Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tours and Choices

It seems we are starting tours (some occurred already). Let us know your thoughts on any tours you have taken. What do you want to learn from a tour?

I see a couple of people of posed questions about AP in high schools. I'll try to get to that (I'm not sure there is an all-in-one document at the district).

What other questions do you have about a school that someone here might be able to answer?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Local 609 Wins Victory Against the District

From the whoops file of the agenda for the next Board meeting.

There a notice called PERC on the agenda which is legal public notice of what the district did wrong and what they have to do to correct it. Apparently, our district tried to withhold information/emails from Local 609 and have now gotten a bit of a smackdown.

The notice states that the district committed unfair labor practices against Local 609. It looks like the union was looking for e-mail and other electronic documents and the district didn't hand them over. The union wins lawyer fees and other expenses. The most interesting part is the handslaps and mea culpas the district had to state in the notice.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What the Directors Said

From the Board Work Session on the Budget. There were numerous handouts and much shuffling of paper.

The budget gap according to Don Kennedy, COO, is now $24.6. It is tricky because we do not know what version of the state budget is going to win (House, Senate, Governor).

Michael DeBell said that he was having difficulty in understanding what he had before him and wished to see inputs AND outputs. He said he also needed to see clear relationships between projects and funding source available for them.

Mr. Kennedy said the coaches number was down by 28 because of reduction of I-728 money. Later on, he said they had 100 coaches but this differs from a figure of 116 given at a Board committee meeting where Meg Diaz' report was discussed. He also then said they were backfilled with baseline dollars to core areas.

Mr Kennedy said that next week they would announce the cuts from the Central Administration budget. He said they needed to be at $6M and are at $5.4 so far. Kay said that in Meg's report that there had been growth in Central Administration and if we grew by $7M, shouldn't we be cutting $12M? Kennedy said he would get to that later in the meeting (but I don't remember it happening). There was some discussion again about how the coaches had been inproperly coded by OSPI standards.

Michael again said that the district needs to have transparency in these kinds of budget issues (coding and labeling and sorting) because of the confusion it causes. He said we can't have internal accounting that differs from external accounting.

Kay asked about comparing our Central office numbers with other districts but the answer was that it was too difficult to do because of the differences. (That didn't seem to stop the State Auditor two years ago - I'll have to send that report to Kay.)

(According to the report, both Viewlands and Rainier View Elementaries will have ELL and Special Ed programs.)

(Also, on the curriculum alignment front, Kathy Thompson from the academic side, said that science 9-11-12 will be adopted next year as well as high school social studies 9-12. She said that there will be a K-5 music adoption and 6-8 Language Arts as well.) Michael asked about the money ratio between materials, professional development and adoption committee. She said that materials are the bulk of the money. Michael then asked about using money from the capital account for the textural materials. The reply was that the capital money is pretty much committed and can't use interest from the BEX III bond.)

I slipped Michael a note about this because in the last two BEX Oversight Committee meetings, it was made clear that the Board controls the BEX program reserve (which I don't know the actual figure - likely to be at least a couple of million dollars). And, that they were coming to the next Board meeting to ask that it stay with BEX. I let the entire Board know this in an e-mail this morning. While I appreciate that BEX wants to keep the money, the entire district needs the money. If they get to keep it, even though the Board controls it, then the Board will once again be caving to the district. There is no real reason to keep it.

Also, the staff said that they set aside money each year for elections even though we have levy/bond elections every 3 years. This seems odd and was not fully explained.

Kay asked about families paying more for athletics or doing more professional development on-site (or on-line) rather than at the headquarters. They said they are looking into that but F/RL would still get any athletic fee increase waived.

Steve spoke up and asked if there were functions that the district could just state that we are going to stop doing. Not cut back on but just stop entirely. He said it would be better to be able to clearly tell people what is happening. There was talk from staff about more efficiencies but frankly, if they haven't found them by now after all our years of floundering, I have wonder.

DeBell said that the levy had passed well but that people were told it supports teachers in classrooms and the 6-period day for high school and we can't let them down on that promise. He said that the cuts have to track what the public's perception is about what the district is delivering.

Staff explained how they got to the proposed cuts to the WSS. He said they had talked about a one-week furlough for district staff but that it would reduce the instructional calendar. I was confused here because if the central administration shut down for a week, why would all the schools have to as well? They said if we could get K-4 funding back from the state, they could avoid the WSS cuts. They said many superintendents had signed a letter to this effect including Dr. G-J.

In terms of the cuts I mentioned in the previous thread, for example, the cuts would be intervention specialists back to .5 at all the comprehensives, etc. Meaning, not just a few schools but all schools. However, Steve asked if a school had to make the cuts here or could they decide what to cut? Staff said the school could decide but something would go away in the end.

There was some talk about how the flight schools had been excluded from RIFs last time but it could happen in the second year of the contract. Oddly, Dr. Enfield and Kathy Thompson were sitting right there but didn't speak up as to whether the flight schools would have RIFs or not if other schools had them as well.

DeBell talked about the need to standardize our pay for K. (This was addressed at the very end of the presentation but I was not still in the room. I don't know what was discussed or decided.)

Director opinions

Harium - can't get rid of the maintenance zone crew, it's penny-wise and pound foolish. "I can't go there personally."

Dr. G-J - same reaction for kindergarten. "It's our core work." She wanted to be on the record for this opinion. Harium agreed.

Peter - we need to stop cutting back on maintenance. He also wouldn't want to cut instrumental music because once you stop, it may never come back. He said he was "in-between" on kindergarten funding.

Kay - music is critical and we can find ways to fund it (I think she may have meant private means). Kay also spoke up for maintenance.

(Yes, there is quite the irony here for the directors all coming out so much for...maintenance and its importance. A little late to the party but welcome.)

I do think there was some method to the madness of how the budget was laid out to the Board. Clearly Michael is worried about the public perception of any cuts if they cannot clearly explain to folks the how, why and input/output. If this presentation was any example, good luck with that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sophie's Choice

I wrote that title down when I looked at the choices being put before the Board at the Budget Work Session today. Later, a staff member called it the same thing.

As I said from my earlier live blogging attempt, there were a large number of handouts. I could not believe the district handed these out, in no order, not numbered or coded so you could follow along. If I were on the Board, I would find this pretty unacceptable. A couple of Board members said they wanted to see the money coming in AND where it goes. Michael stressed again and again, the need for transparency and consistency between what is said to the Board and what gets published to the community. Kay Smith-Blum, as a business owner, is used to see budget spreadsheets and I think she was kind of surprised at how all over the place the documents were. (Again, one of those times when you say "Is this by design or incompetency because this just isn't a coherent way to walk a group through a complex budget.") Note: I left before the meeting was over so this is not the complete discussion. I stayed for 2 hours.

Two of the most interesting handouts were (1) Revenue Survey and (2) School Look-Up. The Revenue Survey was a survey the district took of 20 Puget Sound districts and their spending for meal prices, Pay for Play and full day kindergarten. The School Look-Up is just interesting because it has all the SPS schools, enrollment, budget and cost per student. Very eye-opening.

I need Meg Diaz (or somebody) because I cannot read all these budget sheets and understand all the ramifications or even what they mean (what is ARRA IDEA?). Some of this balances on whether the Governor's Book 2 or the House or Senate budget get passed. (It seems the House budget is more favorable to education.) I also need Meg because they talked about central administration reductions and some of it seemed like voodoo to me.

It looks like the district has a nearly $25m gap to fill. There is a "structural gap" of $17.6M. STEM needs another $180K. NSAP needs almost a $1M. the Strategic Core Work needs almost $5M (for what? I don't know) and Academic Assurances, $788k. So some of the solutions are on page 11; cuts to central staff, reductions in WSS, shifts to grants, reduced "extra time" (is that overtime?), increased revenue, etc. A lot of these cuts would come in 2011.

