Thursday, September 30, 2010

Waiting for Superman: Judge for Yourself

I said it before, go see Waiting for Superman (or conversely, wait until it comes out on DVD). There are other films on education out there but you might want to judge for yourself since this one has received so much hype.

As I said in my review, the film's website says it is an "exhaustive" of public education. Judge for yourself if you walk away understanding the history (total or recent) of public education in this country after you watch this film.

Watch the film carefully and see if you see ONE, just one good to great regular public school shown OR even mentioned. It doesn't happen.

Listen carefully (and don't blink) or you will see the ONE mention that oh, by the way, charters, overall, don't do better than regular public schools. (This is not a reason to not try them but yes, it's a reason to not believe they are the silver bullet that will cure all public education ills.)

As I said in my review, it's interesting to hear Michelle Rhee (Oprah's "warrior woman" who may, in the near future, lose her job because she was not so respectful to the guy who ran and won for mayor of D.C.) talk about slashing central administration while our Superintendent expands ours. Lynne Varner, in her editorial opinion piece on it, talked about "bloated" bureaucracies in public schools but she and the rest of the Times editorial board remain strangely silent over what we have in Seattle Public Schools.

And then we have the furious backpedaling of David Guggenheim (the director) and Geoffrey Canada, the creator of the Harlem Children's Zone in NYC, on Oprah and today on KUOW. They now say, oh, we know there are a lot of good regular public schools. We're not saying either is better. Really? So how come none of them merit a mention in your film? How come there's no mention that regular public schools take ALL comers but not charters who can write their charter to not include services like Special Ed and ELL? How about figuring out the best of what is working in both kinds of schools? Oh.

So see it, judge for yourself. But while this country's public education does need reform, what we need is a balanced look at the MANY things we could and should be doing to support students AND teachers for better outcomes.

Foreign Language and the Arts: Basic Education?

So following up on yesterday's thread, is foreign language instruction and/or arts instruction part of basic education?

Kids could live without having either and could be educated without either. But that's not really the point (I know it is for Tea Party people - the "basics" and nothing else).

But I would say for 21st century learning, a foreign language is going to be very useful. And not just learning the language, but the learning that comes from finding out where a country is on the globe, its culture, etc. are all part of a 21st century America.

Arts. Well, how do we live without them? The world and the school experience would be so much less without music, theater, video production, painting, etc. Arts like sports is something that keeps kids in school.

But it's a cost. So should the state help at all?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Should the State Fund For Education?

So elsewhere a reader said this:

I understand the state pushed the responsibility of purchasing books onto the District. Hopefully, we could get a line item for books while trying to get the government to assume responsibility for basic educational needs.

(As an aside, I'm looking into this whole textbook replacement issue. It seems that some information told to me was wrong, namely that the state funds textbooks but only every 18 years.)

The district is embarking on early discussions about next year's budget so now is a good time to talk.

What struck me about the comment above was the term "basic educational needs." First, how do we define those? Off the top of my head:
  • a clean, safe building
  • qualified teachers/principal
  • textbooks no older than 10 years old (especially for science and/or history/social studies)
  • instructional materials (I don't even know if this still gets funded but paper, pencil, ruler, glue, crayons, stapler, etc)
  • other instructional materials (workbooks, etc.)
  • at least one computer in the classroom
  • reading library in the room (for elementaries)
  • available reading/research materials (library with computers, books and research docs available)
What would be basic to learning in a 21st century classroom?

Second, if the state allots each district X amount of dollars (non-specified), should it be the district's duty to make sure those basic educational needs are satisfied first?

Third, should the state allot for each of the above items to districts or allow districts leeway to get the items as they see fit? So should it be the state's duty to keep up on what each district needs for textbooks or should the money just flow to the districts AND they decide when to replace books?

Lastly, how do you balance trying to create district-wide academic advancements via creating new initiatives versus making sure that that every classroom's basic educational needs are met?

Double Shifting Over in Lake Washington School District

From KIRO tv:

Eastlake is one of two high schools in the Lake Washington district that will soon be over capacity by hundreds of students. In 2012, Redmond High School will have about 500 kids more than they have room for. Eastlake High will have 340 too many.The Lake Washington School District said it may not have a choice but to split Eastlake and Redmond high schools into two school days each, a format called double shifting.One shift would start about 6:30 a.m. and the other at around 12:30 p.m.

I had to do this in junior high while a new building was being built. It was a little weird but I was grateful I had the late shift.

From the story:

Double shifting is the least expensive option, but the district could bring in more money with a new tax levy. Depending on its size, the money could be used for new portables, permanent classrooms or even a new school.

We should have some new numbers for our own district very soon.

Budget Planning Meeting today 4-8

The Board will be meeting this afternoon and evening for a Board Workshop on "Budget Planning and Development". Here is the agenda.

It begins with a recap of the budget gap for the coming year. This is to make sure that everyone comes into the meeting with lowered expectations.

Next comes "Board developed guiding principals(sic)". I don't think that the Board is actually going to give guidance to principals, I think this was supposed to be "guiding principles". What are the Board's guiding principles? Last year they were to strike a balance between ongoing operations and investments in the Strategic Plan. I say balance, but I don't recall the Board ever saying "no" to any spending on the Plan. The community, I think, would have preferred more spending on current operations and less investment in Strategic Plan items. All of the cuts came in current operations, none that I could see in the Plan. I don't recall anyone in the District leadership ever saying "We will need to defer that Plan project until we have the funding for it." Do you?

Next comes "Budget Priorities". The agenda offers some examples, including Audit/Compliance, Impact to schools, Academic Assurances, Strategic Plan, New Student Assignment Plan Impacts, School Performance Framework, Human Resources Transformation. Notice something about this list? After audit compliance - which should save money, not cost money - and "impact to schools" - whatever that means - comes the Strategic Plan. Notice that the next three items are all Strategic Plan initiatives? The Strategic Plan is MIRVing. It takes four bullet points on the list.

Here are some items that didn't make the list of examples:
Response to Intervention - When is the District going to make support for struggling students a budget priority?
Inclusion - The District has mandated inclusion of special education students, now they need to pay for it.
Librarians, nurses, counselors - Schools need these positions staffed.

Next comes Community Engagement - internal and external. Internal is a reference to teachers and principals. I want to be sure that families know that teachers and principals are commonly ignored and disrespected as much as anyone else in the District. What level of Community Engagement will the Board ask for on budget planning? Will it be Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate or Empower? I'm guessing they will feel really, really generouos and go for Consult in which they commit to "keep people informed, listen to and acknowledge concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how public input influenced the decision" It will be truly remarkable if they do this, as it will be the first thing they have done in which they committed to anything more than the most basic Inform level of engagement.

This will be followed by a review of the Weighted Staffing Standards, some talk about benchmarking, the timeline and then "Data Sets" - whatever that means.

From my review of this agenda, it appears that it will consist mostly of the Superintendent and the CFO/COO telling the Board how it is going to be. The Board, almost completely lacks information, context, or memory - except for what the staff tell them. They are also almost completely without vertebrae, minds, or community input. So they will, once again, act like a row of bobbleheads. They will nod along with the superintendent and drool and mumble along in their hypnotic trance "Yeah, a football. A football would make a great Christmas present."

In case you're thinking that there is at least one Board member who will step forward and demand better, let me remind you that Kay Smith-Blum is out of town and will not be able to attend the meeting. Director Patu means well, but she has yet to climb the learning curve very far and is out of her depth. Director DeBell knows better and thinks clearly, but he speaks so gently that they just ignore him. And every member of the 2007 majority is a lost cause. They are in thrall to the superintendent and have never challenged her on anything she has ever said or done. They are very unlikely to start here.

