Another Ed Refrom Editorial in the Times

This week's Education Reform editorial in the Times pretends to have been written by Seattle City Council members Tim Burgess and Richard Conlin.

These two men have nothing to do with Seattle Public Schools, have no first-hand knowledge about the District, and have never spoken with any teachers, but they are willing to lend their names to a guest column written by the PR person at one of the Education Reform organizations. They thereby forfeit all credibility as leaders.


dan dempsey said…
"They thereby forfeit all credibility as leaders. "

I guess looking at the Audits ... the above credibility deficit is a great qualification for this duo's bid as either co-superintendents or Seattle school board members.
none1111 said…
Yup, lines like this:

"We know highly capable and deeply committed teachers are the most important factor in ensuring our children succeed in school."

sure give the appearance that this editorial was either written by one of the reform groups (or SPS themselves!), or at least culled from documents they gave Burgess and Conlin.

What little respect those guys had from me is gone.

The sad thing is that a lot of people will read this and nod their heads, without any real understanding of the complexities. I actually support some of the ideas that these groups are pushing for, like greater accountability (but not only for the teachers - principals, ed directors, etc. need to be included as well - and no one has even come close to explaining an equitable plan). But there's so much in the package they're proposing that is just unacceptable, period. PLUS, the current SPS administration and Board have pulled so much crap over the past couple years that their word just cannot be trusted anymore.

I think that's the bottom line underlying so much of the frustration now. If the the administration hadn't spent so much of the past couple years lying repeatedly to parents (and teachers), I think a lot of people would be willing to give them the benefit of doubt with some of their "we'll figure those details out later". But as it is, no way.
Eric M said…
And, interestingly, the Superintendent knew about the editorial and had posted links to it from the district website within moments after it going live on the Times website last night. I know, because I happened to be watching....

These people must all eat & sleep together. Eeew.

My comment on the Times editorial:

Judging teachers by scores on an unproven test is a stupid, stupid idea.

Emperor's new clothes: classic groupthink by the witless councilmen.

It's a worse idea when the test is not age appropriate, not in line with the curriculum teachers are expected to teach, and really really expensive.

It's an even worse idea when the Superintendent (don't we pay her enough already - I mean, sheesh, more than the governor ???) SITS ON THE BOARD OF THE TESTING COMPANY (NWEA, an out-of-state, hugely profitable megacorp).

a) don't we already pay her enough to get her full attention? (A: nope. Read over the recent damning and exceedingly lengthy audit of SPS. There's immense problems. Any normal worker, given this audit, would already be looking for new work)

b) Shouldn't she have disclosed her connection to this company before helping to arrange a very substantial multi-year contract between NWEA and SPS? (A: nope. No need, apparently, if you're arrogant enough.)

c) Shouldn't the School Board have called her on the carpet for this egregious conflict of interest? (A: should have, didn't, cuz they're rubber-stamping every stupid move. Note that there is a recall petition filed for 5 of the Board members, the ones that voted to extend the Superintendent's contract.....drum roll..... until 2013!)

This Superintendent and her gaggle of geese in high places are goading us teachers into a strike, mindless of the immense harm that causes teachers, students, families, schools, and the district.

The goal: turn public education into a revenue stream. Never mind the collateral damage.

Every time you sit a kid down in front of a MAP test, picture wasted educational resources, wasted student time and energy, a dumbed-down, teach-to-the test education, and money standing up and walking right out of our community, never to be seen again.

Makes me sick.
MathTeacher42 said…
Council Member Burgess has spoken to me 3 different times.

I've told him each time that the teachers I work with will do anything, anytime, anywhere to help our kids.

I've told him that these great ideas NEVER have the steps needed to implement figured out, are NEVER costed out in time per step, and are NEVER paid for.

I've told him that these ideas are just large scale job programs for the highly credentialed, the highly titled, the highly degreed and the highly compensated. According to Arne Duncan, there are 1450 school, colleges and departments of education - I ask how many more people need to be paid as edu-consultants and edu-crats, when it is kids in the class that need help.

