School Reform: Who Knows Best?

The NY Times had an article about Education Secretary Arne Duncan who used to head Chicago schools. The article explains how his turnaround strategy of closing schools and reenrolling students elsewhere didn't help students much, if at all. From the study:

"This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.

The report demonstrates that the success of a school closing policy hinges on the quality of the receiving schools that accept the displaced students. One year after school closings, displaced students who re-enrolled in the weakest receiving schools (those with test scores in the bottom quartile of all system schools) experienced an achievement loss of more than a month in reading and half-a-month in math. Meanwhile, students who re-enrolled in the strongest receiving schools (those in the top quartile) experienced an achievement gain of nearly one month in reading and more than two months in math."

From the NY Times article:

"Partly because of the disruption caused by the closings, Mr. Duncan changed strategy after 2006. Instead of closing schools permanently, or for a year, and then reopening with a new staff, he shifted to the turnaround approach, in which the staff of failing schools was replaced over the summer but the same students returned in the fall.

The new report focused only on the elementary schools closed permanently from 2001 to 2006, and thus offers no conclusions about the effectiveness of the turnaround strategy."

But Secretary Duncan says turnaround is the way to go. Within the article was a link to another article from Education Next called The Turnaround Fallacy about the history of education reform. It was quite engaging until you get to the part where - the clouds part and the angels sing - the author says the way to go is ... charters. I don't want to discredit the whole article because I thought there were good points. Still, I felt it was overkill for Yay Charters! From the article:

"Looking back on the history of school turnaround efforts, the first and most important lesson is the “Law of Incessant Inertia.” Once persistently low performing, the majority of schools will remain low performing despite being acted upon in innumerable ways."

"The second important lesson is the “Law of Ongoing Ignorance.” Despite years of experience and great expenditures of time, money, and energy, we still lack basic information about which tactics will make a struggling school excellent. A review published in January 2003 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation of more than 100 books, articles, and briefs on turnaround efforts concluded, “There is, at present, no strong evidence that any particular intervention type works most of the time or in most places.”

"And the Obama administration too has bought into the notion that turnarounds are the key to improving urban districts. Education secretary Arne Duncan has said that if the nation could turn around 1,000 schools annually for five years, “We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children.” In the administration’s 2009 stimulus legislation, $3 billion in new funds were appropriated for School Improvement Grants, which aid schools in NCLB improvement status. The administration requested an additional $1.5 billion for this program in the 2010 budget. This is all on top of the numerous streams of existing federal funds that can be—and have been—used to turn around failing schools.

The dissonance is deafening. The history of urban education tells us emphatically that turnarounds are not a reliable strategy for improving our very worst schools. So why does there remain a stubborn insistence on preserving fix-it efforts?

The most common, but also the most deeply flawed, justification is that there are high-performing schools in American cities. That is, some fix-it proponents point to unarguably successful urban schools and then infer that scalable turnaround strategies are within reach. In fact, it has become fashionable among turnaround advocates to repeat philosopher Immanuel Kant’s adage that “the actual proves the possible.”

But as a Thomas B. Fordham Foundation study noted, “Much is known about how effective schools work, but it is far less clear how to move an ineffective school from failure to success…. Being a high-performing school and becoming a high-performing school are very different challenges.”

Now this all sounds right. The article continues with the information that most charters do not do turnarounds (meaning, close a school and change the administration/focus but have the same students come right back to the same school); they open entirely new schools.

And it's here where it all goes to how charters can do it better because they reinvent a school. So why can't that be done by a school district?

"Tom Torkelson, CEO of the high-performing IDEA network agrees: “I don’t do turnarounds because a turnaround usually means operating within a school system that couldn’t stomach the radical steps we’d take to get the school back on track. We fix what’s wrong with schools by changing the practices of the adults, and I believe there are few examples where this is currently possible without meddling from teacher unions, the school board, or the central office.”

Okay, I'll bite; where's the oversight?

About Education Next:

Mission Statement
In the stormy seas of school reform, this journal will steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments. Bold change is needed in American K–12 education, but Education Next partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points.


wseadawg said…
Great work MW. As many of us who've paid close attention have come to realize, there is no silver bullet to reform bad schools with. It takes a long, and sustained hall, just to move the needle at all with disadvantaged groups. The recent CREDO study from Stanford showed that charters overall do no better than traditional schools, and the attrition rates at charter schools is disturbingly high between 5th and 8th grades, suggesting that despite all the attention, resources, high expectations and support, disadvantaged kids still experience high dropout rates, along with unimaginable blows to their already sensitive self-esteem having "flunked" out of charters and being returned to the same old regular school.

To those who continue to say things like "class size doesn't matter" and "the most important determinate of success is the quality of the teacher" (in isolation, as though a child's home and family don't trump that factor), I say, get real. Society's problems walk right through the door with the most vulnerable and at risk kids, and living in denial, but having energetic young teachers is not going to change that.

