Sunday, October 25, 2009

Open Thread

Open thread for anything on your mind.

I noticed there were 3 Board director community meetings yesterday. Did anyone attend any of those?


seattle citizen said...

David Brooks' opinion column (today's Seattle Times,

tells us how Brooks has had some of that yummy "reform" Koolaide made of the elixer of NCLB's Race-to-the-Top:

"Over the past few days I've spoken to people ranging from Bill Gates to Jeb Bush and various education reformers. They are all impressed by how gritty and effective the Obama administration has been in holding the line and inciting real education reform."

Yes, Gates and Bush: the go-to people on education policy!

"Over the summer, the Department of Education indicated that most states would not qualify for Race to the Top money. Now states across the country are changing their laws...It's not only the promise of money that is motivating change. There seems to be a status contest as states compete to prove they, too, can meet the criteria. Governors who have been bragging about how great their schools are don't want to be left off the list."
Yes, states SHOULD brag that they've unshouldered their responsibilities and given the "accountability" to the feds. In our apparent weakness, We NEED federal guidance.

"These changes mean that states are raising their caps on the number of charter schools. When charters got going, there was a "let a thousand flowers bloom" mentality that sometimes led to bad schools. Now reformers know more about how to build charters and the research is showing solid results. Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University recently concluded a rigorous study of New York's charter schools and found that they substantially narrowed the achievement gap between suburban and inner-city students."

I'll check on this study and get back to y'all...

The changes also will mean student performance will increasingly be a factor in how much teachers get paid and whether they keep their jobs. There is no consensus on exactly how to do this, but there is clear evidence that good teachers produce consistently better student test scores [uh, David? Duh!], and that teachers who do not need to be identified and counseled [counseled right out of those jobs, eh?]. Cracking the barrier that has been erected between student outcomes and teacher pay would be a huge gain."

Yes, a gain in paying less for educators - I can just hear the rest of Brook's eloquent take on teacher "counseling": "Your poor students didn't do well, so we're paying you less! You suck! WE didn't make them poor students, WE only made them poor! It's up to YOU, teach, to make them students even if their single parent is working two jobs, their absent dad is using meth, and they eat generic brand pop tarts for breakfast and summer fun is graffiti-ing the neighborhood. As for your public schools, well, they suck, too, so we're puttin' them out for bid."

Brooks, you ignorant...South Lake Union Trolley.

Bah. sycophants with columns...nuthin' worse.

seattle citizen said...

Here's is where the study Brooks cites is located:

Below the link to the study itself on the above webpage, there is a memo outlining statistical errors. I went to this first. I can barely make head nor tail of it, but it appears that the study used individual students in charters, held up against groups of students in "matched" public schools, to determine results. This apparently negatively effects the study.

There is another bias I noted: the study is commissioned on a subonctract to the NY Center for School Choice, or some such organization, which indicates a possible bias in outcomes.

Someone with more statistical acumen than I would need to look at this study, its results, and the memo about errors in order to understand it fully.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I saw this the other day and I started laughing - Jeb Bush and Bill Gates. I'm sorry but education reform has to come from educators.

owlhouse said...

I attended Mary Bass' community meeting on Friday night. A man representing the Madison Valley community effort to turn the ML King school in to a community center spoke passionately about their project. He shared details I hadn't heard- including that they have preliminary agreements with tenants and the team that helps manage the Youngstown Cultural Arts center in WS. I thought he had a strong case. He had questions re: the rules/policies outlining contact and communication between parties seeking a contract with the district and staff members. He raised concerns that First AME was allowed meetings with staffers while his organization was not. He believes that facilities manager Fred Stephens is a member of the FAME congregation and that there may be a conflict of interest. He reported speaking to Gary Ikeda, who would not answer any questions and told him to take any concerns to the facilities dept...

Anyone following this? It sounds like a decision will be made by January?

seattle citizen said...

