Monday, March 13, 2017

Badmouthing Public Schools When You Have no other Argument

Remember when I put up this meme on Education Savings accounts that compared it to parents asking for park savings accounts?  I thought it was pretty clever.

Well, the folks over at the Washington Policy Center don't think so.  And that's fine. But man, do they swing waaay too far over the line in their assessment of the current state of public schools.  To wit:
Asking your state legislator for a so-called Park Savings Account makes perfect sense if the following conditions exist
- The law says your child must spend at least six hours every weekday at a public park.
- The park she must attend is assigned by local officials, based on your zip code.
- The park in your zip-code is rat-infested, overgrown, unmaintained and generally neglected.
- The staff at the park is ineffective and can’t be fired.
- The Parks Union controls the Parks Management Board, and uses politics to block any real improvements.
- Staff membership in the Parks Union is mandatory and funded by tax money taken from staff paychecks.
Well, sure the first one doesn't line up perfectly but that really wasn't the point.

Schools are "rat-infested and overgrown and neglected?"  I myself have many complaints about buildings in SPS and their maintenance but I would in no way categorize them as WPC does.   Ever.  I'd invite WPC's Liv Finne to stop in any schools in SPS and see. 

About the staff, well, I guess the WPD can't be bothered to read the principals agreement or the teachers contract because yes, they can be fired.

The union controls the School Board?  They wish.  As for politics, c'mon, everyone does that.  Some of them front their politics by using kids as shields (like charter schools) but yes, it's all political at this point.  That's why it's so sad.  It used to be about trying to figure out great education for kids, not providing many poor to mediocre choices and being all excited about "choice."

As for the last point, it's one of the requirements to have a union.  It's kind of like Paul Ryan trying to diss ACA by saying that it's healthier people paying for sicker people.  Yes, that's called insurance and that's how it works. For driving, too.


Anonymous said...

What I don't understand about the choice thing is how it's likely to improve schools. Do proponents suggest that if people have a choice, then the rat-infested public schools with ineffective teachers will suddenly get better, because they'll have to try to lure people in? How would such a public school suddenly have any money to make those improvements?

Or is the idea that people would leave the public system for private, and that "bad" public schools would shut down leaving only the "good" ones behind (although the good ones would likely decline since there'd be less money in the system).

Can someone clarify how this is all supposed to work, in theory? My impression is that it's more about "some people" (those who are more educated and/or financially better off) being able to leave more easily, leaving the "bad" schools for "others" to endure.


Anonymous said...

It is more common for vouchers to be available only to low income families, not families of all income levels, as the meme suggests.

-a reader

Melissa Westbrook said...

Unclear, the theory that charter schools would give competition to regular public schools and thus make them worker harder has not been borne out. Of course, when money leaves those regular schools,via students and regular school districts have more homeless, Sped and ELL students, it's really creating an imbalance.

As well, one of the biggest issues is transportation. You can theoretically go to any school if you have "choice" but if you don't have transportation, that diminishes greatly.

A Reader, yes, vouchers are generally for low-income families but expansion to all families is truly the goal.

Anonymous said...

They do have a point with the first one. Mandatory attendance in unhygienic buildings? Look at John Muier. But yes, removing dollars does not equate to more janitors.

Sandy said...

I think the rat comment was just meant metaphorically. Both the meme you put up originally about the Educational Savings Accounts/park savings accounts and this "rebuttal" meme are playing with the school-as-park analogy. So, "the park in your zip-code" is described as "rat-infested, overgrown, unmaintained and generally neglected." But that doesn't mean the school is literally rat-infested, etc.

But, let's be honest, some of the schools in some of Seattle's zip codes could use some serious work. We've got a lot of musty classrooms and funky portables and weird drainage failures and unpatched holes in the sides of buildings and leaks and clogs and windows covered with corrugated fiberglass panels and no covered area for children to play when it rains and unsavory bathroom facilities. Have you seen how much litter is strewn around the campuses of some of our schools? Salmon Bay found a drunk homeless man in a bathroom during school a few years ago.

And the union doesn't literally control the board, but, hey, come on. The board could totally stand up to the union a little more than it does. We don't NEED to inconvenience all the families of all 53,000 kids by having early release on Wednesdays next year in order to prevent a couple of the district's 3,000 teachers from playing hooky at Friday afternoon meetings. Right? Families overwhelmingly wanted Fridays, right? Someone could step up and represent the wishes of families. If they wanted to.

Teachers can be fired, but even in cases of criminal negligence it still takes a ridiculously long period of time, sometimes stretching into multiple school years. And teachers who are eventually fired sometimes manage to drag the process out for years. Even when everyone involved understands that it would have been best for the students if the whole thing had been transacted more quickly. It becomes a monetary-staffing-employment-law issue instead of a morally-based decision on what's-in-the-best-interest-of-the-students (and maybe also the soon-to-be-fired teacher and his/her family).

I don't know anything about the Washington Policy Center and I think the whole park-for-school analogy is silly. But one of the problems with fighting for public schools in this district is that they so obviously need improvement in some areas. It's hard to defend an entity that is so flawed. And whose board does so little to fix the situation. Year after year. And whose teacher union routinely argues in favor of things that are not in the best interests of students.

Too bad children can't vote. And there's no union representing them. And very few people seem to have their best interests at heart. Is it unfair to pick on the school board, the teachers' union, staff, and the district for not having students' best interests at heart? Um, no.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I must say that:
in the current polarized debate (which is hardly a true debate) opinions certainly dominate the facts.

