Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Open Thread

There was a bit of discussion on this morning's KUOW Weekday news roundup of RTTT. Lynne Varner from the Times was on the panel and said she did not believe that not having charters hurt WA State's application. She said she thought it was probably because it was half-baked and got the union to sign on late. I did call in and say that (1) I agree the lack of charters was not the issue (2) corrected something she said which was that charters are governed by school boards (some may be but it depends on the state's charter legislation and (3) that Arne Duncan said that innovation counts as much as charters which is disingenuous because he knows states get dunned the 40 points for charters no matter how much innovation they have.

What's on your mind?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Simple Question

How does the Board enforce policy?

It's a simple question, isn't it? The Board Directors, if asked, all claim (rather indignantly) that they DO enforce policy. The state auditor says they don't. I can't find any evidence that indicates that the Board enforces policy. More than that, I can't even think of HOW the Board enforces policy.

No Board member alone can speak for the Board. So no Board member, on their own, can direct the superintendent to do anything. So if an individual Board member, such as Director Martin-Morris, were to discover that a policy, such as Policy B61.00 which requires the superintendent to provide annual reports on District programs, wasn't being followed because there is no report on the Spectrum program, what could he do about it? I suppose he could ask the superintendent, pretty please, to provide the report, but what if she didn't? He could not, on his own, compel her compliance with the policy.

If the Board, as a group, wanted to enforce a policy, such as Policy C54.00 which requires the superintendent to get input from the community before assigning a principal to an alternative school, they would have to meet to do it. Any meeting of a quorum of Board members would be subject to the Open Meetings Act, and would require the posting of an agenda in advance and minutes afterward. There are no minutes from any meeting that describe the Board as taking action to enforce policies.

So how, exactly, does the Board enforce policy? What is the mechanism? And, if I report a violation of Policy, what steps will they take to investigate the reported violation and, if the report has merit, what steps will they take to enforce the policy?

Of course, the readers of this blog may be the exact wrong people to ask. It would make a lot more sense to put these questions to the Board. I did. I just didn't get an answer. Instead, I got a bunch of links to District web pages. There was nothing that told me how they enforce Policy. I also asked the questions of Director Martin-Morris on his blog. Despite his claim that the Board does enforce policy, he chose not to name any instance in which they did and chose not to describe how they do it.

This was always an intriguing question for me, but the recent audit findings have enhanced my interest in it. All the Board members claim that they enforce policy, but none of them can say how they do it or when they've done it. This is becoming my top question for Board Directors.

$54 Per Person

KING-5 tv did a news story about one finding in the State Auditor's report. This was under the finding about the credit card usage specifically, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's credit card. She charged $3800 on her card for catering a retirement party. The audit singled it out because it was "an inappropriate use of [procurement] cards" and it was over her daily per transaction limit of $1,000. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was aware of these issues as she had signed an MOU acknowledging them before she got the card.


David Westberg of Local 609 wrote this to Harium on this subject:

In an earlier time of accountability and eyes on the bottom line, the Chief Finance Officer wrote the following to the Senior Leadership Team on March 9, 2004;

“As we continue to look for ways to save on costs, expenses on food, muffins, coffee, lunches, and snacks should be curtailed. In tight budget times, we need to save our limited resources to protect services to students, not expend them on meals and food for staff. Therefore, buying food for staff with district funds (grant or non-grant) should be stopped”

This was sent out to augment the “Guidelines for Catering Services” which had been negotiated with District Food Services (Catering Department) employees giving “Nutrition Services priority for providing all catering services both in the JSCEE building and in school sites for non-district and District sponsored business activities, during all operation hours including weekends…………..Catering requests for all District sponsored business activities must have the approval from the accounting manager to use grant or district funds, including self help funds before Nutrition Service will accept orders.”

The policy goes on to say;

“All bills received from outside food vendors will be double checked for proof of approval from Nutrition Services. If bills cannot be reconciled to pre-approved documentation, the bills will not be paid. Un-approved food orders will become the responsibility of the individual ordering the food.”

KING 5 is correct that these functions are held yearly but are normally paid for by the Seattle Schools Veterans Association. Last years was held at the Lake City Elks and was paid for by the Association.

I do understand honoring long-time employees who have spent their career with our district. But there was a past tradition of how this celebration was handled. Why it changed is a mystery. I suspect it may have been because there were a few higher up administrators honored among the group rather than regular line employees.

According to KING-5, the party hosted 70 people. So doing the math, $3800 divided by 70 people and that's $54 a person. Most catering, unless it is for a very fancy wedding or event, does not cost $54 a person. It's certainly would not seem the norm for a school district retirement party. And, we have a policy in place about using outside vendors which does not seem to have been followed.

In the overall scheme of things is the $3800 a big deal? No. But what is a big deal is that there are people in our district who tell us all schools must tighten their belts and we seem to have money for whatever they deem important. As Meg Diaz' points out, there are many schools for whom $3800 would be a lot of money to put towards a good use.

There are people in this district who are not following policies and regulations almost to the point of disregard. If we cannot trust that the management and oversight are happening in this district, then I am prepared to say that this is likely the tip of an iceberg.

Thank you to Dave and Meg for their work on this story and the alert from Parent of Three.

Oh and this was the last line of the KING-5 TV story: The district declined comment today.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Super Speaks

From an interview with 97.3 KIRO FM:

While people are buzzing about the superintendent, she says they're not talking to directly to her.

"Did they talk to their principal, did they talk to the executive director, have they emailed me? I would be very curious about how they have posed a question that they feel like hasn't been listened to," she says.

As a matter of fact, YES I DID and several times. She has never answered one e-mail or even acknowledged them. I asked her a question while she was sitting with other staff at one of the budget meetings. I asked her why she told staff there they didn't have to listen in at the table discussions (all the Board members present did). (I had asked Holly Ferguson this question and her answer was, "The Superintendent said we didn't have to.")

The Superintendent tossed her head and said, "No, Melissa, I didn't say that."

I said, "Well, are you going to ask them to?"

She just shrugged and went back to her discussion.

So seriously? Everyone here who has sent an e-mail or tried to talk to her, please state it. Because I'd like to let the Board know that she is putting out disinformation.

The article also said,

Goodloe-Johnson does hear her critics. This fall she'll get feedback from a group of high school students and will begin holding meetings with parents. She'll use the "coffee chats" to respond to parents' concerns and questions in person.

So now, after nearly 3 years, it dawns on her to talk to students and parents. That's some slow learning curve especially after all her evaluations called out her lack of engagement skills. Won't this be interesting.

I find this very off-putting and she must think we are all pretty dumb. If this is her charm offensive, good luck with that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ballard Lab Closure

I have this message from Gail Longo on the Ballard Lab closure:


1. The Ballard High School (BHS) Child Development Lab is operated by a non-profit Community Learning Partner that serves both high school students and children. Our on-site Lab school provides licensed childcare to families of 20 preschoolers. Teachers are college graduates and Montessori certified. The Lab is housed on campus in a designated childcare facility that was newly constructed in 1999.

2. In 2003, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Office of Community Learning welcomed two new members to the Community Alignment Agreement, The BHS Family and Consumer Sciences Department (a branch of the Career and Technical Education Division of SPS) and the Casa Maria Montessori Lab School Program

3. This partnership gives high school students a direct field- site where they can apply classroom knowledge to real life situations in a meaningful way. High school students receive occupational education credit and certificates from the Washington State Training and Registry system (STARS) for completing 20 hours of training.

4. The alignment agreement inspired our partnership to host annual workshops in education for students and families .We obtained grants and successfully co-hosted forums focused on optimal brain development and emotional literacy. These events brought educators, families and communities together.

5. Today this model partnership is threatened from changes stemming from the Seattle School District’s New Student Assignment Plan. The existing childcare laboratory space will now be needlessly ripped out and our successful program will be terminated.

Money from State, city and community was invested in the construction of the Child Development Laboratory at Ballard High. Because of the high deficit in the SPS budget, it is very expensive to create new childcare centers in schools. Our program
has been in place and operating for over 6 years and it seems wise and preferable to retain it.

6. Elected officials and scientists support our program. King County Council members, Larry Phillips and Bob Ferguson have both voiced their support. Inspired teachers like Dr. James Ha and Dr. Helen Buckland from the University of Washington, and Dr. Jeff Ojemann , neurosurgeon from Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, all support the value of this program.

Dr. Temple Grandin , a leading scientist with extraordinary talent who has autism wrote to us saying that :”It is extremely important for students to get hands–on experience …hands.-on jobs will help create the next generation of scientists”

Gail Longo, July 27,2010

Thank You, Lynne

So finally, someone at the Times read the tea leaves, the writing on the wall, the liner notes and the Auditor's report. That someone is Lynne Varner and she wrote about it in her editorial column. Her frustration is palpable and I think she hits the right note in saying this is the public's money and the district needs to have a more careful and respectful attitude about it.

