Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yet Another Deceptive Statistic

Let me just tell you upfront that this deception is MUCH WORSE than the falsehood about "only 17% of graduates meet college entrance requirements". This is much worse than that.

There are two numbers on the school reports that do not mean what you think they mean. These numbers do not mean what the District says they mean. These numbers are COMPLETELY misleading. The more I think about them, the more convinced I become that they don't mean anything at all. Yet they are two of the most important numbers on the report and they determine half of the school's overall grade.

On the school report, the numbers are labelled "Students making gains on the state reading test" and "Students making gains on the state math test".

Look at the report for Beacon Hill Elementary. You will see that it says that 69% of students made gains on the state reading test and 67% of students made gains on the state math test. That sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

What do you think it means?

I'll tell what I thought it meant. I thought it meant that 69% of the students at Beacon Hill got a higher raw score on the MSP this year than they got last year. If a student scored 410 last year and scored 420 this year, then that student counted as one who made a gain on the state test. Is that what you thought the number meant? What else could it mean? Isn't that the percentage of the students making gains on the state test? Well that is NOT what the number means.

In fact, if you take a look further down on the page you will see that students in every category passed the state reading test in lower numbers than last year.

How can it be that the pass rates dropped when 69% of students made a gain?

And here's something weird: the district averages are 66% every year in every category at every grade. That's kinda weird, isn't it?

The answer to both mysteries lies in the derivation of the number labelled "Students making gains on the state reading test" and what - if anything - it really means.

Honestly, it's probably enough for you to know that the schools' numbers just don't mean what they appear to mean and that the District number is rigged to always come out to 66%. If you need to know more, try this sentence for coherence:

The student gain number represents the percentage of students who out-performed the 33rd percentile of other students in the district who scored the same as they did in the previous year.

Here's how it works.
If a student scored 410 last year then their score this year is ranked with all of the other scores from students who scored 410 last year. If that ranking is better than the bottom third, then that student counts as having a gain. The student might actually have scored worse than he or she scored last year, but - so long as they outscore one-third of the students who got the same score as them last year - they count as having made a gain.

That's incredibly deceptive.

Here are some interesting consequences of using this as the measure for growth:

1) Since 66% of the students will ALWAYS finish above the bottom third in any ranking, the District average will ALWAYS work out to 66%. That means that the superintendent will always get to make it appear as if year after year 66% of the students in the district made gains on the state tests. Even in years such as this one when pass rates were down, it will appear that 66% of the students across all grades and subjects made gains on the state tests.

2) The choice of the 33rd percentile as the bar is completely arbitrary. The District could have chosen the 50th percentile, in which case it would appear that only 50% of district students made gains on the state tests each year. Of course they could have chosen the 17th percentile, in which case it would always appear as if 83% of the students made gains on the state tests.

3) This is a zero net-sum game. If at some school they have 70% of the students beat the 33rd percentile then some other school will have only 62% of the students beat the 33rd percentile. There will always be 33% of the students who fail to beat the 33rd percentile. A gain for one school will come at the expense of others. They cannot all do really well.

4) In a year like this, when test scores are down across the District, the 33rd percentile will have a negative delta. That means that some portion of the students who are counted as having made a gain on the state test will actually have gotten a lower score than in the previous year.

Here's what's driving me crazy: why couldn't the District have simply reported the percentage of students who got a higher score than in the previous year?

To their credit, the District does disclose the meaning of this statistic. Here's how they explain it:
% of students at or above the 33rd percentile of growth from year to year on the state test using the Colorodo Growth Model. The Colorado growth model estimates a "growth percentile" for each student with at least two years of test data by creating a peer group of all students in the same grade who had a similar test history, and then rank this group of students by their test scores in the current year.
The District says that this number is important because "All students should be making progress every year and be on their way to meeting or exceeding standards." All students SHOULD be making progress, but this calculation guarantees that 33% of them will not be counted as making progress - whether they do or not - and that 66% will be counted as making progress - whether they do or not.

Is anyone really okay with this?

Let's remember that school segmentation, whether a school is Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 is based, in part, on this "growth" measure. Every student at Beacon Hill Elementary doesn't know it, but they are in a race with every other student who got the same score as them on last year's test. And if they don't finish ahead of the bottom third, their school will drop down in the segmentation and be subject to more District-level control and interventions.

Billingual Education

There was a thoughtful column about bilingual education in Sunday's Seattle Times by syndicated columnist, Esther Cepeda. From her column:

Education policy has rarely garnered our collective attention as it does now.

One aspect that needs more attention, though, is the question of how best to educate students whose native language is not English. It's a politically charged topic that rarely focuses on research and instead pits those who don't want to spend resources on instructing children in any language other than English against those who believe bilingual education is a civil right.

Okay so let's stop there because there are a couple of issues. One, should the American public education system be educating children in their native language and two, is it a civil rights issue?

Ms. Cepeda argues that it hurts the whole educational system's performance if non-native speakers struggle because of language barriers.

The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics says that between 1979 and 2008, the number of school-age children who spoke a language other than English at home increased from 3.8 million to 10.9 million, or from 9 percent to 21 percent of the population in this age range.

Right now each state individually decides how to educate English-language learners based on the tenets of the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, which sought to ensure a quality education for students with limited English skills. Programs range from those in which students are fully immersed in English-language classrooms with various "English as a second language" programs, to classrooms where a student is taught completely in his or her native language with additional English-language instruction for an eventual transition to English-only classrooms.

Now, of course, in any urban area you can have many languages. SPS provides services in many languages. What becomes a more defining point is when you have a concentration of one language like Spanish in states like Texas, Arizona and California.

She points out that if there is a critical mass of students speaking one language, they tend to get placed in a native-speaker classroom while a single student with a non-English language might be immersed in an English-speaking classroom.

I recently attended a bilingual and dual-language education conference where Diane August of the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics shocked participants by citing several recent studies to verify anecdotal evidence that goes back generations: Preschoolers who are immersed in English without extensive native-language support learn English as well as those in bilingual or other native-language-supported classroom.

She does point out that this is probably worthwhile for younger students but they have no verifiable data for middle and high school students. (I would also point out that there are students who not only are immigrants but may have not had much formal schooling. That is another whole challenge and one that our BOC - Bilingual Orientation Centers - were created for.)

One thing to tease out from this article is embracing the varied cultures that live within our borders while hoping that immigrants learn English and appreciate their new country. Foreigners came here and adopted U.S. culture and language in order to assimilate. For example, when my husband's uncles immigrated from Italy, they all took the American version of their names (Raffaele became Ralph). They wanted to fit in, not stand out. Now, of course, they lived in the Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn so it's not like they didn't stick with what they knew. But they did know if they wanted to be successful, it was English and assimilation.

My own experience growing up on the Arizona-Mexico border showed me that graduated immersion might be one way to go. Meaning, one school year in a non-native-speaking class but taking PE with native speakers. After that, it's immersion. I think that long-term bilingual ed may be a crutch and we want to get larger numbers of students up-to-speed, they need to be with native speakers. Of course, it also may mean we need more teachers who speak Spanish and Chinese (the top 2 non-native languages in the U.S.).

This, of course, is not just an education issue. Immigration reform seems to be quite important to many conservatives but just what that looks like and how it will play out in our schools is hard to predict.

In Praise of Director DeBell

I know that there is a diversity of opinion about many of the Board Directors among the frequent commenters on this blog. I have that diversity of opinion within myself sometimes. They certainly come in for a lot a scolding and criticism from me, but I would like to take this opportunity to write in praise of Board President Michael DeBell.

At the Board Retreat, he was the only Board member who recognized the crisis in the Board - the failure to oversee, the successful math textbook appeal, the organized opposition to the levy, the state audits, and the concern about the District's direction among other elected officials. He tried to raise the alarm, but the Gang of Four remained deaf to it.

As Board President, Director DeBell has been instrumental in introducing some kind of oversight. He has led the effort to re-set the budget schedule and the budget priorities.

I first met with Mr. DeBell when he was a candidate. He struck me as an honest, intelligent, and well-intentioned man. He still does. While Mr. DeBell does not have the breadth and depth of knowledge about District programs or the command of the details about those programs that I would like, he is the most experienced Board member - the most experienced member of the District leadership team - with five years of history. If he has erred, it has been to presume too much integrity in others. It is a noble error that I can readily excuse (at first).

Starting with the vote on the high school math materials, I have seen a change in Director DeBell. It was then that he woke up and came to see that the staff - starting with the superintendent - maybe isn't completely honest with the Board, maybe isn't completely forthcoming. He's not a revolutionary, but he does appear to share many of our concerns and he does appear to be addressing them, albeit gently. I have seen Mr. DeBell tactfully ask sharper questions of staff. I have seen him view their statements with a more critical eye. He is, however, just one Board member of seven. He cannot move the Board by himself.

Those who wonder about his admirable qualities should attend his coffee hours. He is careful in his word choice, but he does see things clearly and he has strong convictions about the path the District should follow.

