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:
Washington state legislature last week held hearings on the fourth attempt to bring charter schools to our state. As expected, the proposed legislation is proving sharply divisive within the K12 education community.

I am wary of any proposal that further fractures a state population of legislators and voters who have yet to join together on the most elementary support of public schools: adequate and consistent funding. We have more urgent needs than a brawl over charters. And thanks to a remarkable proposal on the table right here in Seattle, we may be able to remove charters from the exhausting roster of state education knockout fights, while at the same time meeting the vital need to provide each child in our city with a solid education.

The Seattle Public Schools’ energizing Creative Approach School initiative has been quietly nurtured over the past year. Introduced by Seattle teacher’s union leadership, bargained by principals who head SPS Alternative Schools, and embraced by District central staff, the proposal offers the promise of strong school autonomy, with the counterbalance of a mandate to show student achievement.

In short, Creative Approach Schools offer many of the ideas that draw education reformers to charters, without bringing the additional administrative and cost overhead, perceived lack of accountability, often-resegregative enrollment practices, and public school funding diversions that trouble charter opponents. It also casts the Seattle Education Association (teacher’s union) as a problem solver, not a problem, in student success. This is a welcome development, as an anti-labor sentiment has fractured civic goodwill other states (Wisconsin) and has demoralized many top-performing teachers in our own city.

Creative Approach Schools offer an idealistic – and simultaneously pragmatic – counterbalance to the District’s multi-year push to provide a floor on grade-level student achievement via the standardization of neighborhood school offerings. The proposal recognizes the strong desire of a segment of Seattle’s community to allow for “choice” in selecting a school with a non-cookie-cutter approach to programming. Parents look for “choice” for four primary reasons,all potentially addressed by Creative Approach Schools:
  • A tool to address the opportunity (achievement) gap
  • Strong family interest in specialized programming (The Arts, exploratory learning, etc.)
  • Significant student learning disabilities or social needs
  • The perception that a neighborhood school is performing poorly or does not meet particular family values
Language from the District’s draft Memo of Understanding (MOU) on Creative Approach Schools defines the schools in broad terms: “A school community that develops a new, different, and creative approach that supports raising achievement and closing the achievement gap for all enrolled students.”

Note that the MOU intentionally does not limit the establishment of Creative Approach Schools to communities comprised primarily of so-called “at-risk” students. It does, however, mandate that any community seeking the freedoms of a Creative Approach School also focus on the needs of disadvantaged students. My hope is that with Creative Approach schools in the spotlight, District and public tracking of these schools’ performance would prevent the tawdry practice, found at some charter and traditional public schools alike, of “counseling out” students with special learning needs to inflate school achievement scores.

The MOU allows for any existing school to apply for Creative Approach status, though a school could not change its enrollment identity (neighborhood/option/alternative) in the process. (The certain-to-be-discussed difference between Creative Approach Schools and Seattle’s existing Alternative Schools will be the subject of a separate blog post.)

Although the definition of Creative Approach Schools is broad, the schools’ rewards – and requirements – are specific.

To obtain Creative Approach School status, the MOU envisions an existing school represented by staff, families and community submitting a rigorous written application and school program description to a joint District/SEA approval committee. The SPS superintendent would provide the final approval. Cross-constituency collaboration within a building would be necessary from the get-go, with a supermajority (80 percent) of SEA-represented staff, the school principal, and strong participation of parents and community all necessary to initiate and to maintain Creative Approach status.

This emphasis on authentic grassroots teamwork within a school community provides a better solution than well-meaning “Parent Trigger” laws in states such as California, in which communities pressing for program changes in their school sometimes inadvertently lose their voices to private or non-profit charter organizations focused on their own blueprints for student success.

The idea that a synchronized and strong school community provides the best chance for individual student success is everywhere in this proposal.
  • School staff would be mandated to work in conjunction with parents and community partners to design the school program, to monitor the program and ultimately to govern the school. This would be a significant, but necessary, increase in responsibility and workload for most school staffs and parents alike. Many of Seattle’s existing Alternative Schools embrace the idea of staff/community co-governance through a Site Council, though the power of those committees has been diminished significantly in recent years by District centralization initiatives. In buildings with a traditional administration + PTSA structure…or with no PTSA at all…the shift to true community partnership could be an enormous shift in perspective.
  • The draft MOU has the District promising that a Creative Approach School principal valued by the community would not be replaced for 3 years. (Principal “churn” during the term of Superintendent Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had significant negative effects on multiple school communities.)
  • Teacher participation in a school converting to Creative Approach School status would be voluntary, and existing teachers could ask for SEA-bargained procedures to leave a school that was no longer a good fit. Teachers hired into Creative Approach Schools would be asked to sign an employment contract specific to the school.
  • Schools would further strengthen site-based staffing needs by being exempt from mandatory displaced teacher assignments…negating the potential for the “lemon car” teachers that the movie “Waiting for Superman” publicized to great effect in its pro-charter message. (Side note: Despite popular belief to the contrary, in the last 2 years SPS has made significant strides in removing from its ranks the lowest-performing teachers unable or unwilling to strengthen their skills.)
Creative Approach schools would operate under 3-year, renewable program plans, with annual reviews community-defined school performance goals. The MOU provides the opportunity to demonstrate to public school system naysayers that the current bon mot “innovation” can and does happen in the public sector…with unionized teachers and public administration.