To answer the question that is the topic, the answer is most certainly not Arne Duncan, nor the crony-filled caravan of charter operators and profiteers in his wake.
Shannon said…
Hi Melissa
I am new to education policy and certainly to this whole issue of School Reform. I gather than you and many informed contributors are opposed to Charter Schools. Can you point me to some info or explanation on why they are a 'bad' option? I have seen them written about widely in the national press and many districts and parents seem to find them appealing.
gavroche said…
Hi Shannon,
Here are a couple of places where you might start:

Seattle Education 2010

While Seattle Sleeps

The Broad Report

The Perimeter Primate


Our Global Education

Gotham Schools

Schools Matter
Joan NE said…
I read with skepticism the finding of the TBFF (Thomas B.Fordham Foundation) that there is no known remedy for failing schools. If all the following remedies are known to be unsuccessul:

1. Doing everything and anything to revive a failed school, while leaving staff and students in the building
2. Moving kids out of a failed program into a different program in a different buiding
3. Leaving kids in the building but replacing the staff.

then there would seem to be no other solution but......


Naturally, I immediately googled "Thomas Fordham Foundation." I got this as the first result: Then, on the About US page, I found this: "Our sister non-profit, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, sponsors charter schools in Ohio."

I went to the "Our Funders" tab. The usual suspects were there: The Broad Foundation. The B&M Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, etc.

From my reading about district interventions in reformed districts around the counter, disrupting the established bonds between the children at a so-called "failed school" and the adults that have served them is the worst thing that can be done to the children.

I am skeptical, though, of the assertion that there is nothing that can be done to improve a failed school.

At a meeting tonight at the African American Academy I heard teachers and parents of students in Seattle schools in the South end (serving very high proportions of disadvantaged students) speak eloquently about the critial importance of "Stability": Students need to stay put in a program in order to benefit from the program.

The flip side of the Stability issue is that a program serving disadvantaged students cannot be successful if the district keeps changing the curriculum, staff, textbooks, etc.

I have also been reading about how critically important is having adequate psychosocial services and robust well-integrated and fully funded K-12 social skills curriculum in the schools that serve disadvantage students.

I bet that making sure the school and every student has adequate material resource (e.g., basic supplies and unfettered, good condition and good quality textbooks, computers, good library)would make quite a big difference in the schools that have deficiencies in these areas.

Here is a report that shows very well that inner-city non-charter public schools can be very successful: "Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation." This report shows that curriculum alignment, teaching-to-the test, etc is not needed to close the achievement gap. Certainly there are lessons that failed schools can learn here.
Joan NE said…
Here's an anecdote that supports the argument that turnaround is a bad idea:

The author of this article about the Fenger HS (Chicago public schools) turnaround,CST-EDT-open02.article

explains why turnaround is so harmful to students and to the staff that is forced out.
Joan NE said…
Education Next is pro-corporatist education. We can know this because looking at the websites of the three organizations that it lists as its sponsors: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, The Hoover Institution, and The Harvard Kennedy School/Program on Education Policy and Governance.

In an earlier post on this strand I noted that TBFF is described by its affiliate as pro-charter.
I can vouch that Hoover institute is pro=corporatist reform.

Being unfamilar with H-K, I looked at their website. It didn't take me long to see that H-K is pro-corporatist reform. This is clear from the titles listed on the Research tab, and from the organizational purposes listed.
dan dempsey said…
There was a time when CEO salaries were much closer to average worker salaries. A time when many workers believed in being part of an organization that was providing a necessary service or product to the community. Organizations need to be well directed to engender the confidence of the public as well as the confidence of employees or volunteers.

From Cheryl Chow I learned the
Seattle Schools are more interested in great public relations than a quality product. When MG-J’s contract was extended with a 10% raise after 12 months as superintendent (CEO), Cheryl and other board members were patting themselves on the back for selecting such a great CEO just 12 months earlier. This action violated board policy as doing this in a one meeting intro/action item slam dunk is not permitted except in emergencies. Both Chris Jackins and Charlie Mas pointed this out prior to the 7-0 vote.

At that time Director Chow mentioned that some things still needed more work and cited math as an example. Director Chow then did absolutely nothing constructive (from July 2008 to May 2009) to fix math and voted (on May 6) to have the district continue down the same ineffective, unproductive math path that admin recommends.

Director Chow how about giving us a product other than spin.

Without “order” learning will not be improved. As long as chaos in the classroom is NOT addressed by the Central Administration and school administrations do not expect academic improvement. There is a worry (political spin concern) about discipline being applied in a disproportional way. This is believed to happen when members of one group are disciplined more than members of another group. WRONG the disproportional discipline occurs when disruptive students are NOT disciplined.

