Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Let the Legislators Know TODAY

The next couple of days are very important to get bills out of committee in the State Legislature.  If you believe charters would be wrong for our state, please contact the following members of the Legislature:

Hotline number - 800-562-6000 to leave a message for any legislator or committee

House Education Committee:
House Bill 2428

santos.sharontomiko@leg.wa.gov;  She is the Chair and could be the most valuable to contact.

Senate Committee:
Senate bill 6202

Vice Chair
Committee Members

What should you say?  Here are some suggestions:

- The Legislature has been cutting K-12 funding the last few years.  The state Supreme Court just ruled that the State is not fully funding our existing schools.  How is bringing on-line more underfunded schools going to help?
- Where is the money (roughly $10-15M) to support this bill going to come from if you are cutting programs and there are no additional revenues coming in?
- This bill is really three bills in one - a charter bill, a "transformation zone" school bill and a parent trigger bill.  Let them know that initiatives and referendums can't have multiple topics and neither should legislative bills.

This bill (among other things):
  • will cost school districts money.  If a school loses students, they will lose teachers as well as money for other staffing positions like librarians, counselors and nurses
  • the bill does NOT provide enough measures to make sure that the majority of charter schools would be of the best quality to serve educationally disadvantaged students
  • the "parent trigger" portion of this bill is not strict enough.  In California, it takes a majority of parents AND teachers to convert an existing public school to a charter.  This measure only takes a majority of either group.
    • This legislation does NOT provide for background checks and child abuse registry checks for charter school board members.
  • Allowing for-profit companies to run/manage public schools is a bad idea.   
  • There is no clause for a trigger for review of a charter school if it drops below a certain number of students.  Most charter laws do have a limit somewhere around 100 students. 
  • It creates more administration at the state level.  That's money that is NOT going into classrooms.  
  • The bill allows for several types of authorizers but those authrorizers can then contract out their responsibilities to other employees or contractors.   With this system, how does the public know who read and reviewed any charter proposal? 
  • There is virtually no mention of parental involvement in this bill.  There is no requirement for parents to be part of the process whether it is parents in a neighborhood where a school is to be located OR for parents whose child attend the school.
  • In talking about providing a plan for educationally disadvantaged students, the bill mentions, “student discipline for Special Education students.”  Why are these students are called out specifically for discipline issues?

    Charters have the right of first refusal to purchase/lease at or below fair market value, a closed facility or property OR unused portions of a public school facility or property if the district decides to sell or lease the facility or property.  This means district-owned buildings would pass out of the hands of the district.

Open Thread Tuesday

What's going on today?

What's going on with you?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Creative Approach MOU Put on Hold

The Creative Approach MOU has been postponed from the Board agenda for this Wednesday's meeting.

It seems that the Board may have read the whole thing and realized that it was beyond tweaking and needs some serious thought. 

Additionally, it seems like teachers and parents really have not heard/understood this issue and they really should as it could radically change some schools.  I know that parents are busy and often can only devote attention to their own schools and miss these issues and then wonder what happened. 

I appreciate the School Board wanting to get this right to benefit all the parties involved. 

Good call on their part.

District Seeks Waiver for Snow Days

From SPS Communications:

Rather than add days to the end of the school year, Seattle Public Schools is asking the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for a waiver for the Jan. 19 and Jan. 20 snow days.

Gov. Chris Gregoire declared Washington in a State of Emergency for those days, prompting Seattle Public Schools to seek a waiver to not make up the Jan. 19 or Jan. 20 snow days. This is contingent on a decision allowing the Emergency Proclamation to apply to schools in King County. OSPI officials said they will have more information next month on how to apply for waivers.

It would cost Seattle Public Schools roughly $500,000 to make up the two days in June.

Seattle schools made up one of the three snow days on Friday, Jan. 27. State law does not require students to make up a day for Tuesday, Jan. 17, when students had a late arrival and an early dismissal.

Making up the time during mid-winter break is not an option, as families and staff have arranged their schedules around the school calendar, which was approved by the School Board in May 2011. That calendar, which is available online at http://bit.ly/DistrictCalendar, listed Jan. 27 as a weather make-up day, and up to three additional days are to be made up at the end of the school year.

The approved calendar for the 2012-13 school year shortens the mid-winter break, reducing it from a full week to four days over the Presidents Day weekend. The break includes the Friday before the weekend and Monday, Presidents Day, which is already a holiday and a non-school day.

Also, given the timing of the snow days last week, the District is extending the first semester three days, through Tuesday, Jan. 31. Second semester will start on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

Quick Updates

As most of you know, budgets are now being developed at both the district and school levels.   There is a WSS (Weighted Staffing Standards) Committee made up, I believe, of a several principals and staff members.  At the budget work session last week, the principals spoke up and said they could not take any more cuts and, in fact, needed some money restored.

I wasn't at this Work Session but Dorothy Neville was and said you could hear the worry in their voices.

I do wonder what would happen if PUSH really did come to SHOVE.  Meaning, what if district administration would give up something BIG to protect the schools?  Like MAP or some athletics programs or ??? - you tell me.

If you are interested in the budget process, it will be the topic of discussion at the next Seattle Council PTSA meeting on Monday, Feb. 13th.  Here's their blurb:

Join us at our next Seattle Council PTSA General Meeting where we will discuss the nuts and bolts of school allocations plus an update on the State Budget and how that impacts SPS.  This is a great opportunity for PTA/PTSA Presidents, Treasurers, PTA Budget Committee members and BLT (Building Leadership Team) reps to understand school budgets.  Been through school budgets lots of times before?  Come share your experiences with PTSA leaders who are new to the process.

School Board President, Michael DeBell and Sherry Carr, School Board Chair for Audit and Finance, will be there to answer questions.

6:30-8:30 p.m. at the JS Center, Rooms 2772-2774

Thanks to reader Steve for this information.

Also, many of you have been letting me know about the Advanced Learning surveys that you have received via e-mail.

This is a survey developed by the Advanced Learning Taskforce.  We are fortunate enough to have a professional on the team who wrote the survey so we hope it is better than the usual survey. 

Note: different parents will receive different surveys.   We have a survey for nearly every kind of parent so that we can shape the questions to their experience (as well as ask general questions on what they would like/change/keep).   I am trying to get a live survey link so that as many people as possible can take it. 

Seattle Schools This Week

It's a fairly slow week.

Wednesday, Feb. 1st

- Work Session: Facilities from 4-5:30 p.m. No agenda available yet.

-School Board meeting from 6-9 p.m. Agenda.  (note; normally SB meetings are two weeks apart but, because of the snow, this one occurs just one week from the last one on Jan. 25th)

The agenda includes:
- Creative Approach Schools MOU - as I previously mentioned I support this effort but it cannot go forward without the Board having some oversight ability. Without that, we are giving away our public schools and their oversight. Director Peaslee has introduced an amendment towards that end.
- The Waiver for Basic Instructional Materials policy. The agenda indicates that the action report and policy has been updated but I have not read it yet.
Director Peaslee is offering two amendments; one is to allow the school principal the right to appeal to the School Board if the Superintendent denies a waiver request. The other amendment is to allow the district funding (or grant funding) to be used to support materials for waivers for schools that cannot afford it.
-Approve a resolution in support of an application to OSPI for a new skills center program.
-Policy Book preamble (edited) as well as an amendment by Director Smith-Blum regarding community partners.
- Intro items include an agreement for work to be done at John Marshall for "reopening 2013 project", approval of Facilities Master Plan (which I haven't seen available yet), policy on visitors to schools and a couple of other policy revisions.

The John Marshall contract is for $250k (that's just for consultant fees for architectural and
engineering services).   The rest of the contract details spending of about $2M mostly to fix electrical, mechanical and basics like flooring.  
There are no Director Community meetings this Saturday.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Let the Board Know about the Glitch in Creative Approach Schools' MOU

Mea culpa and it happens sometimes. 

