Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Who has the Authority to Make What Decisions?

Seattle Public Schools, as an institution, has a lot of issues around the scope of authority. There's a world of confusion about what a teacher can decide independently and what are the limits of that authority. What can a principal decide and what is the scope of a principal's authority? What falls inside and outside the limits of a BLT's authority? What decisions does an Executive Director of Schools have the authority to make? What about District Staff? Do they have any authority? Surely there are some decisions that are up to the Superintendent and some that are up to the Board, but what are they?

The simple answer is that Board Policy and the Superintendent Procedures provide all of the answers to these questions. There is a clear answer in these governing documents that defines the scope of authority for each person. Granted, a lot of the policies and procedures are so poorly written that they are neither actionable nor enforceable.

The real answer, however, is much more fluid. The real answer is: "Whatever you can get away with."

This is the hallmark of a dysfunctional organization. This is a facet of the culture of lawlessness.
The Board writes policy, but if they do not enforce it, then they have failed to set policy. The current Board, like every Board before them, refuses to enforce policy. The Board Directors may not care for that characterization. They may claim that they have no process for enforcing policy, that they can only request the superintendent's compliance. It appears their only management tool is to threaten to fire the Superintendent. So unless the non-compliance gets so bad that it makes them want to fire him, they have no method for coercing that compliance. While it may be true that the Board has no policy compliance process, who's job is it to develop a policy enforcement process? I have no sympathy for people who complain that their dinner is burning, but won't cross the room to turn off the oven. They negotiate the superintendent's contract. They design the superintendent's performance evaluation. For all of the talk about "The Board sets policy and the Superintendent implements it", there is very little concern about whether the Superintendent implements it or not.

The Superintendent, likewise, can enforce policy and has the duty to enforce policy. He also has the duty to enforce procedures, but he doesn't. He doesn't because the bulk of the work is done several levels below him on the org chart and he will not address himself to anyone but his cabinet. To do so would not only be beneath his dignity, but it would bypass the chain of command. Also, a lot of the policies are directed at the Superintendent and he is out of compliance with them. His own gross non-compliance robs him of the moral authority to enforce policies and procedures.

The District Staff lacks the authority to enforce policy. As the Advanced Learning department recently explained, they have no authority over principals or teachers, so they have no authority to direct them in the implementation of advanced learning programs or services. If a Spectrum/ALO program is non-existent there isn't anything the Advanced Learning staff can do about it. I'm not sure they can even take the designation away from the school. I use Advanced Learning as an example because the Advanced Learning staff has been so candid about their impotence. The same is true, however, about every other department in the Central Office. Special Education staff has no authority over teachers or principals to coerce them to adhere to laws, regulations, polices, or procedures. Same for ELL, Curriculum and Instruction, the Civil Rights Office, Research Evaluation and Assessment, and all the others.

Here's a statement by REA in a response to an internal audit that illustrates their limits:
"REA does in fact institute procedures that specify explicit restrictions and strict protocols for the handling of test materials by school staff. Principals and school-based staff are trained each year to implement these procedures, and are required to sign documentation attesting that they have followed them."
They can provide training on the procedures and they can require people to sign statements attesting to the adherence to the procedures, but they aren't really able to check anything to confirm it's true. The teachers who lead the NatureBridge field trip signed the forms attesting that they had read the field trip procedures and would follow them, but in the investigation the teachers admitted that they had not, in fact, read the procedures and it was shown that they did not follow them. The response from the District Staff was to shrug their shoulders and say "Yeah. Whattayagonnado?"

Executive Directors of Schools have, we presume, some sort of authority over principals, but like the Board, short of threatening to fire them, they don't have much in the way of a management tools. This was recently revealed when things spiraled out of control at Stevens this past year. The Executive Director of Schools for the Central Region had no authority to take any decisive action to help that school community. Honestly, it's unclear what Executive Directors of Schools do. They don't appear to do anything. Which is not to say that they couldn't exercise authority; they just don't have a model for it and little incentive to do so. They have sinecure; why would they rock the boat by trying to do something?

Perhaps the most frustrating and perverse example of this dysfunction is the Ombudsman, who has no authority over anyone. So you can bring a complaint to the Ombudsman that a policy, procedure, or even a law was violated and continues to be violated, the Ombudsman can find that your complaint is totally correct and that the violation occurred and continues to occur, but that's it. The Ombudsman doesn't have the authority to take any corrective action. From the District web site:
"What is the District Ombudsperson?
"The District Ombudsperson serves as an independent liaison to assist SPS parents and community members in helping to resolve problems, complaints, conflicts, and other school-related issues when normal procedures have failed. The Ombudsperson office does not have authority and can only make recommendations."
The Ombudsman's office is little more than a complaint box stuck to the top of a shredder.

So where is the authority?

