Program Placement, Yet Again

I know that my zeal for the Program Placement policy, C56.00, exceeds that of just about anyone else. I suspect that my enthusiasm for it is a curiosity for a lot of folks. It seems like a small and ineffective policy. Even if the policy were followed, what difference would it make? The policy still leaves all of the authority with the superintendent, so what difference would transparency make? It think it makes a big difference. I think that the policy represents the change that we want to see in Seattle Public Schools. I think the continued violation of the policy reveals the failure of the superintendent and the Board to live up to the ideals they espouse.

A Quick Review
Dr. Enfield isn't following the policy this year. She did not follow the policy last year. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson never followed the policy. You might think the policy is hard to follow. It isn't.

The Program Placement policy has a modest requirement. It requires the superintendent to have a process for making program placement decisions and it requires her to distribute that process within the District and make it publicly available.

The policy does not constrain the superintendent in any way. She is free to devise whatever process she wants. She is free to make whatever program placement decisions she chooses. There is no micro-management here. The policy actually re-affirms her absolute authority to unilaterally determine the process and the outcomes. It only demands transparency.

We all remember transparency. Dr. Enfield committed herself to transparency when she took office. She and the Board waxed eloquent about their love affair with transparency. They sang hymns to it. We were practically buried in their claims of support for transparency. But transparency isn't supported by claims of support for transparency. Transparency is supported by acts of transparency. Those have been in much shorter supply.

Dr. Enfield has a process for making program placement decisions. We know this because she has made them - dozens of them. They must have been made somehow. They did not appear on the front step in a wicker basket. They were not made overnight by the shoemaker's elves. Dr. Enfield made them. She knows how they were made because she was there when they were made. All she has to do is disclose how they were made. She has refused to do so.

I want to be perfectly clear about this. I have specifically asked the superintendent "How were these program placement decisions made?" and she has specifically refused to answer. More than that, the Board has specifically asked her how these decisions were made and she has specifically refused to answer them. Let's remember that Dr. Enfield has proclaimed her devotion to transparency. She adores it, but not enough to overcome her need to keep this process secret. Her process must be so shameful that she dare not speak it aloud. She cannot allow this truth to become public. That's how horrific it is.

Why Bother?
I spoke to Steve Sundquist when he was the Board President and I suggested that it would be much more honest for the Board to vote to suspend the policy than for them to continue to leave it un-enforced. Let's face it, if the superintendent is determined to violate the policy and if the Board is determined not to enforce it, then the honest thing to do is to vote to suspend it. The Board's Executive Committee discussed the idea but eventually (after Director Sundquist had left the Board) rejected the plan. They did not enforce the policy last year, but the Board wants to enforce the policy this year and Dr. Enfield says that she can follow the policy this year.

What Next?
The student assignment plan for the coming year includes some program placement decisions. Which means that effective Wednesday night, the superintendent is, once again, in violation of the policy.

I suppose that the Board could defer the vote on the transition plan until the required transparency is provided. They could say that without the transparency required by the policy that the motion isn't ready for a vote.

I suppose that any member of the Board could try to do their job and enforce the policy. They could set a deadline for the superintendent directing her to comply with the policy by the end of business on Friday. Let's remember that not only does each and every member of the Board have the authority to enforce the policy in this way, but they each have the duty to enforce the policy in this way. It would take about ten seconds for them to say to the superintendent (either in person, by phone or by email): "Dr. Enfield, you are out of compliance with the program placement policy. Please take the necessary steps to comply with the policy by the end of business Friday. Thank you." See? It's easy, it's quick, it's also professional, colleagial, non-confrontational, and courteous.

In the end, however, it will be entirely up to the superintendent to fulfill the policy. She has already quit the job (with six months' notice), so she doesn't have to fear getting fired. The board has no tool to manage her anymore. She needn't fear a poor performance evaluation or dismissal. She's free.

What Will It Take?
Just as it would be easy for the Board to support transparency or enforce the policy, it would be easy for the superintendent to follow the policy. It would take her about thirty seconds. All she has to do is write a document that says: "Program placement proposals that directly impact the current capacity management crisis will be discussed in the FACMAC. The superintendent will make the decision to accept, reject, or amend the proposal after review of the FACMAC's recommendation. The superintendent will make the decision to accept, reject, or amend other program placement proposals after consultation with a Magic 8 Ball." Then she distributes that statement within the District and posts it on the District Web Site.

Let's remember that the superintendent is free to determine whatever process she likes. She can use the Magic 8 Ball if she wants. I know that some folks may object to it, but let's remember that the Magic 8 Ball has a lot of advantages over a Ouija Board. First, it requires half of the labor since one person can operate it instead of two. Second, it allows for those all-valuable non-committal answers such as "Ask again later" and "Cannot predict now" which a Ouija Board (with its Yes/No dichotomy) cannot offer. Let's also remember that the Magic 8 Ball, like the FACMAC, can only make recommendations; the final decisions are still made by the superintendent.

What Difference Will it Make?
In the end, the superintendent has absolute authority to do whatever she wants, so who cares if she discloses what she does or not? Whether she does it with or without disclosure, she will still do it.

Will she? Will she really use the Magic 8 Ball if she has to tell everyone that's what she's doing? Maybe.

Eight years ago we saw a popular uprising within the district, a popular uprising that rallied around the ideas of openness, honesty, transparency, accountability, engagement, and responsiveness. These ideas were seen as the cure for the district's dysfunctional culture. The worst example of that dysfunctional culture was program placement. Very few really knew how program placement decisions were made. The Board didn't know. The attempted split of middle school APP in 2007 required board review and that's when the Board discovered the process. They learned about the Program Placement Committee and how it worked, and they were appalled. In response, they wrote this policy. It was one of the last acts of the Bass/Butler-Wall board.

The old program placement practice was the most egregious example of the District's corruption and dysfunction. To bring transparency to this process would be to capture the enemy's flag. It would be a stake in the heart of the bad culture. This is the test of the commitment to transparency, to compliance, to honesty, and to openness. To fail to bring transparency here is to admit defeat. To fail in this would be to admit that all of the talk about reforming the culture, all of the talk about transparency, all of the talk about openness and honesty was all just talk. To fail here would be an admission that the Board cannot govern. To fail here would be cause get rid of the entire district leadership.


Anonymous said…
You are not alone in your zeal. Special education program placement is the most problematic of all. Not because special education is so special, but because students are forced into special education - they can not "opt out" of their programs like all other students can. So, for special education students, program placement it the only road to any education at all.

-sped parent
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