It seems to me that in Arizona it is hard to make a case that charters have harmed overall state wide student achievement. See THIS. I've been watching AZ for a few years now. I do not necessarily think that AZ's greatly improved results can be replicated to all other states.

Like Melissa I see Washington Policy Center as all over the map as they toss up all sorts of arguments. I am not opposed to all charters in WA state and am in favor of the State developing a planned substantive approach to allow charters BUT in the current atmosphere have great doubts that can occur.

As I've watched SPS administrative chaotic leadership for over 10 years, there must be a better way than more of same forever.

The continuing SPS chaotic math leadership ... sure looks like more of same forever, given Ms. Box's actions thus far.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said...


It is the union's job to advocate for the best interests of its members. Unfortunately the SEA and WEA are run in a largely dictatorial fashion from the top down. See the WEA's enthusiastic support for Common Core State standards without allowing any member input for example. SEA and WEA do a poor job of acting in best interests of members.

Acting in what some would see as best interests of students may or may not be in the best interests of SEA members (but who could figure that out for the long term?)

-- Dan Dempsey

-- Dan Dempsey

dan dempsey said...

Another idea that the WPC is all in favor of A thru F grading of schools.

Many states are finally recognizing this as simplistic nonsense. Apparently it is loved because it is easy to use. Highly misleading but easy to use.

Ed Week reports HERE.

As states overhaul their accountability systems under the new federal K-12 law, officials in some are pushing to replace or revamp A-F grading for schools, which supporters tout as an easy way to convey to the public how schools stack up.

In recent years, at least 18 states have adopted some version of a system that relies mostly on standardized-test scores and graduation rates to generate letter-grade report cards, similar to the ones students receive throughout the school year. Legislation is pending in a handful of states to join that group.

But in some states that already have them, A-F systems have received fierce backlash from local superintendents and school board members. They complain that the letter grades oversimplify student success or shortfalls, increase pressure to pay attention to tests, ignore school quality factors other than test scores, and demoralize teachers and parents.

Local officials in at least four states are using this year's window of opportunity provided by the Every Student Succeeds Act to push back against A-F systems. ESSA, which goes into full effect for the 2017-18 school year, requires states to change several components of their accountability systems, including the measures states must use to calculate rankings and how often they report rankings to the public.

In West Virginia, recently elected Democratic Gov. Jim Justice said in his State of the State speech this year that he always thought his state's letter-grade system was ineffective, and he ordered his education department to replace it with a new one.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sandy.

Mag mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sandy, you clearly have not read Ms. Finne's writing before; she means "rat-infested." To her, every single thing about regular public education is terrible.

As well, I totally agree about the maintenance levels in schools but that doesn't necessarily mean that teachers, staff and administrators don't care about kids. But the district nor the union doesn't help itself when they do not explain why some decisions are best for kids when they appear to be more about adults.

Anonymous said...

Serious folks. Most schools DO have rats. Ballard High School security alert is routinely set off by rats. John Marshall interim site for Loyal Heights has visible rat traps everywhere and rats can be smelled. Seattle has rats, and lots of them. It doesn't say much about the instruction, but says that the buildings are old and there's not much maintenance.


Anonymous said...

Any building in Seattle that has food inside and is located within a few blocks of a natural source of water has rats in it or adjacent to it. Don't kid yourselves. Public school classroom quality has nothing to do with it. We do need much more maintenance on our school buildings, but that won't get rid of the rats.

I could make a joke about JSIS, but I'll leave that one to your imaginations.

North of 85th

Anonymous said...

Rats, asbestos, lead paint, lead pipes, leaking roofs, mold...I'm not sure my children have been in SPS schools without one or more of those issues.


Outsider said...

The WPC rant is a bit sophomoric, but the basic point is valid. Replacing public parks with "recreation vouchers" would be a reasonable idea in the right circumstances. The right circumstances would be:

1) The cost to taxpayers was equal or less
2) The outcome for most citizens was better. For example, imagine that the parks, while expensive to police and maintain, are full of feces, needles, and crime so the public is afraid to even use them. Large public expense yields very little of actual recreational opportunities for citizens. Voucher-supported privately managed facilities might yield better recreation for more people.

I doubt that is actually true for parks in most places. Recreation vouchers are not wrong or evil in principle, but they are unlikely to make sense in any real situation. They tell you nothing about school vouchers.

School choice discussions tend to get confused because school systems across the country are very different, and families have a wide range of reasons for wanting out depending on what system they are in and what their own priorities are. Neither rats or unions are such a big problem in Seattle schools. Seattle teachers seem very professional, and the schools seem quite good for some segments of students. Even if every Seattle student had a voucher, two-thirds might never have a better option than the public schools.

There is actually a disconnect between foundation-based ideologues and astroturfers who promote choice for ideological, anti-union, or profit motives, and families who want out because their students are not being well served. Needless to say, the real priorities of families are not top of the list with choice advocates. That is one thing they have in common with PC social engineers.

Bubba said...

I ask this question in all honesty-- how is is "choice" different from "charter" in some ways? Is seattle creating/perpetuating this idea by offering "choice"? It's not that I don't value choice, but shouldn't all (or at least most) schools privide choice & address the needs of the student w/in their neighborhood schools?