Principals have the bulk of the authority in the District and very little limit on how they wield it. They hire teachers, assign them, and evaluate them. They can, and do, drive teachers out of their school if not the profession. They are responsible for the administration of student discipline in their schools. They control budgets and nearly every decision made at a school. While there is supposed to be a BLT at every school that is charged with making decisions, some schools don't have BLTs and a lot of school BLTs are under the principal's control. Principals can exercise autocratic control free of accountability because no one above them in the org chart will ever interfere with the principal. The Executive Director of Schools is the one who is supposed to, but they are all ineffective supervisors. They can hear appeals of principals' decisions, but they always side with the principal. Always. And they do it with a shrug like they lack the authority to reverse the decision. It's likely that they don't because they can't really make a principal do anything. In a system in which you are free to do anything that you can get away with, and in which you have no meaningful supervision, you are free to do anything. Principals can be little tyrants if they want to be.

In my memory, there have only been two principals fired by an Executive Director of Schools: David Elliott, from Queen Anne Elementary for failing to complete performance evaluations, and Martin Floe, from Ingraham High School, for... not really sure what Mr. Floe was fired for, but it got reversed anyway, in a clear renunciation of the Executive Director's authority.

Principals can also, if they choose, act like King Log and do nothing.

Teachers can have a lot of freedom and authority when they, too, have little effective supervision. Teachers' decisions and actions are only limited by whatever action their principal might take in response. Since a number of principals are, to put it nicely, "hands off" managers, teachers are as free and unaccountable as many principals for the same reasons. They can use whatever instructional materials they want, use whatever instructional strategies they want, and, once the door is shut, pretty much teach whatever they want. That's not to say that there isn't clearly defined content that they are supposed to teach, only to say that there's no one who can make them do it if they choose not to.

And that's the theme: There is no authority anywhere in the JSCEE. None. The principals are free to exercise as much authority as they dare because they have no effective supervision. And teachers are equally free unless their principals impose authority over them.

Or am I wrong about this? Are the policies and procedures unclear about the scope of each person's or group's authority? Are the rules about decisions and authority followed and enforced?

52 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would say that the autonomy that teacher have (I know I do), is both a strength and a weakness. There are certain textbooks, skills and content overview that were are supposed to cover (and I think most do), but HOW we deliver is where the flexibility comes in. Want to study Teddy Roosevelt in depth? Great, go for it. Hate the Roman Empire? Get it done in 3 days. This gives teachers the ability to focus on what they love (kind of like professors), while still (hopefully) hitting all of the necessary skills. I agree that the amount and degree of administrative overview varies widely. Again, this could be considered a strength or weakness. -TeacherMom

Lynn said...

I have a recent example of this. The principal at the school one of my children attends has made a curricular decision that is out of compliance with district policy and results in the waste of $7,000 to $10,000 of district funds each year. (Purchase of consumable materials that are either thrown away or sent home but never used.) There is currently no executive director for the region so I contacted the person responsible for supervising them (Chief of Schools). The response was a suggestion that I discuss this with the principal. She is the one breaking the rules! I guess I have to email her and say please stop breaking the rules - and then maybe someone will do something. (Just kidding - no one will do anything.)

On this topic, I saw this in the minutes from the June 29th meeting of the mayor's education summit advisory committee:
A group member suggested that the School Board should not be able to overturn a decision of a principal about school operations. The group member asked how we can administratively empower teachers.


I'm trying to imagine another large organization where employee decisions can't be overturned by management.

Anonymous said...

Good post, Charlie.

I imagine in many cases, whatever accountability takes place isn't public; it's cloaked as "personnel matters" in private employee records.

In the NatureBridge case, there was no public accountability, just whitewashing. In its aftermath, some staff left the district to retire or for other reasons, but the public doesn't know if any of these departures were related to the incident. The district settled with the parents for $700K, which some could consider a kind of district-wide accountability.

Personnel accountability is opaque; it's only made transparent when consequences are publicized, as in the case of GHS choir teacher, Carol Burton. The public doesn't know what disciplinary memos lurk in personnel records, nor what the performance reviews look like for the teachers responsible for poor supervision on the NatureBridge trip.

As for holding administrators accountable, good luck with that.

Paul

Lynn said...

The teachers, principal and executive director responsible for the safety of students on the Nature Bridge trip continue to hold the same jobs they had before the assault. I don't care what their personnel files have to say - I want accountability that increases student safety.

The big picture here is outrageous. The failure of every level of management to properly supervise their subordinates should result in the elimination of many positions in the district. We don't need a C&I department if it exists merely to provide advice that individual principals and teachers can choose to ignore. What's the value in that?

Anonymous said...

Lynn, there's a whole chain if command when you want to take concerns to a higher level. If you have an issue with a teacher, the principal will expect you to discuss your concern with the teacher first; if you have an issue with a school/principal, you are expected to discuss it at the school level before taking it to the director, etc. We've been in situations where the Vice Principal showed up when we asked to speak with a teacher, or the teacher was invited to a meeting requested with the principal. The idea is to address concerns at the school level when possible. Sometimes concerns are taken seriously, and sometimes not, but you have to have a trail of action/inaction so they can respond. Have you spoken to the principal? Has the principal failed to respond or refused to meet with you (a reason for action on the supervisor's part)? Of course you can spend a lot of energy trying to follow the process, all for naught. In the instances we've formally gone through the chain of command and the efforts led to some change in school policies, there was a clear violation of state codes. But good luck getting much of anything else addressed. Those teacher files? Much of it is expunged at the end of the year (see their contract).

-j

Anonymous said...

This posy is 100% in line with my experience last school year.