From her column:

The latest state audit of Seattle Public Schools didn't tell me anything I didn't already know: The district is stuck in a culture of lax indifference when it comes to taxpayers' money.

Despite the last decade's phalanx of highly paid budget and money managers overseeing the district, few inroads have been made in transforming this culture.

Interesting to note:

The shoddy reporting and bookkeeping gets worse. Employees charged $250,000 in gas, not necessarily a problem considering the size of the district and the many employees who travel between schools. But employees are required to note how many miles were driven between fill-ups so usage can be tracked. Few did so. Some scribbled in one mile, others took wilder guesses. They might as well have written "none of your business."

Officials also cannot explain why in a 30-day span, nearly a quarter of fuel purchases charged to district credit cards occurred between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Auditors look at personnel records and found no employees working at those hours. Kennedy wonders if the gas pump time clocks were off. That would be some coincidence.

Here's a bit of my comments from the Comments section:

The most damning part of the audit, however, is this:

"The State Auditor found that the School Board completely failed in their duty to enforce laws and policy and completely failed in their duty to oversee the superintendent."

That the people who are elected to watch over the district aren't really doing that job is deeply troubling. The Board has issued no real statements on the audit and their silence is troubling. Their legally defined duty is to oversee the Superintendent and yet they are not.

I started this statement by saying the Auditor's office is frustrated. You can hear it in Lynne's written voice that she is frustrated. I'm sure city leaders and business leaders are frustrated. We are all frustrated because no matter how you feel about the Superintendent's public engagement or her initiatives, we would all hope for at least a well-managed district. She brought in staff she had in her previous post and so you would believe that is because she felt they would do a good job. Don Kennedy, the COO/CFO, is directly responsible.

New Bidding on MLK, Jr. Building

From the Central District News:

Some Madison Valley residents were convinced the fix was in. The Seattle School District would wait out the clock, let August pass, and then city permitting rules and remodeling costs would make it financially impossible to turn the old MLK Elementary School into a community center. But according to Seattle Schools spokesperson Teresa Wippel, last month the school district worked out a deal with the city to extend that timeline, with the city agreeing to allow the building to be occupied in early 2011 without having to bring the old building up to current development codes.

That change opened up a new window for revised bids from the parties that are vying to purchase or lease the property, which has been empty since the school was closed by the district in 2006.

The big surprise from the new bids is a new bidder: the Central Area Development Association has submitted a bid to purchase 33% of the property for $750,000, proposing to create a new community center, through either remodeling the existing building or constructing a new structure with 2 classrooms.

The obvious question is what would happen with the other 67% of the property. CADA isn't specific on that, saying that they are "flexible" on how to best utilize any space not taken up by the community center, while also saying that they would seek $2.5 million from the state to purchase the entire property.

A possible additional answer shows up in the new bid from The Bush School. In addition to a $750,000 reduction in their purchase proposal (to $3 million), they include a new option that would take a 99 year lease on 74% of the property, leaving space for a community organization to build a small community center on the northwest corner of the property. However, 74 + 33 != 100, and the Bush school hasn't responded to our query about whether they are working directly with CADA on a bid.

On the face of it, it would seem like a win because the neighborhood would gain a community center, a weekend soccer field (from the Bush School) and the district would gain some money (although follow that bouncing ball of capital money and try to see where it would go).

But there's a group - Citizens for a Community Center @MLK - who have bid and would like the whole space for a community center. Interestingly, their bid went from $100k to $2.5M.

From the article:

One of the political difficulties for the school board has been the risk of selling a private property to a monied private interest such as the Bush School. A combined proposal between Bush and a non-profit like CADA could be a solution to that problem. But the local support in Madison Valley for CCC@MLK would likely leave some hard feelings in the community if that proposal is rejected.

The school board will be briefed on the updated bids in September.

Washington State NOT a Finalist for RTTT

From the AP:

Washington state is not a finalist for the competitive federal education grant program called Race to the Top.

U.S. Education Secretary announced the finalists Tuesday morning. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have a chance to win a share of $3 billion.

The states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were awarded a total of $600 million in the first round of the competition.

Wedgwood Switches Administrators with Eckstein

This from the Wedgwood View blog:

Wedgwood Elementary has traded its principal to Eckstein Middle School for its assistant principal.

It wasn’t exactly a “trade,” a la a couple of sports team, but sort of worked out that way. Denise Espania, who had been Wedgwood principal for two years, announced at the end of the school year that she would be moving on and looking for a new job that allowed her more time to spend with her family.

She’s apparently found that as assistant principal at Eckstein Middle School. She’ll take the job of Chris Cronas, who takes over for Espania as Wedgwood’s principal.

From Dr. G-J's letter to parents:

"Prior to his assistant principal role, Mr. Cronas was a house administrator, an instruction and curriculum coach, and taught overseas in Japan for four years. He is fluent in Japanese. His professional preparation includes a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and English Education from Ithaca College and Master of Education from the Danforth Educational Leadership Program at the University of Washington. "

"This role (at Eckstein) has provided him an opportunity to gain experience as an instructional leader in a school setting comparable to Wedgwood, with Spectrum and special education programs. "

His qualifications make him sound like he could be a very good principal. Good for Wedgwood.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Turn Over a Rock...

Here's an interesting discovery, courtesy of Dan Dempsey: RCW 42.56.040.

This State law requires local government agencies, such as school districts, to prominently display and make available for inspection any and all rules of procedure. The District must, by state law, provide written statements of the nature and requirements of all formal and informal procedures and statements of general policy or interpretations of general applicability formulated and adopted by the agency.

Think of a District procedure, especially one of those less transparent ones, such as Program Placement. According to state law, the District is required to have a written statement of the procedure and process used to determine program placement. I don't believe they do. I don't know how specific these statements need to be, but I can't imagine that the description currently provided is sufficient. Think of some of other more opaque decisions made by the District. Think of some of their more ill-defined processes - such as how a school gets a waiver from using the Board-adopted materials, how a student earns high school credit for a class taken in middle school, or how principal assignments are made.

Now check out this bit at the end:

"Except to the extent that he has actual and timely notice of the terms thereof, a person may not in any manner be required to resort to, or be adversely affected by, a matter required to be published or displayed and not so published or displayed."

Does this means that no principal can be re-assigned against their will unless the District has a written statement that describes how those assignments are made?

Dan has already sent the Board a letter following up on the implications of this law and asking for the procedures for how to submit evidence to the Board for their use in making a decision. He also asked for the procedure for how the District determines what is evidence for inclusion in the certified correct record of evidence.

I know the first written statement I want to see: How the Board responds to reports of policy violations and enforces policy.

My next request will be for the procedure the Board uses to review the Superintendnet's program placement decisions.

Saturday, July 24, 2010



In the thread on what is going on in Washington DC, there was some mention on what was going on in the contract talks between SPS and SEA. I received this e-mail from the SEA. I post without comment.

SEA Bargaining Update July 23, 2010
SEA and District Far Apart in Negotiations

Dear Michael,

Your SEA Negotiations Team met with the District team on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. We continue to be far apart on issues that you have told us matter most to you. The district is holding fast to their major proposals on:

• tying student growth based on MAP scores, MSP scores, and end-of-course assessments to certificated employees evaluations;
• use of evaluations as the lead factor in reduction in force, as opposed to strict seniority.

There has been very little to no movement on what you have told us are your two most important issues:

• class size/staff ratios/caseloads to give students the attention they need and deserve;
• compensation to attract and retain high quality educators to Seattle Public Schools.

The SEA has made proposals on these priorities and many others that you told us need to be addressed.

The District has proposed an evaluation system that includes tying evaluations to student growth based on MAP, MSP, and end-of-course assessments. We will be holding Focus Groups at SEA this coming week to share the details of the District’s proposal and to get feedback from our members about what they think about it. Our goal is to have up to 5% of each school/program’s certificated staff involved. Please contact SEA to attend a focus group to give us your feedback. Focus groups are at 10 a.m. on Monday, July 26 and Wednesday, July 28; 3 p.m. on Tuesday, July 27 and Thursday, July 29. We have one evening session on Wednesday, July 28 at 7 p.m. Call us to sign up for the session of your choice. 206-283-8443 x100.

Here are some of our other thoughts about the bargain:

Fact: SEA is willing to problem solve solutions to help raise student academic achievement and to help close the achievement gap. SEA has offered research backed solutions that are actually working in other school districts in the country.

