Waiting For Superman

I saw Waiting for Superman at the Seattle International Film Festival on Saturday. It was a full house with the director, Davis Guggenheim, there as well. The showing was sponsored by Stand for Children, League of Education Voters and Partnership for Learning.

I really like documentaries so here's what I thought of it from a purely documentary point of view. It was well-shot but I found the narrative somewhat hard to follow. Basically, it tells you that public education in the U.S. is not doing well and it needs to change. They do this via several heart-tugging stories across the U.S. of bright kids (mostly under 10) who want a good school (and so do their caring parents) but can't get into one. They are either in NYC or LA where, yes, there is an abundance of under-performing schools. This is sprinkled in with interviews from Geoffrey Canada, an educator of the Harlem Children's Zone and Promise Academy charters, Michelle Rhee, the Washington, D.C. superintendent, a brief comment from Bill Gates, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and a few others. And then there are little cartoons about school spending, teacher quality, etc. It's quite the mish-mash. It was not a bad film. It clearly had a POV but they did give time to Randi Weingarten. However, if you knew a little about public education, it would probably make you mad.

Here's what the Waiting for Superman website says (partial):

As he follows a handful of promising kids through a system that inhibits, rather than encourages, academic growth, Guggenheim undertakes an exhaustive review of public education, surveying drop-out factories and academic sinkholes, methodically dissecting the system and its seemingly intractable problems.

However, embracing the belief that good teachers makes good schools, Guggenheim offers hope by exploring innovative approaches taken by education reformers and charter schools that have - in reshaping the culture - refused to leave their students behind."

Exhaustive review? Hardly. And yes, you can go anywhere in this country and find drop-out factories and academic sinkholes BUT you can also find fantastic public schools. Not a one was mentioned here. Not a single one. That he could only find good things happening in charters should tell you something. He points out the underwhelming results of NCLB but doesn't say why that might be. He points out that the average private school cost in the U.S. (and I'm sure that average from all K-12 private schools) is $8300 which is less than we spend per pupil in most U.S. public schools. He also makes sure that tracking gets a bad name.

The overwhelming message I got was:
teachers bad, charters good
(Or rather teachers' unions bad but the teachers belong to them so guilty by association.)

If only we could throw off the yolk of teachers' unions (like charters), all schools would be innovative and great (like charters). The only "bad" thing he mentioned about charters was the stat that only 1 in 5 charter schools do well (and during the panel session after the film that got back-pedaled as well).

I did ask a question during the panel session with the director, a woman from the UW Center for Reinventing Education and another guy whose name I missed but he was a former teacher. I commented that the director failed to mention that public schools, unlike charter and private schools, have to take all comers. That means serving all special education needs, the unmotivated, those who don't speak English well, everyone. It's a lot less difficult when you get to pick who won't be at your school. (That said, I acknowledge that many charters focus on low-income areas which is to their credit but also they know those people are usually the ones with the lower-performing public schools.) Then I asked why the director failed to mention principals or parents. He mumbled something about his first documentary being about the first year of teaching for a group of new teachers so he followed that track. That wasn't a particularly good reason given that this film was about changing how we view public education, not how we treat teachers. The panel member who had been a teacher did acknowledge that it was very important to have a good principal who can lead and that parent support can be crucial.

The other thing about the film that bothered me is that, of course, the children's stories were very poignant. But it was somewhat manipulative because their parents were all trying to get into charters that were oversubscribed so they were all subject to a lottery system. So there's all the kids and their parents waiting for the golden ticket. (And frankly, I wouldn't take my child to a lottery in a big cafeteria where they could see others' joy and not see their own number pulled.)

For each child followed in the film, they showed their lottery outcome and for those who didn't get in, there was this title "Not Accepted" put on the screen next to their face. But it wasn't true that they weren't accepted. Any child can go to a charter (as long as the charter as written meets their needs) because, after all, they are public schools. What happened is that their number was not picked. There's a difference but Mr. Guggenheim wanted to make sure we felt as rejected as the child.

At the end there was what I would term (after being at many SIIF films) polite applause.

Yes, go see this movie (or wait until it comes out on DVD probably in early 2011). It is probably a good film for those interested in public education. (It was interesting to see Michelle Rhee in action and boy, I had no idea how short on background she is to be a superintendent. What I found ironic is that her big idea is to slash her central administration just as we have Dr. Goodloe-Johnson expanding ours. ) But it does not explore public education in a wide-ranging manner nor fully explain why charters would be a good direction to go in. Still waiting for that documentary.


seattle citizen said…
Thanks for the review, Melissa (and also for the indepth research for the thread on the Roosevelt rape.)

I was interested to see "Partnerships for Learning" listed, along with the Alliance and the LEV as sponsors of this movie. I went online to research them. Founded in 1994 by Washington business interests. Entire board is business people.

The really interesting part was the connections two of the four staff members have. This edu-management business is really a career path. Gates, Feds, Chicago Publics, Strategies360...Here are the bios of the two:

Caroline King, Executive Director
Caroline brings more than 10 years of experience working to improve public schools, accelerate student performance, and close educational achievement gaps. She was a founding member of the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP), a joint initiative of Harvard Business School and Harvard Graduate School of Education designed to strengthen the leadership and management of large urban school systems. At Harvard, Caroline created leadership courses and led strategy sessions for superintendents and senior executives from districts committed to increasing student achievement through reform and innovation, including Chicago Public Schools, Boston Public Schools and San Diego City Schools. Caroline has consulted for foundations, schools and nonprofits, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, New School Foundation and Grantmakers for Education. She has authored over 25 articles, case studies and book chapters on management and philanthropy in public education.
Anne Luce, Policy Manager
Anne brings a depth of education policy experience to Partnership for Learning and has worked in education for the federal government, consulting agencies and nonprofit organizations. Anne joined Partnership for Learning after four years at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation working in the US Program/Education division. Her work at the foundation to develop great teachers and leaders, develop fewer, higher and clearer high school standards, and assist in developing a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics national network has primed her well to advance education reforms in Washington state. Prior to working at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Anne worked for a Seattle-based consulting firm, Strategies 360, coordinating and managing school district bond and levy campaigns
wseadawg said…
Thanks for the great, in-depth, honest review.

Once again putting my trucker's hat that says "Conspiracy Nut" on, I'll say this is yet another piece of a very well funded and strategic national campaign to wrestle public schools away from the community and into the hands of those who just plain think they know better than the people doing the work every day. Corporatists, philanthropists, reformers, politicians, you name it, all pushing the cart in the same direction without a hint of honest reflection or self-critique, while teachers, as usual, get thrown under the bus. Where's the opposing viewpoints? Oh...

I saw a couple interviews of Guggenheim, and while talented, he is completely and utterly patronizing toward a subject, and it's subjects, predominantly poor and minority kids, who people in his circles never associate with. It's as if he and a lot of other reformers got tired of reading sad stories in Time Magazine, and decided it might be a good subject to make a movie about. Not much in the way of grass roots responding to a call from the needy. More like, "I wish those people could learn to be more like me. Then the world would be a better place." They overlook the self-centeredness, self-aggrandizing and basic arrogance if their viewpoint and methods, which are always top-down, telling someone else what to do, instead of responding to what people ask for and need to be successful.

Most people don't understand how complex, hard and confusing life can be for struggling populations, and guys like Gates and Guggenheim don't help by dangling one failed magic-bullet solution after another in front of the eyes of the exasperated and desperate. Some might call that playing on people's emotions or "manipulation." But what's scary about films like this, and guys like Guggenheim is, they become true believers in a very short time, and have power, money and influence to unwittingly do a lot of damage by not listening or caring to what those in the trenches, closest to the action, have been crying for them to do for decades. "Stop standing there criticizing and lend a hand!"

