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Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Stranger School Board Candidate Forum Wrap-up

Here are my highlights:

- first of all, Lauren McGuire is just the nicest person in the world.  She and I probably don't agree on everything but she is nice and gracious and the Seattle Council PTSA is lucky to have her.

- Watching the candidates shuffle around from yes to no to dunno was very entertaining and quite illuminating.  People who don't like the current math, rejoice, because none of the candidates do either.

- Peter said he was the "architect" of the supplemental levy.  I did not know that.  He also talked about "living within our means" but tried to dodge the giving out raises issue. 

-I liked this format because you truly had a debate and no one shied away.  Sharon and Peter tussled over the size of the raises and Sharon said she took her numbers straight from a district chart and stood by them.

- They also tussled over the "reduction of central adm" from 9 to 6%.  Sharon made the point about how did it get that high in the first place and Peter seemed to interpret that as saying it wasn't a big deal that they got it down to 6%. 

- Sharon brought up a good point about the cut-off number for Title One funds hurting many schools that have pretty high F/RL (it's 55%) and Peter agreed. 

- One theme that started to emerge from the start is that the incumbents seem to think that the issues of money and higher student enrollment just sprung out of nowhere and no one could see it coming.  My feeling is it is true that no one could have predicted how bad things have gotten financially in this country but it was quite visible that things were not going well.  And, in terms of enrollment, the Board and the Superintendent (MGJ) were told repeatedly by parents that the parents knew a surge was coming by the numbers in neighborhoods throughout the city.   That the district ignored that input doesn't negate that community tried to warn them.

- Sherry stated that there has been "steady, substantial progress in the district."  She also said that this Board came into a very bad situation.  I think a lot of things, good and bad, have happened under this Board's term but I'm not sure we can accurately say there has been that much progress yet.  I think groundwork/framework has been laid.

- Kate had a careful and nuanced tone and a good answer about capacity management.  She talked about her background as a planner and that any changes can not be made as a political process.  I also liked her line about APP being a "tent city." 

- On Advanced Learning, Sherry did say it was a unique opportunity at this time. What she didn't explain is why the Board didn't direct MGJ to do an audit of the ENTIRE AL system and not just APP.  And why does it have to get to almost crisis proportions before they decided they need "a comprehensive plan?" She called Spectrum "a bit inconsistent." 

- One feature was the couple of phrases that were said by incumbents about specific issues.  (Peter was asked a quite pointed question about the Sutor report, Sherry about MGJ and Harium about his support for a D grade to graduate.  For the record, all those questions came from The Stranger.) 

Sherry said, on whether the Board passed the buck on finally firing MGJ, that she has a full-time job, is helping to oversee a large, complex district and that MGJ was getting paid $260k (and that MGJ had asked the Board, when confronted over Silas Potter, if they expected her to know what was going on further down the food chain.  Sherry said yes, they did.  That must have been an amazing exchange.)  Kate said, well, the Board gave her a positive performance review even as she missed most of the targets and gave her a bonus.

- The issue of policy enforcement came up twice. Sherry said there were "strong oversight systems" but never explained what role the Board should have in making sure the policies got enforced. 

- I had to smile at one point because Sherry was asked about whether the public knew about the policies being revamped and she alluded to citizens who came to the committee meetings and reported out.  Us?  We're the main people to make sure this gets out there? These are policies that affect every student and parent in the district.  Why didn't something go home in the first day packets, for example? 

I say that because ALL the candidates said the website is not as good as it should be for finding information and yet, "it's on the website" is their reasoning in this case.

- Charlie is right.  Harium's stated he brought a diverse background to the Board but didn't really explain that phrase. 

-Harium explained his support of "D" as a passing grade to be used to graduate based on fairness and reasonableness.  Michelle countered with how do we want this district to be thought of - getting the lowest possible grade to graduate?  Harium said there were only about 100 students affected by this ruling and most of them had "almost" a C- average.  Well, at the time, there was no C-; they had to vote that in.  I do see his point about why would D be passing in the class but not good enough for graduation but I still think it's too low.

