Wednesday, August 24, 2011

SPS/TFA E-mails - If You're Not for It, Enfield Won't be Listening

When Charlie had e-mailed the Board about his concerns over TFA (antedotal versus data-driven information), here was the response between Dr. Enfield and Janis Ortega (TFA):

This immediately sparked a response from Enfield to Ortega, "We need the positive research."  
Ortega -  "Coming atcha, Susan." 
Enfield - "No immediate response warranted from you – just want you to share the experience with me!
Ortega - "LOL, Oh, I am COMPELTELY there with you!  Please do keep sending!  Theya re also e-mailing me directly."
Enfield - " I hope you are asking for a raise – this is definitely deserving of hazard pay!"
Ortega -  "That’s the best statement ever, Susan!  Hilarious!  Honestly this experience has been exhilariating aand oddly, quite fulfilling.  If I wasn’t battling on crazy turfs like Seattle, then what good is the work I’m all about.  Kids are clearly getting lost in the insane politics entrenched in SPS, so I’m fine taking hits ..."

Seattle is crazy AND insane.   Good to know that's what TFA thinks.  She thinks this district is political?  I'd like to see her in Chicago or New York.  So when the public stands up and asks questions of the School Board on an issue of real consequence, in money and for the good of the children in the classroom, that's "insane politics."  

But if you are Kimberly Mitchell from the Gates Foundation writing in support of TFA?  Well, according to Enfield " A nice one for a change.  Kimberly rocks."  Ms. Mitchell's words support what many of us have been saying about Gates and TFA:

The Superintendent and CAO are top-notch leaders and are assembling their team expertly and acting upon their vision and plan with determination.  But we cannot stop here.  Implementation will require additional skill and energy – the kind TFA typically provides its regions.

Is TFA a panacea?  NO. But bringing them back into Seattle is both symbolic and stratetgic; it signal a growing receptivity to innovation and provides a fresh pipeline of teacher talent to low-income school communities. 

At the same time, they (TFA) take their classroom leadership seriously – making student academic growth their #1 job and holding themselves accountable to more than a year’s worth of growth for ALL of their students in a single school year.  Unfortunately, we cannot say that for every teacher in SPS right now.

SPS should not be debating whether and how to bring TFA into the classrooms and the region – but how fast.

Where to start?  With the top-notch leadership of MGJ?  That the Gates Foundation wants to see "a growing receptivity to innovation"?

Or what about the disrespectful tone of how serious TFA teachers are about their students versus current SPS teachers. 

I don't know what to make of Dr. Enfield's ridicule of non-support for TFA versus those who support it.

Charlie is right about the relationship between Enfield and Ortega.  It's very middle-school with nods to having a glass of wine, how great Ortega's hair is, etc.  But really, I don't care if they are BFFs; our district has a business relationship with TFA and it's troubling how they are apparently palling around.  You'd think - at least in district communications - there would be some sort of professionalism apparent.

Then, as I mentioned previously, a group a parents asks about TFA research.  And here's Enfield's and Ortega's reactions.

There was a study done (really a compendium of research) called the Great Lakes Center study.  One of the authors, Professor Julian Heilig from UT Austin, wrote to the School Board and offered to do a phone conference with them and the parents.  (I don't think this ever ended up happening.)  

One parent, Demian Godon, says:

"I strongly urge the Board to take advantage of Professor Heilig generously offering his time.  Additionally, the Board should consider consulting other education researchers to help better understand what the research says."  He continues, Input from researchers could help the board properly watchdog the pro-TFA claims on one side but also moderate the anti-TFA claims on the other side.  We should all be open to being corrected on this important issues because this will allow us to make better decisions for the children of Seattle.”  

So here's a parent saying, listen to a neutral researcher so you can balance what you hear from both sides.  

But here's what Enfield says to Ortega:

Janis
"I’m figuring out my tactful response so as to not elicit any more!"

The same group of parents again write to the Board and urged rejection of the TFA motion.  Somehow it gets to Enfield who sends it to Ortega.

Enfield:  FYI – just keeping you in the loop.  

Kay Smith-Blum says in an e-mail -
One more response – as you can see – TFA has clear objections to the Great Lakes Center study."

