Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How Big? This Big!

People sometimes ask me just how big of a jerk can I be. In truth, they don't use the word "jerk", but I'd like to keep the blog family-friendly.

Well, I think I may just have an answer. Over the next few days I will be writing e-mail messages to every person who is serving as a project manager on a Strategic Plan project and asking them some very pointed questions about the progress that they are making on their project. Most, if not all, of the projects are woefully behind the schedule set in the Strategic Plan itself. Moreover, every single project is out of compliance with the Community Engagement Protocols finalized in October. I'll be asking them pointed questions about that also. Ironically, the Community Engagement projects are also out of compliance on these protocols.

I know that makes me a pretty big jerk, but here's the element that puts me over the top into a league of my own: I'm also contacting every person named as the Executive Sponsor of a project and asking them pointed questions about how they are holding the project manager accountable. I will be asking them to specifically name the steps they have taken to require the project manager to meet the timelines set in the Strategic Plan document and to name the steps that they have taken to require the project manager to comply with the Community Engagement Protocols. I will ask them how having accountability is any different from NOT having accountability. THAT'S how big of a jerk I am!

But wait - there's more! When these responses start coming in - and I fully expect to get responses to these messages - I will critically review them and possibly send follow up questions. You can be sure that I will be contacting the superintendent and the Board with the results of this little investigation into "accountability" as practiced at Seattle Public Schools. I will be asking them pointed questions about their role in holding people accountable and their fetish for talking about accountability as contrasted with their stunning lack of action in support of it. Now how big of a jerk am I? Don't answer yet.

Finally, I will not only publish my findings here on the blog, but I will also share them with the Seattle media and encourage them to run a story about how the Emperor Has No Clothes and the District has no Accountability. I will beat this drum just as loud and as long as I possibly can. Now how big a jerk am I?

And what - WHAT? - could this possibly accomplish? Maybe, just maybe, it might remind people to do their jobs and encourage them to do their jobs because, even if no one in the JSCEE watches or cares about whether they actually fulfill their commitments to the community they ostensibly serve, we are watching and we care. We, the stakeholders, the community, care about whether they fulfill their commitments to us.

49 comments:

Noah said...

Go Charlie -- no matter how big of a jerk you are, you have the right/obligation to ask these questions. Thank you!

TwinMom2003 said...

Hooray for you Charlie! I look forward to your updates.

Are the project executives within SPS or outside?

The homeless camp known as Nickelsville recently moved into a parking lot that shares a wall with my childrens preschool. I had the audacity to ask about the camp operating rules, as my pre-school kids would be looking right out their school window into the camp. I was publicly chastised by some for not being PC. I was privately thanked by others for asking the questions they wanted to ask.

So here is a public Thank You!

Why should one be classified as a "jerk" just for asking basic questions concerning the welfare of their children?

I hope the answers you obtain will have a hook that will engage the media.

seattle citizen said...

Steve Martin was the Jerk. YOU'RE a persistant cuss.
Yea!

Thanks for the continued vigilance, reporting and action. If all Seattlites were as engaged in their public schools as you are, your workload would be considerably lessened...Thanks for staying in the harness and continuing to pull.

I've noted that there are quite a few new commenters in here lately. Stay with it, newcomers! Charlie needs some R and R (after this upcoming foray into the maw of teh mcahine, therein to "wallow in craptitute," if I may borrow from the Simpsons.

Charlie Mas said...

Here is a list of 22 projects, the project managers, and the Executive Sponsors.

This list is from the Board's most recent quarterly update on the Strategic Plan, an update they got on September 3. Those of you with a calendar will recognize that the next "quarterly" update should have come in December, but didn't. The next "quarterly" Board update on the Strategic Plan is scheduled for March.

Oddly, there is a slightly different list of projects in the Strategic Plan document itself:

1 math project
2 science project
3 assessment project
4 school performance project
5 teacher hiring project
6 teacher mentoring/prof dev project
7 performance measurement project
8 student assignment project
9 eSIS enhancement project
10 academic systems data project
11 VAX migration project
12 budget process project
13 HR Management systems project
14 budget IT project
15 performance management project
16 web site upgrade project
17 family engagement project
18 effective outreach project
19 engage staff project
20 partnerships project
21 distict dashboard project
22 customer service project

It is worth noting that capacity management was not a project in the Strategic Plan.

There are 16 projects listed in the two-page plan summary (capacity management not mentioned) and two more, 18 total, projects on the 12-page summary, but there are 26 projects listed on the plan implementation update page.

SPSMom said...

Thank you for asking for accountability. I feel very lost right now in this mess. And to
TwinMom2003, we had Nicklestown earlier this year and yes you were right for asking hard questions...and I think you got some positive answers. They are an incredible group of folks, who just happen to not have a place to call home. Please go to thier "headquarters" with your child and ask what is on there list of needs for today. They are very well organized and will tell you exactly what is needed to make their day complete.

TwinMom2003 said...

SPS Mom,

Been there, done that. :-)

Eric B said...

This is EXACTLY why I was hoping that the Board and the Superintendent would avoid the temptation to open the Pandora's Box of school closures. Everything else just stops. Is it really worth it? Every one will have their own answer for that, but I see these other issues as equally if not more important. I suspect that the thought was that "capacity management" would be a quick little detour, but given the scale and complexity of the changes that the Superintendent has ended up having to submit, I would hazard a guess that it was the first(?) major misstep of Dr. GJ and the new board.

On a different note, Charlie, this seems like a big job that you might like to recruit helpers for. There does seem to be some support and perhaps it would be taken better if it came from more than one person?

Michael Rice said...

Hello Mr. Mas

I would like to add a couple of observations and comments.

A person will not be considered a jerk for asking pointed questions. A person is considered a jerk for asking pointed questions in a rude, disrespectful, sarcastic manner that treats the person being asked the question with contempt. When that happens, it is unlikely the person asking the question will get a response. I have kind of a reputation as an old school hard ass math teacher, but I have a fine relationship with the central administration who do not agree with me on how math should be taught because I listen to them and treat them the way I want to be treated. We don't agree on how math should be taught, but we respect each other and that is all I can ask. Robert Fulgrahm was right, All I ever needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten. Keep that in mind and you will never be considered a jerk. A pain in the rear, yes, but never a jerk!! :-)

As for the Southeast Initiative, I believe pat Sander is no longer in charge. Wayne Floyd will be the person you will want to contact.

reader said...

