Monday, October 22, 2012

Seattle Times and I-1240

Okay. We get it. The Seattle Times endorses initiative 1240. Boy, do they ever. They have run a string of editorials in support of it and they have hosted two live chat events for it.

This latest stunt should not have surprised me, but it did. The Times editorial board invited folks to send a tweet about I-1240 to their twitter account @seatimesopinion with the hashtag #I1240. I sent a few. I'm sure other folks sent some in opposition to the initiative.

The Times wrote:
"We asked readers to share 140-word editorials on Twitter about the Washington state charter school initiative on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot, Initiative 1240. Here are some of the tweets you shared with us."
Yet the only six tweets to get through their filter were five that were in favor of I-1240 and a cryptic one that appears neutral.

Newspapers have editorial boards and they have opinion columns. We're supposed to pretend that their opinion doesn't influence the news that we see from the reporters. Sometimes that's a struggle. The Seattle Times recently went further than making endorsements and actually contributed full page ads worth $80,000 for Referendum 74 and Rob McKenna. These were in-kind contributions to those campaigns by the Seattle Times Company. It created quite a furor - with the reporters as well as the public - and a number of Seattle Times executives tried to assure people of that the Times' reporting would continue to be fair and unbiased. They asked for our trust.

Now, I know that this thing appears on the editorial page, but for the Times to filter these and only allow those that align with their view is analogous to the Times deleting online comments that oppose their view. For an institution that was asking for our trust last week, they don't seem to know how to demostrate their trustworthiness.

34 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I did a twitter search on #I1240 and found a number of submissions to the Times, all opposed to I-1240, none of which got past the Times' editorial filter.

Disgusted said...

Cancelling my subscription over this one. I hope others do the same.

Kristin said...

Personally...with the options on the table to be eliminated, the charter schools option makes sense to me. Most parents I know disagree, but I haven't been convinced by the "NO!!!" responses I get that have lacked reason from what I have seen...

SeattleMom said...

Canceling our ST subscription as well. Unfortunately, the Seattle PI is having pro-1240 ads as well on its web-site (not in editorials, though, if they even have any of those left).

I think every parent who is pro-1240 or undecided should ask themselves whether they would like their local elementary, middle, or high school to become a charter school WITHOUT guaranteed access for their own children and WITHOUT any input from themselves. For most people who I have talked and who have been undecided on 1240 the answer is actually NO.

Anonymous said...

"I think every parent who is pro-1240 or undecided should ask themselves whether they would like their local elementary, middle, or high school to become a charter school WITHOUT guaranteed access for their own children and WITHOUT any input from themselves. "

I think this is a good, direct effect formulation. Certainly a lot of the "YES" support is based on the assumption that the provisions will be used for other kids' schools. But the law, as written does seem to allow subgroups at the school to take them over, change the rules of access and the curriculum and educational planning. Would you be happy if your children's neighborhood school decided to become a charter and become a KIPP school? or a Waldorf school?

zb

Anonymous said...

Seattle Mom... (I'm totally v. 1240 but) I think there is guaranteed access for your kids enrolled in the school if your school is converted - I'll have to check the initiative, but that's my memory. (now, hypothetically if a high performing school was converted, and all the kids chose to stay, there wouldn't be any spots for the high-risk kids 1240 is supposed to be geared to, but I digress).

What it doesn't speak to (I don't think) is sibling priority after the school is converted. Do sibs get priority or are they lumped in the lottery if there is more interest than spots?

zb -i'm w/ you totally on the fact your neighborhood school could change focus w/ very little say from the families currently enrolled. Plus, that totally messes w/ SPS capacity issues - where will the kids who DON'T want to stay in a converted charter go? What's the process for assignment, transportation? UGH.

-no on 1240

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kristin, I'll be honest. It puzzles me.

Why is okay for a non-failing school to be taken over, building and all?

What happens to our enrollment system and boundaries and BEX money when that happens?

Why is okay to sell public property for less than it is worth?

Why is okay to set up a system of schools that are basically a wish with no real mandates?

