Saturday, June 11, 2011

Introduction to Seattle Public Schools

I recently met with one of the several new employees at Seattle Public Schools and gave a rundown on history and culture of the District.

Here's the short version:

1. There is a complete disconnect between what is said, done, and decided in the JSCEE and what happens in the schools.
The headquarters folks make bad decisions because they have no idea how those decisions will actually play out in the schools - and they don't want to know. Their decisions don't matter because they don't check to confirm they are being followed and they couldn't enforce them anyway. The schools know all of this - that the District headquarters is clueless about the realities of schools, that their decisions are horrible, that they will never come around and confirm compliance with the decision, and that they are powerless to enforce those decisions - so they simply ignore the decisions. The schools see the gap between them and the district headquarters as insulation and they work to keep it. They don't want any district interference because it is always bad. The schools work to go unnoticed by the district headquarters. Ideally, they would like the District headquarters to forget they are there. The tall blade of grass gets cut; the high nail gets hammered down. If you have ever been part of an alternative school or an advanced learning program, you've heard people say "Don't make waves, we don't want to attract the District's attention." There are very, very few examples of district intervention in a school that proved beneficial. I think the District's decision to put elementary APP in Lowell in 1997 was one. The interventions at Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary are looking like they could buck the trend. STEM might also. If so, they would be the exceptions rather than the rule.

2. There is a complete disconnect between what the District leadership says and what the District leadership does.
I've pointed out a lot of these. They say that closing the gap is their top goal, but they never make a plan to achieve it. They talk about accountability, but never hold anyone accountable. They talk about earning trust, but never do the things that would earn trust. They talk about improving community engagement but never engage the community. They talk about getting all third graders to read at grade level and all 8th graders ready for algebra, but don't actually do anything that would achieve those goals.

3. The District never keeps any of its promises.
The District doesn't include stakeholders in the decision-making process so they have to struggle for buy-in after the fact. Their usual process is to announce a bad decision to howls of protest. The stakeholders list all of the damage that the decision will cause. The District then promises to take a number of actions - in the future - that will address the concerns and mitigate the damage. The stakeholders grudgingly end their opposition, and the decision moves forward. Then the District utterly fails and refuses to fulfill the promises. In fact, they won't even acknowledge the promises. After all, why should they do the work of fulfilling the promises when they already have what the promises bought them? What can the stakeholders do? Renew their opposition to a past decision? Does anyone see any point to re-opening the decision to split elementary APP? The District will never admit that they broke a promise, so they invent rationalizations to excuse themselves from fulfilling the promises. Their favorite rationalizations for breaking promises are: the person who made that promise isn't in that job anymore, we only promised that we would try to do something - not that we would actually do it, that promise didn't mean what you think it meant (or what we said it meant back when we made it), the budget doesn't allow for it, staff couldn't fulfill this promise because they were busy working on some other emergency, we need more time to get it done - please be patient, that old promise? (which often comes right after the plea for more time), do you have it in writing?, and plenty more. If the District promises something, you can't be sure what they will do, but you can be sure of one thing they won't do: what they promised.

4. Every decision is driven by the internal politics of the JSCEE.
I know how cynical this sounds, but I have been observing the district for ten years and this is the only narrative that fits. I am going to be a very rich person someday because I am going to make a popular board game called "Clout: the game of bureaucratic politics". All of the rules for the game and the game play will be based entirely on what I have observed at Seattle Public Schools. Players get basic points for the number of people who work for them and the number who, although not direct reports, owe their job to them. Then you can get more points by gambling point on getting your decisions accepted. Decisions are accepted based on a vote of each player's clout points risked on either side of the decision. You get double points if the decision is accepted without question (opposition). You get triple points if the decision is totally absurd. If your decision is reversed you lose all of the clout points that you bet on it. You also lose any points you voted against a decision that was accepted. The only way to win is to amass points and then gamble them trying to force through stupid decisions. It's going to be a great game. In real life, however, it is a totally dysfunctional system.

5. No one in the District gives a damn about what the community thinks.
Remember that the community doesn't have a role in the decision-making, they aren't even part of the game, so there is no benefit to be realized from pandering to them. Suck up to the people who matter, the political heavy-hitters within the JSCEE. Oh, and the Board are just particularly loud and troublesome members of the public. They are not players. Never mind them. Don't tell them anything more than what they need to know, and they don't need to know anything. The District staff has all of the authority and no reason to share it with the contemptable public.

There's more, but start with these five themes and see if the District's actions don't align with them. If Dr. Enfield or the Board or newly elected Board members want to have any hope of breaking the dysfunctional culture of the District, they are going to have to break these five rules.

20 comments:

drwilda said...

Amen.

another mom said...

"Every decision is driven by the internal politics of the JSCEE."