My son had an ineffective teacher in 1st grade. I have taught 1-3rd, so this is something I know about. After volunteering in the classroom twice, and being very upset by what I saw, I met with the Principal in November to offer her detailed explanations and examples illustrating my concerns. She told me she "shared my concerns about the teacher's academic rigor." (The teacher was in her 7th year, so, not new to teaching). I met with the Principal 2-3 more times during the school year, and sent many emails asking what the plan was b/c I did not see evidence that things were getting better. She told me she was "working on it" with the teacher and her boss, the Ex Dir, but that she could not tell me the details. At one point, she told me to talk to the teacher myself about my concerns, and that she was doing what she could. But, my concerns, in addition to a lack of focus on academics, were also about a strong lack of classroom management and structure in the classroom. I told the Principal I thought it was her job to talk about classroom management issues, not mine. She agreed with that, but again, nothing changed.

Months passed, nothing changed, nothing got better. I asked my kid over & over if the principal was in the classroom. No.

In early May, the teacher left unexpectedly for the rest of the school year.

The long-term sub, once one was found, was a disaster. In sum, the whole year was just a mess.

One parent met with the Principal at the end of the school year, and left feeling that the Principal told her that her hands were essentially tied--in terms of working with the teacher to make meaningful change in the classroom--by the union, which I think is just an excuse, and not true.

Principals can & do have the authority to hold teachers accountable for improvement plans. Whether or not they do so is another thing. In this case, I felt that no one did anything to intervene to make the school year not a waste for 24 first graders. my son will be ok--we can make up for what he did not get. But, what about the kids that were already behind?

I am left wondering if anyone cares, and if anyone is holding anyone accountable in SPS. I will give it ONE more year. If 2nd grade is not significantly better, we are done. Education matters a lot to me. Just good enough, or worse, is NOT ok.

~Doubting SPS

Anonymous said...

Charlie-- I agree with your post. I think at least some of SPS problems stem from the district being so mammoth in size, combined with other issues. Smaller districts would be much more transparent & accountable. Personally I think Seattle should be broken down into at least 4 districts. Maybe even smaller.I am from LI where there are often 1-2 high schools per district. Very little administration in comparison as well. Districts are also very well funded from property taxes & state income tax, but that is another issue. Wonder if this topic is ever brought up?
-SPS mom

Lynn said...

SPS mom,

Yes - it's been discussed. http://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/School%20Board/Friday%20Memos/2014-15/March%206/20150306_FridayMemo_ImpactofSplit.pdf

I can't support the idea. I want my children to have access to the benefits of living in a city - and a larger school district with a variety of option schools is one of those benefits. Also, the fewer students there are in a particular group, the less likely their needs will be met. This would isolate students who need something other than general education services.

seattle citizen said...

TeacherMom points to the balance between curriculum and instruction and I think this is one very important place where the system fails. While we don't necessarily want scripted lessons - all 4th grade teachers teaching the use of commas on Tuesday May 3rd at 10:10 - all students need to know commas and many don't.
The skills and knowledge that the system has decided students need to be taught has to be taught at the appropriate place that the system has decided it should be taught, so the student's future teachers don't have to backtrack and backfill.
THIS is a huge issue. Bless their hearts, educators have unique styles and ways on instructing. But how are they accountable for teaching what needs to be taught at any given level? Who checks?
Without this vertical and horizontal alignment if skills and content, students are all over the place and differentiation becomes not only advisable but nevcesary, and we all know how well differentiation works out.
This, as it impacts students directly and then teachers, is one of the most important aspects of accountability that is sorely lacking: ensuring that teachers are, for the most part, teaching the skills and knowledge and teaching it at the right time.
How are they accountable for that?

Anonymous said...

We need the board to lean on SPS leadership to hold staff accountable (which means they themselves also would be held accountable). The central office is bloated with highly paid fat cats and getting more headcount is not an acceptable answer every time work needs to get done. JSCEE should be lean and keep the hard workers who want to make an impact. Fire those paper pushers who show up for their paycheck but do no work and obstruct any new process that makes work more efficient. Also fire the self promoters who do no work and just play the politics...not an acceptable use of taxpayer dollars. Come on board, let's get this place cleaned up!!!! I know you can help us.

-rifjscee

Charlie Mas said...

seattle citizen asks: How can we assure that teachers deliver the curriculum?

We can't. Unless someone is closely monitoring the instruction or the lesson plans, there is no way of knowing what teachers are teaching.

This is not to say that the teachers, on the whole, don't want to deliver the grade-level curriculum or teach to the Standards, but there's a lot of things that could keep that from happening. In some schools a lot of time is spent on classroom management, so the teacher isn't able to get through the whole curriculum. Then there are the interruptions and disruptions - testing, schedule changes, absences, unscheduled events, etc - that could also take time from instruction and keep the teacher from getting through the curriculum. Finally, the teacher may have to spend time on remedial instruction for students working below grade level to get them ready for the grade level instruction, which could take time from instruction and prevent a teacher from completing the entire year of content.

Then, of course, there are decisions that teachers make about what to teach and how deeply to teach it.

There is no way of knowing what teachers are teaching - the principals are not going to do the enormous amount of work that would be necessary to find out - so there is no way to hold them accountable for it.

