Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Contract Update

Here's what I believe is the latest on the teacher contract from SPS Communications:

"We’re very pleased to let you know that SEA and SPS believe that we have reached tentative agreement. We will meet again tomorrow, Tuesday, to confirm final details and will provide information about the tentative agreement at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday."

However, there is nothing current at either the SEA website or the SPS website (either in News or the Labor Relations link). I looked at the Seattle Times, nothing.

We will have to wait for details but I believe SERVE may not have survived.

I have to wonder what may have happened given the district said information at 4:30 p.m. I'll try to listen to the news.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hot off the Web

Thank you to LA Teacher. From the SEA:

"We believe we have a tentative agreement. A subset of the two teams will get together tomorrow to review language and proposals to make sure we are on the same page. If we see that we are both on the same page, we will announce a definite tentative agreement tomorrow afternoon. We are not releasing any details at this time, but details will follow after a tentative agreement has been confirmed."

Blog business update

I'm sure that all of you have noticed the, uh, notice that now appears above the comment box. I hope that clears up the confusion around anonymous comments.

Also, by request, I have added a "Search This Blog" function. This is in addition to the tags.

Please offer any other suggestions for improving the blog and making it more beneficial for the readers. We're all in this together.

From the Wild and Weird Department of Public Ed in the U.S.

Elsewhere in education (kind of) in the U.S.

First up, the ex-drug addict mom who just wants to volunteer. Okay, so Jessica Gianfranco from Rhode Island had two felony convictions in her early twenties for drug possession (she was a heroin addict). Fast forward 6 years. She went through detox, became a mom (apparently right around the time she quit), is in a 12 step-program. Her daughter is in kindergarten. Mom wants to be a PTA volunteer at her daughter's school, helping with events and going on field trips.

If you volunteer at any school, you can see where this is going. They ask you to do a background check and the form asks if you have been convicted of a felony.
The ACLU is now involved because drug addiction is considered a disability (along with being a prosecutable crime).

Now I personally don't see the ACLU on these grounds but more on the issue that a criminal record or drug-related disability isn't a barrier to employment, just to being a volunteer. She has been a correspondence coordinator for the PTA but she can't work with children or at events where children are.

She said she believes the school system does need a policy regarding those with criminal records.

"I don't want a child molester in the school with my daughter either, but they need some type of discretion."

Now I looked at a couple of parenting sites and it's "she made a mistake years ago, be forgiving" or "look, she had felonies and I wouldn't want her around my kids".

As a former PTSA co-president and having served on many Boards all I can think of, for both the school and the PTSA is....liability. Sure, you could ask the School Board to draw up a list of "okay" felonies and "not okay" felonies (plus how far out they occurred in a person's life) but if just one person who gets approved from the "okay" list does something, there will be a lot of finger-pointing (not to mention lawsuits).

I get this woman is turning her life around but I don't know how much I would want to change the policy. Thoughts?

Then, we have the middle school in Mississippi (75% white, 25% black now but I don't know the stats from 30 years ago) where they have the kids nominate and vote by race for class officers. Yes, in order to have diversity, they rotate the offices and list them as "white" or "black". Initially, the superintendent was "reviewing" the processes and procedures but yes, now that it has national attention, the School Board got rid of the policy.

What sparked this is a mom with a mixed-race child who complained that her child couldn't run for class reporter. The mom had just moved to this town in April from Florida (where presumably this nonsense won't fly).

I say this a lot but it's freakin' 2010, are you kidding me? How did NO one ever say anything? Was it really impossible for any black student to get elected without this so-called help? I seriously doubt it.

Okay, So Can We Slow This Train Down (a bit)?

Major news about a major study from an Economic Policy Institute briefing paper on the study (italics/bold mine):

If new laws or policies specifically require that teachers be fired if their students’ test scores do not rise by a certain amount, then more teachers might well be terminated than is now the case. But there is not strong evidence to indicate either that the departing teachers would actually be the weakest teachers, or that the departing teachers would be replaced by more effective ones. There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.

I have only skimmed the briefing paper but it looks like good, sober reading. I plan on sending this to the Board, the Times editorial board, my legislators, etc. Please consider doing the same.

From the Daily Kos which has links galore:

This document has been in the works for several months, and was NOT hurriedly put together as a response to the recent series by the Los Angeles Times which used value-added assessment to label teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Second, the ten scholars whose names are on the document are some of the most eminent in educational circles, including among their midst former Presidents of the American Educational Research Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education, two of the three professional organizations most involved with psychological measurement, of which school-related testing is a subset. One of the scholars, Robert Linn, has not only presided over both of those organizations, he has also serve as chair of the National Research Council's Board on Testing and Assessment. The group also includes the immediate past president of the National Academy of Education, Lorrie Shepard, Dean of the School of Education at Colorado.

The document is thorough. It reviews all the relevant studies, including one not yet in print. Those includes studies by Mathematica for the US Department of Education: by Rand: by the Educational Testing Service; done for the National Center for Education Statistics of the Institute of Education Sciences of the U. S. Dept. of Education; issued by the Board of Testing and Assessment of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education of the National Academy of Sciences, and so on. There are citations from books, from peer reviewed journals.

Interesting notes from briefing paper pulled out by Kos:

One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40%. Another found that teachers’ effectiveness ratings in one year could only predict from 4% to 16% of the variation in such ratings in the following year.

A study designed to test this question used VAM methods to assign effects to teachers after controlling for other factors, but applied the model backwards to see if credible results were obtained. Surprisingly, it found that students’ fifth grade teachers were good predictors of their fourth grade test scores. Inasmuch as a student’s later fifth grade teacher cannot possibly have influenced that student’s fourth grade performance, this curious result can only mean that VAM results are based on factors other than teachers’ actual effectiveness.

In both the United States and Great Britain, governments have attempted to rank cardiac surgeons by their patients’ survival rates, only to find that they had created incentives for surgeons to turn away the sickest patients.

Kos also pointed out that:
  • students are not randomly assigned to teachers
  • sample sizes are often too small/makeup of the class may change during the year (especially in schools with many low-income students)
  • Even with value-added analysis, to date scholars have not been able to isolate the impact of outside learning experiences, home and school supports, and differences in student characteristics and starting points when trying to measure their growth.
  • As testing expert Dan Koretz of Harvard is quoted as noting,

    "because of the need for vertically scaled tests, value-added systems may be even more incomplete than some status or cohort-to-cohort systems"

  • If measuring end of year to end of year, even if there are vertically scaled tests, there is still the well-documented issue of summer learning loss, which falls disproportionally upon those of lesser economic means, which also means it falls disproportionally upon those of color, who are more heavily represented at the lower end of the economic scale.
On value-added (from the study):

The claim that they can "level the playing field" and provide reliable, valid, and fair comparisons of individual teachers is overstated. Even when student demographic characteristics are taken into account, the value-added measures are too unstable (i.e., vary widely) across time, across the classes that teachers teach, and across tests that are used to evaluate instruction, to be used for the high-stakes purposes of evaluating teachers.

Value-added methods involve complex statistical models applied to test data of varying quality. Accordingly, there are many technical challenges to ascertaining the degree to which the output of these models provides the desired estimates. Despite a substantial amount of research over the last decade and a half, overcoming these challenges has proven to be very difficult, and many questions remain unanswered...

From the Daily Kos:

Let me clear. The authors are not opposed to value-added assessment. They are not even opposed to it being included in the process of teacher evaluation, although they offer some serious cautions that policy makers would be well advised to consider.

The title is accurate - there are still serious problems with using test scores to evaluate teachers. These problems are not solved by resorting to a value-added methodology.

So let me be clear.

No one, anywhere, is saying that tests don't have value. And, using value-added data helps get a fuller picture of the results. But I don't support that tests results should play a major role in teacher retention or salary.

From the briefing paper:

Some states are now considering plans that would give as much as 50% of the weight in teacher evaluation and compensation decisions to scores on existing tests of basic skills in math and reading. Based on the evidence, we consider this unwise.

Any sound evaluation will necessarily involve a balancing of many factors that provide a more accurate view of what teachers in fact do in the classroom and how that contributes to student learning.

Opportunity vs Outcome

We all know that there is no school so bad that a motivated student cannot wrestle an education away from it. We have seen all of the inspiring stories of students who grew up with everything against them: poverty, neglect, substance abuse, etc., yet managed to achieve in high school, win acceptance to a competitive university, and become a shining example of how far hard work, talent, and determination can take you here in the good ol' U.S.A., the land of opportunity.

