The Good and the Bad of Education Reform

There has been a lot of talk about the evils of Education Reform, particularly the reliance on High Stakes Testing (which somehow comes capitalized now) and the blame heaped on teachers. On the other hand there are some real, large, and persistent gaps between our academic ambitions and the academic realities. More of what we've been doing isn't going to get us there. Something has to change.

So let me begin with what I LIKE about the Education Reform movement.

I like the accountability that the movement promises. Everyone who works for the District - teachers, principals, school staff and central staff - should get a meaningful performance evaluation and, if their performance is persistently poor, they should face the possibility of losing their jobs.

I like the idea that some adult in the system needs to take responsibility for student achievement below grade level and needs to deliver an early and effective intervention to raise those students' performance. I believe this is part of Education Reform.

I like data-based decisions. We should be basing our decisions on more than anectdotal evidence. Results should be measured and all decisions should have some sort of feedback loop for judging their effectiveness.

I like curricular alignment. Students should be assured of receiving instruction in the same core set of knowledge and skills at the same grade level and in the same classes at every school. The work that gets an "A" at School A should also get an "A" at School B and vice versa.

What I DON'T LIKE about the Education Reform movement is that they go about all of these laudable goals in exactly the wrong way. They shortcut everything.

They appear to want to hold only the teachers accountable - no one else, and they want to hold them accountable for results outside their control or authority. They do not expose themselves to this sort of accountability. Moreover, they rely far too much on high stakes tests as the sole measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

They talk about intervention but fail to deliver it. This puzzles me, but it is consistent with a theme in which they are trying to provide all of the reforms on the cheap, and there is no cheap substitute for intervention.

They talk about data-based decisions, but lack the courage and humility to review the data honestly. They don't subject their own decisions to a feedback loop.

They shortcut curricular alignment with the cheap substitute of standardized materials.

The whole Education Reform movement puts me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with all of their stated principles and disagreeing with all of their actions. I can certainly see how they can get lots of well-meaning people and groups to jump on their bandwagon. It reminds me of nothing so much as those disingenuous titles for legislation, like the "Clean Skies Act" that allows new air pollution. It all sounds perfectly wonderful until you see what they really do. In the end, the Education Reform movement appears, at its heart and despite its rhetoric, to be an attempt to de-fund and destroy public education. And that's a shame.

So I will continue, as I have been, to advocate for the stated principles and continue, as I have been, to resist the destructive actions of the Education Reform movement. I think it would be wonderful to have the big money people supporting that movement to join with me in a coalition to bring about real and constructive education reform. I just don't think that's what they really want.


hschinske said…
May I quote this in another forum (not specifically Seattle-related)? Thanks.

Helen Schinske
SPS mom said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick said…
I'm not sure I agree that curriculum alignment is a good idea even in theory. Different kids learn differently and may choose to emphasize different subjects. Choice is a good thing.

Also, trying different ways of teaching may help you learn something about which teaching methods are best.
SolvayGirl said…
Well said Charlie. I especially liked the part about how an "A" and School X should equal an "A" at School Z. That seems to be one of the biggest inequities in SPS.

And I think curriculum alignment as you described it is also a good thing. Kids across the city should be given the opportunity to learn similar subjects at similar levels. The materials can vary from school to school depending on the population, but the availability of subjects and degree of rigor should remain the same.

How can we get this brand of school reform to become the norm? Anyone know any big money out there that might be interested in promoting it?
seattle said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
I agree with Patrick's concerns, but if standards are done right, in theory there should be more opportunity to learn which teaching methods are best (because there will be a baseline to compare to) and a channel for sharing best new teaching methods. I like the idea of knowing that all kids -- regardless of the school -- may be held to the same high standards (assuming the standard curriculum has high standards)... again, this is in theory. But it's hard to trust this when the district doesn't seem to be making a strong case for why the curriculum they're choosing (e.g. math) is a high baseline to start with & they haven't communicated a strategy for experimenting and feeding improvements back into the system.
seattle citizen said…
"I agree with Patrick's concerns, but if standards are done right, in theory there should be more opportunity to learn which teaching methods are best"

How would we know which teaching methods are best?

The only way to do this is
a) script each day, with no deviations ("fidelity");
b) assessments are the same, and are used for more than one curriculum to compare;
c)assure that all student variances are accounted for over time (or use a long time frame so "averages" can ascertained
seattle citizen said…
I believe that
a) there should be "standard" things students should know (knowledge and skills)
b) there is no "best" curriculum to teach those things;
c) no student will learn the exact same things, nor to the exact same levels
d) TEACHING is what has to be held accountable, not results, since the outomes are unknowable.

Having a common textbook? That's efficient (but limiting, particularly in Texas...) but is not necessary - a teacher COULD design a syllabus that used only the materials the teacher desired to teach the skills and knowledge expected.

