Why School Reform is Likely to Fail

From the website, Real Clear Politics (liberal leaning), a very good piece by Robert Samuelson about education reform. One thing I love about it is that he makes some very clear and precise statements about what and what hasn't changed in this country for public education.

He points out that the NAEP scores (National Assessment of Educational Progress) haven't varied much since they started in the early '70s. He astutely points out that elementary school students have done better but

"...what good are they if they're erased by high school?

He points out that the achievement gap had been narrowing slightly but then stalled in the late '80s. The student-teacher ratio has fallen sharply from - get this - 27-1 in 1955 to 15-1 in 2007. (Seriously? Where are these public schools with 15-1 class sizes?) Teacher pay? He doesn't think so. Pre-school?

Yet, the share of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool has rocketed from 11 percent in 1965 to 53 percent in 2008.

Here are his two reasons that "reform" has been lacking.

"Reforms" have disappointed for two reasons. First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) "scalable" -- easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains. Efforts in New York City and Washington, D.C., to raise educational standards involve contentious and precarious school-by-school campaigns to purge "ineffective" teachers and principals. Charter schools might break this pattern, though there are grounds for skepticism. In 2009, the 4,700 charter schools enrolled about 3 percent of students and did not uniformly show achievement gains.

The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail.

Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a "good" college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school "reform" is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out compared with about 25 percent today) and adolescent culture has strengthened, the authority of teachers and schools has eroded. That applies more to high schools than to elementary schools, helping explain why early achievement gains evaporate.

And, he believes the motivation fact is across all races and economic classes.

He ends on a reality-based explanation:

Now Duncan routinely urges "a great teacher" in every classroom. That would be about 3.7 million "great" teachers -- a feat akin to having every college football team composed of all-Americans. With this sort of intellectual rigor, what school "reform" promises is more disillusion.

I do agree with him. I believe that what our children watch on tv or computers, whether it is politicians talking or tv shows, they get the message that it's okay to know just enough. (Or, worse yet, if you are young and stupid, it's just the first step in a career if you are willing to act the fool in front of a tv camera.) That there are no perfect adults isn't the issue. It's that there is not enough of the same steady message that education matters. That hard work matters. That cheating your way to the top will never be successful. It matters at the individual level and it matters at a societal level.

I believe our kids aren't hearing this enough. I am shocked that we still have 25% of students dropping out of high school. What young person today thinks there is a future without a high school diploma? How can that be?

I don't think we honor academic achievement enough in our schools. At the end of the day, we care more about sports and arts achievements in school than academic achievements. (Look at any trophy case at any school.)

I believe at the end of the next decade, we'll look back on this version of ed reform and say "for what?" What did we achieve? Who did we leave behind? How much money did we falsely spend in this endeavor? It's the Gates Transformation money but on a bigger scale.

I'd love if after all this competition for money and putting money towards transforming schools, that we truly find some small and useful truth for public education but I don't think we will.


Sahila said…
Melissa - you can cheat your way to the top in this country... its happening all the time... our own MGJ does it... why would you think kids ought not to follow the lead of their elders in this regard????

And you can get to the top by being stupid, being crazy, being silly, by singing, dancing, by dressing up and being yourself in movie after movie, by writing a bunch of swear words and thumping them out unintelligibly, by chasing a ball around a grass field, by chasing a ball around a wooden floor, by taking your clothes off, by dying your hair, by pretending to kill people in the wrestling ring, by driving gas guzzler monstrocities, by airing your dirty linen in public, by being promiscuous, by taking bribes, by giving bribes, by preaching one thing and doing something else entirely in your own life, by lying, cheating and stealing in the business/corporate world...

Look at what's offered as entertainment, on cable, on Idol or America's Got Talent (yeah, right!)...

Its not the kids fault that they dont aspire to anything or they think they can be successful without education...

We adults are feeding them this pap, or allowing other adults to do it...

Wake up, get real...

And if you think this is all happening by accident, well...
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sahila, I never follow your thought process.

I DID say it's what on tv and it's being brought to our kids by adults. I didn't say it was the kids' fault. I also didn't say it was by accident. (Can I just say that a lot of what you describe in your second paragraph has been going on since like forever? We're not newbies to corruption.)

Anonymous, I'll give you a couple of minutes to repost, with a name, okay.
reader said…
School reform is likely to fail because we won't do any.

Why should we just blame students? If we ask students to pass tests, to put their graduations on the line, why not teachers? I am quite certain that around 1/2 the teachers my kids have had, would never be have been able to pass the WASL, MSP, HSPE, or anything of the sort if it had been required in their day. This isn't to say the accountability we're now asking for is perfect, but it's also wrong to say that we don't need to change anything. Or that it's all about identifying the students and fixing them. We alread do that, or try. When we've got a lot of drones, that well, drone on endlessly, and then blame the students, we aren't going to get anywhere. More of the same (which is what the anti-reformers promote) isn't going to get anything. The people whose kids are in good school and programs, are always the ones who claim there's no problem and that no reform is needed. I'd love to see reform based on whole school accountability, teacher cooperation, along with principals, based on student achievement. That is, we need accountability that doesn't create perverse incentives, but we do need it.
Sahila said…
if you're not newbies to corruption, why do you allow it to continue - eg MGJ/Broad/NWEA/Alliance?

Why hasnt there been complete uproar (instead of the whiny whimper) about that from thousands of SPS parents? Why not so much noise from the community that the Board would be forced to get rid of her... Why not so much noise about the Board that the Board would be forced to promise to do better, or would be recalled... Why not so much noise about the audit that SPS would be beating its collective chest in a grand mea culpa and we'd have improvement happening...

