Thursday, May 28, 2009

How to be an Effective Agent for Change

The discussion on the blog has turned, once again, on how to be an effective agent for change in Seattle Public Schools. There are proponents of a variety of strategies and tactics. There are those who propose letter-writing campaigns directed at district decision-makers, meeting with district decision-makers, media campaigns, marches and rallies, WASL boycotts, litigation, influencing other electeds, summit meetings of advocacy groups, and still more ideas.

I have seen some things work, and I have seen most things fail.

Letter writing campaigns to district decision-makers.
This sort of worked one time - when the District tried to eliminate Spectrum in 2001 the Board received hundreds of emails alerting them to June Rimmer's bad faith. They stopped her from dumping the program (she claimed that was not her intent) and ordered reform of Advanced Learning. A committee recommended a list of reforms, none of which were implemented. That is the greatest success I have ever seen from massive letter-writing. Recent examples are not nearly as successful. Consider how many people wrote to urge the Board to reject the recent high school math adoption. On the whole, this does not appear to be an effective strategy.

Meeting with district decision-makers.
This happens a lot more often than most people would suspect. Every so often someone I know will mention that they took a meeting with a district leader. I do it, too. Not a lot, a couple times a year at the most. Although I have never had a meeting with Maria Goodloe-Johnson on any topic, and Raj Manhas refused to even acknowledge me, I did used to meet with Joseph from time to time. I met with Steve Wilson a couple times and I have met with Carla Santorno a couple times. About a year ago I got a meeting with Holly Ferguson and Carol Rava-Treat about the Strategic Plan. I think that I can say with some confidence that not one of these meetings ever did a tinker's dam worth of good. None of the ones I had and none of the ones that I have ever heard about. While they can be good for building relationships, they are not an effective means for influencing policy or practice.

Media campaigns.
Here's the good and the bad about media campaigns. First, they work. The District is EXTREMELY sensitive to press. That's the good. The bad news is that they are extraordinarily difficult to conduct. You have to have an issue that makes a good story and, usually, a good visual. The best one I ever saw was a brilliant stunt by Brita Butler-Wall (a longtime activist before she was on the Board) who "arrested" a Coke machine that was in violation of the District's new (but, until then, un-enforced) anti-commercialism policy. The best press reaction I ever got was with a Spectrum WASL boycott effort in 2003 that got national media attention. A thousand letters from families did nothing, but one call from the New York Times asking about a possible boycott got a letter full of promises from Raj Manhas. Yes, he broke all of the promises, but I was astonished by the quick action. The press will insist on presenting both sides of an issue, so the issue can't be the story or you won't get the angle you want. The action needs to be the story.

Marches and rallies.
Forget it. Families at Rainier Beach marched for two years or more. It didn't help them get rid of the principal there and the school still hasn't recovered. Families show up at Board meetings in matching T-shirts, chant on the lawn, then come inside and get ignored. Hint for next time: the Board offices are on the NORTH side of the auditorium. Garfield students marched for Tony Wroten. Did it help? I don't think so. Does anyone have a report of a march or rally that influenced a decision? I don't. The sixties are over.

WASL boycotts.
This has yet to be tried, but the threat of it has certainly caused a lot of racing around. Was it the threat of the WASL boycott in 2003 that got Raj Manhas to write that promise-filled letter or was it the call about it from the New York Times? I would guess it was the call. Just the same, I have seen ears prick up at the suggestion of a WASL boycott in a way that they have not reacted to much else.

Really this is litigation or the threat of litigation. It includes all sorts of judicial or quasi-judicial actions. I have seen this both work and fail. Given the fact that I have seen almost everything else just fail, that makes this one of the most effective options available. Alternative progress reports were getting crushed under the heel of Standards-based Learning System in 2002 until the alternative school coalition lawyered up. Litigation may have saved the grove at Ingraham. It just forced a separation of start times at Denny and Sealth (which the District had promised and then quietly taken back). I don't know if it can save the AAA or Summit. It is over-used. People certainly threaten it more than they should and there was no way it could have saved MLK. I think it would have a better track record if it were used more selectively, but that it has ever been successful in any way puts it in rare company.