We can look forward to a budget planning process for school year 2011-2012 that is functionally identical to the budget planning process for this school year. There will be some show of public meeetings, but they won't influence the course of the decisions. The wrapper will be different, but the fruitcake inside will be the same.

Pop Quiz on Religion

There was an article in the NY Times about research done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (independent group) on what Americans know about religion. Very illuminating and also funny - I can hardly wait for the Daily Show and the Colbert Report will say and I was laughing at CBS news' own report. (Meaning, that even in a country that expresses itself so profoundly religious as ours, I would have thought people would do better.)

The researchers said that the questionnaire was designed to represent a breadth of knowledge about religion, but was not intended to be regarded as a list of the most essential facts about the subject. Most of the questions were easy, but a few were difficult enough to discern which respondents were highly knowledgeable.

They asked 3400 Americans 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous people, etc. Results?
  • On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.
  • Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons.
But why atheists? The president of American Atheists, an advocacy group for nonbelievers, said this:

“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” Mr. Silverman said. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge.

So why do I bring this up? Because one of the questions was about religion in public schools.

An overwhelming 89 percent of respondents, asked whether public school teachers are permitted to lead a class in prayer, correctly answered no. But fewer than one of four knew that a public school teacher is permitted “to read from the Bible as an example of literature.” And only about one third knew that a public school teacher is permitted to offer a class comparing the world’s religions. The survey’s authors concluded that there was “widespread confusion” about “the line between teaching and preaching.”

I think it would be great if there was a world religions class in high school if you had the right teacher who could control the discussion i.e. not let kids go at each other's religion. It might make for a more tolerant AND informed group of citizens.

What's interesting to me is that SPS has places in many schools (I'm thinking primarily secondary as I haven't heard of this in elementary) for Muslim students to pray during the day. I've never asked why this is but it would seem an issue because then Christians or Jews might want a prayer room as well.

What Other People Say

The NY Times has had several articles on teacher evaluation. One was "Formula to Grade Teachers' Skill Gains Acceptance, and Critics" about using value-added data. The letters to the editor on this story were quite interesting and I thought I'd put some snips in and see what you think. (All italics and bold mine.)

First a few quotes from the story. Arne Duncan on the LA Times teacher assessment project:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan weighed in to support the newspaper’s work, calling it an exercise in healthy transparency. In a speech last week, though, he qualified that support, noting that he had never released to news media similar information on teachers when he was the Chicago schools superintendent.

On The Los Angeles Times’s publication of the teacher data, he added, “I don’t advocate that approach for other districts.”

Arne? Yes or no?

About value-added itself:

William L. Sanders, a senior research manager for a North Carolina company, SAS, that does value-added estimates for districts in North Carolina, Tennessee and other states, said that “if you use rigorous, robust methods and surround them with safeguards, you can reliably distinguish highly effective teachers from average teachers and from ineffective teachers.”

But when the method is used to evaluate individual teachers, many factors can lead to inaccuracies.
  • For example, two analysts might rank teachers in a district differently if one analyst took into account certain student characteristics, like which students were eligible for free lunch, and the other did not.
  • Millions of students change classes or schools each year, so teachers can be evaluated on the performance of students they have taught only briefly, after students’ records were linked to them in the fall.
  • In many schools, students receive instruction from multiple teachers, or from after-school tutors, making it difficult to attribute learning gains to a specific instructor. Another problem is known as the ceiling effect.
  • Advanced students can score so highly one year that standardized state tests are not sensitive enough to measure their learning gains a year later.
Comments from letters to the editor:
  • Advocates of the value-added model to evaluate teachers justify their position by claiming that is how business works. Yet all prospectuses of mutual funds warn in bold letters that past performance is no guarantee of future results.
  • Such data, combined with effective in-class observation of teaching skills, dramatically increases our understanding of how well teachers and schools help to advance students’ learning. The fact that it is not a perfect system should not disqualify it from use; no evaluation system in any profession is perfect.
  • The value-added method to grade teachers sounds fantastic! Now how about applying it to school administrators themselves, highly paid consultants brought in for “professional development” and expensive, corporation-developed textbooks?
  • Regarding the usefulness of value-added scores for teachers, why shouldn’t parents be given the opportunity to enroll their children for individual teachers, not just schools, using such a tool?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quick Report from Curriculum and Instruction

I caught the very end of the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting yesterday just as discussion of the waiver process was wrapping up.

At the end of the last meeting Director Martin-Morris said that he would come to this meeting with a draft process or policy or something, but he spaced it and didn't do the work.

The Committee did get things done on the matter at this meeting, thanks, in significant part, to the presence of Director DeBell. The Board members, along with Dr. Enfield, discussed the elements of a waiver policy/process and want her to come back to their next meeting with a sort of bulletpointed outline of the main topics to be considered (equity, purpose, duration, professional development, revocation, etc.) and some thoughts on each. One of the ideas to promote equity came from Director DeBell. He noted that the District didn't have to buy Board-adopted materials for schools with a waiver and that savings - such as the money that was not spent to buy EDM materials for Schmitz Park or North Beach - should go into an "account" to help pay for alternative materials at schools that need that help.

Again, the Board is really focused on the idea that waivers should be part of a District-managed innovation plan with the purpose of discovering ways to improve instruction across the District. So, for example, if a school gets a waiver from the Board-adopted math materials, and state math proficiency test pass rates at that school are demonstrably better than the pass rates at the schools using the Board-adopted materials, then the District should take and apply that lesson across the District. Right now, there is no effort to derive benefits for the District from the waivers.

The waiver policy/process will walk a careful line that should go a long way to clarify the distinction between thoughtful curricular alignment and mindless standardization.

After looking around, the staff can find no example of a district that is doing this sort of managed innovation. Districts seem to fall into two distinct camps: they are either cookie-cutter standardized (Bellevue model) or they are totally laissez faire (old Seattle model). There doesn't seem to be any in-between - or at least not a thoughtful and managed in-between. I'm sure they can find districts that intend to be standardized but fail to enforce the standardization. There is no district they can find that tries to derive any broadly applicable benefit from the variety of materials, professional development, or pedagogy at their schools.

It's at times like this that you see the depth of disaster and the utter lack of management across the whole freakin' public K-12 education industry. The culture of the industry frees people from the need to make any effort to connect rhetoric to action.

Meeting calendar for the next two weeks

Here's a list of upcoming meetings:

Wednesday, September 29
District VI Community Meeting (Sundquist) 11:00am - 12:30pm at the Delridge Branch - Seattle Public Library

Board Workshop re Budget Goals 4:00pm - 8:00pm at the JSCEE

Thursday, September 30
"Welcome Back" Regional Meeting – West Seattle 6:30 - 8:00pm at Chief Sealth International High School

Wednesday, October 6
Board Works Session re School Reports 4:00pm - 5:30pm at the JSCEE

Regular School Board Meeting 6:00pm at the JSCEE

Thursday, October 7
Superintendent "Coffee Chat" 6:00 - 7:00pm at the SBOC

Saturday, October 9
District II - Community Meeting (Carr) 8:30am - 10:00am at the Greenwood Neighborhood Service Center

District I Community Meeting (Maier) 10:30am - 12:00pm at Bethany Community Church

District VI Community Meeting (Sundquist) 11:00am - 12:30pm at the High Point Branch - Seattle Public Library

MacArthur Genuis Awards: What's a Public School Teacher Doing There?

I had heard on NPR that one of the winners of this year's MacArthur Genuis Awards was a public school teacher who had created a robotics program at his high school. I wanted to say, "Yay for public school teachers!" (Want to be simultaneously depressed AND inspired? Read through all the winners. Amazing people.)

So here's what the MacArthur Foundation has to say about the teacher, Amir Abo-Shaeer, who works at a non-charter public high school in Santa Barbara called Dos Pueblos High School.