The MOU offers
  • An “opt out” of District assessments, as long as the schools adopt some form of benchmark and progress monitoring that shows student growth (But state and federal assessments would still be mandatory.) 
  • Choice on all instructional materials 
  • Latitude in developing program schedule, school day schedule and school year schedule. 
  • Academics focused on specific themes or disciplines 
  • Private partnerships within the school, such as for wraparound services, arts enhancement, technology, etc. 
There are limits to autonomy. Federal, state and local laws would still need to be followed, unless specific waivers from the governing agencies were obtained. All breaks from District standards would be required to be cost-neutral to the District, however, schools would be allowed to pursue private partnerships and grants for services. Significantly, though, the District would maintain ultimate oversight of the schools, which would allay fears of a private organization “taking over” a public entity.

The Creative Approach Schools initiative is intended to offer benefits quickly – as early as the next academic year. The timeline is a counterpoint to the criticism that this District is unable or unwilling to move quickly to offer solutions to children impacted by the opportunity gap or to parents unhappy with their local school offering.

This is not a full-fledged program yet. Teachers will be looking at the MOU again this week, after asking Seattle Education Association leadership last month for more time to review and potentially to amend the proposal. (As community members increasingly ask the District to keep them informed of proposed policies affecting SPS students, so too are teachers looking for increased communication from its union leadership.) The proposal will not move forward without signoff by the teacher corps.

The still-evolving application and approval process is nascent at best, and will need revision, perhaps significantly so, in coming years. Principals are getting an overview of the proposal this week, and will need to add their perspective to the proposal. SPS administrative staff will make a presentation to the Seattle School Board as early as next week. The Board will need to approve the final MOU. Although strong reporting of program results to the public has been a weakness of the District in past years, the ultimate success of Creative Approach Schools will necessarily rest in annual reviews of each school’s program. Program management skills downtown and within individual schools will need sharpening.

Each “next step” is achievable. In writing this piece, I hope to add momentum to moving forward quickly. As a community advocate deeply immersed in the reality – and the promise – of public education in Seattle, I see this proposal as a treasure from the District - a recognition and response to civic hopes, family requests, and – most importantly – student needs. It is education reform that is collaborative and constructive, not just clamorous. I hope that school communities, education advocates and politicians throughout the city find it as refreshing, and exciting, as I do. I hope state legislators see our District poised to take a leadership position on providing an alternative way forward in the current Great Charter Debate, version 4.0.


dan dempsey said…
“A school community that develops a new, different, and creative approach that supports raising achievement and closing the achievement gap for all enrolled students.

The goals seem to be what all schools should be doing. Seems that most of these words have been used before. Yet here comes another package.

Time will tell ... the proof is in the pudding... etc. Hope this works well.

Anything that moves away from the centralized control model .... seems a step in the right direction.
Wilipule said…
A super article outlining a way to increase student achievement while reducing the costs inherint with charter schools. Thanks Michelle for a revealing, newsworth item.
Zebra (or Zulu) said…
From the MOU: “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.”

Translation: If you think you can do it better than us (District demagogues) then you have to prove it by working longer hours, for the same pay, and give up your rights to collective bargaining.

The MOU is an example of collaboration between SEA leadership and education reformers within the District. The ultimate result of the MOU will be to create a two-tiered union organization where some teachers (at Creative Approach Schools) will abandon their rights for perceived academic autonomy, while other teachers (at regular schools) will enjoy the benefits of union representation (albeit severely diminished under the current SEA leadership).

The MOU was forwarded to the SEA Representative Assembly at a previous meeting. Supporters tabled it when it was clear that it would not pass. The floor was stacked at last night’s meeting (in a well-organized effort) by SEA leadership to insure the MOU’s passage (another example of reformers at work).

Ask yourself why teachers should have to relinquish their collective bargaining rights to give your children an education different than the vision promulgated by the District. This does not make any sense to the majority of teachers already working 10+ hours a day for your children.

What is the MOU Really?: The MOU is actually a stealthy way for the District and SEA to get around seniority rules, eliminate SpEd. teachers and counselors, reduce IA’s, and increase teacher workload. It will force the displacement of older and/or well-qualified teachers who do not share the vision that working longer hours for the same pay (with less support) will make any difference to struggling students. Did you know that the MOU allows for a teacher to be displaced if they do not agree with the their colleagues about the direction of a school? That’s what happened with the failed SE Initiative. Imagine tossing out the most effective teacher in a school because he/she thinks your math program is weak on fundamentals.

The MOU is also the first shot across the bow of challengers to entrenched leadership in the upcoming SEA election. It is was high profile “we do it for the kids” flag run up the pole to see who salutes. Don’t be fooled by this odious excursion into union busting. And, be careful what you hitch your wagon to…
Anonymous said…
Excellent. Well done,Michelle. One weak point:
"Teachers hired into Creative Approach Schools would be asked to sign an employment contract specific to the school."
Bad idea, potentially divisive and subject to abuse. It's important that the entire District be one bargaining unit, with all teachers getting the same rights and responsibilities. School-specific bargaining issues could be dealt with through bargained Memoranda of Understanding.
-- Ivan Weiss
Anonymous said…
Somehow I read right over the quote in the first paragraph in Zebra (or Zulu's) comment. I agree 100 percent with Zebra (or Zulu). The entire District, traditional or Creative Approach Schools, needs to be under one -- and only one -- collective bargaining agreement. It's up to the District and SEA to give that bargaining agreement the flexibility to make Creative approach Schools work. If we can put astronauts on the moon, we can do this, and devil take the fools who say we can't.
-- Ivan Weiss
Charlie Mas said…
The current Alternative Education policy C54.00 includes this happy little nugget:

"School community participates in the selection of instructional, support and administrative staff."

This could be interpreted to mean that the alternative schools should not have to accept teachers forced on them by the seniority rules of the CBA.

Teachers in the Flight Schools were exempted from RIFs and were eligible for stipends for participation in Flight School efforts such as home visits.

