Friday, June 27, 2008

Community Engagement and The Strategic Plan

When the Board approved and adopted the Strategic Plan, the Community Engagement elements were incomplete - the document said as much. Those elements, when written, should also be subject to Board review. The Superintendent should bring those elements to the Board for approval and adoption or the Board should insist upon reviewing them - either way.

And when the Community Engagement part comes back to the Board, it should not be the jumble it is now. There are no less than six or seven separate missions included under that umbrella, and, although they are associated, they are each distinct and indepedent. They should each have a fully developed rationale, metric, assessment, benchmark, goal, and person responsible for meeting that goal.

Media Relations is the public relations effort to make the District look good in the press. This is the primary function of the Communications office.

Public Information is the effort to inform the public about the District and how to negotiate the District's processes. These efforts include the web site and the wealth of information on it, the Enrollment Guides, the effort to keep the public informed about BEX III, and a variety of other publications. Some of this work is done in the Communications office, but much of it is distributed. This is distinguished from public engagement or input in that the communication is one-way and comes AFTER the decisions are made.

Family Involvement is the effort to encourage student families to support their children's education at home and in the school. There's a department that is supposed to support this work. This effort includes home visits, school events, math curriculum / how-to-help-your-student-with-homework workshops, and volunteering in the school.

Public Engagement means seeking, gathering, accepting, and seriously considering public input on decisions BEFORE the decision is made. It requires at least the recognition of the public as a stakeholder if not a partner. There's a lot of talk about shared decision-making, but almost none of it in real life. This effort requires two-way communication in which the District listens to the community as a stakeholder. This is the District's greatest challenge and greatest weakness but it could be their greatest strength. The fundamental problem at the root of all of the District's other problems is fact that they are not responsive to the needs of the community they ostensibly serve. This is a cultural disability, and the culture is going to have to change. If the District could make this change, a lot of the District's other problems would evaporate.

Internal Stakeholder Engagement happens when decision makers in the District invite and seriously consider input from internal stakeholders. There is precious little of this. I always tell people not to take it personally when they are shut out of discussions and decisions - the District staff do that to other District staff as well. This is the silo culture that must be demolished.

Customer Service is, oddly, housed in the Communications Department. This is where the District responds to complaints. This office needs to be invested with more authority and needs to be made more accessible - they don't have an email address. This is a critical element in the feedback loop for communication and needs to be strengthened. Is anyone counting or following up on complaints? Where is the responsiveness?

Fundraising is another form of community engagement. It done at the school level and the District level. It is critical to the District's success, yet it is almost completely unmanaged. Who is looking for grants? Who is offering organizational support to PTAs? Who is working with the Alliance? Who is working with other philanthropic organizations and individuals? A director of development can generate revenue a hundred times his or her salary.

Most important of all, the District needs to recognize each of these separate efforts as just that - separate. They cannot continue to pretend that Family Involvement is public engagement or that public information is public engagement. Taking complaints is not the same as taking input. The review of the Communications department made it very clear that media relations and public engagement are two separate efforts and that they should never be confused. Yet the District continues to confuse them - I think intentionally because they like to substitue the one they are willing to do for the one they are not willing to do.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What You Missed At the SLC

So the Student Learning Committee meeting and the sandwiched in Public Hearing on the budget was a sparsely attended affair. But it's summer and it was a beautiful day. And, of course, not to mention that the district did near to nothing to publicize the meeting/hearing. The website News and Calendar page STILL is a month old with no link to the new budget.

(My remarks to the Board and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson during the public hearing reflected my deep disappointment on this issue. I know it is not incompetence that allowed this to happen; it was by design. Staff does not want parents or the general public to interfere with "their" budget. When some of you wonder why I am cynical and suspicious of staff, well, it's just this kind of nonsense that has gone on for years and years that makes me that way. Also as Chris Jackins, a district watchdog, pointed out in his remarks, the budget used to be very detailed with each school's budget as part of it. This is a very abbreviated document.)

Mary Jean Ryan who is the president of the State Board of Education gave an hour presentation about their "Core 24" initiative to change high school graduation requirements to 24 credits. This is long discussion item that I can't suss out now but I will at some point. There is good and bad to this idea and luckily, the Board recognized that in their questions to her.

The Special Education department did a presentation which was okay. I'm not sure I got a lot out of it except that (1) they are launching a national search for a new director and (2) Colleen Stump is leaving August 1.

I left after the public hearing. The SLC meeting continued on for another hour and a half.

Here are the documents that were given out (and I hope they will be available online at some point but don't hold your breath - if you are interested in seeing them, call the Board office):

-the Operating Budget for 2008-2009 (presentation to the Board)
- the Operating and Capital Fund budgets for 2008-2009 presentation to the Board by Don Kennedy (dated June 18th)
-the School Board Action report on the Operating budgets dated June 18th
-the School Board Action report on the Capital Fund budget dated June 18th
-Superintendent's Recommended Capital Budget 2008-2009 dated June 18th

-the High School Mathematics Implementation and Adoption Update dated June 25th
-Survey results for Everyday Math Survey from teachers (sadly, no note of when the teachers were surveyed, how many answered and what grade levels they teach at)
-High School Math Adoption Timeline

-High School Requirements/Math and Science Update by Mary Jean Ryan at the State Board of Education

-Special Education Student learning Committee Major Accomplishment sheet
-Special Education presentation to the SLC dated June 25th

-Statement of work - Safety Net/Drop-out Prevention dated June 25th
-Memorandum to Dr. G-J from Michael Tolley (high school director) about "Restructuring the District's Relationship with Education Centers)
-Info sheet on "Students Attending the Education Services Centers during 2006-2007; Where Are they Now? Final Educational Status of Students as of 6/9/08

Yes, there was quite a lot of paper given out.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Small Schools Experiment, Oregon-style

In what seems to be the longest and largest effort from the Gates Foundation to create smaller high schools, results are in from the first graduating classes from throughout high schools in Oregon state. This article appeared in The Oregonian. What's the outcome? Not much improvement.

It's sad because there, as here in Washington state, schools were compelled to revamp and come up with "transformation" plans. But it seems that there was so much going into planning and not enough into resources, students didn't get much further.

From the article:

"Instead, their statistics look a lot like results from the lumbering, impersonal high schools they are supposed to replace. Lots of students quit, and most of the graduates aren't ready for the rigors of college.

At Marshall and Roosevelt high schools in Portland, which each house three academies, about half of their students didn't make it to graduation. That's the same low graduation rate as when they were two big schools instead of six small academies.

"At first, I loved going to school," says Victoria Sargent, 17, who attended Pauling Academy, a science- and math-focused school on the Marshall campus. "After a while, it was boring to me. Nothing was a challenge. I never had a connection with teachers."

How, if the school (and hopefully, the classes) were smaller, was there not a better connection with the teacher?

The answer may be here:

"She and other students say administrators seemed so caught up in tinkering with the small schools' structure that they didn't pay enough attention to the quality of teaching."

and here:

"Administrators say students at both schools pose special challenges to educate. For instance, at BizTech on the Marshall campus, 76 percent of students come from low-income families. At the Spanish-English International School at Roosevelt, 82 percent of students are low-income. Officials say many of these students enter high school less prepared than their counterparts at other high schools, and many work part time to help support their families."

and here:

"Gates Foundation leaders also have grown impatient at the uneven results when big schools break into small ones. This fall, Gates probably will switch the focus of its grants for fixing high schools to target teaching and raise teacher quality, says Vicki Phillips, former Portland superintendent who now directs Gates' education initiatives.

