Saturday, October 02, 2010

Why Education Reform Won't Work

I don’t see anything particularly wrong with any of the proposals from the Education Reform movement. Each of them, taken by themselves, out of context, appears to be a fairly good idea – or at least harmless. But these ideas aren't intended to work out of context; they are intended to work in our dysfunctional system. In that system they don't work. Moreover, they don't solve the problems they are supposed to solve. Most of them don't even address the problems that they are supposed to solve and, worse yet, they generally exacerbate the problem.

Take Education Reform's number one idea: charter schools. Not a bad idea, really. Who could be against the proposed creation of innovative schools with no tuition? Not me. But it doesn't address the problem it is intended to solve - it actually makes it worse. What is the problem that charter schools are supposed to solve? Bad schools, right? What's a bad school? In general, a "bad" school is one with a lot of struggling students - students from uninvolved families, who are from unsupportive families, who are ill-prepared academically, who don't speak English, who are not motivated towards education, who have behavior problems, or who have disabilities that interfere with their education.

Well, how does the creation of a charter school fix that problem? It doesn't. It doesn't even address the problem because it doesn't even try to make any positive changes in the "bad" school. In fact, by drawing any remaining involved families and high performing students to the charter school, and by denying access to students with special needs, it leaves the bad school with even higher concentrations of struggling students.

A better idea? Do the innovation that would have happened in the charter school in the "bad" school. Directly address the root causes of student underperformance. Provide the students with the support they need to succeed. Reduce class sizes, extend class hours, school days, and the school year. Provide study time, homework support, and enrichment opportunities. Foster a culture that values education. Districts don't do it because it costs a lot of money and it creates perceived inequities for adults.

What of Teach for America? What's the problem here? Unqualified teachers? And how does it solve that problem to put people with even less teacher training in front of students? Teach for America volunteers are placed in high poverty schools where high teacher turnover is a problem, but TfA volunteers only commit to two years, then most of them leave. That actually increases the teacher turnover at these schools.

What's the real solution? First, better teacher training at our colleges of education. Second, targeted professional development. Third, mentoring by experienced teachers in the building and the principal. Fourth, meaningful evaluations. All of these things are possible. Could we do with simplified teacher certification? Certainly, but for everyone; not just a few.

Another big Education Reform idea is Merit Pay for teachers. Merit pay takes three forms: pay for performance, pay for taking hard-to-staff positions, and pay for working in challenging schools.

Pay for performance has already been totally discredited. All kinds of studies have shown that cash bonuses don't even work as incentives for anything but the most mechanical tasks. In addition, the evidence simply does not support the belief that teachers significantly influence student test scores. Finally, there is no reason to believe that teachers are holding back on their effort or that a few more dollars a day will spur them to additional effort. The whole proposal is stupid.

A better solution? Give teachers raises the same way people in other professions get raises - none for those with unsatisfactory performance, a small percentage for those with satisfactory performance, and a larger percentage for those with strong performance. Performance measured by the quality of their teaching rather than the quality of their students' learning.

Additional pay for math and science teachers sounds good, but it is equally stupid. The thinking here is that folks with STEM skills can earn twice as much in industry as they can teaching, so to even things up, math and science teachers should get paid incrementally more than Language Arts or history teachers. Hey, if someone is choosing between $85K per year working for a tech company or $40K per year working as a teacher, making it $45K per year for the teaching job doesn't really change the choice. I haven't heard anyone seriously suggest that we offer math and science teachers anything close to what they could make in industry.

I think the better solution here is make it easier for people who have left industry to enter teaching as a second career. The long term solution, of course, is to make STEM skills more common.

Additional pay for work in challenging schools also sounds good, but completely misses the mark. It is predicated on the mistaken belief that money will motivate teachers to make this choice. It won't. These folks aren't motivated by money. Moreover, that idea is based on a mistaken sense of why people don't want to work in these schools. Studies have shown that it would take a lot more money than districts have offerred to cause a teacher to want to work in a challenging school. Money isn't what motivates these folks. I don't understand any effort to incent people that doesn't begin by asking them what they want.