Nice film, nicely timed to lay another brick on the teachers' backs.

Documentary? Hmm.

Propaganda? Definitively.
Josh Hayes said…
Thanks for the bios, SC - I'm curious about the classroom experiences of leading "thinkers" on school reform. It's my impression that almost to a person, they've spent no more than a year or so teaching and then scurried off to academic and/or thinktank-type positions. Is this a fair characterization, or am I tarring with too broad a brush?
dan dempsey said…
"To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data."

I see precision little of either intelligence or data in most of the current tent revival "Charters are the Solution movement".
dan dempsey said…
Typo alert:

I see precisely little of either intelligence or data in most of the current tent revival "Charters are the Solution movement".
seattle citizen said…
Josh, your impression is accurate, according to a study from Whatsamata U, my alma mater:

Of the 253 "CEOs", "Policy Directors,""Grant Managers," and "Building Contractor/leasor/manager/tax-break-takers" polled, each with an income of 125,000 or more (and more than a few rakin' in the big half-mil) they had between and betwixt them a combined 14 years, three months (a few made the ignoble choice to leap higher mid-year, leaving behind a bewildered classroom full of anxious kids.)
Source: MY impression.

WV just reminded me of my childhood basset hound, Mab! WV says mabroph. Yes, Mabby, you did!good rogh! Good girl! Thanks, WV!
seattle said…
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Josh Hayes said…
Thanks for that, I guess, SC.

Eenie, meenie, chili beanie: the spirits are about to speak!
seattle citizen said…
You're welcome, Josh...I guess! Apologies to all for snarky fake "research" on highly paid edu-business people...It just yanks my crank.

Meanwhile, check out this piece by Danny Westneat in today's Times that suggests we don't need all the fancy-pants reforms, we just need a few people to follow students in danger of not graduating, provide some extra attention and remedial efforts, and otherwise dedicate resources where they are needed instead of reforming the whole dang thing:
Maureen said…
It's interesting to read the comments after Westneat's column as well--usually Seattle Times readers' comments on education depress me, but everyone seems to agree on this topic!

Keep it simple-focus on the kids and what they need!
seattle citizen said…
Yes, it seems like there are a variety of people commenting, most of whom agree with Mr. Westneat. It's nice to see that unanimous agreement on this issue, I hope the powers that be are paying attention (because there are big players with lots of money to lobby and influence people towards charters etc etc etc: We need the voice of the people, instead of the voices of astro-turf think tanks)
Robin said…
Hi Melissa -

I'm the woman from Center on Reinventing Public Education who was on the panel Saturday. I'm also parent of 2 kids in Seattle public schools, one of whom I didn't get the opportunity to respond to your question so I'm happy to have it now.

I'd like to respectfully correct your info about charters and special needs kids. Charters may NOT exclude special needs students. The research shows that they serve about the same proportion of special needs students nationally. My colleagues at University of Colorado Denver conducted a study of special needs families and found that they were more likely to encounter exclusionary practices in district-run public schools than in chartered public schools. Many charter schools are using their flexibility to innovate and are producing exemplary results with their special needs students. Just edited a book with these data and am happy to send a copy if you like.

My view of the film - it oversimplified a lot and over dramatized. But I was struck by what I thought was a pretty profound point: low income families do not always the option to move to
better neighborhoods to get a better education for their kids. They are sometimes desperate for options to escape schools that have low expectations, are unsafe, or ineffective teachers. They are often desperate for more options and know their kids only have a few years before they lose their opportunity to escape poverty through a good education. There are many families like this in south seattle and throughout the state and we owe them a look at all options that might help their kids quickly. Charter schools are showing good and often amazing results with low income kids.

If your child were assigned to Rainier Beach High School next year and you had no option to move or pay for private school, would you want the option to have him/her attend a high performing charter instead? I am 100% sure what my answer would be.

Robin Lake rlake67@yahoo.com
Robin said…
Whoops - just reread my post and noticed a sentence I didn't finish. I'm parent to 2 kids in Seattle public schools, *one of whom is in a special ed autism inclusion program*.

Sorry for the edit - just wanted to be sure you know my context.
seattle citizen said…
Robin, two points:
One: How would anyone be sure that the charter school does not have "low expectations, [isn't] unsafe, or [have] ineffective teachers"?
(That's a pretty serious trio of accusations you level at public schools, by the way...)
And with a charter, because the purpose of a charter is to free it from some or most of the policies and procedures that the publics follow, the charter, in my mind, would be LESS accountable.

The second point is to question your use of the phrase, "There are many families like this in south seattle and throughout the state..."

Aren't there families all over the city that are less mobile than others? Aren't many middle income families, say, in Northgate, not mobile? Why the focus on the south part of the city in your phrasing?

Pardon my skepicism, but I believe that there is a manufactured customer base for charters, and it's statements like yours that create it. Your statement is disrespectful of all the families in the city that suffer from limited mobility, many of which value public schools (as is evident in the three votes against them in our state.)

Please explain your data that shows charters to be safer, that shows their teachers to have higher expectations (and as broad a curricular focus: lets not compare teaching to the test to a broad and deep classroom experience - show us charter schools that DON'T focus on high-stakes tests, and DO offer many art classes, music, etc etc( and show us how charter teachers are more "effective" (using the same broad parameters detailed above)
Sahila said…
So charter schools are OK for low income kids because they cant afford to move to the better neighbourhoods with better schools?

Why not spend the money that charter schools will suck out of public education improving those less than desirable public schools in those poor neighbourhoods...

Or are you saying low income kids need a special kind of education - like the military style KIPP programmes? Because they're 'different' than white middle class kids at all the better schools? And so we have to segregate them off into charter schools, where their 'needs' will be better served?

Those who dont make the grade economically to get into the rich public schools and dont make the grade academically to get into and stay in the charter schools, can just be left wallowing in the mud of the poor, under-resourced, failing public schools...

Why dont we just fix the societal problems that are the root cause of all kids not learning to their potential, so all kids can go to all public schools and get a quality education? Wouldnt that be more egalitarian, equitable, and just?

But no, of course we cant do that, because that means that there'll be no profit for all those charter franchise owners....
Robin said…
My point is not to pit charter schools vs district-run schools - they really can compliment each other. But really, I live in South Seattle and while my kids school is pretty good, we will likely have to move when they get to middle/high school. There are serious safety and academic issues south of the ship canal and I'm not willing to sacrifice my kids' future in order to stay in the diverse neighborhood that I love. Others don't have that option in Seattle but they do in most other urban districts and the sky is certainly not falling. In fact, there can be tremendous results, especially for low income kids. New results from New Orleans, Chicago, and New York are pretty incredible. Happy to provide the citations on safety and performance data - just email me or come in to my office and we can chat further.
seattle said…
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seattle said…
It's hard for some people to understand how a charter could be a life raft when we have the privilege of living in Seattle where we have some choice in the schools we send our kids to. If we don't like our neighborhood school we can try for a different neighborhood school, or an alt school, or a choice school. If we had no choice at all, like many other cities, we might be a bit more open to charter schools don't you think?

And what an interesting POV coming from Sahila. With all of the choice we have in SPS Sahila was still unable to find an SPS school that worked for her child. She utilized her choice (and privilege) to the fullest extent by enrolling her kid in a neighbor district school that she has to drive to/from every day. She of all people must understand the importance of choice and not being forced to send your child to a school you don't feel is a good fit for him. For families that are not as privileged as Sahila's that can't drive to/from another district a charter might be a life saver. A charter may also be a life saver for families who do not like their assignment school and live in districts without choice.