"We have learned that small by itself is not enough," Phillips says. "Good curriculum and instruction don't just show up. . . We need to get more dramatic results."

and here:

"Organizers put so much emphasis on school structure and small details of the reorganization that the caliber of teaching became secondary.

At Liberty, for example, Principal Gregg O'Mara says E3 kept pressing him to make the small schools more independent from one another. Partly for that reason, the school reorganized twice in the past four years. Starting this fall, he says, Liberty will focus on getting every teacher to collaborate with colleagues on better teaching and student outcomes.

Leadership also has been a problem. Top-notch schools typically require top-notch principals. But school districts cannot afford to pay multiple principals at one high school the same high salary as they pay the principal of a big high school.

As a result, many small high schools are run by lower-paid, less-experienced administrators. That has led to high turnover, and at some schools, confusion among teachers and students about who is in charge."

What did they all learn?

"The lessons for other high schools are sobering. Even with millions of dollars for teacher training, an army of experts to coach schools and the backing of the Northwest's top philanthropies, fixing high schools so they work for all students remains a formidable and elusive task."

"We definitely need different environments to meet the needs of different kids," she (Portland superintendent Carole Smith)says."

"In addition, E3 has not been clear about the results it wants from small schools. There are no performance targets or timelines for schools, and the group has not defined what makes a student "college ready. E3 leaders admit they were naive about how easy change would be. They learned the hard way that they can't overhaul schools without more backing from superintendents and district administrators. They also are providing more teacher training, particularly in reading and math."

For me it points to a lot of effort for very little results. A lot of experimenting despite the fact that kids aren't experiments. It points to the fact that even the great Bill Gates doesn't know everything about education and that his own Foundation is a little red-faced over how hard it is to create change that works. We find that if we don't have clear expectations (and how is it we keep going around and around in this country about what a high school graduate should leave high school with?) that both schools and students get lost.

Student Learning Committee Meeting on Wed.

The Board is having their - now - quarterly Student Learning Committee meeting this Wednesday from 4-8 (with a break at 6 p.m. for a public comment on the budget). I called and asked and so far, these are the items on the agenda (with no details):

-Special Education
-a presentation by Mary Jean Ryan of the State Board of Education ( high school graduation requirements)
-high school math adoption

And also, just wondering, but what's up with the News and Calendar section of the district's website not having changed for a month? Some of those notices are months old. If most of the schools can update weekly, why can't the district?

This meeting is not even on this page. There is to be a public comments portion of the SL Committee meeting for the budget and yet, no announcement on this page There was an article about the budget in the Times and it sounds like this budget needs to be looked at carefully.

This is not accountability if no one knows about it until the last minute. This is just more of the same old stuff and I'll bet the staff was just counting on it being the end of the year with no one paying attention.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A New Day in SPS? Nah

As my son would say - are you serious? Another alleged assault at a Seattle public school (this time Aki Kurose) and the staff "can't reach" the police because they used the non-emergency call number?

This story appeared in today's PI. From the story:

"During an interview in a school office on June 12, the girl told a police officer that a former classmate she saw in a second floor hallway lifted his shirt and displayed what appeared to be a pistol tucked into his waistband. The 13-year-old boy -- who police said the girl later identified as an Aki Kurose student -- ordered her into the boys' restroom and pushed her into a toilet stall, according to the report.

A teacher who came into the restroom took them both to the office, where the girl told about being sexually assaulted. The staff member told police the girl didn't show emotion.

The teacher told police after learning what was being reported, he returned to the bathroom and found a toy gun -- a revolver with a plastic chrome barrel -- in a trash can next to a sink.

In the report, school staff said there was difficulty getting through on the police nonemergency line.

"They claimed that they tried to contact us, but couldn't get a hold of us," police spokesman Mark Jamieson said. "They called the next day, and we responded as soon as we were made aware of it."

Okay, one, which brain trust said an alleged sexual assault is not worthy of 911? Two, you get the feeling that the administrators didn't believe this girl. Problem is, that's NOT their job. It's the job of the police. I don't care if she lied every day of the week. (Interesting that they did find a weapon - albeit a toy. She didn't make that part up.)

Apparently the boy has since been expelled.

So what's the tally? One pedophile at Rainier View, one at Broadview-Thompson, another teacher at Whitman who had child porn on his computer (he got off easy - probation and no leadership position around children) and now this latest assault.

I had written to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and the Board a couple of weeks ago about these issues. I said to her:

"There are two things that you should make no mistake about in my request for information.

One, as I have said many times during my years as a district education activist, I try always to get the most complete picture and facts that I can. Many times it has been difficult because of incomplete or confusing information from district staff. So if I blog about this issue and am mistaken, my readers know that it was an error of good faith and not a lack of effort. It is in the district's best interests to give out complete and unambiguous information.

Two, as parents, we have an ABSOLUTE right to know what the administrators, staff and teachers have been told to do in the situation of suspected child molesting or grooming in anticipation of child molestation. Any attempt to say "It's a personnel matter." is going to be met with a lot of skepticism and suspicion. I am not asking for details on any specific case.

Here are my questions:

1) What is the procedure for staff in our schools when they believe they have seen grooming behavior or suspect child abuse by a fellow staff member?
2) Is every report to be documented by a principal?
3) Is every school report sent to the district or does it remain in-house?
4) If it remains in-house, what is the level or number of reports before district staff is alerted?
5) What would happen if staff went to CPS or police before telling a principal or district leadership?
6) It was reported in the Times that a teacher/staff file is destroyed at the end of the year. King 5 TV said it was by teacher request only. Could you please clarify this issue? What happens to school personnel files at the end of each year? Can only some items be deleted and others kept?
7) What training has occurred for teachers and principals over the last 5 years?

Additional I said:

"All parents need to know is that this district has made it clear, in pointed, unequivocal language and training to principals that they must follow district policy to the nth degree. There is no" best" judgment for them because children's lives are at stake. Because of the hugely damning and damaging charge of suspected child abuse, these policies have to be made to protect staff as well. But parents and children have to know and believe that the district has put clear steps in place, with no deviation allowed, for principals to follow.

The teacher and principal contracts should reflect this policy. It should be written into the next teacher contract. Principals should have clear knowledge of what will happen if they do not follow this policy and not just be shuffled off to the next school.

This issue needs clarification. This is not just a personnel matter but goes to the heart of trust between parent and school district. It can't just be waved off with "we're giving training to staff". We, as parents, need to know how these matters are to be handled, If not, then it is clear the teachers and principals get more protection than children do."

I have had no reply from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.

Apparently, staff is NOT getting the training or the message about sexual abuse or assault. And one of these days, some parent may sue the teacher, the principal and our district for not doing their legal obligation of telling police in a timely manner. These are all just lawsuits waiting to happen.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where Does Education Feature For the Next President?

There were two articles in the NY Times about NCLB. One was about Margaret Spellings and her somewhat desperate attempts to get NCLB revamped before Bush (and she) leave office. From the article:

“I’m pretty sure that the new president, whoever it is, will not show up and work on George Bush’s domestic achievement on Day 1,” she (Ms Spellings) told a group of civic leaders and educators, promising to do “everything in my power” to improve the law before the White House changes hands.

For Ms. Spellings, a longtime and exceedingly loyal member of the Bush inner circle, it was a startling, if tacit, admission that the president’s education legacy is in danger. No Child Left Behind — the signature domestic achievement, beyond tax cuts, of the entire Bush presidency — has changed the lives of millions of American students, parents, teachers and school administrators. Yet its future is in grave doubt."

The article goes on:

"Today, roughly 11 percent of schools do not meet the law’s standards — a figure that is expected to climb sharply as more schools struggle to meet the demand that all students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. The bill is so deeply unpopular that Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who was its chief sponsor, often calls No Child Left Behind “the most negative brand in the country.”