I didn't read through the MOU for Creative Approach Schools thoroughly and I missed a key point.   It cuts out ANY oversight by the Board.  

This is unacceptable. 

We elect a School Board to have people accountable for decisions made about our public schools and our public school dollars.   While I think it is fine for district staff and SEA leaders to okay a proposal, the final decision must be the Board's. 

I think my tip-off was when the question was asked about the passage about bringing in groups to help with these changes and when Asst. Superintendent Thompson was asked about who they might be, she shrugged. 

This won't fly. 

As I said in my testimony this cannot be a backdoor for astro-turf or charter groups to get their foot in the door of SPS with no oversight by the district AND the Board.  Lack of oversight by the Board could lead to exactly that.

I don't really care if it is only a "might lead to..." - we cannot give up the oversight of our public schools by elected officials.  That's why I don't like charters - most of them are not overseen by elected officials. 

I urge all of you to ask the Board to table this motion and/or consider writing an amendment to make sure they are part of this important process.

Getting Desperate over at LEV

Every week, LEV's leader, Chris Korsmo does a column at their webpage.  She tries pretty hard to be funny but it usually falls somewhat flat.  (If you are not a naturally funny writer, efforts to be funny just don't work.)  This is part of what she had to say this week on charter legislation:

I don’t know about you, but if one more person tells me that they wish we could do something about the achievement gap, but bringing public charter schools to Washington will only help a few kids, somethin’s gotta give. I swear I’m going to go buy every copy of Schindler’s List I can find and hand them out like a human Pez dispenser.

Here's my reply:

Well, as LEV has itself pointed out, only 17% of charters do better than traditional public schools so yes, there is a very real chance that if charter legislation passed, it would only help a few kids. 

What does the holocaust have to do with public education in Washington State?

It is a bit baffling that she chose Schindler's List to illustrate her point on closing the achievement gap with charter schools (and, Pez is a candy so it would be used to hand out books?).

She goes on:

As in previous years and iterations, the issue is not without its controversy. Goodness knows change doesn’t come without its dissenters. But even of those who support the issue, some think it has no chance. They are wrong.  But we have to act now. We must push to get these bills voted out of committee over the next five days. While we wouldn’t be completely sunk if they didn’t it would be optimal if we could get the bills out of the house and senate committees by the Tuesday, January 31 cutoff.  

The bill doesn't have "no chance."  From those I know who know the Legislature, it has little chance.  Word is that it won't make it out of one (or both) committees. 

Mostly, I think it's about timing.  This is just not the time to bring on more spending and more bureaucracy that isn't going straight to the classroom.  And, of course, if we aren't fully-funding existing schools, how is bringing on more underfunded schools going to help?  

Between the lack of funding and the low rate of success for charter schools, I wouldn't be surprised if this legislation fails.

However, Ms. Korsmo is right about one thing; it's not over until it's over.  We do have a link on the homepage (to the right of the blog threads) to the Legislature.  Let your legislator know what you think.

One More Piece to the PTA Fundraising Discussion

Brian Rosenthal had one more small article on this subject and it, again, is about McGilvra. 

In 2000, SPS and McGilvra had a contract to allow McGilvra a way to hold the line on their class sizes.  To whit:

The oddity started in 2000, when parents at the small and then-low-performing school in Madison Park negotiated a unique contract: The PTA would buy two portable classrooms for about $120,000 and pay $200,000 per year to put teachers in them. In return, the district would keep the school's class sizes low or provide extra programs for the next 20 years.

It was an agreement unlike anything District Attorney Ron English had ever seen, he said.
And it worked for a decade.

But last year, amid implementation of a neighborhood-based assignment plan, overcrowding at some schools and pressure about the fairness to other schools, the district opted out of the contract, paying a $60,000 buyout fee.

I knew this was happening but I didn't know its status since the NSAP.   Smart of McGilvra to make sure if anything changed, they got some money back out of it.   But then, money does talk. 

What is telling is a comment from the first article:

"Of course it's unfair. Of course it is," said Bill Crawford, president of the Roxhill Elementary PTA, which typically raises less than $5,000 per year. "That's the way the world is."

I agree with Mr. Crawford; that's life.  That's what puzzles me about the charter school push for choice.  State governments, in their role of providing public education, are not doing it to give parents choices.  They simply do not have the money to provide choice.  That most urban areas offer different schools beyond neighborhood schools - call them magnet, option, alternative, whatever - is a function of economies of scale, not because they believe parents deserve choice.

So this idea that we need charters because we need choice seems false to me (especially given the state of the economy).  If a school is consistently low-performing and district efforts fail, then the state should take it over (and indeed the bill has this aspect in it).  

As adults, we know the world isn't fair and really, we can advocate for better but we can't change how others view it.   McGilvra operates more on the end of a private school than most public schools in this district but the parents there are able to create that model.   I don't see it as good or bad; it just is. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Money, our Schools and PTSAs

Another fine article by Brian Rosenthal in the Sunday Seattle Times, this time about PTA fundraising and our schools.  He certainly did his homework and here's some interesting information:
  • McGilvra Elementary raised over $390K last year.   They have about 240 students.  You do the math.
  • So far this school year, four of the district's nearly 100 schools make up more than one-third of the expenditures. They are all elementary schools in wealthy areas: McGilvra, of Madison Park ($240,280); Queen Anne's John Hay ($215,077) and Coe ($180,000); and View Ridge ($195,000) in Northeast Seattle. Other elementary schools at the top include Adams, John Stanford, Laurelhurst, Loyal Heights and Stevens.
  • At the same time, dozens of Seattle schools, mostly in the South End, don't appear on the list because they don't have PTAs or don't raise enough to go through the central office.

There is no districtwide database documenting PTA fundraising by school, but it is clear that parent groups in wealthy parts of the city collect hundreds of thousands more than those in poor areas. The money — raised through everything from sales of baked goods or Christmas trees to black-tie auctions — can go toward almost anything, from classroom teachers to building maintenance, as long as the school principal accepts it.

Two things.  One, I think the district is loath to collect data because, well, then they would have to admit how much money parents drive into the district.  The Seattle Council PTSA should flex its muscle based on this issue.  Parents are pumping money into this district.

Two, I really agree with the Washington State PTSA that parents should not be able to fund employees.  It's too much pressure to sustain, it's inequitable and it allows the state to continue not fully funding education.

Bellevue, Lake Washington and Issaquah already ban the practice.

A similar shift is unlikely in Seattle, said School Board President Michael DeBell and Lauren McGuire, president of the Seattle Council of Parent, Teacher and Student Associations. They each cited the issue's political sensitivity and a reluctance to do anything that would limit donations in the current budget climate.


Still, some are hoping to start the conversation.  Among them is School Board member Betty Patu.

What is interesting is how other districts are handling this:

Portland Public Schools: One-third of all parent donations are pooled into an "equity fund" run by a foundation, which distributes the money to schools that can't raise their own funds.
Eugene (Ore.) School District: Five percent of all parent donations are pooled into an "equity fund" that is divvied up essentially equally among all schools. Parents are also allowed to donate directly to the equity fund.
Bellevue, Lake Washington, Issaquah: These districts do not pool donations but do prohibit contributions from being used to fund the salaries of certified teachers. It was in that spirit that Bellevue Public Schools — after a long and contentious debate — decided in June to enforce a long-neglected prohibition on using parent donations to fund staff positions.

And this paragraph is a great summary of the issue:

Indeed, as large as fundraising amounts are at schools such as Hay, they rarely come close to offsetting the differences in the district's weighted formula, federal Title I funding and other programs benefiting poor schools.

But advocates for low-income schools point out that those funding sources come with strict requirements. So while poorer schools have little control over how to spend the extra money, parents at wealthy schools get to choose what will be most beneficial for their children. And schools in the middle get neither higher district funding nor large fundraising.

