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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Superintendent Evaluation

On June 18, the School Board will have an executive session dedicated to the Superintendent Evaluation. As it is an executive session, it will not be open to the public.

Just seeing this item on the calendar got me to thinking about the topic. And I have to say that I'm having trouble finding positives. What with all the talk about accountability and the definition of accountability as clearly defined measurable expectations, I can only presume that there is already a set of criteria, metrics and benchmarks the Board will use to evaluate the Superintendent's performance. I can only presume it because I don't know what these objectively measured expectations are. You would think that they would be published somewhere, but I couldn't find them.

I do know this: when Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was hired people were told to expect four things.

Decisive Leadership. I'm not seeing any decisive leadership from the superintendent. First, no decisiveness. We haven't had action, we haven't even had action plans. We've only seen plans for making action plans. The Entry Plan was her first plan for making action plans, but she abandoned it just before it was supposed to deliver. Now we have the Strategic Plan as our plan for making plans. The Strategic Plan isn't written yet; it's still in development. Believe it or not, but right now we have a plan for a plan for making plans for taking action. Rather than decisive leadership we've seen the most artful deferral of action that I can possibly imagine. The District has made almost exactly no progress on any initiative since Dr. Goodloe-Johnson arrived: student assignment - stalled, math curriculum - stalled, high school reform - stalled, community engagement - stalled, achievement gap closure - stalled. Almost everything has been deferred. We have seen the exact opposite of decisive leadership.

Nevertheless, decisions have been made over the past year. Oddly, however, the Superintendent hasn't really been at the lead of any of these decisions. We have seen Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Stephens, Ms Santorno and Ms Wise giving the presentations and answering the questions. The Superintendent has appeared more like she is a spectator at these presentations - and not a particularly active one - rather than a participant. She sure doesn't appear in a leadership role.

Data-based Decisions. Consider the decisions that have been taken in the past year: the math adoption, the West Seattle High School conversion to a 6-period day, the Denny-Sealth decision, the program placement decisions, etc. I don't see any data supporting any of them. Do you? They all seem to be driven by the same illogical, political, vain and bureaucratic impulses that have always driven decisions at Seattle Public Schools. These are all decisions made at the Superintendent level, but they were all made either in the absence of data or in contradiction to the data.

Accountability. Never have I seen a word more overused and misused than "accountability" at Seattle Public Schools. It appears everywhere. They literally have it printed on the letterhead. I thought we all knew what accountability is, but Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has redefined it for us. She says that accountability is the presence of clearly defined measurable expectations for the purposes of performance evaluation. What is notably missing from this definition is consequences. For the rest of us, accountability includes consequences - rewards for meeting or exceeding the benchmarks, and punishments for failing to meet them. That element is conspicuously absent from the superintendent's definition. What is also conspicuously absent is accountability - even by her defintion. There is no accountability anywhere, but it is easiest to see the hole where it should go in the highest profile failure of accountability: the Southeast Initiative. The Superintendent and the staff made this big to-do over the accountability elements of this plan, but then they failed/refused to implement them - at all.

Increased Confidence. With the new superintendent everyone thought that attitudes about Seattle Public Schools would change. They have. They have actually gotten worse. The stated purpose of the Superintendent's Entry Plan was to increase trust in Seattle Public Schools. Over the past year, the southwest corner of the district was betrayed with the Denny-Sealth decision, the north end of West Seattle was betrayed by the West Seattle six period day decision, the Southeast part of the district was hoodwinked with the abandonment of the Southeast Initiative, Queen Anne and Magnolia have had their dream of a guaranteed seat at a nearby high school pulled away from them for another year, and the families in the northeast are having trouble getting into their reference elementary schools. No one likes the adopted math curriculum. Every school seems to find the Weighted Staffing Standards hold bad news. No one is looking forward to "fidelity of implementation" or more standardized curricula. Where, if anywhere, has confidence increased? Where are the people who didn't trust the District before but now do? I'm not seeing it.

So, in review

No decisive leadership. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson hasn't taken the District in any direction yet, she hasn't even determined the direction she wants to go. She has effectively deferred nearly all action.

No data-based decision-making. What few decisions could not be deferred were made from inertia, not data.

No accountability. Not only has there been no real accountability, there hasn't been any of the re-defined accountability.