Influencing other Electeds.
This not only doesn't work, I think it can backfire. When the Mayor tried to stick his nose into the District's business he got it twisted. 99% of state legislators can neither effectively promise or threaten anything. There are a couple who actually control things to a limited extent but even they won't base statewide policy on what is happening in Seattle alone. Of course, the electeds want to make you believe that they exerted influence, but I haven't really seen it.

Summit Meetings of Advocacy Groups.
Not effective. The District isn't impressed that you got the hippies, the freaks and the nerds together. They still can't get one of their number elected Prom Queen.

Huge Sums of Cash.
It goes without saying that anyone who can raise six figures - preferably seven - can pretty much write their own ticket with the District. Want to be consulted on most of the decisions for a school? I believe the pricetag for that is $1 million per year. Want to take over the District's community engagement? That costs $240,000. Want to set the direction of education reform for the whole District? That will run you about $5 million.

Anything else?
If you have an idea for some action that we can take that can influence the district leadership but won't negatively impact our children's education (such as holding them out of school, voting down levies, or withholding contributions), I would LOVE to hear about it. Please try to provide evidence that it is effective. Barring that, try to provide good cause to believe that it might be.

If you think that one of the tactics I dismissed has been effective, then please share that story. I am always happy to hear stories like those.

As you consider possible new strategies, try to keep in mind the motivations of the District staff. For most of them it is all about internal politics. That is the driving force and the primary determinant for everything. The more influence they exert, the greater their political clout. Any time they can get someone else to do things their way (particularly if it is NOT the best way), their stock rises. Any time they have to do something suggested by someone else (regardless of merit), their power is diminished. Every decision goes to the idea backed by more clout, which enhances the winner's capital and diminishes the loser's. Alliances gather clout. Alliances and rivalries define the battlefield. If you are aligned with their rival, then you are their rival and they will disagree with you at every turn. The winners get bonus points if their decision is unquestioned and extra bonus points if it is obviously capricious. That's why ideas suggested from outside hardly ever happen - they are coming from a source with no political capital. that's also why the decisions imposed on families are often unquestionable and capricious. Politics decide almost everything. This isn't true for all of the central staff - there are some really wonderful and noble people working there - but it does reflect the dominant culture of the institution.

That's why bad press can help you influence a decision. It shames them terribly and causes them to lose political capital. Same with litigation. Money, on the other hand, translates directly into political influence. They love to play the rainmaker.

Believe me, I know just how melodramatic all of this sounds, but if it is overstated, it is not overstated by much. There are a lot of people who would say that it is not overstated at all.


anonymous said...

Charlie, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't think we have really ever done anything en mass. I mean all parents, all schools, and all community groups organized and on the same page.

Schools have organized and as you said went to board meetings wearing same colored T-shirts and chanted. Or they have marched. Community advocacy groups (CPPS, ESP, SOS, Alt school Coalition) have organized and taken stands on many issues, but they generally work autonomously.

What if we really organized? Isn't there power in numbers?

What if we asked every parent in every school to join us, and every advocacy group, and every teacher!

Out of this union we could plan things, like WASL boycotts on a wide spread scale.

We could have thousands of people show up at the board meetings! We could have thousands of people with picket signs standing in front of the JSC during the day?

Surely, the press would jump all over it.

Would something en mass work????

Roy Smith said...

The real challenge with a true en mass action is getting the mass. The district has done an outstanding job of divide and conquer (see, for instance, every round of school closings), and I have trouble picturing any one issue that could truly unite even a majority of parents and at the same time be compelling enough for them to actually do something.

For all of the chaos and disruption, in any given year most families are still not directly affected by anything SPS does other than suffer the uncertainty the district creates, and since a lot of people have other problems to deal with (uncertainty about their employment, for instance), it is really hard to mobilize them to do anything about problems that are not directly relevant to them.