I've said this Mr. Burgess in front of Wild Ginger in July before he went to have lunch with Arne Duncan & Senator Murray, and a few 36th District Democrat Meetings.

Mr. Burgess shares a weakness with Representative Rueven Carlyle and too many of the ed deform crowd - they think the slick power points and well crafted sound bites of the academically successful are REAL concrete, REAL useful plans, instead of just more edu-crat & edu-consultant powerpoint merde.
uxolo said…
"the ed deform crowd "
I like this MathTeacher42!
Central Mom said…
Can math Teacher 42 or someone who knows either of those 2 politicians please ascertain how many minutes they have spent in a SPS classroom?

No time spent = zero credibility.
Unknown said…
Okay, so I know the value of rhetorical flourishes, but maybe a tiny little bit of fact checking would have been wise Charlie. It took me about 60 seconds to confirm that Conlin's three kids all graduated from Garfield, (from the extended bio on his campaign website) and that Burgess's children also graduated from Seattle Schools (from his City Council bio).

You disagree with their arguments. Fine. You think they're part of the grand conspiracy of corporatists who are trying to destroy education. Also fine. But they do, in fact, have ample first hand knowledge about the District, and I'm betting, in the course of rearing their kids, that they regularly spoke with teachers. And since Seattle really is a pretty small town, I'll bet they're still running into those same teachers and speaking to them today.
karyn king said…
Judge all professionals’ performance by the numbers? What a great idea!
More crime in the neighborhood? Penalize police officers!
More cavities? Penalize dentists!
More illness in the population? Penalize doctors!
More fires in the neighborhood? Penalize the firefighters!
Accountability implies control over the factors that affect the numbers. Teachers control only a few of the factors that lead to student achievement. They can control only the way they teach, not what students learn. They can control only what they assign, not the work that is actually done by the students.
Did the math teacher choose the textbook? Did the English teacher have access to a textbook that teaches grammar which is not 25 years out of date? Did the science teacher have enough materials for the lab experiment? Were there enough history books for students to take home?
Did the student have breakfast or grab a bottle of Red Bull instead? Did the student come to class or stay in bed until 10 a.m.? Is the student healthy or unable to get to a doctor? Did the student do her homework or stay out with her friends until midnight? Did the student have to work in the family restaurant after school instead of doing homework?
Most secondary teachers in this district are required to serve 120-150 students per day. Each teacher is expected to assess, understand and plan lessons to meet the academic needs, personal learning styles and daily fluctuations of teenage students from an extremely diverse population, including special education and English language learners. Then they must read and assess papers, projects and tests, provide feedback and monitor progress. The teacher sees each student (in groups of 30) for 55 minutes per day for a maximum of 180 days. That adds up to a total of 165 hours or 20.625 work days per school year. One month of workdays per subject. And that does not account for the many days taken up by testing and other non-instructional activities like assemblies.
Like our professional soldiers, teachers are accountable for tactics, not strategies. The hodgepodge of curriculum, supported by ineffective, outdated or no texts provided by our “generals,” the district and the school board, is a mess. While staff at each school has done it’s best to come up with curriculum to meet the state standards during the Gates Foundation-driven “site based management” of the past ten years, they were not given effective support and materials with which to implement educational best practices.
To cover for the malfeasance of the district powerful in the past, Seattle’s superintendent now insists on judging good teaching by the results of a test which is not a valid measure of the skills teachers are being asked to impart to students. On the superintendent’s last review, she was found to have met only 2/5 of her goals, yet the SERVE proposal now being touted, teachers must meet 100% of their goals to receive any recognition or career advancement opportunities. Are we willing to judge all professionals by the statistics? Maybe we should start at the top.
dan dempsey said…

These two showed little knowledge of what they wrote about.

Nice to hear they have kids but that hardly gives them credibility for what they wrote.
Charlie Mas said…
Rosie, I don't doubt that both Mr. Conlin and Mr. Burgess have, at some point in their lives, exchanged words with a teacher in Seattle Public Schools.

