Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama's Speech and Education

So I watched Obama's speech and listened for what he might say on education. He had a fair amount to say. In his speech:
  • He said there would be a $2500 college tuition tax credit. Great but here's this from MSN's Smart Money:
"The Obamas -- who were still saddled with student loans well into their 30s -- are also likely to take a stab at whittling down college debt. Obama wants to more than double the $1,800-a-year tax credit for college tuition and fees, which would apply to families making up to about $115,000 a year. But "things are never as simple as they seem," notes Lauren Asher, the vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success. In the past, for-profit colleges have often either raised tuition or decreased their own student aid to offset such gains in federal aid. For now, most college funding advisers are assuming that strapped parents won't see much relief."

Still, not everyone goes to a for-profit college so it may help.
  • He wants charters. Sigh. I personally don't like them mostly because of how unregulated they are depending on the state. I also don't like that because there is so much range in quality and offerings, charters are not any better than regular public schools. I can't see pouring money into another system if there are not across-the-board proven results (and this ties into something else he said). However, he and his Education Secretary, Arnie Duncan, have also said that they mean quality, success charter schools. How they can enact that state-to-state is hard to say.
  • The tie-in to helping programs that work is that Obama said he and his team are going through every program to find savings and they will cut programs that don't work (bye-bye NCLB?). So I would take that to mean they will support charter programs that ARE successful and not just anyone who says, "Hey kids, let's open a school."
  • He wants to give teachers who do well bonuses. He said it this way:
"...new incentives for teacher performance, pathways for advancement, and rewards for success."
(I'm going to play devil's advocate here so this is not necessarily what I think.) If you look at almost any industry, people get bonuses for good work (awards, grants, whatever you want to call it). Somehow teachers are fearful of this. But everyone's work gets examined so why not teachers? On the other hand, teachers are charged with teaching kids from across the spectrum and who have issues or life situations that the teacher can do absolutely nothing about. Maybe teaching IS very different from other occupations. I'm on the fence here.
  • He got major applause for this line:
" And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself; it's quitting on your country."

It's a little echo of Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you" line. With Obama in office (and his backstory which is not one of wealth or privilege), it might help for kids to be told that giving up on school hurts more than just themselves.

49 comments:

MathTeacher42 said...

Bonus pay ?? You mean like the vaunted PRIVATE SECTOR! The people who figured out how bonuses get the best out of people in the mortgage industry? the defense contractors? the auto industry? big oil? the hedge funds? the steel industry? (OOPS! that doesn't exist anymore! nevermind that one!)

Hey! I have an idea! When I worked at Microsoft 9 years ago, and when I worked at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston 24 years ago, we were paid relatively well compared to many others. And, in order to get that extra piece of bonus and those extra shares of options, people spent all kinds of time in hte bosses office sticking it in the backs of their co-workers

because it is a LOT easier to make other people look bad than to make a better mouse trap!

I'd take competitive pay in heartbeat, IF and ONLY IF there was an objective method of PROVING who did better for the customers and the organization. There isn't.

This idea is a RIGHT WING LIE that is 1 part of their incessant attempts to destroy the ladder of opportunity called public education.

Robert Murphy

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

Oh for heaven's sake. Competitive pay for teachers is NOT a right wing plot. MathTeacher42 may have something against private industry, but the truth is that American private industry has been very successful.

If teachers want respect and high pay like other professions, they are going to have to accept pay that is to some degree based on performance. As long as teachers maintain that their work is "different" from other professions, it will be "different" all right -- low pay, low respect and long hours. And less than optimal outcomes for kids.

Also -- about charter schools. I totally agree with Obama. Seattle public schools has been pretty unsuccessful serving kids at the low end of the socioeconomic scale. Closing down unsuccessful schools is about all they've been able to do. The public system just does not have the money or the flexibility to do the job right. Charters have been maligned because some don't work. But remember that some work very very well! And moaning that it's toooo hard to figure out which ones are good is not a good excuse. Bring what works to struggling kids!

dan dempsey said...

I agree with Murphy. Who decides on the merit? There are too many variables. Look at the School Board's attempts to outline what MG-J needs to do to get her performance bonuses. Sure they could do as good or poor a job for the teachers of 45,000 students ... and then determine who is worthy of bonus and who isn't. Who is kidding who on this one? These people can not even follow their own school board policies.

In regard to all the great spending ideas coming forth from this administration note: during the Campaign all that was needed to pay for it all was to increase taxes on the wealthiest 2%. (If you taxed the wealthiest 2% the entire amount as in a tax rate of 100% of their taxable income it would increase collections by $1.1 trillion still not enough to cover the spending.)

Houston we have a problem does anyone recognize it?

emeraldkity said...

the past, for-profit colleges have often either raised tuition or decreased their own student aid to offset such gains in federal aid. For now, most college funding advisers are assuming that strapped parents won't see much relief

Students that attend for profit college make up 6% to 9% of students attending college- while that certainly is a number to be concerned about- is it enough of a number to throw the baby out with the bathwater?

dan dempsey said...

Dear Isabel,

I like your sentiments and involvement but the data hardly supports your assumptions.

#1 You said: "As long as teachers maintain that their work is "different" from other professions, it will be "different" all right -- low pay, low respect and long hours. And less than optimal outcomes for kids."

k-12 education at one point was around 50% of state funding. It is now barely above 40% and WA funding which was once near the top ten is now closer to the bottom 10. We remain among the states with the largest class sizes of all. The SPS Superintendent does not see class size as a priority.

See what the "NEWS" lawsuit brings. It goes to court in June.

Unfortunately your belief that charters will bring optimal outcomes for all students does not hold up under scrutiny.

Most of a school's success depends on who is educated. Charters often times separate the "low income" students simply by parent preferences. Those students whose parents wish to volunteer and get involved have students in Charter school A while those unwilling to volunteer do not. Let's not be too amazed that those selective charters have better results. Does that increase the overall performance for all schools... NO.
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#2 You said: "If teachers want respect and high pay like other professions, they are going to have to accept pay that is to some degree based on performance."

How will this performance be judged?
Where will the additional funding come from?
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#3 You said: "Seattle public schools have been pretty unsuccessful serving kids at the low end of the socioeconomic scale.