This nation needs to rapidly change the effectiveness of many of its schools if it is to maintain a competitive economic position. When looking at the board and the Superintendent, I do not find much hope that will occur in Seattle.

How is our Return on Investment?

Is it time to reshuffle the deck chairs once again in hopes of improvement?

I am with wseadawg: "Get Real".
dan dempsey said…
The achievement needle has been moved with disadvantaged groups. In Seattle math it is moving the wrong direction at both k-5 and definitely at Cleveland High School .... UW has clearly demonstrated they have little idea about how to improve math.

As Theodore Sizer said:
"Good education ideas never pan out in practice."

Look to MGJ and Central Staff for more Good Education Ideas for Lord knows we are pumping enough dollars into bloated central admin.
SolvayGirl said…
Speaking of the bloated CA...KIRO7 had a "blip" about Meg Dias' report on the 11PM News a couple of nights ago. They had a teaser for it pre-commercial, so I waited in anticipation of the story breaking....only to see a 30-second piece saying a parent had found that CA expenses were up 17% while teacher hirings were down 5% (can't remember the exact number). That was it!!! No follow-up, no more info...not even a "See our website for a link to the full report." Their reporting was so underwhelming that I am sure few people realized how significant the news was. Boy am I mourning the loss of the PI!
zb said…
Personally, I oppose charter schools because at an extreme they're "private schools" operating with public funds. I think private schools are fine, and good things, but I don't want my taxpayer dollars going to support them (any more than they already are, through the tax break).

In addition, not surprisingly, the charter reviews have suggested that charters don't do any better, and in some states, significantly worse at providing good outcomes for students. There is state-to-state variability, and where the charter schools at least do no harm, and potentially might do good, there's a lot of state regulation of the charter school.
zb said…
In addition to thinking that the charter movement is motivated, in the end, by privatizing our public schools (and supported by many of the same entities that would like to privatize social security, and oppose public health care, . . .) I believe it's a distraction, as I think is focusing on the few theoretically "bad" teachers out there.

We talk a lot about RBHS here, and every time anyone says anything about the teachers and staff, they say that they are a dedicated bunch trying to do their best with a difficult to educate student population. Why would we even imagine that changing the staff there would help? Why would bringing in a group of naive teachers, who don't understand the challenges of RBHS help? To me, that sounds like an insanely bad idea.
zb said…
as, do most of Scott Oki's ideas about education.
seattle citizen said…
Most regular readers here know my knee-jerk antipathies to charters. Here's a quick review:
1) they are not "regular" publics becuase the operate on charters (contracts) that removes them from the regular, democratically established system: We want public schools, we have public schools, funded by our tax dollars. To manage this system, we have a democratically elected Board, who has authority over the Admin, who has authority over the schools. Charters are written (in a variety of ways) to cut some of these ties: It's a contract, that can be as simple as: "We promise to deliver improved standardized test results." Of course, all the other things our Board Policies value (and remember that they are OUR Board Policies - It's PUBLIC ed, through the Board and with our money), all the other things could go by the wayside - there is no accountability to the Board (except that one thing, WASL scores perhaps, through the contract)
So it usurps the idea of PUBLIC schools while continuing to take PUBLIC money. As a taxpayer I am outraged even by the suggestion of this rip-off.

2) Charters are often set up so as to get rid of "problem" students: They might have a behavior clause in their admissions policy: screw up and you're out. Where is the student "out" to? Regular public schools, of course, because the Charter is still nominally a part of the district, and the district is legally bound to serve all students. Additionally, on a philosphical note, I believe it's bad and cruel not to try to work with troubled students instead of kicking them to the curb.
3) Many, many charters seem to be springing up at the behest of, or with the funding of, the corporate world. They become lackeys of the corporate world. Of course we want our students to learn how to operate in the economic realm, but we don't want them to be products of it from the get-go. Arne Duncan, while in Chicago, was the foundation leader for a large investment firm. The firm, through its foundation (Ariel) started a school, a charter, which Arne led. This school had "Investment" as its organizing theme: students (K-8) learned how to invest, get dividends, etc. They learned to dress business professional, be good little cubie denizens, and other wonderful business practices. One has to think that any other lessons, say history, were woefully focused on business, and the business of business. Ya think they read Howard Zinn? Paolo Friere? Noam Chomsky? Prob'ly not.
There is also the reality that there is money to be made: state and federal dollars. While some of these charters are non-profit, they might pay their CEOs a large amount; some are for-profit, beholden to stockholders to squeeze every penny of profit out of the about the opposite of public education...