"VAX migration" is a project equal in scope to "student assignment". Ridiculous. A simple program, (from a computer programming standpoint), on par with the politically charged, angst ridden task with tons of academic ramifications???? Wow. They've been sold a bill of goods. I'd like that job. (IT programmer/manager) Where can I sign up? If there's anything to the Microsoft layoff rumors.... there should be tons of people available to actually get this simple job done.

another mom said...

You a jerk? Not one bit. While I do not always agree with you, certainly you have earned my respect. As has been suggested by others, more of us should be asking the same questions. For the time being, it appears that capacity management has trumped everything in the plan and as a result what is the status of the strategic plan? Take one or two of the items in the plan and pursue the questions with the listed managers and executive sponsors; cc: the board and the sup and the media if you so choose. One or two people can be passed off as, "oh, it's them again." Then comes the stalling and equivocating. I have seen it happen. But if district folks are hearing from several of us, and new voices to boot, there will be an impact.

Charlie Mas said...

I have heard the fiction that the work on the Strategic Plan has been stalled by the Capacity Management crisis, but I just don't buy it.

First of all, it is inconsistent with the other current fabrication that capacity management was somehow part of the Strategic Plan. It wasn't. It sure isn't one of the projects they originally listed. If it were part of the Plan, then the timelines for the Plan would have accounted for it.

Secondly, the only project that is directly impacted by the capacity management effort is student assignment. There is no legitimate reason for the capacity management work to delay the effort to align the math and science curricula at all of the schools or to improve the teacher hiring process. The very suggestion is absurd.

Third - and this is really important - a number of these deadlines were already blown by September, long before there was any mention of closures or capacity management - before it was even on the map.

So pardon me if I don't excuse the utter lack of progress on the Strategic Plan due to the panic over capacity management.

Back in the spring I met with Holly Ferguson and Carol Rava-Treat to talk about the Strategic Plan. I asked them to help me share their confidence. In the end, they said that I should look for results in the fall. Well the fall came and went and I didn't see the results that were supposed to come. To me, this Strategic Plan appears to be little more than a big stall.

North-end Mom said...

Charlie,
Capacity management is not a new issue. It was "on the map" well before September, and needs to be addressed.

For the kids, teachers, and parents affected by the extremely overcrowded schools and classrooms in our district, it is as important to achieving "Excellence for All" as any component of the Strategic Plan.

emeraldkity said...

Capacity management is not a new issue. It was "on the map" well before September, and needs to be addressed.


North-end mom- I will agree that the district has had difficulties anticipating demand, even if demand has been consistent.
However, closing facilities or even " repurposing" occupied buildings to squeeze a few more in, are not going to alleviate overcrowding.
IMO, in order to do that- they will have to risk becoming even more unpopular than they already are- by changing boundaries or by changing the grades served by the school.
However- I wonder if overcrowding is really the biggest problem in our district-
I would put teacher turnover- student/teacher absenteeism, lack of materials/books and low standards for both adults and children in the district to be more of a concern than teacher/student ratio.

North end schools for example have lower teacher turnover than schools elsewhere in the district, leading me to believe that teachers in those crowded schools must feel they are getting supports that they would not elsewhere.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,
I congratulate you on this latest attempt to bring some element of accountability to those who have shown NO Accountability or Responsibility.

Capacity management was an after thought. Like everything else in this district no solid continuing or inventive ideas are put fourth.

This is the district that has devised the 6-12 Denny/Sealth mega school. There are no known examples of an urban 1500+ 6-12 schools that are successful on the West Coast ... but the SPS expects to make it happen.

Go get'em Charlie. Hopefully something may change toward a positive direction.

Charlie Mas said...

North-end Mom, I totally agree that capacity management is not a new problem. Forgive me if that suggestion appears in my comments. If anything, the District is late to recognizing the problem and responding to it. Until they got a whiff of the budget figures in late August they were figuring on deferring their response to the capacity crisis in the northeast until 2010 and addressing it then with the new assignment plan.

I wanted to make a different point. I wanted to be clear about the fact that Capacity Management was not a project in the adopted Strategic Plan in June. And the District didn't crank up Capacity Management into a full blown crisis until the fall.

I wanted to expose two falsehoods now in circulation:

1) Capacity Management, as we now know it, is and was an element of the Strategic Plan. This is a bald-faced lie; it wasn't. There simply wasn't any reference to this sort of effort in the plan. In fact, just the opposite. The plan says that the District won't have to do anything like this until after the new Student Assignment plan is written. There's a little whiff there - nothing in the actual text but in the subtext - that any capacity management effort before the adoption of the new student assignment plan would be foolish. They wrote that in June, so as late as June they had no idea that they would be closing buildings and relocating programs on this scale. In fact, their policy for the past year has been not to relocate programs in advance of the new assignment plan. Check last year's program placement decisions. The District wants to stretch the illusion of planning over what is obviously an ad hoc emergency response.

2) Progress on the Strategic Plan and other initiatives has been stalled because all resources have been dedicated to Capacity Management. What a ridiculous statement. The only high schools involved in the Capacity Management fracas are NOVA, Summit, and S.B.O.C., so we know that all of the high school elements of learning and teaching should be able to move forward with their grading policy update. The IT people are not involved in the capacity management effort, so their projects should not be hindered. It's not as if the math department staff are involved in capacity management work, so that isn't a valid excuse for the delay in the high school math curriculum adoption (or did we skip over the curriculum adoption and go straight to the textbook adoption?). The statement is ridiculous at its face and should be immediately and vigorously challenged.

The Strategic Plan is a stall. It's a way for the District staff to waste a year on planning the plan, then waste a year on planning the implementation, then get another three years when they can ask people to defer judgement of their effectiveness while the plan is in operation so they can escape any sort of performance appraisal for five years. If they can claim that the capacity management crisis deferred the plan, that would buy them another year free of any assessment of their work.

The only people who could legitimately use "Sorry I didn't get that done; I've been working on Capacity Management" as an excuse are Tracy Libros and Kathy Johnson - and they aren't making that excuse. They are moving forward with their previously assigned projects - the new student assignment plan and planning for the next capital levy.