Look at some WASL data for Bellevue 4th graders in Math. For Black students or low income students.. Bellevue does no better than Seattle.
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#4 If you wanted improvement in the SPS a big step forward would be to have the State Law and School Board policies respected.

a. School Board policies D44.00 and D45.00 require merited promotion instead we have social promotion. The promotions are to be based on required necessary skills. Currently the SPS will not even define the skills ... just like the last decade.

b. State law RCW 28A 600.020 the classroom disruption law is ignored by both the SPS admin and the SEA union.
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#5 An additional step forward would be selecting appropriate text books.

In the SPS policies to narrow the achievement gap in math in actual fact saw it get wider because the policies produced in math exceptionally poor materials. This is continuing. The problem is with the actual content and how it is taught. This has nothing to do with the politically correct screening instruments used in the textbook adoption policies. The texts with proven records of success are routinely screened out, while those that have failed elsewhere are often approved and adopted.

The central office continually emphasizes "Differentiated Instruction" as the solution ... and yet in math there is little evidence this works. Check out "2 million minutes" video on India for a peek at what works elsewhere.
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#6 Publishers lie so stop listening to them.

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If anyone thinks Charters are the solution, I say yes... for some students they might be. On the other hand it is unfortunate that we have lost control of our public institutions. I am willing to accept that WA DC is a mess and that Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, and the Bush pseudo-regulators put us in the crapper and there seems little we can do about it. Yes we can elect Obama but will that make things significantly better or worse.. no one knows at this point.

Public schools should be more responsive than WA DC. Unfortunately many are not. Look at the SPS circus. The promotion / non-promotion policy was finally going to be discussed. It was the number 2 item on the agenda for the Curriculum and Instruction meeting on Monday. It did not even get covered. No time could not get to it ... so our "de facto" social promotion policy remains firmly in place. The SPS is ignoring the State math standards k-8 this year. There are no performance expectations that exist in classrooms on which promotion is based or on which lessons are taught. "Everyday Math" Pacing Plan Chaos reigns.
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Sorry I do not see charters as a fix that will alleviate these glaring deficiencies so evident in the SPS. If I did I would be all for them.

What I would really like to know is why we are unable to gain any reasonable control over our public schools? We are unable to wrestle control away from the publishers and vendors ( and in some case administrators) so that we can provide a better education for students.
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Off Task.... I have a really hard time with the MG-J contract extension. In particular the idea that she could receive performance bonuses. You mean for $264,000 per year we might not receive her best effort without those bonuses. The board did not follow their own policies as this Introduction/action slam dunk took place at one meeting.

Do you get my drift on losing control of our institutions? This vote was clearly in violation of SPS board policies and that was pointed out by two speakers in testimony that evening. Then the board voted 7-0.

Please someone explain that one to me.... Whatever do these people think about? Did any of these directors mention they were planning on blatantly ignoring board policy if elected?

If they can not follow their own rules what can they do? Are these folks role models for our children?

The administration can not follow the Strategic Plan. The directors hold no one accountable for this.

Strategic Plan, State Laws, School Board policies are just not important .... no charters will not solve this.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't think that Charter schools are either an evil plot to overthrow universal free public education nor do I believe that they are a panacea. Some are good, some are not.

The concern about Charters has more to do with oversight than with profit. I think we would be comfortable with them if they were given more oversight. Freedom and experimentation appear more exposed to failure, but given the current failure rate, I wonder if the chance isn't worth it.

I wonder if Charter school proponents wouldn't be satisfied by a District policy that granted a charter (as it were) to new alternative public schools based on objectively measured criteria.

If Seattle Public Schools were more open to the creation of new alternative school programs we wouldn't need Charter schools here. The alternative schools could fill that niche. But instead of creating new, additional alternative schools, the District is shutting down alternative schools.

Would the District allow the creation of a school like Summit today? Of AS#1? Of the AAA?

Would the District, for that matter, allow the creation of TOPS or The Center School or The New School (now called South Shore)?'

There is no clear path or criteria for the creation of a new program, yet I sense the latent demand for several. Who can come forward with a proposal for a new alternative elementary school and ask the District for a vacant building to house that new program? By what criteria should the District base the decision to start a program or not? These determinants are not clear, but they should be.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

You said: "By what criteria should the District base the decision to start a program or not?"
... seems quite clear .. answer is NOT.

What also seems very clear is a drive toward uniformity. Lock step uniformity seems to be where the SPS is headed. Alternatives??? those stand little chance given current direction.

It seems that most charters have less bureaucratic bloat. (This is good.)

Until either the State and Seattle get a better handle on the funding of public schools, or the district learns how to select better materials, it is unlikely we will see much academic improvement in our schools from year to year.

adhoc said...

It's hard to think about Seattle opening any schools, charter or otherwise, immedietly after we just adjusted capacity by closing schools.

And as for the future, unless Seattle's school population grows instead of declines as predicted, we won't be adding any new schools, charter or otherwise, anytime soon.

Personally I don't think schools needed to be closed. I think schools that were not attracting enough families and/or were performing well below standard should have been temporarilty closed and then re-invented as new programs that would attractive to families. perhaps Charter schools could have played a role if we took this route?

Or perhaps we could take this route in the future. When schools fail for whatever reasons, underenrollment, poor performance, etc, we could look at converting that school to a charter. I would welcome it!

Charlie Mas said...

I'm serious about this. There are a number of vacant buildings right now. I recognize that the District regards them as uninhabitable, but there they are nonetheless. As a bonus, a lot of them are centrally located (Minor, King, Mann, John Marshall, McDonald, Lincoln, and Old Hay). There are a lot of others as well, such as Sand Point, Viewlands, Wilson-Pacific, Columbia, Van Asselt, Cedar Park, and Hughes.

There are people who can come up with proposals for an alternative programs that would be popular. I think the demand is out there for a middle school that focuses on math and science (and teaches math with a more traditional pedagogy) or a K-8 that follows the Waldorf model, or a KIPP-type school. I also think that the District would be philosophically okay with these, but the District's problem would be money. Not the money for the Basic Education expenses - they can come up with that if the program can attract enough students. But there two or threee other kinds of money that would have to appear:
1) Money to make the building ready for students.
2) Money for transporation.
3) Money for extras.