A great example of how NCLB didn't work is in this story about Kentucky:

"Kentucky already had what its education commissioner, Jon Draud, calls a “high-stakes accountability program.” But meshing the two “was like putting a slightly round peg into a slightly square hole,” said Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for Mr. Draud’s agency.

Kentucky assessed student achievement every two years; No Child demanded it every year. Kentucky tested seven subject areas; the federal law required just reading and math. Kentucky marked progress based on a school’s growth; under No Child Left Behind, a school either passed or failed.

So schools could pass by Kentucky’s standards, but fail by Washington’s. The state pushed back, to no avail. “We said, ‘What you’re proposing is very similar to what Kentucky is already doing, and we have found that it is a much stronger, more reliable system if you do two years’ worth of data as an average, and give schools a little more flexibility,’ ” Ms. Gross said. “They say, ‘Well, that’s not how we want to do it.’ ”

And things got steadily worse to the point where Ted Kennedy (and if you didn't know this, surprise, he was one of NCLB's biggest supporters early on) said this:

“We had reform,” the senator said. “What we needed were resources.”

There's some small degree of concession on Ms. Spellings' part (although not without some irony at least for educators in Kentucky):

"As she travels the country, Ms. Spellings talks up efforts to use her executive powers to address concerns like Mr. Alpiger’s. For instance, she has begun a pilot program allowing certain states to measure progress using a “growth model,” a technique similar to the one that Kentucky was forced to abandon."

So, no, I don't think the next president, either Senator McCain or Senator Obama, will show up to work on NCLB on day one because you see Ms. Spellings, the economy is going south, gas and food prices are escalating at an alarming rate and, oh yeah, we have a war going on...in two different countries. So excuse them if your program - which has shown negligible effects on the achievement gap - isn't the first thing on their list.

I'm sure President Bush would love to leave office with one positive thing on his side but sadly, it doesn't look like that will happen. I know he personally felt NCLB would be his domestic signature but it's just a tepid blip on the radar except for the millions of people whose lives it affects.

You said, “This is my child, my baby,” she said over dinner in Maysville, Ky., referring to the No Child law." which is a lot of what we hear from our own state superintendent who has hung her hat on our state test the WASL. You two might want to rethink your focus.

So the other article was about the two groups of Dems and their differing ideas on NCLB. From the article:

"On Wednesday, a group of a dozen prominent educators and lawmakers, led by Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein of New York and the Rev. Al Sharpton, said the United States’ public schools shortchanged poor black and Latino children in a way that was “shameful,” and urged Washington to squeeze teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement among minorities.

On Tuesday, about 60 prominent educators and academics issued another manifesto, which criticized the federal No Child Left Behind law and argued that schools alone could not close a racial achievement gap rooted in economic inequality. They urged a new emphasis on health clinics and other antipoverty programs that could help poor students arrive at school ready to learn."

The first group had this opinion:

"The statement included a passage labeling teachers union contracts a significant obstacle to increasing the achievement of poor students.

“We must insist that our elected officials confront and address head-on crucial issues that created this crisis: teachers’ contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in classrooms and too often make it nearly impossible to get our best teachers paired up with the students who most need them,” it said."

The other group had this to say:

"They called for a “broader, bolder approach” that would increase investment in health and other services in poor communities and rely less exclusively on schools to solve the nation’s social problems.

“Some schools have demonstrated unusual effectiveness,” said the statement, published on Tuesday in paid space in The New York Times and The Washington Post. “But even they cannot, by themselves, close the entire gap between students from different backgrounds.”

“Reducing social and economic disadvantages can also improve achievement,” it said."

Exactly so and this should be in big headlines everywhere - SCHOOLS CAN'T DO IT ALL.

Why NCLB should solve everything is hard to fathom. Why people want to blame schools and teachers solely for lack of student achievement is hard to fathom as well. There are pockets of greatness out there where communities working together make a difference at school that in turn allows the school to do better. One example is from a story I read about Muslim women in Germany who were learning German. Initially, the lessons were given in the late afternoon or early evening which as every mom knows is not a great time of day. So some communities said, why not have mom learn at the same time as her children? They scheduled classes at their child's school with childcare. The outcome? Those parents are more involved in their children's schoolwork and school and guess what? Those kids are doing better in schools than student's whose parents don't speak German.

Two New Studies With Huge Implications

There were two new studies recently that were discussed in two articles in the NY Times.

The first article discussed a study by the College Board (which conducts both the SAT and AP tests).

"The revamped SAT, expanded three years ago to include a writing test, predicts college success no better than the old test, and not quite as well as a student’s high school grades, according to studies released Tuesday by the College Board, which owns the test."

The College Board put a positive spin on this, saying that the SAT continues to be a good predictor of first year grades in higher education. (This is somewhat true - the SAT plus high school grades - are good predictors but it also depends on what group of students you are talking about.)

“The 3-hour, 45-minutes test is almost as good a predictor as four years of high school grades, and a better predictor for minority students.”

But critics had this to say:

"But critics of the new test say that if that is the best it can do, the extra time, expense and stress on students are not worth it.

“The new SAT was supposed to be significantly better and fairer than the old one, but it is neither,” said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director at FairTest, a group that is critical of much standardized testing. “It underpredicts college success for females and those whose best language is not English, and over all, it does not predict college success as well as high school grades, so why do we need the SAT, old or new?”

The other study was more troubling. The title of the article? "Report Sees Cost in Some Academic Gains.

"The study, to be released on Wednesday, compared trends in scores on federal tests for the bottom 10 percent of students nationwide with those for the top 10 percent and said those at the bottom moved up faster than those at the top.

In tests of fourth-grade reading from 2000 to 2007, for instance, the scores of the lowest-achieving students increased by 16 points on a 280-point scale, compared with a gain of three points for top-achieving students, according to the study, by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research organization in Washington.

The period of big gains for low achievers and minimal ones for high achievers coincides with the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, which took effect in 2002. The study said that while it was impossible to know whether the law caused those scoring patterns, such a result would hardly be surprising, since the law made it a goal to reduce the gap separating low-scoring, poor and minority students from higher-scoring white students."

(One more thing to add to the "to do" for Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who according to yet another NY Times article, is trying desperately to get NCLB revamped before the end of Bush's term (good luck with that). She seems a little like Terry Bergeson as both women have hung their professional lives on one thing - assessments.)

The report is to be released in two parts; one outlining how lower-achievers have moved ahead more than high achievers and the other about how teachers seem to recognize who it is they are supposed to be helping the most.

"The report included results of a survey of a nationally representative sample of 900 teachers. Seven in 10 teachers said their schools were more likely to focus on struggling students than average or advanced students when tracking achievement data and trying to raise test scores. And about three-quarters of the teachers surveyed said they agreed with this statement: “Too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school — we’re not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive.”

Amy Wilkins, a vice president at Education Trust, which lobbies for policies to help close the achievement gap, said the gains by low achievers should be applauded. “My concern is that this report makes it seem like we have to choose between seeking equity and excellence,” she said. “We need to strive for both.”

I haven't read the report yet. And Ms. Wilkins is right to applaud forward progress (but, of course, if it had been high achievers moving forward 16 points and lower achievers moving ahead 3 points, there would have been howls) but the point is we need to work for all students across the board.

"Susan Traiman, director of education policy at the Business Roundtable, a group that represents business executives, said the challenge was to improve the ability of schools to educate students across a range of levels.

“We’re producing progress at the bottom, and we need to maintain that,” Ms. Traiman said, “but we need to ratchet up the performance of students at every achievement level if we’re going to be competitive.”