Myth: The SEA does not want to be accountable for student academic achievement. Many years ago, the SEA was the first local in Washington State to negotiate student academic achievement goals as part of our evaluations. There are very few contracts that include it even today. It was the SEA who went to the district with a proposal in 2004 about closing the achievement gap and developing the flight schools. This year, the SEA proposed working with the district to do a study over the coming years regarding the correlation between evaluations and student academic growth.

Fact: SEA believes that the work of the collaborative SEA and SPS Professional Growth and Evaluation joint task force should be honored. A joint task force of SEA and District staff collaboratively developed a four level evaluation system. A new law in place requires that the system be fully in place by 2013-14. The philosophy of the task force is to promote professional growth in employees and create a culture in the District of being life-long learners and improving instructional practice. We do not believe the evaluation system should be used primarily to weed out “low performing” teachers.

Myth: SEA is afraid to try innovative ideas that may help raise student academic achievement. After a lengthy debate, the SEA Association Representatives voted to authorize a memorandum of understanding that would allow for three of our schools to waive some contractual rights in order to receive a federal School Improvement Grant. The grant is designed to help raise student academic achievement.

Fact: SEA understands that the economy is not the best right now. SEA was willing to look at giving up the Learning Improvement Day that the state took away this past legislative session (loss of funds to the district and to your pockets). In turn, we reminded the district that it has taken many years to be competitive with other districts in the Puget Sound Region regarding compensation and we do not want to lose ground in the future.

Myth: The state is to blame for all of the district’s money woes. While Seattle delivered RIF notices, almost all other districts in the Puget Sound area did not have lay-offs this year. While the district continues to tell us that there is no money at all in the budget for increased compensation in the future, eight of our eleven comparable districts will get raises this coming school year, two will at least make the same amount of money as this year, and only one will lose the learning improvement day and have a cut in salary.

Fact: Since 2005-06, the district has begun each school year with more in their fund balance than budgeted. For 2009-10, the District began the year with $6.4 million more than they anticipated. SPS ended the 2008-09 school year with more than double the amount they anticipated in their ending fund balance ($55.8 million instead of the budgeted $22.4 million).

What’s next? ---------------

The SEA will be negotiating again on Tuesday, August 3, 2010. The District has promised to bring a comprehensive proposal to the bargaining table that will be in response to our comprehensive proposal that we put on the table for our Paraprofessional, SAEOP, and Certificated members.

Slash and Burn

So our second favorite superintendent (chancellor), Michelle Rhee, of D.C., has dismissed 241 teachers (5% of the teachers) evaluated under a new system and found lacking. This article appeared in the NY Times. A few were dismissed for not having the right qualifications under NCLB (which would beg the question, who's fault is it for hiring them?). Ms. Rhee says:

“Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher — in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this city,” the chancellor said in a statement. “That is our commitment.”

In addition there were other employees from librarians to counselors to custodians who were dismissed. What is interesting is that there seems to be no administrators on that list. Every single principal in D.C. is doing a great job and the teachers are the problem? Hmmm. And, 737 employees were put on notice that they were in the second tier from the bottom so shape up or ship out. Only 16% were rated highly effective.

Naturally, the Washington Teachers Union, is going to challenge the firings.

A "value-added" component was used on these evaluations but, according to the article, it used to be used for diagnostics rather than making personnel decisions. Value-added was 50% of the evaluation. The teachers let go taught in 4-8 and that's because those are the grades that have annual testing data. The teachers were to receive 5 30- minute classroom observations during the school year ( 3 by the principal and 2 by a "master educator" not from the school). They were scored in 22 measures in 9 categories including:

"... classroom presence, time management, clarity in presenting the objectives of a lesson and ensuring that students across all levels of learning ability understand the material."

Also from the article:

Last month, the teachers' union and the District Council approved a contract that weakened teachers' seniority protection, in return for 20 percent raises and bonuses of $20,000 to $30,000 for teachers who meet certain standards, including rising test scores.

The main comments from the Seattle Times website seem to be "get rid of bad teachers and support good ones", "it's the union's fault" and "why aren't parents held responsible?".

I think everyone would agree that bad teachers have to be exited but if the next lower tier of 737 teachers were let go, what would happen in D.C.? Could a district find that many "highly qualified" teachers to replace them? What is left out, as AFT President Randi Weingarten says, are supports for teachers and professional development.

This is a highly public experiment that I'm sure has the attention of the Obama administration. All seems quiet on the negotiation front here in Seattle which is actually good news (as it means negotiations are probably going forward rather than stalling out).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Open Thread Friday

Discuss anything.

Recall Story in the Times

The Seattle Times ran a story this morning on the Board recall effort.

The story has few quotes and none from the Board members, the District, or anyone in opposition to the recall.

The story says that it is now up to a King County Superior Court to determine whether the charges against the Board members are true and, if they are true, if they constitute a violation of the Board members' oath of office.

The oath of office binds the Directors to support the constitutions of the United States and the State of Washington and to faithfully discharge the duties of the office according to the best of the Director’s ability. I think the breakdown comes in the area of faithfully discharging the duties of the office. The recently released report from the State Auditor makes it very clear that the Directors have NOT been doing their duty. Since the District concurred with the auditor's findings, I'm not sure what story they will tell the Court in the Director's defense. Probably that the failures found in the audit do not rise to the level of violating the oath. Is that what they are going to say "Yes, we suck, but not that badly."

I don't know if the District will be providing the Directors with counsel at the Court hearing or if each Director will be responsible for providing their own. That's an interesting question. Does the District have a duty to defend the Directors (at taxpayers' expense) in this sort of legal procedure?

Here's something interesting. What are "the duties of the office"? According to Board Policy B23.00, Duties of Individual Board Members, it appears that they are just required to show up and have read the material provided to them.

But then there is this Code of Conduct for Board members in Policy B49.00 that puts some duties on Board members, and Policy B61.00 that lists more duties for Board members.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What Does a Superintendent Make?

Interesting reading over at Education Week. It seems that our Superintendent is not the only well-paid superintendent in the country. New Jersey's governor makes less than 75% of New Jersey's local superintendents. New York's governor makes less than the NYC superintendent (by almost half).

What struck me is that both the superintendents of the LA Unified school district AND the superintendent of NYC make less than Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, by a lot (NYC, $250k/LA, $250K). Folks, we are an urban district but we are small and manageable district by comparison to Detroit, Chicago, LA or NYC.

From the article:

In some states, you could certainly argue that being a school superintendent is a more difficult job worthy of more compensation, though I don't think that is the case currently in California and New York, where both governors have found it next to impossible to govern much of anything lately.

Also from the article:

Intuitively, it seems completely out of whack for a district superintendent to make more than the CEO of an entire state. But some of this has to do with the fact that some salaries for governors were set eons ago and don't get tweaked much. No one has to use a compensation package to get the best "hire" for the governor's office; those folks self-select by running for the office. While governors and superintendents are public servants, they operate in entirely different markets.

In the comments section, one reader added a graphic showing how salaries in NYC compare from teacher to principal to chancellor (their superintendent) to charter school overseers. Pretty interesting. I don't think all charter school principals make a lot of money but I would think most of the operators of the firms for the large charter school groups do.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Can the State Help?

I had this idea this morning. The State Auditor had an extraordinary number of findings in his audit of Seattle Public Schools. More, the findings were significant and disturbing, reflecting notable deriliction of duty.

We also have some folks in town looking to recall some Board members. The audit bolsters their cause.

The State is VERY interested in beefing up the "accountability" in our public schools. They have added even more accountability for teachers and, in the last session, passed a law that applies only to Seattle Public Schools that made it incrementally easier for the District to fire principals. I believe that accountability should be applied from the top down, instead of from the bottom up (as it has been done in Washington State public education). After all of the talk about holding schools and districts accountable, the first people who faced consequences were the students - the people with the least power in the whole system. The next people being held accountable are those with the next smallest portion of authority - the teachers.

I think the State Legislature is ready to apply some accountability to the people at the top of the districts. I wonder if the Legislature could adopt a law that would declare that certain things, if found in a State Audit of a School District, constitute misfeasance. That would facilitate a recall by removing one of the hurdles. I think it is an accountability measure that the State Legislature is ready to adopt. How could we get it in front of them? Who could help us with this?

I think this sounds like a perfect job for the League of Education Voters.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Math Curricula

I know that I'm inviting trouble with this, but something that Reader wrote in a comment on another thread piqued my interest. I would like to discuss only a narrow question. Please don't expand the discussion.

Writing about Everyday Math and Singapore, Reader wrote: "The fact is, the newer curricula stress more problem solving and discovery. That is, it's doing more than a lot of older curricula."

Here's my question: can problem-solving be taught?

I mean this in the nicest possible way and I don't have an answer myself. I'm not sure, I'm asking. Can people be taught or trained in problem-solving techniques or is it a talent that some people just natively have more than others? Problem solving requires a certain amount of creativity, doesn't it? It can require a flexibility of perspective, curiosity, persistence, and pattern recognition. Can these things be taught or trained?

