Sunday, October 31, 2010

Urgent ! Sign up to Speak at Board Meeting

Look folks, if you are really worried/upset/frustrated over the TFA process, you have got to sign up to speak at the Board meeting this Wednesday. I feel certain there will be plenty of "go TFA" people. Use whatever I wrote if you feel like you don't know how to state it. I have word that SEA is NOT happy and they have quite a lot to say including some good suggestions about what the district should be doing.

E-mail boardagenda@seattleschools.org or call 252-0040 to get on the list. It is likely to be crowded but they have been clearing the waitlist as of the last two meetings.

FYI, the Superintendent has the last of her coffee chats this week.

Monday from 6-7 p.m. at Mercer Middle School
Tuesday from 8:10-10a.m. at North Beach Elementary School

(I just noticed that all the evening ones were 1 hour and the daytime ones were about 2 hours.)

Advice on the NSAP Meetings and Drop-In Sessions

I attended the first drop-in session for the NSAP and the Transition Plan. It was headed by Tracy Libros. About 7 people attended but I wouldn't have expected more given the lack of outreach by staff to let people know about it.

I didn't come away with much info as Tracy and her team are still working on data analysis from this fall's enrollment patterns. (The Annual Enrollment Report will do analysis on Oct. 1 enrollment versus last year's, school choice trends, enrollment by attendance, option and service schools, siblings, by grade level, new schools, Spectrum/APP, International schools, K-8, demographics, where students live versus their school, kindergarten and projections.)

So we just went over the some of the Powerpoint given at the Work Session and discussed our issues.

Tracy handed out the Powerpoint and a US Census timetable for information which goes from Feb. 2010 - June 2013. It looks like the most basic info will come out in May-June 2011. (I couldn't find this form at the U.S. Census but maybe Tracy will post it. I did find some interesting stuff for kids/teens to do around the Census if you are interested.)

What I learned:
  • they are interested to see what the 2010 Census says in terms of children in the area as not all children who attend Seattle private schools are Seattle kids. They want a better count.
  • at Wednesday's Board Work Session, the transition plan will be discussed
  • I asked about the issue of so many items to be discussed around the Board policy on capacity management. Was that just to outlinepossible items or will they all be considered? Answer: they will all be considered. (It's things like adding/removing/relocating programs, boundaries, geographic zones, portables, buildings, etc.)
  • a couple of parents asked why parents weren't asked about other siblings beyond having a new kindergartener coming in? Tracy said they were aware of that but decided to ask only about a next child. One parent said that it just didn't make sense to her to not have asked about ALL other siblings.
  • Tracy seems to think (and definitively) that no reopened schools will fail. She says there are enough kids out there to fill them. My answer is just that not giving those schools a focus is going to make it take that much longer (and cost the district more to run them at such a small size). She was adamant that they would all fill.
  • She was asked about a drop-dead date for reopening any schools in West Seattle and said there would be one but she didn't know for sure what it is.
  • She revealed nothing about the Geographic zones when asked.
  • There was an interesting interchange between Tracy and a West Seattle parent concerned over the unevenness of feeder schools from elementary to middle. Tracy explained that there wasn't a problem because there were enough seats. The parent pressed her that it wasn't about seating per se but how West Seattle HS is going to come out of this underenrolled and Sealth will be full.
  • We asked her about Garfield (as an example) of an overenrolled school. Tracy made the point (and it's true) that many schools always have a full roster but that kids just don't all show up on the first day. (In Garfield's case, they did.) So they never make the assumption that a school is "full" just because the enrollment reaches that state before school opens. I get what she is saying but the district was using a brand-new enrollment plan and should have been better prepared to spring into action sooner.
  • I asked her about Enrollment working with the BEX people in Facilities over the forming of the list of schools to be renovated under BEX IV and she said they would be working together.
  • Interesting. They held back seats at South Shore K-8 in order to have a school to transfer NCLB requests.
What I would tell you about these meetings is this:

- I think the Board Work Sessions are key and are your best shot to get real information. The next one is this Wednesday from 4-5:30 (before the Board meeting). This is where I would put my time.

- Until the district finishes with their enrollment analysis, there isn't much that can be said. If you have lots of questions, go to a later drop-in session because there will be much more information at Tracy's fingertips then. I think the December 14th one will have a lot more information available than the earlier ones.

- The Regional meetings will likely be dry (going over the Powerpoint/history of NSAP) and then annoying (as you get to ask questions but I'd be willing to bet 50% of the time you'll get "we'll have to get back to you/don't have that information") and then irritating (as you get to sit with a bunch of other parents and talk about what questions you have). As with the drop-in sessions, I would recommend going to a LATER one (even out of your area) because it will likely be the same presentation but the district should/could have more data to flesh out possible scenarios.

TFA Agreement with the District

I need someone with a legal background to read this thing but I do see some problems here.

Here is WAC wording for why the district can do this (italics mine):

"(a) The purpose of the conditional certificate is to assist local school districts, approved private schools, and educational service districts in meeting the state's educational goals by giving them flexibility in hiring decisions based on shortages or the opportunity to secure the services of unusually talented individuals. The professional educator standards board encourages in all cases the hiring of fully certificated individuals and understands that districts will employ individuals with conditional certificates only after careful review of all other options. The professional educator standards board asks districts when reviewing such individuals for employment to consider, in particular, previous experience the individual has had working with children."

How do we know the TFA teachers are unusually talented, that the district has explored all options to find qualified teachers and what previous experience the individual has had in working with children? These are all things we can ask the district for evidence of.

So the Action item states this as the district reasoning for TFA:
Seattle Public Schools has strong teachers and is fortunate to have many applicants for our open positions. We believe that the larger our candidate pool, the more likely that we will hire the best teachers for our classrooms.

It is best practice to have the broadest, most qualified candidate pool for our teaching positions. This agreement with TFA will broaden our candidate pool.

The agenda item says that TFA works to close the achievement gap but not that this is the reason the district is going this route.

The Agreement says this:

Specifically, the circumstance which warrants the issuance of the conditional certificate is the
district’s commitment to partnering with Teach For America as one of the strategies the district is employing to address the achievement gap.

Why would it say one thing in one place and a different thing in another?

Also, under Community Engagement it says what TFA has done to outreach, NOT what SPS has. So SPS is going to do outreach AFTER this is introduced and/or AFTER the Board okays it? How is that fair?

So what the agreement means to SPS:
  • They will hired for all areas and grades and not critical or shortage areas
  • They will be the classroom teacher of record (not a sub or an aide)
  • The WAC they are using is this one - WAC 181.79A.231
  • Special ed from the WAC -
(vi) The issuance of a conditional certificate to a special education teacher after July 1, 2003, is contingent upon the individual being enrolled in an approved teacher preparation program resulting in a residency teacher certificate endorsed in special education.

(vii) An individual with full certification and endorsed in special education shall be assigned as a mentor to the special education teacher serving on a conditional certificate for the duration of the conditional certificate.
  • this one makes me very sad because if 5 weeks is all it takes to be considered "highly qualified"
"Teach For America will provide the described training to Teachers presented to Seattle Public Schools for the purpose of ensuring that such Teachers meet the “highly qualified” teacher requirements set forth in the federal No Child Left Behind Act and applicable state regulations (“Requirements”).

  • RIFing - it looks like any TFA teacher would be treated the same as other teachers "with the same job classification, certification status and/or seniority rights." My only question is, legally, does the TFA job certification give them some different rights?
  • Student privacy - in the agreement this seems very troubling. They state (italics mine):
"Pursuant to its obligations under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), Seattle Public Schools hereby acknowledges that in the course of providing on-going professional development services for the purposes of improving instruction, Seattle Public Schools may disclose to Teach For America student identifiable data from individual Teachers.."

"Teach For America shall use and maintain such data as provided in 34 CFR §99.31(a)(6). In accordance with 34 C.F.R. § 99.33(b), Teach For America may re-disclose student identifiable information on behalf of Seattle Public Schools as part of Teach For America’s service to Seattle Public Schools of providing on- going professional development services. "

"In accordance with 34 CFR §99.31(a)(6), Teach For America may also disclose student identifiable information on behalf of Seattle Public Schools to additional parties, provided that Teach For America, in advance, provide to Seattle Public Schools the names of such parties and a brief description of such parties’ legitimate interest in receiving such information. "

If I were an SPS parent, this would be unacceptable to me.

