Thursday, April 29, 2010

CPPS Survey on Superintendent - URGENT

This is what I have been working towards - a simple parent/community survey about the effectiveness of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson as SPS superintendent. It was created by CPPS (Community & Parents for Public Schools).

PLEASE take this survey - it's 6 questions. I would have liked the questions tweaked somewhat differently but the last one is pretty much an up/down vote of her effectiveness (with a range to answer within). Naturally, you can only take the survey once. (They only ask for your zip code to get an idea of who is taking the survey.)

PLEASE let your PTA (or parent group) know about this survey. I believe the Seattle Council PTSA may be alerting PTSA leaders about it but ask for it to be in your weekly newsletter or put on your PTSA website.

Clearly, I vote no confidence in the direction/effectiveness of our Superintendent. But if you feel differently, vote that way.

Either way, I know that the Board wants to hear from parents/community.

I think we are reaching a turning point in our district and we cannot just stand around and complain. Let the Board know what you think. Large numbers speak volumes.

Enrollment Information Update

Thanks to the heads up by RavennaJen (hey neighbor!), there is a PDF posted by the Enrollment Office over the automated phone snafu as well as other enrollment information. Among the information:
  • An override command inadvertently downloaded preliminary assignment information for next year to the automated phone line before the information was proofed and finalized. This should not have happened and we apologize for any inconvenience.
  • A cross-departmental team has been working hard to process assignments. At this time it looks like we will be ahead of schedule with getting letters out to families and providing information to schools. (Original estimate was late May).
  • Schools can’t assign students to classes until this data transfer is complete.
  • Schools need not only individual student names, but a summary report of projected enrollment, space available, waiting lists, etc. The target date for providing this information is Friday, April 30. We updated the School Board last week to say that we expect to have that information available earlier this week, with subsequent statistics available next week (the first week in May). I think one interesting (and major) statistic will be how many students did not accept their attendance school assignment. It is still unclear to me how the district will know, until the first day of school, how many people DID accept their attendance area assignment since they weren't (as I recall it) supposed to do anything.
  • They give the process by which they get out assignment letters in an effort to explain why it takes so long to get assignment letters.
So now you know. Therefore, any info you got from the automated line should be treated as suspect. It could be right but don't count on it.

A Couple of Things

I helped facilitate a caucus for the Mayor's Youth and Families initiative last night. It was a small group which actually made it easier. But two things struck me and I thought I might ask our readers about them.

One, based on your own experience and/or just gut feeling, why do so many people go private? Even in these hard times, the shift to public hasn't been that great and, at some private schools, applications have gone up.

After answering that, how do we get those parents back who aren't there for the name-brand (Bush, Lakeside, etc.) or for religious reasons (O'Dea, Holy Names, etc.)? What concrete steps do you think would help? Last night several people mentioned the churn/upheaval/bad news series of events over the last several years particularly the threats of closures. This was considered a huge negative that makes people stay away.

Two, do you understand the Strategic Plan? Could you explain it in 5 sentences to someone? Do you think less in-the-know parents understand it and believe it is/will make a difference in our district?

This is what drives (allegedly) the Superintendent's work. It's her vision and touchstone back to the Board for what she is doing. So what do you think?

Last, if you could change 3 things in this district for the betterment of the district/major program overall (not just your child; sorry, that's another question), what would they be?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SIG schools

You may recall that three of Seattle Public Schools were the recipients of a large federal School Improvement Grant (SIG), Cleveland, Hawthorne, and West Seattle Elementary. These schools were all identified as persistently under-performing and they were all supposed to get GOBS of cash from the federal government if they would agree to a turnaround plan. Four turnaround plan options were available, but the District (and the SEA) agreed to use the Transformation solution for all three schools. The Transformation plan at Cleveland is well-known, it will become STEM. Cleveland will be transformed by replacing the current population of unmotivated and under-performing students with other students who are motivated and high performing. But what are the transformation plans for Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary?

No one knows.

There are no plans reported at all to date.

There has been absolutely no effort at community engagement about any of it.

These two elementary schools are supposed to be totally transformed in four months, but, so far as anyone knows, not one lick of work has been done on the transformations so far. That's unusual. Typically the District makes a big hullabaloo about how they need a whole year to plan a school transformation. They needed over 15 months just to plan the Southeast Initiative and it came off looking like it was totally unplanned. They say that they have been working on Cleveland's transformation for well over a year already.

Yet, somehow, they will have Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary each completely transformed in four months despite the fact that they have yet to even start the work.

How credible is that?

What Works (Charlie is Right)

The NY Times had this article yesterday about a school in Brooklyn, where 80% of their students are free/reduced lunch, nearly a quarter receive special education services and many of its population come from a home where English isn't the first language.

From the article (bold mine):

In 2009, the 580-student primary school, tucked between fast-food restaurants and gas stations in a semi-industrial strip of Fourth Avenue, topped the city with its fourth-grade math scores, with all students passing, all but one with a mark of “advanced,” or Level 4. In English, all but one of 75 fourth graders passed, earning a Level 3 or 4, placing it among the city’s top dozen schools.

On average, at schools with the same poverty rate, only 66 percent of the students pass the English test, and 29 percent score at an advanced level in math, according to a New York Times analysis of Department of Education statistics. And though it is less well known, P.S. 172 regularly outperforms its neighbors in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens, where parents raise hundreds of thousands a year for extra aides and enrichment.

"While about one-third of the students are still learning English, there are no bilingual classes. They were eliminated years ago at the request of parents, who noticed that children placed directly in English-only classes, with extra help from teachers of English as a Second Language, were scoring higher"

What do they have these kids on, Adderall? (Just kidding.)

Nope, here's what the principal says:

“Teach, assess, teach, assess,” said Jack Spatola, its principal since 1984.

Mr. Spatola attributed the coaches and other extra help to careful budgeting and fighting for every dollar from the Department of Education; the school’s cost per pupil, in fact, is lower than the city’s average.

The article notes it is harder at the top to raise scores and that the students will have a more comprehensive test than in past years to contend with next time.

But here's where Charlie is right (because he says this all the time):

"At P.S. 172, the focus on test material began in February. By mid-April, nearly every moment in class seemed to touch on the effort to help the children pass. Up to five special coaches and teachers were providing help to small groups of students."

"Students at P.S. 172 who need more help stay in their classrooms until 4:45 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays, after a short snack break at the regular 3:05 quitting time."

The point is to help every. single. student. Find out what each student needs help with and help them. Charlie says all the time, it is not failing schools but students who need help. This school seems to have figured that out even with children in poverty and with some parents who don't speak English at home.

Now I might point to the longevity of this principal and the apparent magic he does with a budget. It seems they must have very dedicated teachers who are willing to work longer hours for better results for students. They probably have parents who are willing to help. (The elimination of the bilingual classes probably frees up money that they can then use for bilingual tutors. Again, individual attention.)

Read the last part of the article about a little boy who is struggling. But what does he say? He says (about the math test), "I want to get a hundred." It's the support, the belief in the child and the follow-thru that wins the day and makes that child believe he can do it.

How do we duplicate this result?

News From the Mayor's Youth and Families Initiative

Let the Mayor know your thoughts about funding for youth and families. From the Mayor's office:

To make it easier to keep up with the Initiative as it progresses, we've added a results section to our website; you can go there to see the top priorities identified by each small group at both the large-group workshops and the community caucuses, as well as a map showing the general distribution of our attendees so far.

If you know anyone in the Ballard area who has not yet had an opportunity to participate, the Mayor will be at a community caucus at Ballard High School next Monday, May 3rd from 7-8:30 PM that will be open to the public.

Also on the City budget front:

There are also two very important opportunities for input coming up this week and next in the form of public hearings on the budget. The Mayor will be attending each one along with members of the City Council in order to give you as community members the chance to express your budget priorities and concerns directly to your elected officials:

New Holly Gathering Hall
7054 32nd Ave S, 98118
Wednesday, April 28th
5:00 pm sign-in
5:30-7:00 pm public hearing

North Seattle Community College - cafeteria
9600 College Way North, 98103
Use the 95th Street entrance on the south end of campus
Tuesday, May 4th
5:00 pm sign-in
5:30-7:00 pm public hearing

Monday, April 26, 2010

District Signs MOU with UW and Chinese Non-Profit

The Times is reporting that the UW, Hanban (a Chinese nonprofit group affiliated with China's Ministry of Education) and SPS are launching a new institute to spread the Chinese language and culture in Washington State. It will be called the Confucius Institute.

