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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is Change Coming (and What Can We Do To Make It Happen)?

Danny Westneat of the Times had a column today about CPPS's efforts on RiFed teachers. From the column:

"But the decision this month to lay off 165 of Seattle schools' newest teachers in a "last hired, first fired" manner has got some of liberal Seattle suddenly sounding more like a conservative red state.

More than 600 school parents have signed an online petition, at supportgreatteachers.com, that calls out the teachers union for causing "great distress and upheaval" in the schools. At issue is the policy of choosing who gets laid off solely by seniority.

"Wake up and see how union refusal to consider merit is damaging the profession and our kids," wrote one parent.

"We want the best teachers, not the oldest, teaching our kids," wrote another.

"Teacher unions are an anachronism," said another.

The organizers of the petition are a group of parents called Community and Parents for Public Schools. They agree what they're doing is very un-Seattle."

And to the point:

"I don't have some magic solution for how to do school layoffs. Neither do the petition organizers. What's interesting to me about this dust-up is that it feels like something is coming to a head in Seattle schools. A parent-led movement that's different from what we've seen before. Ready to poke at sacred cows. Unions and management alike."

Stick in "magic solution to _______" and fill in accountability, public engagement, etc.

What I do know:
  • the PTA isn't going to cut it. Much as it pains me and despite my belief in the relevancy of the PTA, it only political on a state level. As an organized group, our PTAs could really get some attention at district headquarters but that is not going to happen as each PTA concentrates on bettering their individual school (and that's good). But, as we are seeing, no school is really an island nor is it safe from the district's strong-arm tactics.
  • Is CPPS the answer? I don't know. I have been wary of this group because I felt there was always a sub-text to what they do. But maybe now is the time to joinand bring some real parent power to the table.
Do parents have power? In short, yes. We can leave or stay in the district. We can vote for or against levies and bonds. We can talk to mayoral candidates and express our unhappiness and demand that any Mayor use the bully pulpit to put pressure on the district. We can talk to our legislators and ask for changes if the district won't listen. There has always been talk of changing the structure of governance in our district and maybe now is the time.

BUT, hear me now. Sitting on your ass is NOT GOING TO GET IT DONE. District staff COUNT on just a small number of parents to be active and/or complain. And, generally, it's the same parents. We solitary warriors have a small bit of power but only so far as being able to get others to listen. We don't necessarily get people to act.

You have to consistently write to your Board member and cc the Superintendent. You have to show up at Work Sessions and Board meetings. You have to go to these "public engagement" meetings and complain about how they process our questions/concerns. (There were two young moms at the last Assignment plan meeting at my table who, to my astonishment, openly voiced their unhappiness with the meeting structure. You go, girls!)

Don't say, "Well, I'm pissed but my kid isn't going to Jane Addams so I dodged that bullet." or "I live in the south end, don't complain to me." or "High school is really far off for my child so I don't have to worry about the LA curriculum now." Say anything like that or any other lame excuse and the district staff will win and keep hurting our schools which, for many of us, are doing a good job individually.

I know many out there are struggling financially. I know there are stresses and strains outside of school. And, God knows, we are all tired of this getting yanked around.

But I say to you, we have to say basta! (Italian for that's enough.) No more excuses. This Jane Addams thing should be the line in the sand. Do not let the district try to duck their heads and wait for yet another fiasco to blow over. They are SO counting on the coming summer break to get everyone off and out of their hair.

The day of reckoning will come. The district will implode or pressures from without will win out. The district can circle the wagons as many times as they want. It will not save what is coming. I agree with Danny; something is in the air. Is it change or just static electricity?

Go big or go home. Fight for our public education system and, at the end of the day, for the future of your child's education.

53 comments:

ParentofThree said...

Well put. Maybe it's time that we just start showing up enmass at school board meetings. A concentrated effort. Maybe it's time that testimony isn't three minutes of a single topic. Maybe we line up one by one and testify about "District Mismanagement" I think we have enough to full our three minutes.

Maybe a thread that helps pull this idea togehter for the next meeting. "Talking Points" for parents who want to testify about district mismanagement.

wseadawg said...

Great post MW! You rock.

SPSMom: WADR (W/all due Resp): No talking points, puh-lease! Too many parrots already. Organize & strategize, & cover the topics, great. But real, personal stories build the case better than talking points. That's the difference between us and them!

Talking Points? We don't need no stinking Talking Points!!

ParentofThree said...

Oh and one other thing I have been thinking about lately. The district always points to the budget deficit whenever they make hasty decisions, that we now are seeing being "recalled" (school closures, Bell times)

But remember the budget error of $25 million a few years back. Yes it cost the super his job in the end. But does anybody remember this type of chaos? I don't, we got got through it and balanced the budget again w/o the disruption of thousands of students.

No, this is a management style, which is maybe due to the fact that MGJ simply is in over her head, or this is how she runs districts. Keep the families mired in chaos and keep your thumb firmly on the board. I am not sure, but I do know that this is a very unhealthy way to run any enterprise.


and to wseadawg, it was just an idea, no need to attack somebody simply making a suggestion. It's that kind of stuff that makes people not want to participate at all!

seattle citizen said...

Yea, Melissa! You DO rock! Let's get the word out...now!

WendyJ said...

Thanks, great post! I wish SPS based their decisions on what would be best for our children rather than sticking band-aids on everything hoping it holds. They force parents to make some tough decisions.

Charlie Mas said...

I think that it has been amply demonstrated that talking will not change anything, no matter how many student families talk, no matter what they say.

Talking doesn't work.

It is time for action.

There isn't much action that student families can take. Most of it, such as leaving the district, going private, or voting down levies is self-defeating. We need an action that hurts them but doesn't hurt us or our kids.

