Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Parents Divided or United

Once again, the district's "feedback" process has pitted families against families, neighborhoods against neighborhoods. Unfortunately, for every family that is unhappy about being assigned away from a popular school, there's usually another family happy to be assigned to it. So, how can we win?

The real problem is: The district has failed to convince us that they have a credible plan to improve the less popular schools. (Are they even trying to convince us?)

I applaud Melissa's "don't give up" sentiment and think everyone should continue to advocate for boundary changes they believe are necessary, but please ALSO advocate for developing a credible plan to improve more schools now. And I'm not talking about more "excellence for all" lip service -- I'm talking about specific steps they will take to improve schools.

Examples of specifics? We all have our own. We need more money from the state, but it's not just about funds. For me, I'm convinced it comes down to giving the schools more freedom to try. I didn't agree with everything Scott Oki had to say last night or in his book, but I did agree with a bunch of his proposals:

- Every school should have its own Board made up of community leaders, charged with actually listening to people who are served by the school. That Board should have the power to hire or fire the principal (just like the School Board should be holding the Superintendent accountable.)

- Every principal should have the freedom to do whatever it takes to improve their school -- including hiring and firing teachers, developing their own assessments, and finding innovative ways to make instruction relevant and fun. We don't need charter schools in Washington, but we do need schools that are not shackled by bureaucracy.

- We need more teachers, fewer central administrators. We have more non-teachers in SPS than teachers! What are we getting for that? In countries like Japan, they typically have a ratio of 4 teachers to every 1 administrator. The primary business of schools is teaching and that is where our dollars should be going.

- Let's work to get more volunteers (parents, business, organizations, even older kids) into all neighborhood schools. Together, we have to keep up high expectations for all students and schools. (That means rigor -- not D's to graduate.)

How can we get there? For one thing, we need the unions to work with us. There could and should be a win-win partnership between parents and the union -- once we agree to put kids first. If we fight for hiring more teachers and improving more schools, then the Teacher's Union benefits. And let the union lead the discussion for what defines a poor performer (teachers know which of their peers are struggling) and let peers review all teacher dismissals to ensure nobody is unfairly targeted for whistle-blowing or to free up salary.

If you disagree with me, I'd love to hear other suggestions for changes that don't pit parent vs. parent and neighborhood vs. neighborhood. If we want to fix things, we need to find more positions we can all agree on because right now parents don't have much a voice in the process. And at the end of the day, there just aren't enough seats in (insert popular school name here) for everyone who wants to go there.


emeraldkity said...

Portland public schools is cutting administrative positions- that would be a place to start-

This year, central services accounted for approximately 4% of our entire general fund budget, which is the average percentage that Oregon school districts spend on central support. After this reorganization, our central supports will be even less.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Nail on the head, Andrew. We need buy-in for every single school from the parents, the staff and the community it sits in. People will not buy-in (in any real way) if they do not feel heard or if they don't feel their neighborhood needs are being met.

All of what you said; working with unions, more teachers and fewer administrators (now that should be at the bottom of every single sheet of SPS paper) and communities finding solutions are the key to making every school a great school.

Question is: how do we get the unions and/or the district to allow that input?

seattle citizen said...

Andrew, I appreciate your suggestions. I agree that schools supported by an active, empowered community are, in theory, a good idea. Before I address that, though, I would suggest that if you want to get union educators to buy in, it might not be wise to present a list of four points that might make a difference, then lead off the charge on how to get there by singling out the union (and particularly with the old saw, "put kids first" - most teachers already do this; is the community?) Your very first suggestion, right off the starting block, is to modify teacher evaluation. If you want union teachers to feel that this is a team effort, perhaps looking at some of the more community-oriented problems first would be wiser, such as family problems, unemployment, discipline policies, class size, mentorships, tutoring....Why jump right in with teacher evaluation?
Furthermore, I don't see what kind of contract would protect a teacher if demographics change, or a principal disagrees with pedagogy etc, and the teacher loses their job. Schools change, principals change, where would be the stability for a teacher starting into Seattle Public Schools? Teachers here are hired by the system, not by individual would the union modify a contract to reflect that Seattle teachers are employees of just a school instead of the district? What would happen to a teacher who was let go by a prinicpal for whatever reason? Would they be able to go some other school?

If you can tell me how the union could present a viable bargaining position in such a scenario, I'm all ears.

seattle citizen said...

On the issue of community support:

Yes, a school supported by its community is good. But do we really want to have a bunch of individual boards? What if a board went "rogue," and decided that teaching just corporate pedagogy was just the ticket? Your scenario DOES give the principal the ability to design pedagogy, assessments etc. I'm playing devils advocate, here, because I do agree that having different pedagogies and assessments is a good thing, but I like the idea of a check on this, the public board we have now. I would suggest boards for each school, but "accountable" to the larger board, and thereby to the citizens of the city.

If we had just the little boards for each school, are they no longer Seattle public schools, but merely, say, Greenwood schools, or Beacon Hill, accountable only to those citizens of those areas?

Yes, community input, "boards" (this is actually what the BLTs are, or where...many schools, especially the Alts, welcome (and it's in the contracts) citizens and students on the BLT, which is a sort of board responsible for helping to run the school and its direction...

A lot of what you propose, or Oki does, already existed and needs only to be reaffirmed rather than re-started in some new guise. BLTs, if truly community-based, serve as the board.

MathTeacher42 said...

Do any of you know how many stocks had IPOs from microsoft's IPO in ...'86? Do any of you know what % of those companies don't exist, and what % had a ROI like Microsoft? Do any of you know what would have happened to msft's astounding sales if a combination of hard work AND a little dumb luck had NOT resulted in the windows monompoly?

Oki got RICH through hard work AND dumb luck. Now we're supposed to throw rose petals at his high level powerpoint blather.

Here's what Oki and Broad and Gates and ... are about - powerpoints full of blather, most of which blames the teachers.


Where have the great American management successes - for the entire community - been in the last 30 years?

You see, if the entire community doesn't prosper, then there is no one to buy the cars, or drive the cars to the store to buy computers, or pay the taxes for the roads to drive the cars on, or keep the electric grid up to plug the computer into ... so WHO needs a computer with windows?

I stumbled on some factoid that appx. 5 billion people in the world live on 10 DOLLARS a day or less. They need windows on a computer, or, they need a wall which isn't a cardboard shack in which they can install glass windows? Oh, and by the way, they're going to buy airplane tickets?

How about something NEW from American management, instead of growth in low paying jobs which MIGHT have an exploding 401k 'retirement', or devoid of health care or ... ANY security.

How about something NEW, like figuring out what ideas cost in time to implement, how about figuring out what the cost in money of that time is, how about prioritizing it all, and how about PAYING FOR SOME OF IT? ANY OF IT?

OR -- we can continue with the Horatio Alger myths about our masters of the universe, and we can continue with new powerpoints and new reorgs and new buzz words and new management buzzword bingo - because figuring how things work, and then figuring out how to make them work better, is just toooooooooooooo much hard work for our overly credentialed overly useless MBA rock stars.

