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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Teacher Contract Press Conference

(Update: ack! I know it's Tracy Record at WSB, not Read. Apologies to Tracy and thanks to Mark A. for correcting me.)

I wanted to report back on the press conference. I attended with Dorothy Neville and I think we were possibly the only real members of the public there.

I asked again if I could have a press credential because I asked why Tracy Record of the West Seattle blog (who wasn't there but sometimes is) gets a press pass. I was told that (1) I'm not a real journalist and (2) I don't write more broadly (meaning, I only write about public education). Also, I write for a blog which is commentary and not reporting. More on this in a minute.

There was a grand total of ONE news organization (there might have been more but no one I recognized). It was a guy from KING-TV shooting B roll footage for the station. So basically, I will be the only person in all of Seattle reporting what happened at the press conference that the district put together because they wanted the world to know about the teacher contract that got negotiated between SPS and the SEA. (I hope everyone who attended got a lot out of it. No one else will because it got no media coverage.)

So what happened? Not much. There were 6 speakers. Steve Sundquist got up and spoke as the Board's rep on the contract negotiations. Then Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Then Councilman Tim Burgess followed by Estela Ortega of El Centro de la Raza. She was followed by George Griffin, III, the chair for the Alliance for Education and finally Chris Korsmo of the League of Education Voters.

I know - where's someone from the SEA? or the PTSA? As it turns out, the president of the SEA, Olga Addae, was there but had declined to speak. Apparently, there were communications issues (as she tactfully put it) and the very good point that the district was having a press conference about a contract that WAS ratified by the SEA but not yet by the Seattle School Board. (The vote is at tonight's Board meeting.) Why the district didn't wait until tomorrow after the vote was taken is a mystery.

The president of the PTSA, Ramona Hattendorf, was not there but there was a letter from her in the press packet (yes, I got that even though I'm not press). The PTSA was not acknowledged in any speaker's remarks.

Steve - blah, blah, student learning is central to all. Did ask, as a private citizen, for support for the levy to carry out the contract.

Dr. G-J - She thanked a lot of people involved in the negotiations. Acknowledged Olga Addae. Referenced this national trend of teacher assessment based on student "growth." She said one interesting thing - she said there was a "real culture shift that student achievement will drive all decisions at our schools." That is a cultural shift in SPS? I would have thought that student achievement was always the driver for decisions but apparently not. She acknowledged the Alliance and their "Our Schools" coalition which was interesting because the original coalition - the Seattle Organizers that I was a part of with LEV, Stand for Children, CPPS, League of Women Voters, PTSA, etc. - met with the Superintendent and SEA long before Our Schools did.

Tim Burgess - good day for children and teachers. "This contract places SEA and SPS at the front of ed reform movement."

Estela Ortega - said that good education is a social justice issue and this contract "puts us on the map." She also said that the Times' editorial on the SAT scores in Washington State did not mention how Latinos fared.

George Griffin - A bit of a meandering speech that I didn't follow. He did say the superintendent was very courageous and that she has his confidence and that of the Alliance. He said it was one thing to put together a coalition and another to mobilize it and that the Alliance had with Our Schools. (I'm still mystified at what they actually did besides all agree to put their names on the same sheet of paper.)

Chris Korsmo - She said that education had been a front-burner issue for the last year and a half in the country but not here. What?!? She said job one is to help low-performing schools have high performing teachers. (I would love to hear comments on that statement so I will withhold any of my own.) I asked her later why, in her remarks, she did not acknowledge the Seattle Organizers group despite the fact that (1) we meet in LEV's offices, there are no less than 3 LEV staffers in the group and (3) we organized and met with district and SEA leaders long before anyone else. She said she did thank the community groups. Oh.

The press conference ended on a lame note with the head of Communications sorry, the "executive director of Communications") saying that people could ask individual questions of the speakers but the press conference was over. Tim Burgess made a beeline for the door and people drifted off to chat each other up.

I guess after writing this I have to ask again, why can't I have asked a question? We are supposed to take, at face value, that this teachers contract is the best thing for our children since sliced bread without one single question asked.

Luckily, Publicola got wind of this and wrote about it (see below). Please do comment on it at their website if you feel so moved.

