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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Opportunity to Apply Accountability

Seattle Public Schools has a long history of promises made and promises broken. The district gives promises to communities to suppress opposition to their plans, then they move forward with the plans but don't keep the promises. It happens all the time. I am convinced that a number of the promises were made without any intention of ever fulfilling them, just to suppress opposition. You cannot go to them and demand that they fulfill their promise. You have no means to compel them to fulfill and they know it. They will simply ignore you. That's if they don't laugh in your face. Then they are back a year or two later with more promises to suppress opposition to more plans.

The public needs some means of applying accountability. The public needs some way to get the district staff (or school staff) to keep their promises. No one in the District - except the Board - are accountable to the public. They don't need your approval for anything they want to do, and they don't have to do anything the public wants them to do. The public doesn't hire them or fire them. Community efforts to remove teachers, principals or program managers are notoriously messy and ineffective. So what can the public do?

There are only a few things that the public controls that the District wants: votes on bonds and levies, contributions to schools, and student participation in the WASL.

Except in the most egregious cases, it would be unwise and self-defeating for us to vote against levies or to withhold contributions. Except at Title I schools, however, there is little harm to us, our schools, or our children if we opt them out of the WASL.

I have suggested WASL boycotts before, and I think they are a good idea. Good idea or not, they are the only tool we have. I suppose it would be nice if we had others, but we don't. For a WASL boycott to work it would have to be organized and well-communicated, not only to the members of the community, but to the district or school officials as well. Everyone would have to know that the boycott is happening, why it is happening, and when it will end.

Here's an example:

The District split the elementary and middle school APP community against the community's wishes and, in the case of the elementary program, without clear cause. To suppress opposition from the community, the District made a number of promises to the community. They promised that the two programs would be equivalent, they promised a written, taught and tested curriculum. They promised more differentiated instruction. They promised reform in response to the APP Review. They promised strengthened Spectrum programs and ALOs. They made a whole laundry list of promises. There is little expectation that the District will keep these promises. There is, in fact, little expectation that the District will even try to keep these promises.

The APP community could come together and write a list of the District promises. Each promise should be listed and quantified so there is no doubt, so it can be objectively determined when the promise has been kept. Then they could opt their children out of the WASL and hold them out of the WASL until such time as all of the District promises are kept. This year for sure, probably next year as well. APP families would keep their children out of the WASL every year until the District meets the obligations they set for themselves.

The word would have to go to every APP family and it would have to go to the schools and the District staff as well. The community would have to remain united and resolute in the face of strong opposition. They will have to stick to their answer: the schools and the staff can end the boycott any time they want by fulfilling the promises.

APP isn't alone. There are a number of other schools and communities that got promises. They, too, should boycott the WASL until those promises are kept. Again, these communities need to stay united and resolute. They need to provide clear goals that would have to be met to end the boycott. That's accountability. It is also absolutely key that the WASL boycott begin immediately and only be removed when the promises are kept. The community should not threaten the boycott if the promises are broken; they should start in the OFF position. The District has to perform first.

Students at Title I schools should not participate in WASL boycotts. The WASL boycott will not harm any student or school outside of Title I schools, but it can cost Title I schools - and students - dearly, so they should not participate in this sort of exercise.

16 comments:

SolvayGirl said...

Charlie
I love the WASL boycott and hope you can encourage many to come on board.

Many families in Seattle have already exercised the ultimate boycott—by not enrolling our children in SPS at all.

Instead they are opting for private/independent schools, home schooling, out-of-district options (SHoreline, Mercer ISland, Bellevue, Renton) and the new virtual K-12.

I can't believe District staff seems so oblivious to and unconcerned by the exodus. Perhaps a bunch of schools falling into the dead zone of NCLB due to low WASL scores (because of the zeros awarded for those opting out) will finally make them realize that the people of Seattle are their bosses AND their market.

Keep fighting CHarlie...and DO run to oppose Cheryl Chow!

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

Definitely promises are made to placate the public with no intention of fulfillment. This is now obvious to all, who closely follow the SPS.

When I visited the attorney general to ask about accountability.

I learned that the only accountability is to the voters.

So when Michael DeBell often talked about the adoption of Singapore math materials ( like it actually was going to happen, happened, and is ongoing ) .. this tells me he should not be re-elected.

I've had people (non-Seattle folks) actually ask me how the Singapore program was going in Seattle because they had read about it.

Why do these board members even run in the first place?
Shouldn't part of their election campaign rhetoric include that they are going to continue with public deception? Rather than promising effective new leadership.

I can hardly wait to read the Strategic Plan Update on math and the effect of the immediate actions that never happened.

ditto SolvayGirl1972
RUN Charlie Run.

Maureen said...

So what promises are being made to K-8s regarding the earlier start time? So far I think I have heard: shorter bus rides; buses will be on time; no more shared buses; something about a longer school day (for K-5?, 6-8? Unclear); more access to afterschool programs for middle schoolers (now if they could only guarantee we win a game or two against Eckstein!)...

Anything else?

Can we ask for things? How about: Crossing guards at 6:45 am to help get our kids to their 'cluster stops?' Childcare centers based at K-5s (and Boys&Girls clubs, etc)will open an hour early in the pm to accomodate kids from the K-8s.

Has anyone out there heard any of these promises? Any others? Are any of them in writing anywhere? Would that make a difference?

Magua said...

Don't be surprised if DeBell's re-election is not an issue: he has intimated that he will not run again in informal conversations during school board meetings.

But I'll take him over Chow any day of the week.

seattle citizen said...

hmm, interesting idea...but...

Who will actually apply a WASL boycott? Which parent/guardian group will apply this pressure to ensure accountability for...their group of children?