Wait, let me add Bob Vaughan to the list. The sudden decision to split elementary and middle school APP, and the immediate work necessary to make those splits successful has swallowed him whole. Don't ask Bob for nothing. It's rather unfortunate that the APP split has to come before the District makes a cogent response to the APP audit, including a coherent statement of a Vision for the program.

Look down the list of projects and project managers. The rest of them just don't have that excuse. The only other one that might even come close would be Bridgett Chandler in the Communications office. Hey, it's not like Susan Derse or Karen Kodama are working full time on capacity management. At least let's hope not.

Michael said...

Emeralkity said, in part, "I wonder if overcrowding is really the biggest problem in our district."

While I am not so involved to know if that is correct, I will say that my view is that the biggest problem in the district is the culture of not needing to comply with district policies and state laws (that they are above the law because everything is "for the children"). This extends from senior management all the way down to the classroom teacher.

Go get 'em Charlie! If they stall you or don't answer you, then it's par for the course. If you actually get timely and responsive answers I will be shocked.

dan dempsey said...

When I ran for school board (summer 2007) school closing questions were prominent. I said that co-tenants with non-SPS tenants should be explored. This has successfully been done in a few other urban districts. This actually can improve academic performance as improved structures are possible. With MG-J it is all bigger is more efficient and therefore better. In this district innovative solutions that are in place elsewhere and working are not evaluated. Rather SPS creates independent boondoggles often courtesy of facilities like the Denny/Sealth 6-12 mega-school.

Capacity Management in the SPS looks like what we called "Fire Drill" in my high school days. At a red light all four car doors would open and the occupants would get out and run around the car (often in a very planned way) and get back in the car. In the SPS it looks like the school may drive off while you are watching. I think capacity mis-management would be a better term.

Harium earlier had supported the co-tenant idea but now things are in such a rush no time for thinking is available.

MG-J is all about differentiated instruction .. more mainstreaming .. more students qualified or not taking AP classes. I-728 dollars put into bureaucratic centralized coaching instead of class size reduction. Is this improving the situation for students? Is it making teachers more effective? Look at what district direction is doing in math ... an ongoing fraud.

Consider the following:
---------
How can any professional trained in education justify placing a student in an advanced class in which the student does not meet the class pre-reqs? Educators drone on about teaching the "whole student", team work, creativity, achieving success, bla bla blah... A student that can't keep up will be frustrated, stressed, fall further behind, be unhappy and fail. Most of all they will be wasting their time. The ego bruised student will be angry at the teacher. Parents and administrators will also be angry at the teacher if too many students don't make the grade. The teacher will be pressed to dumb down the course or spend extra time outside of class in remediation for the weak students. The students meeting the pre-reqs will get a watered down course. The teacher will be stressed by it all and job satisfaction will decline. This all seems like a recipe for a decline in excellence.
--------------

This above is precisely what is happening and is advocated by the district. This will explain why the district is unwilling to enforce the policies D44.00 and D45.00 because those require defined necessary skills at each grade level. It also explains why the district is unable to follow the k-8 math standards and instead of making even a weak attempt to follow website posted Math Grade level performance expectations follows the Everyday Math pacing plan with fanatical fervor.

This district has a math plan devised and controlled by a Superintendent, CAO, and Math Program Manager who are all Math outsiders. They do not have math degrees ... the know little if any higher collegiate level mathematics. They are unfamiliar with how to create a high level math program. Yet they make the math curriculum decisions. They direct or devise the qualifications for committee members. "Club Ed" rules and kids lose.

If you take issue with the above, take a look at the (June 2008) Strategic Plan and the failure to follow it.

Remember the Phi Delta Kappa curriculum audit .... if you do.. you are one of the few. It was highly critical of the district and has been ignored. See if you can find it on the SPS website all 250+ pages of it.

When MG-J arrived she was going to have an initial introductory plan ... that idea was shelved and we waited for the Strategic Plan. Now we watch the Strategic Plan being ignored.

Accountability .... there is no accountability.

Keep up the fine work Charlie. Get ready for the High School Math adoption.
-------------

The SPS does not have AP Calculus students meet any AP Calculus pre-reqs. That is what Ballard does and Ballard has the highest rate of AP Calc students initially enrolled in AP Calc being successful.

If a school can't assemble a large enough group of prepared students to offer an advanced class then you don't offer the advanced class. Watering down an advanced class by filling it with unprepared students is the wrong fix. Instead, provide an after school program to get the unprepared students up to scratch so they are ramped up for the advanced class. If no money, or no time, or no student interest in a ramp up program then don't offer the advanced class. For the few advanced students that lose out, take the class in college, or as part of a running-start option, or as an online class, etc. There are plenty of better choices than offering a watered down course. The students getting a watered down course will not thank you when they get to college without the math proficiency needed for their science and engineering classes. Instead they will feel cheated by those who promised them higher levels of school quality and 21st century competitiveness.
------------------
Charlie you said:
" immediately and vigorously challenged".

Good Luck with that. Many have attempted this over the last several years.... but now we have the Strategic Plan.

I completely agree with you.
This whole plan thing has been a stall from the beginning. There was no entry plan and after one year we get a plan that is not even followed in the first months following its unveiling.

You said:
The Strategic Plan is a stall. It's a way for the District staff to waste a year on planning the plan, then waste a year on planning the implementation, then get another three years when they can ask people to defer judgment of their effectiveness while the plan is in operation so they can escape any sort of performance appraisal for five years.

Is the public going to sit idle and accept this "Club Ed" baloney? Time will tell.

dan dempsey said...

Michael,

Great point!!! How can those who are above the law get by with any talk of accountability.

dan dempsey said...

Food for further thought:

An interesting book entitled,WALKING TARGETS: How Our Psychologized Classrooms Are Producing a Nation of Sitting Ducks. The author is B.K. Eakman, a former teacher, and the book is a compilation of her articles, speeches, and lectures. She has spent decades in the trenches trying to right the ship of public education, and has drawn conclusions based on more experience than most of us have. In one of her articles entitled Sending Washington an “Educational” Message (2004), she states the following:

It’s time for responsible adults to draw a line in the sand. Parents must start saying “no”, and do it right now. The only way Washington and state legislatures are going to get the message that America’s backbone, its real tax base, isn’t putting up with bad schools any more is to take the kids out en masse.”

