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.


Chris S. said...

I believe it may be true that the wording of RTTT RFP leaves room for innovation outside charters. However, the scoring rubric apparently eliminates the possibility of getting very far without charters specifically. Joan is the one who looked at this: is she back in town? I also believe on another thread Trish said this about the rubric and perhaps had said it to Duncan. I do believe he is being disingenuous by saying there is no charter-specificity in RTTT.

Central Mom said...

Arnie Duncan said, "there should be an effort to replicate good schools and that "good ideas come locally".

Hello Seattle School District. Hello MGJ.

The Big Bosses say give it a break on that HQ centralization and let our well-performing schools keep on keeping on.

Perhaps, gasp, *credible* roadmaps should even be put in place to replicate the best ones. Without your "improvements" let alone your "fixes".

DBCHongkong said...

What's interesting is that even the people who run charters say the same things you all do: charters need to be eliminated that are no good; there should be roadmaps to school innovation. And remember, charter schools are public schools. In some cases, though, they happen to be public schools that are run better than traditional schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

That is interesting that charters want to get rid of bad charters and teachers want to get rid of bad teachers and yet it all seems to be a big problem to do.

Sahila said...

Where does the fallacy that charter schools are public schools come from?

Charter schools get to pick and choose who they serve - they gate-keep via various methods.... public schools dont....

And there's a whole bunch of other differences, including that many are owned and operated by franchises and are not bound by the same legal constraints and oversight that public schools are...

Charter schools are not public schools....though they do siphon off public education funds and resources and often rip off public schools and children by taking over their facilities...

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sahila, legally charters ARE public schools. They are bound by the same legal constraints as public schools (but with differing kinds of oversight and they have the ability to chart their own course/hiring).

Again, they cannot legally "pick and choose". How they get around that is to write their charter without some programs so that they don't have to serve those students. I feel like charter legislation should be written that charters do have to provide for students with special needs but I don't think that is the case in most of it.

Charters do cause a lot of headaches and issues for districts even if the districts have no oversight of them (some do).

I just think they are another layer of bureaucracy to keep up with while the existing public schools suffer from the loss of students.

Sahila said...


From the Washington Post - excellent piece... read Leonie Hiamson's blog article that's included and some of the comments... there's even one referring to the concerns being expressed in the global health community about the Gates' approach there...

My point in posting this here? Listen to Arne and remember who is pulling his strings/whispering in his ear... Bill Gates and Eli Broad...

Sahila said...


from Bill Cala, a former Rochester school superintendent... and Arne wants to base/control education 'reform' and teachers/teaching on this mechanism?

Sahila said...

Something Jesse Hagopian, who met with Arne Duncan last week, posted elsewhere:

"Duncan...used this charter school as an example of why we need them--turns out this charter school lied about it's graduation rate...must read:

Charter school cooks the books

A Chicago charter school sent 100 percent of its graduating seniors to college--by not counting the 43 percent who didn't go to college, explains Rachel Cohen.