We also know that there is no school so good that it can force an education onto an un-motivated student. We have plenty of examples of this as well.

Just the same, it is easier to get an education from a good school than a bad one.

Given this knowledge, education activists have worked and sought equity of opportunity. Look through everything that the District has ever said about equity and it has ALL been on the opportunity side. All high schools must offer a minimum number of AP or IB classes. All schools must have something for advanced learners. All schools must have adequate programs for all kinds of students. It has always been about equity of opportunity.

Now, however, we see a change. The District has evaluated teachers based on how they taught - they were responsible for providing students with the opportunity. Now the District wants to evaluate teachers based on student learning - outcomes instead of opportunity.

This represents a big revolution. It is one thing to make teachers responsible for their own work. It is something entirely different to make them responsible for someone else's work. The teacher's duty has always been to provide the opportunity; now the District wants to hold them responsible for students taking that opportunity and generating outcomes.

In America, we believe deeply in equity of opportunity and we work to guarantee the equity of opportunity. We do not, however, believe that society or the government owes anyone a guarantee of equity of outcomes. As an American, I'm not comfortable making it the responsibility of government workers (teachers) to deliver equal outcomes for citizens (students).

I think this is an interesting perspective on the question of using student test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness.

This idea just came to me this morning and I haven't fully explored it. But this is the state of my thinking on this question right now.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Not Once but Twice

I watched the Emmys tonight (surprisingly entertaining but I had taped it). Not once but twice two of the Emmy winners said thank you to teachers.

The first was a director from Glee who said the show was about the arts and he wanted to thank all the arts and music teachers. (Irony, of course, is that at the rate we are going, there might not be room in the day for those things. Think about it. If they want to cut every other Friday to a half-day, what do you think might go?)

The second time was another winner (I'm thinking it was an actor) who said thank you to teachers who helped him learn something.

I note that in most awards shows after people get thru thanking their agent, their parents, their director and their wives/families, the next people in line tend to be teachers.

So thank you, teachers, for inspiring others.

Following Up on Board Agenda Items

I went back and looked at some of the items on the Board agenda for Wednesday.

Before the meeting, they are having a Work Session on maintenance. I'll just have to make the effort to go because, on the one hand, they allowed the head of Maintenance to buy some new software and hire a couple of temporary(?) people to organize all the backlogged maintenance. (Yes, I know; it's 2010 and our district really has no idea how much needs to be done, where, and in order of need.) There was this idea that we would have one or two zone crews to go out and get one school's needs done in one shot.

On the other hand, the district has just laid off 7 of the 14 maintenance workers (a pretty big hit for any department). So that backlogged maintenance? Either we are going to contract it out or there's going to be a lot of waiting.

Now contracting it out has problems. First, the volume of work is such that it makes sense to have your own in-house people. Second, you can certainly hire non-union folks (and maybe save some money) but sadly, our district doesn't always hire licensed and bonded people.

(There was the time they hired people from some day-worker company when there were teachers and students in a building during the summer. The day-workers had access to the entire building. You don't want someone wandering the building who has had no background checks done. There are many dangers in that route.)

Third, why so many people out of maintenance? It's strange how the central administration grows (and yet by some logic at SPS is decreasing) and yet we will have fewer workers to repair our schools.

As far as the 3 BTA III contracts to be voted on, there's something troubling here. One, where are the contracts for Sand Point and McDonald? Now back in March 2010, there was a placeholder one for Sand Point but I can't find that it ever came through. McDonald had one for a modest $742K but where's the contract for the big stuff to be done (McDonald being the building needing the most work)?

Two, the contracts on the agenda for Viewlands, Rainier View and Queen Anne Elementary don't mention that this is only part of what was named on the BTA III list. Meaning, the money for Viewlands' contract - $4.5M - is right on target with its backlogged maintenance. But, Facilities allotted $11M for its reopening.

Rainier View, on the other hand, has $4.6M in estimated backlogged maintenance but this contract is only for $3.1M (and the BTA III has them down for $7.4M overall). Queen Anne Elementary doesn't show up on the backlogged maintenance list so I'm not sure of what they need but they are getting $3.5M out of the $7.5M listed from BTA III.

I would like to say that I'm sure each school will get what was allotted to it but like the shifting sands of time, so is the money in Facilities. If you have a child going to one of these schools, I'd track this and make sure your facility gets everything due it given how great the need is at these reopening schools.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sinner or Saint, There Still Needs to Be Fairness

(Update: I had originally filed this thread with a timeline but it ended up seeming long so I went back and omitted it. It is in the appeal document.)

I found the appeal document about the sexual harassment case that the district has now lost on appeal. I read through it and I think I understand why the district lost their appeal (it's a technical reading of the RCW).

What I think is most important in the reading is tracking how this assistant principal, from about the moment she made her complaint, was bounced around the district.

Glenda Williams' initial assertions were found valid by the District. They disciplined the principal and moved her and from there it must have seemed like a trip down the rabbit hole to her. That multiple principals and staffs felt compelled to think the worst about her (when they knew nothing about why she was transferred) is kind of sickening. She had good years at Ballard before the incidents began and managed to have 3 good years at Roosevelt. Why staff at RBHS and Ingraham felt she was a problem is hard to know.

I am not saying she was a perfect administrator/employee. I don't know enough about her work. But reading this account makes it look like she got tagged with a label that seemed to follow her wherever she went. And, that the district did everything towards the end but say "leave and don't come back" says a lot about how they handle things.

Several times during the whole thing her lawyer made suggestions about how to help the situation (like give her a decent position or make her a principal). If that district had protected her even the slightest, the district might not be paying out money today.

The reason I wrote this up is because of the issue of principal evaluations of teachers being a part of the teacher evaluations. If this many principals and administrators were unable/unwilling to give someone the benefit of the doubt (so why was she transferred) and the district, knowing her situation, didn't try to protect her despite their agreement with what happened, makes me worry.

From this story alone, I can see how scary it might be for a teacher who felt their principal could not be objective and professional. How to guard against this, I don't know. Clearly, it played out for Ms. Williams in school after school.

September 1 Board meeting

Lots of fun, interesting stuff on the agenda for the September 1 Board meeting.

It begins with a work session on the Strategic Infrastructure and Maintenance Initiative. Give it a big fancy name like that and it creates the illusion that something's happening. Nothing is happening. Just as they do with students working below grade level, the District counts and tracks backlogged maintenance, but they don't actually do much about it. They will, however, produce a glorious powerpoint and lots of matrices and spreadsheets about the problem with no solution in sight.

The Legislative meeting opens with Public Testimony. It will probably be dominated, again, with people talking about the teachers' contract negotiation. Of course, since that contract isn't on the agenda, everyone who wants to talk about it can get bumped by people who want to talk about agenda items. If you can put together a group of 20 people who will sign up to speak to agenda items then you can freeze out all of the contract testimony.

Then comes the staff updates. No word yet on what they will be about. Does this comply with the Open Meetings Act? Can they just say "Chief Academic Officer's Update" without referencing a topic. It is difficult for citizens to speak to these topics in a timely manner if we don't know when they are going to be addressed.

After Board comments (which are always inane), and the Consent agenda, comes the votes on the action items.

First is the Highly Capable Student Program Grant Application. Interesting thing about this vote, the actual grant application that the Board is approving does not appear on the Board Action Report. How can the Board approve the grant application if they haven't seen the grant application? Oh, right, I forgot the NTN contract. I guess it won't be any impediment at all. They are happy to vote to approve documents they have not read. The Board Action Report also claims that "Best practices recommendations from a review by national experts from the University of Virginia reported to the Board in November 2007 are currently being implemented." This was, at one time a project in the Strategic Plan, but it was quietly dropped and has no timetable, no action plan, and no budget.

Then comes three contracts for work at Viewlands, Rainier View and Queen Anne Elementary paid for with BTA III money. None of these schools were on the original list for BTA III projects because they were all supposed to be closed. In fact, all three of these schools were closed in the capacity management project because the District had excess capacity for the foreseeable future and then reopened the following year because the District had insufficient capacity. Together the three votes spend over $10 million. There was no community engagement done for any of these.

Then comes the authorization to pay $1 million as a judgement against the District for retaliation against an employee who made allegations of sexual harassment. Let's be very clear - the award is not for the harassment, but for the retaliation. Again, no community engagement was done.

The action items are followed by the introduction items. There are two.