A Gap Year

This article appeared in the NY Times about a young woman who took a year off after high school. It was interesting because she first said she wanted it to concentrate on her studies senior year (and not trying to get into college) and also because she wanted to try two different things during her gap year. From the article,

"In the fall of my senior year, I contacted the Center for Interim Programs, a company that arranges gap-year programs for students.I knew I wanted to go to a country where I hadn’t been before, and I designed a program with its help. I spent the first half of that year helping villagers in Ghana and the second half studying art history in Italy. My four months in Ghana turned out to be a defining experience. It introduced me to the field of international development."

"That experience was the biggest challenge I’d ever had — emotionally, intellectually and physically, but it was also the most rewarding.

After Ghana, I went home for a month and then studied art history in Venice for three months. I was glad for the opportunity, but art history was more an avocation. I wasn’t drawn to it the way I was to the work in Ghana."

There are other ways to take a gap year (this way, obviously has costs involved). AmeriCorp or the Peace Corps are others.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Amazing, Dedicated, Talented Teachers

Two years ago when my oldest daughters started second grade, I wrote a post on this blog (Teachers Excel; District Fails) about their first day of school at Pathfinder K-8 and the two wonderful teachers (Lisa DeBurle and Missa Marmalstein) they met that day.

Since today marks the last day Emma and Claire will be in their classes, I want to share my daughters' thoughts on what these two years have meant to them.

· It's a Spider's World by Claire

· My Thanks to Lisa by Emma

While I obviously think Lisa and Missa are exceptional teachers, I also believe there are many, many amazing, dedicated, talented teachers in Seattle Public Schools. They deserve our support and help as they struggle with the challenge of how to meet accountability requirements while keeping joy and creativity in the teaching and learning process.

Anyone else have teacher kudos to call out?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sandra Day O'Connor and Web-Based Civics Lesson

With the stunning news of the recent Supreme Court ruling on Guantanamo (and I am reading The Nine by Jeffrey Tobin about the previous Supreme Court, great reading), comes this NY Times article about former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her efforts to keep civics lessons part of the public education system. From the article:

"Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, began her remarks at the Games for Change conference in New York by saying aloud what the few hundred people in the audience were already thinking.

“If someone had told me when I retired from the Supreme Court about a couple of years ago that I would be speaking at a conference about digital games, I would have been very skeptical, maybe thinking you had one drink too many,” she said to laughter Wednesday in an auditorium downtown at Parsons the New School for Design."

What is she helping to develop?

"In cooperation with Georgetown University Law Center and Arizona State University, Justice O’Connor is helping develop a Web site and interactive civics curriculum for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students called Our Courts (www.ourcourts.org). The initial major elements of the site are scheduled to become available this fall."

"With Our Courts she hopes to foster a deeper understanding of American government among schoolchildren. The site will have two parts, an explicitly educational component for use in schools and a more entertainment-oriented module that will more closely resemble games. As one would expect from such a significant jurist, she made a neat case.

“In recent years I have become increasingly concerned about vitriolic attacks by some members of Congress and some members of state legislatures and various private interest groups on judges,” she said in her speech. “We hear a great deal about judges who are activists, godless secular humanists trying to impose their will on the rest of us. I always thought an activist judge was one who got up in the morning and went to work.”

She and Justice Breyer had attended a previous conference in 2006 on the state of the judiciary in the U.S. Her thoughts:

“One unintended effect of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is intended to help fund teaching of science and math to young people, is that it has effectively squeezed out civics education because there is no testing for that anymore and no funding for that,” she said. “And at least half of the states no longer make the teaching of civics and government a requirement for high school graduation. This leaves a huge gap, and we can’t forget that the primary purpose of public schools in America has always been to help produce citizens who have the knowledge and the skills and the values to sustain our republic as a nation, our democratic form of government.” (Italics mine because I totally agree.)

The first lesson will take up something dear to teens' hearts - what they can wear to school.

"One of the first interactive exercises in the Our Courts program, she said, would take up First Amendment issues involving the ability of public schools to censor students’ speech, as in student newspapers or on T-shirts."

I was deeply saddened when she left the Court (to care for her ailing husband) because she was a leader on the Court. I'm glad she's still working hard to promote knowledge and understanding of our judicial system.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Don Nielsen Chimes In ... Again

Well, he's nothing if not consistent. Don Nielsen, businessman and former School Board member, is quite the education gadfly and so, every so often will appear in the op-ed pages. Here's his latest PI piece.

He starts out with this:

"She just published a five-year plan that has been developed with the input of citizens and many of this country's leading education and management experts. It is a blueprint for the transformation of Seattle schools, but there is a high probability she will fail."

Charlie, would you call the Strategic Plan "a blueprint for transformation"? Nope, me neither. Well, as Charlie has pointed out it is a good management plan but I thought we were talking about educational transformation.

His basis premise of why it will fail? She's talented, driven and bright but her hands are tied. How?
  • Governance - he claims that every two years her bosses change (the Board). He adds his own twist by saying, "History has shown that elected school boards create instability in governance. She has no assurance that the people to whom she reports will be qualified for the positions they hold." Whose history? SPS? State? Nationally? And what a nice slam for an office he once held (but I'm thinking he believes the quality of Board member has gone down since he left).
  • Personnel - this issue is one I won't touch because I don't know the ins and outs of it. I do know it is fairly hard to get rid of principals/teachers who are not doing their jobs well.
  • Rewards - this is tough one because teachers are so against it. It does seem weird that most jobs do have some kind of ladder (although I think if you get national certification as a teacher you get more money) but not teaching. It almost makes for less incentive to do well.
  • Performance - almost the same as personnel so why he had two categories, I don't know.
  • Flexibility - well there's a reason she can't determine the workday or calendar; some of that is union and yes, some of that is determined by the State Superintendent's office. We do have our own ability to have late start/early release days. He also states: "She has limited flexibility in serving her students." That's a bit of a reach.
  • Control - he says, "She can recommend a standard curriculum, but is virtually prohibited from enforcing it. The latitude of teachers is such that gaining coherence in what is taught is almost impossible." What? Yes, she can select curriculum and books but yes, teachers do have some latitude in how they present it. But, again, she's tightening up on that as well with a more central office oversight and less site-based management. He also said, "She has limited control over her schools and what is taught in those schools." If she has limited control over her schools, that's inherent in her abilities as well as determined at a state level and not in her authority as superintendent.
  • Money- He says, "She is given money, but virtually every dollar comes with strings attached. Almost all money must be spent in a prescribed manner regardless of the real needs of the district, school or student. She is limited in her ability to direct dollars where needed." This is partly true but that's because the money is directed towards specific students' needs. I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle but "virtually every dollar" is tied up?
  • Planning - Again, another category that goes with another (money). He says, "Her sources of money (state and federal governments) operate on two-year (state) or one-year (federal) budgets, making long-range planning virtually impossible. Her five-year plan may well be unachievable simply because expected funding may not materialize. She has no control over the funding she receives and little control over how it must be spent." Well, the state and feds control the funding but that's true at every district. I'd like to know where that isn't true. If she is budgeting the Strategic Plan with dollars she doesn't have, then that's in direct opposition to what it actually says which is the district isn't funding any initiative without money already attached. Did he read the plan?
  • Direct costs - This one is a bit of a whopper for some of his wording. He says, "She must serve every child who applies, but receives little extra funding for the very difficult-to-serve students. The more special needs children the district serves, the greater the financial burden on the district and the less money available for other students. She must serve everyone, regardless of costs." Where to start? "Very difficult-to serve students"? "More special needs are a greater financial burden? And the last one "she must serve everyone". Hey Don, it's not called public school for nothing. That's why private schools can do better and that's why some charter schools do better - they don't have to take all comers.
  • Other costs - He says, "Contracting out noneducational functions such as leaning [sic], maintenance, information technology, food service, etc., which may be better or more cost effective than doing it in-house, is prohibited. She is constrained in her ability to cut costs and/or improve efficiency." Hey, something we can agree on. Charlie has talked about the city managing district properties as a cost savings and I suspect we might be able to save some in food service, etc.
He ends by saying,"If we, as citizens of this city and state, want our schools to improve, we must address the management constraints put on superintendents. That means asking our governor and Legislature to pass new laws or eliminate existing laws that handcuff our superintendent and her management team. What we need is a "turn-around" mentality and we need it now. We have a leader, so let's give her the tools to lead."

