Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Road Map Conference

I attended the Community Center for Education Results' (CCER) Road Map for Education Results Project Kick-Off Conference last week. It was interesting and a fairly full conference. I saw a lot of usual suspects - people from League of Education Voters, Alliance for Education, at least 6 SPS staff including the Superintendent - as well as elected officials like Councilman Tim Burgess, newly elected Board President Steve Sundquist and speaker King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Like most conferences, the workshops were better than the speakers. Mary Jean Ryan, who sat on the State Board of Education and previously ran for Seattle School Board and is the head of CCER, was the leader of the conference. Sincere, nice but not a particularly inspiring speaker. The Keynote Speaker, though, was Amy Wilkins from the Education Trust. She was a good speaker (although I am still waiting for a copy of her Powerpoint which had great data but she told us to listen and not take notes).

What was interesting about her speech is that she had done her homework and looked up Washington State ed stats. According to her, we're doing better than the average state and making some progress. It was nice to hear it didn't look all doom and gloom from an outsider's perspective. She said that teachers are like doctors and lawyers and that ones new to the craft generally are not the best teachers and are the least effective. (Yes, wait for it because I did get to ask her about TFA.)

Mary Jean did have something that I heard a couple of times in the day which was:
"Find what works rapidly and get rid of that which doesn't."

I attended the breakout session "Getting More Graduates: Improving High School Graduation Rates." This was a presentation by Renton School District and Tukwila school district (and their Community Schools Collaboration project). It was great.

Renton has a 93% high school graduation rate. Yes, take that in. And, it was announced at the session that they had sustained that rate for last year. Overall, they have 49% free and reduced lunch eligible students in their district. It was interesting because they have concerns over "pockets of excellence" in their district but not the overall improvement in every school.

I loved how the guy presenting put it: I need the elevator talk that I can give to Joe Bag o' Donuts. For systemic improvement it's:
1) middle school rise - better than the state average and in all sub-groups
2) increasing the graduation rate and lowering the drop-out rate

They received a state grant which allowed them to look back at the class of 2006 to the 6th grade and see how students did. The factors they found where thing like if you started with a 6th grade cohort, you were more likely to graduate. If you started at 9th grade and moved together, you did better but not as well as if you were together since 6th grade.

Digging down they found that students who change schools do worse, class failure in middle school was a warning sign, attendance rates, and interruption of schooling. That last one was interesting because it wasn't just about not attending school. It was about people who take their children out of school for periods of time for reasons big and small. (Example, some Latinos will take their kids out in winter to go to Mexico to see relatives. Another one cited that surprised me was taking kids out for ski trips/vacations in the winter. Even a week to 10 days can have an effect.)

They found that a low GPA was the worst factor, not race or socioeconomic status.

Like Everett and their tracking system in high school, Renton has an academic team that tracks students in trouble. One issue they found is NOT removing students for inappropriate behavior. Finding ways to keep them in class (or in school) rather than suspending them. They have a PBS (Positive Behavior Support) system in their elementary schools to get behavioral issues under control early.

Other ideas:
  • They provide a 7th period for failing middle schools students that is mandatory. To their surprise, they have found little parent resistance.
  • They have a support system for students new to their district.
  • They identify schools that are working well with at-risk students and help other schools to emulate those traits.
  • They had focus groups with parents, community members and teachers to learn about barriers that their district creates to positive learning.
  • Tukwila also echoed the focus group idea with kids. (It's one thing to take a survey and another to actually talk to kids.) What was interesting is that Tukwila said it was the elementary kids who wanted more fun and snacks. The older students want better services and more help.
  • Mentors to students in trouble.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was at the session and I hope she was listening. These districts are getting results.

Norm Rice, the former mayor of Seattle and head of the Seattle Foundation, was the lunch speaker. One thing he announced was a "Harlem-style work " initiative for SE Seattle and Highline. (I believe he was referencing the Harlem Children's Zone in NYC.)

There was a press conference during lunch at which every mayor present spoke. The mayor of Federal Way said something good like "all means all" when it comes to educating children.

Dorothy Neville attended this conference and had pointed out to me this chart with "indicators" to be tracked in the Road Map project. One was "% of students exhibiting '21st Century' social skills. This was intriguing so I asked Mary Jean Ryan at the press conference what that meant. She looked distressed and said she could talk to me about it "off-line". This is an odd thing to
say at a press conference about something your own group has stated as a goal. I pressed her and she said things like teamwork, perseverance or being on time. I asked her how those were specifically 21st Century social skills and said well, social skills aren't easy to measure. It was a "huh?" moment.