One is the creation of a Capital Asset Preservation Program. This appears to be required by the OSPI "to monitor and report on the condition of Seattle Public School facilities". There is, of course, no community engagement. This is just for buildings, it doesn't log or track the District's other capital assets - the sort that the state audit found missing and un-reported.

The other is the Approval of Annual Families and Education Levy
. The City got tired of sending the District money and not getting any results. So now they tie the funding to outcomes - if the benchmarks for outcomes aren't met, the funding is cut off. This action item is to approve the five contracts that list the funding and the benchmarks. I notice that the motion includes some language ("with any minor additions, deletions and modifications deemed necessary by the superintendent") that allows the superintendent to alter the contract without the Board approving the changes (cf. NTN contract). In fact, as is typically the case, it isn't even necessary for the Board to read the contracts (cf NTN contract), as they are not attached to the Board Action Report. The Community Engagement element says that "The levy was planned with significant community involvement." so it isn't necessary for the District to do any engagement on this.

That pretty much wraps things up. It should be a quick meeting as just about all of the action items could have been put on the consent agenda and there is no discussion possible on the two items for introduction since they are pre-determined as well.

The Calendar does have a work session on strategic planning scheduled for Wednesday, September 8. Those are always funny because all of the strategic plan projects are all overdue but the Board never asks about that and the staff never offers it. There is a school board retreat scheduled for Sept 11. I sure hope they talk about their response to the state audit. They ARE going to make changes in response to the state audit, aren't they?

Friday, August 27, 2010

There Goes More Money


I will write a complete round-up of the upcoming Board meeting but I can tell you the Board will set the fastest record for taking a vote in the history of Board meetings.

How do I know?

Because they have to vote to spend (gulp!) $997,610.40 to satisfy a judgment (that lost in the jury trial and lost in appeals) to a plaintiff (one Glenda Williams) in a sexual harassment case.

Now I'm sure the district has some kind of insurance but do I know if it covers all this judgment? Probably not as the district is on the hook for costs and lawyer fees (although the plaintiff has agreed if they pay by September 10, they will be a reduction in attorney fees).

I'll have go down and read through the transcript on this one. I have to wonder why the district fought back on this one and didn't settle (maybe they tried but that will be hard to find out). But good to know we can loan out our legal counsel to teach business practice classes for the capital side when we have issues like this one looming over us.

Open Thread Friday

(Update: the first comment here is about the teacher negotiations so I wanted to put it front and center so that as we go into this final weekend of negotiations, you have the latest news. Thanks to LA Teacher for the update.)

From the SEA:

After spending fifteen hours bargaining on Thursday, the teams worked together for another seven hours on Friday. On Saturday, your SEA team will meet again to work on specific language and strategy.
Both teams will come back together on Sunday, August 29th at noon and fully intend to continue working until they are able to reach a tentative agreement (TA) for all three bargaining units (Certificated, SAEOP and Paraprofessionals).
There are still a number of issues on the table that need to be resolved, including teacher evaluation.
Another issue has arisen regarding the mention of a self-imposed deadline of August 31 by both teams. As long as there is active negotiations taking place, the current contract will continue to be in force.

(Sorry a little late. I was driving back from sending my youngest off to college; a tough thing to do but they all fly away sometime.)

Also, please e-mail me or Charlie if you have a burning story you think should be posted or one you think should be written. If you have just off the presses story you want to see up, let us know. If you have a discussion idea, let us know. (If we don't have time to write, maybe you can and we'll post it.)

I'm happy to start a new thread but I keep seeing threads getting off-topic and I think it really breaks up the flow of the discussion. Please do not post information you have posted in another thread.

As well, there is this Open Thread.

I'm at



Open Friday

I had an epiphany today.

I suddenly realized why the Education Reform movement is so focused on the teacher contract. Their Vision for education is a highly commodified product with a standardized delivery. They want to reduce teaching from an art to a craft - no, a skill. All signs point here: to the super-industrialization of public education.

Let's start with the teachers - just like the Reformers. Instead of people who are responding to the unique set of factors presented by each student with an improvisation based in knowledge, experience, expertise, art, and passion, the Reformers want functionaries who will deliver the lesson as planned and written by the central administration with fidelity of implementation. Since no real art is required, the training can be radically shortened to the crash course provided to Teach for America volunteers. Also, since no experience is needed (or desired), and since senior employees would expect higher salaries, the Reform agenda is to remove all benefits from seniority. This will discourage anyone from continuing in the job for more than a few years and keep all salaries low. A few mentor teachers will be retained an paid a pittance more to provide the on-the-job training for the revolving door of the bulk of the teaching staff. They will instruct the newbies in the handful of tricks and techniques needed to navigate the lesson scripts and the bureaucracy.

These untrained teachers won't be able to create their own lesson plans, but the Reformers don't want them to anyway. That would be non-standard. The central administration will write the lessons; the teachers are just supposed to deliver them as written. Not only is that more efficient - why keep re-inventing the wheel over and over in every classroom? - but this standardization will assure equity and curricular alignment. You never have to worry that students in some other school are getting better lessons than your student. Both the teachers and the students will be interchangable parts in the education machine. Any teacher or student could be dropped into any class and find the same activity and lesson for the day.

The incentives for teachers wouldn't work for the career teachers now on the job - the ones with creativity and passion - but they will work perfectly for the instructors envisioned by the Reform movement. These people aren't applying any art, just delivering the product.

Have you noticed how, in the business world, the onus for service is shifting from the business to the customer? Instead of going to a teller you use an ATM, essentially doing the teller's work for yourself. You check yourself in for your flight. When you buy things online you fill out the order slip yourself. That post-modern oxymoron, self-service, is showing up everywhere. Now it has come to education. In constructivist math class, the students teach themselves. In Writer's Workshop they teach themselves. In Project Based Learning, they teach themselves. When de-skilling the teachers, it is necessary to move the work onto the students.

So here's the thing. This can't possibly work, can it? How can de-skilling the teacher corps and commodifying the lessons improve outcomes for students? We can pretend it does by instituting AP-for-all rules and setting ever-higher graduation requirements, but who is going to help the kids who show up in the classroom completely unprepared for the lesson? How will this address the needs of students working two or three grade levels below Standards? How can the super-indutrialization of education and the hyper-institutionalization of schools improve outcomes for students? I just don't see it. What am I missing here?

Sure, affluent communities that value education will be okay. They will definitely be poorer for this, but they will be okay so long as they have that peer group and the parental forces. A lot of things have been done to diminish Roosevelt, for example, but the students there continue to achieve at an acceptable level, and it will continue to look good - relative to other public high schools. Motivated students should find a way no matter where they are enrolled. There is no school so bad that a motivated student can't wrestle an education away from it.

But what about the unmotivated and the unsupported? How is this better for them? I'm not seeing it. How will they be served when they are getting a standard fifth grade curriculum in the fifth grade - delivered with near-perfect fidelity of implementation and curricular alignment - when they are working at a third-grade level and just aren't ready or able to engage the lesson or do the work? Won't they act out? And really, the same question for the student who is working at the seventh grade level.

Or could it be that this something much more sinister and cynical? Is the plan to just dramatically reduce the cost of public education to ease the burden on tax-payers? Is the plan to totally ruin public education so that families seek private alternatives? Is it to ruin public education so that the community runs to Charters seeking rescue?

Education Reform Roundup in the Seattle Times

For the past couple weeks it seems that the Seattle Times editorial page has been given over to discussion of Education Reform. Lots of "guest columns" and editorials, most on the side of Reform (but without every saying how these reform-inspired changes will actually improve student outcomes), but some trying to bring the focus back to the real work.

Here's a recap:

Time for Seattle Public Schools and teachers to partner in steps toward reform
This is just dreadful. The District and the union had partnered on an evaluation - then the District threw it out. They are not good partners.

Seattle, speak up for children as Seattle Public Schools contract negotiations go on by Norm Rice. He doesn't say, however, to whom people should speak up. He is also really focused on the teachers' contract and pays no mind to how students are taught or even the principals' contract. Definitely pro-reform, and pretty thoughtless. Mr. Rice writes: "What's at stake in this year's talks are the policies at the heart of education reform in our country." I would agree. For some reason, the Education Reform proponents think that student outcomes can be improved through the teachers' contract instead of through teaching.