- Harium and Michelle tussled a bit over getting money from the Legislature.  Michelle pointed out that the district doesn't exactly have the best reputation and that makes it harder for the Seattle delegation to advocate for more.  Harium said the district has a good relationship with the delegation and that Seattle is not an "embarrassment."  I can only say that the churn and scandals can't possible help the Seattle delegation. 

- Harium said oversight from the Board is coming from their new annual review of all major departments.  I agree this is good but, as Michelle pointed out, there were promises (and requirements) about reports to the Board that haven't been made like a Transportation report or a Program Placement annual report. 

- Harium seemed to contradict himself on the superintendent search (vis a vis what he said in Seattle's Child).  While he didn't rule out a search in the interview with SC, he clearly believes and supports Dr. Enfield as the candidate of choice.   Michelle supports a search.  (I can't recall on the yes/no question about this issue how everyone voted.)  He also said any superintendent would have to rebuild the trust with the teaching corps.  (I pointed out that Dr. Enfield's total support for TFA doesn't seem like the best first step towards rebuilding trust with our teaching corps.)

- It was, of course, disappointing that Steve wasn't there and we all hope his daughter is on the mend.  I thought Marty McLaren acquitted herself very well.  On the one hand, she didn't have to face down an incumbent.  On the other hand, she had to stand up there alone and calmly answer 4 questions in a row.   She really came out strongly for supporting teachers and the teachers in the audience surely appreciated that comment. 

I liked her answer on superintendent qualities about being able to trust the superintendent to fulfill "our philosophy."  I think for our next superintendent we don't need someone to come in and clean house, create churn and tell us what to do.   The Superintendent really needs to be someone to come in and listen - to the Board, to the community, to the teachers and staff, to the parents - and take his/her direction from THEM, not some preconceived idea or national agenda.

She came out firmly and strongly against TFA and said there is "no reason for TFA recruits in Seattle Schools."  It got big applause. 

In discussing the achievement gap, she was also one of the few people to state that poverty and other "influences outside of school" are part of the issue.

She also pointed out something interesting about the Families and Education levy that I hadn't given as much thought to as I should have.  Part of the measures of outcomes in the levy use test scores.  These scores now become more and more important in almost every aspect of what is happening in the district and therefore, become even more high stakes. 

Thanks to The Stranger, Washington Bus and Town Hall for a great event. 

17 comments:

David said...

Thanks for the summary, Melissa, good reading.

A third summary of the event over at The Stranger:

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/09/29/who-won-last-nights-school-board-debates

dan dempsey said...

About that whole achievement gap issue....

Marty McLaren =>
"In discussing the achievement gap, she was also one of the few people to state that poverty and other "influences outside of school" are part of the issue."

Peter Maier at Seattle Child =>
"The #1 issue facing the District is how to meet the needs of all of our students in an era of reduced funding. We need to close the achievement gap that has existed for far too long, and we need to provide a challenging educational experience for all students. ...… What we need is a relentless focus on what best serves students and a steady commitment to improvements system-wide.

FACT 1:
In a comparison with Seattle.....
The Auburn school district made huge improvements from 2007 to 2011 as evidenced by scores on OSPI annual testing in grades 3,4,5 for both
math and reading.

FACT 2:
The Auburn school district began focusing on effectively teaching the
Auburn School District Power Standards
(a subset of state standards) and increased explicit instruction.

FACT 3:
The Auburn school district could no longer afford "Everyday math" supplemental materials ... and gave out math waivers. => huge rise in elementary school math scores occurred.

FACT 4:
The Seattle Schools have never performed a careful review of all options to close the achievement gaps.

FACT 5:
The Seattle schools do the opposite of many instructional practices proven to be effective and disregards....
Project Follow Through, Visible Learning, National Math Advisory Panel's final report

FACT 6:
Seattle Students'
performance on end of the course algebra testing
by high school students that just completed taking an algebra course in high school was abysmal.
=========

The current dodge:
Lack of funding makes closing the achievement gaps in Seattle very difficult.
….
Yet Auburn did it with apparently less money by focusing on instructional practices that work, unlike Seattle.

