Friday, July 31, 2009

School Board Candidate Questionnaire

For the 3rd election in a row, CPPS has assembled a School Board Candidate Questionnaire based on questions submitted to us by parents. You can read about the questionnaire and view the responses by all 8 candidates up on the CPPS web site here: http://www.cppsofseattle.org/News/Elect09/qhome.html.

Got Ballot?

So I received my primary ballot and voters guide this week; how about you?

The Times had an article about the District 5 School Board race. I thought it was fair. It focused mostly on what will likely become the campaign issue after the primary; running against Mary Bass's record. I did ask the candidates if they were running against Mary or because they believed they had something different to offer. It was the latter. However, come the general election, if Mary comes out of the primary (and I think she will), that other person might need to try to talk about Mary's work over the last 8 years.

So here is my assessment of the District 5 race which includes interviews (still haven't gotten together with Andre but I hope to and Mary never responded to my e-mail), reading the Muni questionnaires as well as other research. (One interesting thing about the Muni questions was the fact that almost no District 5 candidate really answered the question about what characteristics and traits he/she would bring to the office.) I would judge them all to be adequate, meaning, no one is unqualified for the office sought. I am still pondering who I personally will vote for.

Mary Bass - I've said this before, Mary is a person of integrity who deserves admiration and praise for taking on a hard job, seeing it through 8 years and standing for her community. I don't know what to make of the Muni League's downrating of Mary every election. I find it odd because she does know this district well and to call her "adequate" seems wrong. I found nothing wrong in her answers in the Muni questionnaire but I also found nothing that says why she should continue on. Mary is right about institutional knowledge (and that's why I advocating voting for candidates who CLEARLY know the entire district) because it is important. And Mary has asked questions of staff but they usually come too late to do any good.

I can't support Mary this election because I feel she hasn't been as effective as she should be especially for a long-time Board member.

Andre Helmstetter - As I said, I hope to still have a one-on-one with him. I was impressed with him at the forum I attended. He has energy and is very earnest. But I would need to find out how well he knows the entire district and not just District 5. He clearly seems to know his role as School Board Director is to represent all families but I would need evidence that he knows this district.

Joanna Cullen - I've talked to Joanna for years at various Board meetings and other meetings. She is a calm person and sometimes that calm belies her passion for public education. I believe she knows this district well. But she did not do especially well at the forum I attended. Her thoughtful answers one-on-one came across as labored and somewhat confused in the forum. Iworry about this ability to communicate clearly. I believe Joanna knows how to work with other people and find consensus.

Kay Smith-Blum - Out of all the candidates, she's the one I feel the most ambivalent about. She has energy (lots) and ideas (lots). She is also very bright. It is no small thing that she knows many different kinds of people throughout the city, many of whom might be the kinds of people/institutions that the district should be reaching out to now (with money so tight). She would know how to phrase a request and light a fire. However, I think her enthusiasm may be bigger than what she can do as a single Director. No Director can get things done on his or her own.

For example, in her Muni questionnaire she said she thought there should be foreign language taught starting in kindergarten and daily PE/music/art. Yes, and we could give each student a puppy, too. It is very easy to say what we would all hope for our students. Those things would be wonderful. But the reality is that (1) there isn't time in the school day - as structured - to do all those things unless it was in an integrated lesson which would necessitate special training for all teachers and (2) there isn't the money. So how to make those things come true? The devil is in the details.

I am impressed that she has done some homework. That tells me she is not a dilettante running for office. I'm not sure, though, that she knows this district well. I might tell her to be careful about talking up public/private partnerships too much as many parents feel suspicious or unsure what the might mean. I think she also may come across as a well-meaning wealthy person with all the answers. (We had that in former Board Director Don Nielson who is a smart man who cares deeply about public education. However, he always came across as a bit removed from most of the parents who have students in this district.) I do think that Kay would work hard for this district and might be an effective Board member except that her vision may be longer than her reach. As well she would have to gauge if what she thinks is important to get done is what parents/students/staff think is important to get done.

Any one else want to comment on your impressions or if you know one or more of the candidates?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

WASL; "Had Some Good Points"

The Times had this article about the results of a study on high-stakes testing.
From the article:

"Researchers spent two to three days at six Washington high schools, where they observed classes and interviewed parents, students, teachers and principals. Although their sample was small, they said they chose schools they think are representative of the state's high schools as a whole.

Teachers echoed many of the same old criticisms of the WASL — it's too long, the results are confusing and don't come back in time — but they also credited the WASL with improving students' writing and reasoning skills.

They pointed favorably to its "extended response" questions, which are to be eliminated from new exams favored by Randy Dorn, the new state superintendent of public instruction who campaigned to replace the WASL."


"Of the three states the center has studied, Washington was the only one where teachers mentioned that a high-stakes test such as the WASL has improved student learning, said Deepa Srikantaiah, the study's main author. And the study says about 80 percent of teachers said they'd rather see the WASL improved than replaced.

The state's largest teachers union disputes that finding. In the Washington Education Association's survey, 75 percent of teachers said they wanted the WASL replaced, said spokesman Rich Wood."

First, except for actual opponents of assessments, no one said the WASL was all bad. But this study seems short on time and the number of schools to be called a study. And, I would agree with the WEA's survey over this one. 80% said it improved student learning? I find that hard to believe but I'd have to see how the question was phrased.

One odd thing about the study that I hadn't seen before is that they gave each school and district a fake name. There's Honeycrisp High in the Microsoft School district, Jonagold high in the Nordstrom district. Maybe the teachers wouldn't talk unless the union didn't know which teachers participated.

The study reads as something as a backlash against Superintendent Dorn's efforts to reform the WASL.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

APP Thread

There is some discussion on this thread about multi-aged classrooms and kids working at their own pace. Here is an article that appeared in the NY Times about in interesting foray into those ideas. Called "School of One", kids use laptops (individually or in groups) and work on a "playlist" of work. They take a quiz at the end of each day to see if they understood the lesson and if they can move onto a new topic the next day.)

Okay, discuss away but if you have a suggestion/question for a different thread, can you ask for it and not take over a different thread? The Muni reqs on School Board candidates got taken over by this discussion and then it makes it hard to stay on topic (not to mention those who might be searching for old posts). Feel free to ask for a topic to start in any thread just please do not start a completely different discussion.

Sure is quiet

The School Board generally has two meetings a month. Their work is year 'round, but things definitely slow down during the summer while school is out. Last year the Board had only one meeting in July, but still had two in August. This year, however, the Board had only one meeting in July (on the 1st), and is having only one meeting in August (on the 19th). That's a really slow meeting schedule.

Consequently, the Board is not able to respond to delays, such as the delay in the grading policy reform. If the Board were meeting, they could move forward with granting high school credit for classes taken in middle school, but since they are not meeting, they cannot.

I don't think the decision to skip two meetings during the summer is the reason that they also skipped their quarterly Strategic Plan update. That is usually done as a work session. But it certainly keeps them from asking about it.

There is no progress on updating Policies without Board meetings. They are supposedly really interested in moving forward on that.

There is no particular effort at community engagement this summer. No progress on the student assignment plan, no progress on performance management, no progress on labor negotiations. Just no progress at all at a time when you would think they could get a lot done.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Oh, So THAT'S What It's For (But Still A Bit of a Mystery)

I finally, after much back and forth with district staff, received an answer about the $127,000 in the budget for the Superintendent's office. The answer came from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson herself.

(And let me just say, I had to ask, over and over for this information. I asked Don Kennedy and had cc'ed Sherry Carr who also asked Mr. Kennedy and he never answered. The district's public disclosure officer, Joy Stevens in Legal who couldn't be nicer, gave me answers that never really answered the question but did give me some food for thought. I had called the State Attorney General's office for advice about what to do when you don't get information requested via Public Disclosure and now I have a few more things I can try in the future. I did let the district know I had called them.)

Here's her answer:

Thank you very much for your questions. I apologize that our initial response to you was in error. Carol Rava Treat's position is NOT funded from the $127,000 that you asked about. My responses are listed below.

What is the $127,000 being used for?

Two uses: half of the salary for Cordell Carter, who is a Broad Resident; and the full salary for Venetia Harmon, who is a Senior Administrative Assistant. Ms. Harmon's job description was sent to you previously, the job description for Mr. Carter is attached.