The New School, now South Shore, got the money it needed for its building and for transportation from the District. The extras are covered by The New School Foundation.

I have to wonder if there were a group who wanted to start a KIPP school in the Columbia building, would the District cover the basic education expenses, the in-cluster transportation costs and, in a few years (under BEX IV), the capital costs of renovation, if the additional expenses of a KIPP program were covered from outside?

I'm confident that money for a KIPP school in southeast Seattle could be raised among the local usual philanthropic suspects.

Would the District allow a school to operate in the KIPP style with the additional rules, the extended day and the contract? I think they would. It's not fundamentally different from the extended day at Aki Kurose or the expectations put on students at NOVA. Would they allow the KIPP school to hire the teachers it needs?

So do we need Charter schools or do we just need a clear, consistent set of rules for creating new programs?

Danny K said...

Charlie, how can you have a KIPP school outside of a charter? One of the main points of such a school is that both the children and the teachers are held to a very high standard and can be kicked out if they don't measure up. I just don't see how that's possible in a regular public school.

On the other hand, there have been some really heinous stories published in the Washington Post about charter schools there that seem to be actually investment vehicles for well-connected local developers.

I guess I'd be more positive about charters if:
a) the district had a better track record of watching over schools (that's the key concept surrounding charters... they're accountable, they go away if they're not getting results).

b) Seattle and Washington State government weren't so prone to dance to the developer's tune.

Until a and b change, I'd be worried about letting charters into the mix.

adhoc said...

I have heard (and I could be wrong) that alt schools were generally started by groups of parents that believed in a certain style of education and went to the district with their proposal to start a new school/program. The proposals were for the most part parent initiated, parent driven and pretty much parent run. I can't think of even one alt school that the district decided to "start" on there own.

If a group of parents proposed a new alt school today, and the proposal included placing it in an area of the city that needed more capacity I wonder if they would consider it?

As for the Waldorf model - a group did bring the district a proposal for a Waldorf k-8 some 7 or 8 years ago when the district began looking into adding new programs such as Montessori and immersion. The Waldorf community was very excited about the proposal, and the district seriously considered it, but I'm not sure what happened with it or why it never came about? It might be worth investigating?

All in all though I have to wonder if as a society we are moving away from our attraction to and desire for alt schools. The alt schools that are the most popular in our district today are the alt schools that are the closest to traditional schools, like TOPS, Thornton Creek, and Salmon Bay. And there have been no proposals in recent years to start any new alt schools. In fact it appears that there has been a new shift or movement toward neighborhood schools.

Charlie Mas said...

Danny, I specifically selected the KIPP model as a prospective alternative school precisely because I thought it presented the greatest challenges and divergences from the District's business as usual. Yet I believe that even a KIPP-type school is possible in Seattle if people were open to allowing it and if people invested the effort to overcoming the obstacles it presents to the district administration, the unions, and the community.

It would be a WHOLE lot easier to open a math/science focused middle school in an unused portion of Aki Kurose, Rainier Beach High School or the South Shore building. It wouldn't require any capital expense, it wouldn't require any fussing with the union contract and it would bring students into an under-utilized facility. Transportation could be by METRO, which, while not free, at least doesn't cost as much as yellow buses.

My point was to suggest the outside limit of possibility rather than the high probability option.

Michael Rice said...

Hello

As a middle aged career switcher, with 25 years of accounting and finance experience before becoming a teacher, I think about performance pay and bonuses for teachers all the time. It is a very interesting topic. I don't know how to quantify what we do and what measures success as a teacher. I would be very interested in any sort of bonus for outstanding performance, but smarter people than me can't decide on what that is or how to define it. Lt me give you (a slightly tongue-in-cheek) example.

Let's say we have two teachers. We will call the first one, Mr. Rice, who teachers math at a mostly minority, low socio-economic school as evidenced by the 65% Free and reduced lunch. Most of his students come to him below grade level as freshmen, evidenced by their low middle school WASL math scores (mostly 1's). Mr. Rice works hard and does his best, but when these students take the 10th grade WASL, they score mostly 2's. These students have improved, but still have not met standard.

We have another high school math teacher, call him Mr. Mas. Mr. Mas teaches in the same district but at a different school with a different demographic (mostly white, with 15% free and reduced lunch). The students come to Mr. Mas at or above grade level, as evidenced by their high middle school WASL math scores. Mr. Mas works hard and does his best and when these students take the 10th grade WASL, most of the pass, just like they did in middle school with 3's and 4's.

Who is the better teacher? Who is deserving of bonus or performance pay? Should anyone lose their job because while Rice's students improved, they did not meet standard and Mas's students met standards, but really did not improve.

I don't have the answer, I just wanted to post a situation that shows the difficultly in quantifying what constitutes successful teaching.

I would love to hear all suggestions.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Michael Rice's example only touches on the various factors that can affect any teacher's "performance."

Some teachers have tons of parents clamoring to help in the classroom, so little of their time is wasted making photocopies, or spread thin. Teacher A may have a number of trouble-makers in her class, while Teacher B has none. Teacher C has a number of students with mild learning disabilities (not enough to be "official"); Teacher D has none. These types of comparisons could go on ad infinitum.

Classrooms can't be compared apples to apples and thus neither can teachers. It would take constant observation by a qualified principal to truly evaluate a teacher's worth—something our current system could not afford in either time or money.

To me, that makes the subject of bonus pay a non-starter. We'd be better off ensuring a quality standard of living for teachers (adjusted for the area in which they live) and, perhaps, additional pay for those willing to work in less desirable schools/neighborhoods. Though I don't know how you could keep "bad" teachers from taking the money and running.

It is a dilemma to be sure.

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

Hope and fear. You've got to ask yourself -- are you forming an opinion based on hope or fear?

Charlie's comments about the possibilites for KIPP or other potentially popular charter-ish schools is all about hope! These are some GREAT ideas!

But that fears like Danny K's and Dan Dempsey's just throw the baby out with the bathwater. Hope for kids trumped by fear of "developers", or "selective charters". Not good.

And I have enough faith in our teachers that they could peer review each other and come up with decent performance ratings. If you're being reviewed by your teaching peers, they are going to know how hard you've worked and how successful your classroom is -- especially if you're working with a tough group of kids. I think submitting to this kind of performance review is certainly worth the extra $$$ that will come attached to it.

dan dempsey said...

