Innovation Schools, Er, "Creative Approach Schools"

The initial draft of the MOU between the district and the SEA about innovation schools (now renamed "Creative Approach Schools") is clearly a work in progress.  But it is promising.

It's interesting because I think some fear this as an intro into charters; I see it as a way to strong-arm off charters.  Why do you need charters if districts and unions are willing to work together to provide innovative ways to close the achievement gap?   I think this kind of forward motion is what we need to see more of and could be a model for the rest of the country.  (I do know that there are innovation-type schools as well as charters as well as magnets in some districts in the country. I don't get have a huge hodge-podge of types of schools.  What a lot of confusion for parents and oversight costs for the state.)

Back to the MOU.

It would only cover the current CBA which runs from 2010-2013.   It would provide for "broad exemptions" from SPS policies/procedures and the CBA in return for "enhanced autonomy and accountability."  

Every school would have to create its own application and those applications would have to be approved by a joint SEA/district review committee and the Superintendent.  It does not name who from the district would be on the review committee nor is there any Board input to the process.

Definition of a Creative Approach School: "a school community that develops a new, different and creative approach that supports raising achievement and closing the achievement gap for all enrolled students."

This definition is somewhat vague and confusing.  Would a current Option school be eligible?  Or how much would their program have to change?  Could they keep their focus and just change how they deliver the curriculum?  Is this a "new to you" approach for schools; meaning, could they copy each other rather than thinking up their own plan?

Required criteria (abbreviated):
  • initiated as grass-roots
  • rationale, research and data provided in support of design plan
  • articulated, defensible program/school design
  • identifies how plan is intended to raise student achievement overall and close achievement gap
  • identifies program evaluation criteria and how long it will take to demonstrate effectiveness of plan, including success benchmarks over time
  • broad participation of family and community members in developing the design
  • determine how staff, families and other community members will be involved in decision-making and monitoring of success

My question would be - what is grass-roots?  Would that include parents?

Staff and Community
  • supermajority of SEA repped staff who work in bldg. 2 days a week along with principals (80%)
  • all SEA repped staff must sign creative approach plan “compact agreement” specific to school and agree “any and all staff that agree to the assignment of said Creative Approach School, must adhere to the Creative Approach School plan and philosophy." Democratic process used by staff in decision-making
  • identify leadership and governance structure for school
  • voluntary participation by staff; follow displacement procedures in CBA during spring staffing and voluntary opt-out.  Any staff that doesn't follow the "compact agreement" would have to leave the school.
Where do parents fit in here?

  • SPS assignment plan; if neighborhood school, must stay that way
  • accountable for standards
  • evaluation tools
  • cost-neutral or sustainable external funding
  • budgetary freedom
  • principal will not change for 3 years with acceptable performance
  • 3 years for effectiveness of plan to be seen
  • oversight committee
  • annual report
Teaching and learning philosophy
  • opt out of district assessments as long as benchmark and progress goals are made
  • choice on all instructional materials (note that word "all")
  • latitude in schedule day and year
  • academics focused on themes or disciplines
  • private partnerships in schools for wraparound services, arts, etc.
  • family compacts (already in Title One schools)


Josh Hayes said…
I want to be critical and suspicious, but this actually does look promising, to me anyway.

I do wonder about the "newness factor" -- does this mean that existing altern-- ahh, I mean, option schools, of course! -- cannot fall under this category? Or will they be automatically assigned? Or what? I'd like to think that Pinehurst's emphasis, for instance, on experiential learning and individual child-centered teaching style, coupled with its active and energetic efforts in equity, would place it squarely in this "innovation" category (assuming enrollments can be pushed upward, anyway). But would it?
dan dempsey said…
Why Education Innovation tends to Crash and Burn
from Ed Week.

I'm sometimes asked about why it's so hard to scale promising programs, models, pilots, and notions. On that note, I just had the chance to spend a few days with a bunch of terrific folks discussing just this topic at a Kauffman Foundation retreat. Kaufmann will be issuing a synthesis with the collected wisdom that emerged. Meanwhile, I figured I'd share my own thinking with you.