Want more school funding? Bring more transparency by Lynne Varner. I'm not entirely sure what Ms Varner is saying here. She seems to say that supplemental levies would get more votes if people knew what the districts are going to do with the money and what the districts did with the money they already have. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If people knew how districts spent their money and how districts intended to spend the supplemental levy, they would reject it, not approve it. The story of district spending is not a good story and it won't win votes. The districts are politically astute to keep their spending obscured from the public's eye and understanding.

Why teach in a system that rewards test scores rather than passion? by Wayne Grytting. A teacher's explanation that the best teachers are motivated by things other than student test scores and cash, so Education Reform has chosen measures and incentives that mean nothing to the best teachers.

Washington state sank to near the bottom in Race to The Top byt he Times Editorial Board. The Times says that the state's application for RttT cash was hobbled by "a ponderous application lacking credible and specific plans". Wow! That sounds EXACTLY like the Education Reform crowd here in Washington. They are the kings and queens of Edu-babble. The State didn't get the teachers' unions on board. Wow! That sounds EXACTLY like the Education Reform crowd here in Washington who only know how to push people and don't know how to pull them. "Goals around increasing the numbers of teachers in mathematics, science, special education and other hard-to-staff subjects were dismissed as weak because they included no steps for achieving them or benchmarks by which progress could be measured." Wow! That sounds EXACTLY like the Education Reform crowd here in Washington - goals without plans or metrics are what they do best. Let's remember that this failed application was written by the local Education Reform crowd. They alone are responsible for it.

I guess the Times suddenly caught Education Reform fever because the teachers' contract is being negotiated and teacher contracts, for some completely inexplicable reason, are at the heart of Education Reform efforts. It is all a tempest in a teapot, of course. The teachers' contract will not be negotiated in the newspaper or by any of the people who have written about it. The Times, like Norm Rice, wants to speak up, but no one who matters is listening.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Teams of Teachers Helping Each Other

Interesting article in the New York Times about what's happening in K-12 education in Massachusetts. It kind of gives me hope for teachers even in a time of turmoil.

From the article:

Earlier this year Massachusetts enacted a law that allowed districts to remove at least half the teachers and the principal at their lowest-performing schools. The school turnaround legislation aligned the state with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program incentives and a chance to collect a piece of the $3.4 billion in federal grant money.

From Washington this makes abundant good sense, a way to galvanize rapid and substantial change in schools for children who need it most.

In practice, on the ground, it is messy for the people most necessary for turning a school around — the teachers — and not always fair.

They point out that principals often make the decision and when you have a new principal, he or she may not know the staff well or their dynamics.

This also gets pointed out:

And how much to blame are teachers for the abysmal test scores at Orchard Gardens, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade turnaround school here, that’s had six principals since opening seven years ago?

The goal of the turnaround legislation is to get the best teachers into the schools with the neediest children, but often, experienced teachers get worn down by waves and waves of change and are reluctant to try again.

So what can be done to help with a messy, upsetting process? Well, the idea came from teachers.

In 2007, Teach Plus created a group of 15 teaching fellows, searching for ideas for turning around schools. The second most important thing they mentioned was a strong principal; the first, a team of effective teachers.

And that is the simple idea behind a new program that is being used to staff three of the turnaround schools in Boston: you don’t go alone. Rather than have the principal fill the slots one by one, the Boston schools have enlisted the help of a nonprofit organization, Teach Plus, to assemble teams of experienced teachers who will make up a quarter of the staff of each turnaround school come fall. (And before anyone can say it, yes, the Gates Foundation does help fund this effort.)

“It’s like jump-starting a culture at these schools,” said Carol R. Johnson, Boston superintendent of schools. “In turnaround schools, you often wind up with a high portion of first- and second-year teachers, so you need some experience, a team of teachers who are enthusiastic and idealistic.”

What's interesting is that there were 142 applicants for 36 positions and most of the applicants had very good credentials.

Mr. Zrike, the principal at Blackstone, said Teach Plus had provided such a strong core of teachers to anchor the school that it helped him recruit other experienced teachers. And it has allowed him to take a chance on three new teachers he can pair with the Teach Plus veterans.

Why would a teacher try this?

Tulani Husband-Verbeek, a reading specialist with seven years’ experience, said she became disillusioned after teaching at a high-achieving charter school. “They bragged all their graduates went to college, but they started with 120 freshmen and graduate 25,” she said. The Teach Plus team approach, she said, “strikes me as a sincere effort to turn around the public schools.”

Some interesting thoughts, too, from teachers on the union:

While the Boston union supports the team approach, it was dead set against the Race to the Top legislation, which allowed districts to empty out half the turnaround schools and make teachers reapply for their jobs.

When the Teach Plus teachers were asked about their union, they had mixed feelings.

“I feel it should be more proactive,” Ms. Vaisenstein said.

“I don’t like seeing it obstructionist and kvetching,” said Ms. Allen, the building union representative.

Ben Rockoff, a math teacher going to Orchard Gardens, felt that the union spent too much time defending the weakest members.

And yet, with all the upheaval in education, Ms. Vaisenstein said, “I definitely feel I need the union.”

Winners for Round Two of RTTT

The winners of the second round of Race to the Top were announced. They are; the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island. (Washington State was 32 out of 36. Ouch.)

From ABC news online:

Common threads among the 10 winners announced today include their bold approaches to turning around low-performing schools and their teacher evaluations systems. All of the winners also adopted common academic standards.

The 10 winners were decided based on the scores they received from peer-review panels. All the winners received a score of more than 440 out of a possible 500. In the first phase of the competition, only the two winners, Delaware and Tennessee scored above 440.

I was watching this on the national news and Colorado's governor was complaining that no state west of Tennessee won except Hawaii. He seemed to think there was some bias in there. From ABC news online:

Education experts, however, question why certain states did not make the final cut.

"I think it's a disaster for the administration that Louisiana and Colorado are not on the list. Some very mediocre states got funded and some of the leading states for education reform did not," said Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute agreed.

"I think the exclusion of Louisiana and Colorado suggest legitimate concern over the way the program was conceived, the criteria that was designed and the judging that was executed," he said is a written statement.

Although Colorado and Louisiana are often praised for their reform and innovation, both states failed to get widespread union support for their proposals.

"The dynamic here is the unions are going to be able to claim that they beat this in Colorado and they won a victory," Petrilli said.

Duncan seems happy with just better scores from the states on their application (wait till he sees better test scores).

"We've unleashed this amazing creativity and innovation at the local level," he said. "The amount of reform we saw before round one was amazing, but then again to see so much movement between round one and round two, the average state improving their score by more than 30 points."

Interesting Stuff Over at the LEV Blog

Update: I just popped back over to LEV's blog to double-check something and noted that they had another thread about the documentary, Waiting for Superman. But more telling is the "comments closed" tag on a thread just started today. No matter what you think of this blog or Charlie or me, unlike the Alliance blog or the LEV blog, we don't cut off comments (unless they are anonymous and hey, that might even change). Why do they have a blog if they treat it like an online newsletter?

LEV has an interesting thread about a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, "America's Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents." I have not read the entire report but I did read the Seattle portion. I'll have see what is said about other cities.

First, this report has a definite slant. Look at the title - is ed reform about attracting entrepreneurs? Or is that really the only way (via charters) for change?

Heather Cope, who wrote the thread, points out that there is a lot of N/A responses for Seattle and she's right; it is puzzling why the Institute could not get this information. (It could also be that the district just didn't respond to their questions.)

Here were my comments:

“SPS has a coherent vision for change and is disciplined about pursuing private funding to support that vision, but it does not expend its own money on nontraditional programs.”

(I’m not sure what to make of this. On paper they may have a coherent vision but it’s not readily apparent to people not within the district.)

Oh, so only charters can be considered innovative or non-traditional? Seattle has a LONG history of innovation. (And, in fact, until Dr. G-J came, we did label some schools as non-traditional/alternative.) We have many alternative schools that have their own styles and focus. So yes, the district does spend its own money there.

While Washington has witnessed a handful of charter school initiatives over the past two decades, union resistance has continued to foil pro-charter efforts.

Sorry kids, but no union can rule an entire state. The majority of Washington voters have spoken (at least 3 times). Don’t blame this one on the union.

(I note that the union-bashing continues through this review of Seattle Schools.)

From the category of Charter environment:

Charters are one of the main ways in which entrepreneurs can enter new education markets, both as providers of instruction and services and as consumers of other nontraditional goods and services.

I’m sorry but maybe I missed something. Education is supposed to be functioning as a market for entrepreneurs? Interesting, I thought it was to educate our children.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Interesting Column from Danny Westneat

Here's Danny Westneat's column from the Times. He puts a very human face to the discussion about teacher evaluation.