Isabel,

You said: "You've got to ask yourself -- are you forming an opinion based on hope or fear?"

I hope I am forming my opinions based on the reality of a complex situation that is in need of a well thought out solution.

Where do these extra dollars come from? Ever since the State Teachers strike in the mid 1980s we have seen a dwindling of dollars relative to other states. WA class sizes are around #47 out of 50 and $$$ per student rank in the bottom 10 nationally I believe.

I just do not see charters as a cure.
Why is the public too timid to demand that the SPS follow the law and board policies?

This seems like a bizarre way to attempt to solve a state problem and a Seattle problem produced by SPS rogue administrations with school board support.

It takes more than hope it takes an actionable plan with appropriate resources. I fail to see charters as satisfying this requirement at this time. Rather I see a charter movement as abandoning many students stuck in the SPS. Why not fix the SPS?

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Here is a closing thought on salaries and respect:

So, what does it take to make a good math teacher? The 2006 PISA report makes it clear: in all best performing countries teachers are drawn from the top ranks of graduates. As one of the South Korean policymakers put it, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.“ America recruits teachers from the bottom 30% of high school students going to college. South Korea recruits primary school teachers from the top 5% of graduates from their school system, Finland from the top 10%, Singapore and Hong Kong from the top 30%. Teacher’s training is hard to get into. Finland, which is one of the countries where all new teachers must have a master’s degree, has developed a new selection process, involving, among others, several subject examinations, tests for communication skills, willingness to learn, academic ability and motivation for teaching. In the top countries, teaching is a high-status profession. There is a traditional respect for education and for teachers in most of the Asian countries. In other top countries, the high status of teaching comes from the fact that it is also a very competitive profession and there are funds for good starting salary for each trainee teacher (because there are few of them). Many countries have made significant changes in their recruiting policies and have transformed the status of the teaching profession in just few years (England).

owlhouse said...

Isabel,
I absolutely hope that we in Seattle will not allow our public system to be co-opted by the testing-centered, discipline heavy, pseudo-philanthropic charters such as KIPP. I fear the further decline of critical-thinking, analysis, creativity, holistic development, internal/external respect, and foundational knowledge if we do. You can find a short list of KIPP concerns at Schools Matter

My hope lies in the ability of parents, teachers, students and community members to guide our school board and district towards policies, curriculum and programming aimed at serving student needs.

I have an informed fear of Arne Duncan's leadership in public education. Chicago is a mess, and the idea that charters and military schools are solutions, frightens me. I'm holding out some small hope, but generally, think seasoned teachers, not lawyers, are best suited to lead our local and national school systems.

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

Owlhouse --
Part of the deal with charter schools is that one size does not fit all. If you like the "creative, holistic, internal/external respect" type of school, then I hope there's one available for your kid. But if you need a proven way to climb out of poverty, then I hope KIPP is available for you.

There should be a range of school choices available. That is especially important in our land of extremes of wealth, education and preparation for school. Charter schools provide the kind of choice some families really need -- even if it's too "discipline-heavy" for your family.

There we go again -- posting "charters frighten me..." We need another approach guys!

Dan -- Thinking that accepting charters is "abandoning" public schools is totally in the fear camp. Of course that's not the case. Just because you "fail to see charters" as a solution (partial or otherwise) doesn't mean the rest of us have to settle for that.

adhoc said...

I agree with Isabel 100%.

How can Owlhouse rationalize that just because a kipp school doesn't suit his/her tastes it shouldn't be an option for any other families in the district? Why should Owlhouse's preference trump anyone else's? Does Owlhouse know what every community wants? What every child needs? His/her mentality is another prime example of how Seattle is so liberal it's conservative.

Personally I would never go for a kipp school - it wouldn't work for my child. Like Owlhouse I don't want a discipline heavy, test centered environment for my child. But I acknowledge that some families do. Check out some of the Central area schools that shun recess, PE, art and music for more academic classroom time, that do WASL prep all year long, that wear uniforms, and practice walking silently through the halls with their "hands on hips and fingers on lips". Though this model wouldn't work for Owlhouse or I, it does work for many families. And isn't it their right to make this choice for their children just as much as it is our right to make different choices for your children?

And just as a Kipp school wouldn't work for my child neither would some of our already established liberal alt schools. I wouldn't go for an alt school that boycots the WASL, lacks all form of discipline and thinks that all outside partnerships are conspiracies.

Please folks, at least try to be open minded and consider that different families have different needs. What works for you might not work for me. And try to acknowledge that that is really OK. It is what makes a choice system thrive.

I still wonder why this district does not survey families to find out what they want. At least they would have some beacon or reference to guide them in exploring new options. Maybe then the loud protests of the few won't be able to be so disruptive.

AutismMom said...

What's the difference between an "alternative" school, which can have it's own "charter" or mission, and a "charter" school? As near as I can tell, the only difference is that a charter school is allowed to cheap out... and hire/fire non-union.

So, the question is, do we really think the unions are to blame for the educational problems we face? And if so, why not just get rid of them? If we did that, every "alternative" school would really just be a charter school, and every other traditional school would also get the benefits of non-unionization... assuming they exist. I'm not assuming anything.

Josh Hayes said...

I think Autism Mom has hit the nail on the head: it's about the unions. And for anyone already suspicious of standardized testing as a means to ascertain the "success" of a school, the idea of charter schools, the continued existence of which depends solely on the results of such tests, is anathema.

And adhoc raised an interesting point about halfway through this thread, which I quote here:

"And as for the future, unless Seattle's school population grows instead of declines as predicted, we won't be adding any new schools, charter or otherwise, anytime soon."

With all due respect, I don't think this is correct: I think everyone agrees that Seattle's school-age population will grow, and substantially. Maybe what adhoc means, is that the question is, will those kids be going into SPS, or will they be heading off into other options? I don't think anyone knows, but I don't want to give the impression that the age 5-18 cohort is expected to shrink in Seattle in the future: it isn't, and I think the demographic projections uniformly support the idea of expected growth in school-age populations.

TechyMom said...

