Disqus

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Whining

An anoymous commenter who signed as Seattle Parent (not the person with the profile name Seattle Parent) wrote:
Frankly, all the incessant whining and bash-the-billionaires, knee jerk "advocacy", reform hand-wringing etc. really motivated me to vote for the levy. All the complaints about the "oh so horrid" audit which turned up a few thousand here and there. Why does everybody think they should get a say? I'll take MGJ and her levy over the commenters here any day. If you want to run for office, do so.

At the end of the day, no organization is perfect. They all have waste, and accountability issues. That doesn't mean you shouldn't fund them.
There's a lot here to consider, and I think that we should consider it.

Let's start with whining. I can't stand whining. I think that if my generation had a motto it would be "No Whining". Whining is identifying a problem and expecting someone else to solve it. It simply isn't legitimate. A legitimate complaint, on the other hand, includes a proposed solution. If we are identifying problems and not offering solutions, then we are, indeed, whining. If we are proposing solutions, however, then we are not just whining. From my perspective, the discussions on this blog that point out problems generally also offer workable solutions.

As for "bash-the-billionaires" I can only speak for myself. I don't speak ill of folks who want to contribute to public education. I'm all for that. Moreover, I don't speak ill of those who try to influence education officials - heck, I do that myself. I am troubled when some folks have a whole different class of access to decision-makers because that's undemocratic. When I hear district officials complain that they keep hearing from the same voices in the community, they mean me, Mel, Chris Jackins, and a handful of other activists. They don't mean Broad and Gates and the Alliance - even though they hear from those folks more than anyone else. Again, there are "bash-the-billionaires" voices on this blog, but I don't think they speak for anyone but themselves.

I don't know what "knee jerk advocacy" means. Someone help me out with that. It could be a reference to a rush to judgement about every single issue, but there are a lot of issues I don't speak about and I don't think I rush to judgement on any of them. Of course, I can only speak for myself. This blog is an open discussion and there are sure to be those who do this sort of thing from time to time. I don't think it's a fair characterization of the blog as a whole. The blog is here for discussion and deliberation, so, if anything, it is an anti-knee-jerk tool.

I like the image of "reform hand-wringing". I see a lot of that, too. There is, however, a false dichotomy if the choice is presented as Education Reform (as envisioned by Gates and Broad and that ilk) and the status quo. I'm certainly not an advocate for the status quo, but that doesn't mean that I support the whole raft of Education Reform ideas. It would be no more reasonable to support all of the Education Reform stuff than it would be to oppose it all. Some of it is good and worthwhile, some is not. More than that, it completely misses the point when it comes to making the changes at the student level that are needed to help individual students.

Seattle Parent made reference to "All the complaints about the 'oh so horrid' audit which turned up a few thousand here and there." This troubles me. The bad stuff that was turned up in the audit wasn't the few thousand here and there (by the way, it was hundreds of thousands - don't forget the mistakenly overpaid salaries), it was the basically lawless culture of the District. It was the Board's total abdication of their responsibility to oversee. It was the superintendent's arrogant presumption that she was above the rules. It was the utter lack of concern about the law or policies or any regulatory limits on staff actions. Those things were deeply troubling and they were all turned up by this audit. The auditors were horrified - and so should be anyone who reads the audit with a discerning eye.

"Why does everybody think they should get a say?" asks Seattle Parent. I guess that's because the school district is a government entity in a democracy. Because the School Board Directors are elected. Because the district is supported by our tax dollars. All of the usual reasons. In addition, because these are our children. I would wonder even more strongly why Seattle Parent thinks people shouldn't get a say?

"If you want to run for office, do so." I hear this one a lot. Of course, I did run for office. If the standard for earning the right to complain about the government is that you have to run for office, then there are a lot of people who should shut up. That, however, is not the standard. I could say that if Seattle Parent doesn't like this blog then he or she is free to start his or her own or simply to not participate in this one. I wouldn't, however, suggest that Seattle Parent has to start a blog in order to earn the privilege to complain about this one. By the way, if the dialogue goes like this: "If you don't like it, then run for the Board." "I did." "Yes, and you lost so shut up." Then the only people who are allowed to speak would be the Board members.

"At the end of the day, no organization is perfect. They all have waste, and accountability issues. That doesn't mean you shouldn't fund them." This is true. Perfection is not a reasonable goal. And while the District can't be perfect, they can be a whole heck of a lot better than they are now. And I want the District to be better and I am working to make the District better. Recently, part of that work was to oppose the levy. Sometimes that work involves appealing a Board decision. Most of the time it just requires discussing the issues, writing and speaking to district officials, and spreading information.

60 comments:

SC Parent said...

Based on Seattle Parent's comments, I think it's pretty clear levy opposition didn't do a good enough job of explaining the tremendous significance of the audit findings, myself included. We'll have to improve our performance during the recall effort.

Thanks to everyone who worked to defeat the supplemental levy in an attempt to catalyze accountability at the district level.

hschinske said...

The person who has an actual login handle of Seattle Parent didn't write that. I don't think it's fair to let an anon use that name and go on referring to them by it.

Helen Schinske

Sahila said...

People miss the point completely with this entire reform agenda...

Its about completing the process of turning this country into an oligarchy - and owning education is part of that... a handful of very wealthy people have decided they know what is best for this country/economy and they are using their money to make sure they create the world they think they/we need...

Melissa points out often that this is supposed to be a democratic country/process, where we, the people get to control life... government of the people by the people for the people and all of that... lovely sentiment by the way...

Well, what, in SPS, do we the people get to control for and about our kids?

Nothing now that Broad and Gates are playing in the sandbox...

"If humanity does not opt for integrity we are through completely. It is absolutely touch and go. Each one of us could make the difference." ~R. Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983), American engineer, author, designer, inventor, and futurist

Anonymous said...