Why is the Broad Foundation paying for Ms. Treat's salary?

Ms. Treat was brought to Seattle Public Schools to coordinate work related to developing and implementing a strategic plan, including building relationships with philanthropic organizations and to secure funding for key strategic plan projects. Her position has been grant funded. Yes, we asked Broad to fund her salary as part of managing continued implementation of key work of the strategic plan.

Who is the Broad resident referenced in two places in the budget?

We have two Broad residents at SPS, Cordell Carter and Jessica de Barros.

Are there any new hires under the Superintendent's office for this budget?


Lastly, I find that when I ask, via Public Disclosure, for information that staff either do not answer completely, give me information that has nothing to do with my question or, worst of all, do not answer all my questions. Where is the transparency we have been promised and that is referenced at the bottom of every single sheet of district paper "everyone accountable"?

Seattle Public Schools is committed to providing accurate and complete data in response to requests for public information. Because we work in a very complex environment, it is sometimes necessary to pull information from various departments and sources to fulfill each public disclosure request. Our public records officers work diligently to respond as quickly and as completely as possible. There are times when we may partially fulfill a request in order to get information sent in a timely manner and then follow up with the rest of the information at a later time. Public records requests are coordinated and managed by Ms. Joy Stevens in our legal office, jstevens@seattleschools.org. If you experience challenges with public records requests, please write to John Cerqui, Sr. Assistant General Counsel, at jcerqui@seattleschools.org or Gary Ikeda, General Counsel, glikeda@seattleschools.org with specific information about your concern. We will work to more completely and accurately respond to public disclosures in a way that feels more transparent to our public.

Thank you (end of message)

Okay so I got the answer to my question except for one little problem. Here's what the Broad Foundation's website says about salary for a Broad Resident:

$85,000 - $95,000 annual salary

and further:

"At the conclusion of the two-year program, The Broad Residency expects that school districts and CMOs will hire Residents permanently in their current positions or promote them into more senior leadership posts.

"So, let's do the math. Take $127,000 and subtract the salary of Venetia Harmon (adm assistant) at $64,015.27 (that includes benefits). What's left over ? (You smarties wait for the other people who use calculators.) Yes, it's $69,984.83. That would be for Mr. Cordell's salary. But we remember what it says at the Foundation's website that he would be making between $85,000-95,000 annually. So the conclusion we draw is that either Mr. Cordell has been making more money all along or guess what? he got a raise. Because (now grab that calculator again) if you multiply $69,984.83 times 2 (the Superintendent said they were paying half) you get...$125,969.66. Now even if you were not including benefits in a salary of $85,00-95,000 there is NO way to get up to $125,969.66.

So we hired a Broad resident and gave him a raise (heads up to Jessica de Barrios the other Broad Resident) after one year.

The same year we closed schools - because of money - and RIFed many teachers - because of money - but we could rearrange funding so that a Broad Resident who has a virtual guarantee of a job at the district after this year could have a raise.

Additionally, no explanation as to why Broad would pay for a non-Resident salary (Carol Treat). (They actually do have Associate Residents if someone is already working in a district but their website states that in that case, they DON'T pay half the salary so Ms. Treat isn't in that category.) The Broad Foundation is just a swell bunch of people who love Dr. Goodloe-Johnson so they did her a BIG favor. Oh wait, was that a pig flying outside my window? Nah.

Lastly, I am always patient when I ask for information. But this was a VERY easy request and they know it. But see I'm asking questions they don't want asked. I also just noticed something very interesting about this issue at the SPS website but it's too late to call the headquarters so they'll be an update tomorrow on this topic.

(Sorry about the blue; something in the HTML would not sort out for me.)

Things to look for in September

On another thread on this blog I made a quick list of the things that the District promised would be in place in September in the wake of the APP split. The District has made a number of other commitments about what will be in place come September.

Help us all to remember those items, from instructional and curricular guides for math teachers that align with the State Standards, to a high school ready building for NOVA and SBOC. A number of these commitments come from the Strategic Plan, some out of the Capacity Management Project, and some came out of the Math Adoptions (When exactly are the classrooms supposed to start using the Singapore materials?).

Right now we only want those items that are supposed to be completed, implemented, and fully up and running when school opens in September. By the time we are done, we should be ready with handy guides for the public and the Board to use when "holding staff accountable" (whatever that means), if they should choose to do so.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Muni League Ratings of School Board Candidates

More information for your use in deciding who to vote for in the primary. Here is a link to the Seattle School Board page at the Muni League. It comes with ratings, links to candidate websites and the questionnaire that each candidate filled out. I haven't had a chance to read the questionnaires but I suspect they will be interesting reading.

Mary Bass and Joanna Cullen were rated "adequate", while Andre Helmstetter was rated "good" Kay Smith-Blum, Wilson Chin, Charlie Mas and Betty Patu were rated "very good". There is only one rank higher than "very good" and that is "outstanding". No one was rated the at the bottom which is "not qualified".

From the website:

"Each candidate is given a rating of Outstanding, Very Good, Good, Adequate, or Not Qualified. The criteria used to reach these ratings are:

  • Involvement: What has the candidate done previously in family, neighborhood, community, volunteer work, employment or public life to suggest readiness to accomplish challenging objectives? How do these activities demonstrate readiness for the challenges unique to the office sought?

  • Effectiveness: Has the candidate demonstrated promise to be productive in the office sought? Has the candidate shown the ability to work with other people?

  • Character: Do the candidate's personal traits show the ability to take on the responsibilities of campaigning for and holding the public office she or he is seeking? Is the candidate a leader, participant or observer? Is the candidate trustworthy, reliable and consistent?

  • Knowledge: Has the candidate demonstrated the willingness and ability to learn and adapt? Does the candidate understand the duties and challenges of the office sought? Does the candidate have a firm grasp of the issues important to his or her constituency and their potential effects.

The Committee gets information from:
  • Files on the candidate which include public disclosure reports, newspaper clippings, records of previous interviews, position papers, a questionnaire completed by the candidate, and other materials that the candidate is invited to supply.

  • References provided by the candidate and other people that are researched by committee members.

  • Interviews with the candidate. Each interview lasts about twenty minutes"

There is also, below the ratings, a Public Disclosure Commission report on donations. Wilson Chin is the highest with $7,000 (with two high donations from people with the same last name so it may be family members) and also a donation from Peter Maier. Michael De Bell is the next highest at $5,000 (and the only one to report expenditures at nearly $3,000). Joanna Cullen was the only other candidate to report donations with all the other candidates at zero.

Muni League Ratings on School Board Candidates

The Municipal League issued their ratings for candidates in upcoming elections.

The Municipal League conducts non-partisan ratings of political candidates across King County using a time-tested methodology that strives for objectivity. Candidate ratings are among the most important good-government services provided by the League. Ratings are based on four criteria: Involvement, Effectiveness, Character and Knowledge. The ratings provide the only independent non-partisan, non-agenda driven evaluation of candidates. This year marks the 99th round of Municipal League ratings, conducted annually since 1911.

Here are the ratings:
In the District 5 race:
Joanna Cullen ADEQUATE
Andre Helmstetter GOOD
Kay Smith-Blum VERY GOOD

In the District 7 race:
Wilson Chin VERY GOOD
Charlie Mas VERY GOOD
Betty Patu VERY GOOD

Candidate questionnaires are also available from the Muni League web site.

Seattle Times story on District Audit

A story in the Seattle Times reports the results of a State audit of Seattle Public Schools. This is an annual audit done as a matter of course on the financial practices of local government institutions.

The State auditor raised a number of issues that have been raised on this blog, including the use of funds from the capital budget for salaries.

You can read the audit and the District's response for yourself here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Open Thread

If anyone attended either forum (Tuesday or Wednesday night), let us know your thoughts. When the link to the Seattle Channel taping is live, I'll post it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Little Peeved and Getting More So Everyday

Normally, I try (with great effort) to do my research and hold my tongue until I have all my facts straight. But the District stinks like a fish on a hot Seattle day with its highly touted efforts at transparency and frankly, I am losing patience. So what the heck, why not call them out on what I see (and don't see).

