Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Raj's State of the Seattle Schools Speech

If you missed Raj's speech at the Stanford Center this afternoon, you can watch it here. Note the first two minutes are without sound.

Cheryl's rave introduction about Raj and his "quiet, powerful leadership" personally made me angry. If she is that thrilled with Raj's performance, then I don't think she belongs on the Board. We have hired Carla Santorno because Raj isn't doing his job, and isn't able to do his job --- plain and simple.

Speech excerpts:
  • "Single most important job is to increase academic achievement and close the achievement gap." Claims that WASL scores show great success in this area.
  • Attributes success in reading and writing to: "professional development in literacy, cultural competence, and focus work with bilingual students." (I'm not even sure I know what he's saying here.)
  • "We showed that we could make significant progress in reading and writing, and we can do the same in math." Claims the middle school math curriculum adoption from this spring is key to this effort.
  • "Efforts to close the achivement gap remain mixed."
  • "We will not be satisfied until every student meets all standards and is ready for college and work." (Notice no mention of exceeding standards being part of the goal. The focus is bring all up to the minimum requirements.)
  • "Created and filled new position of Director of Educational Technology."
  • Talked about Carla Santorno, her work at the schools, and her development of a "focused academic plan."
  • "Additional 2 million dollars to provide a six period day for all high school students."
  • Lots of talk about the budget, efficiencies, and the money saved from closing 7 school buildings. Said will be recommending closing "3 or 4 additional schools later this month." (next week -- 9/18)
  • School Board has "been briefed" on new school funding model to replace the weighted student formula; "retains concept of differentiated funding based on need, but ensures that all schools have the appropriate staffing level to meet the multiple and complex needs of our students."
  • Listed capital project work.
  • Talked about "caring for one another, building authentic relationships." Purchasing equipment to have simultaneous translation in 6 languages at community forums. Use of web-based communication tool (The Source) for improvement school/family communication.
  • "Thrilled that we were awarded an $800,000" Gates grant to fund strategic work.
  • Discussed the "Flight" program, working to increase school/family connections and "align academic programs K-12", which is NEA grant funded.
  • "This level of achievement gives me confidence in our ability to move forward with clarity, commitment and caring to meet our goals."

Then, turned to the "work ahead...vision for students and how to achieve that."

Outlined 6 key milestones he said will be discussed more at community meetings the next two days.

  1. Students ready for kindergarten.
  2. Third graders reading on grade level.
  3. Seventh graders ready for algebra.
  4. Ninth graders ready for high school.
  5. Tenth graders passing WASL Math, Reading and Writing.
  6. Students ready for college and work.

Can you say "mediocrity?" This is a predictable list of milestones. This is not a vision --- certainly not an inspiring one. This is not a list of key strategies or areas of emphasis.

  • "Leadership and accountability go hand in hand...Stable high quality leadership in schools and the central office." Expanding principal leadership academy and training for central office.
  • "Rolling out customer service and school support standards..."
  • "District revenue does not keep up with needs...ongoing structural challenge is due to state's failure to live up to constitutional requirement to fully fund education."
  • "Reviewing every aspect of central budget to free up dollars for academic needs"
  • Mentioned BEX III Levy and Operating Levy coming up.
  • Spoke about work on community / family partnerships and district / business / government partnerships.


Anonymous said...

As a parent of a junior who is planning to attend college in a math intensive discipline, I want to hear the strategies for helping current high school students achieve the math standards taken for granted in other countries.

We had individual WASL scores in the spring, we should have known what percentage needed help- including those students that we had previously advanced to the next grade without having 5 credits- and not only should we have had summer school classes in place for them, we should have had a support program ready to go last week.

Or are we focusing on middle school students who have a few years to graduation , rather than the students who will need to pass the WASL to recieve their diploma in about 17 months?

Anonymous said...

So much doublespeak.

Mr. Manhas says on one hand that WASL scores show great success in increasing academic achievement and closing the achievement gap, then says "Efforts to close the achievement gap remain mixed."