Absolutely true and the ingrained culture that they are the experts and just know better.

WenD said...

Wiki. This was suggested in your Institutional Memory thread. Mistakes are repeated. The people with the memory are few in number, but they know it all, and they help encourage others to add what they know. Combat the cherry picked data and constant broadcast of lies. Ex. Steve Sundquist's supporter rally around his vote for TFA like it's a good thing. He's been complicit, out to lunch, and a deer in the headlights all at the same time. That's a unique talent, but only if you want a board president who plays hide the felon. Dick Lilly's recent work is equally desperate. MGJ was bad, but you can't blame her Broad training? What part of the past four years did he miss? Did Don Nielson force him to print that? Anna-Maria del la Fuente? Her work speaks for itself. Our expensive materials, coaches, and strategies don't work but we're going to keep on doing it. Insanity, defined.

David said...

Epic and right on, Charlie.

Teachermom said...

Sadly, this is completely true. If I ever have come out from behind the buffer and be affected in some way by district "help", "professional development" or directives, I have a black cloud over my head for the rest of the day at least, sometimes for a week after.

It is beyond depressing to see the profoundly negative effect this administrative culture has on teaching and learning. We have the potential to be so much more.

Teachermom said...

That should be "have TO come out..."

Salander said...

Teachermom-

My experience as well. Don't dare protest or be visible. You will find yourself on a Performance Improvement Plan. Your principal will receive a bonus incentive for getting rid of you.

Charlie- please encourage newcomers to the district to hear the voices on this blog.

Anonymous said...

So true.

The same enrollment errors that have been occurring for years continue - despite the new system.

Without the VAX to blame, what will be the new party line?

- Been there

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sounds familiar. Two things:

- I spoke with a former Board member who said that there had been Broad training for Board members as far back as 8 years ago. I didn't know this. This member said that Broad advocates mostly lip service to the public and to especially ignore parents as they generally are too overly involved (emotional). I had expected this out of MGJ but I didn't realize the Board had heard this. I do not know if the current Board had such training (I suspect the 4 incumbents running did).

- What I find funny is #2 and #3 and how the district really thinks they are always right. They never seem to even think about "what is our plan if A happens? What is our response? What might we do to counter public outcry?" Nope, the game plan is "that's our story and we're sticking to it." That's why Dr. Enfield's changing her mind over Ingraham is so big. The people surrounding her convinced her (or she convinced herself) that she was large and in charge and to ignore the staff/community as, of course, they would have an emotional reaction. They didn't count on how unfair the decision would look to the rest of the public.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sounds familiar. Two things:

- I spoke with a former Board member who said that there had been Broad training for Board members as far back as 8 years ago. I didn't know this. This member said that Broad advocates mostly lip service to the public and to especially ignore parents as they generally are too overly involved (emotional). I had expected this out of MGJ but I didn't realize the Board had heard this. I do not know if the current Board had such training (I suspect the 4 incumbents running did).

- What I find funny is #2 and #3 and how the district really thinks they are always right. They never seem to even think about "what is our plan if A happens? What is our response? What might we do to counter public outcry?" Nope, the game plan is "that's our story and we're sticking to it." That's why Dr. Enfield's changing her mind over Ingraham is so big. The people surrounding her convinced her (or she convinced herself) that she was large and in charge and to ignore the staff/community as, of course, they would have an emotional reaction. They didn't count on how unfair the decision would look to the rest of the public.

Sahila said...

@Melissa .... BROAD has publicly stated he's been working on this agenda for over a decade... and we've connected the dots re Don Nielson and Broad etc.... just go back and see at what point the A4E focus changed...

It would be surprising if BROAD had not been active in Seattle over all this time... if he and Gates cant make it stick in this town, then they're going to look rather silly....

Over on other pages, we've been discussing the ed deformists' use of propaganda to push their agenda...

One of my FB activist colleagues has been correlating Michelle Rhee's Students First activities with the main strategies of propaganda and she's been able to find a one-to-one relationship...

She's turning her findings into an article and will publish it.... but you can go here for a preview.... www.facebook.com/StudentsFirstHQ/posts/125889324159657 in the section of comments 100-270....

here's a documentary about how propaganda is being used in the US...

Psy Wars

dan dempsey said...

Calling everyone ... especially Charlie Mas,

Check out the Agenda for June 15 SPS Board Meeting:

IV. Board Comments
Narrative of District, Interim Superintendent and Board Evaluation. Numeric scoring of District and Interim Superintendent Performance.

Now really that deserves some public testimony ... as what are the chances the Directors can do anything other than fantasize on such topics.