No. People tried and tried, and tried some more, to make hay out of the audit. The tremendous significance, is in the minds of a very few... who wish to find fault anyway. It just isn't that big a deal. Read it yourself. All I could say was: So what? An HR glitch overpaid people. That happened at Microsoft too. Were the stock holders up in arms? No. Microsoft didn't even try to get the overpayments back. Have you never overpaid for something?

Seattle Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

"All the complaints about the "oh so horrid" audit which turned up a few thousand here and there."

Seattle Parent, (whoever you are), YOU didn't do your work. If you can hear the phrase,

"District management and the School Board have put public resources at risk."

and not go and seek out the audit, then I don't know what will move you.

And it's not thousands of dollars, it's not hundreds of thousands, it's MILLIONS. I can prove it. It's funny because Sharon Rodgers of Schools First tried to say "no money was lost in the audit". I can prove where real money was lost and misspent. So unless you can prove your "thousands", you're out of luck. (Naturally, you won't take me up on my offer because you know you are wrong.)

Of course there is some waste in every organization or things we wish money wasn't spent on. That is NOT what the levy opposition was about. It was about accountability which is sorely lacking in this district. And, this district wastes A LOT of money.

What I will leave you with are two things:

One, there is another (yes, another) state audit coming out about our capital building program. It is TWO years in the making (not a good sign). I'm pretty sure it's not good news. And, I think when some of you hear about it, you might think back to this day and say, "I really didn't think it was that bad."

Two, the rest of Washington doesn't seem to be that interested in education (or, more likely, just suffering under the bad economy). I-098 failed so no new money there. I-1053 passed so now the Legislature will need 2/3 of a vote to pass any tax. We have lost the money on the soda pop tax. (Even R-52 which would have upgraded schools for more energy efficiency failed.)

So what we of the levy opposition were arguing for - more money going directly into the classroom - well, your school is going to feel the heat. Every parent is within their rights to say to the Board and the district, we voted the levy in and we want the money in our classrooms (the Strategic Plan can slow down or wait).

Good luck with that but things may get so dire that parents will be clamoring for some of that levy money.

SP said...

Charlie, is it possible to edit your post & add "Annonymous" to Seattle Parent's name to differentiate between the two of us? Thanks

(Thank you, Helen & Melissa,
The Anonymous "Seattle Parent" is NOT the same person as the Seattle Parent name that I've been using for the past several years.
Full disclosure- I do NOT support the opinions of the other "Anonymous/Seattle Parent"!)

Dorothy Neville said...

Have you read the full audit withe exceptions?

Money lost? Well, there's $2.2M that the district operating fund has to pay to capital fund.

On all 7 federal grant programs audited, there were multiple issues of non-compliance. Many of those issues were of a financial nature. Sure each individual one is a little bit of potential money lost (due to no-bid contracts etc) but it adds up.

wseadawg said...

Why are we devoting a thread to an obvious hack with nothing but personal gripes to contribute? (My only comment on this as I eagerly await the next substantive thread topic...)

Unknown said...

Clearly in the category of whining? I'd include this blog's reaction last week to the fact that there wasn't lots of advance notice for the first "drop in" chance to give feedback on the NSAP. Even though the rest of themeetigs were spread out over many weeks. Ditto the blog's reaction to the fact that the work was being done between November and january.

The First Arnold said...

Wondering, how does anonymous Seattle Parent feels about State Auditor charging MGJ with Unethical Conduct for non-disclosure?

Yea, I guess we should all keep our mouths shut.

I for one, am grateful for our watchful community. Without a watchful community...I'd be fearful.

Anonymous said...

In response to the whining thread, don't worry we haven't whined. We followed all the proper channels of communication to the central office, the schools, the PTA, and the Board. In the many years of trying to make sense out of all the this, it comes down to parents successfully gaming the system in order to get what is needed for their kids' education. If we can't, we eventually leave the Seattle publlic schools.

We are a small group of parents living across King county. Some of us have left this school district because our bright kids were underwhelmed by the SE Intitiative. Our renter friends have moved out of the city for longer work commute, but better schools (Bellevue, Issaquah, Shoreline).

There was no knee jerking, whining, or hand-wringing going on. All of us worked, volunteered, showed up at "community engagement" meetings, etc. We just got tired, stopped believing, and are moving on.

Moving on

Anonymous said...

There are a LOT of SPS parents who read this blog or are aware of its stances-- and what I have heard many, many times is people saying to each other, "I wish the blog were more constructive" or "I wish it weren't so negative." I view the levy vote in some small part as a majority standing against negative "Seattle process," and against this blog's generally negative approach.

Another Seattle person who is also a Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, Another Seattle person who is also a Parent, it kind of begs a question:

why are you here?

I mean there are other venues to discuss education if this one is too negative for you. I'm not telling you to go away but I have to wonder why you are here if it is so negative.

Of course, the fact that you get information here, sometimes even before the district puts it out, that you won't find anywhere else could be the answer. If it is, why not just read the informational stuff and skip the rest?

Bird said...

Clearly in the category of whining? I'd include this blog's reaction last week to the fact that there wasn't lots of advance notice for the first "drop in" chance to give feedback on the NSAP

I don't think there's anything wrong with Melissa pointing out that no one will attend a NSAP meeting that no one's ever heard about.

Honestly, wasn't the only notice a press release a few days before hand? Who would even know about the press release without this blog?

I'm interested in these meetings because my school is one that is having problems because of the NSAP.

Call that post whining if you want. I call it informative.

Dorothy Neville said...

Rosie, I guess the issue of the meeting last week for the NSAP issues could be construed as whining but I took it as information combined with intense frustration the district that says they want to be better at community engagement, but not putting that into action very well.

Yes, the blog can get negative. I suppose that's what news and discussion is usually about, isn't it? Certainly positive news is announced, but mostly it is lifting up rocks and exposing what's underneath. If you want change, if you want positive action, you gotta know what the problems are first.