Bob Murphy
(NOT speaking on behalf of ANY organization - unless you have the ethics of FOX news, in which case... Lie Away!)

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Seattle Citizen -- I think you're right that I should have just left off the "agree to put kids first" part. I know the vast majority of individual teachers put kids first. Still, the legal contracts with principals and teachers (along with inertia & central bureaucracy) do currently prevent us from implementing ideas like these, so I think it is correct to focus on that as a starting point. I don't think any one of these ideas is absolutely correct, but I do feel strongly that it isn't just a matter of beefing up the current system with BLTs and a central School Board of elected volunteers. We're not going to get big change without shaking things up. There's always a risk of a rogue effort, but I'm more willing to trust local neighborhood leaders to not go rogue than I am the central staff or Board. (One could argue that many of the central proposals we've seen over the years already seem "rogue" to many neighborhoods.)

seattle citizen said...

Andrew, you didn't respond to my request for some way union teachers could buy into this:

Does this, de facto, get rid of the union? If a principal can hire and fire at will (aside from issues of malfeance, which arise from evaluation...I'm talking about down-sizing, change in pedagogy, etc) then what good is the union protection of being able to be placed in another school if one's school is closed, downsized etc? Teachers (and others) are employees of the district: are you suggesting that a principal be given the power to fire a teacher out of the district? Is the teacher an employee of the principal or of the district in your scenario?

You say the legal contracts prevent implementation of these changes (I assume you mean the other ones on the list of four) - so does that suggest we get rid of the contracts?

Do you propose making the district non-union, and if not, what might be negotiable under contract?

seattle citizen said...

If you can't rely on BLTs and volunteers, where are you going to find the "boards" and community activitists that will support your proposal?

If you DO have people who can be on boards, why can't they join existing BLTs, and then strengthen the BLTs to where they once were? If you DO have communities of parent/guardians willing to step up, why can't we organize them NOW, within existing school communities, instead of breaking from the long line of Board Policy (PUBLIC, i.e. Seattle taxpayer, parent or notm Board Policy) and starting some whole new thing?

Here's a scenario:
Let's pick on Ballard and RB, they seem to come up a lot: Under your vision, Ballard gets a board, a community of supporters...somehow different than the existing BLT, Boosters, PTSE, tutors, readers...and they continue to have active involvement, and a school very much like what's there already. Not as much movement amongst parent/guardians, more stability, more time to devote to helping the school, more money....Now, down south we have RB: IT'S given a "board," but as there is less stability there, and more transience, and fewer parent/community members able to step in...who does the work THERE? Ah, here comes a community board ready and able to revamp the place...not necessarily a community of parent/guardians, but some other perhaps? Who?

Yes, that's extreme, but I'd rather see all the schools governed similarly (even with latitude, as long as there is central policy) than split up and left to their own devices. There's too much room for schools to be manipluated.

Are they now? Of course, but at least in the current system we have some modicum of accountability. Who would YOUR little boards be accountable to, in terms of policy, procedure, and taxpayer funding?

zb said...

"Here's what Oki and Broad and Gates and ... are about - powerpoints full of blather, most of which blames the teachers. "

I thought that, too, and I'm not a teacher.

I simply don't think that poorly performing teachers is a significant problem in SPS (or the root cause of the difficulties we face). I think that to the extent that we get poor teaching, it's because we've given them a job too difficult to do in the time that we've paid them for. I don't think that "putting kids first" means that teachers have to be second. In fact, I'd argue like putting on your oxygen masks first, that in order to get good teaching for our children, we need to first make sure that the teachers are getting their oxygen (decent working conditions, decent pay, . . . .).

wseadawg said...

Andrew's expressing ideas. Let's not belittle them too quickly ("little boards"). And I love it MathTeacher42. After reading article after article about Goldman Sachs "doing God's work," I'm enjoying your words like a cold beer on a hot day. What parallel universe have we become entrapped in?

I appreciate the recognition that one parent group or another can't achieve much on its own, and that united, if possible, we might. As for the restructuring and local control Oki wants, I can tell you all first-hand that it's not what MGJ wants. She wants all schools to look and feel the same.

Some schools with lots of resources and involvement with thrive with or without local control. Some flat out won't. We all know that.

Great principals have created good schools already. Bad principals have driven away many families who could have been very involved, but for principals who didn't support popular programs, like Spectrum, which is FINALLY going to Madison in W.S., after decades of a principal who wouldn't allow it.

Supporting good teachers and working with them is a good place to start identifying and doing something about weak or bad teachers. I'd rather be talking to them than a clueless administrator or principal who spews meaningless rhetoric all day long. So kudos to A.K. for focusing there.

I'd like to see less advice from NCTQ and the like, and heed the advice of actual people teaching my kids everyday. I also think many "reward" proposals are caustic to a teacher's work environment. I do not detect most to be motivated by money or fame, but by their genuine concern to help produce good, conscientious, well-equipped citizens of the future. Notice I say "citizens" and not "workers."

Anyways, I appreciate what you're saying A.K. I think most all of us want the same thing. It comes down to how to get it done, and not get watered down, dissuaded, discouraged, co-opted or corrupted along the way by others taking advantage of our passion and good intentions.

seattle citizen said...

I appreciate what AK is saying, in some ways, but I'm concerned that with the first comment being teachers, the intent is to bash them first, rather than support and enable them.

Furthermore, while I support various types of schools, each with, perhaps, their own way of doing things, I fear that "boards" might be too much: we HAVE a board. They can delegate, sure, and sometimes they don't do right, but throwing the democratically elected board, with its policies, out the door and substituing myriad little boards around the city? I'm not so sure. Will we have elections?

So: Yes, little Boards (and we don't even have to call them BLTs :) ) but accountable to the "regular" board. Yes, board has say in principal selection and school pedagogy (remember, principals not to rely on one person carrying the pedagogy). Principal selecting (and firing) teachers to fit pedagogy? I'm not so sure, unless there is provision made for teachers to move to other schools...or somewhere..if one day they are summarily fired. They ARE employees of the district and not the school don't forget. Unless we are going to do away with the district entirely and just give the money to schools...wait, that would be a charter school, wouldn't it? Let's just allow more choice, support variety (which we have and can within the existing frmaework) before we throw out the board, eh?

Keep it in the public realm, keep public schools public and accountable to the public through the elected board and its policies

Melissa Westbrook said...

I didn't take anything that Andrew said as bashing teachers. I also feel that BLTs are good but have little power (maybe it's more at the alts). While we are all in this together, I have to say that parents have very little power or ability to flex power.

I willing acknowledge the huge job that teachers have and how many of them strive to do their best. But the teachers have a union and it does protect them.

I recently found out a teacher told a group of students about something I did (and distorted the event). I was not happy because even if the teacher thought it was a good story to entertain the kids, this teacher had no business using my name. What is my recourse? I told my principal who ask the teacher to discuss it with me. No reply. I asked again. No reply. So I did what I could which was to write a letter of concern that I asked to be placed in the teacher's file. Did I get an apology or explanation? No. Do I know if this teacher had to answer for this behavior? Haven't a clue. So great, good to know that a teacher can say what they want about a parent with no recourse.

