Giving Credit When Credit is Due

Every so often someone suggests that we criticize the Board, the superintendent, and the District staff when they do something wrong - and, yes, we do - but that we don't give them enough credit when they do something right. I don't know about that. I don't think we're particularly bad about giving praise when it has been earned, but I also think that's the reason for the criticism.

We give praise when it has been earned. Not before.

By this I mean that I am very happy to praise work when it is done, but the District culture is to praise work when it is planned. There is a difference in timing.

Take, for example, the false data issue. On Wednesday Mr. Bernatek came before the Board and announced a number of actions to address concerns.

He said that the staff would take the following steps:

Redact the original college readiness measures from reports on the district website including the strategic plan. Actually, I wish they would not do this. The documents should be preserved in their original condition. The District should annotate them, or footnote them, but not redact them.

Reach out to key stakeholders by phone to apologize, communicate the changes, and address any questions or concerns they may have. Mr. Bernatek says that they had contacted 20 key stakeholders by Wednesday. I wasn't one of them. I don't know how many more they intend to contact. What do you have to do to be a "key" stakeholder?

Establish a change control process for updating data reports on our website whereby changes are clearly documented and easily available on our website. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but it sounds good.

Adjust the language for the student gains measure to be clear that this is a measure of gains relative to students' academic peers. Again, not the best solution, but it is good that they will do this.

Update and expand frequently asked questions on our website for the school reports and district website. This will also be good.

Provide additional forms of information as needed to staff, families, and communities to help better understand the data in the school reports. Again, this sounds good, if vague.

Prepare our community for changes in how we report on advanced learning, based in part on their feedback with suggestions for improvement. Um... yeah, whatever. I'm not sure how much people need to be "prepared" to read a report.

All these things sound good - or good enough. So why haven't I sung praises about the District's prompt response to concerns? Because they haven't done any of it yet. Other than the twenty "key stakeholders" who got phone calls, none of this work has been done. And it's starting to irk me.

The Frequently Asked Questions is an electronic document. They already know how they need to update and expand it, so it should only take about twenty minutes to do the re-write and less than a minute to do the upload. So why hasn't it been done already? Why, in fact, wasn't it done BEFORE Mr. Bernatek spoke to the Board saying that he would do it? Now let's presume that I'm totally wrong and it will really take about two hours to re-write the FAQ and about ten minutes to upload it? My question still stands: why isn't it done already?

That's a minor issue. The main thing is this: as soon as Mr. Bernatek showed the slide to the Board and said that the staff planned to do these things, the Board counted it as done, gave credit for it, and crossed it off their ToDo list. I think that's why the Board never follows up to see if things are done - because they cross action items off the list (as if they were done) when they are only promised.

So I will give credit when credit is due, but not until then. That's different from the Board and the rest of the culture at Seattle Public Schools, which gives credit long before it is due and sometimes before it is ever due.

Watch for this and you will find it everywhere. Review the Audit Response and you will see that they have marked as "Completed" a bunch of stuff that they haven't actually finished yet. I think this is why the Board so readily accepts "I'll get back to you on that" as an answer and why the staff then has no need to actually get back to them. The Board Directors count the question as answered when they get a promise of an answer - long before they get the answer (if they ever get it at all).

When I talk and write about the District's dysfunctional culture, this is a part of it. They count promises made as if they were promises kept. Once you have credit for the promise there is no real incentive to actually keep it. It is, undoubtedly, one of the main reasons that they keep so few promises: they put all of the value in making the promise instead of keeping it. This is how they end up pushing people out of airplanes and assuring them that they are actively developing parachutes. This is why their action items are filled with inaction verbs. There is no value on action - it's all on intentions. That's a cultural flaw.


Jan said…
And -- it flows right through to how they grant bonus compensation to the Superintendant. She gets paid (and her contract gets extended, based on work) BEFORE the value of that work can be demonstrated. She was rewarded for the NSAP long before the crowding problems as JSIS, GHS, west Seattle elementaries, NE schools, and the underenrollment at RBHS, Madrona, etc. were revealed.
dan dempsey said…
Although Charlie probably did not intend it, this piece explains a lot about the "lack of interventions" and the associated "de facto" social promotion policy.

87% of a particular graduating 8th class were said to be ready for "High School Math" and then two years later 40% of that group actually passed the 10th grade OSPI math test. Ready must mean "Ready or not, here you come", so the appraisal is most of you must be ready because almost 100% of you are advancing.

Perhaps it means that 87% of you will be placed into High School "Discovering Algebra" Math or its equivalent or higher, so lets all make believe you are ready.

I asked the Board to get this "Ready for High School Math" clarified at the Board Work session on 12-15-10 but have not heard back. Do you suppose the Directors will be getting back to me on that?

District-wide in 2008 according to the recently issued School Report cards "76%" of middle schoolers headed to high school were ready for high school math. In 2010 the portion of that original group that had passed enough classes to get enough credits to be considered Sophomores had an OSPI Math pass rate on the HSPE = 45.3%

Did not Director DeBell stress the need for Statistics that correctly communicate to the public?