This is why the Olchefske administration could not implement Standards-based instruction. This is why Wyeth Jessee's job of implementing MTSS will fail. Because step one of implementing MTSS is for all teachers to instruct all students in the Tier 1 curriculum. Mr. Jessee has absolutely no way of making that happen - or even knowing where it is or isn't happening. At some point he will just declare it done, despite a total lack of evidence. That's what Joseph Olchefske did. Maybe Wyeth will have teachers sign a form attesting to the fact that they know and will deliver the curriculum. Yeah, that will be meaningful evidence.

Now imagine that the principals, who can't be sure of what the teachers are teaching now, are responsible for assuring that the teachers are differentiating appropriately by providing Tier 2 interventions and enrichment to the students who need them. It's laughable. Mr. Jessee's task is impossible, and MTSS is a pipedream. It could happen in some places, but only if all of the teachers are committed to it. So far I haven't seen much effort to sell it to the teachers, just an effort to demand it from them. Every time that teachers see that there's no enforcement, the implementation effort will be damage further.

Peter Smyth said...

This post could be describing Charleston, SC in the not very distant past; the irony is that CCSD sent its superintendent, Maria Goodloe Johnson to Seattle in 2007.
A measure of how CCSD is doing now might be how far CCSD has moved away from the "whatever you can get away with" culture. I don't think we're there yet.

Anonymous said...

Charlie writes, "There is no way of knowing what teachers are teaching - the principals are not going to do the enormous amount of work that would be necessary to find out - so there is no way to hold them accountable for it."

This is simply false. That is the point of standardized tests aligned to the learning standards. But teachers and the unions (and opting out parents) have continuously attempted to undermine, dispute, and eliminate the use of these tests.

The tests are designed for and are valid and reliable for the purposes of determining if classes and grades of students are learning the standards. There is a way of knowing what teachers are teaching - as far as English language arts and math are concerned --- but teachers (and opting out parents) don't like these.

--- aka

z said...

Charlie, read your 9:30am comment in the context of the Garfield "honors for all/none" situation. Every word of it is applicable. The good intentions (hopefully) are meaningless without ways to check, measure and enforce. I know you know this, regardless of your earlier comments on the other thread. It is the reality for many students and families in our district and the nation at large.

aka, you have a point, but grade-level standardized tests are a worthless measure for kids who are working far above grade level. In situations like Garfield "honors for all/none", using these tests allows those who favor blended classes to mislead (or outright lie) about student outcomes. HCC and other high achievers' needs will not be met in these classes, and tests like SBAC will falsely be used to demonstrate that those kids are "doing fine". Already happening at Washington Middle School.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure it's that simple, @aka. For example, in WA state, there are no standardized tests for social studies content (content, not just skills). Some states do test for SS content, so material gets taught. SPS just adopted new SS texts for middle school, and texts were supposed to be in classrooms mid year. My child's class never used the new texts, nor did they learn much history (they were supposed to be learning US history). Same story for WA state history - there is a standard text used in most school districts (updated not too long ago) and my child's teacher did not use the text. Not much US or WA State history was learned, nor did they learn much about how their state and federal government functioned. When I brought forth concerns, it was blah, blah, academic freedom, and the teacher simply lied about what materials were being used (my child was old enough to report fairly detailed accounts of class).

That's just one subject. What about the recent elementary math adoption? Who is using what? The district itself tried to subvert the board adopted materials. Of course you also have the renegade teachers parents appreciate as they supplement heavily from old math texts superior to the CMP and Discovering texts.

Let's remember MT was brought here by MGJ. I expect little improvement in academics under current leadership.

One more point about standardized tests - they don't tell you what parents are doing at home to supplement and support learning, especially in math and reading. Are their kids going to Kumon? Do they simply read a lot (a bigger predictor of performance on ELA tests)?

-counting down

Anonymous said...

counting down, you too raise good points about the non-tested content areas. I did specifically point out above that the tested content was only ELA and math.

As for your last point, couldn't this be made regarding all student academic performance including GPA, SAT/ACT, etc.? It's a red herring. Supplemental tutoring, etc. benefits student performance across the board.

--- aka

Anonymous said...

Peter Smyth, MGJ implemented that here and it was fully derided. Many on this blog
were clamoring for a return to more site based management and teacher
flexibility.

Z, the insidious "(hopefully) good intentions" insert is insulting. Disagree with
the Garfield teachers all you want, but questioning their integrity as a group
is beyond the pale.

The teacher bashing that this thread is taking is also beyond the pale. Follow
the chain of command if you have some issues. Believe it or not, most teachers in this district are treated like service workers and complaining to the many weak-kneed principals will get you your way in a New York minute. Most of you all ready know that.

This blog is taking a noticeable teacher bashing turn since the Honors for All didn't appeal to the many HCC parent posters. It doesn't help your argument and many people are not surprised by the lack of loyalty. It reinforces the "me first" reputation that you have already given yourselves.

FWIW

Anonymous said...

The "what" of what gets taught is also influenced by current teaching trends that dismiss content as "rote memorization" and suggest that 21st Century skills - critical thinking, collaboration, communication, etc. - are more important. Both content and skills are important!