How to be more constructive? That's a good question. Many of us here do research, contact the board, volunteer in schools. More constructive with district issues? You mean like sharing the information about the Everett success model, you mean like pushing for correcting the WSS special ed formula that punishes schools for obeying the law? You mean like exposing how the district creates a separate budget for the public that hides its spending? If it weren't for Meg doing that, would the board even know to ask about coaches?

How about sharing the national success stories of school turnarounds that were based on teachers being empowered to work together?

How about exposing the audit so that the board decided that they really do have to take it seriously?

I get tired of the complaints here as well. I get tired of the same conversations over and over, how sometimes certain commenters jump in and drive away deeper discussion. But it sure beats not being involved, not knowing what's going on, not trying to change things for the better.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that I'd call it whining, but this blog seems to do two things with predictable consistency: call for district heads to roll when ANYTHING negative happens and when it (rarely) posts something good happening, credits only the local school(s) involved. In other words, if it's bad, MGJ, her staff and probably the board caused it, but if it's good, they had nothing to do with it.

There ARE exceptions, but not many. And even when the blog owners post something positive, there's sure to be a regular poster or three attacking the good news as somehow tied to one of the "evildoers" (witness the Milliken award last week). And I'd bet some people would consider that whining. Or bashing.

Then there's the dismissive way anyone who tries to go against the negative tied here is treated: they're either questioned about being a plant for one of "them", taunted for being uninformed, or worse, being stupid, or even so foolish that they've been hoodwinked by the evil reformists rather than just having a difference of opinion.

I don't think it helps that two of the regulars are failed school board candidates and one has implied that she might run. It comes off as a group of well, whiners with an agenda to paint the current board as at best poor performers so that they can get the jobs. And it irks me-a lot-that Melissa likes to correct posters spelling as if that matters in a discussion, when she (right here in this thread in fact) has no problem with posting partial sentences. It comes off as acting superior and petty.

I ask you-how does any of this help create open discussion?

Anonymouse

Lori said...

There are a LOT of SPS parents who read this blog or are aware of its stances....I view the levy vote in some small part as a majority standing against negative "Seattle process," and against this blog's generally negative approach.

And there are a lot of parents who don't read this blog, like most of the parents that I've asked in recent times, so I guess anecdotal evidence cuts both ways.

I've also talked to parents about the levy who said "Wow, I wish I would have known more before I mailed in my ballot last week."

Then there are single people and those without children who don't follow local education issues at all and just vote "yes" because they think it's the right thing to do. That was definitely me 10 years ago.

No one can claim to know what the vote means, so we will all come to our own conclusions that fit our preconceived ideas. We could only get a hint at what's on voters' minds if we did appropriate polling.

Charlie Mas said...

I pulled out the comment by the Anonymous person who signed as "Seattle Parent" because I actually share some of that person's concerns.

I am concerned that the blog is host to whining rather than complaining.

I am concerned that the blog has a negative bias.

I am concerned that the blog is antagonistic towards people who want to contribute to and improve public education.

While my views are not as extreme, urgent, or obnoxious as "Seattle Parent"'s, there is a kernel of merit in there.

Here's the thing: the blog does not have a single coherent voice. It isn't Mel's voice or my voice or the voice of any of the frequent commenters. The blog is a public resource and will reflect the voices of those who use it. As such, the blog reflects the community more than it influences the community.

It will be positive to the extent that people write positive comments on it. It is negative to the extent that people write negative comments on it.

The blog does have a bias. It is text-based so it will rely largely on the epistemology dictated by text: argument, proof, and data. Stephen Colbert says that the facts have a liberal bias. Likewise, the facts about Seattle Public Schools point to a dim view of the district leadership. If the blog were not text-based it might rely on a different epistemology and might reflect a different view. I don't know.

I do know that when people in positions of responsibility say "We will do X", and then they don't do X, it is a civic duty to make note of that fact. Seattle Public Schools has a long, full, and consistent track record of failing to meet the expectations that they set for themselves. We don't put those expectations on them - they set them for themselves. Is it negative to note the fact? I don't think so. I don't think that facts are positive or negative. They just are.

Melissa Westbrook said...

What two "failed" writers are you talking about? Charlie ran twice and I have never run. Who else are you talking about?

Spelling - my special pet peeve. I'm not trying to be superior because I am a TERRIBLE speller and use spell check. That it particularly irks you, sorry.

And Charlie is right. He and I try to deal in facts and data. This is an open forum (and yes, I have reached out to a couple of people who make everything about a conspiracy theory that maybe it isn't always helpful).

hschinske said...

I don't think it helps that two of the regulars are failed school board candidates and one has implied that she might run.

Wow, who ISN'T a whiner under rules like this? As far as I can see, the complaint of "whiner" is just a silencing tactic to keep anyone from doing anything (or trying to do anything) to change the status quo. After all, if you're a whiner if you don't run, a whiner if you do run, a whiner if you might run ... clearly "whiner" means "human being" and you can cross that one off your list of meaningful insults.

Helen Schinske

mirmac1 said...

The new "Seattle Parent"

The most damning audit finding was that the School Board does not provide oversight to ensure the Superintendent follows her own policies, and federal and state laws.

Take special education for example: by eliminating a continuum of placements for special needs children to learn in the least-restrictive environment, SPS is breaking the law.

I bet this supplemental levy will pay for legal fees.

SolvayGirl said...

As someone who has no life because all my excess income goes to keep my daughter in an exceptional private HS, I must say that I read this blog for information on SPS. I long for info and data that will help my family consider a move back to public schools. So far, I see only verification for our PERSONAL choice, but I don't give up hope.

Do you want to know WHY? I DON'T GIVE UP HOPE because I see that there are people out there who will not accept the status quo, who ARE trying to hold the District's feet to the fire, who do care about the kids in the classrooms. I could go on ad nauseum.

I appreciate and respect the blog facilitators and I appreciate every single post. Sure some people are one-note Johnnys, but they often have great info in their posts. But the posts I appreciate most are the ones from individual parents telling the good, the bad and the ugly about their children's schools.

