An editorial in today's Seattle Times buys into Waiting for Superman.
As usual from Times editorials, it is a bit difficult to cut away the meaningless language and try to determine what the Times is trying to say. In this case, the message seems to be "Don't get complacent about education just because your school and teachers are okay - there are parts of the city where children are not doing well and it is up to you to fix that for them." However Ms Varner doesn't offer us any means for helping these students.
Aside from that message of your responsibility to the less fortunate in your community, Ms Varner insinuates that the villian in this melodrama is the teachers' union - "the ills of public education's bloated bureaucracy: the high dropout rates, the widening achievement gap and powerful teachers unions that keep the conversation about adults rather than children"
Where does she live? What color is the sky on her planet?
Ms Varner says that we may all be like the film's director, David Guggenheim who "came to the topic after questioning why he drove past three public schools each weekday to drop his children off at a private school." Here are some facts: about 70% of Seattle schoolchildren attend public school. So, right there, rather than all of us being like Mr. Guggenheim, no more than 30% of us possibly could be. And, in case Ms Varner hadn't heard (because the Times hasn't reported it), our neighborhood schools are filled to overflowing. They are filled, for the most part, with neighborhood students. There are a few notorious exceptions.
She tries to guilt us by saying "We might all examine our blithe tolerance of schools we wouldn't send our children to." Then she tries to scold us some more "The task becomes more meaningful in Seattle Public Schools, where a return to neighborhood boundaries diminishes an option many parents had to escape the worst schools: leave them for someone else's kids."
But that's exactly her solution - like Mr. Guggenheim's solution: escape the bad public schools for the Charter schools and leave the worst schools for someone else's kids. Ms Varner writes "Imagine what we could accomplish if we stopped thinking about adults and thought about what children needed: chiefly more, not fewer, learning options."
She seems perfectly content to leave the bad schools wallowing in failure so long as a few lucky students can escape. Well, that may allow her to be blithely tolerant of bad schools, but some of us have been working hard to get the District to do something about them. The District, however, has refused to take the necessary steps. And not because the teachers' union has stood in their way.
Seattle Public Schools has millions to spend on all kinds of administrative re-organizations and systems, but the Strategic Plan hasn't done a thing to improve academics. The curricular alignment effort is a fine idea, but the execution has been botched. The result is a loss of the best, no repairs for the worst, and the de-professionalization of teaching. The introduction of formative assessments is useful for the collection of data, but there is no action taken in response to that data. It is like taking careful measurements of the size of the bus, its speed and direction, the number of children onboard and their heights, but doing nothing to stop the bus as it drives off a cliff.
For all of the millions that Seattle Public Schools has spent on consultants and buildings and technology, why doesn't the district have any money to provide early and effective interventions for students working below grade level? Why isn't it a priority to give struggling students the support they need to achieve and progress? Why is everything else a higher priority? It is not because the teachers' union won't allow it. The teachers' union doesn't set the budget priorities.
The fault lies completely with the District administration and the Board. They set the budget priorities. They decide what is worthy for investment and what is not. They choose software and consultants over support for students. Who is going to hold them accountable and how?