Once again I strongly suggest that Seattle School District families opt out of the WASL until the District shows good faith on a laundry list of issues. I truly believe that a massive and wide-spread WASL boycott would exert more influence than anything else we could do. I truly believe that it would be effective. But for it to be effective it needs to be really big. It needs to include at least 20% of students. It needs to include a lot of the advanced learners. It needs to happen in every school that is not receiving Title I funding.

Talking won't change anything because they aren't listening. We need to take action, and a WASL boycott is the action we need to take.

If you have a better idea, I'd love to hear it.

anonymous said...

I'm in.

And, I totally agree. I have to do what's right for my son and get him the h*ll out of this district. But if by chance we do wind up in SPS next year, my youngest son will NOT be taking the WASL, or it's replacement.

And if it is not mandatory for students to pass the WASL to graduate HS, my older son won't be taking it either.

Unite.

WenD said...

Thanks for posting this, M.

I'm relieved with my decision to stay in Northshore, and yes, we considered JA. But in the shoes of any of you in SPS, hell yes, rise up. NSD didn't RIF anyone, and for this, I'm grateful. They made cuts elsewhere, and staff were included, but keeping teachers was a top priority. Was it really impossible for SPS to do the same?

I have mixed feelings about the benefits of unions. Principals don't need bargaining power and protection, but I think teachers need something more than at-will employment. Seniority is important. You can assess performance and placement using time-in as one of many factors, just not the sole point for deciding whether or not a career is stalled.

The old screed that you'll always have a teaching job is dead, partly due to the incredible demands of NCLB. Getting certs, state by state, is a major undertaking in time and cost. These aren't slam dunk careers. You can't just move and find a spot some place else.

Does SPS have my trust in doing it right, without putting careers on the line for political and/or retaliatory reasons? NO. Keeping teachers should be at the top of agenda, but I don't think fighting the union is the proper target right now. Focus on management. In that regard, M, I have to agree, CPPS's actions don't ring true. I don't like the subtext that to help teachers, we're going to attack their bargaining arm at a time when they're already under attack by management.

hschinske said...

What WASL are we supposed to boycott? Has the timeline for WASL elimination changed? According to http://www.k12.wa.us/communications/pressreleases2009/ReplacingtheWASL.aspx, by spring 2010 there won't BE a WASL. And I'm not keen on boycotting the MSP, because it represents the exact kind of test reform that I've been wanting them to do the whole time my kids have been in school.

Helen Schinske

Grace | Fashion Plants said...

Dear Ms Westbrook,

Re: "Go big or go home. Fight for our public education system and, at the end of the day, for the future of your child's education."

YES!

I am a mom with an incoming kindergartener who got our third choice school and is 64th on the waitlist. Disappointed as I am, I have to put it in perspective; there are a lot of kids who are "stuck" with a school that they (their parents, natch) didn't want.

Here's a radical thought: How about just have all kids go to their neighborhood schools, and JUST MAKE ALL OF THE SCHOOLS GREAT! Lift the caliber of ALL of them.

The real problem is, of course, lack of money, and the unequal distribution of what little there is. We certainly don't get enough from the feds (as a culture, we should), or the state (shameful).

Here's another radical idea: How about pooling ALL PTA-raised funds, and distributing them equally? The schools can determine how best to allocate them, but the funds can't go into administration - only teachers, supplies, PE equipment, extracurriculars.

Can we all, as parents and community members, make a real and lasting change?

I look forward to the continuing dialogue.

Central Mom said...

News 10 mins ago that Cheryl Chow's not running for next term on the board. Here's a bit of change in the making!

suep. said...

Why I'm not signing the CPPS petition – (part I)SPS parents are understandably upset about the RIFs, but I believe many are losing sight of the real reason newer (not always younger) teachers are losing their jobs -- it's because Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson is laying them off.

I find the CPPS petition somewhat misguided and divisive.

The teacher's union doesn't want ANY teachers to lose their jobs -- new or experienced.
I don't believe the teacher's union is the problem here.

The District has the money to keep these teachers, but is choosing not to. Why? We really need to ask this question of the Superintendent and Board.

Also, didn't the District initially say there would be NO teachers laid off?

Didn't the District say that in the event of school closures, 'the teachers would follow the students' to their new locations? So why isn't that happening? Instead the Superintendent is pitting newer teachers against more experienced ones, and playing Musical Principals.

And didn't the Superintendent once say she would lay off some principals -- after all, closing schools means you need fewer principals, right? Yet I've heard there are just as many principals slated for the 2009-10 school year AFTER the closures as there were in 2008-09. So why are principals safe, and teachers targeted?

Moving and merging schools doesn't mean there are fewer students, so who is going to teach all these displaced kids if the Superintendent and District lays off 200 of their teachers?

Mathematically, this can only lead to larger class sizes. Who wants that?

Goodloe-Johnson has said that she believes class sizes don't matter. Tell that to a teacher who finds him/herself with 35-40 kids in a class or a parent whose child has one fortieth of his/her teacher's attention each day. Why isn't CPPS protesting this?

Yes there are some weak teachers in the schools, but is that a reason to layoff nearly 200 teachers to make this point?

There ARE procedures in place for dismissing ineffective teachers.
As recently explained by an SPS teacher: "Public school teachers can be dismissed as ineffective. Seniority is not the same as tenure. K-12 teachers are not tenured, so unlike a judge or professor, they are not protected for life. Seattle teachers can be dismissed without reason in their first two years of teaching and thereafter can be dismissed as ineffective with two consecutive years of unsatisfactory evaluations, which can include student performance as a factor."

I also don't necessarily agree that principals alone should determine the fate of teachers.

Seniority and last in/first out policies are not unique to the teacher's union. Corporate America does it this way all the time. So why is this being treated in the media and by CPPS as some kind of inequitable voodoo invented by the union?

(continued on next post)

suep. said...