  • fees - With respect to each Teacher whose employment by Seattle Public Schools is to
    commence in the 2011-2012 academic year, Seattle Public Schools shall pay
    Teach For America an annual amount of $4,000 for each year in which such
    Teacher is employed by Seattle Public Schools, up to two years [from the date
    such employment is to commence];
  • No Warranty. Seattle Public Schools hereby agrees and acknowledges that Teach For America does not make and has not made any representation and warranty as to the fitness of any Teacher presented or provided by Teach For America and Seattle Public Schools shall indemnify and hold harmless the TFA Indemnities from and against any Losses resulting from any claim related to the services provided by Teach For America,
    including, but not limited to, claims that any Teacher presented or provided by Teach
    For America was unfit for the position for which he or she was hired by Seattle Public
    Schools.
Maybe on one issue you readers can help me out. What do you think this sentence means?

From the WAC:

"(iv) Within the first sixty working days, personnel so certificated will complete sixty clock hours (six quarter hours or four semester hours) of course work in pedagogy and child/adolescent development appropriate to the assigned grade level(s) as approved by the employing school district or approved private school."

What does "within" mean to you? Because here's how the district is interpreting it:

"...the assurance that, within first sixty days, the individual has completed sixty clock hours of coursework in pedagogy as a result of successful completion of the Teach For America summer institute, which far exceeds 60 hours of preparation."

I read the WAC as getting this done during the first 60 days of employment, not getting it done BY the start of employment. I read the WAC as saying you are doing 60 clock hours in the first 60 days in addition to teaching. What do you think?

High School Credit Delayed Further

Incredible as it may seem, Seattle Public Schools still refuses to allow high school credit for high school level courses taken in middle school.

Let's review the timeline on this cluster.

Around 2004 or 2005 the State Legislature adopted this part of RCW 28A.230.090:
(4) If requested by the student and his or her family, a student who has completed high school courses before attending high school shall be given high school credit which shall be applied to fulfilling high school graduation requirements if:

(a) The course was taken with high school students, if the academic level of the course exceeds the requirements for seventh and eighth grade classes, and the student has successfully passed by completing the same course requirements and examinations as the high school students enrolled in the class; or

(b) The academic level of the course exceeds the requirements for seventh and eighth grade classes and the course would qualify for high school credit, because the course is similar or equivalent to a course offered at a high school in the district as determined by the school district board of directors.
In 2007 - just two or three years later - Seattle Public Schools forms a High School Steering Committee. The Committee appoints a Grading Subcommittee and that sub-committee discussed complying with this state law. They were generally in favor of it, but, since it represented a big change, according to Susan Derse,
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has very correctly requested extensive stakeholder involvement during this coming school year, prior to presenting the proposed changes to the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors.
After a year of indecisive inaction on the issue, the subcommittee decided to squander another year in indecisive inaction.

During the summer of 2008, the Board wanted to take action on the matter. All they needed to do was delete a single sentence from Policy D46.01 that appeared to prohibit high school credit for courses taken in middle school. But the Board Student Leaning Committee only met quarterly. Their next meeting wouldn't be until September. Director Martin-Morris discussed the matter on his blog (this was back when he used to actually engage people on the blog). Scroll down to July 20 when the discussion began.

On July 23, Director Martin-Morris wrote on his blog: "I am planning to see the policy change before the board on Middle School credit by end of September."

At the September 2008 Student Learning Committee meeting, Director of High Schools, Michael Tolley, asked the Board to hold off on making the change so it could be part of a comprehensive high school grading reform. He promised the Board that they would be ready to bring that reform to the Board for action in January or February so there would be no delay in granting credit to students. The Board agreed to wait and denied all petitions for credit in the interim.

It is worth reading the whole thread in Director Martin-Morris' blog on this.

Michael Tolley did not bring comprehensive high school grading reform before the Board in January or February. He said it would be ready in March or April. He did not bring it before the Board in March or April. He said it would be ready in May or June. In fact, after a number false promises and blown deadlines, Mr. Tolley finally brought comprehensive high school grading reform - including high school credit for courses taken in middle school in September of 2009. It is worth noting that no one ever held Mr. Tolley accountable for the delay or the blown deadlines or even suggested that he should have been held accountable for the delay or the blown deadlines. It is worth noting that the Board did not take any action on their own to delete a single line from their Policy and allow high school credit for courses taken in middle school as state law requires.

Finally, on October 21, 2009, the school board passes the new Policy, D15.00, that complies with a four- or five-year-old state law.

All School District policies are effective immediately upon adoption. Nevertheless, the Board denied petitions for credit that were submitted following the adoption of the Policy.

Now, I have in my possession, a letter from Dr. Susan Enfield in which she denies a petition made this year for credit. In her letter, Dr. Enfield says that only classes taken after September 1, 2010 - nearly a year after the policy was adopted - are eligible for credit.

I am, of course, appealing this decision.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tom Douglas Helping SPS Students Eat Better

Famous local chef, Tom Douglas, is lending his skills to creating recipes for lunches for SPS students and teaching district cooks how to make them. From the article at the Stranger Slog:

The partnership will allow Seattle Public Schools to serve made-from-scratch meals in its cafeterias for the first time.

The project is possible because of a $100,000 federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work grant, said SPS Nutrition Services Director Eric Boutin. It's tied to Mayor Mike McGinn's Let's Move! program—launched yesterday—which seeks to end childhood obesity. (Note: this is First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! project.)

Nearly one-quarter of Seattle students in eighth, 10th, and 12th grades are overweight, with rates for Hispanic and African-Americans being even higher. I asked Boutin whether SPS had banned trans fats, preservatives, refined flour, high-fructose corn syrup, white bread, generic hot dogs and hamburgers, and extremely salty foods.

"We did get rid of some of them—we still have some frozen food, but there are lots of things we do from scratch," he said.

This is great but like many things, what happens when the outside money goes away? Can the district sustain this? I thought most cafeterias don't cook the food; it is only created at the district kitchens. Our new Nutrition Manager sure isn't letting any grass grow under his feet.

Continuing in the Pursuit of Unwhelming Engagement

I received a link to the robocall that the Superintendent sent out about the levy. I don't particularly have a problem except that it's not the Operations Levy; we had that in February. This is a supplemental operations levy. There is a difference but the Superintendent is hoping you won't notice.

She also talked about the upcoming meetings about the NSAP. She said info has gone out to schools and PTAs. Did anyone receive anything from either source on Friday? Was it posted in your school? Website? Kid mail?

(I did a quick spot check and found one high school - Center - had it on its webpage. Only Hamilton had it (and they didn't mention the NSAP so it wasn't clear what it was about). For K-8, I found South Shore had a complete listing with explanation. I couldn't find one elementary that had the info. So I am hoping it went home in kid mail or is hanging up at school. (Eckstein and Wedgwood already have their 2011 tour dates up - fast work.)

But what really was annoying is that she said the drop-in meetings started November 29th (and they started yesterday October 29). No one on staff caught this? She didn't play it back, listen, and look at the script as she did? And, they had to correct the dates for the Regional meetings at the News and Calendar page.

These meetings are probably some of the most important ones for all parents that this district will have this year. Please, if you don't see visible info, go to your principal and/or PTA Board and ask that it get out ASAP.

Hard to Say When the Board Has Made Me This Angry

(Please note, this is not my thread on my TFA research.)

So I'm a little behind so a reader sent me a let he sent to the Board. This letter is about the fact that Teach for America has yet again been put on the Board Agenda for the Board meeting on Wednesday. I went and checked out the agenda (there are several interesting items including public notice of a parent who appealing the use of a specific textbook) and there it was. And, if you read the so-called action report, well, TFA is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Are they kidding me?

So what was my central question before? What is the problem they are trying to solve? Is there a shortage of teachers? No. From the item:

We believe that the larger our candidate pool, the more likely that we will hire the best teachers for our classrooms.

OHHHH. That's the problem, not a big enough candidate pool.

Why TFA?