There are at least two big sets of obstacles when it comes to "scaling" innovation. First, innovative models often rely on tough-to-replicate elements. Second, there are key structural conditions that impede efforts to grow even more replicable models.

First, seemingly successful pilots often depend more on the conditions that attend their adoption and execution than the model itself. Pilots tend to benefit from a number of advantages that disappear when these efforts start to "scale,"

Look at Mercer MS recent successful results from testing..... Mercer made it happen without any of the INNOVATION _ MOU _ District guided direction.

What is needed is less nonsense and more autonomy that allows teachers to do things that work.

We have a DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION that likes being in control ... but pushes plans that do not work.

Josh Hayes mentions Pinehurst and wonders would it get the "innovation label". ....

I would like to see decision making based on evidence rather than the latest fad .... or label.

Consider the effective practices Seattle chooses not to use:
a. Project Follow Through's recommendation for Direct Instruction (0.59).
b. Problem Solving teaching (0.61),
c. Mastery Learning (0.58), and
d. Worked Examples (0.57).

These four "innovations" are not only effective but could be easily combined into a deliverable package. Instead Seattle chooses to buy expensive to deliver programs that do not work.

The true "innovation" would be the Central Administration getting out of the way.
uxolo said…
These Innovation Schools sound identical to charter schools.
Charlie Mas said…
Oh, my, there is SO MUCH wrong with this.

1) The focus of the approach must be to raise achievement (as measured by standardized test scores) and to close the gap. Would The NOVA Project pass that test? I don't think so. Would The Center School? No. Nor would ORCA or Pinehurst. I don't think there is a single alternative school in the District that set that as their focus.

2) Initiated as grass-roots. There goes Queen Anne Elementary, STEM, and all of the language immersion programs other than JSIS. They were initiated - top-down - by the District.

3) Other data criteria set a much higher standard than the one set for traditional schools. As with the waiver, we seem deeply concerned that 300 students may follow a new path to a dead-end, but remain un-concerned that 30,000 are following a path to a dead-end.

4) I like the three year guarantee of no principal change - can any other school get that? - but why ask in one place how long it will take to see results and then set a three-year deadline for results in another place? Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said that it takes five years to see results.

5) As Mel asks, what is "new, different and creative"? How can it be new and have data that supports the rationale? Where would this data come from? Different from what? And, of course, how could it fail to be creative since all teaching is creative? Montessori isn't new. Language immersion isn't new. Experiential learning isn't new. I don't want to sound like Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), but there is nothing new under the sun.
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Can you please post a link to the MOU? Where can I find that?

thank you!

QAE Parent
Josh Hayes said…
FWIW, AS1 (now Pinehurst), AE2 9(now Thornton Creek), and COHO/NOMS (now Salmon Bay) were all grass-roots driven at their beginnings. I don't know anything about the history of other alt programs (TOPS, ORCA, and Pathfinder spring to mind - and of course, NOVA), but I suspect they have similar origins. These now-established schools are exactly what this framework would be now starting up, right? Or am I misreading this?

WV advises me to have a thick skin (derml).
Anonymous said…
Also- Charlie, I disagree with this statement:

"2) Initiated as grass-roots. There goes Queen Anne Elementary, STEM, and all of the language immersion programs other than JSIS. They were initiated - top-down - by the District."

QAE was dictated by the District to be Montessori. The Design committee (Principal, Parents, Community Members) pushed back and proposed/settled on 21st Century Learning model. The ideas and methods to make that come to life are, and continue to be very much grass roots.

The need to open the school, yes - the District mandated. But the program, all came from the community.


QAE Parent
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Oh boy! Geez, you think the district can just work on clearing out the C & I TO DO List first before taking on "Innovation Schools". The 1st point of concern is the one Charlie made: raising standardized test scores and closing gaps. That is not innovative nor creative. Kids should learn when they are in school. If you make this unique to this MOU, then what about other schools? When did that accountability have to be written in?