I also know what my family experienced as part of the SPS system, and it wasn't pretty. Like "movin on" we put 100% into participating and working to make our child's school the best it could be for ALL the kids there. We were rewarded with a threatened school closure, thank you—to this day I'm still not sure of the logic behind that as the school went on to be called a "School of Distinction" by the State.

There have been plenty of positive posts—and yes, most are about individual schools but that's where we are in SPS—SOME schools are terrific, but plenty are not. I agree with every complaint Melissa and Charlie have with the system. If some readers don't, I suggest they spend their time reading the feel-good text on the numerous other sites.

Anonymous said...

What two "failed" writers are you talking about?

Failed regular posters you mean. Charlie Mas, 2 time loser. And, Dan Dempsey, another loser. Clearly voters have rejected their ideas. Both portray attitudes that resonate with only a tiny fraction of the students.

Melissa has said she might run. Who knows how the voters might respond?

Person Responding for Anonymouse

Syd said...

Good points Charlie. We do spend a lot more time uncovering the very real problems than providing solutions on this blog. I think that might be a result of not feeling like we are in a position to turn this ship. This week I was discussing ideas for increasing parent participation across a very diverse demographic in our SE elementary school with another parent. She asked me if I had every shared my ideas with the PTA, and guess what? I had not. And these were not really my ideas. They were ideas from another SE school that my oldest child attended a few years ago. These were ideas that worked!
I would definitely like to see a thread on how to increase parent participation - ideas from other schools that have worked. I am sure people have seen a wide variety of things work. More creative people than I probably have some good new ideas to try.
I would also like to see a thread on how to get rid of the reams of paper required in our schools.
How about a topic for how other schools have increased art classes for students or how to support a debate team or just any subject or service not fully funded by the district (libraries, nurses)?
In addition to trying to come up with solutions for big issues, I would like to see us come up with innovative ideas for smaller issues that often affect our students.

Anonymous said...

Here are things I have seen work:

1. communicate within a school and loop people in. Be positive and find a role for anyone and everyone who has the slightest interest in volunteering.
2. form relationships that are respectful and professional with district staff. they are human and many are very hardworking and committed to kids. got an idea? offer to help. it won't always work but I have had DT staff take me up on my offer occasionally.
3. form alliances, not whine-iances. get together with people that do something, and follow through to make it happen-- with data, consistency, etc. this works-- NE cluster coalition a great example, also Rainier Beach PTSA, several SE community groups.
4. use public records requests and analyze data, i.e., Meg Diaz.
5. offer to sit on a district committee-- they are seeking people now for something I heard.
6. say thank you-- to your teachers, your principal, the hardworking volunteers at your school, the enrollment staff, the customer service staff, etc.

by TK

dan dempsey said...

Well here I am supposedly whining again.

So how does a non-competitive bid accepted for $800,000 without following either state law or school board policy in regard to exemptions stack up on the whining scale?

Obviously no big deal as here comes the $80,000 to $100,000 TfA contract which is proposed as a non-competitive bid and without seeking exemptions from competitive bidding.

Chris S. said...

This blog is one-sided in isolation. However, it fills a niche created by the one-sided feel-good reporting by the Seattle Times. Its role is not so much to be a balanced source by itself as to balance the overall conversation in Seattle.

Charlie Mas said...

Here are the things that I have seen work:

1. Money. Offer six figures and the District is your bitch. It will roll over and beg and do whatever you tell it.

2. Litigation. This takes longer and is riskier, but sometimes you can achieve nearly as much with just the threat of litigation. The key is to have an actual lawyer on your side. They have no respect for Pro Se procedures.

3. Bad Press. The District hates, hates, hates bad press and they will jump to avoid it - IF you have a real print journalist on your side. Bloggers don't count. Since the Seattle Times is something of a pet, you'll need the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Good luck with that.

seattle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle said...

As a long time follower of this blog (4 or 5 years now) who changes handles/names frequently to protect my privacy, I have to say that I have found that this blog has become more negative and posters more aggressive each year. While I don't always agree with Charlie and Melissa, and I say so whenever I don't, I have to commend them for consistently keeping conversations professional, factual, and respectful. Same for Maureen, Meg, and Dorothy. But I can hardly say that about many of the other frequent posters. The posters who more times than not resort to name calling, accusations, degradation, and aggressive attacks. Deform agenda, Dr. No good, the gang of four, scabs, are becoming all to common in conversation. It's immature and it's ugly. Those posters feel that their views are the only right and valid views. They simply can not accept that other people may have differing opinions. Their strong arming, and bashing, shut down conversations, and stifle diverse voices. The very same thing that MGJ does that they incessantly complain about.

Well rounded conversations don't often happen anymore on this blog. Posters who are interested in discussing or learning more about reform, charters, public/private partnerships, TFA, teacher evaluation, etc., don't want to post much anymore. They know they will be pounced on by 5 or 6 bloggers all at the same time. They get accused of being a plant, not doing their homework, or just being to naive to figure it all out for themselves. It's insulting and there is really no need for it.

I've complained about this before but those frequent posters just tell me to "skip their posts" or "toughen up". Fine. Fair enough. But I think Mel and Charlie need to hear this feedback.

I have talked to many people who used to read the blog but don't anymore for these very reasons.

Just food for thought.

mirmac1 said...

I'm sorry Hawk, but the Seattle Times refuses to do their job.

Anonymous said...

Nobody said you were a whiner, Dan. Only that you were a loser. You lost your bid for a board position correct?

Yes, the district hates credible bad press. This blog doesn't have a lot of cred, so they don't seem to mind it. But, what could they do about it anyway? For them, the best policy is to ignore it. Or to do exactly the opposite of what posters suggest. Reduces the credibility further.

SPS Observer.

Teachermom said...

We're whining about whining again? For happy news you can read the "School Beat" or go to the district's website and look at their press releases. If you love district administrators and hate teachers, you can read the Seattle Times.