That doesn't mean that they have any first-hand knowledge about the issues they wrote about. It certainly doesn't mean that they have discussed these issues with teachers.

I will acknowledge that saying they "have never spoken with any teachers" was too broad. I should have written that they have never spoken with any teachers about these issues and that they have no first-hand knowledge about these issues.

Thank you for the correction.
Anonymous said…

I hope you send your comments to the Times, as you really encapsulated the important issues. Thanks!
Tim said…
Bravo Karyn.

And I would add - pay for performance suggests terrible misunderstanding of what motivates people, or at least most teachers. When teachers have fought for more pay, the arguments I have heard were that their own pay was inadequate for the expectations upon them - live in the community, have college degrees, and pay for professional coursework to maintain certificates. Sometimes districts or states try to provide mortgage help, classes etc in acknowledgement. The idea that an additional $500 or $1000 in salary would somehow unlock hidden motivation or expertise is laughable.

As a teacher and parent, I have found that children and students who are not motivated must have basic needs met - food, security, sleep...after that what works best is attention and ocassional specific praise. I suppose the SSD will agrue they are trying to come up with a system of delivering that specific praise...but speak to any parent who has tried the "chart" and sticker method of tracking behavior. (Because that seems to be much of what this is). If the chart and sticker method works, it is because it is consistently applied, usually over a long time, and all parties buy into it. If it is inconsistent, or doesn't match the parenting style, it doesn't work. It is tossed aside. Does anyone think the district is up for the long term consistent application of a new method of rewards?

And to use the phrase "the district" implies a single minded monolith - but it is really quite a disparate, argumentative mess left from years of mismanagement.

So are there no other districts that work? There must be thousands of examples of good schools and districts out there...and I believe all the public ones have unions, elected boards, etc, so don't blame that. Just because SSD has gotten into a morass, doesn't mean we need to invent some new system of behavior modification to control the apparently errant teachers. Perhaps we look at the system we have in place already and ask how well it has been run according to its design. I think the answers are already there. Have teachers been evaluated and supported according to the design of the district and the contract? Has management followed the intention of the design they bargained in the first place? Why would we trust a new design if we won't follow the one that is already in place? This is to much like the parent or teacher who gets frustrated while trying a new idea, doesn't follow through, and switches to the latest idea over and over, leaving a pile of self-help books in their wake...
Mr. Edelman said…

I'm not sure what you mean by "conspiracy." When people work together, it can be called collaboration or conspiracy, depending on your point of view. But that's not what worries me. What worries me is the groupthink that wide swaths of policymakers have engaged in. It's nearly impenetrable and perhaps unstoppable, until it has run its disastrous course.

I'm reminded of the run-up to the Iraq war. The voices of dissent were marginalized. Groupthinkers all talked to each other, and they agreed that Saddam had WMD. Even respectable mainstream people like Hans Blix weren't taken seriously by the MSM. So it is now with the reformistas. They so dominate public discussion that anyone who would address the deep irrationality of their policies can't get in a word.

That doesn't mean you don't fight back. What is at stake, as Martha Nussbaum in Not for Profit has so eloquently argued, is nothing less than the American tradition of a liberal arts education. When education is merely reduced to a technical focus, then the great American tradition of a liberal arts education will be destroyed. What will be lost will be, among other important things, the primary means for preparing citizens for participation in a democratic political culture. Now, the great challenge of this divided, imperfect nation has been to extend that liberal arts education to everyone. But our failure to extend a liberal arts education to everyone should not be a cause for getting rid of it and replacing it with an assembly-line vision of education in which students are merely product units and teachers are not-so-glorified factory workers.

Those who are pushing Ed Reform are reducing education to something worthy of the old Soviet Union.
Lori said…
I agree with anon that Karen's post makes some excellent points.

In fact, it would be useful to try to think of other professions in which the professionals are evaluated based on outcome measures that are affected by a wealth of factors outside that professional's control. Are there any?

