Board to offer support. Perhaps his slogan should be "the support we need". And what support should the Board provide for these efforts? Surely no direct involvement. For all of the concern he expresses about a micro-managing Board, Mr. Maier couldn't be proposing Board involvement in these efforts, could he?

Ms Soriano has updated her web site as well. She has added a page called "Ask Sally". She answers a number of questions (with some typos) and allows visitors to submit additional questions. She writes "The role of the school board is to set policy and represent constituents. The only employee that the school board can hold accountable is the superintendent and it is the superintendent who is responsible for implementing the policies of the board and for the management of all personnel within the district."

Disclosure/Disclaimer: There is a quote from me on Ms Soriano's web site. This quote was taken from a blog entry; it was not written for her campaign.

In District II, the candidates are Sherry Carr and Darlene Flynn.

I am not aware of a campaign web site for Director Flynn. Her public communication skills are as strong as ever.

Ms Carr's web site is pretty full. It includes two pages of interest, This I Believe and Platform. She writes that the core responsibilities of a school board are to provide leadership "through Creating a compelling vision, respecting the proposals and ideas of the professional educators, ensuring that the professional educators are set up for success by removing roadblocks and getting them the help and support they need, and holding the professional educators accountable for academic results"


In District III, the candidates are David Blomstrom and Harium Martin-Morris.

Mr. Blomstrom's web site is infamous. I don't think it helps him, nor do I think it helps anyone who reads it. I don't think it's about being helpful.

Mr. Martin-Morris, who will undoubtedly be elected in November, has a small web site with very little original content, but it does have one of the most helpful and valuable pages on any candidate site: an event calendar page.

In District VI, the candidates are Maria Ramirez and Steve Sundquist.

Ms Ramirez now has a web site, which includes a page describing her Vision.

Mr. Sundquist's web site is pretty much the same as it was just before the primary. Mr. Sundquist also uses the word "leadership" in his slogan. The web site has a good page called Questions and Answers describing Mr. Sundquist's plans if elected. I'm not sure what Policies would correlate with these plans; they may be more of a need for policy enforcement. He does mention accountability in three places. Some of his plans, such as the elements of his Focus on the Classroom ideas, are clearly outside the Board's role.

Of all the web sites, I think Mr. Sundquist's does the best job of feeding his base while providing those outside his camp reason to support him. While he appears to be an establishment guy, his tone is conversational and he makes a lot of reference to things like transparency, appropriate processes, a results orientation, responsiveness, data-driven decision-making, consensus building, and accountability. That will increase his appeal among those suspicious of the establishment.

I'm sure these web sites will all be updated again and again before the general election.

FYI - Joint Board/City Council Meeting

The School Board is hosting members of the City Council at their quarterly meeting tomorrow (9/13) from 9:30-noon at the Stanford Center (generally in the auditorium). This is a great opportunity to be able to watch the interaction between these two groups (there are usually 3-4 members from each group) as well as to address them. There is a sign-in sheet available before the meeting and the speakers have their 3-minutes before the general business gets started. You may speak on any education-related subject (maybe anything; I've always spoken on education). These meetings are usually taped and rebroadcast on Channel 26.

The two groups are pretty polite to each other because, after all, the Council has no power over the Board. But you can sense tension sometimes between the groups as the Council tries to get to the thinking, planning and execution by the District on some issues. I would be interested to see if any City Council or School Board candidates show up to the meeting.

Garfield Tops for National Merit Scholars for SPS

This listing of semi-finalists for National Merit Scholars appeared in today's Times. Lakeside had 33 (tops in the state) while Garfield had 22 (tops for public high schools in the state). Other SPS high schools on the list; Center School (1), Ingraham (2), Hale (1), and Roosevelt (7).

Weighted Staffing Standards

I have reviewed the material available on the Weighted Staffing Standards (WSS). It provides standardized "core" staffing for all schools. It provides additional staffing for large schools. It is also supposed to provide additional resources for schools with disabled, bilingual, and FRE students. What I don't see, however, is targeted class size reduction. I don't see anything in the WSS that specifically and directly addresses the academic achievement gap. Where is the additional staffing to reduce class sizes for students working below grade level? Where is there ANYTHING in this budget allocation plan that will help close the academic achievement gap? Shouldn't the District's budget be driven by the District's academic priorities? And isn't the District's number one academic priority to close the academic achievement gap? So shouldn't this spending plan be driven by that priority? So why don't I see it? There is absolutely no reference to the gap at all anywhere in the discussion of the WSS.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11; Did Your School Take Notice?