A neuroscientist lectured about reading making you smarter. The more you know, the more you can read, and then the more you read, the more you can learn. It seems obvious, but it was in relation to the importance of students reading at grade level by a certain age, and how much general knowledge helped in learning to read.

-counting down

Charlie Mas said...

I don't believe that the standardized tests, even those aligned with the State Standards, can assess for whether the teacher is presenting the adopted curriculum or not as conclusively as advertised. In any class there will be a variety of student test scores ranging from Level 1 to Level 4. Do the Level 1 scores mean that the teacher did not present the content? If so, then what do the Level 4 scores mean? And if the Level 4 scores mean that the teacher did deliver the content, then what do the Level 1 scores mean?

Most of the studies that I have seen suggest that the student test scores are much more strongly influenced by home-based factors than by any school-based factors, such as whether the teacher conveyed the entire year's math curriculum.

The tests may show what the students have learned (wherever they learned it), but I don't see how they could show what the teacher presented.

But let's say that I'm completely wrong about all of this. Suppose we have the test results for a third-grade teacher's class. How would a set of 28 scores tell us whether the teacher delivered the district-approved curriculum? What data, or patterns of data, would reveal the answer? And, if the test reveals gaps in the instruction, does that mean that they are formative assessments rather than summative assessments? Are they achievement tests or diagnostic tests?

Anonymous said...

@FWIW, with an anything goes culture, what means does the district have of maintaining a base level of standards, for curriculum or teacher quality? Such a culture makes it very difficult to support effective teaching. If a teacher is not considered up to standard, what recourse can principals take if materials and standards have little to no consistency across the district? The examples above are a symptom of a system that's not working.

-counting down

Anonymous said...

Charlie, you raise some good points as well, but isn't the point student learning, and not teacher teaching? In other words, do you really care if the teacher follows the district-approved curriculum if students actually learned the standards? I know I don't.

But counting down points out an interesting aspect --- it's really only in those instances in which students are NOT learning the standards that there needs to be some analysis of that teacher's content, curriculum, and instruction. Having a common curriculum helps that teacher's peers (and principal) provide support. If the teacher is using a teacher-designed set of standards and curriculum, it's harder (but not impossible) for that teacher to receive peer support. District-prescribed curriculum is an efficiency, but not a necessity.

--- aka

Charlie Mas said...

Let me make myself clear about something so there won't be any misunderstanding.

I'm not a fan of fidelity of implementation - not at all. I would prefer that the central office not make decisions about how teaching is done. The District does, however, have an obligation to the state, to the taxpayers, to the families, and to the students to make sure that the content is delivered. As Joseph Olchefske used to say, "Loose on the How; Tight on the What". We must leave to our professional teachers who know the students to determine how to teach the knowledge and skills;l I only want the District to confirm that it is being taught.

The problem is that the managers are lazy. They should complete this task by visiting classrooms, seeing what is being taught, reviewing lesson plans, and talking to teachers about how they're going to get through the curriculum. Then they would have to figure out if the teachers are going to include all of the required content. But they want to make it easy on themselves so they can walk in, confirm that teachers are on the right page in the book for that day, and walk out. Fidelity of implementation is just a way for the managers to take the easy way out. That's not acceptable to me and it sure as heck isn't what I want.

The decision about how to teach the content has to be made by the professional closest to the student: the teacher. The decision about what content to teach is made at the District level. Accountability requires someone who understands teaching to observe and question and confirm that the teacher will cover the content for the year. That person should be the principal, the instructional leader for the school and the teachers' supervisor. It's a lot of work for them to do it right and I'm pessimistic that they will all do it. I'm sure that some of them, perhaps even a lot of them, are doing this work, but I'm equally sure that not all of them are doing it.

Anonymous said...

I think we're in agreement, Charlie. Thanks for the clarification.

For another perspective, here's a quote from Noam Gundle, SPS teacher, that was in an Atlantic article a couple of days ago:

"I show up, and I do whatever I want, and that's the kind of intellectual freedom that I think every teacher should have — but not every teacher does have."

Here's the article: http://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/493262/.

And yes, Gundle is the Ballard HS teacher who was recently suspended for 7 days without pay for leaving students behind on a field trip so he could attend a union protest march. HR recommended he be fired --- Nyland reduced it to 7 days after the union intervened.

--- aka

Melissa Westbrook said...

Why look at that, it's AKA. Look, the curriculum is important for that all important data - how do you know what is working if people are off-script? Is the test score the thing? If so, then we better stop spending a lot of money on curriculum that goes in the closet.

FWIW, no one is teacher bashing. I haven't heard anyone say SPS teachers are incompetent. (And I, for one, have been very supportive of teachers.)

But we are allowed to call out when they say they have been planning a major change in academics "all year" and then didn't really tell parents or ask for input. And, the very kids that change will affect? They and their parents weren't told of the change on tours. I think it's valid to call out the lack of transparency and honesty on this point.

Yes, I saw that article with Gundle and thought it interesting. (He also can't go on field trips for two years.)

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Melissa, we should "stop spending a lot of money on curriculum that goes in the closet."

I certainly don't want teachers to have or use scripted lesson plans and the like. I trust teachers to be instructional experts (after a few years in the profession) and I trust them to exercise autonomy. Teachers should have autonomy to adopt their own curriculum and their own instructional practices; that is, unless they demonstrate they're not effective.

