Friday, October 28, 2011

So I Said, "Lady Di, Why Bother?"

Way back when, David Letterman used to give celebrities about $5,000 to make a short film for his "Holiday Film Festival."  My favorite was one with Bette Midler who made a film about a boozy barfly laying out her life and views and she always ended with, "Why bother?" The Lady Di one was about Bette's character explaining how Diana came to the U.S. for the first time and "she brought 2 trunks and 15 suitcases.  She went to...JC Penney.  And I said, Lady Di, why bother?"

And so I say about the media in Seattle on Seattle Schools, why bother?

If any of you listened to the KUOW 10 am hour today, you probably heard my frustrated call.  (They do a news roundup every Friday and couldn't resist passing up the Silas Potter story.)

Look, I vaguely know Knute Berger.  I've talked with Joni Balter at the Times one time about a school levy.  I don't believe I've ever met Eli Sanders from The Stranger.   They are not dumb people but, for whatever reason, they all talk about SPS like they know it.  They don't and I suspect that 80% of the people at this blog know more than they do.


They are all absolutely entitled to talk or pontificate or analyze what events might mean to SPS or the School Board elections.  They are all absolutely entitled to do whatever work it is for their organization to endorse candidates.

But it drives me wild when they mix their process or analysis with a lack of factual information.

Joni started off with "this is such a professional Board."  She was so impressed with how they all sprang into action AFTER all the **** hit the fan.  They all seem to believe there was no way - no signs, no red flags - that could have led anyone on the Board to see this coming.  That is wrong but no one at the Times has bothered to really look into the timeline or what was happening.

Joni was trying to defend what is yet another almost indefensible editorial.  They start by - gasp! - trying to be fair and balanced on their assessments of both Pottergate and the MLK, Jr. bldg sale.

MLK, Jr. sale:  But a lack of criminality doesn't mean the board and top officials are not guilty of serious mistakes.

 That may not rise to the level of legal violations, but considering the real-estate deal lacked transparency and was rife with interference from state lawmakers and potential conflicts of interest, it is easy to see how the public lost trust.That may not rise to the level of legal violations, but considering the real-estate deal lacked transparency and was rife with interference from state lawmakers and potential conflicts of interest, it is easy to see how the public lost trust.

Pottergate:Blame must be shared again by the board and district leaders for allowing, tolerating, inviting — pick your verb — a district culture of indifference and dishonesty. Board members showed too much confidence, or a stunning lack of curiosity, about the superintendent's management.

Great, huh?  This is not what we have heard in the past and very different from other editorials.

Then they get to their continued propping up of the incumbents:

Many factors inform endorsements. The Times believed the incumbents are most knowledgeable about the inner workings of the district and best able to repair the damage. History offers little assurance that new faces will prevent another Pottergate. Not that many years ago, a different board was at a loss to explain how it didn't know the then-superintendent had overspent by $35 million.

The solution is not another round of musical chairs, but a strong accountability system that works regardless of who is in office.

So according to the Times:
  • all incumbents should be reelected because they know the lay of the land.  Why EVER elect anyone new for ANY office?
  • they talk about the Olchefske debacle without pointing out their (former) love of that "professional" Board.  That Board promised it wouldn't happen again.  We had one Board in-between (loud but no financial scandal and no exiting of a superintendent) and here we are again, in the same place.
  • their rationale is that this Board is so professional, they now have it all figured out and those new people wouldn't/couldn't.  Even though, four years ago, ALL these incumbents were newbies.
  • elections are not "musical chairs" - they are the backbone of our democracy.  Sorry that those pesky elections and our pesky Constitution get in the way of the Times believes should happen.
 Back to KUOW, they were talking about Pottergate and then the sale of MLK, Jr. and they couldn't remember how the state legislators got the money and why.   (And they gave the Times the credit for "breaking" these stories.)   I did get to explain two crucial things.

One, that the entire Board and the Superintendent could have red flagged Silas Potter just by looking at the budget from 2007-2010.  They would have seen the dramatic rise in his budget.   This is one of the few sole jobs for the Board - to review and approve the budget.  And yet, all of them missed that line in the budget (or saw it and said nothing).   That the Superintendent said nothing again shows she didn't pay attention or didn't care, take your pick.

Two, I got to say that the story on the sale of the MLK, Jr. bldg was only half-told in the Times.  The other half is the narrative and what a messy and odd process was used to get to this sale and that many players were trying to game the system and get what they wanted.  (I'm thinking that - really - the only people who got what they wanted was First AME Church.  Not taxpayers, not students, not even the legislators. And, they got it for cheap on their part.) 

How this escapes people who are the real journalists in this town, I don't know.  But they don't mind getting on the airwaves and talking about something they really don't know about in any kind of factual depth. 


dan dempsey said...

About Ms. Joni Balter... I first had a face to face discussion with her about four years ago in an aisle at Costco on 4th Ave S.

She bought all the Reform Math drivel and was really believing that IMP used at Garfield and elsewhere was very effective.

Subsequent correspondence failed to convince her otherwise. Apparently like most of the "Media Experts" she gets her knowledge from SPS press releases.