Well, that means having someone else (who would Don suggest?) appoint the School Board, fighting the union, fighting the Legislature, fighting the State Superintendent. Where to start and who would lead this charge? Frankly, I'd rather Dr. Goodloe-Johnson be doing her job than spending a lot of time arguing why she can't.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Inspirational Graduates

This article appeared in the Seattle PI today. (I like to read these sort of things to my son when he gets a little whiny about his life and his parents expectations.)

My interest in these kinds of articles is why some people, even kids, are able to rise above circumstances and do well. Is it something in their chemistry or what? That kind of knowledge (if it's even possible to know but there must be some similar characteristics among these types of people) could help educators to reach more students. Heck, it could help all of us help students.

For more inspiration, here's a link to CMU Professor Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" speech. It is worth listening to with your kids (if they are older - Professor Pausch is dying of cancer and has only a few months to live). He really wrote this only for his 3 children, all under the age of 6, but they are too young to hear and comprehend it so he gave it to his students. It is one of YouTube's videos with the most hits.

Oh heck, while we're at it, here's JK Rowling's speech to Harvard graduates (I'm only providing the initial link; there are 2 other parts that you can access easily at this URL). It is both funny, touching and inspiring.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Teacher Speaks Out Against AP

This op-ed, by teacher Web Hutchins, appeared in today's Seattle Times. It's a mixed bag.

He starts by saying:

"Recent pages in the Times have been awash with stories about the resegregation of our schools and new Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's plan to add tougher, "standards based" programs at low-income schools as a way to attract more upper-income, white families back to their neighborhood schools."

I'm not sure I ever heard Dr. Goodloe-Johnson say the Strategic Plan included standards-based programs at low-income schools to get back more private school parents. Did I miss something?

He's pretty harsh on AP courses calling them "a gilded WASL". Ouch.

He then says,

"Let's keep it real Seattle. If we're going to talk about social justice and equity in education, let's walk the walk. If we truly believe that all kids deserve an equal opportunity to realize their potential and achieve their dreams then we must shrink class sizes and de-emphasize standardized, test-based courses like AP."

I totally agree about class size and, across the board, this is what you hear from parents. I remember a conversation while I was standing in line at Zoo Tunes last year with a West Seattle parent who had opted for private school even though he had good public school options. He said the class size was the deal breaker. I've heard this from other private school parents; they just don't believe that larger class sizes allow the teacher to give enough individual attention.

I wish I could ask him what the opposite of standardized curriculum is. What does it look like? I'm not sure I know.

He goes on:

"On behalf of the thousands of Seattle kids on the losing side of the achievement gap, we need to admit that this is not the type of curricula that will engage them. Let's not pretend that adoption of AP "rigor" will inspire ninth-grade kids with sixth-grade reading levels to stay in school. Likewise, let's not pretend that the standardized AP approach of a "mad dash through the chapter and a test on Friday" is the best curricula we can give our most-highly-skilled students.

Look to our city's elite private schools for ideas. Kids at Lakeside and Bush do well on standardized tests and fare well in college admissions. Tellingly, however, their teachers are not forced to waste valuable class time and resources on mind-numbing "test prep" lessons. Kids at Lakeside and Bush do not take the WASL, and AP courses are not offered in their hallowed classrooms. Really, you can look it up."

Okay, again, what do does he think will work for kids on both ends of the spectrum? I got a little frustrated here with his put-downs of AP (and it's not perfect I'll admit) without a specific offering of what to do. He does say:

"For all students, real learning involves deep thinking and a thoughtful, personal encounter with ideas and concepts. Whether the topic is photosynthesis, parallelograms or Plato, the cultivation of avid learners and engaged citizens takes time. For struggling students, especially, success in the classroom requires their voices to be heard and their questions patiently and thoughtfully addressed."

Great, but in reality, what does that look like and how do you take kids from across the spectrum of ability to that place? (And, he doesn't mention the issue of classroom management where teachers would love, love, love to answer questions and have deep discussions except for the 2-5 kids who act out.)

And then he throws in that really old argument (sigh) that Lakeside and Bush don't do the WASL or AP classes. One, the law doesn't require them to take the WASL. That's one of the benefits private school gets you. That doesn't make them better. And no, they don't offer separate AP courses because - gently now - they get to pick and choose who gets into their schools. They get to have small class sizes. So the teachers come in with a small class of highly motivated (I hope at those prices those kids are motivated) students. He leaves out how many kids at those schools DO take the AP tests. You don't have to have an "AP" class to take the AP test.

The brief bio at the end says,

"Web Hutchins is the lead teacher in Franklin High School's John Stanford Public Service and Political Science Academy, a program that cultivates an ethic of service and active citizenship in students. He has taught history and English in the Seattle Public Schools since 1990."

I'm intrigued by that academy which I had never heard of; it sounds really interesting.

Monday, June 09, 2008

High School Yearbooks

High school yearbooks. Remember those? A permanent record or snapshot of your high school and its inhabitants and what happened during one school year as interpreted by the yearbook staff (and generally one lone advisor). How many of us still have our high school yearbooks and either (1) laugh or (2) do a slow-burn over something ill-advised that got printed or left out or (3) both?

So the Times had this article about a yearbook from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in today's edition. Seems the kids got really caught up in being cool and making the yearbook cool and it offended some kids so much they asked for their money back. Now it takes a lot to offend most teenagers. They tend to take a live and let live attitude so as to not look "uncool". But apparently there were numerous references to drug use throughout, sex and drinking.

Yearbooks cost upwards of $40-50 so it's not chump change that gets dropped to buy one.

The principal said,

"Unfortunately these are very unique pieces of memorabilia," Brumley said. "There's no do-over on it."

And that's true. It's especially difficult if it is your senior year and the yearbook is a big disappointment.

He also said:

"I think (adviser Carol MacPhee) got a little too trusting and a couple things went in that shouldn't," he said, adding that she'll keep a closer eye on the staff next year."

The advisers have big jobs, it's true. But they are allowing a book to be produced that nearly every student will have and is the official record of that school year. It's important to read every single word of the book. In fact, it seems surprising that at least one adult wouldn't do that before it went to print. But it doesn't more often than you might think.

This reminds me of my older son's experience with his senior yearbook. The first thing that happened? About 25% of the senior class wasn't pictured in the senior section. How did that happen? Oh the school didn't bother to make it clear when the pictures were due (we proved this to the principal and adviser and they were mightily embarrassed because they were convinced that they had done everything properly). Then, they had the usual list of boys and girls who were "most likely" or "most". Now, my high school yearbook didn't have this; we did in the student newspaper. A yearbook is forever, a newspaper is a throwaway.