This year's budget references (twice) that the Superintendent's office is getting $127,000 for some workers (I phrase it this way for a reason to become evident). Here are the references:

Page 15

Additions to administrative and support staff of 9.0 FTE include: a 1.0 Broad
Resident, a Senior Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent’s Office,

Page 22

Addition to the Superintendent’s office of Broad Resident, and a Senior
Administrative staff position. Cost increase of $127 thousand

The administrative position is referenced in different ways ( see above) and the word "addition/additions" in both references would imply new hires.

I wrote and asked for clarification on these positions. So I did finally receive the job descriptions and explanations none of which really answer the question - are there new hires and where is the $127,000 going?

So I wrote to the legal staff again and said, "So again I will ask you (and will hold you and the district to your reply); are there any new hires in the Superintendent's office?"

I was told that both positions already exist but (1) Carol Treat who is the Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Alliances and was getting paid via the Alliance is now going to be paid, entirely, by the Broad Foundation. Why would they do that? Is she a Broad resident? Don't think so because they would only be funding half her salary as a Resident. (What a deal! I guess I'm just being picky and not grateful for their generosity. If you read Harium's blog, this is just swell with him.) Her salary? Carol Treat earns $144,994.01 annually; with benefits the total is $169,034. And, according to the job description, that's for 260 days of work.

The other position is Venetia Harmon, Sr. Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent. Venetia Harmon makes $54,910.94 annually; with benefits the total is $64,015.17.

Both allegedly report directly to the Superintendent even though Ms. Harmon's position has two other supervisors (neither the Superintendent) listed.

So again:
  • where is the $127,000 being used for? It can't be just Ms. Harmon's salary so what is it being used for?
  • why is the Broad Foundation paying for Ms. Treat's salary?
  • who is the Broad Resident referenced in both places in the budget?
And lastly, why the hell won't the district give a straight answer to a direct question?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

School Board Forum District 5

(Update: here is the audio from the forum from KUOW 94.9 FM)

I attended last night's forum sponsoring by the Seattle Council PTSA, ESP and CPPS at the Garfield Community Center. There were about 50 people in attendance. All the candidates were there as well with Charles Rollins moderating.

Overall, I thought I got a pretty good feel for the candidates. I did come away with a few thoughts.
  • not all the candidates are as good at communicating their views as they need to be
  • very few specifics were offered (with a couple of notable exceptions)
  • Mary Bass seems to be running more on longevity than on her record
The format was a bit confusing (as were some of the questions). There were different time amounts for questions which seemed to disorient some candidates. Some questions were multi-part and made for some muddy answers. They also got asked questions about issues that have now been voted on (like the math adoption and the SAP) so while it was good to hear what they thought, they can't change much by the time they are elected. One question -about Special Ed reform - seemed to flummox all the candidates. I'm not sure they knew enough or understood the question.

Also, they had NO and YES cards for some not-so-useful questions that might have needed a MAYBE. All the candidates voted the same way on charters, public schools being run by the Mayor, and creationism in the classroom - No.

(I am trying to interview the candidates individually. I am hoping to get them done by the end of July. Only one candidate has said no - Betty Patu .)

Here are my impressions of each candidate but please keep in mind, based on individual interviews, I'm getting a better picture of each candidate. Also, I am NOT endorsing anyone at this time nor am I currently working on anyone's campaign.

Kay Smith Blum - something of a surprise. Pleasant, enthused, she clearly has done some homework and gone out and talked to many educators. she said that her plaform is "client centric" (with students being the clients). She mentioned bell times a couple of times (which for me is right on but we are now past that discussion). She offered some specifics on ways to find money (streamline food service and find efficiencies in ELL and IT). She said she is a data-driven person who is willing to go out and find data (along with staff data). She was the only one to really mention reaching out to non-profits and creating more public/private partnerships. She also took a lot of notes which no other candidate did. She seems very high on K-8s and offered this time as a good opportunity to create "modular" buildings that could be moved as we needed temporary room. She also got a good laugh when she linked the district to Jessica Simpson(!) in terms of changing district perspective.

Andre Helmstetter - Andre wore a suit and was quite earnest. He repeatedly said the Board needed to be strong and unified and seemed to imply that any vote that wasn't unified showed a troubled Board. He said he wanted an engaged and relevant constiuency saying the Board is "here to represent what is going on out there". He said a correctly drawn out SAP is one of his key priorities as well as access to option programs and refocusing on what is happening in the classroom. He said the Board's job is governance and advocacy for the community saying the Board couldn't really succeed without buy-in from their communities. When asked about community engagement, I liked his phrase "get the feet on the street" and find out what people want. He said the Board members should attend more school functions to find these kinds of things out. He said it seemed a problem to put programs in schools where they were neither asked for nor wanted. On the question about the math reform, he had a thoughtful answer which was to explain that he was a great reader when he was in school but math was not easy for him and he wished there was as strong a support/culture around math as there is for reading. He did say something new which was an interest in finding out more about school-level boards.

Joanna Cullen - a very thoughtful candidate but at times seemed to have a hard time gathering up her thoughts. Her main focus is two-fold; to advocate for and empower parents and to keep a fire under other decision-makers like the City Council, the Mayor and the Legislature. She makes a good point that while they don't deal with day-to-day operations (and neither does the Board), they have some powers that the district could use. She also said she was running for stability and continuity in a district that seems to have neither. She said if we are going to a neighborhood plan, then the option schools should have a clearly defined mission so that people know what they are choosing. She said if neighborhood schools are being rejected, the district needs to go in and find out why. In terms of being a leader, she said that she would gather data and ask staff for "authentic" data. (Joanna has been a long-time district watcher and she's seen enough meetings to make a judgment on this issue.) She also advocates for stronger PTAs to work with the district.

Mary Bass - Mary was her usual friendly, soft-spoken self albeit seeming very at ease (whereas at the Board meetings she seems less so). She reminded the audience, repeatedly, of her family background in education and of her service. She was the only candidate to stand when answering the questions and other candidates picked up on this and stood as well. What was interesting to me is that Mary didn't really say why she was running again just that education was a passion of hers. She said her top priorities were the SAP and funding and stablizing school communities. Mary also made some claims that I'm not sure I either knew or believe. She said she has been able to change Board votes but the record really doesn't reflect that. She said that she and Dick Lily changed the time for the Board meetings (which I didn't know). She rightly said that she was the first to have community meetings and does so to this day. She also mentioned that the federal stimulus money has some earmarked for Special Ed so that's something to look for in the future. She wryly said that she had first thought that being a Board member would be about common sense but that politics got in the way. She talked about having on-going private conversations with Board members to find common ground. She also mentioned many endorsements which seems logical for an incumbent.

I think that all the candidates have a fight against Mary. She has a huge base of support (but I have heard about the other candidates having some as well) and is the incumbent. No one came out swinging at her but I suspect in the general whoever is up against her (should she clear the primary) will have to challenge her on key issues especially effectiveness.

I am not attending tonight's forum nor can I attend Wednesday night's so I'll post an Open Thread for those who do and want to post their thoughts. Wednesday night's meeting is supposed to be on the Seattle Channel but I'll find out when that might be (I doubt if it's live).

Bill Speaks

In yet another speech, more opining from Bill Gates; we need better data. From an article in the AP:

"The U.S. must improve its educational standing in the world by rewarding effective teaching and by developing better, universal measures of performance for students and teachers, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said Tuesday.

Speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual legislative summit, Gates told hundreds of lawmakers how federal stimulus money should be used to spark educational innovation, spread best practices and improve accountability."

Sadly, I don't believe any stimulus money will be used for innovation but likely to backfill sagging budgets. Best practices? How come we know things that work and don't replicate them? "It's not possible." "They have a different district." Okay, so which best practices? That's what I wish the Gates Foundation would help with; not creating new things but spreading existing good ideas that work. Accountability? The million-dollar question but read on.

Also from the article:

"U.S. schools lag their international counterparts because of "old beliefs and bad habits," and it's not clear how to get them back on track without uniform achievement standards, he said.

"We don't know the answers because we're not even asking the right questions and making the right measurements," Gates said.

On Tuesday, he urged legislators to ask colleges and universities in their districts to publish their graduation rates. The institutions should be rewarded with funding based on the number of degrees granted, not just students enrolled, Gates said.

Teachers, too, should be rewarded for effectiveness and not just for seniority and master's degrees, he said."