TFA’s mission is to help eliminate educational inequity by enlisting the nation’s most promising future leaders in the effort.

So is by bringing TFA to SPS, the district is admitting to educational inequity because they haven't put the best teachers we have in struggling schools?

TFA, through its vetting process, has found that most promising future leaders.

That's a pretty big full-of-ourselves statement. Here's another one:

Our region is a finalist for the organization’s new site selection process.

Wheee! We are so lucky!

What is needed to bring them here?

To expand into the Puget Sound Region TFA requires district partners, funding, and university partners.

Well, we know who the district is. Funding? Well now, that's an interesting thing because the Superintendent told me, in front of other parents at the NE coffee chat that the district DID have the money. But wait for it.

TFA requires a monetary fee for each TFA corps member who is hired by the district; should SPS hire any TFA corps members, the district will seek private funding for any district-required fee.

Will seek? She said that the district HAD the money. And whether they have it now or not, we do not have the time for any new project or program that doesn't have a dedicated funding stream.

And university partner? Well, that's a mystery in this situation but I'd lay odds they don't HAVE one yet.

Now interestingly (but no big surprise), TFA teachers would only apply to the low-performing schools. No TFA at Roosevelt or JSIS or Lafayette. They would be hired during Phase III (Phase I is internal and for teachers who want to change buildings; Phase II is for displaced teachers who couldn't find a school under Phase I)

What probably comes in second for making me angry is the so-called research and data sources. It's thin and cherry-picked. Let's just start with the first sentence:

TFA corps members have made a positive impact on schools, as reported by 94 percent of principals in schools across the nation that have hired corps members.

Does that say they are effective teachers? No.

The item goes through the "qualifications" for the TFA teachers but glosses over the amount of training time, calling it "summer" when it is 5 weeks.

They also claim community engagement through the following groups:

They have engaged with Alliance for Education, League of Education Voters, League of Women Voters, Stand for Children, the Washington Policy Center, Partnership for Learning, the Technology Alliance, and the STEM Center.

Where are the real school communities in that group? The Washington Policy Center is a conservative think-tank. Why the hell does the district feel the need to connect with them before parents?

They do mention "connecting" with the PTSA and Seattle Education Association. (I think the SEA would have something to say about that.) But hello? If these are teachers in our classrooms, why hasn't the Seattle Council PTSA done outreach? Does every single PTA/PTSA in our district know about this? Has the word gone out to parents? Will TFA teachers be identified to parents? (If this goes through, I'll do my best to make sure every parent of a TFA teacher knows because I'm sure the PTSA and the district won't tell people.)

What is the rush? Seriously folks, this is the one of THE most important things for the Superintendent and the Board and the staff to be working on? I'm ashamed of all of them. This is nothing but BS ed reform nonsense. If you need a reason to vote NO on the levy, this should be it. A district in crisis doesn't focus on a non-problem like this.

Now sadly, I won't be able to attend the Board meeting but that doesn't mean there's nothing that can be done. And, if it matters to you, get up and do something.

Finally, this signals the end-of-the year stampede that happens EVERY year with the district. They get all their pet projects in a row and rush them through, knowing that you will be distracted by the holidays.

Don't turn away or get distracted.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spooky, It's Open Thread Friday

I'm going to do something very scary and that's drive downtown for the first (and mostly unadvertised) drop-in session on the NSAP. (The scary is driving home during rush hour. On a Friday. I try to NEVER go out on the freeway on Fridays.) But 3-5 pm is the time they picked so I'll be there.

This is a sad Halloween as I have no party to go to and I just thought I would be a great Snooki. (She's a short girl like me but she uses a "bump-it" to get height.) But don't worry if you don't know who she is; it's not important and you really don't need to know. But she would serve a great example for children as to why they should stay in school but then they would have to watch just one episode of Jersey Shore (as I did). That would be wrong and scar their eyes for years.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Couple of Shout-Outs

To JSIS principal, Kelly Armaki, who won the 2010 Milken Educator Award for Washington with a $25,000 cash prize. Good for him and good for JSIS.

(One slightly sad note: the OSPI website story says that he works to connect Spanish immersion students with native Spanish speaking ELL students. This is great but if you will recall from the NSAP discussions, fewer native speakers will be able to go to JSIS because it is an attendance area school, not an option school.)

As well a shout-out to Lowell Elementary, Stevens Elementary 2nd grade and South Shore Elementary for creating altars for Dia de Muertos at Seattle Center. I'm sure that was a great project for kids, both interesting and educational. There will be altars at the Center House and a candlelight procession from the Center House to the International Fountain at 7 p.m. on Saturday. As well, there are other activities on both Saturday and Sunday.

For those who may not know, Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a traditional Mexican celebration with rituals that dates back centuries. In most of Mexico, November 1 honors children and infants (Dia de los Inocentes) while November 2 is Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). People go to cemetaries to be with their loved ones, tidying up or decorating graves, building little altars with the deceased's favorite food and drink and music. (It can be a bit like an Irish wake on a grave with a lot of remembering of good times.) As well, in most of Europe, November 1 is All Saints Day, a holiday.

LEV Evening with Ed Reformers

I just sat down to write up a post about the LEV event at MOHAI (which turned out to be interesting and informative). I was going over my notes and started in but I realized it's on video if you want to watch it. Are most of you going to watch it anyway or should I post my notes/reactions to what was said?

You can watch the entire event online via TVW.

LEV Event with the Ed Reformers

It was interesting to say the least and I can honestly say I learned something and walked away better informed. The auditorium at MOHAI was filled (and not just the usual suspects). I saw Councilman Tim Burgess as well as Board President Michael DeBell. (And Councilman Burgess was introduced as the brains behind this event. The Councilman has decided to step into Seattle education. Welcome, Tim.)

So the moderator, Adam Porsch, works for the Gates Foundation and used to work in the D.C. district (but he didn't reference Rhee so I don't know if he worked with her). With him were Richard Barth, CEO of the KIPP Foundation; Timothy Daly, President of the The New Teacher Project; and Steve Barr, Founder and Emeritus Chair, Green Dot Public Schools.

The discussion was organized around the guests giving a overview of their group's work, a few central questions and then questions from the audience. (Just as an aside, and I don't mean this badly, but there they were, just 4 white middle-aged guys talking about ed reform. They all looked like they had the same suit and shoes on (although Mr. Barr went a little wild with an orange tie).

I think Mr. Daly was a bit out of his element as he didn't clearly explain what his group did and so it wasn't easy to understand where his group came into the picture of ed reform. His Project is similar to Teach for America except it provides many other services (for a fee, of course) to districts to help train HR and principals on how to look for good teachers.

Mr. Barth continued what his KIPP website does, namely, not saying KIPP is a charter organization until they got to discussing charters in specific. He claims that 87% of kids who finish 8th grade at KIPP go onto college (most KIPP schools are 5th-8th). This is probably true but there is a low rate of retention at KIPP schools for all the reasons you see in traditional schools (people move, student doesn't like school) but they also have issues around parents/students not liking the longer school day or KIPP wanting them to repeat a grade). So it's like looking at a graduation number - what was the actual number coming in at 9th grade versus how many are in the graduating class 4 years later.

Steve Barr turned out to be a pleasant - and funny - surprise. He has about 12 Green Dot schools in Los Angeles (serving some very tough areas) with one on tap for the South Bronx. What is interesting about Green Dot is that they formed their own teachers union ( to the fury of the existing one) and the American Federation of Teachers union is helping with the creation of the school in the South Bronx. (I may do a separate thread on this teachers union as it's an interesting topic.)

Teachers

Mr. Daly was asked about teachers. His group published a report called The Widget Effect which delineates how (because of the teachers union) teachers become all the same widget because of the lack of real differentiation in teaching ability. He said (and I'll bet this is true at many districts) that sometimes a district won't find a good teacher because of their own hiring policies like late timelines, late teacher registration, etc.

Mr. Barth of KIPP did mention not only looking for teacher effectiveness but also principal effectiveness. He did mention that KIPP is trying to help low-income students and more special ed and ELL students. He said that 30% of KIPP's teachers are TFA alums (which begs the question of how many are TFA teachers).