So what up with percentage of students ready for high school math?

So let us give credit where credit is due but to believe that 76% of SPS 8th graders moving on to high school were ready for high school math in fall 2008, well that seems to be a bit of a stretch beyond communicating to the public the reality of the situation.

That group's 8th grade WASL math scores showed:

27.8% = Level 4 (exceeds standard)

25.4% = Level 3 (met standard)

0.6% = Basic (met standard)

46.2% = Not Meeting Standard

17.2% = Level 2 (below standard)

26.2% = Level 1 (well below standard)
2.8% = No Score


I hope the Board has not checked this one off as done just yet.
Maureen said…
I do worry that we don't pay enough attention to things that do get done as promised and on time and when things work out well. One thing I do like about the NSAP is that clueless families have a guaranteed spot at a school close to where they live. That was a major improvement in equitable access. I'm sure there are other things.
Charlie Mas said…
The Board actually counted the successful implementation of the new student assignment plan as part of their reason for extending the superintendent's contract on July 7, 2010, two months before the new student assignment plan was actually implemented. On June 16 they wrote:
"The most significant accomplishment in the 2009-10 school year was the adoption and implementation of the New Student Assignment Plan (NSAP)."

Jan said…
Maureen: I share your concern about not finding ways to appreciate and acknowledge successful work when it occurs. There can be few things more disheartening, when you are working for someone, than to be constantly criticized for every fault, and never applauded when hard work leads to success.

I actually liked the OLD choice system (because I thought it was less inequitable to SE kids -- though there were certainly still plenty of inequities), and it afforded more -- choice! But I acknowledge I may be in the minority here, and the choice system did put a fair amount of stress on parents who often could not know for sure what school their child would attend.

But it is hard to applaud the "success" for the percentage of Seattle parents now safely inside attendance areas that lead to the very schools they wanted all along, and whose schools in the meantime are not exploding at the seams -- when so much of the process went wrong. The District was told over and over by parents about huge flaws in the process -- and we were ignored. As a result, LI and Montessori schools are not option schools, and the vast majority of Seattle kids have no hope of attending them; the GHS boundary is ridiculously huge and (since the problem exceeds the APP population) will continue to be a problem long after they have damaged or dismantled APP to try to fix it; NE schools are too full, and lack middle school capacity; many West Seattle elementaries are too full. They KNEW they needed to fix RBHS and Aki BEFORE the SAP -- or they would abandon SE kids to having virtually no reasonable high school choice -- AND risk having the school drastically underfilled -- but they did it anyway.
How much credit can we give for what would, under any circumstances, have been a big undertaking -- a new assignment plan -- when they ignored so much good advice, and did it so badly?
Chris S. said…
On the topic of giving credit where credit is due, I'd like to credit the board members at the Monday C & I meeting (everyone but Sherry Carr was there) for sticking to their guns about waivers from board-adopted materials.

Harium seemed all set to go along with the district and say "oh, those innovation schools will serve that purpose." Innovation schools which have not been defined, and were further down the agenda, and not addressed, at least not while Dr. Enfield was there.

However, the others, led by Michael DeBell but supported by all the others to some degree, said no, it's different, we need something. I have no doubt that the battle is far from over, but it's a promising start. And seeing all those board members either getting a backbone or supporting the one with the backbone was refreshing.

Kind of a backhanded compliment, but I mean it as a compliment.
Jan said…
Chris: I am with you. I think it is great when the Board finally stands its ground and makes District staff live up to their promises (promises of a credible waiver process, promises long ago that schools with lots of reasonably performing kids would have earned autonomy and be able to offer a varied, interesting, and diverse curriculum -- without onerous District oversight).

Waivers matter a LOT to parents who see MGJ bleeding schools of their best courses and best faculty. I am thrilled that the Board shows signs of being willing to stand up to central office laziness (because that is what this is -- it is a lot easier for them if they just don't have to deal with all the messiness of having "different" courses taught by creative teachers, so but for the Board, they had every intention of doing their little "promise now, and just ignore it later" dance).
Anonymous said…
charlie, i agree with and understand the underlying principle you present. here is the classroom comparison: work needs to be done and turned in before i mark it as so in my grade book. explantions, plans, excuses -all sound like voices from adults on the Peanuts cartoon specials. i don't really care about the jibber-jabber- i want the work. no work, no credit for it. pretty straight forward.
you are not asking too much.
i quit working w/adults because i found such behaviors and expectations for gratification w/o production/results unacceptable.
-reminded why i work with kids
Beast';s belly said…

You are spot on, but don't even know more than a fraction of it.

Keep on keeping on.
Dorothy Neville said…
A related issue that drives me up a wall is the district's use of verb tense in their reports of goals and outcomes. Often there will be a sentence that says, "We decreased unexcused absences by 4%." When what that REALLY means is that the GOAL is to decrease unexcused absences. One must pay close attention to context. My glancing at some CSIPS shows that some schools use this forward thinking obfuscating language while others speak more plainly and when something is a goal, they clearly state that with future tense.

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