One of the comments struck me:

I have long been disturbed by how Seattle parents can so easily rationalize such a blatant inequality in their public schools. That other school districts have already dealt with this issue, and yet the Seattle school board president and PTA district leader refuse to even put a discussion on the table, is yet another piece of the unethical milieu that plagues this district.

Once again, Betty Patu is way out in front in terms of wisdom, candor and fairness.

I don't know what the answer is.  I can never fault parents for supporting their child's public school and wanting it to be the best.  But eventually, these kids all meet up in middle and high school.  It would be great, at least from an academic standpoint, if they could have had something of a level playing field in elementary.   

BEX IV Planning

There was a BEX IV planning work session on Wednesday (before the School Board meeting). 
Folks, this is going to be one heck of a challenge.  Once I get this charter monkey off my back, this is where I'm going to focus next because there are so many moving parts.   I despair a little at how it may all come out but I can only urge you to KEEP UP and let the Board know what you think.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Eckstein Bus Driver Attacked by Dogs

From the Times' Brian Rosenthal:

Two dogs attacked a school bus driver at Northeast Seattle’s Eckstein Middle on Friday morning, which led to a brief lock down at the school.

The bus driver, who was taking a walk around the school before heading to another school, suffered puncture wounds to his hands, according to a recorded message sent to all Eckstein families. All students and staff were told to remain in their classrooms out of concern the dogs would strike again.

Police detained the dogs, said Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Lesley Rogers, who did not know what type of dogs they were.

The school has since been reopened.

I am so sorry this happened to this poor bus driver but thankful the police were able to round-up the dogs before they hurt anyone else.

Open Thread Friday

I'm thinking that KUOW is likely to talk about the School Board and policy 1620B on their weekly news-roundup at 10 am.  Might be interesting.

Director Patu has the only community meeting tomorrow morning.  Her's is at Caffe Vita, 5028 Wilson Ave. S. from 10 am -noon.

What's on your mind?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Former Aberdeen Student Wins Harassment Suit

From our friends over at The Stranger Slog, comes this story of a young man who won a judgment against the Aberdeen School District for unbated harassment against him by classmates in both middle and high school.  The lawsuit was filed with the help of the ACLU.  He won $100,000 from the district.

The harassment sounds like crazy town (some kids went so far as to create a mocking website of him).  He and his parents repeatedly reported the incidents, in person and in writing, and never got help from administrators.   There were harassment over his perceived sexual orientation and his race. 

Public school officials must be held accountable when they fail to meet their responsibility to act decisively when a student is subjected to harassment by his peers," said Sarah Dunne, ACLU-WA legal director in a statement released today. "This settlement sends a message to school districts statewide to take strong action as soon as they learn that a student is being bullied."

I hope this message is received in districts everywhere. 

A Question of Scale

A lot of the work in education appears to be focused on small things that make little difference instead of big things that make a lot of difference. All of the fights are over the small stuff that doesn't much matter. These are distractions that keep us from taking the battle to the big stuff that really does matter.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Board Tables Policy Decision, 4-3

Other stuff did happen at the Board meeting.   But this was quite fascinating (and confusing).  It was like watching a long tennis volley, back and forth with different points.

I will say that I think everyone made good points but clearly, the policy is being viewed through different lens.   I'm not sure anyone is wrong in this case.

Let's Discuss the Survey Results

From the "Hmmm" category (an SPS announcement):

Each spring, Seattle Public Schools administers a survey to all families, school staff and students about instruction, leadership, and family engagement. Teachers, families and community members are invited to join school leaders 5:30-7 p.m., Feb. 2 at the John Stanford Center for a meeting that will include an overview of last year’s survey results, small group discussions to gather feedback on improving the surveys and Q&A. For questions, comments, and accommodation requests, please contact research@seattleschools.org.

This could be very interesting and probably worth going to if only to listen.

The Limits of My Endurance

I have been an education activist for about eleven years now. I have clashed with the district about two hundred times. I have never won. People wonder how I can keep doing this. Don't I get burned out? Don't I get tired? What the hell is wrong with me? Is it some kind of neurosis?

There are two secrets to my endurance.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

District Extends Semester

From SPS:

Given the timing of snow days last week, Seattle Public Schools is extending the semester three days, through Tuesday, Jan. 31.  Second semester will start on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

The MAP testing window has been extended to Friday, January 27.

Also, the grading window has been extended, with a new deadline of Tuesday, Feb. 7 to turn in grades for the semester.

Please note a previous announcement that Seattle Public Schools will hold classes on Friday, Jan. 27 as a snow make-up day. Previously, no school was scheduled for next Friday, a professional development day for staff.

 A determination on if and how the District needs to make up the remaining snow days will be made later this week.

Skill Center

There are high school students in our house, so we got a robocall and an email about the Skill Center.

Here is the text for those who are interested:
Starting now, students who will have at least 10 credits OR are at least 16 years old may enroll in the new Seattle Public Schools SKILLS CENTER for next fall.  A skills center is a public school opportunity for a student to take advanced Career and Technical Education courses.  Students must still have a home school where they meet the rest of their graduation requirements.  In other words, you cannot earn a diploma at a skills center, but it enriches the offerings of our existing high schools. It prepares students for college and for careers that are in high demand.  All courses are cross-credited.  Courses are almost three hours long and in the afternoon, so students can really be immersed in their studies.

You can choose from one of the following programs:
  • Digital Animation + Game Design
  • Medical Careers
  • Aerospace Science and Technology
  • Computer programming and networking.
These are highly motivating advanced programs which prepare students for high demand careers.

Students who graduate with SKILLS CENTER courses on their transcripts leave high school with more than a diploma – they’ll have specific career experience and skills, industry certifications and college credit.

Talk to your counselor now about enrolling. Space is limited.

Superintendent Search

The whole Executive Committee meeting today was about the superintendent search and nothing else.

Open Thread Tuesday

What's on your mind?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Guest Column: Creative Approach Schools

Michelle Buetow has written a thoughtful piece about the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the district and SEA for schools to apply to be Creative Approach Schools.   This action will be introduced at Wednesday's Board meeting.  Here's the MOU and the Creative Approach Schools criteria page.   Good for our district and our labor partners for making this effort to allow more innovation/flexibility/autonomy to schools.

Here's Michelle's article:

Furlough day... why bother

With the three-hour early release due to the furlough day tomorrow, my daughter says that each of her classes will be only twenty minutes long. She says that isn't enough time to do anything so there's no point to her going to school tomorrow.

I hate it when they make a good case for this sort of thing.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Thoughtful Stance on Charters

One of the perks of doing this work and getting out there in the community is meeting people who don't just talk - they act. 

Trish Millines Dziko is such a person.  Trish and her partner, Jill Hull Dziko, started providing STEM programs for students of color back in 1996.  They then founded Technology Access Foundation which now has two programs: TechStart and TAF Academy. 

TechStart is an after-school program (middle school) and school-day program (elementary) for STEM, to help them learn about it and be prepared for classes in it.

TAF Academy, in the Federal Way school district, is a 6-12th grade model for STEM. 

So when I heard Trish giving testimony at a recent state senate committee meeting about TAF, I contacted her and thanked her for her work.  I also asked her about charters because TAF has done tremendous work in creating their programs and doing the tough work to create partnerships to support their work.

So, it seems like TAF might be a natural for starting a charter school.   Here's what she sent to me - a thoughtful position sheet that they sent to their donors on this issue.  It is well worth reading as she lays out what it would mean, pro and con. 

TAF has decided to take no position because she supports ALL schools who reach even the hardest-to-reach kids.  

And who knows?  If the legislation passes, TAF might start a charter (although their cons do point out items I hadn't even thought about - again, a signal to the thoughtfulness with which Trish and TAF approach their work). 

There is good work being done out there for kids and TAF is one place where it is happening. 

Seattle Schools This Week

There will be a lot of catching up to do this week from the loss of time from the snow days.  Also, much has happened in the media since the postponement of the School Board meeting last Wednesday the 18th to this Wednesday the 25th.  I expect that many more media may be at this meeting.