A better solution? Address the problem. Why don't teachers want to teach in these schools? Because the working conditions are worse. So the solution is to invest in the schools to improve the working conditions for the teachers. Make the schools safer for them. Reduce class sizes. Provide more classroom support. Put the most teacher-friendly principals there. If it is necessary to incent them, then incent them with soemthing they want like academic freedom and professional development.

Education Reformers sometimes talk about innovation and how we need more of it. That's one of the major reasons that they support the idea of charter schools. But they don't really support innovation in our public schools. More often than not we see the Education Reformers aligning behind the top-down imposition of standardization. They actually work to prevent the outcome that they claim to support.

A better solution? Allow teachers to innovate. They already want to do it and they will do it for free where they are already working. All that districts have to do is permit it. Definitely demand that teachers cover the content, the knowledge and skills that we expect students to learn, but free them to use the materials and the instructional strategies of their choice. This will require principals to actually supervise teachers, but we want them to do that anyway. They have to do it to properly evaluate the teachers' performance.

It's funny, but none of the solutions that Education Reformer propose will actually solve problems. They don't even address the problems. How isn't that obvious to everyone?

42 comments:

bikemom said...

I'd be curious to hear what Tom Stritikus would say to these comments. Did you write to the Times in response to his Op Ed with this?

I like the way you make your points.

anonymom said...
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anonymom said...
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anonymom said...

I agree that innovation should happen within our public schools, and that we don't need charters. And I'm more than happy to pay higher, much higher, taxes to fund this innovation. But sometimes the community pushes back and even resists it.

I hear people complain all the time about the high cost of creating and sustaining STEM, and how it is taking money away from other schools. It is apparent that some people resent STEM already.

Many didn't like the idea of the public/private partnership that created the New School either. Nobody seemed to welcome that innovation or be eager to watch and see what could happen in a public school with primarily low income, minority students, when they are funded adequately. Instead people complain about it, and remind us that it is not sustainable.

We also ran TAF out of the district, straight to Federal Way, who was waiting with open arms. Now they have the TAF school, and it appears to be doing very very well there.

We ran Bill Gates and his dollars out of Seattle too. Because we didn't want his "strings" attached to it. Now his highly successful, "innovative", high tech high schools are dotted all over the county, but they are not here in Seattle.

I even heard a parent complain about the new greenhouse at Hale, which will be used to create an urban farm that will grow food to supplement their lunch program (how's that for innovation in a public school) because it has a retractable roof.

If we want innovation in our public schools then we have to seek it, and be willing to pay for it. And we have to be open to trying new things, and taking some risks as we pioneer and forge ahead.

Whatever side of the fence you fall on, whether you support Charters or publics, the one thing that I think we all agree on is that the status quo isn't good enough any more.

Reform is coming. And it should be welcome. Whether that reform comes in the form of the Broad/Obama/Duncan agenda, or a more grassroots move toward innovation in our existing public schools will depend on the citizens of Seattle. We can choose which direction we move in. But if we continue to turn away innovation, complain about it's costs, and refuse to look at community partnerships, then we may be welcoming in charters sooner than we think.

seattle citizen said...

anonymom,

I don't know that we "ran Gates out of the district: Gates funded the transformation of Cleveland ten years ago into "small schools," and the way I've heard it, it didn't work out the way the Gates foundation wanted so they pulled out, leaving a restructured school without the funding to keep going with that. So the school was reformatted, then left hanging. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong.

Furthermore, Gates is certainly heavily invested in SPS, but in central admin. Nine million dollars is provided by Gates for "Performance Management," which is most of the "reform" actions currently in play. This money is managed by the Alliance for Education.

So Gates is certainly not gone; they actually have a larger monetary presence than they ever had before.

seattle citizen said...

On "reform": I like it when it identifies individual struggles in students and staff, and deals with those through targeted interventions, supports, advanced and remedial offerings, etc. I don't like it when it proposes to drastically change whole systems in order to address the struggles individuals face, for instance, when a school is declared "failing" rather than some students and some students within it. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This is why I have issues with such reform propaganda as Waiting for Superman, which evidently doesn't look at any successes in public schools, but merely looks at the struggles some students face and proposes we change the whole system to accomodate them. Better, I say, to work with students as individuals.

karyn king said...