It stays like this because people let it stay like this...

I think its cos this society here has been inculcated to accept it...

And then they complain about unmotivated students????

Unmotivated because society now no longer gives them any reference points or sense of relevance and a worthwhile future?

Unmotivated cos the current structure gives them no hope of meaningful work?

Unmotivated cos this crazy focus on everyone going to college consigns so many to the dump of life before they've even started?

Unmotivated cos so much of what goes on in the white world is culturally irrelevant and deadening to their spirit?

Unmotivated cos they see so many dysfunctional adults and families and dont want to go down that road but dont know how to avoid it...

and we're supposed to turn all that around in the classroom? by teaching them 'traditional' stuff when the world around them is changing every day but we adults dont know how to process and integrate that for our kids so they have the tools to navigate that constantly changing world?

its time education was child centred and child led... instead of us making 21st century kids lead 20th century lives...



(sorry, on my way out the door - no time to make the links live)
Sahila said…
Anonymous said…
Sorry, didn't realize how to do this... I posted the "anonymous" blurbs at 154 and 215 pm. I'll go by the name "JA-K".
Mr. Edelman said…
Schlimmbesserung: German for an improvement that makes things worse.
Charlie Mas said…
So what's the deal here? Teachers are supposed to motivate students?

Can anyone really motivate another person? I mean without resorting to threats of physical violence?
Unknown said…
You ask why, Sahila? Well part of the answer may be that people just don't see the world the same way you do. I, for one, think MGJ has big flaws. And maybe even that her time in Seattle is nearing its end, or should be. But I also think the Board is doing a pretty good job -- not perfect, but pretty good and better than some Boards I've observed.

What I don't accept or give one bit of credence to are your conspiracy theories, e.g. the evil "MGJ/Broad/NWEA/Alliance" no matter how stridently you post about them, no matter how many links you urge me to read, no matter how many rants you post in a row or how long each rant is.

Maybe there are more people who are thinking like me than are thinking like you.
Bird said…
First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) "scalable" -- easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains

I don't think the problem is one of "scalability". It's a problem of cost. There are plenty of changes we could make that would have a definite improvement when implemented at large "scale"-- one-on-one tutoring for example. Research shows one-on-one tutoring is effective, including for "inner-city schools". Generally speaking, the more additional tutoring of this kind a kid gets the better they do. The problem is not that we can't get tutoring to work at a large scale, it's that we don't want to pay for it.

That's what angers me most about all this teacher evaluation business. The constant search for the nearly costless panacea is a dangerous distraction from the real work that needs to be done.

Goodloe-Johnson is going to spend a few years in Seattle implementing "reform" and when she leaves the achievement gap will be as big as when she arrived.
seattle citizen said…
Rosie, it's not conspiracy, but fact, that Broad and Gates and some other big money players are pulling strings to get what they want. It's very obvious. The relationship between many of these modern-day reformers is incestuous, to say the least, and they use all sorts of tactics to drive home their agenda.
I mean, c'mon: Gates, the Alliance, LEV created the sham "our Schools Coalition" that continues to walk and talk even though it was poked so full of holes some people mistake it for a garden sprinkler.

While it might not be a conspiracy if it's all above-board, it IS a conspiracy when these organizations use subterfuge to gain access or further agendas.

The BS survey by "OSC," which had its methodology changed three times when it was pointed out that they were in collusion with SPS during contract negotiations? Conspiracy. The attempt by reformers to influence people's thinking about education using flawed or incomplete data? Conspiracy (because they all use the same talking points, talking points grounded in flawed or incomplete data.) Thrown-together "coalitions" that misrepresent themselves as representing a wide swath of the city when they are almost completely representative of business and minority groups? Conspiracy.

The list goes on. Many are aware of this, and it DOES merit the badge, "conspiracy" because it is dishonest and uses nefarious tactics to get its way.
Jan said…
Charlie: the "motivation" piece is one of the things that worries me most about education reform. Recall the early days of the WASL (a test that EXPLICITLY stated that it was not to be used as a high stakes test to determine the achievement of individual students -- or words to that effect). BUT -- without external "motivation," everyone feared (probably rightly) that students wouldn't take it seriously. S0 -- voila! Passing it became a graduation requirement (the ultimate high stakes test). The ONLY reason to do that was to scare/coerce kids into trying to pass the test -- and at least some people were willing to admit that at the time, though now the mantra is "well -- Johnny should at LEAST be able to pass the WASL to graduate . . blah, blah, blah." Never mind that its creators stated that the test is not valid for that purpose, etc.
So -- yes, I guess you can motivate by coercion -- but only if the "prize" (a high school degree) matters (seems valuable or attainable, or worth "the price") to the student. What a grim way to look at what should be one of life's greatest joys -- learning!
I agree, Bird. We may be spending money on things that are unlikely to work and not willing to spend money, long-term, on those that do. I keep thinking of the Everett example.
Chris S. said…
Rosie, please look at one more link.