Okay, I'll bite. What bad habits? Late bell times for elementary and early for high school? What old beliefs? That seat time equals learning?

As far as the funding of colleges and universities, well, you cannot fairly punish them for graduation rates that may be out of their control. There are a myriad of reasons why students may not finish college (or finish at that college or university). So private schools don't have to show their graduation rates and they get no fallout?

He couldn't leave out his own kids:

"In an interview later Tuesday with The Associated Press, Gates, 51, talked of the importance of improving the quality, quantity and searchability of online lectures, which he noted his own kids have used.

Community colleges and other financially strapped schools might find online lectures to be the most cost-effective way to teach introductory courses such as Physics 101, Gates said. The savings could then be spent on student-oriented discussion and lab sessions."

He may be right especially in more rural or poor areas of the country. But his kids aren't all that old so I'd love to know what online lectures they've used. (His kids are around 13 and 11.) It's interesting because I don't hear much about on-line lectures offered at the high school level (but my son is taking a Running Start on-line class). I think the district worries about losing students if they make more options like those available.

And then he explains some of his thinking:

"Last year, I went to Texas, walked into a classroom, sat down, and thought: “What’s going on here?” The energy was so high I thought, "I must be in a pep rally or something." The teacher was running around, scanning the classroom, pulling in every kid, putting things up on the board. It was a very exciting class.

I was at a KIPP School. KIPP stands for the “Knowledge is Power Program.” Eighty percent of KIPP students are low-income kids; 95% are Black or Hispanic. Among eighth graders who have gone to one of 30 KIPP middle schools for four years, average percentile scores jumped from 31 to 58 in reading; and 41 to 80 in math.

KIPP Schools are amazing, but they are not isolated examples. There are public schools and charter schools serving some of the most disadvantaged students in the country and getting astounding results.

In my experience, when you find a stunning success—you let it grow.

Unfortunately, states are putting caps on the number of these high-performing schools. Why do we want to put caps on the greatest success stories in American education?

Caps should be lifted for charter school operators who have a proven record of success—and charters should be offered the same per-pupil funding as other public schools. As you know, a relatively small percentage of schools are responsible for a high percentage of the dropouts. We can make dramatic advances by replacing the worst schools with high-performing charters —operated by organizations with a great track record"

Ah charters and KIPP. There you go. I'm not sure that replacing the worst schools with charters is the answer in total as he suggests. And Bill, we put caps on charters OVERALL to protect public education dollars. Not every charter is high-performing. And, define high performing, please.

Then he offers specifics:

"We need to take two enabling steps: we need longitudinal data systems that track student performance and are linked to the teacher; and we need fewer, clearer, higher standards that are common from state to state. The standards will tell the teachers what their students are supposed to learn, and the data will tell them whether they’re learning it. These two changes will open up options we’ve never had before."

Amen, fewer, clearer, higher standards. Sign me up.


"Fortunately, the state-led Common Core State Standards Initiative is developing clear, rigorous common standards that match the best in the world. Last month, 46 Governors and Chief State School Officers made a public commitment to embrace these common standards.

This is encouraging—but identifying common standards is not enough. We’ll know we’ve succeeded when the curriculum and the tests are aligned to these standards.

Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced that $350 million of the stimulus package will be used to create just these kinds of tests—next-generation assessments aligned to the common core. "

I haven't heard of the Common Core State Standards but again, sign me up. The core issue (and I hope Mr. Gates understands this) is that education has ALWAYS been a local control issue. Not even a state control issue. We may see this less here but it is very true throughout the country. Here's what he says:

"There are dozens of different data points a state could use to define aspects of student and teacher performance. That difference is compounded across 50 states and the federal government. And states use different products that manage that data in different ways – so states can’t compare their results to see what works best.

All states and districts should collect common data on teachers and students. We need to define the data in a standardized way, we need to collect all of it for all of our students, and we need to enter it in something cheap and simple that people can share. The stimulus bill includes competitive grant funding for these efforts. I hope you make use of it for the people in your state."

Great but NCLB didn't advocate one national test. Where was he then? Oh that's right, he was advocating small schools within schools. Where did that go?

I have said this for years - if we want to know how American students are doing, we do need one national test and national standards.

How to measure teachers?

"Last year the New York legislature passed a law that says you can’t consider student test scores when you make teacher tenure decisions. That was a strategic win for people who oppose reform – because no real reform will happen until we can evaluate teachers based on their students’ achievement.

I understand the legitimate concern of teachers who point out that, without the right design, teacher measurement systems based on student performance could seem arbitrary.

But without them, we won’t be able to identify our best teachers, reward them, help others learn from them, or deploy them where they’re most needed. We won’t be able to see what curriculum, instructional tools, and teacher training work best.

The solution is not to block teacher evaluations. The solution is to work with teachers who are eager to help build measurement systems that are transparent, that make sense, that lead teachers to say: “This works. It’s fair. It helps me become a better teacher.”

These systems would include test scores, but they would also involve classroom observation, parent and student surveys, and video taken in the classroom."

I have to say that I feel that this is one of the first real layouts for measuring teacher performance so good for Gates.

Here's a link to the speech.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Revised High School Math Requirements

When the State Board of Education recently increased the high school math credit requirements for graduation to three credits the wrote the rules in such a way that students who took a high-school-level math class without credit as an eighth-grader were required to repeat that same course for credit in high school. In Seattle, that would mean that students who took Integrated 1 or those who will take Algebra 1 in eighth grade would have to take the course again in high school to fulfill the graduation requirements.

Of course, that wouldn't be necessary if the students were awarded high school credit for the class, but, in defiance of state law, Seattle Public Schools does not allow that.

Fortunately, on Friday, the state board gave students more flexibility in their choices for high-school math so it will not be necessary for students to repeat classes. Now students can choose to start with a different math class in high school and don't have to repeat the eighth-grade class if they don't want to.

It bears repeating the facts of this situation as they present themselves here in Seattle.

1. For about four years now State law has required school districts to award credit for high school level classes taken in middle school if the student or the student's family petitions for the credit.

2. Seattle Public Schools, in contradiction to the state law, refuses to grant credit for the classes. They claim that they don't know what is taught in the classes and they don't know if the teacher is certified to teach high school level classes. Of course, they will neither make a determination of either point nor will they accept evidence of either point.

3. The Board, at the September 23, 2008 meeting of the curriculum and instruction committee, wanted to amend District policies to comply with the state law and allow students to earn high school credit in middle school. The District staff, specifically Michael Tolley, asked the Board to delay the policy revision saying that he had been working on integrated grading policy reform for two years and he would be ready to introduce it in January for a vote in February.

4. The Board accepted the delay despite the fact that this element is not connected to any other part of grading policy and is not integrated into it in any way. The thinking was that the change would be effective for classes beginning 2009, so waiting a few months from September to February would not change anything. The policy change would still be in place for the start of school in 2009.

5. The integrated grading policy reform was not ready in January or February. Mr. Tolley promised it in March for a vote in April.

6. The integrated grading policy reform was not ready in March or April. Mr. Tolley promised it in May for a vote in June.

7. Mr. Tolley finally admitted to the Board that the integrated grading policy reform will not, in fact, be ready in time for the start of school in 2009.

8. The Board has not taken any further action on the question of high school credit for classes taken in middle school. The policy change will not be in place for the start of school in 2009. A whole year has passed and the Board was not able to strike a single sentence from Policy D46.01 that would bring the District into compliance with state law.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Southeast Seattle Candidate Forum

Southeast Seattle Candidates' Forum for City Races
Wednesday, July 22, 2009, 6:00 - 9:30 pm
Aki Kurose Middle School Auditorium, 3928 South Graham Street (Betweek MLK Jr. Way and Rainier Ave S)

. School Board Position 5 & 7 - - 6:20-7:00
. City Council Position 8 - - 7:05-7:50
. City Council Position 4 & 6 - - 7:55-8:40
. Seattle Mayor - - 8:45-9:30

The forum will be moderated by C.R. Douglas from the Seattle Channel, and it will also be recorded for future broadcast on the Seattle Channel. C.R. Douglas is the host of City Inside/Out, the SEATTLE CHANNEL'S weekly news/interview program. He also serves as a reporter for the Seattle Channel and has appeared numerous times in local media as a political analyst, including KCPQ-TV, NWCN (Northwest Cable News), KING-TV, KONG-TV, KIRO Radio, KPLU Radio, and BBC Radio. C.R. has been named "The Charlie Rose of Seattle" by Seattle Magazine; "Best On-Air Interviewer" by the Seattle Weekly; "Forty under 40: Emerging Leaders" by the Puget Sound Business Journal; and has been nominated for three 2008 Emmy Awards (NW Region).