I'm not saying Seattle's grade-the-graders proposal is worthless. There have to be ways to reward the stars and shed the lemons. Seattle is right to confront these issues.

But across town, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in the midst of a study of whether it's even possible to reliably score teacher effectiveness. And, if so, what things — experience? test scores? knowledge? teaching style? — are the best measures of a great teacher.

They don't know yet (the results aren't due for a year and half.) My hunch: Teaching — especially good teaching — is far more art than science.

And he ends with:

No matter what teacher-testing tools they come up with, they should inform, but not replace, people. In the end a principal should do what managers must do in countless other workplaces: decide who gets promoted and who gets fired. And then take the heat.

It's imperfect. It's hard. That's why there's no formula for it.

Well said.

Is the Times in the Pocket of the Alliance? Seemingly, They Are.

So lately, it seems like an awful lot of cheerleading in one direction is happening in what should be a discussion (not a foregone conclusion) about ed reform. Norm Rice seemed to feel that way in his op-ed piece and made it sound like you're for it or get out of the way.

The latest salvo, to me at least, is Sara Morris of the Alliance for Education trilling about two "terrific" Times' op-eds coming out. Once op-eds are accepted (but not necessarily published), the author(s) can tell whoever they like about them.

What strikes me is that Ms. Morris knows of not one but two being published and seemingly what direction they will take.

(Boy, the Alliance has woken up and decided they want to be a player and is throwing a lot of effort at this. One thing I have said and will continue to say is that the Alliance does NOT represent parents and any suggestion that they do would be wrong. The biggest entity representing parents would be the PTA followed by CPPS. However, just like over at LEV, the Alliance certainly isn't keeping its blog up, doesn't respond to any comments and won't print anything that they deem wrong/not in keeping with their work.)

I did ask Lynne Varner at the Times editorial board who writes for them about education. She said anyone can write an op-ed and they only need contact Kate Riley who oversees them (and they are looking for good writing). So kids, here's your chance. Call Ms. Riley (or e-mail her) with your side/perspective of the issue and hey, let's not just make it about teachers.

Kate Riley, Seattle Times, (206) 464-2260 or kriley@seattletimes.com

Also, the Alliance is rallying the troops for the next Board meeting (and this is the day before the contract is either ratified or not) so you might want to think to sign up for the speakers list or show up.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Meanwhile, at the Times They Get Norm Rice to Chime In

Will it ever end? Norm Rice says his piece at the Times. I guess the Times is going with the old adage of saying it enough times (and tapping your heels together three times) will make it come true.

As a community, we need to determine if Seattle will be an early adopter or a laggard in education reform.

And there's nothing in-between like careful consideration of what we do and the people in charge of enacting it (as the State Auditor questions their commitment to rules and regulations and oversight)?

But he does say:

The union and the school district need to come together and agree on what can be done now — controllable, deliberate steps we can take to improve education.

Okay, Norm, so can you allow the union a chance to think about what they are asking members to do?

Research shows that outside of parents, an effective teacher is the most important factor in determining whether children will succeed in school.

Yay, Norm.

More than just a factor in compensation, evaluation results would influence school transfers and promotions.

Not getting this. Is he saying that good teachers could leave low-performing schools?

Thoughts about using student tests to judge teachers

Let me begin by saying that I would absolutely love to be able to use some objective measure of student academic growth as a measure of teacher effectiveness. I sincerely would. I am open to hearing about such a measure that can isolate the growth of student learning that is attributable to the teacher. I'm dying to hear about it. I just haven't heard it yet.

I won't pretend that the proposed measure is the student's cumulative acheivement. I will grant folks who want to use student test results as a measure of teacher effectiveness the sophistication that they are using a measure of change. I'll even grant them an additional level of sophistication that acknowledges the smaller potential for growth among students who are already near the top of the measure. The five point change from 45 to 50 is easier to coach than the five point change from 85 to 90. Just the same, the data and the conclusions have grave faults.

I review data for a living, so I have some familiarity - if not expertise - with how it can be misused. I have very little confidence in the data that I have seen that links student outcomes to teacher effectiveness. It makes a number of unsupportable assumptions. The primary one is to attribute all of the change in student outcomes to the teacher. That's crazy. The second one is to presume that all classes are statistically equivalent. That's also crazy. The third is to base the conclusions on a sample too small to be statistically significant (such as 30 students). The data is suspiciously reported without a margin of error. I find that odd and hubristically certain. Where is the standard deviation of outcomes? I haven't seen any reported. I'm always suspicious that unreported data is contradictory to the conclusion of the author. In this case I wonder if the range of outcomes isn't so great as to make the conclusion unsupportable, that the range of outcomes dwarfs the differences in outcomes.

Let's add some questions about the student assessment used. In Seattle the proposed measure is the MAP. The MAP was not intended for this purpose and is a poor choice. First is the primary function of MAP as a formative assessment. The MAP was designed to spark questions, not to provide answers. Second is the general unreliability of the MAP. We see student scores hop about, in part I suppose because the students can manipulate the experience. Finally we have the constraint that the MAP measures students along one dimension only, grade level progress.

When my eldest daughter first tested into Spectrum I had to ask about twelve people before I got a cogent description of the program. The one I finally got - and it is one that was confirmed by the program manager - was that Spectrum was about going beyond the standard curriculum in three ways: farther (to the next grade level expectations), deeper (a deeper understanding of the concepts), and broader (an understanding of the concepts in a wider variety of contexts). MAP only measures one of those dimensions, the one that I think I care least about: farther. Also, given the District's focus on vertical articulation and curricular alignment, teachers are actively discouraged from teaching students along this dimension. The District leadership actively discourages teachers from providing the students with the support that would really boost their MAP scores - instruction in the next grade level's curriculum.

Unfortunately the District has no other norm-referenced assessment of student academic achievement. The MSP and HSPE (former WASL) is criterion-referenced and therefore absolutely inappropriate for this purpose - unless the assessment is exclusively about getting under-performing students to Standard. Even then, it is inappropriate to use MSP scores for ranking so the only change that can be recorded is changes in Levels (1,2, 3, or 4) for students. This presumes, inappropriately, no progress for a student who did not change levels and loss for students who go down a level. Still, I would be more comfortable with the District using this gross tool as a measure since this test was actually designed for this purpose. It would still present the problems with an inadequate pool to form a statistically significant sample and it would still require the reporting of a margin of error. On top of that there all of the students who opt out. Of course the real problem with the MSP and the HSPE is the slow turnaround in the results and the unknown impact of summer learning (or loss).

So, in short, I'm not saying that I wouldn't love an objective measure of student growth as a measure of teacher effectiveness, but it would have to be better than the suggestions I have seen to date.

The critiques of using student test data to assess teacher effectiveness are well known. So where is there a response from the proponents of this idea to the legitimate concerns and objections? I don't see it.

Busy Busy Week for the Board

Here is the calendar for the School Boad for this week:

Monday, August 23 -
4:30pm - 6:00pm Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee

Tuesday, August 24 -
3:30pm - 5:30pm Audit and Finance Committee Meeting (focus on finance)

Wednesday, August 25 -
4:00pm - 6:00pm Board Workshop re FEL goals

Thursday, August 26 -
3:30pm - 5:30pm Audit and Finance Committee Meeting (focus on audit)

Friday, August 27 -
4:00pm - 6:00pm Executive Session re Negotiations

Tim Burgess in Crosscut

Tim Burgess has followed up on his guest column in the Times with another ill-informed and ill-advised piece in Crosscut.

Won't somebody either set him straight or stop him?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Talk on Gifted Education and Black Youth

Here is info on a talk mentioned by LEV (I'm correcting this because they are not sponsoring it):

This Tuesday, the 24th at Highline Community College and LEV calls it:

Public Presentation on Gifted Education

but Highline calls it

Black Youth and Gifted/Accelerated Education

The speaker is Dr. Mary Ruth Coleman of the University of North Carolina and the moderator is Dr. Stephanie Wood-Garnett of UW.

Here's a link with info at the Washington State Commission on African-American Affairs.

There's a free dinner at 6 p.m. and an extended Q&A but seating is limited. They want you to register for this talk.

Dr. Coleman gave a presentation to OSPI's Highly Capable Technical Working Group which is working on recommendations about gifted education in Washington state. There's some interesting reading at this link.

