Friday, December 31, 2010

Open Thread Friday

Open Thread Friday - last one of the year on the last day of the year.

We could do a recap of this year - how did the first year of the NSAP work out? how long will the district pay attention to the audit response? how is curriculum alignment going? three levies down and now one more this year to go?

We could prognosticate on what's coming up this year: another audit report at the end of January, the NSAP transition plan for 2011, more alignment (this time for science and social studies), School Board elections.

My prediction is that the Superintendent will be gone by this time next year. Probably right after the school year ends. I think the Board has already started to see her as a liability and are getting very frustrated with her responses to their questions and her inability to make this district better (at least with the day-to-day operations).

Whether all four of the directors whose seats are up for election in November survive (and if they run again) is a good question. There certainly is a lot to hold them accountable for or to at least ask the question, "So what does accountability look like to you?"

While some of you worry over big money coming their way during the elections, I continue to say that School Board elections are different. Money just isn't going to cut it. Money can't buy votes (ask Bill Gates, Sr.) That these are incumbents certainly helps them but I see a lot of angry parents out there and if the editorial board at the Seattle Times will go thumbs down on a levy, I think there's a growing awareness (or at least restlessness) over the management and leadership in this district growing in our city.

So, now we see Peter Maier pushing back on the Superintendent and Michael DeBell (who isn't up for election) saying we need to slow down on the Strategic Plan. I see Sherry Carr being frustrated over the day-to-day operations of the district and Steve Sundquist very proud to be the president of the School Board. Okay Steve, you have power and a bully pulpit - use them. As for Harium, well, he is the wild card because he's the one I'm least sure about running again.

But it's a good thing to have openness on the issues troubling our district. The more people who understand them, the better. That's one of my goals for 2011 for more public awareness, especially among our other elected officials, about our district.

I still believe we can have a great district. We're a great city with lots of smart people and more coming all the time. In honor of the passing of Geraldine Doyle, the inspiration for the Rosie the Riveter poster created during WWII,

We Can Do It

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Virginia - But Why?

So the latest state to distort history (after the fine job Texas is doing) is Virginia. They had a person (I hesitate to say writer) who is not a historian write their Virginia history book. She said she found information about black Confederate soldiers on the Internet. Seriously.

From the Washington Post Answer Sheet blog:

What she found was the work of members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. That’s a group of male descendants of Confederate soldiers, based in Tennessee, that has long claimed that big numbers of black soldiers fought for the South. Professional historians of the era say this is nonsense.

The author, Joy Masoff, has penned other works including "Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty" and "Oh Yikes! History’s Grossest Moments."

She also disputes that slavery was the underlying issue that caused the Civil War.

The Masoff textbook was ruled "accurate and unbiased" by a Virginia committee of content specialists and teachers, leaving one to wonder how carefully the committee members looked at the book.

"It's more than just an arcane, off-the-wall problem," said David Blight, a professor at Yale University. "This isn't just about the legitimacy of the Confederacy, it's about the legitimacy of the emancipation itself."

Other errors:

In the version of history being taught in some Virginia classrooms, New Orleans began the 1800s as a bustling U.S. harbor (instead of as a Spanish colonial one). The Confederacy included 12 states (instead of 11). And the United States entered World War I in 1916 (instead of in 1917).

"I absolutely could not believe the number of mistakes - wrong dates and wrong facts everywhere. How in the world did these books get approved?" said Ronald Heinemann, a former history professor at Hampden-Sydney College. He reviewed "Our Virginia: Past and Present."

In his recommendation to the state, Heinemann wrote, "This book should be withdrawn from the classroom immediately, or at least by the end of the year."

So they reported on this over at the Stranger Slog and here's one commenter's reaction:

So what's the underlying concern here? We know facts get distorted over time. So a few kids grow up knowing less about the role of slavery in relation to the Civil War. What is the worry here? That history will repeat itself in the south? That kids in the south are somehow "getting away" with not being made to feel sufficiently guilty by the actions of their ancestors? Does the level of knowledge of U.S. slavery history somehow correlate to how racist you will become?

When he/she gets called on what the first post said, here's number two:

Well, I'm against public education altogether but that wasn't the issue. I'm just wondering what problem you think will arise by not focusing on slavery when teaching the Civil War.

Oh, that explains it.

It's one thing to dispute the cause/reason for the Civil War. If someone wants to dress it up in the cloak of "states rights" go ahead. We know that code. It's another thing to get wrong how a city got started and when the U.S. entered a World War.

Want to start a civil war again? Allow Southern children to grow up believing one thing about American history and then move to a non-Southern state and learn that millions of other school children got taught something else.

Sober Thinking for the End of the Year

One of our readers sent me a link to a great article. It was in this publication called City Journal which I had never heard of but now will make a point to read. The article I liked is by William Voegeli called How the Road to Bell Was Paved.

Some of you may remember the story that exposed how the leadership of Bell, California (a suburb near LA of 37,000 most minority citizens) was ripping off the city to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars with exaggerated pay for the city manager and other staff. (The city manager was making $787k+ a year.) So Bell has become a poster child for mismanagement in government. But Mr. Voegeli expands this idea out.

The abuse of power, after all, is an endemic political problem, one so old that it’s often rendered in Juvenal’s Latin: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians themselves?

America’s answer to that question made its republic distinctively successful. If ambition could be made to counteract ambition, in James Madison’s formulation, then the guardians would guard one another, which was why Madison’s Constitution incorporated checks and balances. Madison saw these, however, as especially vital to the success of a distant national government, expecting that Americans would pay careful attention to the conduct of their own state and local governments. That’s exactly what Alexis de Tocqueville found during his trip through America 40 years later: “Municipal institutions constitute the strength of free nations. Town meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science; they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it.”

But of course the question becomes are we watching? I have said before that I believe that most people want to believe in our government entities. If we don't, we will fail as a society. But even with checks and balances and auditors, we still see that the basic duty of a citizen - to ask questions - is still important.

Mr Voegeli talks about how the U.S. has changed since Tocqueville came for a visit. Urbanization, immigration and everyone crowded together just trying to keep food on the table. This in turn gave rise to the "professional" government.

Consider, in this light, Louis Brownlow, best known as the principal figure in the commission that President Roosevelt named in 1936—the Brownlow Committee—to reorganize the federal bureaucracy. Two years earlier, Brownlow had already weighed in on professionalization at the city level, welcoming changes that rendered municipal government “less legalistic, less partisan, and more technical.” Thus, he said, “let whoever will be mayor, but the bacteriologist in the health department, the chemist in the water department, the superintendent of schools and his teachers, the nurses in the city hospital—these must be technicians.”

So what's the problem?

The very word “professional” points us to the great problem with the professionalization of government: though it can refer to a person with extensive training and expertise, it also distinguishes, from “amateur,” a person who performs activities for a living—for money. In the geography of public administration, a slippery slope separates the idealistic and rigorous from the self-serving. The calling begets a guild, which turns into a mutual protection society and winds up a racket.

Back in California, the struggles of two public-administration students interning with a city council candidate in Orange County suggest the existence of related abuses in the state, less extreme but more common than Bell’s. According to Fred Smoller, the Brandman University professor directing the students’ program, it took them “nearly four months and hundreds of hours of work” to complete what should have been a simple project: gathering data on how much local city managers were paid. “While several cities cooperated, many others gave the students the runaround,” says Smoller. “Two cities charged for access to this information. Two others said that the public was not entitled to know the details of city-official compensation packages.” Several local officials, according to Smoller and the city council candidate, threatened the professor and his students, saying that publicizing the salary information would be a bad career move.

Incredibly dangerous stuff. And then we wonder why people like Julian Assange feel it their duty to release protected documents. (For the record, I do not agree with what he did. Some of this is just embarrassing information but some of it could be very dangerous to those who serve in the overseas.)

Mr. Voegli also points out that the leadership of Bell, California knew who their citizens were. More than half were foreign-born and nearly two-thirds without a high school diploma.