No increased confidence. Every corner of the district has been betrayed somehow.

You can suggest that it is too early to review the Superintendent's performance, but it has been about a year and the Board is scheduled to do it in just two months. Will another two months really make that much difference?

14 comments:

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

In answer to your question of...
Will another two months really make that much difference?

Clearly NO.

The really unfortunate part of everything you bring up is....

Those of us who are well versed in the jargon and politics of education saw all this coming after Dr MG-J's initial 90 minutes on Television before invited members of the community.... Before she was hired.

Members of the Board made a trip to Charleston to check out our candidate. Instead they would clearly have received a better idea of what was coming by visiting the Newsless Courier in Charleston.
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dan dempsey said...

To Improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.

Given:
1... the Authoritarian Centralized gang of few decision making.

2... The suppression of ideas from the community.

3... The failure to even look for any data until after decisions.

4... The use of totally irrelevant information publicly presented to supposedly support previously made decisions.

Right another TWO months and all will be better.

No data coupled with the inability to make a correct decision even when the relevant data is located for the SPS admin by others and given to them.

Two months cannot possibly cure this sick culture.
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Melissa Westbrook said...

Good job, Charlie. This about covers it. And you surely can't be the only one to notice it.

I had really expected Dr. G-J to come in - given what I had read about her leadership in Charleston - and get down to business (whether it was what the Board or parents wanted or not). My thought is perhaps she wants the weight of the audit reports behind her in order to lay out a plan and go to it.

I find the word "accountability" or "accountable" on all the district information to be insufferable, given how there are no consequences or measures to rate for it. I said, at a Board meeting, that I wanted to know who was accountable for a laundry list of things that I read off. And, of course, there are no answers.

It's like that Big Lie theory; if you keep saying something enough times, people start to believe it. Sadly, Dr. G-J doesn't seem to realize that she's come into a district full of people who have already experienced this kind of talk before and won't be easily fooled.

It will be interesting to go to the Alliance breakfast in May and see what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson tells a room full of powerbrokers.

dan dempsey said...

Once again perhaps it is time to trash everything and start over. Afterall we are over half-way to the 18 month mark, which I believe is the official Urban School district "Trash and Restart time".

Here is a really fine idea that would be very unusual for Seattle and this State given OSPI direction of the last decade.

Try closing the achievement gap by...

... Teaching Content

Surprise there are actually people organized to do this.

The Core Knowledge Blog

Closing the Achievement Gap: Teaching Content


This is more than a blog this has the heavy-weights involved that actually publish in professional journals.

Perhaps Dr MG-J could try the following for some advice.

Authors

* Daniel Heller
* Diana Senechal
* Diane Ravitch
* E. D. Hirsch
* Gerald Terrell
* J. Martin Rochester
* Linda Bevilacqua
* Robert Pondiscio
* Russ Spicer
* TM Willemse

Michael said...

I see this in the post: "For the rest of us, accountability includes consequences" Really? For a district employee?? That's laughable.

In the comments I see: "2... The suppression of ideas from the community." Are you serious? Is it suppression of ideas when the persons elected to the Board (or persons hired by the Board) don't take your idea and run with it? Maybe that means they don't think too much of your ideas, and use the authority given to them by the voters to make decisions THEY see as benefitting the district. Just because you go to a board meeting, present your idea, and they don't like your idea, doesn't equal suppression.

But then again, it's all a conspiracy, right?

Charlie Mas said...

So michael agrees with me, the efforts to hold district employees accountable has been laughable.

For everyone outside the bubble of Seattle Public Schools, however, accountability includes consequences. The whole idea of holding someone accountable means subjecting them to consequences - good or bad - in response to their fulfillment of their responsibilities, their achievement, and the objectively measured outcomes of their performance versus expectations.

parent said...

Accountability is the latest buzz word. I heard it at my daughter's first grade conference. "We are going to make her accountable for improving her hand writing.", and again in second grade, "We are going to make her accountable for turning in her homework." Excellent, if it meant anything.

Michael's absolutely right. No, most people live in a bubble exactly like SPS, and no, there really aren't consequences for that many work place issues. Government federal and state employees, any union worker, Boeing employees, even lauded Microsoft (worked there myself), burger flipper. Do you think they all have measurable goals with a big fat punishment at the end? Not really. How many people you know got fired from any of those jobs? If they do, it's usually for the most egregious behavior OR for political reasons.