The district needs an MOU with SEA. What does that tell you? No description of what is new, innovative? Wil it be an on-line or Waldorft style school? ("tools cost-neutral or sustainable external funding budgetary freedom") Don't think so. "Enhanced autonomy and accountability"? So back to site based decison making matrix.

Dan is right if everything about Mercer is correct, and they can do it without an MOU or a new fancy title, then why this, why now? The VAGUENESS of it oust the BS in all of this. What Mercer seems to have is good leadership, A PLAN OF ACTION, persistence, and dedicated staff willing to see through the changes made. Key things district leadership does not have. You don't want this.

This appears to add more admin responsibility, but it really it is basic stuff admin should be doing with all schools and encouraging each school to strengthen their buiding leadership and management.

-very disappointed
Kate Martin said…
It feels a lot like more Bubble Test Nation shenanigans to me. The holy grail of "gains" folks seem to want to achieve are real tricky to hang your hat on. We should look a lot closer at the true composition of the Achievement Gap and how to cultivate real gains in those areas not superficial gains. Math scores, reading scores, writing scores and even science scores fail to address the bigger picture of qualities we should be concerned about developing in all kids. My kids and many I knowl, were bored to death in classrooms whose function was to bump bubble test scores. Yuk. Self-motivation, creativity, inspiration, self-management, self-education including a love of reading, conversation, dual literacy...those are a few of the areas where we should be cultivating our students to make gains. The route we're on is pretty superficial. We seem to only see the trees with these bubble test battles and lose the forest which would be truly educating the kids.
Kate Martin said…
Do we really need Creative Approach Schools based on the abandonment of policy and CBA rights? I think it's more the policies that need to change and the administration of the district. This seems to ignore that.
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Go Green,

My point is why restrict this MOU to one or a few schools? Why not ALL schools? What is here that cannot or should not be done to all schools?

-very disappointed
anonymous said…
Not so sure I agree with all of your interpretations Charlie???

Charlie wrote: "Initiated as grass-roots. There goes Queen Anne Elementary, STEM, and all of the language immersion programs other than JSIS. They were initiated - top-down - by the District."

Couldn't "grass roots" also mean that we, as in our district, create the schools, as opposed to allowing an outside entity such as TAF to come along and open up shop @ RBHS? I know the district has the ultimate say in what programs to implement but doesn't the community drive many of those decisions? Not all, but many. For instance we've been demanding more language immersion schools, and more Montessori programs for years, and we have seen those programs expand. RBHS is currently asking for an IB program and the district is implementing it. QAE asked for a technology focus and they received it. Jane Addams asked for an Environmental Science program and they received it.

Charlie wrote: "The focus of the approach must be to raise achievement (as measured by standardized test scores) and to close the gap. I don't think there is a single alternative school in the District that set that as their focus."

I agree that in the past alt schools have not been very focused on test scores, but I doubt that they can continue that moving forward. I'll use AS1 as an example - the school was almost closed down a few years ago due to their low WASL pass rates because the school encouraged families to "opt" their kids out of testing. Today the school encourages kids to take the test. Fast forward to 2011 and all SPS students have to pass the HSPE and EOC's (standardized tests) to graduate from HS. Unless alt schools become exempt from state testing, and I don't see that happening, I don't think they will have a choice but to prepare their kids to pass the tests.

I'm not saying that I agree with high stakes testing because I don't. But until the district shifts it's focus away from high stakes testing, alt schools will have to comply if they want to survive.

Like Melissa, and Josh Hayes, I think with a little tweeking this MOU could be promising!

go green
Anonymous said…
To understand "innovative schools" problem, you should go read the Wedgewood spectrum thread because what is happening illustrates in painful details when the district fail to manage its own programs. Then it expects the indvidual school to fix that failure by having school provides its own half baked solution that really does not solve the problem.

By insisting district do its basic job means individual school can offer unique program or alternative teaching/learning to meet the needs of its community. You can have all kinds of programs, but in the end, how each school implement, manage, and account for these programs will determine that school's and its program success.