Perhaps its residents were as vulnerable to Rizzo’s exploitation as Manhattan tenement dwellers once were to Boss Tweed’s. Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton accused the Rizzo gang of “ripping off vulnerable, uninformed taxpayers in one of the county’s poorest cities, exploiting their public trust and, sadly, apathy.” A crucial point on the road to the scandal was a 2005 special election in which residents voted to make Bell’s local government exempt from state laws on municipal compensation. The turnout in that election was fewer than 400 people—less than 5 percent of Bell’s registered voters.

But beyond who the citizens are who live in Bell is the issue that we, as a country, have really splintered our lives.

Apathy isn’t confined to poor or immigrant communities. Indeed, the word “community” is increasingly used, contrary to the term’s long history, to denote people who attend to things they have in common other than the affairs of the particular geographic location where they reside. Our time, attention, and affinities are not limitless, so as we increasingly concern ourselves with the environmentalist community, the bluegrass-music community, or the office-supplies wholesalers’ community, we have less left over for the patch-on-the-map communities where we live. Our waking hours are enveloped by communications technologies that Madison and Tocqueville couldn’t have imagined; we are a polity turned inside-out, familiar with the distant and estranged from the nearby. Americans are likelier to know the names of the president’s pets than to know those of their own city council members.

He points out that we hope the media is watching. But our newspapers, who in the past did a large amount of investigative reporting, are now shrinking. There is "information" on the Internet that many people read as gospel without even wondering who wrote it and what research they did.

(Side note: I hope our schools are teaching kids this history and to be wary and ask questions before they believe anything they read on the Internet.)

Many educators, public safety and health officials, and administrators are professionals in the best sense, motivated by a sense of duty and a desire to serve the public honorably. In the absence of an avalanche of stories about other Bells, we can hope that only a small minority are professionals in the worst, most rapacious, sense of the term.

There’s a group in the middle, however. They may employ their professional training and specialized technical knowledge to solve problems, but they’re not above using such know-how to stifle criticism or impede scrutiny. Having chosen careers devoted to the public welfare, they lose the ability to distinguish what’s good for the public from what’s good for their own careers. They’re not necessarily cynical when they insist that it’s for the sake of schoolchildren that teachers must receive virtually automatic tenure after three years on the job. They may mean it when they say that the public sector cannot attract and retain the personnel it needs without offering health, retirement, and job-security benefits found nowhere else in the American economy. But being sincere isn’t the same as being right.

I love that sentence - But being sincere isn't the same as being right. It's true and it begs a question - What is being right? Is it being factual? Is it drawing together facts and making a reasonable assertion based on analysis? Or is it constantly shaping a message to reflect "being right"?

He ends the article this way:

The problem of power is inherently a political rather than a technical one. To survive, self-government requires citizens who understand that their rights are never finally secure and that their civic duties can never be safely delegated.

I absolutely agree with that belief. It really is about people in power making decisions to help themselves, their careers or their beliefs about how the world should operate. We have to keep watch over our government, not because we don't trust those people but we have a duty to make sure they are doing what they are elected or appointed to do.

It is sobering to think about this issue. It weighs heavily on me (and I know for Charlie as well) that we at this blog make the biggest effort to get it right (at least on the reporting). That's why there IS a need for watchdogs in our country.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chinese Students: Great Thinkers or Great Memorizers?

I had wanted to put this quote in from the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, because it made me laugh. He made this remark after the NFL postponed the Sunday football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings (which was played last night and the Vikings won). The NFL called the game off because of the danger of fans getting safely to and from the stadium because of a huge snowstorm.

“We’ve become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything,” Rendell added. “If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”

The "doing calculus on the way down" made me laugh. But then there was this interesting piece on NPR today about Chinese education. Basically, the point is that they are great at learning and memorizing facts but not very good at analytic, problem-solving thinking. Even their principals admit this but like many bureaucratic issues, it's recognized but no one knows what to do.

From the piece:

"Developed countries like the U.S. shouldn't be too surprised by these results. They're just one index, one measure that shows off the good points of Shanghai's and China's education system. But the results can't cover up our problems," he says.

Liu is very frank about those problems — the continuing reliance on rote learning, the lack of analysis or critical thinking — and he says the system is in dire need of reform.

"Why don't Chinese students dare to think? Because we insist on telling them everything. We're not getting our kids to go and find things out for themselves," he says.

Mr. Liu, who is a principal in Shanghai, also points out that the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results were for Shanghai students who were the only Chinese students to take the test. Shanghai is apparently the best city for education in China.

Here's what a student had to say:

Zhang Chi, 17, was one of those students, and she noticed the difference in the way the PISA questions were framed.

"I can't go straight to answer the questions. I must think a while for the question, and give me some time to think," she says.

However,

The trouble is that despite all the talk of educational reform, combining East and West, Chinese and foreign, is, in the end, simply not possible. However well she did in the PISA test, or however much she liked the questions, Zhang has to sit down next summer and take the high school university entrance test — the gaokao — where writing different, creative answers gets you nowhere, and writing the standard answer that you've memorized gets you into a good university.

I believe we have serious issues in this country in public education. The achievement gap is stubbornly hanging in there, the issue that girls are doing better and boys falling behind, uneven resources and opportunities and social promotion when students truly are not ready are some of the issues. I get annoyed when I hear ed reformers say that if you don't want bold change, you support the status quo. Not true. But as I have said before, I want MY district to examine all the avenues and make a decision about what we will try based on our district, our resources and our situation.

The "Sputnik" moment that some have called the U.S. results versus international students may not be as serious as some say. Not to brush off serious issues but we do need to realize the context of these international tests. The U.S. is a huge country with more race and cultures than almost any other place on earth. We don't have, educationally, one rote way to do things. When you have China skewing their results by only testing one city, then you have to take a step back and ask what would happen if you only had American students in one district/city take the PISA.

The question is how to marry the seriousness with which the Chinese take education with the U.S. spirit of fresh thinking. (More on this in another thread.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Message for the Board

I have a message for the Board regarding my ethics complaints.

The Board will soon have to make a decision about two ethics complaints that I made about a District employee. This District employee has seats on the boards of two non-profit corporations but did not properly disclose those relationships and, in violation of state law and the District Ethics Policy, participated in the discussion and decision to enter into contracts with those non-profit corporations. The question before the Board will not be one of fact. It is an indisputable fact that the employee has the seats on the non-profit boards. It is an indisputable fact that the employee did not properly disclose those relationships. It is an indisputable fact that the employee did not include them on the annual disclosure and statement of financial interest. It is an indisputable fact that the employee participated in the decision to enter into contracts with these non-profit corporations. In short, there is no question that the employee committed misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors by violating state laws RCW 42.23.030, RCW 42.23.040, and RCW 9A.76.175 and, coincidently, also violated the District Ethics Policy. That's not in question. The question before the Board will be: So What?

So what if the relationships with the non-profits weren't disclosed – the Board knew about them.

So this: the disclosure isn't so the School Board will know about the conflict. The disclosure has to be in the official minutes so the public will be informed about the conflict.

So what if the employee participated in the decisions despite the relationship – it wasn't a REAL conflict because it didn't result in immediate financial gain.

So this: both the law and the District's disclosure statement specifically refer to non-profits, so they are both concerned specifically about non-profits. That indicates that the Board should be concerned about them.

So what about the violations of the law – this is a technical violation on the order of dotting i's and crossing t's; it's not really a big deal.

So this: these technical violations are misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors punishable by jail time. When the State Auditor called out the District for ignorance and non-compliance with laws and policies, the Board paid a lot of lip service to taking this matter seriously. Now is the time for the Board to pay something more than lip service to reining in the scofflaw culture of Seattle Public Schools.

Finally, just So What? In the immortal words of Chick Hearn, no harm, no foul.

So this: according to RCW 42.23.050 any contract made in violation of RCW 42.23.030 or RCW 42.23.040 is void. Not voidable at the District's option, but void. That means that the District's contracts with the Alliance for Education and the Council of Great City Schools are void. So we can't enforce our multi-year grants with the Alliance, and any money the District paid to these entities was not paid out of a legal obligation. That means that any money the District paid to these entities was a gift – a gift made in violation of the State Constitution. The voiding of these contracts puts the District in a legally and financially vulnerable position.

