I just read the Teaching and Learning update from the Friday Memo for June 24, 2016 and it makes the District's problem with accountability perfectly clear.
While these problems are examined in Advanced Learning, the truth is that these failures are repeated all across the district in every school, program, and classroom. The problem is that no one checks to confirm that the work is getting done.
The Board asked: "Is there consistency as a district regarding what we offer students identified as Highly
Capable or as Advanced Learners?"
The Advanced Learning Department answered: "delivery mechanisms are to be consistent not
in their structure, but in their ability to meet the learning needs of students. Consistency
in AL programs does not refer to a scripted curriculum across programs and services, but
an expectation of learning achievement and instructional quality appropriate to the needs
of the learners." which is a really long way of saying "no".
The central staff answer that they have vaguely defined an expectation of learning achievement and instructional quality, but that doesn't address the question, which is not about what the schools are told to give the students but about what are the students getting. The answer from the Advanced Learning Department is, in fact, non-responsive because it carefully avoids discussing the core of the question: what do the students get? Instead, it only discusses the terms of the superintendent's procedure in meaningless jargon. The Board wasn't asking what the staff suggests that the schools should do, the Board is asking what the schools actually do. This inability to distinguish between the theoretical world and the real world is deeply troubling.
Ask yourself if this answer would be appropriate for general education. If the Board asked if there was consistency in the academic offering to students across the district and the superintendent answered "Well, we don't have a prescribed curriculum, but we expect teachers to do good work."
Ask yourself what is the value of a scripted curriculum - the District is deeply invested in curricula and has, at times, brought pressure to bear to assure fidelity of implementation. If it has such a high value for some students, why does it have no value for other students?
And here is where we get the truth, in the very last sentence of a four paragraph response: "The team, however, does not provide scripted
curriculum nor is it able to require compliance"
Not only is the team unable to require compliance, the team doesn't even check for it. The team simply isn't interested in it.
Imagine a skydiving school with a written policy that says that all of the instructors should pack the parachutes properly. Skydiving students are falling out of airplanes all over the place and all the school owner says in defense is: "I ask the instructors to pack the chutes correctly, but I don't tell them how to do it, I don't check that they have done it right, and I don't count how many students jump without a properly packed parachute. Everything to do with packing the parachutes is the instructor's job, not mine." Would this be an acceptable response?
This is a consistent theme in the responses.
"In compliance with the 2011 MTSS
implementation, appropriate services for Advanced Learners are to be provided at every
school as a part of Tier II Strategic Interventions"
Yeah, they are supposed to do this, but do they? No one knows because no one is checking.
The Board asks: "What proportion of our teachers has taken Professional Development in differentiation?"
The staff answers: dunno. Because no one is checking.
"Advanced Learning has offered 14 sessions of Professional Development (PD) in
differentiated instruction at the John Stanford Center over the past two years. In addition,
AL staff has facilitated full-staff workshops at over a dozen schools that have requested that support on differentiation."
That's twelve schools out of a hundred. As the staff says: "Attendance is not mandatory"
So here's the central problem: the central staff doesn't do the two things we really need it to do for academics, which is to check compliance and perform quality assurance. This is why there's a Board policy that requires an annual report on the quality and efficacy of the district's academic programs. Because those are the basic functions of management - check to see if people are doing what they are supposed to be doing and whether or not it is working - but Seattle Public Schools doesn't do it.
I use Advanced Learning to illustrate the problem, but it exists across all schools and programs. This is, essentially, the same story we saw in Special Education until it finally led to the need for state intervention and a corrective plan.