I suppose anyone can be taught to play a musical instrument, but not everyone will do it well and not everyone will choose to pick up the instrument and play it of their own initiative. For me, problem-solving is a compulsion. And I have a knack for it. But I'm not sure if I could teach anyone how I do it. I certainly don't have many systems for it and I only resort to them when my usual perception fails me. I solve the Jumble every morning and usually couldn't explain how I found the solutions - at least not the ones I got right away. I just see them.

Setting up math problems is the same way. I just see how to set them and how to approach the solutions. I sometimes wonder if this isn't a contributing factor to the failings of Reform Math - the impossibility of teaching something that is actually a talent. There are others - and there are strengths. Let's try to focus the discussion on get this question: Can problem-solving skills be taught?

School Quality Model and Management

Seattle Public Schools has a number of slogans. Among them is "Every School a Quality School". The District claims to be working towards this goal, but the District has no definition of a Quality School, so those claims lack credibility. Rather than clucking at the District for not having a definition of a Quality School, our time would be more productively used helping them to find one.

What is a Quality School? We need to be clear that we separate the idea of a Quality School from the students in the school. If we were to rely on student achievement, for example, as our definition of a Quality School, then we might conclude that Bryant is good school and that Hawthorne is a struggling school. But does anyone believe that if the Hawthorne students were all transferred to Bryant and if the Bryant students were all transferred to Hawthorne that the outcomes for the students would be much different? Would the Hawthorne students suddenly start to achieve because they are now at a good school and the Bryant students suddenly start to under-perform because they are now at a struggling school? I doubt it.

There are a number of factors that determine student achievement and the bulk of them, and the biggest ones aren't at school. Attendance area schools can't control which students are assigned to them, so the presence of a lot of under-performing students does not necessarily mean that the school is doing a bad job. Likewise, the presence of a lot of high performing students doesn't necessarily indicate that the school is doing a good job.

A Quality School is one that addresses its students' needs. A Quality School is one that delivers lessons that are at the frontier of each student's knowledge and skills. A Quality School identifies the students who are working below grade level and provides them with an early and effective intervention to accelerate their learning up to grade level. A Quality School identifies the students who are working beyond grade level and gets them the additional challenge they need – deeper understanding of the concepts, broader application of the ideas, and further exploration of the material. A Quality School keeps grade level students working at grade level and gives them opportunities to go further.

The District can adopt this as the model of a Quality School. It is independent of the achievement of the students, it suggests a post-industrial model for education, and it sees students as individual learners. Moreover, it is a model that the District can measure. Following the MAP test in the fall, the District can say to a school "You have 18 fourth graders who are working below grade level, 7 who are working beyond grade level, and 27 who are working at grade level. What are you doing for each of these groups of students?" The District doesn't have to dictate what the school does to meet these students needs, but they can – and should – demand that something be done. This would also include questions about what the school is doing for students with IEPs and what the school is doing for English language learners.

But that's not all.

After that, the District should follow up and verify that the school did the things that they said they would do. If the school says that they will provide double math periods for the students working below grade level, then the District should have some means of confirming that the school actually did it. I'm not sure how they could do this without an on-site inspection.

But that's not all.

After that, the District should determine if the schools' actions were effective. There is another MAP assessment in the winter. It should show progress. It should show that the students who were working below grade level in the fall are at grade level – or are at least closer to grade level than they were before. It should show that the students who were working beyond grade level in the fall are still working as far or farther beyond grade level. It should show that the students who were working at grade level in the fall are still working at or beyond grade level. Progress – whether adequate or not – should be noted and course corrections or enhancements, if needed, should be made. A similar determination should be made again in the spring.

Schools that failed to address their students' needs or failed to address them effectively are the struggling schools. Schools that do address their students' needs and address them effectively are the Quality Schools. That’s how Performance Management should work. The struggling schools should be more closely managed by the District. Perhaps the District should dictate what they provide these groups of students. The Quality Schools should be allowed more autonomy to continue to address student needs in their own way.

The District should adopt this model for defining and assessing School Quality in their Performance Management System. Frankly, what other model could they adopt? Is there anything else that even makes sense?

Professional Development for Teachers

There's an op-ed in the Seattle Times in support of professional development for teachers by Patricia Wasley, dean and professor of Education at UW and Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of the National Staff Development Council. From the op-ed:

Unfortunately, under the recently adopted Washington state budget, the Legislature appears to have ignored this fact by eliminating all state funding for professional learning. Local districts will have to scale back or eliminate entirely their professional-learning budgets, actions that will harm the quality of teaching and learning.

They contrast the old professional development of in-service days/workshops to the "new" approach of the following:
  • Seattle - specially prepared teacher leaders help their peers implement the new district math curriculum. To improve student performance in science, the district uses up-to-date performance data to identify specific learning needs at every school and provides corresponding team-based professional learning and coaching to address particular areas in need of improvement.
  • In Federal Way, the district supports a school-based coaching model that leverages the expertise of peer teachers. And the White River School District in Buckley operates a professional-learning-community initiative that is seen as a model program by other districts.
A couple of comments from Times' readers:

When times are tough, let's slow the development of our teachers so when times are good again, we will be behind. Worldwide Citizen

I agree that professional development in education is critical. What program(s) should be cut in order to pay for it? Posaune

Us parents have seen no impact, no improvement in the sea of mediocrity that your teacher colleges produce annually nor from the seminars you provide on those "in-service" days that interrupt the school year but provide employment for the purported educators for the educators. You have all summer long to have the teachers come in for some extended quality seminars, an expense which would be tax-deductible by the teachers attending. These one day seminars provide almost no bang for the buck. Brier Guy

I'm somewhere in the middle and I hope any teachers will help us out. For me, there seems to be a lot of professional development days, both at the district and school level. I found it annoying to have both because I had to really watch the calendar and make sure you knew what time and what days my student would be home early.

But no matter how it felt to me or any other parent, teachers, what works? What helps? What makes teachers not attend the workshops? Is there any way to give feedback to the district on what works?

Pop Quiz

How much is the Superintendent's salary? Just off the top of your head (and no peeking if you have the data). Because I thought I knew and then got a copy of how much everyone in the district gets paid and I was surprised.

Bonus points if you know who the second highest paid person in the district is (but go ahead and guess).

Extra bonus points if you know the gap between that person and the Superintendent.

Put your guesses in and I'll let you know at the end of the afternoon.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Economy's impact on public schools

Hey all,

I was contacted by a reporter working on a story for Gannett News Service about the economy and its impact on public schools. At my kids' former school (AS#1) we got hit with the triple whammies of the budget cuts, drop in enrollment, and a decline in parent involvement, so I feel that my experience isn't exactly typical. I thought this blog would be a great place to get a broad response. Here is a modified version of the email the reporter sent me (edited to fit a public forum). If you'd rather contact the reporter directly to give a quotable account of your experience, you can email me at megan_mcblog@yahoo.com.

Here's the story overview:

Help for schools. The economy is better but far from out of the woods, and school districts are still strapped for basics so there are plenty of ways parents are tapped to give money for supplies, uniforms or other projects. What other things are schools doing to raise money or get the supplies and equipment they need? Are they taking donations from civic groups or shopping at Goodwill? What are communities doing to help schools -- other than approving another property tax hike? Are people donating old office supplies or holding car washes and bake sales?


• Number of kids (with grade levels - if you are comfortable).
• How many of your kids are in school? And are they in private or public schools?
• What is your general impression of the public school system in your area?
• Have you noticed that the economy is having an impact on other parents and schools?
• The story will focus on the current economy and how many school districts are still strapped for basics and funding. I want to know what schools are doing to raise money or getting supplies and equipment they need and what families are doing to make ends meet. Have you noticed this with the schools that your kids attend?
• How do you save money and/or cut corners for educational supplies, etc. for your kids? Any advice/tips for other parents strapped for cash?


• How long at the job? What division (Elementary, Middle, or High)
• How has funding changed during the duration of your career? Are you finding it harder to get the money you need for supplies, textbooks, renovations, etc.?
• What kinds of basic supplies do you need this fall? What are you sacrificing and/or living without? What are some important things you need but don't have?
• What are some "luxury" needs you have; meaning, the "nice to haves" but not "need to haves"?
• What is your school doing to raise money or help with costs?
• What do you do personally?
• Do you get any help from outside, such as community groups or nonprofits?
• How important is it for students to have the basics — and what do you think is the state of schools right now in terms of providing those basics?
• In general, how do you feel about the economic impact on schools today? Do you see the difference from years past? Do you see families struggling more?
• What do you think needs to be done?