If the Board had approved the CSIPs when they weren't where the CAO said they were, it would have put the District in a vulnerable position. When the Board approved the NTN contract when the terms were materially different from the District staff's representation of them it put the District in a vulnerable position. Likewise, the voiding of these contracts puts the District in a vulnerable position. No one should be allowed to expose the District in this way.

Breaking the law has consequences.

When the Board considers these Ethics Policy violations, they shouldn't ask So What? Instead, they should consider the deep legal and financial liability these crimes create for the District. They should also consider the willful and arrogant presumption that anyone is above the law or any employee above the policy. They should also consider this: if they dismiss these violations of the law and the policy this time, how will they justify holding anyone else accountable in future?

Monday, December 27, 2010

So TFA Got Its Way

Apparently the appropriations bill made its way through the Congress with the "highly qualified teacher" part intact. Appalling. It is only good for two years but by then I'm sure Teach for America will have churned out even more minions (more on this at the end).

Here's what the bill says:

‘‘SEC. 163. (a) A ‘highly qualified teacher’ includes a teacher who meets the requirements in 34 C.F.R. 15 200.56(a)(2)(ii), as published in the Federal Register on 16 December 2, 2002.
‘‘(b) This provision is effective on the date of enactment of this provision through the end of the 2012–2013 academic year.


Here's 34 C.F.R. 15 200.56(a)(2)(ii): (This Rules/Regulations notice has a huge amount of info on what NCLB has to do.)

Alternate Certification: The NPRM specified that one of the requirements of being a "highly qualified teacher" is having obtained full State certification as a teacher--which may include certification obtained through alternative routes to certification. The final regulation adds language that requires teachers who are enrolled in alternative route programs to receive high-quality professional development before and while teaching, to participate in a program of intensive supervision or a teacher mentoring program, to assume the functions of a teacher while in the alternative route program only for a specified period of time not to exceed three years, and to demonstrate satisfactory progress toward full certification as prescribed by the State. The regulations have been further amended by requiring the State to ensure, through its certification and licensure process, that these provisions are met.

This is interesting (bold mine):

Waiver of Rulemaking

In response to comments, the Secretary has added Sec. 200.61 in these final regulations regarding parents' right to know the qualifications of their child's teachers.

This section merely incorporates statutory requirements in section 1111(h)(6) of Title I. The Secretary has included it, however, to emphasize the important responsibility of LEAs to notify parents of students in Title I schools that they have a right to request information regarding the professional qualifications of their child's teachers. Under the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553), the Department generally offers interested parties the opportunity to comment on proposed regulations. However, these regulations merely reflect statutory provisions and do not establish or affect substantive policy Therefore, under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B), the Secretary has determined that proposed regulations are unnecessary.

Yes, I, too, think it a good idea that parents -not some but all parents - know if they have a TFA recruit as a teacher.


Costs? (Because yes, there are always costs despite what Director Maier seems to think.)

Based on our assessment of the regulatory burden on States, LEAs, and schools, we estimate that the total cost of administering these regulations is $52 million. In deriving this cost estimate, we calculated the burden hours at the SEA level to be 55,952 hours. Using a cost rate of $25 per hour at the SEA level, we estimated the administrative burden cost to States to be $1.4 million. At the LEA and school levels, we calculated the burden hours to be 2,530,476 hours. Based on a cost rate of $20 per hour, the estimated administrative burden cost at the local level is $50.6 million. The section of this preamble on the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 discusses the burden that the statutory requirements of the NCLB Act impose on States, LEAs, and schools in more detail. The fiscal year (FY) 2002 appropriation for Title I, part A provided a $1.6 billion (18 percent) increase in funds. This increase in funding will enable States, LEAs, and schools to meet the administrative costs associated with the requirements of the NCLB Act at the State, LEA, and school levels.


I'd like to see a definition for this:

"...to participate in a program of intensive supervision or a teacher mentoring program.." simply because I'd like to know who is paying for the supervision.

So I went to the TFA website to see if Seattle was on their map yet. Nope and, in fact, none of the Northwest is represented (not Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, or Montana).

What's funny is that TFA has a "Parents" section which I thought (silly me) was for parents whose children were in TFA classrooms. Nope, apparently these "best and brightest" need a section at the website....for their own parents. It's topics like:

"Why should my child join TFA?", "What Kind of Training Will My Child Receive?", etc. (If you can find me one graduate school in the U.S. that has a section for parents, I'll do a cartwheel down the aisle of the auditorium at SPS. )

The machine rolls on.

In BusinessWeek's fourth annual ranking of the top U.S. employers for young professionals entering the workforce, Teach For America holds the No. 7 spot and is the only nonprofit on the list.

And why?

» Salary ranging from $30,000-$51,500 a year (depending on location), comprehensive health insurance, and retirement benefits.
Corps members are paid by their school districts and salaries vary on a cost-of-living basis.
» $10,700 in AmeriCorps education awards that can be used to pay back student loans or towards future educational costs.
» $1,000-$6,000 in grants and no-interest loans for relocation.
» Alumni are eligible for up to $50,000 in grad school scholarships and application fee waivers.

So yes, I know my TFA friends are reading this and thinking I'm being very hard on them. I guess that's because it seems like TFA is more interested in what it can do for its recruits than the students they teach. Or maybe the website just comes off that way.

Students Who Move

This is a long direct quote from pages 5 and 6 of the New Student Assignment Transition Plan for 2011-2012, which the Board will vote on in January:
E. Students Who Move
When students move, they may have the option or be required to get a new school assignment, depending on when and where they move.

In general, students must change to their new attendance area schools if:
• They are assigned to their attendance area school, are not grandfathered, and they move to a new attendance area. If they move before the school year starts, they must change schools immediately. If they move during the school year, they may finish the year at their current school,
but they must change schools the next year.

In general, students may change to their new attendance area school if:
• They have a grandfathered or choice assignment, are in grades K‐8, and they move outside of their assigned school’s service area.
• They have a grandfathered or choice assignment, are in grades 9‐12, and they move outside of their assigned school’s attendance area.

In all cases, reassignments are subject to any ELL/special education services a student may require, and are subject to standard transportation rules. Detailed rules are available in the Superintendent’s Procedures for School Assignment.
In short, the District essentially requires students who move from one attendance area to another to change schools.

Contrast this with the direction given to the superintendent when designing the new student assignment plan (from the New Student Assignment Plan Framework):
5. Clusters that combine several reference areas would be modified to:
• Continue to give families choice with transportation, but within a smaller geographic area (fewer elementary schools in most clusters).
• Add the flexibility of staggered school opening and closing times as an additional choice element for families, with transportation provided within the cluster. This has an additional benefit of saving on transportation costs.
• Address varying needs around the district. For instance, clusters in high poverty areas might be larger than other clusters to enhance the likelihood of school continuity, with transportation, despite family mobility.
Setting aside, for the moment, the thinking then that we could reduce transportation costs by staggering school start times (compared to the thinking just two years later that we could save transportation costs by standardizing school start times), note the sensitivity to allowing for school continuity, particularly for highly mobile low-income families. None of that sensitivity can be found in the current Student Assignment Plan and it is particularly absent in this Transition Plan.

I'm aware of the concern. If we allow students who move to retain their seat at their school, then we might see families rent an apartment in Wallingford for the critical months to qualify as residents in the JSIS attendance area and then move back into their real home (outside the area) after enrollment has been secured. The solution to this problem, of course, is to make JSIS an option school, not to have students from low-income households change schools from Emerson to Dunlap to Rainier View and back again as their family hop-scotches from apartment to apartment around southeast Seattle.

Volunteers Needed for Instructional Materials Adoptions

Seattle Public Schools has committed to a seven-year cycle for instructional materials adoptions. The District wants to review and update all textbook decisions every seven years. The work is divided across the seven-year period so all of the adoptions don't occur at once. This year, the District is looking to adopt materials for these courses:
Middle School Language Arts
High School Science
High School Social Studies
K-5 Music
French
Japanese

Each of these adoptions will follow the process set by Policy C21.00. Part of that process calls for one standing Instructional Materials Committee for all adoptions and a separate Adoption Committee for each adoption. The District is now seeking volunteers to serve on the various Adoption Committees to recommend specific texts for the classes.