Mr. Barr was funny in discussing looking for teachers for his new schools, saying "Pardon my french but it was a big FU to the teachers union." He said for the first school they had 800 applications for 80 positions. He said they used to be very high on younger teachers but are now hiring older teachers who previously did not want to work at a school that might turn over quickly (should it fail as a charter) and/or didn't like "at will" schools.

It was pointed out that KIPP pays teachers about 10% than the nation average but they work many more hours (it's a 9 1/2 school day plus they have to be on-call until 10 p.m.). Green Dot pays somewhere between 10-20% more depending on the teacher.

Mr. Daly said that HR departments have to be more about finding excellent teachers than filling a position.

School Choice and Competition. Do parents have the right to pick their child's school and can we increase school choice?

Mr. Barr said that parents absolutely do have a right to pick their child's school (but then told us that his child goes to a public school in LA that is so go that the value of his house is about $100k more because of it). He said it wasn't about creating gimmicks but getting schools to start trying to emulate the best schools.

Mr. Barth said that competition isn't improving all schools as exhibited by the Milwaukee school district and the use of vouchers in that city.

Mr. Daly said not only should parents have school choice but should have the right to say no to the class your child is placed in. (I'm thinking he never had his kids in public schools.)

The next question was about charters - pro and con.

Mr. Barr said that charters are the R&D for public education. He said the most important thing is that charters tend to believe that other people's kids can learn.

Mr. Barth was a little more aggressive in his answer. He said of course there are a lot of built-in arguments against charters - they don't do better overall than traditional public schools, many have been failures, there tends to be more in and out at charters than traditional schools. BUT, he said that we should do it because there have been break-thru charter performers and any charter law should be written to protect against the bad ones coming into being and allow the good ones to flourish.

The next question was if Washington State got a charter law, what would it take for you to care?

Mr. Green Dot said "money; lots and lots of money." Very funny. He also said he was "intrigued" by Washington and the new teachers contract in Seattle. He also said his union's teacher contract was only 34 pages, no tenure but just cause, teachers have to agree to work an extended day and that the teachers as assessors are very hard on each other.

KIPP - He said it would depend on the law. There are staffing issues, curriculum, 10% charge in some cases for central adm help, need for facilities funding and, in some states, the charter law is in name only.

Mr. Daly said that the federal government needs to get back to original purpose of equity and not try to get local control over education. (Not a bad idea because if anyone thinks that local control will go away, let me introduce you to a little state we call Texas. They will secede before they give up their control.) He said RTTT is government money to be "creative." (This reminds me to go read up on some of the proposals from the winning states and see how "creative and innovative" they are.)

The moderator asked about what would make it work for Washington State (my writing is so bad - didn't have my laptop - so I think that was the question based on the answers I wrote down).

Green Dot - look for cities where conditions are right with just a Superintendent and School Board (you don't want those pesky City Councils or Mayors around).

KIPP - He said that at KIPP pay for performance "isn't an issue" (which I thought was odd). He talked about individual classrooms with individual schools for individual kids. That would be quite a school system.

My takeaway:
  • They all lamented the inability for many people to see the complexities of education and how many people wanted a "sound bite" answer (and New Teacher guy admitted that sometimes that's what it came down to for all of them).
  • The model seems to be smaller, cheaper, scalable and accessible for this group. Both KIPP and Green Dot operate on about a 500 kid school model. In a semi-perfect world, yes. But economies of scale will tell you that we need bigger schools because of the size of some urban areas AND because of the programs that larger schools can offer.
  • I have heard this over and over and I agree (to some degree): kids have to know and believe that their teacher(s) believe in them. The community around that school has to feel that the teachers and staff at that school believe in the kids they are teaching. This is one big push that KIPP, Green Dot and Teach for America have for all their students.
  • I think it was Green Dot guy who said, "We are accountable to those we serve." That is an interesting statement because if a charter school has no School Board or Superintendent to be accountable to, then that accountability is only as good as the charter law written.
  • The two charter operators were somewhat straightforward on charter issues. But the claim seems to be that charters have been around, lessons learned, the good ones know what they are doing. That's good to hear BUT charters still have a profound effect on districts and I'm not sure either man either knows or cares what that effect is.
I came away believing that these are men who care about public education. Two of them are running charter operations that definitely have a bottom line. I think all three groups have firmly lined up with ed reformers, seeing that as the star to hitch their wagons to for success.

I would have to think long and hard about charters in Washington. I don't actually believe we need them in Seattle if we had a Superintendent and Board who listened. But I don't know about small districts or rural districts. And it's worth asking that question before we say no just for Seattle.

I think the issue of innovation is much more about administration resistance (at least here in Seattle) far more than anything the teachers' union is doing. Seattle is ripe pickings for charters because of our large numbers of empty buildings just waiting for them. (I would almost believe that Rainier View and Viewlands are being renovated not because there is that much pick up of population in those areas but so they would be ready to go on-line if charter law were passed.)

But I would have to see the most rigid, strict charter law bill ever written before I would say yes. I really doubt that would happen at this stage of the game. There is too much lining up among companies/foundations/groups of ed reformers to allow a very narrow charter for Washington State.

From the Board Work Session on NSAP

I was unable to attend yesterday's Work Session but several parents did. Thank you to all who put in links. I haven't looked at these documents myself but wanted to get them up so you can see them. There are three on various graduation issues and one on capacity management.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Louder Now

So I guess the folks at Schools First are getting a little desperate. Because in not one but two radio interviews, their spokesperson said things that were just plain wrong and/or misleading. I want to point this out because no matter how much you want to win, you do not tell voters wrong information. Not if you want to have your group keep any integrity going forward.

Exhibit 1. This afternoon, Dorothy Neville of the Committee for Responsible Education Spending debated Sharon Rodgers from Schools First on KUOW.

Sharon stated, that "no money was lost" in the audit.

Yes, it was. The district overpayed something like 80 employees over a series of months and is working to get the money back. It is unlikely this will happen. Missing assets (equipment) was also another of the findings. The Superintendent's gifting of public funds in the form of the gift certificates she gave out at the retirement money is money lost (this from the Attorney General's office, not me). Using $1.8M of capital money improperly (which is now leaving the General Fund to go back into the capital fund). The district had to repay the feds money from incorrect counting of Native America students.

Exhibit 2. A story on KPLU. Sharon said (and I didn't know this because we did our interviews separately because otherwise I would have called her on it). She said,

"This is purely to help keep our classrooms in business over the next three years," she said.

Look folks, please understand that no matter how emotionally attached you are to your child's school, this levy is NOT going to drive dollars into the classroom. Whether or not the teachers get their raises or the contract is enacted (more on that in a minute), your child will have a teacher in their classroom. The classroom is in business.

(Keep in mind with the TIF federal grant, the teachers contract - sans raise but with everything else - will be enacted at 34 schools (that's about a third of our schools. So it's like getting free money to pilot the program.)

Crappy textbooks? Yes, but who let them get this old and out of date? Who stopped buying books on a timely basis? And if the Legislature hadn't lifted the lid? No textbooks at all (which most would consider, after the teacher, a classroom basic so how come the district doesn't treat it that way?). And how much will the consultant cost for the social studies and science textbook adoption? The one for the LA adoption was pretty pricey.

And understand that the first year money is about $14.5M for school year 2011-2012 when the district says we will be about $28M in the hole. The levy will give the district that $14.5M in 2011. So when they start preparing budgets, look and see if any of that money goes to protect the classroom. Out of that, about $12.5M is promised in other directions, not the classroom. So money to go directly to the classrooms of the 94 odd schools we have? About $1.5M for 2011. How that will fill school budget holes all over the district is a mystery. Come 2012? Probably the same thing.


My E-Mail to the Board

Update: Well, look at that, on the News and Calendar page, an item about the upcoming meetings. Except that just looking at the brief paragraph, you might think there is no meeting until Nov. 4 and none after November. They don't have to list everything (that's in a link to the news release) but at least put ALL the dates down). Better late than never I guess.


Dear Directors,

The district has just announced public meetings around the NSAP and the transition plan. I posted them at the Save Seattle School blog. One of the drop-in meetings is THIS Friday. And yet is the meeting schedule on the district home page? NO. In the News and Calendar page? NO.

What the hell do we pay all these people downtown for? Communications? IT?