And why bad mouth KIPP Sahila? It may not be the right choice for your child, but it may be just what another family is looking for. For the record many families shun AS1 alternative school (your kids previous school). They think as badly about AS1 as you think about KIPP. Different strokes for different folks.....
LouiseM said…
Well said SPS North!

I made a point on an earlier blog post that until you've lived in a place and been in a position where you have not options, you don't have a right to say education reform (in whatever form or flavor) isn't needed.

We are very sheltered here in the NW (particularly Seattle) and have a habit of ignoring our privledges (in any form).
Robin said…
"It's hard for some people to understand how a charter could be a life raft when we have the privilege of living in Seattle where we have some choice in the schools we send our kids to."

Yes, well said and so true. Except if you live in the south end. In that case people certainly understand the need for life rafts. At my family's assignment high school 66% of entering freshmen will not graduate. Math and reading proficiency rates are in the toilet. Our neighborhood middle school apparently had more than one rape last year.

SPS has no viable plan for making south end schools effective and hasn't had one for the last 20 years. That's a lot of near empty high school graduation ceremonies.

Are we really going to keep doing this for another 20 years when there are proven models out there for closing the achievement gap? It just strikes me as absurd. I'd laugh except that the kids who are next headed to Seattle's dropout factories are the unbelievably bright and sweet kids who are in my son's first grade class. Out of 26 kids, only about a dozen might graduate from high school and one or two may make it to college. We're OK with that???
Seattle Citizen,
A couple of facts for your concerns about accountability in charter schools:
1) When a charter school law is passed, there is a clause mandating "charter school authorizers" be appointed and held accountable for the successes and failures of charter schools in their jurisdiction. These agencies (mainly university subsidies or regent boards) are responsible for ensuring that the high standards that are specified in the respective charters are met, and if not, are subject to closure. This happens when charter schools don't perform. In Washington, were we to adopt a charter school law, we would be fortunate enough to draw from examples nationwide of exemplary authorizing statutes and models such that we would be able to ensure the high standards that we would want for our students who are currently being held to low standards (read "D" average sufficient for graduation, passing 10th grade mathematics tests unnecessary).
2) It is precisely because many families have a lack of mobility and good school options (yes, in South Seattle especially!) that high-performing charter schools such as KIPP (who has been trying to serve students here were it not illegal for them) are VITAL. If you have another solution for this problem that has managed to elude people in Seattle for more than a generation, let's get behind that. If not, you are tacitly approving of chronically failing schools.
Which brings me to my next point: If you are only now learning about organizations such as LEV, P4L, Alliance, etc, you are speaking from an uninformed place. Seattle is dogmatically sticking to the belief that we are doing fine, yet we KNOW that there are HUGE problems for many of our students. A 40% achievement gap between students of color and white students while 28% of school-aged young people (nearly 3 times the average for cities of similar size) are attending private schools means that those who are facing the reality of schools like Rainier Beach are signaling that something is wrong. Please reconsider.
And Sahila:
"Those who dont make the grade economically to get into the rich public schools and dont make the grade academically to get into and stay in the charter schools..."
Charter schools are open-enrollment, and there is no baseline for grades or test scores of their entrants.
Robin, I agree with you wholeheartedly that something must be done, and thank you for your very thoughtful insights. I hope that we will be able to put your very highly regarded research on charter schools to use for the betterment of our students without better options for their education.
Sahila said…
Christopher - you are a bit late to the party... most of us here know ALL about A4E, LEV and Stand for Children - astro turf organisations with strong links to Broad, Gates and charter franchises...

If you'd been reading this blog you'd know that many of us dont like those organisations one little bit and resent their influence in SPS...

We dont want corporatist education privateers in this District... we know very well what are the problems in this District and we reject the 'solutions' peddled by these phonies...
Sahila said…
I could find plenty of choice for my child... problem was there was no room for him at the inn... all the alt programs are full with long waiting lists... even now, he's on a waiting list...
Unknown said…
Charters don't necessarily suck resources away from the public schools, they *are* public schools, staffed with public school teachers and public school principals, and open to all students.

In New Orleans, a district that is about 60/40 charter/regular public schools, and where charters serve the same rough percentage of special education, ESL, etc populations (you have to when you serve 60% of the city's children!), here are last year's results:

15% of traditional district schools met state standards.
76% of charter schools met state standards.

If there were no charters in New Orleans, we would have an even worse disaster than Katrina on our hands today - but instead, now the children there have hope.

And for us: with white students outscoring minority students by about 40% in math and science across the grades in Seattle public schools, maybe it's worth providing at least a few of these types of schools to give our students that same hope.

And for what it's worth, I work with the public schools.
Maureen said…
I am really liking Robin and I am dreading the anti-charter rhetoric that our regulars (who I also appreciate) will soon provide. Personally, I cannot support charters in their current form. Unless a school district is truly disfuctional (hmmm, who would that be? Maybe DC?), the public schools should (MUST) be able to teach the whole broad unruly range of children that live in their boundaries. WE MUST TEACH EVERY CHILD. Why is it ok (preferred) to outsource the education of some of our most vulnerable kids?

Robin says in part (I'm obviously cutting and pasting):My point is not to pit charter schools vs district-run schools - they really can compliment each other.....There are serious safety and academic issues south of the ship canal ...SPS has no viable plan for making south end schools effective and hasn't had one for the last 20 years.....Are we really going to keep doing this for another 20 years when there are proven models out there for closing the achievement gap?

So my response is: why would we allow SPS to duck out of its responsibility to educate every child. If, indeed, "there are proven models out there for closing the achievement gap" why can't we expect SPS to apply those models and educate all of our kids?
Unknown said…
With regard to Sahila's experience, if you can't get in, then there's clearly not enough choice.

Why limit our options? Why not offer more choice not less? Yes, yes, people fear a lack of accountability, but as the earlier commenter points out about charter schools, there seems to be some clear accountability there--schools need to show achievement or they lose their charter. That's seriously a lot more accountability than in our traditional public schools here in Seattle. Why are we so dedicated and loyal to a this traditional delivery? My neighborhood choices are schools that have failed students for decades, with only a shuffling of principals here and there to show for it. I see all these other commenters suggesting we just need more tweaks. I can tell you, nothing much at all has gone on in the south-end schools for the 17 years I've lived here.

I'm ready to let someone else have a turn.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said…
I agree with Maureen that districts have a responsibility to teach all their kids, but I really can't bear for their failed efforts to be at kids' expense. I've heard about other districts that have really upped their game, because they are no longer the only game in town. I guess my point is, monopolies are rarely a good idea. And I agree too with Robin--charters and traditional schools can benefit each other. It doesn't have to be either/or.
Unknown said…
I think Maureen has posed a very important question - why allow charter schools when we should push the district to prove the model instead? I think some key distinctions that allow charter schools to prove the model in a way that the district may not be able to is that charters have a lot more flexibility in hiring teachers that fit their mission and shaping the school day to fit the needs of their students.

Charter schools have a more nimble freedom to adopt to student needs than one finds in a typical district school. So while the district could pull off the model (indeed, some district schools do), their hands are more often tied.

I would also argue that we do have at least a few dysfunctional schools, if not the entire district. I know of one elementary school that has had over 15 5th grade teachers in just one classroom this year, a middle school where students are regularly jumped in the bathrooms, and a high school where students report their teachers sleep through class. Our kids deserve so much better.
Maureen said…
Robin, quick, call Christopher Eide and tell him that he is misreading the general audience at this blog! If CRPE wants to convince us that charters are the way to go, they should just let you talk to us!