Amir Abo-Shaeer is a physics teacher who is inspiring and preparing public high school students for careers in science and mathematics. Recognizing the potential for programs at the secondary level to encourage students to pursue science and engineering degrees, Abo-Shaeer left a career in industry to become a teacher at Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, California.

In 2002, he created the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy (DPEA), a school within a school with a rigorous applied science curriculum that integrates physics, engineering, and mathematics courses; hands-on building projects; and specialized competitions. The program culminates in the design and construction of a robot by the academy’s senior class and its entry into the FIRST Robotics Competition. Although often competing against larger and better-equipped schools, DPEA’s robotic teams have received awards in regional, national, and international contests. Abo-Shaeer’s ability to motivate students and his enthusiasm for science education have transformed the culture at his high school.

DPEA participants are highly regarded by other students, and young women now comprise approximately half of the academy’s students—a proportion considerably above the national average in advanced high school science courses. He is currently developing plans to expand the curriculum to accommodate students at different academic levels, as well as to establish a training program for educators interested in undertaking similar efforts at other schools.

Wait a minute. He created this academy in a regular public high school that has teachers represented by a union? Well, how the heck did that happen when we hear that only charters are doing innovative things because of freedom from the shackles of union rules? Waiting for Superman sure missed this school. Oh wait, that's right, they don't show a single good public school in the entire film.

Also, you want to see probably one of the most high-functioning high schools in the country? Check out DPHS's website. They have AP, IB AND a gifted program and a nationally ranked jazz choir, drama, visual arts, academic team championships as well as athletic ones. It's amazing. Their SAT reading scores are nearly 60 points higher than the national average; the math scores are nearly 80 points higher. One last thing, they are 24% F/RL and have 9.3% ELL.

From their website:

“Dos Pueblos High deserves a special word of congratulations because it had the highest combined SAT scores this year, the highest combined percentage of students taking the SAT's, the highest AP scores, and the highest number of National Merit Scholarship finalists of all schools in the county, public or private.”

Bill Cirone, S. B. County Superintendent of Schools

It can be done.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Audit Committee Meeting Last Week

I missed Part 1 of the responses to the State Audit by the staff at the last Audit and Finance Committee meeting. Each issue has a number. They started at A5.16 (if you are keeping up). I am disappointed to have missed their explanation on a couple of the previous ones like:

A3.1 - District staff was not aware of state law on the use of capital project money or the guidance provided in the Schools Accounting Manual.
Staff in Accounting, Budget and Payroll attended a one-day workshop in July. Training for other staff started in August, 2010. The district will have to pay back $1.2M from the General Fund to the Capital Fund.

Well, if the words "staff was not aware of state law on the use of capital project money" doesn't scare you, I don't have much left until Halloween. These are the people spending your tax dollars on our school buildings. Also, this is not some obscure area of capital spending. I'll have to try to get the minutes from this meeting but I would love to hear what was said like where we find $1.2M in the General Fund to move to Capital and when it might happen.

Actually this whole story is quite odd and I'm still trying to figure it all out. All I can tell you is that a modest program to give help to small/minority businesses trying to do business with SPS morphed into a nearly $1M a year program with 40 classes. Why would anyone up the food chain have okayed this kind of spending when we are nearly a half-a-billion dollars in backlog maintenance (95% of which is capital maintenance)? The kind of thing that makes you go, hmmm.

Other items of interest from the previous meeting:
  • the district not reporting enrollment reporting based on actual weekly minutes of instruction (apparently SPS doesn't have the right kind of data system)
  • personal service contracts; "district policies and procedures are violated when work begins before contracts are approved by appropriate staff." Apparently this is an ongoing problem (despite telling all the central managers about the issue). It seems that they can't get things done in time to have a final contract with say the City or UW so they start the services before they finish the contract. They need "revised processes, training plan and accountability measures." Oh, that's all.
  • there are numerous payroll issues and I believe some of the payroll staff went to Chicago this summer for training. More on this later.
Attending the meeting were Carr, Maier, and DeBell with auditors from the state observing and various staff.

So at this meeting they started with Peter Maier backtracking to A5.12 on the credit cards. This may be somewhat specific to the Superintendent's "let them eat cake" retirement party because he said that the Auditor had said that the district had no policies on food/beverage (I think it was around parties and banquets but I'll have to check.) Peter says there is one and wanted to note that (but offered no evidence).

One fun one was that A5.16 was about fuel cards and "unreasonable" charges. Staff says that sometimes gas cans are used (for example by landscaping staff for mowers) and that could be it. Hard to say if gas cans could explain all of it.

A5.18 - fuel cards' PIN numbers being shared by staff. This one got Sherry's attention. She said at Boeing "that would be a fireable offense." Not much response there. Staff claims this practice has ended because cards can have multiple PINS so people don't have to share. (I know, sounds odd to me.)

A.5.19 - Hey, the Auditor made an error here. It turns out that when they thought staff was getting gas at 1 a.m., it was 1 p.m.

A5.20 about rental revenue was interesting because again, the difficulty in understanding how our district runs as it does. Apparently the Events Coordinator was holding checks in an unsecured folder for up to a week at a time. Now someone will monitor that the Events Coordinator does this. Apparently the district staff got voluntary training on these issues (like handling money?) but now it will be mandatory. There were actually several rental revenue issues like creating petty cash funds which the staff isn't supposed to be doing.

Sherry reported that she and Duggan Harman, a senior classman in central adm, visited Northshore and Bellevue school districts to see how they stay on the straight and narrow with the Auditor. They were both impressed with their systems in place already. Sherry said that Northshore has tight controls about checks and the flow of money and a huge emphasis on "cash management." Should this really be news to our district? Again, tick tock, it's 2010.

A5.25 was another interesting one, this about records retention of building rental and ASB records. Staff tried to say that sometimes when a building is being rebuilt, they move out, things get lost or misplaced. Sherry said yes, she got that but if there is a law about records, then the Capital side staff should have a safety net policy in place for those high importance items. She suggested a "checklist" of work between move out and move in. (C'mon! They're killing me. A checklist? The district has NEVER thought of this?)

A5.27 was about not having minutes of a public hearing for I-728 funds which is mandated by the state. Duggan explained he was there and there was one person testifying. (And so that would mean the "minutes" were about 5 minutes long.) Sherry, Peter and Michael all chimed in that this was the law. Michael said that we use the SPS website to put up minutes of Board meetings (well, sometimes). Someone (I didn't record which Director) asked if there was a policy about recording the minutes of their Work Sessions. (Their own Work Sessions and they have no idea if there's a policy?)

Then they moved to the "S" issues.

S1.1 was about the district not complying with Federal requirements for competitive bidding. The district says "effective September 1, 2009, instituted a process of competitive bidding and sole source documentation." Now they say that this item is not a candidate for the '09-'10 audit but I think I know one place they didn't go out for a competitive bid. Michael seemed concerned about this one for capital projects (and he would be right).

S2.1 - Here they get to the Native American program problems. They say they are still in the process of refunding money to the feds because well, they got their number of students wrong and took too much money from the feds. They also said they created the parent committee required by the grant in April 2010 (this is good except it's been part of the grant compliance for a long time so what was the problem in creating it sooner).

Here's where they stopped for the day. It's quite a slog. What struck me is that Michael DeBell complained to KUOW about the time and money wasted on the failed recall election. What about the time and money wasted in having to sit in meeting after meeting because staff doesn't know/follow the law, policies or procedures they are supposed to be upholding (not to mention the actual correction work?) It's a HUGE waste of time especially since (1) some of this was noted in past audits and (2) the Moss-Adams report, way back when, basically covered a lot of the same ground but apparently no one was listening. So when the district says they are doing things differently, there's a lot of past history to suggest otherwise.