PRINCIPLES, or maybe even a more neutral body, should assess TEACHING to see if the teacher is doing their best to teach the most amount of students the most amount of the knowledge and skills. A common curriculum does not guarantee this, nor does assessment of student progress, as progress is influence by many variables.

Did a student learn to read three levels higher in 2010 because of Mr. Jones? Or was it the work he did in Ms Smith's History class? Was is tutoring? A sudden blast of inspiration and motivation? We'll never know.
SolvayGirl said…
When I talk about common curriculum, I'm talking about access to courses (specifically at the HS and MS levels). I'd like to see ALL schools offer the same variety of foreign languages, math and science courses, humanities, similar electives in the arts.

I realize that under the current system, a school's enrollment numbers affect the number and variety of courses offered. To me, that's the problem with SPS—at least at the middle and high school levels. We'll see if the NSAP makes a difference.

Auto-assigned neighborhood schools should offer similar courses at comparable levels of rigor—and a broad variety of electives. I believe it should be up to the staff at each school to determine how these courses are offered (textbooks, style of teaching) for their specific school populations.

Then I'd like to see some magnet-type schools (not charters) that offer more specific curriculums that would serve the students who are looking to specialize. STEM would be a good example of this (we'll see how it plays out), but I'd also like to see some schools that stress the arts, the humanities, etc.

As I've noted a zillion times, I find it very unfair that a truly excellent musician, actor, artist, with the misfortune of living in the wrong neighborhood does not have the ability to take advantage of the exceptional programs at certain schools except for the luck of the draw. Award-winning jazz bands cannot compare with fledgling music programs, or even marching band.
Josh Hayes said…
I agree with you, SolvayGirl, especially the part about this being particularly important in MS and (to my mind, mostly) HS.

I believe that if a kid comes out of K-5 able to read well, do arithmetic (including fractions and decimals), and write a declarative English sentence, that's a success. Delving into particular subject material is, IMO, best left to MS/HS situations.

But I agree with Charlie's overarching argument: it's hard to disagree with the idea that every kid should have effective teachers, but then these "reformers" pull a bait and switch and substitute "gets kids to do better on standardized tests" for "effective" -- two different things.
Patrick said…
I agree that's a problem with neighborhood assignment schools. Not every school is going to have a national award-winning jazz band. I think they should hold competitive tryouts for those unique programs from the whole city and let students who qualify into the school. Same if they want to take or continue a foreign language that isn't offered at their neighborhood school. The schools can't be, and shouldn't be in my opinion, cookie cutter copies. Even if they were, outcomes would continue to be different because of home, family, and neighborhood factors.
Charlie Mas said…
True curricular alignment isn't about standardized materials, instructional strategies, pedagogy, or lessons. It's about having a common core set of knowledge and skills that the teachers are expected to teach and the students are expected to learn. It's saying that every fifth grade student should know long division, not that they should all be taught it the same way from the same book (let alone at the same time).

For a principal (or any observer) to know if a teacher is teaching the curriculum should require a thorough knowledge of the curriculum, time in the classroom all through the year, and frequent discussions with the teacher. It should not be done by poking your head into the room for twenty seconds to confirm that the class is on page 56 of the text on November 12th.
wseadawg said…
Andrew, I agree with almost all you write, but there's one word that I was thinking about driving back from an appointment today, and which you just used: Experimentation.

We keep on doing that over and over, without regard to the current "subjects," who, in a failed experiment, become the disposable, hidden, alienated collateral damage.

SPS has a long history of trying new things, embracing them for a few years, then letting them fizzle, to be replaced by another new thing, and the cycle repeats.

There is no part of any proposal or program being implemented that does not tolerate acceptable losses and collateral damage. So much of the proposed reform ideas are unproven, and even untested before they are foisted upon us under the guise of "best practices." Best practices according to whom? Arne Duncan? Chicago hasn't improved as a result of his reforms, so why are they being rolled out nationwide?

So much of the reform movement reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry won a running race as a kid only because nobody realized he jumped the gun. Yet his legend was cemented because only he and his rival knew he'd jumped the gun. This is Arne Duncan's legacy in a nutshell, and MGJ's as well. The Commercial Club of Chicago, the group behind all Chicago's reforms, issued a report in 2009, honestly noting that their reforms had fallen extremely short of their goals, entitled "Still Left Behind: Student Learning in Chicago's Public Schools."

In addition, the Business Roundtable notes in its own press releases that "we've been involved in public education for more than 25 years" - essentially ever since the initial "Nation at Risk" report in 1983, sounding the alarms that we were falling behind other nations and had to do something fast.