Maybe you can deny a conspiracy, but the documented flow of money shows that these organizations share the same general goals. Many of these organizations pose as "independent" - for example, that's how the Mayor's guy Sol described NCTQ. They may not be co-conspirators, but why are they so keen on hiding their relationships? If you have a great idea, do you need to make it look like 16 other people had it too?
seattle citizen said…
Can others name instances where what we might call "conspiracy"?
Here's one definition of the word:
"•a group of conspirators banded together to achieve some harmful or illegal purpose"

Speaking of WASLs morphing into high-stakes regarding "motivating" (or coercing) students - The MAP test, created by a "non-profit" company (more hidden reality: NWEA employs many people, has a product that it sells, its CEO makes half a million...) was brought to Seattle (by a superintendent who didn't reveal her seat on NWEA's board...more hidden agenda between conspirators) as a FORMATIVE test. Just like the WASL, it was sold to the board, and teachers trained in its use, as a formative tool. No one told teachers last year that this test would be used to evaluate them. Just a week ago, at the board meeting, the superintendent spoke glowingly of the MAP test as a "formative" test, a test that would help educators understand their students better. Not one word about its use as an evaluatory tool.

MAP, in all likelihood, will soon join HSPE/MSP as a high-stakes test. I don't know how it will be done, but without coercing students into taking it seriously, how would one generate the supposedly accurate data that shows "student growth"?

Just like WASL, look for MAP to become high-stakes, and the data generated from it to be used, just like the WASL, to declare arbitrarily grouped populations as "below level," whole schools as "failing" based on the WASL scores (ala NCLB, which does this RIGHT NOW using WASL scores)

It's ridiculous.

It's a conspiracy because it's a few people driving "data" and "research" (and making a pretty penny doing it) that, when turned to propaganda, influences policy in a harmful way.

Luckily, I sense that people are starting to peer behind the curtain: "Reform" is on its way out. The trick now is to see that it doesn't do MORE damage - as Melissa points out, the district is adopting "reform" tactics that are years old, and have been shown by the reformers themselves to be not such a good idea. Might we see MORE choice, more different sorts of curriculum, more variety again?
I hope so.
Jan said…
Bird - my fear is that when she DOES go, we will have:
a. An even bigger maintenance backlog, complicated by the opening/closing of various schools and their effect on work that needs to be done;
b. A bunch of expensive (and in some cases possibly useless) contracts -- for MAP, for the STEM school, for the "placement" of Broad interns who are to be embedded in the District, etc.;
c. A depleted community, one which voted for a lot of levies, only to see money squandered on expensive outside contracts and coaches, school closures, the glaring failings of the SAP, and the fiscal/financial problems exposed by the audit.
d. A demoralized teaching corps, one that views all the talk of "support" and "training" only as so much window dressing for a regime that spent most of its time implicitly "blaming the teacher" for the entire problem with student achievement.
e. A school district with many of its policies in tatters through neglect, with fewer (and less vital) alternate schools, with a degraded program for its gifted children, with poor texts, and with many of its finest teachers gone -- because they were unwilling to debase their teaching by succumbing to "top down" curriculum reform or other restraints being placed on the creativity and enthusiam of teachers.
seattle citizen said…
Here's another reason reform is dying.

LEV is bribing students to design posters for their upcoming event featuring as a key-note speaker a "champion of Reform," that ex-NBA guy who paid off a sixteen year old in Sacramento after he laid on her bed behind her and spooned.
Jan said…
seattle citizen: MAP is already beginning to be used that way (though not so much as a motivational tool for the kids (yet) -- they haven't been told that they won't be able to get into advanced math classes, even with a teacher's recommendation, if their MAP scores show them to be only "average" -- but it is happening. A poster on another site explains that her sixth grader, who was supposed to be in an accelerated math class based on teacher recommendation, may not be able to -- because of an average MAP score. Supposedly, they will give her child (and others, I assume) ANOTHER test this Friday -- to see if they "requalify back into" the accelerated group(of course, no one told the child or his/her parents this so the child could be sure to be ready for a high stakes math test on the 3rd day of the school year -- but oh well!
My question is -- if the test is supposed to be "formative," rather than "evaluative," why is it being used in this manner at all?
reader said…
Yes of course, Charlie. The teacher is supposed to motivate students, and inspire them. Without that, what are they? Just books? We've already got the internet, and loads of books, and syllabuses. If teachers don't motivate learning, we don't need them. Yes, yes, we all know your kids are so smart they don't need motivateion. Congratulations. We still need motivation from our teachers, and there's plenty of behavior analysis that teaches the teachers how to provide that.
reader said…
SC, I agree we don't need more high stakes tests. We've already got enough. And, there's no way for these things like the MAP to ever be anything other than high stakes. Same with the standardized "classroom based assessments" which are actually worse than the MAP... if you've ever looked at them. If MAP is being used to deny access to advanced classes, why not just use the MSP? Why waste time on this new test? If we need to evaluate a teacher on something, why not the MSP? We don't need more of this.
seattle citizen said…
My understanding is that MAP was rolled out with two general purposes:

1) formative - it attaches "RIT" scores to students (Raush...something something scores)
These scores are supposed to show teachers (and students, in conference with teachers) where they generally are. Additionally, a teacher can group students using these score on the MAP desktop, and also access a connected program called Descartes (?!) that provides additional breakdown of strands of knowledge, and also access various teaching tools (worksheets, strategies etc)

The second purpose is to use it as a way to quickly identify student levels for placement. The focus, as with all "reform" tools, is on students who are below level, but it COULD be used (if it's accurate) to identify higher level students also. In this capacity, it would be more systemic: a school could identify some students who are "low" and assign them to a remedial math or reading class, for instance. Sort of an extension of the teacher's grouping in class. But, whereas a teacher's grouping does no lasting damage to a student's academic career, a school groupiong might: Yes, a student might benefit from remedial reading (if MAP accurately identified a major problem) but at the same time the student would lose ground on other school activities or classes, and, worse, be "tagged" as low.