Sponsored by: 37th Legislative District Democrats, Washington Federal Savings Rainier Beach Branch, Jean VelDyke, Jesse Perry, Maya's Mexican Restaurant, Tuttabella, Vince's Italian Restaurant, Network Support Group, Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council, Carol & Don Allen, Rainier Beach Merchants Association, Rainier Beach Community Club

Childcare Sponsored by: Senator Adam Kline, Rep. Eric Pettigrew, Councilmember Sally Clark

Co-Presenting Partners: Lakewood/Seward Park Community Club, Rainier Beach Presbyterian Church, Othello Neighborhood Association (ONA), AARTH, Hillman City Business Association, March for Youth

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

District 5 School Board Candidates Forum

School Board Candidate Forum for District 5 of Seattle Public Schools

Monday, July 20 from 7 – 8:30pm
Garfield Community Center
(2323 E Cherry St, corner of 23rd)

For full details, see: http://www.cppsofseattle.org/News/dist5forum.html

The four candidates are:

Mary Bass mbass@seanet.com
Joanna Cullen http://www.VoteForJoanna.com
Andre Helmstetter http://AndreForSchools.org
Kay Smith-Blum http://www.ElectKSB.org

Don't forget: Primary is August 18th.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What About Vocational Education?

This is a thread I've been meaning to write for some time. It is an issue I don't even claim to know a lot about but that I have heard about from many parents. I'm not even clear (even though it did get some discussion at the last Board meeting) what direction the district is taking overall. The district does have a pretty good webpage, Career and Technical Education. They are creating a Skill Center but I'm not sure how it's part of an overall vision for CTE. So I will make it a goal to try to get a better overall picture of this area of the district because folks, not everyone is going to college. There are skill sets that all students can use (like everyday life skills and family/child skills). The newer CTE courses go way beyond those skills to construction management, green industries, etc. These issues are why CTE is still relevant and viable in today's schools.

So the particular CTE I want to speak about is the Maria Montessori Language and Cultural Center that operates out of Ballard High School.

(Public disclosure; Gail Longo, who created the Center, is a long-time Montessori teacher. She taught both my children and gave them educational gifts that I could never repay her for. She is a loving and gifted teacher with vision. So, yes, I do admit bias towards this program but read on.)

From a report about the Center:

"For the past 3 years, the Maria Montessori Language & Cultural Center (MMLCC) has received state recognition as a the center of a multi-facdeted community, high school, literacy, early learning and family partnership project. Located on the Ballard High School campus, it is a 501C3 non-profit organization licensed by the WA State Department of Early Learning serving twenty children ages 3-5 and their families. In addition to its function as a Lab school for the BHS course in Human/Child Development, the MMLCC provides an after-school program in Mandarin Chinese language for children aged 5-9. "

The space used by the Center was created at Ballard as a child care facility so the space was already there (although the Center has made improvements at its own expense). The Center is part of the SPS Community Alignment Initiative (CAI). This program has been supported by Ballard staff and district staff but now is in danger because of space issues at Ballard (which Gail has been told is about Special Ed; how Special Ed could use a space designed as a child care facility is unclear).

Gail and I sat down and she walked me through the program for the Ballard students. She said many of them came in thinking it was an easy class and they would just play with little kids. They didn't know Gail. She had developed a specific curriculum about child development, interacting with young children, human growth/brain development, creating porfolios and working towards college credit for work done.

Gail is not paid by the district and developed the curriculum herself working with Ballard staff. The Center has done integrated projects with the French department, Special Needs and Markeing classes. As you can see by her blurb above, the facility is used after school as well for a language program for older children. So you have multi-aged students using this facility. To me, it's truly a community program and it seems like a direction the district would like to go in to create "community" schools.

Gail's special interest is non-violent communication and she received grants from King County and the Seattle Foundation to further that work at the Center.

And now it may all go away. That's a lot of good work across many ages to leave SPS. And, it's one of the few integrated programs in all of the high schools.

As I said, I have a special reason to advocate for this program. But it points to the larger picture of CTE's importance. From the Executive Summary of the Skill Center report:

"It is also the intent of Seattle Public Schools to expand and improve existing CTE programs in both middle and high school."

What is frustrating is that the district starts down a road and then changes direction without notice. Why open the MMLCC only to shut it down a few years later? Was it just a placeholder? Now the focus is on the new Skills Center (which I endorse) but does that mean all other CTE is left behind?

I'll end with a quote:

"I commend Ballard High School, MMLCC and all the Montessori teachers and supporters...for their commitment to developmentally-appropriate instruction. Your outstanding efforts lay the foundation for a student's success in work and in life, and I can't thank you enough for all that you do."
Christine O. Gregoire, Governor

(If you want to put in a plug for the program or communicate about CTE to someone at the district, the contacts are Courtney Cameron in the CAO's office (cjones@seattleschools.org) or Shep Siegel, head of CTE, (ssiegal@seattleschools.org).

Where Seattle Public Schools is Failing

Let me quote extensively to you from the book I'm reading.

The first question every board member should ask him- or herself, and the question that opens up the entire Reform Governance Framework, is, Am I satisfied with incremental improvements in the status quo, or am I profoundly dissatisfied with the status quo and determined to change it as quickly as possible? This is the big question. One answer leads to governance primarily as oversight, the other to governance primarily as leadership for change.

Why would a board member be satisfied with only incremental improvement in the status quo? Is there a district anywhere that has all children performing at grade level, all children peforming at their potential, and no academic achivement gap?

Leadership starts with core beliefs and commitments. Beliefs and commitments go together, for beliefs not tied to commitments are of little value. There is a big difference between "It can be done" and "It will be done".

The book then proposes a set of five core beliefs and commitments:
All Children at Grade Level
Can all children perform at grade level? Indeed, some children by birth or accident have severe learning disabilities and cannot. The U.S. Department of Education accespts only 1% in this category. Even if the number is as high as 5%, the rest - a reasonable definition of all - can.

Of course, not all children can earn a doctorate in physics. Not all can become brain surgeons. Ball all can earn an academic high school diploma. Some will work harder and longer, but the standard is attainable. The experience of many high-performing low-income schools in America and the high performance of some low-income countries support this core belief.

All Children to Potential
All children performing at grade level is not enough. Because human ability varies enormously, because some children learn faster than others, because some children can become physicists and brain surgeons, school boards should commit themselves to the goal of all children reaching their learning potential. A child who can perform well above grade level but is not given the opportunity for advanced learning may not be seriously damaged for life, but he or she is not well served and society is the loser for it.

No Achievement Gap
Urban boards must have a third core belief and commitment: The academic achievement gaps between White and Asian children as compared with African-American and Hispanic children can and will be eliminated. This may seem redundant to those who beliecve that if all children perform to their potential the achievement gap will be eliminated. But it is important to state this core belief and commitment separately.

Effective Schools.
Doubters of these commitments will point out that the school effect is not 100%; families and societies contribute to or impede learning. This is certainly true. The question, however, is whether the school effect is small or large. If what a child learns is determined solely by what happens outside school rather than by what happens in school, then schools are not important and there is little reason to make them better. But if schools can fundamentally affect what children learn and how well and fast they learn it, then school matter and improving them is an imperative.

Effective School Districts
One essential core belief and commitment remains: Urban boards must believe that urban districts can become high-performing organizations. A lot of people don't think they can. Some believe urban districts and the boards that govern them are so hopeless that they should be abolished. Let charter schools and vouchers meet the educational needs of urban children, they say. Indeed many urban districts have been gioverned and managed poorly. And not many come even close to the performance standards of America's best private companies. But notwithstanding the challenges of public-sector management and urban politics, school districts can become high-performing organizations if board members make this a priority.

