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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Confidence

In the thread about the Times editorial, I wrote something that I want to bring forward for discussion. I wrote that despite all of the talk around restoring or building public confidence in the District, I'm not sure what people mean when they say "confidence", but that I thought they meant "trust". I wrote about four types of trust that are missing:

1) People don't trust the District to provide their child with a quality education.

a) Large WASL failure rates for poor and minority students

b) No apparent plan for closing the academic achievement gap

c) A math curriculum that doesn't appear effective or coherent

d) Perceived lack of support for students working beyond Standards


2) People don't trust the District to protect their child's safety.

a) Inaction and stonewalling on water quality issues

b) Inaction and stonewalling on mold/air quality issues

c) Inaction and non-reporting on sexual assualt at Rainier Beach

d) Inaction on student behavior violations

3) People don't trust the District to speak the truth.

a) The constant stream of lies from the District staff - too numerous to list
i) How many statements have you heard, only to have them proven false later?
ii) If you're active in any community, have you heard more lies or truth?

b) The difficulty in getting people to talk to you in the first place

c) The corrupt processes
i) Program placement
ii) Student assignment, particularly waitlist order
iii) Budgets for schools - if schools have lots of money in their budgets, why don't they have resources in their buildings?

d) Decisions driven by political considerations instead of academic goals

4) People don't trust the District to fulfill commitments.

a) The multitude of unkept promises - too numerous to mention.
i) In my observation, many more promises are broken than kept. Not a single promise to the Advanced Learning community has been kept in six years.
ii) How many promises made to YOUR community have been kept?

b) The voiding of all commitments upon changes in personnel

c) The Ronco Goal Process - set it and forget it

d) The lack of action in action items - note how many District "action items" have non-action verbs such as "start to", "develop a plan for", "continue", "prepare", etc.

Moreover, I wrote that despite all of the talk about restoring or building confidence, I wasn't hearing people say:

1) What exactly they mean by confidence
2) How the confidence was lost
3) How the confidence can be restored

I wrote a bit on these topics, but that could have been me going off on my own. I'd really like to read what other folks think about the confidence issue. What do the Superintendent and the candidates mean when they speak of confidence? How was that confidence lost? How can we get it back?

The Superintendent's PowerPoint on the Entry Plan had this slide:

"Purpose: Increase Confidence in Seattle Public Schools

* Clarify and widely communicate expectations for accountability and improvement
* Analyze data from the entry plan; share outcomes and plans for improvement
* Introduction to staff and the Seattle community
"

If these three things are achieved, will she be able to increase confidence in Seattle Public Schools?

Several board candidates have made increased confidence their goal. How have they defined confidence, how have they said they can build it?

Is there a confidence crisis? What do you all think?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the lack of confidence is widespread. I've attended PTSA meetings at my kids' school where the representatives freely admit that they have no idea if there's any point to what they're doing, because (a) the administration doesn't seem to be listening, and (b) the administration's words have no relationship to their actions.

What I see is a system which works, when it works, despite itself -- through lots of volunteers taking time and resources to make up for the manifold deficits of the district's policies and procedures.

The other thing I see it that, in the absence of a working policy process, issues are triaged by the noisiness of constituents. I've often thought, as an APP parent, that we might get more done with loud angry agitation then with patient cooperation. I think every contituency feels the same way.

Charlie Mas said...

As far as effective advocacy goes, I have trouble thinking of any advocacy group who had success with patient coooperation. The only effective advocacy I have ever seen came through either bad press or the threat of litigation.

Advocates aren't stupid. If you show them, over and over again, that patient cooperation doesn't work but that bad press and threats of litigation will work, they will cheerfully abandon patient cooperation for noisy abuse.

They would be foolish to do otherwise.

Anonymous said...

We need more discipline in the classrooms. If the students don't
respect the teachers or authority, how can good academics happen?

After being a parent in the SSD for several years, I'm disappointed in how many of the teachers present themselves. If the teachers want respect, they need to look more professional. Looking professionsal (even if you wear the same uniform everyday) is the first step in commmunicating to the students that your are serious about teaching them. You can purchase nice work clothes from J.C. Penney or even second hand shops, so don't tell me it is about money. It is about attitude. Teachers know that they aren't paid alot of money. They teach because they love it. It is about making a difference. Please set an example for your students.

I deeply respect teachers who give 100%. If you are only willing to give 50%, get out of the profession. If you are doing it to pay the bills, that is not good enough. Teaching is the most important and toughest job after parenting.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's another question about this confidence thing that is bothering me:

How will we know when it is restored?

What are the metric, the assessment, and the benchmark? This doesn't strike me as a measurable goal.

Could Dr. Goodloe-Johnson simply declare the confidence increased in January and therefore claim a success?