So after 25 years of the BRT's ever growing influence and business management creep into our schools, how are we doing? Isn't that the million dollar question we should be asking? And shouldn't reform advocates be required to prove, with some level of empiricism and objectivity, that their ideas actually work, before we are forced to endure them?

I know, I know, I know, people will fire back at me and say "You're embracing the status quo," to which I'll reply, "First, Do No Harm."

I'd be happy if I can persuade folks, if nothing else, to embrace the Hippocratic Oath and make an honest assessment of where all this market-based reform has gotten us in 25 years.

Otherwise, we are simply doomed to follow the road to hell, paved with our best intentions, which, while having noble roots, ultimately continues to hurt and rob real opportunities from kids who need them the most.
wseadawg said…
So people can understand what I'm talking about:

From the Comm. Club of Chicago report '09:

Key Findings:
#2: There is a general perception that Chicago's public schools have been gradually improving over time. However, recent dramatic gains in the reported number of CPS elementary students who meet standards on state assessments appear to be due to changes in the tests made by the Illinois State Board of Education, rather than real improvements in student learning.

#3: At the elemtary level, State assessment standards have been so weakened that most o fthe 8th draders who "meet" these standards have little chance to succeed in high school or to be ready for college. While there has been modest improvement in real student learning in Chicago's elementary schools, these gains dissipate in high school.

So in light of this type of information, ditto in NY and Florida btw, why on earth are we in Seattle laying down and getting steamrolled by these charlatans?

In light of such information, what SPS and its benefactors are trying to foist upon us is not even "Best Practices" but in fact, demonstrably ineffective. (How ironic for me to use that term, eh?)

The facts are there to be seen, and SPS seems to want to put blinders on while stomping down on the accelerator. I cannot, for the life of me, find any reason behind the direction of this Superintendant and her benefactors.
Charlie Mas said…
Actually, wseadawg reminds me of another point that is distressing to me about Education Reform.

Why does the Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools have benefactors? Why is she beholden to ANYONE other than those in the Seattle community? That ain't right.
wseadawg said…
Benefactors are great, but it's the disproportionate and growing influence of them at the same time parents' influences are being diminished.

It's the black or white, this or that, nature of the Ed Reform movement that bothers me. Has anyone ever put forth a similar effort to work with parents and communities, instead of at the behest of the business community?

Imagine what our schools might look like if we had properly funded them for the past 30 years, instead of constantly starving them.

A poorly tuned car costs more money in the long run because of wasted efficiencies. Like the deferred maintenance problem, problems grow year after year when they aren't dealt with in time. Imagine how many stitches in time might have saved nine? Instead people think the schools will never work because they haven't. But how could they when we've tied one hand behind their backs for ever.

People need to be fair and empirical about this problem instead of acting like no matter what we try, it fails, probably because of bad teachers and their devil incarnate union!

When people can say with a straight face that we've given the schools what we were supposed to give them, then I'll accept judgments of failure. Until then, we are lying to and deluding ourselves.
Sahila said…
This really belongs here - apologies for the double posting...

You know, I wouldnt be so pissy about these reformers IF THEY HAD KIDS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND THEY PAID TAXES, so that public schools were properly funded...

And we wouldn't be in this fix if schools were properly funded... So who has contributed most to this mess? The mega rich who dont pay taxes...

As I wrote elsewhere:
"Who the heck gave these uber-rich people - the (AIG) Broads, the (Microsoft) Gates, the (Walmart) Waltons, the (convicted junk bond king) Milkens - the right to think they know better than we public school parents what's best for our children and our communities?

Do their kids go to public school? Will they be affected by this horrendous experiment in social engineering aimed at creating the ultimate working/consumer class, which Milken publicly avowed was the purpose of education?"

You do know/realise that our kids are not really people, children to these people, dont you?

You know that Gates is spending big money on 'health' in Asia and Africa, right? Hand-in-hand with Monsanto, peddling GMO seeds and forcing farmers to buy those seeds if they want assistance...

And did you know that there's huge dissatisfaction amongst local governments, NGOs and other (sometimes homegrown) aid groups about how Gates goes around doing his 'good works'... they complain that the Gates Foundation comes in, takes control, ignores local communities and local conditions, imposes a solution from the top down and wont take any notice of what the local experts say and what the communities want...

Where have I seen that before? Oh yes, in education reform funded by Gates and Broad et al, here in the US....
seattle citizen said…
Charlie again reminds us that curriculum is knowledge and skills. In the last twenty years or so, these skills and this knowledge has, in discussion and policy about teaching, become represented purely by numbers and levels: "86%" and "Level Two."

The correlation between these numbers and letters and actual skills and knowledge is not clear. Furthermore, the numbers and levels mask the PURPOSE of education, in toto, which is to produce a person with a wide and varied, and immeasureable, amount of synaptic connection inside her or his little head that will allow that person to a) live; b) be part of the community; c) DO something, and d)be entertained and enlightened (the arts)This person is necessarily unique and wholey individual. But...

