Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CPPS Meeting, Tues, Nov 10 with Scott Oki

Tues, November 10 at 7:00 P.M.
Garfield High School (400 23rd Ave)
* Meeting will be held in the school LIBRARY

Featuring: A Community Conversation with Scott Oki
In his book, "Outrageous Learning: An Education Manifesto," Scott Oki describes the ills facing public schools and applies the same frank, no-nonsense analysis that made him one of the most successful executives at Microsoft and co-founder of the Oki Foundation.

Mr. Oki is meeting with community groups across Washington State in order to offer his common-sense solutions to the challenges facing our schools and solicit input from his audiences. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, please join us in a spirited conversation about ways to improve our schools. To learn more about Scott Oki and read excerpts from the book, including his 11 planks for systemic school reform, visit www.outrageouslearning.org.


Andrew Kwatinetz said...

A preemptive note: CPPS does not endorse all of Scott Oki's ideas or those of his publisher. Our goal is to foster conversation and reach out as broadly as possible (we all need to work together on solutions). We like that a key component of Scott Oki's proposed solutions is active parents and community.

seattle citizen said...

Here’s some of ex-Microsoftie Oki’s ideas, apparently. From


1) Let local school leaders lead. Give local principals budgetary control, let them assemble a team of the best teachers possible, support them with appointed Boards of Trustees, and then hold these principals accountable for student performance;
2) Insanely great teachers. Allow principals to assess the performance of classroom teachers so that every classroom is staffed by an “insanely great teacher. “ Create a meritocracy in which good teachers are recognized and paid for superior performance. Eliminate teacher tenure, an outmoded policy which has no place in K-12 education.
3) Allow public school parents more choice over which public schools their children will attend.
More Time Spent Educating;
• Early Learning Rigor and Optional High School;
• Muster an Army of Volunteers;
• Standardized Curriculum…Not;
• Early Intervention and Specialized Instruction;
• Spend Money as Though It Were Your Own;
• Plant the Seeds of Success in Life: Values, Character, Leadership; and
• Establish a Culture of Excellence.

seattle citizen said...

“support [principals] with appointed Boards of Trustees, and then hold these principals accountable for student performance” Uh, we have a duly elected Board and its administration….
“Insanely great teachers. ..Create a meritocracy in which good teachers are recognized and paid for superior performance. Eliminate teacher tenure, an outmoded policy which has no place in K-12 education.”
Read: “abolish unions”
“Allow public school parents more choice over which public schools their children will attend.” Perhaps by expanding the alternative schools…or does he mean charters?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Is that where Kay Smith Blum got "insanely great" teachers/schools/principals? I hear her saying this all the time and I thought it was an odd word about education.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

"Insanely great" is most often associated with Steve Jobs, but a typical phrase used in Microsoft crowds as well as adding "super" before any adjective. (Wish I had a dime for every time someone at Microsoft said "I'm super excited.") All part of our Northwest vocabulary now. So, no, not necessarily something Kay got from Scott Oki.

Unknown said...

Seattle Citizen: I don't know anything really about Scott Oki or his book, and I understand full well that bad ideas can "hide" behind great rhetoric (the essence of much political speech, it seems) -- BUT clicking on the text excerpts from his book, these are not all bad ideas, and they don't preclude unions (though they may preclude some current union policies). For example -- the idea of letting local schools lead (school autonomy) with school (site based) boards, budgetary control, some choice as to teachers, etc. -- it all sounds to me a lot like what we WANTED in Seattle for the alternative schools (and what some of us wanted for other schools as well). Site based (family/student) participation in picking principals and staff (so they all supported the mission), autonomy as to content, etc. I do NOT consider the District board to be an example of "letting local school leaders lead." There are too many schools -- and it leads to top down management decisions (like Discovery math, the current LA alignment process, etc.)

And, choice doesn't have to mean charter schools. It could mean -- public system wide choice (what we are moving AWAY from), more encouragement of alt schools that are born from groups of families with an educational vision -- but using public money for public education (which we are also moving away from). How many immersion programs might there be if schools could decide their OWN fate? What if kids could choose a public school that DOESN'T use Discovery Math? What if kids assigned to Madrona could choose a school with art, music, and recess?
There is so much in his list that is NOT aligned with much of the current for-profit charter school movement -- individualized instruction, differentiated curriculum, community involvement and control, etc.
Again, maybe this is just a Trojan horse, filled with all sorts of corporate, KIPP types who want to skim thousands out of public education while leaving the "problem kids" out and delivering a soul-less product, but -- maybe it actually plays right into some of the things I at least am afraid we are losing (or have lost, in the case of Summit) in the SSD.
It is one thing to weigh judiciously what people "say" against the possibility that they may have an unspoken agenda, or may just lack the ability or resources to deliver what they promise. But it seems to me that we don't necessarily do ourselves a favor by assuming that choice means corporate for-profit charters, and that encouraging teacher excellence is anti-union (if it is, then I have a problem with the current union platform). I am not sure we do ourselves a favor by being immediately suspicious of all ideas that come from anyone in the "corporate" world. They all went to school, they have kids in schools, they hire employees educated by schools. And at least some of them, I suspect, are perfectly capable of seeing the potential pitfalls in the "corporate" model, as opposed to the current public model. Is Scott one of these? I don't know, but am hoping to get a chance to hear him.
WV is channeling Elvis today, and says she ain't nuthing but a aundoug!

seattle citizen said...

soooo....I gotta ask:
What, exactly, makes Scott Oki a go-to guy on education?

Does he have an ed degree?
Has he taught?
Has he pored over hundreds of books into the wee hours?

I'll do my own research, but what exactly makes this person some sort of guru on education?

I don't get it.

Charlie Mas said...

In private industry it can make good economic sense to compensate people proportionately for the quantity and quality - in short the value - of their production.

In those cases in which having a great worker in the place of an average one means more money to the company, it makes some sense for the company to share a portion of that additional revenue with the employee to keep other businesses from making a better offer and hiring the great employee away. It also provides a model for other workers to see that they can earn more if they improve their output.