"But if we continue to turn away innovation,complain about it's {sic) costs, and refuse to look at community partnerships, then we may be welcoming in charters sooner than we think."
anonymom, maybe you are new to the district, but Seattle has been innovating for a very long time inside the public system. Did you ever visit any of our awesome alternative schools where we provided a variety of choices from DISTAR to AS#1 to meet diverse community needs? Were you involved in the PIPE program for community/business parnerships (which died from district neglect)? Or are you just wanting pulic money to go into private charters so you can chortle about the superiority of the business model?
Innovative programs are being dismantled right NOW because it is not easy for district adminstrators to check off their "to do" lists with innovative programs like the academies, integrated humanities blocks or LA Options programs.
So please, don't preach to Seattle parents who've been working on creative solutions for years, only to see them crashed in the name of standardization - oops, I mean, "alignment."

monkeypuzzled said...

There's an interesting Talk of the Town in last week's New Yorker about this issue:
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/09/27/100927taco_talk_lemann
It's nice to see the current mania for reform looked at critically--I particularly like the comparisons to banking deregulation and the Iraq war: "We have a lot of recent experience with breaking apart large, old, unlovely systems in the confidence of gaining great benefits at low cost. We deregulated the banking system. We tried to remake Iraq. In education, we would do well to appreciate what our country has built, and to try to fix what is undeniably wrong without declaring the entire system to be broken. We have a moral obligation to be precise about what the problems in American education are—like subpar schools for poor and minority children—and to resist heroic ideas about what would solve them, if those ideas don’t demonstrably do that."

Anonymous said...

The claim that "pay for math and science" doesn't work claim is out to lunch, so is the "extra pay won't incent teachers to more challenging schools." Teachers don't top out at $40K. They top out at more like $70-75K. Plus, if you look at the bennies, there's another $15-20K or so available. Then there's super job security compared to other jobs, and terrific "time off" benefits. Pay is not the only motivator, but pay and/or security(which is really a form of pay) are definitely incentives. We have evidence that hard to fill, challenging jobs are indeed incented by pay. UW has a special education school which serves about 200 district kids on SPS contract, which pays teachers several thousand less than the district. It routinely looses teachers to the district for a few thousand dollars of difference in pay. In sum, a job with a great working environment (the university) full of all sorts of prestige, is given up for much worse working conditions (SPS) and a few thousand dollars.

The less you make, the more you're willing to take on for a pay bump. So, a teacher at the end of his/her career might not make a trade for a few thousand dollars. But, the younger, hungrier teachers sure will, and do, when given the opportunity.

Special education parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think Charlie's point is that we cannot just throw money at one or two schools. That just creates inequities and resentments. It is especially hard to do that in tough economic times and justify it.

I didn't know the Gates Foundation had created and was running high tech high schools. I Googled it and didn't find it. What I did find were plenty of articles that explained how the Gates Foundation's small high school experiment didn't exactly work. Everything Gates touches doesn't turn to gold.

Anonymom, I did complain about Hale's greenhouse having a retractable roof - an added expense. I have NO problem with the greenhouse being rebuilt but again, priorities in tough economic times.

anonymom said...

"anonymom, maybe you are new to the district, but Seattle has been innovating for a very long time inside the public system. Did you ever visit any of our awesome alternative schools? "

No Karyn, I'm not new to the district. And, yes, I know about our alt schools, my kids went to two of them. But kids shouldn't have to go to an alt school to get a cutting edge, innovative education. They should be able to get that at any, and every, public school. Unfortunately, innovation is not happening enough in all of our schools, nor is it happening much in our alt schools these days. Alt schools, in SPS, in my opinion, are a dieing breed. They have been so watered down, and so standardized that they are barely recognizable as alts. They are shadows of what they once were. Sadly, it doesn't look like you, or any other parents, have been very successful fighting the "standardization".

So where does that leave us?