Being on June 15 even though the above is NOT classified as an action or introductory item ... early callers may likely get on the agenda to testify.
206-252-0040

=====
Members of the public who wish to address the board may do so by e-mailing the School Board Office or calling (206) 252-0040, beginning Monday, June 13 at 8:00am. The public testimony list will be posted Tuesday, June 14. For information on how the public testimony list is created, please visit the Board's website. Thank you.
=====

Numeric scoring
(????) of what
(???) How
(???) by whom
Any checking for validity?
Any checking of the usual fairytales by anyone?

dan dempsey said...

Coming June 15:
IV. Board Comments
Narrative of District, Interim Superintendent and Board Evaluation. Numeric scoring of District and Interim Superintendent Performance.

It would be fabulous if Charlie makes these Five points in public testimony on June 15....

An evaluation shows:
1. 1. There is a complete disconnect between what is said, done, and decided in the JSCEE and what happens in the schools.

2. There is a complete disconnect between what the District leadership says and what the District leadership does.

3. The District never keeps any of its promises.

4. Every decision is driven by the internal politics of the JSCEE.

5. No one in the District gives a damn about what the community thinks.

Each of the four directors running for reelection has a websites but No Blog. This is indicative of their strong belief in one way communication. Director Martin-Morris once had a blog ... he will not even allow public access to reading it at this time.

==========
Numeric scoring of District and Interim Superintendent Performance. --- Priceless

Charlie Mas said...

AH! Melissa! You reminded me of District trait #6:

They never consider the possibility that everything might not go exactly according to their plan and therefore they never do any contingency planning.
Despite the fact that almost nothing they try actually works, if you were to ask them what they will do it their latest plan doesn't work, they are not ready with an answer. This can lead to some comical situations. They say "We're going to do X and it will create outcome Y." You think "No, it won't." So you ask "What if it doesn't?" "Oh, it will." they confidently respond. "If it doesn't, will you resign?" They won't be willing to risk that. "Will you undo X?" "Oh, of course", they say "Of course we will monitor the results and adjust as needed."

That's a lie. They often promise to monitor or to confirm that something they plan will work, and they will even say that they will undo their action if it doesn't, but that's just another false promise. They won't monitor results and no matter how badly their plans fail, they won't undo their damage.

Patrick said...

"Of course we will monitor the results and adjust as needed."

What a wonderfully versatile statement. It's not a lie at all. The listener will assume it means if the results are disastrous, the District will change what it's doing. But to the speaker it means no such thing. They will only adjust as needed, and nobody who has any say needs them to adjust anything. Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud.

Chris S. said...

For Ed Reform history in Seattle going way back, I recommend Dora's four-part series at the Seattle Education blog

Anonymous said...

"They didn't count on how unfair the decision would look to the rest of the public."

I think, though, that this is an important point for parent advocates. School administrators (of all ilks, not just in Seattle Public Schools) are prone to seeing the "emotional response" of parents as being over reactions. They believe (sometimes with cause) that parents are agitating to create the perfect environment for one particular student (their own) and that they, at best, are neutral about the other children, or worse, don't care if it hurts other students.

To the public, some advocacy looks like it supports this preconception. And, I'm not arguing against this need on the part of parents, to make sure their children are OK. But, if you're trying to create a coalition, you have to convince the "public" that the preconception is wrong, that the advocacy is for an ideal, or an idea, or for all children. Otherwise, parent-advocates *will* be dismissed as working for their own personal gain (potentially at the expense of other children).

Anonymous said...

Oops, that was me, zb.

I also think here's something else going on; the Board, the Superintendent (and the Dean of UW education, UW president, . . . .) can end up in a mutual admiration society with the rich and powerful. They go to the same parties, speak at the same fundraisers. This can create an "in group" affect where, as someone else (Krugman?) wrote some where recently, where the ideas of the few just seem like the ideas of all and make more sense than other people's ideas.

We sometimes are in danger of this fault at the blog, but the challenge is to keep thinking about everyone's point of view

(zb)

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, absolutely right.

I have been unhappy that KUOW's Friday news roundup team has been saying (over and over so it's out in the ether) that the parents and staff got a stay for Floe because it was "a popularity contest." No, it wasn't and we all know that. So KUOW, rather than get the facts, allows their pundits to make statements that are not true.

I have no problem with pundits using their skills to try to assess if this is an issue for Enfield or what it might mean to her becoming the permanent superintendent. But at least get the facts right.

ZB, you are also right that we need as many differing voices as possible and always work for solutions. But I can say that many in the secret club you allude to will always try to marginalize any who differ from their opinion.

Charlie Mas said...

Current example of
2. There is a complete disconnect between what the District leadership says and what the District leadership does.

The Board is revising all of the policies, ostensibly to make them more enforcible, but the new policies are no more enforcible than the old ones.

The new policies continue the practice of elegant, high-minded and ambitious rhetoric with absolutely no action in support of those ideals.