Charlie ... Thanks for organizing the NO saying.

dan dempsey said...

Michael said:
If they stall you or don't answer you, then it's par for the course. If you actually get timely and responsive answers I will be shocked.

The question is now ... who will be running for the Director Seats currently occupied by Cheryl Chow, Michael DeBell, and Mary Bass?

The directors are no better at delivering answers or solutions than the administration. The Directors perpetuate this ongoing fraud that ignores school board policies and state laws.

Strategic Plan and Capacity Management .... say what?? where??

Sahila said...

I still want to know what happened to that famous Americanism - "hell no, we wont go!"?

I'm an outsider looking in, now with a vested interest because my child is going to be adversely affected by this ridiculous 'capacity management plan' and the immoral, unethical, wasteful, expensive, ineffective strategy of tinkering with something badly broken, rather than calling it how it really is, biting the bullet and designing and implementing an education system that works for children, our society and the 21st Century...

We (taxpayers and consumers and the legal guardians of the vulnerable, voiceless people most affected by this farce) have been told by District Staff at community meetings and even here on this site not to protest and not to start legal actions...

What else is there for citizens to do when their elected bureaucrats wont listen to them and refuse to be held accountable by their own policy documents?

What are we - a bunch of sheep?

rugles said...

Enough already! Isn't it time to put the District in a time out?

If there is an immediate emergency, they need to propose something that resolves that emergency. Period. And then move on to other things. If an immediate shortfall of 20 million dollars is the emergency, then they should propose things that can be done quickly and save millions of dollars immediately.

Thats not the school closures. Especially as proposed.

And if there really is no immediate emergency, maybe they could take all the input they have received and come up with an unrushed closure+expansion plan, or finish their strategic plan and then the closure+expansion plan.

Charlie Mas said...

I have prepared my list of projects, project managers (with email addresses), executive sponsors (with email addresses), and project milestones that were detailed in the Strategic Plan document. I'm only missing a few.

I have sent out my first messages to the project managers and the executive sponsors.

I have also found this updated list of projects dating from 10/3/08.

Sahila said...

I really am serious about this 'hell no, we wont go' business...

all schools/programmes threatened with closure have good reasons to protest this move

the District doesnt have good reasons to go forward with the closure programme - the savings are non-existent and the costs - tangible and intangible - are large... there are other ways to solve the education budget shortfall problem - some local, some state and some federal, and tinkering and making kids pay the price for a failing system only perpetuates the problem...

And if your school wasnt closed last time, is not on the list this time around, that's no guarantee that it wont be targetted next time there is some sort of 'crisis' - be it budgetary, or over capacity, or under capacity, or under performance, or lack of diversity, or whatever the concocted excuse the District comes up with to super-size and standardise schools

On several of the threads people have been expressing dismay at their perceived powerlessness, but that perception is false...

We, the parents and educators, have all the power on our side...the system is, or should be, our servant, we are not the servant of the system...

And the power comes back to us if we take away our acquiescence and we refuse to participate...the system comes to a standstill...

There's a petition doing the rounds - that's one form of protest, but we're still left in the position of begging to be heeded and there is nothing strong enough in that to ensure we will be listened to...

There are other more active ways of making an impact...

What is SPS going to do, for example, if thousands of parents/guardians take their kids out of school as a protest until this fiasco is stopped? Issue truancy notices to thousands of us? Think of the cost and administrative hassle, not to mention the public relations disaster the District has to handle, explaining itself...

Sure the system is going to thrash around and put the blame on us for not playing nice and for being rebellious and unreasonable etc... but who really is not playing nice and who is being unreasonable and who is being rebellious by refusing to abide by its own policies and promises to various communities and to support educational best practice?

Why are we allowing this to go on?

And while we are taking action - not just testifying at community meetings and begging our Directors to heed our words and the needs of our kids, and signing petitions - we could be coming together as parents and educators to design a system (we could be one of those mythic design teams!) that works better for our children, our communities and our society... but, judging by the blog entries about Arne Duncan and Chicago, we better be quick and certain and strong about it...

If our paid and elected representatives wont do the job properly, we need to do it ourselves until we can replace them...

adhoc said...

Sahila, I wouldn't take my child out of school as a protest. I find that inappropriate on all levels. It's like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Surely, for those that oppose closure, there are ways to protest that do not directly affect the education of our children. Ways that do not remove our children from the very schools that some are fighting to keep open.

Personally, I don't oppose the closures. I think that the District has a fiscal responsibility to the tax payers, and families of the district to balance capacity, and if the data points to excess capacity then the District must consider closing schools.

I do, however, think that the District should slow down and allow the necessary time to do adequate research, collect and share data, and allow for a fair amount of community input.

The District should also study other options. For instance, there would not be as much excess capacity if class sizes were reduced?? Wouldn't this be a great time to finally work on class size reduction?? In my opinion it would coincide well with the new student assignment plan.

mom123 said...

I am torn.

Adhoc - You are my blogging hero.

Sahilia, I completely agree that the district is a public entity and we the parents and the community are the public. So far the district is not listening to its constituency, and the plan they put forth - close popular and successful programs - such as Montlake - solely because of a failing building - makes no sense. To make such moves as these will very likely cost more money in the end than the school and program closures will save - at a cost to us all.

So where is the happy medium? Is there a happy medium? How to make the district listen and not diminish the education of children at the same time?

Michael said...

mom123 says, "I completely agree that the district is a public entity and we the parents and the community are the public. So far the district is not listening to its constituency,...."

Sad, but true, fact is that the Board members are elected and, thus, do not HAVE to listen to those that put alternatives in front of them. They are elected to use their judgment based on their beliefs and principles that, hopefully, they espoused during their campaigns. I've even heard one person at a Board meeting get upset that the Board didn't do what she TOLD them to do, as if she could give them orders that they have to follow like soldiers in the military. This is a monumental misunderstanding of the representative position that they are elected to hold. Think of the recent uproar over the use of salt on the roadways to help melt the ice-packed streets. Many people voiced their "demands" in newspapers, radio, TV, and the blogosphere. But the mayor, the head of a public entity, did not listen because he did not have to listen. He was elected and given the authority to handle the situation as he saw fit. Its the same thing with the school district Board members. Only when the political winds shifted did he reconsider his position.

