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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Alliance Pulled the Teacher Quality Survey

The Alliance listened. They listened and have removed the teacher quality survey from their website.

You hear that? That's the sound of someone in Seattle education actually listening, actually saying maybe this needs a closer look, let's step back and do that.

That someone is the new head of the Alliance for Education, Sara Morris.

I had sent her an e-mail (and feeling a little awkward because we haven't met yet) outlining my concerns. Her 1 day response?

"I agree with you and have actually already pulled it down."

There's someone who is listening. (Yes, I know. The survey was bad and you would have hoped this would be the outcome. And they might still have a teacher quality survey again. But I like to start with a clean slate with someone new and give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Thank you, Sara.

15 comments:

Central Mom said...

Welcome Sara!

This one action speaks louder than most of the words coming out of the Alliance in the past few years.

wseadawg said...

Now if they'd purge the reform-favoring ideologues from their ranks and put together a fair, objective survey, I'll thank them too.

The way I see it, they got caught red handed and got called out for push-polling and trying to cherry pick support for their agenda. As with any group that gets drunk on power and influence, they went too far.

I'll be watching their partisanship closely in the coming weeks and months, as I will with all the other reform groups trying to ram through their agenda with token, cherry-picked so-called popular or "community" support.

In the meantime, thank you MW and all the others who stepped up and called "BS" on BS.

zb said...

Good job, Melissa.

A reminder that sometimes, in spite of all the bashing of heads against wall, your words result in small successes.

And, wseadawg, although I worry about the conspiracy you're purporting (as well as similar conspiracies people attribute to the district), my sanity is much better served by assuming, first, that the people who say they care about the children really do. We may have irreconcilable differences about how to care, but, perhaps, if we all assume that we do, we can come to better solutions

Melissa Westbrook said...

I take no credit except to have e-mailed her with my concern. My feeling is I was not the only one and anyone looking at the survey could clearly see it was flawed. I think with Sara just coming into the job, it may have slipped past her or was already in motion before she got there.

She's the one who deserves the credit.

Moose said...

And, wseadawg, although I worry about the conspiracy you're purporting (as well as similar conspiracies people attribute to the district), my sanity is much better served by assuming, first, that the people who say they care about the children really do. We may have irreconcilable differences about how to care, but, perhaps, if we all assume that we do, we can come to better solutions

Hear, hear, ZB.

Sahila said...

I agree with wseadawg's analysis - there's plenty of evidence to support it. All you have to do is peel back the layers to reveal the puppetmasters pulling the strings of all these 'grassroots' organisations.

And I dont agree with ZB or Moose about preferring to think that everyone has our childrens' best interests at heart, that all we might be facing is some differences on what that best interest looks like, how it expresses itself...

We are facing the biggest corporate takeover of public institutions and a foundational pillar of democracy (free public education) ever seen in this country, many, many people are being manipulated to support it while others are choosing freely to enable it, and most of the rest of us are choosing to be blind to that...

Please, go read seattle education 2010 - its a really good place to start uncovering where this tangle of strings leads back to...

http://seattle-ed.blogspot.com/

And then - go think about the entry re the Board's failure to do its job and make some choices about whether you - yes YOU, each of us has a personal responsibility in this - are going to actually DO something about this sorry state of affairs.... before its too late...

seattle citizen said...

People might have the best intentions (mine ARE the best!) but they are often wrong (probably more often than right, and I mean that respectfully)

People, including me, can be sheep. We get an idea in our head, connect to it, and run with it.

It's my belief that many people are being fed mis-information, believing it and running with it.

Where I personally do this, I hope others catch me out and argue with me. Sometimes they do. I hope that when I argue with people (or organizations) that I believe have sipped at the Koolaide of reform, they will argue back. SHOW me the data, SHOW me the information that this new thing is the right thing.

But I'll keep arguing, because I believe that there is a massive dis-information campaign afoot, predicated on mere touchy-feely talking points and often not grounded in reality, in facts, in data. That's why I argue with this "reform" movement.

zb said...

I did not mean for my comment to be a rebuke to any of you (including wseadawg and seattle citizen or Melissa). I appreciate everyone "watching closely" any organization that's going to impact the children, from the District, to the Board, to the Alliance.

And, if your attitude is a bit more combative than mine, well, different methods and personalities are needed.

Melissa -- no doubt that you deserve some credit. You contacted the Alliance, and I can assure you that at least some others who did read about the survey here. I think seattle citizen brought it my attention first -- in the comments?

Small victories are going to be worth celebrating, in preparation for the dark days ahead. I *like* the new SAP, but the budget cuts are going to cut to the bone.

Moose said...