This blog is called "Save Seattle Schools". Wouldn't that imply that the focus of the blog would be on things that needed to be saved? I'm not seeing the problem here - the blog is as advertised in its title.

I skip over posts that I don't like the tone of. You can still get a lot out of the blog.

seattle citizen said...

Hawk, some of us (me, at least) find little credible in the "reform" movement because we've (I've) seen it to be a small group of interconnected, well-funded, groups that want to purchase their "reform" agenda, policy and other opinions be damned. And you accuse US (me) of being narrow-minded and negative?

Just listen to the TFA rhetoric at tonight's meeting - "WE do this, that and the other thing" as opposed to all those nasty ol' regular teachers...

And WE'RE negative?

The TFAers tonight had energy, enthusiasm, commitment....but they're not the only ones who do, and it's disgraceful that teachers are being portrayed as some sort of ogres in order for such things as TFA to get a foothold. Yes, TFA, a part of the small circle of reformers.
Kopp and the superintendent BBF on Broad Foundation.

Sorry I'm so negative, Hawk, I just hate to see democracy trashed.

seattle said...

"Hawk, some of us (me, at least) find little credible in the "reform" movement because we've (I've) seen it to be a small group of interconnected, well-funded, groups that want to purchase their "reform" agenda, policy and other opinions be damned"

We get it, SC. We know your position. You post it over and over again, day after day, repetitively.

Honestly though, no matter how many times you repeat it, drill it, strong arm it, type it, re type it, and then repeat it all over again, some of us will just never see eye to eye with you. Personally, I don't, and never will, buy into the "reform is evil", conspiracy theory, mentality.

But I don't think you are closed minded because of your views. I respect your views. Notice I'm not challenging them. Rather, I think you are narrow minded because you don't allow others to have differing views. Instead of conversation, you rant, and repeat, and have an incessant need to "win". That is why I consider you closed minded.

Look, you are a teacher without any kids in SPS. I am a parent with kids in SPS. We have very different perspectives, and I don't mean that as an insult at all. But it is a reality. While we both have the best interest of kids at heart, you need to protect your job. I on the other hand, am open to exploring any options that might make my kids experience better. That means I want to learn all I can about the reform movement, TFA, Public/Private partnerships, and charters with their ways around the strangling bureaucracy of the district and the union.

I agree to disagree with you SC. Can you agree to disagree with me? Or must you win?

OK. Bash.

Gouda said...

Playing the semantics game between whining and complaining is rather ridiculous. The bottom line is that most of this blog is complaining. And a person can only read complaints day in and out for so long before it starts to grate.

What is interesting to me is that Melissa and Charlie don't seem particularly interested in changing the tone of the blog. They seem to be fond of the negative tone; they have even argued that it's the safe place for contrarians to gather (read: complainers of SPS unite!).

Their goal is to be negative. It's easy to be negative. It's far more difficult to be collaborative, innovative or positive.

suep. said...

Welcome to the wild frontier of the blogosphere, Hawk! Actually, I find this blog much more civil than many others. Have you ever read the Stranger's Slog, or gotten into a verbal dust-up at Daily Kos? Some of the nastiest darts are tossed anonymously in the online comments sections of newspapers. SSS is child's play by comparison. Yes, there are some passionate voices on this blog, but by and large I find that they are informed passionate voices. Most provide plenty of links to back up their points of view.

To SPS Observer -- There is evidence that the district does indeed read and heed this blog. Usually only to cover its, um, posterior, but it is definitely aware of the discussions that go on here and has reacted to them in various ways. They'd be fools not to. I would certainly read this blog if I worked for the district.

-- sue p.

Charlie Mas said...

Limes wrote: "It's easy to be negative. It's far more difficult to be collaborative, innovative or positive."

Limes is right about how hard it is to be collaborative. It's downright impossible since the District refuses to collaborate.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dan, while a person who posts here frequently, is not a writer for this blog.

SPS Observer, you are being unkind to Dan. Yes, he lost the race but he is not a loser.

If you think there aren't district staff reading this blog, you would be wrong. I've had a few staff take me aside and thank me for my minutes of meetings because they are far more detailed than what they usually see. I know Communications staff is happy sometimes to see that I put up district notices because hey, it reaches a lot of people who tell a lot of other people.

You may not like this blog (and again, why are you here?) and district staff may not like this blog but dismiss it all you like. There are a lot of people in this town that know it and read it.

As for me running,well I guess that question of how the voters will respond is one that every single candidate faces.

And Limes,you don't know Charlie and me. The people who know me would not say I'm a negative person. Nor Charlie. Our goal is not to be negative but to tell the truth. That some don't like the message, well you know that saying. Charlie and I don't print untruths about the district.

They had a terrible audit and looky here, here comes another one. I will love to see what the district apologists will try to spin out of that one.

You don't know what efforts we have taken to try to rein some people in here. But this is the big open world of the Internet. We are not going to be the internet police.

Again, don't like this blog? Don't read it. Or better yet, write you own and sign your name. Oh right. You don't sign your own name, do you?

suep. said...

p.s. To Melissa and Charlie -- I hope you won't let anyone pressure you into changing your blog to their liking or forcing people to play the very dull and artificial game of 'Seattle nice.'

I also find it odd that some disgruntled readers keep coming back here seemingly only to complain about being here!

There are very legitimate reasons to be alarmed by the direction in which our district is being taken. We are not being "negative", we are concerned, calling out the hypocrisy and bad decisions we see being made at our children's expense.

This is serious business. I mean that in every sense of the term.

-- sue p.

Maureen said...

I really like to read the opinions of people I disagree with. I was at the North Beach coffee chat the other day and I was amazed at how much the parents there seemed to like the MAP and how happy they were at the idea of firing teachers. If I had the opportunity, I would probably try to bring them around to my perspective, or at least let them know things I know that I don't think they do. I would hope that they would be interested in hearing my point of view and maybe try to talk me out of it as well.