I'd like to see a parents' union and some kind of acknowledgment in our role in public education (both what we are doing and what should be happening).

dan dempsey said...

I listened to Scott Oki at his book release some months ago. I bought his book and gave copies to Harium and Michael DeBell. Like Andrew I do not buy it all BUT I like an awful lot of Oki's suggestions.

He is hardly blaming teachers. He sees a system that hampers improvement, innovation and creativity. He wants education decision making to take place on a local scale where the community and principal make decisions.

To be a good principal in the SPS means to buy the TEAM MGJ decisions lock stock and barrel. Guess what that has led to very little improvement .. and 111.5 coaches and teacher RIFs.

If a principal's continued employment was tied to academic performance and principals were given the freedom to create success with control over budget and staff, how many would have hired more coaches and RIFed teachers?

Keep in mind in Oki Land the Principal is directly responsible to the school's trustees.

The SPS Centralized bureaucracy has thus far been incapable of producing significant improvement .. Decentralization is needed and much of what Mr. Oki has to say is Spot-on. Thanks for posting this Andrew.

dan dempsey said...

Portland 4% for central admin...
Seattle 9%

seattle citizen said...

Maybe it's not blaming teachers, but why jump right in with comments about getting the union to change, "kids first" etc? Teacher evals...Then we hear that other change is predicated on teachers and their union...

Maybe it's not blame, but it sure sounds like AK wants to change the teachers FIRST.

Who, in Oki Land, are the school trustees responsible to, and what happens to teaches who aren't "with the program"?

seattle citizen said...

Two kinds of protection offered by the union:
1) sometimes they provide lawyers (and maybe other "dela-making") to "protect" teachers some think are bad;
2) the union protects teachers from arbitrarily being out of a job if a new principal decides to start afresh, or change pedagogy etc. By being employees of the district, rather than just a school, there is some stability in building a career. Schools change, demographics change, demands change...who would go into the profession if they served at the whim of whatever principal was in charge that year? Look at all the new stuff that comes down the pike in the system we have now; imagine that in just a school, and what happens to job stability? Teachers have mortgages, too.

As to the first protection, I think the whole eval thing is blown out or proportion: the union and the admin could certainly figure out a fair eval system (and Andrew mentions a couple) that would easily work under existing policy and CBA, with slight modifications. It's a red herring for getting rid of the contract.

adhoc said...

Totally agree with Melissa, Andrew was not bashing teachers in any way. I think the points he makes are reasonable, and should be explored.

I have to say that I loved when my kids were at an alt school that had a Site Council. The Site Council was a governing body (couldn't over ride any district level decisions but could influence and vote on building level decisions) made up of the Principal, teachers, and parents! It was very efficient, each member had an equal vote, and it worked well. We worked on budget issues, district issues, classroom issues, and everything else in between.

This was in addition to the BLT. I wish all schools could have a site council.....

wseadawg said...

Bashing teachers has become a national pastime, especially from the Edu-reformers cabal, which is really just another union for commercial interests to malign and attack. So sure, anything A.K. or anyone else says about the union will raise the hair on the back of my neck, not so much because it lacks merit, but because without equal bashing of poor management and profiteering at the expense of kids (Can you say "Discovery Math?"), it becomes one-sided, anecdotal scapegoating and fear-mongering.

So long as both sides are judged on the facts and their merit, I have no complaints. I sense this community is moving in that direction, which is good.

As for starting by taking aim at the union? Maybe old habits die hard, or maybe the fact that bad teachers are a frustrating, inexcusable problem in some schools remain front and center in many minds. I can't tell people with personal experiences not to rely on their own experiences, so if I had a bad teacher, I'd probably think their contract was "job one" too.

TechyMom said...

One of the things that, IMHO, causes problems in Seattle is that board is accountable to voters not parents. In a city where most voters don't have kids, that may give fiscal accountability, but it does not give accountability on program and policy decisions. In a place where most voters have kids, I expect it works better. Local boards, or BLTs, could solve this problem if they were elected on a school level by the parents at the school.

MathTeacher42 said...

I wish evaluations were better. I wish all evaluations were better, everywhere. I do NOT know what to do.

2 anecodotes about teacher evaluation -

1. I stay in contact with a lot of teachers. I've met a lot of people since starting teacher training in Sept 2003. We gab about teaching work, just like when I was cook and gabbed about cooking work with other cooks, or I was a database serf gabbing about database work with other database serfs.

About 3 or 4 weeks ago I had one of these "AH HA !!!" moments. Yet another teacher friend was detailing the employment woes caused by the inflation deflation reallocation redefinition of some Ministry of Truth 728 / Title 1 / Catch 22 / who knows what situation. My "AH HA" was that regardless of how nutso any subset of rules is interpretted, ignored, or a mix of each in some districts,

compared to what I saw and what I experienced in the private sector over 25 years - promotion and demotion based upon toadying and back stabbing, over and over and over and over again - this school stuff is nutso, but it isn't as bad as what I've seen in the private sector!

I'd been listening to these stories for 6 years, and I wasn't really paying attention, because, compared to what I'd seen and lived through ... WOW.

Let every principle hire and fire who they want ... yeah - you won't end up with a bunch of synchophants and toadies?

2. When I started this math thing 6 years ago, the reform math crowd was a lot more influential than they are now. Their influence has began to wane only after the appalling failure of the Terry Bergeson fake math, AND, how the 'reform' crowd just dug in their heels, blaming others.

However, they are still quite infuential, and according to their pedagogy turned ideology, it is MY fault that kids can't pass any kind of test - SAT, WASL, PSAT, ACT, AP - because I failed at their reform math pedagogy turned ideology.

Every year I get scores of Algebra Whatever students who can't manipulate basic fractions, decimals and per cents, and it is MY fault because I failed at their reform math pedagogy turned theology.

I want these people evaluating ME?

The ONLY reason I share this anecdote in public is that I am so fed up with looking in the eyes of kids who want to learn, and who can learn, and who are befuddled from years of edu-babble 'education' - I do NOT care one bit if some district / school of reformers won't hire me!


Finally - lots of things HAVE to get better in education. As someone who goes to work everyday in education, I am NOT seeing much of value from these powerpoint jockeys.

Making grandiose powerpoints is work, and it is work walking around the outside of a hotel with a bag of onions on your head ...

and it accomplishes what of value?


seattle citizen said...


Site Council...BLT...why can't these serve the same function as some "new" school-specific boards? They could have co-equal power with principal, they could work with district to flesh out site-specific pedagogy that both meets the needs of the school and meets the district and state agreed-upon outomes (curricula)

While I agree with the TONE of some of Andrew's suggestions, I disagree where I (as wseadawg suggests) react from my gut that by leading with the teacher eval/hire and fire piece he has this as his top priority. He then answered my comment by saying that "...the legal contracts with principals and teachers (along with inertia & central bureaucracy) do currently prevent us from implementing ideas like these" It seems likely to me that Andrew believes the teachers (and even administrators...remember, we DO need SOME admins) are somehow in the way. Of course we can enact change without the teachers or principals doing one thing, or changing one clause in their contracts...but he predicates change on these somehow necesary changes to contracts.