A Couple of Things

So I like to check in regularly with other blogs. I look at LEV's blog, the Alliance's blog and Harium's blog. One interesting thing I've noticed is that, when challenged or asked about information on their threads, you can rarely get an answer. Charlie asks a lot of pertinent questions in a respectful, albeit blunt, manner and rarely gets an answer. Harium does occasionally but most of his replies are that he supports the staff. I noticed that when Charlie started asking questions at LEV, there stopped being replies.

So what are these people afraid of? I can get Harium being busy and not able to reply to everything (but then, why have a blog?). But LEV and the Alliance say they want to engage and talk and yet there's silence. I think there are two issues.

One, they confuse lively discussion with arguing. If someone disagrees with you, there's no need for shouting, swearing, name-calling or snarkiness. But you can say, look here's why I have this opinion, tell me why you have yours. Both LEV and the Alliance seem unwilling to back up their opinions/claims. Maybe they think it would be a circular argument. Nope, I'm willing to say "we have a difference of opinion" IF I've heard what evidence they base their stands upon. Their silence in defense of their words is deafening.

Two, I've said this before so sorry but I sometimes think that other groups do NOT know this district as they think they do and don't want to engage with Charlie or me because they would get stumped. Charlie and I rarely talk off the top of our heads. We know this district and know who to ask if we have a question. (I certainly know I don't know everything and I'm pretty sure that Charlie wouldn't say he does either.)

I think it important to call these people out on their timidity and/or inability to stand behind what they say.

Also, I do believe that the capital finding from the recent audit report has a lot more legs to it than I first thought. I have to do more research but folks, something is very, very wrong and it needs to stop. I think with the resignation of Fred Stephens in Facilities and the firing of Silas Potter of the Small Business area, we are seeing the start of what might be a big overhaul in Facilities. (I can only hope so.) Because of the seriousness of this audit, I'm reluctantly breaking my vow to not communicate with the Board because it seems useless. I don't expect any answer or response from them but they need to clearly understand what is going on in the district they serve and I'm not sure they do.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Open Thread Friday

The sun finally came out.

Anything new?

Latest BEX Oversight Committee Meeting

This month's BEX Oversight Committee meeting was held at Hamilton Middle School where we all got to go on a tour before the meeting. It was very interesting.

The building looks pretty great. It has an old-school with new stuff kind of feel. Lots of cherry-stained wood which gives it a warm glow. From my tour notes:
  • The building was originally designed for 725 but now can take up to 900 students (and up to 100 of those being Special Education students but they don't know how many will be assigned there).
  • The building administration moved in just this week on Wednesday. Because of that anyone who wants to see their area of the building is to be allowed in. So if you want a look at that part (the south side) of the building, you can go in.
  • It is designed with class "clusters around a general area where there is a sink to wash your hands (if you don't want to go into the bathroom), water fountain, etc.
  • The Special Ed area can be fully self-contained (and the rooms come equipped with their own bathrooms) or work with other classes.
  • It turns out that I didn't fully understand about the reuse of the historic windows. They are not new double-paned but they did get a "dip glaze" to improve their energy efficiency.
  • There is a tremendous panoramic view of downtown and Queen Anne from the 3rd story science rooms. Wow! Speaking of, those science rooms are pretty well-equipped down to the emergency wash station in the corner that you find in most of the updated high school science rooms.
  • We saw the outside "play area". They didn't get a full-sized basketball court but there are a couple. There is an "amphitheater" area right next to the park. This was an area of dispute between neighbors and the district but the staff said the neighbors seem happy with the outcome. There is a path now for someone who uses a wheelchair to be able to access the park more easily. However, the property line is right at the end of the basketball court so technically the amphitheater area sits on City Parks property.
  • There is one band/fitness room that may double up to accommodate more music instruction. There are also a couple of other music rooms.
  • I was surprised to see contour seats in the gym. First, there are very few people who actually fit in those type of seats and second, the way men sit, it is unlikely that just one would fit them. Regular bench seating would have fit more people but that was the choice made. The seating is in Hamilton colors - blue and gold. The lobby area is small.
  • There's a nice Commons area for lunch. The stage is someone small in terms of backstage area. I was told they could seat 300. (Again, another odd choice for seating. The pullout seating has arms which take up more space.) I wonder if 300 is enough for musical events.
  • The library is a nice area but I was told the shelving has to be reconfigured.
This brings me to my overall impression. It is a lovely remodel of an old building and I think the staff and kids will like it. But one overriding thing that struck me is how scaled down it feels in size. They went up to 3 stories to get room but it feels small and kind of narrow. The lockers sit very low as well. I was trying to imagine, even with the cluster set up, how crowded the halls will feel with those large (and growing) middle school bodies. The teachers' restroom door opens right out into the middle of the small hall so I think the teachers will have to be careful especially if there is a passing period. As well, the library and the main office have very low counters, almost an elementary low (and if I think it's low, given my lack of vertical stature, it's low). I'm sure most regular sized adults will notice this right away. It's not bad, just odd.

As for the meeting, they had a number of members absent including no Board member.

The next meeting will be at Hale for a similar walk-thru. Apparently Hale wants 100 security cameras for their school. I had to laugh because what?!? Garfield has maybe 40 (and, of course, there is my constant beef that Roosevelt has zero). I'm not sure what the reasoning is at Hale except it was said that they want to be able to see in every corner of the building. No kidding.

The most interesting things get said at the BEX Oversight Committee meetings. This time it was that Facilities is developing a generic education building specification plan. (Facilities' Don Gilmore said that was one 15 years ago that never got used. Not a single member asked why not. I was dying to ask but you can't at these meetings.)

What this means is that for BEX IV they are going to use one or two plans for the possibly 6 elementaries they plan to redo. (It seems there will be only middle and elementaries work done under BEX IV.) Meaning, more cookie cutter buildings but you get more buildings done for less money because of the use of only one/two plans. They hired...wait for it....a consultant to help with this planning. They have talked to each department - arts, music, Special Ed, etc. - about their needs. A first draft is due by August 1st.

Someone asked about talking about the Garfield charges (the district is still trying to settle contractor claims from Garfield). Bill Martin, the head of BEX projects, demurred, saying they weren't ready but would have a report next month.

I suspect it was because I had alerted the Committee, a member asked to put on the agenda the State Auditor findings on the capital program for small businesses learning how to bid on SPS projects. It was granted and the discussion began.

Ron English, an SPS lawyer, explained that 6 years ago the Board created a policy about helping small businesses do work for SPS. The task was then assigned to then-Superintendent Raj Manhas. Mr. English also explained that the Auditor was troubled that the money for this venture came out of Capital and not the General Fund. Apparently no one bothered to check the law. Oh.

Mr. English was careful to say that the Auditor didn't say the program was wrong but that the uses of the money for it have to be tailored to projects directly for SPS. He also said he had taught some of the classes for the program. (This was jaw-dropping to me because Mr. English is a pretty well-paid employee and to be doing training program classes seems odd even if they do cover some legal issues. Why this is a good use of his time, I don't know.)

He said they would be changing how they ran the program. They have to reimburse these capital funds but he had no idea as of that date how much of the roughly $1.8M spent over the last two years would have to be paid back.

One Committee member seemed to think the Auditor should have sent a letter to the district first (as he claims is the usual course of action) before having put it in an audit as a finding. (Another Committee member told me as we were coming in the building to take the audit with a grain of salt.)

There was some disagreement between Mr. Martin and Mr. English that project managers did not like having to figure out what portion of their project was going to small businesses. Mr. Martin said they did not like it and Mr. English said he never heard that at all. It was a bit of a moment in the room.

One Committee member ended the discussion by saying, "Let's make sure that BEX money isn't being improperly spent on other things." No kidding.

Denny/Sealth update - on budget and on time.

Hale update - a discovery was made that the concrete flooring comes out in a slightly different shade batch to batch (either the manufacturer didn't make this clear to the district or the district missed this). So the district is having them make two big batches and will intersperse the colors. All of the science classes will be in portables for 6 months. There will be no kitchen when school reopens in the fall and no cafeteria until January. They had a brief discussion about doing a job while staff and students are on the site. They said there had been issues especially around dust but that they were able to start the project earlier than if they had needed to wait until Hamilton vacated Lincoln (and now a couple of new elementaries will use it as an interim site).

Speaking of Lincoln, it's getting to the end of its useful life as an interim site. They are nearly to the point where the City will start demanding fixes to it. So those little kids are getting a very down-on-its luck interim site.

Ingraham update - a hearing occurred a week previous to this meeting and the district expects the Examiner to give an opinion of their mitigation efforts. They have gone from wanting to take down about 100 trees to about 27. The neighbors could go back to Superior court and get another injunction which the district doesn't want. I personally feel that the district could have hired someone to facilitate between it and the neighbors as a good-faith gesture but I do feel at this point that the district has given a lot of leeway on the project to make the neighbors happy.