The numbers and levels focus us on the belief that that is all there is to learning in this 21st century: the rational, scientific manipulation and multiplication of numbers and levels.


Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

(Malvina Reynolds, "Little Boxes")
Sahila said…
See this OP Ed from TruthOut, published today:

Apologies for the lack of ability to create a live link... I have a block of some sort about the process - maybe that's a learning disability... or maybe I'm just a unique individual whose brain functions in its own unique way...

And that point comes out of discussion I've had with a couple of others about why (in schools and in life) 'difference' is labelled as a disability, as something negative, instead of just accepted and accommodated... anyway....
hschinske said…
You know that Gates is spending big money on 'health' in Asia and Africa, right?

Oh, now that is unfair, Sahila. The Gates Foundation has saved a hell of a lot of lives. I certainly don't agree with everything they do, even in the public health arena (where they've been enormously more successful than in education), but they do deserve some credit.

Helen Schinske
Sahila said…
Helen - have you researched the feedback from those NGOs etc he has worked with?

I have - and there is a lot of complaint about the Foundation's modus operandi... below you'll find just a small sampling of dozens of separate criticisms, both from Africa and Asia... I read one article quite some months ago, which was very specific.. I shall try to find it again and post it here... having changed computers three times in the past two years, I have lost a lot of my bookmarked sources - oh well!

And my comments here speak to the way Gates does business - no local involvement, no discussion, top down delivery...$258-million-in-indias-hiv-corridor/852/0
Mercermom said…
I have a question somewhat related to curricular alignment: I noticed that the "math pathways" info in the Superintendent's e-news seems to envision a maximum of one-year acceleration. What about APP-eligible kids, who are in theory ready for two-years acceleration? And what about kids who test at the APP level in math, but not in other domains? The pathways info seems anti-acceleration beyond one year. But the old test-everyone at WMS approach seemed to allow for the possibility that a kid who was strong in math could place at the appropriate level, even if two to three years up. (Of course, this year WMS eliminated the option of kids being three years ahead.) Any insights?
SE Mom said…
Interestingly, the E-Letter left out the second page of the Math
Pathways document that was forwarded to us by our 8th grade math teacher:

"Placement Contract

Skipping any one course in the Math Pathway can negatively a student's success in future classes, and is highly discouraged. However, in extremely rare cases, the data above may not reflect the best math placement for the student. In that unusual situation, a parent/guardian and student my choose to opt up one course level, if room in the course is available, through a Placement Contract. In all other situations, students will take the course that follows the district recommendation.

The contract will outline the expecatations of the course, explain that the family is choosing a course not recommended by the data, and remind the family that the school will not provice remediation if the student is not prepared for the course. Schools will have the option to move a student back to district-recommended class if he/she is not succeeding. Contracts will be made available to schools and families in late April."

Was the test-everyone system at Washington not working in some way? Do APP kids have a separate Math Pathway? What does "if room in the course is available" really mean? (Not enough room for younger student in a class of older students or course not offered at a particular school or...)

And is the district further discouraging advanced placement by leaving all this info off the e-news communication!
Sahila said…
more criticism of Gates Foundation behaviour in global health arenas...

and here's what an Indian thinks India needs:

well, you get the drift.... there are many, many more critiques of Gates Foundation activities in health and agriculture...
Sahila said…

Seems Broad grads are not so hot with math - so much for "Excellence for All"... here in Seattle it was incorrect enrolment numbers being used as the excuse to fire teachers, in DC its the inability to count dollars and sense...

They need Meg Diaz to help in DC...

Now the conspiracy theorist in me - who certainly doesnt believe in coincidences - would be wrong in suspecting that in both places, fudging the numbers was just a strategy to fire teachers, wouldnt she?
Sahila said…

See further information about Rhee's $34Million budgetary error, which supposed shortfall she used to justify laying off 266 older teachers in DC...

Seems it wasnt her fault - she was going by the numbers provided by her financial officer and his assistant...

Isnt that what we have happening in Seattle - decisions being made on apparently faulty stats being provided by the finance and data experts?

But with whom does the buck stop?

And if those finance and data experts are so inept, why are they still in the job?
seattle citizen said…
"fudging the numbers was just a strategy to fire teachers"

No, never!

Particularly as they attempt to change the status of displaced teachers: I've seen proposed contract language that says that when a teacher is displaced, they are on their own: If they happen to find a job in district, good for them. If they can't within one year, they are out, gone, kaput. that scenario, if you want to ensure a flow of "fresh young shiny Teach for America" staff, you merely cut the budget severly each year, displacing teachers, then restaff with the newbies (at 1/2 the price)

I mean, everybody knows the union is the problem with teaching in America!

h2o girl said…
Have to share my favorite part of the Superintendent's E-News.