I know that he has to speak weasel words in the press to help cover up the District's little peccadillos like the 17% deception, the CSIP circus, the fake community engagement, and all of the daily crapload of lies from the District staff. You might think him a co-conspirator for the forces of darkness - or at least an enabler. Think again. You may not have seen him address these problems publicly, but I assure you that he is trying to address them.

Please review the agenda for the Executive Committee meeting for December 1, 2010.
1. Call to order
- Approval of agenda, 11/10/10 minutes
2. Governance policies review (Section B)
3. Review of the December 8 and January 5 board agendas
4. Government Relations

- Legislative luncheon
5. Community Engagement
6. Executive Committee Discussion

- Superintendent mid-year evaluation format
- Prioritization of board work plans and schedule
- Management oversight work session
- Scheduling deliberation-decision on Brave New World
- Correcting errors in district reports and statistics
- Proper oversight and the role of annual reports
- Filling BEX Oversight Committee vacancies
6. Adjourn
I really like this agenda.

I'm not going to be able to attend this meeting - how I wish I could - but I really want to hear the Board Executive Committee press the superintendent on these matters.

Governance Policy Review (Section B)
This is the part of the Board Policies where you find the requirement that the superintendent make meaningful report to the Board and the requirement that the Board perform meaningful oversight. The most critical failure in the District's operation right now is the failure of governance. Director DeBell looks to want to address it.

Community Engagement
I don't know what this is going to be about specifically, but anytime they are talking about this it is good.

Management oversight work session
Director DeBell intends to emphasize the Board's duty to oversee.

Correcting errors in district reports and statistics
You don't think this is a response to the 17% deception and the CSIP fiasco? This is how Director DeBell addresses these things. This is the right way for the Board to address these things.

Proper oversight and the role of annual reports
Again, emphasis on Board oversight role and the required annual reports that have NEVER been provided.

As much as I would relish theatrical demonstrations at Board meetings or bold statements in the press, I know that ths is really the right way for the Board to address these issues. And I know that it is Director DeBell who is the driving force behind the Executive Committee's action to address them.

KUOW's Discussion About Rote Learning

KUOW's The Conversation had an interesting conversation yesterday about rote learning (the show was titled "Drill, Baby, Drill?". Their guests were Dan Willingham, a cognitive psychology professor at the University of Virginia, and Cathy Thompson, the head of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for SPS. Dr. Willingham wrote a book, "Why Don't Students Like School?" which, according to the reviews at Amazon is quite good and recommended by the teachers who have read it. From some of the reviews:
  • Willingham's basic theme is that, despite everything you've heard, nothing works to increase student ability like factual learning and practice. In fact, one of his first ideas is to point out that what separates the excellent student (or adult) from those performing less well is their ability to recall facts. The more facts you know about your subject, the more you can understand your subject because of significantly less energy spent on fact recall or retention. With facts learned to automaticity, more time can be spent on higher-order concept learning, and once that becomes automatic....etc.
  • Another big idea in education that Willingham works to dispel is the idea that we all have different learning styles - auditory, visual, kinesthetic, etc. Cognitive science, in fact, has shown the opposite: with minor variation, we all learn very similarly.
Ms. Thompson talked about learning sight words (like the) so children can spend time decoding more difficult words. She also said that SPS leaves it to teachers to decide how to use drills but they want teachers to do this 15 minutes a day. She said drilling does not have to be boring.

(I was sitting with Olga Addae, the head of the SEA, last night at the School Reports meeting. I asked about the leeway teachers have in the classroom because I hear this from SPS staff a lot. She said yes, teachers do have some leeway but it depends on the principal and it may not be there because of the required things teachers have to have in place according to the district. They have to have specific things written on the blackboard, in specific places, a lesson plan on the blackboard, etc. I'd like to hear from teachers about the leeway they have in how they present the curriculum.)

The upshot was that kids need both pieces - that they are two separate parts of knowledge. Once they understand the concept, the drill piece allows them to memorize those math facts, for example, more quickly.

What was interesting is Dr. Willingham's rejection of the best practice of "whole child" which is currently popular. He talked about learning about things that have meaning rather than drills that don't connect the learning to meaning. He also said that there is an emphasis on making learning "fun" and that learning is sometimes hard and not always fun. (Ms. Thompson agreed with that as do I.)

He talked about what was embedded in differentiated instruction is that students have different minds and can use that knowledge but the idea that scientists understand this well and can capitalize on this has not been proven.

Knowledge begets knowledge - the more you know, the more you can learn was his takeaway message.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Seattle Times Guest Column by Randy Dorn

Randy Dorn, our state Superintendent of Public Instruction wrote a guest column for the Times. You'll never believe it, but he argued in favor of fully funding public K-12 education.

Reuven Carlyle on 17%

Representative Reuven Carlyle wrote on his blog about the 17% mis-representation.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Director Martin-Morris on Oversight

This transcript comes from the November 17, 2010 Board Meeting. You can watch it for yourself here. Go to 15:50.

The discussion is over the annual approval of schools. Essentially, the Board vote is to confirm to the state that there is a Continuous School Improvement Plan for each school. The Board Action Report, dated November 3, 2010, claims that "All CSIPs are also posted online on our district website."

This statement was false at the time it was made. There were at least two CSIPs missing from the web page - one missing a link and one blank report. The missing link and the blank plan were not corrected (to make the statement true) until the afternoon of the Board vote.

Had the Board members tried to perform oversight and confirm the existence of the CSIPs, they would have seen that at least two of them were missing.

Director Carr spoke to say that, because she was unable to confirm the presence of the CSIPs, she would have to vote against the motion.

Then Director Martin-Morris spoke on the oversight role of the Board:
This is actually, I guess, for my fellow Board members. The thing that I want you to understand is what is being done here is that our Chief Academic Officer, who has reviewed and has looked at all of those documents, is saying to us as a Board that she has done her due diligence and has complied with state law. She is certifying to us that she has done what she was supposed to do. Whether we go in and look at all of those or not, shouldn't be germaine to the vote. The vote is really about the certification that we trust and believe in our Chief Academic Officer that this work was done. And that's what she's doing and that's what this vote is about.
Director Martin-Morris is saying that the Board not only does not have a duty to confirm the statements made by staff, but actually has no business confirming the statements made by staff. He is denying all responsibility of oversight and means to school his colleagues on their role. His little talk was to warn them off of trying to do any oversight or seeking independent confirmation of staff statements.

Of course, what was so ironic about all of this was the fact that Director Martin-Morris was saying that the other Board members should just trust Dr. Enfield without verifying her statement and his example was a statement that proved false. That didn't slow him down one bit. On the contrary, it made his point ever sharper. He seemed to be saying that this was a prime example of why the Board shouldn't try to verify staff's claims - because they may prove false. Proof is the opposite of faith and he believes that the Board should have faith, not proof.

Who, Me? (Yes, You)

I had done a previous thread on Seattle Metropolitan magazine's high school issue. I wanted to point out some hard-to-believe things in the interview with the Superintendent. I'm going to forward the article to the Board - maybe if they see it in print, something will register.

First, read the article. She comes off in print as she does in person (which is not the easiest thing to do but she does it). Her answers: crisp, tart and not always on point.

Q: Your management style has been described as autocratic, that there's an aloofness, that there's an unwillingness to listen.
A. Aloof? I've never been described as aloof. What does that mean and where was that observed?

I'm thinking that she either never reads what is written about herself (and I mean by mainstream media, not here) or no one has said it to her face. But then she goes classic Goodloe-Johnson with "what does that mean?" and "where?" I might have to give her the dictionary meaning of "aloof" since she doesn't seem to know what it means. That she talks to people doesn't mean she can't be aloof.

Q: They say you spend more time using your BlackBerry during school board meetings than engaging the public.
A: I use my BlackBerry all the time. I had one person who was offended that I use my Blackberry. Okay, so I won't use my BlackBerry. How is that interacting with people?

This one is a red flag waving. One, there were many people who complained to the Board (and I know this for a fact and I know many of you sent those e-mails). Second, paying attention to public testimony at a Board meeting IS interacting with with people. It's paying attention to what concerns they are expressing.

Q: I guess it would be a lack of interacting. There's concern that you're not receptive to input from parents. People say you've said, "If I've heard a complaint from one person, I don't need to hear it from anyone else."
A: That's an absolute misrepresentation of the truth. I've never said that.

Well, I go on record here to say that substitute the word "parent" for "person" and it is the truth. She said it in her first year here in SPS and I heard her say it (again, not the only person).

Then there's a series of questions about the no confidence vote from the teachers. Blah, blah, change is difficult. My favorite?

Q: What do you hope to do to regain the confidence of those teachers?
A: Hope's not a strategy.

Then she's asked what she thinks when she hears about lack of confidence from the teachers. She says she can't presume to guess but I would be willing to bet she hasn't asked a single teacher why THEY think the vote came out the way it did. Her best sentence, "If you don't have any context for what they're concerned about, then any road will get you there or won't get you there." So she gets asked what she found out when she looked into the vote. Her belief (she says from SEA leadership) is that it's about MAP and her sitting on its board.

