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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Beyond Simple Cost Cutting

Two articles of interest today.  First, an editorial I co-wrote in today's PI:

The district will get into detailed specifics for cutting costs.  We'd love to see them give equal attention to the improvements they seek.  For instance, they say they want to make all neighborhood schools great.  We all have opinions on that, but what exactly do they plan to do for the struggling schools?  I'd like to see them write down the details so we can comment, and more importantly, so we can identify where we can participate and how we can hold them accountable to it.  They've got the stick down... now we need the carrot.   

I'd love to hear additional thoughts on what the district could do to make you more confident in the schools you may be forced to choose from (due to closure, overcrowding, or changes to the assignment plan).

And here's an interesting article from today's New York Times:

The head of DC's public schools is looking to eliminate tenure protection for poor performing teachers.  It's interesting to think about what will happen in Seattle as schools get closed.  Many schools (those on the closure list and not) are harboring some poor performing teachers.  Are new teachers going to get pushed aside to make room for displaced teachers whose schools are closed, even for teachers who are known poor performers?  Could a proposal against tenure ever fly in Seattle?  I'm torn on this issue because I believe strong teachers deserve protection (so they can't get fired for speaking out against the district, for instance).  But, I also think that most teachers know who their weaker peers are, and I wish the union would do something to help with that situation.  Teaching at its best is a team activity, and no teacher wants to inherit kids who are lagging behind because one of their peers is a poor teacher.  Yet, we all see that happening every year.

11 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

Andrew, I think you and Charles did a fine job on your op-ed. Good points all around especially the one of how does this all fit together for the future? The district needw to connect the dots, in specific, to get the real buy-in they need.

Your middle paragraph really points out the issue of what the problem really is:

"District leaders would have us believe that the problem is simply a matter of too many desks for too few students. In fact, the trouble is that seats in the schools perceived as "good" are filled, while seats in the schools perceived as "not so good" remain empty. It's not just a capacity issue; it's a distribution issue."

As you may well know, the primary criteria this round of closures is building condition/site. So closing some bad buildings and shuffling kids around might fill some south end schools but without the logistics of the assignment plan in place, how can they be sure this is the right course?

Under, What Can Be Done, you guys are right on in saying parents should be partners. Not fundraisers, not obstacles, but people who know their schools and neighborhoods. As well, last round of closures, everyone was assured that kids whose schools were closing would be getting better. Has that been true? We should ask those students and parents so that the district knows now what to do differently or in addition to, in order to make the process as productive as possible.

What you and Charles call a "quality neighborhood school" description goes along with my thought of establishing a baseline for every elementary, middle and high school so that parents know what they will find in every single school in the district. By that I mean in every elementary there will be some kind of music (band or choral), art, librarian, and at least one after-school activity. Something along those lines so that parents won't wonder how much another school might have. This isn't counting, of course, what parents and/or the PTSA might supply or do but what the district is committed to having in every single school.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I forgot to comment on the other article. Yes, some teachers with tenure would be displacing newer teachers by union rules. This is one issue that can affect every single school because of a teacher with seniority loses his or her school, they can bump another teacher out of another school. Likewise with cafeteria workers who can be favorite staff at schools.

I'm torn as well and it might be worth some research to see what educators say. I'm not even sure how to get tenure in Seattle. I don't know that the district could mandate it without the union's consent so it probably would be negotiated.

D.C.'s new superintendent is one reason I had thrown out the question of where Obama's girls would go to school. This is a very aggressive superintendent who is looking for results.

TechyMom said...

"....seats in the schools perceived as "good" are filled, while seats in the schools perceived as "not so good" remain empty. It's not just a capacity issue; it's a distribution issue."

Wasn't that what was supposed to happen with school choice? I remember that as a selling point back in the 90's. It was supposed to let us find the programs that people didn't want, and close them. I realize that school choice is somewhat out of fashion these days, but shouldn't we finish the job? Close the schools that no one chooses, and replace (some of) them with copies of the ones people do choose?

Jet City mom said...

however- regarding seats- I dug up copies of previous letters I had written the board regarding Summit- in 2005 & earlier.

Eckstein has been a desired school, yet very overcrowded for at least a decade.
Summit in the Jane Adams build, has had hundreds of more students than they do currently.