If you would like to serve on one or more of these committees, you should submit your application without delay. Follow the links or visit the Curriculum Alignment page of the District web site.

There is not - to the best of my knowledge - any sort of holy war between pedagogies in these disciplines. This isn't likely to offer the sort of drama that we saw with the math textbook adoption. Still, it is a way for us to get involved and make a positive contribution.

Oh, So NOW the District is Sending Out the Pay for K Bills

From our Open Thread Sunday. The district seriously sent out huge bills for Pay for K right before Christmas?

I just want to say that I got my $828 Pay4K bill on DECEMBER 24!! Really, SPS? I knew it would be coming, although I NEVER once got any information about it before school started - I never got a Welcome to Kindergarten packet from the district, but I have been saving my money while waiting to learn how to Pay4K- but to send them out Christmas week? I just think about all the families that could barely pull Christmas together this year, who are not FRL...makes me sick.

Annoyed K Parent

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Open Thread Sunday

Missed having an Open Thread Friday so here's an opportunity to speak out.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas (if you celebrate it) or Festivus or now Kwanzaa or Boxing Day. (I saw The King's Speech and I highly recommend it. I have to see a few more films but right now my money is on it for Best Picture of the year.)

It looks like that lame duck Congress got a bee in their bonnet and got some work done.

Maybe we'll see a fire lit under our Board in 2011 and they might get some real progress/accountability going in this district. I see some movement in that direction but I am suspicious over whether it's a election year ploy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ach! Yet another conflict of interest!

They are breaking out like a teenager!

Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson was, and is, a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of Great City Schools.

This relationship has never been disclosed in the minutes of a Board meeting.

This relationship did not appear on her annual disclosure statement.

The District awarded contracts to the Council of Great City Schools to perform a variety of audits and reviews of District programs and processes.

She did not recuse herself from the decision to select the CGCS as the vendor for these contracts.

She did not constrain herself from recommending CGCS to decisionmakers about awarding these contracts.

These failures individually and together represent violations of RCW 42.23.030 and RCW 42.23.040 and, by violating those laws, they are violations of the District Ethics Policy E11.00.

I have, this evening, made a written complaint to the District Ethics Officer, Noel Treat.

I gotta say, this doesn't look good for her.

Eckstein Music Program Concerns

We had a comment in the "One Last Survey: Middle School LA" thread that I have pulled out for discussion here. I'll just copy and paste it.

Stand Up! said...
Can anyone hear how bad the music at Eckstein sounds?

I have hope,

However, the idea that no one in the the Seattle area is outraged by Eckstein, the flagship of a horribly mismanaged and segregated school district, is anathema to me.

Both Eckstein and Washington have failing music programs by national public standards. These standards are defined first by inclusion and ethical practice, not by showboating and the extolation of a few privilaged kids - much less trophy accumulation.

Exclusion, segregation and remunerative practices mark the poor and cheating programs of the Seattle Public Schools.

The presentation of a facade of accomplishment is foisted upon the public by an incopetent administration and a horribly mismanged district. This district goes so far as to give "jazz" instructors credit cards- credit payed for by you.

Has anyone reviewed the demographics in the Eckstein building over the last 10 years? If you have, you tell me what you think is happening to students of color in that environment.

In terms of the music, does anyone think about the fact hundreds of band students not only never get the opportunity to participate in the illegally funded "Jazz Band" program, but are also constantly bullied in a hostile and reified environment; an environment that is established upon inherently exclusionary and emaciated musical practices?

Did anyone notice the favors that kids who are "soloists" or "featured" performers in the "jazz" bands and musicals get while the others are shouted at and told to be quiet?

Did anyone stop to listen to how awful the large choirs and bands sound at Eckstein this year, or is everyone mesmerized by the "jazz" doodle-ings of about 14 privately instructed rich kids?

FOLLOW THIS BLOG AT:
poorinstruction.blogspot.com
-Former Teacher
Concerned Citizen
12/22/10 10:54 PM

Over the Line?

By now, I think that we are all aware of the rules around conflicts of interest for school district officials. There are other prohibited activities as well.

A question has arisen about whether Dr. Goodloe-Johnson encouraged other education folks, in this case the Council of Great City Schools, to use the MAP test as a measure of academic achievement in a study they were commissioned to do by the Gates Foundation. Did she try to sell MAP to CGCS on behalf of NWEA? There's no problem with that in general, but she shouldn't use her Seattle Public Schools email account to do it. More deeply concerning, some folks think her email contained a hint of quid pro quo in which CGCS would use NWEA's MAP for their study and Seattle Public Schools would, reciprocally, use CGCS to do the Alternative Education Review.

There is also a lot of reason to dismiss those concerns. Nothing is spelled out that clearly. In fact, the pitch that she made to Mike Casserly at CGCS wasn't much of a pitch at all. But she participated in an email conversation with NWEA people about how to get the CGCS to use MAP for their study and in that conversation she said that she contacted him, implying that she made a pitch to him - although not explicitly claiming to have done so. She represented it as a pitch to them, so it appears that she thought it was a pitch.

This is not exactly a smoking gun, but the barrel is warm.

The concern, the place where she might have stepped over the line, was in her email to Mike Casserly at the CGCS. The questions are:

Was it a pitch for NWEA's MAP?
and
Was there a suggestion of a quid pro quo implicit in her message?

Here is the text of the message, from December 14, 2008:
Hi Mike, I hope all is well. I am curious about the grant from GATES to study the achievement gap. It sounds very exciting. I am curious to know if you have considered using MAP as an assessment tool or if it is even appropriate considering the work you will be doing. Keep up the good work, let me know Seattle can help. Also want to confirm that we need to have an alternative schools audit in the spring. Happy Holidays. See you in January!
I'm in sales, and this is NOT a sales pitch. Nor is it conclusively an offer of quid pro quo.

For me, this is just a reminder that they were going to do the alternative school audit in the spring of 2009, then in the fall of 2009, then in the fall of 2010, and now they aren't going to do it at all and they have never communicated with the public about any part of this changing timetable and they haven't slowed any decisions about alternative schools in the absence of the review.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One Last Survey: Middle School LA

The Middle School Language Arts Instructional Materials Adoption page has links for a staff/student/family survey as well as info on applying for the Adoption Committee. Again, the end date on the surveys and due date for committee applications is Jan. 6th.

One More Survey: Parent/Teacher Conferences

From the SPS website:

Seattle Public Schools is inviting families to comment on the parent/teacher conference schedule for the 2011-13 school years.

The survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Z8JGDDY until 4 p.m., Monday, Jan. 3. This survey will take between one and five minutes to complete. Responses will be summarized, shared with School Board members and posted on the SPS website.

SPS is applying to the state Board of Education for a waiver to allow the three full-day parent-teacher conference schedule to continue. The three-day model replaces the prior model of seven half-day/early dismissals.

High School Social Studies Surveys

The Social Studies Instructional Materials Adoption page has links to parent/community and staff surveys. Oddly, although the science adoption has a survey for students, social studies does not.

They are also looking for 2 parent/community representatives to survey on the high school social studies adoption committee. Applications are due by Jan. 6th and you will be notified by Jan. 10th. Here's some more info:

We are asking that prospective applicants bring an open mind, with passion about student learning in Social Studies, and avoiding approaching the process with a specific textbook or set of materials in mind. Time commitment will be approximately 60 hours between January and April, 2011. We expect to hold five day-time meetings (8:00 AM – 3:00 PM), and four after-school or evening meetings. The committee will determine its schedule at the first session on Thursday, January 20th, 2011. (3 PM – 6 PM).

HIgh School Science Adoption Survey

The High School Science Instructional Materials Adoption page has links to surveys for staff, students and community/family members. That they are asking for student input is great so encourage your student to take the survey. The surveys close on Jan. 6th.