FACT: Under CAO Enfield, Seattle had 110+ academic coaches for teachers... coaching them on teaching.

The SPS coaches were clearly ineffective. As long as the district continues to push instructional materials and practices that do not work .... lack of money is irrelevant .. the practices advocated by the SPS leadership do not work effectively or efficiently.

Look at failed Southeast Education Initiative ... lots of $$$ went into several SE Schools with no apparent academic improvement. In fact during that time even more money went into Cleveland math ... and the number of students scoring far below basic on the Math WASL increased at Cleveland. Cleveland used "Interactive Math Program" texts ... a Discovery/Inquiry program.

==========
Bottom line => get a new superintendent and 4 new school directors.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dan, you reminded me of something to ask about.

At the C&I meeting where they talked about instructional waivers (and yes I know there's thread due on that), it was stated there are only 7 math coaches in the district. I was surprised because I thought there were 100+coaches overall and even with reductions, I would have thought they would have more of them.

Eric B said...

On the D average issue, I think both Martin-Morris and Buetow missed the point. There's a big difference between a D average and a D grade. If a student has a few D grades but a C+ average, then he got a passing grade in every class and an acceptable overall average. That's very different than a student with a consistent D in every class leading to a D average.

In retrospect, Martin-Morris' example of a student who had a terrible freshman year and did better in later years doesn't make sense. That student wouldn't have an overall D average.

I may also be completely misunderstanding the policy. If so, please correct me.

Carol Simmons said...

Harium's point about the D grade is a legitimate one. If a credit is granted for graduation then the grade assigned to this credit (whatever it is) should be honored for graduation also. A D grade is passing and if it carries a full credit towards graduation, it is not only unfair and unreasonable to deny the credit for graduation but possibly illegal to do so as well. If the D is seen as too low a standard then the awarding of partial credit might be the answer.

Charlie Mas said...

The D average thing comes to this:

Can the District set both a credit requirement for graduation and a G.P.A. requirement for graduation.

Can the District not only require a certain quantity of credit but a certain quality of them as well?

Of course they can.

The D's count for credit towards graduation. No one is taking that away from them. The G.P.A. requirement is an additional one, like the senior project requirement, the High School and Beyond plan requirement, and the service learning requirement. We also require that the credit come in certain areas of study. The District can set all of these standards.

Jet City mom said...

Can the District set both a credit requirement for graduation and a G.P.A. requirement for graduation.

I can see Hariums point- however- with the grade inflation of many classes you would really have to work at it, to only have a D average overall and still attend school.

To allow a D grade for passing gives those students who are trying a course above their head, who run into other problems occasionally to still be making forward progress.

But to allow a D average to GRADUATE lets the student and the school off the hook in regards to making the diploma mean something.

( & it is disappointing Buetow was not able to express that in a more compelling way)

dan dempsey said...

Charlie has this 100% correct.

There may be several differing graduation requirements.

Looking at the collegiate remediation rates for recent SPS high school graduates should give everyone pause about moving the GPA minimum graduation requirement to 1.0

Students can retake courses in order to earn a higher grade and learn the material. .... which seems like a better option than awarding a 1.0 minimum diploma.

whittier07 said...

Melissa:

Could you explain a bit about Marty's comment about the levy ... I'm not understanding what was meant.

Thanks!

Charlie Mas said...

whittier07,

The Families and Education Levy has built in accountability elements. Each project has to contribute to higher academic achievement by the students or the funding is cut. That higher academic achievement is measured with standardized test scores.

anonymous said...

"Harium's point about the D grade is a legitimate one. If a credit is granted for graduation then the grade assigned to this credit (whatever it is) should be honored for graduation also. A D grade is passing and if it carries a full credit towards graduation"

I totally agree with Carol Simmons here. Either a D is a passing grade, that earns credit, or it isn't. If it is to be considered a passing grade and it counts toward fulfilling a students credit requirements then it should also count as a GPA satisfaction. The two should not be different, and if they are, it's a total contradiction. I am totally with Harium on this one. Either it's passing, and fulfills a GPA requirement, or id doesn't. you can't have it both ways.