In best practice, MAP scores, IF deemed to be SOMEWHAT reliable, would be triangulated with other assessments, classwork etc etc to make sure the MAP information is accurate. If this traingulation is not done, I'd be seriously concerned about student being incorrectly identified. Furthermore, I'd be concerned that the focus would be merely on the test, and not on the whole student generally: social, civic, science, etc...the whole picture.

THAT is the crime of using these tools in ways other than formative: formative assessments can be helpful. But if they become high-stake, they drive the curriculum. Everybody looks at the test results and believes that's all there is. Look at WASL- Nobody over the feds is looking at the whole school; they're merely looking at three or so indicators in Math, Writing and Reading and saying: THIS is a good school, or THIS is a bad school.

Ach. Teaching is dead.
Jan said…
reader: I can appreciate your point (though I don't agree entirely with it) on the idea that one of the things we hire teachers to do is motivate kids (my disagreement comes because at some point, it is the child's choice -- not the teacher's job. No one can motivate a child who has flat out determined NOT to be motivated, and there is plenty of evidence backing that up too). But my question is -- why the dig at Charlie's kids? Why is his family somehow dragged into this? I don't see where Charlie made any reference of his kids, though you seem to attribute one to him. Is this anything other than a gratuitous personal slam that detracts from your otherwise debatable point?
Anonymous said…
My child's kindergarten class this year is looking at an enrollment of 34 students. Does anyone know if there is a legal cap on the number of students permitted in one kindergarten classroom?

A group of parents desperately want to know. I've searched this blog, but can't find specifics.

seattle citizen said…
Anon 6:03, I'm not sure about the law, but here is some of the contract language from the recently agreed-upon teacher's contract:
"Elementary Class Size Individual Classrooms: Take actions to limit individual regular
academic class size for grades K-3 to twenty-six (26) and for grades 4-5 (and grade 6
when operated in an elementary model) to twenty-eight (28). These limits would not
necessarily hold when staff have, through their decision-making process, adopted a
whole school model that results in a variation in curriculum, instructional methods and
staff organization. For 2010-2011, Iin situations in which the limit is exceeded in a
regular class in grades K-3 by two (2) students or in grades 4-5 by four (4) three (3)
students, following the October 1st enrollment count, the SPS will address the
overload. For 2011-2012, in situations in which the limit is exceeded in a regular
class in grades K-5 by two (2) students, following the October 1st enrollment count,
SPS will address the overload. Beginning 2012-2013 in situations in which the limit is
exceeded in a regular class in grades K-5 by one (1) student, following the October
1st enrollment count, SPS will address the overload. The preferred solution is to
reduce class size to the negotiated levels; failing that option other assistance may be
identified in consultation with and agreement between the appropriate executive level
administrator, principal and the impacted teacher. The SEA representative may be
involved in this discussion. The individual teacher will be compensated for any days
after October 1 during which he/she has an overload."
seattle citizen said…
Reader, I'm in agreement that we don't need more high stakes tests. But the new teacher's contract stipulates that there be at least TWO high-stakes tests to evaluate teachers (ergo, more teaching to the tests....each with different standards!):

"When common district-wide assessments are available, the results of those assessments will be used
to determine a student growth rating. These results will be calculated as set forth below.
1. Teachers of tested subjects and grade levels are those for whom two or more common state or
district assessments are available."
Seattle Citizen, was the mayor in Sacramento convicted of this? If not, please used the word "allegedly", okay?

My point on the motivation is that yes, it needs to come in the classroom but the best teacher in the world cannot fight off whatever happens OUTSIDE the classroom (in the home, on the street, in greater society i.e. tv).

That Reader believes he/she knows what Charlie thinks of his children in relation to all other children is absurd but I like that idea that Charlie and I believe we are all-powerful beings and the world's greatest parents (with our respective spouses). For myself, my children might challenge that idea. But when you can't form a decent argument, well, why not attack someone else's children?
Jan said…
Melissa: one problem with the article is that it seems to do that thing where people pull back and say -- look at all of the societal influences. Wow. Nothing we can do about those. -- and then they sort of shrug, and give up on the unmotivated, alienated ones. While I wholly agree that tying student performance to teacher retention salary a la SERVE makes no sense, we (parents, teachers, taxpayers) all need to figure out what we think IS the best way to fix the problems of too few students learning too little and/or leaving too soon -- and fix them. Everett is one example (personal contacts, staying on kids to encourage/foster better decision making and to let kids know that someone cares (SOMETIMES that is enough to spark motivation -- not always). Another example is the Ida B. Wells Middle School, which was featured earlier this summer in a Seattle Times article. A small number of unmotivated kids -- 2 teachers (1 in math/science and 1 in humanities) who concoct ALL of their curriculum and teach a lively, engaging, mix of highly challenging courses where kids can't hide in the back, can't say "I don't know." They interview kids (and families) before taking them -- and graduate inspired kids who love learning and are excited about continuing to college. Scalable? Probably not, but going on right under our noses in Seattle! http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/jerrylarge/2012109946_jdl14.html
Clearly not the answer for every child, but if the District would drop its obsession with standardization and start looking for solutions for groups of kids -- they are out there. It is just much harder work, and much less glamorous, to solve the problem one kid at a time, than to arrive with monied backers and great sweeping political solutions.
reader said…
Charlie has made the point repeatedly... "I don't expect my kids to be motivated by the school, I only hope my kids aren't de-motivated by all the other idiot kids my kids may come into contact with." It's not a dig at his kids, it's a dig at him. And a dig at everyone who makes such excuses.