Is this a step towards accountability - when her first self-assigned task doesn't include a measurable goal? What does Good to Great say about having measurable goals?

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting exploration. Your concern about the measurability of achievement against the goal is one I share, always.

A periodic update of the EMC poll engaged by Schools First might be an ideal barometer of the public's confidence - even if, or perhaps especially if, the questions (which I think were never shared in their entirety, which I thought was obtuse on their part, however entitled) were spun negatively as some suspected.

Re the original post, I get some of this, but I can't really go with you because I think you're tarring with too broad a brush.

You've been specific about the what, which is excellent and important, but for this analysis to be of most value to me, it needs more specificity as to the who - who are the People who don't trust, and who is responsible for the events, situations, and symptoms you've described?

Do mean People in the sense of 'all people', or People in the sense of 'some people'?

Charlie Mas said...

The lack of specificity is part of my problem as well.

What, exactly, do these people mean when they say "confidence"?

Who, exactly, is supposed to feel this sense of confidence?

In whom, exactly, are we supposed to feel confident?

I can guess that the confidence means trust. I can guess that the people who are supposed to feel it are student families, taxpayers, local electeds and the local press. I can guess that we're supposed to feel it about teachers, principals, district staff, the Superintendent, and the Board. But I'm just guessing.

I have tried to fill that specificity gap, but I'm just waving a cane around in the dark without any direction from the people who are talking about confidence.

For my part, I don't think in those terms. I just think that people should say what they mean and mean what they say. Beyond that, I think people should fulfill their commitments. If everyone who works for the District were to do those three things, I don't think we'd have any crisis of confidence.

The District, starting with the former Superintendent and flowing down the org chart from there, has not done those things and has not expected those things from their staff.

I didn't think it appropriate for me to list, by name and event, the lies and broken promises that I know about. There are very few people on the District staff who haven't done it - and done it unapologetically.

Right now, based on the EMC survey - to the extent that it is credible - it appears that people, both student families and other Seattlites, do have confidence in the teachers. The survey indicated low confidence in the Board, but I don't know if those were informed opinions. There was no measure of the district senior staff as such, but their responsibility, budgeting, was rated lower than the Board and listening to concerns, another staff responsibility, was rated little better than the Board.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in the district, I take umbrage at the notion that how a teacher dresses relates in any significant way to the amount of respect the teacher earns from his or her students.

The attire of a teacher can certainly contribute to a first impression. But to imply that has anything to do with an ongoing, respectful relationship between teacher and student does not give enough credit to the teacher OR the student.

The first step in showing students you are serious about teaching is to begin to develop a relationship with them.

If a teacher can do that, discipline becomes less of an issue and more learning can occur.

BullDogger said...

In third grade, we were placed in a position by SPS where private school was the only good option. 5 years with lousy cars, cheap vacations and all the overtime I could work has delivered a well prepared student.

Upon returning to SPS our private school years are viewed as a negative badge of "privilege". The city though is filled with families who highly value education, can and are willing to sacrifice by taking the private school option. These same families are the ones who, if in public school, would contribute time, dollars and provide the energy for oversight that's needed to keep schools, programs and the district bureaucracy in check while improving education for all.

If you want to measure confidence in SPS I'd suggest the best metrics won't come by gauging who's in the system, many with financial circumstances leaving no option but to suffer through the district's monopolistic arrogance. To gage success, measure how many families opt for private school. If MGJ wants to tout an increased confidence that goes deeper than words on a PowerPoint slide, decrease the percentage of Seattle's children attending private school and I will applaud.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mean what you say and say what you mean. That would help restore some confidence.

I'm with Charlie; no more "prepare", "direct", etc. Tell us your goals and make them laser-focused. It would be interesting to see the district identify what THEY think are the major problems. Is staff turnover killing their processes?

No more waffling. For example, Carla Santorno has been putting off a decision about the 4-period day at West Seattle. She keeps giving the parents mixed signals and dates. Sorry, she's the big cheese and she needs to make a decision. In this case it really is a clash between parents and staff (with somewhat equal numbers on both sides and some spillover as well). Well, my experience is staff wins every time. It would be interesting to see a case where parents explained their unhappiness, showed how academic achievement was NOT being helped by whatever program and how they wanted it changed. That would make me a believer but one thing about this district is that they virtually never do what parents want (and, to their credit, no one group of parents can say they have sway over the district). Principals and staff always win out.

How was confidence lost? Charlie, please, there's a laundry list that no one wants to hear again ranging from inept moves to downright (although alleged) corruption.

How will I know that my confidence is restored? I think I can speak for many parents when I say that will be the day when I concentrate solely on my student and his school and can turn away from constantly monitoring the district administrative activities and have faith in the people and processes who run this district.

Anonymous said...

