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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Thank You Danny

Danny Westneat's column in the Times today is a great one. He follows up on the story about Everett's graduation rate turnaround over seven years. The crux of his column? Everett looked at what was holding these students back and took steps to fix it. Simple as that. To wit:

But here are some of the many things that were not part of the story:

Charter schools. Vouchers. Anything having to do with school choice or free-market competition.

There was nothing about merit pay. Union seniority rules. Or holding teachers accountable based on standardized test scores.

Nobody in the story came in busting ass and firing teachers. There were no businessmen raining down cash along with think-tank studies. Or federal programs reinventing anything.

There also were no super-teachers; no paradigm-shifting principals; and no chops-busting ex-military superintendents who had barnstormed into public education to finally make everybody fly right.

There was no mention of money in the story at all.

All of this is because what Everett did broke no new educational ground, wasn't radical and didn't cost all that much, says Everett's chief academic officer, Terry Edwards.

Just what can we do to prevent more kids from dropping out? Check on them, one by one. As Danny says:

I'm not saying that all the big reforms being bandied about, many through President Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative, have no merit. I'm open to them, especially raising academic standards. But it's got the feeling of a magic-bullet gimmick. Like change for change's sake.

Because we already know what works in education. It isn't complicated. But it also isn't efficient, like a business. It isn't glamorous or quick.

Amen brother.

18 comments:

seattle citizen said...

ahhh....! Such succinctness. It really IS that easy (not in every case, of course, but overall)
A voice of reason. I hope that people will take this and run, because there are deep-pocketed players who are paying for surveys, etc, to convince people that charters, high-stakes tests etc are THE way to go.
Mr. Westneat really hit it on the head.

seattle citizen said...

One of the commentors on the Times comment section said that Snohomish County decided NOT to try for RTTT funds, that they had decided it just wasn't worth it.

That, too, is good news if true. Pity SPS and the state are still gung-ho for that silliness.

zb said...

And, this reminds me about the universal in all of the stories on the NPR report on great teachers: that they cared, making an individual student feel like the individual teacher believed that the child could meet the challenges they faced. Sometimes this is the teacher who shows a music prodigy that they can be as good as Mozart, sometimes it's the teacher who shows a child that when the world is against them they can still make a space to learn. But in every case, greatness came from a personal relationship.

I just don't see a way to scale that up.

seattle citizen said...

Pedagogy and current theory that is in play in schools has recognized this piece, the "relationship," for the last few years. Teachers hear this word relationship from principals and APs and everybody, as one of the most important things educators can do when interacting with students. I don't think it can be measured or forced, though, I think it is just something to DO, build relationships with students.

Sahila said...

All of life is relationship-based.... duh....For each of you, havent you learned the most when you are living in relationship with other people?

Why would it be any different in education?

The simplicity is gorgeous... and what's being done now is a gory, horrible, brutal, dehumanizing, deliberate crime - almost a genocide...

seattle citizen said...

dehumanizing....I was watching the board meeting last week, and was struck with sadness during the MAP presentation: There on the screen were little line graphs, up, down, all around...and these were being discussed as representative of the education of students in SPS. Little lines, up and down...Now I know that statistics and "data" has its place, but I was struck with this presentation because it seemed that we've forgotten the children in our fascination for technology and statistics.

Does it need to be said, over and over? Children are not line graphs, nor are they WASL percentages. They are incredibly unique and immeasurable.

SPS mom said...

Ross Reynolds interviewed the Snohomish School Superintendent Bill Mester(sp?) on the Conversation yesterday:

http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=20502

What a refreshing voice of reason.

Charlie Mas said...

Let's remember that Maple, our own elementary school on Beacon Hill, also delivered student academic performance way beyond expectations and they did it without charters or vouchers or gimmicks. It came with union teachers and all of the standard materials.

In fact, every REAL story of real improvement that we know - one that actually took place in a real-life system that must take all students - the improvement came without any of the magic bullets that the reformers think are so effective.

dan dempsey said...

Seattle Citizen,

Speaking of personalization try the 900 page RttT application HERE.