(It does seem odd that he doesn't show up at CRPE, but when you google him, his Facebook claims he's a research coordinator there.)

and it's so strange that WV lists the first five letters of my kid's name right after he logged into his Facebook account to look up Christopher Eide for me (Eide went to Harvard and Taught for America, but I don't see CRPE there(yet?))

Added after I previewed my above complicated post: Did Christopher delete one of his posts? Maybe Robin has his home number?
Dave Budd said…
Wow, you guys write long comments.
I just watched the movie and the facts just sort of speak for themselves dont they? I can't believe there are people who are seriously defending the current system. Is ranking last in the developed world ok with you?

Too many of our schools are not working. The "public school system" has had lots of time and (sufficient money) and that fact isnt changing. Give those schools a run for their money!

I think it's time to give charter schools a turn to try to do better. It sure looks like lots of them are doing better in other states. Why else would families show up for a lottery to get in?

If you love your public school, stick with it, nobody will make you leave. Maybe you get to go to one of the good schools already. Good for you.

People are generally pretty smart, let them vote with their feet and choose a school that works for their kids.

Some competition would be good for the system.
Josh Hayes said…
All this talk about charter schools is a complete waste of time: they're illegal in Washington State. Move on.

Now, if you want all the benefits of charter schools whilst remaining legal, let's talk alternative schools - wait, why are all you charter school proponents running away?

Seriously. There's a reason that year after year, NOVA has had the highest WASL (nearly meaningless, I know) scores in SPS. There's a reason that established and free-from-yearly-closure-threats alternatives - Salmon Bay, TOPS, Thornton Creek - have gargantuan wait lists. Because alternative schools work, because parents want their kids in them. It's not rocket science, folks. You want the charter school benefits despite not having a charter school? Support your local alternative school (and if it's not exactly what you want, MAKE it what you want: AS1 has changed a lot in the last several years in response to both district and parent pressures, for instance).
Josh Hayes said…
I'd also add a plea for people posting here to use their names, or at least make some sort of profile available.

Of course you're not required to, but a Greek chorus from the vasty deep may provide a great echo chamber and yet remain without substance - because nobody knows who the hell you are (not you, Robin! Thanks for identifying yourself!).

That's just my preference: I like to know to whom I'm talking. But you carry a lot more weight if you're willing to show your face.
Maureen said…
Robin, I am interested in hearing: what do you think of Alternative Schools in Seattle? In what(important) ways are they different from charter schools?
Robin said…
Hi All -

I guess I've unwittingly stirred a hornet's nest. Maybe we should all go out for a beer to argue/discuss. In the meantime... in response to Maureen's questions about alternative schools:

Most charter schools in urban areas serve mostly disadvantaged youth. There are no entrance requirements and the schools are set up on performance agreements. Some of our local alternative schools would be closed immediately if they were charter schools based on their math scores alone. The other distinct element is that, the schools are given increased flexibility to hire the staffing team and the curriculum they think will allow their students to succeed. Our local alternatives must follow the district curriculum etc. So you actually get real innovation and experimentation in charters.

That said, let's all acknowledge that charters do not all look alike. Some perform better than others. The promising thing though, is that they are, overall, helping low income kids succeed and the best charters are being replicated fast. That is a trend we're not used to seeing in public schools.

Cheers, Robin
seattle said…
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seattle said…
"I could find plenty of choice for my child... problem was there was no room for him at the inn... all the alt programs are full with long waiting lists"

please don't make it like SPS couldn't accommodate your child. Your child was attending an alt school in SPS. It was you who pulled him out and enrolled him in another school district. Perhaps this year you didn't get a spot in one of the few alt schools you tried for, but SPS would have assigned him to your North Seattle neighborhood school, or AS1, or Jane Addams, or to one of the two new N/NE elementary schools (Sandpoint and MacDonald).

Robin, while I am sympathetic (and disgusted) by the conditions that you describe at your south end high school, I hope you understand that you too have choice. Hale and Ingraham had no waitlist at all this year, your child could go to either of these schools. NOVA and Center also had no waitlist if you prefer a non traditional style of education. If you want a college prep or science focus STEM took all comers. If your child is gifted maybe APP would be an appropriate path which would get him into Grafield. Then there are the 10% set aside choice seats for all HS's across the district - Charlie's daughter got into Sealth (and I believe they live in the South end too). So, luckily, there are some options for you. Unfortunately that still doesn't address the abysmal state of some of our south end schools.
seattle citizen said…
I'm wondering why, if choice and innovation are evidently so important (and I agree that they are) the district is moving towards common curriculum, the district, states and feds are moving towards common curriculum, tests are standardized....

It seems odd that while our alternative schools are being forced to align, there are people asking for schools that can be innovative and not follow district curricular directions.

My advice? Allow all schools to be innovative within district policies and procedures (make the policies and procedures support innovation.)

Change the existing policies and procedures; don't split off public money to non-public schools (charters are, in essence, non-public. With all due respect, Christopher, charters are, by nature, outside the policies and procedures of the public district to some extent: Why would they be more accountable? Maybe they would be accountable to "test scores" or what not, but what about all the other policies and procedures that are the will of the public through the duly elected board? How would I, if I were an unkwowing and perhaps uncaring parent or guardian, know what's going on in whatever charter school if the school was not similarly accountable to the publily formulated policies etc?)

Lastly, I have not yet heard an apology, Robin, for the statement that public schools "low expectations, are unsafe, or ineffective teachers." What data do you have that supports this insulting generality? And why would a charter be any better, and how would know it was?

Christopher, "D"s are not "low expectations; they're a passing grade. Unless you want to make "C"s the new "D"s and call "D"s failing, well, a student who gets a D has passed the class. Not with honors, obviously, but hey. That argument, that it's terrible that a student can graduate with a D average, is a non-starter: They've PASSED.
Chris S. said…
Robin said:
Some of our local alternative schools would be closed immediately if they were charter schools based on their math scores alone.

Robin, I object. That is an untrue and unhelpful statement. I just did an analysis of alt school test scores for a board member, and they are very similar to the district average. You are probably talking about ONE school, AS#1, which had low scores for years because families were allowed to opt out of testing, therefore adding zeros to the school's average. In recent years, more of the community has relented and taken the test. Guess what - last spring AS#1 and two other alts got awards for "most improved" test scores.

And the beauty of alts is that they do not measure kids in a way that is so heavily standardized test based. In fact, you have just illustrated one of ed-reforms Achilles heels. Perhaps I should thank you.

ps to Josh: I don't use my whole name here, but if you read this blog and go to any board or community meetings, you will know who I am.
dan dempsey said…
Again I say that a change is not necessarily a solution.

I still refer folks to the fact that if improving performance with high percentages of disadvantaged learners is the goal, then sound instructional materials and practices are needed.

If you read Hattie's Visible Learning and analyze Project Follow Through results, it is apparent that the SPS has reasons for their abysmal performance in south end schools.

#1 Poor instructional materials
#2 Poor instructional practices

The idea that for improvement much else is even under discussion, while these two are rarely addressed gives a "solid answer" as to why South-end schools are such abysmal performers and have been such poor performers.

k-3 needs definite fixing ... so does 4-12.....
but what works is ignored.

Westneat's article on Everett SD and High School grad rates I found very interesting. Everett SD was the only District I could find where after the change to "Discovering Math" there were some really positive effects for some groups.

It appears perhaps it was the change in practice (overall approach to student learning district wide) rather that the "Discovering" materials change that produced some WASL math success.

I will need to find some time to compare Everett changes v. State for Reading and for Math over the last decade at grades 4, 7, and 10.