They are also looking for members of the Science Instructional Materials Adoption Committee. The application period closes on Jan. 6th and you will be notified by January 14th.

K-5 Music Surveys

There's a survey for parents, staff and family members for K-5 Music Instructional Materials Adoption. They are looking for input on music curriculum standardization. The survey ends on Jan 6th.

There is also a link to an application to be on a K-5 General Music Adoption Committee. Applications are taken until Jan 6th.

The K-5 Music Instructional Materials Adoption page has links to all these items.

Thank you to SPS parent for this info (I had seen it but it dropped off my radar).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Confusing Jargon

There sure are a lot of words used at Seattle Public Schools that have a special or specific meaning within the context of public K-12 education. The jargon of education. The professionals often use this jargon among themselves to speak precisely. At Seattle Public Schools the professionals often use this jargon to confuse or intimidate the public. The staff of Seattle Public Schools particularly like to MIS-use this jargon to confuse the public, or to tempt the public into mis-using the jargon to make them appear ignorant.

Of late, this trick has been practiced more by Dr. Cathy Thompson and Kathleen Vasquez than any other member of the staff.

Consider this example: Middle School Language Arts Curriculum Adoption. The District is not really adopting a curriculum; the District is adopting instructional materials. But it serves the interests of the District staff to confuse the public (and the Board, who are merely glorified members of the public) about the definitions of the words "content", "curriculum", "pedagogy", and "materials". They sow confusion by intentionally misusing the jargon. They hope to tempt you into misusing the words so they can publicly correct you as part of their effort to belittle, discount, and discredit your perspective.

Do not be taken in by this simple trick.

I have written to Ms Vasquez, with copies to Dr. Thompson, Dr. Enfield, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson (geez! It's like that scene from Spies Like Us.) and the Board about the incorrect use of the jargon and asking her to correct the web page. I pointed out the mis-use, the dangers of mis-using jargon, and asked her to correct the language on this page and similar pages.

My tone was pretty formal and helpful. Other people could contact some of these folks, highlight the mis-use of these terms, and suggest that the people who wrote this are either incompetent idiots who don't even know the difference between materials and curriculum or are plotters who intend to usurp the Board's authority to adopt curriculum.

:::::UPDATE::::::
The web pages were updated to say "instructional materials adoption" instead of "curriculum adoption". The change was made the same day that I brought the situation to Ms Vasquez's attention.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Strategic Plan Work Session Notes

Sorry this took so long. As I stated previously, I did not stay for the budget portion of the Work Session so this is only about the Strategic Plan. Here is a link to the presentation.

Betty Patu was not there and so they recorded the meeting (both audio and video) so it should be available somewhere. Michael DeBell stated that this was to listen to the information but not to set any priorities.

What ended up happening was that there were 88 slides to cover and yet for some reason they let the Family Engagement section go on for about 35 minutes. It was interesting info from each of the schools with a FEAT team (Family Engagement Action Team) but I didn't feel it was the right time to present it. So by the time Dr. Goodloe-Johnson got started, she really whipped through the slides. (I've stated in the past that I think the staff presentations are too long and I still believe that is true.)

I stepped out as they went into 2010-2011 Governance Priorities starting on slide 9. I note what others have stated on this blog that when you see an item like "75% of the audit issues have been addressed", the response is how? I know they can't go thru specific items but define addressed. One interesting thing is on Slide 10 where it states that "resources to strengthen internal controls will be included in budget development" and "first governance work session to provide management oversight of the district's business systems is tentatively scheduled for January".

Please notice that the first label for this post is bullshit. And that's because, after 3 years of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's governance, that she now is interested in how this district runs operationally is just pathetic. Recall that Mr. Kennedy told the Audit and Finance Committee that the district appears to not having been running on a coherent and organized system since 2000-2001. Recall that DeBell asked him if there were one exemplary department the others could look to and Mr. Kennedy said no.

And naturally the question is what resources? From where? And now we're interested in how the district is running?

I also missed the discussion of the SE Initiative starting on slide 14. Tt's a 3-year initiative but somehow there's a 4th year (2010-2011) with over $1m being spent. What? Slide 16 (not numbered) shows "academic outcomes" but read it. I don't see anything to get excited about at all. Slide 17 makes it sound like the SE Initiative was the groundwork for districtwide improvement. I don't recall that ever being said before. They also stated on "Key Reflections" (slide 17, again not numbered) that they didn't make big improvements because so that's why Cleveland became a STEM school and Rainier Beach might get an IB program. (So how do you explain Aki Kurose?) All these reflections are things they should have and could have known BEFORE undertaking the SE Initiative. Slide 19 had this curious reflection, "A comprehensive strategy for human capital development is critical to drive investments in differentiated pay." It references stipends that staff at the 3 schools received without having to go through the SEA. I'm thinking that sentence means that you have to be able to pay teachers who perform better than others.

So I'll just go into an overview of what I heard from here without referencing too many more slides:
  • Michael DeBell expressed worry over Special Ed and asked Marni Campbell for an update soon.
  • Peter Maier, for whatever reason, was quite the bulldog. He seemed confused that this Work Session was not going to have specific information on goals met or progress made. He came back to this again and again. He asked about the milestones shown without reference to progress made. Dr. G-J said those were there just as reminders of what the milestones were. He said that he was looking for whether we are on track or not. He said the purpose of the quarterly reports is to know where we are and where we are going. Dr. G-J said he was looking for more numbers "but I don't have it tonight but I'll get it to you." Good luck with that Peter. Peter hung in there and said he just wanted to know if we are moving along and getting closer to the stated goals. Dr. G-J was somewhat testy in saying "okay".
  • Kay, in looking at the ELL info, said that she noted that they said they have visited about 5 Level 1 and Level 2 schools and there are nearly 25. Will they get to all of them before the end of the school year? MGJ said the priority is Level 1. Kay said so maybe not Level 2 this year? MGJ, I promise to bring it back to you.
  • Slide 28 shows growth of AP/IB courses taken. They met their overall goal and in 4 out of 6 schools but for some reason left out Roosevelt, Ballard, Garfield and Hale.
  • Peter brought up the principal contract (as MGJ skipped over it on Slide 31). He said it was "less than fully implemented" and he didn't see that reflected here. MGJ said no, we didn't meet the target and will bring that next quarter.
  • Sherry Carr said she didn't need to see it tonight but would like to see estimates for 2011-2012 funding resources.
  • Kay asked about why Pay for K wasn't in the summary of Early Learning and MGJ said that was because it wasn't in that category.
  • Slide 38 "Funding for Current Year's Strategic Plan Work" is one I predict will not hold. There's reallocation of Title I/LAP/FRL funds, reallocation of existing resources, and reallocation of existing position. There was no explanation of these funding sources. I can't believe the Board is just going to stand by and allow this to happen without question.
  • Peter came back with wanting to slow down on the Strategic Plan simply because there is less money. He said he wanted to see more specifics about talking about each plan and those elements that directly affect the General Fund. MGJ said there is a timeline later in the presentation. Michael said that his sense from the Executive Committee work is that they have to go thru budget priorities "slowing down or ending" some of the work in the Strategic Plan. (MGJ looked mighty glum here.)
  • Slide 41 is title "Risks and Challenges" and states something I said to the Board previously; there has to be a balance between work plans and the Strategic Plan. But I also said that if it is a choice between a well-run district and the Strategic Plan, I'd choose day-to-day operations.
  • Brad Bernatek gave his presentation on the School Reports and District scorecard. He did speak to the 17% issue and said he had called the elected officials to apologize. (Dr. Goodloe-Johnson apparently made none of the phone calls herself.) Harium asked what the response was and Brad said for those officials who had actively used the figure, it was gratitude for the understanding of the difficult position they had been put in and for the other officials a thank-you for the call. He also mentioned having to make an adjustment for Ballard as their School Report had some inaccurate figures.
  • Peter asked Brad about if the Ballard review would include not just the academy model but other issues like review of transcripts. Brad said if a student takes a foreign language in middle school they should be recognized for that. He said some SAT scores had not been part of the report card as they had not been received.
  • Kay asked Brad about using 5-year graduation rates per Nova. He said they were and there were 4 and 6 year graduation rates in the School Reports. Michael pointed out that the high school counselors were a valuable resources to the district and they need to trust that the district is measuring the same things year over year. Brad point out that MAP is vertically aligned but HPSE isn't. He said it isn't a matter of right and wrong but what you can accurate say about the data.
  • Both Kay and Sherry asked to be fully walked through the Colorado model and the data so they will understand how to explain it to others.
So that's where the Strategic Plan discussion ended. It seems clear that the directors didn't get all the information they were expecting to see (and probably had been promised would be in quarterly reports).