And this is what passes for so-called public engagement? Don't you dare allow the Superintendent and her minions to say they are doing true public engagement. This is nonsense and you know it.

I'm not trying to be disrespectful but what will it take to hold the Superintendent's feet to the fire?

Look, if she gets offered the job in D.C. (taking over Michelle Rhee's position), LET HER GO. (I have no doubt that she is applying for it as we speak.) She is hurting this district every single day.

Don't ask us to believe this district is doing better. It is not. We continue to be mired in inefficiencies and a terrible culture of bureaucracy that needs to change (and the Moss-Adams report told us that long ago).

What is it going to take?

End of message (except I included excerpts from the Coffee Chats that I thought they should be aware of).

South Lake Counselor Receives Award

From the Rainier Valley Post:

Last week, South Lake High School counselor Carol Johnson was honored in a surprise school-wide rally with the “Champion for Youth Award” from Atlantic Street Center, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Seattle’s kids and families thrive.

It feels like she works every waking moment trying to better the lives of the people she comes into contact with,” notes Ralph Fragale, Atlantic Street Center’s counseling department program manager. Fragale routinely works with Johnson to provide students and their families with the resources available through Atlantic Street Center’s programs.

South Lake is a small re-entry high school near RBHS (and adjoining South Shore K-8). It's good to know there are fine staff at every school including those reaching youth who need extra help and guidance.

Election. Ballot. Vote. MAIL IT IN.

Uh kids, King County elections is reporting that for Seattle, just a shade under 20% of you have returned your ballots. For the entire county, it's just over 20%. Let's get with the system and get this done.

Heads Up Parents

I have written about this before but now there is a reason to return to this topic of teen drinking.

As you may have heard, there was an incident over at Central Washington U at a house party where a dozen young people, mostlly women, passed out and were taken to a hospital. Initially the thought was that they had been slipped a roofie (date-rape drug) but they weren't.

So what was it? It was a type of energy drink called Four Loko. I don't know how this name came about but according to CBS news it has 4 times the caffeine of a soda and 4 times the alcohol level of a beer. So typically, if you are drinking too much, you may get drowsy before you pass out but this thing takes you from zero to sixty and that's why so many of these women just dropped.

The University has banned them from campus and now there's a call for them to be banned by the FDA. Both the Governor and state Attorney General Rob McKenna want to ban alcoholic energy drinks. From the Seattle Times:

Last November, after hearing from a group of state attorneys general, including McKenna, the FDA notified producers of nearly 30 caffeinated alcoholic beverages that it was concerned about the safety and legality of their products.

I reported on this previously because many parents did not know that there were energy drinks with alcohol in them. They are sold everywhere beer and wine are sold and the containers look exactly like Red Bull or other similar drinks.

I was happy to read this in the Times article:

The agency asked the companies to produce evidence that adding caffeine to their products was safe. And it noted that two major brewers, Anheuser-Busch and Miller, had agreed to discontinue their caffeinated alcoholic beverages, Tilt and Bud Extra and Sparks, and not produce any similar drinks in the future.

Good for those companies in recognizing the dangers in this product.

There is a great organization in Seattle around drug and alcohol use in teens called Prevention Works in Seattle. It works most in NE Seattle and West Seattle but they are a great place for info. There is also the Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking which has a "Starting Talking Before They Start Drinking" campaign.

Don't assume your teen or any teen is drinking "just" an energy drink. Trust but verify. You might save a life.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Want to Challenge MAP?

There seems to be a growing unhappiness around MAP. The Superintendent has indicated some thought to tweaking it - maybe an organized movement would help. I have heard from one parent that their school is thinking of petitioning to not have K-2 students take it (based on complaints from both teachers and parents).

I am happy to link up parents if you want to send me an e-mail at sss.westbrook@gmail.com.

Support Family Support Workers

I'm in a mad dash out the door so we can have a longer, more informed discussion on this topic of Family Support Workers versus School Counselors. But over at the Stranger Slog the topic has come up because of the upcoming Families and Education levy next fall.

Please, if you do have an informed opinion, please write in at the Slog and/or let the City know what you think. This is the City's money and not the district's. I think this is a good place where parents, as City voters, get to weigh in heavily.

Apparently a Cheerful LIttle Earful

From our friends over at West Seattle Blog, a review of the coffee chat last night with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.

The number of community members who attended was almost matched by the number of district staffers on hand, but those who came brought up some challenging issues – primarily class size and closed schools.

Here's a great line:

Most of the discussion centered on elementary-level class sizes; if classes hold 28 or more, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said, it’s up to the school’s principal to work with teachers and find solutions.

So get busy principals.

Anyone attend?

Food for Thought - News Roundup

Lots of interesting news stories out there, here are some of them.

Singapore Math on the front page of the NY Times. Guess what? It's what they use at the school Obama's daughters attend.

Singapore math may well be a fad, too, but supporters say it seems to address one of the difficulties in teaching math: all children learn differently. In contrast to the most common math programs in the United States, Singapore math devotes more time to fewer topics, to ensure that children master the material through detailed instruction, questions, problem solving, and visual and hands-on aids like blocks, cards and bar charts.

Singapore math’s added appeal is that it has largely skirted the math wars of recent decades over whether to teach traditional math or reform math. Indeed, Singapore math has often been described by educators and parents as a more balanced approach between the two, melding old-fashioned algorithms with visual representations and critical thinking.

But school officials caution that Singapore math is not easy or cheap to successfully adopt. Mr. Thomas said that about a dozen schools had started and dropped Singapore math, in some cases because teachers themselves lacked a strong math background and adequate training in the program.

Study Habits from the NY Times Science section.

In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.

The findings can help anyone, from a fourth grader doing long division to a retiree taking on a new language. But they directly contradict much of the common wisdom about good study habits, and they have not caught on.

For instance, instead of sticking to one study location, simply alternating the room where a person studies improves retention. So does studying distinct but related skills or concepts in one sitting, rather than focusing intensely on a single thing.

Learning styles? Old school.

“The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Ditto for teaching styles, researchers say. "We have yet to identify the common threads between teachers who create a constructive learning atmosphere,” said Daniel T. Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of the book “Why Don’t Students Like School?”

An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found. That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

Teachers running schools. (Yes, I know this is old but it was in my "save" pile.)

The Newark teachers are part of a growing experiment around the country to allow teachers to step up from the classroom and lead efforts to turn around struggling urban school systems. Brick Avon is one of the first teacher-run schools in the New York region, joining a charter school in Brooklyn started in 2005 by the United Federation of Teachers.

“The question is whether teachers have the patience to do the ‘adminis-trivia,’ ” said Dr. Lytle, a former principal and superintendent in Philadelphia and Trenton.

Redesigning the lunch line, a cool interactive drawing/article.

Here's a shock - not everything is going well at the featured charter schools in Waiting for Superman.

But back home and out of the spotlight, Mr. Canada and his charter schools have struggled with the same difficulties faced by other urban schools, even as they outspend them. After a rocky start several years ago typical of many new schools, Mr. Canada’s two charter schools, featured as unqualified successes in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the new documentary, again hit choppy waters this summer, when New York State made its exams harder to pass.

A drop-off occurred, in spite of private donations that keep class sizes small, allow for an extended school day and an 11-month school year, and offer students incentives for good performance like trips to the Galápagos Islands or Disney World.

While its cradle-to-college approach, which seeks to break the cycle of poverty for all 10,000 children in a 97-block zone of Harlem, may be breathtaking in scope, the jury is still out on its overall impact. And the cost of its charter schools — around $16,000 per student in the classroom each year, as well as thousands of dollars in out-of-class spending — has raised questions about their utility as a nationwide model.

Dave Levin, a co-founder of KIPP, took issue with the study, noting that most of his schools already had counselors and college-advice programs, and all were expanding to serve kindergarten through grade 12, just like Mr. Canada’s. But KIPP schools do try to stick to the per-student spending of the surrounding district “to demonstrate what schools can do on the money that they have.”

NY Times columnist Ross Douthat weighs in on school choice.

In this fall’s must-see documentary, “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” Davis Guggenheim offers a critique of America’s public school bureaucracy that’s manipulative, simplistic and more than a little bit utopian.