Standardized test scores are part of the picture, but definitely not "the [only] thing."

--- aka

P.S. It's nice to be back.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of math, which probably has the most defined and sequential content, and accompanying CCSS, how does the district define the "what?" What is LA? You have the CCSS, which are largely skills based, but what is used to develop those skills? CCSS contains some grammar and usage content, but when and how is that taught? There are no adopted materials. The high school LA adoption provided a core set of literature texts - teachers have a choice of appropriate texts, but are not limited to those texts - but what about K-8? It's all over the place. Readers and Writers Workshop? It really should not be used past Grade 5. They need a real writing curriculum. Science? I could go on.

What is the "what" in SPS? I don't think principals in general are lazy. What is the what that they should be checking against? The "what" should be guided by Teaching and Learning. That's their job. Teachers should have some say in the "what," but within limits. There is a reason materials get vetted, with public comment. There is a middle ground between fidelity of implementation and the anything goes situation in SPS.

-counting down

Charlie Mas said...

aka wrote: "Teachers should have autonomy to adopt their own curriculum and their own instructional practices;"

Instructional practices, definitely. As for curriculum, I have to ask how you are defining that term? Is it the content - the set of knowledge and skills that students should learn? If so, we have some disagreement there. Teachers should not have the choice to not teach to the State Standards (as a minimum).

Anonymous said...

No. I differentiate between standards and curriculum. The standards are the state standards (and any that the district requires above and beyond the state standards). Curriculum is the instructional content --- e.g., textbooks and other instructional materials.

--- aka

Anonymous said...

"I show up, do whatever I want..."

I'm trying to imagine what it's like for new teachers in SPS. "Here's your class. There are no purchased materials. There's no curriculum framework. You'll just need to start from scratch. You'll be assessed on student performance, even though we'll provide next to nothing. Oh, have fun!"

Perhaps you need to distinguish between 1) standards (CCSS and WA State), 2) curriculum (framework of lessons for teaching standards), and 3) materials. In our experience, giving teachers free rein over curriculum and materials has led to some very questionable choices - developmentally inappropriate materials, lack of appropriate challenge, material bordering on indoctrination, or simply not even close to covering the standards. Are some teachers able to just run with it? Sure, but not all teachers are above average.

-devil's advocate

Jan said...

aka said: -- " isn't the point student learning, and not teacher teaching? In other words, do you really care if the teacher follows the district-approved curriculum if students actually learned the standards? I know I don't."

I totally, 100% agree. I would agree 1000 percent if that were possible.

I think that the biggest problem here is with principals who are not adequately prepared (either by experience, temperament, or educational background, or all three) to be principals. I would much rather give a measure of creativity and freedom to teachers to cover their subject matter in ways that best suit their teaching style and (on a yearly basis) the specific kids in their classes -- than try to clamp down on either content or "fidelity of implementation." And -- if the 3rd grade teacher down the hall can also fit in weekly lessons in spelling and word etymology using Greek and Latin roots (because they are a greek/latin/linguistics nut -- while my kids teacher is busy having the kids raise salmon in the back of the room -- I am down with that (even though I covet all that greek word root stuff from my linguistics days in college.

But NONE of that is the same as flat out ineffective teaching (inability to handle classroom management, inability to teach the general curriculum for a grade standard, etc.). That is where good principal practices really matter. There is also an issue of matching kids to teachers. As the parent of two children who could have been euphemistically termed "challenging" to find good class placements for (for very different reasons, one academic, one behavioral) -- having a principal who has the knowledge, temperament, and skill set to manage a group of teachers and building full of kids -- is key. And bad principals can be the death of a school (unless the school has a particularly great set of teachers, virtually NO "bad teacher apples," and a reasonable parent community.

We need to go back to the days when parents helped pick principals. RBHS was HUGELY well served when they FINALLY got to have a say in who their principal was for at least a few years. Those parents KNEW what they needed -- and they KNEW they would recognize it when they saw it. I suspect the man they chose would NEVER have made it through the downtown HR process. I am not an RBHS parent, and don't know if he was totally perfect or not -- but his tenure coincided with the biggest strides RBHS has made in the more than 30 years I have lived here. TOPS and other schools that have had the ability to approve principals have also benefited from it.

The other problem with bad principals is that good teachers know them and have no respect for them (and don't want to work under them) -- so over time, their schools lose great teachers, and fill with teachers who benefit from poor or absent/ineffectual management. I know of a few people who would only work for a specific list of principals -- and were willing to uproot and go to wherever those principals were placed -- because they knew they could do their best work there.

A classroom may not be a perfect fit for every kid -- but no one should have to go through what Doubting SPS went through. There are many many really great teachers in SPS (at least there were a few years ago, and hopefully, there still are). I hope Doubting SPS gets a better one this year.

Anonymous said...

You know, it's funny that I'm the one advocating for teacher competence and autonomy and trust in their professionalism. Devil's Advocate, I'd like to assume in the competence and autonomy of teachers first, then reduce their autonomy only when they demonstrate they're not competent.

Please relegate this opinion to seasoned teachers. New teachers should receive a great deal of support and supervision. In that, we are agreed.