Slight increases in WASL pass rates are touted as "great successes". Similarly sized decreases in the pass rates are brushed off or ignored.

Beth rightly points out the utterly un-ambitious nature of the goals, but without a plan even these mediocre goals are out of reach. The District needs a plan, but the Superintendent only offers goals. Where is the plan?

These goals are the exact same goals the District had when Mr. Manhas became Superintendent three years ago. What plan has he developed and implemented over the past three years? None.

Anonymous said...

There's your dilemma. Middle school is the key bridge between elementary and high school. I think they let some kids go onto high school even if they are not academically ready.
BUT the WASL is here, right now. The PI, in its "Parents shouldn't freak out about the WASL" story said that oh well, those high school kids that don't pass have multiple opportunities to pass. Tell that to the kids and their parents who are probably worried sick. I wonder if every high school has a plan for parents whose kids didn't pass all the sections who come to the school and say, how are you helping my student towards passing?
And, the science portion starts for the class of 2010.

Anonymous said...

I agree a plan would be nice.
I don't think the bulk of families who opt for private schools in Seattle do so because they don't beleive in public schools.

I think they choose private because they either found that they couldn't count on Seattle schools to offer their child support for learning- by that I mean appropriately rigourous curiculumn and despite nice articles about schools like VanAsselt, schools seem to equate rigor with teaching to the test, of which there is increasing emphasis.

My daughters 3rd grade class had more meaningful assignments than her 4th grade class. When elementary work does not build on what went before, then middle school can't prepare for highschool.

The high schools are left holding the bag, trying to adequately address both students are reasonably prepared for higher education, either because of their own learning style/support at home/previous schools or all three, as well as students who have had less preparation, and less support.

One thing that has me tearing my hair out is the dollars that the district has spent over the minority assignment issue.
Legally, we could assign students to schools by income, and not use race. Other districts nationwide do it, and that IMO, is the key issue.
But to SPS it is the principle of assigning by race, and stand on the soapbox that the important thing is racial diversity in all schools.
Im sorry, but the important thing is that they be able to read and write and don't have teachers at the bottom of the barrel that only stay for one year.

The kids can't wait until everybody agrees on everything. Thats why the Eastside has a more diverse popluation than Seattle. Smaller districts are more responsive, they actually care about the students who are in it, and aren't just in the business of employing adults.

I agree that of urban districts Seattle is one of the better ones in the country, however, that aint saying much. It isn't just affordability of housing that has Seattle at barely more families than Sanfrancisco.

Is that the kind of city we want to live in?

Anonymous said...

I attended the first Community Conversation last night at Hamilton. It was kind of sad because a lot of staff showed up and the crowd...was maybe 25-30 people.

Raj gave a basic speech and turned over most of the time to Carla who outlined the "milestones". Personally, I am happy with this effort. I have wanted, for years, just some basic "here's what we're going to do and how we are going to do it" steps. Carla was humorous without being annoying and was careful to cover every point.

Then Mark Green spoke on the fiscal state of the district. He said we are not in the red, have had balanced budgets for 2 years and have a $20M surplus. He said the budget shortfalls are coming because of state funding that is falling, not any trouble that SPS is in. (Well, maybe, but the debt that the district is paying on the Stanford Center is not helping.) He also said that it was frustrating to come so far because he would hear, on one side, "Mend your house before we give you more money." and, on the other side, "You have a surplus; so why do you need to close schools?"

We then had questions and answers (many of which were comments). We were supposed to break into small groups but the majority wanted to just keep talking. There were questions about selling buildings, usage of empty buildings, someone from the NAACP saying that they believed the school closures to be racist and classist because of the high numbers of children of color affected. I commented on the slide about high schools having more AP courses flying in the face of the reality of some schools not wanting AP. I also said that the math scores were not going to get better with the double whammy of a math curriculum that doesn't work and the math WASL being more about reading and writing than math.