Boards must accept no excuse for ineffective and inefficient business operations. Finance and accounting, human reource management, purchasing and inventory management, facility maintenance, food serive, transportation, and construction management in school districts are more like than ulike business functions in other organizations. School districts can and should be world class in business operations. A few are approaching this standard in some areas and perform a well as many private-sector companies. Boards must believe that their districts can become high-performing orgainizations, insist that they do, and give their superintendent the power to make it so.

You may be surprised to learn that these extensive quotes come from "What School Boards Can Do - Reform Governance for Urban Schools" by Donald R. McAdams. This is the textbook for the course on Reform Governance that the Broad Foundation offers to School Board directors.

This book calls for strong, demanding boards who hold their superitendents accountable for results. This book is not ready to surrender to Charter Schools at all. And, more than that, this book insists that Boards do what I want to do on the Board and insists that Boards strenuously avoid the style of the current Seattle School Board.

Our Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All", calls for the weak incremental improvement that Mr. McAdams scorns. Excellence for All sets a goal of increasing the number of third graders reading at grade level from 72% in 2006-2007 to 88% by 2013. That is a classic example of incremental increase. The five year goal is to have 80% of 4th graders working at grade level in math. Really? Are we really willing to accept 12% of our third graders below grade level in reading? Which ones? Point them out. Tell me the names of the kids who's lives we don't regard worth supporting. And 20% of the 4th graders are acceptable losses in math? Acceptable to whom? To them? To their families? To our city? To the Board and the superintendent? It is NOT acceptable to me.

Let me tell you folks. You can be suspicious of the Broad Foundation, but don't believe that what Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson is doing in Seattle reflects that institutions ideals. It does not. Don't believe that what the Seattle School Board is doing reflects that institution's ideal because it does not.

I'll tell you something more. There is a discussion of "Managed Instruction" in this book. It is described in familiar terms:

"all children in a district must be taught the same comprehensive and aligned curriculum and all teachers must know how to teach it. Building on content and performance standards, the district constructs a curriculum that covers every subject for every grade in elementary school and every course in middle and high school. The curriculum is coherent, aligned, an detailed down to individual lesson plans, teaching materials, and sample assessments (all of which are available to teachers but not necessarily required).

Professional development is centered on the curriculum and how to teach it, and it is required of all teachers.

You will be interested to learn that the author of this book rejects managed instruction. He writes: "Managed instruction does not create incentives for the adults in the system, does not stimulate innovation, does not build stakeholders, and does not create a performance culture. Rather, by challenging teacher autonomy, it provokes resistance. The phrase used by critics of managed instruction is, Teachers are deskilled: They become production workers instead of innovative professionals."

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Classrooms in Southwest To Be Added

Thanks to Speducator for the alert about the article in the West Seattle Herald about the district adding classes to Lafayette and Schmitz Park.

From the article:

"Schmitz Park will add a third kindergarten class and Lafayette will add a third class at the kindergarten and first grade levels.

According to Seattle School District spokesperson David Tucker, enrollment needs have increased this year, forcing the district to provide more seats in West Seattle schools.

Parents at both schools are concerned that the schools will not have enough space or administrative resources for the added classrooms.

"I was surprised like everyone else,” said Geoff Patterson, a parent with two children at Lafayette Elementary. “It struck me as odd that one of the biggest elementary would be getting two more classrooms."

There was also concern over movement (within the building) of Lafayette's autism program.

The students from Cooper's program had to go somewhere. Some may be staying at Cooper in Pathfinder's program but obviously, many are leaving. I believe there was room at West Seattle Elementary but it isn't a popular program so many must have chosen Lafayette and Schmitz Park. Lafayette parent, Geoff Patterson, might think it odd to put more kids in an already large program but I don't find it surprising. The district tends to think that successful programs can continue to do well even with more students and the same resources (see Eckstein, Garfield, Roosevelt). Apparently, Lafayette may only have a half-time librarian by spring because of budget cuts.

Strategic Plan update

The Board (and, through them, the public) are supposed to receive quarterly updates on the progress of the Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All". The Board, however, has not had an update since March 11, four months ago.

So here is my un-official Strategic Plan Update to fill the empty space where the official one should be.

Before anything else, I would like to note that the stated goals of the Strategic Plan are for incremental improvement over a five-year period starting one year ago. I think that we should debate whether or not incremental improvement is what we need or whether we don't need profound change on an urgent basis. Were there annual goals to go along with the five year goals? I don't recall ever seeing any. If there are annual goals, did we meet them in the first year?

Project: Align Math Curriculum.
The goal here is to align the teaching in every classroom to - at a minimum - the State Standards and Grade Level Expectations for that grade level. In addition to the aligned curriculum, the District intends to align the academic expectations for students across all classrooms of the same grade so that work that earns a "B" in one school would also earn a "B" in every other school. This work is of critical importance to school quality and defines the idea of equitable access to quality programs. In service to this goal, the District committed to opening school in the Fall of 2009 with the aligned curriculum in place and in practice. To support this effort, the Central Staff have written the curriculum, instructional guides (curriculum guide) that associate textbook chapters with State Standards and GLEs, pacing guides, and common assessments. Teachers have been (or will be) provided with professional development on the curriculum, the proper use of manipulatives and technology (calculators), common understanding of grading, exemplary lessons, and the use of rubrics.

Come September 2009, this is supposed to be the way it is for Math in Seattle Public Schools. The Performance Measurement System is supposed to assure it. The District staff report that they are on time with this project. Come September we shall see.

There has been little or no public discussion of what teachers are supposed to do for students who are working below grade level and lack the necessary foundation to do grade level work.

Project: Align Science Curriculum.
This project is analogous to the Align Math Curriculum project but it has been indefinitely delayed as the State is late with the delivery of Standards and GLEs for science.

Project: Develop assessment tools to track student progress.
The District committed to designing, developing, and implementing common District-wide formative and summative assessments in math and reading for all students k-12 with full implementation beginning with the 2009-2010 school year. The District has selected Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) as the formative assessment tool. Students in up to 83 schools will take the computer-based MAP assessments three times over the coming year. There is difficulty in using MAP at some schools because they do not have the technological infrastructure necessary to administer a computer-based assessment. Approximately 20 elementary and K-8 schools do not currently have computer labs. The District is working to provide computers to those schools.

It is unclear if the MAP is also intended as the summative assessment. It is unclear if any summative assessment is planned. Perhaps the District intends to use the WASL as the summative assessment.

It is anticipated that data from the MAP assessments will be used to inform instruction. The Performance Measurement System should be tracking this intended outcome and should provide opportunities for accountability around it.

Project: School Performance Framework.
The District was supposed to have developed a School Performance Framework to measure and report the effectiveness of schools versus a set of performance targets. With a school performance framework, Seattle Public Schools will be able to provide high performing schools with more autonomy and lower-performing schools with the targeted assistance they need to improve.

The School Performance Framework was supposed to be complete by December, 2008 but remains unfinished. Also by December, the District was supposed to identify the different types of supports and flexibilities school along the continuum would receive. This work also remains unfinished.

Every school is supposed to have clear performance goals and beginning with the 2009-10 school year the District is supposed to measure progress toward those goals.

All of this work is unfinished, late, and apparently mired.

There was a presentation to the Board on July 1 about Performance Management which claimed "School Reports v1.0 finalized", but the school report shown to the Board on that day listed a number of the spaces as "exact methodology still to be determined" or "TBD". Only 12 schools will be included in the initial rollout of the school performance framework in 2009-2010 rather than all schools as the Strategic Plan promised. There is no sense of what, if any, support or autonomy might result from this exercise. The whole project is horribly, horribly fouled.

Project: Reform teacher hiring process.
The District was supposed to have a new hiring process up and running in the Spring of 2009 for hiring teachers for the 2009-2010 school year. At the last minute the District decided that the software they were going to use was far too expensive and they rejected it after a year of thinking about it. The District is using a jerry-rigged process in the interim.

This project is woefully behind schedule and it is unclear why the District staff spent so much time considering a software solution that is far beyond our means.

Project: improve professional development.
There has been no news on this project.

Project: Implement effective performance evaluations at all levels.
Peformance evaluations for the bulk of District employees, including teachers, principals, and school support staff, is a matter for collective bargaining. This was all supposed to be in place for fall 2009. It is part of current labor negotiations.

Project: Improve technology for district central tasks.
There are a number of technology improvement projects which mostly revolve around migrating processes from an outdated computer to more modern equipment and software. Among the tasks to be migrated are: Student Assignment, Student Information System, Academic Systems data, and Utilities. Many of these are supposed to be complete by now, but there is no public news about these projects.