Ortega answers  that it is not a study - 
they compiled some of the more dubious studies from the past on TFA.  The report is not based on new data and is not an accurate representation of TFA’s impact."  

I won’t answer all that Janis says but she clearly is stacking the deck in favor of TFA and not directly addressing questions asked.  

So the parents ask Professor Heilig for his thoughts:

"This brief has a very specific focus – gather the evidence from peer-reviewed studies.  The key to this brief is that we did not extensively consider studies pro or con that were NOT peer-reviewed.”  He continues.  The gold standard in academia is peer-review.  As a result, we defined rigor by whether the studies were blind reviewed by independent individuals.  In my eyes, and the eyes of academia, this process is not”dubious”

He finishes, “Honestly, if TFA had 5-7 year commitments from their recruits, it would probably be an excellent alternative to the current wave of uncertified teachers in the classroom.  Considering that nearly 20% of the graduating seniors at Harvard applied to TFA, if you asked for a longer commitment, yo might weed out those sutdnets that are not serious about the classroom and the field of education.  Unfortunately, many of those TFAers are on their way to law school and medical school, etc.  This leaves the students they serve to a constant churn of rookie teachers.  Exactly the problem that the program sought to address at its inception.  Sometimes, reform needs reform. "         

Some funnier e-mails:


Janis to Holly (re; Susan Enfield's remarks in support of TFA):
Not just getting facts right but here’s what Susan should say

1)   the achievement gap in Seattle is an urgent, massive and solvable problem
2)   Under TFA are effective teachers “94% of principals who work with TFA say they made a positive impact on their schools.”  A good custodian could do that, too.
 
Urgent? Massive? And yet, it's solvable?   By who, TFA?  In what alternative universe have they solved the achievement gap?  Oh that's right...none.  


Janis and Susan discussing me and my outreach to former TFAers who are now teachers in SPS.  



Janis to Susan
 “Melissa Westbrook and co. have been all over TFA (I know we’re not surprised) but she has reached out to Gaurab to chat and learn more and Chrissie Coxson for a school visit.  I think it’s sort of a wildcard as to whether or not these two connections will serve much good, considering how entrenched she appears to be in her own thinking but I wanted to flag it for you anyway.”

(Note: I did not reach out to Gaurab - a former TFAer - he reached out to me.  Also, I did try to set up a meeting with Ms. Coxon and out of nowhere, came an e-mail from Janis Ortega, saying she would be organizing my visit.  So this told me (a) that TFAers always call their handlers and (b) that someone who is not working for SPS thought she would be organizing a visit to an SPS school.  I decline the visit at that point although I did talk with Chris Eide, a former TFAer who was teaching at Mercer.)

Susan
Thanks for the other heads up – I was aware of Melissa’s interest.  Never a dull moment, eh
 I am eager to move this work forward with you, Janis.

Janis
“As for Melissa, the classroom visit is nearly confirmed.  I’ll be there to answer questions and hope for the best.  We just hope she goes in with an open mind and a willingness to learn about our work.”

She continues, “I’ve got two board member meetings firmed up (Kay and Peter) and will be following up with the others.  I also read on one of the blogs that Harium wrote back to a community member in full support of TFA which is great!

I’m working to cover the necessary ground as we move forward with the vote.  I really hope this doesn’t distract you too much from focusing on your work with the schools, Susan.  It really bothers me that politics has to take time away from what really matters.”

FYI to Ms. Ortega - this is not politics.  This is citizen involvement and public input.  If TFA doesn't like it, then that's their problem.  They've come to the wrong town if they think they can ignore the public here. 

19 comments:

David said...

Whoa, those comments by Enfield and Ortega are deeply concerning. Do you have a source for those? Where did you get that from?

Erin said...

I read the whole thing on SPSLeaks today while I was home sick. The emails are disturbing. There is a clear sense that Dr. Enfield and Ms. Ortega feel adversarial to those who do not agree with them. TFA coming into Seattle was going to happen and everyone who disagreed with them was an obstacle. Holly F. even apologized for the current CBA that precluded TFA recruits from jumping ahead of current SPS teachers in the hiring process.
One other thing I noticed, there is an email exchange between Dr. Enfield and Holly F. about this blog. Instead of taking the criticism here as an opportunity to learn and do better, instead they encourage each other to NOT read the blog and remain isolated. Not the hallmark of a good leader in my experience.