South Shore update - the carpet is all being replaced and there are no issues with getting it done in time for school in the fall. The consensus seems to be that the concrete did not dry long enough and interacted with the carpet adhesive. This seems to be an anomaly for both the manufacturer and the district. They feel they got good help for the parents from the Pediatrics ward at Harborview Hospital. They are going to be extra care in testing for this issue in the future and it is only an issue between concrete and carpet and not concrete and tile.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Has Director Martin-Morris Changed?

Remember how delighted you were when you discovered that school board director Harium Martin-Morris had a blog?

Remember how delighted you were when you saw that he responded to comments on his blog?

Remember how delighted you were when he understood people's concerns and wrote that he would take action?

Have you noticed that he doesn't do that anymore?

He often goes weeks without responding to posts. He no longer sees the public's perspective. Instead of representing the public to the District, he now represents the District to the public.

What changed? I think he has become discouraged. He may have tried to take some of the actions that he said he would take, but nothing ever came of it. He didn't write the White Paper on the influence of national foundations. He didn't get answers to the long list of commitments. He didn't get a Transportation Report. Maybe he became discouraged when he saw that nothing he tried to do ever worked.

Am I alone in thinking this, or do other folks think that Director Martin-Morris has transformed from a reformist to a conformist?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Breaking News - Head of Facilities Leaving

Fred Stephens, long-time director of district facilities, is leaving the district by the end of the month. I will be kind of sad to see Mr. Stephens go because I always felt he cared about the district even if he was not always able to see the buildings get the care they needed. It was not announced where he is going or what he will be doing. Bill Martin who is currently the head of BEX projects will be interim director.

There is a bit of mystery about this resignation. Just last week Mr. Stephens had an argument in the district headquarters parking lot with an employee in his department. The police had to be called to escort the employee from the premises. The mystery is that this employee was overseeing the program that the recent state audit called out (the Small Business Development program).

(To review, the district, based on Board policy, has a program to help small business owners make bids on district capital projects. This is in conjunction with other public entities. I will make note that I see nothing in the policy - H50.01 - that says anything about training.

The state audit said that the district was within its rights to have the program BUT that it had to be for projects directly relating to the district. The program gives training and counseling on how to do bids and, as it turns out, the majority of people taking the program don't submit bids to SPS. So it's free training. And, the auditor said the district must pay money back that it used for training on non-SPS projects. That this program has spent nearly $2M in two years should give everyone pause. That's a lot of money for a non-academic program from the Facilities Department when our facilities need so much maintenance. I could see spending $50k a year but $1M? Something seems off.)

Apparently this employee was allegedly in possession of a check from another school district that he was not supposed to have. This is what may have led to his firing and the subsequent argument with Mr. Stephens.

What is the Revolution really all about?

The League of Education Voters is trying to co-opt dissent by creating a campaign called Education Revolution and using a lot of incendiary language and images, but not taking any action.

It got me thinking about what the Revolution really is or should be. Help me clarify my thinking on this.

I think that the Revolution is about re-defining and re-purposing the District's central functions and responsibilities. The change will come when the role of the central administration is defined. What do we want the District’s central administration to do? And what DON’T we want them to do?

Ideally, the District's headquarters will take responsibility for everything that isn't better decided at the school building level. They should relieve the school staff of those duties. They should:

1) Provide centralized services when those services are commodities and can achieve economies of scale. For example, HR functions, facilities maintenance, data warehousing, contracting, food service (to some extent), procurement, accounting, and transportation.

2) Provide centralized services when those functions require expertise outside of academic expertise. For example, management of capital projects and grantwriting.

3) Provide for District level non-academic administration. For example, policymaking, program placement, enrollment, student assignment, legal services, communications, IT support, fundraising, and executive functions.

Those are the normal boring things. I don't imagine there is any contention around centralizing these efforts or having them conducted at the district level. The next few things, however, are at the root of the revolution and speak to the relationship between the District and the schools. They also speak to the District's involvement in academics.

4) Provide compliance assurance. The District should confirm that students in each classroom in each school are being taught the grade level curriculum (at a minimum). The District should confirm compliance with IDEA and other laws, confirm compliance with collective bargaining agreements, confirm compliance with grant agreements, and confirm compliance with District Policies. Here in Seattle the District not only doesn't do these things, the District isn't interested in doing these things.

5) Provide quality assurance. The District should have some way of confirming that the students who need support are getting support. I’m talking about individual students – not schools. The District should have some way of confirming that the students who need additional challenge are getting that challenge. The District should confirm the quality and efficacy of programs. Here in Seattle, the District not only isn't doing these things, the District isn't even interested in doing these things.

6) Provide curricular guidance. The District should have a few people who are expert in the various disciplines (math, science, language arts, P.E., art, etc.) who will shape the District-approved curriculum - and, by this, I mean the body of knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire in each discipline at each grade level. These experts should convene meetings of teachers from around the district to keep them informed about innovations in their discipline and to share best practices. They should also have a role in professional development. Procuring it, not providing it. They could and should do some coaching when teacher performance needs bolstering (not when student performance is low). Here in Seattle the District has gone too far with this effort. They should guide, not dictate, and they should set the outcomes, but not mandate the means.

7) Provide corrections as necessary. It isn't enough for the District to note failings in quality or compliance. The District needs to take steps to address those failings when they are identified. Here in Seattle, the District not only isn't doing these things, the District isn't even interested in doing these things.

In all of these cases, the District should set the expectations for outcomes and rigidly enforce them, but should not intervene with the methods unless the school either requests the assistance or proves incapable of developing their own effective practices.

It seems to me that the revolution should be about creating a smaller central administration with a more narrowly defined role but a more meaningful role. It's about a School Board that acts less like cheerleaders and more like auditors. It's about a district leadership that cares less about internal politics and more about kids. It's about a district leadership that sees students instead of schools. It's about a district leadership that can distinguish between statistics and reality.

What is the Nature of the District's Relationship with the Alliance?

What is the nature of the District's relationship with the Alliance for Education?

The Superintendent serves on the Alliance for Education Board of Directors, yet that position is not listed on her disclosure statement.

In the Board Action Report on the NWEA contract the disclosure statement is described like this: "On January 6, 2010, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson provided to the Board of Directors at its public meeting the disclosure of her appointments and the appointments of her husband, Bruce Johnson, to any non-profit boards (attached)." The disclosure statement is supposed to list her participation on ANY non-profit boards.

In the disclosure statement the list is described this way: "Appointment of you or your spouse as a non-salaried officer of a nonprofit corporation.". The statement concludes with this assertion: "These lists are complete to the best of my knowledge as of the date of my signing this disclosure statement."

When asked about the failure to list the office, Director Martin-Morris wrote:
The superintendent is on the Alliance for Education board. Since the Alliance was established to support SPS it was not included on the list.

But the disclosure statement doesn't suggest that it excludes any non-profits for any reason. And the description of the disclosure statement in the Board Action Report says that it includes ANY nonprofits.

I don't understand how Director Martin-Morris can believe that there is no potential conflict of interest between the Alliance and the District. It appears that Director Martin-Morris regards the Alliance as an agent of the District.

Was the Alliance for Education acting as an agent of the District when they formed the Our Schools Coalition to try to influence the District's contract with the teachers' union? How can the Alliance be taken seriously as a "critical friend" of the District when they are an agent of the District? It's not credible.

The Alliance says that they are an independent nonprofit organization. They say that they "act as a constructive partner to Seattle Public Schools."

What's the deal here? What is the relationship between the District and the Alliance? Is the Alliance independent or is it an agent of the District?

Wouldn't it be a lot easier for folks to just admit a mistake and to acknowledge that the Alliance should have been included on the list on the disclosure statement? That would be easy for most folks, but the District is pathologically incapable of admitting error.

How Bellevue's Superintendent Works

Interesting article in last week's Times about the Superintendent over in Bellevue. First, she's never been a superintendent before; Bellevue got to her come from her consulting business in California. Two, she says she's doing this one gig and then going back to consulting. (She was allowed to still keep that job as president something that seems to bother some. The State Auditor found no issue with her hiring of a colleague to work as an education consultant.)

What makes her most interesting is this:

The first-time superintendent is engaged in a bold move to change the teaching culture in a district that has already gained a reputation for excellence, with all five of its high schools regularly winning national acclaim.

But it's that very reputation, the school board believes, that has masked an important failure: reaching students at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in a district that's far more diverse than many may realize.

Cudeiro believes a philosophy she honed over eight years of consulting work could close the divide.