In response to bulldogger: My experience indicates MGJ views private schools as a place for those parents who might otherwise be hard to handle in the public school arena. In other words, private schools are great holding pens for those with more leverage and potential to interfere than she cares to deal with. She's also keen on pat assessments based on social, economic and racial stereotypes. If you are or were ever in private schools you're probably not on her list of people to consider...unless of course you have political influence. I'd be surprised if she'd consider measuring her public confidence level by the number of SPS residents in private schools. It's still an interesting approach in a community with a relatively high percentage of parents who have chosen private schools.

Anonymous said...

There are times when this board and its misinformation is part of the problem, not the solution.

For example, non-reporting of an alleged sexual assualt at RB. Um, anybody notice that there were never criminal charged filed? Anyone wonder if this actually happened, or if the newspaper ran a juicy sounding story without the facts being clear?

Perhaps part of the confidence issue is that the Times in particular seems to print a lot of half truths about SPS, and gossip gets pasted along on places like this board until peopple believe it is true, having no real idea of what did or did not happen?

Anonymous said...

"The constant stream of lies from the District staff - too numerous to list"

I would love to actually see you list some of these, and tie they to a person not "staff." I can't help but think it is easy to make pithy claims without actually tying them to real words and people.

Charlie Mas said...

anonymous wrote:

"I would love to actually see you list some of these, and tie they to a person not "staff." I can't help but think it is easy to make pithy claims without actually tying them to real words and people."

Thanks, anonymous, for my daily dose of irony.

Anonymous said...

You are the one making the claimns here, guess you are not interested in backing them up.

Charlie Mas said...

If you want a list of lies told by District staff over the past several years, we can start a thread on it. If you have been active in Seattle Public Schools at all, you can write your own. There is a multitude to choose from:

Lies about alternative education programs (progress reports, reviews, community engagement, closures, principal selection, and more).

Lies about advanced learning programs (progress reports, reviews, community engagement, eligibility criteria, program placement, model design, teacher qualification, curriculum, and more).

Lies about student health issues (mold, water quality, when and if repairs were done, urgency for repairs, budgets for repairs, and more)

Lies about facilities (building capacity, building condition, repair schedules, closures, renovation schedules, renovation budgets, and more)

Lies about the budgets (operating budgets, cuts, deficits, allocations to schools, how schools spend their budgets, capital budgets, project budgets, student activity budgets, and more)

Lies about special education (funding, program placement, IEPs, and more)

Lies about community engagement, curriculum, standards, graduation requirements, student assignment and more.

Then, on top of false statements, we have a whole set of unkept promises for each of these categories as well.

The details are available, but they are not important. There would be no benefit in recounting them. If you doubt it, then note that no one disputes it. If you desperately need these details to find the statement credible, then I suggest that you either ask people privately and without anonymity or regard the statement as dubious when reading the blog entry. The blog entry does not need the statement to be valid. In either case, this is not an appropriate forum for that sort of information.

We need to face forward. The details are not important, but the history is, because that is what has brought us to this point. The lies have damaged confidence in the District and a strict and enforced honesty policy would help to restore it.

BullDogger said...

Melissa: I’m in the middle of the West Seattle mess. This issue is filled with half truths, delay and inaction from the district and school staff all in sufficient quantity to melt my confidence in SPS. Charlie’s “confidence buster” list speaks to my experience and defines why people don’t choose SPS. I also agree with your assessment of knowing when your confidence has returned personally. Until you have real metrics though to tell you the organization is making progress, district spin doctors can claim anything, including they’ve arrived. We all ask for accountability. With that we should demand systems that can make people accountable. This is a billion dollar public trust and should be expected to act like it.

Please read the West Seattle issue page at www.wscepe.org and check the news/timeline. Carla Santorno’s promises for resolution go way back. Parents have real concerns, beginning with 8% larger class sizes than the rest of the district. The teachers see fewer students, teach fewer classes and have longer prep periods than any other SPS high school. That’s what has set staff against community. This issue is really a work rules/labor action on the part of WSHS’s collective staff. When you talk to staff individually the support for 4PD is much softer.

If any other high school proposed a 4 period day it would be laughed at. Contrast that with parents legitimately directing attention at WSHS and the district’s response of “circle the wagons”. Carla may be the Big Cheese but this issue has a unique feature forcing an annual waiver approval by the board and OSPI. A new crop of soon to be disgruntled families is brought in every year and the board gets to listen to them. Soon Carla will be held accountable if she does not address the problem.

Side note on the issue of safety… I can’t speak for the RB rape incident but I’ve seen total inaction and neglect at Garfield regarding extreme freshman hazing. One day soon a student is going to get severely injured or killed in this annual, and escalating, ritual of ignored freshman abuse. If you are the parent of a freshman, beware of “spirit day”.

Charlie Mas said...