Of course there are some jobs in some businesses in which it doesn't make a difference to the company's bottom line if there's a great worker in the role or simply an adequate one. In those cases bonuses usually don't make sense and are not available.

Do bonuses make economic sense in the public sector?

Let's say that a school has an "insanely great" third grade teacher named Robert. Does Robert make any difference in the school's revenue or the District's revenue? Pretty unlikely. The school's enrollment would probably be the same with or without Robert in front of the third grade. More to the point, the District's enrollment would probably be the same with or without Robert in front of the third grade in that one school. Even if Robert did have an impact on enrollment it would be extraordinarily difficult to quantify the added revenue to the District that is attributable to Robert's excellence.

It could be argued that - theoretically - having excellent teachers in general and delivering excellent academic results in general does increase enrollment in a district as families choose to move into the district and enroll their children in the district schools rather than leaving the district or choosing private schools. But it's a long way from that theory - for which there is little evidence - to determining how much an individual teacher contributes to the district's reputation and the corresponding increase in gross revenues for the District attributable to that teacher.

More than that. The difference in revenue can only be seen in situations in which the family had the economic means to choose another district or to choose a private school.

So if Robert works in a school full of students who are working below Standard or come from low income households, does he have any impact at all on the District's reputation or on enrollment? I don't think so.

In the absence of that additional revenue, where is the economic sense is paying Robert a merit bonus?

In short - why should the District pay great teachers more money if the great teachers don't generate more money for the District?

seattle citizen said...

Jan, I hear you. I'm knee-jerk anti-reform because I see a "conspiracy".

Many of the "reforms" I've seen seem to rely on some nebulous idea of what, exactly, we want to teach kids, and how, exactly, we want to teach them.

Most of the "reform" I have seen relies on quantitative data, the idea that we can measure input and output and design all our pedagogy (and curriculum) around these extremely narrow sets of data.

Most "reform" ideas I've seen have conveniently ignored what already exists: Alternative schools offer choice, they offer innovative practices, they offer community input and decision-making....yet reformed seem strangely silent on existing, public, union schools that do the things they it seems they want non-public (vouchers) or semi-public (charter) schools to do.

Why the silence? I think it's because "reform" means doing away with all the old, and implenting something new. The "new" is being designed (largely, as far as I can tell) by non-educators, or educators who are, while maybe being idealistic, also working it for careers: "Oh, I've given up public teaching so I can work for this wonderful charter...It's a non-profit! They pay me $95,000 as CEO, and offer performance bonuses based on WASL scores! Yea!"

So it's true that "reformers" are putting up some good ideas. It's WHY that concerns me.

let's once again take the "achievement gap":

Most reformers point to this as a driving force. "Oh, the inequity!" they cry in despair. But what IS the achievement gap? No one knows: It's based solely on WASL scores or other such state tests, and it paints ALL minorities, or poor, or immigrant etc with one brush: You're black? Must be failing. There's no nuance, there's no recognition of the variable factors in each child's case...I mean, what IS "Black?"

So why the reliance on this? Because it provides a tool for painting whole schools with the same broad brush: This school is failing Blacks!

What a crock.

Some of the teachers might be failing some of the "Blacks" (as identified by the little checkbox on their registration) but to close a school? "Reform" it? What about all the GOOD teachers in that building? It's an insult.

Yes, I'm against people popping up with "reform" ideas, some of which are already in place in schools that are being closed, and I'm against the misuse of data to bring about "reform."

Charlie Mas said...

Teacher pay is not in any way based on the economic value that the teachers provide to the school or the District. An inexperienced teacher can fill the desk in front of a class at half the cost of an experienced teacher.

What school or district wouldn't be better served with twice as many inexperienced teachers in front of half as many students (or two to a classroom!) than with one experienced teacher in front of a full-size class?

Of course, that would totally remove the career path or salary growth for teachers. Without union protection or tenure they would quickly price themselves right out of a job - except for a few experienced teachers kept to mentor and help train all of the newbies.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

In my experience, it's the "insanely bad" teachers (or principals) that have the biggest impact on enrollment. One kindergarten teacher with a bad reputation can sink even a strong school since new parents will be scared away by the high odds of getting that teacher. But, I even know parents that have fled a middle school because of a bad teacher.

Charlie -- I'm confused by your line of thinking on the economics of rewards. We'd reward great teachers for academic results (obviously has to take into account the kids they get). There is federal money on the table right now that Seattle is walking away from that would fund it.

Bottom line for me: I'd be perfectly happy if the teachers union proposed the way to reward the best & move out the worst. Actually, I'd be perfectly happy if they just focused on moving out the worst. But, to just continue to blame the principals and administrators while the problem continues to affect hundreds of kids -- that's just passing the buck. Let's fix everything now - bad teachers, bad principals, and bad administrators. The needs of students must come first. It's not okay to err on the side of protecting adults when we're talking about a small number of adults, but hundreds of kids. When it's union vs. greedy CEO/shareholders, I'm sympathetic to union. I don't consider it anti-union to pick kids when it's union vs. kids. If the unions would take the lead on this issue, they'd find lots more parents supporting them on their other issues.

gavroche said...

Andrew -

Exactly how many "bad" teachers are you talking about? And how do you define "bad"? What is the exact number of teachers in SPS who are definitively "bad"? (Out of 3300, I believe it is.)

I don't understand why CPPS and NCTQ and the Alliance and other "education reformers" talk about "bad teachers" as if it is some kind of epidemic.

Is it? Where's your data?

And do you honestly believe that a computerized test (like MAP) given to kindergarteners who can't yet read provides a fair and valid assessment of anything, let alone of whether a teacher is helping a child progress and develop a love for learning?

Evaluating a teacher's worth based on standardized testing demonstrates a very, very narrow understanding of all that a teacher does and is and what it means to learn and grow as a student.

What about the epidemic of chronic underfunding of public schools? What about the problem of crowded classrooms? Even the best teacher can struggle with too many kids.

Of course every parent wants an inspired, energized, experienced, nurturing teacher for their child.