What I find odd is that LEV makes it sound like this is about general gifted education and the Highline link makes it sound like it's more about outreach to minority families and gifted education. LEV also says it's about "how a child is selected to enroll in a gifted program" which is puzzling because that varies from district to district, state to state.

It's probably an interesting talk but I wouldn't go looking for specifics on how SPS serves highly capable students.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Plethora of Reading

So most of you may have heard that the LA Times is doing a huge multi-part story about teacher evaluation. One of the biggest parts is a listing of every single public school teacher and their classroom test scores (and the teachers are called out by name).

From the article:

Though the government spends billions of dollars every year on education, relatively little of the money has gone to figuring out which teachers are effective and why.
Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.

The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students' progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student's performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

Interestingly, the LA Times apparently had access to more than 50 elementary school classrooms. (Yes, I know it's public school but man, you can get pushback as a parent to sit in on a class so I'm amazed they got into so many.) And guess what, these journalists, who may or may not have ever attended a public school or have kids, made these observations:

On visits to the classrooms of more than 50 elementary school teachers in Los Angeles, Times reporters found that the most effective instructors differed widely in style and personality. Perhaps not surprisingly, they shared a tendency to be strict, maintain high standards and encourage critical thinking.

But the surest sign of a teacher's effectiveness was the engagement of his or her students — something that often was obvious from the expressions on their faces.

Mr. Kotter! The surest sign of a teacher's effectiveness was the engagement of students. And the reporters back this up with...nothing. How do they know this? I have known some pretty entertaining teachers who were not that good at teaching.

(I'm sorry but anyone reading this blog has just as much ability to assess a classroom as reporters from the LA Times so what they say on this point means little to me.)

What the union has to say:

In an interview last week, A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, was adamant that value-added should not be used to evaluate teachers, citing concerns about its reliance on test scores and its tendency to encourage "teaching to the test." But Duffy said the data could provide useful feedback.

"I'm not opposed to standardized tests as one means to helping teachers look at what's happening in their classrooms," he said.

The next story is a piece in Seattle Crosscuts by Councilman Tim Burgess. Look, I've talked to Burgess, I think he's a smart guy, a well-meaning guy (and likely Mayor of Seattle someday) but he doesn't really understand education (or hasn't tried to at least get a well-rounded understanding). First, he kind of takes issue on the op-ed piece that he and Councilman Richard Conlin had written for the Times recently. He says that people were personally critical of him and this is true but only because most of the commenters (myself included) did not believe they wrote the piece. (Frankly, I think they read a couple of white papers, talked to some ed reformers and called it a day, passing off the writing to aides.)

Then he goes on to say - finally - that:

The reforms needed in public education involve the entire system, not just teachers. Everyone involved in public education — administrators, principals, school board members, and teachers — is responsible for the system we have today that routinely fails a third to one-half of our children. There is enough failure for everyone to share.

But there is no one word of HOW that accountability will come. Thanks, Tim. And, then he goes on to talk just about teachers. He then says the line that Charlie hates a lot:

Teachers are the single most important factor in a child's education, so discussion about reform often centers on how they are evaluated, rewarded, and recognized.

I agree with Charlie; parents are the single most important factor in a child's education. Decades of education research state this and I believe it is far more likely that researchers have found parents rather than teachers the most important factor.

Hilariously, next to the Burgess piece is a link to an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled, "Needs Improvement: Where Teacher Report Cards Fall Short."

From the article:

One perplexing finding: A large proportion of teachers who rate highly one year fall to the bottom of the charts the next year. For example, in a group of elementary-school math teachers who ranked in the top 20% in five Florida counties early last decade, more than three in five didn't stay in the top quintile the following year, according to a study published last year in the journal Education Finance and Policy.

"Because education tends to have this moral-crusade element…we tend to rush to use things before they are refined or really fully baked," says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

But even skeptics of test-score-based evaluations acknowledge that a uniform, data-based approach for ranking teachers could be superior to subjective methods—such as principals' observations—that still predominate in schools. "Damn near anything is going to be an improvement on the status quo," says Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia.

Sounds like there's some confusion and uncertainty here. But okay, let's try something different but can we make sure first that we do no harm?


These measures don't simply ding teachers for their students' low scores, because not all incoming classes start the year equally. Instead, teachers are evaluated based on how much students' scores improve by the end of their year.

But good teachers aren't easy to identify this way. For one thing,students aren't always assigned to teachers randomly. A teacher who gets more than his share of students who learn slowly because of his knack for helping them might be penalized at the end of the year.


Let's say it's an early dismissal day or there's a substitute. Know what that means? Movies!

My high school owned a 16mm print of Mutiny on the Bounty (with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton) that I must have seen ten times.

Here are some that I could watch over and over.

Meg Diaz on 3/17/10

Superintendent arrives AFTER public testimony concludes

A quick talk from Daniel Pink on incentives

Why Teacher Merit Pay is Tricky

Has anyone made other clips? These are fabulous.

Friday, August 20, 2010

District web site redesign

Here it is folks. We paid about three-quarters of a million bucks for it, so you might as well participate. Help design the new District web site.

Hey, It's Friday Open Thread

Winding down on the dog days of summer here.

Question to get you started: do you support the upcoming supplemental levy? Why or why not? Need more info?

New Report by the NCTQ

The National Council on Teacher Quality, an Ed Reform organization posing as a think tank, has issued another report on Seattle. This one explores the proposals discussed in the negotiations over the teachers' contract.

I have reviewed their report and found it to be a mixed bag.

I agree with the District and the NCTQ regarding teacher assignment.
I, too, would like to see principals have more authority to determine who works in their schools. I support the District proposal to eliminate super-seniority privileges and the forced placement of any teacher in any school. I also support mutual consent hiring for all teachers regardless of the reason a teacher is transferring schools or when the position is being filled. Under such a system, excessed teachers would be able to remain in the displaced pool for a limited amount of time while they search for a new position: 12 months for teachers on a continuing contract; 6 months for teachers on a provisional contract. After this period, they would be subject to layoffs. If teachers cannot find a principal in the District willing to hire them, then they don't work here anymore.

I question the career-ladder positions proposed by the District.
I don't oppose them or approve them. I just wonder if the teachers want them. I think it strange to create incentives for people without knowing if the people are interested in the incentives you're offering or if the incentives are enough to change anyone's behavior. I also wonder why the unrelated proposal about career-ladder positions is lumped in with the teacher assignment proposal.

The NCTQ's analysis of these proposals is both good and bad. I agree with them when they write: "Giving principals full autonomy to select who works in their buildings, as Seattle Public Schools proposes to do, is a critical first step towards school accountability." However, their belief that a mutual consent policy would reduce turnover and the concentration of inexperienced teachers and that senior teachers would be less likely to cluster into a few favored schools is dead wrong. Instead, the turnover and concentration of inexperienced teachers would occur at schools with principals who mishandle their teaching staff, and all-star principals will be able to assemble all-star teams of teachers at their schools. The clustering will still happen - at both ends of the spectrum - but the cluster points will be based on the principal's favor with teachers instead of school affluence and the movement will be divided by teacher quality instead of teacher seniority.

Look, the teachers know who the good principals are and that's who they will want to work with. The principals know who the good teachers are and that's who they will want to work with. So the good principals will be able to hire the good teachers and the bad principals and the new (or bad) teachers will have to settle for working with each other. If the pay were the same, would you rather work for an angel or an asshole? If you had free pick, would you choose to work with those who have proven themselves to be the best, those who have proven mediocre, or the unproven?

We can guess what it means when a teacher can't find a principal who will hire them. What will it mean when a principal can't find an experienced teacher who will work for them? Where is the market-driven force that will hold principals accountable?

The NCTQ shows an equal ignorance of human behavior when they presume, without evidence, that financial incentives will attract highly effective teachers to the neediest schools, and that top teachers would be motivated to seek assignments district-wide. There is scant evidence to show that small financial incentives will motivate teachers to accept less attractive working conditions. Has anyone asked the teachers? The union is characterized as silent on the issue.

I have qualified agreement with the NCTQ and the District that layoffs should be based on a combination of seriority and performance. I just need a lot more detail about how the District proposes to assess teacher performance. I can't give the proposal my support until I see that the details are good.

The NCTQ has no question about how the District will assess teacher quality. That makes the NCTQ questionable.

The union's position is not stated.

Like the SEA, I support the District's proposal to expand the teacher mentor program.
I'm a little discouraged that the number of mentor teachers is going to increase from 6 to 11. That seems a very low number.