Teachers at the SIG schools are excepted from elements of the CBA.

Teachers at STEM and Southshore have small variations in their contracts that are school specific.

There have been a number of other times in the past when exceptions in the CBA have been bargained for specific efforts at specific schools to allow those schools to bring together a professional learning community that would share a vision or all participate in a special effort.

I'm not saying it's good or bad, but let's not pretend that it never happened before or that we know what the exception will be.
Zebra (or Zulu) said…
Charlie...everybody at the vote last night had to line up on one side of the issue or the other. Speakers for and against were passionate in their pleas.

Which microphone a member stood behind was a microcosm of the current education debate going on across the nation. The reformers were for the MOU. Those against the MOU were the same voices you usually hear challenging the corporatization of public schools. Some write on this blog.

Which side would you line up on?
Jack Whelan said…
I think in the current political climate Zulu's concerns about union busting are understandable, but there's got to be some flexibility in the rules to allow schools to innovate. And as Dan says, any movement away from the centralization trend over the last decade is a step int the right direction. If there are substantive concerns about undermining teacher rights, then those need to be addressed, but so far there seem to be several elements that are designed to protect teachers.

Nothing will be forced on them, and as Michelle says, this is a way for unions to show leadership and to provide an alternative to the corporate ed cry for Charters when it argues that the system is too rigid and that the schools need more autonomy to innovate. That's the one part of the pro-charter argument that is based in reality. Here's a way to give schools more autonomy without fragmenting and destabilizing the system the way Charters would.

There might be some deal breaker aspect to this that I'm unaware of and that might come to light in discussion, but something like this is needed so that our alternatives schools might truly be alternative again.
Dave W. said…
Our union (of classified employees) supports reforms that concentrate on instruction without the blanket anti-union bias that has made every "charter" bill (including thge LEV/Stand version this year) a failure in Washington State.

We see this as a step forward and are watching closely
dan dempsey said…
Take a look at Jay Greene's blog today. How timely for this discussion. Are Charter Schools Models of Reform for Traditional Public Schools?

As I said in my first comment above, lots of words that we've heard before. Look at what made the difference in the situation that Jay references to produce the greatly improved results.

(1) A one hour longer school day
(2) A 10 day longer school year
The above produces 21% more instructional time.

(3) To enhance student-level differentiation, we supplied all sixth and ninth graders with a math tutor in a two-on-one setting and provided an extra dose of reading or math instruction to students in other grades who had previously performed below grade level.
(4) students were strongly encouraged and even incentivized to attend classes on Saturday.

(5) setting clear expectations for school leadership. .... Specific student performance goals were set for each school and the principal was held accountable for these goals.

(6) In an effort to significantly alter the human capital in the nine schools, 100 percent of principals, 30 percent of other administrators, and 52 percent of teachers were removed and replaced with individuals who possessed the values and beliefs consistent with an achievement-driven mantra and, wherever possible, a demonstrated record of achievement.

(A) In the grade/subject areas in which we implemented all five policies described in Dobbie and Fryer (2011b) – sixth and ninth grade math – the increase in student achievement is dramatic.

(B) the reading scores demonstrate a slight decrease in middle school, though not statistically significant, and a modest increase in high school. Impacts on attendance – which are positive and statistically insignificant – are difficult to interpret given the longer school day and longer school year.

(C) Strikingly, both the magnitude of the increase in math and the muted effect for reading are consistent with the results of successful charter schools.

Looks to me like the MOU is big run around the Collective Bargaining Agreement .... but does not put in place the kind of support (and spending needed) to produce the goals it mentions.

I have definite concerns about union leadership's ability to act in the best interests of students and SEA members. ... Remember how Olga and Jonathan went missing in action at the end of the TFA situation. So what about TFA next year? Why is it that parents are the ones bringing legal action and not the SEA?

There is a huge problem with school funding in WA state. We need a 195 to 200 day school year (to be internationally competitive and to help current low achievers) and a longer school day. Remedial assistance is needed.

Looks like more buying of sizzle .... but lacking the steak. The meat for what is needed is missing.

Note to produce a longer school day more teachers will be needed. An increase in planning time is required for better results. Look at the planning time teachers get in high achieving nations.

Washington is inadequately funding its schools ... This MOU looks a lot like blame the teacher for WA state's lackluster performance.
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said…
"The MOU was forwarded to the SEA Representative Assembly at a previous meeting. Supporters tabled it when it was clear that it would not pass."

This MOU is an anti charter shield. If it, and others like it across the state do not pass then you may as well just roll out the red carpet for charters. Families want change and they are going to get that change one way or another. The perceived negative affects of this MOU on SPS teachers are minuscule compared to the total decimation charters would have on this district.

Michele Buetow has laid out a clear picture of how this MOU could accomplish the change that families are asking for, while working within the constraints of our system and district. It is brilliant, it gives me hope, and it comes at just the right time.

Thanks Michelle for writing this piece. This is the first anti-charter argument that I have ever read that I can agree with 100%. It is not the typical knee jerk "no to charters" rhehetoric that we often read, but rather, it acknowledges what families want and need, and offers a viable alternative to charters, and a an action plan (MOU) to get there.

Lets hope teachers get behind it.

RosieReader said…
Wow. On initial impression I really like this. It responds to the issues I've had about increasing parent choice and alternative approaches, answering some of the concerns of those who have traditionally been anti-charter.

Of course the proof will be in the pudding. Will there be a renewed flowering of option schools, or will this become another white paper sitting on a shelf?
anonymous said…
Oh, and I sure with Michelle Buetow had won the election. She'd would have been a great addition to the board.

Kate Martin said…
Thanks a lot, Michelle. I'm interested in fully understanding what is offered here and this is helpful.