I know of a teacher at one school that some parents didn't like and other parents loved. Was she "good" or "bad"?

I know of another teacher at another school whose teaching failed to prepare the students for the following grade's expectations. Many parents were unhappy with this teacher. The principal claimed there was nothing he could do about the situation.

So who is at fault here? Arguably both the teacher and the principal.

Yes there are some "bad" teachers in some places, just as there are bad principals and bad executives and bad CEOs and bad school superintendents.

But does that mean that we need to create a Big Brotheresque database of all the teachers in all the districts in the nation, as the self-described "National Council on Teacher Quality" (http://www.nctq.org/p/) claims to be doing?

Does it mean we need to spend $14,000 on a "study" (http://www.alliance4ed.org/NCTQSeattleHumanCapital.pdf) by a politically affiliated organization that creepily and dismissively refers to teachers as "human capital" and tells them they should not be allowed to take a sick day on Mondays or Fridays (--under the presumption that teachers are slacking off and going skiing in Aspen on those luxurious long weekends they allegedly are taking)? Heaven forbid the teacher have a child who comes down with Swine Flu on a Monday or Friday.

(continued on next post)

gavroche said...


As for the money that you claim Seattle is "walking away from," with all due respect, the only ones in this district walking away from anything are those in the central office who are walking away from our children when they propose and vote to close or divide schools and programs (Summit, AAA, APP), break apart school communities and disperse -- primarily low-income -- children to the four winds (Cooper, TT Minor, Thurgood Marshall, Summit, AAA), vote to implement a failed math textbook that will leave our kids unprepared for college, put our kids in seismically unsafe and poorly maintained buildings while spending money on excess administration staff in the central office, and propose a "New Student Assignment Plan" that is inequitable.

Seattle has many great public schools, programs, choices and alternatives. These should help the state qualify for the federal "Race to the Top" funds.

It's strangely ironic that these very programs and schools are the ones this current Superintendent and Board have targeted and moved, split and potentially weakened this past year with their "Capacity Management" fiasco.

We in the SPS community aren't "walking away" from anything except a coercive, authoritarian decree from Pres. Obama's unqualified education secretary ("HECKUVA JOB, ARNE:
Why is Obama continuing the failed conservative & corporate-driven “education reform” policies of George Bush? by Horatio Guernica
who is trying to tell us local, independent school districts how to run our schools, using two blunt instruments, that don't even work.

WenD said...

John Stanford gave school principals control. He also promised to support the transition to neighborhood schools. Today, the blame for SPS's financial hole is leveled at spending at the school level. Who knows if this is true? SPS accounting has always been shady, but it appears we’ve been going around in circles, alternating between centralized control and school-centered decision-making.

I understand what Charlie is saying. The Insanely Great teachers, in my experience, operate under the radar. Their principals either agree with them, or simply leave them alone. Nobody acknowledges them. They often spend their own money to make things happen. They're independent. Nobody rewards them. The Alliance isn't paying for their supplies or supporting their efforts. (If they were supporting them, I'd love to see a spending report. Their reason for being is “stewardship” of donated dollars.)

What would you call an Insanely Great teacher? An outlier? There is nothing is the way we manage schools that encourages or cultivates exceptional teachers. You’re lucky if you find them.

I hear complaints about bad teachers, and I believe them. I've met them, my kids have suffered under their supervision, and the situation is always the same: there are two camps existing in the same building. When my son was a Hamilton, the efforts of the counselors and select teachers were either unknown or despised by the principal and other teachers on other floors. They functioned at cross-purposes. If you find a school where everyone basically operates from the same playbook, reaching for the same goals, then you're just lucky. Nothing makes this happen at the district level. There is no brand of Alliance-approved fairy dust that makes it so.
10/28/09 6:32 AM

Charlie Mas said...

I've got an idea!

Let the Alliance put their money where their mouth is. Let the Alliance identify the "insanely great" or "highly effective" teachers - according to whatever metric they want to use - and let the Alliance send them a little bonus check.

Since it isn't coming from the District, it would happen entirely outside the collective bargaining agreement. Since the Alliance is doing it all on their own they can unilaterally determine the criteria, the metrics, and the assessments for "teacher quality". They won't need the District, the Union or the community to agree on it at all.

The Alliance does their assessment, reviews their data, identifies the teachers, and sends out the checks.

Then we can see how it impacts the District's ability to recruit and retain high quality teachers. Then we can have some practical experience with merit pay. Then the Alliance can show everyone how merit pay is the road to glory.

I'm sure the Gates Foundation or the Broad Foundation would underwrite this sort of program. This is preaching right out of their gospel.

uxolo said...

Charlie said, "Let the Alliance put their money where their mouth is. Let the Alliance identify the "insanely great" or "highly effective" teachers - according to whatever metric they want to use - and let the Alliance send them a little bonus check."

Great idea. But the Alliance gets its money from the public through donations. They funnel from the schools.

Principals have all been in the classroom. All of our administrators need to get in the classroom and demonstrate what "insanely great" looks and sounds like. Or they need to get out of the system. They need to put performance management systems in place that cost nothing - compliment our excellent teachers. Print up certificates of excellence Do you know that strong teachers who use great procedures with excellent curricula and have no classroom management problems are embarrassed to admit that in a staff meeting because "tooting your own horn" makes them look like a goody-goody? It is the principal who sets the tone and can nurture or thwart a healthy environment. Teacher meetings often focus on what's wrong instead of what's right and that's no way to get to the top.