Really? You got a 98% vote of no confidence for that? No, that's not the sole or main reason but she's found a way to turn a lemon into lemonade.

Hilarious claim(s)? No involvement at all with picking MAP. Not the RFP or assessments, just taking the recommendations to the Board.

Levy talk (and please remember this as the budgeting goes forward and the district is deciding how to use levy money): "You clearly have to say what you're going to use the levy for." Okay, so if the cuts look deeper than any bandaid will cover, see what she says if schools ask for more money to protect their schools.

Last thing on this issue. Another story, about looking at high schools, says this:

Now Garfield is 150 to 300 kids oversubscribed (depending on whom you ask), has a football program freshly in shambles (depending on whom you ask), and—I discovered when I called to do a little preliminary scouting last week—employs at least two staffers who don’t know whether non–AP track kids can take AP classes. (They can. And let the record show: Those Garfield staffers were themselves a step ahead of an SPS employee who didn’t know Garfield was a high school.) In other words—and, uh, no need to stop the presses—Seattle Public Schools is loaded with enhancement opportunities.

Not good.

SPS This Week

A Roundup of Meetings and Activities:

  • School Report Community meetings, co-sponsored with the SCPTSA, start this week. The first one is on Monday, Nov. 29th at Roosevelt High School from 7-8:30 p.m. (These are going by region so this is the NE region meeting. You can, of course, attend any of them but your region's school won't be represented by your principal or regional director.)
  • There's also an APP Advisory Council meeting:

    *Monday, November 29,*
    *at Garfield High School (in the commons)*

    This will be an opportunity for the APP community to learn about Garfield capacity issues and possible solutions, the proposed APP high school path to Ingraham, and to express all your questions, concerns, and hopes.

  • The next School Report Community meeting is the SE Region on Tuesday, Nov. 30th at South Lake High School from 7-8:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, November 30th is the Board Work Session on the Budget from 4-8:00 p.m.
  • Director Maier has a community meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 1 from 10-11:30 am, Lake City Public Library.
  • Being gluttons for punishment, there is a second Board Work Session this week, this one on the SAP Transition Plan on Wednesday, Dec. 1, again from 4-8 p.m.
  • Friday, December 3rd is the last day to take the district's budget survey, if you are so inclined.

No Saturday community meetings this week.

I'll try to find out when the cancelled NW meeting on the SAP Transition Plan is to be rescheduled.

Friday, November 26, 2010

You Spin Me Right Round

In the P-I from the AP, an article about how great it is that Seattle is 'fessing up and releasing so much useful data. I might have to let this reporter know of this great irony about data in our district. Some choice quotes and see if you get the direction the quotes are pointing to (please, do not read when drinking; you might do a spit take):

One of the authors of the report done by the Center for Reinventing Education:

"I think the district really deserves some credit for day-lighting their data," said the lead researcher on the report, Christine Campbell. "I really would love for Seattle to use this as a chance to really do something."

Really do something? I wonder what CRE can mean given that 90% of their work is around charters.

The district:

District spokeswoman Patti Spencer said the district has been targeting schools with extra help and guidance throughout this research process and some of the schools exhibiting the most growth were those getting the most help.

"We feel that this is just a really critical step forward for us and for the community to publish this information," she said. "When we focus our attention and the community's attention on data that is easy to understand and accessible...we know that performance will improve."

Wait a minute, so help me out. How is it that the schools with the most growth are those getting the most help? Because Aki Kurose was getting a lot of help and didn't move at all. Which schools is she talking about? Good question for Monday.

Also, they just published this info so how did things improve from releasing it?

Campbell, who lives in Seattle's south end, encouraged the community to not be overly patient about seeing progress in the most needy schools.

"We have to really set a short time frame on what it looks like to have turnaround there," she said.

In sharing this information with the public, Seattle is following a trend started by Denver about four years. Other big districts like Los Angeles and New York spread the idea and now others around the nation are joining the movement at a progressively faster pace.

Short time frame? Joining the movement? What code is that?

In addition to giving the general public more information about how their local school is doing and where it falls within the district, Campbell speculated this may also be the first time Seattle Public Schools has looked at student and school information in this way.

Some people were grouchy about the district spending money to analyze data and come to conclusions that nearly everyone knew, Campbell said, but it's important for the district to move beyond hearsay and into real information to direct its next moves.

Grouchy? Who was grouchy? (Wondering minds want to know because honestly, I don't know who they are talking about.) Show us accurate data and we might be more enthused but grouchy? And why didn't this reporter go out and find these so-called grouchy people?

Move beyond hearsay - oh you mean like actually listening to parents who told the district for YEARS to expect a kindergarten surge.

More curiosities.

Both South Park's Concord International Elementary School and Beacon Hill's Mercer Middle School have demographics similar to the 13 schools doing the poorest, but they dramatically outscore them in both absolute achievement and growth.

Spencer said both schools have excellent leaders, extra dollars and a district-directed plan for improvement.

"I think that's really good news for Seattle. There are places right here that we need to look at and see what's going on," Campbell said.

I would like to know what Mercer is doing but I think Concord is doing better because they have a foreign immersion program (which probably gave them a more solid parent base to back up what is happening at school). I should go back and see their scores before the program change and after.

Also, that second paragraph puzzles me. A lot of schools have more dollars so what's the issue and don't schools that are not on target for NCLB all have district-directed plans for improvement?

The last paragraph also puzzles me because we have had successful schools that never get duplicated for their ability to attract parents and make a successful school. So now the district is finally going to try to duplicate successes?

Nice spin from both CRE and the district.

As we approach year-end

As we approach the end of the year for Seattle Public Schools (there are only 15 school days and one Board meeting remaining), it is time to finish up anything that is due before year-end.

The deadline for Program Placement proposals has already passed. It was November 24. The Board is going to have a work session on Program Placement on December 9. I can't wait to hear that one. Program Placement has been the least transparent, the most political, and the most corrupt process in the District. There is a Program Placement Policy, C56.00, but the policy was weakly written and is completely un-enforced. The Board, performing oversight, has asked for rationale for program placement decisions, but has accepted explanations such as "We rejected the proposal because we are not recommending it." and "We rejected the proposal to place programs closer to where students live" without any data on where students live. Think of this. Muir, at the far south of the Washington service area, was chosen as the site for the elementary Spectrum program instead of Madrona, which is centrally located so that the program would be closer to the students' homes. How is that even possible?

Board Policy B61.00 requires the Superintendent to produce and "Provide annual report on District programs." There are not, of course, any such annual reports. I suppose that the District can claim that School Scorecards, are the annual reports on the schools, but that doesn't include ALL programs. Where is the annual report on Special Education? Where is the annual report on Bilingual Education? or Spectrum? or A.L.O.s? Where is the annual report on the Native American education program or CampaƱa Quetzal? Board Policy C45.00 is very clear:
It is the policy of the Seattle School District to develop and maintain a high level of effectiveness in each of its schools and programs as determined by multiple measures of improvement and in relation to established standards. A review of all schools and programs will be conducted annually using a process and criteria as approved by the Superintendent.
Where are these reports? Nowhere. Tick Tock. The year is nearly up.

This is another annual report required by Policy. It is required by Policy H13.00. I encourage you all to read the Policy and know what is required. Here's the funny thing. The Policy was adopted a year ago but the superintendent says that there will not be a capacity management report this year. She says that they are still working on the criteria, metrics, assessments and benchmarks for the report. Seriously - it's taking them a year to work that out. Kind of makes you wonder how they made any capacity management decisions last year without even working this stuff out, doesn't it? Here's a fun fact: All Board Policies are effective immediately upon adoption (unless stated otherwise). That means that the superintendent does not have the option of taking a year - actually two years in this case - to comply with a Policy. Her report is due ahead of any program placement decisions, but she is just skipping it this year and the Board, those mice, are unlikely to squeak about it.

We can write to the Board and demand real rationale for program placement decisions.

We can write to the Board and request various annual reports.

We can write to the Board and demand a capacity management report.

We can write to them and demand these things. We can appear at their community meetings and demand these things. We can agitate all we want, but if the Board doesn't, in turn, make demands from the superintendent, there will be nothing done. If I had to bet, I would bet on nothing.

Radar Teachers

What are you doing?

What is the reaction from your bosses? Your colleagues?

Do you have activist parents at your school?

What are the MAP/MSP results? What do you think the reaction at your school would be to a testing boycott? (Now that I think of it, a testing boycott could be a parents' vote of no confidence in the Superintendent.)

Teachers sound off.

Open Thread Friday

The snow is nearly gone. Time to get moving.

What was this truncated week like at your school?

Bit o' good news. NYC's Mayor Bloomberg wanted to replace Joel Klein with one of Oprah's best friends, Cathie Black. She is former magazine CEO, probably a bright person but knows next to nothing about education. New York law says she has to have some kind of education background and the state education commissioner who would have to give her a waiver won't do it without a CAO to guide her (and he said even then maybe not). What is frightening is that Bloomberg believes he can appoint her without the waiver. Of an 8-person panel put together to help the commissioner, 6 voted no in an advisory vote.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy (Thankful) Thanksgiving

So amidst all the chopping and timetables (how can two trains get in at the same time?) and snow, I want to wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. No matter your eating persuasion or family ties or travel plans, have a good time. We should be thankful for the country we live in, our family, our friends, our neighbors and our communities. This blog is a community and I appreciate the fellowship with people who care about public education (whether we all agree on how we get there).