Families want innovative, cutting edge, competitive schools for their kids. If SPS doesn't provide them via publics, Seattle may vote in charters. Just something to think about, especially the next time a TAF type opportunity comes knocking.

emeraldkity said...

Did you ever visit any of our awesome alternative schools where we provided a variety of choices from DISTAR to AS#1 to meet diverse community needs?

Before my oldest was school-age, ( she was born in 1982), I attended community meetings to get support for alternative schools ( led by Cathy Hayes- principal @ Summit K-12 for two decades).
I attempted to get her into Summit when she entered K and tried again for several years, but the wait list didn't move enough.
Her sister was able to attend Summit- from 3rd through 8th grade ( but later while she chose a more traditional high school, I continued to be involved with the school).
Unfortunately, though Summit K-12 had weathered many challenges through the years, not least the lack of support from its own school district- they closed abruptly to save money.

I would like to know- how much money has been saved?
& if Summit had been a charter school, would it have been more difficult to shut down?

seattle citizen said...

anonymom, you write that "Families want innovative, cutting edge, competitive schools for their kids"

Hmm, maybe some families want this. Many, many families are perfectly happy with the education their children are getting all over the city. Granted, some students aren't learning everything they need to, some educators aren't teaching all they need to, but many families are happy with the way things are going now.

Sure, teachers should keep up with new "innovation" where those prove themselves useful (and don't take away from something going on already that IS useful - not everything has to be "cutting edge," many things are tried and true)

But it is not true, in my opinion, that a majority of families in Seattle are clammoring for "innovative, cutting edge, and competitive" schools. If you have some information to back up that statement, I'd be happy to see it, but so far families in Washington have, three times, voted down charters because they want public schools and they don't want to dilute the public schools. Seems like those voters must be at least sort of happy, eh?

seattle citizen said...

But rereading your post, anonymom, your words that "Seattle may vote in charters" are appropriate warning that the "reform" machine has been busy for years, and is especially busy the last few months, spending millions of dollars on advertising and media that shout, "charters! charters! charters!" So it is well for us to be forewarned that once again the privateers are out and about, and will surely soon mount another PR campaign (through Strategies 360/Our Schools Coalition, no doubt) to get the phrases "teacher quality," "innovative," "freed from bureaucracy," and other such buzz phrases into the media airspace.

Luckily, there are numerous rising voices calling BS on the reform movement's manipulations, so while it is good to be forewarned about some possible future (fourth) charter vote, I see little chance of success for such a measure.

another mom said...

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0928-charters-20100928,0,3241016.story

Charter schools can and do go broke. Then what? Not every charter system has the generous benefactors that ICEF does. And what about the tax payer dollars used to support failing enterprises such as the one in this LA Times piece?

seattle citizen said...

another mom,
Well, we all know that innovative systems sometimes fail, and it's just the cost of doing business....with our childrens' education. Rather than use tried and true models of intervention and support for individuals, we should restructure the whole package into a bunch of "innovative schools, all competing with each other, then some will win. Some schools will lose, yes, but some will win.

I say we should get rid of all those old-fashioned supports, those outdated ones like IAs for ELL and SpEd, like Family Support Workers, like librarians, counselors, career counselors...and try something innovative, instead. How about we just put all students, no matter who in great big classrooms stuffed to the gills, and teachers can (and will) just differentiate? It's really not that hard to differentiate when you have an eight-grade-level skill range, eight languages, five different sorts of special need, and eleven students with no enrichment at home. One merely innovates.

Better yet, let's do this (full-to-the-brom classrooms, differentiation without support staff) in new sorts of schools that are...innovative.

Ooh, ooh, best of all, let's get rid of those cranky old teachers, those UNION teachers, and replace them with the Quality Teachers avaiable cheap from Teach For America! Everybody knows five weeks training of people who will only teach for two years is better than some dumb-old teachers college or experience...Yes, let's try innovating crowded classrooms, cut staff to the bone, use cheap and disposable teachers, standardize the whole package, and use computers, with their wonderful blinking lights and whirring noises to evaluate student, staff, and school. Innovative competition is the key! New is better! Shiny and bright data-driven technology and industrial efficiencies will certainly provide competition.