The Board had Holly Ferguson, another senior classman in Central, drafted a Board resolution about their response to the audit that will be introduced at the next Board meeting. I will have more to say about this but I want to write the Board first. I would term the first draft "tepid." Michael and Peter both said it wasn't descriptive enough nor did not describe the scope of the work. Holly, who apparently will be gone most of October, expressed concern over getting it rewritten in time for introduction.

My suggestion to the Board: write it yourselves.

My takeaway from this meeting is that there are a lot of excuses here. But in defense of staff, you know what I think the real problem is? I think staff is overloaded with work (at least some of them are). I think they are so busy putting out fires and/or dealing with the latest directives from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and Dr. Enfield, that they don't have the time or inclination to read about what they are to legally do and not do. The Auditor's office has said they believe the staff sometimes just does work and then waits to see if the Auditor says they did it wrong.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ask the President

NBC news is doing a weeklong series dedicated to public education.

Tomorrow night, Matt Lauer will interview President Obama about education. It will be at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. our time). From the Education Nation website:

The interview will kick off the two-day Education Nation Summit that will bring together some of the country's greatest thinkers to discuss topics such as how prepared our children are for the workforce, developing great teachers, technology and innovation in our schools and more.

The panel discussions will be carried on MSNBC and streamed online, live and on demand, at EducationNation.com and at msnbc.com.

You can also submit a question to the President here.

Questions to the Board and District

One of our readers (I'm sorry I've forgotten who) suggested a link for a list of questions that you yourself have submitted to either the Board or district staff. If you have sent a question in the last months or so, please send it to me (sss.westbrook@gmail.com). I'll start a list at the "links" section on the right-hand side of the SSS page.

Also, if you got an answer, please put that with your question (even if it is vague or didn't answer your question fully).

The idea is to keep track of what has been asked to staff and what we hear back.


Community Meetings/Work Sessions

Did anyone attend either Director Smith-Blum's meeting or Director Patu's meeting yesterday? I heard from one attendee to Smith-Blum's that there were about 40 people (including KIRO tv, interesting). Tracy Libros from Enrollment and Nancy Coogan the Central Regional Executive Director were also there.
  • Two-thirds of the discussion was around issues at Garfield. Kay and Tracy apparently said there could be some future redrawing of boundaries.
  • Why aren't their comparable quality AP classes at all high schools? (Interesting question but I'm not sure what they mean? Better teachers? Better AP course topics?)
  • Teacher from Schmitz Park came and noted how well they were doing using Singapore math and that he felt all elementaries should be free to choose their materials. Good for him.
  • Science curriculum at Garfield was also a topic (and needs a separate thread).
  • Lack of college counseling at Garfield (Kay said she had to work with her own kids.)
  • Nancy Coogan spoke about focusing on quality teachers and teaching in every classroom as well as accountable principals.
  • Tracy said that the predicted 400 extra students districtwide had grown to 700, most at the secondary level. Tracy, along with Kay, said that things would balance in 3-5 years. (Uh oh, here it comes.) Yup, some parents basically said, kids can't wait. Meaning, it's okay for my child to go through high school in an overstuffed, unresourced building while you figure this out? I would not say that is an acceptable answer.
  • Kay apparently said something quite interesting. To whit, that the district funding is strained and that some programs/positions might be sacrificed. Lowell said their school only funded a .5 Librarian and the PTA paid for the other .5 and that the Librarian was the one responsible for proctoring MAP.
Thanks to Ken Berry for this recap. Anyone have anything else to add?

Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting, 4-6 p.m.

Tuesday, September 28 at 6:30 – 8:00pm
Southeast Regional Welcome Back Meeting at Aki Kurose

Wednesday the 29th
Director Sundquist Community Meeting, 11-12:30p.m., Delridge Library, 5423 Delridge Way SW

Board Workshop on Budget Goals, 4-8 p.m. at the headquarters.

Thursday, September 30 at 6:30 – 8:00pm
West Seattle Regional Welcome Back Meeting at Chief Sealth

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Just Throwing This Out For Discussion

Elsewhere, in a discussion about the NW Regional meeting, a couple of commenters wondered aloud why Dr. Goodloe-Johnson isn't challenged more. I thought I would dive in with some thoughts and then see what others think.

First, we don't know if privately Board members take her aside and express their concerns to her. We don't know if they ever do that as a group or individually. I would suspect out of all the Board members that Michael DeBell would. Michael has a quiet, non-threatening way of saying things. However, that great ability also sometimes undercuts the seriousness of what he says. That the Board has always supported the Superintendent's actions publicly or in their votes seems to me to say they don't call her out privately.

Second, she does feel powerful and large and in charge. She's got the Alliance right in her pocket. (I smile now because an Alliance staffer once said at a meeting that the Alliance doesn't "work" for her. I beg to differ. They do nothing apparent to the visible eye that doesn't suit her agenda.) She's got the Times to back her up on everything. My surprise is kind of that I don't get how Publicola, Crosscuts, The Stranger, etc. let her off. I think some of that is the school district issues aren't on their radar (with the exception of Crosscuts) so they don't bother. The vote of no confidence from the SEA and the community polls that cast doubt on her leadership seem to be dust in the wind and so she just doesn't have to worry.

Third, even though the Auditor really called the district and the Board out, no one else did except the people here at this blog, both the writers and the readers. That must reinforce her believe that she is, indeed, untouchable. As for her new charm offensive, for her, it's probably, "okay I'll do this one thing they say I'm lacking in and then I'm golden."

As an aside, this is why it would be a good idea to vote against the supplemental levy. If you are on the fence about the direction this district is going or Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's leadership ("they're the experts so they probably? know best"), you might want to give it a good long thought. There is no one, I repeat NO ONE in this town who will stand up to her. Power unchecked is NOT a good thing. You can let everything she's doing play out and then in 3-5 years, smack your forehead and say "I could have done something."

So I come to my central premise which might explain all of the above. I was having a disagreement with someone from a city organization (not directly related to education) and I was told, "let's just say we see the glass differently." I truly get that people could accuse me of always seeing the glass half-empty and that others, believing it is more positive, see the glass half-full (the district being the glass).

BUT, I do see the glass both ways. My problem is that I don't think that the powers that be in this town (and a lot of parents/community) ever see the glass as half-empty.

They know things that are wrong and continue to be wrong in our district and yet it's rah, rah, go team. It's fine to "accentuate the positive and (try to) eliminate the negative." But it's not rational and/or good to turn away and not want to acknowledge that there are major problems in this district that are NOT being acknowledged publicly.

This isn't even about whether you like Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's initiatives or work style. It's about the basic functioning of our district. I almost laughed outloud the other day at the Audit meeting of the Finance and Audit Committee. It turns out that Director Carr and Duggan Harman, a upper classman in the SPS administration, have been visiting well-functioning districts to see how they do it. Great idea but really, a little pathetic. It's 2010 and our district still doesn't know how to function properly and with skill.

So a couple of questions. Please bear in mind that this district has been repeatedly reminded of its inefficiencies going back at least 10 years and yet we still have the same issues. I ask you to consider how the district functions versus how our schools are doing.

Do you think this district today is functioning better than it was 3 years ago? Do you think our schools are better schools than they were 3 years ago (or on their way)?

Do you think this district will be a better functioning district and/or one with better schools in 5 years?

So, for our district, is the glass half-empty or half-full (and do you, in conversations with others, acknowledge both)?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Open Thread Friday

To note for Saturday:

Director Smith-Blum Community meeting
10-11:30 am - Douglas Truth Public Library, 2300 Yesler Way at 23rd

Director Patu Community meeting
10-noon - 4400 Rainier Ave. S at Genesee

The district is claiming, in their bid for the TIF grant, that 3 years ago our district was "...a collection of independent schools operating with little direction and no accountability..."