The decentralization is enticing. Opportunities for changing curriculum and instructional practices without a court order would be good, too.

In general, I favor pragmatism rather than a creative approach unless creative means applying proven solutions to real teaching and real education problems which I don't clearly see here. I'm tired of us not replicating and applying proven solutions in favor of unfounded new ideas. I don't want yet more new and creative ways to bump bubble test scores, but instead solutions that inspire and motivate our teachers and students.

I wonder about the potential for teacher burn out with unfunded innovation that seems to rely on more volunteer hours from teachers. If they could bargain a bunch of tasks that waste their time (e.g. forced PD in areas they don't feel is productive) out of the contract so they wouldn't be signing on to more volunteer hours it would be good.

Do you see this effort informing systemic changes at SPS or a bunch of schools that could be snuffed out in a moments notice such as we witnessed with MGJ and her war on our alternative schools?

If decentralization and grassroots is the way to go, it seems like we'd want to make it the rule and not the exception. Maybe that will happen at some point.

Again, thanks for your work on helping us understand the MOU for Creative Approach Schools.
Yes, one telling part of the action report in the Board agenda is that there are "minimal" costs as it's just staff time.

Everything costs, even staff time.
dan dempsey said…
I get the BIG concern about charters. I also get how politicians love to CYA.

The legislature, the Gov, the UW, and OSPI are all attempting to take the heat off of themselves. Teflon accountability....

The ALEC Report Card on American Education states that:
....... Washington’s education system ranks 25th in the nation.
........ Washington fell from 16th in 2010 based on student performance and progress on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams.

SPS EDM Math in k-5 begins the SPS k-12 math disaster. ... Take a bow OSPI Math director Greta Bornemann and Directors Carr, Sunquist, Maier, and Chow ... for the "Discovering Algebra" fiasco ... as recorded in OSPI End of Course Algebra Assessment in Spring 2011.

WA is one of a very few states with growing achievement gaps. (less than 10 states have this distinction)

Parents are rightly frustrated ....
Certainly the decisions made by the 2007 School Board "Four", CAO Santorno, CAO Enfield, and the last three superintendents contributed to the academic frustration. Ditto for Terry Bergeson at OSPI. Dorn's pushing of Common Core State Standards is another misuse of funds to accomplish nothing much.

A description of needed skills, knowledge and a plan for providing these is needed.... complete with effective interventions.

Don't expect much to change, until the legislature steps up with funding that provides what is needed .... rather than continuing with the next cheap, sure-fire, untested, set of dynamite ideas.

Measurable positive results have been absent for too long. Dr. Enfield did a great job of keeping Mercer's Math secrets to improvement as secrets... has she yet explained fully what happened there?

On Mercer success .... Not much effort to fully analyze or explain and apparently zero emphasis on spreading it elsewhere...... So where has there been effective decision-making about instructional materials and practices? ..... There is plenty for parents to be steamed about .... but is this MOU really going to provide the first steps toward what is needed?

I sure hope so .... but so much else is needed as well.

Is teaching going to be a reasonable life choice? Do teachers need to sacrifice their own children and family life to make the school system work?
Floor Pie said…
As a former TOPS parent, I just have to ask. How will Creative Approach schools serve special ed students?
Anonymous said…
Props here. Many props!

To Melissa and Charlie for this blog, which continues to be the single best source of information and discussion @SPS. The information on DeBell's push to clamp down on new board members was fascinating. The guest column yesterday from TAF founder Millines-Dziko on charters was good. And that's just a couple days. Huge fan.

Specific to this MOU, props to the district and the teachers for apparently getting something positive done in the spirit of teamwork for our students. As long as the district isn't secretly plotting to give teachers the shaft then bravo.

To parents whose insistence that one-size-fits-all doesn't help all seems to be getting attention.

To anticharter forces in this state. You keep going! And take this column with you. It slays most every charter argument I've seen. Power to those who reject the corporate reformies and their $$$.

To Buetow who elected or not appears to understand and can explain district policy better than..........the district. This piece is more cogent than anything I've heard out of Martin-Morris mouth in 4 years. Yes run again in the future. Or find someplace official to help now. God knows SPS needs it badly.

Kathy said…
"“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.”

Thoughtful article, Michelle. However, I remain concerned about experienced teachers being let go as a cost savings masure. I"ve not seen any protection against such potential abuse.
Kathy said…
"“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.”

Thoughtful article, Michelle. However, I remain concerned about experienced teachers being let go as a cost savings masure. I"ve not seen any protection against such potential abuse.
Charlie Mas said…
"everybody at the vote last night had to line up on one side of the issue or the other. Speakers for and against were passionate in their pleas.

Which microphone a member stood behind was a microcosm of the current education debate going on across the nation.

Yeah. Messed up. Let's arrange ourselves in polarized opposing parties. Not only do we insist on choosing one side or the other, but we're going to make everyone else choose a side. There can be no moderates.
Anonymous said…
If Washington state PTA members do not look at this proposal and go "Oops - nevermind that pro-charter thing we put in our legeslative plank this year, this is a better way for Seattle" then something is Wrong.

In Seattle which PTA board members are going to have the cojones to speak to their law makers and schools and neighbors?

These are the names of board members who should step up. Will they? The president of each school's pta also needs pushing.

It's fate that the District 6 charter debate got snowed out.