Yes, yes, competition also entails losers, but hey, what's a few lost students if we can privatize education and capitalize on it? It has been working for Race to the Top, which regularly makes some states' students losers because it doesn't give them the "prize money," so it must be okay - Arne Duncan his-self, of the Federal Department of Education has okayed this so it must be right and ethical.

anonymom said...
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anonymom said...
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anonymom said...

"so far families in Washington have, three times, voted down charters because they want public schools"

The last time charters came up for a vote in Seattle was in 2004 (I think, correct me if I'm wrong) and Raj Manhas was super. A heck of a lot has changed in 6 years, and we now have MGJ at the helm. While I see many good things happening in the schools in my neighborhood, there is still PLENTY of work to be done, beginning with tackling standardization, severely over crowded schools, the terrible EDM/CMP/Discovering materials, LA text standardization, school closures, the watering down of alt schools, a new student assignment plan, limited transportation, a huge budget deficit, no more school councilors, rif's, MAP testing, just to name a few.

I fear, and you should too, that a new charter school bill may very well welcome in charters. Especially with the national publicity they are getting, the Waiting for Superman hype, the Obama/Duncan support and strong push in that direction, and the financial incentives from the feds. It's a different ball game now, SC.

emeraldkity said...

those outdated ones like IAs for ELL and SpEd,

I don't think an IA should be teaching a SPED class-
I don't think a sub should be teaching a SPED class for more than a day or two either.
Yet that is the system we have.
Oh howabout getting district support for those 504 students- oh wait, that's who was selling crack & was placed on paid leave.
Do they have anyone to take over his position for the students with 504s?

seattle citizen said...

@anonymom,

If, as you say, the various issues in Seattle make conditions ripe for charterization, one has to ask if maybe that was the plan in the first place: Make things appear so bad that charters appear like some sort of answer.

@emerald kitty,
I was referring to IAs as used to assist ELL (oftentimes with translation) and SpEd (to have more educators available as inclusion becomes the model - more SpEd educators (teacher or teachers AND IAs) available to move around classrooms.

I'm not sure that because some guy was selling drugs that we should dismiss the idea of 504 support...

seattle citizen said...

@anonymom,

I'm still unsure what would convince people that charters would be better - charters can (and often do) have the same problems public schools might be subject to, and, worse, have even less accountability.

But I'm sure that we'll be hearing lots in the Seattle Times, and things like Blackberry advertisements featuring Michelle Rhees (saw one last week) so people might actually believe charters make some sort of sense.

anonymom said...
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anonymom said...
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anonymom said...

SC, don't you see. Charters will come along and promise no more standardization, no more Discovering text books, no more MAP testing, smaller class sizes, longer school days, fresh home cooked lunches, or whatever else families want to hear. Charters can do these things while publics can't, and that may be very appealing to families. They will likely mirror the alt schools of SPS past, and we all know how popular our alt schools were. If SPS doesn't start innovating, offering cutting edge opportunities, and really listening to what families want, then charters may be an easy sell next time around. Especially with the national publicity they've been getting lately, Obama and Duncan singing their praises, and the monetary rewards from the feds.

But that's just my opinion, take it for what it's worth.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Thanks for writing up your views, Charlie. One point that really resonates with me is that the reformers are not spending enough time listening to what teachers, parents, and students want. These are the people who are essential to the success of any solution. Sadly, I think many of the people in the reform movement are attracted to charters BECAUSE they can skip past the hard work of building consensus and just build something new they can control even though it leaves out the large majority of kids we need to serve. It reminds me of my work with software engineers who often want to rewrite code from scratch -- not because it's better for customers, but because they believe they can "innovate" more by not having the constraints that come from the existing system. But, when you're not focusing on your customers and stakeholders, you rarely succeed.

SeattleDad said...

Make note for the next School Board election. These are the School Board members who voted to keep Goodloe-Johnson: DeBell, Carr, Maier, Sundquist, Martin-Morris. Let's vote them out! And my hat is off for Kay Smith Blum and Betty Patu who both had oversight, courage, integrity to vote not to renew her contract. Thank you.