I wrote to the Board asking them if they support that view. Ponder that and tell me if you think that was our district 3 years ago. (I have to say that stating there was no accountability 3 years ago as if there is accountability now is just the height of chutzpah.)

What's on your mind?

Superman and the Seattle Times

An editorial in today's Seattle Times buys into Waiting for Superman.

As usual from Times editorials, it is a bit difficult to cut away the meaningless language and try to determine what the Times is trying to say. In this case, the message seems to be "Don't get complacent about education just because your school and teachers are okay - there are parts of the city where children are not doing well and it is up to you to fix that for them." However Ms Varner doesn't offer us any means for helping these students.

Aside from that message of your responsibility to the less fortunate in your community, Ms Varner insinuates that the villian in this melodrama is the teachers' union - "the ills of public education's bloated bureaucracy: the high dropout rates, the widening achievement gap and powerful teachers unions that keep the conversation about adults rather than children"

Where does she live? What color is the sky on her planet?

Ms Varner says that we may all be like the film's director, David Guggenheim who "came to the topic after questioning why he drove past three public schools each weekday to drop his children off at a private school." Here are some facts: about 70% of Seattle schoolchildren attend public school. So, right there, rather than all of us being like Mr. Guggenheim, no more than 30% of us possibly could be. And, in case Ms Varner hadn't heard (because the Times hasn't reported it), our neighborhood schools are filled to overflowing. They are filled, for the most part, with neighborhood students. There are a few notorious exceptions.

She tries to guilt us by saying "We might all examine our blithe tolerance of schools we wouldn't send our children to." Then she tries to scold us some more "The task becomes more meaningful in Seattle Public Schools, where a return to neighborhood boundaries diminishes an option many parents had to escape the worst schools: leave them for someone else's kids."

But that's exactly her solution - like Mr. Guggenheim's solution: escape the bad public schools for the Charter schools and leave the worst schools for someone else's kids. Ms Varner writes "Imagine what we could accomplish if we stopped thinking about adults and thought about what children needed: chiefly more, not fewer, learning options."

She seems perfectly content to leave the bad schools wallowing in failure so long as a few lucky students can escape. Well, that may allow her to be blithely tolerant of bad schools, but some of us have been working hard to get the District to do something about them. The District, however, has refused to take the necessary steps. And not because the teachers' union has stood in their way.

Seattle Public Schools has millions to spend on all kinds of administrative re-organizations and systems, but the Strategic Plan hasn't done a thing to improve academics. The curricular alignment effort is a fine idea, but the execution has been botched. The result is a loss of the best, no repairs for the worst, and the de-professionalization of teaching. The introduction of formative assessments is useful for the collection of data, but there is no action taken in response to that data. It is like taking careful measurements of the size of the bus, its speed and direction, the number of children onboard and their heights, but doing nothing to stop the bus as it drives off a cliff.

For all of the millions that Seattle Public Schools has spent on consultants and buildings and technology, why doesn't the district have any money to provide early and effective interventions for students working below grade level? Why isn't it a priority to give struggling students the support they need to achieve and progress? Why is everything else a higher priority? It is not because the teachers' union won't allow it. The teachers' union doesn't set the budget priorities.

The fault lies completely with the District administration and the Board. They set the budget priorities. They decide what is worthy for investment and what is not. They choose software and consultants over support for students. Who is going to hold them accountable and how?

Our District

I got a little irritated this morning because I got an e-mail saying I was nit-picking over the language used by the district for the federal grant for teacher evaluation. Here was my reply (and my frustration) because honestly, what more evidence to people want? Does anyone really, truly believe that things aren't "that" bad? And now, with apologies to Sarah Palin, my e-mail:

"Linda Shaw from the Times called me last night for my reaction on the grant. I told her it was good news and free money for something that both the district and union were working together on. I had good things to say.

I think it worth saying that what the district said to the feds about SPS and what they said in the press release are different. Want to know what they said about our district?

Over the last three years, Seattle has moved from a collection of independent schools operating with little direction and no accountability, to one with clear system-wide performance goals, aligned supports to help schools and staff meet expectations, and differentiated interventions based on performance.

Really? Our district, the district I have been, yes, a cheerleader for as well as a critic, the district that I proudly graduated both my sons from was a hodge-podge of schools with little direction and (hilarious!) "no accountability", this was my district? No, it was not and that anyone within SPS would say that is disrespectful (no matter how badly you want money).

Words have meaning. I tell my readers all the time to choose their words carefully. And, I take what others write seriously so when I hear my district being described in less-than-truthful terms, I speak up. That's not nit-picking.

Accountability? Let's see what the State Auditor says about the leadership and management of this district:

“The School Board and District management have not implemented sufficient policies and controls to ensure the District complies with state laws, its own policies, or addresses concerns identified in prior audits.”

“The District’s Board and Management have placed public resources at risk.”

If that doesn't scare you about how the money and our district are being managed, I don't know what will. Finding after finding shows people not doing their jobs or their fuduciary duty to taxpayers. And yet we continue to give them a blank check.

The levy money will NOT offset cuts to school budgets, reduce class size or restore any school level funding. The bulk of the money in the levy is designated for the Performance Management Framework, NOT to classrooms. You say it won't cover the shortfall and you're right because they have other plans for the money. Note that the teachers contract covers 3 years of raises and yet the levy only mentions 2. Why they don't say that they will be covering all 3 years out of the levy is a mystery.

There is money in the levy for textbooks but there's a catch. Some of those textbooks are for the curriculum alignment going on and with LA that came with a $750K contract for a consultant. That's where some of that money will go. And, to be clear. The state doesn't fund textbooks. That is the responsibility of the districts. Our district has NOT had a line item for textbooks for over a decade. So why are our textbooks falling apart? Because our district hasn't kept up with one of the MOST basic items for student achievement in the classroom - textbooks. And now, hey taxpayers, we haven't kept up so give us more money.

We have a nearly half a billion dollar backlog in maintenance because our district, over the last 15 years, has chosen to cut back and cut back. It was announced at a recent Work Session on maintenance that now 95% of that backlog is capital maintenance. That means it can only be fixed through capital funds which are levies and bonds. At the rate we pass those levies and bonds, we may never catch up.

If it is nitpicking to wonder why we don't pay for textbooks and maintenance for our school buildings, then I am one happy nitpicker. You can look away and make excuses but it is clear that our district is putting lipstick on a pig. We are simply not dealing with the basics of being a well-run and well-maintained district. That fact is clear.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

THe District Wins Big (What Does It Mean for the Levy)?

(NOTE: I updated this thread a couple of hours later to reflect other info I saw in the news release.)

It was announced today that the district has won a $12.5M Teacher Incentive Grant. This is money to be used for staffing at 34 high-need schools over 5 years. There are a lot of interesting things in both the feds' press release and the district's. Let's start with the district's PR.

The five- year TIF program seeks to strengthen the education profession by rewarding excellence, attracting teachers and principals to high-need and hard to staff areas, and providing all teachers and principals with the feedback and support they need to succeed.

“I want to thank our teachers and leaders for their work to reach this historic agreement, which was a key factor that evaluators considered when they awarded this grant to our district.” (Dr. Goodloe-Johnson)

Glenn Bafia, Seattle Education Association’s (SEA) Executive Director, said that “SEA is excited
that portions of our negotiated collective bargaining agreement will be funded thanks to this TIF grant. We all worked very hard to get this agreement, knowing that we would have to work together to secure the needed funding.

What is weird is that they are saying this is part of a larger $21M project and no one I have spoken to can figure out where that number comes from. It isn't the levy number which is $19M for teacher evaluation processes.

