Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What Accountability Could Mean

I have been thinking, more and more, about accountability in Seattle Public Schools. I have been thinking about what it would look like, how it would work, whom it would serve. More and more I come back to the idea of supervision - long absent - from the district level.

Here are a couple examples:

A student has an IEP. Who, if anyone, conducts a review to determine if the IEP was followed and to assess the quality and efficacy of the special education services provided to the student? Both the teacher and the principal have a conflict of interest. It would have to be someone from outside the school building. It would have to be district-level staff. And if no one conducts such a review, then we have no accountability. In the absence of accountability we don't know what we have.

A school claims to offer an Advanced Learning Opportunity (ALO). Who, if anyone, conducts a review to determine if there really is an ALO and to assess the quality and efficacy of the program and the services provided to the students? No one. That means no accountability.

District Policy (B61.00) says that the Board is supposed to "Require and consider periodic reports on educational program." and that the Superintendent is supposed to "Prepare and present reports on the educational program as required." It also says that the Board is supposed to "Require annual report on school district programs." and that the Superintendent is supposed to "Provide annual report on District programs." It does not say what must be included in these reports.

District Policy (C42.00) says "It is the policy of the Seattle School Board to provide for the continuous and rigorous evaluation of its educational policies and programs to determine (a) whether such policies and programs are being carried out, and (b) the extent to which they are successful in achieving intended outcomes." Policy C42.01 lays out the procedure for these evaluations. This procedure was adopted in 1985 and may not have been followed since that year. It requires the Superintendent to identify an Evaluation Agenda and appoint a Committee. These things just aren't done. I don't know why this policy hasn't been repealed or enforced.

Finally, there is Policy (C45.00) which plainly reads: "A review of all schools and programs will be conducted annually using a process and criteria as approved by the Superintendent. Support and intervention will be provided for schools and programs identified as not meeting the criteria, with those failing to improve subject to progressive interventions/sanctions as determined by the Superintendent." No such reviews take place. No support or interventions were ever provided.

Seattle Public Schools is in desperate need of regular reliable reviews of quality and efficacy. The District is supposed to be making them, but they have not been. This is the accountability that has been absent, and this should be the accountability that gets introduced.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm with you, Charlie. If the word "accountable" is going to be on every single sheet of district paper, then it should be defined. These Board policies that you found are a good place to start.

Beyond programs (which should be the number one item accountable to all) I would suggest also:

Most of the personnel matters are private as a matter of law and union rules. Since the Board signs off on union contracts then I trust them to make them strong contracts. But I believe when there are matters beyond job performance such as harm to a child or co-worker, then there should be some acknowledgment that that particular person has been sanctioned by the district. Otherwise, we never really know for sure what happens.

A good example is the compelling lack of oversight by principals at Broadview-Thompson of a teacher who was molesting children. This all comes out in the news, we are all aghast and yet we find that both principals are still safely in their jobs. I am not saying publicly flog them but I am saying, for all concerned to have faith in who is hired and retained in this district, we need to know that those principals have been retrained and told that how they handled it was completely wrong. And, yet, not a word.

I have been troubled to find that our capital program (or any district's capital program) is not required by either OSPI or the state to submit anything beyond the broadest of accounting for the money spent. It's amazing that that much money is not overseen and that, simply put, we can't see where the dollars truly go.

I think sometime in the near future this may change (I think the state is a little more than interested in where all the BEX money has gone). But as taxpayers and voters, we have a right to expect accountability in these funds especially since we know they are not always used for the projects that were listed on the voter's guide.

Accountability without explanation of how or follow-thru is just a word. And saying it doesn't make it so.

reader said...

The district conducted a bunch of outside reviews and audits. These audits are a from of accountability. If a program is not performing well it is noted in the audit. It isn't great on an individual level, and it isn't completely independent since the district pays for it. But, it is something.

Charlie Mas said...