So, most of the time, these categories are either complimentary or funny. The measure should be for the editors to insert their names into any given category and ask how they feel about it. If it bothers them, then that category should go. So one category was "most obsessive". My son was the boy. Now this school had more than one adviser (although one teacher was named as yearbook adviser). My son had had most of the advisers as teachers and they knew he had a disability. But it managed to get past all of them and was printed. You can imagine how upset he was. But he was a good guy and got past it but he still doesn't like to look at his yearbook.

It's hard to believe that schools can be so lax on these issues but everyone assumes that due diligence is occurring. When we came to Roosevelt, I did speak to the yearbook adviser about these issues and she was clear about her oversight and what she would not allow or advise against. I'm going to hold her to that promise.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Hard To Believe School Schedule

So I was perusing around the SEA (Seattle Education Association) website and found next year's school calendar. I thought, "I should post it to give people a heads up on their calendars."

Once again, this calendar begs the question, "When are these kids in school?" (Keep in mind that you should check with your school, particularly middle and high school, for additional time off for late-start days for professional development. Roosevelt had about 12 of these a year and I know West Seattle and Franklin do as well with Hale having the highest number of them. I believe Eckstein has started but I am not aware of what other middle schools might have started as well.)

To add insult to injury, the Winter Break, Dec. 22-Jan.2 has 6 weeks between it and Mid-Winter Break, Feb. 16-20 (not counting two holidays, Jan 19 and 26th). Mid-Winter Break has 5 (!) weeks between it and Spring Break, March 30-April 3. Spring Break is then followed by 3 weeks (!) of WASL testing (April 13-May1). This is followed by about 6 weeks of school before the end of school June 17th.

I think the extra week in February and the long extended interruption of WASL are just folly to public education in Seattle.

Friday, June 06, 2008

SPS Family Survey

Have you received your survey yet? It's online at the SPS website and was mailed to families.

Unfortunate, neither the paper version or online version allows you to elaborate. The answers to these questions are only going to give the broadest outlines about what parents want or don't get. It's unlikely to help the district understand why parents don't participate more in their child's school.

I wish it had been a different survey for elementary versus middle/high school parents. The answers would be very different because, for example, if you are asked about homework policy, well, it varies from teacher to teacher in middle/high school.

The question about volunteering is a bit muddled because it asks about the school communicating and not teacher or PTA volunteering.

Also, here is blurb from the Seattle Council PTSA about an error on page 2 of the survey:

"You recently received a Family Survey from Seattle Public Schools. Please return this survey in the postage-paid, self-addressed envelope or take the on-line survey at www.seattleschools.org by June 17, 2008. The survey is available in 8 languages.

Note there is an error in the English version of the paper survey. On page 2, the first response column in Section IV should read STRONGLY DISAGREE instead of STRONGLY AGREE. The on-line version is correct. This is an important step in helping our schools improve their ability to reach and engage families - thank you for doing your part!"

They put Strongly Agree in the bookend columns instead of using Strongly Disagree at one end. Hard to believe someone didn't catch this but fyi.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

As We Go Into Summer, Beware of "Dry Drowning"

You think as a parent you would have heard it all but I had never heard of "dry drowning" until I read this article. It comes from the Today show. I thought since we are all about done at school and headed off to our summer pursuits, I'd put it out there. From the article:

"According to the Centers for Disease Control, some 3,600 people drowned in 2005, the most recent year for which there are statistics. Some 10 to 15 percent of those deaths was classified as “dry drowning,” which can occur up to 24 hours after a small amount of water gets into the lungs. In children, that can happen during a bath."

"Dr. Rauch said that the phenomenon of dry drowning is not completely understood. But medical researchers say that in some people, a small amount of inhaled water can have a delayed-reaction effect.

“It can take a while for the process to occur and to set in and cause difficulties,” Rauch said. “Because it is a lung process, difficulty breathing is the first sign that you would be worried about.”

The second sign is extreme fatigue, which isn’t always easy to spot. “It’s very difficult to tell when your child is abnormally tired versus normal tired after a hot day and running around in the pool,” Rauch said. “The job of the lungs is to get oxygen into the blood and your brain needs oxygen to keep working, so when your brain isn’t getting oxygen, it can start doing funny things. One of them is becoming excessively tired, losing consciousness and the inability to be aroused appropriately.”

Finally, there are changes in behavior, Rauch said — another tough call when dealing with very small children, whose moods and behavior can change from one minute to the next.

“Another response of the brain to not getting oxygen is to do different things,” Rauch explained, saying parents should be concerned “if your child’s abnormally cranky, abnormally combative — any dramatic change from their normal pattern.”

Something to put on your radar.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Strategic Plan interview/meeting

On Monday I met with Carol Rava-Treat and Holly Ferguson for about an hour to talk about the Strategic Plan. They are both very confident that this Plan will be implemented and that it will yield positive results. They expect success. Now, these are both sober, intelligent people with critical reasoning skills. They are not delusional, or star-struck, or cheerleaders. I told them that I wanted to share their confidence, but that I've already seen any number of plans or goals sit idle and fail and that I couldn't see how this plan was different.

They explained three fundamental differences that distinguish this plan from previous plans. These three differences, taken together, will bridge the gap and make this plan successful.

The first difference is leadership. There is a very different sort of person in charge of the District now than we saw there last year. The whole first half of the CACIEE report, distilled to its essence said: "The Superintendent isn’t doing his job." The Strategic Plan, distilled to its essence says: "The Superintendent is going to do her job." While the previous administration feel it had neither the authority nor the duty to intervene with struggling schools or struggling students, this administration sees that as one of its primary duties. Just as the hands-off style of leadership – if it could be called that – of the previous administration echoed all the way down the chain of command, the new style of leadership – measure the baseline, set expectations, provide needed support, measure the results, hold people accountable – will also echo down the chain of command.

Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence in the new District leadership, including the Superintendent, the COO, the CAO, and others.

The second difference is the introduction of structured processes. They see great power in the selection of a few areas of focus. They told me that, unlike in previous plans, people have been assigned responsibility for the implementation. More than that, these people have been provided with training in project management – which they never had before.

Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence in the power of the assigned responsibility to project leaders and the training provided to these project leaders.

Finally, the real Achilles heel of past plans has always been that there has been no requirement that anyone actually implement the plan. No accountability. Cooperation has always been entirely voluntary. There have been no consequences for failing to implement, no one even checking for implementation, no accountability at all. The District has declared their intent to align curriculum before, but without success. Aligning curriculum requires the teachers to teach the curriculum, but there was no one to monitor whether they were teaching it, and no consequences for the teachers if they did not. The third difference that gives Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson confidence in the plan is the introduction of "effective" performance evaluations. The performance evaluation process is already in place and has been for years, but people have not used them or the process. Going forward, these evaluations will be done, will be followed up, and will be monitored. That is the work of management.

Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence that this leadership team will do their supervision work and see this work done by the layers of management below them.

I heard what they were saying and I heard the conviction in their voices, but I wasn't convinced.

They say that this leadership is different, more ready to intervene on behalf of district-wide stated goals and policies, but I told them that I hadn't seen it. I didn't see this leadership get involved when Roosevelt High School decided to bar 10th grade students from taking AP European History – a clear step backward in rigor in direct opposition to the District's talk. I didn't see anything different in the way this leadership team made their program placement decisions, no greater exercise of central authority there. I didn't see the new leadership step in and intervene at any struggling school this year. I didn't see any District-level intervention initiatives for struggling students this year.

They say that the processes are going to be different, that they will be followed, but despite the fact that EVERYONE admitted and agreed that the community engagement around the Denny-Sealth project was inadequate, this District leadership chose to move forward with the project anyway. What process were they following if they could ignore admitted inadequacies? Someone has been assigned to manage the Southeast Initiative project, but it is unraveling, wandering off focus, and spinning out of control.