Yes, contracts could change. But no, there are plenty of other things that could be done without suggesting we first need to change the teacher contracts.

That's why I opened my comments with the suggestion that instead of saying, "first change the contracts," he try to involved teachers in the process instead of insisting they are the stumbling block.

adhoc said...

"Site Council...BLT...why can't these serve the same function as some "new" school-specific boards?"

SC, I never said Site Council and BLT couldn't serve the same function as "school specific boards". In fact I was suggesting that they can and do function similar to "school specific boards". I used Site Council as an example of how some (alt) schools are already utilizing site councils as self governing Boards that work in a communal way to influence policy (in the limited areas that they can) and that they are quite effective, and seem to work well. And could be easily replicated across the district.

seattle citizen said...

I agree, adhoc, I wasn't meaning to say you didn't think they could serve a similar purpose to "boards," I was only asking if they could.

I think that the expansion of teh site council/ BLT model is a fine idea, particularly if the district and the councils work together to readdress policy so it can be fitted to school pedagogies and assessment methodoligies. Already, in Policy C56.00, we find that the Board supports alts, and alternative assessment is one of the pieces of that. Additionally, it has been said that where schools can show they meet curricular expectations, there might be some ways to incorporate alternative assessments.

Jan said...

Here is what I "took away" from Scott Oki's presentation last night. This is not what Scott said, necessarily, but what my reaction to it was. The "driver" of school excellence is, in my opinion, community involvement -- expressed in two ways: (1) choice (by parents of what school their kids attend), and (2) decentralized control of schools (so that choice MEANS something). We have little of either in SPS, and are losing what little we have, at an alarming rate. (Witness the current disregard of the alt school policies that "used to" mandate community involvement in things like principal selection, etc. -- but evidently don't anymore. The principal shuffles could not have happened last year at the alts if the authority to enter into the contract was at the school level, and not with MGJ),

While there are places in the control/decentralization discussion where teachers' unions come into play, they are not the major element (at least in Seattle), and I think it tends to polarize/derail the discussion to start with teachers' unions. Once you take away the problems of centralized bureaucracy, some of the union issues go away -- and the ones that do not can then be addressed more clearly.
What I think is needed is a set of policies that empowers school communities to have a much greater "say" in how schools are run -- starting with, and primarily through, principal selection, and that from that should flow curriculum choices, budget choices, teacher hiring, etc. I don't care what the local school entities are called, but they need to have a great deal more autonomy and authority than any site-based entities now have. We will still need the existing "big" school board, and that board should develop and oversee a broader set of policies to which all schools must adhere, run a (much pared down) central office, etc. but I totally agree with Andrew's point that communities should start to take the schools BACK from the bureaucracy. Am I wrong in thinking that teachers (and their unions) would LOVE it if budgets went down to the school level, and principals (at the direction of their communities) chose to spend MUCH more money on teachers (lovering class sizes)? (Of course, if parents WANTED classes with 30 to 35 kids, and CHOSE to spend that extra money on "teacher coaches," they could -- but somehow, I am not thinking that would happen! (I have a recollection that back in the Stanford days, an elementary school (Montlake?) did something like this -- where the school made a site based decision to commit almost ALL its staffing dollars to classroom teachers.) And, since I believe that a certain amount of the union protection exists to protect teachers from the whims of whatever principal arrives for a few years, is it not also possible that teachers would be glad to see site based management that could ride herd on an overzealous (or clueless) principal -- though I think that this situation would be less likely to arise if the site councils were in charge of principal hiring -- so you didn't have principals coming in and clashing with an entrenched school and/or teacher culture that the school community is happy with.


Jan said...

In the end -- the FINAL analysis --there probably ARE some union issues. For example, if a principal ultimately decides that a teacher is not working out, and goes through whatever steps have to be taken -- and the teacher leaves that school -- and NO OTHER principal with an open position is willing to take them on -- well, what DOES that say about that teacher? Similarly, if a principal resigns and cannot find any school that wants to hire him or her as a principal, hmmm. Maybe they need to fill a different job description. But I think that this is not a huge percentage of teachers (I am less sure of principals, as my experience with Seattle Schools has yielded a far greater percentage of mediocre (or worse) principals to good ones than is the case with teachers.) If schools selected books, how many schools do we think would be using Discovery Math (or would have been using CMP or TERC before it? Would they really want to use resources on all the consumables and coaching that seems to be required? Or would they be using Jacobs, which is what I believe the afterschool geometry program at TOPS uses, and which requires no extra materials or new teaching methods?

I must say, though, I am at a loss as to how to accomplish this. SSD is going in the EXACT opposite direction, towards centralization of ALL authority, both administrative and curricular. And the more centralized they become, the easier it is for "big corporations" to influence a few people and force big corporate solutions on the entire District. They only have to convince MGJ. Since the staff follows her policy leads and the board (at least the one we have) tends to rubberstamp the district's decisions -- the REAL community (parents and everyone else) is left powerless.

As for charters, I guess that what I have taken away from this blog is that there is ample reason to be wary of "corporatization" of schools by bringing in "outside" "for profit" charter organizations or other organizations that are run from "outside." THAT is not local control either! But what would be wrong with giving a huge chunk of a school's funds to the schools to hire teachers and staff, buy books (based on their OWN choices as to what they need), etc. -- again with some guidance and policy coming from the "big"
board so that major policies are conformed to, etc. This doesn't make them "not" public schools, does it? What would be wrong with having a whole district of "alts" -- as we used to know them?

seattle citizen said...

My suggestion would be to first organize parent/guardians around supporting and enlarging the existing policies and procedures that support various desired pedagogies. The alternative schools (not the safety nets, but the alternatives as C56.00 addresses) already have practiced many of the things that people on this blog seem to want: community engagement, alternative pedagogies, alternative assessments...With some flexibily addressed through policy tweaking (and isn't the district right now addressing revamping policy?) we could build many exciting new programs using existing methodology within the framework of the existing district.

Of course, one would then have to ask why alts are under "fire" (three closed, recently, two moved and colocated...) and why we don't see more action and support of C56.00

I mean, why would we get all excited about some extra-district new thing if the existing alternatives are already being dismantled? We should be honoring three decades of variety and alternative collaboration here in the district instead of trying to build some whole new thing.

That would be my suggestion: Build support for variety using existing program models (IB, International, Tech academies, AP and APP, Alterntive, etc....just jigger the policies (or strengthen the use, no demand the use of existing ones) so as to accomodate changes in assessment, strengthen community BLT or Site Councils...

Unless, of course, it's not about that, but about freeing the district from teacher contracts...

It akes work. I know some people who have spent years on various committees, designing new things...Why should someone from outside, Oki for instance, be able to waltz in and not have to do the hard work...has he spent any long hours volunteering on Seattle's committees and groups? If not, why not?

seattle citizen said...

Well put, Jan. Much more detailed than my spiel, and a very well put. I was rying to say something similar but lack, it seems, the concision.

Jan said...