"Please join us on Saturday, April 24 for the second annual Family Engagement Symposium. The symposium is FREE for families and will be held at Aki Kurose Middle School."

Well, there's an incentive - it's Free! We don't have to shell out cash for family engagement! Good heavens, who comes up with this stuff?
Dorothy Neville said…
To be fair. I attended last year's Family Engagement symposium and I can see why they would reinforce the Free-ness to the intended audience. There was a very good talk in the morning inspiring parents to take action and that principals and teachers should expect parents engaged and need to break down the barriers to parent communication. Then there were lots of sessions specifically designed to help parents learn about homework, math, other curricular things... And great child-care and a full catered lunch that was pretty good. All free. The lunch was paid for by the Alliance. I don't know who paid for the staffing and childcare.

Information tables on nutrition programs, health care, summer programs...

And it did seem well attended by a very diverse mix of parents. School buses brought groups of families, probably picked up from their local schools. All in all, something worthwhile and I am glad to see them continuing.
h2o girl said…
Dorothy, thanks for the description. Sounds like a great event, honestly. Just surprised me that there would be even a whisper of a thought of charging families for family engagement.
Joan NE said…
What disturbs me most about education reform is how children enrolled in Title 1 schools (i.e, low-income and minority children) are the most harmed.

Among all the children enrolled in schools of a reformed district, the least harmed are those whose parents can

a)afford and succeed in getting their children enrolled in private school;

b) get their kids into a low poverty public school, and supplement their child's education with tutoring and enrichment activities;

c) get their kids into a magnet school (whether charter or not), or

d) get their kids into a school that has high parent involvement and/or ample supplementary discretionary funding (e.g. through PTA fundraising)

Some public school children are protected from the harms of education reform, due to their parents being able to afford to live in a well-funded district that has excellent schools.

Such districts are not targetted by education reform. You won't find teach-to-the-test test-prep factories staffed with Teach-for-America union-busters in these districts! You won't see these districts making important decisions about students, teachers, and schools on the basis of scores on high stakes tests, nor will you hear much attention being paid to state standards, since these district's schools are teaching to a much higher standard.
Joan NE said…
I opined that minority and low-income children are the public school children that are most harmed by corporatist education reform.

I am referring mainly to the subset of those children that attend Title 1 and Title-1 qualified schools. (A title-1 qualified school is eligible for, but does not receive, Title 1 monies for use in a school wide program.)

Due to SPS' elimination of open enrollment, the families residing in Seattle neighborhoods served by low-quality schools no longer have access to the better schools in the city.

The District response to this is to say they will make every school a quality school, but what is the District's definition of a quality school?

The district defines a "Quality Qchool", effectively, as "a school that is successful at raising test scores."

We know empirically that building-scale and district-scale increases of test scores on high stakes tests are produced through narrowing-of-curriculum and teaching-to-the-test.

[Curriculum alignment makes it easier for the District to coerce teachers to teach-to-the-test. The main purpose of "Instructional Leadership" programming, and placement of instructional coaches is to monitor and enforce fidelity to district pacing guides for the aligned curriculum, and to coerce teachers to narrow instruction.]

It is well-documented that a building's increase in aggregate student scores on high stakes assessments often do not correlate with any increase on independent non-high-stakes audit tests, such as the NAEP.

I for one will not be interested to send my kids to a school that meets the district's definition of Quality School. And I don't wish such schools on low income and minority kids, either.

Unfortunately, Federal Title 1 dollars require that "Title 1" schools use these dollars for a school reform program. Title 1 monies CANNOT be used to reduce class size, nor can they be used to pay for health and psychosocial services. Federal Title 1 effectively says that schools that use Title 1 monies for "school wide programs" (rather than for Targetted Assistance) must use the money to pay for teach-to-the-test, data-driven reforms.

The Title 1 law is part of the ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act], also known since 2000 as NCLB [No Child Left Behind]. The ESEA is up for re-enactment this year. Without profound revisions to Title 1 of ESEA, Title-1 schools are doomed to the teach-to-the-test regime,

Perversely, it appears that the acceptance of Title 1 funds for school-wide programming increases the chance of "school failure," (as defined by NCLB) and thus increases the chance that a school will be targetted for restructuring.

If so, then the next question to ask is whether restructuring is beneficial to the affected children.

There is much evidence that the Federal models of school restructuring (and especially firing staff, closing buildings, and conversion to charter school) does more harm than good to the affected students. There is little evidence that these models of restructuring are constructive.