Perhaps the most bizarre things I find that happen in the SPS are the result of no analysis but just belief as a basis for action. The New Technology Network is one of those as is the Performance Pay idea (recent Ed Week articles show the research that performance pay does not work.)

Note "Reform Math" is another no results plan. Put the UW CoE's "Complex Instruction" in there as another poory ill researched idea, that the SPS is using funding to push. Direction = "Wrong Way"
Speed = "All Ahead Full"
Expected results ?

Particularly interesting is the NTN parent KnowledgeWorks Foundation's 2020 forecast for the future

which contains ....
A Radically Different World

If you think our future will require better schools, you're wrong.

The future of education calls for entirely new kinds of learning environments.

If you think we will need better teachers, you're wrong.

Tomorrow’s learners will need guides who take on fundamentally different roles.

As every dimension of our world evolves so rapidly, the education challenges of tomorrow will require solutions that go far beyond today’s answers.

Note the focus on expensive stuff and Project Based Learning at NTN schools and their extremely poor results certainly confirms that KW and NTN have ZERO for any answers today.
(entering rant zone)
The SPS rejects proven practices time and time again and as a result ===> charter schools are a solution ... well grass is greener ... and when my stuff sucks ... I want to buy your unknown product rather than intelligently fix mine.
The encouaging thing about KW 2020
is that =
"If you think our future will require better schools, you're wrong."

Well it appears the Southeast Education Initiative did not produce better schools .... so we are lined up with KW 2020......

Unfortunately speculative ideas by speculative investors (at KW) will likely produce big economic gains for KW big wigs but next to zero for Seattle Kids.

Note the Gates foundation has poured considerable resources into the New Technology Network.
Gates small schools money screwed up Cleveland and now it is going to be "NTN"
Unknown said…
Robin, you were on the panel. I think you could have said this. Charters are allowed to write the charter to not have certain services and you know that. That's not excluding them, that's making sure you can say, "Sorry we aren't able to provide those services under our charter." I, too, have a special needs child.

"A high performing charter?" Yes, and Mr. Guggenheim conveniently showed only high performing ones and the myriad of other kinds.

But really, good luck with that charter thing - maybe the 4th time will be the charm but I like to think the people of Washington understand as more time goes by, the wisdom of their voting choice.

I think the issue is, yes, the district has not done well by the south end and it's a mystery that many of us have been working on. I think it far better to try what Everett did first, real and individual outreach to struggling students, before we totally change our school system.

"I know of one elementary school that has had over 15 5th grade teachers in just one classroom this year, a middle school where students are regularly jumped in the bathrooms, and a high school where students report their teachers sleep through class. "

There are 15 5th grade teacher in a classroom? What? Where are these schools and what is your source for this information?

And Dave you point out the problem in a nutshell with the film. It's pretty shallow. You really believe that those facts presented are the entire public education system in the U.S.? There are no good public schools, no innovation in our public schools without charters? Hmmm.
Bird said…
These agencies (mainly university subsidies or regent boards) are responsible for ensuring that the high standards that are specified in the respective charters are met, and if not, are subject to closure. This happens when charter schools don't perform.

Back long before I had kids, I voted against charter schools just for this reason. It was clear to me then, just as it is clear to me now, that the general public would have effectively zero power to influence a charter school. I was not then and am not now interested in forking over my tax dollars to an unaccountable entity.

Accountable to a regent board or a university? Come on. I'm sure if there was a way to make it even more removed from public scrutiny and the opinions and actions of the electorate, charter proponents would go for it, but as it stands this is pretty darn unaccountable, if accountable is measured by the power of the individual taxpayers who fund these schools to have any effect on their governance.

It's my money, and I want a say in how it is spent.

Of course, now that I'm a parent I have more perspective on what charters mean. When proponents tell me we need to harness the power of choice, innovation and market forces, I now ruefully chuckle.

I've already lived the life of the free market in schools. I've seen it in action in trying to find pre-school seats for my kids. I've seen in the private school market. I've been willing to fork out very substantial sums and have not been able to find good places for my kids. I've seen friends willing and able to pay very substantial tuition not be able to find private school seats for their kids.

Schools aren't candy bars. They're not highly reproducible. Not everyone can get the brand of their choice and it isn't a small thing when your favorite kind goes bust.

That said, I do appreciate the sense of urgency charter school advocates often have. We need see more of that in the Board and the Superintendent. I just wish the proponents could put it into something I felt I could get behind.
Lori said…
"...AS#1, which had low scores for years because families were allowed to opt out of testing, therefore adding zeros to the school's average. In recent years, more of the community has relented and taken the test. Guess what - last spring AS#1 and two other alts got awards for "most improved" test scores."

And people wonder why some parents are cynical. This is a blatant misuse of data and misuse of awards. If you know that the only reason the school's scores went up is because more children took the test, thus negating that influence of the zero scores averaged in in years past, then giving AS1 an award for improving performance is a complete joke.

If this is true, it actually turns my stomach. Our kids deserve better than having their schools receive fake accolades based on patently false data.
Robin said…
One last comment and then I'll sign off. Some of you seem determined to find a reason to be against charters and that's fine. I'm not trying to build a case for charter schools here. Just trying to bring evidence to the table in this important discussion about innovation and options. I'm not maligning the schools in this district or elsewhere. I'm proud to be a public school parent and think the people in this district are doing unbelievably great work to try to improve our schools. I love our alternative schools and the fact that many parents have options.

My point is that the system is simply not working for all kids and the strategies and have not been for 40plus years. If we're all confident that there is no more need for proof points that public schools can close the achievement gap, then great. If we do think there's need then let's look at the evidence and make sure we're fairly considering all options.

Personally, I'm not a charter school advocate. I'm an advocate for giving every kid access to excellent public education and letting evidence drive our decisions. There are lots of ways to make that happen. Maybe charter schools aren't needed in this city. I'm absolutely fine with that as long as there is some other viable plan. One thing's for sure. If we're determined to find a reason not to take bold,new steps, we're sure to get more of the same results. All the best.
seattle said…
A couple of things:

Mellissa said "I think the issue is, yes, the district has not done well by the south end and it's a mystery that many of us have been working on."

While there are still a few "bad" schools in the south end that need drastic improvement, we shouldn't ignore the fact that there has been improvement in many other south end schools over the past 10 years. We've seen the closure of Cleveland and opening of STEM, Graham Hill added a Montessori, Kimball has become an international school (which now has a waitlist), Maple has improved tremendously with strong leadership, ORCA has grown from K-5 to K-8, Thurgood Marshal now has the APP program and a strong ALO program. Not to mention the SE initiative which, though a failure, poured millions of dollars into S end schools.

To me it looks like the district has been steadily making improvements in the south end. I'm not sure why people don't acknowledge this??

And Robin, lets not play games. The handful of really successful charter schools do discriminate. That is a fact.

From a Pemboke Pines Florida charter school admissions page:

"A critical component of the admissions process is to obtain a current ability test score for each Kindergarten applicant utilizing a group-administered ability test appropriate for your child's age, Test of Basic Experiences (TOBE). This is to ensure that we have a demographic representation of Florida's population in terms of potential learning ability".

And to get into the very competitive Charter school of Delaware a student must:

1) Get letters of recommendation from their current teachers, on a form provided by the charter school that includes "You must have an official from your current school fill out the form, which includes information about your analytic abilities, math and science skills and related extracurricular activities"

2) Submit copies of your seventh and eighth grade report cards and of your standardized test scores from sixth and seventh grades

3) Take the Terranova placement test. The test measures eighth-grade students' science and math aptitude and requires them to write an essay on a self-selected math or science-related topic. You can register for the test after submitting all application materials.
Dorothy Neville said…
Lori, you have a young-ish child, eh? Better stock up on the pepto-bismol.