Nobody gets through life alone.

So I am thankful for the continued good health in my family, my sons coming home back to the family fold and for the 14 years we had with our cat, Woody (he passed away unexpectedly at the vet's on Monday). We all will miss him especially his sister, Sofina.

Education Reform Survey

(Update: spoke to OSPI. The survey is live only thru tomorrow (Thanksgiving). Apparently it was live for a couple of weeks but strange that Charlie or I didn't see it elsewhere sooner. Still waiting to see who wrote it and who paid for it. Apparently this is in response to RTTT.)

Thanks to an alert reader, we bring you this story from the Seattle P-I which will lead you to a survey from the OSPI on Education Reform.

Here is your chance to answer: Great idea or Greatest idea?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Seattle Met: The Education Issue

So in advance of the upcoming tours and open houses at both public and private high schools, Seattle Metropolitan Magazine latest issue has several articles about high school education with 78 public and 50 private schools graded. Among the articles:
  • The New School Plan - about the NSAP
  • One Size Fits Some - about the LA alignment
  • Talk Supe - about who else? (We'll have to discuss this one because she flatly denies saying something I heard her say out loud at a meeting.)
  • Geek Boot Camp - about STEM at Cleveland (I'll have to take them to task for this title; no, no, and no.)
  • Smart and Smarter - about a West Seattle mom who worked to get IB at Chief Sealth
  • 6 Ways for Seattle Schools to Score Higher - hey, this one's by me and Charlie
  • Parents as Search Engines - mostly about applying for private school (but boy does the district take a ding here)
  • Private Lives - about a couple of private schools
  • Grading our High Schools - the listing and grades of area high schools
  • School of Knox - yet another article about Amanda Knox (don't get me started) and her supporters at Seattle Prep, the school she attended

I haven't read the entire thing so let me know what strikes you.

P.S. This was in last month's and I still don't get it (but if Eddie Vedder calls, I'm going).

It's Snow Quiet

Ever notice in Seattle how quiet it gets when it snows especially within a neighborhood? Few cars and just the sound of your feet stomping through the snow? I really like that.

But see, there's also another kind of quiet. The calm before the storm. I recognize this void, this lack of sound.

I recognize this because, deja vu, I've been through it before. Does anyone remember Joseph Olchefske? He was full of hot air (although admittedly he could be charming). He had a Board that was wrapped around his little finger with the notable exception of Mary Bass. They were an upright Board, professionals and solid citizens. They didn't listen to Mary and even ostracized Mary on the Board. It was painful to watch but the powers that be just tisk-tisked about how Mary didn't "work" with the rest of the Board. And indeed, she voted no on Olchefske's last budget even though she couldn't quite explain what the problem was. (It was buried.)

But it came to light and the district had lost $32M and the rest is history.

I had been thinking of this and then I received a copy of the explanation that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is trying to sell on the 17% issue. (Printed at the end of this thread.) I think in a way that she and her powers around her think that if they blah, blah, blah enough and actually provide an explanation that everyone will go "Oh, I get it. Thanks" and just go on their way. That providing an explanation lets them off the hook.

The explanation?

In a nutshell, that college readiness can be defined in multiple ways. (They do say both the minimum to graduate from high school and the minimum to apply to college. But kids, those are probably two different things and just because you graduated from high school doesn't mean you are ready for college and yet there you are.) And, they just didn't explain their thinking correctly (at least that's what I think they are saying).

At the time we calculated that 17% of our students graduated from SPS college and career ready, we used a very aggressive standard to determine the percent of SPS students that were college ready based on our understanding of what is needed to be admitted and succeed in college, not simply the minimum requirements to apply.

What "aggressive standard"? It's clearly one that Brad made up because he left C students out entirely. So whose standard was it?

The closest they get to being wrong is this:

In retrospect, this review should have been accelerated and we should have been more proactive, both internally with staff and externally with key stakeholders, when the original statistic was held back in 2009 and was under further review. In addition, we should have been clearer that this represented a standard more rigorous than the minimum HECB requirements.

There's no apology to either parents, teachers or the community groups using their misunderstood figure. There's no telling us that this is an isolated event. They are saying they just did not explain it well or clearly.

No they didn't. They lied and they knew they were lying. Enough said. I honestly don't know how much more people need. Apparently Michael DeBell is trying to save face as well. I like Michael so I will follow the adage "If you can't say anything nice...."

Keep count, keep track because it only seems to be getting worse. The house of cards is starting to teeter. It's just a matter of what wind blows it over.

Dear Seattle Public Schools Community,

In 2008, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) published a conservative data point aimed at determining the percent of students that graduate from SPS ready for a 4-year college. This specific data point is complex and one that districts across the state and the country grapple with as they try to quantify college and career ready. College readiness measures can be defined in multiple ways: the minimum requirements necessary to graduate high school, minimum requirements necessary to apply to a 4-year college, minimum requirements to successfully enroll in a college or university or meeting the necessary requirements to succeed in and graduate from college.

At the time we calculated that 17% of our students graduated from SPS college and career ready, we used a very aggressive standard to determine the percent of SPS students that were college ready based on our understanding of what is needed to be admitted and succeed in college, not simply the minimum requirements to apply. (i.e. graduating high school in four years, successful completion of four years of mathematics, successful completion of three years of science and earning a letter grade of "B" or higher in each of their core classes.

This specific data point sparked significant public dialogue. In 2009, we chose not to include this statistic in the initial release of the district scorecard because we wanted to review it further; we publicly announced it was under review. In 2010, after additional research and discussion, we revised the statistic on the district scorecard using reduced math and science requirements as well as a reduction in the minimum core GPA from a letter grade of "B" to a "C" that are more in line with the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) minimum requirements to apply to college. Further, at the 11/17/2010 board workshop, the district stated that the statistic changed and provided an explanation.

In retrospect, this review should have been accelerated and we should have been more proactive, both internally with staff and externally with key stakeholders, when the original statistic was held back in 2009 and was under further review. In addition, we should have been clearer that this represented a standard more rigorous than the minimum HECB requirements.

Our five-year strategic plan, Excellence for All, explicitly calls out ambitious and aggressive goals for our students because as a district we believe that all of our students can meet these standards. The primary purpose of the plan is to shine a light on an array of student achievement data so that the community could have a conversation about the progress of our students and so that we could collectively act on it. We thought then, and continue to believe now, that it is critical to communicate measures related to high school readiness for college and careers. This measure was of one of ten measures focusing on high school test results and college and career readiness. We have rigorously evaluated this measure and determined, for accountability purposes, that it is more appropriate to align our measure with the more common definition of the minimum entrance requirements as defined by the Washington HECB.

The efforts in which we are engaged are critical to the success of our students. We envision a school system in which all of our students graduate from high school, meet the requirements for, and are successful in, college and are career ready. We remain confident that we will achieve these goals. We also look forward to further communication and discussion on the district scorecard and school reports at our upcoming regional meetings <http://www.seattleschools.org/area/news/1011/20101105_Regional_Meetings_School_Reports.pdf> , co-sponsored by the Seattle Council PTSA. The first meeting is scheduled for November 29. I also encourage you to email me directly at superintendent@seattleschools.org <mailto:superintendent@seattleschools.org> if you have any additional questions or concerns.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Snow Day Tomorrow as Well

Seattle Schools will be closed tomorrow.
Tuesday, November 23rd

As well, the John Stanford Center is also closed (the better to fend off unpleasant phone calls).

Just Two Days Left for Program Placement Proposals

Finish them up today and send them in tomorrow!

The deadline is November 24.

Yet Another Broken Promise

The District has been promising/threatening an Alternative School audit/review/inventory since the start of the Strategic Plan.

Since that time, and in the absence of any audit or review, the District has

Closed two alternative schools
- The African-American Academy
- Summit K-12

Moved three alternative schools
- The NOVA Project
- The Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center
- Pathfinder

Created three alternative schools
- Queen Anne Elementary
- Jane Addams K-8
- STEM at Cleveland

Determined that special programs are not alternative
- language immersion
- Montessori

Suspended the Alternative Education Policy C54.00

And is threatening to close two more alternative schools:
- AS #1
- Middle College

A whole lot of decisions about alternative education have already moved forward in the absence of the data that would come from this review. More decisions are pending.

The Alternative Education Review was supposed to happen last year but didn't. When it was suggested that it wouldn't happen this year either, Director Martin-Morris became indignant (he's doing that a lot lately), and insisted that he was committed to the review being done this fall.

He keeps using that word. I don't think it means what he thinks it means.

Director Martin-Morris, as the chair of the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee, is the one person most responsible for making this review happen. He is the person who promised it. He is the person who must accept the blame for the failure.