They say that this leadership team demands accountability, but where are the highly touted accountability elements of the Southeast Initiative? Nowhere. If they could not implement accountability elements in this high profile situation, why should I believe that they can implement accountability elements in the scattered and shadowing corners of the District?

I think Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson were candid with me about what had not been done and what has not been done well. They essentially acknowledged that events moved forward before the team and structures were in place to implement the "new style" of management. The Southeast Initiative was, initially, managed in the old style. Only recently has it become more aligned with the new style of management. That alignment is not yet complete. But from here on, they profess, things will be consistent with the new way that the District is managed.

They didn't ask me to be convinced. They asked me to watch the progress. They will have milestones (one of their milestones is to set the milestones by the Fall). Watch to see if they meet the milestones. Watch to see if they don't actually implement. They know that there is no evidence that I can see yet that could give me the confidence they have. They ask me to look for that evidence, however, in the Fall, and in the Winter as the various plans are developed and implemented.

Heartwarminng and, if Science is Important to You, You Can Help

This article about a retired science teacher who is still working to help science teachers throughout the district appeared in today's PI. From the article:

"Each week for the past 12 years, the Folsoms have made the trip from their Woodinville home to the Seattle warehouse. They often take work home with them, so the back of their old station wagon is usually packed with boxes of rocks and minerals for Carol to sort and label, or samples of cedar that Lee has cut up for a kindergarten science lab.

"He and Carol have made a tremendous impact on student learning and teachers' work," Woo said. "It's been a godsend to have this kind of help."

Folsom taught physics and chemistry before retiring in 1977. He came back into the school system in the mid-'90s, volunteering to help establish stronger science programs in elementary schools.

His goal now, he says, is to try to make life easier for teachers by streamlining the science kits, making sure the materials in each are organized and are in working order."

How can you help?

"For information about volunteering at the Seattle Science Materials Center, call 206-545-7024 or visit seattleschools.org/area/smc/volunteer/index.dxml"

More Clarity in What Did (or Didn't) Happen At Broadview-Thompson

Some might say it's done but I give the Times credit for doing some actual investigating into how a child molesting teacher managed to stay on at Broadview-Thompson. I had some questions myself (and a few remain) but just so it's clear, what really happened is that some teachers were protecting this guy ( obviously unaware or not wanting to believe what they had heard or observed) and the principals who were there (not the current one Jeanne Smart) did not make note of complaints they received about him. There was no trail to follow because these principals, for whatever reason, did not note them in his file.

There are any number of reasons that someone might have a complaint against them that might not be justified including unhappy parent or co-worker. But every complaint should be filed and followed up because it would allow a better picture should something valid actually be happening. However, we find out from the article:

  • "teachers kept their concerns in-house, hewing to a school policy that says go to an administrator. Once passed along, their complaints almost always died, with no investigation, no discipline, no calls to outside investigators."
  • "Shannon McMinimee, the district's assistant general counsel, said teachers alarmed about a colleague should still go to their principal. If not satisfied, the teacher should call outside investigators. Mollie Boswell, one of the Broadview teachers, said in a deposition that training received since Hill's arrest left her as confused as ever. "I don't know what my obligation is," Boswell said, "and neither does Seattle Public Schools."
  • "Teachers who'd witnessed Hill's troubling behavior struggled with what to do. And, due to principals' lax documentation, their concerns weren't pieced together to reveal Hill for what he was." "A principal can document troubling incidents that don't equate to child abuse. But under the current teachers' contract, schools must destroy personnel files at the end of each year and start anew. Only records forwarded to the central office remain."
There's something to add to the list of things that the Board and the Superintendent need to do when renegotiating the teachers contracts next year: destroying schools' personnel files at the end of each year. Because otherwise, something has to be cranked up to the district level for it to stay there. I didn't know this.
  • Stewart Estes, an attorney who defended the district, said incidents reported to Skjei did not rise to the level that required reports to CPS. "Hand holding or rubbing the bald spot on your head is not sexual abuse and need not be reported," Estes said. Hey Stewart, did you ever hear of grooming? That's part of a pattern for a pedophile. "Last spring — in part, because of Hill — the school district expanded its training to help teachers spot grooming behavior and to clarify their duty to call CPS or police."
The district just now expanded teachers' training to spot grooming behavior? That's amazing.

And, one of the principals, the one who is most noted in this article, the one who did NOT note any complaints about the molesting teacher in his file (even though she got them) and the one who did not tell the new principal, Ms. Smart, anything about complaints even when Ms. Smart called her - she is now principal at View Ridge Elementary in Seattle and her name is Terri Skjei.

Her rationale or reasonings? "Skjei, in a deposition, said she did not recall, or was fuzzy about, warnings from von Haartman, Boswell, Koch and others. "I did my job to the best of my abilities at the time," she said."

Good luck, View Ridge. I would not want this woman anywhere near my kids if that's the best of her abilities.

One shining light is former principal at B-T, now principal at Olympic Hills, Zoe Jenkins. She did have her concerns and asked then-Superintendent John Stanford to transfer this teacher. Why?

"At Broadview, Hill (the teacher) worked to become indispensable. Name a school committee, he was on it. He fixed teachers' computers and ran the fifth-grade sleepaway camp. Parents cherished him, requesting his class more than any other."

But Hill ran afoul of one principal for, among other things, rewarding students with what he called "suck-up beads" for bringing him coffee or giving him backrubs.The principal, Zoe Jenkins, convinced then-Superintendent John Stanford in the spring of 1996 to transfer Hill. That, she believed, would rob Hill of his support among Broadview's parents and allow a new principal to "more carefully" supervise him.

But the proposed move was so controversial that Stanford was booed during a meeting with Broadview's PTA, and some of Hill's fellow teachers were up in arms. Jenkins asked for — and got — a transfer to another school; she is currently principal at Olympic Hills Elementary near Jackson Park.

Hill, however, never left Broadview. Stanford suggested to Jenkins' successor that she keep Hill to soothe relations with parents and staff. When Stanford returned to a Broadview PTA meeting in the fall of 1997, he was applauded, Jenkins' successor said.

The message to staff at Broadview was clear: Confronting Hill carried a cost."

And who bore that cost? These poor kids.

Differences in News Coverage on Announcement of WASL Scores for Seniors (Updated)

(Update: here's what the PI Editorial board had to say.

"The state's WASL testing regimen has proved to be less than a total success. It is merely a smashing success, one that must be carefully nurtured with adequate state financing, more investments in good teaching and rising expectations for our capable young people."

A smashing success? C'mon, I'm not sure Terri Bergeson would go that far. How can it be a success if we don't even know what happen to all the kids who started in the class of 2008? They just drop-out and drop off the radar? Don't look at the man behind the curtain? It would be one thing if we could clearly know where those kids are, why they dropped out and why so many were reclassified as juniors but we don't. Mission not accomplished.)

The PI had a story yesterday about OSPI releasing information on the number of seniors who had passed the reading and writing WASL. Then the Times had theirs today. Here's the title of the PI's: "90% of Seniors Pass WASL but Critics Say Results Skewed" and here's the Times': "Reading, Writing Scores on WASL win Cheers". Somewhat different takes.

The upshot is that OSPI is not counting the number of kids who dropped out or were "reclassified" by their districts. From the PI:

"Bergeson defended the way the pass rate was calculated.

"We're not hiding where those kids are," she said. Education officials are actually able to better monitor students -- whether they drop out, transfer to another district or are reclassified to another grade -- thanks to a new individual student tracking system that kicks in this year, she said.