I found your reaction to the MAP -tacular presentation entirely understandable. Looks like we got the big bait and switch thanks to NWEA/MAP. I remember that this was born out of the district's failure to perform the monitoring for needed interventions when students were struggling and instead socially promoted everyone. The supposed grade level expectations that were part of district policy were non-existent. There were no grade three expectations for math ... just one example.

Looking for the individualized focus on each student and where they may need assistance try the MAP fiasco described here.

If you read the above link, ask yourself if the state math standards for grade two really are the tested curriculum for math. I do not know.

wseadawg said...

Thank you Danny.

Northwest districts with Northwest players and Northwest solutions. That's grass roots, roll your sleeves up hard work, grit and stamina that once defined this region.

Person to person is what teaching is all about. Not this imported, fanciful model that the feds have been peddling around the nation for a decade, with skid-greasers and profiteers like Broad, Walton and Gates.

Sorry Billy. Human character and interaction whups your cheap little imported digital boxes every time.

Charlie Mas said...

So when can we expect Seattle Public Schools to duplicate success?

gavroche said...

Maybe we should suggest that the SPS School Board go on an educational fact-finding trip to Snohomish. (It would be a lot closer and cheaper than flying them to South Korea, or Washington D.C, for that matter...)

Sahila said...

Oh gavroche - thanks for the laugh....

Jet City mom said...

Maybe we should suggest that the SPS School Board go on an educational fact-finding trip to Snohomish.

I've asked that ? before- when we used Gates grant money to take teachers and principals across the country to NYC, Chicago & Boston looking at schools that were quasi-charters-
when if the same effort was put into looking at Lake Washington or Issaquah school district or even (gasp) actually " engaging the community in Seattle" they could get info that would be useful.

However, it was more fun to go across the country & then whinge that couldn't do that here because we didn't have enough money- or the union was in the way or the parents were full of bother.

It was a win- win.
:p

Maureen said...

Speaking of travel, I was trying to contact Cathy Thompson and Dan Coles (I had Qs re K-5 LA materials adoption and that is what they do at SPS) and BOTH of them were in Atlanta for a week. I guess, even now, travel is not considered an extra at SPS?

(CT did answer my email after 9 days (and a phone call) and was very pleasant and helpful--but our PTSA equivalent will still be spending $10K on materials and training for what is the de facto K-5 LA adopted curriculum (ie, the same thing that is being provided to the newly opened schools free of charge))

Unknown said...

Yes, I don't think the travel budget has decreased at all. They spent roughly $16K to send staff around to look at secondary bilingual schools. While I think SBOC really needs a better focus, it seems like an odd time to spend money on traveling around for 4 people.

dan dempsey said...

Travel note.... How much was spent traveling to look at NTN schools instead of looking at data?

Betty Patu was invited to go to NT Sacramento. She reads what is sent to her. She did not go.

Harium and Sundquist apparently do not believe extensive testing done by California Department of Education that shows New Tech schools are lousy.

They traveled to NT Sacramento expecting a STEM school and surprise it wasn't. Only 8 of 41 NT schools are STEM (2009-2010). The Action report used for School Board voting (2-3-10) stated something far different [2/3 of NTN schools are STEM focused].

Then when voting "for" the $800,000 NTN contract, which the board members failed to read on 2-3-10, these two ignored data and gave fairy-tales for reasons to explain voting "for". Did they feel a need to justify travel expenses and so voted yes?

Before the NTN re-vote do-over on 4-7-10, I mailed the information that showed their reasoning on 2-3-10 to be incredibly flawed as the data showed something else.

Result on 4-7-10 Sunquist and Martin-Morris again voted "for" but offered no explanation.

Please someone remove these guys and the Superintendent.
======================
Lesson from Everett use a plan that works and stop trying to fool the public while making ridiculous (and very expensive) decisions.


Legal appeals filed 30 days after each NTN vote.

Anonymous said...

Thought you folks might be interested in this New York Times article about the rise in cheating as testing gets higher stakes. And it isn't the kids cheating...

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/education/11cheat.html?hpw