There's the highly capable review of elementary APP that said it was doing excellently based on high (grade-level) WASL scores. There's the movement (started at RHS and spreading) that replaced a challenging AP class that 50% of the students chose with a less challenging AP class that the entire class is required to take --- all for boosting the school's standing in the artificial Newsweek HS ranking based on AP tests given (with no weight for passing). Shall I go on?

The most improved WASL award for AS1 is no joke. It's the way things work.
seattle said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle said…
"The Charter School of Wilmington, located in Delaware, is an elite public school whose students' academic performance consistently tops statewide and national rankings. The school's students excel in all areas of academic inquiry and typically participate heavily in extracurricular activities. To gain admission to this competitive institution, you must begin to prepare early, proving your commitment to excellence."

Sounds like a FANTASTIC school, but only available to top achievers. Unlike public schools that take all students, this charter school only takes top achieving, highly motivated students. Thus the test scores of public schools who take all comers can't and shouldn't be compared to exclusive charters.

seattle citizen said…
I mean, imagine the "teacher quality" and "merit pay" folks awarding kudos and money to AS#1 for improvement when all that happened is that more students took the tests.
Robin said…
I said I'd sign off, but just read Melissa's comment and must say, for the record, that it is absolutely incorrect to say that charter schools can write their charters to say they will not serve special needs kids. That would be illegal under federal law. Somehow you've been misinformed on that front. Email me your address or come by my office and I'll give you a book on this topic or hook you up with the top scholars on this topic.
seattle citizen said…
Robin, who ARE the top scholars on this subject, so that we all may peruse their research?
Lori said…
Dorothy, thanks for making me laugh (through my tears). I've renewed my Costco membership so I can get a good price on that Pepto-Bismol!

But seriously, this is the kind of stuff that infuriates me. Does the district just count on most people being brain-dead and not noticing this type of detail? Who downtown thinks it's okay to average in the zeros into the scores? In my field, data dredging and misleading statistics are the kinds of things that ruin professional reputations and bring penalties from regulatory bodies. I don't know why we don't expect, no, demand, more from educators. I'm all for being data-driven, but the data cannot be fabricated.
seattle citizen said…
Lori, the state requires schools to include students who don't take the tests as "zeros", which infuriates me, too, but it ain't the district's fault.
seattle citizen said…
nationally, ALL students who don't take their states tests drag down the scores for their schools. In a school with high absences, you can imagine the damage (and the opportunity for people to make specious claims about the "achievement" of various groups and schools - the averages of the schools do NOT correlate with the scores of individual students.
Bird said…
I haven't seen "Waiting for Superman", but I take it from the trailer that at least part of the argument of the movie is that the US is slipping in international rankings and that the solution to this is to open things up to charter schools. Is this right, movie goers?

Does the movie broach the question of what are other countries doing differently from the US? My guess is that it isn't that they've privatized the public school system.

Isn't the one of main difference between the US and countries higher in the rankings that they have high stakes tests at the end of schooling? -- Not high stakes tests where the schools and the teachers bear the cost, but where the students take the brunt of failure - i.e. you won't go on to college and your options are highly restricted from that point.

Maybe that's the motivating difference between student performance between countries.

Does the movie address any of this?
Chris S. said…
I didn't mean to demean AS#1's award. One parent said something like "See, our kids were learning all the time." - ignorant people not looking beyond the convenient numbers is the real problem.

I love measurement, I love data. But you see why this testing craze scares me. See Molly's nice testimony from 6/2. Online portfolios - why can't Bill G. get behind something like that.
Sahila said…
You know me... connect the dots, follow the money... from the Cneter on Reinventing Public Education's website (where they unabashedly advertise their intention to bring in charter schools to compete with public schools)... check out their funders: All the usual suspects, including Gates, Broad, Brookings, Business Roundtable, Carnegie, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Seattle Foundation etc, etc... blah, blah, blah...

"Over the past 17 years, CRPE has received support from a diverse group of foundations and organizations.

We would like to thank our current funders:

* The Annie E. Casey Foundation
* The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
* Carnegie Corporation of New York
* William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
* The Joyce Foundation
* National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
* Rodel Charitable Foundation
* The Seattle Foundation
* US Department of Education
* Walton Family Foundation

We would also like to recognize past supporters of our work, those foundations and organizations that were instrumental to our early start-up efforts and those who helped fund key initiatives over the years:

* A+ Commission
* Achelis & Bodman Foundations
* Alcoa (grant to Brookings)
* Anonymous
* The Atlantic Philanthropies
* The Ball Foundation
* The Boeing Company
* The Broad Foundations
* The Brookings Institution
* The Business Roundtable
* The Daniels Fund
* The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund
* Education Commission of the States
* Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
* Exxon Education Foundation
* The George Gund Foundation
* The Heinz Endowments
* Lumina Foundation for Education
* The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
* Mann-Paller Foundation
* NACSA (National Association of Charter School Authorizers)
* National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
* Partnership for Learning
* The Pew Charitable Trusts
* The Piton Foundation
* Smith Richardson Foundation
* The Spencer Foundation
* Stupski Family Foundation
* Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
* Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds"

source: http://www.crpe.org/cs/crpe/print/csr_docs/aboutus.htm
It seems that there is a lot to discuss, and to Robin and Josh's point, maybe we should sit down for a beer or two and civilly discuss how we might "intelligently fix our own system" as citizens. The blog format, while convenient, doesn't do much for bringing people together. While I do read this blog from time to time, I would like to get a better feel for where people are coming from, and how we might together think creatively for new solutions. We certainly have a lot of opinions and passion for education. Please email me at minshur@gmail.com and we can find a common time and place.
seattle citizen said…
That is an excellent point, Bird, that the way high-stakes testing is used internationally is different from the way it is used here. Here, it dings the teachers and schools.

Furthermore, when some countries are used as models for "high achievement" (India, for example) it is conveniently ignored that large swaths of the population aren't even in the system: the "scores" report on maybe the top half (wealth or caste-wise) rather than all students, like we do here in the US
spedvocate said…
Robin, while I am sympathetic (and disgusted) by the conditions that you describe at your south end high school, I hope you understand that you too have choice. Hale and Ingraham had no waitlist at all this year, your child could go to either of these schools. NOVA and Center also had no waitlist if you prefer a non traditional style of education.

Gee. This blog seems so intent on slamming the person. Or slamming anybody who might support charters. SPS_North, id you read what she wrote? Her child is in an "autism inclusion program"? How many of those are there in alt schools? Let's see, 1 inclusion program in elementary school, at Pathfinder, and it is full, and will not allow any new students. All of its students are being served until they age out. Since it was a new elementary school program at Cooper, that could be a long while. And for middle school, there's another at Salmon Bay, also full. No one was admitted this year. There are a couple of autism inclusion programs in high school at Nova and Center School. Maybe there's a spot available for her child... maybe not. But, unless Robin's child is in high school, there were 0 seats available for her student in any alternative school. And No, her child would not be able to enroll in Ingraham or Hale. There's no autism inclusion program at those schools. SPS_North, if you know of some autism inclusion program at STEM... please do tell us about it. The district has said nothing about them, and many have asked. But perhaps SPS_North knows something the district won't tell the rest of us.

So, what choices were availabe for her? She's said she was in the South End. We've already established that s/he couldn't get into an alternative school. That means she can ONLY enroll her child at Graham Hill or Muir. Probably, she got no choice between those 2 at all; because the district would only let her "choose" one of them. Remember, SPS process choices like hers seperately. In middle school, s/he will be shipped off to McClure. If it is full, they will overload it. No NSAP anywhere in sight for her. At least s/he will not have to go to Aki and be a prime target.