Timeline:
January 12 - staff recommendations on a budget balancing solutions and presentation of a menu of additional options
January 26 - Work Session to review/discuss options on budget
Feb. 11 - guidance on school allocations, central reductions and program eliminations
Mid-March - Board updated on Legislative process and the need for potential budget adjustments

Big stuff. Will it be less money for schools? REAL central administration reductions? Programs eliminated (temporarily or for good)?

Summing Up 2010 (From the Super's Viewpoint)

Thank you to our reader, Kathy, who pointed this out. KIRO's Linda Thomas prints Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's year in review letter and comments on it. Nothing like accentuating the positive (if only she could eliminate the negative but maybe if you don't write about it no one will know). This was my personal favorite from her letter:

Personally, I will continue to focus on Listening, Learning and Responding.

I'm not sure the Superintendent is capable of any of those in reference to parents. I would say at least half the time her answer is "I don't know, I'll have staff get back to you" but no one ever does. And we know how great her credibility is at this point.

When we get closer to the new year, we'll do our own Year in Review and predictions.

(By the way, Dora Taylor was right. Brad Bernatek is on his way out. He let them know back in October but I think it's being kept quiet so that it doesn't look like he's leaving over the 17% issue. So that's our director of research, evaluation and assessment, the internal auditor, the head of Facilities, the head of the Small Business works, and head of communications. Gee, I wonder who will be next? )

They're At It Again

From Joan Sias, word that the "highly qualified teachers" item that was inserted in a Senate appropriations bill to allow teachers such as TFA recruits to be considered "highly qualified" for NCLB is back in the bill.

Here's a link to the Washington Post blog, The Answer Sheet, with info on this story.

This is complete nonsense. On the one hand they want better teachers and want to direct districts to tell parents their student has a teacher who is "highly qualified" and that means a bachelor's and 5 weeks training? Look, if you want to put these student teachers into difficult to fill posts, fine. But to argue that they are highly qualified is wrong.

If you think so, please contact Senator Murray's office http://murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=ContactMe

The phone numbers are there. To get directly to her aide who focuses on education, call Sarah Bolton in her DC office - 202-224-2621.

I would also contact Senator Cantwell as well.

Principals' Contract Near Completion

It was written in the presentation, although not verbally noted, at the Strategic Plan Work Session, that the principals' contract was not completed.

It seems that our friends at the Alliance and their Our Schools coalition has been interacting in this process (to what degree is unclear but I think they are in the loop).

Apparently the district is near to closing the deal with principals (it sounds like they've resolved school issue details but now they are talking about salaries).

It will be interesting to see the principals' contract versus the teachers' contract.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Broad Wants to Know (And Maybe We Should Tell Them)

Apparently the Broad Foundation has a concern. They are hiring Public Agenda to do research to figure out the following:

"Understanding Community Opposition to Taking Bold Action on Failing Schools"

In communities across the country, leadership reform efforts face serious opposition when they aim to implement bold actions to turn around failing schools. Public Agenda, with the support of the Broad Foundation, is embarking on a research project to explore why so many of these well-intentioned efforts misfire. We hope to learn more about what could be done to improve communication and build more trust and confidence between school leaders committed to reform and communities afflicted with persistently low-performing schools.

Public Agenda is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is widely respected for its public policy research. Part of the Broad Foundation’s mission is to transform K–12 urban public education through better governance, management, labor relations and competition.

As part of our research, Public Agenda is gathering insights from key thought leaders and those who have first-hand experience with reform efforts. We would like to include your unique perspective on the issue and use it to shed light on how school leaders nationwide – and the state and municipal leaders who support them – can better manage the community engagement aspects of school turnarounds initiatives

Your participation in the project would involve a phone interview of approximately 30 minutes during which a senior member of our research team so that we can gain a fuller picture of what happened that may have caused reform efforts to succeed or fail. The interview will not follow a structured questionnaire but will rather take the form of a conversation about this topic. It will not be used for any purpose other than the research described above, and we will not quote you by name or reveal your organization, institution, program or any other identifiable information in our report.

Your insights, along with those of others, will be collected in a major report aimed at stimulating dialogue among policymakers, media, thought leaders and the broader public. We believe that gathering the observations of experts and leaders such as you will enhance the country’s ability to develop a realistic and workable framework for accountability in all types of institutions.

If you have questions or would like more details about Public Agenda or the research plan, please contact me at 212.686.6610, extension 15 or research@publicagenda.org.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this opportunity. One of our researchers will be in touch with you shortly to set up an appointment.

Sincerely,

Amber Ott

If you are interested in seeing some of our recent research, please visit our web site at: www.publicagenda.org.

So I would suggest everyone here e-mail Ms. Ott and ask her if you can be part of the research. It might be possible and it might get a more nuanced viewpoint out to the Broad Foundation.

Books for SE Libraries

I thought that all schools would have the same size libraries (in terms of books) but live and learn. Many elementaries don't have as many books as others. I do recall that there was money spent so that each K-2 (or 3rd) would have a small class library in each classroom. Here's a plea from SPS Parent.

From Rainier Valley Post:

“I think we have a LOT of challenges, and with the economic situation being what it is, some problems seem hard to solve,” said Graham Hill parent volunteer Anna McCartney in an email to the community.

But she added that there is at least one idea that strikes her as fairly simple, and that’s collecting as many new and gently-used books as possible for the budding readers at Graham Hill and other schools.

In her plea to the community, McCartney underscored the importance of every classroom having a wide array of interesting books at a variety of levels so students are challenged without being bored or frustrated.

She asked community members to raid their shelves for books their children have outgrown and donate them to Graham Hill in Seward Park or other south-end schools looking to beef up their classroom libraries.

“We have preschool through grade 5 at our school, so new or used books at all levels would be great,” said McCartney. “We need both fiction and nonfiction, and nonfiction and science-based books would be wonderful.”

If anyone has books to donate, please get in touch and you can either drop them off at my house or I’m happy to pick them up. anna AT mccartneyfamily.com.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

So Much News - Here's a Round-Up

A big shout-out to all of you who first posted about these items. I thought them important enough to start a news thread.

A lawsuit has been filed against the district and Board directors over the Teach for America contract. Here's a story from KOMO-news. Steve Sundquist certainly clear about the fact that TFA recruits are getting certification at the SAME time they are first-year teachers. He doesn't give a single reason to be doing this and claims there is no "obligation" to hire TFA recruits. (Yes, the claim is true but we didn't go to this trouble and cost to NOT hire them.)

Then, from the Huffington Post, a story by the lawyer, John Affeldt, representing the plaintiffs in the California case in the 9th Circuit over this issue. He found that in a Senate appropriations bill, there had been an amendment slipped in to allow novice teachers to be called "highly qualified" and to concentrate their numbers in poor, minority schools. It is unknown which senator inserted this amendment. The bill has since been pulled. From the story:

The provision, which has grassroots and community groups across the country up in arms, would have permitted teachers still training in night or weekend alternative preparation programs (known as interns in some states) to be labeled as "highly qualified" teachers. That designation relieves districts of having to tell parents of the teacher's sub-par preparation and allows their continued concentration in poor and minority schools.

The attempt to insert the controversial language comes just weeks after a panel of the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Renee v. Duncan agreed with low-income students and community organizations that teachers still in training are not "highly qualified" under NCLB and, as such, would have to be publicly reported and equitably distributed. Teach for America, which has vociferously opposed the lawsuit and has substantial clout on Capitol Hill, is the most likely suspect behind the covert attempt to overturn the court's decision through stealth legislation.