Dorothy Neville said...

the full emails can be viewed here

dan dempsey said...

Great Title:
"SPS/TFA E-mails - If You're Not for It, Enfield Won't be Listening"

This has been fairly true for every pre-made decision that comes before the Board.

As long as Carr, Sundquist, M-M, & Maier remain on the Board .... there will not be much "real" listening going on.

Anonymous said...

David -- I believe they were obtained with public records requests, using WA's very broad public records law.

Yes, deeply disturbing. I think they just acquired ny vote for all the challengers in the school board election.

zb

someone said...

I've read them all too and they are indeed a deeply disturbing picture of what might be, in its most extreme sense, be described as collusion, though certainly not in the legal sense. I was particularily bothered by the ones where TFA is editing the document to be presented to the board. If that isn't conflict of interest, I don't know what is!

I hope people are writing to the board about this - I don't care what the Ms Enfield/Ortega's think - I vote, I pay taxes, I don't want this manipulative group anywhere near my kid!

StopTFA said...

Hallelujah! Yes, there has been rampant collusion; from PESB to the UW Graduate School to the rich boys club to the Peter principle picture boy at the head of the College of Education to our interim superintendent and her new Ex Dir of Policy, Pulchritude, and Prevarications. If they think I'm going away, they got another think coming.

Why do parents have to plead and beg for these people to do their jobs; providing a quality education in safe, secure schools. How many $#@&*% hours have they pissed away on this TFA BS? More than I have, believe it or not.

zb said...

I'm not sure why one should dismiss this interaction being illegal -- TFA is a contractor, no? And they have a matter before a legislative body? And they're collaborating with the school district on the information that will be presented to the school board before the relationship is voted on?

Something feels wrong in all of that to me. Would all of this be OK if we were talking about building a playground?

someone said...

Oh I totally agree zb, that there's at least a glimmer of something less than above board - however the legal definition of collusion implies a criminal intent of fraud,(according to Webster: collusion is defined as: a secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose) so I was being perhaps more careful in "print" than I feel.

One could definitely make a case for conflict of interest very easily - before this matter came to the board, - district staff and TFA staff were working together to craft a program certain for board appproval. Since technically, there was no TFA contract yet when much of that was happening, that raises massive red flags in my head. However, I'm not a lawyer, just a moderately intelligent Seattle voter who will NOT be voting for any incumbent (not that I was before, but now? never).

I do hope someone with more legal expertise looks over those emails...or perhaps the State Auditor...hmmm....

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, I checked with a couple of Board members who said it was fine for a group/business to factually check an Action report. But this seems to go much further than fact checking.

I also have issue with the fact that the public engagement was decided on and carried out by the entity and not our district. The district needs to do the public engagement.

StopTFA said...

Certainly state employees and officials (PESB members and UW faculty) are held to a higher ethical standard. They are not supposed to, with a nod and a wink, rubberstamp teacher preparation programs that do not meet statutory requirements. UW's assistant state attorney general is not supposed to "push through" half-baked, risky programs that expose taxpayers to potential losses.

We'll ask the AG to examine the matter.

Charlie Mas said...

zb,

It's an interesting question: to what extent can the contractor participate in the development of the motion to approve the contract?

Does the law speak to it?

Does the District's Ethics Policy speak to it?

Does it just offend our personal sense of ethics?

The law does not speak to it. Really, how could it when most laws in Olympia (as it Washington, D.C.) are actually written by lobbyists?

The District's Ethics Policy doesn't speak to it. As we have noted, the District's Ethics Policy recognizes only one narrow activity as unethical, and that is self-dealing. Since Dr. Enfield and Ms Ferguson do not have any direct financial interest in Teach for America, they are free to push business towards them any way they like. And since Ms Ortega is not a district employee, her behavior isn't regulated by district policy at all.

So that only leaves our personal sense of ethical behavior. Yes, this offends a lot of us, but it is clear that there are other valid perspectives. Neither Dr. Enfield nor Ms Ferguson found anything wrong with Teach for America staff participating in the development of the Board Action Report.

