"Seattle Public Schools suffers from a culture of lawlessness. No one enforces the rules (whether they be superintendent procedures, board policies, state law or federal law), so no one bothers to follow them. Typically, no one even bothers to check them before making decisions - decisions which often violate the rules. This culture of lawlessness pervades the District and not only makes all kinds of abuses possible but actually encourages them."That little blurb there really rang true for a lot of folks. So much so that I reckon it deserves a little discussion of its own.
There is no denying the culture of lawlessness in Seattle Public Schools. No one feels constrained by any rules - not any of them. Ask families of students with IEPs and all you will hear is about the District's contempt and open disregard for IDEA. Look at the chronic non-compliance with the Native American grant. The only reason we aren't in trouble for how we spend Title I money is because we have a waiver from the Federal government. The Board readily admits that policies are routinely violated - without feeling any impulse to enforce them. We pour the capital funds together from beaker to beaker like mad scientists and often use them to cover operating costs. State laws are routinely violated - such as the one on conditional certificates for teachers. Health and safety rules and laws are disregarded. Hardly a year goes by that the District doesn't have to read some admonition about unfair labor practices into the Board minutes. According to ESEA, schools that reach Step 5 for persistent under-performance are supposed to be closed, re-invented and re-opened, or at least "transformed", but we have a number of these schools and none of them have been closed and none of them have been "transformed". So much for the ruthless punitive accountability of No Child Left Behind.
Think of anyone who gets credit for doing anything in Seattle Public Schools. They probably broke the rules to do it. Mercer Middle School's touted success is just the most recent example. No one minds that they broke the rules because the rules don't matter.
Think of any situation, any discussion, any Task Force or Advisory Committee. You would think that one of the first things they would do when faced with the need for a decision would be to read the governing law or policy - but they don't. It never even occurs to them to check the rules because the rules don't matter.
The rules don't matter for three fundamental reasons.
First, a lot of the rules are dreadful. Lots of them are meaningless or obsolete. They were written without thought or understanding. Many of them are so removed from reality that they are just silly. They are often completely un-enforceable. There are laws that make things illegal, but fail to cite an enforcement office or a punishment. There are others that have been de-funded. This isn't just a problem with the old policies; this is a problem with the new policies as well. Consider the new proposed revision of the Program Placement policy: it doesn't require anything. It is literally impossible to violate and impossible to enforce because it doesn't actually require anything. Bad rules foster contempt for all rules.
Second, the rules are completely un-enforced. The federal government isn't going to send FBI agents to Seattle to enforce the provisions of the Native American Grant and the Department of Education isn't going to cut off the funding. The state laws that govern the District are often supposed to be enforced by either the State Board of Education or the OSPI, but they can't be bothered. When the District requested conditional certificates for the Teach for America corps members, the State Board granted them without any review. The State Board didn't think it was their place to the review the applications submitted to them. The Board readily acknowledges that they have a duty to enforce policy, but they also readily acknowledge that they never do it. They never do it largely because they don't have any process for it. It continues down the line. Education Directors don't enforce rules on principals, principals don't enforce rules on teachers, and teachers often don't enforce rules on students. In the absence of enforcement, rules truly don't matter. It would be foolish, at least an an eccentricity, to obey rules when there is no consequence for breaking them.
Third, there is the absence of any element in the District's culture that the District is an institution. By that I mean that everything in the District is personal. Each boss makes their own rules and their own procedures. Those are the rules and the procedures for as long as that person is the boss and then, when that personnel changes, all of the rules and procedures are uncertain until the new boss sets them. Nothing is documented. Nothing survives changes in personnel - and the personnel changes like the weather. If you had a promise from Aurora Lora that she would do something, too bad. That promise is now void. The next Executive Director of Schools for West Seattle will be under no obligation to keep the commitments that Ms Lora made. It wasn't a commitment from the District; it was from Ms Lora. It wasn't institutional; it was personal. This contributes to the whole sense that everything is improvised and that managers have authority to make up anything they want.
There was a time, after the disastrous audit of 2010 and after the Pottergate scandal blew up, that Director Carr spoke a couple of times about creating a "culture of compliance" within the District. She doesn't talk about that anymore. She mostly doesn't do it because she wasn't really willing to implement such a thing. No one in the District actually wants to follow the rules because the rules would constrain them from doing what they want to do. So not even the people charged with enforcing the rules has any interest in following them. No one has the moral standing to enforce the rules. In truth, no one really wants them followed because that would be hard and unpleasant.
Actually, there are some people who would like it if the rules were followed: the vulnerable people that the rules were written to protect. But those vulnerable folks are not the people in charge, so they don't get a say.