Federal funds are issued to the failures, not to the successful - the whole system couldn't be more backwards. The danger is in letting people who are not experts in teaching and learning act like they are because they are old enough to write a book or start a charter company.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Gavroche --
No, of course, I cannot name the number of bad teachers, but let me ask you a question: Do you think the number is zero?
And if one Math teacher in middle school is bad at teaching Math, don't you think all the other Math teachers in the department know that (especially those who have to teach those kids the next year)? Please tell me why you are so worried about protecting that one adult at the expense of the 100+ kids who don't learn what they are supposed to learn in that class?
This is clearly not a significant problem to you -- but it is to many parents -- especially those whose kids have had the bad luck of getting one of those teachers. I don't know where to draw the line as to what makes a bad teacher, but let's at least have a line. If the principals aren't doing their job when it comes to bad teachers, then maybe the teachers union should speak up about that. (Yes, yes -- let's get rid of bad principals and admins too -- I said that in my original comment. And I also specifically said I'd like to see the teachers define what makes a bad teacher - I'd hope they wouldn't base it on the MAP test for a kindergarten teacher, as you suggested I was supporting.) And, I fully acknowledge there are many other problems in the district -- does that mean we can't solve this one too?
It sounds to me like you are associated with the union and maybe not even a parent yourself. I can assure you that as long as bad teachers remain in schools and the union has no position other than "who's to say what makes a bad teacher" and "it's the principals fault", there will always be parents who want to talk about this issue. If we could get past this issue -- and agree to put kids first -- then parents and the teachers union would be great natural allies to seek out greater funding, greater support for teachers, etc.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

As for Charlie's idea... I like the idea of the Alliance putting their money into the system rather than to outside consultants, but I don't think individuals should get an award. Teaching is a team activity, so whole teams should be rewarded (or not) based on the performance of the team. I think that would also give teachers a stake in improving their peers or managing them out if they don't improve. The awards should go to teams who show success where it is least expected.

WenD said...

Andrew, I would like to hear feedback from teachers on your idea that teaching is a team activity. This isn't product dev.

wseadawg said...

Andrew K: While I appreciate your interests in the subject, your "bad teacher" mantra seems disproportional and misplaced. You state that one family left a middle school because of one bad teacher? Sounds pretty irrational to me. When I got assigned to teachers I or my parents didn't like, my parents went the the administration and got me moved to another class. Do you suggest that cannot happen in SPS? And what about that "bad math teacher?" Did the parents follow up and try to do anything about it, within the current system? What was the principal's position concerning that teacher? Did they whine about the union too, like so many do, instead of doing their job and pursuing disciplinary measures? I'd like to know the rest of the story to determine its legitimacy.

I'm also struck by the lack of understanding of collective bargaining negotiations by the crowds who spout all the reformist rhetoric. If you want better systems in place to remove bad teachers, demand the administration fight for them at contract negotiation time (as they plan to do already, btw). But it seems that you go on and on with the bad teacher mantra which not only emulates the straw man arguments of the current crop of edu-reformers, but which is also utilized repeatedly as a trojan horse for changes and reforms that we, the public, absolutely do not want. "Bad Teacher" in this context is no different than Reagan's supposed "Welfare Queen with seven Social Security Numbers" in the 1980's, or the "Farmers and Small Business People having to sell their farms to pay Estate Taxes" in the 2000's - None of which ever existed, but both made nice stories that led to legislation being repealed.

seattle citizen said...

Andrew: You keep writing about these "bad" teachers.

Please tell us ALL hte possible inidcators of a "bad" teacher; and please tell us ALL the possible indicators of a "good" teacher.

Since you're so sure that these "bad" teachers are screwing so many students up, surely you have an extensive list of what, in fact, makes a bad teacher?

SolvayGirl said...

The alliance used to have a way to recognize "insanely great teachers" a number of years ago (at least 5). They had an annual event to recognize the best teachers, programs and schools. Parents had to nominate (with an involved form and essay). The winners were given $1,000 for themselves and $1,000 for their school/program.

The awards program was great with terrific guest speakers (Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, etc.) Graham Hill's stellar vocal music teacher Cherrie Adams was a recipient when Harry belafonte was speaker, so she had the double prize of meeting a great musician/vocalist/activist.

uxolo said...

Charlie said, "Let the Alliance put their money where their mouth is. Let the Alliance identify the "insanely great" or "highly effective" teachers - according to whatever metric they want to use - and let the Alliance send them a little bonus check."

Great idea. But the Alliance gets its money from the public through donations. They funnel from the schools.

Principals have all been in the classroom. All of our administrators need to get in the classroom and demonstrate what "insanely great" looks and sounds like. Or they need to get out of the system. They need to put performance management systems in place that cost nothing - compliment our excellent teachers. Print up certificates of excellence Do you know that strong teachers who use great procedures with excellent curricula and have no classroom management problems are embarrassed to admit that in a staff meeting because "tooting your own horn" makes them look like a goody-goody? It is the principal who sets the tone and can nurture or thwart a healthy environment. Teacher meetings often focus on what's wrong instead of what's right and that's no way to get to the top.

Federal funds are issued to the failures, not to the successful - the whole system couldn't be more backwards. The danger is in letting people who are not experts in teaching and learning act like they are because they are old enough to write a book or start a charter company.

anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gavroche said...

Blogger Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Gavroche --
No, of course, I cannot name the number of bad teachers, but let me ask you a question: Do you think the number is zero?

It sounds to me like you are associated with the union and maybe not even a parent yourself.

Once again, your presumptions are wrong. I am an SPS parent with no affiliation with the union. My child has had excellent teachers, good teachers and one that some other parents considered "bad." My child learned a great deal from all of them.

I agree that there should be a way to re-train or remove a demonstrably "bad" teacher.

I just don't happen to believe in demonizing teachers and union-bashing and playing into political agendas that have nothing to do with the truth and what's best for the kids.

I also don't believe that trademarked ("Measures of Academic Progress™") standardized tests of children accurately or wholly measure the value of a teacher and his/her efforts.

Your response also illustrates one of my points: you and CPPS, NCTQ, our current superintendent and the Broad and Gates Foundation types have a troubling tendency to make sweeping statements and judgments based on prejudices and questionable information.

I never said there are no "bad" teachers. I asked you how many objectively certifiably "bad" teachers there are among Seattle's 3,300 public school teachers, and if that really constitutes a rampant problem. And is it truly the most significant problem facing our kids' education?

Is it more of a problem than say, the chronic underfunding of schools? Bad curriculum and texts imposed by central office administrators and voted on by a wrongheaded school board? Overcrowded classrooms? The constant upheaval caused by school closures?

What about the greater socioeconomic factors that affect a child's educational opportunities?