My understanding is that the Bush School, the private school just to the east of Martin Luther King Elementary School, is also interested in buying the property outright (they don't want to lease it, but will consider letting other organizations use it when they're not)

owlhouse said...

Sea Ciz-
The district received 4 proposals/letters of intent.
Bush School, Hamlin Robinson School, First AME, Neighbors for ML King Community Center.

Rumor has it that Bush would like to remove the old structure and put in sports fields. The district has not made (can not make?) the proposals available to the public, so I can't confirm.

Charlie Mas said...

I read the David Brooks column and found it absurd. It seems to define good teaching as "that which raises student test scores" and then proves it by showing that the good teachers identified through this filter have raised student test scores.

Central Mom said...

What happened re: RBHS textbooks?

Michael Rice said...

Central Mom writes: What happened re: RBHS textbooks?

All I can say is that we have plenty of the new math books for all students. Of course the book is not any good, and I am using it less and less, but all the students do have them.

another mom said...

Dick Lilly has a posted a piece on Crosscut regarding Meg Diaz's analysis of SPS Central Administration budget. It is good and I hope that the Times picks it up.

Dora Taylor said...

Regarding the Hoxby study:

Based on an article in the Charleston Post Courier titled "High Marks for Charter Schools",

I posted a response that I want to share with you:

Per the article in the Post and Courier:
"The study did not reach any conclusions about why charter schools succeeded, but noted that many had extended school days and school years, mandatory Saturday classes, performance-based pay for teachers and a disciplinary policy that punishes small infractions and rewards courtesy."

The reason that the scores are high is because these charter schools can and do kick students out of their school if they do not perform at a certain level in terms of test scores. See "Charter schools pawn off flunking students, says public school principal"

Read more:

Also, the individual doing this study is an economist, not an
educator. If you want to see a study regarding charter schools that was done by a team of educators also from Stanford, see "PACE issues scathing report of charter schools". This study was paid for by the WalMart Foundation who were proponents of charter schools.

A small study that doesn't ask the question of "why" in my view is not

Also, charter schools hire young and inexperienced teachers who don't mind working the longer hours and receiving minimum pay and benefits.

They also don't mind the merit pay system where their income is based
on how well their students perform on a test. See "David B. Cohen and
Alex Kajitani: Test scores poor tool for teacher evaluation"

This one study does not validate anything about charter schools one
way or the other.

Mr. Brooks needs to do his homework first before talking about something he knows little about.

Dora Taylor said...

An additional note:

Some of the schools in the study were the same schools that the NY Daily News was referring to in terms of charter schools who expel low-performing students.


seattle citizen said...

The issue of schools being able to boot out anyone not "up to snuff" is one of the many problems with charters.

Here's the scenario:
Some schools become charter, or are offered as such. Some parent/guardians, those that are savvy and connected, in the know, sign their kids up for the lottery to get into these schools. Meanwhile other children, not having been entered in the lottery due to langauge barriers, disengaged parents etc, stay "behind" in Public schools.

(already you see the potential for "increased scores" because the ones signing up for the lottery are the ones signing up for the lottery)

So little Johnny, or Aline, makes "trouble": Not in her contract with school to make trouble, so out she goes. Since public schools have to teach, where does she go? Back to the "regular" public.


Just kick the kid around, then blame publics for being "bad" when the charter has culled the engaged parents and set a rule where they don't have to teach "bad" students.

Wonderful statistical work, if you can get it.

adhoc said...

Isn't this pretty much how our (public) community colleges and state universities handle admissions, only higher entry requirements in a lot of cases?

Dora Taylor said...

adhoc, that is the case but public education K-12 is to be for all students, not just a few who perform better than others on a test.

Our public school system is a public trust that is to be for all, charter schools are not for all but for a select few. That is also the case for private schools. Private schools can be selective, public schools are to educate all and are to be all inclusive.

mkd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adhoc said...

Michael, have you noticed rampant discipline issues at RBHS? It sounds like an awful environment from what MKD reports.

Bird said...