Completely serious, tell me your thinking on those points. If having new schools outweighs those in points above, please tell me why.

Yes, if a school is converted, any child already enrolled can stay (but the ones that don't? They are the district's problem to figure out). Siblings of current charter students can an enrollment preference.

As for Charlie's point, after the election, my phone is closed to Times' reporters. I no longer believe there is a firm line between reporting and editorial at the Times and I won't be a source for them anymore.

Eric B said...

"Siblings of current charter students can an enrollment preference."

One of my big beefs with I-1240 is words like "can". It could happen, or it might not. I-1240 is full of wishy-washy verbiage like this (may, could, can, etc.) as opposed to forceful words (shall, must, will, etc.). This leaves all kinds of room for schools to not do what they're supposed to do.

For example, if a charter school isn't getting the results it's supposed to get, it can be shut down. Not must, not will, but can, at the authorizer's discretion. The strongest language on shutdown for poor performance is at the end of the 5-year contract, when the school will be shut down if it's performing worse than 75% of the other schools in the state (which is lousy at best anyway). Even that 75% line has an escape clause--closure is automatic unless the authorizer finds that there are exceptional circumstances to keep the school open.

I-1240 is badly written law if you want results.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, this point needs its own thread.

Kristin said...

@Melissa...I'll try and make a go at these...

Why is okay for a non-failing school to be taken over, building and all? - I absolutely don't think it is okay, I am the creator of SavePinehurst.org for example...as I see it the CURRENT system is allowing this and so approving this would give us more options from which to draw.

What happens to our enrollment system and boundaries and BEX money when that happens? - Nobody knows this. From what I hear at board community meetings they will all be redrawn as these new middle schools are erected.

Why is okay to sell public property for less than it is worth? -- Doesn't make sense... unless it is to create a school serving the public I suppose?

Why is okay to set up a system of schools that are basically a wish with no real mandates? -- I saw mandates listed on the measure, either by state or local district I think it said, so I'm not sure where this is coming from. I also saw they had non-profits involved which have accountability as well just in their being a 501(c)3 etc...

Schools that I have seen do well were started by people with a passion to help children succeed, and it appears this kind of a charter program would allow for such programs to be created, and if successful to continue and if not then people wouldn't use them and they'd be shut down. I think that a homogenous culture of kids all being educated the same way is boring and a recipe for failure...it worked when we were conditioning kids for factory jobs but to be creative productive members of society that think outside the box? Stifling.

I'm writing this totally as myself and not on behalf of any school/program I'm involved with...we all have our own opinions on this one.

Watching said...

The Seattle Times Editorial board's article related to 1240 and twitter comments is NO longer visible on the web-site. What happened?

suep. said...

Over at the Seattle Ed Blog, we also noted the Times' pitiful coverage of the I-1240 debate:

Scrappy Seattle Blogs Scoop the Seattle-McKenna Times on Charter School Initiative News

The Seattle Public School Board says “NO!” on charter school Initiative 1240 and so does our superintendent

Increasingly, blogs are doing the work that newspapers used to do. And the more the powers-that-be (and certain PTA presidents...) decry "the blogs," the clearer it is that they must be doing an effective job of getting important info out to those who aren't finding it anywhere else.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kristin, you missed my point.

What happens to our current schools if charters come in? I'm not talking about BEX and our current schools; I'm talking about BEX and charters.

"I saw mandates listed on the measure..."

Where in the measure specifically because I have gone through that thing with a fine-toothed comb so if I missed them, please tell me.


"Schools that I have seen do well were started by people with a passion to help children succeed, and it appears this kind of a charter program would allow for such programs to be created.."

Again, what do you see in 1240 that would have this mandate? There are checkpoints but what is the specific language that you see that would make this happen?

I'm not trying to argue but to get clarification and see what it is you have read.

Also, most charters are highly segregated so you will get a more "homogenous culture".

Anonymous said...

Kristin, I have seen your rationale many times during this campaign. It is a faith-based argument. There is no language into this initiative that will guarantee you the results that you think you will be getting.

That might be OK for you, but it sure isn't OK for me.