FOS

anonymous said...

"Students can retake courses in order to earn a higher grade and learn the material. .... which seems like a better option than awarding a 1.0 minimum diploma."

Really dan? Just when can they do that? There is no more summer school, no more night school. Nada. How is a student supposed to retake courses, and still fulfill their graduation requirements?

FOS

Anonymous said...

alright - obama runs on hope and change and lets the slimeballs in finance who wrecked the economy walk, after shoveling them money. he & his branch of the "democratic" party let the pharma and health insurance companies double down on ripping us off and call it reform. he loses the house because people are fed up, and then starts to defund social security with right wing 'payroll tax cuts'. his privatization education policy would make every corporate bandit happy.

since his policies don't help us regular folds, his poll numbers are in the tank, but, the coach bag queen anne / cap hill democrats still like him!

this week he's a populist, again.

*****

seattle school board rubbers stamps all kinds of stuff which, by the way, happens to make a few things a bit better.

seattle school board incumbents are not against the math problem they created.

seattle school board incumbents are heavily supported by those who live in homes with great views.

anyone see

A Pattern?

Jan said...

I agree with FOS, and Harium, on this. While I concede Charlie's point -- they CAN have different requirements -- they should not. And I don't think any of us kid ourselves that a child with a D average graduating is in any shape to go off to the UW. But FOS is correct -- there is virtually NO way for kids to get credit retrieval anymore (and many of those kids have their hands full just trying to pull off Cs or Ds in the NEXT set of classes -- so there isn't a lot of hope they will just "double up" on courses.

My concern is for the child (SPED or otherwise) who is barely able, by dint of hard work, to pull Cs. From this child, it would not be unusual to have one "below average" grade -- one D per year. Now, throw in a catastrophic year in, say, 9th grade -- where he gets Ds in 4 classes -- or worse yet, fails one. Even if he gets straight Cs in EVERY class after that (and remember, the occasional D from this kid would not be shocking), he cannot graduate. Add in another D or 2, and frankly -- he is gone. It is really pointless to stay, when there is no realistic possibility of ever getting a diploma.

Undiagnosed learning disabilities? Addiction? Death of a parent or sibling? Depression or other mental illness? Homelessness or domestic violence issues? Legal problems? ADD or ADHD (it doesn't take too many missed assignments factored in at 0 to knock a B or C to a D). There are lots of reasons why a small number of our kids, over four years, are not going to achieve a C average, and yet will have passed every class.

I am concerned that you all think kids who get Ds are just slackers who need to shape up. I wonder if many of the posters on this topic have never had a child who struggled, worked his hardest, worked with a tutor, had an IEP, etc. etc. etc. -- and still could get no better than a D from an unsympathetic, unhelpful teacher. I have had that child -- and he had lots of help. What happens for the child who has issues, and who has little or no support --or whose home life actively undermines academic achievement? He is not getting help from the schools anymore, because the aides and much of the support is gone. I think it is utterly wrong to tell these kids that even if they pass every class, and no matter how hard they may have worked to pass, we will not issue them a diploma. Yeah -- they cleared every hurdle -- but they had. . .what? Bad form?

dan dempsey said...

FOS and Jan,

Does it boil down to this:
Graduation needs to be attainable in four years by most everyone?

or is graduation an indication of mastery of a particular level of skills and content?

Will diplomas mean anything more than attended?

Seems to me this is what the legislature and the "Taxpayers" are upset about.

The district has failed to offer meaningful interventions and appropriate instruction in a variety of areas. Granted that failing is not the students' fault but somewhere the rubber needs to meet the road.

To indicate to students that a 1.0 GPA is good enough ... is a fraudulent statement. Good enough for what?

Jan said...