I am also delighted that the speaker list carried over from last Wednesday's meeting.  I expect that some listed speakers may get pressure to give up their places to people pushing the Board policy 1620B but I think many speakers who signed up for other reasons (like Whittier) may stand their ground.  Good for them.  (I, too, remain on the speakers list.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Pendulum Problem

District leadership style has swung back and forth between two extremes. It needs to be stopped and held at the center.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Times Stirs the Pot

As Scarlett O'Hara said, "What I wouldn't say if I wasn't a lady?"

Their latest editorial - full of tiresome terms, innuendo and flat-out hectoring - was printed today.   And boy, are their knickers in a twist.

First, the ever-popular cry of "don't micromanage."  No one is but they keep saying it whenever people they don't like get elected.

Then they treat McLaren and Peaslee like little children.

Then they call out Smith-Blum and Patu that they should read the policy 1620 as a reminder.

Do they call out Martin-Morris or Carr?  Of course not.

They also say this:

One board member reportedly ordered Enfield to fire some employees.

To which I said:
You know, for a fact, that a Board member ordered Enfield to fire employees? Where is your evidence or proof? Because if you truth-challenged people HAD any, there would be a story by Brian Rosenthal and not an editorial. 

Then they said:

At a recent retreat, another raised the idea of the board approving principal hires.  The board should not be able to hire and fire anyone other than the superintendent. 

Alas and alack -whether the people at the Times think they should not be able to, state law says they CAN.  (These people NEVER do their homework.)

Here's what I said in the comments section:

Yes, at the Board retreat, newbie Sharon Peaslee, DID ask about the Board and principal hires. And guess what? It was explained to her that YES, Washington State RCW DOES give that power to school boards and ALL over the state, school boards hire principals.

In the larger school districts, most have given that power over to their superintendents. Michael DeBell, School Board President, said all of this at a recent Executive Committee meeting.

And then there's this undercurrent of "we will never attract anyone good to be superintendent with all this"?

But that's really the end game, no?  For the Times and the powers that be in this town to smugly say, "See we were right" while THEY were stirring the pot the whole time.  That's what Crosscut is doing as well.

It's a sad, sad thing but I still believe the Board will get a lot of great candidates.  Even if others don't want them to materialize.

The Times gets more pathetic and desperate by the day, hoping that someone is listening to them when really, they exist in their own little echo chamber.

If Michael DeBell really cares about this district, he would be tamping this kind of nonsense down right now.  

Yes, Director Community Meetings are on for Tomorrow

I contacted both Michael DeBell and Sharon Peaslee and their community meetings scheduled for tomorrow are still on. 

What's Up with Michael?

I hadn't had time to write about the Executive Committee meeting last week but it ties in nicely with a recent article in the Seattle Weekly about why Dr. Enfield is leaving.

I noticed that after the election, Michael DeBell really seemed down.  I can understand; Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier were not just colleagues but friends.  But he is an elected official and election change comes with the territory.

Then, scant weeks into terms of Peaslee and McLaren, I was hearing that he was unhappy.  That he thought that some members of the Board (who shall remain nameless) were asking too many "micromanaging" questions of Enfield.  It's unclear to me whether it was asking too many questions or asking questions that stepped into Enfield's realm of action.

Then Enfield said she was leaving, said it had nothing to do with the election results but would not say anything else.

But it is clear from Michael's actions recently that he is struggling with not only losing Peter and Steve but now Dr. Enfield.  He has made it very clear he doesn't want her to leave.  I'm pretty sure he has told her privately to let him know what might make her stay.

News Roundup

From the "boy, I'm glad my kids didn't go to these schools" file, a story from Georgia about worksheets used in elementary school math that reference slavery, beating a slave and picking cotton.  And the principal said he "will work with teachers to come up with more appropriate lessons."  That's it.   A district spokesperson said she didn't think the teachers meant any harm. 

Also, we're losing teachers rapidly in this country according to the activist group, Take Part.    Five reasons:  burnout (particularly among charter school teachers), threats of layoffs, low wages, testing pressures,  and poor working conditions. 

From the New York Times, an interesting story about how education brings "mental fitness."

“Education seems to be an elixir that can bring us a healthy body and mind throughout adulthood and even a longer life,” says Margie E. Lachman, a psychologist at Brandeis University who specializes in aging. For those in midlife and beyond, a college degree appears to slow the brain’s aging process by up to a decade, adding a new twist to the cost-benefit analysis of higher education — for young students as well as those thinking about returning to school. 

It also goes into this really fascinating new belief about two categories of brainpower; fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.

One bunch falls under the heading “fluid intelligence,” the abilities that produce solutions not based on experience, like pattern recognition, working memory and abstract thinking, the kind of intelligence tested on I.Q. examinations. These abilities tend to peak in one’s 20s. 

“Crystallized intelligence,” by contrast, generally refers to skills that are acquired through experience and education, like verbal ability, inductive reasoning and judgment. While fluid intelligence is often considered largely a product of genetics, crystallized intelligence is much more dependent on a bouquet of influences, including personality, motivation, opportunity and culture. 

Education was also associated with a longer life and decreased risk of dementia. “The effects of education are dramatic and long term,” Dr. Lachman says. 

The moral of the story - stay in school, kids.

Snow Make-Up Day Next Friday, January 27th

 From SPS:

Seattle Public Schools will hold classes on Friday, Jan. 27 as a snow make-up day.

No school was scheduled for next Friday, a professional development day for staff, but instead will be used as a make-up day for one of the three snow days this week, as outlined in the 2011-12 school calendar.

A determination on making up the additional snow days, most likely at the end of the school year, will be decided next week.

“It is important to get our students back in the classroom next week,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield. “We know some families may have made out-of-town plans for next Friday, and we apologize for any inconvenience this causes.”

There will still be a three-hour early dismissal on Tuesday, Jan. 24 for a scheduled furlough day for teachers and staff represented by the Seattle Education Association (SEA). That day cannot be used as a snow make-up day.

Open Thread Friday

As has been noted in other threads, there is a steady drumbeat of "keep Dr. Enfield."  Crosscut unleashed a particularly unworthy piece this week (insulting Directors Smith-Blum and Patu as well as casting suspicion on Directors McLaren and Peaslee). 

Now we have an op-ed from a Seattle Schools parent (and Stand supporter) that gives a whole list of reasons why keeping Dr. Enfield would be a good idea and the Board should be working on this. 

First, the op-ed piece is not entirely truthful (the author says the survey shows parents want her) and second, what did I miss? 

She said she wouldn't participate in a search.  She waited weeks after the election and THEN said she was leaving.  What did anyone do or have time to do to drive her away?  It would seem Dr. Enfield has to make a decision, not the Board. 

I have told readers, if you feel as this parent  does, please go advocate to the Board. But I sincerely believe her mind is made up.  I am fairly sure we will find out she had another job in the wings after she leaves. 

But this continuing whining about how bad the newly-constituted Board will be needs to stop.  I know these seven people and I continue to believe they will work together, collaboratively to make this district better. 

I have communicated with some of them that if they want to take on the task of finding a new superintendent themselves, I have faith they will do the job well.  If they want community help, just ask and I will be glad to post any notice at this blog. 

We need to move on.

What's on your mind?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My No to Charters

I'm going to express my thoughts about charters in general and then, in a separate thread, give an analysis of the current charter legislation.  

I waited until I had finished my series on charters.  I gave time for readers to read the series and hopefully, thoughtfully consider the evidence and experience that other states have had.  You may have noticed that I put the series (with links) at the top right of the blog along with a link to the State Legislature page that shows how to contact your legislator to give your opinion.

I will say this again - this blog is the only place that truly tried to give factual and complete information in order to allow readers to educate themselves on this issue.  We have never had charters in this state and so there are likely many, many people who don't even have a vague idea about what they are.