After studying this issue, I conclude that Title-1 eligible schools might be better off to use Title 1 money ONLY for Targetted Assistance, and NONE for school-wide programs. They might actually have a better chance of making AYP and getting of the school degradation ladder (NCLB calls it the school-improvement ladder) and thereby avoiding becoming a target for NCLB-modes of restructuring.
Joan NE said…
SEattle Citize, you wrote

"TEACHING is what has to be held accountable, not results, since the outomes are unknowable."

This seems like quite an important point, but I don't fully understand what is behing this.

Would you explain how "teaching" is held accountable? This explantion may help me to get the understanding I desire.
seattle citizen said…
Joan NE,
It is my belief that good TEACHING can be observed and evaluated: Someone could come into a classroom and SEE good lesson plans, SEE effective response to on-the-fly changes or situations, SEE assessments and work (portfolio, formative, summative...whatever is the "product" students are asked to generate)
To me, teaching can be evaluated much more easily than learning. ALL assessment of learning is necessarily deficient - even if a student got 100% on some test, the student might have learned more than the test, might have learned less but guessed right...And we are all familiar with some of the pitfalls of using student assessment to "rate" teachers or schools: Teaching to the test, vagaries in student effort, inability to attribute learning to causation (student might have learned to read more from her history teacher or her mom; that learning shows up on a reading test; do we attribute increase to LA teacher?)

Additionally, by evaluating teacher based on student learning, we are expecting a very narrow definition of it - tests are narrow, compared to all the glorious activity that goes on in a good classroom. Much of the learning is not tested. By evaluating teaching based on student learning we are ignoring many important facets of education. We are compartmentalizing this big, intricate, complicated thing into the little boxes I quoted earlier.

By evaluating the education process based simply on standardized tests of student learning, we are diminishing the grand, unpredictable profession of teaching. Learning is not always predictable, and to try to imagine it is might force out some of the important aspects of teaching.

But as has been pointed out here, people seem to know good teachers when they see them. Now, a parent or a student or a prinipal's vision of "good teaching" might be subject to bias, but couldn't we design metrics that a neutral observer could apply?

That was, education would remain rich: broad and deep. It wouldn't be narrowed into little boxes. But educators (including principals, Directors, Supts etc) would be evaluated to see if they are doing the right things.
SPS mom said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle citizen said…
So who okayed giving Seattle teachers and parents' names and phone numbers to the "Our Schools Coalition" for the "survey"?

I was looking at the "materials" section of their wesbite and found this:
methodology for this survey is
based on three segments of Seattle
populations within Seattle Public
Schools: • Segment One-­‐ Seattle
Public School Teachers
• Segment Two -­‐ Seattle Public
School Parents
• Segment Three -­‐ Randomly selected voters within the Seattle Public School District who do not
have children attending Seattle
Public Schools.
Respondents from Segments One and
Two were randomly selected from
lists for each segment provided by
Seattle Public Schools. The list
of SPS teachers consisted of
approximately 1,400 names and phone
numbers, from which 200 questionnaires were to be completed.

Is this legal? Can the District give out staff and parent home phone numbers?
seattle citizen said…
Another tab on the Our schools coalition wesbite says "research." You click on it, expecting to see, oh, maybe some research that backs their proposals....but no, it's just ANOTHER link to their survey's summary (a link to the summary is also found on the "materials" tab.

I doubt they have any research. Why should they? They've got a biased push poll to manipulate the Seattle Times and its readers with.
seattle citizen said…
oh, and they have a whopping 43 signatures on their petition, a week after the biased Times opinion. 43 out of half a million ain't bad!
gavroche said…
Wow. I agree. That's a misuse of private information. Since when is the district legally allowed to hand over our kids' and our private phone numbers to market research companies (Strategies 360 or whoever conducted the "poll")?

Is there a lawsuit in this?

And is this a habit of the District's?

For example, is it true that in Dec. 2008 the School Board voted on a grant in exchange for which the District would hand over our children's data to outside sources for 18 years?

Is that what all the data is about that SPS is obsessed with -- selling our kids' info to others?

Here is Chris Jackins' testimony about this from Dec. 3, 2008 (no one probably noticed this because it was in the middle of the school closures drama):

On the Business Parnership for Early Learning (BPEL) Grant Agreement:

1. This project would provide public school student data to private parties over an 18 year period. The District needs to have a much more thorough public discussion of this project, and who these private parties are, namely The Seattle Foundation (TSP) and the Business Partnership for Early Learning (BPEL).

2. The District would receive administrative costs of 2% a year, which would amount to less than $700 per year (2% of $600,000 over each of 18 years). This seems too low an amount: this year's payment would probably not even cover the attorney costs of drawing up the agreement.

3. The agreement will allow a private party to, "utilize confidential student data", to conduct a study. Information to be provided includes ethnicity, gender, special education, attendance and disciplinary data.

4. It seems possible that trends discerned by using the data could be applied to marketing purposes, whether for toothpast, candy, or private educational services.