Today’s Loser: Bloggers

Blogger Melissa Westbrook was all geared up today to cover a Seattle Public Schools press conference on the new union contract for her site, Save Our Schools. When she called up to confirm she was on the press list, SPS communications people told her she wouldn’t be allowed to ask any questions (Westbrook says the Mayor’s office lets her ask questions at press conferences all the time).

SPS spokesperson Teresa Wippel told us Westbrook isn’t allowed to ask questions because of the organization she represents—a “watchdog” that provides critical commentary on the school district. By way of example, Wippel says SPS would allow a Seattle Times columnist to as questions because, as Wippel says, “[the Times] is a news organization, and provides news as well as opinion.”

Sounds like a slippery slope to us—one little question couldn’t hurt, could it?

28 comments:

seattle citizen said...

Melissa writes,
"George Griffin...said it was one thing to put together a coalition and another to mobilize it and that the Alliance had with Our Schools. (I'm still mystified at what they actually did besides all agree to put their names on the same sheet of paper.)"

No mystery about it: The Alliance has been working longer with the district and with Gates. There was not yet a strong connection in the minority community. Tim Burgess had a bright idea to bring the two (four, if you count Gates and SPS) in Our Schools Coalition: He worked deals, minority groups got "represented" (and, most likely, some side deals over there behind the curtain in the smokefilled room), Burgess got to jump on the "reform" bandwagon, maybe getting some votes from the minority power blocks, certainly some promise of campaign money from Gates....The Alliance got to distance itself from the survey, which was called out publicly (and reformatted through OSC, which doesn't care if anyone calls BS on THEIR version of it, because their whole purpose is to issue press releases, wear bright shirts at board meetings and sell their product - a few voices complaining about their stupid survey are drowned out by loud noise paid for by Gates and Broad and managed by Strategies 360's Karen Waters.

So what Griffin did was to go along with Burgess' cynical and uninformed venture into "reform") where, apparently, Norm Rice joins him, along with Cheryl Chow and three other city councilmembers.

Griffin middlemanned between Gates and Burgess and the minority communities and SPS.

To which, WV says, "sparf."

seattle citizen said...

Oh, and Griffin not only distanced his organization from the crappy survey by shoving it into the newly formed OSC's hands, but he also got to create another organization that could take over as the Gates conduit: Everybody was commenting on how sold-out the Alliance was, how they'd become the money managers for Gates/SPS intrigues, so the Alliance deflected attention away from itself by creating this new group. Why else does OSC exist, when the Alliance, or LEV, or any of the other established organizations that used to have at least some small credibility could do what OSC does?
OSC is the flash-bang, gee whiz media blitz of the Alliance and LEV. OSC isn't in it for the long haul, it'll only last thru the election cycle, then, it's purpose done, it goes away.

Charlie Mas said...

What if they declared a press conference and nobody came?

Other than a camera from one local TV station and Melissa, was there no one from the press there at all?

Man, if I were one of the folks called to speak at a press conference and the press didn't show, I would be pissed.

Also, it sounds like it was really an Our Schools Coalition press conference, not a District press conference. Where does the District, a government entity, get off invited a select group of advocates to an official press conference? Is that strictly kosher?

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Bird said...

The press thing is silly.

Everyone I know gets their school news from this blog, simply because nobody else covers education. Sure there are opinions here, but the Times does opinion on the schools as well.

I know they want to punish you for being critical, but, really, what would it have mattered if they handed out a press pass.

Anonymous said...

SPS Communications is under tight control about what their message is.

Broad doesn't like any negative publicity, that much I've learned from following them. Actually, Broad provided money to SPS for communications! I just thought of that. Someone came across that "generous donation" last year.

It would take some time to dig it up again, but it's there.

The same is true about this Education Nation broadcast that's coming up on NBC brought to you by Bill Gates and Eli Broad starring Arne Duncan as the Superman of ed reform. The message is tightly controlled. The only person on during that entire broadcast who is not an ed reformist will be Diane Ravitch in a brief taped interview and that only happened after protests from a lot of education activists around the country including myself.

It's all about the message with these people.

Anonymous said...

Also, someone needs to clue Burgess in or he might go the way of Fenty in DC.

seattle citizen said...

The superintendent just repeated what Melissa reported she said at the press conference: There's a real culture change in schools now (due to new contract) because student achievement will drive everything now.

What an insult: Educators in buildings, certs, IAs, family support...they were just off twiddling their thumbs before, I guess.