In Spring 2008 MGJ attempted to have Rosalind Wise move IMP forward as the High School math adoption .. that failed.

IMP was the text used for three years ( fall 2006 - Spring 2009 ) in the great unmonitored math experiment that produced Cleveland's school wide math fiasco.

Recently Key Curriculum Press attempted to get out of the math book business by selling products to Kendall-Hunt :: "Discovering" was in this sale..

KCP has yet to find a buyer for Interactive math Program materials.

These "media experts" are experts because they say so. There is scant evidence to support any claim that they are experts.

The "Media Experts" believe the SPS Press releases that Math is improving. (It is at the middle schools)

An analysis of End of Course Algebra results for students who took Algebra in the Seattle Public Schools in 2010-2011 shows Discovering Algebra is a failure ... and especially so for 9th grade low-income students and 9th grade Black students ...

For 9th graders taking Algebra in the SPS ..
subgroup all =>
(53.7) passed the EoC#1 with 30% (23.2) well below standard

subgroup low-income =>
(43.8) passed the EoC#1 with 36.7% (30.8) well below standard

subgroup Black =>
(35.9) passed the EoC#1 with 45.2% (37.9) well below standard

subgroup Limited English =>
(22.8) passed the EoC#1 with 44.5% (54.2) well below standard

subgroup American Indian =>
(38.1) passed the EoC#1 with 52.5% (37.1) well below standard

subgroup Hispanic =>
(39.2) passed the EoC#1 with 37.2% (34.7) well below standard

State 9th grade averages for students taking Algebra in 2010-2011 ... for each subgroup above are in the (xx)

----- So went the $800,000 spent on Discovering and $400,000 on Professional Development --- if a kid cannot learn Algebra ... all those other books above algebra are not really going to do the job.

... and the Seattle Times writes that math is improving ... oh gee I guess math performance is not an issue because the Times experts say so.

Charlie Mas said...

Knute Berger, Joni Balter, and Eli Sanders are not journalists; they are pundits.

They offer their opinions. They don't do any research. They don't do interviews. They don't seek out the truth.

They are basically bloviating bloggers who didn't have to gather their own audience - their employers gathered the audience for them.

Seriously, there is no difference between what Joni Balter does and what I do except that I work harder than she does to gather first-hand information and she gets paid a lot more than me for writing a lot less.

Oh, and I respond to people who comment on what I write. She does not.

This myth that the current Board are "professional" has no meaning and makes no sense. Professional what? What does that even mean?

If there is anyone who can explain the meaning of this, please do so.

They may be professional managers, but the Board job is not a management job. The superintendent manages the District, not the Board. The Board job is a watchdog job and a community representative job. It is a job for an activist, not a manager.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie writes:

Knute Berger, Joni Balter, and Eli Sanders are not journalists; they are pundits.

They offer their opinions. They don't do any research. They don't do interviews. They don't seek out the truth.


As long as too many voters choose to:
cast their votes founded in opinions formed by myths and half-truths, rather than the facts,
we will continue to have legislative bodies filled with purveyors of half-truths.

--- Do not take any School Board candidate election recommendations seriously from the Times.... unless your wish is for a continuation of a legislative body filled with purveyors of half-truths.

dan dempsey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
seattle citizen said...

Charlie, I think Joni meant that they were professional professionals: They profess.

Profess: To make a pretense of; pretend

Jack Whelan said...

CM said: "This myth that the current Board are "professional" has no meaning and makes no sense. Professional what? What does that even mean?"

"Professional" is code for people the downtown establishment feels comfortable with. It has nothing to do with their performance on the board; it has everything to do with the incumbents' sharing the downtown establishment's values framework. They are "professional" because they are all "establishment" business types.

They are not comfortable with a retired teacher, a neighborhood activist, or a free lance writer/filmmaker. Michelle is the only one who comes close, and she's the only one that got even a begrudging nod from the Seattle Times before the primary. (And it's why she's the only challenger The Stranger didn't endorse.) I really don't think it gets more complicated than that for these people.

This, of course, has nothing to do with the challengers' capabilities but whether they fit the template of what Joni Balter and her set think any director should fit.

jack Whelan said...

BTW--I'd like to see a thread about "teacher accountability and the CBA". I was quite frankly appalled at the attitude of Knapp and Addae at the MDC forum on Wednesday. I know they are doing their well-intentioned, but one of the attendee's suggestion that they become "thought leaders" is, I fear, beyond their scope, for they seem to be infected with a cliche-sodden, bureaucratic torpor. The limitations of fora like that prevent any real hashing out issues, so perhaps we could do it here if people are interested in the subject. I bet teachers are.

Johnny Calcagno said...

@Charlie - 2:43pm

On the show they are certainly pundits, but as far as journalism goes, I wouldn't lump Eli Sanders in with the other two. He does fine and nuanced reporting for the Stranger, e.g. the South Park murders.

In the past I have found that KUOW segment useful: Whatever Joni advocates, I'm sure to know that the opposite must be true. Oy, and such arrogance...