This outrage needs to be supplemented, though, with a dose of realism about what education reformers can reasonably hope to accomplish, and what real choice and competition would ultimately involve.

With that in mind, I have a modest proposal: Copies of Frederick Hess’s recent National Affairs essay, “Does School Choice ‘Work’?” should be handed out at every “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” showing, as a sober-minded complement to Guggenheim’s cinematic call to arms.

An education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Hess supports just about every imaginable path to increasing competition in education: charter schools, merit pay for teachers, vouchers, even for-profit academies.

But he also recognizes that partisans of school choice tend to wildly overpromise — implying that their favored policies could swiftly Lake Wobegonize America, and make every school and student above average. (This is a trap, alas, that “Waiting for ‘Superman’” falls into as well.)

This doesn’t mean that school choice doesn’t work, Hess argues. It just means that the benefits are often more modest and incremental than many reformers want to think. They can be measured in money saved (both charter and private schools usually spend much less per pupil than their public competitors), in improved graduation rates, and in higher parental and student satisfaction. But they don’t always show up in test scores.

Monday, October 25, 2010

District Meetings on NSAP

Update: the district did final put out a press release.

The Regional Meetings are:

NW - Thursday, November 4th from 6:30-8 p.m. at Ballard HS
SE - Monday, November 8th from 6:30-8 p.m. at Rainier Beach HS
NE - Wednesday, November 10th from 6:30-8 p.m. at Roosevelt HS
Central - Monday, November 15th from 6:30-8 p.m. at Garfield HS
West Seattle - Tuesday, November 16th from 6:30-8 p.m. at West Seattle HS
No child care but there will be books and drawing materials provided. All Regional Meetings will be led by the Executive Director of that region.

Drop-in Sessions
Friday, October 29 from 3-5 p.m. at JSCEE, Room 2700
Saturday, November 6th from 10 a.m. to noon, JSCEE Auditorium
Thursday, November 18th from 1:30 -3:30 p.m., JSCEE, Room 2700
Tuesday, December 14th from 6-8 p.m. at JSCEE, Room 2750

Board Work Sessions
Wednesday, October 26th from 4-8 p.m. in JSCEE Auditorium (note: this Work Session also includes graduation topics)
Wednesday, November 3rd from 4-5:30 p.m. at JSCEE Auditorium
Wednesday, Dec. 1 from 4-8 p.m. at JSCEE Auditorium

School Board Meeting
Wednesday, January 5th at 6 p.m. - Introduction of Transition Plan
Wednesday, January 19th at 6 p.m. - Transition Plan vote
A district news release got sent to me (but has not yet appeared at the district website).

So the first opportunity you will have to see any staff-generated transition plan for the NSAP is this Friday, the 29th at one of the drop-in sessions. I do have a call in to see if any materials will be available in advance of that session.

End of update.

But, you know, in the spirit of early warning, be warned. The district will soon be starting a series of formal meetings, informal drop-in sessions and Board Work Sessions on the transition plan for the NSAP."

"At a series of formal meetings and informal drop-in sessions, staff will share data and information about enrollment trends, options to balance enrollment with capacity, and other information related to capacity management."

It appears they will have 5 meetings based on the new Executive Director Regions. It looks like the district will stick to its tried and true (and truly not useful) format of presentation,
Q&A, discussion and opportunity to report on feedback (and if there is feedback, then that means they will divide people into groups which many people avidly dislike). It tentatively looks like one of these will be next week.

I will check but just to put on your radar it appears there may be a drop-in meeting THIS Friday. The drop-in meetings will allow you to review information and ask questions and provide feedback.

I will check on the dates tomorrow morning.

First in the lineup is a Board work session this Wednesday from 4-8 p.m. on graduation requirements AND the NSAP.

It appears there will be several more Board work sessions before Christmas on the NSAP and the transition plan.

The Board appears to have introduction of the transition plan in early Jan. and a vote two weeks after that.

Yes, I know. All these meetings and work sessions will occur during the holiday session AND then right when school starts up again in 2011, the plan will be introduced at a Board meeting. I would suggest that you ask your PTA Board if they might find one person to be your point person in keeping up with the information presented, comments made at meetings and what staff presents at Work Sessions. Naturally, Charlie and I (and other usual suspects) will be attending most of these meetings but only you know your school and what its concerns with the transition plan may be.

Oh Those Kidders at the Stranger!

Checking out one of my favorite blogs, the Stranger Slog, I saw this under the heading, "Get Your Ass off the Couch"

Seattle Public Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson hosts a Community Coffee Chat. Ask her if we got our school levy endorsement right. (West Seattle Elementary, 6760 34th Ave. S.W., 6 to 7 p.m., free)

Those kids at The Stranger, love 'em but they need to get a clue (or two).

It's a tough choice: Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, a bunch of charter guys at MOHAI or the Cowboys versus the Giants (ignore this one if you have no idea what sport I am talking about). Thank goodness for Tivo.

Yay for Ballard High!

From the My Ballard blog:

Congratulations to Ballard High School students in the Video Production Program for winning the 34th Annual Young People’s Film & Video Festival. More than 150 entries were submitted from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Alaska. Among the 16 chosen were: the short dramas Reflection (by Sheridan Koehler & Blair Scott) and Signs (by Rikke Heinecke, Lizzy O’Laughlin & Tony Meyer) as well as the documentaries Bar Ink (by Robyn Cochrane, Spencer Miller, Georgia Peck & Justin Smith-Mercado) and Henry (by Amelia Elizalde, Levi Friedman, Sean Hendricks & Sheridan Koehler).

Ballard's video production by its students just gets stronger and stronger. Great!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

LEV Event at MOHAI Monday Evening

I hadn't posted about this before because,well, it fell off my radar at one point. But I'm going and while I'm pretty sure what I'll hear - a love fest for charters - I want to go and listen.

Here's the info:

On Monday, October 25 at 6 p.m., LEV will be hosting a panel discussion at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI).

There are three speakers on the panel: Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP Foundation, Timothy Daly, President of The New Teacher Project, and Steve Barr, Founder of Green Dot Public Schools. The discussion will be moderated by Adam Porsch of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Who are these guys?

Richard Barth runs KIPP (a charter system, Knowledge is Power Program. He is married to Wendy Kopp who runs and started Teach for America. There are 99 schools in 20 states. KIPP is considered one of the better charter school systems although it is a more difficult model in that the schools start early and run late and have a longer school year. KIPP teachers are expected to help all students succeed, and they typically work a nine-hour work day during the week, half days on selected Saturdays, and three weeks in the summer. They also are available via cell phone for homework help in the evening (they receive a slightly higher salary than the average teacher). KIPP starts new schools (not transforming existing schools) but are open to that direction in the future. Oddly, they don't mention that KIPP is a charter school system on their home page.

KIPP supporters include the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation.

Steve Barr started Green Dot Public Schools in LA . There are now 15 charter schools operating in low-income areas in LA. As well, it is the only large charter system with unionized teachers and collective bargaining. They seem to have a well-balance core of partnerships. From their webpage:

A key constituent in Green Dot’s organization is the teachers union. Green Dot is the only non-district public school operator in California that has unionized teachers. Green Dot’s teachers have organized as the Asociacion de Maestros Unidos (AMU), a CTA/NEA affiliate. Key reforms embodied in the AMU contract include: teachers have explicit say in school policy and curriculum; no tenure or seniority preference; a professional work day rather than defined minutes; and flexibility to adjust the contract in critical areas over time. Green Dot was able to achieve these reforms by establishing a relationship of mutual trust with the teachers union and committing to pay its teachers above the average of comparable schools’ pay scales. In doing so, Green Dot and AMU share a unique relationship in the world of labor relations, one that is characterized by collaboration and a mutual interest in improving public education.

Green Dot supporters include the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation.

Timothy Daly runs The New Teacher Project which is something akin to Teach for America but with a lot more muscle and revenue. Their "fellows" like TFA's teachers receive about 5-6 weeks of training. From their website:

Today, The New Teacher Project is working to advance a new human capital model for urban school systems. TNTP intends to realize a fundamental shift in the way quality teachers are generated, matched to schools, and trained.

We bring expertise in the recruitment, selection, cultivation, preparation and placement of alternate route and traditionally certified teachers.