(Update: a lot of egg on my face from a brain that sometimes doesn't fire on all pistons.  Of course, I left out the wonderful work at the Seattle Education blog written by Dora Taylor and Sue Peters.  My apologies.)

This did not happen at LEV, Stand for Children or through the state PTSA organization.  They could have done this but chose not to do so.  Ask yourself why.  Why would there be pro and con discussions about charters from those groups without providing complete information first?

No big surprise - I don't believe in charters. 

Charters were about better outcomes in exchange for fewer regulations and more autonomy in teaching and learning.   For only 17% of ALL charters to do better than traditional public schools, after 20 years of trying and with the federal government now giving grants to start-up charter schools - I do NOT see the cost benefit ratio that makes sense.   What is most troubling is that if a school was not performing academically within a certain period of time, it was to be closed down.  That has not happened in the numbers you would expect given that 17% figure. 

City Club is Looking for Heroes

I was pleased to find out that City Club took over the Jefferson Awards went the PI went dark.   The Jefferson Awards "recognize, inspire and activate volunteerism and public service in communities, workplaces and schools across America."  The awards are presented on a national and local level.  The program started in 1972 "to create a Nobel Prize for public service." 

"From the beginning the Jefferson awards has been based on a simple idea.  One of the most powerful ideas in the world.  One person can make a difference.  That is the heart of democracy at work." 

I was nominated for the work we did as part of the entire Closure and Consolidation Committee.  It was somewhat embarrassing because we were doing difficult and intense work but it was short-term.   Frankly, the award winners were just awe-inspiring. 

There are people out in our communities, doing yeoman's work in service to our city.  If you know such a person, please nominate him or her.  The nomination materials must be received by Friday, Feb. 10th. 

Seattle Schools to be Closed, Friday, January 20th

Seattle Public Schools will remain closed on Friday, Jan. 20 because of continued winter weather conditions. The John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence will also be closed.

“The snow is still falling and temperatures are low, making it difficult to safely transport students to and from school,” said Dr. Susan Enfield, Interim Superintendent. “We hope our students, families and staff members are staying safe and warm, and we look forward to re-opening our schools on Monday.”

Next Tuesday, Jan. 24 is a three-hour early dismissal from schools because of a scheduled furlough day. That day cannot be used as a snow make-up day. District administration will determine tomorrow if Friday, Jan. 27 – a scheduled day off for professional development – can be used as a snow make-up day.

Common Ground

I have been reading a lot of Education Reform material this week. Some of their blogs are even busier than ours. When I read things by the more responsible and less hysterical members of that community I see a lot that makes sense to me. In fact, I see a lot that I could have written myself.

I also read a lot of stuff that makes no sense at all.

So let's try to sort through this and determine if we can't find some common ground.

Education Reform have two primary agenda items: charter schools and "teacher quality". I can't support either of these, but I understand their concerns. Perhaps their concerns can be addressed through some more responsible structures than the ones they are proposing. They also seem to be deeply interested in education technology, as am I, but, again not in the same way as the more extreme members of that movement. There is a responsible middle there also.

Fun for the Kids (Well, Not Today)

A couple of things came across my radar that I wanted to let you parents of younger students know about.

One the Woodland Park Zoo is having a Hippo Weigh-in Contest for its two hippos, Water Lily and Guadalupe.  Entries taken until Jan. 27th.   Might be a good research project for your kids to look up the average weight of a female hippo and, using math (gasp!) figure out an average. 

Also, the Seattle International Film Festival is having a Films4Families Series that started last week but continues through Feb. 26th.   The films each show a couple of weekends.  The first in the series is ET, then The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, a Looney Tunes Cartoon Festival and then The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.   (I will be attending the Looney Tunes Cartoon Festival as I love those great old ones.)

Library Grant Opportunity

The National Center for Family Literacy is offering grants for their Libraries and Families Award.   Three library literacy programs that serve families will win $10,000 each and scholarships to the National Conference on Family Literacy in 2012 and 2013.

Applications are due by Monday, Feb. 6, 2012.

If your library is doing a great job connecting parents and children with books or if your school librarian has a great idea for that, let him or her know about these grants.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Really? We're Winning? It Doesn't Seem Like It

Reader Caroline commented on this post by Alexander Russo at This Week in Education (late December, 2011).  It's a pretty funny lament over how the ed reformers can't seem to sell their message.  These two lines made me laugh:

In contrast, reformy folks have lacked a SWAT team of feisty and prolific school-level champions defending articulating their message.  

The now middle-aged reform movement seems to have relied on institutional and organizational voices -- Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, et al -- and mainstream news outlets, where they dominate.

You mean feisty and numerous people on the ground (instead of those at 10,000 feet) actually work harder and are able to engage more? 

And those institutional and organization voices - you mean, the Broad Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation?  Yes, you do find yourself wondering what they truly know about public education that they didn't learn from a white paper or quick and orchestrated school tour.

He seems to think the battle will be won via social media. 


It's funny how people up the food chain forget how personal this fight is.  And those on the ground - the parents, the teachers, the staff - know the challenges better than anyone.  That's why their voices resonate in a way that Bill Gates' never will. 

More Leadership Voices Speaking Out Against Charter Legislation

Braving the snow day, the president of WSSDA (Washington State School Directors' Association), Mary Fertakis, testified today before the Senate committee hearing testimony about SB 6202, the charter schools bill.

Here's a link to the story at the Seattle Education blog.  It is clear from her testimony that she has read this bill thoroughly and spotted several of the issues I saw as well.  From the SE blog story:

In her testimony, Fertakis pointed out the association’s concerns that the bill may fall short of its stated objective to serve students who struggle to achieve due to poverty, racial and ethnic diversity, and special needs. She referenced Section 105 of the bill, which allows charter schools to be set up for educationally disadvantaged students, but noted that the bill also allows charter schools to be set up around a special emphasis, theme, or concept that do not have to serve educationally disadvantaged students, which is the stated purpose of the bill.

The bill caps the number of charter schools to 10 a year, with a majority “reserved” for schools serving educationally disadvantaged students. However, as Fertakis noted, the bill (Section 115) is clear that if the reserve is not met, the State Board of Education must allow implementation of other charters, regardless of whether they serve educationally disadvantaged students.

Her suggestion? If the Legislature continues to pursue the bill, then all 10 of the charter schools should be focused solely on our most struggling students.

Fertakis told the committee the bill goes too far, too fast. She said if it was the Legislature’s intent to pass a bill authorizing charter schools in Washington, then a decision of that magnitude should be sent to the people for a vote. This is particularly important when charter schools will be using public monies without locally elected oversight.

In other news, the League of Women Voters of Kitsap County have come out against the charter legislation as well.   They say:

Private boards selected by non-profit corporations rather than publicly elected by citizens will govern charter schools. Voters will lose their right to elect representatives to oversee the spending of their taxes.
• Charter schools will be exempt from state statutes and rules applicable to school districts and boards, creating a separate and unequal school system even though Article IX of the Washington state Constitution requires a general and uniform system of public schools. *
• HB 2428 and SB 6202 will create additional administrative functions and costs for the State Board of Education, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and School Districts at a time when further cuts are proposed for K-12, and the Supreme Court has ruled in McCleary v. State that Washington is failing to provide ample funding for education. *
• There are many successful innovative and alternative schools as part of the public school system in Washington state. Let’s encourage them and work toward full funding rather than be distracted by charter schools that the voters have already rejected three times.

Seattle Schools Closed Thursday, January 19th

From the district:

“We hoped that students and staff could return to school on Thursday, but forecasts right now are showing continuing severe weather, including the potential for icy roads,” said Dr. Susan Enfield, Interim Superintendent. “We want to err on the side of caution, and also give families enough time to plan for another snow day.”

Please note that the 4 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 19 School Board Committee of the Whole meeting has not been canceled. As of now, that meeting will take place, and a decision on whether or not to cancel will be made by noon Thursday. However, the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence will be closed to all non-essential personnel.