-- Ivan Weiss

Anonymous said...


"It is a faith-based argument. There is no language into this initiative that will guarantee you the results that you think you will be getting."

But so too is a No vote. It is faith in a near term funding solution to the critical underfunding of large groups of SPS students. There is no guarantee things will get better by voting no either. The debacles with misappropriation of SPED money, the McCleary decision, overcrowding, a new downtown school, the threat of a defeat of Bex IV, and consigning parents to the status quo - even with all the creative new things going on - is a faith that somehow money will appear out of nowhere to resolve all of these competing demands for a piece of the education pie. WCharters may well not solve anything either. But the difference is that Kristin's faith is a new faith whereas a No vote is an old faith. Undecided on 1240 but ever and always a

- Realistic Attorney

Eric said...

Realistic Attorney:

I take your point - but how do charters address the funding issue? By pulling $ out of the other schools and into a charter - that's it.

The lack of proper funding for our schools borders on criminal (and does, according to McCleary, violate the constitution), but charters doesn't have anything to do with it. If anything, it's an "I'll get some for MY kids, and screw the other kids" approach. We HAVE to do better than that.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"There is no guarantee things will get better by voting no either."

Realistic lawyer, to that I would say, look to the doctors' motto:

First do no harm.

Charters will harm what we have now and impacting the entire system for a few schools, when the entire system is already underfunded, doesn't make a lot of sense.

Anonymous said...


"Charters will harm what we have now and impacting the entire system for a few schools, when the entire system is already underfunded, doesn't make a lot of sense."

I understand that argument and it is somewhat persuasive. So point well taken. But I have read the Credo study. I am sure you have too. I encourage the readers of this blog to look at it and see that is more nuanced in its pronouncements than many might realize. You know the data in there. While the study is certainly more negative than positive on charters, it is hardly a slam dunk that charters in Washington will "impact" the system in as draconian a way as assumed. For example, the Credo study did not study either of our neighbors in Oregon and Idaho which have charters. It also excluded New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii, among many other states. Those are huge metropolitan areas where we have no empirical data to draw upon yet that is national in scope. The CREDO study is also now 3 and a half years old, so the hundrders of charters that have opened since then are not included in the study.

The study ONLY measured reading and math scores, which is a very limited way to evaluate the worthiness of an education. It says NOTHING about the effect of lower drop out rates, more college readiness courses, or decreased violence/bullying that may exist in those schools versus traditional settings.

The study found that elementary charters were positively correlated with better academic outcomes than schools in traditional settings. ELL students as well as students in poverty - regardless of race - were also found to do better in charters than in traditional settings. Sped students faired about the same in both spheres. Black and Latino students fared slightly worse in the charters that were included in the survey. That is a very interesting finding that I do not hear much about. Another very interesting finding what that charters poor performance in the first year tends to erase in later years and suggests they can compete favorably with traditional programs. The biggest problem I see with charters is actually not the "fault" of charters - it is the fault of the authorizers who fail to be aggressive in closing down underperforming ones. But then that is the same criticism one could level at many school boards.

I would like the No people to remember that it is easy to say "we must do better" when talking in a macro sense, but people vote in a micro sense - what is best for my family? Take a look at the families in the eye that feel they are getting close to nothing now and tell them why it is in in their best interests to vote no. They may feel they have nothing to lose by voting yes. It is their faith they are voting, and they running from their fears about he status quo. I have worked with those familiies , and I know that first and foremost their goal is to advocate for the best opportunities for the child, within the confines of the law. If the law is "unfair", then it should be changed, and that is what the charter initiative rightly or wrongly is attempting to do. An unholy alliance of those families, education reformers, business types, and anti-union voters may be a larger majority of the population than those who continue to hew to the naive hopes for the present system, the present District, the present School Board. We are talking about only eight schools a year. How many students would that be? Less than 10,000 certainly, and probably more like 2000. That is less than 5% of the District's enrollment. Why not give those 5% some hope for a change?

_ Realistic Attorney

Anonymous said...