Here is a link to the agenda for today's canceled Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting. I can't help wondering if the Alternative Education Review hasn't been re-titled "Schools of Innovation Review". Well, I guess it's good that they were at least going to talk about it, but Director Martin-Morris told us that the review would be done in the fall, not discussed in the fall. Can this review really be done before the Winter Break starts on December 17? That's about three weeks from now.

I don't think that the District can get this thing up and off the ground in three weeks, particularly now that the C & I meeting is canceled, and particularly if they are going to expand the scope to include all "Schools of Innovation", such as Schmitz Park and North Beach, which are using innovative math materials, all of the international schools, all of the Montessori programs, all of the A.L.O. programs, all of the schools using any non-standard instruction. Schools of Innovation is a MUCH larger category than the alternatives. They can't set the scope of the review, find an agency to conduct it, and get those folks into the schools in the three weeks remaining before Winter Break. This review will not happen this fall. That promise is broken.

Truthiness from Seattle Times: Big Surprise, the District Got College Readiness Wrong

The Times has what they call "The Truth Needle" and Linda Shaw, their education reporter, filed a report this morning. Let me allow her to tell you:

The claim: Starting in 2008, Seattle Public Schools reported that a meager 17 percent of its high-school graduates met the entrance requirements for four-year colleges. The district quietly quit using that number then recently revised it, without comment, to 46 percent.

"...revised it, without comment..." classic SPS. This is why, when you read a contract or a hard number, you should bookmark that page or print it out. It might just disappear and you'll feel like you got gaslighted (how old am I to use that reference).

Now that 17% is out there in ether and even though many of us were left scratching our heads (how did all those seniors at Roosevelt get into college?), what can you do? This 17% number has been used by LEV, Seattle Foundation and many other "community" groups.

What the Times found:

The 17 percent was one of the numbers district leaders used to justify the district's five-year plan that included a new system of assigning students to schools, more testing for students, and new teacher and principal evaluations.

That statistic was false, but the district used the number in presentations to the School Board and to the public.

Other groups picked it up as well, using it to lobby for their own priorities.

So what happened?

About two weeks ago, without fanfare, the district reported a new, much higher number. In a ream of data released that day on how its schools and the district as a whole are doing, it said 46 percent of the students who graduated this past June met the entrance requirements for Washington's public four-year universities.

The district did not call attention to the change, or explain why the number had changed so dramatically.

The reason: The 17 percent was never really what it seemed.

Brad Bernatek, the district's director of research, assessment and evaluation, said he came up with the 17 percent figure in 2008, but it was supposed to be a measure of how many high-school graduates were prepared to succeed in four-year colleges, not just get admitted.

To arrive at that figure, he counted only students who took four years of math and three years of science — more than what's required by public four-year colleges in this state. He also ruled out any student who didn't have a B average, even though a C average is enough to apply.

To repeat, Brad Bernatek just made his own ideas up about what students need to get into college. The district used this figure at many community meetings.

The district says:

It's unclear whether district staff oversimplified the explanation, misunderstood what Bernatek was trying to do or misused it in their zeal to convince the public and potential funders of the need for the changes outlined in the five-year plan.

What is clear: At least one School Board member raised questions about the figure from the beginning. And the district didn't publicly correct it, even after it pulled the figure from some of its own reports.

Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson says that was a mistake.

"We should have changed the public conversation," Goodloe-Johnson said Friday.

"We should have come forward sooner," she said.

While staff understood what the number was supposed to be, she said, she acknowledges the district didn't make its meaning clear to the public, especially after it decided to quit using it.

You crass, cynical bureaucrat. How dare you talk about public conversation when all you do is talk fast and spew non-related "information" to throw people off. Staff knew what it meant? Staff knew they were putting out false information? And they all sat on their hands and kept their mouths shut

Yoo hoo, School Board?

School Board President Michael DeBell said 17 percent always seemed too low to him. He raised questions about the number from the beginning, was told that staff would look into it, but said he never received a satisfactory answer.

"Every time I heard it, I cringed," he said. "I knew it was way too low. We were doing much better than that. I couldn't understand why we were putting that kind of data out."

Ramona Hattendorf, the former SCPTSA president said she asked Goodloe-Johnson about it and go the famous "I'll get back to you" phrase. She feels bad for spreading incorrect information. Don't Ramona, it's not YOUR fault. But please, SCPTSA know going forward that always staying on the side of the district is not your role and not where you should position yourself.

And Bernetek?

Bernatek said he stopped using the number about a year ago for two reasons. He worried about measuring students against a bar they didn't know existed, he said, and he also learned he'd left out some career- and technical-education classes that should have been counted as math classes.

In retrospect, Bernatek said, he wished he'd done more to make sure the public knew the issues with the number and why the district stopped using it.

"I didn't communicate that well enough," he said. "In fairness to the people who used it, it was still on our website."

He should be fired. I am going to e-mail the Board this morning and demand it. He knowingly (and likely with reason) put out false information

Thank you to Dan D. for this heads up.

MIddle/High Schools Close at 12:35 p.m. Today

Update: C&I Policy Meeting has been canceled.

NW Regional Meeting at Ingraham tonight has been canceled.

Be careful out there. Congrats to all the elementary kids: Snow Day!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Garfield Option Not Discussed

As we have discussed the steps that the District might take to reduce the overcrowding at Garfield, there is an option that hasn't gotten as much discussion as relocating some or all of APP: boundary changes.

I think most of us presumed that any boundary change to right-size the Garfield attendance area would involve only the southern boundary, shifting some kids from Garfield to Franklin.

But that's not the way the District saw it. The District version has the northern and western boundaries shifting as well, moving Montlake kids into the Roosevelt attendance area and some downtown families moving into the Ballard attendance area.

Montlake families should know that this option is on the table and they should voice their needs and preferences.

Let's Have a Serious and Difficult Discussion

There's been some articles/opinion pieces I've read over the last couple of days, combined with some discussions with other people, that lead me to believe we need to have some very serious discussions about parenting for educational success and how that is viewed (or not) within different communities.

Some of this is spurred by the call of political correctness over Brave New World (over at the Stranger Slog several people referred to whiny victimhood). I'm also reading a good book my son recommended to me that he read in his high school social studies class called Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in which a gorilla attempts to teach a young man how to view the world. It's very well done and very thought provoking.

I don't pretend to know all the answers nor can I say I understand the complexities of every group. I don't believe for a minute that we all live in equality and/or equity in this country. I do believe this country does represent the best chance that most people could ever have of reaching that goal. But somewhere along the line the idea that the opportunity of working hard and giving your children a better life evolved to expectation that it should come easily. And maybe without working so hard or by believing for a minute that you could buy a house with $1,000 down and no consequences or that living on credit cards will work.

The worst one? Believing that all you have to do to help your child academically is to send him/her to school and just remind them to do their homework (rather than making sure it gets done). And believing that if your child fails, then it's the teacher's fault or the school's. If a child is failing in school, there is NO one culprit.

So what did I read? I read Tom Friedman's column "Teaching for America" where he goes over the depressing stats about American students. He points out that students who perform the best come from Singapore, South Korea and Finland. (Let's put aside their small size and homogeneous nature even though it does play a part.)

Three countries that outperform us — Singapore, South Korea, Finland — don’t let anyone teach who doesn’t come from the top third of their graduating class. And in South Korea, they refer to their teachers as ‘nation builders.’ ”

Duncan’s view is that challenging teachers to rise to new levels — by using student achievement data in calculating salaries, by increasing competition through innovation and charters — is not anti-teacher. It’s taking the profession much more seriously and elevating it to where it should be. There are 3.2 million active teachers in America today. In the next decade, half (the baby boomers) will retire. How we recruit, train, support, evaluate and compensate their successors “is going to shape public education for the next 30 years,” said Duncan. We have to get this right.

BUT he ends saying we also need...better parents. Turn off the tv, restrict the video and the phone and most important "elevate learning as the most important life skill." It's funny because some people might say teaching children empathy or kindness or honesty is more important but really those all relate to learning.

The more we demand from teachers the more we have to demand from students and parents.

The second article was in the NY Times and is entitled, "Proficiency of Black Students is Found to be Far Lower Than Expected". I was talking about this with a friend (who in turn had been talking about it with some Rainier Beach parents she met at Betty Patu's community meeting yesterday). We both agreed we got tears in our eyes as we read it.

Only 12 percent of black fourth-grade boys are proficient in reading, compared with 38 percent of white boys, and only 12 percent of black eighth-grade boys are proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white boys.

Poverty alone does not seem to explain the differences: poor white boys do just as well as African-American boys who do not live in poverty, measured by whether they qualify for subsidized school lunches.

How can this be? How can middle class African-American boys do more poorly than poor white boys?

This came from the NAEP results from 2009. A report on this issue, "A Call for Change" was released on Tuesday by the Council of Great City Schools. (I have not yet read the report as it is 120 pages.)

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

"The report urges convening a White House conference, encouraging Congress to appropriate more money for schools and establishing networks of black mentors.

What it does not discuss are policy responses identified with a robust school reform movement that emphasizes closing failing schools, offering charter schools as alternatives and raising the quality of teachers.