Today is the painful anniversary of 9/11, 2001. There is a lot that could be said but I thought I would ask what did or did not happen at your school and does it matter?

To preface, my mom remembers Pearl Harbor Day like it was yesterday. We all have to try to imagine a country without TV images, no computers, nothing but words coming from a radio. It is what drove us into WWII and united a country with a common purpose. I remember when I was about 13 and my mom was telling me about rationing and women who never worked outside the home going out and working and everyone, everyone working together. Naively I said, "Why?". She just looked at me and said, "There was a war on! Everyone had a son, a husband, a father gone or dead. It's just what we did." But Pearl Harbor Day has eventually faded to a day in history.

9/11 was maybe more horrific because we were able to see it all unfold. Things that we were likely better off not seeing, we saw that day. We may have been more afraid that day than a generation before because we knew technology and what it could bring to our doors. We were told we were at "war" from that day on. Not much was expected of us as a nation - we were supposed to shop and travel and take our shoes off at the airport. No sacrifices were asked of us.

So on this day, should we remember? Maybe more importantly, should our children? My son came home from high school and said that last year they had a moment of silence but not this year. I asked if they discussed it at all and he said yes, in a couple of classes. We have a new principal, maybe he just forgot.

I certainly don't want to mourn forever but there are lessons to be learned and I would hate to think that 6 years later we're all done learning.

What Works (and What Likely Gets Left Behind)

This Times' article about the efforts of the Renton School District (and one school in particular) to boost their WASL scores may be a foretelling of what is to come for SPS. From the article:

"Just a decade ago, the story at Bryn Mawr was starkly different. When Mather started there in 1998 about a quarter of students read at grade level and performance in other subjects was worse.

Surrounded by a mix of low-rent apartments and tracts of aging homes, Bryn Mawr had a reputation as an unsafe school with unsuccessful students and incompetent teachers.

But an overhaul of the curriculum and focus has helped the school to shake that reputation.

The approach is simple: Ninety minutes of reading a day is mandatory for all students, weekly and quarterly assessments help teachers identify who needs intervention and who needs to be challenged. Four filing cabinets and two computers — one a backup — keep track of individual scores and helps monitor trends in individual classes, grades and schoolwide.

Renton plans to look to Bryn Mawr as a model approach for "data-driven" decision-making within schools, Superintendent Mary Alice Heuschel said."

This sounds like a very intense method and one that is obviously getting results. I note that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has said that she wants this district to be data-driven and accountable.

But 90 minutes a day for reading. I don't know if that is reading across subjects or reading out loud versus silently but for teachers spending 90 minutes a day on reading plus doing weekly assessments just doesn't leave a lot of time for other subjects. It makes you wonder what is being cut back on or eliminated.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Informative Article in Ed Week on FERPA

This article was published in Education Week about FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and its regulations. This review of it follows up on confusion over what Virginia Tech could or could not have done to prevent the tragedy that occurred under these regulations. (A FERPA form is sent home in every first-day packet in our District.)

From the article:

"At the K-12 level, FERPA generally allows parents to review their children’s educational records. Parents also must consent to the release of records that contain personally identifiable information. Once a student turns 18, or starts college, those rights transfer from the parent to the student.

Under FERPA, schools are allowed, however, to release information from education records to parents if the health or safety of a student is at stake, or if the parents claim the student as a dependent on federal income-tax forms.

At Virginia Tech, concern over violating privacy laws appears to have prevented some officials from sharing information with Mr. Cho’s parents and other organizations within the university that they were actually allowed to disclose, according to the review panel.

For instance, while FERPA protects student records maintained by the educational institution, it does not apply to a professor’s personal observations of a student’s behavior, according to guidance provided by the federal Education Department that is included as an appendix to the panel’s report.

In Mr. Cho’s case, several professors in the English department were aware that he had written violent stories and had taken pictures of students during class without their permission. They could have contacted Mr. Cho’s parents with that information without violating FERPA, the report says." (Italics mine.)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Hey! Some Good News!

This article appeared online at the Times' website. From the article:

"The Dallas-based National Math & Science Initiative has awarded its first grants to seven states, including Washington, to pay for Advanced Placement training and incentive programs, the state Office of Public Instruction announced today.