Project: Develop budget protocols and evaluation tools.
The District is supposed to develop and fully implement a new budget process beginning in fall 2009 for the 2010-11 budget. This process is supposed to include some means for prioritizing budget items and evaluating the efficacy of spending. There is no public information available about this project.

Communication Protocol.
The District adopted a Communications Protocol. Every Strategic Plan project is supposed to meet the standards outlined in the protocol adopted in October of 2008. No more than three or four of the projects are even trying to meet the requirements of the protocol.

Project: Upgrade District Web site.
No action to date. The District was supposed to have a proposal for a major web site overhaul complete by spring 2009. No such document is publicly available. Funding for this project has not been identified.

Project: Implement School-Family Partnership Plan.
Good progress has been made to implement the School-Family Partnership Plan. 17 schools established Family Engagement Action Teams last year and another 17 schools will start them this year.

The plan calls for a more meaningful communication channel between the superintendent and the School-Family Partnership Advisory Committee for the 2008-2009 school year. In that year the superintendent came to one of the Advisory Committee meetings - same as in previous years. There was no other contact.

Project: Engage staff as stakeholders.
There is no publicly available information on this project.

Project: Get more money from private partners.
The District has garnered money from a variety of private resources this year including the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Alliance for Education. There were no specific goals or timetables established for this project.

Project: Improve Culture.
A customer service protocol was supposed to have been established by fall 2008. There is no publicly available information about this project.

The District was supposed to have developed and shared a Dashboard to track progress on each strategy in the plan by fall 2008. There is no dashboard. They now think they will have it by August 2009.

Miscellaneous Projects.
There are some other items that are supposed to be in progress.

Response to Special Education Audit.
There is some work being done, but no information has been made publicly available. As of the 2009 Enrollment process for the 2009-2010 school year, students requiring resource room services or integrated comprehensive services are assigned to schools through the normal open enrollment process.
This week the District finally hired an Executive Director of Special Education.

Response to Advanced Learning Audit.
No information publicly available. The District is committed to having an aligned, written, taught and tested curriculum for APP ready and fully implementated in the fall of 2009.

Response to Bilingual Education Audit.
No information publicly available.

Alternative Education Audit and Response.
The District hopes to have an outside agency conduct the audit in the fall of 2009, much later than initially anticipated. A number of critical decisions have already been made about alternative schools without the benefit of this audit.

"Each strategy will be developed with a detailed timeline that will include milestones and performance measurements so that we can assess our success.

We will schedule regular School Board reviews of our progress.

To honor our commitment to transparency, all materials will be posted on the SPS Web site."

Needless to say, there is a dearth of materials posted to the Seattle Public Schools web site. As promised, however, this is consistent with the District's commitment to transparency.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Is The Writing On the Wall?

I read the the NY Times. I grew up believing (though never reading until adulthood) that the NY Times was THE national newspaper. I tend to agree, overwhelmingly, with their editorials. So imagine my chagrin? sadness? resignation? over this one (with some confusion added in, to boot) about the direction of education under the Obama administration. The Times sets out two directions they believe the administration should go in.

From the editorial:

"Mr. Duncan has said from the start that he wants the states to transform about 5,000 of the lowest-performing schools, not in a piecemeal fashion but with bold policies that have an impact right away. The argument in favor of a tightly focused effort aimed at these schools is compelling. We now know, for example, that about 12 percent of the nation’s high schools account for half the country’s dropouts generally — and almost three-quarters of minority dropouts. A plan that fixed these schools, raising high school graduation and college-going rates, would pay enormous dividends for the country as a whole.

Mr. Duncan can use his burgeoning discretionary budget to reward states that take the initiative in this area. But Congress could push the reform effort further and faster by granting the education department’s request for two changes in federal education law. The first would be to come up with new federal school improvement money and require the states to focus 40 percent of it on the lowest-performing middle and high schools. The second change would allow the secretary to directly finance charter-school operators that have already produced high-quality schools. "

I totally agree with the first. I have written on this before when this data was first announced. If we know that 12% of the nation's high school account for half the dropouts then as Homer would say, "Doh!". We know where they are so get to it in a big way.

Ah but the second. That second one is full of details and problems. One, the feds directly financing public schools? That's a local control that I doubt many states would go for and it would set up quite the smackdown between the two. Two, define "high quality". Is that definition the rise of test scores? Happier parents? Special education students being equally served in that location? Three, is that "high quality" able to be replicated on a large-scale? Heck, we can't even reproduce TOPS in our own district.

Also from the editorial:

"Mr. Duncan confronted this issue [of the unevenness in quality of charter schools] directly at a charter school alliance meeting held in Washington last month, pointing out that the states needed to do a much better oversight job and that failing charters needed to be swiftly shut down. High-quality charter models like the ones used by the KIPP program have a role to play in the plan, the goal of which is to change the cultures of chronically failing schools. Charter operators could be brought into some schools, but other schools might need to simply force out the current staff and bring in a new one. In other cases, states will need to shut down chronically failing schools and enroll students elsewhere."

Again, the feds say the states should do a better job of oversight. Using whose criteria? I like the idea of closing some schools and bringing in a whole new staff but we haven't even done that here in Seattle despite closing numerous schools. If someone had had some political courage somewhere along the line, AAA may have survived if it had been totally restructured. But this kind of thing may be much easier to say than to do. The last sentence is a mystery - "enroll students elsewhere". Does that mean other public schools including charters?

If the feds are going to get involved in public education on what seems a far-reaching scale, they need to set up the guidelines for charters, they need to outline what is "high quality", they need to explain a timetable for success and how to pull the plug. And, get states on board with the feds doing all this.

I have never said I am against charters. But I am against the piecemeal quality of them which will only divert resources and energy from existing public schools. If the Times or the Obama administration believes this is the way, then I want to see a plan. And right now, public education is largely under local control. How the feds can manage oversight of an expanding charter school nation that they themselves want in the face of states' rights will be interesting. But I don't want our kids to be part of a power struggle or chancey experiment.

FYI - School Board Candidate Forum

The 43rd Democrats are having their monthly meeting next Tuesday, the 21st from 6:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. at the University Heights Community Center. Their agenda calls for a business meeting until 7:30 and then for King County Assessor candidates to speak from 7:30 -7:45 p.m. Then at 7:45 there will be a candidate forum for School Board candidates from District 5; Mary Bass, Joanna Cullen, Andre Helmstetter and Kay Smith-Blum.

If you hear of any other candidate forums for School Board, please post them so that others can hear candidates' views on the issues facing our district.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

When It Suits Their Purposes

Boy, you have to love this district's chutzpah. I mean to blatantly say one thing one year and then say something else. The consistency in this district is how inconsistent they are.

Where to start? Let's start with Don Kennedy's repeated statements that there was a "hiring freeze" at the district headquarters. Nonsense. It's just in how you interpret it I guess. I mean they likely didn't fill any positions currently open so sure maybe that's the hiring freeze. But they just created a new position in the superintendent's office for an aide and, as we have been discussing, our new Broad resident . Wonder where he or she will put their MBA/MPA talents at? (And, still waiting for Mr. Kennedy to answer my e-mail on the hires, their salaries, their job descriptions, etc. but why wait? I'll just fire off my public disclosure request to Legal and skip the middle man.)

And that hiring freeze was only on the operations side because the capital side (facilities) hired themselves not one but two new people to oversee the BEX program.

Speaking of BEX, well, here's a new press release from Communications touting a joint agreement between the district and the Parks department for the play area around Hamilton. Here's an excerpt:

"A new design for the interface between the Wallingford playground and the Hamilton International Middle school has been created and will be constructed as part of the completion of the renovations of the Hamilton International Middle School building. Seattle Parks and Recreation in conjunction with Seattle Public Schools and the community joined together to create the design, resulting in a thoughtful redevelopment of the playground with many new facilities, greatly benefiting both community members and students."