Dan: these are really interesting questions. Here are my thoughts:
High school diplomas (and GPAs) do not reflect, and are not intended to reflect (if we are honest), what kids know. You cannot get a high school diploma in Seattle public school without X number of service hours, X credits of P.E. (or the outside equivalent to get a waiver, plus health class), a "senior plan" and X hours of hours in class. You can know British literature backwards and forwards, but if you fail to turn in enough homework assignemnts or major projects on time, you will fail (yes, I know, we are also teaching responsibility, punctuality, etc. etc. -- but that is not the course content; brit lit is). If you "miss" enough class hours for an unexcused reason, you get no course credit at all -- no matter how much you know. And no matter what you were doing.

So I think your question does not really ask the right question: Does it boil down to this: Graduation needs to be attainable in four years by most everyone? or is graduation an indication of mastery of a particular level of skills and content?

Frankly, if it was skills -- most of the APP kids would be done in about 7th grade (that was the year my APP kid's SAT scores exceeded the scores of 85% of all high school seniors). But it is not. We don't give "credit" for just being "fluent" in French because you lived there. And we don't give credit for years of math if you can just come in and ace the EOC exam (which many kids could). Kids actually have to take X number of class hours, and jump through any number of other hurdles which -- while some social policy case can be made for them -- have nothing to do with whether you "know" enough to have a piece of paper with your name on it issued by the School District. We do, in fact, seem to want kids to just "spend 4 years" -- because we refuse to value, in any way shape or form what they bring from outside school walls. I don't LIKE this system, necessarily, but the rules and regs are riddled with it. X minutes late to class Y number of times counts as an absence. Z numbers of absences means no course credit. Now, I totally get why teachers don't want kids dribbling in for 15 minutes after the bell rings, and I agree that over time, some kids will learn less if they are chronically late -- but we don't actually ask them to show whether they know any less or not. We just ding them for lost seat time -- because the diploma measures seat time. We use "grades" as a disciplinary tool, to enforce compliance with behaviors that make it easier for teachers to teach. Well, ok. But that has NOTHING to do with whether kids "know" enough to graduate. It is a bullshit system.

contd

Jan said...

Dan asks: Will diplomas mean anything more than attended? Seems to me this is what the legislature and the "Taxpayers" are upset about.

Go look at the job apps now that "require" high school diplomas. It is ridiculous. They can't realistically defend the requirement on the idea that the job requires a specific level of knowledge in any subject area. They just use it to cull what they assume will be the worst candidates. Colleges, on the other hand, don't "rely" on diplomas to "mean" anything either. They know that different diplomas, and GPAs, mean different things -- which is why they have their OWN requirements and standards -- and often also look to the ACT or SAT in addition, to determine whether a kid will be able to handle their courses, and whether kid A or kid B deserves a slot.

Dan says: The district has failed to offer meaningful interventions and appropriate instruction in a variety of areas. Granted that failing is not the students' fault but somewhere the rubber needs to meet the road. To indicate to students that a 1.0 GPA is good enough ... is a fraudulent statement. Good enough for what?

Actually, Dan, I am not sure that the rubber DOES need to hit the road. Kids going on to college already know that they will need to convince the college to admit them -- and homeschoolers have finally opened the colleges eyes to the fact that many kids can and do learn lots without ever "earning" a piece of paper from a public or private school.

And, if rubber DOES need to hit the road, it needs to not be by leaving tire tracks across the backs of kids who realistically were never looking at college, but may need a diploma for that job at Penneys, or to start an apprenticeship.

And, your final question: Good enough for what? Why is that not the kids' decision? They "endured" the faulty, time-wasting system that high school imposes on them. They passed every required course. They played every mind-numbing "service hour, PE waiver, required health credit, late to class twice equals one unexcused absence game that officious adults imposed.

If the adults want more targeted intervention, fine. Provide it. But don't play a game of "chicken" with the non-performing adults (who won't fund intervention) by threatening to take away the diplomas from kids who have passed all their courses.

If adults want a diploma to mean ONLY an X level of knowledge in X areas, fine. But then stop all the game playing with late assignments, class time, "volunteer service hours," etc. When a kid passes an EOC at a 70% level -- he gets the credit, whether he is in fourth grade, sixteenth grade, or never takes the class at all -- and just aces the test.