Well, how come you can be demotivated by an environment... but not motivated? Why should the teacher (and district) be responsible to KEEP from demotivating your child, but NOT be responsible to motivate them? If it is possible to demotivate them, it's also possible to motivate them. Why would the behavior dial only work in one direction? It's actually a science, independent of outside effects. Behavior science to be precise. And there's plenty of evidence to support it. It's actually an animal behavior model. As one behavior analyst pointed out, arguing with behaviorism for education is like arguing with gravity.
Unknown said…
Chris -- I looked at your link. And what it says to me is that there are many people, who feel the same way, who put their money behind their ideas, and have worked hard to garner influence. And they have succeeded in that, at least.

I get that you disagree with the direction they want to take public education. I get that you think the science doesn't back up the direction they want to go. But that's as far as I can go along for the ride.

Many people who comment here seem to think alike on many issues. People on this blog are trying to band together, to create influence, to take education the direction they want. Heck, there's even money at play these days, as many commenters seem to be inclined to vote down the upcoming levy because they see it as a good way to get their point across. That's not a conspiracy either. It's people using what influence they think they have or can build to accomplish their goals. Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad are people to. Are we reverse snobs -- only middle class folks are allowed to exert their influence?

We all admire kids who work hard and do well enough in high school to get into a great college, and work hard there and get into a terrific graduate program. Then, because they happen to succeed in whatever they chose to do, and make a lot of money in the process, they become the enemy? I can't think that way. It just doesn't make sense.

I don't think there's anything wrong with rich people trying to use their money to give other kids the kind of education they insist on for their own children -- or at least the parts of it they are able to translate from the private to public school environment. Actually, I admire it, it's kind of nice to see money being poured into something tangible, and in the U.S. I don't think it's at all surprising that business leaders are concerned that so many kids graduate without basic skills -- and have involved themselves to try to change that. Yes, they want good employees - - not unskilled employees. What's wrong with that? Don't we all want as close to 100% of people in this country as possible to be able to do the things that make a person a good employee? Read and write and think at least at a high school level, put together a plan and do all the things that leaders and worker bees do in corporations and not-for-profits and in the classroom?

I jump off Sahila's bandwagon when the tirade goes in the direction of "hey, I found a connection to Broad, therefore everything associated with this must not only be bad, it must be evil." And man, does she work hard to uncover those links.
Central Mom said…
Jan and Bird...FWIW I completely agree with your comments. I read the same article Melissa posted (it's also in Newsweek) and had the exact same reactions that you did. Thanks for articulating.
wseadawg said…
So you're not happy with your experiences Reader? Great. Hope the "reform" reaches your children and delivers what you need. But it never ceases to amaze me how callous and reckless you are toward the programs and teachers that already work great for so many families. "Wreck them all with reform" is your rallying cry, over and over. If you want the reform and need it, take it. But why are those who are content and receiving a solid product labeled as "embracing the status quo?" Are Honda drivers "embracing" and "defending the status quo" by repeatedly buying Hondas? Is there something inherently wrong or unfair about that?

And Rosie: Could you specify what the current board has done that is good or that you've been happy with? I'll respect your opinions, as you're entitled to them, but how about some facts instead of generic cheer-leading?
Charlie Mas said…
Actually, it was the teacher that I didn't want to de-motivate my kids - not "all the other idiot kids my kids may come into contact with".

If you know how to motivate people, reader, then I am astonished. Outside of threats of violence or ruin, I have never seen any motivation other than self-motivation.

Of course, that might be a reflection of my skewed perspective. I was de-motivated (by my mother) when I was eight years old in the fourth grade and did very little school work after that - unless I was interested in the project and did it for my own reasons.

I certainly expect coaches to motivate their teams and political leaders to motivate their followers - or at least get them fired up. In those cases, however, the team members and followers self-selected their participation. They are open to getting fired up. In fact, they WANT to get fired up. That's not the case with Geometry students.

Aside from grades, what incentives can teachers offer? They're pretty short on carrots and sticks. Besides, as we now know, carrots and sticks don't work particularly well if you're looking for cognitive work. Perhaps teachers should take their lead from the motivations that do produce results in knowledge workers: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

I see that work at The NOVA Project where students have a lot of autonomy, are supported to mastery, and are encouraged to find, follow, and serve a purpose.

I neither see it at work at other schools nor do I see much space for it at other schools. Individual teachers may do it, I suppose, but it isn't systematic.

Maybe that is the reform we really need.

I don't know. I'm tapping around in the dark with my cane like everyone else.
Charlie Mas said…
As for the successful programs not being scalable, I see the complaint but not the offer of a solution.

The complaint is that the work is often centered around a charismatic person making a heroic effort. It's true; that's not scalable - unless you know how to recruit hundreds of charismatic people who will make heroic efforts.

I'm with Bird. Let's do the stuff that works - we know it works. We have local examples that it works. Let's do what they are doing at Maple. Even though it's expensive, let's do what they are doing at Southshore.

What are they doing? The hard work of setting and maintaining high expectations and then giving students the support they need to meet those expectations instead of the excuses they need to rationalize their failure.
seattle citizen said…
Point taken about using the term "alleged" in referring to the actions (or not) of the ex-NBA champion of reform, Melissa. Of course you're right. But I've read a transcript of the girl's statement, and I've seen where there was money given to her, and I spouted off. Of course, it didn't make it to court, so yes, it's alleged.