I would like people with pro-Reform views to feel comfortable posting here. Some people just can't handle conflict though (sometimes I'm like that) and feel like they are being attacked instead of debated with. That is one of the challenges of a forum like this one. One thing we can do is to realize that some posters are walking in two years into the discussion--we can't assume that they have read all of the evidence we take for granted.

By the way, I'm not entirely against (small r) reform--what I oppose is the lockstep acceptance of all of its elements without considering what makes sense for Seattle at this time. What I think of as (large R) Reform.

seattle said...

Why do teachers NEED unions? And contracts? Why do they need all of this protection? And why don't we need this protection, and those contracts for the 95% of american workers in other fields that don't have unions? What singles the teaching profession out? Not being snarky, I truly don't understand??

I've heard posters say the union protects teachers from discrimination, from a principal that tries to push them out, etc.

But don't these things happen in all professions? And don't we have laws to protect us from this?

Again, what is so different about teaching that requires all of this union protection?

Moose said...

I agree completely with Maureen and I hope that this blog doesn't become an echo chamber.

I must note that comments such as "Oh right. You don't sign your own name, do you?" don't help foster what could be a healthy and yes, vigorous, debate amongst ourselves. I am calling out that comment Melissa, because it is the blog's policy NOT to make people identify themselves. When you imply that someone who is critical of the blog is a coward for not signing his/her name, you contradict the stated blog guidelines ("Everyone has the right to comment anonymously if desired for any reason.")

Dorothy Neville said...

Hawk, according to this report, 19% of Washington state workers are in unions.

I believe the teachers union over the years has been very important to stabilize the workforce where prestige and money are not key factors in retaining employees. Teachers historically have been vulnerable to lots of meddling adults, such as school board members or politicians or other parents with influence trying to meddle with grades or other classroom issues. With the threat of being fired without due process, that is a real danger.

We can also credit unions with some transparency and accountability into wages and benefits. Without a collective bargaining element and the transparency that comes with that, employers could hide all sorts of discrimination.

Yes, unions have their negative elements and I would like to see some changes overall in teacher union philosophy and goals, but overall having a group to protect the teachers' interest is a necessary balance to the other factors.

Can I just give an anecdote of what can (and does) happen without a union? I taught at a private K12 school in another state in the late 1980s. Many of the very wealthy parents were fine, but some definitely had their issues, including not wanting to admit that their child had some problems. One example was an elementary school child who was very strong and aggressive, caused fights and acted out, often against the teacher. Yet because the parents were in denial and were influential, the teacher was not backed up by the administration and the student was not disciplined nor was there any other intervention. One day the student picked up a chair and threw it at the teacher. At that point, something had to be done. Well, the parents and headmaster met privately and decided that the student would have a one week suspension, but that to keep him from getting behind, the teacher would go to his house every day after school to give him his work and tutor him. She resigned instead.

Yet my kid had some crappy teachers in SPS. I would love to see something that seems reasonable AND will work to actually remediate or remove those particular teachers. Unfortunately, the district's thinking on this seems overly chaotic and not really going to quickly and efficiently remediate or remove the ones that need to be gone. I can sympathize with the NB parents and others who embrace ed Reform as a way of weeding out the crappy teachers. My particular experience and reading of the contract and other information makes me doubt that we are on the right path. That's something I wish I could have a more thoughtful debate about.

(in fact, as people have reported, getting the principals more involved and trained to do this has been effective and something MGJ implemented for the good. But the new contract looks like it actually slows down that process. And note that the principals union has not signed a contract, they are working under an expired one.)

Jet City mom said...

But don't these things happen in all professions? And don't we have laws to protect us from this?

Washington is an " at- will employment state.

Under most circumstances, Washington is an at-will state, which means that either the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time, with or without notice and with our without cause.

without a union- hours could be changed, class size could be changed, etc- I see your points, but I don't think that abolishing the right to unionize is the answer.

Maureen said...

Hawk, from what I recall, the economic theory behind why teachers tend to be unionized is that School Districts' effectively act as monopsony employers.

While it is true that some teachers can work in private schools, the vast majority in any city work for the Central Public School District. That gives the employer power over its employees in a way that isn't true in, say, the software industry. This is especially true because teaching is a specialized skill and requires a certificate (ie, an investment in specialized knowledge) that isn't useful to other employers. The union helps balance that power.

I'm sure we could come up with other examples. Nurses are kind of like this because often cities only have one or two hospitals and employment outside of those is limited.

Dorothy Neville said...

I agree that I would like to have better dialog with a variety of folks, but the format makes that a challenge sometimes. I agree with Maureen that some ed reform ideas really ought to be discussed on their own merits without it constantly being hijacked into ed-Reform (large R) bashing.

But this venue is certainly not the only place where that deeper dialog gets discouraged in a disappointing way. See this blog post on Seattle LEV. Read the 6 comments. Cullen made a lot of assertions to conclude TfA was greater than sliced bread. Skeptic seemed to be polite in asking for clarification. So why did Cullen's principal reply, not answering or addressing them, and saying "don't drink the hater-ade"? That's the sort of reply that makes me very suspicious.

Because overall, I doubt that anything is going to make grand sweeping differences overnight. Yet so much is touted that it will. I think real change, lasting change, is going to happen incrementally.

(Note also the details of how Cullen was recruited. That jibes with other reports of cultish mindset and that Dartmouth opinion piece Dora shared.)

seattle said...

"in fact, as people have reported, getting the principals more involved and trained to do this has been effective and something MGJ implemented for the good. But the new contract looks like it actually slows down that process."

Dorothy, can you expand on this?

"without a union- hours could be changed, class size could be changed, etc-"

My point was that this is the norm for the 80% of employees in WA state that do not have unions? What makes it different for teachers? Dorothy and Maureen, as usual, have done a fairly good job of explaining some of the unique challenges that teachers face, school district monopoly, etc. Thanks. That helped.

Dorothy Neville said...