They have a lot of ideas to trim the budget. In fact so many I'm not sure which lists are the ones they want to truly work from. But here are some ideas:
  • class sizes up. For primary a minimum of 19 to a max of 27.9 (for primary!). intermediate: from 18.7 min to 31.0 max. For middle school (core only): 20.1 min, 29.8 max and for high school (core only): 18 min and 26.7 max. (No, I don't know why the levels are higher for middle school than high school.)
  • at the back of the presentation there seemed to be a discussion of kindergarten. I don't know if they ended up getting to it. What is says is that they want to support equity across SPS, make full-day K as low cost as they can afford, allow schools to offer "enhanced" programs and "support focus on the classroom by minimizing the administrative load on schools". That last one is a little worrying because they mean having central administration take over. It might mean some loss of autonomy for schools but I don't know for sure. They have, on page 25, a couple of ideas. It's things like no tuition for 55% poverty schools (Title one funds will be used.), no tuition continues for F/RL eligible students and $207 monthly tuition at schools below the 55% poverty level.
Now the bad news. For some reason I 'm not sure I understand, staff showed WSS cuts and what they would look like. Considering that's reaching the classroom, I'm not sure why they did but they must be getting people ready for the worst. What they did is get a team of people from elementary, middle and high schools, have them study the issue and make a list, went to the high schools and asked the principals there (again not sure why the high schools) and then made this list in priority order (page 12).
  • eliminate elementary counselors
  • reduce HS academic intervention specialists by .5
  • eliminate core cert .5 allocation for middle
  • eliminate core cert .5 allocation for 3 K-8s
  • eliminate core cert .5 allocation for 3 biggest elementaries
  • increase HS non-core funding ratio: 1 @ 35
  • increase MS non-core funding ratio: 2@32
  • increase funding ratio for grade 4 by 2
Options to Classroom Cuts
  • eliminate planned zone crew - (This is for the general maintenance that I have gone on and one about. The thing here that makes no sense is that this money doesn't exist because we haven't had zone crews in years. So cut it but the source of this money - nearly $1M - was never identified so I don't know how you can cut it.)
  • eliminate...athletics (almost $2M)
  • eliminate...elementary instrumental music
  • WSS FDK funding
  • reduced transportation
There's the Sophie's Choice. I'll let you think about it and try to get to another post on the the directors reactions.

NTN Contract

I went through the NTN contract and found any number of concerns. I wrote them up and handed them to each Director at this afternoon's Board Work Session on the budget. I got there early and was able to ask Harium about it. I only asked about the issue of separate schools with separate staffs versus two academies in one school.

He claims that in the appendix with the criteria this is not true. So I went back and reread that. It is open for interpretation. You could either see it as each academy is a school (and therefore has to have its own totally separate staff from the other academy/school). Or, what it means is that Cleveland can't be bigger than 450. Here's the actual wording:

Size: Schools will be designated a small school with no more than 450 students for grades 9-12, with a firm commitment from the district to hold enrollment level.

I would read that as saying the school can't be bigger than 450. But I still think Harium is wrong because the last page labeled "Exhibit D: Fees and Expenses" has a chart with two columns labeled "High School Name 1" and "High School Name 2" and each is charged $400K for services. That equals $800,000 which is what we are paying.

Here are some of my other concerns from reading the contract:
  • the district has 60 days to deliver a "Master Plan" with tasks, timeline and persons responsible for implementation. If NTN doesn't approve this planning application, either because it is incomplete or insufficient, "the actual implementation start date may be delayed". My question? What will the district do if that happens? (Note: they just lost a court case over not doing what is sufficient.)
  • there is a training program that the district would get charged for per participant. Okay but then it says that the fee can be deducted from the Special Expense Fund. What is that fund? I can't find reference to it anywhere else in the contract.
  • Enrollment is capped "with a firm commitment from the district to hold enrollment level" at 450. So that means Cleveland would be an underenrolled building for the size it was built for.
  • all courses have to be project-based learning as the "primary methodology". Does that include foreign language, PE and CTE?
  • "students will take their entire core curriculum through the School" - no Running Start then?
  • teachers and principals belong to "the School" and will not have their assignments divided with other schools. Again, could you overlap some teachers for non-core classes?
  • "School principals will have significant autonomy from involuntary or undesirable transfers from other schools." What does the SEA say about this?
  • NTN gets an "advisory partner" role in picking and approving a principal. What does this mean in specific?
  • One lead teacher has to be a liaison between staff and NTN. How much will this teacher get paid extra for this?
  • the School has to send a team regularly to their NTN national conference, leadership training, staff training and IT administrator training. Who pays for all these trainings and trips?
  • "parent group contributes in the financial sustainability of the School by facilitating large scale events or activities within the community" Get ready to pony up folks (they aren't subtle, are they?).
  • Here's my favorite about "work product" - To the extent District or any of its
    employees or agents creates or contributes to any New Materials, then District agrees that in consideration for the Services and License and in compliance with the terms and conditions of this Agreement District will assign, and will direct its employees and agents to assign, to NT upon the request of NT, all right, title and interest of District in any New Materials. District will cooperate with, and to the best of its ability, assist NT (at NT’s expense) in NT’s efforts to secure, vest, protect, record, further document or register such assignment and NT’s rights in any New Materials, including but not limited to executing all papers reasonably desirable or necessary to further document this assignment and vesting of rights in NT. I'm not a lawyer so help me out. I read this to say that anything developed by any SPS employee working at Cleveland is owned by NTN and the district will make sure of it. Outside groups, including universities, might not like this particular facet of the contract.
These aren't even "how will this school work" questions. These are far-reaching implications for Cleveland as a school. Again I wonder: how is it we are paying them but somehow they control the school?

First Live Blogging Attempt

I'm at the Board Work Session on the Budget with no less than 8 handouts. It is very hard to follow (ask the Board members). Some very hard choices to make and they have given the Board a sort of Sophie's choice to keep cuts from the classroom.

I will need Meg's help or some one who can try to find some order in what they presented. I think the Board is quite frustrated with trying to figure this out. Also, Board members have requested (quite sensibly) to see where money is coming from as well as where we spend it and what pots of money can be used where.

Also, they claim they cut 28 coaches positions and we only have roughly 72 coaches. This seems quite different from what we heard last fall.

Also, FYI - I looked thru the contract and had a list of about 15 questions about it including will Cleveland be two schools and staffed that way. I gave it to all the Directors and Harium said that it is NOT true. He claims it's in the the appendices. I think we don't have the same info they have because I don't see what he's talking about. There are still many questions though.

Math Q&A in Times Article

For entertainment value read the Discovering Math Q&A in this article in the Seattle Times. The Discovering Math guy (1) doesn't always answer the question asked, (2) answers but doesn't address the topic properly - see the question on if Discovering Math is "mathematically unsound" and (3) sounds like he works for the district.

Here's one example:

The Discovering books have been criticized by parents, but they've been the top pick of a couple of districts in our area, including Seattle and Issaquah. Any thoughts on why the textbooks seem to be more popular with educators than with parents?

Ryan: I think because (parents) lack familiarity — this doesn't look like what I was taught. I don't know how you get students to a place where more is required of them by repeating things that have been done in the past. That's not how we move forward in life.

What?

I thought the Holt person was able to answer the questions in a more straight-forward manner. And when given the chance to pounce on the math lawsuit, she didn't.

In Seattle, the fight over textbooks ended up in court. Is that happening elsewhere in the country?

Blakely: I haven't seen any other lawsuits like this ... It's really not surprising to hear this happening at all. Everybody is really taking math, in particular, very seriously right now. There's always been a controversy about the best way to teach math.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Some Surprising Elements in the NTN Contract

The NTN contract has some surprising elements.

First is the fact that the contract is for two schools, not one (see Exhibit D). The two schools are the two academies of the STEM. We know this because Exhibit B of the contract requires: "Size: Schools will be designated a small school with no more than 450 students for grades 9-12, with a firm commitment from the district to hold enrollment level." My old style drill and kill math skills tell me that the total enrollment is capped at 900 - not the 1,000 referenced in the community engagement.

Exhibit B of the contract also has this requirement: "Unique School Name and School Code: School will have its own identity, with a unique school name and state school code. School will have appropriate signage for recognition as unique site." and this one: "Separate Facilities: Schoolfacilities are physically separate from other schools and support a unique identity."

So the Academy of Engineering and Design and the Global Health Academy must be two physically separate schools. They have to have separate codes with the state - so they will report their WASL scores separately - and they have to have separate signs, sites, and staffs. This was not part of the community engagement. Each school will also have to have its own principal. Exhibit B also requires "Leadership:: School will have a full-time principal."

Speaking of the principals... "Principal Selection: NTN will play an advisory partner role in principal selection and approval." It's nice that the District will grant that power and authority to a private entity but will not allow it for school communities.

Not only will each of the two schools need their own principal, but they will each need their own full-time IT administrator. "IT Administrator: Assignment of IT administrator to support the School (full time for a school of 450)." And the staffs of the two schools must be separate: "Dedicated Staff: Teachers and principals are full-time employees of the School and will not have their assignments divided with other schools."