In medicine, quality improvement projects tend to focus on process measures, not outcome measures, because the doctor does not control the case-mix of patients that he sees. But the doctor does control the process (that is, what tests he orders, what treatments he recommends; he can't control whether the patient complies or how sick the patient is upon arrival or what kind of genes the patient has).

Quality is defined by doing the right things that are known to LEAD TO the desired outcome in ideal circumstances but not the outcome itself, because it is well known that many variables outside the doctor's control ultimately affect that outcome.

And this is exactly what we have in education. There are simply too many factors outside the teacher's control that affect test scores. And I don't have faith that the district is going to develop fancy statistical models to control for these numerous confounders when trying to tease out the effect of teacher quality on test scores. Without that kind of analysis, the whole thing is incredibly unfair to teachers.

I've asked on this blog in the past: what metrics can we use to evaluate quality teaching that focus on the process of teaching, not the outcome? That's where the research should be focused. What do effective teachers DO, not what test scores do they produce.
zb said…
"The idea that an additional $500 or $1000 in salary would somehow unlock hidden motivation or expertise is laughable."

But that's not the goal, I think, of these performance review reform efforts. The goal is to be able to more rapidly remove certain groups of teachers. The hopeful reform people seem to think that using test scores will some how remove the poorer teachers. I'm unconvinced that will be the case, even if I believed (which I don't) that teachers can be generally ranked with respect to effectiveness.

Regarding managing other professions statistically -- there is a initiative by insurance companies to rank doctors that way, using an insurance company designed metric, and doctors are objecting pretty mightily. I think the comfort with the numerical ranking comes, basically, from sales. In a business, where the bottom line is how much revenue you bring in (and what cost you expended), numerical rankings make sense to people. People who bring in more get paid more, and since the goal of the company is to bring in more revenue (not, for example, to produce the best widget, though producing the best widget might bring in more sales), the numerical judgment method is fairly aligned with the company's goals. On the other hand, when we look at the mortgage broker fiasco, or think about how the reverse side (rewarding people for how much costs the cut) can result in eventual breakdowns, we see how numerical evaluation of merit can be flawed even in the simple cases.
Michael Rice said…

Here is an analysis by ETS on the achievement gap and the factors that causes it and why it has not narrowed. This should give great pause to anyone who thinks SERVE is the answer.
Anonymous said…
You can find good (research-based!) information on the amount of error that occurs when using student test scores as an evaluative measure of teacher quality straight from the Dept of Ed's mouth:

This DC blog does a pretty good job of pulling out the important parts, most of which pertain well to Seattle district administration's plan.

It appears that teachers are supposed to use research-based curriculum and research-based instructional strategies and administer (supposedly) research-based tests to produce student data, but administrators and ed-deformers can use market-based theories with no proven research base (just an ideology) to judge the efficacy of teachers. Hypocrisy much?
Anonymous said…
Sorry - not sure why that first link cut off the df from .pdf:
It's always interesting to be when politicians attend some meetings or read a white paper or two and voila! they know education. It's just not enough to make an informed decision (an opinion maybe but not an elected official decision).

(Public disclosure: Councilman Burgess did speak with me privately about the last levy and was very generous with his time. That said, he didn't know a lot about that either.)

It feels a lot like circling the wagon. It feels a lot like people colluding together (how could the Superintendent have known about this piece in advance and yet there it was on the district's website?).

The Alliance is trying to tout itself as somehow representing parents which really, are at the bottom of their list after business groups, elected officials, and community groups. The Alliance DOES not speak for parents; the Seattle Council PTSA does. The PTSA has thousands more parents behind them than does the Alliance. And still, the alliance has yet to explain how they got all those parents' phone numbers for their survey? People would like to know so that they can opt-out to anything where their phone numbers might be used for such purposes.

With "SERVE" we see the final puzzle piece of MGJ aspiring to be Michelle Rhee. It would be kind of funny if it weren't so serious.

And now comes the School Board meeting and the Alliance is encouraging all these people to come and talk up SERVE. So really, sign up early because I suspect this will quite the meeting.