We bring expertise in the pre-service preparation, professional development and certification of new teachers for states and school districts. We specialize in developing alternate route teachers by leveraging their existing content expertise and life experiences while grounding them in rigorous, standards-based instructional practices.

They describe their business model this way:

The New Teacher Project is a revenue-generating nonprofit organization that utilizes a blended revenue model to sustain and advance its work nationwide. The majority of our revenue comes from our work with clients on a fee-for-service basis, often under performance-based contracts.

A revenue-generating nonprofit organization? So why not a self-sustaining nonprofit? I'm guessing the key word here is revenue.

Should be an interesting evening.

Common Core Standards - Time Sensitive

From Concerned Teacher:

The last OSPI Public Forum on the Common Core Standards and SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is being held tomorrow night (Monday)18560 1st Avenue NE, in Shoreline. The forum will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Mount Rainier Room at Shoreline Center.

OSPI is also seeking public input at the forums and through an online survey (available to take until Oct 31) because it is required to deliver a detailed report on the common core standards in January 2011 to the state Legislature. Formal adoption and implementation of the new standards may not occur until after the 2011 legislative session, which will provide an opportunity for legislative review.

The forum will include information on how the new common core K-12 standards for English language arts and mathematics were created and how they build toward college and career readiness. In addition, the forum will contain information about:
* The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) that was recently awarded a four-year $160 million grant to develop an assessment system for grades 3-8 and high school that's aligned with the Common Core State Standards.
* How the public can provide input so OSPI can determine what the transition would mean for Washington schools and districts.
* The process that would lead to the successful implementation about the common core standards if the state formally adopts them. OSPI will seek input from those attending about the resources schools and districts will need if the common core standards are formally adopted. email

Some light reading on the topic:
http://www.kdp.org/publications/pdf/record/fall10/Record_Fall_2010_Tienken.pdf

http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/national.htm

http://education.nationaljournal.com/2010/07/conflicting-research-on-core-s.php

Obviously there are both pros and cons, but I hope there is good enough attendance and enough questions asked that OSPI and the legislature to realize that they can't just slide this in.

(This is Melissa now. I believe that common core standards nationwide could be a good thing. We could save millions on testing alone if we agreed to a common assessment AND we would be able to accurately state how kids in Mississippi do against kids in Minnesota or Montana. However, this examination of common core standards means a long time to examine how to get there, develop the standards, develop the assessments and implement it. So we created the WASL and now the MSP/HSPE and now something else? You can't think too long about the money spent so far or you'll feel pretty sad. I haven't had a chance to look at these other websites that Concerned Teacher suggests but it probably a good idea.)

High School Credit for Middle School classes

Once again I hear people asking "Why would a student want to get high school credit for classes taken in middle school?"

This may not surprise you, but you're not going to get a good answer to this question from someone who isn't interested in it or who thinks it ranges from pointless to being a bad idea. Yet that's who have been answering that question of late.

So, rather than their explanation, to graduate high school early, let me instead offer some better reasons.

1) Lighter course load when taking challenging classes. A high performing student might take as many as three or four AP classes as a senior. These classes are challenging and demanding classes. Wouldn't it be nice to have the option to not take two other classes at the same time so the student can devote more time to the AP classes?

2) Credit for work done. If you have ever told your child that going to school is his or her job, then credit is their pay for that job. If someone does the work, then they should get the pay. Students should get high school credit for classes taken in middle school because they have EARNED IT. Actually, you don't need any other reason than this.

3) More electives. Wouldn't it be nice to have completed some of the required courses so the student is free to take more electives when in high school?

4) Schedule flexibility. Students who are taking Running Start classes or have jobs will be able to build more flexible schedules if they have some of their credits covered and aren't required to have a full schedule when juniors and seniors.

Parent Info about Orchestra Situation in SPS

When I attended a Regional Meeting earlier this fall, I met Keith Bowen and some other parents. They are parents who are concerned about orchestra offerings the follow-thru from middle to high school music especially around the orchestra offerings. I talked with them after the meeting and Keith sent me this article about their concerns which I want to share with you. (I edited this article for length.) If you would like to reach him to join his group or offer ideas, his e-mail is keith@fixbassoon.com

The new Student Assignment Plan (SAP) changes the demographics of who is assigned to which school. However, specialized programs are still in place at these same locations but now the students are distributed without regard to their interests or merit.

Parents, teachers and local administrators predicted the oncoming situation and how it
would affect a prized resource of music education. They predicted that existing programs would come dangerously close to not having enough participants to justify a full time professional educator (125 students). Calculations indicated that schools that thought they were going to have new programs would not receive a critical mass necessary to fill a classroom. Petitions were gathered and presented to the administration. Emails poured into the suggestion site. Meetings were attended. The school board was addressed. Individual meetings with board members were arranged and parents met regularly to discuss ways to be heard by the district. The 2009-2010 school year was discouraging to these community members. They felt that they had no voice. Their ideas to help went unnoticed with the district administration refusing to listen or meet with them.

The 2010-2011 school year has now begun and the predictions and calculations of the
naysayers have proven accurate. But this year there are unifying themes. The shock of having only nine, moving downward to five, in the upstart orchestra classroom at Nathan Hale; and the diminished freshman class at Roosevelt, has alarmed all. At a recent Goodloe-Johnson coffee conversation meeting at Eckstein Middle School parent representatives were able to dialogue with Goodloe-Johnson and Susan Enfield. Principals were also in attendance. Parents came prepared with a number of well thought
out plans to help the existing students and separate plans for the future. These plans focus on building music programs in all schools, spring-boarding off the success of the current programs. The parents felt they had an audience and an official meeting was scheduled and held. A plan has been created that should mitigate some of the problems this year within a short timeline, and a suggested promise for meetings about the future was taken into advisement. Principals seem to be trying to help. The Roosevelt freshman orchestra has gained a few underserved students as a result of the recent adjustments in student assignments. Educators, parents and students in established programs are finding ways to reach out to the new programs. The area’s professional music educators are meeting discussing long-term ideas. They seem encouraged by the prospects of stabilized feeder elementary schools that the new SAP brings, while very concerned about the health of the high school programs.

Obstacles that have been unearthed include but are not limited to: transportation,
official instructional time, teacher training and education, site based management verses district oversight, territorial protection, specific contractual restrictions, fear of upper administration, pride in an ideology placed above the well being of current students, fear of change and fear of failure. It is sad to realize how easily most of these problems could have been overcome if dealt with before the new SAP was implemented. Now we must work to change the barriers for success from hindsight.

The middle school teachers have a clear and realistic view of the situation. They are in a difficult emotional situation. They see great benefit from music education and see young lives transformed by being part of something as cooperative and cognitive as music. Yet to lead students into such a pursuit without a similar experience available in high school seems cruel. It is difficult to prove “ the chicken or the egg” . Students involved in school music programs have some of the highest test scores and success rates in other academic areas. Our Seattle Public Schools have produced some of the countries most outstanding school musical groups. Our community loves to site the awards and achievements of these groups as an affirmation of the success of our community as a whole.

Equity in such cognitive pursuits cannot be achieved by equal access to “educational materials” but may only be achieved by equal access to high achieving programs. Let us all set aside our pride and come together work for real solutions.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Levy Info and FAQs

Okay, here in one place (but if I missed something please let us know): information about both sides of the Seattle Schools Supplemental Levy.
  • Schools First - the levy support group
  • Committee for Responsible Education Spending - the group challenging the levy
  • Facebook page for Teachers Against the Levy
  • Facebook page for No on the Supplemental Levy
  • CRES page with links to: official resolution, explanatory statement for Voter's Guide, teachers contract and levy, and endorsements
There are 11 days until the election. You have your ballot. Sadly (and I think this hurts everyone) the levy is the last item on the back side of the ballot after judgeships. I have no idea how this bodes for either side as my experience is that many people don't vote for judges because they have no idea who to vote for. So look for a huge drop-off of votes for the levy which means every vote counts. Seriously.

What can you do? Well, vote of course.

Also, follow the directions. I can't find it now but I saw an article where ballots were rejected not just for being late but for not signing the ballot. They must be postmarked by Election Day and have a first class stamp. You have to SIGN the returned ballot envelopes.