I agree that the Board members are not listening. They should be held accountable at the next election or, if severe enough, be subject to a recall campaign. They are also not listening (or responding) to those that inform them of possible wrongdoing. They rely too much on staff.

Sahila said...

I'm no respecter of authority just because its an established form of authority...

I think that people forget that the system is created by people, to function for people and that at all times it is still an inanimate, infinitely malleable 'thing' subject to the will of its creators - that it doesnt become a living entity in its own right that ought to be held sacrosanct/respected/abided by, just because it now 'is' ...

That 'sacred cow' perspective leads to total paralysis in dealing with systems that are obviously dysfunctional, damaging, inequitable etc...

I think its a fallacy to say that just because these public officials were elected, we have given them carte blanche to do as they judge fit (even given that they have the best of intentions), and that if they start down a track that is obviously misguided, we just have to suck it up and hold fire until the next electoral season to hold them accountable and change direction...

The education system has been failing for the duration of many administrations now, and tinkering with something so badly broken obviously hasnt worked in the past, and this latest round of tweaking isnt going to fix things either... instead, our kids continue to be penalised by a situation they have done nothing to create ...

I dont think that taking our kids out of school is teaching them a negative lesson or showing disrespect for the system or any of our processes - it shows that we are taking responsibility for the fact that we recognise the system isnt working, that the people (our/public servants) are not acting in our childrens' best interests, that dialogue hasnt worked and that we are taking steps to put things to rights...

Its not as though I am advocating some form of violence to effect change - I'm saying that passive resistance/non-participation in a system that's not working can be an effective change mechanism - look at Gandhi's tactics...

Arguably, its an immoral act on our part as adults and guardians to keep our kids in schools and have them endure these damaging forced changes...

A good education should be a fundamental human right (as it is enshrined as such in The Netherlands Constitution, together with housing and medical care)... its something you really only get one shot at if you are aiming to nurture children into their fullest potential, and this generation of children in particular, is being short-changed by our dilly-dallying... we know so much now about learning, how it happens and what works and yet we are still tied to the most out-moded education models that still really have the aim of turning out mere (slightly more sophisticated) compliant cogs in the machine.

And its ridiculous and shocking in this state/country, that education is funded by property taxes, and if tax revenues go down, education services get chopped... what is it again, Washington is ranked 42nd in the country in education spending???

Why are we not appalled and ashamed by that statistic/reality, which root is were most of this problem stems from incidentally?

Why are we allowing that abuse of the most vulnerable and least vocal in our society (together with the elderly and disabled) to continue?

Why are we wasting our time, energy, money and other resources in scrapping with/begging the District to minimise the damage it deems necessary, when we could just as easily (and which is our duty to our children) direct our efforts to overhauling the whole system?

If we dont do it now, when will we?

Rudy D said...
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adhoc said...

"Its not as though I am advocating some form of violence to effect change - I'm saying that passive resistance/non-participation in a system that's not working can be an effective change mechanism -"

And I agree, Sahila. Though not my weapon of choice, passive resistance and non participation can be an effective mechanism to affect change. However, I do not believe that the "non participation" should involve our children. Kids should not be used as the pawns in this game. I think that refusing to send a child to school as a form or protest or political act is just plain irresponsible.

Dorothy said...

Taking your child out of school now, permanently, is a win for the district, they've already got their money. Your leaving frees up resources. The teacher wins because class size goes down. The other kids win because class size is down. It may be a win or lose for your child depending on what path you pursue for them.

Taking your child out of school temporarily doesn't do the district any harm at all right now (not til next school year's funding cycle). However it puts a burden on your child and on the teacher to make up the work they missed. It also puts a burden on the other students in the class --- having to deal with the distractions that come with not everyone being prepared.

Michael said...

"I think its a fallacy to say that just because these public officials were elected, we have given them carte blanche to do as they judge fit (even given that they have the best of intentions), and that if they start down a track that is obviously misguided, we just have to suck it up and hold fire until the next electoral season to hold them accountable and change direction... "

I agree with you, Sahlia, that it is wrong and that is not the way it should be, but the Courts see this differently. The Courts in this state would say that the elected body has both/either the explicit or implicit authority to do as they see fit (within the laws related to that type of entity). Just because you are "no respecter of authority just because its an established form of authority", quite frankly, just doesn't matter since that authority actually exists based on the existing system. Could you walk into the District and force staff to do your bidding? No - because you do not have the authority. I don't think anyone is asking you to respect their position - its just that you have to abide by and respect their electoral authority to be taken seriously.

But, again, I agree with you that the system should be the servant of the people, and I agree with your passion. Maybe I'm not involved enough, but what kind of non-participatory resistance would you engage in (or not engage in) that would actually force the Board to acquiesce? Move the kids to another district, or take them out for a day or two? The only way you as a citizen can fire the Board or make their political lives hell is to vote them out, start a recall campaign, etc. It has to hurt them politically for them to take notice.

I did not mean to imply that people have to "suck it up" and can only wait until the next electoral season to "hold them accountable and change direction." You can hold them accountable and force them to change by exposing what you believe is wrongheaded. Maybe that will be embarrassing enough to make them change direction, but maybe not. Keep shouting from the rooftops, like Charlie, until someone takes notice.

TwinMom2003 said...

Personally, this is where I'm coming from.

I do believe some closures do make sense. Schools that are in stage 5 with low enrollment seem kind of straight forward. If the building is in great condition then the district can keep the building and lease it out until "Excellence for all" is acheived and students are attracted back to the district.

For schools such as Summit that are doing okay and are all city draws a move to a central or easily accesible location makes sense.

For schools in the north where the lack of capacity is profound a complete closure does not make sense.

For schools such as Montlake that are popular and successful by any measure, and movement of their students would mean the expense of bussing vs. their current walk to school - closure makes no sense.

For all the rest I do believe a wait and more study is in order. As a point of thought if University Heights and Sandpoint in the NE Cluster had remainded open their enrollment alone would make up the 3.2 million the district is trying to save with school and program closures, with copious amounts of change left over.

From personal experience you can flood the district personnel and the board with common sense and logic but may receive as much notice as an annoying gnat to be flicked off ones shoulder.