She said this during the presentation on the new contract. I tuned in at about hour 3:40 (9:40pm) The presentation was highly reformist: all the code words pointed to how those nasty ol' teachers will finally be thinking about student achievement and they WILL be evaluated on it, damnit!

When the superintenden said "all teachers' evaluations will be tied to student growth," she might have been speaking broadly about the PGE, but what she REALLY meant, given the context, was that it would be tied to some assessment tool. Only a few teachers could currently be evaluated using such a district-wide tool now (and, as we've discussed, there are all sorts of questions about how fair the tools are); so look for new district-wide assessment tools in all disciplines and all grades. Provided, no doubt, by NWEA.

Given the politicos mustering around reform, I think this train well on its way, has been for some time, and even if we could stop it it will cause enormous damage to our public education system in the meantime.

How sad.

seattle citizen said...

Speaking of the Board meeting, does anyone agree with me that Brad Bernetek spent an awful long time describing numbers and percentages and rises and falls, yet not one word on what is behind these things? Not one word about the causes? The only causation he mentioned is that WASL is now HSPE/MAP, which might or might not influence data, he's going to "drill deeper."

This is more of the problem with the smoke and mirrors of using these tests to evaluate whole systems: People get lumped into categories ("You're "Black," you're "White," you're "Asian"), the numbers are used to drive massive change, but no one is looking at how the numbers relate to "black" (whatever that term denotates) achievement - what DO "Black" students do, or don't that make the scores rise and fall? What DO "White" students do? What can the community do? What instructional practice is being designed to address "Black" students and "White" students?

(Wouldn't a teacher be called racist if she/he designed curriculum around assumptions based on race?)

So these WASL/MSP/HSPE/MAP "standards" are merely used to massively change the structure, not the instruction - they're used to destroy schools and put in something new without even hinting at concrete, actual, classroom activites.

dan dempsey said...

Press Conference ???

No way!! Look at the participants. This was a pep rally. Why would anyone cover this?

No wonder they wanted no questions. TEAM MGJ still has no answers after three years.

Sunquist rarely answers any questions, rarely examines any data about student learning ... so now its all about student learning. Puhl-ezze

dan dempsey said...

Can't all teachers at Cleveland now be evaluated using a student growth tool?

seattle citizen said...

Sundquist tonight at the meeting asked Brad Bernetek to basically bullet point data for him. He said that he got lost in the maze of numbers (like me; but I'm not a board director) and would appreciate it if Bernetek could present him with simplified slides that had the gleaming nuggets or whatever.

Now, I don't expect my board directors to all be data-crunchers, and Bernetek sure has "data," but basically what Sundquist was asking (in the utter paraphrase above) was for Bernetek (Broad administrator) to give him (public director) what Bernetek was important: "Tell me what you want me to see, Brad! Point out the stuff you think I should know!"

I thought Sundquist was in charge of Bernetek, but looks like has was asking to be led around by his nose.

Mark Ahlness said...

That's Tracy Record (not Read) of the WS Blog.

another mom said...

I watched the 11:00 news on Channel 5 to see if anything would be mentioned. Nada, zip, zero, nothin.'

Melissa, thanks for going even though it was probably a waste of your time. What was the point? The only newsworthy item in this was your being denied the opportunity to ask a question. The whole thing strikes me as being odd.

Central Mom said...

"Westbrook isn’t allowed to ask questions because of the organization she represents—a “watchdog” that provides critical commentary on the school district."

I am shocked by the District's quote and its attitude.

Eric M said...

Ha! This is like a badge of honor! Way to go, Melissa!

You are kicking ass and taking names (literally).

Sahila said...

it was an attempt at a press conference coming out of desperation... pure and simple... SPS is losing on the PR playing field, despite the Times and it is trying to retrieve some of the advantage....but because there was nothing of value to other media (new info, controversy) and it was obviously a manufactured PR op, no one turned up...

So funny - SPS cant even do this right....

Dorothy Neville said...

I thought the whole thing was wonderfully entertaining and I am glad I went. In addition to KING5, there was also a KOMO4 camera, but he was sort of hidden and I asked who he was after Mel had gone over to speak to someone else, so she didn't notice him. There was also a guy with a camera who works for the union. I gave each of these three fellows a copy of our No on the Levy flyer to add to the rah-rah reform papers in folders we each got.