I think Charlie has pretty much nailed the analysis: to make anything happen, one needs to either create adverse press for the decision maker with the power to do something, or have a credible litigation threat. True mass action might work, but I am pessimistic that enough mass would ever actually participate.

Sue said...

What I think might work is a mass effort to vote DOWN both of the upcoming levies, unless a system is put in place to make sure that promises made by the district to parents, schools, etc are fulfilled.

Of course, the promises I may want fulfilled could be very different than what others want, so who would decide that?

Many folks will disagree with me on that tactic, and I doubt there is any way to make the district comply with promises made, once they get the money back.

Of course, one problem with this, is we would have an 25% cut in the operating budget. Hmmmm.

zb said...

Litigation, creating a media fervor, and WASL boycotts might get you action, but it won't necessarily be the action you want.

What I think is needed is a collective plan and vision. I've been through too many superintendent bashings in too many cities (including Seattle's) to believe that any faults are the result of the superintendent, or the school board. I do believe that the problems are a result of a very complex problem requiring the balancing of many different interests, some of whom might be fighting over the same pie at any given time (take the arbor heights/cooper/pathfinder interchange, for example).

Mass pickets asking for something different, perhaps 800 different things, can't result in any action, because the mass is asking for the impossible (I never understood the entire WTO protests -- what were they against, anyway?). What would a protest be against now?

What I think is needed is a true broad based coalition, that compromises to produce a consensus opinion (not the NE opinion, or the central opinion, or the minority population opinion), but something all those groups can work together on. A tall order, true, and sitting down and talking, for example, with minority families at Leschi and well off families whose other option is private schools that cost 20K a year, as well as the middle class families that feel squeezed, would show everyone involved just how complicated the problem is. Would those groups agree on common goals?

If they can't, then there's no action for the SPS to take, except to placate the families that choose to go the litigation/media/decision maker/boycott route. And, if they do try to placate a "special interest" one can guarantee that another special interest will do battle. It's a plan for failure.

(And, yes, litigation succeded in getting rid of the racial tie breaker. I've been saying since I saw the litigation that the end result would also mean the end of choice. We're seeing that culmination now).

zb said...

Charlie -- that's a prescription for you. You have your advocates among the affluent educated crowd. Figure out what the Seattle's immigrant, poor, and needy populations want and need. Figure out what the teachers want and need. Talk to them, listen to them. Come up with the consensus vision. I do believe, from listening to you on this blog that you care about those things. But I think the plan you advocate for has to have buy-in from a diverse coalition, for me to believe that your values can be translated into something better for the children, now.

Charlie Mas said...

This comment has to be broken into two parts because it got too long.

I have talked to a lot of people, more importantly, I have listened to a whole lot more. I have heard them and I have heard what they need.

People want to send their children to a school that provides an appropriate academic opportunity - whether that be below, at, or beyond Standards, whether it includes art and music or not, whether it is traditional, arts-based, science-focused, project-based, afro-centric, kinesthetic, or attuned to some other learning style.

People - almost universally - want a school that sets and maintains high expectations, helps struggling students to meet those expectations, and supports students working beyond those expectations.

We know what an excellent school is. Moreover, most of us, judging by survey results, think our kids are getting a pretty good education at their school.

I will say, not for the first time and not for the last time, that the work done in the buildings by the teachers, the support staff, the administrative staff, and the principals is generally wonderful. The overwhelming majority of the District's mistakes and failures have come at the JSCEE than at all of the other buildings combined.

The District's role should not be to dictate what happens at the schools but to monitor what happens at the schools. They should fulfill a quality control and assurance role and only intervene when their intervention is required. That intervention, when it comes, should be in the form of support. They should be asking: "How can we help you to do your job better?"

It would be best if the schools, the teachers, the students and the students' families hardly ever felt any influence from the District. That would be because the school is functioning well. By that I mean that it is demonstrably effective, it is demonstrably meeting the needs of the community it serves, and it is demonstrably providing the students with an appropriate academic opportunity. If that's happening, then the District should not be making any decisions that impact the school.