Hanban has several teachers in different SPS schools teaching Chinese.

From the article:

Hanban provided $150,000 in startup funds for the institute, which has been matched with about $150,000 in time and office space from the Washington partners.

The institute's main office will be on the UW campus, and its education office, now at Denny International Middle School in Seattle, will move to Seattle's Chief Sealth International High in the fall, when Sealth and Denny move into a new, shared campus in West Seattle.

The institute's director signed a memorandum of understanding with UW president Mark Emmert, Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson and Governor Gregoire.

Apparently some other communities in other parts of the U.S. have expressed suspicion mainly because of the worry over the role of the Chinese government in Hanban.

This Week's Meetings

Wednesday finds yet another Board Work Session from 4:15-6 p.m.. This one had previously been about International Education but they have added another topic: RTTT. This might be interesting to attend although exasperating because when they have two topics somehow one always gets more time than another. I'm guessing the one who will get the lesser amount of time will be International Language. (Also, I don't know what they mean by International Education - foreign language, foreign language immersion, BOC or what.)

Director Sundquist has another community meeting on Thursday from 10-11:30 am at the West Seattle library.

Director Patu has a community meeting on Saturday, May 1st from 10-noon at Tully's at 4400 Rainier Ave South (at Genesee).

Call for Your Assignment (but take it with a grain of salt)

(Update: 9:10 am - Nevermind. I guess the district staff really does visit us (that was fast). The numbers are not giving out information now except to tell you to call Transportation. Question is: why were they live in the first place and will the information given be valid for people who did call?)

Apparently some folks have tried calling automated enrollment numbers and have learned their child's assignment. You can try one of two numbers according to our readers.


However, here's a caveat which is don't give it 100% credibility until you get it in writing in the mail.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

ADD Meds Help Non-ADD Students

Watching 60 Minutes tonight was eye-opening. Apparently a big thing on college campuses is to take an ADD drug (Adderall or Ritalin) when studying for tests or writing papers. The belief is that it sharpens your focus and you are able to get more done. The kids they interviewed seem to swear by it and one researcher thinks it's the wave of the future (neuro-drugs).

Naturally, there are the old problems of addiction and side effects.

How do these kids get this stuff? Lying to doctors or getting the students with real ADD to sell them a tablet or two.

Here are some articles about this issue.

A Drug Recall
Serendip (a student's blog at Bryn Mawr - eye-opening) One student called the usage "A prescription pat on the back that can help cheer me on."

I hope this idea doesn't trickle down to high school.

Good for SPS PE

Wish I had known about this event sooner. There was a run/walk Sunday to raise PE funds for SPS as reported in the Times today. From the story:

"In a city that has been said to have more cats than children, the annual walk and run is an important fundraiser that allows PE teachers to buy new sports equipment or replace equipment that's become battered and worn with use. Students from roughly 60 of the city's 93 elementary, middle and high schools participated, marching around the stadium in a show of school pride, walking or running through the University of Washington campus, and gathering on the field at Husky Stadium for a variety of activities."

"On Sunday, the biggest student turnout was from Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle's Rainier Valley, with about 100 kids raising $4,000 for their school."

SPS Good News

From SPS Communications:

Seattle Public Schools middle and high school students will have 209 art works in a broad range of media on display at SAM Downtown starting April 22. Students participating in this year's exhibition have taken courses in visual arts led by Seattle Public School's visual arts specialists. Various media and techniques – including ceramics, pencil, oil and acrylic painting, collage and photography – are on view. The exhibition – displayed in the museum’s free zone in the first floor corridor – is named after Floyd J. Naramore, an architect who designed more than 22 Seattle Public Schools from 1919 to 1941.

Along with the show, SAM will host a special celebration during its May 15 Family Day to honor the SPS student artists on their show’s closing weekend, and to offer awards to high school level artists selected by the community judges. For the May 15 Family Day, SAM is offering all students exhibiting work in the Naramore Art Show free admission to the museum galleries. SAM is also providing one free gallery admission to all SPS employees who show SPS ID and one free gallery admission to the first 500 SPS students who show ID. Additionally, SAM will offer bus reimbursements to ensure transportation to the event is accessible to SPS families citywide. The Family Day activities are free to the public.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Superintendent Performance Review

Well, while folks are talking about having the public kibbitz on school district labor contracts, I suppose we can't help having comments on the Superintendent's contract as well. The Board will soon take up the matter of the Superintendent's annual performance review and action on her contract.

How has the Superintendent done?

I suppose the only proper way to answer that question would be to review her performance relative to her job description and the performance expectations for her that were established and defined in advance. These performance expectations should, of course, all be objectively measurable outcomes. That is, after all, her definition of accountability.

She wrote:
Accountability means that Seattle Public Schools understands our data and we use it to set performance targets for the district, school and classrooms. We decide what our data indicators should be, i.e.: WASL, dropout rates, teacher retention, etc. A concrete example about accountability is SPS will decrease the achievement gap in specific sub-categories of students. The target should be reasonable based on the current data. Then the strategies should align toward making a positive impact. Evaluation is tied to ongoing assessment and holding all levels of staff accountable.

For individuals, the District is supposed to use this performance evaluation form. I suggest that those who want to chime in on this effort by the Board should complete a version of this form for her.

I haven't seen the actual form for the superintendent, so I can't say with certainty what her SMART goals were for the year. I suppose they were mostly the elements of the Strategic Plan, the improvement of academic achievement for all students, and the closure of the academic achievement gap. You could also use the various measures used to determine her merit pay for this section.

In the next section the managers are supposed to rate the employee's work in the areas of Collaboration, Getting Results, Decision Quality & Problem Solving, Integrity, and Accountability. This section could give her real trouble. While I think she will score fairly well in the Getting Results part (particularly if you see how a ready-fire-aim approach is rewarded here), I fear she couldn't score well in the other categories.

Then comes a section for core competencies, an overall rating, and, finally, a plan for the coming year.

Please use actual data when completing your form. As is the standard order for Seattle Public Schools processes, we will not have 2010 WASL results before the evaluation is due.

Open Choice Seats? What the District isn't Saying

If you live in West Seattle, go see Steve today and tell him this issue that Charlie raised and now this e-mail below confirms. Steve's community meeting is TODAY from 2-3:30 p.m. at the High Point Library, 3411 SW Raymond Street. As well, we should all be e-mailing the School Board about this issue.

The issue is that students enrolled from Open Enrollment into middle and high school are highly likely (as evidenced by Sealth) to get processed differently at those schools than students who are attendance area. Meaning, fewer class choices. It should NOT be this way.

From Charlie's post:


What do you know. It is EXACTLY as I had feared.

From an email from a friend:

"I also called and talked to 9th grade counselor Krista Rillo at Sealth this morning about how this process will affect kids that are hoping to get assigned at Sealth through Open Enrollment.

It's likely this process will be slightly different at each school, but there will be some similar issues.

Sealth will handle it just like they handled kids in previous years who come off the waitlist. Once the school is notified, they will individually contact all students who get assigned from Open Enrollment. Students are welcome to contact the school and complete the registration as soon as they get notice from the district. The timing of when the school district does actually notify both those students and the impacted schools will have some impact on class availability.

Right around the end of May is when Sealth, like most high schools, will be running all the student registration data they've entered in order to prepare the master class schedule. If registrations come after this process is substantially completed, those kids will be added in to the scheduled classes where there is room. Students will get all their core classes, but some elective class choice may be more limited at that point. Sealth is adding more honors sections of core classes next year, so they don't expect that this delayed registration timing will limit that option for any freshman registering at Sealth.

Special Education Caucus

The Mayor's Youth and Family Initiative will hold a Special Education Caucus on Tuesday, April 27, at 7:00pm, at the Roosevelt High School Library.

The Youth and Families Initiative is an program announced by Mayor Mike McGinn during his inaugural address. The goal of the Initiative is to identify challenges youth and families face and to collectively mobilize towards solutions so that all children in Seattle can succeed. The Initiative will help shape the agenda on issues affecting youth and families from a child's birth to their successful career track.