For me, it's not that attitudes are combative, it's the language of conspiracy ("puppetmaster", "drunk with power and influence", "idealogues", etc, etc)that weaves itself through many discussions on this and other blogs. Sorry, but I just can't ride the bus with Oliver Stone and the rest of the folks who see a conspiracy no matter who or what is going on. Incompetence, yes. Stupidity, yes. A grand cabal plotting the overthrow of education, not so much.

Let's also not forget that we are all idealogues in our own way.

Maybe I am just a sheep though("baaaa").

Moose said...

Whoops. I am a sheep lacking in spelling sense -- "ideologues."

seattle citizen said...

Moose, I don't necessarily see a conpsiracy. What I DO see is many people profiting on the idea that schools "fail," that "our children are suffering," that "old teachers, union teachers, are to blame."
There is indeed much profit to be had: Tutoring services, textbooks, curriculums, consultants, charter schools that profit (not all), media sensationalism selling newspapers....Indeed, in the grnad scope of things, if education becomes merely pencil-pushing bubble-sheet filling-in (not such a reach, given the focus on standardized tests, and now federally standardized standards - today's paper)...if education continues to be watered down it produces a more docile, more "work-perpared" populace who will be more willing to be "competitive," to buy things to be happy, etc. THAT is HUGE profit: If the populace can be dumbed down to "Idiocracy" levels, the "system" has a field day.

No, it might not be a conspiracy, it might not be all run by some dark cabal, but the EFFECTS are the exact same.

Yes, I DO point at some of these foundations that seem to have a need to redirect education. Maybe some of the people in those organizations have ONLY the chidlren's interests at heart. But maybe they are too easily mesmerized by the constant chanting, the repetitive mantra that seems to have been broadcast everywhere...

The worst thing is that these forces attack the poorest of us, the least able to understand the whole system. The least mobile, the least comunicative, the least engaged (or engageable) parents...

If "the conspiracy" moved to "transform" Roosevelt there would be a revolution. But the focus in on "those poor kids," "those [insert minority "group" as identified on WASL here].
It's racist and classist, and the chidlren of the poor, the immigrant, the absent..these children will be fed pap, maybe while profiting some exec who "cares" but has little understanding of education nor poverty.

Eric M said...

Here's where the Alliance got this survey

http://www.nctq.org/p/tqb/viewBulletin.jsp?bulletinId=0&volume=latest

From their website this is cartoon from latest Newsletter/Bulletin (11/30/09) from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a Wash. DC, merit pay promoters and union bashing lobbyist group, who wrote the booklet we received with funds from the Gates Foundation.

Note: In the booklet we received there is no documentation, research, or data presented that a significant challenge to student success in the Seattle Public School district is due to bad teachers and ineffective teaching in our district. There is an assumption on their part and presupposes that the readers will also accept “bad teachers” being a high priority problem within SPS without supportive evidence given. Unfortunately they are correct about this.

This if from the “About us” section of the NCTQ website, i.e. their mission statement:

“Based in Washington, DC, the National Council on Teacher Quality was founded in 2000 to provide an alternative national voice to existing teacher organizations, and build the case for a comprehensive reform agenda that would challenge the current structure and regulation of the profession.”

In other words: They are a DC lobby group established to counter “teacher organizations” (i.e. unions) and to push for merit pay, charter schools, and other unsubstantiated and experimental public school “reforms.” They gain empowerment in Congress by embracing proposals that appear to be tax-free and revenue neutral.

Eric M said...

In December, they handed out (placed in our school mailboxes) to every teacher at my school, and I think throughout the district, a 64 page report on "Human Capital in SPS". The paper was real fancy. The content, risable. The report spent a lot of time suggesting that teachers would be better if our contracts stipulated another 1/2 hour of time. All the teachers I work with work WAY beyond contract hours. I mean, WAY. That's just one of the incredibly-distant-from-this-universe points made by these bloodhounds.

I wrote a lengthy critique, which I'll post here as soon as I can find it. They did post some of my more mild comments on an unattributed comment page, and promised more opportunity to dialog, which of course never happened.

The whole thing stank to high heaven, and was so out of touch with the reality of teaching as to deserve immediate recycling, which most of my colleagues were sensible enough to do.

Then we got the recycled web-survey asking the same stupid questions "Which do you want ? a kick in the teeth ? or a kick in the groin?'

Wait, you think... isn't there another choice on this BS survey?

I am relieved to find out it's down.

What a bunch of clowns.

- an actual teacher

Eric M said...

My Alliance For Education response (part 1)


1) Where's the research suggesting that the "bad" teachers are a huge and important problem ?
Comment: if we are to make research-based and grounded decisions about public education initiatives, and inadequate teaching and teachers are the MAJOR problem, as this report seems to suggest, the absence of any cited research is baffling. Many of us teachers would argue that the problem with bad teachers is a) overstated in this report compared to many equally challenging problems within Seattle Public Schools b) more of a problem of inadequate induction, support, evaluation, and remediation.
Furthermore, most teachers I’ve talked to find many parts of the report downright insulting to their above-and-beyond efforts. This report is a really poor way to begin a conversation with teachers.