WOW, Realistic Attorney, 8 schools per year with 2000 students. Very Nice! Averages out to about 250 students per school. Gosh, what family wouldn't want their kids in such a small school, out of portables and crumbling buildings. Which schools are you planning to take over? South Shore with the nice building and soon to be very nice community center/state of the art swimming pool next door?

Talk to me some more about being able to look at parents in the eyes. Yes, of course it's on the macro scale we are forgetting to look at. That's right, macro with a TSUNAMI ripple effect for those left out of your "public" charter schools. I have no doubt there are parents who want their own schools without having to go private. This charter bill has their vote.

Write me a charter bill where it includes full funding of basic education, with better accountability and oversight, then I may just believe and vote yes.

voter

Anonymous said...

Although I am worried about the macro effect (the dismantling of public education), I honestly think that the micro effect is not going to positive. I think folks are committing the fatal flaw of imagining a system in which they can predict their position/role (i.e. thinking Edwardian England is cool, 'cause you imagine yourself to be the Lord of Bolton Abbey and not his injured manservant Bates). Kirsten puts forth the hope that a school like Pinehurst will survive as a charter, maintaining its school community and educational mission. That's a hopeful wish, but I don't believe it will actually work that way. Pinhurst is threatened because it is under-enrolled -- will an under-enrolled charter survive? The charter initiative is vague enough to allow it, but I'd put money on the bet that only a charter with the support of the usual business/reform suspects would survive under those conditions. Pinhurst-like schools, with an alternative focus isn't what the Gates foundation is trying to fund with charters.

I have a fantasy that should please charter supporters -- we defeat the initiative, and the Gates Foundation comes up with its own money (is it supposed to be 8 schools? what's the state budget of 8 schools? 20 million?) to fund a parallel charter system in Washington. The state support of 10K or so per student that the initiative would suck from the publish education system is not big money for the big money in Washington. They can fund the experiment. And then, I might believe that their goal is really to improve education for vulnerable students, and not to destroy public education in favor of private business.

zb

Anonymous said...

I'll add that the possibility that a school can convert to a charter will create an incentive for public systems to undermine the option schools currently in the system -- since they might be more likely to have a non-neighborhood based community that would vote in favor of charterizing the school.

zb

Anonymous said...

What are the effects on taxpayers and the private school market ? More to think about.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/Charter-School-Paradox.pdf

Public School Parent

Anonymous said...

Disgusted and SeattleMom - good for you. I changed my homepage from the Times to the PI about 4-6 weeks ago when I got fed up with their inability to have any sense of reality about public education. I actually support several Gates ed projects, just not the charters, but even the charters was just the latest in a string of complete inability of the Times to get ed.

Funny part is I stopped reading the PI for Hearst-era biases 20-25 years ago but now the PI is my news homepage instead. The more the better.

Sea Teacher

Melissa Westbrook said...

Realistic, at the time, the CREDO study covered 70% of charter students. It is NOT possible to accurately cover - especially with charters that withhold data, ask any researcher about this issue - all states.

And you know that "it's a great charter law" statement that gets used with 1240? The one ding against it IS the cap on charters. You think it will stay at 8 a year; I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

suep. said...

I tend to agree with zb here. @ Kristin and other alt schoolers who entertain the idea that charter legislation could be the savior for their schools, here's another thought: Is it possible that the outrageous elements of the BEX IV proposal that take unfair aim at some of our alt schools, like Pinehurst and Jane Addams, and offer no certain home for APP, were done precisely with the purpose of riling up alt/option/APP families into supporting charters as a (false) solution to their legitimate grievances?

The timing is a bit suspect -- a few weeks before the charter vote.

(Who devised the BEX IV proposal, anyway?)

If charters were to pass, instead of securing Pinehurst’s future, arguably it’s more likely that a school like Pinehurst would be one of the most vulnerable to being pushed out of its building by a more politically and financially connected charter franchise.

So much of the charter game is about securing real estate.

This BEX proposal needs to be challenged. It is unfair for Pinehurst to be pushed out by any plan. But the alt community should be careful not to play into anyone's ulterior schemes.