The caucus takes 90 minutes and culminates with each group choosing a delegate to represent its priority issues and potential solutions at the city-wide Congress at Seattle Center on June 5.

This is a chance to focus specific attention on Special Education issues in Seattle.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Uh oh, Here Comes Vulcan

The Seattle PI has links to various neighborhood blogs around the city. It's always good to keep up so I like to pick one and read it. Today I picked the South Lake Union blog and it's by a woman who lives in South Lake Union. The title is "Vulcan's Grip on South Lake Union: the how and why of managing a neighborhood".

From the blog:

Your average developer creates spaces for living, working and playing and then moves on to the next project. Vulcan's role is unique because they have the power to shape not just one building, but an entire neighborhood and they will always have a presence in South Lake Union, even after the last brick is laid.

Naturally, the Vulcan team is acutely aware of their special status, which is why they also envision themselves as being responsible for connecting people in the neighborhood, their prime example being the South Lake Union Chamber of Commerce. I was also surprised to learn that, since the new public school boundaries have been drawn, Vulcan's people have been working with parent advocates from Queen Anne to learn about what the school experience might be like for our kids. Call me naive, and I'm sure some of you will, but I had no idea they were so involved in the day to day details of family life in South Lake Union. (bold mine)

South Lake Union had stakeholders from both the South Lake Union and Queen Anne Community Councils sit down and work on recommendations that would work for their neighborhoods. The document they created talks about school creation and was signed by Susan Gorman of a group called South Lake Union Schools Coalition. This group includes the children served by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, the Spruce Street School, downtown's only K-5 elementary school (private), Morningside Academy which is a private K-8, Cascade Children's Corner, a daycare/preschool and New Discovery School, a nursery-pre-K program.

From the document:

"Both South Lake Union and Uptown will absorb unprecedented growth in the next 10-20 years. The City's Comprehensive Plan targets these two centers for 20% of all new jobs and 20% of all new households in the city between now and 2024. There are no other areas in the City targeted for growth at so rapid a rate."

"Explore ways to accommodate schools to serve these neighborhoods. Consider nontraditional school models such as classrooms in various buildings vs a campus or special curriculum schools." (I'm not sure what they mean by special curriculum.)"

They also thank Councilman Conlin who participated (Sally Clark was there as well). Conlin mentioned to the Board at the recent joint meeting with the City Council and School Board for the district to NOT forget that the downtown area wants to have a school.

Now the district is already in the process of working out a deal with the City about Memorial Stadium. The initial plan is for the City to take over the parking lot space (with the parking lot going underground) and the City to trade that for a nearby parking garage. The district hasn't made specific plans but did say it could be used for a high school.

So that would leave K-8 to be served so maybe a K-8 is what might be created for this area.

I bring this to your attention because, fyi , Vulcan is owned by Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft). Mr. Allen, like Bill Gates, is pretty used to getting what he wants from the City (note how fast he got his streetcar). I don't think anyone will be waiting until 2014 to start on this so I suspect the district is already working on it in some way.

If we have that many more people (and their children) in that area, it does make sense. It does have big ramifications as opening a brand-new school in what is likely to be a brand-new building hasn't happened in a long time. (I'm think AAA was the last one.) Perhaps as soon as the district gets the parking garage, it may start having a plan in place to create a new high school while planning where to place a K-8 (or elementary and middle school).

Keep in mind that this neighborhood will want/require more services and infrastructure. There's a lot of neighborhoods out there that have been waiting for their turn and I have to wonder how much Mr. Allen will be able to get what he and the residents of this area will get and how soon.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Principals Need a New Contract, Too

Just so it's clear, the principals' association (PASS) is also up to negotiate their new contract this year. Word is that the district did not even want to take this on last year and just kept the old one. One major sticking point (and I'm not sure exactly why) is that the district wants the principals to be classified more as executives than hourly workers. The principals don't.

Clearly, the principals are not hourly workers; they receive a salary. But I think the issue might be that the principals have so much piled on them that they wonder how to get everything done.

What came to my attention (and my surprise) was how new the idea of the principal being the "academic leader" of a school is versus just a manager. Principals now have a lot on their plate. They must manage a school and its budget, provide academic leadership to teachers (and, if they are secondary schools, to departments), be available for PTA issues and, of course, be the public face of the school they represent. It's a lot to do. And, in our district, be prepared to move mid-year if Dr. Goodloe-Johnson waves her wand.

Here's a link to the district webpage with all the contracts.

FYI - Teacher Forum on Saturday

Just talked to John Dunn at the SEA. The forum this Saturday is for SEA members ONLY to bring them all up to speed on the various education reform issues. (It also is not at St. Mark's.)

He did say that if there were events for the public, he would be sure to let me know so I can post those items here if readers are interested.

Garfield packet

My daughter, an 8th grader at Washington, brought home a Garfield High School registration packet yesterday. It included a welcome letter from the principal, a ninth grade course options sheet, a registration calendar showing dates for next week, a sign-up form for Garfield music, a sign-up form for Garfield choir and vocal jazz, a sign-up form for double period math, information on the summer bridge program, and a registration guide and course description book.

It was a lot.

Only thing, my daughter has no intention of enrolling at Garfield. Garfield was her default assignment, but she opted for Open Enrollment and did not name Garfield on her list of school choices.

The folks at the Enrollment Office say that Garfield is just trying to get out in front of the curve and that this neither indicates that my daughter has been assigned to Garfield nor does it put students who will enter Garfield through Open Enrollment at any sort of disadvantage. The person at the Enrollment Office said that the high schools all have their own schedules for doing these sort of things.

I just wish I could be more confident about all of this. I have this horrible feeling that students who will get assigned to Garfield through Open Enrollment and who did not get this packet will be at some sort of disadvantage. Likewise, I wonder if my daughter isn't being put at some sort of disadvantage compared to other incoming 9th graders at Sealth if they are getting a packet like this and she isn't.

Bellevue Makes Some Decisions

Interesting article in the PI about decision/recommendations the Bellevue District made yesterday.

One was to choose the Holt math series over Discovering math. Interestingly, there are 6 members of their Board and only 3 were there and all three voted for Holt. (Which begs the question, shouldn't there have been at least 4 to vote?)

Two, like Seattle, Bellevue won't be voting on their budget until July. But their survey of parents seemed to influence their superintendent's recommendations. The parents survey top five were:

"reducing temperatures, increasing parking fees, cuts to central administration, raising athletics fees, and increasing meal prices."

Notice that one in the middle - cuts to central administration?

From the article:

The recommendations from District Superintendent Amalia Cudeiro included those same items, plus:

• Bussing changes

• Charging for sports transportation

• Putting off equipment replacements for transportation and cafeterias

• Charging families for gifted-entry tests

• Reducing support for AP practice tests

• Decreasing the curriculum department budget by 10 percent

• Reducing elementary summer school

• Charging for clock hours

• Decreasing support for National Board candidates

Controversial proposals to reduce the number of elementary-school librarians, eliminate elementary band and orchestra, and drop certain athletic programs did not make the superintendent's list.

Those measures also ranked low in the survey results.

So let me get this right. The Superintendent in Bellevue asked parents what they thought about cutting in their school budgets, listened and then included their top 5 choices in her recommendations as well as rejecting their lower choices.

That's public engagement, SPS.

Board Meeting Testimony

I attended the public testimony portion of the Board meeting (and spoke up myself). The crowd was filled with many elementary counselors hoping to get their jobs back. Director DeBell was not present as he is in South Korean as part of a sister city delegation.

Princess Shariff of Cleveland accepted a principal's award from the UW. She was cited for her advocacy for STEM among diverse populations in her community.

As is the Board practice, two students from a high school, this time Sealth, spoke. And again, it was interesting. A very articulate young man spoke. He had quite the resume but what was interesting was that he said he got started (partially) as a leader when he led students against the co-joining of Sealth and Denny. He made some good points about summer school being too much about credit retrieval with not enough push in it. He said that the high school core requirements are not enough for college (I don't know if he feels it is Sealth or just the district in general). He also said that he had taken a few courses at a private school (and he alluded he had worked at one but I don't know doing what) and sat he saw the difference between public and private school. He hastened to say it wasn't so much that public was bad but private seemed better. He also said that it was difficult to understand the district pushing kids to take the SAT and ACT and yet they got rid of the Career counselors. Smart guy.