I have had kids in both private and public schools, and am wracking my brain to try to figure out how the two systems do or do not compare (with respect to respect for and autonomy of teachers). I agree with you that "fads" seem to come and go in education land, and that it is bad (both for teachers AND for kids) to let principals come in and throw everybody out who won't toady to the current fad. But since parents are rarely behind these fads, is it your experience that these problems are worse in private schools? Aren't there private schools around with good stable management, whose faculty have been with them for years, or decades, because the school families love them, and the families back the teachers?

It strikes me that there MUST be some middle ground between the inertia of the current system and the meanspirited caprice of the situations you describe -- but I am not sure I can point to any example of it (which is ominous).

Jessica said...

I'm an American living in Tokyo and maybe moving back to Seattle next fall - so I noticed that you cited Japan as having fewer administrators vs. teachers. An interesting comparison but not necessarily relevant because the Japanese approach to education is vastly different. (1) Many, if not most, elementary classes have 1 teacher (and no asst teacher) assigned to a classroom of 40 students. (2) There are no janitors in public schools - and the children are responsible for cleaning the classrooms, emptying trash, and serving lunch. No kidding! (3) Plus extensive homework to learn thousands of Japanese characters and cram schools for students as young as age 4. (I'll add that there are pluses and minuses to the Japanese approach, such as more rote learning and less creativity.) So there may be fewer administrators, but there's also a vast gulf in expectations, preparation, behavior and educational approaches.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

My daughter is in her freshman year and her 4th in independent schools. Jan asked, "Aren't there private schools around with good stable management, whose faculty have been with them for years, or decades, because the school families love them, and the families back the teachers? "

Absolutely. Our middle school had teachers that had been there since it was founded—same for the HS. Both stressed the value and quality of teachers, and used a good chunk of their tuition to give them decent pay and benefits (though possibly not as good as public). The teachers work hard, do a tremendous job of engaging the kids, show up at numerous extra-curricular events, give detailed written assessments for every child in every class, etc.

Are the all perfect? Of course not, but on the whole they are top notch. How is this possible?

First off, they're being paid to deliver. Parents expect our children will get a good education. And, technically we demand it; if they didn't we'd probably go elsewhere. The market does have some ability to influence the product.

Next, as it is often noted, independent schools don't need to keep the problems. That does not mean they exclude anyone with any chance of being a problem. I have seen a number of kids with learning disabilities and mild Asperger's, and most succeed and thrive. But if a child was continuously disruptive in class, they would probably be asked to leave. So, in that case the teachers have an easier job.

I believe that the current "reform" movement of damning teachers is off the mark. The unions serve a purpose in a District as large as Seattle. There are just too many cans of worms to be opened if we were to throw all of the hiring and firing to the local level.

Personally, I think the District is too large and has a pretty difficult job (though I agree that the current staff is hardly up to the task). They can create a kind of utopia in SOME of their schools, serving SOME of their students. But I don't think they will have an easy time being all things to all.

Schools in the southend are the prime example. The students run the gamut from high-risk, high-need to exceedingly privileged (and I don't mean that in a snarky way). Many of the schools (especially at the MS and HS level) end up putting most of their resources into raising up those on the bottom—this has become even more pronounced since NCLB and the sword of "failing school" hanging over their heads. It's all about passing whatever standardized test is in place. The kids who want and need more are often left to their own devices until they can manage to get into an Honors or AP class—if they're offered. Smart kids do okay. Parents pay tutors to pick up the slack.

I know it's not all this simple, or black and white. But all this talk about site management in schools with extremely diverse populations could lead to powder kegs. Which group in the community gets to decide? Or what if there is a group of kids with no-one to advocate for them? Talk about parents divided.

As always, I don't have the answers. I'm just feeling lucky to be able, I think, to identify the problem. If I recall, Seattle Citizen often talks about how this is very much a societal issue. I agree. If we fix the problems we have in society that result in poverty and hopelessness, we will, eventually fix the school systems.

Children need to be born into and raised by stable families. Those families can have a huge variety of members, but the common thread would be a sense of financial, emotional and physical stability. Without that our schools that serve low-income populations will always have too many other things to deal with that get in the way of giving a good education. And they will always be at the mercy of the next big edu-fad.

zb said...

"The "driver" of school excellence is, in my opinion, community involvement -- expressed in two ways: (1) choice (by parents of what school their kids attend), and (2) decentralized control of schools (so that choice MEANS something)."

I have absolutely no faith at all that this model, essentially a free-market model, will have positive effects on public schools over all. There are some districts trying it on a much larger scale than Seattle, and I will re-evaluate my opinion of any data ever shows that such a model (choice + variety, free market, evolution models) have a positive effect.

MathTeacher42 said...

To Jan at 7:29

I have no idea how other places do it...

Ah Ha!

My cooking / software life was a merry go round of crazy bosses and good bosses and crazy jobs and good jobs ... and sometimes all the good stuff happened at once, and, sometimes ...

Teaching is a lot like cooking on a fishing boat - you plan and ... then stuff happens. While you have to be thinking big picture to make each meal / period work as best as possible, ummmm ... I have to make tomorrow work well to set up Friday ---

there are other schools out there? ;)


seattle citizen said...

you write that
"this talk about site management in schools with extremely diverse populations could lead to powder kegs. Which group in the community gets to decide? Or what if there is a group of kids with no-one to advocate for them? Talk about parents divided."
I disagree. I think that if the site council or BLT or whatever was diverdse enough (THAT might be the problem) that the consensus would help stabilize the extremes. I also think that a largish group of people (say, ten) would look after all "groups" in the building, particularly when they can do away with the idea of "groups" in the first place.

Beyond that, what's the alternative? If there is NO site based decision making, it devolves to the district - distant, unaware of on-the-ground operational needs. Conversely, if a parent decides that the site council can't meet their kid's needs, and the district can't, then the parent might just leave the district anyway, which is another way of not meeting the needs of all groups. (not accusing anyone, just trying to see the dynamic) Sp maybe a good, democratic, equiitable, strong site council is a good way to meet all the needs in the building?

adhoc said...

The Site council at the alt school my kids went to included the principal, and an equal number of staff members to parents. Each person had an equal voice and an equal vote. It truly was a site based governing body (to the extent it could be).

Site council meetings were open to all, and anyone could apply for a chair or co-chair position on the council (there were always open positions, and if there weren't an ad hoc committee was formed to include everyone).

Site Council gave both parents and teachers a true voice in the running of the school, and it worked very well and was quite effective.

reader said...

We need more teachers, fewer central administrators. We have more non-teachers in SPS than teachers! What are we getting for that? In countries like Japan, they typically have a ratio of 4 teachers to every 1 administrator. The primary business of schools is teaching and that is where our dollars should be going.

Whoa! That's pretty unbelievable. (non-teachers > teachers) In fact, without evidence, I don't believe it. Andrew, where did you get this information? What are you counting as non-teachers? Are librarians, coaches and IA's.. counted as "non-teachers". Thanks, inquiring minds want to know.

reader said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Andrew, the idea of a board for a school is right out of the charter school playbook. Who would these community leaders be? And, as is typical with charter schools, they are usually "business leaders". Do you think that these people would have a clue about how a school is run unless, of course, you agree with Mr. Oki that a school should be run like a business.