How can any teacher -- "insanely great" or not -- be expected to transcend decades of socioeconomic inequity?

Let's just say I am wary of simple solutions and put off by scapegoating. I also find it especially distasteful to see wealthy and politically connected people and organizations take aim at a profession that by and large performs heroically with inadequate pay and appreciation.

I am also wary of any "solution" that punishes thousands of people for the faults of a few.

anonymous said...

wsseadawg, we have found in SPS you can not simply get your child transferred out of a class because you don't like the teacher. In fact in MS and HS counselors send home notes saying that they will only grant classroom changes if there is a scheduling mistake, and not to contact them for any other reason. But lets go with your suggestion that would allow parents to simply call the school and get their kids changed to another classroom. What would happen? All the kids with involved parents would get their kids moved into a good teachers class and the kids with uninvolved parents would get the crappy teachers. Worse, the teacher would be allowed to continue merrily along, and the situation wouldn't be addressed. Does this seem right to you?

Seattle Citizen I understand why you feel the way you do as you are a teacher yourself, and you don't have a child in SPS, so you look at this issue from a different perspective than many parents do. Can you honestly say that you have never worked with an ineffective or bad teacher or administrator? How about Dr. Drake? You worked under him, what did you think of his leadership at Marshall?

I understand that it is hard to quantify a teachers effectiveness or how good (or bad) they are. But we need to come up with some measures don't we?

Here are some of my thoughts (from a parent perspective):
Peer evaluations. Teacher evaluations filled out by MS and HS students? Teacher evaluations filled out by parents for elementary teachers? Principals actually evaluating teachers? Ed directors actually evaluating principals? Looking at a teachers history (multiple complaints, parents requesting their kids not be placed in that teachers class, etc)

hschinske said...

I wish I were at liberty to post the description I received of two math teachers at Whitman in 2004 and 2005. It would be pretty darned clear just how bad things can get (chaotic and dangerous classrooms, no math knowledge, etc.). Both teachers were eventually forced out, but the process took months longer than should have been necessary.

Helen Schinske

seattle citizen said...


Marshall? Is that a school? Drake who? I, in my anonymity, know not of what you speak.

But I've HEARD that Dr. Drake was an incredible ally for many, many students in some ways. I've heard he fought hard for services and attention on students the rest of the city might rather not think about.

I've also heard that he also, as a human, had some habits I wouldn't consider especially modern or even good...

Did his "pros" outweigh his "cons"?

I've heard they did.

Should he have been "modernized" to meet the current political climate and ways of the District? Depends on who you ask.

Was Marshall (and Drake) treated to due review and respect? I'd ask the public, what did THEY hear about the school, and from what sources?

And where are the "sorts" of students who used to go to Marshall now?

Dorothy Neville said...

I'm with Andrew and Adhoc here. Been there and done that. I've explained the situation here before in a long ago thread about really bad teachers. Someone can search for the details if they want.

So the principal and the school psychologist privately told me my kid should be moved, with that sigh of "oh dear, we all know she's terrible but what can we do!". But at the SIT the teacher started crying how her feelings were hurt. (actual tears and all) and reminded the principal that it was completely against the school's philosophy to move a child and that if she broke that policy, many other parents would be asking for changes. So the principal agreed with her and blamed us parents for raising a five year old to be so disrespectful he made his kindergarten teacher cry. We left the school instead.

(At a different school, his first grade teacher had heard about this and I guess she withheld judgment. Because after a couple months, she came up to me almost apologetically and a bit surprised, saying that my son was always very well behaved.)

As far as I know, that teacher is still there. That principal however got canned! I know there was a threatened lawsuit, don't know the result. Last time I googled she was a principal in another district.

Contrast that with Roosevelt, a school that had suffered weak leadership for years. Brian Vance came in and in less than two years, the two most horrible teachers were gone. One in midyear even. Yes, they were horrible. Widely known to be horrible. He did his job. Dotted his i's and crossed his t's and got results. I have no idea if those teachers are still in the district or teaching elsewhere. But the principal did his job and got them removed from his domain.

wseadawg said...

Dorothy & Helen: It seems pretty clear that, in fact, if the principal is effective, the bad teachers can be removed, even mid-year. Adhoc: You have experienced what many of us have: People within the schools who aren't willing to take up the fight of removing bad teachers. That's where much of the problem lies.

Another compounding problem is that for many teachers who some parents believe are awful, many other parents will think they are great.

An ongoing problem I have witnessed first-hand is lazy principals throwing up their hands and saying, "I can't do this or that because of the union," which, in most cases, is a complete and total cop-out.

There is a system in place to remove bad teachers, but it's not getting used because it isn't expedient enough or easy enough for principals to do their jobs. So nothing gets done.

Realistically, without large-scale changes in the union policies that throw the baby out with the bathwater, thereby subjecting good teachers to the whims of bad principals, there will always be due process protections in place for all teachers, which principals and parents will have to go through to get rid of bad teachers.

I'm with anyone who favors expedited procedures and time-frames, but there has to be something that empowers parents to force principals and administrators to do their job and remove bad teachers.

A recurrent theme on this blog is administrators and principals copping-out, yet I don't see anywhere near equal time on that subject compared to the attention given to "bad teachers."

We have to delve into the actual facts to see where the system is breaking down. I believe we will more often find the fault to be with people in positions of power who aren't doing their jobs, than we will with an obstructionist union.

Sue said...

I am with Andrew and Ad Hoc and Dorothy. Bad teachers and principals can indeed cripple a school, cause families to leave mid-year, and damage the reputation. Ask Whittier. Ask Whitman. Ask Greenwood, the list can go on. It is naive to think people don't leave because of one bad teacher. They do. I and others like me have.
As for a strong principal being able to get rid of a teacher mid-year, you are missing the piece that the principals and SEA rules cause parents to act as the enforcer, logging hours in the clasroom, writing letters, etc, as a group, and that is how the teacher gets removed. It is a painful and disturbing process, because the teacher's union makes it one.

The union needs to change it's focus on protecting teachers at all costs, or there can never be reform.

wseadawg said...