--- aka

Jan said...

aka said: Standardized test scores are part of the picture, but definitely not "the [only] thing.

If "standardized" means MAP or the current SBAC tests, I disagree, as they are badly formulated and fraudulently administered for political ends. If "standardized" tests means something like the ITBS once or twice in a kids' education, or state or school generated EOC courses that help determine whether the kids have actually learned a specific chunk of knowledge (Algebra I, Biology, etc.) -- I am ok with them, as long as there are alternatives for kids who don't test well and they are not tied to high stakes results (like failure to graduate, etc.).

Jan said...

Devil's advocate -- I have had the incredible privilege to have had my kids taught by a handful of teachers who thought this way and had the brilliance, enthusiasm, and teaching skills (along with an incredible love for both kids and knowledge) to work utter magic. I would happily hand off my child to a teacher who said this -- if he or she was one of those teachers.

I agree with aka that we are almost certainly talking about "seasoned teachers" here -- but then, I have never known a new teacher (at least a good one) who would have said this.

Anonymous said...

Jan, we were getting along so well...however, your statements regarding SBAC tests are in and of themselves political. These statements are not supported by technical evidence.

--- aka

Anonymous said...

aka -- In the interest of context, here is the whole quote from the teacher you cited:

"I'm pretty blessed that I have a relatively nice school district, and a supportive faculty and principal. I can basically do the kind of project-based learning that I want to do, and still meet the standards. I think most people can't do that. I show up, and I do whatever I want, and that's the kind of intellectual freedom that I think every teacher should have—but not every teacher does have. A lot of my friends that teach biology, they're teaching the same thing as every other biology teacher. I love the collaboration, but the fact is, not every class is necessarily moving at that speed. Different teachers have different strengths and knowledge bases.

For example, my former student teacher was an environmental scientist, and he knows a lot about that and can speak from experience. I think that is the most important thing for teachers to be able to do: to use their skills and their knowledge base to help students be inspired to do the things they want to do."

--- Fair Statement

Anonymous said...

Lynn-- in response to your comment, although large, I don't think SPS does as much for kids outside general ed (special ed, ELL, HCC etc), as the much smaller districts on LI. However, in addition to being small, they are much more heavily resourced & funded through taxes. Well funded public schools can be really amazing. I looked up per pupil funding averages in Seattle to compare & LI was on average spending 3 times more per pupil as well. Class sizes are literally half & most have teacher assistants. I would guess it much be much easier to manage & have transparency in smaller districts & we have good examples throughout this country. I would like to learn of a district as large as Seattle, with similar challenges that is more effective in those areas.
-SPS mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

AKa, me noting that you are back is not a welcome. But anyone can comment here.

seattle citizen said...

Fair Statement - Thank you for that additional context about the teacher's comment that aka brought us. That changes things.
aka - Oddly, I find myself agreeing with much of what you have to say in this thread (except that testing stuff, blah ;) )
but please don't call out educators by name to make your points. While I disagree with FWIW that people are teacher bashing her, I don't think it's appropriate to name names when it's not necessary. Others might have other opinions about named teachers, and it's not proper to discuss those educators on this forum. I believe the blog has policy about this.

Anonymous said...

Not welcome. Roger that.

--- aka

Melissa Westbrook said...

I didn't say you aren't welcome to post at the blog; I said that my statement about your presence wasn't me welcoming you here (as I assumed it was.)

Tim said...

Monitoring lesson plans? Like weekly? I'd say few things annoy a veteran teacher more.

Teachers are not like cops, the will let principals and ex directors know if they have an ineffective or downright bad teacher at their school.

How can sitting in a classroom give an ex director a good picture of instructional effectiveness? And how many classrooms in each region? 400? 700?

Analogy. The fire dept goes where the fires are, not checking every house for fires.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Tim, how would one teacher know if another teacher is ineffective or bad (if not in their classroom?) I would think principals checking every classroom would be how that call is made (not that teachers don't have radar.)

Anonymous said...

Teachers get the students the next year and know who learned. Patterns exist, and they
are usually good ones. If not, teachers will make it known.

Thanks for the common sense, from in-the-trenches reality check, Tim. There's a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on here.

FWIW

Anonymous said...

MW, parents (some of whom are teachers themselves) generally learn what teachers have a bad reputation, just like they know what teachers have a good reputation. I'm sure fellow teachers figure it out as well. When doing high school tours, my child could tell a lot from those one day school visits. For example, "the teacher did a lesson and I understood it," as opposed to another class where the student gave advice about not asking the teacher questions because he/she usually couldn't answer student questions.

-cd

Jan said...

aka -- I am not aware of any rigorous testing of either the MAP or the SBAC that indicates that they validly assess what students know. Do to variances in what knowledge students bring to school, cultural issues in test questions, how children learn, and how differently children test depending on their own learrning styles and issues, it is quite clear that they do not test whether teachers are teaching adequately (which is how many states use them).

In Washington, each test was "sold" on the promise that it would allow teachers to assess their teaching prowess and adjust it, if necessary, but most teachers find MAP data to be unhelpful for that (and students note that their test scores sometimes vary wildly from one administration to the next on MAP), and in the case of SBAC, the data never gets back to the teachers until the tested children have moved on to different classes.