Kate Martin said…
I think the goal we need to take with us into each of our 92 schools - creative, alternative, option, traditional, ... - is to make sure that every student is engaged, challenged and inspired. Evaluate the system on that premise and go right to the students for the information. The bubble tests are simply irrelevant and fail to measure what we need measured. Kids graduating from college whose entire public education was influenced by No Child Left Behind shenanigans are still left asking "will this be on the test?". They will all tell you that they want to be engaged, challenged and inspired. Making continuous course corrections with our eye on that prize would get us there. In order for the kids to be engaged, challenged and inspired, the teachers must be as well and ditto the parents and the principal if not the whole system. Teachers and students could work together to get us on course pretty effectively and economically if we articulated the goal and asked them to collaborate to make it happen. Families and principals could all work to support these new goals. The CBA could then negotiate out all the crap that teachers have to do that is just a distraction and which sucks their time and joy (and our money) and instead ask them to teach to the goal of engaging, challenging and inspiring their students. Can we have some kind of policy that asks for this and then itemize some tools we could use to audit how engaged, challenged and inspired the students are using that as the report card for the entire system (teacher, principal, exec directors, central staff + admin as well as superintendent and even board members. -Kate
Anonymous said…
Great thread. I voted to table the issue last meeting because it hadn't been well vetted. I, too, worry about union busting as you will see on the most recent column regarding the handling of furlough days.

However, I disagree that the room was stacked. It was a full-capacity crowd but I was at a table with many senior reps and we had a lively discussion of pros and cons. In the end, a couple of people who had voiced several cons ended up voting for it as did I. We have to make some pragmatic changes. I've always believed in regulated choice. Different populations have different needs and, as professionals, we have a responsibility to meet those needs.

Sage and responsible administrators will think of kids and teachers first. They go together. If either side is protecting its own or trying through devious means to gain power, our future is dark whatever we do. I have to trust that people will do what's best for students and teachers both.

word said…
This is bizarre. Applauding this is like needed a shiny, new Chinese-made toy every 2 weeks.

We already have/had all these creative approaches to schooling. The district backtracked on them, against the wishes of parents.

Just because you call it "Creative Approach" doesn't make it novel. In only 5 years in SPS's I have seen these approaches wax and wane twice. We already KNOW these approaches work.

Please try to contain your enthusiasm and, instead, lament the wasted time discussing this "new" approach.
Anonymous said…
Are you talking about alternative schools? Be more specific please.

Regardless, we are where we are and we have to handle it without rancor.

Anonymous said…
I don't trust that all administrators in SPS have the best interests of kids and teachers at heart. Some though not most have only their careers at heart.

But careerism exists everywhere. The way this agreement seems set up, I think both parents and that supermajority of teachers -- 80 percent is big -- could reign in or kick out a principal using the agreement for nefarious means.

Even with the crap headlines from SPS over the past years, I still trust a system set up within the district a helluva lot more than I trust a system - charters - set up outside SPS.

What does the state do for our district beyond redtape and non-oversight and political pandering? Nothing. Put charters there and we've got complacent legislators, on-the-take "nonprofits", national PACs (DFER + Stand = UGH) and overall lackluster performance. Give me something at the local level the public and the union -- maybe even the @*#&@& district --can somewhat monitor.


WV says "filth"
suep. said…
I still find the MOU troubling in its vague wording which doesn't specify exactly what teachers will have to give up, as well as its effort to undo what was already established through collective bargaining. It also opens the door to teachers being transferred out of their school, possibly against their will -- something I believe the Tacoma teachers struck over.

”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.”

Another problem I have with the MOU is the mindset that only allows some schools to have freedom to be creative and not others.

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.

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.

suep. said…

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…”

Any provision?

What would that mean for teachers?

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 have been wary of signing onto this.

Rather than being an inoculation against charters, I think this is potentially the first dose of them.

I would be very happy to be proven wrong about this.
suep. said…
Another thought -- the MAP test was introduced for one alleged purpose, to help teachers gauge and teach their students (and initially supported by the teacher's union), but before long, the district (mis)used it for other purposes, not stated in the original proposal -- to evaluate and pressure teachers, as a screen for advanced learning testing, as a huge time-suck that results in some schools losing their libraries for months of the year.

All of Michelle's interpretations may be correct for now and on the surface, but what's to stop the district from using the provisions of the MOU to accomplish other goals that are not being openly stated at this moment when the district and SEA leadership want the most buy-in?

Once bitten...
Sahila said…
this is an internal "parent trigger" mechanism... and a soft, backdoor mechanism to bring in charters, perhaps a back up plan, seeing charter legislation might not make it through until there is a republican governor...

It seems to me that everything in the MOU duplicates what charter schools do/need/look/function like...
Anonymous said…
What's worse--union "leadership"
that presents such union-busting to their members or the members themselves who ratify it?

Can you picture any other union in a major city falling for such a sellout (with nothing in return).

Plenty of districts have struck over much less. Seattle teachers hand the district their own heads on a platter.

By the way, it will be interesting to see which job Olga accepts at headquarters after her term expires.

--enough already
Anonymous said…
@Sahilia: Have you looked at the Inslee campaign? Moribund. McKenna is a likelihood and he lovvvvves charters.

But charters have no place in Seattle if we have this MOU or something akin. I don't think teachers are getting shafted here, and I am ever on the lookout for it. Anyone think 80 percent of teachers are going to let themselves get walked over by a building agreement?

No, the shaft is going to 'Democrats' for Ed Reform, Stand on the Children, LEV, and their types. What can they say to counter this MOU? Not much. There is NO NEED to bring in "public charters" (so Orwellian) with this in place.

Do those groups even know about this MOU? Have they seen this thread? Anyone sent it over to them? Or to charter-happy legislators?

Boy, I'd be watching their response. What CAN they say? "Teachers are horrible and we don't believe in the public school system we must have charters?" Let em try that tact.