AdHoc: You're lumping "bad teachers and principals" together when the principal is supposed to hold the teachers accountable. They don't go in the same basket, but it seems like many on this blog put them there. If you have a bad teacher and a bad principal, then indeed it would be a very difficult trap to escape if you feel stuck with a bad teacher. But in that scenario, you have a failure of management and labor, not just labor. With all the teacher and union bashing that goes on in broad daylight, we do a disservice to ignore and give a free pass to management (principals) who play such a key role in protecting bad teachers.

Where is the NCPQ? There isn't one.

I support getting rid of bad teachers, but let's not forget managements' failures in allowing this problem to go on. They signed the two party union contract. Give them their share of the blame, or you certainly won't fix the problem.

TechyMom said...

Why is it against policy to move a student to a different class if the student or parents request it? Seems like that would be a fairly easy fix. It doesn't really matter why a student and teacher aren't clicking, whether it's an actual shortcoming on the teacher's part, or just incompatible personalities, wouldn't everyone be happier if the student could move to a different class? If you find that a particular teacher has more of these requests than is typical, that would be a good reason to start looking at why, and to do interventions to correct the problem.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

I want to be clear: I LOVE TEACHERS... love 'em, love 'em, love 'em. The vast majority of them are amazing: the amount of work they do while under-funded, under-supported, under-compensated. In fact, I think they such have a huge impact on kids and they are so important, that we should not tolerate a situation where there isn't a good teacher. Like every other profession -- sometimes people don't perform as expected for a variety of reasons.

Here's a simple solution:
In exchange for removing the clauses that protect all teachers equally -- whether good & bad (e.g. no record kept of performance issues, layoffs can't look at performance, etc.), we add a different clause to the contract: Any teacher removal due to a performance issue must be approved by a peer-review committee managed by the union. In other words, other teachers have to agree that there are legitimate grounds to dismiss that teacher. So, human judgment comes into play -- not straight test scores, parent feedback, the opinion of the principal, or any one consideration.

I'm aware of the "political agendas" that some of you have mentioned. What I'm trying to say is that I want to SUPPORT the union and teachers against many of these "agendas" but I -- like many other parents -- cannot do so while the issues of over-protection for bad teachers exists.

You can say I'm wrong. You can say bad teachers don't really exist. You can say the discussion is misguided. But you cannot deny that this issue is *perceived* to be a large issue by many parents. It would be a wise political move for the union to take the lead on this rather than resist.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, Principal Vance did get rid of two highly ineffective teachers but naturally, not before my son had both of them. (He had been on notice for a whole year before the one teacher was transferred out mid-year.) We did try (too late) to transfer my son out of one class but they had so many transfers, we were told no. (And Techy Mom, at the high school level, it is very difficult to just switch classes.)

We have had this discussion before about teacher performance and I'll say what I said then - I see no compelling reason why it can't be done and done fairly. Andrew gives an example - a peer-review committee.

Everyone gets a performance review in their job. It can be done for teachers as well and it is puzzling to see pushback.

As well, I think there should be some kind of performance credit for teachers who do better (with weight given the school they teach in, students, etc.). I like to think teachers teach for the love of it but everyone deserves a pat on the back when they do a great job. A teacher at Roosevelt got an award as the top Japanese high school teacher in the U.S. and while I'm sure she is proud for the honor, a little money would have been nice as well.

I don't see it as insurmountable IF everyone goes into the process with an open mind.

I'm a little confused over the "team teaching" phrase. While I believe that everyone in a school is working towards a common goal and certain grades/departments plan together, at the end of the day it's one teacher with one class.

Last, I am pro-union. Came from a union town, father was in a union, I get it. It is interesting that many teachers in charter schools (with no unions, remember, that's allegedly what makes them great) are now starting to want to unionize. But unions do have their own agendas and protecting ineffective teachers is wrong. (You'll note I said ineffective. I think there are very few "bad" teachers but I do think the category of "ineffective" is far larger and needs to be addressed.) Teachers know what effective teaching looks like and I think Andrew's idea is a good one.

wseadawg said...

I wouldn't characterize those who question the high profile attention bad teachers get as being union defenders or defenders of the status quo. If they are bad, they should go.

What I see is a concerted effort to call attention to this problem without enough attention being paid to the leadership failures that allow bad teachers to become malignant problems.

I think it's important to realize that the same administration that is screwing up so many households and lives as this one is, is licking its chops at all the negative stereotypes being propagated about the teachers union, and getting a free pass (it seems) as is the principals union who are equally, if not more responsible for any and all bad teachers in the classroom. If we want real movement from the teachers union, we need to demand equal responsibility from the principals union and the administration that lord over the teachers.

I don't see anyone defending bad teachers anywhere. Get rid of them now. But I think we need to pay attention to each contributing cause to the problem of the proverbial bad teacher, and I rarely, if ever, see the issue of others' responsibilities raised, or solutions or ideas being offered to correct those problems.

Again, I reiterate, this is a management problem too, if not foremost. Don't feed the SPS monster by letting the principals and admins off the hook.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

I fully agree that principals and admins should not be off the hook.

Also, when I say teaching is a team activity, I'm talking about 13 grades of a child's experience... it's a long race with multiple teachers passing the baton, so to speak. The problem with individual compensation is that it doesn't reward all of the less personally-attributable work that goes into making your peers better, managing and coordinating transitions, etc.

But, as with the other discussion, I'd be all in favor of teachers telling us what they think is the most fair way to encourage and reward great teaching, if we go that route.

BullDogger said...

MW said...

"Yes, Principal Vance did get rid of two highly ineffective teachers but naturally, not before my son had both of them. (He had been on notice for a whole year before the one teacher was transferred out mid-year.)"

You say the ineffective teacher was "transferred out". Was it a transfer to central administration, another school or the unemployment line? I've seen the first two happen but not the third.

Also, I'm with Wseadawg. Two parties sign that contract. The district's role in this represents their own, ongoing ineffectiveness.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Bulldogger, we weren't privy to that information as to where the teacher went. I'm hoping he is gone from our district because it is clear he is a hopeless case. I personally think he should never teach again but I don't think that is possible unless you break the law.

wseadawg said...