3) It's my opinion that the "reform" movement plays on the fears and aspirations of the poor: It sells them on the idea that something as basic as a WASL score is the be-all and end-ll of education, and sells them on the idea of drill-and-kill as being the way to get these scores. I think the reform movement is based on a house of cards: The "achievement gap" itself is predicated on "assessing" whole groups instead of individuals (I mean, what is a "Black" person? What is a "white" person? Isn't this policy of checking students into little boxes racist?) and then assessing whole schools instead of the individuals in them (can a school be "failing"?)

All that said, there is, lastly, the destruction of very good alternative schools, PUBLIC alternatives, that already serve many of the GOD aspects of school diversity: choice, democratic decision-making, involved community....yet these schools are being closed. Why? because they get in the way of opening charters - hard to argue for school choice, etc, in charters when you already have it in publics.
seattle citizen said…
Here's some examples of "privatization" that have really screwed with the idea of democracy:
1) "Security" forces contracted out in our fields of war: we used to pay soldiers, supply them, etc. Lately, some big players have sold us on the idea of privatizing these things, for profit. Now we have people making $100,000 as a "security agent" standing next to our soldiers, who make $30,000, in the dangerous war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan...What do you tell that American soldier to assuage the feelings he must have about this rip-off? How do you tell her or him that the guy standing next to him is paid three times as much, has far less accountability 9and, likely, training) and is still on the public dole?
2) The privatization of military housing - same deal: the idea is that private business can supposedly build and run better we lease/sell the housng the privateers who suck the profit out while living large on my tax dollar
3)global privatization of water supplies: Some countries are completley dependent on private companies for their water. Need water? Got a buck? Here in Seattle, due to the foresight of one RH Thompson 100 years ago, we the citizens OWN our water supply. Can you imagine selling it to, say, Coke "because they can run it better"? They'd outsource it to some dry place willing to pay more, we'd be outta luck. Sort of the reverse of the Boeing tragedy - they went for cheap labor, some new owner of our water would go for highest price. Welcome to the free market.

Keep it out of public education: We want to educate our children about it, not indoctrinate them into it.
seattle citizen said…
oops, I meant of course to write
"PUBLIC alternatives, that already serve many of the GOOD [not GOD...they ain't all that] aspects of school diversity: choice, democratic decision-making, involved community
Shannon, Gavroche pointed to some links. I'll try to find some other reports.

I have never said charters are bad or are a bad option. Seattle Citizen went through a number of troubling issues around charters. For me, there are a couple of basic issues.

1) Overall, charters do no better than public schools. That is a basic fact. There are some great charters, bad charters and everything in-between.

2) Education is a local control issue. Yes, President Obama and Arne Duncan are having a big impact on states who do have charters and some form of teacher review with the Race to the Top money. But make no mistake; they can't tell states how to run their schools. Fifty states? Forty charter school kinds of legislation (and 10 states without charters). Some states have strict caps on the number of charters allowed per year (which Obama/Duncan don't like), some don't. Which leads to...

3) You have all kinds of organizations, businesses and individuals opening charters. Some may have an education background, some don't. There are some fairly successful ones like KIPP and Green Dot. KIPP, though, has some pretty strict measures in their schools and frankly, I'm not sure that many parents would buy into it.

4) I feel we in Seattle have charter schools in many of our alternative schools. If we allowed them more leeway in their curriculum, they would almost be charters. I'm not sure what charters would bring to the table in Seattle. (I can't say that it might not be good for other parts of the state as they may be unable to start alternatives. I am going to write another thread about a district that does have many alternative choices.)

5) Charters (by their very name) can write up a plan that includes the ability to exclude kids or force out those who don't follow the charter. By law, charters do have to be open to all but they can exclude things like special education services so they don't have those kids in the school. Or, they can require certain things from kids/parents that if they don't do them, the student can be exited.

None of these things can happen in public schools. SPS is working towards a model of having Special Ed in many more schools so students don't have to go far from home.

I have no doubt that for some charters could be a good thing. I have seen good examples of charter schools (Andre Agassi opened one in Las Vegas that sounds very good.)

The issue is quality control. The President and Education Secretary can call for "high-quality" charters until the cows come home but they can't enforce that. Education is a state/city/local district control issue. The feds will never be able to wrestle that control away.

As a result, you have a hodge-podge of laws from state to state. If I thought the feds COULD define "high-quality" and that states would have to follow it, I might feel differently.

The bottom line is they take money out of already existing schools. Some could say that existing public schools will have to sharpen their game and be more competitive but when you take money out of their pockets from the get go, it's harder to do.

I'm not anti-charters so much as wary of them.
ParentofThree said…
Yeah, but did you see the King5 piece:

Sundquist is too precious at the end with all his "we need answers" bla bla....

They need the Levy passed.
SolvayGirl said…
Thanks SPS Mom...I did miss that report. It will be interesting to see how the Board responds at the Nov. 5 meeting.
Dorothy Neville said…
The KING piece is great. Good for Meg Coyne. Check out that SAP and Levy report as well. She reads this blog and pays attention.