So, the idea that everyone has choice... simply isn't true. Why not listen to what somebody says?
Unknown said…
Robin said I said this:
"I said I'd sign off, but just read Melissa's comment and must say, for the record, that it is absolutely incorrect to say that charter schools can write their charters to say they will not serve special needs kids."

What I DID say:

"Charters are allowed to write the charter to not have certain services and you know that. That's not excluding them, that's making sure you can say, "Sorry we aren't able to provide those services under our charter."

There's a difference between "will not" which would be illegal and "not having certain services". Robin knows this but sure, I'll look at her data.

This is exactly what you have to watch out for. Words have meaning.

Bird, you are right from your reading of the trailer. "Does the movie broach the question of what are other countries doing differently from the US?" No, of course not. Just that we are failing as a nation in our public education but there's no comparisons made to other countries and their demographics and how they teach.

I am happy to meet but not for a conversation where I am to meet half-way but not the other side. You rarely hear charter proponents say anything good about public schools (or even that there are good ones).

One thing that confuses me; if it is local school boards and superintendents that choose curriculum, books, focus for schools, then how is the teachers union the main block to innovation? Boards and district control what is taught, not teachers.

You note that in the film only teachers are the problem. Not principals, not boards, not parents, not legislators. Teachers.
wseadawg said…
Sure, let's all sit down over beers, make nice and engage in a little small talk about what we, the privileged enough to go our for beers to discuss public eduction when we want, can do to save the disgraceful state of public education! Oh, gee! Why do people get so touchy and fired up? Can't we all just smile and hug?

Pardon my vomit.

Let me tell you why: Because I bust my ass day and night to help my kids and their school be the best it can be. And along with many other parents, we have built a strong school community because we work hard at it and so do our kids.

Any community can do this, but it takes commitment, sustained hard work, and leadership. I resent how much of my time I have to spend DEFENDING our schools throughout the district from the onslaught of education DEFORMS seemingly headed our way.

And his wise-ass comment from "B" really burns me:

I would also argue that we do have at least a few dysfunctional schools, if not the entire district.

The entire district? I don't get personal on this blog, but "B", that is the most thoughtless and idiotic statement you could make. Would I be defending my kids' schools if they weren't successful? What I'd like is your couch-potato types to turn off your TV, get off your couch, and do what you can to protect and improve your local schools. We know for a fact that will improve things. Look no further than Everett.

And actually, "B", most of the district is doing very well, with excellent teachers, principals and parents in every school - No thanks to people like you - despite having the most challenges in the most low income, highest crime, and transitional housing areas. Gee, go figure. Where ISN'T that the case? But oh, yeah, I forgot. It's the fault of UNION TEACHERS and other defenders of the "status quo." Please.

I have to work incredibly hard to balance my kids school and non-school lives, and it doesn't help me one bit when Mr. Eide's types come along with their lofty ideas about how to "save the children" and "close the achievement gap" with some huge reform package billed as this years' answer to all of our prayers, when they are invariably, or perhaps naturally, all about busting unions, privatizing huge chunks of the education market, and so bloated with transparently superficial and ill-conceived plans, only people in a think tank could come up with them.

What I would request is for people to be thankful for the great educations so many of our schools provide throughout the district, and rather than condemn them as lost causes and want to tear them down, people might instead roll up their sleeves, ask their teachers and staff what help they need, and actually make a difference in children's lives on a personal level.

Mr. Eide and Co. can have their beers while I'll be helping my daughter with her homework or shuffling her off to softball or soccer.

What I'd really, really like, is for all the spouting know-it-alls pushing for all this "education reform" to do, is get off their butts and do something to help public schools, besides having coffee and beer sessions, organizing phony pro-reform astro-turf groups, manipulating public opinion through Op-Eds and phony polls and surveys, and whining about the supposed "sad state" of our schools.

My kids' schools, and many others, are fine. We need to help our neighboring communities get better. We don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater because of some tree-hugger director who sends his kids to private schools suddenly grew a conscience about public ed!

I know we can do a ton to improve schools by working for them and with them. We need that a lot more than soon-to-be-obsolete technology in classrooms, standardized curricula, and 22 year old Ivy League grads "giving back" before heading off to Wall Street.
spedvocate said…
Melissa, alternative schools also seem to choose out students, especially disabled students. Why is that OK for Alts, but such a crime for charters? Alternative schools write missions, and select curriculums, or styles of teaching that make it impossible for some groups to succeed. Some even downright say the won't do it. And then they too say... "Hey, we're not for everybody, stay at your home school if we can't meet your needs. We're not for everybody." Lots of alternative schools have problems with the very idea of implementing IEPs, or accommodations on IEPs, because they are so committed to their beliefs or "teaching styles" and learning arrangements that they forget that some students still need accommodation, and in fact are entitled to it. And then there's SDI (specially designed instruction), and Least Restrictive Environment. Do alternative schools do those things willingly?

Furthermore, Robin notes that results for alts isn't so spectacular either. Why does this blog poo-poo the ho-hum test scores of charters... only to overlook the same ho-hum results in alternative schools? No, it isn't just AS1 that has poor math results. Even when you only consider students WHO DID TAKE THE TEST at AS1, they only pass 27%. No doubt, most of the test abstainers would have failed too. Orca passes a mere 18% on the math portion of the WASL, and that's with only 1 student opting out. (middle school).
Sped, I didn't know that was happening so no, I didn'say it was okay. You can verify this, yes?

As for:

"Why does this blog poo-poo the ho-hum test scores of charters..."

Can you point to where this happened? Because I actually know little about the test scores at charters so I know I didn't. Where did you see this?

I'm more against charters than for them but I would be willing to consider it with a very rigid piece of legislation to start. Would that happen? Nope, so it's a non-starter for me.

I sorry you feel alts don't serve special ed. Isn't that going to change under the new SAP?
Rose M said…
I find it interesting that for public schools reform means required textbooks, pacing guides, fidelity of implementation, centralized budget control, coaches patrolling the classrooms, dictated dumbing down of curriculum, standardized powerpoint inservice days, and advanced class offerings forbidden by central administration.

Then all the site-based management that was stripped from the schools is suppose to be given to privately run entities.

Where were all the reformers that wanted individual schools to have the power to determine what works for their students as the district systematically destroyed one successful program after another?
spedvocate said…
No Melissa, special education students in programs are all hand-assigned (even though they fill out a regular form). We know this because of the weird initial (default) assignments some students get. For example, students on Capitol Hill and the south end, are assigned to McClure instead of Washington. The computer didn't do the assignment, the special ed department did it. And it's no secret. It isn't a bad thing necessarily, just a fact. So, if there's no right program in an alternative school... nobody gets in. Most of the programs in alternative schools tend to be the very restrictive classes, self-contained programs that are simply housed in the buildings, and not really part of the alternative school at all, or only part of the periphery. They are students other student go visit, or learn about, at best... not colleagues or peers.

Where do we hear about ho-hum results for charters? How many times do we hear that trotted out story that goes something like this, "30% of charters do worse, 45% do the same, 15% do better"? Study after study.. blah, blah, blah Here, for example. Aren't those measures based on test results? If not, they're based on graduation... which, in turn, are based on test results.