Andrew K said:
I'd be all in favor of teachers telling us what they think is the most fair way to encourage and reward great teaching, if we go that route.

Boom! There it is! Before we start "quarterbacking" solutions we should be listening to our "linemen." If anyone knows what plays are going to work, it's them.

Josh Hayes said...

I'd also like to emphasize for readers who may not be aware of this that there aren't just two "players" here - SPS and teachers - there is also a Principal's union. This complicates the issue, as I'm sure we can all imagine.

Me, I'm just a parent of two kids in SPS with no connection to either union nor to SPS management.

BTW, I posted a followup to the Loyal Heights meeting last night and I'd love to get some feedback from other readers who were there. Perhaps it could be added onto that thread.

Patrick said...

Andrew, of course layoffs can't look at performance. The layoff process is for cases where there's not enough work for staff to do, period. That's why laid off teachers can be transferred elsewhere without it being a blot on their record. Layoffs are not a way of shortcutting due process required to counsel, discipline, or fire poorly-performing teachers.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

I disagree, Patrick. When the Mariners have to cut players to get their roster size down after spring training, of course they look at performance. Why can a baseball team choose to keep their best players but the people in charge of teaching our kids cannot? Especially if you require teachers union oversight (as I've suggested) to ensure no dismissals just to shed larger salaries, get back at whistle-blowers, etc.

TechyMom said...

OT, but really cool New UW program clears way to 3-year degree for kids with 45 AP and/or Running Start credits, saving them a year's tuition.

hschinske said...

The UW has been kicking students out for having too many credits for a while. Seems to me this new program might be in part a way to put a spin on a phenomenon that isn't always seen as such a happy thing. A lot of people would *rather* get their full four-year college experience. Some would rather put their extensive AP credits toward a double major rather than get out of school early.

I would be curious to know whether they allow students to get second bachelor's degrees any longer. I suspect not. Two of my siblings had a late-blooming interest in science and went back to college, first at community colleges and then transferring to the UW for second bachelor's degrees. I am not quite sure where they would have gone had the UW not been open to them. I realize that the UW is overcrowded and owes its first debt to getting as many students as possible through their first degree and their first major, but it is a great pity that should conflict with the needs of other students wanting to do more than average. Not sure what the solution is.

I am not, of course, opposed to students graduating early if they wish to do so. I just think they ought to have more of a choice on how to use their credits.

Helen Schinske

Dorothy Neville said...

I guess what it boils down to: do you want the degree as quickly and efficiently as possible or do you want to relish the opportunity to learn new things?

Patrick said...

Baseball is not a good analogy to teaching, or most real-life jobs. The skills that define a good baseball player are defined, quantifiable, and free of influences outside the player's control. If teaching were that simple, running the schools would be much easier.

seattle citizen said...

Yeah, and if teachers were paid like Mariners players, attracting good teachers would be easy, too!

Anonymous said...

CPPS and Scott Oki: Kool-Aid Anyone?

OK, first, you know how I like my context.

The presentation by Mr. Oki was set in the enormous cavern of a library at Garfield High School.

In the heyday of corporate interior design, this space would have been a striking example of how to spend the most money possible. The library is a two story space with this skylight roof system that is well detailed and probably one of the most expensive ceiling systems that you will see in Seattle. I kept thinking that I was in a corporate headquarters in New York or LA and I have been in many. I have managed the construction of several corporate spaces in both cities. There are built in bookcases that are finely crafted, top of the line light systems and all of the shelves were filled with books in perfect order. In the middle of the space is another room which is one story high and again beautifully designed and detailed. In this space are computers and a lectern. The library space would have been top of the line for any corporate office but for a school in Seattle with so many financial problems that schools purportedly needed to be closed? The expenditure is highly questionable. I understand that the cost overruns on this building went into the millions and I can see why. Did someone actually tell the architect to go full steam ahead and spare no expense? It certainly looked like that was the message.

It’s a shame to know that money was taken from such programs as SBOC, $10M from SBOC to be exact, to pay for some of these cost overruns when it is apparent that much of this cost was completely unnecessary. It’s also a shame to know that so many other schools are in such disrepair and seismically unsafe and yet so much money was poured into this remodel.

But, I was not there to critically view Versailles, I was there to listen to Mr. Scott Oki.

Mr. Oki was introduced by another former Microsoft employee, Andrew Kwatinetz, who is Vice President of CPPS. Mr. Oki made his fortune working at Microsoft as Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

The first thing that Mr. Oki said is “I am not an expert” which was an excellent way to start his presentation since he has never taught in a classroom, or had any experience with public education since going to a public school in Seattle when he was in grade school. We found out later that all four of his children attend Lakeside, an exclusive private school that Bill Gates attended also when in high school. So his experience with Seattle Public Schools by his own admission is limited.

He explained that over the years, his focus in terms of philanthropic work has been in child health care. Then, two years ago, his wife approached him regarding dealing with public education, telling him that “if anyone can fix the problem, you can”. With those words, Mr. Oki found out as much as he could about public school education. A few Google searches later and a trip to KIPP and he had all of the answers that he needed.

He said that he looked at both sides of the issue, which to me was interesting because I didn’t know that there were two sides to public education, and decided that the approach to K-12 education was to see educational reform as a business. Hmm, teaching children is a business. OK, that’s a relatively new point of view.

He went on to say that he had, as he termed it, a 2X4 moment, which for some of us might be called an epiphany, when he realized that nothing about K-12 education made sense.

His talking points went like this:

In the United States, there are more non-teachers than teachers on our public school payrolls and that we have the highest ratio internationally in that regard. OK. A good tidbit of useful information that someone can run with.

Anonymous said...

Tenure. (Oh no, here it comes) Do teachers really need tenure? In Seattle, when it is desired to remove a teacher from their position, as with any firing, there is a systematic, and lengthy, process that one has to go through, otherwise, lawsuits might ensue. It’s more of a cya for SPS than anything else.