Oh and FYI, the longgggg awaited audit of the BEX program is on the horizon. Now this latest audit was quite the barnburner and couple that with what a two-year audit of the capital program will likely bring, well, I do hope Dr. G-J has ALL her ducks in a row because there will be no pontificating or dismissing two bad audits.
zb said…
"Sorry - not sure why that first link cut off the df from .pdf:"

Interesting paper, anonymous. It's the kind of statistical analysis one sees in determining diagnostic efficacy in medicine. You have to wonder if any of the people who are pushing the test score performance model (goodloe, sunderquist, burgess, . . . ) have looked at it at all.
Anonymous said…
I just wish the District would stop spending millions on the Strategic Plan and buy my child a math book@ Content is rushed because books are being shared between classes.
suep. said…
Melissa Westbrook said...

And still, the alliance has yet to explain how they got all those parents' phone numbers for their survey? People would like to know so that they can opt-out to anything where their phone numbers might be used for such purposes.

Hi Melissa,

A couple of us parents did some research on this and tracked this down.

The Alliance requested the teacher info from the district in Nov. 2009. It claims it wanted the contact info in order to send all teachers the NCTQ report on Seattle's teachers that the Alliance purchased (for $14k).

A lawyer/parent with Schools First requested the student data from the district in Dec. 2009 supposedly so Schools First could send parents info about the February levies.

But here's where things break down.

Somehow, the private teacher and student directory information got into the hands of a commercial political consulting company, DMA Marketing/Strategies 360.

From what I understand of the issue, this was illegal.

DMA/360 never requested the info from the district and consequently never signed a "Declaration of Noncommercial Use" -- which is required by state law.

Commercial enterprises are not supposed to be in possession of private student data.

Private student data cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Also, Schools First and the Alliance did not have the right to pass this information on to a third party, and certainly not a commercial, political marketing firm.

But that is apparently what happened.

I've been told that a rogue staffer at Schools First passed our kids' info onto DMA/360 "on behalf of the Alliance" (?!)

And the Alliance apparently passed the teacher contact info onto DMA/360.

This was all done so the Alliance could run that controversial push poll (that was discussed fairly extensively on this blog.)

My educated guess is, the Alliance had to figure out a way to get around the "noncommercial use" stipulation (and law) and get that info to DMA/360 in order to run that push-poll the Alliance wanted.

(DMA/360 has been accused of running a political push-poll in Oregon too, by the way.)

This episode demonstrates that our kids' info is not adequately protected. The FERPA forms that we all get at the beginning of the year need to be changed.

What's more, aside from the noncommercial use rule, pretty much ANYONE can request this private student information and get it. Anyone. That's pretty frightening when you think about it.

And the info the district is able and willing to give out is more than one would think necessary or reasonable.

There's also another disturbing element to this story: Schools First didn't like the wording in the district's "Declaration" document -- so the Schools lawyer changed it. And SPS legal apparently okayed this.(!) What's particularly troubling about this is that the revised version of the document removed some signee liabilities and student info protections. Most notably, it removed the stipulation that would have prevented the signee from passing the student info onto a third party.

Some of us are working on changing all this. I can keep you posted.

In the meantime, here is my post about this whole disturbing story:

Should the School District Be Allowed to Give Our Kids’ Phone numbers, Addresses and Photos to Every Tom, Dick and Pollster?


Sue Peters
Seattle Ed. 2010
kprugman said…
Amazing post Sue. That's not often reported because most of us, do not understand the laws that are being broken. It is probably a bad habit learned from somebody else and nobody in authority thinks anything is wrong with the current methods of doing business.

Schools could exercise eminent domain and avoid the rezoning problem altogether, but instead the developers railroaded the board into paying top dollar for vacant land that can't be rezoned (And) the school is liable for the taxes that had been deferred on this land for the past 30 years. This is not your typical district -this appears to be their preferred method of doing business with property owners since 1965.

Our board signed a contract to purchase school property. Later it was discovered (by accident) that the property could not be rezoned and then the public found out that stipulations, if such an occurance were to happen, had been removed by an unknown person at the last minute before signing.