The report did not go down this road because “there’s not a lot of research to indicate that many of those strategies produce better results,” Mr. Casserly said."

What is interesting is that the article then went on to say some disagree with the above. It stated that in Baltimore their drop-out rate had decline by half from 4 years ago and their graduation rates were up 6 percent in 3 years. They did this by a combination of the ed reform of closing failing schools (but it doesn't note what happened to the schools) BUT, like Everett School District, having one-on-one intervention (knocking on doors and alerting teachers and principals when a student missed several days of school). Meaning, parents would have a hard time missing that their student was in academic trouble.

So this brings me to the last column by the great Bob Herbert in the NY Times entitled, "This Raging Fire". Mr. Herbert is an African-American who frequently writes about that community. He points out the painful truths for the African-America child; a very high rate of single-parent households, high drop-out rate and incarceration rate and being twice as likely to live in a home where a parent doesn't have full-time employment. From his column:

It is inconceivable in this atmosphere that blacks themselves will not mobilize in a major way to save these young people. I see no other alternative.

The first and most important step would be a major effort to begin knitting the black family back together. There is no way to overstate the myriad risks faced by children whose parents have effectively abandoned them. It’s the family that protects the child against ignorance and physical harm, that offers emotional security and the foundation for a strong sense of self, that enables a child to believe — truly — that wonderful things are possible.

I wouldn’t for a moment discount the terrible toll that racial and economic injustice have taken, decade after decade, on the lives of millions of black Americans. But that is no reason to abandon one’s children or give in to the continued onslaught of those who would do you ill. One has to fight on all fronts, as my Uncle Robert said.

He ends this way:

This is not a fight only for blacks. All allies are welcome. But the cultural imperative lies overwhelmingly with the black community itself.

My friend who attended Betty Patu's meeting and was handed this article by a Rainier Beach parent said the parent told her that their community knows this. They don't need blame, they need support. To pull everyone up is going to take effort, not finger pointing.

What has to happen is no more excuses. I do not mean that anyone should forget what has gone before or believe that there is not still discrimination based on skin color, culture or sexual orientation in this country. But treading water and still sinking has got to stop.

I think the parents at Rainier Beach are reaching their frustration point and may be in the best place possible to mobilize for change. We need to support that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

We Now Have an Ethics Officer

In response to a recent audit the District has appointed an Ethics Officer, Mr. Treat. This is a new position. The District did not have an Ethics Officer before.

Now that there is an Ethics Officer, people can use Board Procedure F11.01, including this part:
C. Investigation of Alleged Violations

1. Any person may submit a written complaint to the Ethics Officer specifying one or more violations of these Guidelines. Complaints should be signed by the person or persons submitting them, but unsigned complaints will be accepted. If requested, complainant’s privacy will be observed where possible.

2. The Ethics Officer (or his or her appointee) shall be authorized to do any or all of the following: interview the complainant; provide an overview of the complaint to the subject of the complaint; interview and obtain a statement of facts from the subject of the complaint; identify and gather relevant documents; and identify other persons who might have relevant knowledge of the alleged violation.

Upon completion of the foregoing, the Ethics Officer shall prepare a Preliminary Report containing the results of the investigation and a recommendation as to discipline. The final decision with respect to discipline shall be handled like any other disciplinary matter, including the right to a meeting if discipline is proposed.

3. Any employee found to have violated any provision of these Guidelines may be subject to progressive disciplinary action.
So maybe there's somebody out there who wants to submit a written complaint about an apparent ethics violation. Maybe somebody out there knows of a District employee who violated the Ethics Policy F11.00. I'm thinking of a violation such as
It is the policy of the Seattle School Board that no school district employee may have an interest, financial or otherwise, or engage in a business or transaction or incur an obligation of any nature, that is in conflict with the proper discharge of the school district employee’s official duties.
or this part of the Ethics procedure:
District employees who participate in the acquisition of particular goods and services by the District shall not receive compensation for personal services rendered to or for any person or firm seeking to or providing those particular goods or services during the term of their District employment, unless information about the services and compensation is disclosed in writing to the Superintendent's designee and approved in writing by him or her beforehand.
Just in case anyone is considering submitting a complaint about the superintendent's undisclosed role with NWEA at the time of the MAP purchase, I would like to remind that person that when the superintendent disclosed all of her positions with non-profits, she neglected to include her seat on the Board of the Alliance for Education. The Alliance, as we all know, has a lot of financial dealings with the District and, so far as I know, the superintendent is STILL on their board. So is the President of the School Board. Hmmm. Could that be another ethics violation?

I don't know. It isn't up to me to make that determination. It's up to the Ethics Officer to decide that. But, in the absence of a complaint, the Ethics Officer might not act on it.

What is this Issue of Brave New World Really About?

What this situation in Seattle Public Schools and its use of Brave New World is NOT about is banning a book. That one word is so loaded and has been used over and over and it's just not true. It is not used in any of the supporting materials submitted by the district in this case.

I just want to relate how troubling this can be by the reaction on KUOW yesterday morning during their weekly news roundup. This week they had as guest pundits; Joni Balter, editorial writer at the Times, Eli Sanders from the Stranger and Knute Berger from Crosscut. These are people who I know to be professionals and not particularly hysterical people.

I was listening at that time (I always like to check in on the news roundup to see news items make it) and they were discussing the Brave New World book situation. I called in NOT to give my opinion but because I had attended the hearing, read the supporting materials and have spoken with this mother, Sarah Sense-Wilson, in the past. (She's also not a hysterical type.) I told the screener I thought I could give more background to this case to help the discussion. She said great and I was on hold.

What followed was just mystifying and frustrating.

First, the host, Marcie Sillman, had opened the discussion with a couple of errors. She, too, said the book was to be banned. She also said the "School Board deferred the decision." Well, they did but only because they ran out of time. I feel sure if they had the time, they would have made a decision. They didn't not make the decision because of any uproar. (She also said, at a later point, that she wasn't sure what the decision was. That didn't stop her from using the word "ban", though.)

So then they brought me in. I mentioned the blog and just stated how this was about professional development for the teachers and that the book had issues that might need clarification for students. I got out two sentences before Eli Sanders interrupted me to say that it wasn't Aldous Huxley's fault for the ignorance of high school students. (And no one said that.) But then he went on to say maybe they need "better education in classrooms." Great, okay.

I then tried to expand on this to let them know that both the teachers at Hale AND the district said that for this book (and several other challenging ones) more professional development was needed.

I had Eli and Knute jump in and say "that's absurd." Knute said, "This kind of censorship is exactly to the point of what the book is critiquing. But if you wave the flag of political correctness in this town, you'll get a hearing." I'll stop here and say I disagree that anyone is waving that particular flag. I think it valid to say, "Where is the context given the inflammatory nature of some of the language of the book vis a vis Native Americans?" Also, the district has a process and the parent followed that process. It's not like she asked for and received any special treatment in this matter.

Then Eli said that he believed she misunderstood the book (but later they all say that books can have multiple meanings so go figure) and that he "was against the state coming in and telling you the parameters of your inquiry or thought." Again, who is saying that? NO one is saying teachers should tell the kids what the book is about or how to think of it.

Joni said, "What's wrong with being offended by a book?" Good point, books are supposed to be thought-provoking. However, this is a book being read, not by choice or for pleasure, by students in a class who are there to learn how to think critically about what they read. Explaining context to them helps them know how to do that and would help balance any offense they might take to any situational or word usage. Joni said, "You have to trust the learning process." To which I would say, that's pretty old school. I'd like to think we have moved beyond, "who are the main characters and what are their goals and obstacles to those goals." Any bright child can read a book and figure that out. The bigger picture - why Huxley used satire, why he might have chosen Native American culture, what message he was trying to put forth - that's important to be able to analyze what you are reading at a deeper level.

But again, Eli said something to effect of not telling kids "this is what the book means." No one is saying that, it's not the issue here and yet that's what all of them believed the issue to be.

Marcie then added what I thought was fuel to the fire by saying, "I'm picturing Nazi Germany and burning piles of books." What!?! Unfair, not part of the issue and inflammatory.

Eli also said, after a listener sent in an e-mail saying she felt they had gone nuclear on me, "I have to take a stand on censorship and imposing thought on others." Not - the - issue.

Then he said (and this is also crucial), "Why do teachers need professional development?"

Do people not know why this is? Do they not realize we spend money and time in this district, every single year, for PD? Who, in their right mind, thinks teaching is a static profession?

What was interesting is that they discussed this topic and moved on but apparently got so many calls (and I guess people were really irate because Marcie asked them not to yell at the screener) and e-mails that they went back to this subject. One listener wrote that she was a teacher and said teachers needed professional development to have the pedagogy to help answer those student questions and elicit students' understanding of what they read. Another caller said he was Native American and had read the book as well as taught about NA culture and that he thought the parent in this case may have been offended but that she took it out of context.