From the district:
Over five years, this project will directly impact more than 800 teachers and 54 principals and
assistant principals; and most importantly, more than 16,000 students who will be led by
motivated, highly effective teachers and principals across 34 target high-need schools. After the project period, SPS will sustain the momentum enabled by this TIF grant to reach all schools in our K-12 system, the largest in the state, and set an example for school systems throughout the rest of the state.

"...will sustain the momentum..." - how? They don't even buy textbooks in a timely fashion. They don't even have a line item in the district budget for textbooks. So how will they find the money to sustain this effort? Not saying they shouldn't but where's the reality check? (I have to smile a bit because I'm sure it isn't often that SPS is an "example" for other school districts.)

And fyi, that's 34 schools out of 88 schools.

Here's the really weird one (and don't be drinking anything when you do this because you might do a spit take) from the feds (bold mine):

Over the last three years, Seattle has moved from a collection of independent schools operating with little direction and no accountability, to one with clear system-wide performance goals, aligned supports to help schools and staff meet expectations, and differentiated interventions based on performance. This work to design and implement a performance management system for the district, schools and central office departments provides SPS with the foundation needed to be successful with the next phase of work: developing a similar system for our most impactful employees - teachers and principals.

What's funny is how SPS is now phrasing it:

Over the last three years, Seattle has taken significant steps toward becoming a coherent
system where all schools and central staff work together to achieve clear goals for student

So we were a hodge-podge of schools just operating independently before Saint Maria came. Too bad the feds don't know that she doesn't know how to manage a district given what the State Auditor has said about her work and the work of her management team.

What this grant will do:
  • Recruit: Incentives for recruiting principals and teachers to high-need, low-performing schools;
  • Mentor: Mentoring programs for teachers and principals;
  • Support: Teacher and principal professional development aligned to new evaluation;
  • Evaluate and Assess: System includes observations and student growth measures for evaluating teachers and student achievement goals for principals; and
  • Recognize/Reward and Retain: Career ladder opportunities for teachers; incentives for teachers in high-need, low-performing schools; and principal incentive pay for high performers.
Note that even though we still don't have a principal contract, there is principal "incentive pay for high performers."

From the Big Promises Division:

The ultimate outcome of the proposed work will be a dramatic improvement in student
achievement. Specifically, SPS expects that over the next five years the district will see a 15
percentage point decline in the number of schools performing in the lowest two segments of our quantitative performance framework.

So reading that I thought it was a 15% improvement for those schools and it's a 15% decline in the NUMBER of schools performing in the lowest two segments. Oh.

From the feds info:

Seattle Public Schools' state of readiness meets all three absolute competition priorities, but not all competitive preferences and core PBCS elements. Much of what is outlined in this proposal is currently being or will need to be bargained with our union partners. Therefore, SPS proposes taking one year to plan, further refine, and engage stakeholders in the proposed work plan. The district is committed to good faith bargaining and continuous improvement - as a result, we are confident of a productive planning year. Over the subsequent four years, SPS will roll-out new teacher and principal evaluations that include student growth expectations and offer recognition and rewards for high performers.

Engage stakeholders - again, something they told the feds but neglected to put in the press release. I think this paragraph is pretty darn important (and the SPS is two pages and still not there). Interesting what they told the feds but not the Seattle community.

Applicants were also required to demonstrate a high level of local educator support and
involvement and a plan for financial sustainability after the 5 year grant award period. Applicants received additional points for using value added measures, attracting effective teachers in hard to staff subject or specialty areas, and for being a first-time applicant.

Who is ready for some astonishing news?

Here is the agenda (posted today) for today's meeting of the Audit & Finance Committee:

Thursday Sept. 23, 2010 ~~~ 4:00 – 6:00 pm

Audit Issues

1. Call to Order
- a. Board members present
- b. Approval of agenda
- c. Approval of 8/26 meeting minutes

2. Committee Discussion
60 min - a. Review of audit response (starting with A5.16)
15 min - b. Review finance policy work plan H. Ferguson
05 min - c. Discuss Board Resolution regarding audit responses H. Ferguson
15 min - d. Update outlining changes from last A&F Committee Mtg. D. Harman
15 min - e. Update on CGCS Conf. to include learning regarding key indicators and internal controls D. Kennedy
- f. RFP for external audit firm
10 min- g. Discuss addition of public member to Audit Committee S. Carr

If I right leave now, I might get there in time to witness this last discussion item with my own eyes.

Central Region Welcome Back Meeting report

I attended the Central Region Welcome Back Meeting last night at Bailey Gatzert. A lot of folks were there, Michael DeBell and Kay Smith-Blum from the School Board, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, Susan Enfield, Nancy Coogan and most of the principals from the region, also Bernardo Ruiz and Patty Spencer from the District, and a number of familiar community faces including Solyn McCurdy from the Alliance, Kerry Cooley-Stroum from CPPS and SchoolsFirst!, Ramona Hatterdorf from the SCPTA, Chris Jackins, and Jane Fellner - among others, and about 30 citizens whom I hadn't met.

Bernardo Ruiz welcomed us and introduced Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. She spoke of the District's mission to create the kinds of classrooms we all want for our sons and daughters, that the Strategic Plan represented a moral belief and a commitment to provide excellence for all, that the curricular alignment was about assuring access to grade level instruction, quality materials, acceleration where appropriate and intervention where needed. She spoke of re-designing the central office to focus it on supporting schools and kids. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson acknowledged that we weren't there yet, but that we were making progress and moving in the right direction. She then introduced Dr. Enfield.

Dr. Enfield spoke of how the Education Director job had been re-designed, not just by region instead of grade level (to facilitate interaction between the grade levels) but also to re-focus it on supporting the principals to support instruction. She spoke of the Teaching and Learning Leadership Team (TLLT) that she formed consisting of herself, the five education directors, and the heads of bilingual education, special education and advanced learning, and how they work together to support learning for all students.

Bernardo offered folks the opportunity to ask a question in front of everybody, but only one person spoke, to gush about how wonderful Bailey Gatzert school is. It was really nice to hear.

I first spoke with Michael DeBell. I spoke to him about the plan to allow schools to experiment with alternative materials, but that the District would build a stop-loss into the experiment. If the outcomes didn't meet a benchmark, the experiment would be stopped. While I understood the concern that 300 students might be using poor materials, I wondered why we didn't show a similar concern for 30,000 students and build a stop-loss into the adoption of Board-approved materials. Director DeBell was candid, cordial, and cautious, as he almost always is. He agreed that such an accountability measure would be a good thing to include, but that we often don't have well-defined expectations for student outcomes. We have them for reading and math, it's true. He then reminded me that accountability requires two things: first the expected outcomes, metrics, assessments and benchmarks, but also the will to enforce the accountability. Without saying as much he acknowleged the lack of will within the District leadership to enforce accountability. We commisserated a bit about the Southeast Initiative and then I let other folks talk to him.

I introduced myself to Nancy Coogan, the ed director for the Central Region. Boy, I like her. She was open and candid, energetic and optimistic. I shared with a story about how - before anyone stated otherwise - folks were concerned that curricular alignment might be misapplied to NOVA in a way that would devastate the program. I told her that now that Dr. Enfield had addressed the issue and assured folks that NOVA would not be steamrolled by curricular alignment everyone was much relieved. Dr. Coogan has been to NOVA and freakin' loves it. She told me that the program has an advocate in her.

In a later conversation with Kay Smith-Blum and Dr. Coogan I learned that Garfield's enrollment, as of that day, was 1784. Yikes! The school had trouble last year finding space for all of the students when the enrollment was about 1600. I was told that the Mann building was being considered as an annex, but it has been partially rented out. That was news to me.