Sahila said…
@EdVoter.... I hope you are right... I've been watching the teachers' union roll over for the past four years and am not confident they have the political will or numbers within the union to go against their leadership and protect their best interests...

Many teachers are disaffected with their union leadership, and might think this MOU (which as Sue points out is really vague about what they are opening themselves to/giving away) is the answer to their prayers...

But I read it as a Trojan horse...
Anonymous said…
I can agree with you on SEA leadership flaws and teacher passivity from what I can see on the outside and hear from my teacher friends.

With an 80 percent approval rating in that SPS Board poll, teachers need to get themselves together as a smart political force in this district. No blog or MOU is going to do it for them. My ed voting record as a parent isn't going to do it for them.

I know SEA elections are coming up and that there is opposition to the current leadership. I heard that opposition is the group that blocked this Creative Approach MOU last time around because SEA leadership hadn't involved them in the process or given them time to look at the proposal. Good for them. I heard from disaffected friends that the same thing happened at contract time. Teachers were not kept in the loop. Shame on leadership for not communicating to its members.

Sounds a lot like SPS district administration which time and again deserves criticism for the same damn thing.

But bad communication doesn't mean this MOU is a bad idea. And SEA leadership should get on this blog or post elsewhere if they can explain teacher protections in the MOU. They should be able to expound on their thoughts better than this random musing. If they can't, they should be tossed out on their (@@@(s.

Also, this MOU is about more than teachers. As a parent, who completely backs teachers, I like it a lot. No insight into what principals think. They can let their own union talk. Though why they even have a union is another question in my mind.

peonypower said…
@ Rosie Reader
new creative approach schools will not be option schools but will be neighborhood schools. The MOU clearly says that any school that is created or changed to a creative school will be firmly part of the NSAP.

I was there last night at the vote, and it was interesting to see how many new faces there were. I have never seen so many new reps show up at a meeting in the time I have been a rep. It was pretty clear that union leadership made a lot of calls to people to come out and support the MOU.
A teacher from Cleveland spoke eloquently about how they are coerced into signing their contract that differs from the district contract and how bad that is for teachers in a building and all union members. His words did not surprise me as the long-time teachers that I knew at Cleveland (who were awesome educators) are no longer there. I wish the MOU had called for a vote from staff before the proposal was written because once there is a proposal the likelihood of pressure to sign goes up.

I think that teachers will end up giving up more of their time at creative approach schools and this will reinforce the hero mythology of teaching, which means that you must sacrifice all for your students. I succumb to this myth daily as do many of my colleagues. Frankly I don't think I could stop myself from working the long hours I do. Even when I know how crazy it makes my husband and how tired it makes me. Even when I know that my actions just perpetuate this mythology. Even when I know that this practice leads to burnout, health problems, and high turnover in the teaching profession. So I feel sure that these new schools will ask more of teachers and teachers will sign on because it's for the kids.

Nevertheless, I'm an optimist so I firmly believe that when life gives you lemons I say make some kickass lemonade. The MOU passed and the horse is out of the barn, and here's what I think should happen. Creative educators need to force some serious innovation on the district. For example, how about a community school that is led by a couple of head teachers, has no principal, and spends that money on staffing longer hours in the building or after school programs in art, music, or science. I say if the door is now open then let's ride that horse hard and fast outta there before we get a new sup. who doesn't want community and teacher input.

Hie ho silver away!
Kate Martin said…

I started a thread on the SEA facebook page hoping maybe some dialogue can open up to get lingering questions answered. If others here are on that page, maybe they can chime in?
Zebra (or Zulu) said…
peonypower says..."For example, how about a community school that is led by a couple of head teachers, has no principal, and spends that money on staffing longer hours in the building or after school programs in art, music, or science."

This is a good formula for a future K-5 STEM Option School (sans the longer hours, but yes to after school programs in the arts - like drama and choir!)

West Seattle are you listening?
Anonymous said…
The parent in me is wary of the uncertainty that the "Creative Approach Schools" might bring to neighborhood schools.

What does a family do if the "Creative Approach" is not a good fit for their child? Will they have any options in choosing another school?

Anonymous said…
Michelle - some quibbles that I've been chewing on for a few hours.

1. We're having a brawl over charters because of MINORITY of string pulling privateers are using sophisticated lies to convince lots of well intentioned people that the string pullers are NOT privateers and that the privateer ideas aren't about ripping off the public purse. This isn't a group work VS. direct instruction debate - it is brawl instigated by an affluent minority looking to pull off what the Kopp Kipp rackets have pulled off - LOTS of 6 figure a year jobs for the right social class, everyone else scrapping and scrambling for peanuts.

2. Since Jimmy Carter? in 1976, a driving force of community / Democratic politics has been FEAR of what right wing liars will lie about. In the last 40 years, after incessant accommodation in incessantly right ward defined "middles", has the education of our young, the physical health of our communities, the financial security of today's workers, the retirement security of tomorrow's retirees - has ANYTHING improved for ANY of these groups?

The FEAR and the language and the tactics of this faux compromise with privateers has brought us closer to penury.

Oh yeah - WHO has benefited with these compromises over the decades?

Check out Table 692 of the Statistical Abstract of the United States - in 2009 there were appx. 117,538,000 U.S. households with money income - about 23,749,000 had money income OVER $100,000.

I'll tell you has NOT benefited from all these compromises - the bottom 80% and 60% and 40%.

There are a lot of interesting points in your analysis. I HOPE your optimism is justified, too bad with your writing you had to

Anonymous said…
Peonypower - you give up all that time anyway. So do I. So I'd like to have some say in how it looks. Thus, I voted for it.