So we end up with:
  • Some saying this is political correctness when I might take the other side of putting up the political correctness with incendiary statements about banning books. Say you're going to ban a book and watch the fur fly. Maybe the parent could be taking the NA references out of context but they are there in the book. She isn't making this up.
  • Some not understanding that the book is not to be banned even if its use is temporarily suspended. (I believe the Board will likely say to the district, get the curriculum mapping done before you use challenging materials and temporarily remove the book from the list. Then you have our blessing to put it back on the list.)
No one is trying to make teachers into thought police.

I think especially for LA teachers that is so out of the realm of possibility as to be laughable. I've met LA teachers from at least 4 high schools and they are so enthused about getting their students to think critically if only to make the class interesting (but, yes in the bigger picture, to elicit those critical thoughts or questions).

No one is trying to ban a book.

The Story isn't the Story

This past week we saw something I had never seen before, a complaint about Board-adopted materials, Brave New World as a 10th grade Language Arts text.

Dorothy, Mel and I were in the auditorium and heard the presentation by both sides, the Board's questions and the answers. Phyllis Fletcher from KUOW was also there.

I had gone over to Ms Fletcher when she entered the room and congratulated/thanked her for her story on the matter from that morning. The story described the problem at the root of the matter and fairly and accurately represented the perspectives of each side.

That contrasts starkly with other stories written about the situation.

The story in the Times didn't misrepresent the situation, but didn't explain it either. Consequently there were 207 comments about PC or totalitarian efforts to "ban" the book before I posted a comment that stated the actual situation.

The story in the P-I, however, was just plain wrong. The headline read: "Parent seeks to ban 'Brave New World' from Seattle schools" which is just factually wrong. The story goes on to say:
At a Seattle School Board meeting Wednesday night, a concerned parent will petition for a ban on Aldous Huxley's classic book "Brave New World."
Again, just plain factually wrong. The P-I story says "Sense-Wilson's daughter was offended by the satire from 1932" which is a gross mischaracterization. The writer from the P-I, Amy Rolph, has a lot to answer for. I have to wonder if she was at the hearing. I don't think she could have been.

There's a story on the Stranger's Slog by Eli Sanders in which he writes: "I Can't Believe We're Talking About Banning Brave New World at a Seattle Public High School". Well it's a good thing he can't believe it because he shouldn't believe it because it isn't true.

There are other stories now floating around the web, and nearly all of them grotesquely misrepresent the situation, both the concern and the potential outcome of the decision. Many of these irresponsible stories encourage people to contact Ms Sense-Wilson, Nathan Hale, and the District.

As a result, Ms Sense-Wilson, Nathan Hale, and the District have all been scorned unjustly - sometimes, I suppose, directly.

The for-profit press isn't without its biases. They aren't necessarily biased one way or another politically, but they definitely have a bias towards sensationalism.

I guess I have to re-state the truth about both the challenge and the consequences if the challenge is upheld.

The challenge was rooted in the fact that typical 15- and 16-year-old students do not have the background context necessary to distinguish between the satirical representation of "savage" culture in the book and the reality of Native American cultures. If appropriate care is not exercised by the teacher, students can come away with some very strange, negative, and mistaken beliefs about Native American cultures.

If the challenge is upheld, the book will be removed from the list of texts on the aligned curriculum. Teachers are free to teach any books they like, but they are expected to choose at least four a year from this list. Being on the list doesn't mean that a book will be taught - Ballard is the only school now teaching Brave New World. Likewise, being off the list doesn't prevent a teacher from assigning a book as teachers assign much more than four books a year. Removing Brave New World from the list wouldn't prevent a teacher from assigning it. There are only 75 works on this list. There are a lot of books, great books, that aren't on the list. There's nothing here by Herman Melville or Nathaniel Hawthorne. There are more great books that are not on the list than the 75 that are on it. It would not be accurate or fair to say that every other book that isn't on this list is "banned".

High School Credit Victory!

I got a letter yesterday from Chief Academic Officer Susan Enfield advising me that my daughter will be awarded 0.5 high school credits for the French class she took in the eighth grade last year.

From her letter:
It was the intention of staff and at least some Board members that the policies approved in October 2009 were not to go into effect until fall of 2010, allowing the technical changes and review of courses to be in place before credit could be received. However, after further review of the Board Action Report for this item, it seems clear that it was stated that the policies would go into effect immediately upon approval.
High school level classes taken in middle school during the 2009-2010 school year are eligible for high school credit. The student does have to petition the Board for the credit and does have to wait until they are enrolled in a Seattle School District high school to make the petition, but the credit will be awarded if it meets the criteria.

Maybe it isn't ALL futile.

Friday, November 19, 2010

West Seattle High School Changes Lunch Time

(Update: the WSB has a story with input from the rep from the union, Dave Westberg. According to Dave, the issue at Cleveland, 1 lunch/900 kids/113 fit in lunchroom, is on-going. Also to note, there was a story in the Seattle Times about some Ingraham students who decided to break into a house during their lunch hour because they needed money. An alert neighbor saw them and called the police. They were arrested. The more kids who leave campus, the more opportunities to find trouble. It's also hard on a neighborhood -I know not to go near 65th and 12th NE during Roosevelt's lunch hour.)

The West Seattle Blog scooped me on a story I had on the backburner. (Actually the story is written by Simone Machmiller for the WSHS newspaper, The Chinook.)

West Seattle High had one lunch hour and a short "breakfast break." They will now have two lunch hours and no breakfast break (similar to what some other high schools have). Of course, change doesn't come easily.

This happened because of an agreement between the district and the union that represents lunch workers. The district signed a contract with the union promising to work with the union on these types of issues and when it didn't, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint. The district had failed to bargain with the union on this issue and they reached agreement after negotiations. Cleveland and McClure were also part of this agreement.

The principal, Ruth Medsker, came up with the two lunch idea, one before the 4th period and one after it. Naturally the kids will not all now be able to eat together and are not happy about it. Some student clubs had met during lunch hour and now that will have to change. I will say that just one lunch period is a lot for a large school and many kids skip lunch to not stand in line for food.

The students point out this is the 6th schedule change in the last 4 years for the senior class.

Open Thread Friday

To note: if you are writing the Board about the NSAP and the transition plan, do try to use this address:


Apparently, those e-mails with the message line "NSAP" get more easily forwarded to Tracy Libros who is trying to get as wide a range of comments as possible. This doesn't mean that any comment you sent to an individual Board member won't get to her (the Board is trying to make sure she sees what they see) but the best way is to use the address above.

This Saturday sees 3 community meetings:

Carr - 8:30-10 am
DeBell - 9-11:30 am
Patu - 10 am -noon

Important to Note on TFA

I'm reprinting what Charlie has state (and is true) and, that staff could have, but not clearly delineate to the Board (especially during KSB questioning about hiring).

"The District staff said, on several occasions, that the Teach for America corps members will only be in the Phase III hiring pool. They won't be in Phase I or Phase II.

No. They won't. But not because of the contract and not because the District won't allow them into the Phase I and Phase II pool, but because there won't be a Phase I or a Phase II hiring period at any of the schools where they want to teach.

One of the elements of the District's Performance Management System dictates that Level 1 and Level 2 schools - those which are under-performing - will go straight to Phase III hiring.

Let's remember that Teach for America corps members are only interested in working in low-income communities, which are the schools south of I-90 and the schools in the far north. These are also the schools which are in Level 1 or Level 2 for Performance Management.

So there won't be two rounds of internal hiring that come before the Teach for America corps members can enter the candidate pool. They will be among the first to apply and be considered for those jobs."

Here's a few other updates:

TFA jumped a big hurdle getting SPS. BUT, they still don't have everything they need to get here. How close they are, I don't know. I suspect fairly close but they need to get it done by Jan. 2011. These other factors:
  • TFA still needs to get an agreement with at least one more district. (It was interesting because a former TFAer who is now the assistant super for Edmonds testified and said he wished he could bring them there. I'm thinking it's the money that holds people back. Just to note the national average that TFA charges per teacher is $1500; Seattle is paying $4k and Federal Way, $3k.)
  • They need to place at least 50 more corps members in other schools districts. Their goal is something like 150 TFAers throughout the Puget Sound area.
  • They need a university partner to certify the recruits. So who might they get? Well, UW's Dean of Ed is a former TFAer but that might look like a conflict of interest. (I will find out who he reports to and we can send e-mails strongly opposing UW's "adoption" of TFA.) Seattle University has a College of Education; I can't seem them supporting TFA. University Center of North Puget Sound sponsors WWU's education program so probably not them as well. St. Martin's also has a teaching program. Maybe University of Puget Sound? Who else?
  • They need to raise almost $1M. The Seattle Foundation says they need $5.2M in private sector funding. The report in the Seattle Times says they have raised about $4.1M from Seattle Foundation, Gates, Raikes Foundation and Bezos Foundation.
To note, unlike Federal Way which has signed up to hire between 5-10, Seattle made no guarantees of employment. It might be an interesting exercise to combine Kay's research with principals and expand it to all the principals with high poverty schools. Survey all of them and you might get an idea how many might have willing principals agreeable to TFA recruits (although I believe all the principals would be fair in looking for the best person for their school). I also still believe these principals will get the word to make sure that TFAers are interviewed.