As I mentioned on an earlier thread, some of the SPSLeaks e-mails between the LEV-ites and Alliance and other ed reform sympathizers reveal that at least one of them (Holly Miller) felt the alternative schools community would be likely to lobby for charters, if they had no other option. Subsequently, Miller implied that the Creative Approach Schools MOU was a problem (or ploy by the union) because it satisfied the needs for creative autonomy that the alt schools sought, taking away their potential interest in charters.

See: http://www.scribd.com/doc/90403217/City-Players-Want-to-Control-Creative-Approach-Schools

(bold emphasis mine)

"Since this 'creative approach' will only work in schools where there is homogeneity and parental agreement, it will work for the better performing alternative schools in SPS whose parents would be the most likely to make strong arguments for charter schools legislatively." -- Holly Miller, (Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods), 2/21/2012 e-mail to Sara Morris (Alliance for Education), Mary Jean Ryan (Community Center for Education Results, CCER), Chris Korsmo (LEV), Shannon Campion (Stand for Children, Inc.), Lizanne Lyons (chief labor negotiator for SPS) Tim Burgess (City Council), Susannah Malarkey (Technology Alliance), Jane Broom (Microsoft), Karen Waters (Strategies 360), Julie McCoy (Mayor's office), Sid Sidorowicz (Seattle Dept. of Neighborhoods), Kacey Guin (Memphis City Schools, formerly of City of Seattle Office of Education and CRPE), Isabel Munoz-Colon (City of Seattle).

Anonymous said...


"Realistic, at the time, the CREDO study covered 70% of charter students. It is NOT possible to accurately cover - especially with charters that withhold data, ask any researcher about this issue - all states."


Good point - perhaps they can update their study to include those left out, if they are willing to provide data.

Another point - did you see that the study concluded that in 5 of the 16 states, charters actually were outperforming traditional settings on the basis of their definition of "performance" (math and reading scores). Those states were Arkansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Missouri, and Colorado. Six states were poor, where charters seemed to be doing worse than traditional settings. Those were Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas. Four states were a wash with no statistically significant differences. Those were California, Georgia, North Carolina, and the District of Columbia (not a state but a test subject in the CREDO study).

To me, the thing that is compelling is how uneven charter performance is and how much it varies state by state. But that is no different than what we see traditional public schools across the country, so is the cause of that something *inherent* in charters, or due to other factors such as poverty, inequitable funding, etc?

I agree with you this charter law is ineptly written and the conversion aspect is very troublesome. That is why I said in an earlier comment that a good way to attack the initiative, should it pass, is to focus on some of the procedural issues that could lead to very strange results and a lot of strife.

A final point: everyone talks about this as if the very existence of the Seattle Public Schools is being put on trial. This initiative is statewide and there is no guarantee *any* of the schools will be in our district. Perhaps the Charter Commission or an authorizer will see more compelling reasons to open a charter school in, say, Yakima.

- Realistic Attorney

P.S. I think it is healthy all of these discussions can happen here in this forum. A free exchange of ideas is what education is all about and kudos to the site for being such a good place to turn for information, insight, and ideas.

dw said...

@Melissa
As for Charlie's point, after the election, my phone is closed to Times' reporters.

Might I suggest leaving it open for Brian Rosenthal only? He seems to be the only one doing any actual research/reporting, and could probably use all the moral support he can get in that office.

@Kristin
To back up what zb and suep said, I feel for your frustration at Pinehurst, but the problem is in imagining that charters, as they would be authorized in this bill, would ever help a school like yours. Not Going To Happen.

The writers and promoters of this bill do not have your best interest in mind. They have their own interests and pet projects in mind, and you can be darn sure that "their" schools are the ones that will be authorized.

As the emails suep quoted show, they are very savvy political animals, and they will pull at the strings of good folks like you, who are getting hurt by the current system, in order to pull you over to their side. The problem is that it's like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It's going to be no better for you, and worse for others.

Far more likely than you getting to keep your program is that well-heeled supporters will come into a nice, new building in a poor area, make lots of promises and flash some greenbacks (verbally), and get the families to convert. At that point they'll be in control, with no easy means for the public at large to wrest it back.