Hawk, this is intuition, but from my reading of the contract and the rhetoric around it, it looks like to implement this well means not canning any teacher right away. There's a new process, so a teacher who already is targeted for removal has a bit of a break while they go through a new process. Any union or district folk want to add, comment, disagree or speculate further?

Additionally, the evaluate teachers based on test scores thing. There's no mutually agreed upon algorithm that is fair, transparent and reliable (and the contract says one will be developed). I just see this as a huge distraction, a time and money sink, instead of a useful tool to help make teachers better or remove ineffective ones. The union will fight it, based on science (good) and simply to protect teachers (not-so-good). They will be branded as simply protecting bad teachers in the media and it will just add to the divisiveness, not decrease it.

And given all the evidence against MAP being useful for this, the research showing such a measure for a two year rolling average is really really bad measure... I doubt it will ever be a useful tool (although others disagree and are looking forward to it making a huge impact. I wish I could have a thoughtful conversation with folks who believe that. Because like the NB example Maureen mentioned, I suspect that they have more hope than reality based reasons for this. Now before I get bashed for this, I am basing this on three different conversations I have had where that was exactly the case. When I asked deeper questions and pointed out my concerns that it isn't going to be a useful tool, all three parents ended up acknowledging I had good points.)

I just get the feeling many people are pinning a lot of hopes on a fast implementation of this new process and a quick and large change in the overall effectiveness of teachers and parent satisfaction. Since I am dubious about that, I am branded as a hater and a lover of the broken status quo. But if we could sit down and compare our perspectives, find some middle ground I think there could be better ideas of tools to satisfy the necessary improvements.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's why teachers need a union - even in a world in which most folks, particularly professionals, don't:

There is no profit motive in the public sector.

In the private sector experienced workers are paid more because they are more valuable. They generate more value - profit - for the company and its shareholders. Pay is based on the worker's impact to the bottom line.

In the public sector, however, there is no profit motive because there is no profit to be made. Every teacher, regardless of their experience or skill provides exactly the same economic value to the school or the district. The 4th grade teacher with 25 years of experience, national board certification, and a long list of honors and awards can teach 30 students - and so can a novice teacher with no notable talent.

So, from a strictly economic perspective, why wouldn't a District either pay them both the same or just replace every experienced teacher making progress up the pay scale with a new teacher at the bottom of the pay scale?

An experienced teacher is paid twice as much as a novice teacher but does not deliver twice as much to the school's bottom line. The school and the district have no economic incentive to hire, train, or retain high quality teachers.

In the absence of a union every experienced teacher would either be fired or have their pay cut down to what novice teachers make.

If that were the career path for teachers then no one with any expectation to earn more than $35,000 a year would ever take the job.

Look. Private sector rules don't work in the public sector because all private sector rules, in the end, are founded on profit - which simply doesn't exist in the public sector.

Maureen said...

The benefit of a better teacher doesn't accrue to the District that determines the teacher's wage. It accrues to the child/family and to the general public. Education is a classic "public good." Markets don't apply on several levels.

dan dempsey said...

The concept of the Common Good is painfully absent these days.

Jan said...

The discussions of "why unions at all" have been really interesting, and are not things I had ever really thought about, or heard (lifetime in the private sector, and no economic public policy background, I guess). But while it is illuminating, I still have some questions that I hope someone can address.

First, teaching in private/religious schools, while not "public sector," is no less a "public good." And yet, teachers teach at Lakeside, Overlake, Seattle Prep, St. Joes, etc. for years and years, without union contracts. I suspect that there are some real differences in the teaching experience because of that (teachers leaving on shorter notice because of dust-ups with school heads, lower salaries and benefits, etc.) -- and I do not mean to trivialize these things, but I think it is safe to say -- these places do not simply "fire" all of their experienced teachers and replace them with newbies every few years on the grounds that it would be cheaper to do so. Why not? Well, presumably parents would complain (I know that in my dealings with private schools, I checked on teacher retention rates). So, isn't one of the REAL problems here the fact that public education (as practiced in this country) is a monopoly as to families -- if you want it free, you usually ONLY have 1 choice -- and they know they get your business (except for the very wealthy or those who qualify for scholarships to private schools). Thus, the funder (the state) KNOWS that it has a captive audience, and can fund (or not) schools however it wishes. Schools, in turn, now have an incentive (from the state) to use only the cheapest labor (quality is not an issue when your customers have no other source, but cost is an issue when what you receive is arbitrarily determined by the government, and is NOT determined by whether, or how much, your customers (parents and kids) like the quality of your service). If a private school operated soley on what was cheapest, no one would go there. If public schools do it, it doesn't matter. Families have no choice. Hence, the necessity for labor of organizing to prevent things from being totally out of control.

But here is my problem. Where that leads is either to the status quo (retain the monopoly, but unionize the labor force so that it does not bear the brunt of EVERY cost cutting measure by the monopolizing funding entity) OR to something like vouchers or a different version of charter schools, where only the highest, most abstract policies are set by some overarching governing body, and everything else devolves to the school level -- and public schools compete just like private ones do. (Complications abound -- how to fund and support Special Ed and ELL, etc., and I am not advocating for either charters or vouchers -- although I AM advocating for increased parental choice, and increased local control at the school level, as opposed to the centralized control we now have), but it does seem to me that there is more at play here than simply a "public good" analysis, because private schools (including those that take Special Ed kids) manage to make it work.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I can't say a lot about any teachers union but unions gave us the 40-hour workweek and safer working conditions. People forget what the workplace was like before unions and how many things that unions help create have become best practices in many businesses.

Maureen said...

Private schools work (better than public) without unions because there is a larger external market for the teachers to go to if they are treated too badly. The public school teachers unions are creating a base level of fair treatment that the privates can't go below.

Charlie Mas said...

Jan,

First, I'm glad that you get the need for worker protection in the public sector where employees are only a cost and not a value. You'd be surprised how many folks just don't get that.

As to your question - an excellent one - why not inject some competition into the public sector through vouchers or open school choice to break up the monopoly and provide teachers with economic protection instead of contractual protection?