If that happens at all of our schools, then only those seeking niche services will send their children out of the neighborhood for school. If that happens at all of our schools then the District will have no need to standardize materials and instruction. Standard curriculum, yes. Every student at every school should be learning - at a minimum - the core set of knowledge and skills determined by the Board which meets or exceeds the State requirements. But if the schools are working well and largely meeting that goal, then there is no real need to mandate uniform materials, pedagogy, or lessons.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's Part II:

I don't believe that our academic problems are so wide spread. There are undoubtedly no more than a problem classroom or two at most schools. The principals should be able to address those. They should be encouraged to fulfill their role as instructional leaders. A few roving coaches, grade level or department meetings, and the occassional larger teacher meet-up should be able to cover a lot of the "What do you do about this?" or "Here's what I have found to be effective" sort of territory.

There are only a few schools were the problems are more wide-spread. How many turn-around professionals does the District need to send into a building to help them to set and maintain high expectations? Two? A literacy and a math coach? Three? A science coach as well? Do their solutions have to be so pre-packaged as to require that all schools use the same text? That would reflect a pretty bad case of "Here's the solution, what's your problem?" Shouldn't the work of the coach begin with observing? Can their advice and support be so narrow that it is content specific? If so, then it is the equivalent of giving a man a fish instead of teaching him to fish.

I may be over-simplifying the situation, but teachers are professionals doing creative work with interpersonal skills. There is no formulaic answer. Every group dynamic and personal style is different and requires a different touch, a slightly different solution. If you can't acknowledge and respect that you can't do this work. So by necessity the work of improving teaching needs to be guided by sharing guiding principles rather than issuing specific dictates.

We can set the ends, but we cannot specify the means in such a human endeavor.

The District gets into trouble when they either abdicate their responsibility, as the previous superintendents did, or overreach, as the current superintendent has been accused of doing.

I sonetimes think we need a renewed sense of purpose in the District headquarters. Here is a group that needs to work for something bigger than themselves. They need a more narrowly defined mission of monitor and support.

I probably shouldn't rant like this. People will get the idea that I would rant this way if I were on the Board. I wouldn't. Different venues have different codes of conduct. I don't act the same in client meetings at work as I do when I out bowling with my friends. I wouldn't be the same on the Board as I am on the blog.

mary s said...

Here's an approach going on in LA

Green Dot’s Steve Barr is trying to launch a Parent Revolution in Los Angeles, urging parents to demand better schools or else. Or else they’ll start a charter school with the help of Bright Star Schools and the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, successful charter operators. From the Los Angeles Times:

If more than half of the parents at a school sign up, Barr’s organizers say they will guarantee an excellent campus within three years. They call it the Parent Revolution.

With parents, they predict, they’ll have the clout to pressure the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve schools. They’ll also have petitions, which Barr and his allies will keep at the ready, to start charter schools. If the district doesn’t deliver, targeted neighborhoods could be flooded with charters, which aren’t run by the school district. L.A. Unified would lose enrollment, and the funding would go to the charters instead of to the district.

Organizer Ben Austin, a lawyer and political consultant, “characterized a proper school as one that is safe, orderly and small, where the principal can personally and rapidly fire ineffective teachers, where nearly all dollars get to the classroom and where every child is progressing toward college.”

On Fox and Hounds Daily, Austin writes: “We are done with bake sales. We are done playing by their rules.”

In addition to Green Dot, funding for the Parent Revolution groups has come from philanthropist Eli Broad, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Service Employees International Union.

Roy Smith said...

Organizer Ben Austin, a lawyer and political consultant, “characterized a proper school as one that is safe, orderly and small, where the principal can personally and rapidly fire ineffective teachers, where nearly all dollars get to the classroom and where every child is progressing toward college.”This statement perfectly highlights my point about the difficulties involved in getting a mass of people involved in public schools to agree on anything.

I think everybody agrees that schools must be safe to be effective. Beyond that, though, disagreement is rampant. (And even this subject can cause controversy, when it comes down to the brass tacks of balancing what resources we put into safety vs. resources that we use to support everything else schools are supposed to do.)