As of this afternoon, Seattle Public Schools has not yet determined when and how the snow days will be made up this year. That announcement will be made early next week.

Open Thread Wednesday

It's cold, it's snowy and the kids are home.

What's on your mind?

School Board Meeting Tonight Canceled

This meeting has been rescheduled for Jan. 25th.

Race to the Top - It's Not Just for States Anymore

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan just came out with a new idea for RTTT:  allowing districts to compete as stand-alones (as opposed to just entire states competing).   This is interesting because the most recent news on RTTT is that Hawaii was placed on a "high-risk" grant status and may have its award taken away.  This is also the case in New York. 

From Education Week:

"I think we'll use it for the districts," he said. "You can do different things. You can do early childhood as a piece of that, or STEM as a piece of that. ... I don't want to commit, but the bulk of the money will go through districts...what we'll be asking of districts is still very much up for consideration."

It's clear that Duncan sees the potential of investing a half-billion dollars in districts, especially in states that are, as he calls them, "less functional" and haven't won any other competitive grants.
"I love that we played at the state level. I love that we played in the early childhood space," said Duncan, who is expected to talk about the new Race to the Top in a speech before the nation's mayors in Washington today. "But I'm really really pleased now to have a chance to participate with districts, and there's a huge appetite there."

Besides hammering out the details of what a new Race to the Top competition for districts would look like, Duncan's most immediate task is overseeing an ambitious new plan to grant states waivers from many of the core components of the No Child Left Behind Act—his answer to Congress' inability, so far, to formally rewrite the law. Already, 11 states have applied in the first round, with a second wave of applications due Feb. 21. 

That's a weird phrasing "played."  But maybe it is a big chess game to him.

On this issue of waivers from NCLB, he had this to say:

"No question the waivers are a stronger plan," he said. "I hope that changes. I hope at some point next month, six months from now, or next year that we get a strong bipartisan bill; unfortunately that's not reality."

For the first time, Duncan telegraphed how tough he plans to be on states that win a waiver. It's the same kind of tough talk he engaged in before and during the original $4 billion Race to the Top competition for states.

"I'm not promising anyone we're going to bat 1,000. We may grant a waiver to a state that makes its commitments in good faith but doesn't keep them," he said. "And just to be very clear, and just as in Race to the Top, if we need to revoke the waiver six months from now, a year from now, two years from now, because folks can't deliver on what they said, we're more than prepared to do that."

He was almost as tough on states that don't apply for a waiver—such as California—and decide to stick it out with the current NCLB requirements. Though he said it wasn't his first choice, he said he was prepared to withhold Title I money to states, if needed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Whittier Fighting Back on Kindergarten Expansion

The Whittier Elementary PTA has put forth a petition to the Board to ask them to not add an additional kindergarten class next year (which would take away their long-time child-care program.

From PhinneyWood.com

Members of Whittier Elementary School’s PTA plan to attend Wednesday night’s Seattle School Board meeting to oppose a proposal to add a fourth kindergarten class next year. Whittier, which is at 13th Avenue NW and NW 75th Street in Ballard, currently has three kindergarten classes of 23 students each.

The letter from PTA Co-Presidents Lisa Melenyzer and April Brown states that 80 percent of this year’s kindergarteners live within the school’s attendance area, and that there was no waitlist for kindergarten at Whittier this year. The two say that there is room within the current three classes to add any anticipated population growth in the next few years.

In the letter from the PTA:

Please note that we are not suggesting that kids in the attendance area who are entitled to come to Whittier should be turned away. We also want the siblings of Whittier families to be served, and for Whittier to be a welcoming place to the community. We simply don’t want Whittier to be appointed a fourth kindergarten – with this lack of planning and foresight – merely to help serve a capacity problem in the rest of our service area.

From the petition:
As of the October 1, 2011 enrollment count, Whittier had 69 kindergarteners enrolled, accommodating 55 children in our attendance area, plus 14 children whose addresses are outside the attendance area. This translates to 20% of current year K students come from outside the school’s attendance area, demonstrating that there is healthy access for students within the attendance area as well as for siblings. Even with any anticipated growth in our attendance area population of six-year olds, three kindergartens seems sufficient to handle that population. 

I find this all very interesting.  Whittier is a good school and yet it doesn't fill from its own attendance area (at least in K).  And, they have kindergarten classes of 23 kids; that's pretty good.  

They also have a good point in saying that adding another K class doesn't answer where all those students would go would all go. 

They seem to feel there is no middle-to-long term vision for what is being proposed. 

SPS to be Closed on Wednesday, January 18th

From the district;

All schools canceled for Wednesday, Jan. 18.

All after-school activities canceled.

All Seattle Public Schools will be closed on Wednesday, Jan. 18 because of predicted winter weather that might make it difficult and potentially unsafe to transport students to schools.

Between five and 10 inches of snow is predicted to fall in south Seattle. All after-school events are cancelled Tuesday night and will be cancelled on Wednesday night. This includes games, practices, events, plays, meetings, etc.

The John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence will remain open. Employees are asked to monitor email and voicemail in the morning for any additional news, and to use best judgment when commuting to work.

A decision on whether or not to postpone Wednesday’s School Board meeting will be made by noon.

On Tuesday, a change in weather patterns meant Seattle Public Schools had both a two-hour delayed start and a two-hour early dismissal. Interim Superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield apologized for the inconvenience to families, students and staff,but stressed that decisions are made erring on the side of caution.

FYI, Wikipedia

As some of you may have heard, there is a bill in the House called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and in the Senate (PROTECT IP Act - PIPA) that would seriously impact a free and open Internet.   (Do your research and decide if this will be worth it - I am against both bills.)

But, for our purposes here, this thread is to notify you (and maybe your student) that Wikipedia, the sixth most visited site in the world, will blackout on Wednesday, Jan. 18th in protest.  This is the first time they have ever staged such a protest.    From Wickipedia:

In making this decision, Wikipedians will be criticized for seeming to abandon neutrality to take a political position. That's a real, legitimate issue. We want people to trust Wikipedia, not worry that it is trying to propagandize them.

But although Wikipedia's articles are neutral, its existence is not. As Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote on one of our mailing lists recently,
We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression. For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.
But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to. 
Other groups are following this tactic as well: Mozilla, Wordpress, Reddit and Boing, BoingFacebook, Google, Twitter and Tumblr are all opposed but are not joining in the blackout. 

Apple to Have "Education-Related" Press Conference

From Apple Insider:

As Apple's education-related media event on Thursday approaches, multiple reports are claiming that the company could announce an initiative to help textbook makers produce interactive ebooks for the iPad, with some sources calling the initiative "Garageband for e-books."

According to the report, some industry executives are also confident that Apple will likely unveil a textbook publishing tool this week. Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis, who worked on education projects at Apple before leaving to focus on interactive e-books, voiced his belief that a textbook app from Apple is in the works.

"When you think about what Apple is doing... they are selling tens of thousands of iPads into K-12 institutions," MacInnis said. "What are they doing with those iPads? They don't really replace textbooks, because there's not very much content on offer."

Late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs had intimated to biographer Walter Isaacson that he wanted to revolutionize textbooks ArsTechnica's sources said Jobs had worked on the project for years. The plans were reportedly set to be announced last October, but they were postponed at the last minute because of Jobs' failing health.

This follows on the heels of Rep. Reuven Carlyle's desire/push for spending less on textbooks in K-12 education. 

SPS to Close Two Hours Early

I am a little confused because the SPS website does not say this but the Times is reporting that SPS will close two hours early today.  I verified this at the district headquarters and it is true.

Wedgwood Elementary Opportunity

In the Ravenna Blog: Coffee chats with Wedgwood Elementary's principal scheduled
Wedgwood Elementary School’s principal, Chris Cronas, is holding a series of informal meetings for parents in January and February. The meetings look to be taking place in the neighborhood (vs. at the school) in both mornings and evenings.
This will provide an excellent opportunity for folks to get the answers they seek about Wedgwood, including the adoption of the "cluster grouping" model for Spectrum. I'm sure there are a lot of other topics to discuss as well.