Great, right? Joining with the City to create an area that melds together and has joint facilities? But oh yeah, that's right, even though South Shore (formerly New School) is joined like a Siamese twin to the Rainier Beach Community Center (the dividing line is right in the middle of a hallway), the district couldn't wait for any kind of co-design there. Nope, even though now, the South Shore building sprouts out of the community center like a giant space ship, even though the community center is a very integral part of that community, could the district wait for the City to get on-board with a joint redo? A redo that could have been "a thoughtful redevelopment" "greatly benefiting both community members and students"? Nah.

What is really infuriating is that the district said they couldn't wait for the City. Why? Because South Shore was one of the worst buildings in the district? No because it wasn't. Because the City wasn't going to get around to it for awhile? Well, I just found this at the Rainier Valley Post:

"Seattle Parks and Recreation invites the Rainier Beach community and swimmers to a kick-off meeting for the new Rainier Beach Community Center and Pool on Tues., June 9, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Rainier Beach Community Center (8825 Rainier Ave. S.). At this “hopes and dreams” meeting, residents will have an opportunity to describe their vision for the building and pool. Parks staff, A•R•C Architects and Counsilman Hunsker aquatic designers will discuss the project, answer questions and ask for community input. After conducting a building assessment in 2007 Parks determined that the current facility would be demolished and a new community center and pool constructed. The anticipated construction start is early 2011."


"Parks is currently negotiating to acquire a 42,000 sq. ft. land parcel, adjacent to the center, currently owned by the Seattle School District. The land addition would nearly double the property size, providing ample room for expansion and parking."

Oh, so the district COULD have waited and maybe saved some money for both the district and the City and had a unified look for that space.

It's appalling how often the district says one thing when it suits their purpose and then turns around and says another.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Math Wars: I Guess It's Not Over

Many of you may be aware of the advocacy work of UW Professor Cliff Mass who has worked tirelessly to try to get the powers that be and the public to understand the effects of discovery math (and, as UW professors are some of the end users of the students of SPS, he does have an interest). It appears that even though the vote has gone through for the math curriculum SPS will be using, he is continuing the fight and put out a bit of a smackdown to the UW School of Education which has been waging its own battle. (And Dan D., if you printed this elsewhere, I may have missed it; my apologies.)

Here's a link to the UW School of Education Research page (it has links to the right on Where's the Math). It is headed by Pat Wasley whom I have heard speak several times. Here is her letter to her colleagues on the subject of math education. I have to say I don't agree with many of her views on education so I would tend to side with Professor Mass on this point.

Professor Mass had an interview with Real Change (a newpage written and distributed by the homeless - it's pretty good) about math. Here's an e-mail he sent about feedback on it. It's long so I have highlighted key areas.

 Since my comments to "Real Change" initiated an extended
conversation on math education, perhaps it is appropriate for me to
provide you with my views directly. To put it succinctly, I believe
K-12 math education in our state is in a bad place and a number of UW
faculty involved in math education (that is educating future teachers)
have greatly contributed to the situation. To put it bluntly, some of
us here at the UW are a major part of the problem.

The first question: is there a major problem? I think the answer
is certainly yes. During my career here the math capabilities of
students have progressively declined and hundreds of you have noted
the same thing (last year I circulated a petition on this subject..by
the end I had hundreds of faculty signatories). I give a math exam to
students taking atmos 101: most can't do basic math (e.g., fractions,
algebra). Math remediation rates are stunningly high at colleges
around the state and the gross income of tutoring services has
increased over 350% during the last 10 years. Increasingly UW students
wanting to major in atmospheric sciences are dropping the major due to
math issues. I could provide a dozen other examples-- and the
problems are not limited to our state. Many of you have written to me
with similar observations. This is also a national problem. And a
real one.

Virginia Warfield (who wrote to you criticizing my comments) and I
have very different views on the origins of this decline in math
skills. I believe one major causal factor is the ascendency of
"discovery math" -- the theory that students need to "discover" math
concepts for them to internalize them, with lots of calculator use
("technology" in eduspeak), manipulatives, group work, and
talking/writing, rather than calculations. Mastering key skills is
tertiary (often called "drill and kill" in eduspeak). Another issue
is the poor quality of the math textbooks adopted during the past
decade or so (e.g., IMP , Terc, Everyday Math, CMP, and the
Discovering Math series). Some of the worst text books have been
"integrated", whereby the subjects are intermixed and spiralled in a
way that insures superficial learning at best. Many of these math
books have little in the way of equations or what one would call real
math. And they are poorly written and organized. In contrast to what
Virginia claims, there is virtually no competent research to support
the discovery approach. In fact, the National Academy found that
supposed "research" was weak and poorly controlled. In contrast,
there is solid research showing the superiority of the example-based
instruction where teachers show students the proper steps to solve
problems (often derided as "traditional" by the education
cognoscenti). And current math education approaches are hurting
minorities and the underprivileged the most, since they can't afford
expensive remediation and often don't have parents with strong math
skills. Now don't get me wrong, there are other contributors of
course--like the poor math backgrounds of many teachers, weakening of
families, etc-- but poor textbooks and a failed approach to teaching
math deserves much of the blame.

I should note that my understanding of the problem began with my
own children, who had discovery/integrated texts and who were learning
little math in school (when my middle school son could not handle
simple fractions I knew I had problems). Intensive parental tutoring
and Kumon salvaged my children, but it got me worried. About this
time I got involved with a group called wheresthemath.com (a
state-wide group of parents, teachers and others concerned about math
education--the majority of us use math in our careers).

The K-12 math education community in our state is still
dominated by discovery advocates. They have somehow entrained a
mistaken belief that social justice requires the discovery approach
(as if the underprivileged can't learn the real stuff). The math
education old boy/girl network in our state (e.g., UW School of
Education math education "specialists", some math education types in
the math department) are clearly threatened by the criticism of the
discovery paradigm and current education policies. But the truth is
that their policies are failing. State legislators had enough with
the weak "discovery" math standards of our state and recently improved
them and dropped the poorly conceived and extraordinarily expensive
WASL exam.

Unfortunately, UW faculty involved in K-12 education are
working hard to prevent change and keep their approach in play.
Several UW faculty have grants to foster discovery math education in
our public schools. One member of the education group in the math
department set up a phony web site (wheresthemath.org) to confuse
individuals intending to view the wheresthemath.com site (he even used
a university account to set it up!). At a recent Seattle School
Board meeting a UW math education faculty membeer spoke in favor of
adopting the poor Discovery Math series. The School of Education was
so threatened by the criticism of their math education approach that
they published, at university expense, a defensive brochure that they
distributed to state legislators (an online version found at
http://education.washington.edu/research/rtm_07/). You have to read
this official School of Education document to believe it...they make
fun of the wheresthemath.com group in their chapter headings, suggest
that architects don't really need to know how to do calculations, and
other startling revelations. Members of the state legislature were so
concerned about UW Education lobbying the legislature with this
brochure that they initiated an ethics violation investigation.
Members of the UW K-12 Math Education enterprise regularly write
editorials and op-ed pieces supporting the status quo. I can give a
dozen other examples of the promotion efforts of the UW K-12 math
education establishment. They are formidable and entrenched.

In short, there is a real tension between UW faculty in
technical subjects who experience first hand the disastrous math
background of incoming undergrads, and those teaching future K-12 math
educators who are following a paradigm that is failing our students.
The future teachers, principals, and administrators trained here in
the UW leave convinced that discovery approaches and other current
educational fads are the future. And it is hard to reprogram them.
The problem, I am afraid to say, is to a considerable degrees ours.
Parents, the state legislators, and others are increasingly
understanding the problem. Are we going to remain part of the problem
or the solution? It is not a little ironic that one part of the UW is
undermining math and science education, while the other is attempting
to train the technical and scientific leaders of the future.

This is not an insolvable problem. There are strong, effective
alternatives to the terrible discovery and integrated math texts.
Books that provide the basic skills, give students lots of practice,
challenge to think creatively about the application of math, and
provides instruction that effectively develops mathematical
understanding . Some school districts like Shoreline are making the
switch. We can insure our K-12 teachers have a sufficiently strong
math background to educate our children. The educational
establishment can allow their curriculum and approaches to be guided
by competent research and empirical information. We can turn this
around relatively quickly I suspect. But the UW K-12 education
establishment will have to change to do so.

..cliff mass, atmospheric sciences

(Professor Mass did give me permission to print this e-mail. He also
mentioned that the use of public funds to print the UW Education Department's brochure
to legislators in being investigated.)