The board used non-voter approved bonds to make the down payment on the property. it had been used for growing potatoes. The rest of the year, the property sat underwater.

The appraiser signed off on the loan too. The board finally had to go public that the district was making interest-only payments and there was this balloon payment due by August or they would be financially insolvent. The district had a year to figure out where to come up with a half million $$$$.

The board was pressured to resign, and they did, but that's as far as we got. This district is truly headed for darker days.

My point is this, the complexity of the crimes that are being committed are difficult for lay people to understand. Hence, the purpose of blogging.

I would like each school to publish a set of statistics that show student accountability. Like percentages of 9th graders who graduate from the same school in four years. Percentage of 9th graders taking 1 year algebra. Percentage of juniors taking an advanced math course like Intermediate Algebra. The number of hs students enrolled in chemistry and physics. Transferring a student to a 'better' school is a risk and parent should know their children's probability of success.

At our school, the deception is readily apparent. As I've said before our administrators are upping the ante on anxiety in our slassrooms just to push more kids back to their home schools. We have students that have to go to Saturday school for the next two years. Our administrators collect funds from schools that can't make their AYP. Our school makes our AYP go up by failing more students and we get smaller classrooms. How's that for adapting to NCLB.
kprugman said…
Amazing post Sue. That's not often reported because most of us, do not understand the laws that are being broken. That's exactly why I blog.

I'd like for schools to publish their student statistics - like how many of their ninth graders actually graduate from their school in the 12th grade. I think parents aren't making informed decisions when they move their child to a 'higher performing' school.

Sure anyone can attend our school. But a tardy is a Saturday school detention or four hours spent in the cafeteria on Saturday morning.

I teach 'low-brow' science - we take cornell notes and I randomly call on students. That's what we are directed to do, or we face getting transferred to a low- performing school site. We're facing a charter invasion too. We don't do labwork - my classroom was a social studies class. I can be as linear anal as anyone - so I adapt because I don't feel like driving to work and nobody asks me to pass more of my students. My job is a living and that's it.

We have students who will be going to Saturday school for the rest of their hs career because they won't get to class on time. Welcome to transformational education in reverse.
Sahila said…
Two members of the Seattle Shadow School Board will tomorrow (Friday 6 August 2010) file an appeal of the Seattle Public School Board's July decision to renew the contract with NWEA, providers of the MAP test, which is in the process of being rolled out for use throughout the District.

SPS parents Cecilia McCormick and Joan Sias assert that the Board acted in a capricious and arbitrary manner in voting for the extension, recommended by Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. They are concerned that in spending another $450,000 in a severely curtailed budget:

* the Board did not inform itself fully of the merits and demerits of the MAP,
* that the required procurement policies were not followed, with the Superintendent's staff inappropriately allotting sole source status to NWEA (a concern also expressed by the State Auditor in its critique of district practices),
* that the Superintendent sits on the Board of NWEA and did not disclose that conflict of interest until after the District had already spent $4.3million in purchasing the testing software initially,
* that the MAP test disadvantages non-English speaking students, special education students, minority and low income children,
* that the MAP test does not provide reliable results that teachers can use to make informed instructional decisions and
* that the MAP test will be used inappropriately for evaluating teacher performance, as per the Superintendent's proposed SERVE contract with teachers.

Ms McCormick and Ms Sias will file the appeal at 11.45am, 6th Floor, King County Court House. The Seattle School District will be served later in the day.
Eric M said…
I LOVE THAT LAWSUIT !!!!!!!!! Go ! Go ! Go!
Sahila said…
Go check out this photo:!/photo.php?pid=1093337&id=1608757740 ...

if you want a copy to pass around, email me at
Sahila said…
For all of you who think I am naive and idealistic in my railings against this factory model of education....

Here are the thoughts of someone leaving that system....

what a brave young person... and it makes my heart ache to read these words.... we owe our young so much more than we are giving them.... why arent more of us outraged and in revolt?
kprugman said…
Dewey's claim -

"Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men." ("The Need for a Recovery in Philosophy," 1917; MW 10:42)

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