I got to talk a bit with Susan Enfield and I asked her about the status of Response to Intervention. I told her that I thought it was the highest priority in the District and how dismayed I was at the lack of regard and funding the project was getting. She told me how important she thinks it is also, but that there's no funding for it. She's hoping to pilot it again this year in an elementary, a middle school and a high school. I don't understand how this can be such a high priority for the Chief Academic Officer and still not get attention or funding.

I had a very brief exhange with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson at the end. I didn't want to ask her a question but she insisted. I asked her for examples of accountability and she started with herself. She said that she was accountable for the District Scorecard. I questioned the data point on the scorecard that 82% of Strategic Plan projects were ontime and about the status of the response to the APP audit. She didn't share my impression that they were practically all overdue and she qualified the measure to "ongoing" projects. I asked about the Southeast Initiative and she claimed that the annual benchmarks and project goals HAD been made public and presented twice and she refused to acknowledge the effort as a failure. She went on about how we can't expect results in just three years. I asked her why, in that case, there were expected results for the project. Apparently those were aspirational goals, not accountable ones. She also said that success shouldn't be measured in just enrollment. Umm. Success in increasing enrollment can be measured in enrollment. I didn't want to be talking to her, it just made me feel icky, so I broke it off. There was no point to it. If she cannot admit that the Southeast Education Initiative utterly failed to achieve its stated goal or meet the statistical goals set for it then there is just no point talking to her.

Legal Roundup

From the Times:

A former drug-and-alcohol-intervention specialist at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School was convicted Wednesday of one count of conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, four counts of distribution of oxycodone and one count of possession of oxycodone with intent to distribute, according to the U.S Attorney's Office.

None of the drug sales involved students.

On one occasion, Smith allegedly left Rainier High School during school hours to meet the informant two blocks away to make a drug deal, according to the indictment.

Smith faces up to 20 years in prison for each count when he is sentenced on Jan. 6.

From the Times:

A paralegal for Seattle Public Schools is expected to be charged this week for allegedly selling crack cocaine to an informant working for Seattle police.

It appears that the transactions occurred away from any school district building.

The police report did not say whether Bryant is believed to have been selling drugs to students. Authorities say that Bryant went by the street name "Teach."

That's a pretty disrespectful thing to call yourself given where he works but maybe he thought it was hilarious.

He is on paid administrative leave with the district.

From KUOW on the School Board recall case:

The latest attempt to recall a majority of the Seattle School Board from office failed Tuesday. A judge in King County Superior Court says parents who filed the recall petition did not have sufficient grounds.

Michael DeBell said this:

DeBell: "Litigation and recall and so on uses up district resources that otherwise could be spent in the classroom. And I would encourage the community members who are unsatisfied with the direction of the school district to use the democratic means."

Really? The district is just paying out almost $1M for a sexual harassment/retaliation case and he's whining about these legal fees? Also, isn't going to court part of our democratic process? (This is a major reaction that I hate. "If you don't like it, run yourself." or "Wait for the next election and vote them out." Both are true but pat answers. Also, tick tock, where is the Board's response to their part in the state audit? Oh, it's okay if they just say "we'll do better." Good to know.)

The judge said something different.

The judge commended parents who filed the recall. He said they participated in a process that's legally complicated. One of the parents was there for the ruling. She said she had not understood the recall process in the beginning. She agreed her petition did not have what the court calls legal or factual sufficiency.

The plaintiffs will not appeal. What is odd here is that the only citation I can pull up is from KUOW. No Times? No Publicola? Hmmm.

Passing of a Great Activist

I want to note the passing of Roberto Maestas, a civil rights leader in Seattle. He helped found El Centro de La Raza which serves the Mexican-American community. He was 72.

He was a former SPS teacher at Franklin High School. He was part of a loose gang of 4 called the Four Amigos with King County Councilman Larry Gossett, the late Native American leader Bernie Whitebear and Bob Santos, a voice in the Asian-American community.

Mr. Gossett said of him:

"No one has been more on the front lines of every significant movement for social change in the Northwest than Roberto."

It's funny because I knew who he was, our paths crossed numerous times at many meetings and yet somehow we never met. But his presence loomed large at any meeting and he was a great speaker.

"In lieu of flowers, Mr. Maestas' family asks that contributions be made in his name to El Centro de la Raza, with the funds to be used to establish a college fund for Latino students."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Various Small Notes

Here are some nuggets from my email inbox that I thought might be of interest.

Strategies 360 is hiring an Education Communications Manager. You could be the flak for Education Reform in Seattle - if you have what it takes.

A fellow wrote to the Board and the Superintendent with this question:
I would like to see the district's analysis of why the Schmitz Park Elementary has such a fantastic standard Math pass rate. I'm sure the district has noticed this and determined the reasons why such a success cannot be replicated.
To which Dr. Goodloe-Johnson replied:
Thank you for your question [name deleted]. The district has had conversations around success and areas of improvement. We have targeted schools to analyze and learn from, we will share publically when we are finished.
I think both the question and the answer were disingenuous. The person writing pretended not to know about Singapore and so did the Superintendent. Hee-larious.

Diane Ravitch, education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education, will head “"Race to Where?," a forum on the damaging realities of education reform, Tuesday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m., at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium.

Does Merit Pay Work (Redux)?

Yet another study, this one from Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives (boy that's specific) in the Times.

The study released Tuesday by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives researchers found that students in classrooms where teachers received bonuses saw the same gains as the classes where educators got no incentive.

"I think most people agree today that the current way in which we compensate teachers is broken," said Matthew Springer, executive director of the Vanderbilt center and lead researcher on the study. "But we don't know what the better way is yet.

They state that 5-8th grade teachers in Nashville public schools over 3 years from 2007-2009 could make between $5k-$15K annually, depending on how their students tested.

A bit issue here as in a study in Florida is that you are talking about individual bonuses which tend to pit teachers against each other. Maybe merit pay would be better for team-based teaching or school-wide merit pay. Does merit pay make a mediocre teacher try harder? Can money alone do that or would a school/district need to add more professional development to kick it up?

The Department of Ed had its own take on the research:

"It only looked at the narrow question of whether more pay motivates teachers to try harder," said Sandra Abrevaya, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. "What we are trying to do is change the culture of teaching by giving all educators the feedback they need to get better while rewarding and incentivizing the best to teach in high need schools, hard to staff subjects."

Really? That's what merit pay is to the DOE - an incentive for teachers to teach harder-to-staff subjects in high schools? Odd.

Then you have this: if teachers are getting better test scores out of their students, are teachers "better" teachers and are their students "brighter?"

The Gates Foundation is funding a $100 million grant in one district in Florida to try to figure this out and fine-tune it.

From CBS news:

The Superintendent in that district said, "We're committed to make sure we get the program right, that it's fair, that it's equitable."

In fact, it appears to have worked at Sulphur Springs. The "F" the school got two years ago is gone. It became a "B"-rated school this year.

NE Regional Meeting

There were about 30-40 parents in attendance at the meeting along with a plethora of staff; Dr. Goodloe-Johnson (who came about 7 p.m.), Dr. Enfield, all the NE principals, Bernardo Ruiz of Family Engagement and Directors Maier, Carr and Martin-Morris.

A couple of heads up for anyone attending the other meetings. One, for some reason they had the sign-in sheets in the auditorium instead of when you head in. So look for those if the building you are in is using an auditorium. Also, they had two tables at Eckstein and different handouts at each so check if you want to make sure you get everything. Two, get those questions ready because they took any and all questions.

I was surprised to see a table of Starbucks coffee, bottled water and granola bars for the audience. It's a nicety but I thought we were a poor district. I asked Dr. Enfield and she said she didn't know what budget this came out of. Apparently I hit a nerve because Dr. Goodloe-Johnson later said the district didn't pay for it. (Alliance for Ed gave SPS a food budget? Who knows?)