So I asked Tracy Wilkins from the Education Trust a couple of questions. Keep in mind, Education Trust is based in D.C. I asked her for a comment about Michelle Rhee going on Oprah and saying there are no education groups speaking for children. She tossed her head and said, "Oh Michelle knows that's not true. I don't know why she said that." You get the impression that it's a little exasperating for all these long-term education groups to see Michelle Rhee come in, get the lion's share of attention and ask for $1B.

She also stated that Teach for America had its place and probably does good things where they are needed. I asked where that was and she said hard-to-staff areas. She said she still thought that first-year teachers aren't as effective. I also asked her about NCLB. She said that it was funny because many people don't think it's doing what it should but it did start a conversation about having standards and state/local control over education.

In the afternoon, I attended an session on parent engagement on a big scale in Kentucky where they have had a long-term project going on for 15 years. Basically, they call it "parent professional development." I'll write more about it after I see if I get a reply from the presenter about district/principal buy-in. Bernardo Ruiz, the head of SPS public engagement, was there as well. CPPS is going to be trying to coordinate this on a smaller scale here.

My last session was going to hear Brad Bernatek explain SPS' School Reports. You know, it's hard to dislike Brad - he's such an earnest guy. But, of course, I don't know him so I'm sure he's a nice guy but his work in manipulating data for SPS is not so great.

I learned a new SPS acronym - ADW, academic data warehouse.

His presentation included this:
  • create meaningful information that drives decision-making and action.
  • use common vocabulary
  • what's important doesn't vary
Those are interesting bullet points because well, as we have seen, data can be manipulated. Is doesn't always mean is. What I read in a School Report and believe the data to mean is not necessarily what SPS later says it means. That kind of common understanding.

In showing how they can narrow data down, he did also refer to a "trigger" of unexcused absences as a data point to do outreach to a student. But I was wondering what the exact intervention was. Do we have some district-wide intervention program that I missed or is this on a school-to-school basis?

He also said a "culture change" was occurring at SPS.

He talked about the School Reports and briefly about MAP.

Then he came to the part in the presentation that he said should "be a lesson to you all." And he went over the 17% issue. He said he apologized on behalf of he and the Superintendent and it was a "good lesson learned." (And yet they did it again on the School Reports.) He says the 17% is being redacted from the SPS website, the elected officials are getting their apologies by phone and adjusting language used in the School Reports.

He asked for questions. So I did something I rarely do in front of non-SPS people. (It's our little family and we have to try to keep the damage down.) I called him out.

I told him, in pretty much no under certain terms, how damaging this was. How the district's credibility had been hurt and how they hurt other elected officials and how they let it go on far too long when they knew it was being misused (even in teacher contract negotiations). I asked him if he understood this. The room was quite quiet by then. He said yes and they did apologize for the error.

So I did that because SPS should be called out for its bad behavior. People in that room needed to understand how damaging this kind of data manipulation is. People in that room needed to understand they can't just publish anything and not believe there are thinking people out there who will examine the data carefully.

A woman from the Seattle City government asked about the term "typical growth" as Brad was using it one way but the City had been told something different last year. She was worried about being able to explain data clearly to the folks she works with at City Hall.

This is precisely the kind of trouble you can get into when you are not completely clear on terms and data.

21 comments:

ParentofThree said...

This is the second time I have heard this statement and it really bugs me:
"the elected officials are getting their apologies by phone."

I think the apology should be in writing and posted for all to read.

I am not sure why the board thinks that this is OK.

And great job calling Brad out, this is out of control and as you stated there are errors in the School Report. I also know there are false statements in the supers Quarterly Report to the Community on the Stratigic Plan.

Nothing is changed, they just got caught for once.

h2o girl said...

**Standing and applauding**

Melissa, you are a true gem. The kids of SPS are lucky to have you in their corner. Thank you for all you do.

Kathy said...

During times of heavy state cuts- I'm concerned about costs associated with Academic Data Warehouse. I haven't heard any numbers. Considering the data is flawed and manipulated, I'm wondering if this is the best use of our resources.

As long as Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, reformists, government officials etc. want data...I"m sure they will get data..even if it is flawed data.

Ballard High School's report card indicated 39% of students were college ready. A Ballard HS counselor called B. Bernatak out on this number. The response revolved around computer misinterpreting class codes. I'm wondering if HEC numbers were incorporated into this 39% figure. Does this number tie into PSAT scores? Or, is this SPS interpretation of college readiness? Anyone?

Glad you called out manipulation of SPS data. Truth needs to be told.