I'm curious about how the District is going to create additional planning time for teachers without reducing instructional time for students. That doesn't seem possible. I would really like someone to walk me through the math on that.

The union appears to accept the additional planning and collaboration time, but wants more of the sessions to be teacher-directed instead of District- or principal-directed. Surely the District can bend on this.

The NCTQ says that the SEA opposes the proposal "because it will result in 12 additional minutes of teaching time on the days when there are not the collaborative planning blocks." I'm always very careful about assigning motivations to others. How does the NCTQ know that this is the reason why the SEA opposes this proposal? I'd like to see where the SEA gives this as the reason. If this is, in fact, the reason, then maybe the District should walk them through the math on how the additional planning time doesn't impact the instructional time.

The NCTQ is also concerned that Seattle students have some of the shortest instructional days and years in the country. This goes to the debate between the value of instructional time and the blithe dismissal of "seat time". The District itself is ambivalent over it.

I am deeply troubled by the NCTQ's review of the proposals on teacher evaluations.
The NCTQ describes SERVE as the District's proposal and then writes "SEA proposes to keep the current evaluation instrument as it is" I believe this is not true. I believe that the SEA has proposed the adoption of the P G and E teacher evaluation. What is the truth here?

For what it is worth, most of the teacher evaluation elements of SERVE are the same as P G and E. The primary difference is the use of student test scores. Since there has been no detailed description of what student test scores would be used or how they would be used, there really isn't a proposal to review here. SERVE has other provisions, such as the superintendent's right to over-ride any evaluation without appeal, that are simply unacceptable. The NCTQ didn't seem to notice that little feature of SERVE because they don't mention it.

I take the union's side regarding the teacher compensation proposals.
The District is offerring a 1 percent pay raise for the teachers who opt in to SERVE. This strikes me as little incentive and a very small compensation for accepting a mystery bag. Here also is a repeat of the career-ladder positions that the District proposes. Given that the SEA rejects the proposal, it appears to me that the teachers don't want this incentive. And what is the use of an incentive that people don't want? I like the fact that the SEA is rejecting offers of more money.

The NCTQ likes the idea of recognizing and rewarding great teachers, but even they agree that the District's offer is punk.

In their final thoughts, the NCTQ makes reference to teacher quality. I will understand this paragraph better when I know how the NCTQ defines that term and how the NCTQ believes that contract provisions can impact it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Does Your Student Use Facebook or My Space? Inquiring District Minds Want to Know

Well, not really but it might come to that.

Boy, I missed this but here's a report from KOMO-tv about a new policy passed by the Board last night. From the article:

What Seattle school students post on public sites such as Facebook or MySpace could get them in trouble -- even if done at home on their private computers, according to a new policy going into effect for the coming school year.

For example, if you were to write, "I'm going to kick your butt" on another student's page and the school principal hears about it, they can do something about it, even if you wrote it from your iPhone miles away from campus.

Apparently the district itself won't be monitoring the sites but if a parent or a student "alerts" them to something written online, they'll look into it.

What if a over-zealous principal or counselor monitors the sites? Is that acceptable or only reports from outside the district?

The reporter asks, "What about if a kid says something negative about a teacher?" Free speech or not?

The district spokesperson says, "I think, again, that would be up to the principal to decide after he's taken a look."

The principal? Really, judge and jury all in one?

Boy, this has trouble written all over it, going both ways. I get that the district wants to head off trouble (and avoid possible lawsuits) but kids sometimes say (and write) crazy things. I'm sure you can find suicide talk, murder talk, crude talk and downright mean talk. Does that mean every student who says something stupid is going to act on it?

Hey, look who's interested in this policy - the ACLU.

P.S. Luke Duecy, the KOMO-tv reporter, was having a very hard time today getting anyone from the district to talk to him. The Board passes a fairly controversial policy and they didn't think anyone would want a comment from the Board or the district?


Here is the changed/added wording from the handbook about electronic issues:

The District will respond to off-campus student speech that causes or threatens to
cause a substantial disruption on campus or interferes with the right of students to be
secure and obtain their education.

When away-from-school jurisdiction is asserted and a crime has been committed, schools
generally report the crime to the proper law enforcement agency. A school may, however, have
jurisdiction over offenses that are not criminal in nature.

Deliberately arranging a fight or willingly participating in such an arranged fight not
involving anger or hostility, that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to the
* * * * *
The District retains the right to respond to off campus student speech that includes using
electronic means to set up or arrange a fight, such as, but not limited to, texting, Face
Book©, My Space© or other social Internet sites, if the fight occurs or is to occur on
school grounds, or just before or after the school day.

Under Harassment:

The District will respond to off-campus student speech that causes or threatens to cause a
substantial disruption on campus or interference with the right of students to be secure
and obtain their education. Substantial disruption includes, but is not limited to,
significant interference with instruction, school operations or school activities, violent
physical or verbal altercations between students, or a hostile environment that
significantly interferes with a student’s education.

Not on the same subject but new as well:

Advance written permission must be submitted to the school principal for a student who by statute can have pepper gas/spray in his/her possession.

Under Theft,burglary and malicious mischief:

Stealing school district property or the property of a staff member, student, or school

This includes theft of intellectual property, such as, but not limited to, looking at or
taking a teacher’s test or notes for a test, artwork, or any other teacher or student
intellectual property.

Plagiarism includes:
  • Using another writer’s words or ideas without proper citation, or merely rearranging or changing a few of the author’s words and presenting the result as your own work, or not using quotation marks when citing a source;
  • Having someone else write your paper, program, or project, including asking friends, paying someone, using a paper writing service, or taking information verbatim off the Internet.
  • Copying another student’s work during a test, lab, or classroom activity and turning it in as your own. This is ―cheating‖.
Also new:

Parents must be told about their right to appeal and that an appeal must be initiated within three days of when the parent received notice of the misconduct.

It used to be two days.

Latest Update from the SEA

Thanks to Another Mom for this alert. (Please note: italics mine.)

"Earlier this week, we noted that district negotiators said they would seriously consider the latest SEA proposal, which attempted to address our mutual interests in quality teaching while not misusing student test data to fire teachers.

District negotiators returned Thursday and did indeed engage in a serious conversation with SEA to explore our proposal. The session concluded without any tentative agreements being reached over adopting the jointly developed Professional Growth & Evaluation process, but the district did choose to add an extra day of negotiations on Monday. The bargaining teams had not planned to resume contract talks until Tuesday.

SEA supports moving forward with the historic progress already achieved through the jointly negotiated Professional Growth and Evaluation plan. SEA's proposal on Tuesday suggested carving out middle ground by recognizing the district's interest in using test data to help support teachers who may benefit from additional help, while not misusing students' scores as a part of the final evaluation or to fire teachers.

Negotiations continue and no contract agreement is in place. SEA will be contacting our building site reps to attend an organizing meeting scheduled for 4:30 to 6 p.m. Tuesday."

Yet Another Ed Reform Editorial in the Times


Here's another. It's pretty insulting as it reduces education to being about training workers.

Student Growth and the Three R's

When some families with students in the Advanced Learning programs said that they wanted to see their students working one or two years ahead, the District STRONGLY discouraged these families from thinking in those terms. The District was VERY clear that acceleration was only one dimension to the District's Advanced Learning programs and that it was not the most important. They claimed that their focus was on rigor, not Grade Level Expectations. The focus belonged on rigor, they said, because the Three R's of education used to be Readin', Writin', and 'Rithmatic, but today, they claimed, they are Relationships, Rigor, and Relevance.

So if the focus really belongs on Relationships, Rigor, and Relevance, instead of Grade Level Expectations, then how is this focus reflected in the District-defined measure of student progress for the purpose of teacher evaluations?

This strikes me as another one of those disturbing situations in which the District says that our concern isn't important in one context when it suits their purposes for it to be unimportant, but then, the matter becomes critically important in an essentially identical context when it suits their purposes.

School Board Testimony

I testified at last night's packed Board meeting (along with several other people who read this blog - I couldn't stay the whole evening). I was asked to post what I said but I decided to cut it back a little for length. I initially spoke on an Intro item, the School Technology Equity Plan, pointing out that there were 2 attachments to the item. One was a blank page and the other was the contract but the bulk of it was in 10 attachments which had no links. (I'll have to view my taping of the meeting to see if any Board member even asked about this.)