Why I'm not signing the CPPS petition – (part II)I would also like to know what it means that the Gates Foundation has given money to CPPS. Gates supports the privatization of public schools, charters, breaking the teacher's union, and seems to demonize teachers on the whole. I don't agree with his vision and I'm concerned that CPPS has been influenced by this agenda and may have become a mouthpiece for it.

Are corporate 'philanthropists' with an "education reform" agenda (like Gates and Eli Broad) trying to launder their agenda through parent organizations like CPPS and claim these are 'parent uprisings,’ which in turn fools writers like Danny Westneat into reporting on them as if they are wholly organic?

Of all the issues facing our kids' education right now, the teacher's union is not on the top of my list. I find it strange that CPPS feels that interjecting itself into the union's contract negotiations is the most important action it can do right now. Why didn't they oppose the closures/mergers and splits that have wreaked so much havoc on the whole district? Why aren't they demanding that the District tap its rainy day fund and preserve ALL the teachers' job--new and experienced? (One would think it never rains in Seattle.)

If they want to question a contract renewal, why don't they question the Superintendent's? She currently gets $264,000 plus car allowance plus retirement. Her annual review is coming up on June 3. Does CPPS believe she's done a great job?

Does she deserve another 10 percent pay raise and another extended contract? If not, why don't they send a petition around about that? (Imagine how many teachers the District could we 'buy' with $264,000.)

A rally of parents and teachers united against the layoffs is planned for June 3, the Superintendent's evaluation. It's organized by ESP Vision, which believes that teachers and parents should work together and not be pitted against each other.

That's the kind of movement I can get behind.

BullDogger said...

SPS's problem is not just money. Most districts get by with less. I would not also point at top leadership. Under Raj I saw most of the same I see under MGJ. I believe there is a huge leadership vacuum at SPS from the Principals through all middle and upper management. Way too many plans and schemes that are nothing but dust two years from now.

The WASL is no longer an issue at my house so, for me, a boycott is moot. You cannot though run an organization like this and expect the citizens of Seattle to continue supporting massive levies while so many neighbors have moved or taken the private option. the failure to pass a levy is the coming implosion.

I'm not familiar with CPPS's backroom agenda but I'm fed up with PTSA's that don't raise hell, just money. The teacher's have a union. The principals have an association. The district staff has the money and the power. Who represents the interests of students and families? In three years of working SPS issues I have found no organization playing that role.

Real change is coming when a levy doesn't pass and it should scare all of us. District staff need to get their heads out of the sand and seek real improvement or else.

thanks MW.

steve in west seattle said...

All the teachers at Cooper (presumably the other schools which are being closed too.) were laid off regardless of seniority. They had to find new positions on there own. I know some have, and some have not.

Not to hi-jack the thread, but the Cooper Community was told the teachers would be given the option to stay with the children at the new schools.

wseadawg said...

SPSMom: No offense. Not attacking. Enthusiastially suggesting we avoid scripting. That's their game and it perils in the face of real facts and data.

suep. said...

"Not to hi-jack the thread, but the Cooper Community was told the teachers would be given the option to stay with the children at the new schools."

Hi Steve - you're not hijacking it at all. Thanks for posting this. This is all part of the same thread -- the broken promises of the district and the Capacity Management Plan which booted kids out of some schools simply so other kids could move in to "a better building."

Please keep reporting here on what's happening at Cooper. What the Superintendent and District did to the Cooper kids, and their teachers, is one of the most under-reported stories of the school closures debacle, and one of the most egregious, in my opinion.

It very well may land the District on the losing side of a discrimination lawsuit too.

Central Mom said...

One way to effect change in the District is to keep this blog up, current and vibrant...in perpetuity.

Have a look at the Jane Addams thread. Now a PI reporter wants to talk to folks about the issue. Shining a light from this blog to a larger metro audience on issues like this is important work.

Just a few years ago there was no way for parents/citizens to keep up to date with issues at various schools. This blog now does the trick. The media, some board members, district employees...they're all coming here to get a pulse on what the community is thinking. So type often, and thoughtfully. There's strength in coming together online.

Steve said...

Great point about the value of the blog, CentralMom. Since the SPS web site appears by design to make it hard to find information, this is the best resource I've found to stay in touch with what the district is doing.

Perhaps the first step towards organizing people is to point them to this blog. If everyone who reads this told ten parents about it, there would be a lot more readers and a lot of parents who are better informed and *reachable*. (Could any of the blog owners tell us how many people read this blog, are subscribed via RSS reader or email)?

That's my personal commitment: to tell 10 parents about the blog and encourage them to read it. Anyone else want to sign up?

Charlie Mas said...

methyl wrote: "How about just have all kids go to their neighborhood schools, and JUST MAKE ALL OF THE SCHOOLS GREAT! Lift the caliber of ALL of them."

While it is probable that this was written tongue-in-cheek, I feel compelled to remind those who didn't see it this way that

1) It is not within the control of the families to make their school great. They don't hire, they don't fire, they don't set the budget, they don't set the priorities, and no one is accountable to them. Only the students have less power to influence the system.

2) The families at the schools are already doing their best. Is there anyone who wants to explain how all of the schools would be great if only the families weren't such slackers?

3) Can anyone tell a story about a school that wasn't a good school until the famlies rallied around and made it a good school? No? Can anyone tell a story about how some families DID rally around to improve a school and were pushed away? Oh, yes. Many.

h2o girl said...

Gavroche,
THANK YOU. You said just what I have been thinking about the CPPS petition, and much more eloquently.

Melissa,
This post ROCKS (as do you). Thanks to you and Charlie for all you do.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Steve, thanks for the idea of telling 10 parents. I have, a couple of times, taken announcements about the blog to various meetings but that's not always possible. Telling other parents would help.

We always need more voices. The more parents are empowered with knowledge, the better off we will be. I came to this work by going to School Board meetings all fired up over Spectrum. Then I got there and heard the stories and realized there was more going throughout the district than I thought. And, that parents would do better if they knew what was happening at other schools.