Mary said...

Excellent points, Charlie.

RE "Provide the students with the support they need to succeed. Reduce class sizes, extend class hours..." I would add this. Reducing class size by 5 or even 10 is not enough. In a school highly impacted by negative social concerns, you would really want class sizes of around 10 students at most, or (as in the very best private schools) maybe 15 students and a full-time aide. (And those private schools don't take kids with problems of any kind.)

That would be a lot of money to put into a school, but it would be an effective use of that money. Pay at the front end, or pay at the back with social services, jails, etc.

Maybe one of these days.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Emeraldkity, the district closed 5 schools under Dr. G-J and claimed we would save $16M over 5 years (with more in deferred maintenance costs which is a very bad way to take care of buildings as we are finding out.)

BUT, the cost in capital alone to reopen 5 buildings is almost $50M. Plus staffing, opening costs, etc. You don't need to do the math to see we are spending more than saving. In the end, we just shuffled kids around, ended some working school communities and lost money.

Whether Summit would have closed as a charter is unknown. It would depend on what the charter law would read. Every state has differing factors in what would provoke closure of a charter.

I like to think that Washington state voters are smarter than just going along with a national trend. I think in the areas of the state with smaller districts and/or areas that want smaller government, the idea of expanding districts with charters might not go over well. It isn't just Seattle that votes.

That said, this district hasn't exactly distinguished itself and may pay for not listening to parents' voices. I have no idea if this is what Dr. G-J wants but it certainly will take money out of her coffers. Of course, that's if she even stuck around (which she's not).

Charlie Mas said...

Last night I participated in an discussion of charter schools with Paul Hill from the Center for Reinventing Public Education. He is among the foremost experts in the nation on charter schools and he thinks that - with a short but critical list of caveats - they are good.

They are good when they are operated by thoughtful people, when they are well financed, when the public options are particularly poor, and when they have suitable oversight from a public agency.

He seemed to agree with me that charters would not be necessary IF - and this is a HUGE "if" - the public school district and the local teachers' union were open to innovation and not completely submerged in the dysfunctionality of the American public K-12 education culture.

And that's pretty much where we are.

Charters are needed as an end run around ossified bureaucracies, but only where the public school landscape is full of ossified bureaucracies - in 41 of 50 states.

Patrick said...

Anonymom, are Bill Gates' high tech high schools really more successful than public schools for a similar demographic of students?

Melissa Westbrook said...

As far as I know, Gates has no high schools. They have funded some high schools but not in entirety or in creating programming. I did check but if anyone else has found a high school founded and run by Gates, we would all like to know about it.

seattle citizen said...

anonymom, I hear what you're saying: Publics (at least SPS) might be perceived by families as only offering standardization, bad curriculum, bad tests...and so families might be wooed by charters who claim to do away with these things.

But it's obvious that publics (especially SPS), for all their apparent shortcomes, also offer plenty of great education. It's also obvious that much of the charter movement doesn't, in fact, offer LESS standardization, but more - packaged curricula, high-stakes testing (to purportedly show why their need, ala' bogusly simplified state tests used to claim "failing schools," AND to then maintain their very existence as those same tests become the only "accountability" piece asked of charters - "do well on the test, and we'll allow you to continue.")

Yes, you're right: A public that doesn't pay attention might be sold on sound bites and glib infomercials on the idea that charters are "better," but many in the public see that this is a ridiculous claim and will stand against it.

Yes, SOME charters, as Charlie points out the well-funded ones, the ones that collaborate with their families....these might be successful, but as we know the same sorts of schools have been created in public systems, exist today as we speak (Nova comes to mind), have many supporters and only require an accountable board to ensure their existence and groth. If the board is not accountable, then neither public nor charter schools will be accountable, either, and people get this.

As for innovation and all that - There has already been tons and tone of innovation happening over the last century, lots of good stuff that is in play now as teachers and schools innovate and change to meet changing conditions and new research that speaks to brain function, environmental influences, nutrition, equity...All sorts of innovation all the time.

We don't need some grand restructuring - we need the continued tweaking of a public system that attempts to educate all.

seattle citizen said...