Principals do have the power to let a teacher go but it has to be done in a prescribed manner that protects the district from legal vulnerability. People can and do sue if they think that they were unfairly dismissed. Principals know when teachers are working up to their potential and when they are not. This comes from feedback of parents, students and other staff members. It is up to the principal to take the necessary steps to dismiss a teacher.

A principal has much more control over their school than Mr. Oki would like for you to think. Yes there is seniority for teachers which is a protective measure for teachers that I will describe in another post but there is no tenure as Mr. Oki mistakenly described last night in his presentation.

Mr. Oki said that teachers were just in it for themselves and needed to be reminded about why they were there. That is when he brought in the idea of merit pay. I think that Mr. Oki was way off base with that remark and yet I hear you repeat those sentiments in your statements.

I really don't understand your view of teachers. The majority of the teachers that my daughter has had within the Seattle Public school system have been caring, knowledgeable and capable.

As far as principals having the opportunity to run their schools the way that they feel is in the best interest of their students, are you familiar with alternative schools in Seattle and how they are run?

Many of these schools have site councils and schools such as Nova are based on community input particularly that of the students.

I think that you and Mr. Oki need to become familiar with the alternative school programs because they have many of the qualities of school governance that you and Mr. Oki think are important. These programs are very successful at creating a positive atmosphere where a lot of learning happens and the best part is that they are already established and have been around for many years.

There really is no need to reinvent the wheel, particularly in the likeness of charter schools.

Anonymous said...

Regarding tenure versus seniority:

The reason that I am bringing this up now is because Mr. Oki referred to teachers in Seattle as enjoying tenured positions but that is not the case. Seattle teachers do not receive tenure. Also, after Mr. Oki's presentation, one of the members of CPPS said that one of the “three issues of focus” for the year would be on “teacher quality”. The rif’s were mentioned as well as the term “seniority” and “contract negotiations” of the teachers which will be happening next year. This person also stated that there was a “need for change” in terms of the teacher’s contract.

Because those two terms were both used last night and almost interchangeably, I thought that I would clarify for myself exactly what seniority meant.

What I learned is as follows:

Basically, seniority ensures effective teachers in the classroom

1. Eliminating seniority from the contract works against the goal of a high quality teaching staff. Studies indicate teachers are "learning the ropes" during their first five years on the job; thus it is illogical to suggest teachers in their early years of the profession are of the same quality as seasoned teachers. Therefore, in order to keep high quality teachers in the classroom, the less experienced teachers must be let go first, whenever conditions for a Reduction in Force exists.

2. Seniority makes it more difficult for employers to cover up an arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory layoff, safeguarding whistle blowers and anyone who speaks up regarding wrongdoing. Teachers often speak up at staff meetings and testify at school board meetings on the behalf of students. Without seniority, issues of student safety and a deeper understanding of student achievement might go unheard.

3. Seniority is not the same as tenure. K-12 teachers are not tenured, so unlike a judge or professor, they are not protected for life. Seattle teachers can be dismissed without reason in their first two years of teaching and thereafter can be dismissed as ineffective with two consecutive years of Unsatisfactory evaluations, which can include student performance as a factor.

4. Seniority does not preclude dismissals for ineffective teaching. In the recent district audit, McKinsey & Co. noted the district underutilized the dismissal mechanisms in the current teacher contract. This is due to principals who are unable or unwilling to do their state mandated job of teacher evaluation. The Superintendent evaluates the principal corps. (No Seattle principals were dismissed last year.)

5. The Union cannot stop dismissals; they can only ensure workers have their due process protected. In the uncommon case of an ineffective teacher still in the classroom after the first two years, it is the principal who is responsible to insist on rigorous improvement plans followed by dismissal, if needed.

6. What is to stop a district from seeing the financial benefits of laying off the most experienced, ergo most expensive, teachers? What controls would otherwise prevent the dismissal of a teacher just prior to retirement eligibility?

So, that's it in a nutshell.

Maureen said...

I wish that Alt school Site Councils had as much influence as some of you would like to think. In practice, I would say that it is very dependent on the good will of the District appointed administrators.

Anonymous said...


That's where I think that it is the alt ed community's responsibility to educate the central administration and the school board to the value of alternative schools that specific to Seattle.

Many of us are in the process of doing that right now.

If you are an alt ed parent and would like to be part of that process, please contact me at

Jan said...

Dora: I agree with you that there were lots of phrases dropped in Mr. Oki's presentation that could jangle the nerves of people who don't want to lead with (or maybe even ever play) the "teachers/unions are the problem" card. But -- it seems to me that the site based councils for the alts are NOT working well now. If they were, there would still be a Summit, and NOVA would not have been moved from a site it liked (and that worked well) into a seismically unsafe site that is not equipped for high school.
And, while I don't know what Mr. Oki had in mind for the boards, it certainly seems to me that the site based councils for Seattle alt schools are filled largely from the school community (parents (I don't know about staff). Fundamentally, I think that the job of raising and educating kids belongs to their parents -- though I realize that we do it with public money. I would LOVE to see Seattle-type boards, with lots of parents, running the school-specific boards. I was on the board of my children's preschool, and that was pretty much a parent/staff board (we used to try to get "community" folks involved, but invariably it seemed they would sign up, and then not show up for the meetings. The parent board members ALWAYS came to meetings! I am sure we were not a perfect board, but truly, this is not rocket science. It takes the same sorts of skills that parents are already donating to schools through PTSAs, school-based foundations, things like Friends of Garfield Orchestra, etc.

How else do we fix this? We have a superintendant who wants to consolidate and centralize power, and beef up central administration at the expense of teachers who actually teach kids, and a board comprised largely of people who either expressly believe that their role is to "approve" whatever the district wants, or who are unwilling to challenge staff data or demand accountability for anything.

Reader -- I THINK (but am not sure) that the teacher/non-teacher comparison was between district employees who actually teach students (not who are certified to teach but are doing other things-- like curriculum development, coaching, etc.), and district employees doing something else. I can't vouch for whether the quote is true, of course, but regardless of the exact numbers, I agree with the sentiment that we have too many supervisors, trainers, central office folks. I think we need to cut down there, and put more bodies in front of (smaller) classes, and it is my sense that the state auditors, etc. agree.

Anonymous said...


Actually I am a Nova parent and at the time of the Mann building closure, we were not aware of how unsafe the Meany building was.

That was not discovered until the closures were finalized.

We were promised a high school ready facility but it was not until the closures had been finalized that the design team realized that we would not have the facilities that were promised.

That had nothing to do with whether there was a site council or not at Nova. Since then, we have come to an understanding that our new building will be retrofitted for earthquake safety within the next year.

On the other hand, yes, we feel that the alternative community is under siege as well as other programs such as APP and SBOC. We believe that much of that has to do with the fact that our superintendent has little understanding of the unique value of our programs. Her understanding of alternative schools is what would be typical for other parts of the country where students in those school populations are mostly at risk students.