My bigger concern is that he is, well, an ex-NBA player (a good one, no doubt) who is parlaying his NBA millions into millions more as a real estate mover and shaker in Sac, and somehow got himself elected...on the strenght of his NBA popularity? and is now somehow some sort of champion for the reformistas. The congressional report that found that Michelle Rhees, his fiance, allegedy tried to influence the investigator into his actions with the girl (said investigator perhaps losing his job over said investigation) concerns me even more.

This man is a role model LEV wants to position as the champion of their reform? Couldn't they find a scholar? Did they have to use that old motivational cliche, the NBA player? Check out their blog post looking for students to do the poster: They don't mention the other three speakers (reformers) who actually have something to say regarding academics (no matter how much I disagree with most of their perspectives); they choose instead to try to get kids to do the poster because there's this great basketball player, see...and oh yeah, a bag of cash (watch video).

NBA stars and bags of cash....this is what LEV motivates students with? Teachers spend half their days trying to convince some students that only maybe one in amillion students get to be NBA players, won't you focus on your work instead of imagining you'll be the next Kareem?
Anonymous said…
To Anon, re class sizes - when we faced this 2 yrs ago with a K class of 30 the answer was "no limit but if the # is above x, the teacher will get paid more." Not even a guarantee of an aide. We eventually got a (minimally useful aide) but it was a nightmare. Maybe things have changed but I wouldn't bet on it.
Good luck.

"Everett is one example (personal contacts, staying on kids to encourage/foster better decision making and to let kids know that someone cares (SOMETIMES that is enough to spark motivation -- not always)."

From the article:

"First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) "scalable" -- easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains."

Exactly, Jan, what they did in Everett worked and is scalable. What's holding us back from doing that?

What's holding our district back from noticing and holding up academic achievements to the same level as what we do for sports and the arts? What's holding our district back from asking PTAs to frame every single teacher's college degree and hanging it, child height, in classrooms? The teacher casually mentions it throughout it year. It gets them thinking that "my teacher went to school to have his/her job" or "my teacher makes it sound important to go to college". It's the little steps before the big steps. Because, no, we can't just change society but we can make sure that the children in our public schools in Seattle know that academic success matters and will matter to them in their lives.
Charlie Mas said…
I just thought that I would also add this. Just because a teacher has the power to de-motivate a student it doesn't necessarily follow that a teacher has the power to motivate a student.

I can break a glass, but that doesn't mean I can fix it.
Anonymous said…
This is off topic, but I saw an interesting letter to the editor in The Times today. The writer noted that the COMPASS test is the one used to place students into community college and some college programs in our state. Based on the results of that test, far too many students get to college and need remedial courses before they can do college work. She suggests that maybe COMPASS is the test we should be preparing our high school students for, rather than wasting time creating more tests that may or may not give us valid or meaningful results. Would enjoy discussing this idea - Kari
zb said…
"I am quite certain that around 1/2 the teachers my kids have had, would never be have been able to pass the WASL, MSP, HSPE, or anything of the sort if it had been required in their day. "

I feel bad about your childrens' experience if this is true. I haven't ever believed it to be true about my kids' teachers. I have believed that many of them wouldn't make very good graduate students in a Ph.D. program, but haven't thought that was a big deal, since they're teaching elementary school kids, not studying the genetic changes with learning in fruit flies.

I personally loved the initiative a while ago that said that every legislator should have to take the WASL (and, I'd have been willing to extend that to all state employees who were required to have a high school diploma, including teachers and faculty in secondary education). I'm more comfortable with that reform than judging teachers' on the performance of their kids. It's true, it wouldn't be a very high (or even relevant standard), but it would set a minimum bar that's under they're control.

I do believe teachers have to take a standardized exam to be certified in Washington? right? Do you think they've lost the ability to pass these exams over time?
Dorothy Neville said…
ZB, here are a couple blog posts from a WA educator, a former science teacher.

Here she compares studying for the Washington vs Texas teacher test.

And here she blogs about taking the Washington one.

Just FYI on what sort of tests teachers have to take regarding content knowledge.

I don't know if all my kid's teachers could have passed the wasl. I am not sure I could have passed the wasl -- from what I saw, some of the scoring was too idiosyncratic. But I do wish that more of his teachers knew a bit more of what they talked about. And that they could all write coherently.
Lori said…
Ann/Anon, do you have an update for the 34-student K class? I'm wondering if the school felt that they needed to assign all of the "potential" K students to a class, even though some of the families had told them that their child would not be attending. They expect a certain amount of attrition each year too; some folks just don't show up at all in September. So today should be a better indication of what the class size is actually going to be. I'm curious if 34 students showed up or not!

I think because of the economy, rolling out the new SAP, etc, the schools were "skeptical" when families said that they wouldn't be coming this fall to their assigned school. For example, our neighbor finally got a spot at our overcrowded local school for her 2nd grader, but they decided to keep him at his private school after all. They informed the school months ago, yet his name was still put on a class roster. So that class is already one student smaller.
Sahila said…
Rosie - maybe you'd like to come clean and tell us who you're aligned with... I see you also posting on the Times sometimes, spouting the pro reform party line, defending Gates et al...