The audits and reviews done by the outside agencies weren't really about assessing programs for quality and efficacy. Moreover, we can't be commissioning these types of audits on a regular basis.

teacher99 said...

I'll give a consequence of a lack of accountability. I just received a voice mail message from my brother about the "millions" of dollars lost on teachers being paid lots of money for being on paid administrative leave (apparently now on the national news). While he is very anti-public school for various reasons (some valid, many really not), the total lack of accountability for keeping administrative leave under a reasonable time frame just feeds the fire of those who wonder about public schools and are looking for reasons to vote against school levies and/or keeping their children out of public schools.

Accountability could also be measured in terms of substantially reducing JSC staff as the promise of centralizing administrative staff has not yet realized. Cutting 16 positions and creating 9 new ones is hardly the level of accountability promised in the JSC remodel of the old post office building. If central staff wants to prove the building was worth it then cut 40-50 JSC positions. Many simply are adding layers of administrivia downtown thus making it even more obscure as to who is accountable for what.

Accountability seems to be measured in the creation of new targets, not objective reviews of the old targets. Well, at least in SPS.

dan dempsey said...

I would love to see some accountability developed around whether the jobs in the central office actually contribute to the positive support of student learning. I think we could well find that the bus drivers by bringing the children to school contribute far more to the each child's academic performance than about half of those in the upper levels of the JSCEE.

I've been more and more amazed at the bureaucratic incompetence at the State level from my State Board of Education Math Advisory Panel experience. It seems that this entire k-12 enterprise is largely unfocused on producing positive academic improvement.

So which jobs have that positive academic focus and are producing and which are not?

W. Edwards Deming said: If you can cut it and not notice its absence then cut the position.

We may be able to use an entire floor at the JSCEE for other purposes by following Dr. Deming's advice.

dan dempsey said...

Consider accountability for D45.00

Grade-level curricula and associated student learning objectives of the District represent the expectations for student performance. Classroom instruction is planned to accommodate a reasonable range of student performance. However, some students’ skill deficiencies may be so severe that allowing more than one year for completion of a particular grade is a reasonable alternative to promotion. One of the primary purposes of schooling is to develop proficiency in certain core skill areas.

Promotion has been reviewed traditionally as the mechanism through which students, parents,
and educators have been notified that the charting of progress through a year's activities
reveals that the student is ready for the next sequence of educational activities.

1. Promotion Requirements -

Promotion to the next grade level in a middle school requires
that students pass (with a d grade or better) at least three of the four basic skills classes
(language arts, social studies, math, and science) on the final semester grades of each

Generally, except for unusual and compelling circumstances, a student who has not achieved
the necessary skills will not be considered eligible for promotion to the next higher grade.

OK let us talk about accountability for the enforcement of the above middle school policy.

Fact: Spring 2007 WASL for 8th grade

Overall: Percent Meeting Standard, Based on Total Enrollment:
3-of-3 Subjects 38.1%

2-of-3 Subjects 14.7%

1-of-3 Subject 19.6%

0-of-3 Subjects 27.5%

So 27.5% were 0 for 3 at WASL passing.

and 32.3% were unable to score above level 1 in math the clueless level.

Sure looks like at least 25% of students should have stayed in 8th grade.

So is it not the Superintendent's job to make sure that school board policy is upheld?

Accountability -- THERE is NONE!

Oh I forgot it is often said: everyone is accountable. Reality keeps interfering with my ability to remember the rhetoric.

It seems actions still speak louder than words.
Buster Broulette, Former Superintendent of Public Instruction said years ago that:
1.. Superintendents go to jail for bad finances.
2.. No Superintendent has gone to jail yet for bad curricula.

I guess if we want to see improved academic performance in the public school system we need to start building prisons for Superintendent's convicted of poor curricular choices.

Everyone held accountable YES lets put that in play in the legal system. That would get Superintendents focused on better curricula.

Hey Joe -- what are you in for?