Ugh - these schools promise to be a fit for every child. Sound odd? The MOU indicates strong community involvement. I think any school fits one better than another but hopefully - too optimistic, Peony? - those who do this will create a fit that serves all children if some better than others. STEM? That's exactly what Ugh's concern is. STEM fits some better than others but hopefully it will serve all children.

There's no one prototype and staff and parents should be flexible enough to mold it positively to meet the needs generally. Really, all kids need a good Renaissance education. STEM plus!

As for new faces? People respond when there is something on the table that interests them. I don't consider that "stacking" but just "good turnout for important votes."

Politically, it is a poor time to push an agenda that seems self-interested. We are women in women's work. (tongue in cheek-sort of) I came into teaching in the 90s and couldn't believe how behind teachers were in the workplace compared to women in the private sector. I always attributed that to pretty good pay (for women) and working husbands. We are paying for it now.

After my twenty plus years in, I'm still interested in creating change for the better and not "reform" change but true change creatively determined by the ranks of teachers who really should know what their communities of learners need.

Tarzan said…
n...."We are women in women's work."

Huh? And to you guys that teach...just do your women's work okay.

I've always thought that a school with only male teachers would be a good idea (he said tongue in cheek-sort of).
Anonymous said…
You can laugh about it but it doesn't make it "untrue." Nursing and teaching: those were choices when I graduated. And, yes, even in those faraway days, we had some men. I stand behind the point of what I said even though you choose to mock it. That is the public attitude. And I'll smile along with you.:)

Disgusted said…
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a is still union busting.

Considering the dollars behind KIPP+ KOPP, will this be an effective tool against charters? I'm not convinced.

For some reason, I feel sad. The dolars behind reform are still winning.
dw said…
Ugh said: What does a family do if the "Creative Approach" is not a good fit for their child? Will they have any options in choosing another school?

I share Ugh's worry.

The MOU allows for any existing school to apply for Creative Approach status, though a school could not change its enrollment identity (neighborhood/option/alternative) in the process.

So as I'm understanding this, any neighborhood school with a geographic assignment could change their model (potentially to something quite out of the ordinary) and all those living within that school's boundary would still be required to attend that school??

That one fact alone is a formula for failure in my opinion. In general, I agree with many of the ideas in this MOU (although I'm suspicious how it's coming together), but any school that chooses a non-standard path, whether it's alternative, language immersion, STEM, whatever, should unquestionably be an option building. Am I missing something?
anonymous said…
DW, did you read this paragraph?

"To obtain Creative Approach School status, the MOU envisions an existing school represented by staff, families and community submitting a rigorous written application and school program description to a joint District/SEA approval committee. The SPS superintendent would provide the final approval. Cross-constituency collaboration within a building would be necessary from the get-go, with a supermajority (80 percent) of SEA-represented staff, the school principal, and strong participation of parents and community all necessary to initiate and to maintain Creative Approach status."

anonymous said…
Wouldn't we consider Montessori, Language immersion, IB, etc., "creative approach"? They are all neighborhood schools and folks are clamoring to get into them. And some, like IB, offer a choice of IB or traditional within the same building. Many exciting possibilities here.

Charlie Mas said…
Will the Creative Approach Schools be monitored as closely as A.L.O. and Spectrum schools?
Kate Martin said…
That's a good point, Charlie. SPS is better at rolling out programs than continuously monitoring and assessing them. CSIPs (Continuous School Improvement Plans) should perhaps be CPIPs (Continuous Program Improvement Plans). Stewardship of the programs is essential. On-going course corrections to strengthen programs would be fantastic. Doing nothing is to let programs wither, weaken and die. Failing to replicate the programs that work in a timely manner is unfortunate, too. Shiny new tools with buzzwords are attractive. I get that. Doing the maintenance to steward what's in place isn't as exciting or sexy. You can see that with our physical buildings as well. No on-going mainenance, just let em fall apart. Do a $100M remodel when the next BEX comes along. I sort of want a fair shake at pragmatic approach schools - maybe the creative approach schools will have some pragmatism. I hope so. Creative for the sake of creative could bring us more Bill Gates experiments not based on empirical evidence. 80% votes from all participants can still bring us nothing if we can't articulate general themes that have proven track records. Start with a problem statement. e.g. 65% of the students are disengaged, unchallenged, and uninspired in our schools. What problem are Creative Approach Schools solving? Can those problems be systemically solved with policy / procedure / budget line item that applies to all schools or is a new experiment / pilot in order? Definitely continue with a goal that directly connects to the problem. (e.g. Reduce disengagement by 10% a year) Craft a solution and cite references. Do a cost / benefit analysis including what exactly it is that the schools could do to reduce disengagement based on tools that have already worked to solve this problem. Talk about the costs and choose highly effective solutions that have low costs first. And finally, monitor the progress transparently and do course corrections as necessary to reach the goal. Certainly allow for discontinuation of ineffective methodologies - something we currently do not do consistently.
Anonymous said…
Think we are fine with option/alt schools. Can change their names and MOU to innovative/creative if that is better to keep up with trend. But these schoools should remain option or opt in schools. We still have the same budget mess so would rather approach to be pragmatic.

* Fous on applying best practices on what helps struggling kids all over the district.
*Work on developing curriculum and instructional materials K-12 so there's some flexibility and guidelines (not just list of approved books to read. Refer to discussion about reader and writer workshop thread here.) There's a lot the district can be doing to improve the actual teaching of kids and their learning and allow teachers more freedom to adapt to learner's needs (i.e. math text).
* Work on looking at our science curriculum (do we have one?) and
* how can all school integate more project base learning into present curriculum so learning is active. Shouldn't have to go to a "creative approach" for that. Maybe that is where we need more PD focus on.

and yeah, CSIP should just be more than just a form to fill out (usually last minute).