There's room for vigorous discussion; Charlie and I along with Beth, Andrew, Michael, etc. are not the keepers of all knowledge and there are people who disagree with us. We want this to be a blog with integrity with wide-ranging discussion with many voices.

Central Mom said...

Here's an additional power-to-the-parents online suggestion.

Blog readers: Attend at least one school board candidate forum in person. Ask whether the candidate will publicly commit, if elected, to 2 things:
1) Keeping monthly public office hours
2)Maintaining a blog summarizing/discussing the email received from the public. With a commitment to at minimum monthly updates. (If the candidate can't do it himself/herself, they can enlist a volunteer, and 1x a month updates is a very, very, very low threshold of public interaction.)

You...the blog reader...report back to this blog on what the candidate(s) answers are. Time. Date. Place. We can all vote accordingly. We won't all agree to each candidate's priorities but we can surely agree that committed public engagement is a baseline for taking on a school board member role. If they can't commit, they don't get parents' votes. Suddenly, we the parents have a group-knowledge mechanism for engaging w/ our representatives. Anyone who has attended a public board meeting knows there is a better way to have a dialogue.

And thank you to Harium for setting this bar. If Charlie is elected, he would meet the standard, too. There are other current board members who who are out in the community, who have a reputation for answering their email...and can earn their re-election bid by stepping up to a blog presence.

Melissa...as campaigning starts will you pls. start/maintain a thread where we can report back on what the candidates have to say on this matter?

PS: I don't think this would diminish the usefulness of this SPS blog. It would remain the central place where we discuss all issues, including what we're reading on the individual board members' blogs.

owlhouse said...

Agreed, fantastic post Melissa.

I'm not a signer to the CPPS petition for many reasons gavroche detailed. Additionally, I'm not interested in creating some artificial divide between teachers and students/families. In my experience, the shared interests far outweigh any opposing positions.

Bulldogger says PTSAs don't raise hell. But here we are- parents frustrated, teachers frustrated, students left out of every equation- Any chance the PTSAs might grow some teeth? Isn't the council meeting coming up, or did I miss it?

zb said...

I keep saying it every time this thread gets confrontational, but an agenda that works against the teachers & administration & the SPS is not going to get your kids better schools. If the system was irretrievably broken, it could potentially get your kids kids better schools (you know, when we re-make America, and public schools).

The teachers work with your children. They may not always do everything we want them to do (for example, few of them are going to volunteer to give up their jobs because you think a younger teacher is better for your kids -- not the least because they probably disagree). But, if you don't work with the teachers (and yes, that includes the teacher's union) nothing will change for the better.

I'm not feeling good about Charlie (I've voiced before who very wrong-headed I think boycotting the WASL to effect change is) or CPPS (anti-teacher, anti-worker politics aimed at getting more from the worker for less isn't going to get my support) or the league of education voters. I'm still looking for something to support effective change.

zb said...

I think I repeat myself on this one,too, but, I do tell everyone about this blog. This is my go-to place about Seattle education/SPS. But, I've attracted very few additional readers, mostly because everyone seems to only care about their own children education. If they're reasonably happy with it, they're not interested in discussing/learning about/debating NE Seattle's capacity issues. I think the only way that anything will be accomplished is if people look beyond their own individual needs to build coalitions. If NE Seattle debates capacity issues while Central debates quality issues and neither of us educates ourselves on the needs and constraints of the others, we won't be able to build anything useful. The rest of the world (i.e. non-parents of kids in SPS) will assume that this is an inter-family quarrel, and won't work with us.

Charlie Mas said...

zb, I welcome your disagreement and opposing view.

What do you think student families can do to effect change at the district level without being confrontational?

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Great rally cry, Melissa. It's time we did something as parents.

I've been involved with CPPS from the beginning, and I still don't understand why some folks (mostly in blogs like this) assume CPPS has some "backroom" agenda. We are just parents who want to improve Seattle Public Schools for all children. Our meetings (we had one last night) are open & we spend a lot of time communicating what we are up to (newsletter, cppsofseattle.org, etc.) I -- like the other co-founders and Board members -- don't have any ties to charter schools or any other "labels" some people like to toss at others who don't support their agenda. And (unfortunately for us) we no longer get any Gates Foundation money, but even when we did, we controlled what we worked on.

We've been talking about the teacher lay-offs because lots of parents are upset about it. Look around -- there were demonstrations at multiple schools. This, like all of the issues we take on, are cross-district issues that affect all schools. Our position is pro-teacher and pro-student. It's ridiculous to claim we are anti-teacher even if you disagree with our strategy. Parents have the right to be upset when a strong teacher is let go but a weaker teacher stays. Who believes that EVERY teacher with 3 years of experience is better than EVERY teacher with 2 years of experience, who in turn are better than every teacher with only 1 year? And, to say that all teachers with 3 years of experience will have an equal impact on children at any school -- that sounds anti-teacher to me. Gavroche correctly points out that there are procedures in place to dismiss poorly performing teachers -- but have we been using them? The teachers I spoke with (including those who didn't like my op-ed) admitted we aren't (they just point out it's not the union's fault). So, why don't we deal with the poor performers BEFORE we finalize the lay-offs? The union would have to give approval since the contract forbids looking at performance for layoffs. Let the union propose the best way to identify poor performers so no teachers are unfairly targeted. For each poor performer we dismiss, we could save a strong, new teacher from getting RIF'ed and keep more of our strong teaching teams intact.

This is not the first (or last) issue CPPS has taken a stand on. We were very involved during the last 3 closure processes (we formed out of the first one). I co-wrote a less controversial op-ed before the latest closure process where we asked for a greater role for community and parents to participate in improving schools (as Charlie suggested above, but we unfortunately still don't have). And we were involved throughout, from the district-wide perspective. We've participated in other issues mentioned, and we'd love to take on many of the problems Gavroche and others mention (e.g. principal accountability).