So, I'd recommend getting over the "accountability" kick, and the fact that no, not everybody shares your values.

anonymous said...

Well call me old fashioned because I still believe in accountability. I teach my kids to be accountable and responsible for their actions, whether or not their teachers, friends or families have the same values. We have always told our kids you are free to disagree, but you are not free to disobey. They have learned that you pay a price for disobedience, it's not free. That doesn't mean that we come up with some harsh consequence or punishment, but it means that there will be some type of meaningful learning experience that comes as a consequence of their disobedience. For the most part we are pretty laid back, and easy going. But, when our kids test the ropes (as kids do), they learn that disobedience is not free. They pay a price (generally a small price) but enough to keep them on track). They are learning to be accountable for their own actions. They are learning that when you do bad things, it is inevitable that sooner or later bad things will happen to you. I hope this will teach them valuable lessons in life, and even when they are in a situation where someone is not holding them accountable, they will hold themselves accountable, and take the high road.......do the right thing.

One can hope...

Charlie Mas said...

Just to recap for those who are new to this:

No one who posts to this blog is on an "accountability kick". The people who keep using the word "accountability" over and over again, mixing it into every single thing they say, is the District, and the Superintendent in particular. If anyone is on an "accountability kick" it is she.

If you feel the need to share your cynicism with someone about that word, share it with her - not us.

dan dempsey said...

Dear Michael,

One dominant characteristic of almost every urban school district in the USA is the failure to bring about significant academic achievement.

The SPS is right in there. This difficulty stems directly from the inability to intelligently apply relevant data through the use of attribution analysis.

Thanks for slamming me.

Perhaps someday it will eventually come to your attention that this district operates by administrative whim.

1... they do not search for relevant data to apply before deciding on a course of action.

2... decisions are made first then numbers are desperately sought out to justify the whimsical decision.

3... in the case of Everyday math the SPS admin is still looking for the research that shows... 10 months after the decision.

---------------------

I really could careless whether the board likes my ideas.

This is not a popularity contest. Just because the board has authority hardly indicates they have the knowledge, skills, or intelligence to clearly understand how to make an effective sustainable decision.

The fact the we have watched for long lasting programs that improve student performance and found few if any should be a cause of major concern.

You note "THAT THEY SEE AS BENEFITING THE DISTRICT".

I am sure happy that you are satisfied with what they see as benefiting the district.

I on the other-hand would like to see something that improves academic performance. In math just keeping academic performance unchanged would have been an improvement over the last decade.

Please list all the things that the board has done that have benefited the district. Please include the evaluation instrument used that indicates improvement.

Are you planning to support the Districts planned implementation of IMP for grade 9-12 math?

This will complete the SPS plan of NO authentic algebra ever. The trifecta of math disaster totally off line with the national math Panel report at every level elementary, middle, and high school.

Since the board and Superintendent seem to excel in going the wrong way, (check the data - the wrong way and often) hardly anyone is going to use rejection of their ideas from the board as an indication that their ideas are incorrect.

The fact that you state my ideas are not worthwhile because the board does not like them is laughable.

Like Charlie says so where is the accountability -- better yet what does the district mean when they use the word accountable.

Charlie Mas said...

So here's another thing the Superintendent was supposed to do: improve the image of Seattle Public Schools. Yet today there are two news stories about the District and both are about people suing it.

Charlie Mas said...

High School math curriculum adoption has now been deferred for another year. More deferral of action from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

You are at least a State of Washington Treasure if not a National Treasure.

So where to go from here?

You mentioned that after the Denny/Sealth decision we had a lame duck board. Perhaps the board was in search of partial redemption on the HS Math Action.

Do we also have a lame duck superintendent?

dan dempsey said...

Given the extreme opposition on the part of the leaders to intelligently applying relevant data in decision making perhaps "The Next Step" in the plan to make plans should just be to get on with the action ASAP.

Find a forked branch of a hazel tree (Filbert tree), cut it into a divining rod (or dowsing rod) and in the hands of the Superintendent let it make the decisions.

We sure could not get worse results than what MG-J has produced thus far.