Many of the speakers talked about the possible RIFs and a big theme was (1) it had to be done for good reason and (2) as a very last resort after all other possibilities had been tried/considered. The SEA president pointed out that schools were given back money as discretionary money which is not the same thing as keeping with the WSS. (I don't know/understand this nuance but it was clear from both the Budget meeting on Tuesday as well as the Board meeting that there is a difference in terms of how the schools got their money back. Apparently that makes it more of a Sophie's Choice for principals.)

Several teachers came to talk about the RIFs including a Ballard science teacher who said that the RIFs are demoralizing for a school and that the RIFs last year (even with rehires) were very upsetting for all and didn't need to happen. He invited them to come for a day to his class and see what he does. He also, as the first in a line of speakers to say this, asked them if they were using standards and data in assessing if the Superintendent was doing her job/making the right choices.

Another teacher had a spreadsheet of the ratio of managers to workers at headquarters versus 1 principal to a school of teachers.

Another teacher from West Seattle High had done some work and said other districts with financial troubles had rejected RIFs. He said that we consistently run the largest ending balance in the state and have for several years. Interesting.

A counselor from Washington Middle school said that the district had said that the principals had gotten rid of the elementary counselors because it was their pick at a principals' meeting on the budget. He said this was NOT so and that no one in the district could explain how this got out there as fact. (And I heard this at a Board work session on the budget as well stated as fact. I think I even have it as part of the staff presentation.)

Long-time watchdog Chris Jackins made several points but did do well in stating that running the HVAC system at South Shore (their early solution to the problem) was not the same thing as finding the source of the contamination. As well he warned the district they need to be vigilant in making sure that other newer schools don't have this problem as well because the district had told the public that the big capital money spent on these buildings would make them better buildings for students and staff.

There were two slightly odd testimonies from different APP parents. Both were from other countries (I think Iran and China) and were very unhappy about their treatment from Dr. Vaughn, the head of Advanced Learning. One issue was making kids repeat a grade because of test scores. Any APP parents know about this in a general way?

Great testimony from Nova parent, Joe Szwaja, about the district needing to push the energy efficiency program in the district. It does save money AND schools who do really well get money back. Nova had to really push to get light switches that switch off in their school (odd but that's what he said). There were then several Nova students testifying about how great Nova is and how the curriculum alignment could be difficult for their school (they have multi-age classes sometimes and with the LA alignment you could have kids reading different books). Again, Nova is such an inspirational school.

Meg Diaz again scored well with her testimony about Thurgood Marshall and Title One. Nothing like having data and facts on your side.

Then there was the South Shore parent who just let Dr. Goodloe-Johnson have it. She said that the whole situation had been a communication crisis with some parents knowing very little about what was happening. She said Dr. Goodloe-Johnson did not attend a single community meeting. She said that there is a "deficit in trust and dollars" in the district. She also cited the movement of principals this year and the fear and uncertainty this engendered.

Finally, there was a parent from Hale who is worried about the over-subscription of Ballard. Apparently a Spec Ed program got moved, supposedly just for this year, to Ingraham but now may not come back to Ballard because of the push for more students.

So the Superintendent's update was on...South Shore. She gave just the facts about where the students would go, info at the website, orientation for the parents for the new schools, day care at Rainier Beach CC, families accessing lesson plans for this week, etc. She said health testing continues on the building. That she did not address anything that the South Shore woman said was a bit awkward given the testimony was almost just before her remarks. I think one of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's best tactics is to NEVER try to explain her position or actions. It works most of the time but I thought she might want to deflate some of what the woman had said. She didn't.

Acting President Steve Sundquist asked if there were questions or comments. Only Betty Patu spoke up and said that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had done the right thing and thanked her for it. Okay so maybe Betty had heard grumbling about the closure but what I have been hearing was that people had been asking for it sooner. I have heard virtually no complaints about the building closing (except from some yahoos in the comments section at the Times claiming it is mass hysteria).

My own testimony was to point out that we just spent about $433k for 4 portables that Hale used during their construction. That's about $108K each. Now when parents were asking for portables as a way to expand enrollment in the NE, staff said too expensive and at least $200K. (When Facilities wants something, it's affordable; if not, it's expensive.)

I also again asked the Board if they would provide any kind of input solution for parents who had comments or concerns about the teachers' contract. I can't believe they won't be having any public hearing or put it on the Board agenda or even have a webpage for parents to give input. They're our elected officials and they aren't forming their goals for the negotiations around any input?

Then I explained how poorly I thought the Budget meeting went on Tuesday night with specific examples. And Gavroche, I quoted you (but not by name) because I thought what you had posted about the overhaul being needed to be done at the headquarters and not in our schools was dead on.

My last sentence was from that post:

"Above all, it is increasingly evident that when funding does get allocated to our school district, most of it never finds its way to the classrooms, but instead gets hijacked by the central administration and redirected to fund excess staff, excess salaries, "teaching coaches", outside consultants, unproven testing products, layers of management and an overpaid Superintendent."

It seemed well-received.

Anybody else stay (or watch) the rest of the meeting?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Agenda Update

On the Board Agenda tonight there is an Introduction Item which is a Resolution by the Board and the District on RTTT. It seems to be pounding a nail with a sledgehammer and I think that's for the Board's benefit.

Mainly, the sky is falling and if you don't join us, we'll never see money again.

Here's the intro language:

The state’s Race to the Top application is due to the US Department of Education on June 1,
2010. Signed Partnership Agreements are due to the Office of the Governor on May 17, 2010.
If this Resolution is approved, the School Board President and the Superintendent will sign the
Partnership Agreement and both the Agreement and this Resolution will be submitted to the
Office of the Governor by the May 17 deadline.

Here are the additions to the language:

The estimated allocation of $54.38 per FTE is based on all 295 districts in the state signing onto the Partnership Agreement. If not all districts sign on, the SPS allocation would be higher. As a corollary to that, should SPS fail to sign the Partnership Agreement, the district would not receive any of the formulaic dollars. Put another way, formulaic dollars only come to those districts that sign the Agreement.

As mentioned above, should the district fail to sign the Agreement, we would forego these funds. Given that the required components are actions that we are currently taking or will be required to take as a result of state law changes, it seems short sighted to forego dollars that would help move the work forward. Therefore, the recommendation is for both the Superintendent and School Board President to sign the Agreement.

Put another way, failure to sign onto one or more of the optional components would preclude the district from competing for additional dollars.

It should be noted that the Partnership Agreement itself, except those elements required by state law (the required components) is null and void if the Race to the Top application does not
receive funding.

The overarching recommendation that both the Superintendent and School Board President sign off on all components of the Partnership Agreement is based on a theory that the district should retain as much flexibility in this process as possible. As discussed above, failure to sign parts of the Agreement would result in either failure to receive formulaic funds or an inability to compete for additional funds.

Given the district’s budget troubles and the fact that we have work underway in all of the
required areas and many, if not most of the optional areas retaining the flexibility to receive or
compete for additional dollars is the best action for the district.

This issue will be discussed by the Principals Association of Seattle Schools (PASS) at their
Executive Board meeting on Friday.

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) and district staff have met about the Partnership
Agreement. In order for the SEA to sign on to the Partnership Agreement the Representative
Assembly (RA) of the SEA must meet and authorize the SEA President to sign a Memorandum
of Understanding with the district. The purpose of the Memorandum is to recognize that a
number of issues in the Partnership Agreement are topics for bargaining, and to commit the
district and the SEA to engaging in good faith bargaining about those issues. If both parties
sign the Memorandum the SEA will also agree to sign onto the Partnership Agreement. The RA will be meeting on May 17th to discuss this issue; we will be working with OSPI to extend the deadline for submitting signatures to accommodate the SEA's schedule.

Anyone sensing a little desperation here? Pleeeasse SEA, sign our document. PASS, you too?

I would urge everyone to read this resolution because it gives pretty clear information on RTTT money, what needs to be done to get it and how it would be spent. Of course, that leaves the question, is it worth it? (And a whole $55 per FTE? Great.)

They are also voting on an Action Item to create a Native American Parent Advisory Committee. It was recently discovered that the district had mishandled federal dollars for Native American students and one of the reasons was no parent advisory committee. They are on a very tight schedule here:

In order to enable district eligibility for federal funding, it must have an operating Parent
Advisory Committee (PAC) and approved bylaws. The bylaws must be approved by the Board
of Education prior to the PAC election scheduled for April 27th. This has to be in place to apply
for a grant with a due date of May 5th.