I find it hard to believe that an educated woman (I believe you wrote once that you were an attorney), who gets paid to look at and analyse the evidence and then to recommend the most appropriate form of action for her client, would look at the connections shown by the Line of Influence diagrams (national and local) drawn up by Sue Peters and Dora Taylor at
http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/the-lines-of-influence-in-education-reform/ and see a pattern here of monopoly control being implemented, without parent and community involvement...

Now, if you dont think there is something wrong with a handful of uber rich individuals manipulating organisations, people and events to create what they think a public education system should be (at the same time siphoning off billions of taxpayer money and redirecting it into private business pockets), then you and I live on entirely different planets with completely different values...

This is not something that is in the best interests of children.... and it ought not to be allowed to happen unchallenged...
Charlie Mas said…
Sahila wrote:

"Rosie - maybe you'd like to come clean and tell us who you're aligned with"


"I find it hard to believe that an educated woman..."

This sort of thing is inappropriate, unconstructive, and reveals a tragically narrow view.

Guess what - other people may have a perspective different from yours.

Guess what - even INTELLIGENT other people may HONESTLY have a perspective different from yours.

They don't have to be stupid. They don't have to be corrupt. They don't have to be in someone's employ or seeking favor. They can just see things differently than you do.

There is no one correct set of values. There is no objective truth about what is right. Honest intelligent people disagree about a whole long list of things, and something as personal as education is certain to be among them.

Now, we can disagree, we can even disagree sharply, but it is not okay to smear or vilify people for their perspective. It's not okay to question their intelligence or integrity based solely on their disagreement.

Honestly, a person who is unable to imagine how someone could disagree hasn't seriously considered the issue. It reveals a failure to view the matter from other perspectives. More than that, it reveals a simple lack imagination. It is not an admission I would readily make.

I'm not going to delete or censor the comment - Sahila has a right to make it - but I'll not be silent about it. I regard it as bullying and mean, and I will speak out about that.
Martin H. Duke said…
This post strikes me as one of despair; that there's simply nothing within reason SPS can do to improve performance. We're stuck with the broader expectations of society and the motivation level that students bring to school each morning.

And maybe it's true; I'm certainly in no position to evaluate the validity of the education reform movement's claims. It's enough to make you move to Bellevue or find a private school.

Perhaps I've missed this post, but what positive steps could SPS take to improve performance? How would you measure that performance? If more funding is the answer, how would it be applied and how much is enough?
Martin, if you scroll through, I offered a couple of things the district could do.

I agree with Charlie on the issue of viewpoints. One commenter once wrote that because I said I was disgusted with the Alliance's recent actions that I thought of them as my enemies.

Just because you disagree with someone doesn't make them wrong and you right. It means you are seeing things differently. Now there are certainly people who spout off with no facts backing them up and that's an opinion. But yes, people can know factual information and choose to disagree with you.

It can be frustrating when something looks as clear as day to you and you wonder, "Why don't they see it?" It's just the way of the world BUT having civil discussions can help at least make it a wider discussion and maybe illuminate the issue more.
Sahila said…
oh Charlie - its not bullying and mean at all...

Rosie continues to maintain her position despite mounds of evidence to the contrary... like the flat earth people... I have a very good friend who is extremely intelligent, extremely well educated (has been a US District Attorney as well as a college teacher here and internationally) and is a devout Christian who believes the Bible's account of creation is literally true and that the earth and life on it have only been around for something like 4,000 years...

I find her and Rosie's perspectives equally incomprehensible - completely in denial of hard evidence to the contrary...

I'll defend their right to have those perspectives/opinions but you wont find me saying they are accurate ones and equally valid and giving them any credence in a discussion...

And Rosie has often been quite scathing of my point of view... so why dont you call her on it also????
Charlie Mas said…
I am a person of faith and I have no trouble whatsoever believing that the Earth is 5771 years old.

It's funny you should mention that example as the anniversary of the creation of the Earth (on the third day of creation) was just three days ago. Rosh Hashanah, on the first day of Tishrei which begins at sunset this evening, marks the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation.

Faith, of course, is believing in things which cannot be proven, so it is both unsupported by evidence that corroborates it and undamaged by evidence that refutes it.

Funny choice. You weren't really trying to suggest that statements of faith are inaccurate, less than valid, and without credence? Were you?

Couldn't you find some less offensive example of people who persist in voicing disproven views? How about those folks who continue to claim that President Obama was born outside the U.S.? Or the belief that the Iraqi government had a role in the atrocities of September 11th?
Anonymous said…
So it seems like you're saying Sahila, that people who disagree with YOUR interpretation of information are invalid and not worthy of the time of day? WOW-it's amazing to me that you're so high on yourself. It doesn't happen often, but I'm 100% behind Charlie and Melissa on this one.

You have a viewpoint, a strong one, regarding education. We all get that. But you alienate so many with your nasty name-calling and insults that it's hard for many of us to take you seriously. From what I can tell, Rosie often (always?) disagrees with you, but she stays on topic rather than insults you by calling you stupid or accusing you of being some stealth character. Charlie's right about his characterization of your post to her.

And about faith-it's not at all the same as flat-earthers, as Charlie said. And I believe this is where I wish him Happy New Year.
Jan said…
Martin and Melissa: I agree with Martin that the "tone" of the piece is pretty pessimistic. In fact, one of the (objectionable to me) arguments that ed reformers now seem to be using is -- well, we have to do SOMETHING, so let's do THIS! -- even though this is untested, unproven, and (just thinking logically) likely to do more harm than good. Frustration can make for really bad decisions.