However, numbers (parents and the community in support) coupled with media attention can work wonders.

If you are being ignored - flicked off the shoulder so to speak, you can responsibly protest and generate attention at the same time. As an example, an unexcused absence does cause the district a loss of income, while an excused absence does not. You can pull your kid out of school and not provide an excuse for the absence and it will cause the district a loss of funds but with too many absences will also go on your childs record and cause them long term consequences on their school record. Also, if you are doing this as an individual parent your protest will just go unnoticed. However, an excused absense (short term) does not have the adverse impact to your child and coupled with some sort of public spectacle such as a parade or march can certainly attract media attention to your cause.

Although it would attract a lot of attention I do not advocate, or personally would not involve young children in a march/parade as they are too young to be making the decision for themselves.

But to attract attention to your cause, I offer these thoughts...Perhaps a march originating from a high school in each cluster and culminating at the John Stanford Center, or City Hall, or some other centrally located and politically apt location.

You can hold this march in the middle of the day and provide an excused absence for your older children or hold it once school is over for the day.

Coordinate with all the parents you know and that they know, the PTSA if you can, spread the word and try to give at least a week or two notice to help generate a big turnout.

Alert the media -- the consumer reporters at the local tv stations, the radio stations, and the education and local reporters of the Times and PI and other local papers.

Be prepared -- Lots of communication with your march participants in advance on where to meet and when, signs to carry (check the spelling!), have your group spokes people identified ahead of time and direct any media enquiries to them, know your audience - Seattle has a high population of educated and articulate citizens, stay on message - be polite - be direct - be articulate.

Tap into the skills and expertise of those you know that are experts at the public message-- marketers, politicians, sales people, entrepreneurs. Ask for their help in crafting your message, what your signs will say, the nuances of your petition language, etc.

Have those parents who are passionate, articulate, and directly impacted by the proposed changes be your spokes people. They will be genuine in their emotion and message and that will come through to whomever they speak to.

So again, you can attract notice and attention for your cause in a positive manner so as not to alienate the district and harm your child, but simultaneously get you enough notice that you will not and can not be ignored.

Rudy D said...
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Charlie Mas said...

The District created APP. The program continues at the District's discretion. The program existence and quality is entirely dependent on the District. I happen to believe that we are about to have reliable APP for the first time EVER.

APP is not now reliable. In the absence of any written curriculum every teacher at Lowell has done his or her own thing. Some of the students, depending on their teachers, got a good education in math and some did not. Same for every other subject. The program at Washington hasn't been all that great and still isn't. It is essentially defined by Mr. Schmitz and Mr. Pounder. That's not a program; that's two individual teachers. The LA/SS is good, the science is dreadful, and there are no academically challenging electives for students who aren't in the instrumental music program. The program at Garfield was non-existent before Ted Howard became principal there.

So let's not pretend that we're leaving behind some sort of golden era for APP and entering a casino. It's quite the other way around. With a written, taught and tested curriculum we will have reliable APP for the first time EVER.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Want to protest? Four little letters - W -A -S - L. Take your child out of the WASL testing and when you write to the school to tell them you are (as they ask you to), tell them it's because you do not support closures, do not believe in what direction the Board/district are taking, whatever.

A mass exodus of students from the WASL would get their attention very, very quickly. It's legal, it's easy (especially in elementary/middle school where they do have to provide a place for your child to be if they opt out) and it certainly sends a message.

uxolo said...

This is not the time to point fingers at Bob Vaughan - for the good or the bad. He is a returning district employee and must go along with the supt.'s plan.

All of the good work that is to miraculously come of each and every school (improved classes at Hamilton, for example) could have happened at any point in time.

Closing buildings is a tiny figure in the budget deficit. Increasing class size and teacher:student ratio has to be the next step. Consolidating positions like "middle school director" and "high school director" would most likely be a way to reduce costs, too. Where's the PERT chart on all this?

Sahila said...

Oh Melissa -
what an irony to read your recommendation on how to protest effectively - take your kids out of the WASL, you say...

We at AS#1 have been doing that for a long time, and just see the flack we attract for that - here on these blogs even!

And so we are criticised for apparently poor academic performance (no stats or poor stats because of lack of participation in WASL), and that's used as an excuse to beat us around the head every couple of years with yet another threat/attempt to close us down!!!

Love it, love it, love it - insert heavy sigh!!!

Sahila said...

Adhoc - wanted to say I really liked your comment about this being a good time to cut class sizes to fill all those empty classrooms the District says we have! Doesnt fix a budget problem but moves miles forward towards actually implementing educational best practice and giving our children a better quality educational experience!

Keeping kids out of schools is not using them as pawns in a game...

Firstly, I dont see this situation as a game, and secondly would you allow your child to continue being treated in a medical facility after you become aware it's making seriously unwise decisions that are going to harm your child?

At the very least would you not tell doctors/staff to hold fire on treatment until you had a second opinion or a better solution had been agreed on?

And if that didnt work, wouldn't you discharge that child and take him/her elsewhere?

It seems to me that from an ethical standpoint, a parent/guardian would be obligated to take this action...

And, in this capitalist, user-pays, market-driven society, as a consumer/taxpayer dont you also have the responsibility to keep the system honest by withdrawing your patronage when things are going wrong?

And I dont agree that taking kids out of school as part of a protest campaign harms those childrens' future prospects.

In the grand scheme of things, a short period of absence from school is not going to have any negative consequences (as an analogy, as someone commented at our AS#1 community meeting on Dec 15 on the non-participation in the WASL issue, no one ever asks an adult what their WASL score was), and teaches children a huge lesson about civic involvment...

Please understand that this observation comes from an outsider who is accustomed to looking at life paths and personal and societal outcomes from a broader perspective than just the narrow foundation contributed by formal education.

Many people here in this country appear to me to be quite caught up in the fear that success in life (for their children) can only be attained through entry into and graduation from Ivy League/top tier schools. I understand that perspective and empathise with it and the difficulties of competition for comparatively few places. But I think 'education' and 'success' happens through many other avenues, so I am not so concerned with early academic/attendance records as other parents might be...

I dont think some time away from school is a life-critical event, but if parents feel strongly that it is, there are always ways to 'make up' missed time and teaching content...