Note at the end of the new piece, Meg Diaz says she will attend the Budget Committee meeting next Thursday. I plan to attend; it sounds very interesting. I wonder if it will get news coverage? Could it be so well attended that they have to move it to the big room?
wseadawg said…
I don't think we need to demonize Charters in general, but to recognize that they've evolved into a marketing brand label for many for profit, or supposed not-for-profit Reformers who seek to bust unions, operate without transparency, and divert public funds away from classrooms and into the pockets of curriculum providers, technical equipment manufacturers, uniform clothing manufacturers, and highly paid administrators.

True grass-roots Charters can be a beautiful thing, and many exist in response to the demands of parents in unique areas with unique needs and circumstances.

Many more, however, are corporate-driven, top-down, militant style institutions with high attrition rates, questionable management tactics, work-them-to-death philosophies, and shockingly insensitive environments in which to educate children.

The real lingering question about many charters are 1) Do they work any better than traditional schools? And 2) Are their models sustainable?

A third and relevant question for Seattle is: Do we need Charters in Seattle?

The Alternative program folks will say "no," because they already thrive in non-traditional schools that work for them. We also have several very strong conventional public high schools in Seattle, with up-and-comers like Hale, Sealth, and hopefully West Seattle, so the question for me is, why would we need them? Why would we need schools that compete with and suck funds from the conventional public schools which so badly need them and have not received them?

It's hard to have a discussion of charters or reform efforts without listening to a bunch of talking points rhetoric spewed by the likes of Paul Vallas (New Orleans), Michelle Rhee (D.C.), Joel Klein (NY), and especially Arne Duncan (Sec. of Ed.) that's all the same "roll up your sleeves" and "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" lingo our former silver-spooner President used to drawl on about.

Sounds great & all, but these folks have zero "cred" on the subject, given most of their backgrounds. Even Obama - and God Bless him - was awakened every morning at 4 a.m. by his PhD mother to drill him on his school lessons. Not a silver-spooner, but obviously raised in a Pro-Education environment - to the extreme.

Charters or not, all kids don't, and won't, get the same foundation from home. Yet the reformers like to pretend it doesn't matter and that if the schools are tough enough and demand enough from these kids, they'll respond and become Ivy Leaguers too.

What they won't acknowledge is how many kids drop out of charters because they can't sustain the workload and pressures past 8th grade, and they also won't acknowledge how they use tricks to improve graduation rates like counseling failing kids to take GED's, which erases them off the books, making grad rates rise.

So, I'm skeptical of silver bullets and too-good-to-be-true myths.
wseadawg said…
And having just read Seattle Citizen's thoughts on how many charters prey on the fears and aspirations of the poor, I have to say I agree.

As a left coast liberal I want things to be better for everybody, as I believe what goes around comes around, and I'm not rich enough to build a castle with a moat around it, nor would I want to.

But I see a real fine line, at times, between uber-liberal policies aimed at helping disadvantaged groups which contain a fatal, inherently classist/racist flaw, which is the tendency to believe that others would be fine if they were more like us and that others can succeed and overcome their challenges "just like we did" and "if we can do it, they can do it, too."

Shouldn't we be asking, "what do these kids & families want and need" before presuming we already know? Here we are with a School Board that says things like "Microsoft is concerned that the local talent pool won't be there in the future, blah, blah, blah." Why do they presume everyone wants that future, or should? It appears to me that the school board wants to craft little techie soldiers for the future, and is trying to manufacture that prototype high school graduate, instead of educating a whole person, or giving that person the means to educate themselves and become what they want to become. My high school counselors thought I was brilliant to pursue Aeronautical Engineering, but how would I be doing today, had I stuck with it? (On may way to S.Carolina, maybe?)

What if many disadvantaged kids who are plenty capable and smart want to go to film school, become sculptors, climb mountains or grow coffee in Central America? Aren't we thwarting such dreams with narrow, standardized curricula designed, basically, to make every kid in Seattle a replicant of the waspy college-bound kids from across the lake? (Meg has proven that stereotype is dated, but you catch my drift).

I think its dehumanizing at the outset to see each pupil as having the potential to eventually score with adequacy on a standardized test, and that being the be-all-and-end-all focus that its become. I really feel we are short-changing our own future, and that of our children, when we tell kids what they need, based on presumptions that we know just what they need alredy. Granted they need to read, write, do math and communicate, and that takes plenty of work, but I think we could do a much better job of getting kids to do those things with a passion, if we paid better attention to the wants and needs of kids and families, instead of presuming we already know what's best for them.