Her predecessor created a standardized curriculum, making sure that all schools were teaching the same material, to try to close the academic divide. Cudeiro is moving the district's 27 schools in a slightly different direction; she wants to open up the classroom, giving teachers a chance to learn from one another, and to give them the freedom to deviate from the standard curriculum if a different lesson will work better.

An important part of her philosophy is getting teachers to use "differentiated instruction" — a kind of classroom juggling act in which a teacher uses different methods to reach students who are struggling, while also challenging the brightest.

In previous years, "teachers went to high-quality training, but the focus was on improving the individual," Cudeiro said. "We are not wanting islands of excellence. Let's open up the classroom practice, so everybody's seeing good models."

Let teachers deviate off the standard curriculum? Heresay. Differentiating curriculum so you reach everyone in the class? You don't say.

She's also for merit-pay.

From the article:

Tyee Middle School teacher Benjamin Evans served last year on a school leadership team and came away believing Cudeiro's ideas can make a difference.

"You get a lot of references to drinking the Kool-Aid" from other teachers, Evans said. "And I understand that — teachers are a pretty independent bunch."

But Cudeiro's methods are "the strongest, most organized and pointed initiative I've seen," the eight-year teaching veteran said. "This is a process I see as helping me."

Last year, as part of the process, Evans — a Spanish teacher — shared ideas with a language-arts teacher and, based on her methods, decided to do a "vocabulary inventory," informally testing his second-year students to see if they knew the definitions of common words and grammatical terms. To his surprise, they stumbled over common words.

So Evans began emphasizing the meanings of common words in class, and did a "word wall" that outlined important words and their uses. The idea also fit into an overarching goal at Tyee to help students learn "academic vocabulary" — key terms they need to know in any subject in order to gain a deeper understanding of the content.

That academic vocabulary sounds like a great idea to help kids start with a solid foundation so they don't get lost (and turn off later on when they can't follow the discussion).

She sure is a different superintendent than Mike Riley, the late superintendent who came before her.

Riley tried to tackle the achievement gap by creating a Web-based common curriculum for six core subjects. But the standardized curriculum may have helped push a dissatisfied teaching staff to go on strike in 2008, a year after Riley left.

"Don't be boxed in by the common curriculum," Cudeiro tells principals and teachers, encouraging them to use their own lesson ideas instead, or come up with new ones.

Bellevue's schools have long marched in unison to ideas developed in the central office, so for some teachers, the formation of school-based leadership teams is welcome.

"It's a system that recognizes not all schools in the district are the same," said Barbara Velategui, a 40-year teaching veteran who teaches health and AIDS education at Newport High, and serves on the school's new leadership team.

"The concept is very exciting to me," she said. "It's been a very long time since the expertise of the staff has been recognized."

Well, there's certainly a contrast between Seattle and Bellevue and it will be fascinating to see who does better. (Yes, I realize Bellevue is much smaller but it does have a fairly diverse population.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gates Speech

To finish up with the AFT convention, I attended Bill Gates' speech.

There were a few protesters outside the entrance to the hall calling Gates a Trojan horse. I asked the AFT press area folks if leadership had said anything to members about the speech. They said that Randi Weingarten had said that AFT had a tradition of looking for speakers with different views. She also asked them to be respectful during the speech.

I sat through several discussions/votes on various resolutions (I missed the one they passed about teacher evalutions). It was pretty interesting and it felt very democratic. (There was quite the interesting discussion about whether children of illegal immigrants should have access to scholarships and loans.)

But finally, the lights went down and Randi was introducing Gates. She was very appreciative of him being there and pointed out that his foundation had given money for the AFT's Innovation project. She talked about teacher evaluations and "not making capable teachers afraid the results will be capricious".

(I stop here to point out the obvious. That ALL groups need money to sustain themselves and particularly, to do new work. That it puts AFT in the odd position of opposing many of the ideas the Gates Foundation has for public education while taking money from them.)

He got a standing ovation and audible boos. He just smiled. After it settled down and he began his speech about 50-60 people got up quietly and left. Some of the audience started chanting, "Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, goodbye". I thought it a little disrespectful as those leaving said nothing and made a quiet statement. Bill Gates smiled and said, "Welcome to Seattle."

There was a lot of talk about public education being the top priority in the U.S. He did briefly mention charters. He said that public spending on education had doubled since 1973. He got big applause when he said reform would not succeed without teachers' agreement and input. He said it didn't mean that parents and principals did not have obligations; they do. They need to support the teachers as "great teachers are the most powerful point of leverage". He said it was important that the differences between an average school and a great school needs to shrink. He got some silence and boos when he said that tenure has to reflect more than the years as a teacher.

He said that no one can choose a world without change but he also applauded AFT's efforts.

He was calm, he was even charming. (He told a story about trying to teach his two children about science. He said he realized how hard teaching is although he joked that the parent/teacher conference was great.) He did acknowledge some of the mistakes the Foundation made. Most of the crowd ate it up. I was a little surprised at how people reacted but talking to some of them, most had no idea, before they heard him, anything about his feelings about public education.

I wondered how his speech at AFT differed from his one to a charter convention the week previous. Here's some of that speech:

When I speak about our foundation’s work in education one of the questions I get all the time and sometimes even in sort of an excusatory (sic) tone is, “Is it true that you support charter schools?” Well, I love that question because I like to answer, “Yes. We are guilty as charged.”

At the end of the day I asked one of the teachers what they liked about their work. And he said the key thing was that by teaching there he could be sure his students had…all teachers were effective…all teachers cared about that student and in the future grades, particularly there, where there was a charter high school that throughout their education everything that that teacher worked on would be reinforced and so that his hard work would end up making a difference in those students lives.

Charter schools are especially important right now because they are the only schools that have the full opportunity to innovate. The way we educate students in this country hasn’t changed in generations and it isn’t meeting the needs of today’s fast changing society.

I believe the seeds of that new approach are being sewn at your schools. We need the breakthroughs and your charters are showing that breakthroughs are possible. One area that’s particularly ripe right now is the use of technology in the classroom. So far technologies had a very modest effect despite pronouncements about TV or drill software, it hasn’t been integrated. But the possibilities are stronger than ever and I’m confident that there is a real opportunity here and charters can be at the forefront of this.

So charter schools and their ability to innovate are a key part of our foundation’s education strategy. Now the way that we’re working with charter schools has changed. I’m sure people have heard that the way we’re funding charter schools is different. And it’s true. We are looking at helping the charter movement in new ways. Over the last decade we invested in increasing the number of charter management organizations that had proven they could scale. Charter schools were still a new idea and it was very important that this idea of high quality replication really being proven out and so that we would have many significant large networks of successful schools. Now there are a number of those and they have got strong track records and it’s very important that we get both the government and local philanthropic support so that financial constraints are not holding back the expansion. When we have great charters that feel that they can develop additional capacity nothing should stand in the way of that—not charter limits, not facilities problems, not financial restrictions. And so given how important that is we will be strong advocates in helping in new ways. Certainly on the political front getting rid of the caps where there has been good progress, making sure the funding, which has not been equal that that is changed, and finally that there are facilities that are available and that doesn’t become this huge distraction and a problem that holds charters back.

I was very pleased to see the promise of having this three-year goal of reducing the number of these low performing charters in two target states by 30%. That is absolutely fantastic.

What strikes me is how he absolutely seems to believe that only charters can provide the change needed for public education. Secretary Duncan certainly did not say that. Also, how neatly technology manages to present itself in his vision. That works out well for Microsoft.

LEV Fundraising Letter

I got a fundraising letter in the mail from the League of Education Voters that just pissed me off.

The letter, signed by the League's executive director, Chris Korsmo, is about their Education Revolution campaign. Most of the language in the letter is on the web page.

In short, the League is calling for a REVOLUTION. They write:
Let's create schools and districts that value transparency, accountability, authentic parent engagement, not to mention a shared commitment to programs and systems of learning that enable high student achievement and an ever diminishing achievement gap. Let's call "bull" on system-wide excuses for under performance and keep our kids' futures at the center of our work. Let's join arms, voices, and resources to demand improvement from those who are far too comfortable with the status quo.

Wow. Strong talk. Where have I heard stuff like this before? Oh yeah, I remember. Here. Everyday. And where has the League of Education Voters been? Oh yeah, I remember. They have been supporting the establishment. Their members have been supporting go-along-to-get-along candidates for the school board. They have been supporting the top-down administration. They have been distributing the NCTQ report. They have been promoting Race To The Top and Education Reform. They have been supporting everything that they now suggest they will lead the fight against.

Gee. I'm not buying it. And I'm sure as hell not going to send them $100 or wear their disingenuous insincere T-shirt with the upraised fist.

They claim that they are the Education Revolution, but they are the establishment that the revolution is fighting.