I dont think that taking kids out and sending them to other school districts would make a difference - that's been happening for a long time already and SPS still hasnt made the connection (or refused to acknowledge it) and address the issues that are causing that flight...

I think taking kids out en masse, say for a day a week, every week, with marches and media attention, might be an effective method of generating very public attention to this matter. And the embarrassment of having this fiasco exposed on such a large stage might encourage the Board to listen to its constituents, vote the entire plan down and resolve to go back to looking at all of these interconnected issues from the ground up...

I dont see any other way of encouraging the Board or the District to begin to do things differently - SPS has been on this track for many years, as far as I can tell, and has continued on its way despite other forms of protest... In a democratic society, when other forms of communication/protest have failed boycott seems to me to be the plainest, clearest, least ambiguous method of exerting pressure for change...

Charlie Mas said...

Sahila, I was not aware that families at AS#1 were opting their children out of the WASL as a protest against some District action. I thought they were doing it for other reasons.

Moreover, I don't believe that the absence of WASL data has hurt the school so much as the absence of any data on academic achievement. No alternative was brought forward in lieu of the WASL.

Let's not confuse a perrenial refusal to assess student achievement based on a philosophical perspective with a one-time WASL boycott as a protest.

Sahila said...

Charlie - AS#1 does formally assess its students' progress.

I know for a fact that AS#1 has been using educationally accepted academic testing models for some years. I've seen past years and current (fall 2008) data - both raw and in report form - and that information is available to the District and anyone else who cares to ask for it - which calls into question your assertion that AS#1 has refused to provide WASL-alternative data on academic achievement at the school.

Its true that many of us at AS#1 are opposed to the WASL on educational philosophy grounds - which is about us attempting to maintain our educational integrity. And we get flack for that...

My response to Melissa's comment attempted to highlight the fact that when a community takes a stand based on an issue of integrity, that community gets criticised and that decision is used against them...

Its very ironic then to have someone espouse the very same action, coming from a different justification which has very little to do with maintaining a position of philosophical integrity...

It seems its not OK to refuse to take the WASL because of a deeply-grounded, directly relevant, educationally-sound, ethical viewpoint, but it is a valid strategy to opt out of the WASL to protest bureaucratic decisions that have little to do with educational philosophy or quality...

One stance is criticised and the other is encouraged... to my mind, there's not a lot of consistency in the logic and a whole bunch of expediency...

Dorothy said...

My comment is spurred by issues raised in two threads, this one and another, where Josh Hayes and Autismmom were discussing Special Ed dollars.

Charlie Mas is completely correct in the APP situation. My son was at Lowell 2000-2005 and that was definitely the case. No real effort to teach the kids at two years above grade level, no uniform math education, no uniform writing, or anything really. A lot of dioramas, using sculpy, glue sticks, posterboard and legos, but very little critical thinking. I have heard that the new principal has instituted a lot of reform. (Bob V left the district sometime around 2001. I had been disappointed in him and the Highly Capable office at the time, but really, he had good ideas and pushed good things, but was understaffed and how no power at all.)

Charlie also credits Ted Howard with APP at Garfield, said that it was "non-existent" before he arrived. Well, you may recall that one of the very first things Mr Howard did when becoming principal at Garfield was ask for an audit. Said audit showed that dollars that were supposed to be used for Special Ed or Title 1 or something like that were instead being used in a general way and were in fact supporting APP students disproportionally. He started the rule that kids could no longer sign up for more than one AP course in a given discipline, (like two AP Math or science classes at once) because the money wasn't there to support it. I do recall this led to a hew and cry and he wrote letters to go along with college applications to explain that weaknesses in the transcripts were due to budgetary constraints, not the student electing to take it easy. This was...? 4 or 5 years ago? What's the current situation? How was APP non-existent before Mr Howard was there? I know lots of kids who took all sorts of AP and rigorous classes at Garfield before Mr Howard arrived. What has he fixed? Has the financial situation changed?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sahila, you may have misunderstood my point. As per Charlie's comment, I was saying that if parents wanted to use a WASL boycott to make a point for a year or two, it is likely to be heard.

I myself took my children out of the WASL for years based on my lack of faith in the integrity of the test. So I wasn't just blowing smoke when I suggested boycotting the WASL in mass. (I've graduated one and the other one took the WASL his freshman year and passed so no ill effects were had.)

You said:

"I know for a fact that AS#1 has been using educationally accepted academic testing models for some years. I've seen past years and current (fall 2008) data - both raw and in report form - and that information is available to the District and anyone else who cares to ask for it - which calls into question your assertion that AS#1 has refused to provide WASL-alternative data on academic achievement at the school."

When the CAC visited schools 3 years ago for closures, the team that visited AS#1 asked for other academic performance documentation, knowing that the WASL scores would be low to non-existent. Sadly, they were given nothing and told it was based on individual performance folders. That wasn't enough to base school performance on so I have to wonder if information was available, why members of the committee were not given it.

Sahila said...

Melissa - thanks for your clarification re your WASL/protest comments...

As to why the CAC didnt get to see any stats - I cant answer that... I'm a new parent at AS#1...

I know that there was a change in principal at the school somewhere around 4-5 years ago... I know that philosophies/practices around testing/assessment are continually evolving at AS#1, accompanied by much discussion and some disagreement.

During the past two months, I have personally seen raw and report form individual, class and grade academic assessment data at AS#1 going back at least four years...

That data comes from testing and assessment models that are widely used in the American education sector - would need to dig through my pile of paperwork to find their names for you and am too lazy to do that on a Sunday afternoon!

The principal, myself and several other parents have had very recent meetings/discussions about how AS#1 measures up compared to WASL stats at other schools, and this aspect of the closure criteria.

We seem to be doing fine academically in the lower school, with some concerns at the middle school level. In an effort to address that, this year the school has hired specialist middle school teachers which decision was controversial within the school as educationally it seems to run counter to both our commitment to a multi-age learning environment structure and to maintaining the broadest general education possible for young people, rather than forcing specialisation too early.

One unique aspect of learning at AS#1, which may impact formalised test scores, is that 20% is taken straight off the top of formal instruction time every week, to enable all day experiential learning expeditions/field trips for each core every Friday.

How do you measure that kind of learning in a standardised test?