I also want to note that I have documentation from the district about the retirement dinner. The only thing I'm not totally sure about is whether there were any other retirees at the dinner. One interesting note is that none of the current Board was invited according to the invitation list.

"On the issue of oversight, let’s talk about the recent State Audit report. Virtually none of you have said anything even though it was unusual and astonishing that the State Auditor chose to call out the School Board by name for not doing adequate oversight of the Superintendent.

Let’s focus on two items. One is the Superintendent’s usage of her credit card. The issue here for the Auditor was two-fold; she went over her daily limit of $1,000 when she charged $3800 for catering and also, under the District’s procurement card manual, you can’t charge food.

Auditor: If the District intends to include exceptions to the rules, it should revise the procurement card manual rules.

The catering charge was for a retirement dinner for SPS employees. That’s fine but as I recall we have a bad economy and the district is in dire financial straits. And yet that $3800 wasn’t the entire bill; the dinner cost $7k altogether complete with a carving station and salmon and $650 for musical entertainment.

Why would we have a retirement dinner when the organization of retired employees already puts on their own luncheon every year? I suspect it was because this was a dinner for former School Board member, Cheryl Chow.

Why were $100 dinner certificates to the Palisades given out?

The District’s answer to the Auditor on this point was this:

Regarding the non-compliance with dollar limits, there is an exception process in place where the user may call the card administrator and request a higher limit.

The reply to the Auditor makes it sound like this would happen on case-by-case basis as the reply from the District and yet the e-mail indicates it as permanent. Yet there’s an e-mail exchange between the Superintendent’s assistant and an accounting employee asking about whether a previous upping of her limit was still there so she could charge this amount. (And the answer was yes.)

Next, to the finding about the Small Business program in SPS. This program morphed into a $1M a year program with over 40 classes, some of them being taught by SPS staff. And, the district’s own lawyer admitted at a BEX Committee meeting that most of those people who took the classes never even placed a bid for an SPS project.

After the audit came out, we saw the dismissal of the head of the program, Silas Potter.

Then that same lawyer tells a group of people at a Facilities meeting that Mr. Potter is starting his own private company doing the same thing with the same name and somehow got an SPS contract to pay for his offices. And, that the district will pay for it because the district doesn’t want the former head to take them to court.

Why would the district pay an obviously bogus contract? Or the bigger question, why is it the more financially prudent choice to pay off this contract rather than take it to court? What is it that the district doesn’t want aired in court?

Last question, according to the auditor, the money used over the last two years for this program, which is roughly $1.8 M, most of it has to come back to the capital fund from the General Fund. I would like to know where the district is finding over a $1M to move from the General Fund to the capital fund.

You talk about “every dollar going into the classroom” during teacher negotiations but it seems clear the money goes in all directions and there really is NO attempt to rein in spending."

Using Student Growth Data in Teacher Evaluations

The District wants to include measures of student growth as part of the annual teacher performance evaluation. That seems reasonable. In fact, I don't think there is anyone who would be opposed to a fair and thoughtful use of student outcomes as part of the teacher evaluation.

How will the District measure student growth for the purposes of teacher evaluation? That's not entirely clear, but we do have some hints:

From the letter to teachers dated 8/3/10
Student learning and growth will be based in both teacher-determined and District-determined data and measures, and will account for the fact that not all children are the same. The District measure will be based on the overall growth of a teacher's students relative to students of similar demographics who have performed like them in previous assessments, and will be calculated as a two-year rolling average on at least two student assessments.
I'm not sure what this means.

A. "the overall growth of a teacher's students" I'm not sure how they will measure "overall" growth for a teacher's students. For elementary students I suppose they mean in various disciplines (reading, writing, math, etc.). Do they mean the same for secondary students? Will the District measure of student growth for math teachers, for example, include the students' growth in other disciplines?

B. "relative to students of similar demographics" So the District's expectations for student growth will vary based on race and gender. What other demographic grouping will they make? Free and Reduced Price Lunch Eligible? English Language Learners? How is this going to work and how will it be expressed? Will the District expect greater student growth from some demographic groups than others? Why don't we have the same high expectations for all of our students? Don't we believe that all students can learn and can reach the same high levels of achievement?

C. "who have performed like them in previous assessments" This appears to suggest that student growth targets will be set by historic outcomes for various demographic groups. What form will that take? What will this mean in concrete terms? Will the teacher get a report that says: "Student A is a fourth grade Latino boy who is not FRE or an ELL. Based on previous assessments for students in this demographic group, we expect this child to advance 0.8 years in math, 0.9 years in reading, and 1.1 years in writing." And the teacher's effectiveness will be measured relative to that expectation of student growth? Do we even have historic outcomes for students? The MAP assessments have only been done for one year. Does one year of data - the initial year - constitute a reliable data set? With just one year of data, can the District speak about "previous assessments"?

D. "will be calculated as a two-year rolling average" What is calculated on a two-year rolling average - the target or the individual student growth? It can't be the student growth, otherwise the teacher's evaluation would be based in large part on the previous year, before the student was in the teacher's class. It must be the District's targets for growth. But the District doesn't have two years of MAP data to average yet, so what will they use the first year?

E. "on at least two student assessments" Oh! So they won't rely on a single test of student growth. They will use the MAP and... well, what else? They don't have anything else that claims to be able to measure student growth. The MSP or HSPE (the tests formerly known as the WASL) don't measure student growth at all; they are criterion-referenced tests. So what else will the District use? Maybe they could use Classroom Based Assessments (CBAs) if they ever fulfill their dream of standardizing them - oops! I mean aligning them. Will this require teachers to do the District-written and approved CBAs? Or do they mean that student growth will be measured using the math MAP and the reading MAP? Or do they mean that student growth will be measured using last year's MAP and this year's MAP?

In the FAQ sheet on SERVE, the District re-states many of the words, but doesn't clarify the meaning very much:
Individual student growth: Individual student growth will include two types of measurements, each based on the extent to which a teacher’s students meet or exceed scores on standards‐based assessments that are typical of their academic peers (students who have performed like them in previous assessments).
• District‐required: A teacher’s score will be based on a two‐year rolling average of the overall growth of his or her students relative to their academic peers in at least two common assessments.
This statement is very similar to the one before, but rather than providing clarification, the subtle, interesting differences muddy the water a bit.

1) "the extent to which a teacher’s students meet or exceed scores". This suggests target scores instead of target growth. Hmmm.

2) "standards‐based assessments" The MAP is not a Standards-based assessment. The only Standards-based assessment is the former WASL, now known as the MSP and the HSPE. Hmmm. These assessments, however, because they are criterion-referenced tests designed to assess the effectiveness of schools and districts, are utterly inappropriate for measuring year-over-year academic progress for individual students.

3) "typical of their academic peers (students who have performed like them in previous assessments)" Now we have a different definition of academic peers - instead of demographics, they are using "students who have performed like them". So now student growth will be relative to students who achieved similar scores last year. The inherent problem here is that, by definition, half of the scores will be below the median. How would this look in real life? Last year Student B scored a 330 on the third grade reading MSP. This year Student B scored a 360 on the fourth grade reading MSP. The average score on the fourth grade MSP for students who scored 330 on it in the third grade was 350, so this is regarded as evidence of the teacher's effectiveness because Student B's score met or exceeded the score typical of Student B's academic peers. Did I read that correctly?

If I understand these statements correctly, and if they mean what I think they mean, then I'm not impressed with this as a measure of teacher effectiveness. It relies on a perfectly dreadful misuse of assessment data. It relies on unfounded beliefs in correlations (if not causation) between student assessment data and teacher effectiveness.

Worse, I don't think the District folks know what they mean by any of this. I don't think they know what assessments they will use or how they will use them. I don't think they have decided on the peer groups or how to determine relative growth for individual students. I, for one, would like to see all of this spelled out and I would like to see a backtest before I agreed to any of it.

They can and should perform a backtest. In fact, I don't see how they propose this thing without having conducted a backtest. The backtest would be an example of how these measures would have appeared for a few teachers last year. Choose a few classrooms from schools across the District with a diversity of students and programs, and see how the District-determined measure of student growth would have worked and been scored for each of them. What would be the District-determined measure of student growth for a third grade Spectrum teacher at Lafayette, a kindergarten teacher at Gatzert, a math teacher at McClure, a Language Arts teacher at the NOVA Project, a high school teacher at Middle College, a Special Education teacher at Lowell, and a fifth grade teacher at View Ridge? Let's see some concrete examples so we have some idea of what is proposed and so the District has some experience doing the calculations.