From the King County election site:

"You can also return your ballot at a ballot drop box or an accessible voting center by Election Day."

There were 1,072,442 ballots sent out. As of yesterday, the Elections Board had received 125,804 (which is 11.73%). The February levies received roughly 130,498 votes (from 368,494 registered voters). which is about 36% voting. That's for a levy ballot in which the levies were the only item. On a crowded ballot with all mail in voting? That's a hard call to make. (This has made national news because only Washington State and Oregon have all mail-in ballots.)

What else?

Q: Won't defeating the levy start us on a bad cycle and send a message of mistrust into the greater community?
A: First, in Seattle, we pass levies. We have only had a couple of short cycles of difficulty in passing levies. Defeating one levy does not a cycle make. As for mistrust, well, between the vote of no confidence in the Superintendent, the horrible audit report and solid citizen entities like the Seattle Times and the League of Women Voters expressing deep concern, the issue of mistrust and concern already seems to be out there.

Q: Can the district run this levy again if it doesn't pass?
A: Absolutely. If it does lose, it might encourage the Board to press the district for a levy that is more plausible and less vague. Meaning, show us the money going directly into the classroom.

Q: Does the district have to use the money for what they are stating they will?
A: No. Once the money is voted in, the only restriction is that it must go to Operations (not capital uses).

Q: Won't this hurt the teachers because they won't get their raises?
A: Ask your child's teacher. What is obvious is that the teachers don't care a whole lot because they signed their contract KNOWING they would not get their raises if the levy fails. Now, they could just have been hedging their bets because levies rarely fail and/or they realized that if they pressed the district into giving them the raises even if the levy failed, it would just come out of the classroom. Either way, I give the teachers credit for not making this a solid guarantee for themselves.

Q: What about the other parts of the teachers contract; career ladder, stipends for struggling teachers, merit pay?
A: The district did win a federal grant which will enable them to do all those things at 34 low performing schools. In a way, it's almost a pilot program for this new contract to see how it works. So yes, all of the teacher contract items will get addressed at some schools (except the raises). Also, note that even since the district got awarded this contract, they haven't changed the amounts they will spend on the teacher contract implementation. Why would that be if they have the money for teachers at 34 schools? That would mean there is no extra money for classrooms and yet the district isn't saying that at all.

Q: Don't we need to get the work on the teachers contract started?
A: We do (and the federal grant WILL start it). But keep in mind, there is no sustainable revenue stream for this work after the levy is gone. In three years, where will this money come from? The district says the work "IS" sustainable and yet doesn't give any indication where the money will come from EXCEPT to say that the legislature authorized districts to lift the lid for SIX years so in THREE year, they will come back with another supplemental levy. Where does this end?

Q: What's the real story on Central Administration cuts?
A: The story is what Meg Diaz' analysis showed it is - a lot of smoke and mirrors. There was this confusion over the district using the term "central office" versus the term "central administration" (which are two different things to OSPI) and so it looked like many more jobs were cut than were. Additionally, as we all saw the Education Directors jobs were cut and then promptly renamed and recreated as something else. Also, if you look at the district's FAQ page on the levy, they list Central Office costs for 2009-2010 that were cut but, for example, leave off freezing the travel budget. Why? Because even though Mr. Kennedy, our COO, told the Board they were freezing the travel budget, it didn't happen. Why not?

Q: It's not that much money for the average taxpayer. Why not just vote it in?
A: I want to gently remind everyone that this district doesn't just exist for parents. Our friends and our neighbors who don't have children in SPS help us vote in the levies. So one, we, as parents, have a special responsibility to make sure those tax-dollars are accounted for and used wisely. And two, we have a responsibility to consider ALL other taxpayers especially those on a fixed income. For us, maybe $48 a year isn't a lot. But if you are a senior, with multiple levies, initiatives and referendums coming at your income, it IS a lot.

Q: The district says the funds will "absolutely" be spent in the classroom. Isn't that a guarantee of sorts?
A: Not really because they can say that everything done at central relates to the classroom. That the district is just NOW saying the School Board is going to create the new budget based on "the primary guiding principle was to protect funds to classrooms" and the Board will "consider" input from stakeholders.

Q: Will this levy restore cuts made to school budgets?
A: No.

Q: Will this levy be used to reduce class size?
A: No.

Q: Will this levy be used for some of the nearly $500M in backlogged maintenance?
A: No.

Q: Textbooks are in this levy. Don't we need new textbooks?
A: Absolutely. But if textbooks are a classroom staple, how come textbooks aren't a line item in the budget (a question Director Martin-Morris has asked) and why wait for a supplemental emergency levy to replace aging textbooks?

Q: The district and the Board say they are addressing the audit. Isn't that good enough?
A: It would be except, as Charlie has pointed out, there are a lot of non-action items "we will, we shall, will direct" - where's the real action? As well, the Auditor points out in several places in this audit that they are reminding the district of items they had in PREVIOUS audits from 2007 and 2008. So if the district and Board didn't address items in previous audits, why are we to believe they will in this audit?

Q: How do you know a levy defeat will send the district and Board a message?
A: Simply, NO ONE can tell you why any single voter casts their ballot a certain way. What you can see, though, is that the district is working harder and harder to push the levy (the Superintendent sent out an e-mail to all staff about it, the principals handed out info to all staff at their schools, the district send a postcard - which oddly carried an non-profit stamp that was not ID'ed), so they are clearly worried. Ask a Board member that question and I'm sure they will tell you, "If the levy fails, I know it means we need to listen more."

It's about trust, accountability, oversight and transparency. Those items are sorely lacking in this district and this levy should be defeated.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Go See This!

Race to Nowhere
Tuesday, 10/26
6:30 Film; 8:00 Community Discussion
@ Nova
300 20th Ave E, 98112
tix at: racetonowhere.com

This film shines a light on the high-stakes testing that has replaced
meaningful teaching and learning.

Race to Nowhere has been featured on CNN, Oprah and last week the
Washington Post said “the film is playing as a quiet counterpoint to
the better-known Waiting for Superman."


Open Thread Friday

Director Meetings this Saturday: just one. Director Martin-Morris from 9:30-11:30 am at Diva Espresso, 80th and Lake City Way NE).

The Superintendent has another Coffee Chat on Monday the 25th at West Seattle Elementary, 6760 34th Ave SW from 6-7 p.m. Have Coffee Chats been in your parent newsletter or on your school's website?

There is also a Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee Board Meeting from 4-6 p.m on Monday.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wondering about 1098?

The LEV blog had an excellent article by Hannah Lidman about what I-0198 will do for education.

She answers these questions:
  • “What exactly does ‘education’ mean within the context of I-1098?
  • Where would the money go exactly?
  • Does it only go to K-12 and higher ed or does it cover early learning too?
I learned that I-728 is known to Washington state government as the "student achievement fund." And she has a put a listing of what I-728 money can be used for (it seems like a lot of things and that's probably why so little seems to have gone to actually reducing class size).

New Website for Scholarship Money for WA State Students

This helpful article was in the Seattle Times.

A new website run by a public/private partnership of nonprofits and the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) aims to help Washington scholarship-givers and scholarship-seekers find one another. The service is free.

The scholarship clearinghouse, theWashBoard.org, works like an online-matchmaking service such as eHarmony, said Mary Beth Lambert, spokeswoman for the Washington Scholarship Coalition. But instead of finding you a date, it finds you money for college.

The Washington Scholarship Association only allows registered nonprofits to list scholarships on the site, and interviews the nonprofit to make sure the scholarship is legitimate, Lambert said.

You log in and set up a profile so that your student's info will be matched with scholarships and you get an e-mail. They also give reminders as the deadlines loom. Also, it's not just for high school students but student already in college, both young and old.

I also found that this rang true:

Lambert said students on the hunt for college money are often inundated by marketers — including scam artists — who purport to find hidden scholarship money for a fee. At the same time, legitimate scholarships get left on the table because the organization offering the money doesn't have a budget to advertise, and the most qualified students don't apply.

It's amazing the number of scholarships that go begging because no one applies. Some of them aren't that big but the smaller ones can pay for books which are a huge cost (although now you can rent them or buy them used online).