The union guy pointed out Olga to the KING5 guy and suggested he get some footage of her afterward. I don't know if he did.

Brad Bernatek cannot go into any depth or analysis because he doesn't know how. He must spend his entire day creating those long, tedious and pointless powerpoints that don't dig any deeper. His favorite words on his slides seems to be "further analysis is needed..."

Dorothy Neville said...

Can I just point out one example regarding Brad Bernatek that really ticks me off and also really shows the absurdly unfortunate truth of MGJ's line of 'using student achievement data to drive decisions is a culture shift.'

The Math Presentation in June 2010. Look at the "Beating the ODDS" slides starting on page 14 and the chart on page 19. The State already does regression analysis to find schools were test scores are much better (or much worse) than predicted for their demographics. Look at the wealth of data that provides! We could be interviewing people at each of these schools that did way better than predicted and figure out what they are doing! Wouldn't that be using student achievement to drive decisions? But no, Brad's "culture" is to ignore this source of information.

Central Mom said...

So last night I was shocked. This morning I am angry. Really angry at the hubris of Maria Goodloe-Johnson and her communications people.

Let's put our thinking caps on. What national and local groups in the education, political and media spaces would be likely to pick up this story? Because apparently it is going to take national pressure and embarrassing local coverage to shape up this rinkydink, one-man (woman)circus act.

Please post your ideas for places to post this episode (and links to PubliCola's coverage of it.)

Besides the Stranger and the Weekly, a national post could go to the DailyKos (a BLOGGING news source) which ran a scathing piece on the superintendent's attempt to hijack the teacher's contract negotiations.

Your turns.

wseadawg said...

Are we really surprised by the district's SPIN? We've seen this reform train wreck coming for a long time, and SEA managed to significantly de-fang it this time around.

None of this two-bit side-show nonsense will make any difference, so I wouldn't fret. If there's anything this district is good at, it's incompetence, which is what was apparently on full display at their little media circle-jerk.

MGJ is a politician, so of course she'll take credit for any so-called victories and run 100 mph from any failures.

Basically the clowns at the conference comprised a psuedo ed-reform Tea Party. Whoop de doo!

So live it up clowns, while real grownups are at work. Wa-wa! Honk-honk! Were their rubber noses and floppy shoes too?

SolvayGirl said...

@ Central Mom: What about "Race to the Top"? They are a great group that recognizes the problems with using standardized testing as a means to an end.

Central Mom said...

wseadawg...amusing! but somewhat beside the point.

The point being that in denying press credentials to Melissa once, albeit for a "pep rally", it sets a precedent for them to do it again for her or other citizen journalists, or frankly any journalist they don't like, at other events of actual importance.

Look, there needs to be more public discussion, not less, about what happens in our schools and in our central administration. It is the most effective and most democratic way to keep the "public" in "public education."

Now, back to all of you for ideas for places to send this story to garner national and local notice...

Patrick said...

"This is a press conference! The last thing I want to do is answer a lot of questions!"

-- some general on MASH

It seems like there ought to be a great basis for a lawsuit for refusing a press pass. Responsible journalists (who don't work for the Times) report news both favorable and unfavorable.

wsnorth said...

Mao Goodloe Johnson doesn't care about our schools, our students, or what the public thinks. And she's definitely not some sharp business person bringing fiscal responsibility and management brilliance to the table. What has happened to this board? Once upon a time, they sounded intelligent, caring, and thoughtful... must have been dream or a fairy tale. Who woke me, dang it!

seattle citizen said...

wsnorth, some on the board seem to be coming around to reality. A couple have been there all along. I'm afraid I've been guilty of saying, "the board this, the board that...." but I have to admit that there's some light there.

wsnorth said...

"the board" / Seattle Citizen. I sure hope so. I have spoken to/emailed at length about half the board over the last few years, and, individually, they seem to have good hearts, reasonable intellect, and good intentions. Then they all get in the same room together and make or ratify such bad decisions. I've been on smaller boards, and know how group think goes, but this is ridiculous - or evil.

seattle citizen said...

wsnorth, I hear ya - sometimes it IS okay to say, "the board," because when they come together in the same room and make these important decisions they are one body. Yes, good hearts elsewhere, but lately (with one or two exceptions) rubberstamping The Machine.