Finally, one of the stipulations of the contract is that "The District has secured the necessary financial and community support to implement the NTHS Model as provided herein;". I have seen no evidence of this community support. No such evidence was ever presented to the Board.

There is some very wacky stuff in this contract that was never discussed publicly. The community was misled to believe that STEM would be one school, not two, with one principal, not two, with one staff, not two, and with one IT administrator, not two.

Mayor's Town Halls on Youth Starting

I missed last night's Town Hall on Youth and Families Initiative by Mayor McGinn at the Rainier CC. Here's an account from Publicola.

In several crowded meeting rooms (including one room filled with about 75 Burmese speakers), hundreds of participants divided up into a dozen groups to answer three primary questions: What do we want for our children and families? What are our most critical challenges and how should we prioritize them? And what are the solutions?

Their top five suggestions weren’t terribly surprising: Making schools more accountable; providing more support for families to make kids ready to learn; creating more affordable housing; closing the academic achievement gap and reducing the high-school dropout rate; and giving kids more opportunities to get engaged. But the overwhelming community response to the forum—hundreds of people, many of them with young kids in tow, showing up for a two-hour community forum on a Monday night?—was.

There are four more forums. I was told by someone in the know that the Mayor's staff really wanted people to only attend one. I guess they don't want any one person/group dominating the conversation.

McGinn’s challenge, after the five forums and a final “Kids and Family Congress” at Seattle Center are over, will be to turn all the good ideas into action—easier said than done, given that most of the goals listed tonight are the responsibility of the Seattle school district, not city government. However, this week’s forums could provide the political backing McGinn needs to implement changes to the upcoming Families and Education Levy—implementing a so-called “cradle to college” approach, which Burgess alluded to at the council meeting yesterday, and sending more money to struggling South End schools.

The Mayor has a blog for this initiative. There is also a "Get Involved" page with specific things you can do. After these meetings, there will then be 100 (!) community caucuses. Each caucus will elect a delegate for the Kids and Families Congress in June. Then Planning Groups will be formed to work on action plans.

Here's the list of the rest of the meetings:

March 1 (general public) – Northgate Elementary School 7-8:30 p.m.
March 8 (general public) – Van Asselt Elementary School 7-8:30 p.m.
March 15 (general public) – Denny Middle School 7-8:30 p.m.
March 22 (general public) – Garfield Community Center 7-8:30 p.m.

April 8 (youth workshop) – Bertha Knight Landes Room in City Hall, 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

From the Mayor's webpage:

Hearing directly from youth will be an vitally important part of this process. The mayor will be visiting Hamilton International Middle School, Franklin High School and Chief Sealth High School, and as noted above, on April 8th the Mayor’s Office will be holding a large group workshop specifically for youth at City Hall in the Bertha Knight Landes Room (600 4th Avenue). Youth and groups that work with youth are also strongly encouraged to host their own youth-focused Community Caucuses; please contact Sol Villarreal at 206-233-2656 or sol.villarreal@seattle.gov for more information.

No Textbook Police

I'm going to re-post some items from Director Martin-Morris' blog that I think are worth noting:

This is from a thread called "Sinapore(sic) Math in the district"

Charlie Mas said...
What are the rules for materials use?

To what extent are teachers required to use the district-adopted materials? Must they use them at all? Must they use them some minimum portion of the time?

To what extent are teachers required to use the district-adopted supplemental materials? Must they use them at all? Must they use them some minimum amount?

To what extent are teachers free to use other materials? May they use them at all? Are they restricted from using them more than some maximum amount of time?

Could a teacher exercise the academic freedom to primarily use his or her own supplemental material instead of any district-adopted materials? A math teacher at Washington had used the same textbooks for over fifteen years. Could he still use those books if he so chose?

Teachers have been free to forego use of the Singapore Math materials. Are they likewise free to forego use of the Every Day Math materials?

So long as the teacher covers the required content (the knowledge and skills that students are supposed to learn), and the teacher is effective (the students learn it), then what do we care what materials the teacher uses?

We have been told that teachers are free to choose instructional strategies and style (pedagogy). Is that true? We know that some textbooks support just one pedagogy. Consequently, it only makes sense to allow teachers who exercise their academic freedom to use another pedagogy to select other materials to support their work.

What are the rules on teachers' use of materials? Are there any rules?

More than that, if there are rules, who enforces them and how?

February 14, 2010 5:21 PM


Harium said...
Dear Charile from 2/14 @ 5:21PM

In response to you questions, this is my understanding. I know that this may not match with what some people are experiencing in thier individual school. This is what I have observed moving around the district.

To what extent are teachers required to use the district-adopted materials? Must they use them at all? Must they use them some minimum portion of the time?
Teachers are responsible for the units to be taught to make sure students meet the state standards. The text to support that work is the adopted text

To what extent are teachers required to use the district-adopted supplemental materials? Must they use them at all? Must they use them some minimum amount?
Teacher are not required to use the supplemental materials. They use whatever additional materials they wish to support the needs of their classroom. There is no minimum amount of time for supplemental materials.

To what extent are teachers free to use other materials? May they use them at all? Are they restricted from using them more than some maximum amount of time?
Yes teacher may use other material to support the needs of their students.

Could a teacher exercise the academic freedom to primarily use his or her own supplemental material instead of any district-adopted materials? A math teacher at Washington had used the same textbooks for over fifteen years. Could he still use those books if he so chose?
As a supplement, my understanding is yes they could do that. Seattle has not had a single test that it used. Previously each school picked their our text, which made it difficult to support centrally.

Teachers have been free to forego use of the Singapore Math materials. Are they likewise free to forego use of the Every Day Math materials?
My understanding is no, that is the primary text to be used.

So long as the teacher covers the required content (the knowledge and skills that students are supposed to learn), and the teacher is effective (the students learn it), then what do we care what materials the teacher uses?
Teacher use a variety of tools to get the content across. The text is just one of many. The primary text is the adopted text.

We have been told that teachers are free to choose instructional strategies and style (pedagogy). Is that true? We know that some textbooks support just one pedagogy. Consequently, it only makes sense to allow teachers who exercise their academic freedom to use another pedagogy to select other materials to support their work.
My understanding and blief is that teacher can choose their instructional strategies. I also believe that you can do that with any text. Our teachers know their craft and the text is not the driver or should not be.

What are the rules on teachers' use of materials? Are there any rules?
I don't know if I would call it a "rule", but teachers are to use the adopted text to support the state standards.

More than that, if there are rules, who enforces them and how?
We don't have textbook police going around to our classrooms. It is the role of the principal as the instructional leader of the building to make sure our teachers are meeting the needs of our students.

February 21, 2010 10:29 AM


Charlie Mas said...
So it seems to me that any teacher in Seattle Public Schools is free to use whatever materials they like to whatever extent they like. They don't need to ask permission. No waivers are required.

So if teachers want to primarily rely on the Singapore math textbooks, they are free to do so. Even if a whole school of teachers choose to rely primarily on the Singapore math textbooks, they are free to do so. They don't need to ask permission and they don't need to request a waiver of any kind.

There is no rule that says they can't - and if even there were such a rule there is no one to enforce it - and even if there were someone to enforce it they could not impose any penalties for breaking it.

February 23, 2010 6:57 AM

Dump Mid-Winter Break

I totally don't get Mid-Winter Break. To me, it seems not only unnecessary but an interuption. Kids just started the new semester and they will soon have Spring Break when - BAM - they get a week off in the middle of February for no clear reason.

Apparently Nicole Brodeur thinks so too.

Making it Easier to Demote Seattle Principals

The Seattle Times ran a story today on an amendment to a bill in the State Legislature that would change the rules on demoting public school principals in Seattle.

Currently, the District is required to show "probable cause" to demote a principal. The amendment to the Race To The Top bill, if passed, would reduce that requirement to "valid reason".

The principals, of course, are opposed. The District is apparently also opposed.

Here is one of the more ironic exerpts from the article:
In Seattle, Jennifer Wiley, Franklin High principal and president of Seattle's principals association, says Carlyle's proposal isn't needed because the district already has the tools it needs to demote principals.

"If the tools aren't being used, then the responsibility lies with the leadership," she said.

While principals don't shy away from increased accountability, she said, they also need to have appropriate resources, supports and authority, which they have lacked in Seattle.

And accountability without support, she said, would deter strong leaders from working in schools that need good leadership the most.