I personally am not interested in my youngster taking part in any kind of standardised, comparative testing...

I want a picture of him as a whole person. I want to know that he's happy and excited about being at school. I want to know what he's enjoying, what he's finding easy, what he's finding difficult, what his passions are, what (and why) his aversions are, what's being done to encourage his love of learning and his independence, that he's and active part of a healthy community that values, respects and supports him as an individual and that he has the emotional and social skills to self-regulate and to give back to the group...

I dont need to know how he's doing compared to another child or the average... I want to know how he's doing compared to the potential he has within himself and what needs to happen to help him maximise that potential in all aspects of his being...

I understand that schools need to be held accountable... however I think standardised testing scores are a very limited, misused, mechanism by which to gauge a school's 'success' at 'educating' our most valuable resource...

And participating in a flawed process enables its continuance, so when the time comes, I will choose not to have my child take part....

emeraldkity said...

How was APP non-existent before Mr Howard was there? I know lots of kids who took all sorts of AP and rigorous classes at Garfield before Mr Howard arrived. What has he fixed? Has the financial situation changed?


Dorothy,
My impression was before THII arrived @ Garfield- there were AP classes- my oldest who attended private prep schools, had several friends who transferred to Garfield for AP when they wanted a larger high school community.

( she also has friends who after attending APP with same cohort after eight + years, wanted the heck away and went to Franklin/Roosevelt/elsewhere.)

I don't know much more than that ,other than quite a few families were happy when Derse transferred.

Said audit showed that dollars that were supposed to be used for Special Ed or Title 1 or something like that were instead being used in a general way and were in fact supporting APP students disproportionally.

Been there, done that :p- I have been on budget committees where the principal had a poor handle on writing the budget and stated even though there were special education parents ( me) and teachers in the room, that if SPED money was used for other building/curriculum needs, it was AOK because ( SPED) students would benefit in " other" ways.

We arrived @ Garfield-Principal Howard's 1st year. He ( with teacher support and leadership) implemented supports for students to make up gaps in preparation.

My daughter, having started Garfield two years behind in math according to test results ( and not having gotten below a C or B in math classes), was able to catch up to grade level in two years with the assistance of these programs.( especially teachers who made themselves available)

Since it has been brought up elsewhere- I want to say that while she was the only caucasian girl in her section of math, quite a few of her friends from that class were also in her honors & AP courses through the rest of their time @ Garfield.
From our point of view- it is not as racially divided a school as some believe.

It was my impression that a few high schools, require students to be at or above grade level in all subjects, before they are allowed to take above level courses like AP/honors. I think this is a recipe for disaster because they need to be challenged as well as supported.

Mr Howard, wanted everyone to try AP if they were up for the challenge & I am happy to say- many took him up on that offer- although I know not as many as he would have liked.

Can't speak to the money part- but I would agree that since we don't have unlimited funding- student graduation and college prep requirements need to be met first. We can't have some students taking 6 courses, when others have 5 or less.

If one student needs a support class to get up to grade level as my daughter did, should money be spent for that, or should it be to offer classes so students can take two lab sciences at a time?

I realize the answer should be both- just as when applying to college and students ask " what is more important, my grades or test scores?", but we have a finite pot of money to hire teachers, and our school buildings are only so big.

Because of the support class that was offered , my daughter graduated with honors and was accepted to all the colleges she applied.

If a student was limited to only AP physics one year, instead of AP physics and chem, she is still going to be accepted at the same colleges if that is what her high school offers.
Colleges don't expect you to take classes your school doesn't make available- but they do expect you to be able to do college work.

( oh BTW- I aligned my blog name with my user name on other sites. Formerly known here as Classof75)

Charlie Mas said...

The Garfield principals before Mr. Howard reckoned that since there were no classes specifically for APP students at Garfield that Garfield didn't have a program. They refused to offer 9th and 10th grade Honors classes for language arts and social studies, so APP students had to repeat work they had done in middle school.

Dorothy said...

Emeraldkitty. I agree with you. I wasn't giving an opinion about the audit and results, I was stating the facts as I remembered them. I thought Ted Howard was very professional about it all. I do not think that kids ought to be getting both AP Calc and AP Stats in one year while other kids can't get math support classes scheduled. It's especially bad if the money came in earmarked to help the kids needing support. Yes, both groups well served is the best, but we know funding isn't great so I was wondering what the current policies were, is the funding adequate to reinstate the more generous AP policy and fully fund the other needs as well? My neighbor's son was at GHS before Howard (and took both Latin and Greek at once, IIRC, Greek as independent study.) It wasn't just that they were happy with Derse gone (they were). There was a lot of instability (and some scandal) with principals, numerous principals for a number of years before Mr Howard arrived. (Oh, and this kid had just moved here from Louisiana, public school there as well. Thought that the racial tension/situation at GHS was much uglier, worse than anything he experienced in LA or elementary school in TX.)

Charlie, thanks for the clarification. I was aware of the LA9 "Honors for all" situation, but was under the impression that was the most egregious problem. Gotta say though, the more its a program and not just a cohort with access to advanced classes, then it is more of a problem that kids can't test in at the HS level.

another mom said...

A correction to Charlie's comments about GHS course offerings. For many years as entering freshman, APP students took honors World History. A real honors course taught by now the retired Warren Anderson. It was a very rigorous class that came with the kind of challenge APP students had not faced,even those who'd had Schmitz at WMS. Anderson required students to write a major research paper. Most kids did not know what a term paper was, and some had not be required to write much at all since the fifth grade. Anderson actually taught students how to write. Sophomores would then take AP European History, for which Anderson had carefully prepared them. This was not a repetition of earlier work. My understanding is that those classes continue to be offered and are not the exclusive domain of APP, nor should they be. The History Department and L.A. "honors for all" really cannot be compared. Freshman and sophomore L.A. courses were -in most cases- pathetic for the entire student body not just APP students. Many,many sophomores took journalism rather than the standard L.A. class. Might still be the case.

hschinske said...

There is an honors English course now, and it's not a bad course, either, but as there is no other selection possible except remedial courses, I don't know that "honors" is really quite the right term for it. But it used to be that all 9th-graders at Garfield took what was essentially remedial English, and it was a pretty silly state of affairs, from what I have heard.

Helen Schinske