Should schools be orderly, in ways such as kids having to line up to go to recess? Would the disorder of a place like AS#1 be acceptable in this guy's vision?

Some people think we gain more with large schools that can afford all the overhead associated with a myriad of specialized services. Some people would prefer to dispense with the specialized services and instead have a school where all of the staff and all of the students know each other.

I personally think that a principal should be able to "personally and rapidly fire ineffective teachers" while there are many others (a number of whom post on this blog) who feel that this would turns schools into a morass of office politics and favoritism.

Should "nearly all dollars get to the classroom", or are some of those dollars legitimately needed for counselors, family support specialists, librarians (Bellevue high schools aren't going to have librarians next year due to budget cuts), etc?

My point of listing all this is that in order for a mass of people to be effective agents for change requires that some consensus be formed about what sort of change is desired, and I don't see any sort of consensus on most subjects emerging from the mass of parents, families, or voters.

Charlie Mas said...

Without the hammer of charter schools behind us, can we demand better schools or else? What would be our "or else"?

Roy Smith said...

And even if we could figure out the "or else", what is it that we mean when we "demand better schools"?

SolvayGirl said...

The "or else" has already become reality for many of us (and not just those who comment here).

The "or else" is (in no particular order):

• Established Independent (private) schools
• Home schooling
• Out of District Assignments
• Parents getting together to create Independent Schools (Lake Washington Girls' Middle School as a recent example)
• Online K-12 education

The "or else" is we walk—any way we can—if that's what we have to do to insure that our children get the kind and quality of education they need. As parents we have to do what's best for our children first. Unfortunately, not every family can exercise one of the above options.

Consequently, as a society, we MUST do more, since eventually our children will have to coexist constructively with ALL of the children in the city, the country and the world. Our children are our future; there's no getting around that no matter where you stand on unions, schools, educational philosophies, etc.

I don't have the answers; I just recognize the enormity of the problem.

zb said...

"I personally think that a principal should be able to "personally and rapidly fire ineffective teachers" while there are many others (a number of whom post on this blog) who feel that this would turns schools into a morass of office politics and favoritism."

Count me among them (i.e. office politics/favoritism/serving their clients -- i.e. parents at the expense of child learning all being possible consequences I see to that scheme). That's an example of an area of disagreement.

And, we've already had threads about "bad principals". Who should get to fire them at will? The superintendent? But, we apparently hate our superintendent and think that she doesn't have the best interest of the children at heart.

One commenter on this blog lists a laundry list of things she wants in the school (music, art, . . . ). I doubt if there'd be a consensus about that, either, if we're working with limited dollars, what's going away. We've had the same argument about remedial math v advanced math (which do we choose, if we're firing a math teacher). Those are all contentious issues, that the district is trying to balance.

The point of public schools is that people are going to have to give up something compared to their ideal school, because a system that serves everyone can't be specially designed for one individual child (or three, or four).

Unknown said...


What information do you have about Ingraham?

The last I heard was that the School District was redrawing the plans to build in the Grove, just a reduced foot print. So the District still is going to cut down trees and kill a rare plant association. It doesn't seem to matter about litigation.

So, as far as I can tell the battle still rages with Ingraham.

Or did something change?

snaffles said...

The experience I have had with School Boards and Superintendents is that the Press is what pushes. Get the Seattle Times, Komo, King, Kiro on your side and you will win the Battle for whatever you want. Get a National paper or TV show behind you and it will be a landslide.

But don't be afraid to call names, or make the District "rulers" look like scum bags, that also gets action because that information flies across the web now. New Yorker's like to see Seattle News. New York has money.

dan dempsey said...

zb said:"I personally think that a principal should be able to "personally and rapidly fire ineffective teachers"I do not think that "ineffective" teachers are the major problem.

The major problem is a lack of emphasis on academic content. When the revolutionary alternative school idea would be one that emphasizes Core-Knowledge you know we are in trouble.

We've been told that the math standards are the curriculum. If anyone believes that look here:
http://mathunderground.blogspot.com/2009/05/real-k-5-math-curriculum-in-seattle.html The problem is a district central administration that has lost touch with reality in far too many ways.