I agree with Melissa that there is a LOT that can be done, but it takes coordinated effort by people who really are willing to get down a child by child level, and figure out solutions for each child (not solutions for a "failing school" or district-wide solutions that fail to take into account individual teacher strengths, individual child deficits, etc. I hate that SSD has wasted so much time, effort, money, energy, goodwill -- you name it, in hollow solutions that have no record of success elsewhere, that disassemble what does work and has worked here (ALT schools, for example). Parents who would like to be putting their time and effort into improving things are instead pulled off task and have to spend much of that time keeping the damage from getting any worse.
hschinske said…
"Faith, of course, is believing in things which cannot be proven, so it is both unsupported by evidence that corroborates it and undamaged by evidence that refutes it."

If faith's about things that can't be proven, it doesn't make sense to say that there even IS any evidence to corroborate or disprove a faith-based statement. But then it doesn't make sense to me that a statement such as "the Earth is 5771 years old" could be a faith-based one in that sense. It could be a statement taken on authority, but that's quite different from saying it's not susceptible to proof.

I must admit I'm having a lot of trouble seeing you as a young-earther. But perhaps that's not actually what you meant.

Helen Schinske
seattle citizen said…
Jan, you write that "one of the (objectionable to me) arguments that ed reformers now seem to be using is -- well, we have to do SOMETHING, so let's do THIS! -- even though this is untested, unproven, and (just thinking logically) likely to do more harm than good."

This argument, the "we must do SOMETHING!" (and it's corollary, "YOU just want to do NOTHING!") is THE most voiced argument those in favor of these radical reforms put forth. It basically trumps every argument and is, in fact, predicated on the very dismissal of all the good things going on that you mention in the end of your comment.
"They" (if you'll excuse my generalizing) have set up a situation where there is a "crisis": State-wide test scores, a relatively new development in education, are used to cry, "the sky is falling, the sky is falling!" putting everyone in a tizzy, and since the goal is radical reform, it must be reform across the board: curriculum, management, teachers, everything! Students are suffering! Our children is not learning!
When of course, many, many do, and, proportionately, probably many more than did in the past.

The horror! We MUST reform!

And it's not just "let's do this" (or that) but let's do these very specific things, many of which seem geared towards that radical restructuring...many of which seem to break schools away from centralized districts, thereby freeing them up to be capitalized upon, and concurrently breaking teachers away from the union and the comfortable living teachers have found under it and making the very core of education, the teachers, free-market competitors battling for slots in the now-privatized free-market schools, vying for standing (and a job...which could be lost if you don't toe the line...) based merely on some test scores.
dan dempsey said…
The original post:

"The student-teacher ratio has fallen sharply from - get this - 27-1 in 1955 to 15-1 in 2007. (Seriously? Where are these public schools with 15-1 class sizes?)"

This ratio is usually students per certificated employee.

These numbers include Librarians, Counselors, Music Specialists, etc.
Who knows maybe academic coaches for teachers and building administrators. Don't forget the many much smaller class sizes in Special Education classes.

At high school toss in planning periods and that 15-1 value disappears rapidly. In 1982 I was teaching in a middle school with three sets of 4 person teams per grade level. We had 32+ kids per classroom. The word was that there was a smaller bubble of kids coming in a year or two and when those kids arrived class sizes would drop. When those kids arrived they made a team a three person team to keep those class sizes about the same size.

WA has had among the largest class sizes for years. Last I checked Utah is always biggest, with CA next, then WA is usually neck and neck with 4 or 5 other states.
seattle citizen said…
Dan is right, the "typical" classroom, across the board in Seattle, is probably around 26-30 students.
Maureen said…
Re teacher/student ratios, I would like to see that number annually, set along side the number of identified special education and ESL qualified students in the system. I would bet that the ratio started improving rapidly as IDEA was passed and then increasingly enforced and as more emphasis was placed on meeting the needs of non English speakers.

On a positive note -- check out this Seattle Times article on Summer "Bridge Classes" for certain identified incoming 9th graders. What a good idea. It sounds like the 5 week program was run by the YMCA, but it's not clear to me if SPS funded it? One odd thing--at the end of the article it says:

The Seattle Times reported this story in collaboration with The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Linda Shaw is listed as a co-author with Sarah Butrymowicz who is a staff writer for The Hechinger Report

I've never heard of them, I might have to bookmark their web site and follow them for awhile. (andto save some time, none of their Advisors are currently at Gates or Broad- though one is from "New Schools Venture Fund" (sounds BAD doesn't it?) and the editor was TWICE a fellow at the HOOVER Institution.

Re, understanding others' viewpoints, I believe that one thing that makes someone an exceptional teacher is the ability to comprehend how someone else can come to an entirely different conclusion than you about something you are convinced is true. Good teachers are curious about why their students don't necessarily agree with them and have the skill to see their students' version of reality. Excellent teachers then take that perspective and lay out a path for the student to follow to get to what the teacher sees as the correct answer.
Sahila said…
so, we dont have charter schools, YET... here's a reason why we shouldnt give the astro turf groups even an inch to open the door to them - cos that's next on the legislative agenda here in Washington...

Martin H. Duke said…

I read that post a couple of times, and I honestly can't see any suggestion other than that society should value education more. Perhaps I'm just dense and am missing something obvious?

So is there a problem with the current performance of schools? And if so, are there any specific, concrete steps administrators can take to solve or significantly mitigate those problems?
dan dempsey said…

Keep reading this blog. There are lots of problems that have specific solutions.

Here is a problem.

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