Of course, this is exactly what the teachers are saying.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Education Heats Up as Issue for Mayor and City Council

Education definitely seems to be on the radar for both Mayor McGinn and the City Council. In today's PI, Joel Connelly reports:

"The Council's priority list contains one hint that Seattle taxpayers will be called upon once again to show their legendary generosity.

Burgess said the Council will soon begin consideration of renewing the city's Families and Education Levy almost a year earlier than in previous renewal cycles, due to low high school graduation rates.

"The fact is that more than one-third of our students are not graduating from high school and that failure has gone on for years: It's time we take bold steps to change our school results," Burgess said."

I think these people are getting serious about results. At this rate, the Board and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson might want to think about what life might be like if the City took over.

Race to the Top/Teacher Negotiations

We haven't had a lot of discussion here about the upcoming teacher negotiations and how they may (or may not) be tied into Race to the Top money. For some reason, some here believe that the coalition group of education groups that I belong to that wrote a Values Statement on the upcoming teachers' contract and the issues around it, is a sinister group bent on supporting Race to the Top and undermining teachers. (Or we are naifs who have been hoodwinked.)

Here's the first thing to understand (and the takeaway message): every single thing in the teacher's contract affects how your child may be taught, the length of time they are in class, everything. That is why the teacher's contracts should interest every single parent and anyone who cares about education. The Values Statement we created was about PARENTS. As I have said in the past, NO one is going to advocate for children except parents. Not teachers, not principals, not the Board, not the district.

We wanted to create a document that stated what matters to parents. Yes, the first page is quite the Mom and Apple Pie page (we've heard that from all corners) but we wanted to be very clear it is about student, teacher, principal and district. The following two pages (we kept it short and simple) does indeed give some specifics.

Also, I'm sorry if the word "effective" is lost to some of you as a word. It seems it is some educational code word. I take credit for it being in the values statement because I didn't want to use offensive or derogatory language like "poor", "bad" or "terrible". I think it would hurt to have those kinds of words used and I thought "effective" gave the statement of a teacher who did his or her job well. But that word was not chosen to be or used as any code.

About Race to the Top. I don't believe it will work and I believe it is just the Gates Foundation grants on steroids. I could reel off many reasons but really, I think that it will send into motion many projects that will never see fruition. Could all 40 states who applied get the money? And just how much money could it be if they all did? I think that will enlarge the grasp of charter schools that are still unproven as working better AND will divert energy away from existing schools.

Harium told us at his community meeting that Washington state couldn't qualify for RttT because of the charter issue (or rather, we lose 50 big points for not having them). What about our innovative non-charter schools? None, I repeat none, will count because each school has to be able to control its staff and its budget. The new STEM school over in the Tri-Cities? Won't count because it has three districts instead of one. You'd think that was innovation in getting three small district together to create something great but no.

Want many expert opinions? Here you go. This link is to the National Journal Online and they invited experts of all stripes to weigh in on RttT. One overarching criticism is that Arne Duncan promised transparency and yet the RttT reviewers are not to be named nor is it to be explained how they were selected. There is worry how it may affect rural districts, states without charters or what happens if a state doesn't follow thru on what it says it will do in its application.

Here's on of my favorite quotes from this group, a guy named Steve Peha from Teaching That Makes Sense:

"Innovation-via-bribery or even via compensation, doesn’t really work. Yes, Apple made the iPod to make money. But they didn’t make it because they had money. Even with more money than God, Microsoft has produced only the flaccid Zune to compete with it. When it comes to innovation, I’ll take Steve Jobs in a cabin for a weekend with three felt pens and a pad of sticky notes over a building full of Microsoft code jockeys, three years, and all the free Mountain Dew they can guzzle."

Me, too.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Need a Little Help

The District had committed to providing quarterly updates on the Strategic Plan for both the Board and the Public. They skipped one for the Board last year and there hasn't been one for the public in about nine months. I have contacted District staff about this, but have not received the courtesy of a response. Perhaps some other folks would like to try to get an answer. Why were the community updates suspended and when will they resume? Who is accountable for meeting this commitment and who has the job of holding that person accountable?

There is a community engagement protocol for the Strategic Plan, but no more than a couple of the plan initiatives are even trying to meet the requirements of that protocol. I have written to the Board and the staff about this a number of times without response. Perhaps some other folks would like to try to get an answer. Who is accountable for meeting the community engagement protocols and who has the job of holding those people accountable?

There has been no response to the APP Review, done about two years ago. When will we see a response? When will we even see any news about the efforts to make a response? An aligned, written, taught and tested APP curriculum was supposed to have been implemented concurrent with the splits in the program. The legitimacy of the splits was predicated on the implementation of this curriculum, but there is none. Where is the APP curriculum? When will it be implemented? How will it be enforced? Who will enforce it? Likewise, all of the same questions for Spectrum. I haven't been able to get a satisfactory response. Perhaps some other folks would like to try.

The Program Placement decisions were announced as a sort of footnote to the transition plan of the new Student Assignment Plan. A number of the decisions lack rationale. Some of the decisions violate the rationale given for other decisions. When are we going to see a review of these decisions that includes legitimate rationale and data to support that rationale? I haven't been able to get answers. Perhaps some other folks would like to try.

Legislatively Speaking

I attended Harium's Community meeting and the 43rd Dems meeting (partial) yesterday. Here are some updates (add on if you attended either or Michael DeBell's meeting).

We covered a fair amount of ground with Harium but a lot on the math ruling/outcomes. Here's what he said:
  • the Board will decide what will happen from the math ruling. I asked Harium about who would be doing what because of how the phrasing the district used in their press release - "In addition to any action the School Board may take, the district expects to appeal this decision." It made it sound like the district (1) might do something different from the Board and (2) the district had already decided what they would do. Harium said they misspoke and it was probably the heat of the moment.
  • He seems to feel the judge erred. He said they did follow the WAC rules which is what she should have been ruling on but didn't. I probably should go back and look at the complete ruling but it seems like not going by the WAC would open her decision up to be reversed so why would she have done it? He said the issue was that there are statewide consequences to this ruling and that Issaquah and Bellevue (or Lake Washington?) are doing math adoptions and this ruling is troubling. I gently let Harium know that the Board needs to follow the law, needs to be transparent in their decision-making and the district needs to have balanced adoption committees or else this could happen again. No matter how the district or the Board feel, the judge did not throw out the case, did not rule against the plaintiffs but found for them. The ball is in the Board's court and they need to consider this going forward with other decisions.
  • He stated that the Board had met in Executive Session on the issue and would make an announcement on Tuesday or Wednesday as to what they would do. I asked if this would be a joint decision with the district and he was a bit vague and said it was a Board decision. So look for that. He did say they would NOT be reviewing all the math materials. The judge's ruling has no force except for a review and I believe that is all they will do. What form it will take will probably be in the announcement. As one person there pointed out (I'm sorry I forgot your name), they shouldn't waste the money appealing if all they have to do to satisfy the ruling is do a review.
  • He said they could (1) appeal to the Supreme Court on finding of fact or (2)not appeal and just do the review. But I'm wondering if the Board/district feel like they should appeal in order to try to ward off any future lawsuits. I'm thinking there's going to be an appeal.
  • He was asked about the appearance of a "stacked" math adoption committee but he waved that off. I'm not sure everyone at the table was happy with that.
  • Also about math, apparently at least some schools are NOT doing 6th grade math placement tests for 5th graders. No reason has been given yet. It's odd because in middle school you are placed according to your ability so that even kids not in Spectrum or APP can take higher level math if appropriate. Anyone heard anything? I heard it was Hamilton not giving the tests so far.
  • Also, there was a bit of talk about math waivers. Schmitz Park has one to use Singapore and North Beach has one for Saxon. Apparently, Thorton Creek wants one to use...TERC? Harium thinks the old waivers will stay but new waivers might be more problematic. However, someone from North Beach did go to the last Board meeting worried about the waiver continuing (it has to be renewed year to year). I'd be worried too.
  • There was some discussion over perhaps having TWO math adoptions and schools can choose. (This came from Harium himself.) Like this idea? Tell your Director. Also, it seems there are supplemental materials for parents/students use at home (both hard copy and online) but many parents don't know this is available and some schools haven't communicated this well to parents.
  • He also mentioned that they would be continuing to update their curriculum policies and the next one was C.21 which I haven't looked up yet.
  • I asked Harium if any of the directors had ever visited a STEM school. He said he had but that he didn't know if anyone else had.
  • On the budget, the order is to keep the cuts away from the classroom. I pointed out that they have continued to hire (filling empty posts not new ones but still) and that I know of travel plans right now for one school's administrators. He said that sometimes travel funding comes out of grants. I told him that transparency on that issue would help so that it wouldn't be confusing. He said he had paid for a plane ticket himself because he didn't want to use grant money.
  • There was some discussion about the unevenness of Spectrum. This lead to a discussion of a possible Spectrum at Sand Point since BF Day is the only Spectrum in that area (and it's just starting). However, there is also Spectrum at nearby View Ridge and Wedgwood. (I say who cares if there are eligible students?) Then that led to a discussion of why not foreign language immersion at Sand Point? What I understand is that the area around Sand Point will have a large number of ELL students with multiple languages. One person thought it was mostly Spanish-speaking students so immersion would be good. If it were just one language, I could see it but if you have kids coming in who don't know English or Spanish, it could be a problem.
  • Harium said he really liked the principal selected for Sand Point and had great faith the school would get a good start. He said as well that many parents seemed committment and excited about starting a new schoool. He said that for the positions available at the new schools, they would be posted internally ahead of all other available positions.
43rd District Meeting