I'm guilty of it too, so I don't mean to be the person throwing stones from a glass house. But I think we need to occasionally take a step back from the onward and upward thrust and ask, where are we pushing these kids to go, and do they even want to go there?
Charlie Mas said…
I think that the problem is that people have adopted some false myths.

One is the idea of a "failing school" or a "struggling school". Invariably, schools get identified this way based on the academic achievement of the schools' students. So it isn't really the schools that are failing or struggling; it's the students. Any focus put on the school is misguided; the focus needs to be on the students.

Consequently it comes as no surprise to me that the usual "turnaround" efforts are ineffective.

You can move the students to another location, but that doesn't mean that you make any change in what you do for them. Does anyone honestly believe that a student who is under-performing at Brighton will suddenly start working at grade level if they were only re-assigned to Bryant? Why? What will cause that change? And why isn't it possible to effect the same change at Brighton? And is the opposite true - would a student performing well at Bryant suddenly become an under-performer if re-assigned to Brighton? Are the curricula or the instruction so different at the two schools?

You can put another teacher in front of them, but there's no reason to believe that the new teacher will do anything much different from the current teacher. In fact, it's insulting to suggest it. More than that, I suspect that the teacher who works with a lot of under-performing minority students from low-income households is better at it than the teacher with less experience with that demographic.

The only thing that is going to change the students' academic trajectory would be a change in the instructional practice FOR THAT STUDENT.

We need to stop thinking, working, and problem-solving in terms of the collective (failing district, failing school, failing class) and think, work, and solve problems in terms of the individual students who need support. We need to adopt a set of early and effective interventions and implement them across the district (in the good schools, too) for individual students who are working below grade level.
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle citizen said…
Charlie, I agree.
The good news is that there are a couple functions of MAP that DO differentiate student levels, so a teacher might have a better understanding of where each student in the classroom is in various strands and targets.
Granted, these are WASL strands and targets...but it's probably true that many teachers have little idea of the levels of each student when the student walks in the door in September. Some common assessments give a generalized idea - RIT scores on MAP, lexiles on SRI, etc. While these are only indicators, and could be wrong, they serve as checkpoints for differentiation.

Now how teachers differentiate, THAT'S another question....
anonymous said…
"Does anyone honestly believe that a student who is under-performing at Brighton will suddenly start working at grade level if they were only re-assigned to Bryant?"

I totally get your point Charlie, and I agree with you 100% on an instructional level. But don't you think that school culture, environment, expectations, and behavior, are also factors that affect performance?

What if a school had no recess, and kids had to wear uniforms, and they used a militant discipline style such as "hands on hips and fingers on lips" when passing classes? What if they drilled for the WASL all day, and skipped music, drama, and gardening? Worse yet, what if discipline was lacking and kids at Brighton behaved the way we have heard the kids at RBHS behave? Jumping on desks, not listening to teachers, fighting in class? What if the majority of students were unmotivated?

What if you moved that Brighton student to Bryant, where they would receive the same instruction and curriculum, but in a very different environment? Bryant is full of motivated, high achieving, well behaved kids. The school is orderly, and classrooms are well managed. Kids are exposed to many many enrichment opportunities, field trips, music, recess, art, drama! There is a high level of fundraising that provides plenty of high quality tutoring, and the classroom teacher has far fewer "below grade level" or "behavior issue" children to deal with, so she has more time to work with the few she has. Then there is peer pressure to perform (kids can get quite competitive in high performing environments)! Put all of these things together and, well, maybe that student would do better at Bryant.....

Same holds true vice versa. Take a high performing kid from Bryant and put them in a classroom full of unmotivated kids. A classroom that is disorderly, unsafe, distracting and moving slowly. A classroom where the teacher is focused on students working far below grade level and on kids with behavior issues. A school where there is little fundraising and little to no parent involvement. A school where other kids would consider you "uncool", or pick on you, or bully you just for being smart or doing well. Further, at this school the teachers lack experience working with above grade level kids, and those working above grade level become bored and unmotivated themselves, and possibly act out. I bet after a while you'd see a decline in performance.......

It would be an interesting experiment.....
seattle citizen said…
wseadawg wrote:
"True grass-roots Charters can be a beautiful thing, and many exist in response to the demands of parents in unique areas with unique needs and circumstances."

Well, yes, but they'd still be charters, which means they've negotiated a contract with district that dispenses with some (or nearly all) of district policy, and this is bad, in my opinion. It blows the whole "Public" schools concept out of the water if the Board, our elected officals, contract out some of their responsibilities.

Now ALTERNATIVE schools, CHOICE schools, that's a different matter, as these can be the same thing you expound on above, beautiful things, while still working within the parameters of district policies and accountabilities.

So me personally, I don't see ANY charters as beautiful things as the very concept negates the "public" in public schools.
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said…
This district has squashed alternative schools. The alts that haven't been closed are being smothered by standardization. They are not the unique schools they once were, and they are not supported (or even understood) by this administration - and they are in constant threat.