So, the measures that are poor in charters (objective educational results and cherry-picking) are also problematic in our alternative schools. What does that mean? Maybe charters aren't so evil. Aren't more choices good?
Sahila said…
"...charter chains would prefer national standards...
This would allow them to use prepackaged curricula across
their charter outlets no matter the location...for dummied down standardized curriculum keeps costs down and the dispensation is formulaic and repetitive. This is the Walmart model of education (Weil, D., 2009)..."
spedvocate said…
Yeah well. You liked the dummied up television watching at AS1. One person's "dummy" is another one's genious. Anybody can cry "dumbed down" when they've got nothing else.
Sahila said…
my son had kindergarten at AS#1 last year... he didnt watch television...

And in our time there, I didnt see older children watching television either...

Not sure where you get your info, spedvocate, but if your child hasnt gone to AS#1 how do you know what goes on within its walls?
spedvocate said…
Uh. We all know lots of people don't we? And people who remove their kids out of AS1, report on the reasons why. You seem quite capable of reporting on the dumbing down of other locations.
Sahila said…
I report on the dumbing down of other locations? Not sure what you are referring to... what I report are my opinions and observations which are based my own experiences, those of my children in education systems in three countries and on my research/analysis of data/stats...
Josh Hayes said…
"spedvocate", I'm sure you mean well, but you really don't seem to know what the heck you're talking about here.

Kids don't watch television at AS1. It's true my son had a film studies class this year, and the films in question (like "The Grapes of Wrath", and "Citizen Kane", for instance) were projected on a screen. Is that what you mean?

As for IEPs, I'm sure you know that AS1 has historically had the highest rate of IEPs in its grades 6-8 of any school in SPS (typically right around 50%). I don't know off the top of my head what the rate is in the K-5 grades, so I can't comment on that: in general, I think it's a good idea not to comment on things when one doesn't know anything about them.

Perhaps you had best restrict your comments to those matters in which you are conversant.
wseadawg said…
Having gotten heated myself, I think we should all refocus on the goals and purpose of this blog, which is to discuss, share information, educate, advocate and at times, argue our points and facts, but in a progressive way that moves and develops the dialogue, rather than lead to 2 or 3 people snarking back and forth, inching ever closer to personal issues. It may suffice to make a point, but it doesn't necessarily interest or assist the wider community.

I'm as guilty as anyone, so if I'm a hypocrite, that's probably fair. But as many who've gone before me have written regarding this blog: This is the best source of information on what's going on in our district than any other form of press or media, so lets do our best to maintain the high level of quality, sincerity and usefulness of information we share here.

You've been a great crowd! Good Night! Be sure to check me out on Twitter...
gavroche said…
Meanwhile, speaking of charters...


Charter school charged with embezzling over $200K

(06-10) 22:19 PDT Los Angeles, CA (AP) --

Administrators of a San Fernando Valley charter school have been charged with embezzling more than $200,000 in public funds and other crimes.

Ivy Academia Charter School operators Yevgeny Selivanov and his wife Tatyana Berkovich were named Thursday in a 38-count complaint alleging they embezzled and laundered public funds, filed false tax returns and other crimes between 2004 and 2009.

Prosecutors say the school is operated with state and federal grants, local government funds and donations. An audit by the Los Angeles Unified School District prompted the investigation that resulted in these charges.

Attorney Janet Levine, who represents Selivanov and Berkovich, says both are innocent of the charges.

Both defendants are scheduled for arraignment on Friday.


(Unfortunately, these types of stories about abuses by charters are disturbingly common.)
seattle said…
"Charter school charged with embezzling over $200K"

This is not unique to charter schools. It happens right her is Seattle Public Schools too. A few years ago the Salmon Bay k-8 lunch lady was fired and prosecuted for embezzling thousands of dollars from Salmon Bay.

We've had a multitude of other fiascoes too. Like the drug and alcohol councilor at RBHS being caught selling drugs during school hours.
seattle citizen said…
You're right about that, SPS North, but my concern is that with less accountability there is an increased opportunity for embezzlement. Charters are, by nature, somewhat further removed from the central structure (particularly, it seems, in terms of money matters: They tout their ability to be "innovative," spend money differently.

Furthermore, as we've seen there is ample opportunity for opportunists to name themselves CEO or whatever, pay themselves whatever, make real estate management deals with whatever...

Not ALL charters, of course, but it seems the opportunity is bigger the further a school gets from central accountability.

Of course, some might argue that if students' standardized test scores go up, who cares how the money is spent, but is that what we want?
seattle said…
I never quite understand SC's argument against charter schools because he bases it largely on the premise that charters can't be held accountable because they "are removed from the central structure" and have to much autonomy.

Meanwhile, he praises and hails SPS alts - the very alts that fight for that same autonomy, and less central control...year after year after year. More autonomy and freedom, and less central control were the very things that the creators of our alts visioned, and fought for, back in the 60s (and continue to fight for today).

I know. My kids were part of two different alt schools for 7 years. Both schools wanted and needed a fair amount of autonomy to be able to teach in a style that worked with their pedagogy. Sometimes that meant no text books, sometimes it meant no grades and report cards, sometimes it meant a later start time, etc,etc,etc. Charters can offer these "freedoms", while publics no longer can. Publics are so bogged down by central admin, bureaucracy, and supers with big egos, that it is impossible for alts to have any real autonomy.

So, which is it SC? Is autonomy and less central control a good thing or a bad thing?
seattle citizen said…
autonomy within a central framework, and central policies adapted to allow for autonomy while having consistent operational expectations and checks.

Alt schools operated with more freedom for years, but still had to follow policies and procedures, and also hiring practices etc.

Now the district is narrowing those freedoms via constricted curriculum and increased use of standardized tests. I'd have them go the other way, go back to allowing autonomy as long as all PUBLIC schools are operating under the PUBLIC policies and procedures designed by our PUBLICALLY elected board.
seattle citizen said…
But that IS a good question, SPS North. Some would argue choice creates too many different programs, which creates two issues:
1) do all programs teach the identified standards (knowledge and skills) and how do you check this?
2) if there are all these different programs around the city, how do you organize transportation, how do you adjust enrollments (some schools get into cycles of losing or gaining numbers - too full, too empty

We've had these discussions here before, so I won't hash it all out, but personally I do favor autonomy but within a common framework. If I were king I would redesign some policies to allow all schools more autonomy.
"Publics are so bogged down by central admin, bureaucracy, and supers with big egos, that it is impossible for alts to have any real autonomy."

And that makes me wonder why teachers get all the blame from ed reforms.

The argument about autonomy makes me wince. We had autonomy and it didn't seem to work. Now we have central tightening its grip more and more and we don't like that. There should be a happy medium but how to get it and what it looks like, I don't know.
spedvocate said…
Josh, the information is from a kid who left. Seems just as good as a "report" Shahila references from somebody else, at another school, possibly another country etc... all great data of course. It's really easy to cry "dumb-down"... when it is so meaningless. What the heck does that even mean? Oh yeah. It means you don't agree with it.

As to rates of IEPs at AS1, that doesn't really mean a lot either. Lots of KIPP students would be on IEPs too. The point is, how many students with autism does AS1 have? How many Down Syndrome? Probably none. As far as I know, there's no program there at all at AS1.

The special education audit found over-identification of special education students, especially those in resource rooms, to be the result of inadequate general education. And then, there's an inadequate SIT processes leading the way towards special education rather than providing intervention in general education. Schools are incentivized with extra funding to do that. Is that true at AS1? I don't know. But typically, resource room students would welcomed in any charter school.
spedvocate said…
Well maybe that's the point of charters. We know what we're getting with charters more than with alts. There's a larger organization than just 1 school, with their 1 idea or plan. A replicated "brand". Everyone loves replication so much... but it doesn't really appear possible with out experience replicating.

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