Every so often someone suggests that we criticize the Board, the superintendent, and the District staff when they do something wrong - and, yes, we do - but that we don't give them enough credit when they do something right. I don't know about that. I don't think we're particularly bad about giving praise when it has been earned, but I also think that's the reason for the criticism.
We give praise when it has been earned. Not before.
By this I mean that I am very happy to praise work when it is done, but the District culture is to praise work when it is planned. There is a difference in timing.
Take, for example, the false data issue. On Wednesday Mr. Bernatek came before the Board and announced a number of actions to address concerns.
He said that the staff would take the following steps:
Redact the original college readiness measures from reports on the district website including the strategic plan. Actually, I wish they would not do this. The documents should be preserved in their original condition. The District should annotate them, or footnote them, but not redact them.
Reach out to key stakeholders by phone to apologize, communicate the changes, and address any questions or concerns they may have. Mr. Bernatek says that they had contacted 20 key stakeholders by Wednesday. I wasn't one of them. I don't know how many more they intend to contact. What do you have to do to be a "key" stakeholder?
Establish a change control process for updating data reports on our website whereby changes are clearly documented and easily available on our website. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but it sounds good.
Adjust the language for the student gains measure to be clear that this is a measure of gains relative to students' academic peers. Again, not the best solution, but it is good that they will do this.
Update and expand frequently asked questions on our website for the school reports and district website. This will also be good.
Provide additional forms of information as needed to staff, families, and communities to help better understand the data in the school reports. Again, this sounds good, if vague.
Prepare our community for changes in how we report on advanced learning, based in part on their feedback with suggestions for improvement. Um... yeah, whatever. I'm not sure how much people need to be "prepared" to read a report.
All these things sound good - or good enough. So why haven't I sung praises about the District's prompt response to concerns? Because they haven't done any of it yet. Other than the twenty "key stakeholders" who got phone calls, none of this work has been done. And it's starting to irk me.
The Frequently Asked Questions is an electronic document. They already know how they need to update and expand it, so it should only take about twenty minutes to do the re-write and less than a minute to do the upload. So why hasn't it been done already? Why, in fact, wasn't it done BEFORE Mr. Bernatek spoke to the Board saying that he would do it? Now let's presume that I'm totally wrong and it will really take about two hours to re-write the FAQ and about ten minutes to upload it? My question still stands: why isn't it done already?
That's a minor issue. The main thing is this: as soon as Mr. Bernatek showed the slide to the Board and said that the staff planned to do these things, the Board counted it as done, gave credit for it, and crossed it off their ToDo list. I think that's why the Board never follows up to see if things are done - because they cross action items off the list (as if they were done) when they are only promised.
So I will give credit when credit is due, but not until then. That's different from the Board and the rest of the culture at Seattle Public Schools, which gives credit long before it is due and sometimes before it is ever due.
Watch for this and you will find it everywhere. Review the Audit Response and you will see that they have marked as "Completed" a bunch of stuff that they haven't actually finished yet. I think this is why the Board so readily accepts "I'll get back to you on that" as an answer and why the staff then has no need to actually get back to them. The Board Directors count the question as answered when they get a promise of an answer - long before they get the answer (if they ever get it at all).
When I talk and write about the District's dysfunctional culture, this is a part of it. They count promises made as if they were promises kept. Once you have credit for the promise there is no real incentive to actually keep it. It is, undoubtedly, one of the main reasons that they keep so few promises: they put all of the value in making the promise instead of keeping it. This is how they end up pushing people out of airplanes and assuring them that they are actively developing parachutes. This is why their action items are filled with inaction verbs. There is no value on action - it's all on intentions. That's a cultural flaw.