How can we rely on alts. to substitute for charters, when alts are dying a slow death here?
gavroche said…
adhoc said...How can we rely on alts. to substitute for charters, when alts are dying a slow death here?

We can fight for them and not let them die.
TechyMom said…
But, seattle citizen, doesn't the charter document also protect alternative schools from BAD policy decisions, like the ones we're seeing gut our alternative programs right now? I'd love to see a charter document that stipulated that a school could choose it's own math books, or start HS classes at 10:00, for example. Or one that defined success based on the number of families that chose the school and stayed there, or on how many music contest they won, or some other metric that fit the program, rather than on test scores.

The trouble with alternatives without this sort of contract is that they are at the mercy of policy-makers, who often don't understand or agree with their goals.

I'm no fan of the commercial charter chains, but I wonder if the district would have been able to close Summit or move Nova if they'd had charter documents.
Maureen said…
adhoc I absolutely agree with your last two posts! I wish that SPS would devote some resources to studying this issue. Are struggling kids better off if they are all grouped together with specialists who can address their specific issues (a la KIPP), or do they do better if they go to school with a diverse group of students? The data is out there. Does Madrona do better at educating struggling students than Bryant or TOPS? Does Maple or Van Asselt? Now that we have MAP, maybe someone can do the analysis.
seattle citizen said…
Techymom, the answer to how to protect alts from bad policy is to have good policy and administration. It is NOT to do away with policy altogether.

This seems to be a way charters and other public-breaker schools are sold: The district is bad, policy is bad, we should have schools outside the policy, if not outside the district.

But then who's in charge?

If this is a public school, yet operating under its own system, who holds it accountable? As a taxpayer, who do I go to when I see a bunch of non-district charterers (good ones and bad) making crazy rules or doing something nefarious....Who holds the charter accountable

Policy could have flexibility to support a variety of programs while also having just one authority, the one I give my money to every year. I have no interest in giving my money to every group that wants to open up a "school," so I want all schools to be under the complete oversight and "control" of the District I pay for.

Again, public schools are nothing without the public: they are our babies. We a) pay for them; b) elect a board to manage them; c) expect that board to hire admin; d) expect admin to hire principals; e) expect prinicpals to oversee teachers. This is the chain of accountability and you propose that I now a) pay; b) elect board; c) let board subcontract out the rest? Not with my money; that's not how it works.
Charlie Mas said…
I would argue, once again, for schools to get an MOU with the District. South Shore has an MOU between the District and the New School Foundation. So couldn't each school's PTA also get an MOU with the District which stipulates certain governance rights for the community?

If the District will do it with the New School Foundation then they should be willing to enter into similar agreements with other entities providing non-competitive grants to individual schools or programs.

I'm not slamming the New School Foundation or South Shore at all. On the contrary. I'm saying that they have shown us the way and we should follow.
Josh Hayes said…
I would be very surprised if SPS would enter into any MOU-based agreements with any particular school. The goal is to exert control from the JSC except where significant external funding might be jeopardized (thus the MOU with the New School Foundation).

Quite literally, I cannot imagine the nabobs at the JSC entering into some MOU with, say, AS1, which would explicitly allow that school to use some specified alternative set of metrics to measure progress, to use a different math curriculum, and so on. Can you?
anonymous said…
I highly doubt the district would grant an MOU to an individual alt school. However, they might entertain the request if alt schools united to ask for MOU's. It's a long shot though.......
seattle citizen said…
The district's Alternative Education Committee was told by CAO Santorno, at the conclusion of their year-long series of meetings to draft the Alt Ed Report of 2007 (following the Alt Ed Policy of 2006, C56.00) that schools could have "earned autonomy" to practive different pedagogies and assessments when said schools could demonstrate that their curriculums met district standards.

And why not? The district wants schools to teach certain things, and HOW they are taught and HOW they are assessed is of little importance, as long as they work to teach and show learning of district curricular expectations.
Charlie Mas said…
On what grounds can the District refuse to negotiate an MOU with the PTA at any school after they have negotiated an MOU with The New School Foundation?

Someone who is active in a PTA only needs to suggest it within the PTA. Then the PTA votes that they want to pursue it. Then the PTA goes to the District, perhaps starting with Bernardo Ruiz in Community Engagement, and asks who has the authority to negotiate.

They should be seeking the same sort of stuff that is found in the MOU with The New School Foundation - structured input on hiring, scheduling, budgeting, etc.

You're not going to get things that you don't ask for.
TechyMom said…
I have to say, a alternative school with an MOU has many of the benefits of a charter school, without many of the risks of a charter law.
seattle citizen said…
I agree, Charlie, you must ask for what you want, particularly in a way that follows procedure and policy. The NSF MOU was attained through procedure and policy, right? So others may follow. What matter who is asking for it? The NSF asked, and recieved; others may, too.