Getting effective change:

Do not forget the YAWR demonstrations that disrupted school board meeting to get military recruiters access to students restricted in certain high schools, so that access was uniform district wide. It took a while but the directors got the message that an injustice was ongoing and these YAWR folks were going to make their meetings miserable if they failed to act.

Seattle has an incredibly "Discriminatory Math Plan to Nowhere" but there is little public concern when rated by YAWR demonstration standards.

Some might think a rational approach would be effective to problem solving. Only Seattle newcomers believe that.

We have a central administration that is unchecked by the school board. With Cheryl Chow leaving, we could be one step closer to reality.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie is spot on about:

try to keep in mind the motivations of the District staff. For most of them it is all about internal politics. That is the driving force and the primary determinant for everything. The more influence they exert, the greater their political clout........Every decision goes to the idea backed by more clout, which enhances the winner's capital and diminishes the loser's.

When you do not know diddle about content and rarely think critically about anything all that is left is politics.

Presenting a rational argument to political animals is pointless.

To win at politics requires a large political group capable of scaring the beJesus out of the administrative political animals.

Thus the public is always ignored.

owlhouse said...

Charlie says it doesn't work- but couldn't a well orchestrated, well attended rally lead to the press that might make a difference? Could it unite various interest groups in advocating student-centered solutions?

Seems to me the question of which teachers are most appropriately RIFed is a straw man. The loss of staff equals a reduction in services to students. It's just one wave in the sea of chaos- but of all these measures to "standardize" and"balance the budget"- the RIF situation is perhaps the most blatant cut to education resources. For this and a dozen other reasons, I'll support the SEA in their rally before the next board meeting.

Stop educator layoffs!

Keep the cuts away from direct services to students.
SEA Education Rally
June 3, from 5 to 6 p.m.
JSC, 2445 3rd Ave. S.

"The Seattle School District's Reduction in Force (RIF) has resulted in some 165 classroom teachers and 59 school-based instructional support personnel being laid off. These layoffs will disrupt communities, leave hundreds of Seattle's educators scrambling to make ends meet, and leave students in overcrowded classes without the individualized attention they deserve. Washington state already ranks 46th in the nation in teacher-to-student ratio and jamming another few desks in the classroom will not achieve the district's motto of "Excellence for All."

Join teachers, school librarians, counselors, support staff, parents and students to send a clear message to the superintendent and the school board: Stop educator layoffs and cuts to direct services to students!"

Sahila said...

I agree with owlhouse that (a series of) enmasse actions will generate publicity and are the quickest way to force the school district and board to take a moment or two to rethink....

We are their constituents.... the only power we have (the voting against levies idea is a dubious tactic - once you lose the money its hard to get it back) is to make our (hopefully united - at least on one issue!)views known so obviously that there is no ability to put a spin on the message, no where to run, no where to hide for SPS....

Charlie has said this is not the 60s... its naive IMO to think that change will come any other way - the world is much more sophisticated in many ways, the social manipulation and control mechanisms in place are much more subtle, yet much more rigid - popular protest still is the most effective way of holding the line and demanding a change in direction...

Many people dont want to go there - too hard, too scarey, too much possibility of conflict... but tell me - how else to get change happening fast - through the ballot box???? How many years before we get the chance to replace all of the ineffective Board members? My child will be in middle school, other kids will have graduated from high school - in the meantime, more nonsensical changes will have been forced down our throats and it will be almost impossible to reverse them - we'll have given an inch, given an inch, given an inch and there will be nothing worthwhile left in our schools - they'll all be big corporate clone factories and future generations of human beings will have less chance to grow into their potential because we didnt take action when we saw it happening...

I've been dumped on before, accused of being willing to use my child as a political pawn with suggestions that we keep our kids at home enmasse, that we boycott the new bell and bus times etc...

It seems like there is this feeling that the sky will fall down, the earth will stop spinning on its axis if our kids miss a few days or weeks of school...