I had asked Harium about the possibility of advocating for the money from the expiring stadium tax (expiring next year) going to education (but naturally leaving the portion currently going to the arts to stay in place). He said he hadn't thought about it but wouldn't be against it. So I brought it up at the 43rd Dems meeting as well as the issue of lifting the levy lid. (This was a pretty well-attended meeting for a beautiful Saturday but many organizations that support low-income people are very worried about cuts.)

The reply from Rep. Petersen was that the stadium tax money,when the levy ends, would roll back into the General Fund and that it would be better accessed for education that way. He also said he understood my point about that raising the levy lid wouldn't help small districts and would likely deepen the financial divide between districts but that it was the best short-term solution.

I see what he is saying about letting that stadium tax money roll back into the General Fund but I also see every other program with its hand out. He said the education funding should go back to 50% (as it was in previous years) from 48% which it is now. Do I think it will happen? Maybe but not without a fight. I'd rather see the levy continue and the money earmarked for education. Levy lid? Okay, but things that "short-term" tend to just stay and I have to wonder how much, overall, it will help districts.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Upcoming Events and Meetings

Tomorrow Director DeBell and Director Martin-Morris hold their community meetings.
  • DeBell's is from 9-11 am at Cafe Appassionato, 4001 – 21st Ave. W
  • Director Martin-Morris' is at Diva Espresso, 8014 Lake City Way NE from 9:30-11:30 am.
  • Director Sundquist has a mid-week meeting on Wednesday the 24th from 10-11:30 am at the High Point Library at 3411 S.W. Raymond Street.
Also tomorrow, Saturday the 20th, there are Town Hall meetings for legislators to hear from constituents about different issues (this is not just about education issues just so you know). You might want to weigh in with your legislator about education issues like funding for basic education (i.e. what happens now?), lifting the levy lid or applying for Race to the Top money. I can't seem to get the link to the times and places for each legislator but I'll try to get it up. Most of the Town Halls are in the morning.

There is also a Pathways Lecture Series for Parents sponsored by Parent Map magazine that has upcoming lectures on parenting. Here's their complete schedule. I highly recommend the lecture by Dr. Laura Kastner who is one of the best speakers on parenting I have ever heard. Good ideas presented in a lively fashion.

Melinda Gates on The Measures of Effective Teaching project

From the Washington Post article

The article explains why the Gates Foundation is focused on effective teaching:

"The key to helping students learn is making sure that every child has an effective teacher every single year.

Teachers are at the center of our strategy at the Gates Foundation. Since my husband and I started investing in education 10 years ago, our foundation has partnered with more than 1,000 high schools. Our grantmaking wasn't always oriented around effective teaching, but gradually we noticed that the schools with the biggest gains were those doing revolutionary work inside the classroom."



She asks the question,
"So why hasn't education policy focused more on raising teacher effectiveness? The country has tried a lot of (outrageously expensive) reforms that don't improve student outcomes -- such as reducing class size by one or two students and paying teachers to get master's degrees. Part of the problem is that it's so hard to measure teaching. Anyone who has ever been inspired by a teacher knows that pedagogy is both a science and an art. Finding a sensitive instrument to evaluate it has been a huge obstacle. Tests yield clear numerical grades, but they can't measure all the intangibles that make a teacher effective.

To help surmount this logjam, a team of researchers (with support from the Gates Foundation) is working with more than 3,000 teachers in seven school districts to develop measures of teacher effectiveness. The project uses seven methods, including videotaping classes, analyzing test scores, and surveying teachers, students and parents."

I find it encouraging that the methods the foundation is using all have high effect sizes according to John Hattie's Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta Analyses Relating to Achievement. .

Unfortunately, the Race to the Top $ is being awarded now with strings attached to teacher effectiveness that has not been defined by this ongoing research. Will teachers get stuck with being tied to standardized test scores as a quick response?

I don't think it's fair to tie a teacher's pay to the performance of his/her students if the teaching does not have control of the materials and curriculum they are using to meet the state standards. If those decisions are made at the state/district level then those are the people who should be accountable for the scores. If you force materials and curriculum on teachers than they should only be held accountable for fidelity of implementation (sound familiar?) - ie how well they follow the script.

Most of the teachers I know did not sign up to be script readers. They are professionals who work hard to craft a learning environment for their students and they understand that learning is a process and part of learning is building personal relationships with their students.

Key Curriculum Press Response to Court Decision

Key Curriculum Press is in quite a snit over the Court's decision about the high school textbooks.

Check out this web page they wrote in response.

There are some erroneous statements here. Particularly this one:
Discovering Mathematics was chosen in Seattle because the School Board could see the potential to serve a diverse student population and improve mathematical achievement across the district.

The School Board made no such statement of rationale. This was invented from whole cloth.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It's An Interesting New World for Our Children

There were two articles in the NY Times last week that both gave me pause to wonder about what a different world our kids are growing up in and what, in turn, their children will find to be the norm for their lives.

The first article was about a school in Vail, AZ (right outside of Tucson, area-wise, a large district) that had kids on buses who were stir-crazy and noisy. So they got a plan and put an Internet router on the bus. Voila! Problem solved. Now it's really quiet with everyone typing on their phone or laptop.

Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

“It’s made a big difference,” said J. J. Johnson, the bus’s driver. “Boys aren’t hitting each other, girls are busy, and there’s not so much jumping around.”

(Yes, I'm sure they are all studying.)

An early test came in December, when bus No. 92 carried the boys’ varsity soccer team to a tournament nearly four hours away. The ride began at 4 a.m., so many players and coaches slept en route. But between games, with the bus in a parking lot adjacent to the soccer field, players and coaches sat with laptops, fielding e-mail messages and doing homework — basically turning the bus into a Wi-Fi cafe, said Cody Bingham, the bus driver for the trip.

Now I grew up in Arizona and the distances between schools in different cities can be great so this is a swell idea especially in terms of kids getting something they need done finished while still enroute to something they want to do. But I see kids texting all the time, not talking. So now, instead of talking to a real, live human being sitting across from you on the bus, a student can escape. Between Facebook, texting and the availability of Internet access everywhere, I wonder when kids learn to interact.

The second article was about a young German woman (17) who is newest It Girl over there. She has already written and had staged a play and a movie so her first novel has been widely anticipated. Here's the problem: a blogger (yay bloggers!) found that she had lifted some material from another book. And, in fact, lifted an entire page in one place. Bad news, right? Not so fast.

On Thursday, Ms. Hegemann’s book was announced as one of the finalists for the $20,000 prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in the fiction category. And a member of the jury said Thursday that the panel had been aware of the plagiarism charges before they made their final selection.

“Obviously, it isn’t completely clean but, for me, it doesn’t change my appraisal of the text,” said Volker Weidermann, the jury member and a book critic for the Sunday edition of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, a strong supporter. “I believe it’s part of the concept of the book.”

"Concept of the book"? Welcome to the brave new world we live in where music sampling is common so why not literary sampling?

Although Ms. Hegemann has apologized for not being more open about her sources, she has also defended herself as the representative of a different generation, one that freely mixes and matches from the whirring flood of information across new and old media, to create something new. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” said Ms. Hegemann in a statement released by her publisher after the scandal broke.

My response is not printable here but basically - BS. Now, yes, maybe this is the new generation's answer to art - everything old is new again. But there is no such thing as originality? And what's up with this new "authenticity" or is that a new way of saying "keepin' it real"? I don't know.