What the district should do is establish working parameters with clear goals and accountability that schools work under. An MOU (since the district likes MOU) for all schools. Within that parameters, you can be more specifics about requirements for alt schools or special programs within each school offerings. This is why issues like waiver, district AL programs, C & I neglect, grants and sustainability ?, and the MOU/ contract with SEA need to be fixed first. There are tons more examples, but you get the drift.

This is the real work the district should be doing. This and helping individual school develop responsible, site based decision making because there is already varying degrees of site based desicions going on. Just inconsistently, sometime good ones and sometime pure awful ones. That means better mentoring and supporting principals and staff (especially new ones). From there, each school can develop the capability and nimbleness to meet the particular needs of its community (more wrap around services, IB/STEM, etc). With NSAP in place and the equity issue, it is even more paramount that you have strong foundation each schools can build from.

-very disappointed
SPSLeaks said…
QAE Parent,

You wish is my command

Draft "Creative Approach" MOU

Anonymous said…

Thank you!

QAE Parent
Miss Waterlow said…
I’m an alt school parent and public education activist and I’m actually happy the district and SEA are doing this. Do I think the blueprint as written is perfect? Absolutely not. I am hoping we’ll get a crack at revising it - in the main, simplifying it (it’s unnecessarily complicated). I don’t even care if it includes testing. As someone said, testing is currently part of our reality, all the way up through graduate school. Stopping this process - not having “innovative” schools - isn’t going to change that one bit. However, recognizing and encouraging more schools that use alternative models of instruction might help the testing freaks to see/admit the error of their ways. I certainly don’t care for high-stakes testing, but I’m not willing to scrap the plan over that. Though any required use of test scores to punish or reward teachers would be a deal-breaker.

Also, I totally approve of the union allowing waivers. Why not for all schools? Because the union needs to be very cautious and continue to protect their membership. They’re not agreeing to bust up their CBA, contrary to what’s been said here. They’re allowing very limited waivers for some schools. Teachers choose to take those waivers. If they were implemented at every school teachers who didn’t want to take them, and who weren’t getting the benefit of working in a school whose independent mission they truly believed in, would be screwed. This is the right way to do it. Plus it shows, at a time when unions need to “freshen” their image in order to survive, that they are “flexible” and not “standing in the way of progress.”

So, am I throwing up my hands and shouting “hallelujah!”? No. Do I think we all need to be skeptical and watch this process through a microscope? Yes. Do I worry that there are many potential dangers? Yes. But overall I think it’s a step forward. The more positive involvement we all have in seeing this implemented, the more it could resemble something truly good.
Miss Waterlow said…
I do think the “initiated by parents” part is a problem. “Supported by?"
Anonymous said…
OK after reading the MOU with SEA, the practical side of me can see where the district is going with this. Can't tackle SEA's CB agreement head on. And you do want teachers who are willing to take this workload and schools to have longer days, longer school year along with instructional flexibility. But you have to limit the number of schools involved because of teacher displacements. So you have a MOU to bypass CB sticky points.

Problem is you will have parents who will want kids in the innovative schools for whatever reasons: more instructional hours, bypass the standard teaching materials, the individualized wrap around suppport, etc. So will these schools be open to all comers? Or will they be limited to areas where district needs "innovative" ways to close the achievement gap?

My practical side can swallow this, because I understand the political pressure is to close the achievement gaps and to raise achievement among certain groups. This is all very important stuff. But in doing so, who are you leaving behind? Where's the fire to improve things for others. There is little political pressure to do better for SPED, for advanced or general ed learners. It is not the stuff that make headlines in ST, NYT, NBC's education nation, or get quoted in presidential speeches. So yes, practially I can accept this, but I remain

-very disappointed.
uxolo said…
What's in a name? If one school is called "Innovative" then the others by definition ARE NOT. It is very creative marketing. How can Seattle people be opposed to Innovation - that would just sound so backwards!