I think the appeal of charter schools to a lot of people is the chance to go off and try out a new idea without a bunch of rules. In general, I think unions are a good thing, but they do impose rules, and rules that don't have exceptions. When you have a rule without exceptions, you will eventually encounter a case where an exception makes sense. And then, the rule and the rule-maker seem illogical, irrational, lacking in compassion, or obstructionist. Of course, district bureaucracies also create such rules, with the same issues. When you're trying to build a program with a special focus, having to ask a proscribed set of interview questions seems illogical, for example. You might want to ask questions and follow ups that will help you gage the passion of the candidate for the mission.

A lot people find the idea of creating an experiment in education compelling. People did it here with Alternative Schools, in my home town with an Arts Magnet, and other places with charters.

But, the comes the argument, one we've heard here about AS1, that the public doesn't know if its dollars are well-spent. How do we measure success of one of these "special" schools against regular schools, or compare the "special" schools. Oh, look, we're already doing standardized testing, lets use that. Doesn't match with your school's philosophy? Deal if you want our money. Now, new schools are being created as charters, with the testing built in. Would the families who created AS1 create a school that was required for its very existence to do well on standardized tests? Probably not. Families at TOPS or TAF Academy or AAA might not mind as much, and might decide it's an annoyance they can tolerate.

Personally, what I think we should do (maybe I'll even get around to it) is to write a paper describing how Seattle's Alternative Schools meet the same goals as the Charters in other cities, while using union labor. I think the Obama administration would very interested in that, as they seem to be in favor of unions in general. The one problem I see is that we still don't have a way to measure the success of an alternative school, other than a standardized test which doesn't cover most of what that school teaches. The alternative checklist document is a descriptive document, not a measurement tool, and I doubt that there is consensus on that document from everyone involved in the alternative schools.

There does need to be something that fills the need for experiments to find new best practices, and the need for niche programs for students who can't do their best work in a traditional school. I'm less concerned about the mechanism (charter vs. magnet vs. alternative) than about filling those needs.

I'm not sure that a charter school, by having a charter or contract, has to use non-union labor?

Melissa Westbrook said...

The UW Center for Reinventing Education highly favors charters and has done a lot of research on them. That might be a good place to start.

Please don't forget - unions provide safety for workers. Unions gave us the 40-hour work week and vacations and helped eliminate child labor.

I don't think charters can't have unions - that's another area for research. But, I think the fundamental idea of a charter, doing thing differently, might preclude unions especially if the costs are higher.

All of this speaks to unions either evolving or increasingly becoming dinosaurs.

owlhouse said...

Iasbel-
You and I agree that we need another approach. Maybe you missed the second part of my post, where I say I'd like public input and responsive leaders. We don't have that currently, and are moving the public system towards the standard "one size fits all." Why should charters, privately managed, not accountable to citizen or elected oversite, fill this need? Why not develop parameters for innovative options with in the public system?

Adhoc and Isabel seem to see KIPP as a "choice"- and are bothered by my opposition to it. While I wouldn't assume that I know what every child or family wants/needs in education, I do know that abusive, punitive, developmentally-inappropriate practices should not be given tax incentives and federal/state/local money to operate schools. Programs that can be selective in student acceptance, expel students without cause or close mid-year with no responsibility for serving displaced students- hurt students and the public system. I have yet to see research showing KIPP as a "proven way to climb out of poverty." We do have research on the long-term value of collaborative problem solving, arts education and even play.

Personally, I find it closed-minded to think that those of us who object to privatized public education are closed-mined or somehow not seeing the full picture. I see the need for change, and believe that students will be best served when new options are available with in the public system.

Melissa- It's been a while since I looked at the backers funding the work at the UW Center. I appreciate much of their work, but remember noting a conflict of interest a couple years ago. And, there are a handful of charters that have unionized. Organizing teachers have faced intimidation, being fired, sanctions and the like.

Megan Mc said...

Wow, what a complex thread!

Performance pay for teachers - most people can recognize outstanding teachers. They're the ones who spend endless hours on their lesson plans, are always changing up their curriculum, have fun and exciting things for their kids to do, and have meaningful relationships with their students. Its about time spent in preparation, creativity, and personal professional development. These teachers stand out and should be paid for their hard work (as a bonus at the end of the year).
As for the rest, you have teachers who do exactly what their job requires and not much else. They are good at their job in that they go through the prescribed lessons at the prescribed times and follow through on all the rest of the administrative jobs they are required to do. They should receive a respectable base pay and it should not be tied to the performance of their students. As others have pointed out, students walk into a class at different levels and no teacher should be held accountable for that. Teaching is hard and all-consuming even when you don't go above the minimum requirements. The people who stick it out should be well compensated but not better than the ones who truly make it an art form.

There has to be consideration made for the personal connections that teachers form with their students. How do you measure that? Every day there are teachers making a difference in the lives of their students and their families that have nothing to do with academics. If we make performance pay all about academics what happens to the teachers who are skilled in personal connections? These are often the teachers that convince high risk kids to stay in school, are able to change negative behavior and turn a kid around. They are the ones who find referral services for kids and families in need. Sometimes they are the only positive and caring influence in a kids life. If we only value the academic side of teacher performance then you risk turning schools into brain factories that will only work with kids who have healthy supportive home lives.

Megan Mc said...

How to measure alternatives? Well, I certainly hope (but I am not holding my breath) that the district follows through on its promise to conduct an alternative school's audit.

I believe that close personal relationships between students and teachers is one of the things that Alternative schools grew up around. Families that choose alternatives like AS#1 want their kid in a school where personal relationships with teachers are just as important as academic delivery.

I don't just want my kids to come home with a bunch of facts at the end of the day. I want them to develop social awareness and personal responsibility and self-awareness, too. These are important skills that can be developed using curriculum as a vehicle but it cannot be taught solely through math facts and phonics or the water cycle.

Like I said, kids who come from healthy supportive families will get most these needs met at home and would probably do fine in a brain factory. Its the kids who don't have healthy home lives or who have mental health issues that need personal relationships more than they need the academics (the academics they can always pick up when they are ready - even if it is as an adult. The other parts are much harder to develop later).

adhoc said...