Because of that and because we will have new school board members who are under the same impression, we are developing a campaign to bring to the attention of the community the tremendous value of alternative schools.

Also, because of the requirements of the Race to the Top funds that are available, we believe that our alternative schools fit the bill for what Arne Duncan is looking for in terms of public school education. It is of interest to note that AS#1 is a charter school and all of the alternative programs that have followed have a similar rule of governance as AS #1.

If you have a board of parents and staff as with alternative schools, who are personally involved with the school as alternative programs are, I think that would work. If the board is made up of "community leaders" who otherwise would have no involvement with the school, it wouldn't make any sense to have such a board.

Anonymous said...


I pulled together my notes of last night's presentation by Mr. Oki and created a post on this blog at:

It's at the bottom of the "page".

When describing a school board, Mr. Oki said "every single school should have a board of directors", at this point he referred to charter schools as an example. He went on to say that the mayor or state government should establish these boards. That is a far cry from parents and students determining the future of their schools and curriculum.

If you want a board specific for every school, then I would recommend that you be very clear on what you want or you will get something that you never expected or asked for.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Reader asked about the source of the statement about more non-teachers than teachers, and I'm just repeating one of Scott Oki's sound bytes. Here are the stats from his book: He said the total number of people on the SPS payroll is 5,028 plus another 500 or so full-time equivalents when you factor in the 10% of the budget that goes toward services that are contracted out. The total number of teachers on the payroll is 2,548. Are those numbers wrong? If someone has different data, I'd love to see it. Of course we need other positions -- I don't think anyone would argue teachers should be 100%. But shouldn't they be at least 60 or 70%?

I think it's unfair to say my post was anti-teacher: of the 4 bulleted ideas, #2 only partially mentioned hire/fire teachers, and #3 said we should have more teachers. But to clarify anyway: I have said many times that I think the vast majority of teachers are great, caring, wonderful people who deserve more. I love teachers. And most of the truly inspiring teachers that my kids had were very senior teachers - so the last thing I would ever advocate for is a system that would lead to unfair dismissal of good senior teachers, or any teacher. In fact, I said it before and I'll say it again: I'm in favor of having teachers come up with the way to judge weak teachers and a way to police dismissals so they are justified. If the teachers union is getting a bad rap because the principals aren't doing their job, then even more reason for them to take charge of this problem. I don't have to look hard to find parents who tell me about specific teachers that can't control their classrooms, don't have mastery of their subjects, aren't prepared for class, are verbally abusive to kids, etc. The perception is that these teachers (a small number of teachers, but affecting a large number of students) would be quickly removed if it were a private school where there is more accountability to "customers."

I understand Alt schools do some of what I suggested -- great. It's just as important for neighborhood schools. I will always trust local people more than central folks. How can someone in central staff or board really own success in almost 100 different schools, much less understand what each community wants and needs from their school? Let's give the people in the schools control of their own success. Superintendents, staff, and Boards come and go... parents and communities remain.

I am NOT in favor of charter schools because I have the same concerns as others about the danger of for-profit motives. And yet, I can see how appealing it is to have a school that has all of the freedom that charter schools get to innovate. If we want to fend off charters, let's give our public schools that freedom.

I may be 100% wrong on everything I say. Bottom line is: We don't have enough seats in all the popular schools for everyone. Does SPS have a specific plan for improving all the other schools? We need to demand details and real accountability.

Charlie Mas said...

I like nearly everything that Andrew mentioned.

I like how he began by pointing out the way that the current system focuses our effort on the challenge of gaining access to one of the "good" schools instead of focusing our efforts on making the schools "good".

This has become such an overwhelming obsession that the District's utter failure to improve schools (and student outcomes) has gone neglected.

I don't think we need to create a board for each school when the same result can be acheived by democratizing and empowering the Building Leadership Team at every school. I think the BLT should control the budget and have a lot of influence over staffing at the school - including a role in hiring and firing the principal. There also needs to be some District-level monitoring of these BLTs to assure that they are on track. It would be reasonable for the Education Director with responsibility for the school to be a member of the team.

I would like to see principals re-focused on their role as instructional leader. I would really like to see them in the classrooms more, observing, mentoring, evaluating, and supporting teachers. We shouldn't need coaches for the teachers; their principals and their colleagues should be doing that work for them.

If principals were in the classroom more often they would know if the teachers were effectively delivering the curriculum - even if they were not using standardized texts. Even if they were not using standardized pedagogy or scripted lessons.

I think teachers would have more confidence in their principal evaluations if their principal were in their classroom more. I think the principals would have a better idea of which teachers are doing well, which teachers need support, and what kind of support they need, if the principals were in the classroom more.

This is going to mean that some of the other work of the principal - discipline, facilities, etc. will have to be taken on by other people.

It also means that the District is going to have to step up and do more work to monitor what is happening in the schools and make sure that the students who need support are getting it - early and effective interventions for every student working below Standards in grades K-10 - and that the students who need additional challenge are getting it - authentic acceleration and real higher level reasoning. We can, should, and must have every student working at least at grade level or, in the case of students with disabilities, the level of their individual expectations.


Charlie Mas said...


Let's face it. The real work of the District is done by teachers in classrooms. Everything else the District does should either be in support of that work or dropped. Quality assurance is an essential part of that support.

We ABSOLUTELY need more teachers and fewer administrative personnel in the central office. We do need some curriculum experts, and we do need some consulting teachers, but we don't need 111 coaches. Seriously, maybe four total for math, six for literacy, a few for bilingual, a few for Special Ed, a couple each for Advanced Learning, science, PE, world languages, CTE, Social Studies, and the arts. They would be responsible for aligning the curriculum, professional development, making some spot checks on a scheduled circuit, and responding to specific calls for help. I don't think it would take more than a couple dozen altogether. That may not seem possible now, but that's because they are currently taking on too much work. They should NOT be writing lessons. They should NOT be administering tests to students.

It's not all that clear to me that we need someone in charge of programs for Native American education or South Pacific Islander education or Latino student education. If these positions exist, perhaps they should be grant-funded - like the manager of advanced learning - or funded from a dedicated source like Title I or as the special education staff are.

We definitely can make better use of volunteers. Volunteers provide two benefits. First, they are free labor. Second, they bind people to the program and create community involvement and support. In particular, we need to see more volunteers at the District level. For all of their talk about community involvement, the district administrators themselves are the worst at it. How many of these program managers are using volunteers?

The big question is how can we get there. There's no doubt that we will need support and buy-in from a variety of stakeholders including the teachers. I think the hardest part will be getting the principals on board. This plan puts a lot of demands on them and makes their jobs less secure.

The first step is to get the Board lined up behind it. We need the Board because this is a Vision for the District, and it is the Board's job to set the Vision for the District. Once they are on board with it, the superintendent can either join or leave. The Board needs to wrestle control of the District back from the central staff. This is an idea that they can rally around to give a focus to their fight for control.

We need to address less or our attention on which school our child attends and more attention on what happens in those schools. If there are discipline problems, such as we have heard about, what can we do about that? Would we have them if students were working at grade level and therefore able to engage their lessons? Would we have them if class sizes were smaller? To what extent are our troubles rooted in our failure to deliver early and effective interventions? To what extent would they be resolved by the use of those interventions?