My point is that there are many parent/guardians in the district who are a) unaware of problems or promises, due to either lack of attention, inabilty to keep up, unfamiliarity with the city, language, and/or system; and b) many parent guardians actually like the WASL, because they believe it is one of the ony tools they (or their children) have to show that they can rise up and be "equal" to established, wealthier, more "mainstream" children. They believe the WASL shows that their children are like all the other children...

So: many groups cannot/will not use such a tool. The effect might be, once again, that those that are savvy get what they want and those that are not don't.

Of course one can argue, well, we should do what we CAN...and if what we can is what is best for our particular group, then, well, so be it, what else can we do?

Boycotts around bus times, etc would be astart, because these effect all students. I might suggest keeping the focus on holding the district accountable on these issues that effect all students, even the students who have no one to speak for them.

"workknit," word verifier? Is knitting work, or am I "workin'it" too hard with my blather?

Charlie Mas said...

Hey, Jane Addams K-8 families, what have you been promised and what recourse will you have if those promises don't appear?

What have the northeast elementary cluster families been promised around overcrowding relief? What action can you take if those promises are not kept?

NOVA and SBOC families can't boycott the WASL, because passing the 10th grade WASL is still a graduation requirement. So what will they do if the District renegs on the many big promises to them?

AS#1 families probably can't boycott the WASL either, so what leverage do they have with the District?

And who says that you have to take action exclusively for your selves? Spectrum families all across the district can boycott the WASL until the District fixes Spectrum by providing some of the long-promised quality control and placing a program in West Seattle-South.

Maybe a school can boycott on behalf of a school that can't. Maybe ORCA can boycott until the District does right by NOVA. Maybe the Queen Anne schools can boycott until the District does right by the SBOC.

seattle citizen said...

That's the spirit!


that's word verifier's messedge.

(a message with an edge!)

dan dempsey said...

Oh Wow!!
Speaking of promises and accountability or NOT today the SPS HS math adoption committee recommended the "Discovering Series".

That would be the series that the SBE consultants found mathematically unsound.

I wonder what promises the Board will make this time as they adopt the most recent set of defective materials. One thing about that adoption process it is consistent ... 3 stinkers in 3 adoptions no wait they also recommended IMP twice but the board was not buying ... make that 4 stinkers out of 3.

Hopefully the board will go for no sale again.
http://mathunderground.blogspot.com/2009/03/seattle-adopts-defective-discovering.html

Sahila said...

Charlie - why cant AS#1 families boycott the WASL?

My child isnt eligible to sit it yet, but if he was, I would still boycott (even if we weren't no longer Title 1 anymore - up the FRL threshold, lose $47K in funding, off the hook!? - and our restructuring is now in some sort of 'no-man's land')...

Sometimes principles are worth risking everything for....

Sahila said...

And, instead of thinking (right now) about boycotting the WASL, why dont SPS families boycott the proposed bell times and bus changes....

A much more direct and clear message....

Get our kids to school at the times already operating (if you're happy with them) or at the time you think is best - get together and car pool if necessary... those with resources to carry out this boycott help those who dont have transport/child care or whatever is lacking to make this action possible...

Free said...

The WASL will be administered next month; it's an ideal time to organize a boycott.

Sahila said...

Thanks for that info about WASL testing time... seeing I'm never going to have my child take standardised tests, I tend to dismiss them from my agenda/time line...

Well, heck, why not do both then - boycott the WASL AND boycott new bell/bus times...

Carpe Diem - seize the day, strike while the iron's hot, if its worth doing, its worth doing properly, the squeeky wheel gets the oil, a stitch in time saves nine etc, etc, etc!!! Give the District something to think about....

All joshing aside, now... who's in?

Dorothy Neville said...

Boycotting wasl (with the caveats Charlie mentioned. No high school and no title 1 school) puts the burden on the district and has no unintended disruptions for the kids.

Boycotting start times by showing up late every day puts the disruption right in the classroom, affecting the teacher and all the students. The consequences for all would be extreme. I know that the start time issue is extreme, but these consequences do not seem productive and puts the burden right in the classroom and on the teacher. It won't give the district incentive to change. It will mean that some observers will question the motive of the parents involved and question their commitment to education and respect for teachers and fellow students.. A very different thing from a wasl boycott.

Sahila said...

Dorothy - you dont think the District will have an incentive to change when it sends the buses round the 'burbs every day and they're pretty much empty and there's all those transportation operating costs going up in the smoke coming out of those exhausts?

Dorothy Neville said...

"Dorothy - you dont think the District will have an incentive to change when it sends the buses round the 'burbs every day and they're pretty much empty and there's all those transportation operating costs going up in the smoke coming out of those exhausts?"

Actually, no. I don't see why it would. It's a sunk cost, isn't it? And there's contracts with the bus company and all sorts of complications. It won't save them any money.

Sahila said...

I'm not saying it will save them any money.... on the contrary, it will cost them money... and that's a good thing - it seems that the motivator that drives most people/organisations to change - when they're forced to change because they're taking a financial hit...

How long do you think the District would let almost empty buses travel all those miles and have to pay the drivers etc, before they finally wake up and realise that they have to take into account their constituent/customer concerns and make changes in line with their (educational) needs, rather than in line with logistical and financial imperatives...

Rather ironic, the boot being on the other foot... The District citing financial need to force many changes on children and families and families using a strategy that will cost the District money to force them to make changes that are (finally) in the children's best interests...

WV- sniprot... is that when you snip away the rotting flesh (making a stand on proposed bell times/busing changes)to prevent the whole limb going gangrenous so that the whole body (quality public education) doesnt eventually die????