So in just a couple days, the district is going to throw (almost literally) a parent committee together to get the federal grant money. It was noted at the Board committee meeting where this was exposed that the feds could drop our district to the bottom of the list for past non-compliance.

Here's a laugher from this item:

It has long been the practice of Seattle Public Schools to support the work of parent groups and
organizations. It is the policy of the Seattle School Board to encourage participation by members of the community to advise the Superintendent and Board in School District decision-making processes.

Very funny. They don't support us; our hard work and PTA dollars support them. And advise the Superintendent and the Board? Please. Any time there is any committee, they get thanked and the work gets shelved.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Our Schools Coalition Teacher Quality Town Hall

The Our Schools Coalition held a "Teacher Quality Town Hall" at South Lake High School tonight. The turnout was good, about 70 people, many of whom were already members of the OSC. The food was good, it was from Maya's. The conversation and the structure were only fair.

Everyone was civil and courteous, as we typically are at these sorts of things. There were some quick presentations on what the OSC has done so far and then they got to the questions for small group discussion. There were eight groups and they had four groups tackle one question while the other four took on another. Then came the report out from the small groups. Then with did it again with another two questions and reported out again and then they closed it up.

There were a lot of people there to disagree with the OSC and what they were doing, but there really wasn't much opportunity for that. There was one thing that the OSC folks did that was irritating, paternalistic, and disrespectful. Everytime someone expressed disagreement with them, they kind of shook their heads and wistfully apologized that they hadn't educated those folks, or those folks didn't properly understand the issue, or they hadn't been clear enough for those folks to understand. No. That's not the case. The people who disagree with you have an excellent understanding of the issues; they just disagree with you. The OSC just isn't open to the idea that they might be wrong. That's not only arrogant, it's a little scary.

Oddly, the OSC's own material shows that they are wrong. They asked teachers what they needed and the teachers said autonomy, time, and professional respect. While the OSC proposals address the time concerns (time for planning and time for collaboration) they do not address the autonomy or professional respect issues at all. When they asked community members what they thought was important, the community's issues were (in descending order) evaluation, hiring/distribution of talen, advocacy, capacity, training and mentoring, and student growth. While the OSC proposals address four of those, they do not address advocacy or capacity. These represent serious oversights and reflect a failure to pay attention to the very people that you claim to regard.

The poll data is badly reported. They do not report the number of people who responded "don't know". For at least two of the questions that answer may have been the top one. It's unclear why they didn't report these numbers.

I think the Our Schools Coalition is aware that they do not have the public behind them. I don't think they have made any effort to get the public behind them. I don't think they really care if they have the public behind them because I think they know that the public doesn't matter. Honestly, I don't know how much they really believe that they will have ANY impact on the teacher contract negotiations.

I can't imagine that either of the parties to the negotiations give this flea circus any notice at all.

Budget Meeting? BS,BS, BS

(Update: I had asked the question if the two Broad Residents had been hired permanently but left before it got answered. Apparently the answer is yes. Folks, these are two people up the food chain who the district could have easily let go and we now have TWO more people on the payroll each making about $90K. So when they tell you they have made Central cuts and blah, blah, well, don't believe them. I'm still waiting to find out if the third person that Broad was paying for, Carol Rava Treat who makes $144k, is also now being paid by SPS. Between those 3 people that's 5% of the $6M they are looking for. Just unbelievable and so disrespectful.)

Now what is it they say about waiting before you hit the SEND button? Sleep on it, give it time, reflect. Yeah right. No, I'm going to say exactly (well, minus the swearing) what I think of the district's "budget" meeting.

It was a load of insulting nonsense and boy, my phrase "decorative engagement" is right on. I have seen some nervy meetings but this one takes the cake. (Note: I left in disgust at 8 o'clock. Enough.)

There were about 15 staff there including Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Peter, Harium and Sherry were also in attendance as was Ramona Hattendorf, Seattle Council PTSA President.

There was a looong presentation, first by Don Kennedy and then by Duggan Harmon. Basically Mr. Kennedy said our graduation rates need to be better and that we have a large organization that needs good leadership. He said that they are using reserves and it isn't enough for a shrinking budget. He referenced the federal stimulus dollars and that they were only for 2 years. (Which begs the question, as Harium said later, are the RTTT dollars worth it for only 4 years? As Mr. Kennedy said, there is no way to backfill those dollars once they are gone.)

Mr. Harmon adopted the time-honored district action of reading the PowerPoint. (Charlie's head would have exploded by this point.) He said by May 5th, they will have to give notices to any certificated staff to be RIFed.

I'm stopping here to say I honestly believe that to cut $6M could be done and we shouldn't be having anyone lose their job.

Here are my ideas:
  • don't hire the two Broad residents permanently - that's $180K there
  • don't keep the employee who currently makes $144K and is being paid this year by Broad (these two bullets alone are nearly 5% of the $6M)
  • how about cutting everyone's salary by 1-2% across the board so no one will lose their job?
  • get rid of half the academic coaches
  • how about just one principal at a small high school like Rainier Beach?
He referenced the coaches again so boy, did Meg Diaz hit a sore spot.

(He went over his time by 5 minutes but no, they weren't going to add on any time AND Dr. Goodloe-Johnson also decided to talk for 5 minutes. Thanks, folks, that gives us less time to hear questions AND talk to each other. But hey, this is your show, right?)

Also at this point I'll say, I was a lot more aggressive than I usually am. I was very annoyed at this dog-and-pony show but it got worse.

Mr. Kennedy started reading the questions:
  • elimination of mid-winter break to end school a week earlier to save money? A contractual issue with the teachers but no commitment if they would be bringing it up at the upcoming negotiations
  • Why did the district take over Pay for K and add a layer of bureaucracy? Schools handling of it was unequal (different costs). I raised my hand and asked why they didn't just give the schools a limit to the cost and leave things as they were? He wouldn't answer as that was not the format.
  • What percentage of funds in the classroom go to technology? The district's tech manager did give an answer but I couldn't follow it.
  • Why are we being asked to spend money for computer programs when there are free online materials? Kathy from Academics said that the current core adoptions are outdated (foreign language) and that the math adoption came with online materials. She wasn't aware of any other materials being formally adopted that are available online but schools can use discretionary dollars to buy those kinds of items. (Yes, all those discretionary dollars floating around our schools.)
  • How does our central office staffing/spending compare with other urban districts nationally? Don't know, Great Schools is doing a study on that.
  • What about the dollars in the BTA for the Strategic Plan? Yes, there are dollars in the BTA for the Strategic plan.
  • How much is the Strategic Plan costing us with MAP, computers, etc? The answer "we don't have the details here but there's an Audit and Finance committee meeting tomorrow." Yes, that was the answer and we parents all looked at each other and had the same thought "But we're here now at a Budget meeting. Did you not come prepared?"
  • What about Gates Foundation paying for some of these computers we need? Blah, blah but no real answer.
  • Why build off previous budgets, do you look at line items like travel and consultants? Yes we do.
  • Ramona asked for a clarification about the money sent back to the schools. Basically, the schools had positions converted to dollars so they could decide what to do with those dollars. The schools had about a week to decide.
  • How much of the $6M cuts to central administration? Again the answer "we don't have those numbers here" (I got up at this point and complained to Sherry.)
  • Special election cost? (One of the district's ideas is since the levy lid got raised this legislative session, well, hey, let's have us another levy election. No matter that the City will be coming to voters in Fall 2011 with the Families and Education levy.) Mr. Harmon said blah, we don't know, could be sharing costs with another entity who wants to share the ballot. Hey, Duggan, we spent $1M on the BTA election, you could have said that but didn't.
  • Selling SPS bonds to pay down the headquarters debt? Could be saving $160-180K per year once sold.
  • Eliminate high school football for a couple of years before losing teachers? Wouldn't answer and told us to discuss in our groups.
  • 2% pay cut or furloughs? Mr. Kennedy gave a convoluted answer about decline of students and central employment going up, what? Finally, he said yes it had been considered. He left it at that so I guess the answer is no.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson claims that the rest of the questions will be answered at the budget FAQs at the website. I submitted 11 questions so I'll be interested to see if they all get answered. She also said, "Our purpose tonight was not about detail but about where we are and how we make budgets." Then why ask us for "detail" on what is important to us?