The community groups in their letter to Congress and the plaintiffs in Renee have been clear: they are not seeking to end alternate route programs. They do object, however, to the disproportionate placement of alternate route trainees in low-income communities of color--especially when doing so obviates the need to enact policies that attract and retain permanent, fully-prepared teachers versus the churn of temporary interns--and they want full disclosure of the under-prepared teachers' qualifications.

Another story I found interesting was an article at Crosscut comparing SPS capital building and Portland's efforts. Portland is very similar in size to Seattle as well as having the problem of aging buildings and not making improvements. Seattle, though, has a much larger property-tax base. Portland and Seattle have similar voting patterns for school levies. Portland, though, likes its superintendent, Carole Smith, who has support from her Board and many constituencies.

From the article:

Smith brought much-needed stability to the school system after the district went through six superintendents in 15 years since Matthew Prophet left following a 10-year tenure.

In an era where big-city school leaders are likely to come from a business background, Smith's career is in alternative education and programs for urban youth. Smith took over a foundering open-schools program Portland offered for non-traditional learners in 1982 and made it into a model program before leaving for central office administration in 2005.

She's been with the district for 28 years. Insiders praise her work with students and parents at Jefferson High School, one of the district's most-troubled schools, as well as with the alternative Open Meadows School. She is considered a good listener and communicator as well as an innovator; the district has initiated several experimental programs for students with learning problems in recent years and she is driving a high-school reorganization plan that will be advanced if the bonds are approved in 2011.

I might have to interview this woman.

Also, just a few senators (both Democrat and Republican) dashed the hopes of minority students by voting against the DREAM act. Whatever you feel about illegal immigrants, the children brought here who are trying to make something of their lives and have nothing to go home to (as this is the only home they know), now won't be able to be better members of our society. Until the day we deport all illegal immigrants and/or pass a comprehensive immigration bill, we might want to not shoot ourselves in the foot by not allowing them access to higher education and/or military service.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What Other Districts are Doing (And Look for the Common Theme)

I started this to go over my notes from the Work Session but got lost in this slide about what other districts we would like to emulate are doing. I took the time to look these districts up because I want to know what it is that that they do that the Superintendent thinks we should be doing. It's a mixed bag without further input from her.

There was a slide (#6) from the Work Session handout referencing other districts making changes but no discussion about it. So let's review them:
  • Gwinnett County, GA - right on their home page - winner of the 2010 $1M Broad prize. (It goes to the urban school district that has the strongest student achievement and improvement narrowing of the achievement gap. The money goes for high school seniors for college scholarships.) That said, a pretty impressive district. They have some mighty small high school class sizes. Good for them but how do they do it? This district has about 161,000 students.
  • Boston - what's interesting here is their focus on closing/merging schools to save money and streamlining their central office. Also, I'm being to understand that "innovation" school to many district is some kind of charter hybrid ("in-district charters") where the school gets more flexibility and autonomy with staffing, scheduling and budgeting. Boston won the 2006 Broad Prize. This district is about 56K students and their superintendent is a Broad Academy Fellow.
  • Long Beach - both Long Beach and Boston were cited in a new McKinsey report as 2 of the top 20 school districts in the world in terms of sustained and significant improvements. I haven't read this report yet but it sounds interesting. (That list also includes one charter system, Aspire.) This district has about 90,000 students and their superintendent is a Broad Academy Fellow.
Here's an excerpt from the press release at the Long Beach district website that I just had to show you:

During the live webinar, Long Beach also was praised by study author Mona Mourshed for “tremendous gains in math.”

The math gains in Long Beach began when a highly effective math teacher, inspired by an aunt who taught in Singapore, began sharing his approach with other teachers. With full support from Long Beach’s central office, that teacher’s successful methods have now been replicated in elementary schools districtwide. The result is that math scores have improved between 20 percent and 75 percent in second through fifth grades from 2004 to 2009, according to the study.

“When teachers register impressive student gains, LBUSD is proactive in noting and understanding their practices,” the study states. “It identifies the best delivery methods from pilot data and then rolls out the program.”

Long Beach also has a wallet guide for employees about commitment and ethics.

  • Denver has about 76,000 students and is nearly 75% minority (54% Hispanic). Denver has the teacher pay system, ProComp, and a principal compensation award system. They hae expanded their early childhood program by 40%. Denver's strategic plan sounds a lot like ours but with a lot more specific detail. Denver has received nearly $7M from Broad since about 2008. Denver has 7 current or former Broad residents working for them. Their superintendent is a Broad academy alumni.
  • Garden Grove, CA - a 2004 Broad prize winner with nearly 48,000 students. I couldn't find a lot here that made them stand out. Their superintendent is a 2010 Broad Faculty advisor.
So not to go all conspiracy theory on you but clearly a common thread.

Heads Up: New SPS Website Preview

Just saw this but haven't explored. FYI.

Open Thread Friday

So no more meetings for awhile. Time for me to do some serious reading and writing (not that what I write here isn't serious). However, I am going to be writing to an audience of elected folks and you know you have to get it right for them to listen.

I tell people that a blog is a beast that has to be fed to keep people interested. So we can talk about what we read, about what is coming and ideas for the new year.

Shout out to Cleveland: They are having a student poetry reading tonight at Cleveland at 6 p.m. with food and drink to be served. The title is "A Better Tomorrow Today: Our Revolution."

What's on your mind?

Giving Credit When Credit is Due

Every so often someone suggests that we criticize the Board, the superintendent, and the District staff when they do something wrong - and, yes, we do - but that we don't give them enough credit when they do something right. I don't know about that. I don't think we're particularly bad about giving praise when it has been earned, but I also think that's the reason for the criticism.

We give praise when it has been earned. Not before.

By this I mean that I am very happy to praise work when it is done, but the District culture is to praise work when it is planned. There is a difference in timing.

Take, for example, the false data issue. On Wednesday Mr. Bernatek came before the Board and announced a number of actions to address concerns.

He said that the staff would take the following steps:

Redact the original college readiness measures from reports on the district website including the strategic plan. Actually, I wish they would not do this. The documents should be preserved in their original condition. The District should annotate them, or footnote them, but not redact them.

Reach out to key stakeholders by phone to apologize, communicate the changes, and address any questions or concerns they may have. Mr. Bernatek says that they had contacted 20 key stakeholders by Wednesday. I wasn't one of them. I don't know how many more they intend to contact. What do you have to do to be a "key" stakeholder?

Establish a change control process for updating data reports on our website whereby changes are clearly documented and easily available on our website. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but it sounds good.

Adjust the language for the student gains measure to be clear that this is a measure of gains relative to students' academic peers. Again, not the best solution, but it is good that they will do this.

Update and expand frequently asked questions on our website for the school reports and district website. This will also be good.

Provide additional forms of information as needed to staff, families, and communities to help better understand the data in the school reports. Again, this sounds good, if vague.

Prepare our community for changes in how we report on advanced learning, based in part on their feedback with suggestions for improvement. Um... yeah, whatever. I'm not sure how much people need to be "prepared" to read a report.

All these things sound good - or good enough. So why haven't I sung praises about the District's prompt response to concerns? Because they haven't done any of it yet. Other than the twenty "key stakeholders" who got phone calls, none of this work has been done. And it's starting to irk me.

The Frequently Asked Questions is an electronic document. They already know how they need to update and expand it, so it should only take about twenty minutes to do the re-write and less than a minute to do the upload. So why hasn't it been done already? Why, in fact, wasn't it done BEFORE Mr. Bernatek spoke to the Board saying that he would do it? Now let's presume that I'm totally wrong and it will really take about two hours to re-write the FAQ and about ten minutes to upload it? My question still stands: why isn't it done already?

That's a minor issue. The main thing is this: as soon as Mr. Bernatek showed the slide to the Board and said that the staff planned to do these things, the Board counted it as done, gave credit for it, and crossed it off their ToDo list. I think that's why the Board never follows up to see if things are done - because they cross action items off the list (as if they were done) when they are only promised.