After the retirement of a long time principal advocate, they have gone through principals who wanted their foot in the door at SPS, principals who have no idea about alternative education and don't want to, principals who weren't up for a battle with the district to hold onto the building,

Anyway- when it is in the media and the PIC centers that Summit is going to be closed, when teachers don't know if they will have a job in the fall, it is really difficult to grow a program- particulary when something as simple as only having one kindergarten class which limit younger children coming into the school, isn't changed.

I certainly had my problems with Summit & most I feel could be traced to lack of leadership & accountability, in the district and in the building.

However- if Summit had not space @ 3rd grade, when my younger daughter entered, we would have remained in private schools.

I am very troubled that a decades old program, which serves a unique niche, can be moved/closed, with little support from district to address the needs of those students/families elsewhere.

I also don't understand the problem with class size in other schools.
According to Ted Howard, Garfield principal, the teacher union has class size written into contract.
It isn't negotiable.
Schools that are enrolling students without following the contract are out of line & not only putting those students education at risk, but costing the school money for every day the class is over enrolled a penalty is paid to the teacher.
So what is the deal?
Are some schools allowed to overenroll?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Class of 75, I wish I knew. A good question to ask the principal or better yet, Carla Santorno. I think it's a rock and a hard place question. Yes, there is a union mandated class size. But there are also parents who make demands on a school ("let my kid in") and principals feel that pressure, get directives from the district that it's okay to let more kids in and there you are. I don't know why teachers put up with it but maybe the same pressure comes to them as well.

Jet City mom said...

Yes, there is a union mandated class size. But there are also parents who make demands on a school ("let my kid in") and principals feel that pressure, get directives from the district that it's okay to let more kids in and there you are

Having just suffered through a strike for about the 6th time in 25 years- I side with the union.

Ted Howard is a youngish principal with a challenging community & if he can withstand the pressure from the pushy parents @ Garfield who want their kids to have this teacher or that class- why can't other principals?

It isn't doing the teachers any favors or the students, and it certainly is not doing the school budget any good when a fine is paid for each day the class is overenrolled.

Yes, perhaps some teachers have agreed to overenrolling, they get a few extra bucks & if it is a particularly well behaved class, such as some of the more desirable AP classes- it's possible that 2 or 3 students don't necessarily negatively impact the class.
But again- even with teacher cooperation- some schools are following the teacher/district contract & not allowing any class to overenroll, so why is the district allowing this?

I think the media should pick up on this, because parents should know if their child's school can't follow guidelines- perhaps it will make matters worse- because I am sure that 10 or 20 families that couldn't get into the John Stanford school, would rather squeeze in there, than go to their 2nd or 3rd choice.

We paid for levies to support smaller class sizes, why is it we still have this problem?
( rhetorical)

( and how can they keep some schools open like Rainier Beach and AA academy- but disperse to the wind other communities without a 2nd thought?)

Teachermom said...

Interesting Slate find about the NYT article....

http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/xxfactor/archive/2008/11/13/give-the-teacher-a-carrot.aspx

old salt said...

This is not the first year that some NE cluster schools have been forced to overenroll classes against principal & teacher wishes. Sometimes the principal is not allowed to say no.

katie said...

I can't speak about other schools but in the NE the over-enrollment has been against teacher and principal wishes. Over the last 4 years as enrollment has steadily grown SPS has enrolled the classes. No amount of parent pressure would ever cause a principal to enroll 30 children in a half day K class. That is purely because SPS had to place them somewhere.

reader said...

But this still misses the point. Look outside, smell the coffee. It's only a matter of time before the tax revenue in Washington drops. In fact, the state now has a 4 billion dollar deficit... it was 3 billion just a few weeks ago. Obviously, pretty soon here, that's going to "tricke down" to reductions in education spending. Bonds and levies aren't going to be easy or cheap either. It IS about cost savings.

If we didn't need to cut costs, it would be perfectly fine to keep tons of half-open buildings that a handful of people loved.... while other people chose different programs and were bussed across town. Sure, we can and must ask for parent input... but really, parents aren't going to make the heavy decisions with a global or equitable perspective.

uxolo said...

Has CCPS published a list of suggested schools to close? Have they created a list of criteria for closures?