Apropos of how the public is increasingly aware of the "reform" failures, today's New York Times Magazine offers this piece, Is Michelle Rhee’s Revolution Over?, which speaks to this very awakening by a smart public that wants things done from the community up, rather than the top down:
"They [the public] don’t like collective slap-downs — like the one Rhee managed when she referred to the hundreds of fired teachers indiscriminately in an interview with a business magazine as people who 'had hit children, who had had sex with children.' They don’t like to see respected members of their community seemingly compared to dirt, as Rhee unthinkingly did by agreeing to pose on the cover of Time wielding a big broom. They like policy makers who at least appear to be taking their concerns to heart, as Rhee pointedly did not, bluntly telling the magazine: 'I’m not going to pretend to solicit your advice so you’ll feel involved, because that’s just fake.'"

The "reform" movement is taking a lot of accurate hits, as is just and right, and we need citizens who value our nation's public education system to stand up and make sure it's out for the count.

Anonymous said...
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seattle citizen said...

anonymous 12:52,

You have a few years. Be active in Seattle Public Schools and make a contribution to them that will help them be the schools you want. I might suggest the Alternative Coalition mentioned in today's new thread. This group has been working for years (Alt Committee pre-2006; Board Policy C54.00 2006; District Alt Committee 2007...) to discuss and define alternatives. These alternative schools are somewhat focused, yes, on "alternative prinicals" (see the Committee Report of 2007) but the more general goal is, in fact, to support a framework within the district to provide options.

You have these years before your child enrolls to put in lots of effort and many ideas; be a part of the schools.

Once your child enrolls, advocate for what's best for your kid, yes, but use a lens that is wider: ALL students need good things, and if all are supported, your kid will have a better education because of it.

Then, 17 years down the road ("a few" plus the 12 your child is enrolled) you will have the opportunity, and more time, to continue supporting public education by being the "public" that holds the board accountable, that gives time and effort in committees, at meetings, and in the schools...

This public commitment and effort is what makes public schools public. And great.

Of course, some things the schools can't or won't do, due to the usual bureaucratic ways, due to the slow pace of institutional change sometimes, due to students and staff who aren't able (or won't) do everything right all the time...so it'll be on you to add your important piece at home to your kid's education. There is plenty of support for this, too.

Of course, there are always private schools, and many choose them for various reasons. I prefer to think that a public experience is a rich and broad one for students: They have around them representatives of ALL aspects of society, not the selected grouping of a private school. I think this is a benefit. That and I support the general credo that public schools are what we do for our nation's children, that we, as a society, value coming together in support of our children's learning instead of each doing merely what's "best" for one's own.

dan dempsey said...

Here are my thoughts on the Media Blitz aimed at teachers etc.

The Huge Dishonest Attack on Teachers

"We're living in the darkest times for teachers that I've ever seen in my life. ...

They say the schools are run by a group of self-interested, selfish, undertrained, undercommitted teachers, who have a union that protects them."

-- William Ayers.
=====

Two of the many difficulties with the current misguided attack on teachers are:

(A.) the virtually free ride given to those who bear major responsibility for the inadequacies of the current situation and

(B.) the likelihood that completely "off the mark" and "ill devised solutions" will be seen as paths to improvement.

============

We have in place today an incredibly misguided structure largely due to a complete failure to apply what little valid education research exists.

The change needs to begin at the top not the bottom if this system is ever to improve.


"To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data." -- Deming

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What works is not important for

The USA Ed community's elite leaders
continually try to make work
"what they would like to have work"
no matter how expensive or misguided.


.... Carry on Arne Duncan.


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full article linked below

The Huge Dishonest Attack on Teachers

dan dempsey said...

From a Bill Ayers interview in Truthout:

The New Yorker did a puff piece on Arne Duncan, and it points out that the Obama children and Arne Duncan himself (and, parenthetically, my children) all went to the University of Chicago Lab School. At the Lab School, they had a class size limit of 15. And how did they get that? A union contract.