What did the SE initiative pay for? I would have thought that adequate textbooks would be one of the first things to buy when improving a school.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

I'd like to know exactly what the SE Initiative did for RBHS...but so far we SE parents can't get anyone from the District to tell us what was done.

And textbooks and course offerings aside...if the classrooms are constantly disrupted, it really doesn't matter what's being taught. Like mkd, I too enrolled my child in an independent school rather than RBHS.

Joan NE said...

I read the Hoxby study. The memo that Seatle Citizen referred to was a critique of the Credo report. The fact that a reformist organization paid for part of the study doesn't in itself prove that the analysis was biased or invalid.

The report authors established that the observed achievement effect cannot be explained by differential dismissal of low-performing students.

So really, this was quite a well-designed study. I feel that we have to admit that in this case the study design and analysis is valid.

This study has nothing to say about whether some independent measure of teacher quality (say, years of experience or qualifications) is correlated with student scores.

I don't view the fact that the researcher is an economist as a problem. Economists are very good statisticians, and this was a statistical study of a large data set.

Having praised the study for validity of design and analysis, I still condemn reform. This study has not answered more fundamental and important questions, such as

"Has achievement of at-risk students in the non-charter public schools been negatively affected by the presence of charter schools?"

We certainly have anecdotal and institutional reasons for strongly suspecting the answer to be yes.

Another important quesion the study doesn't speak to is this:

Has reform of the non-charter NYC public schools--apart from any effects of charter schools--led to improvement in the public school system? If reform of public school systems is good, then we should expect that reform leads to improvement of some important kind.

An answer to this question would obviously have very strong relevance to Seattle.

In Chicago community leaders have recently declared that the reform of public schools has failed. Ironically it is the very leaders who advocated reform (and charter schools) that are now condeming the reform. To add insult to injury, these leaders hold that charter schools are the answer to the failed reform.

If reform doesn't produce better public schools, then there really is no justification for reform of public schools, is there?

If reformists are genuinely interested in helping minority students to succeed, why don't they seem interested to use the very best practices in education?

Why don't they seem to be interested to scientifically test whether reform of public school districts does indeed close the achievement gap among non-charter public school students?

Why are they far more interested in figuring out how to make sure (or at least convincing the public) that charter schools succeed in the goal of raising student acheivement and closing the achievement gap?

Charlie Mas said...

I attended the first hour of the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting on Monday evening.

Wow. What extraordinary evidence of how the staff herds the Board. The good news is how Sherry Carr kept fighting back.

The Committee is trying to write a policy on materials adoption and all of this stuff that the Committee said they wanted in the policy didn't appear in the draft policy. Sherry Carr remembered it all and told them to put it in. Sherry Carr kept raising the contingencies that the staff were trying to ignore - what if the Instructional Materials Committee finds that the Adoption Committee DIDN'T follow the procedure? What if they DON'T approve of the Adoption Committee's process?

She was really great and at her best, going through the draft policy paragraph by paragraph raising issue with nearly every one.

If only she didn't apologize with each correction. For a while I thought it was her way of maintaining the relationship - trying not to come across as bitchy, bossy, or overbearing. It was all "Gee, I'm sorry, but didn't we want to say something about the materials being useful as a resource for independent or home instruction." But I'm beginning to think that it was all sincere and that she doesn't recognize any pattern to the staff's decisions to ignore the Board members' input. Could it be that she doesn't connect the fact that she had to specifically direct them to restore all of that stuff with the fact that they decided to take it out?

Weird. The Board members continue in the deluded belief that the staff are all angels of purity and unbiased experts. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

I don't know what sort of spell the staff casts on people when they are impaneled onto the Board, but there must be something. It is what allows them to spout absurdities like the idea that having the language immersion programs in three attendance area schools provides equitable access to the programs for all students. It is what allows them to regard the word a staff member as more reliable than the word of hundreds of stakeholders. It is what allows them to forget every past failure of the staff to keep their commitments and trust them again and again. It defies understanding.