Intended to spur career interest in math and science, the grants are each worth up to $13.2 million over six years."

Paying the Costs of the Supreme Court Case

I did some research, talked to some people and here is what I have learned in terms of the fees that Davis Wright Tremaine is asking the District to pay.

First I spoke with Jennifer McMinimee, one of the District's lawyers, about the case. She has been fielding quite a few calls about this issue including calls from other districts around the country about the use of race in assignments. I also e-mailed Dave Baca, Managing Director at DWT, who promptly wrote me back.

Here's what they had to say about various issues that have been brought up.
  • The issue of pro bono. To her credit, Ms. McMinimee said that pro bono does NOT mean free but rather it means "in the public interest". The American Bar Association has a policy that asks every law firm/lawyer to work for people who might otherwise not get the representation they need especially in the area of civil rights. (This is not to say that public defenders aren't good; they are some of the best lawyers around but they are hugely overworked and underpaid.)
  • Ms. McMinimee said that under civil rights statues, plaintiffs do have the right to ask for money. So the plaintiffs in this case did tell DWT to go ahead and request fees to be paid. What both Mr. Baca and Ms. Minimee agree on is that both parties knew, from the beginning, that DWT would seek fees if they won.
What is unclear to me is whether that was ever told to the media. I don't recall ever reading in any newspaper report that DWT was doing this pro bono if their clients lost and would seek fees if they won.
  • According to Mr. Baca, DWT does pro bono work that is free and cited a case for a Guantanamo detainee but also cited a civil rights case where their client (a prisoner in a Los Angeles county jail) was beaten by his jailers and DWT is seeking fees (probably from Los Angeles County). Ms. McMinimee said that as well; that DWT does work that they call pro bono and then sometimes collect fees. She said there is nothing illegal in this action but said that it can be confusing to the public who believe they understand "pro bono" to mean free.
  • One issue that has come up repeatedly here is the issue of "settling" the case. The relief that the plaintiffs sought was an injunction to stop the District from using the tiebreaker for 2002-2003. Well, the District pre-empted that by stopping voluntarily and continuing to cease using it. Nor did they attempt to use race in any other fashion in assignments i.e. create another assignment plan. So what they were really after was to permanently stop the District from using the racial tie-breaker (as we are talking about a specific plan and NOT the use of race). The Supreme Court decision made that a reality.
So, yes, the District could have "settled" the case by agreeing to not use the racial tiebreaker. But as I pointed out to both Mr. Baca (who did not answer this point) and Ms. McMinimee, the District made this plan in good faith and was not willfully breaking a law. Indeed, according to Ms. McMinimee, the District was under orders from the Department of Education to have some sort of de-segregation plan to show the government. Use of the racial tiebreaker was one attempt. The Supreme Court decision in this case did little to help states know what to do except to not use white versus non-white categories in a tiebreaker (this is Ms. McMinimee's summation of the situation). My reading of this issue is not whether you can use race in assignments because Justice Kennedy indicated he would side with a well-crafted plan (and thus shift his vote over to the minority side) but how you use it.
  • There is a lot of gray area on whether both sides tried to keep this out of court. I didn't address this in my e-mail to Mr. Baca but Ms. Brose has said previously,
"The SSD would not settle. We tried mediation in the very beginning with a different school board 7 years ago. The current school board could have settled before the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. You might ask the current school board if they even discussed the case with their attorneys."

The mediation she speaks of is required by the court. But I wonder if someone from one side had gone to the other and asked the question, "What is it that you really want?" Because clearly, Ms. Brose and the other parents of QA/Magnolia are still not satisfied. I find it hard to believe that Michael de Bell (whose district includes QA/Magnolia), who I find to be a person of principle and good manners, wouldn't have been willing to sit down (with lawyers present, of course) and ask that question. Was it too late, from a legal standpoint to do this (meaning, would lawyers from either side have allowed it?) I don't know.

Where does that leave us? Both sides agree - there's a long process ahead. DWT chose to jump over the Western District Court (that originally sided with the District) and go straight to the Ninth Circuit Court. The District will argue to that court that the case needs to go back to the Western District where it originated and she believes the District has a strong case for that to happen. (If it does go back to the Western District Court and its original judge, Judge Rothstein, it might come back to Seattle and we could go hear the oral arguments.)