PTSA Forum on Charter Schools Tonight is Cancelled

Due to the coming storm.  It will be rescheduled.

How Does the Board Enforce Policy

I see a lot of support among the District leadership for clear job descriptions and duties for everyone in the District - everyone, that is, except the District leadership. Each Board member will acknowledge that the Board has the duty to enforce policy yet no Board member will allow that duty to be explicitly stated in any document. It does not appear in the newly adopted Series 1000 Policies. It does not appear in the policy that describes the duties of the Board. It does not appear in the policy on governance. Now the Board is going to adopt two more elements of Board policy that should mention this duty yet fail to do so.

The board policy preamble on the Board meeting agenda this week is an ideal place for it, but instead the preamble makes reference to it only vaguely and euphemistically as "governance tools". It says that policies can be used by the superintendent to hold staff accountable but it neglects to say that they can be used by the Board to hold the superintendent accountable.

Another excellent opportunity to overt state the Board's duty to enforce policy appears with the proposed Policy 1620 on the board's agenda this week. Again the opportunity is squandered with a ambiguous reference to governance tools and the opaque statement that "The Superintendent shall be held accountable to all areas of responsibility delegated to him or her by policy".

You might wonder what harm comes from this pussyfooting. The harm is also clear this week as the Board adopts the student assignment plan for 2012-2013. The plan acknowledges that "Some of these program placement changes have been implemented." So, once again, the superintendent is in violation of the program placement policy. How disappointing after she had promised the Executive Committee that she could comply with the policy this year. The policy only requires transparency. The superintendent clearly has a process for making program placement decisions - we know that because she has made some. She refuses, however, to disclose that process as required by the policy. This not only represents a failure to comply with the policy, contempt for transparency, and contempt for the public's involvement in our district. Because the superintendent has spoken so highly of the value of transparency, it also represents a personal hypocrisy and lack of integrity. It's very discouraging.

The Board must act. The Board must enforce the policy. Whether they specifically acknowledge it or not, this is their duty. The first step, of course, would be to refuse to vote on the transition plan for 2012-2013 until the required transparency has been provided. In the absence of this transparency, the motion simply is not ready for a vote.

I look forward to the day when the Board takes its governance duties seriously and steps up to enforce policy. I wish that day came this week.

Next, the Board should have this duty explicitly stated in the preamble to the policy book, in the list of the Board's duties, in the policy on governance, and in the policy on the Board-Superintendent relationship.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Charter Discussion

I still have to write a thread on the entire charter bill (the Senate and House bills are identical, SB 6202 and HB 2428) and a thread on why charters I think charters are a bad idea for our state.   But let's catch up on what others are saying.

First, the Times.  Oh Times, you always slay me.  Always out the gate with that bad "teachers union."  Seriously, first thing.  Then, they always get something factually wrong (and I ask them to cite the page and line for this):

Each would be required to adopt a specific plan to serve educationally disadvantaged children.

I've read the bill twice and I'm going to read it again but I do not see that statement anywhere but it sure looks good in print.  

Then they have their funniest line (but I give them credit for printing it): 

Nationally, about 20 percent of charter schools have been found to do a better job of educating students than public schools. Part and parcel of bringing charters to this state is to learn what those successful charters are doing and do it here.

You don't need me to tell you what the question is that both the readers of this editorial AND those reading the story over at The Stranger Slog all ask:  You mean that 80% of charters aren't better than public schools?   Quite the vote of confidence and sound reasoning to create fundamental change in an entire education system.  They are right about learning from charters but you don't have to have charters to learn from them. 

(One aside; there is this talking point on the pro side that charters are just a "tool in the education toolbox."  No, they're not.  You do not have this kind of sweeping change to a system and call it a "tool."  Or you hear "oh, let's try a couple."  This is NOT a pilot program - it's a new law.  You can't just undo a law once enacted.)

Snow - It's Coming

UPDATE: 7:33 pm - SPS Schools will open TWO HOURS LATE on Tuesday, Jan. 17th.   Buses will be operating on snow routes tomorrow, which means that yellow buses run only on roads maintained by the City that receive snow removal.

If you missed it, there's a storm a'brewin'.

According to Cliff Mass:

The big question for days...the question on which the forecast depended on...was where the trough/low pressure would go.  Head north of us, we get perhaps 4-8 inches of snow, followed by a few hours of rain and then the whole thing starts melting.    The snow would start around 3-4 AM on Wednesday AM. This is the best case (if you don't like a crippling snow event).

The bottom line is that there is a serious threat on Wednesday of 8-15 inches of snow over the region, with a minimal turn over to rain.  The biggest snowstorm in years. Anyway, before anyone goes out and buys a snowblower, lets see what tonight's runs show.  If they continue this trend then Slushmageddon might be replaced by Snowmageddon.   In almost any conceivable case, Wednesday morning is going to be very problematic for travel...I suspect there will be a lot of school cancellations and the like.

Up to FIFTEEN inches of  snow.  

The good news is that by Thursday, it is going to be 48-49 degrees and raining so it should not be as problematic as times when the temperature plunges and the snow stays for days.

Want to find out about school closures?  The SPS website will be kept up-to-date.  As well, they do send out notice to the radio and tv stations about school delays and closures.  

Be careful out there by Tuesday PM and thru Wednesday.

And on this MLK, Jr. Day

Kudos go out to the Orca K-8 student body and staff who delivered 500 nonperishable food items and cash to the Rainier Valley Food Bank last Friday.   From Southend Seattle:

Orca K-8 has been a supporter of Rainier Valley Food Bank for the past several years, donating fresh vegetables from the school’s organic garden to the food bank during the growing season, and bringing groups of students in to see the place in operation and help stock shelves. Orca has actively supported RVFB since the beginning of this school year with their “A Can a Kid a Month” program, where every student is asked to bring in at least one canned good for donation monthly. At the end of December, this program alone has brought in over 2,000 cans for RVFB.

“The great kids, parents and teachers at Orca set an excellent example for all of us, and are actively helping us realize our vision of a hunger-free Rainier Valley,” Osborne said. “We are profoundly grateful for this partnership, and encourage other area schools and organizations to follow Orca’s lead in 2012.”

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Seattle Schools This Week

Tuesday, Jan. 17th
Region 6 PTSA Forum on charter schools at Washington Middle School from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

I want to note a couple of things here.  One, this is not sponsored by the Seattle Council PTSA so please take note of that.  President Lauren McGuire stated to me that they would be taking no stance on charter schools until legislation was offered (she and I spoke before legislation came out) and that the PTSA Board would read it and then consider their stance.  Seems like a good way to go.

Second, while this is billed as a forum, to my mind, if you present a pro side and a con side, it's a debate.  Keep in mind that Region 6 is not trying to educate parents as to what charters are (and are not); this is going to be two sides basically explaining why we should or should not have them.  It's a little hard to follow that kind of debate if you don't even clearly understand the subject matter but that's what they are doing.  

Lastly, what's interesting is that Ramona Hattendorf, the state PTSA governmental person has stated that the PTSA has 6 top issues this legislative session.  None of them are about charters.  That subject falls on their "supported" issues.  And yet, there seems to be a remarkable amount of energy on charters.   Hmm.

I look forward to forums on their top issues of improving basic education, math and science instruction, phonological awareness screening/reading instruction, changing layoff polices to include more than just seniority, funding education first in the state budget and research-based model for teacher compensation rewarding teacher effectiveness.  

(Also, reading what the national PTA says about charters, it would seem they would NOT support them but that's another thread.) 

Wednesday, Jan. 18th 
Board Work Session on the Budget from 4-5:30 p.m. - yes, where to find the money to close up that budget gap? 

School Board Meeting from 6-9 p.m.  Agenda.

