Mark Twain famously said: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it."
In Seattle Public Schools everybody talks about accountability but nobody ever does anything about it.
There can be little dispute that accountability is much discussed. It is literally referenced on every single piece of paper the District produces. It appears right there at the bottom, "Every student achieving, everyone accountable". The Superintendent cannot speak without mentioning it. The concept is unrelentingly ubitquitous.
Likewise, there can be little dispute that accountability is practically non-existant in practice. In the past two years I can only think of one instance in which accountability was imposed - and I'm not so sure about that one. It was the end of the reduced walk zone for Rainier Beach and Cleveland. That may have been a consequence of accountability, but the District never touted it as such. Other than that, however, I can't think of another thing.
It's not as if there have not been opportunities to exercise accountability.
There are thirty-six projects in the Strategic Plan. 34 of them are failing to meet the requirements of the Community Engagement protocols. You remember these. There were presented to the Board on October 1, 2008, and the Superintendent claimed that "The protocol serves as a guarantee for how the district will communicate and engage with key stakeholders for each major project of the strategic plan". Six months after the protocols were adopted, these guarantee have so far proven worthless.
Not only are the 34 project managers failing to hold themselves accountable for meeting these protocols, but their executive sponsors - who have no involvement in the projects except to hold the project managers accountable - are failing to hold the project managers accountable for meeting these protocols. The project managers are making regular status reports to the Senior Leadership Team, who are failing to hold the project managers accountable for meeting these protocols. The Superintendent, who is responsible for the entire Plan is failing to hold the project managers accountable for meeting these protocols. And, finally, the School Board, who have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the Strategic Plan are failing to hold the project managers accountable for meeting these protocols. That's five levels of management and not one of them is exercising any accountability at all.
Similarly, the Plan itself, on page 51 in a section titled "Next Steps" says that every strategy (those are the projects) will have a detailed timeline complete with a work plan and performance measures, and that "all materials will be posted on the SPS web site". Now we all know that there are scant materials posted on the web site - certainly not a set of timeline, work plan, and performance measures for each project. So what does this mean? It means a failure of accountability by the project managers, the executive sponsors, the Senior Leadership Team, the superintendent and the Board. All of these people who spout off about accountability and who have a duty of imposing accountability are all failing to provide any accountability.
There may be other instances of failure of accountability around the Strategic Plan, but I would have no way of knowing since they are not providing the necessary information that would allow me to know. So what do you think? Do you think they are hiding the information because it is favorable or do you think they are hiding the information because it is unfavorable?
Outside the Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All", there are other opportunities for accountability, and they are all going unfulfilled. When Ms Cameron reported to the Board on Program Placement, the Board asked her for information on how the decisions were made. That was good. And Ms Cameron promised to provide the rationale for each of the program placement decisions and post it to the District web site. That was also good. But the document that Ms Cameron posted was horribly inadequate. There were a few proposals that were rejected and the rationale given was: "No change in location
is recommended for the 2009-10 school year." In short, the proposal was rejected because they don't recommend accepting it. That is not a rationale and it sure isn't founded on data, or policy, or best practices. It's no explanation at all. Yet the Board and the superintendent have accepted this document as satisfactory. That's a failure of accountability.
Did you know that the original budget for the Garfield High School renovation was $54 million? The current expense is somewhere around $125 million and there is more yet to come. Where's the accountability for that?
Everytime that anyone in the District talks about accountability when we see failure of accountability everywhere it diminishes the District's credibility. The District leadership needs to staunch the damage by either applying accountability or stop yammering on about it.
There are countless more examples of failures of accountability - promises broken around the Capacity Management project, promises broken in advanced learning, promises broken for special education students and families, promises broken for ELL families, lots of examples. Feel free to add some in your comments.
If, however, anyone has an example of accountability applied, I really really want to know about it. Please do tell us all about it. We need the good news.