So I will give credit when credit is due, but not until then. That's different from the Board and the rest of the culture at Seattle Public Schools, which gives credit long before it is due and sometimes before it is ever due.

Watch for this and you will find it everywhere. Review the Audit Response and you will see that they have marked as "Completed" a bunch of stuff that they haven't actually finished yet. I think this is why the Board so readily accepts "I'll get back to you on that" as an answer and why the staff then has no need to actually get back to them. The Board Directors count the question as answered when they get a promise of an answer - long before they get the answer (if they ever get it at all).

When I talk and write about the District's dysfunctional culture, this is a part of it. They count promises made as if they were promises kept. Once you have credit for the promise there is no real incentive to actually keep it. It is, undoubtedly, one of the main reasons that they keep so few promises: they put all of the value in making the promise instead of keeping it. This is how they end up pushing people out of airplanes and assuring them that they are actively developing parachutes. This is why their action items are filled with inaction verbs. There is no value on action - it's all on intentions. That's a cultural flaw.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Local Education News

First up, Bridget Chandler, the head of Communications for SPS, has resigned to take over as CEO of the Central Puget Sound Council Campfire group. This is effective Jan 3. 2011. Bridget always struck me as pretty smart so naturally I had to wonder how much she could take at SPS. (I'm thinking the next 6 months could see many central administration figures leave.)

Second, guess who was in town today (and shhh, was it state secret or something)? Michelle Rhee. Yes, over at LEV, they mention she visited and...

Rhee spoke to a diverse audience of parents, teachers, principals and other education advocates about a new initiative she founded to drive reforms and improve student achievement in education.

Rhee will continue her listening tour tonight in Seattle with students and parents.

Really? I wonder who those teachers and principals could be given it was a school day. Or who she is talking to tonight. Weird how LEV heavily promotes every event and yet this one comes up the day it happens and no explanation of who she spoke to or where.

Something to find out.

Things To Do With the Kids Over the Break

The City has had a long-time practice of giving away trees for planting to Seattle residents to help keep Seattle green. They have all now been spoken for EXCEPT now some were not claimed. Want a tree? The digging won't be that bad because the ground is so soaked. Info here. (Note: this is only for yard trees, not street trees, as you need an SDOT permit and that takes a week to get.)

Here's a great list of things to do during the holidays with kids but I pulled out the freebies.

Something fun for the kids: a free cookie decorating class, Tuesday, Dec. 21st.

Seattle Center is having their annual Winterfest with a plethora of fun and free stuff to do and see. They will be having ice sculpting this Saturday from noon- 2p.m. Celebrate the Winter Solstice, Dec. 22-23 at Seattle Center, 3:45 p.m. (With the actual Solstice being Tuesday the 21st at 3:38 p.m.).

Also, if you are downtown, the Seattle Sheraton's chefs build fantastic gingerbread houses you can view for free in their lobby at 1400 Sixth Avenue. Very pretty.

Not to be outdone, the Fairmont (411 University) has a Teddy Bear Suite (10 am-7 pm) and local school/youth choirs sing in the lobby weekdays from noon to 1 p.m. All free.

Or if you are by the waterfront, there are 50 LED-lighted toyland village displays at Waterfront Park (1301 Alaskan Way), also free.

And, there's a lunar eclipse on December 20th that will be visible from North America starting around 9:30 pm with total blockage at 12:16 a.m. on December 21st. Lunar eclipses are safe to the naked eye.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Michael DeBell has to cancel his community meeting this week

Michael DeBell has to cancel his community meeting this week.

He asked me to post it on the blog.

District Fined by Labor and Industries

Seattle Public Schools was fined $6,000 for a persistent unsafe condition in the food prep area of the John Stanford Center. Ice built up on the floor of the freezer creating a serious risk for people to slip and fall.

They should have fixed it, but they didn't. Now they have to fix the problem and pay a fine to the state.

That's not an efficient use of District resources.

No One Could Have Seen This Coming

(Update: from the LA Times: the California State Board of Education is asking the Attorney General to investigate parent complaints of misconduct over the petition drive at McKinley Elementary in Compton. Boy, this is one to sort out and really hurts Parent Revolution. Thank you to Phyllis Fletcher at KUOW for this heads up.)

Okay, so we have the Parent Revolution. This is a group grown out passage of a law called the Parent Trigger in California that allows 51% of parents at a school (that is under certain criteria) to force a district to transform a school under a turnaround strategy that the parents choose. This sounds good, right? (What's interesting is that a school that is ID'ed as a "persistently lowest achieving school" is NOT eligible but only ones eligible for certain corrective actions.)

The parents have five interesting choices: charter conversion, turnaround, closure, transformation and bargaining power. There is nuance to each but basically:
  • Charter - school reopens under a charter operation BUT unlike other charters, has to take all the kids who are eligible to attend the school. That means if there are ELL and Special services, that charter operation HAS to have them as well.
  • turnaround - entire new staff and local community has more control over the staffing and the budget
  • closure - Parent Revoluntion doesn't recommend this one but if parents take it, they get to send their kids to better performing schools nearby
  • bargaining power - this one is more of a threat - if the district won't listen, get 51% of parents' signatures and use it as a bargaining chip. Could get ugly, though.
  • transformation - some of the staff changes and parents get more control

Plus any parent at the school OR who lives in the school's eligibility region can sign a petition.

So against this backdrop, the first test case. Parents at one of the worst schools in Compton signed a petition to takeover the school. Or did they? A story in the LA Times says that some parents who signed the petition say they were misled or threatened if they didn't sign. (Some say they were told they could be deported if they didn't sign.) Both sides are crying foul with the parents who did sign willingly saying it's intimidation against THEM.

Parent Revolution apparently had targeted this school because of its low performance AND they had decided it would be a charter conversion. (Interesting they didn't wait to ask the parents first.) A state audit said this summer said the schools appeared to run to support adults, not kids and that the district seemed to be doing little to change that. The school and its parent supporters point to a 77 point rise over two years in their state test scores, making them one of the fastest improving schools in the state.

In an opinion piece in the LA Times, they point out that the parent trigger can be used on schools NOT in the greatest need (not to mention that turnaround or charter conversion is absolutely no guarantee of success). They worry over how quickly the legislation got passed without anyone asking some "what if" questions.

They talk about how the district and the school had no idea the petition was going around. And you can see how you would want to keep it quiet, otherwise the teachers and staff would be working against it and the situation could quickly get out of hand.

The Times makes a good point over how wrong it is for groups to be working in secret and partial or misinformationbeing given out by either side. They warn of charter groups trying to "buy" parent signatures by making promises they may not keep.

The California State Board of Education is meeting this week to possibly tighten up the rules.

Let's have California figure this all out before it moves to the rest of the country.

Strategic Plan Work Session - And Away We Go

Thanks to a West Seattle reader for notification of the link for today's Work Session presentation on the Strategic Plan. It is 88 PowerPoint pages that someone at SPS believes they will go thru, explain where needed and answer questions in an hour and a half. Raise your hand if you think this possible. Anyone?

Naturally, I haven't read the whole tome but here's part of their page 5;
  • Changing an entire system takes time.
  • Over the last 2 ½ years, we have built a foundation for the work.
Yes, they have built the foundation for the work...on a bog. Where is the solid foundation for how this district operates? There is virtually none. I have to wonder how long they think this can go on.

Also, on page 6 they list this:

  • We know from national experience that deliberate long term plans to improve student learning take time to show results.
  • Districts who are successfully doing the work include Boston, Long Beach, Denver, Gwinnett County, GA, and Garden Grove, CA
I really have to pay attention here because some of these districts (and their work) is foreign to me. Anyone?

Also a lengthy explanation of the SE Initiative which, apparently, is still on-going.

"SE Education Initiative laid the groundwork for the larger school improvement framework."

Again, I had no idea this was true.

So I'm off to see the Wizard (or whoever is behind the green curtain).

"Someday all this will be yours."

"What? _____________ (fill in the blank; bonus points for the movie).

Road Map Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He talked about the School Reports and briefly about MAP.

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

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

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

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

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

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