Thursday, Jan. 19th
Curriculum & Instruction/Operations Meeting of the Whole from 4-7 p.m.

Community Conversation with ELL and Special Education Directors from 6-7:30 p.m. at Broadview-Thompson K-8

Friday, Jan. 20th
BEX Oversight Committee meeting (which I mistakenly put down for last week) from 8:30-10:30 am

Saturday, Jan. 21st
Director DeBell Community meeting from 9-11 am at Cafe Appasionato
Director Peaslee Community meeting from 10:30 am - noon, Lake City Library

SEA Leadership Candidates invite Teachers to Coffee

Teachers Eric Muhs (Ballard High School) and Jennifer Hall (West Seattle High School), candidates for Seattle Education Association president and vice president, respectively, will hold the first of several citywide coffee conversations this Monday, January 16th. Cafe Apassionato, Fisherman's terminal, 4001 21st Avenue West, Seattle, WA 98199.  9 to 10:30 am.

We are especially interested in meeting other like-minded Seattle Public Schools educators, but are also intent on opening new lines of communication between teachers, parents and other supporters of public education.

Our website:

Enrollment Data Available

I have had no time to check this info out but it is available so I'm putting up this link for anyone who wants to see enrollment data for 2011-2012.

McLaren to Remove Amendment About Boren

From the West Seattle Blog
Thank you to all the West Seattle (and other) people who have joined the dialogue about short term solutions for overcrowding in our elementary schools.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Randy Dorn Comes Out Against Charter Legislation

From OSPI, Randy Dorn on Education Reform:

January 2012 - State Superintendent Randy Dorn is pleased that education reform will be front and center during the 2012 legislative session. Dorn believes – and hopes legislators agree – that discussions around education reform must be mindful of the Supreme Court’s January 6 ruling on McCleary v. State, which held that the state isn’t providing adequate funding for basic education.
Here are Dorn’s positions on the major reform issues:
  1. Improve/remove.
    Teachers who are not successful ought to be given every opportunity to improve. If they cannot improve, superintendents need the flexibility to remove those teachers without employing current expensive and unwieldy legal procedures. The Superintendent’s request legislation would change a teacher’s tenured status to “provisional” (instead of “continuing”) if that teacher gets two consecutive “unsatisfactory” ratings.
  2. Charter schools.
    Charter school legislation has been voted down three times by Washington voters, in 1996, 2000 and 2004. While much can be accomplished through charter schools, public alternative schools and other school district-managed schools also can foster innovation. Washington has many very innovative schools in our state. We need to encourage more innovation in our public schools, but any move to create charter schools should go to a vote of the people.
  3. University laboratory schools.
    Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed that six university-led “laboratory schools” be created. The universities would partner with the state’s lowest performing five percent of schools, measured in terms of student achievement. Together, the universities and schools would implement innovative practices to help the schools improve. The idea of university-led schools is worthwhile, but the program should be managed by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  4. Governance.
    Improving the transition between high school and college is a worthwhile goal. The Washington Constitution, though, is very clear about K-12 public education. Article III, Section 22, states that the State Superintendent “shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law.” Any laws passed that create new education agencies or structures must keep that in mind.
  5. Health care.
    A recent report by the Health Care Authority looked into whether consolidating health insurance plans for public school employees might save the state money in the long run. At this time, there are about 200 plans available for the state’s 200,000 workers. Now is the time to support reform to make the K-12 health care system more efficient and uniform.
  6. Teacher/Principal evaluations.
    The new evaluation system for teachers and principals will transform the way those educators are evaluated, which in turn will have a profound effect on how students are taught. The work is crucial to the future of education in Washington. The program must be fully funded, and we should support any ideas to strengthen it. The Superintendent supports a more efficient system to evaluate and, if necessary, remove low-performing teachers.
  7. Reduction in force, assignment and due process.
    Proposals to alter how teachers are laid off due to reductions in force, or how they are assigned to specific buildings, must consider the reality of collective bargaining and existing contracts.

Seattle High Schools

A request was made for a thread about high schools and parents' experiences with them.  I did a quick check and it appears most high schools are having at least one daytime tour and one evening tour (Roosevelt and Hale seem to be the only ones with a single tour.)  Again, while the tours aren't always the most fun, it is a very good way to get a feel for a building, see what gets emphasized, and, if it is during the day, to see the energy at the school. 

My students attended Hale and Roosevelt.  I think they both received a good education and were prepared for college.  Each was a good fit for each son.  (This is one reason I really feel unhappy about the lack of 10% set-aside seats under the NSAP.   High school IS a big deal and you want your student to feel good about the school he/she attends.  They need to feel a part of that tribe.  That said, I know people who easily switched high schools so it can be done.)

One observation I have about high school is the ownership the teachers feel for their building.  Maybe it's because it is a bigger staff with department heads but they truly feel invested in their school and its organization. This can have good and bad aspects but I believe it makes for a stronger school when you have teams of teachers working together. 

Before I start with my experience, one caveat.  This is one family's experience but my experience is that school culture doesn't change that much.  However, a principal can really make a difference so ask other parents about the principal.  Ask some students what they think. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Open Thread

The first Friday the 13th of the year.

Best wishes and get well soon go out to the following:
  • Dr. Enfield for pending surgery on her hand
  • Communications' Teresa Whippel who broke both wrists
  • Director Patu who sustained a fall and is now limping
  • Anyone and everyone who gets this cold that is going around
What's on your mind?

Bill in the Leg, Column in the Times

There must be a teacher evaluation bill in the legislature because there is a guest column about something similar in the Seattle Times. "It's hard to overestimate the value of a good teacher" by Nicholas Kristof is all about the false concept of "teacher quality". It is based on the most ridiculously and obviously flawed analysis possible, the circular logic that great teachers can be identified by how their students' test scores rise and the proof of their greatness can be found in the rise of their students' test scores. We might as well identify great teachers by how much taller their students grow and then use the increase in their students' height as the proof of their great teaching. The truth is that "teacher quality" has only an incremental influence on student test scores and therefore student test scores are an extraordinarily poor measure of teacher quality.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Holes Big Enough to Drive a Mack Truck Through This Bill

I started reading the charter school bill.  Boy, that didn't take long to find some real issues.  I'm only at page 23 of the 45 page bill and there is a lot to worry over.  (So I'm not done but understand that many of the "strict charter law" items that some at this blog want, aren't found in this particular bill. )

I do need to finish reading it but here's the first major one on page 4.  LEV wants us all to believe that only non-profits can open charters.  They would be right but that doesn't mean only non-profits can run them.  To whit:

A charter school board may:

 Enter into contracts with any school district, educational service district, or other public or private entity for the provision of real property, equipment, goods, supplies, and services, including educational instructional services and including for the management and  operation of the charter school as long as the charter school board maintains oversight authority over the charter school;

Unless I have misread this section, that would mean FOR-PROFIT companies can run any charter school that enters into a contract for those services. 

Also, did you know this bill also allows for conversion schools?  Meaning, a regular school can be converted "in its entirety to a charter school.  Yup, if a majority of parents OR teachers agree to it:

(3) In the case of an application to establish a conversion charter school, the applicant must also demonstrate support for the proposed conversion by a petition signed by a majority of teachers assigned to the school or a petition signed by a majority of parents of students in the school.

Our own built-in Parent Trigger law.  

Also, under Charter applications, Content, "Each authorizer's request for proposals must:" - mentions parents just one time (and it's a throwaway with a mention of "advisory bodies or parent or teacher councils" as examples).

But maybe it gets better.  I'll read on and get back to you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Charter Schools: the Landscape Today

This is the last in the series on charter schools.  I will have a final piece on what I think it means and what we need to think about for Washington State.  I hope that this has been a helpful series.  

(I note that I asked the Washington State PTSA about putting up a link about this series and got a busy signal.  I will also do a link to LEV's "activist" training about charters which is a fairly skewed affair.  Bluntly put, at least this blog making the effort to educate before we advocate.)