If the Ninth Circuit Court sends it back, then DWT would have to present evidence that the plaintiffs prevailed. Is there something I'm missing? I thought the plaintiffs prevailed but maybe it is all a nuanced way of looking at the outcome. It might be one of those "what the meaning of is, is" distinctions.
If DWT prevails in either court, the District will have to pay. And, guess what? DWT is still filing legal costs in the case so the meter is still running.

If the District gets the case moved back to the Western District court and wins, that is to be likely where it ends according to Ms. McMinimee.

As I pointed out to Mr. Baca (who was very gracious and unfailingly polite in his reply), the District is trying to make every high school better to solve the problem of parents trying to flee their neighborhood school. (Keep in mind, though, many students want to and like being in their "neighborhood" high school but a large number of students are willing to travel far away, not because they don't like their nearby school but because they are looking for programs not offered at their school. That is the beauty of having high schools that are different; to try to keep students interested and in school.) I told him the District is barely coming out of the red and putting money into helping less-desirable schools and that taking money from the District would hurt the very process that could help parents in QA and Magnolia.

Here's his reply,

"It is really premature to address this in any detail, since we are a long way from any award or receipt of fees, but it is my hope to use a substantial portion of any award to both enhance our pro bono program, and to provide support to one or more organizations that support public education."

So there is likely to be a flurry of motions back and forth and that will drag out the process so we can only sit back and watch.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ed Week Open House

The website for Education Week sent me this e-mail and I thought I would pass it on in case anyone wanted to check out their resources for free (they normally charge a fee). I think they have some really good reading there.

Now that summer is over, edweek.org is having an Open House to kick off the new school year! You are invited to come in and take a look around. You'll find everything you need to be up to speed on K-12 news, policy changes, commentary, analysis and more.


The PayPAMS Scam

Is anyone else as bothered as I am by the new lunch payment system, PayPAMS?

The first day of school packet included a slick full-color flyer for PayPAMS with a statement about a "nominal service fee" for using the service.

On the lunch menu, it says:

"Seattle School District is pleased to offer PayPams as a meal payment service for students and families. Parents/guardians now have the convenience of paying using the internet or by phone using either a credit card/debit card anytime day or night. A service fee of 5.6% per payment is charged to the parent/guardian account at the time of the transaction. Pre-pay for school meals 24-7. Learn more about this service by visiting www.PayPams.com."

I don't consider 5.6% a "nominal" fee. In fact, if you buy lunch for a middle school child for every day of the school year, that would mean PAMS would make over $20 from that child ($2.00 per lunch, 180 days per year.) Multiply that by the over 45,000 students in the district and you can see that PAMS is making real money from the parents in the district through this service.

What does the Seattle School District get from this? Why is a for-profit like PayPams allowed to promote this service using the school district kid-mail? The district seems to be promoting this as a service to parents, positioning it as more convenient and easier then sending money into school with a child. But I don't buy that. Maybe it's easier for the district and for individual schools. But I don't think it's any great benefit for families. And I really resent the Seattle School District promoting a for-profit company.

So Here's the (Possible) Cost for the Supreme Court Case

This article appeared in today's Times about the cost to the district for the Supreme Court case involving tiebreakers. The District's own costs were $434,000 and the law firm, Davis Wright Tremaine, wants $1.8M (kind of takes your breath away).

From the article:

"Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted with the majority, said in a separate opinion supporting his decision that racial balance is a worthy goal for school districts and that districts can use other methods to achieve it.

That opinion has both the district and the parent group, Parents Involved in Community Schools, declaring victory. It's one reason the district, which spent about $434,000 on its portion of the seven-year battle, doesn't believe it should have to pay the plaintiffs' fees.

Technically, the parents group still has to get a U.S. district judge to declare them the "prevailing party," said Seattle Public Schools attorney Shannon McMinimee."

Those paragraphs raise some interesting legal questions (and I don't know the answers, anyone else?). It would seem that the plaintiffs did prevail so does it matter that Justice Kennedy wrote a separate opinion that supported the use of race as part of a plan (thus supporting the minority)?

But here's the real kicker:

"If the firm wins, the fees likely wouldn't be covered by the district's insurance carrier, McMinimee said. So the money would have to come out of the district's $490 million general-fund budget."

What folly. How did it get to this and what will not happen because that almost $2M is walking out the door?