I've been thinking a lot - perhaps too much - about the Superintendent's Entry Plan, and I think I understand it now. It appears to be a broad plan for gathering the data for making a series of more detailed plans.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has astutely identified Seattle Public Schools' problem as a broad loss of confidence in the District. This confidence should be felt by all of the various groups she will meet with in the course of the Entry Plan, including student families, Seattle citizens, local elected officials, the press, and school staffs.

I think that she uses "confidence" to mean all the things that I suspected it meant. That can be found in her four themes for the Entry Plan: improved academic achievement, improved systemic accountability, improved strategic communications, and improved fiscal accountability.

For each of these thematic elements, she will select metrics, benchmarks, and assessments, set timelines and assign responsibilities - the elements of a real plan. That's what she will be doing from now to January during the course of the Entry Plan. I look forward to January when she is due to clarify and widely communicate expectations for accountability and improvement. That's when she says she will release and begin to implement the various plans for improvement.

Of course she can't do these things yet because she needs to gather information first. She needs to learn about our current status, our strengths and weaknesses, our assets and liabilities. That's what she will be doing during the various meetings.

The total goal, increased confidence, is ambiguous and multi-faceted. It will, however, be divided into a multitude of other goals grouped around the four themes. Each of these goals will have a detailed and concrete plan for achievement, complete with all of the elements of a real plan. There are likely to be a number of plans for each school. This will be a bit like the action items that currently make up School Transformation Plans, only better. When I think of the scope and depth of this effort, I wonder if she has given herself enough time. She will need to delegate a lot of the work to people who are unfamiliar with this sort of practice. I wonder if the introduction of accountability will prove too great a shock to the system. I also wonder if various work rules and bargaining agreements will allow any real accountability. My gravest concern is that this effort will bounce off. I fear that the various schools and departments will simply re-cycle old or existing plans, such as their School Transformation Plans, the Facilities Master Plan, or the School Improvement Plans, not realizing that the way they have been doing things is wholly inadequate. If they send up vague "plans", without real actions, metrics or accountability, I can only hope that they will get them back for revision until they are right.

If I have a correct understanding of this plan, then it strikes me as well-timed and well-directed. Considerable force will have to be put behind these changes.

That said, the recent experience around the public testimony reforms wasn't encouraging. She announced some things were done when they weren't. She described other action items as done, then, upon questioning, retreated to saying that they were started. Let's see if a lot more of those reforms will be in evidence at the September 5 Board meeting.

Anonymous said...

I almost wrote the same question as anon @ 7:52 re the Rainier Beach assault incident - the silence on that one has been somewhat deafening and I wondered what more there might be to the story.

Charlie, on the subject of "lies too numerous to list", it isn't libel or slander if it's factually accurate - correct? Is it that you have to maintain relationships with some of these people? That's often what it is for me.

Sorry to be dense - what was ironic about @9:23's observation that it's easy to make claims without backing them up with data? Unless it's that 'pithy' means 'substantive, precise, meaningful' while your assertions were more general in nature?

When you question whether those surveyed by EMC were informed, I wonder - confidence isn't really rational, it just is - which is what makes it so elusive to affect. But for me, it's still worth measuring - though I agree, the questions have to be meaningful and the methodology valid. And while it's interesting to know whether people have confidence in something as amorphous as "Seattle schools", I too would like to see questions that get at the superintendent, the senior management, the central staff, etc.

I also agree that if the organization (central staff, school administrators, teachers, board, all) said what it meant, meant what it said, and met its commitments, we would all be happier - but I chalk it up to issues of competence, capability and culture, rather than conscious choice.

Culture is like confidence - hard to define or quantify. For me it comes down to very simple things and (for SPS) congruence between *statements* about the value of family involvement and community engagement and *actual practice* - like announcing and/or cancelling meetings well in advance; posting agendas and minutes in a timely way (rather than the day of and months after, respectively); not dumping the community engagement plan when you run out of time to get a policy change in front of the board; showing you value it rather than simply saying you value it.

The Student Assignment Plan process seems (at least so far) to be better at this than most SPS initiatives.

I wish that people like you and Melissa and Beth worked in SPS, because I think your intellectual and ethical rigor are what changes culture (and I think it would be interesting to see what your perception would be from the inside).

I hope Dr Goodloe-Johnson will have high expectations and require accountability (including from herself - employees follow what they see).

PS - I trust the district to provide my children with a quality education and protect their safety - though I'm not looking for an absolute guarantee of either.

Charlie Mas said...

The irony was someone who chooses to remain anonymous demanding names.

It's not about slander or libel. It's just not a good idea to name name when you have to continue to work with people. More than that, I really want to face forward. I don't want to dwell in the past.

The specific details of what lies were told or who told them aren't important. What is important is the cumulative effect: the current lack of trust and confidence and the debt that will have to be re-paid before we can have trust.