CPPS is far from perfect (and we need help!), but we are parents, we are not school specific, and we don't have a hidden agenda. As Melissa stated, it's numbers that will send a message. With my three daughters spread out in age, I'll be an SPS parent for 24 years. I'm 9 years in and already on my 4th superintendent. Long after this superintendent & board have moved on, we'll be the ones still living in Seattle, sending our kids to the schools, and paying the taxes that fund everything. It's time for us to claim our share in the process. Reform isn't going to happen unless we demand it.

Unknown said...

andrew, they think cpps has some agenda because people who feel marginalized and powerless are always certain there is a conspiracy and/or that the people who are running things are idiots or deceitful, or both.

i often check on this blog and participate, but the tone of late is pretty tiresome - and man, so much of the information people (primarily commenters and not bloggers) are going on - and so certain of - is so half-baked! talk about going off half-cocked!

'basta' is right...

Melissa Westbrook said...

Evan, can I ask how long you have been in the district? I only ask because if you haven't been involved very long, you may change your opinion down the road.

I know, for a fact, there are many bright and hard-working people working the district. They are likely many who are stymied by others who work in the district. They get up and try their best every day (and I don't mean just teachers but staff members).

But Charlie and I both can tell you many times when we have been lied to, misled (not misunderstood, misled) or left shaking our heads over some really bone-headed moves. Moves that have cost this district millions of dollars. (And yes, I can give examples.)

Every district has challenges and sometimes even a crisis. The fact that it happens over and over in this district should tell you something. That many in the district either circle the wagons when trouble comes or have a cone of silence so that you are left guessing - "what direction is the district taking us with this measure? What is the long-term vision?" is troubling.

I wish it wasn't true but it is. The fact that this blog and its writers are willing to work towards something better should mean something. If I thought it was hopeless, I'd stop tomorrow. But every time I get to that point and say "What am I doing?", I remember that if I (and others) don't, who will?

Jennifer said...

zb
right on! on mostly everything !

Charlie Mas said...

Oh! I've got it! I've got another way that I can work positively towards change!

I'm running for the School Board in District VII, representing Southeast Seattle.

I would like to think that from a position on the Board I can effect some change to increase accountability, improve community engagement, and enhance the decision-making processes and practices of Seattle Public Schools.

I see Board members who are clearly frustrated, so a seat on the Board may not be all it takes, but I have to believe that it will be a step in the right direction.

Beth Bakeman said...

West Seattle Steve,

Here's the latest on the "readership" of this blog.

Recently, an avereage weekday sees 1000+ different people on the blog, with 1500-2000+ page loads (meaning most people visit the blog more than 1x per day).

This is a big increase from even six months ago when daily readership was more in the 500-700 people per day range.

Regular readers include Seattle Times staff, Seattle School District staff, and School Board members.

Even though I lately have had almost no time to devote to the blog, I am very proud of having started this blog and recruited an excellent group of blog contributors.

I absolutely believe that parents working and talking together across the district can make a difference. But the devil is in the details. How to move parents from discussion on this blog to more concerted action is an interesting question.

I would like to hear more from you and others involved with schools that were closed about promises kept and promises broken since the Board vote. What you are describing about teachers doesn't fit with my understanding of how the teachers' union works, so it's confusing and concerning.

wseadawg said...

Andrew: Thank you for your post.

Can you address a couple concerns for me:

First: Doesn't this petition effort telegraph support for and embolden the administration by focusing the crosshairs on the teachers union right now? And is that a good thing to be doing in this environment?

Second: Have you/shouldn't we determine why current procedures to deal with bad teachers are not being used, or if they don't work, why they don't work, so we could better guage an appropriate solution to that problem? Or is that part of what CPPS wants to do?

What I've seen so far is an embrace of standardization to measure performance, combined with rhetoric that coincides with national reform efforts elsewhere, like NY and DC that I don't want to see in Seattle.

I don't accuse CPPS of backroom agendas but of employing rhetoric and terminology that "reformers" use elsewhere towards ends that I don't think many of us want in Seattle.

I've been to CPPS events and they pretty much reflect what you represent. But the advocacy for the NCTQ, combined with Op-Eds, outreach, and petitions, would indicate that CPPS is ratcheting up the pressure on this particular issue, which is not normally in the top 10 list of complaints from any SPS parent I know. Though I admit I may be in the minority on that.

But despite your assurances, the effort does seem anti-union on its face, and I don't see any assurances based on your hypotheticals that good or great teachers won't get the axe because of a younger, supposedly excellent teacher (who works for less pay) who may be more popular with parents or a principal. How do we avoid those scenarios?

Unknown said...

To all of you dedicated yet often diverse thinkers:

Let's have a Summit of parent interest groups. We have PTA, CPPS, ESP Vision, and contributors to this blog, to name a few.

What do you say? That way we can avoid so many duplicated efforts and drill down to some basic things we want to focus on.

dan dempsey said...

Dear adhoc,

You said: And if it is not mandatory for students to pass the WASL to graduate HS, my older son won't be taking it either. Have your son NOT take it in the spring of his 10th grade year. He can take it in the summer or the following year as there are loads of chances to take the WASL test.

The district will be not happy if 10th graders ditch the Spring testing. It will not effect your son in anyway (that I know of) if he takes it in the summer of grade 10.

hschinske said...

Again, has the WASL timeline changed? I thought it was supposed to be gone next spring.

Helen Schinske

Sahila said...

I like all the talk about taking action to effect change - or at least to get the District to begin to understand that it cant keep going down this haphazard, ill-advised road forever - but, no disrespect intended - choosing not to do the WASL wont have any meaningful effect in the short term - that's a long term strategy.... hasnt the WASL just been taken? When is the next round scheduled? How long does it get to take results and who's going to point out to the District that crappy stats are a political point being made?