The answer can be found right here in Seattle where we had open choice student assignment. What was the consequence?

The consequence was over-subscription at a few desirable schools and under-subscription at a number of undesirable schools and a large number of schools that were filled close to capacity.

At that point the District should have stepped in and duplicated the successful programs but they didn't. For all of the talk about duplicating success that we hear and have heard at Seattle Public Schools, where is TOPS II? Nowhere. It is all empty talk. The Open Enrollment model is partnered with Site-Based Decision-Making. Every principal is the autonomous CEO of his or her own school and is free to shape it into whatever image or signature program they like. Consequently, the District has abdicated the authority to tell a school: You will become TOPS II. And no school did it on their own.

Why didn't they? Why didn't any of the under-subscribed schools choose to take steps to improve their competitive status? Because they didn't have to.

For years the number of families who chose MLK Elementary School as their first choice for assignment was single digits: 2, 3, 7. One year it was actually 0. Yet every year MLK Elementary had a full kindergarten. How?

Montlake and McGilvra may have had 300 kids who wanted to enroll, but they didn't have room for that many. The rest had to find a desk somewhere else. Many ended up - despite their choice - at MLK. MLK didn't have to compete to get students; they just got all of the students who couldn't get into their school of choice.

When school choice was introduced, the District was supposed to take on a quality assurance role. Part of that role was to identify the schools that were not attracting students, close them, re-invent them, and re-open them. The District, however, lacked the courage to do it. Consequently those schools continued to limp along. Without the hammer of closure, the low performing schools had no incentive to compete. Without the competition, the whole model broke down.

Vouchers would only work if the capacity of both public and private schools were much more elastic that it actually is. Perhaps now, with the possibility of a truly elastic capacity for online schools, something like this would be possible, but online elementary school is not attractive to a lot of folks and there are serious social and emotional needs that are lost.

Charlie Mas said...

Jan,

First, I'm glad that you get the need for worker protection in the public sector where employees are only a cost and not a value. You'd be surprised how many folks just don't get that.

As to your question - an excellent one - why not inject some competition into the public sector through vouchers or open school choice to break up the monopoly and provide teachers with economic protection instead of contractual protection?

The answer can be found right here in Seattle where we had open choice student assignment. What was the consequence?

The consequence was over-subscription at a few desirable schools and under-subscription at a number of undesirable schools and a large number of schools that were filled close to capacity.

At that point the District should have stepped in and duplicated the successful programs but they didn't. For all of the talk about duplicating success that we hear and have heard at Seattle Public Schools, where is TOPS II? Nowhere. It is all empty talk. The Open Enrollment model is partnered with Site-Based Decision-Making. Every principal is the autonomous CEO of his or her own school and is free to shape it into whatever image or signature program they like. Consequently, the District has abdicated the authority to tell a school: You will become TOPS II. And no school did it on their own.

Why didn't they? Why didn't any of the under-subscribed schools choose to take steps to improve their competitive status? Because they didn't have to.

For years the number of families who chose MLK Elementary School as their first choice for assignment was single digits: 2, 3, 7. One year it was actually 0. Yet every year MLK Elementary had a full kindergarten. How?

Montlake and McGilvra may have had 300 kids who wanted to enroll, but they didn't have room for that many. The rest had to find a desk somewhere else. Many ended up - despite their choice - at MLK. MLK didn't have to compete to get students; they just got all of the students who couldn't get into their school of choice.

When school choice was introduced, the District was supposed to take on a quality assurance role. Part of that role was to identify the schools that were not attracting students, close them, re-invent them, and re-open them. The District, however, lacked the courage to do it. Consequently those schools continued to limp along. Without the hammer of closure, the low performing schools had no incentive to compete. Without the competition, the whole model broke down.

Vouchers would only work if the capacity of both public and private schools were much more elastic that it actually is. Perhaps now, with the possibility of a truly elastic capacity for online schools, something like this would be possible, but online elementary school is not attractive to a lot of folks and there are serious social and emotional needs that are lost.

Anonymous said...

The reason choice didn't work is a lot simpler than all that. People simply don't like certain groups of "other" kids. If you arn't paying, you don't get to choose the attendees. In private schools, you get to pay for your cohort, among other things.

You can't create a TOP's II. The kids will be different. If a TOP's II could have been created, it would have been. The answer to the riddle is in the customers themselves. Instead of whining and complaining (isn't this about, whining and complaining?) about the district and it's "quality assurance," a simple minded explanation, we should look to the problems in the customers.

Observer

Jan said...

Thanks for your comments, Charlie. I was a huge supporter (conceptually) of the old, decentralized choice system -- but I concur that it did not work, and I think your analysis of the reasons is correct. The only way it would work is if schools that did not define and implement an attractive enough "mission" were taken out of circulation, and staffed with a new principal, new mission, etc. -- all presumably with parent/community input as to what they would support -- and neither happened. Your thought -- that online instruction might provide the necessary competition -- is also an interesting one, but would only work for kids for whom the social dynamic could be solved. There are a number of ways to do that, but it can't be discounted as an issue.

Observer, I don't agree with your observation on people liking, or disliking "other groups." I agree with you that the viability of a Tops II would depend (like Tops I does) on the strength of its school community and their belief and support of its mission. BUT, I am less pessimistic than you are about whether that could be fostered/developed in other neighborhoods. Maybe it wouldn't be a clone of Tops I, but we could have done SO MUCH more with school choice, replication of successful programs, etc. Inertia, both at the district and the school levels, is more to blame than intractible flaws of parents.

And finally, I must concede that another "flaw" in any comparison between ANY set of public and private schools is that private schools -- even those set up to help behaviorally challenged kids -- can expel them as a final resort. Parents who want to keep their kids there know that, and I think it helps with the most extreme behaviors. For any kind of choice system to work, the public schools will need to come up with programs and placement solutions for this (very small, but very challenging) population.