Once we have money to fund basic ed, then we can look at designer NSAP schools.

- buying designer duds at Goodwill prices
dw said…
IheartSPS said: did you read this paragraph?

"To obtain Creative Approach School status, the MOU envisions an existing school represented by staff, families and community submitting a rigorous written application and school program description to a joint District/SEA approval committee. The SPS superintendent would provide the final approval. Cross-constituency collaboration within a building would be necessary from the get-go, with a supermajority (80 percent) of SEA-represented staff, the school principal, and strong participation of parents and community all necessary to initiate and to maintain Creative Approach status."

Sure, but that doesn't make me comfortable at all. First, 80% of SEA staff is a real metric. "strong participation" of parents and community? Based on many years of district promises, this is nothing but fluff. For example, you could have 20 super-active families pushing for a particular type of program, with the appearance of widespread support where in reality there was just apathy of the majority.

But even if there was an incredible 80% family support in a particular geographic region for a particular style of program (very unlikely), a neighborhood assignment plan for the building would force 20% of it's students into an inappropriate school/program.

Imagine a few well-meaning activists in your neighborhood decided that an arts-focus would be fantastic for their kids. They pitch it to the school and find some enthusiastic teachers. A couple community meetings, full of their friends and interested families and next thing you know, it's reality.

Where does that leave all the kids for which this would be a terrible fit? Unless they're lucky enough to have room at a nearby school, they're screwed. Especially with so many schools being overcrowded as it is.

Would that kind of program/focus be possible under this plan? I don't know, but any change to a significantly non-standard teaching model (including things like longer days) should be opt-in, not forced based on geography. If these programs become option schools, I think I'd be a supporter of the plan in general. Otherwise, no way.
Kate Martin said…
David, I get what you're saying. What if like TOPS, it was more of a hybrid option school with an all students opt in like an option school, but a geographic preference for say 50% of enrollment and all city lottery the for the other 50%, or something like that. Sort of a Neighborhood-Option School.

It seems like with this Creative Approach School MOU, there were some outreach and communication problems. SPS and SEA collaborating on this seems like a good thing at first glance. Problem is that SEA did not adequately collaborate with the teachers on it and SPS did not adequately collaborate with the public on it. What is a MOU anyway? In my business it's kind of a contract. Is this a done deal? Is an MOU a preliminary agreement? I don't know.

We should work together to the greatest extent possible in a collaborative context. SPS with the public and SEA with teachers and there should be some significant crosspollination between the 4 entities.

There should be no reason that creative approach schools do something that all schools should be doing. We've experimented quite a bit. We need some systemic improvements in response and I'm not sure what we're waiting for.

I'd like to see a menu of creative approach school themes culled from real life examples of this theme working to solve whatever the stated problem is so it's not a free for all. Creating the menu collaboratively and scientifically would facilitate replication which is a problem for us right now. The Schools could tweak it for continuous improvement, but not substantially as lone rangers, IMO. I don't think there should be any experiments performed right now. We know what to do. We know that we have to engage, challenge + inspire every student because students need to be prepared to educate themselves, motivate themselves, manage themselves, etc. In Finland they are doing that by teaching the kids to concentrate, read, dream, understand, talk, reason, find solutions themselves, etc. We are busy preparing kids to take bubble tests and well over half are disengaged. Most are unchallenged. Not that many are inspired.

Since we apparently still have to buy into state testing in these schools which is not too creative an approach overall, it seems we'll have to be operating these creative approach schools within a testing and accountability bureaucracy that runs from the fed level into each and every school we have that's killing us. That'll be quite a dance.

Finland has 45 different languages spoken and the best schools in the world. I don't know how creative it would be to copy them, but I'm all for it.
Jack Whelan said…
I think every one who has a concern about how loopholes will be exploited has good reason for their concern, but It seems like the basic tone of the comments here is to just say NO to everything, to see all the problems rather than what might actually be significant positives. I want something to say YES to, and there's a lot in this idea to say YES to.

I want more autonomy and freedom for schools within the district to innovate. I want bottom up initiatives to be easier rather than harder to make happen. If I'm a parent that is part of such an initiative, I want to have some control over who is hired as principal, and I want the principal along with a site council to have the power to hire teachers who are on board with the school's alternative or innovative or creative mission. And I want all of this to happen within in an interdependent system of 92 schools, rather than in a fragmented, destabilized system that charters would create.

Do we agree or not agree that these characteristics would be desirable? If you agree, what do we have to do to make it happen? It's easy to say No, and when there are truly bad ideas you have to say No to the, but I don't see the fundamental thrust of this as bad, and I'd rather talk about what right about it and fix what's wrong than just to say NO.Nothing ever changes when you do. If there are technical problems or loopholes, let's fix them or close them, but let''s not be satisfied to just say NO.
suep. said…
I'm not saying "No," Jack, I'm saying why doesn't the district allow creativity and autonomy for all schools right now, without all the hoops and bureaucracy and changes to the teacher's contract?

Why can't every school that wants a math waiver so they can teach something other than fuzzy EDM/CMP/Discovery get it -- now?

Why can't schools choose which books kids read in language arts classes (rather than being told by the district that certain books are reserved for certain grades)-- now?

Why can't all schools be allowed to be "creative" right now?

I see the Creative Approach idea as a Band-Aid rather than an overall solution.

If we feel the district has too much centralized control that quashes creativity and mandates weak curricula, then let's demand changes be made right there in central admin., with the decision-makers and free up all our schools from bad, stifling decisions and curricula.

If the framework is faulty or wrong, let's change the framework rather than merely accepting and tweaking it or working around it.

Why are we accepting crumbs?
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