It wont - they still will graduate high school, they'll still be able to get into college if they wish, they'll still have happy fulfilling lives, and in the meantime, they'll have experienced a valuable life lesson - about the power of the individual and the group, about the need to draw a line in the sand and say 'no' sometimes and about having the courage to follow through on that decision to say 'no', about the reality that the system is just a shadow puppet, created and manipulated by people, and that it can be changed when it doesnt work or harms more people than it does good...

What are you all so afraid of in this country? If this was the former soviet union, or china, or north korea, or afghanistan under the taliban or wherever there is autocratic government happening I would understand the fear of taking direct action - and I am wise enough to know that your own internal security system keeps files on 'troublemakers' and can make life quite challenging for people who step too far out of line - but this isnt a terrorism campaign we are contemplating - this is a civil rights action...

I thought this was the "land of the free" but many people act like they're afraid for their very lives (economic recession and unemployment does not equal a death sentence) just by contemplating direct action in response to some very serious issues...

SolvayGirl said...

Social Media Networking

Just a thought...how about a FaceBook page to rally people and get out information? I'm not an interactive, so don't know about facilitating a group FB page, but certainly someone out there must. I know I have tons of "friends" who do not read this blog regularly that might be prodded to get involved with FB alerts, etc.

Note that there is already a page to "Save Seattle's Small Schools" (NOVA and The Center School).

I agree with Sahila that a general school boycott would have a huge impact (staggered school by school might be good), but there should also be a way for those of us who no longer have children in the system (for whatever reason) to participate.

Quality public education is an important issue for everyone, including the childless and empty nesters. As I've said before, this isn't just about my kid or your's...it's about our collective future.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Here's the thing about rallies; my experience is that they don't work because we don't get the numbers. Not that parents don't agree. They just can't find the time. I've seen it happen time and again.

Now we may be reaching a tipping point. There certainly are many things troubling parents, not the least of which is how crowded will their school be this fall and what happens to all the RIFed teachers? It's a wide-reaching issue.

I would support going to the the SEA rally simply because:

- we are all concerned about the layoffs whether you agree with everything the SEA says
- there are likely to be many teachers (i.e. bodies) - go to make the statement that we are unhappy with the direction of the district
- it is one of the last times before school lets out to get a large group together

There could be hundreds of people at the rally and it would really send a message. Also because it is the SEA rally, there will be cameras so that means attention. Go corner a reporter and ask to be interviewed. They are always looking for new angles and new faces. Find out who Linda Shaw (of the Times) and Nick Eaton (of the PI) and Phyllis Fletcher (of KUOW0 are and talk to them.

Keepin' On, yes you would REALLY get the district's attention if the levies didn't pass. (And at the rate things are going, you would even need to advocate voting against them.) And, they could have another election in a couple of months to pass them. Does it cost money to have multiple elections? Yes it does and that should give the district pause. Do you get piled on because "you're hurting the kids"? Sure, but is wasteful spending and ineffective operations any better? No.

ZB, I think we could build a coalition. Groups that feel marginalized probably would like to come to the table. But what I have learned from being in a coalition is that people, at some point, have to NOT put their own group's interest first in order to gain a group dynamic that gets something done. Too many coalitions get bogged down with everyone arguing over their issue instead of the main issue of being recognized and listened to.

If readers agree that the easiest, closest date to rally is next week, then we should get the message out to our schools.

Roy Smith said...

For those proposing mass action, what is the central objective?

Are we mad that the RIFs happened, or are we mad about the way they were done (i.e., strictly on seniority basis with the resulting game of musical teachers that occurs as some are called back). If the first, that is mostly an issue for the legislature, which controls the money, not the school board. If the second, it is an issue for SEA and the contract negotiations - it is, after all, a contract issue.

Are we mad about the Jane Addams mess? If we are, then what is the remedy we are demanding?

Direct action can be very effective if there is a large constituency supporting it with a clear objective. The draft protests worked in the 60s because a huge mass of people wanted one concrete thing - for the draft to be ended. The objective was clear, simple, and very widely supported.