There was one guy who took up a lot of time arguing with Raj and Raj actually got a little emotion in his voice answering him. I think Raj feels that he is trying very hard but that he is flummoxed by the state. (He said that someone from the district had attended the Governor's committee on K-12 and found that the money will proably be the same but just rearranged.)

I was pleased to see a new high school director (who came over and introduced himself to me and said he wanted help). Carla has an aide named Brad (something, I didn't catch his last name).

I am willing to support this effort because of the clarity involved. The one thing that no one asked (and I hadn't wanted to) was that they talked about accountability. Only Carla (as usual) said what she meant. It meant that she and her directors were responsible for setting goals for principals and they would be judged in their reviews by how well the principals succeeded, thereby making the principals success, their success. It makes sense.

One woman stood up and said she was with a community group trying to partner with the district but that they needed parents and she was dismayed at the turnout.

Another woman asked for help for an arts curriculum. She said she understood the need for core curriculum emphasis and she was doing arts at her school but that she needed help with curriculum. Carla said she could help her with that issue.

I am going to support this effort as best I can. I still have my doubts about the levy (and I spoke to the head of Meng Analysis this morning) but that's another blog.

Beth Bakeman said...

I agree completely with the second post by anonymous who said "Legally, we could assign students to schools by income, and not use race. Other districts nationwide do it, and that IMO, is the key issue."

I have suggested that idea several times to Raj and Board members. I think it's time to bring it up again. Schools in Seattle do not deliver the same quality of education everywhere. Low-income families who want to send their children to schools in neighborhoods where they can't afford to live should have that opportunity.

Anonymous said...

There is an inequity among our schools and that inequity is not due to race or resources provided by the District but due to economic differences in student population and the resources provided by student families.

Some schools have PTAs that raise six figures every year while other schools don't even have a PTA. That money raised from the student families is used for everything from the carpet in the library to books in the library, to a librarian, and even to hire additional teachers to reduce class sizes.

I recommend two changes to the management of non-competitive grant revenue to schools.

First, revenue sharing. It can be seventy-thirty or eighty-twenty, but some portion of every dollar raised in this way should go into a pot to be divided among all schools.

Second, a restriction on this money that prohibits spending any of it on basic education espenses.

Beth Bakeman said...

Agree, Charlie. By while we're fighting for those changes, let families who can't afford to live in neighborhoods with top-fundraising PTAs choose to go to those schools if they wish. The income-based tie breaker is a simple, short-term solution.

Beth Bakeman said...

An example --- a couple of years ago my daycare provider and I were talking about schools. I asked her where her children went for elementary school, and she said John Hay, which is in Magnolia. She lives in south Seattle, so that is out of cluster and she had to drive her children there and back every day.

As a low income parent of children of color, she had that option because of the race-based tie breaker. She told me she chose to spend her day driving them there and back because "education is so important and I wanted my kids in a good school." In the current system, a parent in the same situation would not be able to make that choice, because the child would not get into a desirable north end school. This is unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree and proposed a tie-breaker based on eligibility for free and reduced priced lunches to the Board over two years ago.

Dick Lilly also proposed one when he was on the Board.

I think that if people would write to the Board and ask for this that we would see that the Board is against it.

The Board's Vision is not one where they equitably spread the access to the few good schools, it is one in which all of the schools are good. Unfortunately, that isn't possible in the current environment of inequitable distribution of resources. Moreover, the District has not shown anyone that they know HOW to make a school good.

Given the choice between enrolling their kids in a school that is already good and enrolling their kid in a school that has not historically been good but that someone at the District says will become good (although they cannot explain how that transformation will occur), people will choose the school with the positive track record.

Maybe it would be different if the District or the school could describe, in concrete terms, how that school will improve, but I've never seen that happen. The District and the schools have not taken an interest in that sort of outreach. Their preferred method of encouraging people to enroll at a specific school is to close off the options to attend other schools.

The District needs to learn to stop pushing people and to start pulling them.