I dont understand why there isnt more direct action - rallies, sit-ins, withdrawing kids from school enmasse (pity summer is so close, in this context!), families not turning up on the first days/weeks of school, taking whatever legal action it is possible to take, calling for and taking action to effect a Recall, if that's possible (I dont know the criteria required for an action such as this)...

There's lots we can do..., with the emphasis on DO....

Charlie's right - 3-minute speaking slots - its totally insulting, especially when they sit defensively behind that table and dont even look at and listen to the speakers - parents and community members who have given up their personal time because its one of the few chances they have to be involved...

I think back over the school closure debacle, and I remember parents and other community members bringing hard data to the Board about the demographics and population growth happening all over the north end and showing corrected formulae that demonstrated the District's equations and projections (monetary and otherwise) were wrong/faulty and therefore not valid to be used to justify its closure plans...

The District had all that information given to it on a plate and yet it still went ahead...

And the same thing happened with the bell times/transportation fiasco...

And now we have a shambles and this latest Jane Addams farce...

There's no point in talking - its time for 60s-style action...

Take a lesson from history - actions speak louder than words and actions are needed to make change happen....

Unknown said...

melissa, i've been around for several years, long enough to have been involved in a few rallying cries that, while they morphed into something useful, informative, and i think postive for seattle schools, more or less fizzled out in terms of what was originally intended - crowds, sea change, etc.

you know me, actually.

i don't disagree that people at the district have done a lot of bone-headed, tone-deaf things - and i respect people's personal experiences as they have written about them here - i just have a few issues:

1) people (talking about commenters rather than bloggers - i think you and charlie do your homework) extrapolate from a personal and anecdotal level to an extreme degree, drawing conclusions about things about which they often know less than they think they do (enrollment planning and k-12 population projections, for one), and maligning (with abandon) a system about which they often know less than they think they do

2) that's what blogs do, though - let commenters (including me) write whatever they feel like - but it seems as if this is becoming more of a slog than a blog - pretty one-sided, pretty heavy-handed, and as mentioned before, fairly tiresome. maybe just a phase - i hope so, because it provides people a great outlet (both as real-time news "outlet", and as a place to vent)

3) i wish people (commenters) would expect that there is almost always more to the story, which sometimes they have to do more work to find than write a board member a letter and demand it

not that all commenters are alike - i think maybe it just feels the balance has tipped to a handful of commenters who write frequently and whose tack i think is not productive.

i just don't like hyperbole - just give me the facts and let them stand on their own.

speaking of which, because i respect you a great deal, i was saddened to read this in the pi:

"I was really hoping it wasn't true, because if it were true it would indicate a complete failure in the effectiveness of Seattle Public Schools" said Westbrook.

"a complete failure"? of all seattle public schools? really?

Melissa Westbrook said...

(Evan, I actually don't know who you are so you have me at a disadvantage. I don't know any Evans but I have a tendency to not be good at names.)

No, of course I didn't mean the schools - I mean the district (SPS) and I think the context explains that.

seattle citizen said...

Evan, I'm certainly guilty of hyperbole. But these are public schools were talking about, children, and it is evident that there is movement afoot, nationally, to implement drastic changes. Hyperbole is routinely deployed to this end.

When an individual is powerless (relatively) in a large and important system, maybe hyperbole is the outlet of last resort. (That, and I'm a student of language and feel that qualitative as well as quantitative expressions have value. Speech (oral or written) often relies on the power of words, not just "facts." As you note, this is a place where people can express their ideas, and often quickly. Ideas pour out, raw and unvarnished, sometimes with little or no data. Is that bad? It sparks debate, it allows for expression of not only facts, data and research but also gut feeling, emotive reaction, and, well, expressions of angst and anger.

I know I, personally, could stand to check my writing here. I keep promising myself (and others!) I'll do that. But meantime, as archy says, "expression is the need of my soul"

wseadawg said...

Welcome to the blogosphere Evan. Why all the whining? And could you be more condescending?

We'd all love to deal in nothing but facts and empirical data, but we are discussing topics arising from a pattern of broken promises and half-truths from a district administration that has great difficulty telling the complete truth and full story behind what they are doing.

Because the district follows a pattern of making decisions, then mining for data to support those decisions, instead of the other way around, they ask for, and bloggers and commenters provide, mounds of speculation as to the who's, why's, and how's of their actions.

Like spam, you aren't required to read every post. I'm sorry that not everyone can be as empirical, intelligent and enlightened as you, but I'll keep trying.

Perhaps if you stood in my shoes for half a minute, you might have a clue as to the origins of my outrage from time to time. But if you prefer to judge from afar, thats yor prerogative.

In the meantime, I rarely see a useless post on this blog, and resent folks like you who want to chill the atmosphere of discussion because commenters may not post for your satisfaction.

Nothing prevents you from scrolling on by. If people want to post for no other reason than to vent, this is a healthy outlet for doing that and it's their right.

anonymous said...

I'd love to discuss facts, and I do when they are available.

Unfortunately this district does not always provide facts. often they provide us with minimal information, poor data, and inaccurate figures. Perhaps you should address that?

The Jane Addams mess is a prime example. The district has planned to dismantle a school that they have staffed and assigned 320 kids to, before they even open it. Yet, they have not shared this decision or any information regarding it with the families who have kids assigned to the school. Not one single word. Not one single "fact".

Thank goodness there is a blog like this to get information out the the public. Sometimes, it's all we have. I accept that sometimes there will be inaccurate information posted, that's a given. I also understand that people will slant things sometimes, and that they can be biased. And people sometimes don't agree with each other. But that is a small price to pay to have access to a forum to gather and exchange information.

Charlie Mas said...

I am reminded of people who come to their first School Board meeting and are upset or repulsed by the vitriol and disrespect expressed in some public testimony. They are witnessing only the end of a cycle that I have seen played out time and time again.