As someone who has tried writing fiction the past, I would say that there is nothing new thematically. Good versus evil, love conquers all, boy meets girl, blood is thicker than water. BUT just because there are no new themes doesn't mean there are no new stories. For example, we have raced so far ahead in medical advances but we are way behind on medical ethics. Child dying and need bone marrow? Create child 2 to save child 1. The theme is love of a child but that story couldn't have been written 100 years ago so it's a new story.

We go to new movies all the time, not to see the same stories but to hear themes retold in a new way. (And that's why I'm going out on a limb and saying that Avatar, with all its flash, will not win Best Picture. Story in film trumps everything for me and, I hope, the Academy.)

But, this is a new generation who now, apparently, believes in openly borrowing from anywhere. Yes, from the start of art, people have "borrowed". But I will say I am astonished at how brazenly it is being done and endorsed. Will our grandchildren never be punished at school for plagerism because, well, they just "borrowed" a phrase or two?

May you live in interesting times (I borrowed that.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spectrum in Name Only

Spectrum is distinct from an ALO in only one way: the self-contained delivery model. A Spectrum class is supposed to be composed entirely of Spectrum-eligible students. If there are not enough Spectrum-eligible students to form a class, then all of the Spectrum-eligible students are supposed to be in that class and the rest of the class is supposed to be filled with high performing students selected by the school staff. These students are supposed to be the ones that the staff believes are ready and able to succeed with the Spectrum curriculum. The entire class is then taught to the Spectrum Standards.

Again: the self-contained (or nearly self-contained) classroom is the hallmark of Spectrum. Schools may develop their own ALO model, but they are not free to develop their own Spectrum model. The peer group is an essential part of the program. Without the peer group, it isn't Spectrum.

I'm not saying that it can't be good without the peer group or effective without the self-contained class. Of course it can. It just isn't Spectrum.

Dr. Colleen Stump, when she was the Project Manager for Advanced Learning, told the Board that a middle school Spectrum program needed a critical mass of students to be viable. There are certainly two middle schools in Seattle, and possibly as many as five, that lack that critical mass of students. These schools are suspected of providing Spectrum in Name Only.

These were the Spectrum enrollment numbers, by school, in 2008-2009

Middle Schools:
Eckstein . . 329
Washington . 177
Whitman . . .172
McClure . . . 75
Hamilton . . .73
Denny . . . . 56
Mercer . . . .27
Aki Kurose . . 2

(Note: Meany and Madison did not have Spectrum programs in 2008-2009).

I think it is worth noting that the two Spectrum students who were at Aki Kurose last year were 8th graders and are not there any more. Similarly, 25 of the Spectrum students at Denny were 6th graders; that's growth in the program which should also be noted. I don't know how the creation of a program at Madison will impact that growth.

It is also worth noting that the Spectrum program at Washington has been capped at 180 students for years and years. It is unclear if that cap on Spectrum enrollment will continue or if a Spectrum alternative will be offered to Washington Service Area Spectrum students who cannot gain access to the program. Those in the Eckstein Service Area can enroll in the Spectrum program at Jane Addams K-8. Broadview-Thomson K-8 offers Spectrum in the Whitman Service Area.

I will research and provide the enrollment numbers for elementary schools in an update.

Times Writes about Singapore at Schmitz Park

Seattle Times editorial writer, Bruce Ramsey, wrote about the success of Singapore math taught at Schmitz Park.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Open thread

How are things at your school? My kids are having a phenomenal year which proves to me that their school can handle just about anything the district throws at them and still thrive.

Another Election Coming (It Might Have Slipped Your Notice)

The Stranger reports that there is an election coming up for the King County Conservation board on March 16th. You can only vote at a King County library.

I normally wouldn't bring this up here but I honestly never heard of this before (and apparently not a lot of other people have as well - there were only 2500 votes in the whole county last time). From the Stranger:

The state-mandated board oversees a budget of about $3 million to work on issues ranging from habitat restoration, farm plans, forest plans, and even seawall restoration, explains Jesseca Brand, King County Conservation Voters spokesperson.

It seems that conservatives are trying to control the Board and since so few people register to run and so few vote, it's not hard to do. From the Sound Politics blog (a local conservative blog - it's a fairly entertaining blog):

"Help keep control of this King County board in conservative hands."

Look, I don't care if you are conservative or liberal. Don't care if you have more concerns with property rights or green issues. But it seems like something to NOT overlook as these people do have some definite power over conservation programs. Vote your values if it matters to you.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Portrait of Eli Broad

The NY Times had an article about Eli Broad, founder of the Broad Foundation(s) which has wings for education, arts, science and civic life. The article was in the Arts section but did manage to mention his educational forays and give insights into how he gives out money.

From the article:

A billionaire philanthropist whose beneficence comes with not just strings but with ropes that could moor an ocean liner, he is known to pull his support, resign from a board or, in some cases, decline to fulfill his financial promises when a project comes together in a way he does not like.

This explains the wording for the Broad residents (the district has two people who are coming to the end of their two-year residency with SPS - if they get hired, then I know the fix is in. We can't afford to keep these people on but the Broad website makes it fairly clear that the expectation is they will be hired at the end of the residency.)

An interesting take on his influence:

His remarkable influence — even his critics suggest the results of his patronage have been overwhelmingly good for the city — says much about Los Angeles and its still-adolescent philanthropic culture, diffuse power base and lack of civic investment among many of its richest residents.

Mr. Broad and Bill Gates, in 2008, financed a political campaign called Strong American Schools, to focus campaign attention on education. They promised $60M to the campaign. Mr. Broad likes results and he let the communications director for the campaign know that one way to judge the success of its impact is the number of column inches in newspaper about it.

In the end, Mr. Broad said, the campaign did not have the impact on voters that he’d hoped, so he reduced his pledge to about a third of the original promise.

“If we’re not getting results,” Mr. Broad said during an interview in his offices in the Westwood district, surrounded by modern art on the walls and framed by the spread of Los Angeles behind him, “why should we spend all that money?”

Mr. Kolton said the campaign staff saw an ever-moving goal post.

“Just because we couldn’t make education the main campaign issue when we were fighting two wars and the country was slipping into a depression, it was held against us,” he said.

Meaning, if you don't do what I want or I don't like your effort or outcome, I'll pull the money.

The last paragraph is telling for the future:

“Eli does nothing without strings, but I happen to think you need strings,” said Jane Nathanson, a longtime trustee of the Museum of Contemporary Art. “I think there is a new type of philanthropist now. With old-family wealth, people gave money because it was the chic thing to do. New wealth is earned, and if you can get it, there is going to be a great deal of control.”

I absolutely understand wanting some control and benchmarks/matrix for results. It's your money as a philanthropist. Mr. Board seems a bit of control freak with a streak of stubborness.

But what is key to me looking down the road are two things. One, Ms. Nathanson is right. This is a new breed of philanthropist. These people are not from inherited wealth but earned wealth. It is not so much doing good for good's sake.

Two, it's putting a stamp on this country in terms of outcomes AND direction. I sense impatience on the part of these two and, in something of a vaccum, they are seizing the opportunity to push what they believe is the "right" way to go in education. (By vaccum, I don't mean there aren't plenty of education foundations/initiatives but that Broad/Gates are on a huge scale with a lot of visibility.) I think they want to see results and change (read: reform) and while I can applaud the deep caring I believe they bring to their efforts, I am also wary of two people who are neither elected nor appointed to make this kind of wholesale change to the face of education in our country.

Money is a great motivator especially for a government/state/district strapped for cash. But dangling money cannot trump scrutiny and careful assessment of what the money has to be used for in our schools and for the overall educational system.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Raising the Levy Lid

Raise the school levy lid. That's what a bill that the Washington State House passed on Saturday would allow. Why (from a Times article):

Gov. Chris Gregoire has promised help to struggling school districts, and the bill would help them make up for school budget shortfalls. The bill would allow school districts to ask for more money and would let them go back to the voters for more money in the middle of a levy cycle.

Background:

"The levy lid law took effect in 1979 and sought to limit levy revenue to 10 percent of a school district's state basic education allocation. It had a grandfather clause, however, and allowed some districts to exceed the 10 percent limit."

Under current law, most districts may bring up 24 percent of their budget through levies, although some are grandfathered at as much as 33.9 percent of their budget. The bill passed Saturday would raise the levy lid by 4 percentage points, from 24 to 28 percent, plus districts grandfathered in at higher rates can also raise their levies by 4 percent.