So we got into our groups (there were two whole tables!) and my table was not happy. The district had 4 questions for us to answer (one of them a bullshit question about "guiding principles for the budget") as well as what we don't want cut, suggestions from other districts on the back (like AP, music, full-day K), what is vital.

I noticed that none, absolutely none of the 15 staff, were circulating and listening to the conversations. I went and asked Harium who was speaking with Holly Ferguson, yet another up-the-foodchain person in the district, why not. Holly said they were instructed NOT to. I told Harium that was just ridiculous.

So Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and her "cabinet" were sitting at one table talking and laughing. Seriously. So I asked why staff had been instructed not to circulate and Dr. G-J said they hadn't. I told her Holly Ferguson said they were and she just shrugged but did she get up and ask staff to listen? No. I told her this was just for show and she said no, Melissa, it's for parents to talk to each other.

After that, I left. I don't need to waste my time. I'm going to let the Board know what a disappointment this was but they are unlikely to do anything.

KING-5 was there so you can look for this on the news (they chased me down as I left and please note if the interview makes the news, the marks on my face - a cooking accident, I look like an accident victim).

FYI, Michael DeBell is in our South Korean sister city on a delegation with City staff with some emphasis on the trip to be education.

FYI Meetings

The Board Calendar had previously listed at Board Work Session on Performance Management before the Board meeting tomorrow. It is no longer listed and I'm assuming it is not happening. So heads up if you had planned to attend.

The regular Board meeting is still scheduled for 6 p.m. I note there seems to be some kind of figure adjustment in the item on the Agenda for the website update costs but I'm not sure what it means.

Also, as a heads up there is to be a Board Work Session next Wednesday, the 28th on International Education from 4-6 p.m. if that is an issue of interest to you.

Buddy, Can You Spare $6M?

(Update: This story appeared in today's online PI, complete with quotes from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. I would assume this $6M gap is valid but I think all will be revealed at tonight's budget meeting at Roosevelt at 6:30 p.m.)

The PI reports (and I use that word loosely because they again are using a UW journalism student to be their reporter) that after the district got the numbers from the Legislature, the district's budget is $6M more in the whole. This is in addition to the $25M already cut.

I have to say I am quite torn about going to the Alliance Teacher Town Hall tonight or the budget meeting at Roosevelt. Anyone planning on going to the budget meeting who might report back? The budget meetings were about trying to explain the budget process and get feedback for next year's projected cuts at $24M but I suspect now they will ask what to do about this additional $6M. (Note: the district now says these meetings are to talk about the budget gap for this year but I swear the original post at the News and Calendar section of the district's website said it was to explain the process and talk about next year. I find this happens sometimes when I read something and then it seems to morph into something else a day or so later. )

From the article:

The district representatives emphasized that $6.6 million of the $25 million in cuts came from the central administration, a reduction of 85 out of about 380 jobs. The cuts also included freezing hiring and salary step increases and raising school meal prices and athletic participation fees. The district also would use $4.4 million in reserve funds.

Olga Addae, president of the Seattle Education Association, expressed skepticism about the cuts made from central administration.

"When they say there were 85 people cut from central, 40 of those were … the lowest- paid people downtown. They didn't cut the $150,000 people who came in on grant, and part of that grant was saying we'll fund them for a year, now you get them for the rest of the time -- you have to hire them."

This is true. Some of those "cuts" are the ed director positions who are going to be rehired and I think Ms. Addae is alluding to the Broad residents. I have asked if they are to be permanent hires but alas, no answer yet.

Interestingly, Duggan Harman, the district's executive director for finance, said the position cuts happened "all the way up to the superintendent's cabinet." So now Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has a cabinet? That's an interesting term that, to me, usually means close advisers and not just regular staff.

One idea being floated is another, yes another, levy this one for 3-years to cover our problems in November. Sorry district, that's a really bad idea and one the City would be unhappy with because the Families and Education levy comes up in November of 2011. The Legislature, because most Seattle school levies pass, would likely shrug and not do much more to fully fund education.

No, this is not just a Seattle problem or Washington state problem. I was in Tucson recently and boy, they were chopping away. Tucson operates as several smaller districts (even though it's not a particularly large city) and one district was eliminating full-day K, raising class sizes and having an across-the-board pay cut of 2% for the entire district staff. That last one is an interesting idea because it would probably raise a lot of money and the entire district staff would feel the pain and not just those who lose their jobs.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Redmond Teacher Wins "Green" Award

Nooksack Valley High science teacher, Mike Town, won the National Education Association's Green Prize in Education for creating the Cool School Challenge.

From the PI Big Blog:
The curriculum, with materials available for download here, helps students gather information about their school's carbon footprint and develop a plan to reduce it. Thanks to Town's program, Redmond High has saved over $30,000 per year in electricity and waste costs and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 200,000 pounds.

The prize comes with a $25,000 award. Town, a teacher for 25 years, was the unanimous choice of a panel of national environmental, education and business leaders. He developed Cool School Challenge in 2007.

I think this could be a great idea to start - across the district - to challenge students and staff. Let kids take the lead and make it competitive (hey Alliance, there's something to spend money on).

Strategic Plan Update

I now have the spreadsheet which was used as the basis to report, on the District Dashboard, that 82% of Strategic Plan projects are on schedule. I will need time to thoroughly review it, but even at a glance I can see that it is full of thin deceptions.

So I was just thinking about the progress on the Strategic Plan. I know I shouldn't. It only serves to upset and frustrate me. Nevertheless...

Focusing just on the primary themes and elements of the Plan, it still doesn't look good.

1. Ensuring Excellence in Every Classroom

1A. Adopt an aligned curriculum in math and science

They haven't done this. They're nowhere with regard to science; I don't think they've even gotten started. They're not much further along with math. They have standardized the textbooks (for the most part), and they have posted pacing guides, but there's no evidence that they have aligned the curriculum. In fact, it doesn't appear that they have any ability to align the curriculum, that they even know how to align curriculum, or that they know what aligned curriculum would look like. After making bold statements on PowerPoints and paying millions to vendors, they appear to be completely adrift.

1B. Develop districtwide assessments in math and reading

This is a reference to the MAP, but it isn't districtwide yet and teachers either don't know how to use the results or simply aren't choosing to use them. There were supposed to be a lot of other common assessments, but there's no evidence to suggest that they are either in use or useful. Mostly this was an excuse to funnel millions to a vendor for a data warehouse which isn't ready yet and will be of questionable utility when it is ready.

1C. Develop a school performance framework

This isn't done yet either. There was also a vendor who made hundreds of thousands of dollars on this as well. This is also a project of questionable utility. The school scorecard design remains unfinished. Some arbirtrary measure of school quality will stick a label on every school but it won't result in any useful response and families won't be able to use those ratings to make any enrollment decisions that they wouldn't have made anyway. By the way, this is WAY overdue.

2. Strengthen Leaders System-Wide

2A. Improve our hiring process
Not done. Not even close. In fact, with the further deferral of school budgets into the early summer, our hiring process has actually gotten worse.

2B. Expand mentoring programs for new teachers and principals
Not done. Not even started.

2C. Develop a comprehensive evaluation system
Not done. Should have been negotiated last year, but the District deferred it into this year. They may defer it for yet another year since they are still unprepared to made an authentic proposal and they are unprepared to perform or pay for any of the support it would require.

3. Build an Infrastructure That Works Well

3A. Update District technology
3B. Develop a budget process to ensure that resources meet goals
Ha! Not done. The District's budget process continues to put pet projects ahead of students. Why in the world would we be spending millions on performance management while we RIF teachers?

I can't help noticing that there are no facilities goals among the infrastructure theme. Curious.

4. Improve Our Systems
I'm not sure how this is different from theme 3A.

5. Engage Stakeholders

The common themes here are:
Big, important-sounding statements about goals that are ill-defined, unachievable, and unaffordable.
Millions spent on vendors or central staff, but nothing spent on students.
A failure to address reality.
A failure to fulfill on the promised timeline.
A failure to acknowledge failure.

National Education News of Interest

Two articles of note in the NY Times last week.

