The recent $1.5 Billion prize in the PowerBall lottery made a lot of news. A lot of people who don't normally buy lottery tickets bought some for that drawing. I didn't because, as my brother succinctly told me, buying a ticket does not significantly improve your odds of winning. Needless to say, I didn't win the big prize.
I didn't think about what I would do with the money if I won. That's what you buy when you buy a lottery ticket, right? You buy the license to dream. I didn't buy a ticket so I didn't have license to think about how I would spend the money and I certainly didn't presume that I would win and start spending the money before the drawing. That would be crazy, right?
Yet that's what Seattle Public Schools does on a regular basis. They draw up all of these initiatives - Targeted Universalism is the latest one - which, I suppose, are all very high-minded and well-intentioned, but are predicated on one or more fantasies.
With Targeted Universalism they rely on about four of these fantasies.
First, they assume that they can implement a consistent Tier 1 curriculum across all classrooms and schools. They can't. They have been trying to do this ever since they introduced Standards-based Learning over fifteen years ago, but they have never been able to do it. Not only have they repeatedly and utterly failed in this, they have never admitted it so they have never learned from the failure. Instead, they chose to declare victory and move on. Since they claimed success, they could never figure out what kept them from succeeding and, worse, they persist in the delusion that they can do it.
It could that the JSCEE just doesn't know that standardization has not been implemented in the schools, it could be that they know but they have been lying to the Board about it, it could be that they do know, but they are lying to themselves about it, it could be that the schools have lied to the JSCEE about it to get the bureaucrats off their backs, or it could be some other possibility. But no matter who is misrepresenting the facts - knowingly or unknowingly - there is no consistent implementation of curriculum in Seattle Public Schools. Not across schools - not even across classrooms within schools.
When I think of this I am haunted by the emails that came after the Board's adoption of Math In Focus in which the Executive Directors of Schools contacted the principals in their regions to ask them what math materials they were using. They had to ask because they didn't know. I'm not sure what the Executive Directors of Schools are doing and how they are overseeing principals and schools without knowing what math textbooks the schools are using. It reflects a level of detachment and negligence that I had, previously, believed far beneath them.
Second, they assume that they can differentiate instruction. Seattle Public Schools has never - NEVER - been able to implement differentiated instruction on any scale or with any reliability. Differentiating instruction requires a heroic amount of work. It requires time, training, and effort - none of which is compensated or even allotted. Yet people in the JSCEE who don't have to do that work keep writing these absurd action plans in which they presume that they can achieve differentiated instruction simply by wishing it or typing the words onto a PowerPoint slide. That's not how you get differentiated instruction to happen.
Third, they are relying on the CSIPs to be meaningful documents. That's simply not the case. Most schools treat the CSIP as a form that needs to be completed for compliance purposes, but it isn't meaningful or binding in any way. They are typically completed in a careless fashion using canned language. No one ever has or ever will hold anyone accountable for what is in a CSIP. The bulk of CSIPs are missing elements that are supposed to be there, such as descriptions of the programs or services in place for advanced learners, but there are no consequences for the absences. No one takes these documents seriously but they are represented as meaningful.
Fourth, they presume that they can change the attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of all of their staff. When have they ever been able to do anything even remotely like this? When has any institution? They think they are going to do it with a few training sessions? When has that ever worked?
All four of these fantasies are analogous to my making plans for my financial future starting with the presumption that I will win the lottery. Keep in mind that I don't buy lottery tickets.
Seattle Public Schools makes plans for Targeted Universalism that start with the baseless presumption that they can implement a consistent Tier 1 curriculum and the equally baseless presumption that they can differentiate instruction. They say that the effort will be documented in CSIPs that have no connection with the operation of schools and they say that they will change attitudes with half-day training sessions. They do this without making a serious effort to accomplish any of these pre-requisites. They have never confronted the truth that they have failed in every effort and they have never explored the contributing causes of their failure or taken any steps to address those causes.
I don't know why the JSCEE staff persists in these fantasies.
I don't know why the Board tolerates them.