The bill also would increase the levy equalization rate from 12 percent to 14 percent. This is the amount the property tax poor districts get from the state in addition to what they can raise locally."

So this might be all good and well except that it could have some major fallout. One, it lets the state off the hook for a longer period of time. The Legislature, by passage of the law (with support from the Governor), can say it did something to help schools. But did they really? Two, it makes the differences in funding between districts all that more stark. The equalization rate isn't going to close that gap.

The judge in the basic education court case has said that the state relies too heavily on local levies to pay for education.

"Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, cited that ruling, saying that if the judge says the state is using the levies in an unconstitutional manner, lawmakers shouldn't then turn around and increase levies.

"That, for me, doesn't pass the straight face test," he said.

Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said that parents want lawmakers to give their schools options.

"They're not caught up in the politics of levies," she said. "They want schools funded for their kids."

Ah, the kids. It's kind of amazing what will be done "for the kids" without thinking of long-term outcomes. The cry seems to be "we need money and we need it now." I can't blame parents for wanting to do everything possible but there are also ripple effects. Just getting money is not enough.

Additional legislation from Saturday pass by the House:

Also Saturday, the House, on a 73-23 vote, pass a school reform bill from the Quality Education Council, the group assigned by the Legislature to manage the process of reforming the way Washington pays for K-12 education.

The measure defines what it takes to run a prototypical school, ranging from teacher-student ratios to money for maintenance and supplies. The bill would set a goal of decreasing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 15 students by the 2015-16 school year. It would require all-day kindergarten across the state by 2017-18. And it would move up the schedule for the state paying for all school transportation costs to 2011.

I think we've heard promises about lower classes sizes before.

KUOW Seeking Parent Feedback on ICS Model

Ann Dornfeld, a reporter for radio station KUOW, is seeking families to interview about the way services are being delivered under the ICS model. If you wish to contact her, you can reach her at 206-816-5434 or adornfeld@kuow.org.

Impact of Court Decisions on School Board Decisions

There was a story in the Times on February 13, 2010 about how the Court decision on Seattle School Board's selection of high school math textbooks is having an impact on similar decisions being made by other local school boards.

It's pretty clear that most people are completely misunderstanding just about everything here. They are misunderstanding the roles of the School Board, the OSPI, the State Board of Education, the teachers, the District staffs, and, most of all, the Courts.

No one seems to misunderstand things worse than the Times. The Times either misunderstood the two recent decisions or they are trying to intentionally muddy the water on them. I see the two decisions and I see that they both went against the Discovering Math series very hard. One said that Seattle's choice to adopt the books was arbitraty, the other said that the OSPI's decision to drop the books from the recommended list was well-considered. Two different Courts spoke against these books in two days, yet the Times missed that theme.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is this how it is for all the reopening schools?

The Queen Anne & Magnolia News has a pretty interesting article from Feb. 4th that basically seems to imply that the parents are going to decide what program is at their school. Good for them but my question, after reading the whole article - is this what is happening at all the reopening schools? (And note, there is a link for 3 of the 5 reopening schools at the schools page at the SPS website but none describe any program.)

The opening header says "Decision on QA Elementary curriculum halted after parents voice dissent." There doesn't seem to have been anyone from the district there so I'm wondering if the reporter got the impression that the parents have more sway over the the final decision than it would seem likely (given that we know the district will have it).

From the article:

Though Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson announced Queen Anne Elementary would have a Montessori program a couple weeks ago-a decision that caught many by surprise-that decision is no longer final.

At a Monday night meeting, the QA Elementary Design Team informed community members and parents that the program for the school could still change. And since Goodloe-Johnson's decision two weeks ago, the Design Team was presented with an entirely new possibility to relay to the community-opening the school next year without a definitive program in place.

Well, that would be in line with what is happening at the other schools. No one seems to be opening with a specific program. But the article goes on:

The question posed by the design team was: Would you be willing to attend a school in which the curriculum is not designed yet and be willing to be a part of picking and developing that curriculum in the first year?

The school district will also consider Montessori, a language immersion program and other program options, such as an expeditionary or dual-model curriculum, the design team said.

Be willing? Geez, that doesn't seem to be what is being asked at Sand Point or McDonald. Maybe they pose that question because it's an Option School but it almost sounds like they will decide their program.

Next steps:

To help gauge the community's preference, the design team will be distributing a curriculum survey until Feb. 13. Results will be collected and analyzed in the last two weeks of February to inform the final decision before enrollment applications are due March 31. The QA Elementary open house is March 6.

Again, I have no idea if this is what is happening at the other schools. I'd hope so.

If the survey comes back and not enough parents are willing to take the chance on QA Elementary without a predetermined program, the district will lay out concrete options to choose from-though what those might be isn't entirely certain either.

So the district is opening an Option school where the design team can come back and say not enough parents will come if you don't have Program X? Well, considering it's an option school, anyone can come. How come one area of the city determines what the program is for an Option school? (I must be missing something.) I think that even if parents in Queen Anne don't want Montessori, that doesn't necessarily mean the school wouldn't fill from around the region/city with those who do. (I understand that transportation would only be for those students in the McClure area.)

It almost seems like the attendance area reopens would have more control of their destiny than an Option school given that the parents who would have students assigned to that school could say, no Program X, we don't come. Meaning, the district really needs a solid core of students to operate a new school and if enough parents were able to escape (either to other schools or private schools), what would happen?

There was one other interesting part to the article:

The design team plans to take all the questions to the district and disperse information to the community as it comes. As answers are discovered, the design team will post them to its jargon group, groups.google.com/group/QAElementary. The design team also encourages residents to send questions, comments and concerns to them directly, rather than to the district, at QAElementary@googlegroups.com.

I think it is really great that they will keep the community updated and I know McDonald and Sand Point also have groups. But it's interesting that they ask people to contact them and not the district. Maybe the district wants them to be the conduit for all information so the district doesn't have to gather information themselves. Or would people be more likely to write/call a design team than the district?

Thoughts on Funding

Joni Balter of the Times had a column about how we fund services in our city. Here's how she puts it:

"It is an increasing tradition in our region to offer government a la carte."

And before I go any further, I'm not against taxes. Compared to other countries (and even other states), we aren't taxed that much. But we do have a struggling economy and many people who are stretched to their limit (read: seniors and low-income folks).

She goes on to talk about how many levies/bonds may come before voters in all of 2010. We just had our first one with the school levies. Next up is likely to be a seawall levy.

"To that end, the Seattle City Council recently asked McGinn to review all the voter "asks" on the horizon to have a more holistic sense of what is coming up. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen says the council is not on board for the mayor's requested May election for the sea wall and may pursue other funding options, including use of the city's credit card to reduce the hit on taxpayers."

She also points out that that 2011 will have the renewal for the Families and Education levy (that funds many programs important to SPS) and maybe a levy to extend light rail to the west.

It's interesting because some of the comments after her column are pretty tough. There's a lot of "We just passed the school levies overwhelmingly. What makes you think we won't pass all the others?" I think her point is to ask if it could become possible for Seattle voters, at some point, to find "ballot fatigue and tax overload".

So I bring this up because in the middle of the column is this:

"That is until the Mariners stadium tax expires in early 2012.

Word to the wise: That tax will never come off the bill even after stadium bonds are paid because everybody and their second cousin once removed is eager to reroute the tax to their cause. Think Husky Stadium, KeyArena, the arts and others."

This is a really good point because it does seem unfair to ask for a tax for a finite item (the stadium) and then extend it to something else because people are already used to paying it. "It's not a new tax, it's a renewal!" I'm not even sure how that would work. Does the Legislature have the power to just shift the money elsewhere or do we vote on it again?

However, in Ms. Balter's list of places where the money could go, she left off education. That's one revenue stream that is awfully tempting. I'm not even sure how much money it is but if we are talking about funding education without always having an Operations levy, it might work.

Thoughts?

Talking about Kindergarten-12 (that's age 12)

We had a thread about pay for K that got into an interesting discussion about the length of day for a kindergarten and then, what they should be doing in that day.

I think one of the issues is that the role of kindergarten has evolved. We started having longer days (because parents either thought their child should be learning more and/or wanted to have someplace for them to be while the parents were at work). But I'm not sure that evolution had a huge discussion following it.

Another issue, that I vividly remember from my own experience with putting my sons into kindergarten is the wide range of abilities coming in the door. You had kids who could already read and you had kids that couldn't name colors. For a kindergarten teacher, that's a huge range of ability that he or she is supposed to bridge. Some of the kids have been in daycare/pre-school where it may have been babysitting or it may have gone from child care to introduction of ideas/concepts.