So Arne Duncan, the Obama kids and my kids went to a school with a class size of 15, a well-respected union and a curriculum that's based at least in part on following kids' interests and curiosities. When the Obamas went to Washington, anyone who knew the Obamas and knew the scene in DC knew the kids would go to Sidwell Friends, and that's where they went - class size of 15, well-respected unionized teacher corps, curriculum based at least in part on kids following their interests. Now if that's good enough for the Obamas and Arne Duncan, why are those things not even part of the discussion about what's good enough for the west side of Chicago?

I'm not such an idealist that I think we could get there tomorrow, but right now, class size is not even on the table. In Chicago, second-graders can have a class of 35, because of the budget. That's 20 more than the Obama kids get! And does that make a difference in terms of educational outcomes, as well as teacher morale and capacity? Of course it does - I've been in classrooms; I know there's a difference between 15 and 20, let alone 35.

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MGJ says class sizes does not matter. Well seems that it matters to Obama and Duncan when it is their kids.

Mary said...

At Sidwell the class sizes are only 10 in the lower grades. Some 4th grades are at 15.

hschinske said...

Now if that's good enough for the Obamas and Arne Duncan, why are those things not even part of the discussion about what's good enough for the west side of Chicago?

Because the west side of Chicago can't pay for it. There's just no way we could suddenly have twice as many classrooms and twice as many teachers. I totally agree that it would be a good idea to nudge down the number that's currently considered an acceptable class size, but no way is it going to get anywhere near 10 or 15 kids.

Nor do I see anything wrong with paying for private school if you do have the money (or attending on scholarship if you don't). Private education is not the enemy of public education -- does the existence of Seattle U threaten the University of Washington? No. The more good educational institutions we have in this city, the better. It's not a zero-sum situation.

Helen Schinske

SC Parent said...

Charlie, I have to strongly disagree with your logic regarding student selection at charter schools, thought not necessarily with your conclusion.

(1) You have regularly posted that charter schools don't accept children with learning disabilities or special needs ("In fact, by drawing any remaining involved families and high performing students to the charter school, and by denying access to students with special needs, it leaves the bad school with even higher concentrations of struggling students.")

I hope it wasn't your intention, but your choice of words is patently stating that special needs kids are dragging down our schools. If that is your belief, could you share your experience with the test score differentials that show special needs kids are "struggling students"?

There is a wide variety of special needs.


(2) Some charter schools (perhaps the less ideological, in my opinion) using lotteries. Whether an opt-out or an opt-in lottery, not a whole heck of a lot of parental involvement is required. You're not just going to get the kids whose parents read or do flash cards for 6 hours every night.

Charlie Mas said...

SC Parent, thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain my position further.

Thank you also for the benefit of the doubt regarding the libel that special needs students "drag schools down".

To put all of this in the proper context, I would remind everyone that I don't believe in "good" schools and "bad" schools - at least not as they are commonly classified.

It's not just the District and a lot of Education Reformers who believe in good schools and bad schools; a large share of families believe in them as well. They believe that Rainier Beach, for example, is a "bad" school based, I suppose, on some review of the statistics from the school including test scores, discipline numbers, attendance rates, and such. These same folks might believe that Garfield is a "good" school based on a review of similar statistics.

I would say, first of all, that it is not so much a question of whether the school is generically good or bad as it matters whether the school is good or bad for YOUR CHILD. Garfield may be an excellent school for a lot of other kids, but it would have been a bad choice for my daughter.

Second, I don't think that the usual statistics are a good measure of school quality. I would much rather know if the students in the school are getting what they need - are the struggling students getting the support they need, are the advanced students the challenge they need, are the ell and disabled students getting what they need - and that would be my statistical measures of school quality. To those, I would add some qualitative measure of the community, something about diversity (of various types), something about family involvement, and something ab out how happy and safe the students feel at school.

However, within in the misguided measures of school quality in common use, special needs students tend to have a negative impact on the statistics they follow.

Also, with opt-in lotteries, there has to be at least enough family involvement and bureaucratic literacy to know about the charter school option, to want to pursue it, and to enter the lottery. Not every child in Washington D.C. was in that room awaiting lottery results. There were some who didn't even get that far.