The first time someone comes to speak to the Board they are flustered, they are polite, they come hat in hand and ask very nicely for the help they need. They usually run out of time before they're done because they had no idea how quickly three minutes passes.

That person comes back two weeks later, much more polished. They have their talk down to three minutes, but it is still polite, they are stilling begging for help. They often express urgency as a deadline is approaching.

The speaker returns to a third meeting two weeks later and their frustration is starting to show. They report that no one has contacted them and that they haven't received any help at all with their problem. They remind the Board that a child will be harmed if action isn't taken quickly.

By the fourth time the speaker comes before the Board they are done being polite. They are angry and bitter. They rant about how callous and useless the Board has proven themselves to be. They spit out the report the they haven't had any help of any kind from anyone.

That last appearance is what someone attending their first Board meeting witnesses. And the new person wonders why anyone would serve on the Board when the public speaks to them so rudely and disrespectfully.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Responding to wseadawg's questions (10:01pm, 5/27):

CPPS has been, and will continue to be, critical of the district whenever they fail to listen to parents & community. Given the negotiation of so many union contracts (nine, I've been told), that is a newer item on our radar because those contracts dictate a large chunk of the spending & policy, and actions speaks louder than words. What we've asked for is a parent seat at the table -- not to take the side of the union or the side of the district, but to take the side of children because it sometimes appears that the children are a lower priority than they should be.

If parents were at the table, we would be aligned with the union on many issues: There would definitely be no embrace of teaching to the WASL or standardized tests. Parents love our strongest, most experienced teachers and would certainly support the union in protecting them. We don't want whistle-blowers to be vulnerable to retaliation, we don't want great teachers fired just to free up salary dollars, we want fair compensation to attract and retain the best teachers, etc.

BUT... take the issue of bad teachers: We all know they are out there. Yes, let's figure out why the procedures aren't followed, but in the short term, we care less about who is to blame and more about fixing the problem. It really hurts when we know those teachers are still in the system while we see great teachers get pushed out. That is what brought our attention to the words in the contract that forbid any attention paid to performance. Even if we can only identify 20 bad teachers to dismiss, that would mean an improved experience for hundreds of kids next year! Of course anytime decisions involve the application of judgment, there is a possibility of unfairness -- but there are many ways to minimize that (e.g. involve the union in defining the process & include a teacher oversight committee). Don't expect support or sympathy from parents if the union is so concerned about the possibility of unfairness to a small number adults that they are knowingly unfair to hundreds of kids (and ultimately their own members).

I would love to see the union, districts, and parents all taking the same side on these issues -- the side of what's best for the students.

seattle citizen said...

Andrew, you write:
“Yes, let's figure out why the procedures aren't followed, but in the short term, we care less about who is to blame and more about fixing the problem…”
Why not simply strengthen the existing procedures (or the following of them) rather than reinvent the wheel? The petition’s suggestions aren’t fixing the procedures that exist; they’re about setting up a completely different set (ostensibly one that pertains to layoffs and discplacement, rather than the existing regular evaluation.
You go on to say that attention paid to performance is forbidden - please show us where you find that in the contract.
Here's what you wrote, followed by the relevant portion of the CBA:
“…That is what brought our attention to the words in the contract that forbid any attention paid to performance.”.
Where do you get the idea that attention to performance is forbidden in the contract? Here is the pertinent section of the CBA (contract; shortened somewhat):
5. Student Achievement as a factor in teacher performance evaluation.
a. Principal…will meet with…employees to set annual goals linked to the school’s Academic Achievement Plan….
b. During the goal setting process the principal/program manager and the certificated employee should review and discuss:
1) The employee’s reflections on previous strategies and outcomes and the plan for this year;
2) The classroom evidence used to assess student progress (including student IEP’s, special education assessments or data pertinent to support personnel duties);
3) SPS, State and performance data used to set student achievement goals (i.e., WASL, ITBS, DWA, DRA);
4) Classroom data used by the employee in previous years including SPS curriculum-based assessments;
5) SPS, school and teacher trend data;
6) Opportunities for professional development and use of resources available to the school;
7) Strategies for positive coaching by peers, administrators and others.
c. Principal…and the employee will mutually agree to the manner in which growth in student achievement will be measured for purposes of employee evaluation. The certificated employee and principal/program manager will note mitigating circumstances during the goal setting session or at any time before May 15, and revise goals as appropriate. In cases where mutual agreement cannot be reached at the building level, the matter can be referred by either party to a joint SPS/SEA committee for resolution. The employee will not forfeit the right to use the grievance procedure when using this mediation process.
d. Certificated employees will use a variety of assessment tools to monitor the achievement of students. These may include portfolios (collected classroom evidence like daily assignments, tests, major projects, writing samples, artwork, audio tapes); common indicators (tests) relative to State and SPS standards; special education IEP’s and assessments; 504 plans; and data relative to support personnel duties.
e. Evaluations of certificated employees will include the contractually mandated criteria as well as student achievement as required by the SPS/SEA Collective Bargaining Agreement. A certificated employee may receive an unsatisfactory evaluation if student achievement does not meet the level agreed upon in the goal setting process, and the employee’s performance is deficient in at least two of the evaluative criteria. The following are to be considered when determining if goals have been met:
1) Progress toward standards established by the SPS and the State will be the criteria for determining satisfactory student achievement.
2) Classroom evidence will be the primary source for demonstrating progress to the standards.

wseadawg said...

Thanks for responding, Andrew. I agree that no bad teacher should occupy any teaching position, let alone one a good teacher could occupy.

But I'm concerned that your approach overlooks the importance of determining the cause, versus treating the symptoms. As much as you wish performance mattered towards retention, I want to know why we don't get rid of bad teachers now. Regardless of how the contract reads, if the district or principals don't have the will to enforce it, can we really expect any changes?

It seems to me that until we know why bad teachers aren't being fired now, its hard to imagine even your proposals will make much difference.