ParentofThree said...

"Ballard High School's report card indicated 39% of students were college ready."

Yet another false stat. Calls into question the validity of all the school reports and then of course we all would like to know how much these reports cost us?

And who is accountable for all these errors?

oh...and did we EVER see the transportation savings report, not that those numbers are reliable, just asking.

Patrick said...

Thank you so much for attending and summarizing. It's invaluable.

I'm not sure I understand this: "Like Everett and their tracking system in high school, Renton has an academic team that tracks students in trouble. One issue they found is NOT removing students for inappropriate behavior. Finding ways to keep them in class (or in school) rather than suspending them."

Does this mean a student who behaves badly is more likely to graduate if suspended and less likely to graduate if another punishment or no punishment is used instead? Or do I have that reversed?

Dora Taylor said...

Regarding TFA, there are no hard-to-staff schools in Seattle, maybe in the back woods of some small southern towns where TFA got its' start, but not here.

I was speaking to a teacher last weekend and she said that what teachers concern themselves with are the logistics of getting to a school rather than the school itself. At least here in Seattle.

Basically, if a teacher lives in the south end, then that would be where they would want to teach, it's closer to home.

Maybe some teachers don't won't to work in some of the rougher neighborhoods of New York or other urban areas but this isn't New York and we don't need TFA here. End of story.

Regarding Norm Rice's mention of HSZ lite in the south end. Yes, that is the plan, eliminate options for that area and then come in with the alternative of charter schools. With the rezoning of our district into "neighborhood schools" also called re-segregation of our schools, making it difficult if not impossible to get school transportation to alternative schools and other optional programs because of the new transportation plan, sure, charter schools would seem like a viable alternative.

Now we have this schools' report that shows "low performing" schools, which plays right into ed reform Bill 6696 of closing a school and turning it around, into a charter school in states that allow charter schools.

By the way, Norm Rice was just selected by Obama to be on a committee of ed reformites regarding what we can do for our neighborhoods. Hmmm... what could that be?

And don't forget, the Seattle Foundation just got $1M from the Gates Foundation of which Norm Rice is the president.

By the way, the second installment of the Battle for Seattle is now up on the Huffington Post.

This whole business with Norm Rice will be included in the final installment.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Patrick, basically the more time a student isn't in class or at school, the more the grades suffer (and the student also feels less connected to the school). So, those who spend more time out of school on suspension graduate in fewer numbers.

That said, the school also has to balance the rights and security of all students vis a vis one student. I think having some alternative classroom in the school would keep the child at school but out of the class where he/she was being disruptive might be the answer. Is that possible? Maybe on the surface no, but if the goal is to keep these kids in school, it might be worth the money.

wseadawg said...

"Find what works rapidly and get rid of that which doesn't."

Adios, Discovery/Everyday/CMP Math!

Oh, wait. We're in Seattle, where we prefer to "Find what doesn't work" and buy 25 million bucks worth!

It's painful and expensive to go the wrong way down the freeway, but we just can't stop doing it.

seattle said...

Adios Writers Workshop too.

Eric M said...

About Ballard's numbers:

Dear Staff,

I believe IC, BLT, and the PTSA Board have been briefed on the following, but we thought all staff should know of this update in case you get asked by parents, by friends and neighbors, etc., and just for your info as well.

As you might be aware, the district recently published School Reports with lots of data listed for each school. On ours, it read that 39% of Ballard High School students graduated last year prepared to enter a 4-year college. That figure is incorrect and is lower than reality.

In reviewing the raw data, we found significant errors in the criteria the district used to judge whether or not a student was eligible for college admission. Among the errors we found: The district had not counted our Biotech science classes as meeting the science requirement for college admission; first year world language taken at the middle school was not counted as the first year of the two-year world language requirement; students were found ineligible for college admission if they hadn’t taken three college admission core classes each year (called CADR’s), even though this rule doesn’t go into effect until the Class of 2012; students were found ineligible if they hadn’t taken an SAT (never mind the philosophical debate behind this one, but we found a few of these students for whom we did indeed have SAT scores on file) etc.

After we shared this evidence with the district, they acknowledged that they had made errors in this calculation and they are beginning to fix these errors. In the meantime, they have pulled that statistic from our high school’s report Ballard’s School Report on the district website now says “data not available” for this category. We believe these errors will affect other schools as well, though the district’s Biotech science error alone probably impacts our Ballard data more than others.