Here's what they say their revolution will do from the FAQ page:
What is the Education Revolution?
The education revolution is a movement by, for and of families and students to significantly improve the outcomes for our public school students.

What will the Revolution do?
The Revolution will take on the priorities of the movement and act accordingly. We will show up, speak out, call out the truth, demand better, keep our kids at the forefront of our movement and represent our communities’ needs to our school districts and schools

What do you want?
We want an end to the achievement gap, we want better achievement for all kids, we want everyone to be accountable for our kids, and we’re ready and willing to be accountable too.

Where are you based?
We are everywhere. The biggest part of our movement right now is in the Puget Sound region, but we are parents who live across Washington and we will grow a strong and robust statewide movement.

Not very specific, is it? They are about nothing and they are going to do nothing.

The revolution is in the street; it's not in the League's offices. If the League of Education Voters wants to lead the revolution then let's see them lead the effort to recall Directors Maier and Sundquist. Let's see them take some REAL action.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Listening to Arne

What I thought was going to be just some speeches and small talk on the Obama administration's plan for education turned out to be something different. This event, featuring Arne Duncan, and Senator Patty Murray was more a cheerleading exercise for Aviation High school. (Funny how the tallest cabinet member and the shortest senator were side-by-side.) This 400-student school in the Highline district is based on an aviation model but is most a STEM school. We all met in a very hot gym with bad microphones. (Honestly, that's the undoing of so many meetings - school board, this one and even in the Convention Center on Saturday with Bill Gates when the microphone on the stage died just a few minutes before he came out.)

I had expected the room to be packed but all the seats were not filled. Secretary Duncan and Senator Murray toured the room, going to the back to meet students and look at robotics exhibits (Patty Murray scored a goal before Arne Duncan. I'm pretty sure he would have stayed as long as it took to do it.) The students selected were very well-spoken. The room was full of education go-to people like Eric Lui (who was the moderator), Tom Vander Ark (Gates' first head of his education wing of his foundation), Trish Dziko (head of TAF), people from LEV, Stand for Children and CPPS, etc.

Eric Lui led a panel made up of two students, the Aviation High principal, a former Boeing ex who is running the capital campaign fro Aviation, a private sector guy and a former Microsoft ex, now a teacher at Aviation. And then there were Murray and Duncan. What I think the idea was here was to push the idea of innovation without charters. No one mentioned them (until Trish Dziko did later on) but the whole idea was how great Aviation High is with project-based learning, one-on-one mentoring, etc. They have no football or basketball team; the principal said they do "sports of the mind" including the Science Olympiad. They have students from districts around Washington State, 2 from out of state and 1 from out of the country. Impressive.

The private sector guy, Peter Allen, said that Aviation is less about STEM and more about baseline foundational learning, critical thinking, and working in teams. The teacher said he spent time asking students what worked and didn't work in his class. This is a model I know that many college professors hear about when their classes are evaluated by students. A smart teacher learns from mistakes and what excites students and motivates them.

Arne Duncan said he was optimistic about the future because of schools like Aviation. "We need to have 100's more of these," he said. He said there should be an effort to replicate good schools and that "good ideas come locally".

Patty Murray said the Congress needs legislation that is precise in what it delivers both in deeds and dollars.

Eric Lui then asked questions of various people in education in the audience. Mary Lindquist, the President of the WEA, said that there was worry over getting good programs in place and then losing funding. Arne Duncan said his biggest worry was over losing thousands of teachers and that's why Congress needs to pass the emergency bill to prevent those teacher layoffs.

Randy Dorn made a good point about there being other innovative schools like Aviation, namely, Delta High over in the Tri-Cities (another STEM school). I was really pleased he brought that up but I sure wish someone from Seattle - the Superintendent, a Board member, someone - could have pointed out the innovative programs we have in our district.

Bill Williams of the PTSA said that parents needed to be part of this effort. He said that he knew if he asked individual parents if they would like a school like Aviation, they would. But, that parents all want a safe environment and, as well, that a focus on test scores creates a risk-adverse environment to create innovation.

Trish Dziko of TAF (Technology Access Foundation) was asked about common threads. She said that it is good to try new things as long as you do no harm. She spoke about the TAF Academy in Federal Way and its student population. She then said instead of charters which silo districts (most charters operate independently of districts and therefore are not working in a district vision), her school works with their district. Great point.

Arne Duncan then said that the country needs people like Trish who will challenge the status quo. He then made the following points:
  • the need for great principals
  • the need for more legislators who are PTA parents or have served on School Boards or who were teachers; in short, people who know something about education
  • worried again about teacher layoffs if the emergency bill was not passed
  • the need for teacher voices and dialog
  • he said that the two states that won the initial RTTT money had buy-in from their unions. He also said that the governor of Tennessee had gone so far as to go to other candidates for governor to get their buy-in so that whoever was elected was on-board with it. They all agreed.
But here was my favorite because he said it twice: The innovation they seek can come from charters or regular public schools, "it doesn't matter". That made my ears perk up.

So after it was over, the press got to ask him questions. I had planned to ask him about the role of parents but when he repeated the "innovation or charter" line, I had to ask. I told him that one of our School Board members had traveled to D.C. and gone to the the Dept of Ed and was told, specifically, that charters were the only form of innovation accepted. He shrugged and said the language of the application does not say that and that it doesn't matter where the innovation is, as long as it is in the application.

So there you have it. Was he shining me on? Harium was the one who told a group of parents at one of his community meetings about this trip. The only thing I think is specific is that it has to be within one district. I plan on letting Harium know what the Secretary said. I should look at the application and see if he was trying to throw me off (and, if he was, I plan on letting Patty Murray know).

I wish that there had been a broad-based view of what we are doing in Washington state - I think he would be impressed with our foreign language immersion schools, Everett district's turnaround on graduation rates, Delta High, Aviation High, the creation of a STEM school in Seattle. All without charters.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day One of AFT

Day One of the AFT convention. Randi Weingarten is one good speaker (but so is the head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous ). She gave a fairly long speech but she had some pretty good lines that are worth repeating.
  • ...a growing pundit class that has engaged in the browbeating of unionized teachers and public schools - in other words, affixing blame rather than fixing schools.
  • “As much as we wish it weren’t true, these factors matter—whether it’s poverty, or stressful experiences like a death in the family, or losing one’s home, or a parent losing a job,” Weingarten said. Yet, when we point them out, she continued, “It’s more likely that people confront us rather than join us in confronting the problem.”
  • True educational success isn't just a test score, just as economic success isn't just GDP growth.
  • Teacher evaluations should include measures of student learning, but “there’s a huge difference between using multiple indicators of student learning as part of a teacher’s evaluation, and requiring that students’ standardized test scores essentially dictate a teacher’s hiring, firing and promotion,” Weingarten said. “We should be assessing whether or not students are learning, but we’re going to assess it the right way.”
  • We are caught in the vortex—with recessionary forces, socioeconomic forces and global economic forces swirling around,” Weingarten continued. “Yet the Blame the Teacher Crowd says: ‘If only there were fewer bad teachers, all would be right in the world.’ ”

    Weingarten challenged that claim. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that there is an epidemic of bad teachers and at the same time to ignore poverty, budget cuts, the absence of curriculum, the huge attrition of good teachers—all things we know truly hamper student success.”

  • She also explained the success of Finland being the #1 school system in the world (she didn't mention the obvious which is it's a fairly small and homogeneous country). One, they invest in teachers - 3 years of state-paid for graduate preparation. Two, rigorous national standards. Three, small class sizes. Four, nutrition and health services. Five, treating teachers not as technicians but as professionals. The last thing? They are virtually 100 percent union.
  • If the federal government can find ways to hold teachers individually responsible for the standardized test scores of their students, surely they can find ways to hold responsible their administrators and others who make the decisions and hold the purse strings.
  • But, bottom line, we're not going to just stand still and be a punching bag. We're not going to be bullied into silence. And we're not going to wait and oppose - we're going to lead and propose.
She also noted that 150 charter schools have educators who have joined the AFT. Also parents in San Francisco started a campaign called "Pink Hearts, not Pink Slips. They showed video of chairs in the lobby of a school with a pink heart and a name of a laid-off teacher written on it. It was very powerful but my next thought was that here in Seattle, the district would tell the principals not to allow it. I honestly believe that even if the PTA asked, in support of teachers, the district would say no.

Time after time, she made clear in this speech that the AFT wanted to work with these groups/entities to find solutions. I think this is truly the smart path to take. Teacher assessment is coming so make the public aware that teachers do not set curriculum, do not set spending, do not choose the assessments and do not pick and choose their students. Teachers are willing to be assessed but in a fair and open manner. As well, that type of assessment should extend to administrators as well.