Same with alternative assessments and pedagogy: CAO Santorno indicated that there was autonomy to be had in these areas when the school could show "success": Hence, show success then ask for the autonomy you desire for your program.
TechyMom said…
Seattle Citizen, I know it's supposed to work like that, that we the public are supposed to be in charge of the policy. I'm just not sure that it plays out like that in practice in a city with so many voters who don't have children. It certainly hasn't been working here of late.

It's not just parents who vote in the school board races. I know that I had no idea how to vote on these things before I had kids, other than that I had done some academic reading on school choice issues when I was in college. Most voters don't even have that much background. It's sort of how I feel about the judge and port elections. How much can you tell by reading the voters pamphlet? Unless there's some republican talking point in their blurb, they all sound pretty much the same to the uninitiated. Micromangement=bad is something pretty much any working stiff or 20-something can get behind, never mind that management is the board's job.

Now, it might help if school board was a full-time paid position, or if they had paid staff of their own. Then they wouldn't have to rely on information from the people they're managing, and could check things out themselves.

How about MOU's for alternative schools, and a paid board with a few paid staff to do their research? Now there's central admin spending I could get behind.
seattle citizen said…
Yes, Techymom, an alternative, or choice, or option program developed under existing policy can exist. Even better, policy can be developed to support various sorts of programs, as long as there is accountability to teh Board and Policy dictates.

It makes perfect sense: The sole purpose of the district, really, is to enact the will of the people as expressed through their board and the board's policies. These reflect what we want public education to do. Ergo ipso facto.

To spin off charters, or other sorts of non-public options, is un-necessary and dangerous, as it takes the public's will (and money) and contracts it out.
seattle citizen said…
Looking through existing Policy, I note the following:
There ARE board-approved materials for each grade and these are expected to be used in each classroom;
There IS freedom for supplementary materials, on approval of principal (points to principal as leader, eh?)
There ARE possibilities for Student Learning Plans (under WAC code) that allow for variations from above policies;
Only those entities approved by the Board can run students on SLPs...

This quick perusal of Board Policies seems to indicate that it is possible (even legally supported) for students to be on SLPs, if the Board approves. Hence, a whole school could be designed around SLPs (um, like Marshall was...) so that each student is working towards their individual goals and levels...these SLPs could be themed...hence, a viable, legal school that meets Board Policy.
seattle citizen said…
In essence, it appears that WAC mandates that districts support SLPs, which can vary from board policy. Now, it might be that a district doesn't want to offer a variety of providers to monitor SLPs...

Hmm, it almost seems that, under policy and law, SLPs could be de facto charters.

uh oh!


At any rate, there would only have to be organized demand, which would need to sway the Board to approve a "choice" school, or alternative or what have you. Therein lies the rub: can citizens mobilize to sway Board action?
seattle citizen said…
If not, why not? It's OUR board...
Michael Rice said…

Not to pile on to Mr. Duncan too much, but in June 2009, The Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago released a report called: STILL LEFT BEHIND, STUDENT LEARNING IN CHICAGO'S PUBLIC SCHOOLS. it was a very sharp rebuke of all the claims made by Sec. Duncan about the turning around of Chicago Schools.

The key findings were that the Chicago schools don't prepare students for college or beyond and that any gains in scores in state assessments is because of changes in the assessments, not in increased learning.

Google the title and the report will come up. It is a very damning report to Sec. Duncan.
Hey Michael, I did a post on that this week. It was a bit damning for Sec'y Duncan.

There is no policy for public/private partnerships like with the New School Foundation. They drew up the MOU on their own in order to get agreement with NSF. There should be a policy.
Michael Rice said…
Hi Melissa

I guess that just goes to show how busy I have gotten. I am only able to check the blog once or twice a week.
seattle citizen said…
Melissa, I wonder if a program could be created that uses would meet policy yet be free from policy, strangely...
In that case, a program wouldn't need an MOU, but merely Board approval as an alternative (SLP-type) provider. See policy...C04.00?
Charlie Mas said…
The policy referenced by seattle citizen, Policy C04.00, Alternative Courses of Study, is based on the recent state law on alternative education and there is a school built on this model: NOVA.

There is no reason that any school in the district, including those with elementary or middle school students, could not follow this model EXCEPT that it requires Board approval.
anonymous said…
Charlie, as the only true alt HS in Seattle:

Does NOVA have to use " the Discovering" series to teach math?

Are they subject to the LA, SS, Science materials and curriculum standardization that is coming?

Does NOVA have the standardized start and end times that all other high schools have?

What type of autonomy does NOVA have?

How does standardization affect (or not affect?) the school?

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