So hooray for Sherry Carr, who brushed away the cobwebs and, in a sort of dazed voice asked for the Board's input to be restored to the draft policy.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Perhaps the spouses and families of the Board members should be checking their basements for pods.

Seriously, I agree with Charlie. How do these fired-up Board members get buffaloed by the District staff so easily?

SPSMom said...

"She was really great and at her best"

She also has a student at RHS so knows there is a lot at stake. Too bad she didn't get that last May with her math vote.

Dorothy said...

[I almost added this to the thread about high school credit for middle school work, because it seemed pertinent. But because it could possibly be seen as YAAH, I figured the open thread was more appropriate. (as in, Yet Another APP Hijack.)]

Here's some data I found very interesting, related to credit, acceleration and AP. The Academy for Young Scholars is a program of early entrance to UW Honors program. Applicants Must be in 10th grade. I believe this is also limited to Washington State residents. At the parent orientation last June, one of the issues mentioned was that some of these kids come in with 40-50 credits from AP courses (which actually can have negative repercussions, the university wants you to declare a major after 105 credits. But the Academy advisors intervene and reduce that pressure).

How in the world have these 10 graders taken 10 AP courses? Evidently some other school districts or private schools in Washington are much more generous and accepting of acceleration, because here in Seattle Public Schools, that would be about impossible. Two math classes and one Social Studies are about all a 10th grader in the district would have available.

Dorothy said...

Oh, and another open thread topic that sometimes becomes too much a thread hijack, but this is an open thread...

In a recent discussion of math and middle school on this blog, I mentioned that the MAA journal (which mostly targets undergrad math professors) had some letters complaining about even though kids are getting Calculus in high school but are not getting enough Algebra. To clarify, I don't think the problem is that they are getting Calculus, no, I think the real issue is that they are not getting proper grounding in Algebra. That's the frustration. (I am not a subscriber, this is coming second hand.)

I can see this with my son. Although he has done well in math, had a pretty good set of courses and textbooks at Eckstein and Roosevelt, there are some foundational Algebra topics that he is missing that bug me. Now he's at UW taking Calculus. And unlike high school AP Calculus, they are *NOT* allowed to use graphing and/or programmable calculators on tests. Yay. While I love the capabilities of graphing programmable calculators, while I think they can be an excellent learning tool,I think reliance on them is one of the many ways kids are shortchanged these days. High school AP Calculus relies on graphing calculators. College Calculus appears to me so far to be more rigorous.

hschinske said...

Dorothy, I wonder if some of them have taken AP classes independently (either taken the exams without formally taking a class, or done the courses online)?

Some exams/exam scores yield up to 15 credits at the UW, too (e.g., a 5 on an AP foreign language exam gives you 15 credits, 4 or 5 on Physics B gets you 15 credits, 5 on AB Calc/4 or 5 on BC Calc gets you 10, etc.). See So it's not necessarily that the students have taken as many as 10 AP courses.

Helen Schinske

Dorothy said...

Ah, Helen, you may be right that it is not 10 courses, but a smaller number of the most rigorous courses.

gavroche said...

Charlie Mas said...I don't know what sort of spell the staff casts on people when they are impaneled onto the Board, but there must be something.

Stockholm Syndrome.

Joan NE said...

In this doc you can find what appears to be the list of the outside stakeholders (i.e., other than students, parents/guardians, district employees and directors) that MGJ looks to for help and whom she is trying to please.

The stakeholders fall into three categories: Education Groups, Philanthropists, Businesses

dan dempsey said...

Joan NE said:
"The stakeholders fall into three categories: Education Groups, Philanthropists, Businesses."

Thus the need for lots of Spin.
Way easier to produce spin than results. Since parents and kids are at best minor stakeholders, why bother with the heavy lifting?

dan dempsey said...

Stockholm Syndrome ...
that must be it.

Otherwise the directors might figure out they are to direct the superintendent. Tail keeps wagging dog.

Go Sherry .... maybe she can drag a few of the other 6 to enlightenment.