5. Recent newspaper reports have noted the accidental release of personal information on District staff. Accidents do happen.

6. The agreement specifically exempts The Seattle Foundation from any liability, "including without limitation any acts or omissions in connection with use of confidential student data", and requires that the District indemnify the Seattle Foundation against such acts or omission. This seems like a lot of potential liability to take on for $700 a year.

I ask the board to vote "No" on this action.
Anonymous said…
There is absolutely no reason, unless I give authorization for it, for SPS to provide ANY outside organization with my phone number. That is beyond the pale. When I provide it to our school, it is with the understanding that I approve that information being published in a school directory. I think that most of us would assume that the district would handle personal information the same way.

This was the wrong thing to do. I won't even begin to question the motives that anyone would have for turning over private information to an outside entity.

This needs follow-up.
seattle citizen said…
So I'm sure the union is aware that the teachers' personal information was given out by the district, and is acting on that....

I wonder if others agree with Dora and believe that THEIR personal information should not have been given out? Will everyone get a lawyer?

I wonder who authorized that?

I wonder how this new "Our Schools Coalition" can claim to be a neutral third party representing parents and students when it is working with the District admin to put together a poll, which, not incidentally, "supports" the things the Supt went to that dinner the other night to help get support for politically, whilst also starting negotiations with the union? Gee ya think the Our Schools Coalition is in the pokect of the superintendent during negotiations? hmmmm....nah....
Sahila said…
I sure as hell didnt sign over any permission to use my phone number etc (and despite not being in an SP School, the District still has all our information - they found us no trouble at all in their computer system when I was down there last month)...AND I HAVE A PROTECTION ORDER IN PLACE - I CARE A GREAT DEAL ABOUT WHO GETS MY PERSONAL INFORMATION - I'D BE COMPLETELY ANTSY ABOUT THIS HAPPENING TO ME...

this ought to be grounds for a class action....

Gee whiz - cant this District get even the most basic things right?
Patrick said…
I didn't sign any release to give my information out either, and I would be greatly offended if they did. Is there someplace else they could have gotten it? PTAs?

I didn't get called for the survey. Someone who did get called should ask.
seattle citizen said…
Patrick, it wasn't the PTSA that gave it to them. It says right on Our Schools Coalition website that Seattle Public Schools provided them with the names and numbers of teachers and parents.

Go to their website
Laugh atthe lameness of it. Then click on "materials"
then click on "poll summary"

and it says it right there.

The only names of actual people one finds on the website is when you clicj on "contact" and get the name and email of the employee of the polling firm that conducted the poll.

There's no one there: it's a ghost coalition
Patrick said…
Yes, but I don't necessarily believe everything the so-called coalition web site says. Trying to be charitable to the school district, maybe some parents did sign some waiver and only those names and numbers were given out. It would give a skewed sample, but skewed sample results don't seem like they'd be a big problem for the Our Schools Coalition. Or maybe they lied, as a private group there's no law against them lying.
SolvayGirl said…
Apologies for the multiple posting:

I got a notice in my email from C.E.A.S.E. about this meeting below: Has anyone else heard about it?

The Seattle Education Association (the local teacher’s union) presents:
Education Reform:
Knowledge is Power!
A Forum
Saturday, April 24th @ 1:30 p.m.
St. Marks Cathedral
1245 10th Ave E.
Seattle, Wa 98102

Almost everyone agrees that our schools must be reformed. The question is who we should be listening to as the experts: the corporations and foundations or the educators, parents, and students?

Come hear about these critical issues impacting public education and be part of the dialogue around real reform that works for students and staff alike.

Speakers and Topics
Mary Lindquist, President WEA- SB 6696
Olga Addae, President SEA- SIG Schools, RTTT, Performance Management
Juanita Doyon, Mother’s Against the WASL- High stakes testing
Jessie Hagopian, RIF’d Seattle Teacher- Seniority and Merit Pay
Patrick said…
More about directory information: The form at this web site: says the District can release parent's directory information to anyone, unless the parent has actively requested that information NOT be released.

Our PTSA didn't know that. it would have saved them a lot of trouble making a directory to have the information straight from the district in computer-readable form.

I still think it's poor judgment to release that information to political groups.
Joan NE said…
SPS mom, you wrote - "Joan NE - It's my understanding that
[1] only schools accepting Title I money are subject to the sanctions of not achieving AYP.
[2] Schools at 75% FRL have to accept Title I funds, but those below that threshold accept it at the discretion of the District."

If [1] is true, then this exacerbates the disparate harm of Title-1, doesn't it? By disparate harm I mean that the Title 1 restructuring requirements, if they in fact, statistically speaking, do more harm than good to the children affected by the restructuring, cause disproporionate harm to minority and low income students.