2) Continually changing requirements for certification and continuation
Comment: the constantly shifting ground under teachers’ feet vis-à-vis certification and credential renewal requirements and salary increases creates the impression that no one in charge (Legislature, OSPI) really has any firm handle on what’s important to student learning. The financial burden for increased requirements falls on individual teachers, because that gives the appearance of action on the part of politicians and bureaucrats, while avoiding financial commitment.
As the latest example, the recent emphasis on National Board Certification is downright mysterious. Show me the definitive research that says National Board Certification produces significantly different student outcomes. I’m a NBCT, so I should know a little bit about it.

3) Cost of living in Seattle
Comment: Any discussion of teacher salary in the greater Seattle area that does not include a discussion of cost of living is disingenuous.
A $ 100,000 a year salary in Seattle will purchase the same standard of living in Spokane as a $ 62,000 salary there, according to one website I just checked.

4) Teachers personal expenditures on classroom supplies & equipment
Comment: Every teacher I know spends hundreds, if not thousands, of unreimbursed dollars on classroom supplies and equipment. Any discussion of teacher pay and teaching conditions without addressing this fundamental funding shortcoming is at best naïve and possibly downright disingenuous.

5) Lack of basic services: telephone, ventilation, furniture, etc.
Comment: Teachers in Seattle Public Schools often contend with deferred maintenance or lack of adequate facilities.
To save money, faculty bathrooms (windowless) at one high school are not ventilated. Mechanical ventilation exists, but is not active.
At another high school, ventilation for the entire building (mostly windowless) is only activated a short time before the first class, and is turned off shortly after the last class. This is much less than the actual contracted work time.
Work orders sometimes go unfulfilled for long periods.
Teachers sometimes supply their own classroom furniture, like work desks.

Eric M said...

Alliance for Education response (part 2)

6) Disconnect between contract time and actual working time
Comment: Every teacher I’ve talked to about this report found this section completely ludicrous. The teachers in my department work a minimum of 50 hours a week at school, and take lots of work home. The day we cut our work short to actual contract hours would represent a significant labor action: a massive cut in the services we provide to students before and after school, lunchtime, weekends, etc. Are you kidding? Lengthening our contract time wouldn’t change a THING about our actual workload and the time we invest to address it.

7) Sick days used to support student activities
Comment: A lot of us teachers have had to use sick days to support field trips and out of school student activities. Last year, I realized I had NO sick leave accumulated as a result of my donating it all to support the student activities I’ve sponsored over the years.

8) Research ignored when inconvenient (earlier start times)
Comment: When research provides insights that happen to coincide with administrative directives, it’s cited. When research directly refutes administrative initiatives, it’s often ignored or deemed unimportant. Case in point: This year, our school started 15 minutes earlier than in prior years, supposedly for transportation logistics. There’s quite a bit of research that suggests that teenagers learn and perform better when school starts later in the day.

9) Revolving administrative door
Comment: In the 8 years I’ve worked in Seattle Public Schools (6 years in one building, 1 and a half in the current building) I’ve worked under 8 different principals. Some of those were interim – the shortest tenure was about a week. We’ve had 3 different Superintendents, and at least as many Chief Academic Officers. This rate of turnover tends to suggest to rank and file teachers that new initiatives are likely not to be sustained.

10) Beyond inadequate technology support
Comment: Industry standard IT support is about 1 person to 50 computers, and in Seattle Public Schools, it’s at least double. IT support is overburdened and understaffed, and many computers go unmaintained.

11) Constantly changing top-down initiatives & Subservient goal shifting to acquire external funds without clear district goals
Comment: District initiatives over the last decade are largely constructed around whatever outside funding source is willing to put up significant grant money. As soon as the funding dries up, the initiatives are suddenly invisible, and we move on to something else.
Gates Foundation Transformation grants, and Department of Education Small Learning Communities grants are the two most salient examples of this tendency.
Successful school districts identify their priorities themselves, and build funding support for those initiatives, rather than chasing money.

12) Textbook and instructional materials 20 years out of date
Comment: If you leave teachers in a position where they don’t have relevant materials, it of course tends to make the job harder. On the plus side, it also tends to promote creativity, as teachers by necessity develop modern curriculum.
So, put up or shut up, as they say.

14) Failure to engage experienced teachers
Comment: Recent experience and anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been a concerted effort to pass over experienced Seattle teachers in favor of bringing in personnel from outside the district, with fresh and better perspectives.