Charlie Mas said...

For years and years the District said that their number one goal and priority was to close the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standards.

In all that time did the Board every direct the superintendent to draft a plan to accomplish that goal? In all that time did the superintendent or the CAO or anyone else from the District ever offer a plan to accomplish that goal?


So how credible was it that closing the gap ever really was the District's goal or priority?

Today the District says essentially the same thing, that their goal is every student achieving. Where is their plan to make that happen? Is it buried somewhere in that Strategic Plan document? Is it somewhere in the Response to Intervention plan?

I'm not seeing it. I'm not seeing the District mobilize to address the 50% failure rate on the math WASL.

I see the goals stated, but I don't see any plans to achieve them.

dan dempsey said...

"Does SPS have a specific plan for improving all the other schools?"

I've been attending school board meetings for about three years. Also often reviewing them on line. Plans? Yup lots of them. Specific plans? Yup some of them also. Plans that work are few and far between.

Evidence: Of Sealth, RBHS, Franklin, and Cleveland not a single WASL goal met the standards in the School Improvement plans written for each school in September 2008 and posted on line. Math, Reading, Writing = Zero for 12.

Ms. Santorno stated Spring 2007 that the adoption of Everyday Math with the associated professional development would eliminate the achievement gaps in 4 to 5 years. In the first two years the Achievements gaps increased for six classifications of educationally disadvantaged learners. I could not find even one that showed any improvement.

Currently math achievement in Seattle's predominantly African-American elementary schools is pathetic and NOT improving.

There certainly are plans. The Centralization of decision making, the multimillion dollar coaching model, etc. The plan to continue social promotion and ignore effective interventions, the spending of 1 million on Sylvan services. The plan to ignore the classroom disruption law RCW 28A 600.020.

There are plans galore and in the words of Michael DeBell: Do we have any evidence this coaching model works?

When MGJ did her 90 minutes in front of the community before being hired I intended to watch it all. I had watched all 90 minutes of Thornton and liked what I saw. MGJ I could not make it past minute 45... just lame platitudes and canned Edu-Speak.

The current plans are like her initial speech just based on lame Edu-Speak ideas. I guess this will make the Broad folks happy and further her career.

Centralized dictatorship has not worked very often in the last 50 years. Why believe it will work in Seattle schools?

There are plenty of plans just no evidence that any will work.

When the Strategic plan calls for quarterly reports and MGJ misses one of those. What does that say about planning and the ability to make it happen?

seattle citizen said...

It sounds like there is widespread support for empowering schools on this blog. The frameworks are there, in policy and in board duties. The question, as Charlie says, is how to bring such a thing about?

This could be a unifying theme for all the various stakeholders. This could provide a central tenet that people speak to.

It sounds rather exciting, actually, but requires much work to garner support from the community and thereby the board. There is research out there that supports much of what is desired; there are already things in place to enact much of this (things that are already current district initiative, but might require slight tweaking to coordinate with revitalized buildings)

How do we organize this initiative?

zb said...

We've brought it up before, but I think Chicago's model of Local School Councils is worth exploring. I'd also like to see more examples of how local school leadership is being set up in other districts.

That's what I'd need to see before I would become an advocate for local school control, a specific model, and information about its outcome in other locations.

Sahila said...

You might be well served looking at New Zealand's Tomorrow's Schools initiative of decentralisation of education, which started around 1980... all schools were given control of their own budgets and were managed by an elected Board of Trustees... there are issues with this model in that poor communities did not have the resources and management expertise of rich communities, so there was still a question of equity... but you already have that here anyway, under the current paradigm. There are plenty of reports out now, of what worked and what didnt... I'd encourage you to take the best ideas, find solutions to the problems and come up with a hybrid of your own... BUT NOT CHARTER SCHOOLS!

You might also like to look at a move towards a vertical curriculum, which move has been happening in New Zealand and Australia for the past 20 years... and look at how education qualifications/performance are managed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority...

There are things to learn from in other countries, if you are open to widening your perspective... no need to reinvent the wheel...

reader said...

I still don't buy the claim:
non-teachers > teachers.

Yes, there are too many people getting in the way of education, but the truth is enough. Let's look at the claim that 10% of staff is contract, and the presumption that they are not teachers. The largest contract is to the Experimental Education Unit at the University of Washington. It is an early childhood center(up to age 7)serving the district's students. In short, it is a school... and it is full of teachers. What about all the other contract agencies like Boyer Children's Clinic? How did Oki count them? What about psychologists? librarians? coaches (for students, that is)? IA's? contract art teachers? speech pathologists? occupational therapists? nurses? counselors? Were they call counted as "non-teachers"? Without a breakdown of jobs, the claim is meaningless.

I do agree that the system is bogged down from the top. But, I do not share the perspective that the teachers are all saints or high performing. My experience has been that they are overwhelmingly lackluster. There are a few real starts, very far and few between. And many, many very uninspired and unmotivated teachers... competent, but no great shakes. Just getting by. If you consider the students choosing education as a their career path, it easy to see why how this happens. I think it's great to have a few initiatives aimed at lighting a fire under them.

uxolo said...

I posted this on the Principals thread. I would think that CPPS could rally support for Local School Council governance since they have funding to do organizing work.

Principals would have more support if their governing body actually governed. Local School Councils (described here elsewhere) gives both responsibility and authority to different willing members of the community. If Seattle adopted LSCs rather than pretend that BLTs are part of the governing body, we would have a decentralized and high-functioning system. It would work because Seattle's adult population is highly educated and there are very few children - lots of neighbors without kids who want schools to add to the value of the neighborhood.
Good schools have volunteers doing much of the playground work that is needed - it requires training the volunteers. Why not seek a PTSA grant and train playground volunteers? There is a state law against bullying, but you wouldn't know it if you spent some time at nearly any school playground. All day long we want our kids in small groups led by a trained teacher and then send them out to socialize with 1:75 supervision. And most of the kids do not know how to play. They need to be taught.
Madrona has Family Support Workers who can do the work that the principal may be getting involved in unnecessarily. Some principals who do not know how to make the instructional environment better make it look like they are needed for "other" issues and then let the instructional issues take a back seat.
Our supt does not inspire principals. She does not inspire families. And she doesn't seem to have won this readership over. The best way for us to control our neighborhood schools is with local DECENTRALIZED governance that has a formal structure citywide, like the LSCs of Chicago.

11/11/09 7:46 AM

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

uxolo wrote: "I would think that CPPS could rally support for Local School Council governance since they have funding to do organizing work."

Just to clarify: CPPS is an all volunteer organization run by a small group of active parents. We do not have "funding to do organizing work" so we rely on parent volunteers to help drive issues. We are definitely looking at this issue so please let us know if you are interested in working on it ( (Of course, we'd love to get funding if we could, but not so easy to find these days.)

uxolo said...

Didn't CPPS receive some Gates money? Or some other grant?

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Yes, a Gates grant years ago when we first formed. Nothing in recent years.