One was about how the US is training math teachers and that they earned a C on a new test compared with students in other countries like Singapore and Taiwan and Germany. The tests were created by an international consortium and the study done in the U.S. However, there were few European countries in the study. From the article:

On average, 80 percent to 100 percent of the future middle school teachers from the highest-achieving countries took advanced courses like linear algebra and calculus, while only 50 percent to 60 percent of their counterparts in the United States took those courses, the study said.

“The study reveals that America’s middle school mathematics teacher preparation is not up to the task,” said William H. Schmidt, the Michigan State University professor who was its lead author.

However, other voices stated:

“There are so many people who bash our teachers’ math knowledge that to be honest these results are better than what a lot of people might expect,” said Hank Kepner, professor of mathematics education at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who is president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “We show up pretty well here, right in the middle of the pack.”

The study was also faulted for including calculus because it isn't taught in middle school.

Other info on the test:

There were two distinct tests, for those preparing to teach in elementary schools and for candidates for middle school.

The same tests, developed by an international consortium, were given to college students in 15 other countries, including advanced nations like Germany and Norway as well as underdeveloped ones like Botswana.

On the elementary test, students from Singapore, Switzerland and Taiwan scored far above their counterparts in the United States. Students from Germany, Norway, the Russian Federation and Thailand, scored about the same as the Americans, and students from Botswana, Chile, Georgia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland and Spain scored well below, the report said.

On the middle school test, American students outscored students in Botswana, Chile, Georgia, Malaysia, Norway, Oman, the Philippines and Thailand, the study found.

The other article, which is major news, was about the veto by Florida Governor Charlie Crist against a bill which would have eliminated tenure for public school teachers as well as tying their pay ad job security to how well students were learning. This bill, if approved, would have had the most sweeping teacher pay changes in the country.

From the article:

Mr. Crist said Thursday that his decision was not political. He cited “the incredible outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school boards and legislators.”

The bill was supported by the Florida Department of Education and statewide business groups, which expressed disappointment in the governor’s decision, saying that teachers should be held more accountable.

But the governor, announcing his veto in the Capitol in Tallahassee, said the changes envisioned would put “teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs and teaching certificates, without a clear understanding of how gains will be measured.”

Of course this puts Florida in a bad place for future RTTT. An Obama official said this bill “is consistent with what Race to the Top wants,”.

From the article:

When Florida proposed strict accountability measures, teachers, parents and administrators pushed back. They argued that the proposed system — basing renewal of teacher contracts and at least half their raises on how well students did on standardized tests — would hold them responsible for factors in students’ lives beyond their control.

“I am not a puppet master; I can’t pull strings and make them perform,” said Amy Horr, a second-grade teacher in the Miami-Dade School District who attended a rally on Monday. “I can’t even make them come to school.”

The president of the state teachers’ union, Andy Ford, argued that the pressure on children “will be immense when the teacher’s salary evaluation, contract and certification are all tied to that score.”

This makes Mr. Crist, a moderate Republican, at odds with the Obama Administration as well as some conservatives and yet even some Tea Party activists had opposed the bill because of the increased government bureaucracy.

I've said it before - public education in this country is about local control. I think while many believe that teachers need to be more accountable (but how is the big question), that many are not sure the federal government should be using the carrot/stick that RTTT is. I think the combination of teacher salary/certification/contract was a triple whammy that likely doomed the bill. I wonder if Mr. Crist would have vetoed a more simple bill. Still, it is an opening legislative salvo for this discussion.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

School Board meeting of 4/21/10

A few comments on the agenda for this week's school board meeting.

1. University of Washington Excellence in Educational Leadership Award –
Princess Shareef, Cleveland High School

I happen to respect Ms Shareef, but I don't really see how anyone can give an award for excellence in educational leadership to the principal of a school that is getting transformed due to persistent low performance. It sends a strange message. I thought the idea was to hold the education professionals responsible for student achievement and for their evaluation to be based, in part, on student achievement. The low performance by Cleveland High School students would seem to disqualify Ms Shareef from any sort of award, regardless of her indisputable talents.

2. "Curriculum" Adoption action items

All of the action items for materials adoptions are mislabeled "Curriculum Adoption". This misuse of terms contributes to the confusion of these terms. They should correct the titles of the action items to read "Materials Adoption" instead.

There are a number of people who believe that the District intentionally cultivates confusion around the definitions of the terms "curriculum", "materials", "content", and "Standards". The misuse of these terms on official District documents and by District staff is exactly the sort of thing that supports this suspicion. The misuse of these terms detracts from transparency and community engagement. This example is particularly egregious because it speaks to an adoption. These actions do NOT adopt a curriculum, only materials.

The titles of these motions have been corrected in an updated version of the agenda.

3. Transportation Contract Extension

Here it comes again, the annual transportation dance. The staff brings forward a plan that makes no sense. The Board is puzzled by it and reveals that it makes no sense. The staff admit that it isn't a very good plan, but, they say, we absolutely must adopt something now as we are hard up against a deadline. The Board votes to approve but they insist that the staff bring forward a better plan with better thinking next year and that they bring it forward earlier so it can be discussed. The staff swears that they will. Then, the next year, the entire farce is reprised.

This will be yet another example of how the staff don't do very good work and don't do the work that they have committed to doing, but that the Board is either incapable or unwilling to hold them accountable in any way. It reveals everyone as a miserable failure.

4. Web site upgrade

The District is going to spend $700,000 on the web site over the next five years. The Strategic Plan says that the web site will be upgraded as funding becomes available. At the time I thought that they were hoping for private sources to fund it. Now we see that it is getting funded out of BTA II and BTA III. I don't remember seeing this on the BTA III list of projects, do you? Is this really a better use of BTA money than maintenance and repairs from the backlog? Is this really an appropriate use of capital funds?

5. Lease of closed buildings

Here's where you can see who will be in each of the closed school buildings and for how long. Muslim Youth Academy at Van Asselt for 3 years, Torah Day School at Columbia for 3 years, Westside School at Hughes for 10 years, Peoples Family Life Center at Mann for 3 years, and the Hamlin Robinson School at TT Minor for 7 years. There will also be renters in the John Marshall building. I continue to be confused about how it is that these buildings would need millions and millions of dollars of repairs for our students to be in them, but they are just dandy for the students of these other schools. What's weird about this is how the District said that we would save all of this money by closing the schools because we wouldn't have to pay to maintain them, but the terms of the leases require us to maintain them. I'm totally okay with the leases, but I just don't get the claims about savings that were made when the schools were closed. They don't make any sense at all.

6. Sign off on state Race to the Top petition

This is all empty political gesturing. It doesn't mean a thing.

What to Do about the Fun Forest?

Dipping my toe somewhat outside of education (but related to kids), I wanted to ask you readers what you thought should happen to the Fun Forest and the area around it. As you may be aware, there is outside funding for a Chihuly Glass Museum to be placed there.

I personally am against this idea as (1) I don't think his work is really art for the ages (2) EMP is already an expensive museum at Seattle Center and do we need another one (3) there is a glass museum in Tacoma already and (4) we need the green space.

What I (and some others) are putting forth, for at least some of the space, is an adventure playground. These playgrounds take different forms. I have seen some in Europe that have these enormous sturdy rope climbing areas, others have imaginative play and others have ziplines.

I sent an e-mail to the City Council on this issue and I had found some good examples so I thought I would pass them onto you as food for thought. I think having open spaces in downtown would be great for both natives and tourists.

Central Park has several wonderful aspects to it but one that would tie in with the loss of the Fun Forest is their Adventure Playground.

Examples of Adventure playgrounds:
Great Britain

From Mental Floss, a list of the 10 best from Japan to Sweden to Germany to Dubai. One of special note is in Fairfax County, Virginia and was built so that children with disabilities can play side by side with those without.

New Tenant for TT Minor?

The Times is reporting that Hamlin Robinson, a non-profit private school that serves students with dyslexia and other language-problem issues, may be leasing the TT Minor building. They had previously put in an application to buy the MLK, Jr. building but got beaten out by another private school, Bush School.

The use of TT Minor by Hamlin would likely be only 5-7 years as the district feels they might need it back by then because of enrollment trends. Hamlin seems okay with the deal and the Board expects to vote on this by the end of the school year.