So what is the correct number? We hesitate to mention an exact percentage until this situation is completely cleared up, but I believe the difference to be in the double digits. Suffice it to say that the 39% figure is wrong and is lower than reality. (I hope to observe part of a School Board work session later today at which this topic might be discussed, so if there is any new information, I will pass that along.)

MAPsucks said...

So Brad's the one to fall on the sword this time. Wonder how he feels about that... Reminds me of "plausible deniability" in the bad ole Ollie North days. S'funny, either MGJ is happy to let underlings take the fall, OR she truly is clueless to many things. I'm torn, because I've seen her emails. They are cryptic and fluffy to the point of inane. If it were handwriting, I'd expect to see the "i"'s dotted with a heart.

Braessae said...

MAPsucks says:

If it were handwriting, I'd expect to see the "i"'s dotted with a heart.

Great Scott! You are right. I had never realized this (we have been doing LOTR metaphors here) -- but she is Dolores Umbrage!

owlhouse said...

P of Three said---
"This is the second time I have heard this statement and it really bugs me:
"the elected officials are getting their apologies by phone."

I think the apology should be in writing and posted for all to read."


I hear you, and yet, I would really like my apology by phone. I'd like a school messenger from the Brad or MGJ. Something along the lines of I'm sorry we lied about your children, their peers, schools, teachers and futures. We recognize this was a massive insult to the community and it will NOT happen again.

That's a phone message I'd save.

MAPsucks said...

Here's your apology:

"Sorry if your sensibilities were offended by our usual lies. If you hadn't peeked behind the curtain, none of this would have ever happened. Next time don't scrutinize what's none of your business. We did all this Map Crap for Boston Consulting Group, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Stuart Fou...oh whatthehell, the people with money. So don't do it again! If you do, you'll only have yourself to blame, sucka!"

seattle citizen said...

Speaking of misleading statistics: The School Reports for high schools have a demographic category of "Advanced Learning" students. NONE of the high schools has these students except Garfield: 24% of its students are Advanced Learning students. If one goes to the district Advanced Learning website, one finds Spectrum, APP, AP, IB and ALOs.

Most schools have AP. Some have IB. All now (I think) have Honors (an ALO).

So why does Garfield have 24% AL, and all others have none? I believe it's because Garfield, on it's demographic report (not the school report) lists 24.3% APP students in 2008. I think the district is saying that because Garfield has many of the APP students, those students are THE Advanced Learning students.

Remember that the APP students take AP classes at Garfield, just as some APP students take AP classes at, say, Ballard.

So why no Advanced Learning students anywhere but GHS? If someone who didn't know any better looked at the School Reports (and they are advertised as THE go-to for the general Joe Bag-o'-Dougnuts to get information) then Joe B-o-D would be aghast to find that, oh my! all these schools have struggling students yet none of them have advanced learning students! OMG! Call the reformers! Joe is upset and demands reform! There are no good things happening at all these schools! Garfield, Roosevelt, Sealth....ALL have less than 100% success on state tests, and NONE have advanced learners! Let's get Michelle Rhee in here with some Gates seed money, stat!

WV has just one word for this: browf!

MAPsucks said...

Oh, and I want an apology for my district Superintendent shilling for NWEA from her work email. Note the tease "remember, we have an audit coming up you guys can do for us." Nice. Wonder how many stars that will earn MGJ on her evaluation.

Quid pro quo

Sarah said...

MAP Sucks,
It appears Maria Goodloe-Johnson had correspondence with Joe Wise. It appears MGJ sat on NWEA Board of Directors with Wise. Google Joe wise ande mishandling of funds.

MAPsucks said...

Sarah,

....She calls him Joey.

ROFL

dan dempsey said...

Interesting thought ...

Mary Jean did have something that I heard a couple of times in the day which was:

"Find what works rapidly and get rid of that which doesn't."


Was she referring to Seattle's k-12 math program?

Was Anna Maria there?

Do coaches, who have no contact with students, for teachers work rapidly?

WenD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said...

Melissa, thank you for this post. I’m sure Brad’s Big Brain was ready to explode.

It’s great to hear about what Renton is doing right, and rather sickening to see how our Seattle gang keeps lowering the bar.

At a time when our governor is making brutally painful budget cuts, why does Seattle continue to allow this crap?

Lying about money, lying about numbers, wasting money, losing money, and conflicts of interest should be firing offenses. Maria makes more than Chris, but she’s held to a lower standard. She’s running a con. Brad’s apology made that clear.

Rhee must be an inspiration, taking her game all the way to Oprah. And what’s up with Mary Jean? After years of working in state and city government, serving on boards, including the State Board, she can’t give you an answer?