We need an objective way of evaluating teachers. (The rallying cry of the educational reformists. Step One: Teaching Assessments). There is no difference in pay between “really good teachers and crumby teachers”.

Principals should be the CEO of their schools.

Standardized curriculum doesn’t work, as in the standardized math that was used in the Seattle Public School system.

Some school districts in the state of Washington have six students, some have 100 students and some districts have 200 students and yet they have a bureaucracy and one would assume a well paid superintendent as well. Again,the issue of bureaucracy. A person at Microsoft would definitely be able to know a bureaucracy when they see one.

We should have choice in terms of schools.

OK, good talking points. And then he began with “How to affect change” and said that it would take many years to change the system and that grassroots activism was a good start and then that was it! It was time for Q and A. I was just getting ready for the good part, a solution to the problem and then it was over!

So then we went into questions from the audience.

Regarding student testing: We don’t need testing for teachers to evaluate a student. What is needed is to provide resources to teach when help is needed.

I don’t know that there was a question for this statement. Mr. Oki would kind of go off topic sometimes but at one point during his answer, he said that “I will go on record. The superintended should be fired for suggesting that students be graduated with a “D” average.” On that one point we could agree.

Again, kind of off topic he said that “every single school should have a board of directors”, like charter schools. I was wondering when this would come up in the conversation.

Mr. Oki said that the mayor or the state government should establish these boards in the schools. OK, now we’re talking mayoral control.

Now it was my turn to ask a question and I admit, by this time I was tired of hearing that teachers were the root of all evil and that teachers thought more about themselves than they did the children they were teaching. Of course, my feelings were based on the fact that I have a child in public school and against all odds, most of my daughter’s teachers had been wonderfully caring, supportive, capable and able to challenge my child’s abilities and make going to school something to look forward to.

My first question, OK, since you think that teachers are just in it for themselves and don’t care about the students who they are in charge of educating, what so you think that the merit pay should be based on? Well, Mr. Oki responded, that would have to be worked out. He went on to say that merit pay would make the teachers focus on the child.

He said that “it is a business” and of course, I had to disagree.

I came back and said that at this point it is based on standardized, high stakes, testing, what would you suggest?

Anonymous said...

He then brought up KIPP schools as a good example of a charter school.
According to others, that is not the case. See:

Bay Area KIPP schools lose 60% of their students, study confirms

Charter school faces withdrawals over punishment


Recess: Happy playtime or hellhole of fighting and bullying?


Mr. Oki started to talk about a principal that he met at a KIPP school who received her MBA at Stanford who was always on her Blackberry. He asked, how often does that happen in public schools? (I answered to myself, thank God, never) He said that teachers in charter schools like KIPP couldn’t be hampered by “silly laws” like having teaching certificates. Of course, that could mean that they would have to pay the teachers more. You have to keep your cost down in charter schools because of course, it IS a business.

It was obvious that the presentation lacked substance. There were a few good talking points but there was no depth in terms of an understanding of how public schools run or are managed, particularly in Seattle.

It was interesting to me that he had no knowledge of how alternative school programs fit the bill to most of his talking points. Fortunately someone else after the presentation provided him with an education to that and other points about public school education in Seattle.

Signing off for now.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I wanted to make sure about this before posting it, but teachers in Seattle do not have tenure in the job protection sense so it does seem that Mr. Oki does need to do a bit more homework on public education in Seattle or at least get his terminology straightened out.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Oki, A Primer on Tenure vs. Seniority with Teachers in the Seattle Public School System

After Mr. Oki's presentation, I wanted to get clear on the difference between tenure and seniority. Mr. Oki had mentioned tenure and the necessity of eliminating it from the Seattle teachers' contracts but it was my understanding that teachers in Seattle were not tenured.

So after a few e-mails to those who know more than I do on this subject, I got the skinny.

It goes as follows:

Seniority ensures effective teachers in the classroom

1. Eliminating seniority from the contract works against the goal of a high quality teaching staff. Studies indicate teachers are "learning the ropes" during their first five years on the job; thus it is illogical to suggest teachers in their early years of the profession are of the same quality as seasoned teachers. Therefore, in order to keep high quality teachers in the classroom, the less experienced teachers must be let go first, whenever conditions for a Reduction in Force exists.

2. Seniority makes it more difficult for employers to cover up an arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory layoff, safeguarding whistle blowers and anyone who speaks up regarding wrongdoing. Teachers often speak up at staff meetings and testify at school board meetings on the behalf of students. Without seniority, issues of student safety and a deeper understanding of student achievement might go unheard.

3. 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.

4. Seniority does not preclude dismissals for ineffective teaching. In the recent district audit, McKinsey & Co. noted the district underutilized the dismissal mechanisms in the current teacher contract. This is due to principals who are unable or unwilling to do their state mandated job of teacher evaluation. The Superintendent evaluates the principal corps. (No Seattle principals were dismissed last year.)

5. The Union can not stop dismissals; they can only ensure workers have their due process protected. In the uncommon case of an ineffective teacher still in the classroom after the first two years, it is the principal who is responsible to insist on rigorous improvement plans followed by dismissal, if needed.

6. What is to stop a district from seeing the financial benefits of laying off the most experienced, ergo most expensive, teachers? What controls would otherwise prevent the dismissal of a teacher just prior to retirement eligibility?

OK, that makes sense.

Now, Mr. Oki, is there anything that you would care to retract?

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Dora - you're lucky Nova is a good fit for your child. Their principal Mark Perry is outstanding, so no surprise it works well. But, does your positive experience mean that other parents are not correct when they claim (often in large numbers) that there are problem teachers in place in some schools? And, if Nova was forced to cut teachers, do you really believe that every teacher with 3 years and 2 months of experience is better than every teacher with 3 years and 1 month of experience? Because that is what bullet point #1 says, is it not? Shouldn't a principal as strong as Mark Perry and a community as strong as Nova's be trusted to use some judgment when it comes to staffing decisions? I understand the fear that judgment can be applied unfairly but that's a poor excuse for banishing any kind of judgment.