On a separate topic, did anyone attend the district Budget Meeting yesterday? Any of the community meetings?

Saturday, April 17, 2010


The Seattle-King County Health Department says a woman who was visiting from British Columbia has measles and visited the Seattle Aquarium April 3 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. People who were at the aquarium at that time and who develop a rash should see a doctor.

People who were at the aquarium at that time and who develop a rash should see a doctor.

Joint School Board/City Council Meeting

I attended the joint meeting yesterday morning. There were a handful of other interested people including Ramona Hattendorf, the Seattle Council PTSA President. The entire City Council was there except Sally Clark and the entire School Board was there except for Michael DeBell. The Superintendent was also in attendance.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I saw Tracy Libros, head of Enrollment, before the meeting started and asked her about the district decision to enlarge the enrollment at both Ballard and Roosevelt. I asked her how many students that might be. She said up to 25% of the functional capacity of each school except if the school did fill with attendance area students, they would need to keep the 10% Open Choice seats. A bit confusing but I'm sure it will all become clear by the end of May.

I had forgotten that all City Council meetings have a public comment portion at the beginning so I did get up and speak. I just told the Council that as someone active in the district that I felt that parents were not being heard by the district and there was a growing frustration and anger over it. I mentioned the lack of transparency in district actions. I mentioned how the district was holding budget meetings but to talk about next year, not this year. I asked the Council to remember that parents are their constituents and that they need to listen and let the Board know about what they hear from parents.

There were also two speakers about getting a Teen Health Center for the SBOC/Nova. This makes perfect sense as those are two communities of teens in one building. All the other high schools have a teen health center so it seems like a good idea.

To give some context, in the past, the joint meetings were largely the district telling the Council what they wanted to tell them. Basically, as one Council member told me several months back, it was a dog and pony show which the Council found frustrating and that's why the meetings got suspended. I'd give this one a C+.

Yes, the district did trot out two presentations, one on Performance Management and one on the new enrollment plan, but the Council, to their credit, did ask a lot of questions. Sadly, no cost figures were given by the district for either thing nor did the Council ask about them.

Jessica de Barrios, one of our Broad residents (I'll have to find out if she's staying on and where we got the money for that), gave the Performance Management presentation. Being kind, not so good. Waaay too long, and darn those Council members asking questions and making it longer. (I can't believe that she could have thought that she could zip through that much material in 30 minutes.) Also, some of the Powerpoint slides were almost unreadable and she had to apologize several times. Why use it if you can't read it?

(One item given out before the presentation was a sheet that showed "Seattle Public Schools Strategic Plan Measures versus the Families and Education Levy Outcome Measures". The two columns were "other measures" and "academic assessment" from PreK-12. The Seattle Schools side did not mention MAP at all. I was puzzled and asked Jessica about it and she said MAP didn't exist when the Families and Education Levy came out so it wasn't included. Oh. So something that DOES now exist and is in use isn't on a sheet that the City Council is using to figure out the Families and Education Levy language. (Councilman Tim Burgess did ask about MAP later on when this sheet was used during the Levy discussion but I doubt if all the Council members knew what he was talking about.)

To note from the Performance Management presentation:
  • schools will have a School Report card coming out starting in the fall and they will be "snapshots" of school performance on common academic measures. Additionally, every school is creating an improvement plan.
  • Jessica managed to forget/ignore at least 3 questions put forth by Council members
  • Jean Godden asked a pretty funny question, something like "Why aren't you aiming for 100% passage of the state test?" I don't know, Jean, there is a reality to teaching and who we teach.
  • Jessica stated that the district uses a lot of other measures other than the WASL/MAP but didn't reference what they are.
  • Jessica stated that the district is redesigning the surveys for student and family engagment.
  • The question was asked about race designations in district stats and the answer was that it was self-selected. I think Councilman Harrell was a little worried about lumping immigrant Africans with African-Americans and putting all Asians together when there are distinct differences and how does this affect how the district uses the data.
  • Page 16 of this presentation gave some specifics on school autonomy for higher-performing schools.
  • Nick Licata asked how the district weighed a school's scores with its socio-economics stats. Steve said they were trying to create an accountability framework. Licata said the City could take on a more active role to help target areas (schools) that need outside help to support them.
  • Councilman Harrell asked about how entire school staffs and/or principals could be changed under PM. He said that he had heard about good principals doing well at a school who then get moved elsewhere. Dr. G-J said the talent could come from within or outside the district depending on the circumstances.
Then, Holly Miller, from the Mayor's Education department, spoke about the Families and Education levy. The City has a data-sharing agreement with the district. One key factor they have found are the number of absences affecting academic outcomes. The tipping point seems to be 8 per semester, 16 in a year (the district goes lower in its assessment at 5 per semester and 10 in a year).

Holly also mentioned transition years as being very important. Kay Smith-Blum asked her to look at how kids do who transition from 5th grade elementary to 6th grade middle school versus a child in a K-8 school.

One interesting piece here was Holly stating that the City is not going to fund the family and community engagement program that they have funded over the last several years.

School Assignment

Tracy ran through the basics but there were nuances that were left out that I think the Council might have needed to hear. On page 3 of her presentation there was this odd statement to the effect that instead of having an expensive, hard-to-implement plan that the district is moving more to not thinking about where kids go but what happens when they get to the door. I thought this a key idea that had not really been articulated by the district before and I wonder if this is a continuing nudge towards shutting down choice and getting people to accept their attendance area school. I get the quality school in every neighborhood but I think people, at least at this point, do care about what school their child gets assigned to (rather than great, it's in my neighborhood).

Sally Bagshaw referenced my remarks about parents and not feeling listened to and Tracy said that they had enrollment forums and webpages and really had reached out. She also said "the format of the forums worked well for the district". I wrote the Council and told them that yes, there was engagement but that (1) many parents did NOT like the format of the meetings so while it may have worked for the district, it didn't for many parents and (2) not all the e-mail questions made it to the webpages. I told the Council to contact Ramona if they didn't believe my take on parents and their frustration with our district and its ability to listen.

Enrollment points:
  • page 15 stated that community engagement on Option School geographic zones for 2011-2012 would start in Oct/Nov 2010. I would advise anyone at an Option School or anyone who lives near one to get this on your last PTSA meeting of this year or first one of 2010 so that you can get your opinions in to the Board BEFORE the district gives their ideas to the Board. By December 2010, the district will have those zones created and the Board will vote in Jan. 2011.
  • Both Councilman Conlin and Councilman O'Brien expressed interest in knowing more data about schools that would help them in their decisions about neighborhoods. Tracy said she was convinced that creating the middle school path would make for stronger neighborhoods.
  • The district did NOT explain the Option Schools all that clearly. They did not explain that there would likely be only one choice per area (Harium used Cleveland as an example and naturally that's not the best example to use).
  • Councilwoman Gooden had asked a question about what the new enrollment plan would do to demographics and Tracy was a bit cagey on this point. And maybe that's okay because we don't know for sure what choices people have made and will make in the future. But Tracy did say the Board may be reviewing the enrollment statistics that come out over the next few years and may adjust the plan for socio-economic status.
  • Conlin put in a pitch for a school downtown (I'm assuming an elementary but I don't know.)
  • Harrell asked about how to have programs where kids throughout the city interact with each other (he had in a program at TT Minor years ago with RHS). He said he is worried about segregation under the new enrollment plan.
Families and Education Levy Planning

So here's a heads-up - the City Council and the Mayor's office each get to nominate 6 people to serve on an Advisory Committee for the Levy. You can self-nominate but apparently it is a lot of intense work in a short period of time. So call those offices if you are interested. The content of the levy needs to be finalized by April 2011 for the election in Nov. 2011.

The question here is what is the most effective use of these city funds for our pre-K-12 education system?

Councilman Rasmussen asked how principals could get involved and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson gave him kind of a lame answer about possibly setting that up.

Education Legislation

This came right at the end so there was much time for any discussion. Two people from LEV did the presentation and it was stated that the legislation around RTTT was not to chase after money but because it was the best thing to do for kids. Tim Burgess asked if this positions Washington well for RTTT money. It was stated that the legislation could have been stronger but for the states that got it this round, support of the union was a key factor and that Governor Gregoire wanted the legislation to reflect that. Harium also stated that, at some point, individual districts can apply for RTTT money; I hadn't heard that.