The fact that nationally the passing levels were determined AFTER scores came in -- to fail a specific number of children to support a political position, the fact that either PARCC or SBAC, or both were designed to tag as failing anyone who would not achieve the "exceeds expectation" (which is supposed to demonstrate a high level of mastery, not a passing grade, and the utter unwillingness of the testing companies to expose their test questions to the kind of public scrutiny that the public deserves (if the public is paying for the tests) all speak very badly for test authenticity and validity.

Anecdotes from teachers who have seen specific test questions, and from kids who have risked the wrath of the testing companies by daring to talk about the questions after the test support the conclusion that -- even if high stakes, mass testing on an annual basis was valid (and I believe it is not), these tests are deeply and intentionally flawed. Robert was kind enough to bail me out the last time you asked for citations. I probably cannot rely on him to ride to my rescue twice. I will try to find some of the articles that back up my position.

Ms206 said...

The size of the district is a blessing and a curse. The School Disrict of Philadelphia (SDP), where I work is at least twice as large as SPS. I am a special ed teacher and the large size of the SDP provides it with the economies of scale to provide a large number of special ed programming options. The SDP is able to offer students with the most complex and low incidence disabilities, such as students who are medically fragile and students who are blind/have vision impairments, the opportunity to attend schools where there are students without disabilities. Furthermore, the SDP can provide specific professional development opportunities for staff who serve students with similar characteristics, for example, staff for students with autism, staff For students with EBD, or staff for students who have intellectual disability. So large school districts do have some size-related benefits.

Ms206 said...

Principals should know what teachers are teaching. It's called requiring teachers to submit lesson plans for the principal to review. Principals should also be visiting classrooms on a daily basis, providing feedback and support for teachers. The contract between the SEA and SPS should require that teachers prepare lesson plans. My union's contract requires teachers to prepare lesson plans. It is the principal who checks the lesson plans and provides feedback. Some principals don't check lesson plans, but they have every right to check them. I want my lesson plans checked...it holds me accountable and ensures that teachers are providing structure.

seattle citizen said...

Jan, you write that in "Washington, each test was 'sold' on the promise that it would allow teachers to assess their teaching prowess and adjust it, if necessary..."

In fact, NWEA, the creator of the MAP test, specifically warned against the use of the tool as a measure of teaching prowess. See "MAP test manufacturer warns map test should not be used to evaluate teachers" on Dora Taylor's always-excellent Seattle Education blog in 2010

Anonymous said...

Administrators-Principals/Assistant Principals alike, should know what teachers are teaching ONLY if they are assigned to them, as their Evaluators. Principals-especially "Head Principals" won't necessarily check in on a Teacher's Lesson Plans (unless they're requested to do so). At least this didn't happen with me at my site because my Principal was rather afraid of one of our Assistant Principals. Though what it comes down to is that there are inconsistencies throughout this district based on Administrators looking at a Teachers' Lesson Plans vs' Administrators who don't look at the Teachers' Lesson Plans. I had to do "Daily Lesson Plans" (which I didn't mind doing); though I would learn that this would be required only if the Teacher is placed on a Plan of Improvement/Probation. My Evaluator demanded that I do "Daily Lesson Plans" because she wanted me to accept her ways of initiating Best Practice based on how the Danielson Framework coincides with her way of thinking. I know, Red flag. But when it came down to presenting Collection of Evidence at the Final Conference of the Evaluation process, she would not accept this information. And sadly, the contract says that Administrators can "consider information"-which, realistically, doesn't protect Teachers. Therefore all the efforts with attending Professional Development gatherings were ineffective in her "world". It's no secret that there are a lot of Administrators throughout this district who function in this manner. Though for me, it placed my ability to initiate best practice-based on what I learned from the Professional Developments, in enslavement (because I didn't have the freedom to do so).

Charlie Mas said...

There are sure to be different management styles by different principals, especially since there is no effort to have a single management style in the district. Some principals will put more focus on their role as instructional leader and spend a significant portion of their day observing and coaching teachers. Other principals will focus on the other aspects of their job and either delegate the management of the teachers to an assistant or simply neglect it.

The District says nothing about it. The District has not set any standards for principals nor does the District manage the principals at all. The variation we see in principal actions, including some very poor performance, is the predictable result.

The only management that happens in Seattle Public Schools is the management of teachers by principals - and that doesn't happen reliably and it certainly doesn't happen reliably well. That's not a failure of policy; that's a failure of management.

More than anything else, the District needs a Superintendent who can impose some management on the District - consistent management. The District doesn't need a visionary, or a charismatic leader - it needs a competent manager who knows how to lead a organization of professionals by granting them license to exercise their professional skills while holding them accountable for outcomes. Think of any professional organization - a law practice, an accounting office, an architectural firm, an engineering company - they all grant their professional staff the freedom they need to exercise their craft while still demanding results. That's the style of leadership needed for school districts as well.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The District has not set any standards for principals nor does the District manage the principals at all.

Or, if they do, it's not visible.

To note, the PASS contract (principals bargaining group) could not reach agreement with the district and that is still in play.

Anonymous said...

Anybody know what the issues are in with the principals and the district?


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