I suppose they would be willing to extend that same courtesy to other groups seeking to bring motions before the Board. So next time your favorite group is seeking a contract with the District, be sure to ask Ms Ferguson for the opportunity to write or edit the Board Action Report. That's just the Standard Operating Procedure for Seattle Public Schools.

Anonymous said...

@StopTFA:

"UW's assistant state attorney general is not supposed to "push through" half-baked, risky programs that expose taxpayers to potential losses.

"

Is that asst AG Gary Ikeda who helped to enable the Silas Pottergate scandal...?

-JC.

StopTFA said...

No, Aileen Huang who works for the slimeball and is friends with Tom Stritikus.

Small world said...

Aileen Huang's immediate supervisor is Gary Ikeda.

http://www.washington.edu/admin/ago/people.html#aag

StopTFA said...

Yes, perhaps I should have been clearer about WHICH slimeball. Thank you for clarifying!

Braessae said...

I have to say -- I am not sure I see anything terribly wrong with having TfA participate with staff in preparing the report for the board (well, since I am not a TfA fan, I suppose I see a problem -- but from a "process" perspective (as opposed to a content perspective) I don't.

Playing devil's advocate -- let's assume that a group "Alternative School Parents" found an underused or unused building and proposed the coolest, best, most ideal, over the moon alt school concept ever. (I won't go into details here, because what would delight me might horrify someone else -- and I don't want to distract).

The group pitches the concept (school, staffing, curriculum, concept, etc.) to the various staff groups downtown who need to be involved in vetting it and proposing it to the Board. They love it (I know, I know -- this is just fiction -- but pretend). They draw up a board proposal that will allow the program to be sited, the right staff to be hired, the right "waivers" and exceptions to be granted so that the alt concept doesn't get drowned in conformance to non-alt policies. I would assume the group would want to be involved in making sure the staff get the details right and represent the group's concept to the board in the best, most accurate way possible. If there are alt-hating groups out there, they can do their thing as well, I guess, when it comes up for board consideration.

So, in concept, I have no problem. Where I think the problem lies is where it has lain for years and years, in Seattle -- in the poor decision-making skills and general ineptitude of District staff. Surely, what follows does not apply to everyone there, but as a whole, they make terrible decisions; they are incapable of doing reasonable research, presenting findings, anticipating problems and questions, or being fiscally prudent. They seem to lack foresight. They shun community engagement and input wherever possible. They hold the public (including parents) in contempt, and teachers as well, in some cases. They have no concept -- none -- of actually being in a "service" role to schools and students. As in many bureaucracies, they have learned over time that all that matters is figuring out the pet projects of the current supervisor -- and sucking up to those at all costs.

cont'd

Braessae said...

While there are a few areas that are not horribly political, where great public servants quietly and competently manage their staffs and departments in logistical areas, all of the areas where "policy" and "politics" are involved (academics, research and statistics, the law department, HR, curriculum, etc.) are in horrible, horrible hands.

This didn't just start with MJG. Staff problems also plagued Olshefske and Manhas.

THIS (not the circus we endured under MGJ) needed to be a primary focus of the superintendent who succeeded Manhas -- and it needs to be a primary focus of the superintendent who succeeds Dr. E. We need someone who will come in, figure out who is actually competent and willing to do the jobs they have been hired for, and get rid of the rest. We need a superintendent who will look critically at board proposals and make sure that the board is getting a full, unbiased presentstion -- not just "the wool being pulled over their eyes" by staff who have already decided what preconceived conclusion they want the puppets -- um, I mean the Board members -- to reach.

Kay, Sherry, and Michael -- how can the three of you sleep at night, knowing that staff feels no compulsion whatsoever to give you full, accurate information before they ask you to act -- that they make no attempt to be capable of answering questions, that they knowingly present one-sided information, without acknowledging that they are partisan, and without attempting in any way to present the other side? How can you possibly feel that this performance by staff enables you to make good decisions on behalf of the district?

That Passionate Teacher said...

"I also have issue with the fact that the public engagement was decided on and carried out by the entity and not our district. The district needs to do the public engagement."

THERE is your conflict of interest! If the data for the public engagement is supplied by the entity seeking approval, there is no assurance of impartiality. They can stack the deck and imply whatever they want.