"While I wouldn't assume that I know what every child or family wants/needs in education, I do know that abusive, punitive, developmentally-inappropriate practices should not be given tax incentives "

Can you please be specific. Blanket statements like this are meaningless without facts and data to back them up. What exactly are KIPP school doing that is abusive? Punitive? Developementatlly inapporpriate?

All of the facts and data that I can find on kipp schools seem to show that they are working in low income and minority communities.

From the kipp website:

Students, their parents, and the faculty of each KIPP school choose to participate in the program. No one is assigned or forced to attend a KIPP school.

KIPP schools are tuition-free open enrollment public schools. Students are accepted regardless of background or academic record on a first-come, first-served basis.

Along with a focus on core academics, KIPP teachers also have include extra-curriculars such as art, music, physical education, and unique elective classes in areas such as entrepreneurship.

In order to motivate kids to be in school for the KIPP extended day, there needs to be an extra hook in there to keep them interested. At KIPP, teachers often use techniques such as singing, chanting, and movement to make classroom lessons engaging. By making learning both relevant and fun, teachers greatly improve their ability to reach students.

90 percent of Kipp students are African American or Latino.

Average daily attendance at KIPP schools is 96 percent.

90 percent of KIPP middle school students have gone on to college-preparatory high schools

80 percent of KIPP alumni have gone on to college.

Bay Area KIPP students make above-average progress compared with national norms, and they outperform their host districts.

Many students begin KIPP in the fifth grade at least one grade level—and in many cases two or more grade levels below their peers in reading and math. After four years at KIPP, 100 percent of KIPP eighth grade classes outperformed their district averages in both mathematics and reading/English language arts, based on state tests.

Less than 20 percent of low-income students go to college nationwide, however 80 percent of KIPP students from the original two KIPP Academies are going to college. In addition, nearly 95 percent of KIPP students went to college- prepy high schools in 2007

Kipp students have earned millions of dollars in scholarships and need-based financial aid since 2000

Owlhouse, just because your child may not need the services of a kipp school does not mean that others don't. And if you are going to slander a program and accuse them of abusive, punitive practices then you must back it up with some facts and data if you want anyone to take it seriously.

owlhouse said...

Adhoc, Anyone who was interested in some of my concern re:KIPP schools could have followed the link in my original post. It's not slander to raise issues and reflect on actual happenings. As for your response, I don't find it particularly useful to rely on KIPP PR to speak to all aspects of their programming.

If you want to learn more, you could also check out this study from Stanford, this piece in the NY Times, and since you quote the KIPP line on success in the Bay Area, this look at the research.

owlhouse said...

Megan Mc,
I agree, really complex issues raised in this thread. Clearly points many of us have strong feelings about.

You raise the importance of relationships formed between students and teachers- which for me is key to something we rarely discuss in education - the fact that schools serve as social service agencies. Schools are not merely places where children learn academic facts. Sure, they have sports and drama too, but I'm referring to schools as the communities where children learn to be in the larger world. School, (alternative, traditional, charter...) is a lab environment where students learn to communicate, to problem solve, to take initiative, to recover from defeat. Schools also provide meals and basic health care services. Clearly, schools have taken a role much larger than teaching academics- basic or advanced.

Plenty of people debate the need for/merit of schools providing these additional services. I tend believe these are important aspects of development, thus relevant to the societal expectation of and provision for education. Rarely is it acknowledged that schools fill these roles, so the discussion on how to structure, let alone fund them, is incomplete.

Without the larger discussion, schools are left to do more, with less. And since much of the support schools provide students isn't accounted for by test scores and is difficult to quantify, it may appear to be an "expense" that doesn't lead to improved academic outcomes. What would it take to acknowledged that public schools are the agency best positioned to provide many aspects of social service support? Is this the direction we should go? Would we then continue the investment in Pathways and similar programs/positions?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Owlhouse, you raise a great point which sometimes is lost on the greater public that hasn't set foot in a school in decades. "When I was in school we didn't have any psychologist or counselor or family administrator and we turned out okay."

There are more single families than ever. We live in an urban area with many immigrants who struggle with language and money. Kids (hello Bristol Palin) are still having sex (and she even said, in a recent interview, that abstinence training doesn't work). There are students who might be the first in their families to go to college and don't even know how to apply, let alone what happens when you get there. We have tragedies happen to students and who do many of them turn to? Their teachers or counselors.

Schools serve as a de facto home, sometimes more for some kids and less for others (who may have a solid home environment to go home to). Many schools, as we have seen from the recent closures fights, are hubs of activity in their neighborhoods.

So yes, the schools are trying to do more with less. The idea that recess has been eliminated in some elementary schools (I don't think in Seattle but I know in some districts that's true - my son thinks it's virtually a crime against humanity "kids gotta move, Mom!")is just sad. And now the high schools are losing their Career counselors who are the link between many students and college.

All part of the big picture of education.

adhoc said...

Owlhouse, thanks for posting the two links with general Charter school info (but nothing at all about kipp), and the third link that show that kipp schools have a high rate of attrician. Now can you please answer my question? What data do you have that shows in any way that Kipp schools are abusive, punitive and developementally inappropriate. It's a very harsh statement, and you really should back it up with some factual information or data. So far all of your links provide absolutely nothing that concurs with your accusations. If I missed something please correct me.

Sahila said...

"the need for niche programs for students who can't do their best work in a traditional school" - Techymom @ 8.40am

I'd venture to suggest that no child does their best in a traditional school... many children tolerate and adapt to a traditional school model, but ...

considering that traditional, factory school environments dont allow for multiple learning styles and needs, dont integrate related subjects - such as math and music and art, dont allow a child to progress at his or her own pace and take very little notice of biological/neurological/sociological factors affecting learning, dont do screening of all children in kindergarten for mixed laterality, dont do brain gym in class, then I'm pretty certain no children do their best in that environment...


Pity we cant do the studies to prove it... instead, there are those who insist that alternatives are doing a bad job because they wont do the (limited value) bubble-filling exercises to legitimise their existence...

lurker said...

Adhoc, if you're so interested in KIPP problems why don't you try a google search yourself? It's very easy and revealing. It's a blog, nobody has to prove anything to you or anyone else. And if you're going to lambast people, you should try to fix all your spelling and gramatical errors in Word before publishing them. That is also very easy. You appear to be an ignorant troglodyte, more interested in your personal ideals than learning. It's "attrition", not attrician. And there's no "a" in "definitely"; you repeatedly misspell that. Didn't you learn anything about word roots in elementary school?