What is interesting is that TFA and the Board were touting that they bring diversity, using stats on their last national pool of applicants. That's great but there is NO guarantee that the national pool will reflect who applies here. They don't start recruiting until January for Seattle-area positions but I'm sure this will be a more popular place than Detroit or the Bronx (in terms of the work, not the place).

I may have missed pointing out that SPS teacher Matt Carter spoke at the Board meeting against TFA. It was pretty funny because he was using the NCTQ report. He said first, he did not like being referred to as "human capital". Two, he quoted a relevant section of the report that said the district should minimize hiring first year teachers as they are the least effective.

Yet another good example of the cherry-picking that goes on in this district.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brave New World Indeed

There was a student at Hale who went to her parent with concerns over a book being used in her child's LA class. The book was Brave New World written in 1931 by Aldous Huxley. The parent and student are Native Americans. (Just to interject here; I mistakenly thought there was no Board policy attached to this review and I simply erred in not scrolling down the page. My apologies.)

Basically if a parent or guardian has an issue with instructional materials they are to go to the principal and staff member first. If that fails, any party at step 1 may request the administrator in Charge of Curriculum and Instruction meet with those involved to resolve the issue. After step 2, the principal shall furnish the party not in agreement with a copy of the "Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials" form. When that is received, a "Reconsideration Commitee, is formed to reconsider the material. (The committee is made up of a parent of a child at the grade level involved but not from the school involved, member of C&I department, 1 elementary/secondary principal but not from school involved, 2 elementary/secondary teachers (if class material) or librarians (if library material) but not from school involved.

The Committee considers and then reaches a decision and communicates that in writing to the complainant and the principal of the school affected. That decision can be appealed to the Superintendent or principal within 10 working days. Superintendent reviews and issues a written decision and that decision is final for supplementary materials/library materials. Basic instructional materials may be appealed to the Board. And that's where we end.

This all started in March of this year.

Hale's principal, Jill Hudson, did meet with the parent, Sarah Sense-Wilson. She had sent a letter of apology to Ms. Sense-Wilson. She also invited Ms. Sense-Wilson and other Native Americans to provide her staff with cultural sensitivity training and it took place at the school (this was in April 2010).

Ms. Sense-Wilson then went to the district about the issue. According to the timeline, Ms. Sense-Wilson asked "that it be removed as required curriculum and that an apology letter be published in the Nathan Hale newspaper." The Reconsideration Committee was formed but both parties wrote letters read to the Committee as the Nathan Hale teachers "opted" out of attending.

In May the Committee was scheduled to meet but one parent couldn't come. So another parent rep had to be secured and the meeting rescheduled. This dragged into June. The Committee met and reviewed the evidence. The vote was 3-2 in favor of removing the text from the adopted list for all schools. (This seems to not have been stated last night but I hasten to say that none of the participants spoke clearly into the microphone. I could have missed something.)

The day after staffer Holly Ferguson determined the Committee had overstepped its bounds and could only recommend its removal for Hale. (In reviewing the policy, it doesn't really say what the Committee can do except "reconsidering the material in question" and "reach a decision". )

The next day Ms. Sense-Wilson and the Committee were informed of this decision. The Committee met by phone a week later to reconsider their decision. Again, the vote was 3-2 in favor of removing it from Hale's reading list.

Then the timeline shows that Ms. Vasquez sent Ms. Sense-Wilson a letter, telling her of the outcome and apprising her of the right to appeal the decision. The official timeline ends there by obviously Ms. Sense-Wilson appealed; it is unclear.

There is a letter from Ms. Sense-Wilson from the initial complaint where she explains why her daughter was upset. She is careful to say she felt Hale was a "progressive, innovative and liberal school but now I am seeing another side of the oppressive nature of the academic culture at Nathan Hale." She acknowledges a good conversation and apology from who I believe is an LA teacher at Hale. She also points out that at Hale's diversity day there is no acknowledgment of Native Americans. (That seems almost impossible for where we live but there you are.)

Also included is Dr. Hudson's letter of apology from April where she says they never intentionally meant to hurt or offend. I think it is a fine letter.

The LA department at Hale also has a letter stating it will no longer feature Brave New World in their third quarter of LA. They state "We have come to understand that to correctly teach this book to a young audience involves challenges that are greater than we had formerly anticipated." They believe it is a good book for the integration of materials they are trying to teach but that the "cultural insensitivity embedded in this book makes it an inappropriate choice....".

There are minutes from the Committee. They note that the word "savage" is used 30+ times. They also state that they are there to determine if the text should be taught, NOT if NH staff mis-taught. One of the best questions asked was "Can we meet set of conditions needed to teach it?" Also there was concern over censorship. "What will mitigate majority of teaching force is white and dominant in K-12?"

There follows letters explaining the decision, the district's re-reading of the Board policy, the revote, the appeal to ban the book entirely from the reading list (not the school or summer optional reading list) and other supporting docs. Apparently the summer break stopped the process and so the letter from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is dated Sept. 8th. She stated she did not support the removal of the book from the approved list. She did offer that the district was working with LA teachers and to "identify texts that address complex cultural issues" as well as other steps they would take (but gave no timeline).

Then Ms. Sense-Wilson apparently contacted the principal at Ballard to ask how they handle the book. (I'm thinking her daughter may have transferred to Ballard which also uses BNW.) The letter, from Keven Wynkoop, is in the supporting materials. He states, "After meeting with Mr. Kelly and Ms Vasquez, I feel that it is important to consider the use of this book with greater nuance than whether it should or should not be taught at Ballard." He states that their department wants to take two sub days to work on the lessons to make this happen and that she can come and discuss these lessons.

Ms. Sense-Wilson answers that there are multiple concerns beyond the use of the book. Meaning, what is happening in US History and US Government that would support the use of the book?

The Board scheduled 30 minutes to address this and I knew it wouldn't work. Their work, whether a committee meeting or Work session, always seems rushed and this was no different. There was testimony by Ms. Sense-Wilson, her daughter and a couple of other Native American adults (who were not properly identified). Ms. Vasquez testified for the district.

My notes reflect that Ms. Sense-Wilson didn't want a ban but clearly she does for BNW's use in the SPS LA book list. Apparently most of the Board had read the review but none of them had read BNW. (No one even picked up the book and looked? Good grief.) Ms. Sense-Wilson said the NA woman who served on the adoption committee was not known within the NA community.

Her daughter mentioned other books that had the same theme that could be used. One of the NA adults mentioned that for NA teens these are very sensitive topics. He said NA have the highest suicide rate in the country (and a character in the book kills himself), the highest drop-out rate, highest unemployment rate and second highest incarceration rate.

There was also a teacher (but I don't know from what school) who had a list of statements from 11th and 12th graders in history class about Native Americans. It was very ignorant and appalling. I don't know if the students were trying to be funny or truly knew nothing but if this is what they know, then I can see the problem using Brave New World without some kind of context and guidance.

Ms. Vasquez went over how the adoption committee had done its work. (There are 74 texts vetted and approved, she stated.) She said that there were other challenging texts like Huck Finn, Bluest Eye and The Color Purple. (None of those are satire combined with complex themes.)

The head of the LA department at Ballard also spoke. He stated that in the past they had not done enough to put the book in context but wanted (is) ensuring the curriculum to do that.

Betty spoke of her concern over these issues as she is a person of color and has personally and with her children experienced these issues. She did ask why they didn't go to anyone who works for the district at the Native American Heritage school. No real answer.

Sherry asked if there were any satirical texts about white people and Ms. Vasquez cited the graphic novel, Maus. (Charlie and I were a bit startled as we do not know this book to be satire - it is the author's account of his father's history during WWII as a Jew. He does make all Jews mice and all Germans cats but that wasn't satire.) Sherry stated that a teacher might not know one word was upsetting to a student.

What I feel Ms. Vasquez did was shoot herself in the foot. She kept saying the curriculum mapping was "coming" but clearly, the work is not ready. And yet they keep using the text. Kay tried to give her an out, telling her maybe they could give the teachers a simple foundation to give context and nuance but Ms. Vasquez waved that off. She also made it sound like every school was creating its own curriculum map. She also stated that most of the LA teachers are white and may not have the background to make these adjustments.

Yes, and all the more reason to not use a text that you do not have the competency to teach.

I do not want to ban any book.

But if the district admits that some books are more challenging than others, admits the work is not done around the professional development to teach the more challenging books and admits the teachers may not have the cultural competency to teach it, well, then suspend its use until at least some of that is done.

I do not challenge teachers' ability to teach the text nor that somehow the wording used in BNW has eluded them. But clearly there are issues and if there is little awareness of who is sitting in their classes, then it's an issue. I also believe that despite the outward sophistication of our teens, they are still developing people who don't have the life experience and knowledge basis to grasp all that they are reading. If the teachers are not ready to guide them properly, then suspend the use of the book until they are.

Naturally, the Board ran out of time to deliberate and so set this aside without a statement of when they will announce their decision. (They may have told the parties privately but they didn't announce anything.)