I'm serving 5 to 10 for Connected Math and then a consecutive 7 to 15 for Core-Plus. I could be out as early as 2020. I'm lucky because I get to serve my ten years for Everyday Math at the elementary concurrently.

Now that would be accountability.

seattle citizen said...





CACIEE; CAC; UW (SpEd); SPS (Pierson); NDPC (Clemson); SPS ("Safety Net"); "Investigation" (Sebreeze)...

The Seattle Times. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

In other words, a series of "reviews" of Marshall, and newspaper articles, variously conducted by: a) the district (at one point accompanied by the Seattle Times, where students were asked, "what time is it right now?"); b) the Univ. of Washington, which report is usually buried; c) the Clemson Report, conducted by the National Dropout Prevention Center (of, you guessed it, South Carolina) during the course of which classroom "observations" evidently consisted of a NDPC contractor stepping into a classroom, looking around, and commenting, "sonnets, huh? Interesting." and stepping out...No curricular materials ever gathered, no lengthy classroom observations...All of which was required by the Closure mandate of July 2006, which stipulated that a review would be conducted to determine WHERE BEST TO PLACE MARSHALL when building closed. Promised review at that time contained metrics which were not met.
Do any of these reports meet board policy? Was Marshall Alternative ever given a chance to remediate? Some of its staff evidently put together a lengthy document detailing transformation into a new model of service for "safety net" students: parent/guardian education and contact, community resources hubbed at the building (or ANY buulding they were placed in) bi-lingual, School-to-work and vocational...Nary a peep was heard about this document (though it is said that the new thinking of "Safety Net" services might just include many of these suggested courses of action...what a co-inky-dink! Marshall is closed, outside the mandates of Board Policy, and yet a new model similar to one proposed by Marshall will be formulated. How convenient. Meanwhile, its "safety net" skilled staff will be dispersed to the wind.

If Board Policy is not followed, then the system has failed. SPS is a public institution using public money (1.5 billion per year), and the Board is responsible for how that money is spent, and that policies of this public institution are followed.

Outside reviews? Contracted? Non-biased? You must be joking. Marshall was steamrolled by four or five reviews, or six, (and an "investigation" conducted by a lawyer hired by the district), by the press, all out of compliance with Board Policy because no remediation was identified. The only purpose for the reviews was, apparently, to close the program after it had been said, publicly, that Marshall would be moved when the BUILDING closed.

anonyms said...

A student has an IEP. Who, if anyone, conducts a review to determine if the IEP was followed and to assess the quality and efficacy of the special education services provided to the student? Both the teacher and the principal have a conflict of interest.

Forget about following the IEPs... how about writing the IEPs? How about assesing the efficacy of the required EE's (educational evaluations) as well as the writing of IEP's and the monitoring of IEP compliance?

The quality of an individual's program is directly linked to the services provided. The I is for "individualized". Some schools have exactly the same amount of services written into every IEP. For example, 30 minutes of speech therapy per week for all students who qualify for speech. The service is exactly the same because that is what the school has decided to provide. The IEP isn't based on the individual student at all.

And IEP monintoring has a lot of ramifications. Some schools qualify lots of kids with pretty dubious evaluations. Are these students really disabled, or would a little extra tutoring do the trick? A change in approach? Principals have NO motivation what so ever to provide "a little extra tutoring" under site based management. Why not just put as many kids as possible into special education? It's free money, right?

dan dempsey said...

Seattle Citizen raises some interesting ideas.

I find the idea that an institution that spends 1.5 billion bucks per annum should follow their own policies very reasonable.

Guess what???

There is no enforcement provision to require a school district to follow their own policies.

The voters are supposed to be the ones that hold the School Board responsible if policies are not followed.

You can sue if state laws are not followed but no such recourse for district policies.

The idea that the voters can hold the district responsible has not worked out in actual practice over the last two decades. That is all there is when the SPS decides that policies are just on paper and unrelated to actual operations.

What a country?
What a school district?