My guess is this is the way for charters to be started, beginning with LEV takeover of South Shore School.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maureen said…
reposting for anonymous at 9:14 who will be deleted because of lack of signature;

I imagine these Creative Approach Schools (i.e., Innovative Schools) are based on the Boston Pilot Schools model:

These Pilot Schools are district schools, not independent charters. They have teachers who are represented by the union but who also have tons of autonomy over curriculum, instructional models, testing, etc.

Here's a direct link to Pilot Schools.

My questions for anonymous are, (1)Have you heard this from Enfield or Martin-Morris or someone else in a postion to know? (Pilots were started in Boston in '94. Martin-Morris at some point taught kindergarten in Boston.) and (2)Do you know if Pilots maintain their status indefinitely, or do they revert to regular status once their 'innovations' are incorporated into the regular schools?

(and please choose a signature or you'll be deleted again!)
Part of the charter series will be about alternatives to charters and the "pilot schools" is Boston is on my list.
dw said…
Maureen said: (Pilots were started in Boston in '94. Martin-Morris at some point taught kindergarten in Boston.)

As far as I know, Harium has been here since at least 1992. That's not to say there couldn't be some ties with old buddies, but doesn't seem like he would have been an instigator in Boston.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Memorandum of Understanding = MOU
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
suep. said…
I agree with those (Kate Martin & go green?) who are asking why should only some schools be allowed to be creative and free from stifling district policy, and not all?

And why must teachers have to give up some of their rights in order for this to happen?

“Innovation Schools – SEA and SPS will develop and negotiate a process, approved by both parties, that will allow agreed upon schools to be able to apply for broad exceptions from SPS policies and collective bargaining agreements in return for enhanced autonomy and accountability….”

What policies is the district willing to forego? Are we talking about not forcing a school to teach inquiry-based math? Or are we talking about not requiring a school to admit any child who applies to it? Will more "accountability" mean even more high-stakes testing?

It looks to me like the district doesn’t stand to lose much here, but teachers are being asked to work longer (will they be paid accordingly?) and give up some unspecified rights and protections. It doesn't sound like a particularly balanced exchange to me, nor even a necessary one.

After all, what is the district giving up? The right to control every single school and its curriculum. We already know of schools that are diverting from the district’s mandated texts and standardized curricula and getting good results. That should be allowed for all schools.

What are the teachers giving up here? The right to be protected from being overworked and underpaid. Clearly that can hurt the teachers.

Why is SEA leadership so willing to bargain away its membership’s rights? I see this MOU as yet another example of the teacher’s union leadership capitulating to ed reformite demands, and based on a false dichotomy.

Look carefully at the wording:

2. “SEA and the District agree that any provision in a CBS entered into between the District and SEA (both Certificated and Classified) may be waived by a school whose application to be a Creative Approach School is approved…”

”All SEA Certificated and Classified staff assigned to a school where an application to be a Creative Approach School is approved shall be required to sign a “Commitment Contract.” The Commitment Contract will contain additional terms and conditions for employment in that particular Creative Approach School and the parties agree that all SEA employees must agree to perform these additional duties or they will be transferred out of the school.”

Any provision may be waived?

Or they will be transferred out of the school? (Btw, wasn't a provison like this that would have allowed the supt to transer teachers out of schools at will, one of the reasons the Tacoma teachers recently went on strike?)

What would that mean for teachers?

suep. said…

Can someone explain why creativity, autonomy and a dedication to helping every single student in SPS succeed cannot begin right now, for ALL schools in the district, without an MOU, without a change in the teacher’s contract?

Does it all pivot on longer days and longer working hours for teachers? If so, why can’t teachers be fairly paid for their time?

Seems like a slippery slope to me. And a false premise that extorts more from teachers while weakening the union.

Or does the district fully expect unionized teachers to balk at these requirements, thus creating a “teacher shortage” and opening the door to non-union teachers, possibly TFAers, to fill in?

Which leads us back to charters.

Those who want to privatize public education by and large oppose unionized teachers. Most charters staff their schools with TFA-ers or other non-union labor. Why? Because they can demand more and pay less to non-unionized teachers. And young, revolving- door novices like TFAers aren’t as likely to stand up for fair treatment as a more seasoned teacher is likely to do.