So along comes this opinion piece in the NY Times on Tuesday called Playing to Learn by Susan Engel, a senior lecturer in psychology and director of the teaching program at Williams College. Here's her premise:

"Our current educational approach — and the testing that is driving it — is completely at odds with what scientists understand about how children develop during the elementary school years and has led to a curriculum that is strangling children and teachers alike.

In order to design a curriculum that teaches what truly matters, educators should remember a basic precept of modern developmental science: developmental precursors don’t always resemble the skill to which they are leading. For example, saying the alphabet does not particularly help children learn to read. But having extended and complex conversations during toddlerhood does. Simply put, what children need to do in elementary school is not to cram for high school or college, but to develop ways of thinking and behaving that will lead to valuable knowledge and skills later on."

I totally agree. I think a lot of parents dislike the idea that their child will be "taught" anything in kindergarten (although we are way past the days when kindergarten was just socialization and an introduction to the school day). I think it's more nuanced than that and I get this from my sons going to Montessori. It's much more of exposing them to many kinds of interests, talking about those interests and then allowing the kids to explore them. The talking is focus and the key is having a conversation.

"Along the way, teachers should spend time each day having sustained conversations with small groups of children. Such conversations give children a chance to support their views with evidence, change their minds and use questions as a way to learn more."

"So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college."

What I see kindergarten as is what Ms. Engel puts forth as a best way of learning:

"Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way."

"A classroom like this would provide lots of time for children to learn to collaborate with one another, a skill easily as important as math or reading. It takes time and guidance to learn how to get along, to listen to one another and to cooperate. These skills cannot be picked up casually at the corners of the day."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Here and There

A roundup of news tidbits, big and small.
  • Mayor McGinn didn't get his levy ballot in on-time (some kind of mix-up or put in the wrong box). So his vote never registered. Big whoops on his part.
  • Peter Maier has his monthly community meeting tomorrow, the 13th, from 10:30-noon at the Bethany Community Church at 1156 N. 80th.
  • Lawton has a new principal (yet another mid-year principal change). From the Magnolia Voice blog:
    "Beverly Raines has taken a family leave of absence for the remainder of the school year. Kathy Bledsoe started this week as interim principal and will remain at the school for the rest of the year. Bledsoe is no stranger to Magnolia, having been the principal at Blaine for seven years. She retired from the Seattle School District two years ago. This was Raines first year at Lawton and prior to coming to the school she filed a lawsuit against Seattle Public Schools, accusing the district of discrimination based on age and sex."
  • The district has announced the date for the Family and Community Engagement Symposium they started last year. It's on April 24th so save the date (no other details available).
  • From SPS School Beat: Twelve Seattle Public School students from four high schools have been accepted to participate in the first phase of Washington Aerospace Scholars for 2009-10. The students are among 247 juniors from across the state who have been accepted into program. Very exciting stuff; these students do a distance learning project with NASA-designed curriculum and then some of the students will go to a summer residency session to work with engineers and scientists.
  • More good news: Highland Park Elementary students raised over $1,000 in 4 days for Hatiti earthquake relief (80% of the Highland Park students are free/reduced lunch students). Good for them.
  • Championship yo-yo players will compete on Saturday, Feb. 20th at Seattle Center, Center House Main State from 11 am to 6 pm. Might be something to take the kids to over the Winter Break.
  • The Alliance for Education has found a new director. She is Sara Morris, a former director of Marketing and P.R. for the OVP Venture Partners. She also served as a consultant for SPS by "leading large-scale, interdisciplinary projects that moved diverse groups of people toward common objectives." No idea what that means or when she did it. She is also Board President for the Technology Access Foundation. She will start on March 1. They are also having their annual community breakfast on April 28. Want to see all the movers and shakers in one place? This is it.
  • I don't know about Hale but the Roosevelt Language Arts department has been mandated by the district to offer an Advanced Placement course in LA. (They currently offer none.) They are trying to figure out how to integrate an AP course, either Composition or Literature, into their existing LA program. They are expected to enact the change for next school year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Legalizing Pot

The Seattle Channel will be airing a show about marijuana policy on Friday, February 12 at 7:00 p.m. Two members of the panel are Chemical Dependency Professionals, Kelly Kerby and Gary Hothi, who will be talking about how decriminalizing/legalizing marijuana would affect young people and youth substance abuse prevention efforts. Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and a representative from the ACLU will be talking about the merits of decriminalizing/legalizing marijuana.

Seattle Channel is channel 21 on Comcast and Millennium but the program can also be seen at:

http://www.seattlechannel.org/cityinsideout"

Foreign Languages Fading Except for Chinese

I have a bunch of stories I've been holding onto because we had so much breaking news. This article was in the NY Times about a government -financed survey found how thousands of public schools in the U.S. have stopped teaching foreign languages (not the trend here, clearly). But the one lanaguage that does seem to be growing in popularity is Chinese. From the article:

"Among America’s approximately 27,500 middle and high schools offering at least one foreign language, the proportion offering Chinese rose to 4 percent, from 1 percent, from 1997 to 2008, according to the survey, which was done by the Center for Applied Linguistics, a research group in Washington, and paid for by the federal Education Department."

“It’s really changing the language education landscape of this country,” said Nancy C. Rhodes, a director at the center and co-author of the survey."

And AP Chinese is rapidly taking over German as the third most take AP foreign language test (after Spanish and French).

"The results, released last year, confirmed that Spanish was taught almost universally. The survey found that 88 percent of elementary schools and 93 percent of middle and high schools with language programs offered Spanish in 2008.

The overall decline in language instruction was mostly due to its abrupt decline in public elementary and middle schools; the number of private schools and public high schools offering at least one language remained stable from 1997 to 2008"

"America has had the study of a foreign language grow before, only to see the bubble burst. Many schools began teaching Japanese in the 1980s, after Japan emerged as an economic rival. But thousands have dropped the language, the survey found."

"Japanese is not the only language that has declined. Thousands of schools that offered French, German or Russian have stopped teaching those languages, too, the survey found."

This decline in Japanese also means, for us locally, that students who promote out of JSIS and Hamilton might have fewer high school choices (right off-hand the only high schools I know that teaches Japanese are Garfield, Roosevelt, Chief Sealth, Hale and Ingraham if Chinese might start pushing Japanese out.

"Some schools are paying for Chinese classes on their own, but hundreds are getting some help. The Chinese government is sending teachers from China to schools all over the world — and paying part of their salaries.

At a time of tight budgets, many American schools are finding that offer too good to refuse.

“We were able to get a free Chinese teacher,” she said. “I’d like to start a Spanish program for elementary children, but we can’t get a free Spanish teacher.”

(Jackson’s Chinese teacher is not free; the Chinese government pays part of his compensation, with the district paying the rest.)"

This is true in SPS. I know that West Seattle High had several Chinese teachers come this year but I don't know the details of the financial arrangements.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pay for K

As requested. The issue has never made sense to me. Some schools offer free all day Kindergarten and other school charge. I believe the schools in the NE cluster talked about creating a standard fee because it wasn't fair for families to get assigned to a school with a higher monthly fee. My understanding is that each school's Building Leadership Team (BLT) determines how many Kindergarten classes to offer and whether they want to charge parents to pay for additional FTE (full time employee) since 1 kindergarten teacher could teach 2xs as many 1/2 day kids. Title 1 schools have free all day Kindergarten and kids who qualify for free/reduced lunch don't have to pay either.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

She Says We Have It

Reading thru the comments of another thread, I noticed that there is this talk of accountability by the Superintendent. I got interviewed for a segment for the Seattle Channel's City Inside/Out program. (I thought it was to be a show on the levies but they devoted only 5 minutes to levy discussion.) What it ended up being was a discussion with former School Board member Dick Lilly, Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Seattle Council PTSA President, Ramona Hattendorf about the state of SPS schools. Both Mr. Lilly and Dr. G-J had a couple of whopping good statements.

As I stated previously, Mr. Lilly said that if a student takes a class and takes the state assessment test, he or she should graduate. Basically, seat time = diploma, no matter the grade.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said (in reference to a question on the state of the schools),

"We have accountability in place." but that it would take time to show improvement.

So now you know. We have accountability in place for this district in how our students and schools are doing. Myself, I believe that is strictly on paper but I think she believes if she says it out loud then it's true.