Bergeson's office estimates that as many as 14,500 students in the class of 2008 in Washington have dropped out since they started ninth grade and 9,500 have been reclassified in other grades."

From a post after the PI's story after the writer looked at the OSPI's website:

"Number of students listed as freshman in October of 2004: 89,970
Number of students listed as sophomores in March/April of 2006: 81,966
Number of student listed as Seniors in June 2008: 67,099
Number of students who have passed the WASL: 61,327

Where have all the children gone? 22,871 students in the class of 2008 have been removed from the statistics."

From the Times:

"The percentage of high-school seniors who have met state standards in reading and writing is 91.4 percent, Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson announced Tuesday.

That's cause for celebration, Bergeson said, because it means the vast majority of seniors have fulfilled that graduation requirement, one of several that are new this year.

"I just have to stop and say, 'Yeah,' " Bergeson said. "This is so great."

One person, Terri Bergeson, is cheering and that's their headline?

The points were made that (1) more students don't graduate because of lack of credits than not passing the WASL and (2) there is more to graduating than the WASL including community service, credits and senior project.

So I'm not doing the math but clearly this state lost a number of students in the class of 2008 who dropped out somewhere along the way or who are "reclassified" as not part of the class of 2008.

We are never going to get anywhere in this city, state or country if we don't use the clearest numbers possible with the good, the bad and the ugly.


"For reading and writing, however, preliminary estimates in Seattle show that 6.7 percent of seniors will fall short because of the WASL, said spokesman David Tucker."

Article in Seattle Times

This was in the Times today. I have to say I find this to be incredibly sad and disturbing. As a Seattle Schools employee this embarrasses me and makes me question my commitment to SPS when questions of child abuse get swept under the rug like this.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Part Three of Times' Series on Diversity

This article appeared in today's Times. There is a common theme in this one; namely, that quality schools trump diversity. From the article:

"Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson hopes Seattle residents see the value of living and going to school with people from a wide mix of backgrounds. But she says she can't change where people live. And as much as she values racial diversity, she values high-quality schools more.

A quality education, she says, "trumps diversity."

"School Board Chairwoman Cheryl Chow puts it more bluntly: "It's not my job to desegregate the city," she said. "We serve the kids that come to our doors."

"This is probably heresy and I'll probably get in trouble for this," says School Board member Harium Martin-Morris. As long as a school's academic program is strong, he says, "I'm not so much worried about the ethnic makeup of a building."

Fellow board member Michael DeBell, while troubled by the racial isolation in some schools, says it's a national issue and a class issue that the School Board has few tools to address. His fallback position, he says, is "to make sure every child has as much opportunity for success as possible."

Betty Howell Gray, a former teacher, principal and founder of the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators, says that's her focus now, too.

Gray went to segregated schools through college. She worked as an educator in Seattle schools for decades, and supported busing during that time. But now, she thinks the district should concentrate on ensuring every neighborhood has a strong school."

In Kentucky (where the other part of the Supreme Court issue came from):

"In Jefferson County, Ky., where about 48 percent of students are minorities, there was never a doubt about whether to pursue a new diversity plan, said Pat Todd, the district's executive director for school assignment.

But she also said it was clear there weren't a lot of other districts trying to figure out new ways to integrate schools.

"The political climate right now is very challenging for most school districts to try to continue these efforts," Todd said. "Seattle is more reflective of what's going on nationally."

Under that district's new assignment plan, each school will have at least 15 percent and no more than 50 percent of its students from neighborhoods with lower-than-average income and educational attainment, and a higher-than-average minority population.

The district hopes that approach will pass legal muster, Todd said, since students will be assigned to schools based on where they live, not their race.

Jefferson County has some advantages over districts like Seattle, she said. Its school district encompasses Louisville and all the surrounding suburbs, she said, so families can't just move a short distance to avoid integration efforts. The district also isn't facing a financial squeeze that makes it want to save money on busing, as is the case here."

Open Thread - Special Education

There is always a thread, in every discussion, about Special Ed so I thought we might just have one just for Special Education.

(Public disclosure; I came into Special Ed late in my older son's life. We only asked for a few accommodations in high school and they were granted. However, I did get an inkling of what might have happened if he had needed more. Additionally, despite letting my son's teachers know about his disability - which he did not choose to disclose to classmates - the very teachers who could have protected him did not. There was something very unkind written about him in his senior yearbook which hurt and puzzled him deeply. This did not have to happen and the manner in which our complaint was handled gave me a taste of what Special Ed parents may go through long-term.)

I only know some basics about Special Education; there are different levels, different ways of supporting those students, programs with special equipment at a few schools, a growing need for autism programs and that many of these students use and need yellow bus service. I recall that Michelle Corker-Curry used to be in charge of this program but I don't know if that is still the case. I know there is a district-wide Special Ed PTA.

Special Ed parents, tell us your concerns. Are programs in the wrong places? What do you need to know in terms of changing the assignment plan? What do you think Dr. Goodloe-Johnson should be doing at this point? Are principals supportive? What would make the biggest difference for you and your child's education?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Follow-Up Times' Article on Diversity In SPS

Actually, this article is more about one woman's determination to make more families in her neighborhood aware of the neighborhood school (Muir). Kudos to Lisa Olszewski (and too bad she's moving to Australia). The article details her efforts to change thinking.

There was one point, made towards the end, that echoed the problems at Madrona K-8. Here it is:

"When Olszewski's daughter entered kindergarten last fall, white students made up 13 percent of the school's population — more than in recent memory.

When she runs into people on the street and they ask her where her daughter attends school, she says she now hears: "Oh, I've heard some great things about Muir."

The demographic changes have raised concerns and fears among at least a few of Muir's nonwhite parents that their families may be marginalized.

Scott, for example, welcomes Olszewski's efforts to improve Muir's image but worries that the school's outreach efforts are too focused on Mount Baker, leaving out areas such as Hillman City and Columbia City, where more black and Asian families live.

"All those things that drew me to the school, everybody in the school's boundaries needs to know about them," she said.

Kimbrough (until recently Muir's PTA president) says the school needs to address those tensions now, before they grow.

Muir, she said, has the opportunity to be a model for how schools can have constructive conversations about ethnic, religious and economic diversity.

Principal Thompson, who is white, is sensitive to such feelings. She says she works to make sure the message is that Mount Baker parents want to join in, not take over.

"This is a big enough school to accommodate our whole neighborhood," she said. "It's not 'Take back our school.' "

Olszewski says she doesn't want the ethnic mix of the school to change substantially either. She wants a neighborhood school with all the racial diversity in its neighborhood."

Okay, so I'll ask the tough question out loud; do parents of color fear/dislike/worry if a school that is largely minority students start getting more white students (and their parents)? Or, let's flip that; what if, say Ballard, became 40% minority and all those students' parents showed up at the PTA meeting with new ideas or focuses?

Is there such a fundamental difference in what parents want for their children academically or is it more an issue of what happens culturally at a school? Is a it power play - someone worrying about someone else "taking over" (whatever that means)? Why would having more white students at a largely minority school "marginalize" minority families?

(I'm also a little disturbed at the idea that schools are supposed to (1) be the melting pot that society isn't and (2) that schools have anything to do with religious diversity. For the former, that's a lot of pressure besides, say, educating a population of students and for the latter, religion should have little to do with the school.)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Times' Front Page Article on Schools' Make-Up

I haven't had time to properly read through this article (although there is one glaring mistake) so no assessment but thought I would post so people could read it. Check further down when you get to this page; there are accompanying parent perspectives, a link to an interactive map, a place to register your thoughts and there will be a Q&A on Wednesday live with Harium Martin-Morris to which you can post a question in advance.