Also, “innovative” is a favorite word of the public school privatizers, and it is often code for “charter.” This MOU sounds a lot like House Bill 1546 that was introduced earlier this year, which also sounded like a Trojan Horse for charters. (See: House Bill 1546 a charter schools bill in disguise? (btw – Charters are currently illegal in Washington State)

If I were a teacher, I would be wary of signing onto this.

But you can see how the district has played this. Teachers who don't sign on will be accused of being obstructionists who are stopping schools from getting the freedom and creativity they need to succeed.

Either way, the union loses here, I think. They are either signing away some of their rights or will be painted as the bogeymen.


I still wouldn't sign this if I were them. I'd demand a new MOU that doesn't take away teacher's rights, but makes provisions for extra compensation for extra work.
Miss Waterlow said…
suep., what if teachers were paid fairly for their time? I don’t see how one can, with full intellectual honesty, deny that lengthening the school year would not, almost in and of itself, increase student learning, especially for the neediest kids.

I’m sure you know these figures, but the U.S. has one of the shortest school years in the world at an average of 180 days. If you compare that with Japan or Germany who both have about 240, that means that over the twelve years of their schooling (not including K), students in those countries will have completed fully two more years of school than students in the U.S. Furthermore, and this is perhaps most compelling to progressives like me, our yearly academic schedule is simply brutal for children in poverty and for working parents. To quote writer David Von Drehle, “summer vacation is among the most pernicious, if least acknowledged, causes of achievement gaps in America's schools. By the time the bell rings on a new school year, the poorer kids have fallen weeks, if not months, behind.”

Of course teachers should be compensated if their working hours go up (they should be better compensated already). And, of course, it’s not just teachers’ unions that resist change in this area. In fact, ironically, parents have been some of the strongest opponents of lengthening the school year. (I haven’t checked lately, but I think the stats on that have changed though.)

What I’m really trying to say is that you don’t have to be a closet corporate reformer and teacher-hater to want American kids to have a (much) longer school year.
suep. said…
Miss Waterlow, I don't necessarily disagree with you about longer school days and the negative academic effects of the summer break.

But if the main objective here is longer days, then why doesn't the MOU simply say that teachers who are willing to work extended hours will be able, and will be compensated accordingly?

Instead, teachers are being asked to give up "any provision" from their contract. That seems a pretty broad and vague term to accept.

And what are the "additional duties" these teachers would be expected to perform in these "creative" schools which they apparently haven't agreed to in their existing contract?

If I were a teacher, I'd be asking a lot of questions about this MOU.

As a parent, I'd like all our schools to have the freedom to be creative, so I'm not that thrilled with the idea that only some schools may be given that latitude.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
seattle citizen said…
"Seattle Citizen" (Anonymous 12:30 and 9:55)

Please refrain from using my handle in your posts. I have been Seattle Citizen here for a number of years, and obviously people will think it is me posting. Please copy and paste your posts under a different "name," as I am asking the admins to remove your posts of avoid confusion.

CT said…
I think SueP points out the devil in the details that exists with most of the so-called "education reform". For example, with NCLB - who wanted to be against something that proclaimed it would leave no child behind? Anyone who voiced objections to it was quickly shamed, and a quick perusal of the initial objectives looked good, sounded like common sense. Now, 10 years later....? NCLB is one of the most dreaded acronyms in our education history, and has done more damage to our public schools in ways that will take years to recover from.
This proposal - or MOU - also sounds good on the surface, and like NCLB, who is going to want to be against it? It is not until you really start thinking about how this would play out, what it would entail, that you start to worry about some of the end results. I'd want to see what peer-reviewed research they used to come up with this idea that these innovation schools will be successful. There are also some vague statements in this MOU that make me think the district could easily turn things to their advantage - like pitting parents against staff and staff against staff - for a divide and conquer regime.
So while I'd agree with Josh Hayes that it does look promising, I'm going to have to remain critical and suspicious of the motives. My major question: What's in it for them? (In other words, what does the district hope to gain by this?)

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