Any change will involve trade-offs that weaken job security for existing teachers, and the way politics bleed into everything in this district, that's a real concern. Being that 95 to 97% of current teachers aren't in their jobs because of union protection, it seems we are talking about a small number of teachers, while potentially opening up a can of worms toward the 97%. Which returns me to first wanting to know why the bad apples aren't getting fired now, so we can best deal with the cause of the problem and not the symptoms.

I don't think its a blame-game, versus a genuine desire to measure the nature and scope of the problem and find not just A remedy, but a remedy that we can expect to work and be enforced.

Fortunately, there is time to explore that matter in greater depth, while you continue to press on with your efforts.

I still think CPPS's approach came off as anti-teacher out of the gate, and any anti-teachers'union piece in the Times is red meat for public school critics who love vouchers and hate levies.

I'd hope in the future to see as much concern about the excellent teachers who've been on the job for 20+ years - like my daughter's teacher, versus only the newer teachers, like my son's.

In the meantime, maybe Charlie or Melissa can start a thread on "Why we can't fire bad teachers now."

wseadawg said...

Having just read Seattle Citizen's piece, I see further conundrums.

For a teacher to be considered bad or worthy of termination, they should certainly have received an unsatisfactory evaluation. If they have not, should they still be vulnerable to being leap-frogged by a first year teacher? I think CPPS would say yes. But if that's the case, doesn't that drag potentially hundreds of teachers into the same dragnet? And isn't that an even larger can of worms?

If a teacher has not received an "unsatisfactory" evaluation, but is considered a "bad teacher," then hasn't a principal failed to do their job by letting them off the hook?

I'm concerned that we aren't talking about a few tweaks to the current system, but to a potential restructuring of the entire teaching profession. (Which, by the way, is what the NCTQ proclaims right on their website to be their mission.)

I think we SPS stakeholders need to put a lot more time and effort into round-tabling these questions and resist the temptation to rush something into print because the contracts are up.

I'm not opposed to positive changes. But I'm very concerned at what appears to be a ready-fire-aim approach, layered and compounded by the unfortunate fact that many young and popular teachers just got RIF'd. I'm not sure if that recent insult is a motivational blessing or curse, as we may need some cooling off before we charge forth down the path of unintended consequences.

Sorry Andrew. I'm not trying to overcomplicate things or ruin your day. But this topic does generate alot of questions for me.

TechyMom said...

But, what about a first or second year teacher with an "excellent" evaluation vs. a 3rd or 5th year teacher with a string of "satisfactory" evaluations? Who should win in that case? Can we afford to loose the excellent new recruit who probably has a lot of options in other fields? If you were that first year teacher, would you think this was fair? I wouldn't. What if you were a student who didn't get to have that great teacher next year, and instead got one who was simply satisfactory? It's not just a matter of getting rid of bad teachers. It's a matter of recruiting, retaining, and motivating the best teachers.

One of the comments on the Times (or PI I can't remember) article was about a rif'd 3rd year teacher who had been nominated for a Golden Apple. That's just not right.

wseadawg said...

Excellent questions Techy-Mom, and that's part of the dilemma. Can we control the entire environment to ensure that both teachers are evaluated on an even scale? Can the process be objective and apolitical? And do we really think it would be?

And what if the excellent teacher becomes unsatisfactory in year 2 or 3, do we just keep cycling them through? Your scenario is pretty air tight, as one snapshot in time. Things are guaranteed to not always be that way. Ask any teacher.

If we can establish fair, workable evaluation systems, then I think we can start comparing apples to apples more fairly and objectively.

I also think its true that what experienced teachers often lack in energy, they possess in wisdom borne of experience, which kids need also. Some people value that more than others. Even principals. It's rarely a cut and dry issue as presented.

wseadawg said...

And here we are flogging hypothetical teachers and each other when not one teacher has received adequate funding and resources promised by the State at any point in their professional lives.

An unlike the discussion focusing solely on ridding district of bad teachers, now every teacher in the district is at risk if they aren't the best or rated excellent? Do we really want such competition versus collaboration between teachers? How is that sustainable and not every man or woman for himself? That's our worst nightmare!

TechyMom said...

Your worst nightmare is that excellent teachers are exempt from RIFs?

Because, really, that's the sort of system I'd like to see. The most promising young people, the mid-career folks who are making a huge difference, and the senior teacher that no one wants to see retire, those folks don't have to worry. People with dings on their records, the ones who are already being managed on performance issues, those folks get RIF'd first. The people in the middle, well, seniority might be a good way to decide who goes first there.

Most professions, and many skilled trades, have rating and evaluation systems. Doctors, electrician, engineers, managers, programmers, reporters, etc. all work within these types of systems. I have yet to hear compelling evidence that teaching is different. It's a skill, and skills can be evaluated fairly. Yes, there's a componenent of art to it, and a calling to do good. The same is true of doctors, who compete *and* cooperate, knowing the whole time that the outcome is what matters.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

In response to Seattle Citizen:

Here is the clause from the teachers' contract about layoffs (article XII, section A.5): "The performance ratings (evaluation) of employees shall not be a factor in determining the order of layoff." (see http://tinyurl.com/nj8hls)

In response to wseadawg:
(and agreeing with TechyMom)

I think we're seeing the difference between the parent point of view & the point of view of some of the teachers. I understand the fear of getting the evaluation system wrong (it's never been a fun process at Microsoft). But to parents, it's inexcusable to not act to help kids right away. Yes -- I want to figure out why principals and administrators are not dismissing poor performers now. But, I have yet to find a teacher that doesn't agree we have poor performers in the system. I'm sure, with the help of the teachers union, we could figure out a way to help HUNDREDS of kids next year without exposing all teachers to some kind of nightmare scenario. In doing so, we can save the jobs of some newer teachers who deserve the union's protection.