I don't have any philosophical objection to direct action, but I'm not interested in engaging in it if it is the wrong tool for the job, such as in these circumstances. One doesn't use a saw if their objective is to drive a nail. Direct action requires a clear unifying objective to be effective, but in the case of SPS I don't see anything that even remotely resembles a clear unifying objective, except perhaps chronic underfunding of the schools, which can't be remedied by either the school board or the superintendent - the purse strings are in Olympia.

owlhouse said...

Sahila- I agree. Having a child actively participant in a coordinated campaign for improved education is not "pawn" like. Of course as parents, we would all have our limits as to how children should be involved, but for me, sitting out a test or missing a day of school is an appropriate response to the poor treatment students currently face. I like SlovayGirl's idea of a rotating boycott- 1 school/cluster a day??

SolvayGirl- I think you're on to something with the social networking piece. So- who are the Facebookers and Twitters among us? I'm in the "signed up but have never used it" club, can someone active weigh in?

Melissa- My read on rallies is similar. One goal is to influence the district, but the larger goal is to reach the press- and build public awareness (eventually generating solutions) re: district concerns. The press responds most to huge numbers and/or heated issues. ESP Vision is on board with the rally, and I hope schools and families will join the action. While the call to rally is RIF specific, these lay-offs are not occurring in isolation. I think any number of concerns can easily and legitimately piggy-back on RIF related concerns. And when you corner the press, offer some solutions. Let's not be seen as whiners out of touch with the economic realities. We know our students and schools better than anyone.

owlhouse said...

Roy- I think you're right that the strongest rally would center on a single issue. Unfortunately, we don't have one, lone, stand out concern. Or if we do, it changes daily.

The SEA's unifying point is, in short, prioritize in-class student support. From their announcement:

How could the Seattle School District stop the educator layoffs?

* The Seattle School District has millions of dollars in a "rainy day" fund -- much more than other school districts in the state. It should be clear by now that we are in the middle of an economic monsoon that will wash the education of our children into the gutter if we don't tap that fund.

* Washington state law RCW 28A.320.320 allows school districts to transfer the interest earned on Capital funds over to the Operations budget, specifically to pay for "instructional supplies and equipment." In 2008-09, the district budgeted $22.7 million for "instructional supplies and equipment," which, if transferred from the Capital side would free up $22.7 million from Operations. That money could then be used to offset the RIFs.

* Why is it that the District has enough money for 26 project management teams, countless consultants, adopting new textbooks and more, but not enough money to retain the people who actually teach children or provide direct services to students? The recent Washington state performance audit of the District revealed that it spends 39 percent more on administration compared to surrounding districts. Before one educator is cut, non-direct services to students should be eliminated.

Sahila said...

I like the idea about getting as much support out for the June 3 rally... as Owlhouse writes, there are issues already identified there that have enough validity and impact on everyone to generate at least some sense of unity...

I also like the idea of rolling school boycotts - I would hope that many parents who might not be comfortable with extended boycotts could work with the idea of one day at a time.... and that if we all worked together we could get a rolling, cyclical campaign going around the district, so that individual or clusters of schools are empty only one day out of every two or more weeks, for example....

Imagine - empty schools, empty buses doing their rounds, stopping at empty bus stops because they still have to do the route ... imagine the publicity, imagine the costs (PR and financially) to the District... and maybe the school communities closed for the day could spend part of that day protesting in front of the John Stanford Centre...

If I was the Super and the Board and the community kept this up for a while, I would be taking a step back...

The only downside with this is that summer is nearly here - not much time for this particular idea to be planned out and implemented.... but we could begin it now and continue it in the fall... these issues are not going to be resolved over summer.... however, we need Plans B and C to happen as well...

Chris S. said...

I have a central issue: We want a voice! On teachers, principals, curriculum, capacity. Community input, what little there was, is rapidly being taken away.

I just read an Goodloe-Johnson interview from her Charleston days and she talked about the achievement gap being due to some groups not having "voice." It seems she is trying to close that gap by denying everyone a voice.