Here's just finding in SF about KIPP schools. You can read on and on about it. For your google search, use: "KIPP school abusive punititive". You'll find plenty. No, I don't care about KIPP one way or the other, but it seems Owlhouse has a point.

TechyMom said...

Traditional doesn't have to mean factory. Catholic schools are very traditional, and yet do a good job of building a love of learning, critical thinking skills, and subject matter skills. I looked at a couple of private schools that were very, very traditional, almost to the point of being old-fashioned. One reminded me a bit of Hogwarts. They taught Latin and classics and pre-reform math. The desks were in rows starting in 2nd or 3rd grade. There were lots of rules and lots of homework. The 5th graders in those schools were articulate and informed, and appeared to be doing good work, and a lot of it, in multiple subjects.

Not every kid would do well in such a school, but I think most kids would. The difference is that it is a quality traditional program. But, there are some kids who need a more free-form type of education. I would call it a nice program. And, lets not forget that quite a few kids actually do need that level of structure to do their best work.

owlhouse said...

Adhoc,
Maybe you and I disagree on what constitutes abuse and inappropriate practice. The Schools Matter link from my original post follows a very recent story of an abusive principal in Fresno- and more. I find it abusive and putative to think that a desk, at school, is a privilege to be earned- but that's how it goes at KIPP Academy Lynn Charter School in MA. I find it developmentally inappropriate to deny children the time to form their own thoughts, the right to raise questions or control their own movement- but in the heavily scripted KIPP curriculum, there is a right time to talk and a proper format for every answer.

KIPP is appalling to me on many levels- the manipulation of young teachers idealism, the movement towards privatization of the public schools. Worst for me is using the language of civil rights and equity to justify conformity training, rather than education.

adhoc said...

Owlhouse, we do agree that the Fresno Kipp principal's behavior was abusive, punitive and all together unacceptable. No doubt about it. If this is representative of how kipp schools operate and function then I would agree with you, they should not be publicly funded. I guess what I'd like to know is if this an isolated incident, of one abusive principal? After all we can look at almost any school district and find a teacher or administrator that has done something abusive or even predatory (child molesters, etc).

In the case of this Kipp principal his abuse is unquestionable. However, I think it is important to define what constitutes "abuse". What you may think is abusive another parent may deem perfectly acceptable. As techymom points out, Catholic Schools are very structured, children wear uniforms, discipline is enforced, kids have to sit quietly, movement is restricted (no running around the classroom, etc). Personally I would never choose this environment for my child but at the same time I don't find it in any way abusive. In fact I think many kids need and thrive with this type of structure.

I guess what I'm saying is that different things work for different families, and barring abusive environments, we should encourage different school models and acknowledge that while one style may not work for us, it may work for others.

Maureen said...

I will be really pissed off if SPS dismantles alternative schools and replaces them with "charters" in the name of choice. We already have choice. Why not support the programs we have (and help people start new ones) and reap the benefits that other Districts see come from charters (the only distinction I can see is the role of unions)?

I think the only meaningful measure of a school's success (or lack thereof) under a choice system is how popular it is. How long is their wait list, controlled for the size of the population who has access to the program? If they fill their seats with first choices then they are successful.

seattle citizen said...

It's my feeling that charters are offered to low-income students, not wealthier students.

Why? Here's a scenario: "No more Ballard: Your children must go to KIPP." Howls of complaint! Ballard apparently meets the needs of students who are prepared by engaged, educated and somewhat affluent parents, who value independent thinking and inquiry.

You don't see many charters being foisted off on wealthier suburbs: They are sold to cities that struggle with a variety of issues.

Why? Because the students who the charters target are less prepared for high-end education, their parent/guardians are less apt to complain (or are, sometimes rightfully, convinced that measuring purely by a WASL score is GOOD, because it gives their kid a chance to show that she/he is equal in at least that way to the hoighty-toights out in the wealthier, more educated districts and schools...

Charters (a majority of them, in my opinion) are businesses that have a) located a potential market; b) latched onto a standardized assessment system that allows them to promise and show "growth"; c) identifed students who don't have active parent watchdogs...

Sure, maybe KIPP students go to college. They regurgitate facts with the best of 'em. But can they THINK?

We need to address root causes of the lack of skill development and educational attainment in lower-income populations. These populations are being targeted. Corporations such as Edison and KIPP are skimming money out of the public till at the cost of poor children's educations and public schools' support and funding.

dan dempsey said...

Seattle Citizen said:
It's my feeling that charters are offered to low-income students, not wealthier students.

Seattle Citizen revise your thinking.

Try Pacific Collegiate charter in Santa Cruz, CA.
http://www.pacificcollegiate.com/


Ranked in the top 5 schools in the nation (by US News):
http://www.usnews.com/listings/high-schools/california/pacific_collegiate_charter

dan dempsey said...

Dear Seattle Citizen,

Seattle Citizen said:

"Sure, maybe KIPP students go to college. They regurgitate facts with the best of 'em. But can they THINK?"

I would say yes for KIPP kids, check out the Core Knowledge movement and E.D. Hirsch.

If you do not know much content what is there to process? Professor Hirsch has some interesting research on reading comprehension showing comprehension is greatly dependent on familiarity with the content of the material being read rather than isolated reading skills.

We need to address root causes of the lack of skill development and educational attainment in lower-income populations. These populations are being targeted. Corporations such as Edison and KIPP are skimming money out of the public till at the cost of poor children's educations and public schools' support and funding.

I am no fan of Edison but to lump Edison with KIPP seems unreasonable.

The SPS in math has ignored these populations for the last decade with pathetic materials choices and at the moment no defined math curriculum.

It was said:
"KIPP are skimming money ... at the cost of poor children's educations"

Where is the evidence to back that up? I doubt you can find any. If we wish to talk about the education of poor children let us compare Massachusetts with Washington State.

I can think I can find a lot more fault with the SPS on this count than you can with KIPP.

(Remember I am not a big charter fan.)

More on E.D. Hirsch here:
http://mathunderground.blogspot.com/2009/02/cultural-competence-and-core-knowledge.html

Cheers,

Dan

owlhouse said...