Anonymous said...

More dailies at the Times...
maybe a different view.

http://seattletimes.com/html/northwestvoices/2019498067_i124023lets.html

Public School Parent

Jan said...

suep: I would be willing to concede that possibly some of the NSAP/anti-choice restructuring that SSD has done over the past five years (and the odd things that have happened with option schools) may have been done either with charters in mind -- or with the idea that if they aren't working, those communities might find charters attractive. But the crowding in the north end? That is just evil serendipity. It smacks much more to me of classic SSD failure to be able to assemble and interpret data, and plan well, than any political scheme.

Charlie Mas said...

A conversion charter does need to allow every student enrolled at the school the opportunity to stay at the school.

They do not, however, required to maintain the school's enrollment capacity. They are free to cap enrollment for new students.

So a public elementary school with three classes at each grade can become a charter school with two classes at each grade. It will take some time, but they will get there.

Offering fewer seats would make the school appear more desirable. It would push students out of the classes and onto the waitlists and into the neighboring public schools, and the small school size - especially among the now over-crowded public schools - will also make the school more attractive.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I don't want to be condescending to the people who think that charters will help them at a micro level. As Charlie's analysis above indicates, maybe some people will get what they want out of charters (if, for example, it really does allow Pinehurst to remain as an under-enrolled school). I'm wary when people are making decisions for their own children, short-term decisions that have huge influence in their own lives to 1) argue that I understand the micro decision better than they do or 2) argue that they should weight the macro decision to the detriment of their own children's education. I don't expect to know better than a parent what's best for their child, and I don't expect a parent to sacrifice their child's needs for the greater good.

But, I do urge people to think hard about whether they're going to get the micro effect they desire and not assume that vagueness, lack of clarity, flexibility, discretion, . . . is going to go their way. In my experience, those things usually go in the direction of power, not against it. Even when my eyes glaze over, I know that's why many activists and advocates focus on process.

(oops, reposting to add a name -- delete the anonymous comment?)

zb

Charlie Mas said...

Realistic Attorney and others have put their fingers right on the point.

While it is true that we don't know what the charter schools might bring - and we don't - we do know what we have with our public schools.

There is no one who is satisfied with the current public school situation.

The charter school advocates have done a nice job of suggesting that charter schools create an opportunity for someone to do a better job than the public schools are doing. There's no question that there is a lot of room for improvement.

Here's the thing, though. You have to ask yourself why the public schools don't do better. Is it really because they lack Vision? Is it really because their leadership is incompetent? Is it really because their unionized teaching staff are either bad at their jobs or resistant to change?

There are certainly situations in which all of these are true, but I have ask: do we have any reason to believe that charter school leadership will have a better Vision, be more competent, or have better teachers who are more interested in new styles of instruction? No, we don't.

I also have to ask a bigger question: are these the core failure in our public schools? Or are the core failures in our public schools, as I believe, a combination of a narrow view of the school's role and inadequate funding from the state?

If schools saw their role to include providing students with the preparation, support and motivation necessary for academic success, and if they were funded to provide those elements which are usually provided by a student's family, wouldn't we then have the outcomes that we all seek?

The charter schools which have been successful, just like the public schools and private schools which have been successful in closing the opportunity and academic achievement gaps, have taken on responsibility for providing these elements.

I'm not any kind of fan of Seattle Public Schools. I think the District has made a number of dreadful decisions and continues to do so. While charter schools offer an opportunity to do things differently, they don't really hold much promise for it.

If you're concerned about the unhealthy burgers on the Burger King menu, how much sense does it make to get your burgers from McDonalds instead? The real solution is to either eat somewhere other than a fast food burger joint or to select from among the few healthy items on the menu.

Opting for charter schools instead of public schools is equivalent to choosing McDonalds instead of Burger King. It's a change, but not the change that is needed.

Kristin said...

I suppose I see the opportunity/potential to be in a school where an involved parents voice might matter more than it does in a typical public school.