To the best of my knowledge, niether of your statements are exactly correct.

To the best of my knowledge,the law says that, if the District CHOOSES to give funds to a school with >=75% FR, the funds MUST be used for a school wide program.

As best I can tell, however, the law does NOT REQUIRE the District to give Title-1 money to every with >=75% FR:

SPS has some high schools and middle schools that meet this threshold. Nevertheless, SPS has decided that only a subset of Title-1 qualified elementary schools will receive Title-1 monies.

As to whether a school can decide to forgo the Title-1 monies that the District may offer it, I do not know. I will write to the School Improvement officer at SPS to get an experts opinion on these questions.

For Schools with FRL% betwen 40% and 75%, and to which the District has decided to give Title-1 monies, the District can decide whether the school has a "blended program" or uses the funds only for Targetted Assistance. In a blended program, the school uses part of the funds for Targetted Assistance, and part of the funds for a school-wide program.

I will write to an expert to get clarity on the points of uncertainty.

If you are right that under NCLB the restructuring sanctions apply only to schools (i.e, a school that receives Title-1 funds), well, thanks to the New Performance Mgt policy, passed March 17 6-1 by the Board, the Superintendent now has the right to choose to "restructure" any school for failing to make AYP for THREE years, and this is regardless of Title-1 status.

NCLB gives 5 years, but the PERF. MGT POLICY gives 3 years.

The perf. mgt. policy was not passed until one month ago, but already AS#1 and Pathfinder are in year TWO of "performance management."

These two historically alternative schools will eligible, at the Superintendent's discretion, for restructuring in Fall 2011, unless

A) these schools make AYP this year and next year,


B) the schools mount a successful protest against having been sugjected to new perf. mgt. policy almost TWO YEARS before the policy was adopted! If the protest is successful, then AS#1 and Pathfinder will be saved for at least two more years from restructuring.

It seems to me that these two schools could also protest the application of the new perf. mgt. policy to their schools on the grounds that Policy C54 protects them from being subjected to the new perf. management policy.
Joan NE said…
Some informative links for Title 1:


This SPS document has a full accounting of how the Title-1 funds can and cannot be used: see pages 11 and following.



a) explains which schools are subject to the restructuring provisions (only Title 1 schools)

b) describes the five steps of school improvement, and the sanctions that must be applied to schools at each step.

c) explains what restructuring is, and when districts must restructure.

Where to get information or assistance regarding Seattle’s Title I funds

School Improvement (SI) Department

Scott Whitbeck, Director


Sara Liberty-Laylin, Manager


Title I/LAP Budget Analyst

Sim Henderson

Joan NE said…
The good and bad of the proposed revisions to ESEA (a.k.a. NCLB):

This March 27 2010 report is a critique of Obama's proposed revisions to ESEA, which is due to re=enactment this year.

Some issues addressed in this brief report:
-narrowing of curriculum
-high stakes testing
-need for social services, etc.
-contradiction of calling for highly qualified teachers and for teach-for-america teachers in high poverty schools
-inherent unfairness of various provisions
-unrealistic objectives

Here is a sample quote, and which speaks to the point I have been harping on - which is that low income and minority students are most harmed by education reform:

"The result of all this is that schools serving a large proportion of minority students will behave under the Blueprint very similarly to how they behaved under NCLB. If the Administration succeeds in raising the proficiency cut points (now called “college and career ready” standards), even more students will be ignored because they are too far below the passing point to matter.

"Schools with largely middle class populations will effectively be exempt. ... only poor and minority communities will suffer the punitive hammer of federal policy."
andrewr said…
The Seattle Times, at least the online version, has an interesting review of the new Diane Ravitch book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. Here's an interesting quote:

NCLB's damage has been compounded, Ravitch argues, by the well-meaning but ultimately misguided efforts of a new group of powerful private foundations, including the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This "Billionaire Boys Club," she writes, has overstepped traditional foundation boundaries.

"... Never in the history of the United States was there a foundation as rich and powerful as the Gates Foundation. Never was there one that sought to steer state and national policy in education. And never before was there a foundation that gave grants to almost every major think tank and advocacy group in the field of education, leaving almost no one willing to criticize its vast power and unchecked influence."

The author believes that though the Gates Foundation's intentions have been good, its size, resources and influence have dampened robust debate on education changes.

To its credit, the Gates Foundation recognized that its $2 billion foray into restructuring high schools, including the breakup and reconstitution of Mountlake Terrace High School, was largely unsuccessful, and recently changed course.

But Ravitch finds the new direction — "the proliferation of charter schools" and "the issue of teacher effectiveness" measured by student test performance — equally worrisome. Also alarming to her is that the Obama administration's new "Race to the Top" seems to advocate that same risky course.

Book Review

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