Seattle Citizen and Dan,
Check the 2006 audit of the Bronx KIPP and you'll find $67,000 on teacher incentive trips to the DR and Bahamas. KIPP says this was their own privately donated money, but other records show at least $10,000 was public. With very poor record keeping, it's hard to say. And speaking of poor record keeping, the same audit found that 7 of the 28 teachers at the school had not undergone criminal background checks. Or maybe they had, and there was just no record.

I could draw some distinction between Edison and KIPP- but there are parallels. Lack of public oversight, untrained teachers, student selection process, relying on canned curriculum/tests to prove success...

SPS has all kinds of problems, but theoretically at least, the public has access to records and parents can hold the system accountable with out risking their children being harassed at school. Theoretically.

seattle citizen said...

Dan's right: I was venting. I don't have facts to back up my feelings about charters.

My rant springs from a perception that there is a movement to take schooling out of the hands of public schools, and in some instances actually make a profit at it.

I stand by that perception, but of course there are exceptions, some "good" charters. But even the success of these good charters stands further scrutiny: Will their success diminish the public school system, will it result in a reduction of benefits to educators overall, will the schools (charter or public) that use simple, standardized data pints for comparison and evaluation (i.e. WASL scores) actually teach other things, like art, music, history...the rich parts of education that, along with the "basics" (?) provide for a well-rounded and deep understanding of various aspects of the world around us?

Charlie Mas said...

It probably doesn't matter at this point, but I was writing about a KIPP-type school or a KIPP style school operated as an alternative school - not as a charter school - by Seattle Public Schools - not by KIPP.

If we had clear criteria for the establishment of alternative programs, then we would have a basis for either accepting or denying proposals for them and we would get proposals that conformed with our expectations and addressed the criteria.

For all of the talk during the Capacity Management Plan about right-sizing the capacity geographically, there was no attention paid to right-sizing the non-geographically determined capacity. There was very little effort to right-size APP, for example. There was NO effort to right-size Spectrum. There was NO effort to right size the District's alternative school capacity.

Following the closure of Summit and the AAA, the demand for alternative education in Seattle far outstrips the District's capacity for it. Consequently, as part of the Capacity Management Plan, the District should create additional alternative capacity in response to the unmet demand.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie,
I believe there are city and state ragulations about the establishment of "community schools." While not charters, these would be cooperative efforts between district and city,
While the city says it's not interested in running schools, I believe there might be a mechanism to establish such schools if someone were to pursue the methods, plan the place, and bring all parties to the table.

Not the same as starting a new alternative, granted, but if SPS didn't want to approve a new alt (what ARE the rules on that...board policy, anyone? a bit of research?) then perhaps a citizen group could work with city and district, under State allowance of community schools, to form a new program in an unused building (or wherever).
Oh, and that citzen group could also work with the union, perhaps under some sort of experimental variance, to try out different forms of teacher eval, program eval etc

Charlie Mas said...

The relevent Board Policies are C56.00, Program Development and Placement, C54.00, Alternative Education and C46.00, Proposal for a New Program.

That said, none of these policies are in force. That is to say that these policies are among the many policies that neither the Board nor the Superintendent follow or enforce. These policies, like a number of others, are simply ignored because they inconveniently require the District to do things that they do not want to do or prohibit the District from doing things that they do want to do. The Board will not repeal the Policies, but neither will they enforce them.

h2o girl said...

Speaking of alternative ed, this was in the Salmon Bay bulletin today:

Meeting for Principals and Community Members of Seattle Alternative Schools
Monday March 9 at 7:00 PM at Nova, 2410 East Cherry Street
In anticipation of the District audit of alternative schools we offer this opportunity
for all who value alternative education in Seattle public schools to meet and exchange ideas.
Proposed Agenda:
Brief History of Alternative Education in Seattle Public Schools
Review of Seattle School Board Policy C54.00 on Alternative Education
(for policy see link http://www.seattleschools.org/area/policies/c/C54.00.pdf )
Discussion of current state of alternative schools in Seattle
Action Item: How can the alternative community play a positive role in the upcoming audit?
All are welcome to attend, ideally we will have from 1 to 5 people from every alternative school. If
you are not currently a member of an alternative school community but would like to be, or if your
alternative school is scheduled to be closed or changed please come. We would like to help.
Questions, suggestions: Call or email Elaine Schmidt (206) 364-3149

dan dempsey said...

Was the following a platform that each school director pushed during their campaigns?

Charlie said:

The Board will not repeal the Policies, but neither will they enforce them.


What is up with this gang of 7?

Did donors (two years ago) put up $100,000+ average per candidate for this?

dan dempsey said...

Charter School advocates,

Here is some ammunition for your cause:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=101355913

Also in a recent report New Orleans ranked as the top urban school district in edcuational improvement from 2000 to 2007.

New Orleans is certainly Charter rich. Seattle ranked #24 out of 50.

seattle citizen said...

But Dan...
Here's some snippets from the NPR article:
“someday, all New Orleans schoolchildren could be attending charter schools…Clark runs the school and reports to a chartering organization…in 2001, Wright was still a traditional public school. School performance scores back then were lousy: around 25 out of a total score of 200 on state assessments. This year, schools are supposed to score at least 60 to be considered to be performing at an acceptable level…Statistics show that Recovery District schools have nearly twice as many students with disabilities. Jones says schools like hers are known to have more behavior problems. ‘I am concerned that the charters are pushing their problem children onto us,’ she says. Although charter operators deny this, you hear this complaint all the time here. Most charters advertize an "open door" policy. But charters can sit down with parents and let them know what is expected of their children. Even if one RSD school is full, the district must find a place for every child. The charters do not face that obligation.”
Sooo....
Louisiana might someday have no public school system; schools will have more autonomy (only reporting to "a chartering agency"; charters do not have to take every student; "Success" is still measured by some standrardized assessment (how has N.O. done on a common assessment such as ITBS over the last ten years? Is there growth shown on that? If not, why not? State tests are notoriously unreliable.

I still see a lot of problems with charters: too much autonomy; too much selection of student body; too narrow a scope of curricula; too mcuh emphasis on feeding capitalists rather than liberal arts...