It took awhile to get started as there were introductions to all the principals, some of the staff and the Board members. The meeting was introduced as the "Superintendent kicking off her public engagement plan." We were told that Job #1 for the Executive Directors is to support principals as instructional leaders. Also, parents, if you have a concern, you must go to your teacher first, then the principal and THEN the Executive Director. This was pretty much the extent of explaining the new regional system which I thought a little odd.

The Superintendent seemed quite relaxed. She told us a fairly long story about her daughter wanting to pick her own kindergarten teacher and being told she couldn't but that her daughter was happy in the end. She said Maya was filled with joy and that she wanted every parent to be "filled with joy" with their child's teacher. She emphasized that she wanted parents as partners in the district.

She had ended her remarks saying something about an excellent classroom so I was the first question of the night, "What is an excellent classroom?" Her reply was that it means teachers are supported as professional and so they can support students whether they are ELL, special ed, etc. and provide a way that provides access to standards and creating that ability to do so.

I had to laugh a little. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson always has so much to pack into a thought that somehow, sometimes the thought gets a little lost. Also, she suffers from my disease which is speaking too quickly.

Other Questions:
  • movement of principals? Yes, there was a lot of movement but they couldn't anticipate all the moves, "life happens and people make choices". They hired 20 new to the district principals.
  • testing and the district's view? An odd question so she basically outlined what tests the students take.
  • question on quality teacher versus what we find out from testing, something of a "sanity check" on teacher performance? We expect students will grow and that it will be typical growth against standards. (I think I know what the parent was asking here but I don't think Dr. G-J wanted to answer. I think it was how do you measure all the qualities of a good teacher versus a test score.)
  • teacher contract and the supplemental levy? This was interesting because the parent said he knew virtually nothing about the levy which is not good for the district. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had Peter Maier answer the question about the levy but he really bobbled it. He said the levy will "fill the gap by the cuts by the legislature." He explained that some of it would be for teacher raises, paying for collaboration time, career ladder stipends but he left out the $2.4M implementation cost. (The levy sheet says it will reduce the gaps and so there's this big question of whether we are restoring money that was cut or just partially filling hole and if so, which ones. The levy sheet says " ...we can't specify the services and programs at this time." Ah, so just give us a blank check.)
  • Then there was an interesting question about the music programs at Eckstein, Roosevelt and Hale. I want to do a separate thread on this but basically, the parents are worried that due to lack of students in the orchestra at Hale, they want to try to allow those students to go to Roosevelt at the end of the day to work with their orchestra. They also have a long-term plan to "grow" students so that all high schools can have an orchestra program (which needs a critical mass). Parents working out solutions; there's the partnership that Dr. G-J could embrace.
  • Coming middle school crowding in NE? Dr. G-J kind of danced around this one saying that in December, the district will be looking at issues that have arisen from the new NSAP. She didn't directly address this question but that's the time they will be addressing any and all issues. This parent did press on and Dr. G-J did mention the October 1 counts for each building.
  • Unhappy parent over the NSAP. This was a funny question only because this parent was obviously foreign-born and said she had come to this country for choice and now there isn't any in SPS. Dr. G-J did explain that the process had come over 3 years. Sherry said they did it, in part, to save transportation dollars.
  • Parent who is part of the less than 30 families left with two kids in two schools because of the NSAP. She had brought both her children and said that she couldn't move her oldest to the youngest new school because of the program at the older child's school. So she is homeschooling the younger one for this year. It was asked if the waitlist could be continued for these families? Basically Dr. G-J said no, that it ends on Sept. 30th.
  • Chris Jackins asked that the transportation savings be submitted in a report. Dr. G-J admitted that they were supposed to and it was late and "I'll be happy to check" which I'm hoping isn't a Don Kennedy "I'll get back to you."
  • Question about "standardized curriculum" and what about schools that have other things that work? I could tell the Superintendent was not happy because yes, she said, "We are not standardizing the curriculum. We are aligning it." She did mention that teachers can supplement and do creative things and that it doesn't change what alts do. My question would be about pacing guides and the district not paying for supplemental materials so how possible IS it for teachers to be creative?
We were told all the questions and answers were recorded and would be posted at the SPS website and this would happen for all the regional meetings.

Then we broke off into informal groups to ask the various staff questions. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson circulated the room. She even came up to me and asked if all my questions had been answered. I said yes but really, what else could I say that late in the day?

In summary, I was a little surprised that more wasn't explained about the benefits of the new regions to parents. However, this was a great time to have access to key staff including the Superintendent. I guess the jury is out on the Superintendent's new charm offensive but in the spirit of wanting to believe the best in people, I give her credit. (This doesn't mean that she and I are new BFFs or that I have changed my mind on her agenda but it does mean that she's a human being making an effort - albeit a lot late - to reach out.)

Question about NSAP

Lots to report from the Regional meeting last night but that's for later. Right now, I have a question about the NSAP that I wanted to put out there before I write to Tracy in Enrollment.

I was talking with some parents and was told, by two of them, that they got their child's assignment to Roosevelt just before school started.

They both said they got in on the 10% set-aside seats, not waitlist movement.

I was a bit startled because I would have thought the 10% set-aside lottery happened months ago. Does anyone have anything they know about the NSAP to explain this? Why would the lottery be held in the last few days before school?

Really, Final Warning

Despite having explained that this blog doesn't accept Anonymous comments, there are still some coming up. Sometimes I can tell that it's someone new to the blog so I give them a one-day pass. But our policy is stated right at "Leave Your Comment" so no more.

To be clear, if you write something Anonymously, sooner or later, it will be deleted. Probably sooner. Also, while I don't particularly like signing at the END of the comment, I'll let it go. At least people reading comments will be able to refer back to your comment.

Also, hijacking threads. We have also provided for a way for you to let us know about interesting articles or thoughts.

The first way is to e-mail me at sss.westbrook@gmail.com. As you may have noticed, I do put up other people's ideas. Sometimes it takes a day or so but I check that address every day in case something burning is in there.

The second way is at Open Thread Friday.

(Of course, if there is breaking news, sure put it in on any new thread.)

I noted this morning that the Garfield PTSA thread had 3 off-topics in it. If your comment is not on topic, it may be deleted.

This is NOT to exercise censorship but to keep the threads on point. I personally find it distracting and I know that for others they have limited time and do not want to read comments not related to the thread title. (I do realize that some topics are broader so they can be expanded and that's okay.)

Carry on and stay calm.

Seattle Times Truth Needle

For the upcoming elections, the Seattle Times is running a feature called The Truth Needle. The Seattle Times political team investigates the claims of candidates and campaigns and renders an opinion on whether the claims are true or false.

I have submitted the claims, by SchoolsFirst!, that the supplemental levy is needed to restore cuts to the District budget resulting from reduced support from the State.

While I am fairly confident that any comparison between the budget cuts and the planned spending for the levy revenue will disprove the claim, I am much less confident that the Seattle Times will choose to examine the claim.

I think it would be helpful if a number of other people also suggested that the Truth Needle review this claim by SchoolsFirst! (and other levy supporters). You can submit a claim for review from the Truth Needle web page.

Monday, September 20, 2010

One More to Add

Garfield is having a General PTSA meeting tonight and guess what the topic is:

The adverse impact the new enrollment plan has had on our building
is significant and compounding. Some of the issues include:

*Overcrowding (no authority to set capacity limits)
*Lack of teachers, counselors, security, maintenance, and administrative staff.
*Reduced choices for course of study for students
*Impact on school culture and success

Tonight. 7pm in the Commons just inside the main entrance).
District leaders who care want to hear your experience and concerns about this issue.

Special guests at tonight's PTSA General Meeting include:

SeattleSchool Board Director, Kay Smith-Blum
Executive Director of Schools, Nancy Coogan
Director of Planning and Enrollment, Tracy Libros