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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Who Can You Trust?

Anyone who has lived a couple of decades on this planet knows that life is full of nuance (even if we don't want to admit it).   We know that life isn't always fair.

But in my years in advocacy, I have always puzzled over why some don't want to be entirely truthful when it comes to certain issues.  They may have privately looked at an issue from all sides but publicly, what they say, that's a different question.

This is the case in the charter school bill.  I am fine (truly) with anyone who wants charters.  However, this bill is bad and it really is troubling that those who want charters would accept such a lousy bill just to get charters in Washington State.

I have repeatedly called out several big issues with the bill.  Not one single person, at any blog, at any forum, in any e-mail, any phone call, has addressed a one of them.  It's like they don't exist.  

I got this nonsense over at LEV.

"No bill is perfect."

I know that.  You can't make everyone happy.  But there's a reason to try to work for the best bill possible.

It's obvious - you make it easier to pass.  I'd have a lot less to work with if this bill was a solid one.  All I'd have if it were a good bill are the research papers and stats that have bad things to say about charters versus the other side's research papers and stats that have good thing say about them.   That discussion would really be about winning hearts and minds.

But over at LEV they do admit it has flaws but won't admit what they are or explain why the bill should be passed in spite of them.  I mean even the simple request of telling me where the money will come from to pay for this (what would they cut in our state budget for charters), is ignored.  They just want it passed.

Then I find out that over at the 34th Dems, Steve Sundquist (you all remember him, right?) and Chris Korsmo (LEV's head) showed up with a pro-charters resolution.  The anti-charter resolution was addressed first and Sundquist and Korsmo spoke for charters.  The anti-charter resolution soundly passed and the pro-charter one was withdrawn.

What's interesting is that Steve Sundquist stood on the Town Hall stage (and other venues) during the SB campaign and said he did not support charters.  We all saw him walk, with ALL the other candidates, to the NO side of the stage when the question was asked.

But in a scant few months, he changed his mind.  That leads me to wonder who on our current Board might have changed their minds about charter schools (or had their fingers crossed).  If the charter bill passes, that would be more than a game changer for SPS.  If the Board were to review and approve charter proposals, that endangers a lot of money especially levy money as charters approved before levies are allowed to receive a share of the money...off the top.

To explain, we have three levies - Operations, BTA and BEX.  Operations levy money spending is determined by the district and not allotted out to schools in equal shares.  Well, under this bill, the charters would likely get their share right off the top and THEN the district would decide what to do with the rest.

With BEX, say the district has 100 buildings (including charters).  The BEX levy is $500M and it passes.  How much off the top would charters get each?  $5M, just like that.  And, the money goes to the building they are in whether it's a district building or not.  Public money going into renovation/maintenance for buildings the district does not own.  Good stuff.

So back to the story.  Then Chris Korsmo gets up and gave her pitch.  However, she said she was a member of the 34th and a SPS parent.  Period.  It's more than a little disingenuous to be the head of a state-wide education organization that is hugely supporting charter legislation and not tell that to the crowd assembled.  (She could have said, I have job X but I am speaking as John Q. Citizen.)  But she didn't.  You have to wonder why not.

Then there's the big argument/discussion over at Publicola over co-founder of LEV (and yet another wealthy person who wants to explain public education to the masses), Nick Hanauer.  Mr. Hanauer, a presumed Democrat, is talking to Rob McKenna who is running for Governor.  Mr. Hanauer is entitled to talk to and support anyone he wants but he perceives he will get want he believes is best for public education.  But is that the same thing as getting better public education?

Here's a link to what McKenna wants to do for public education.  It is quite vast and far-reaching and my first reaction was "We don't even fully-fund education now.  Where the heck would he get the money for all this?"

Mr. Hanauer wrote an e-mail to another Democratic donor complaining that the state Dems are “on the wrong side of every important education reform issue.”  He apparently went "ballistic" on Frank Chopp, the Speaker of the House.   He complains that the Dems:

- "oppose high standards for teachers"
- "oppose employment policies based on quality"
- "oppose accountability in all forms"
- "cling to the status quo"

He says he likes unions but that the Washington State Dems leadership and "most" of the elected members are "stooges" for the teachers union. 

All those items I listed above?  Mr. Hanauer really believes each and every one of them in full about Washington State Dems?  I find that hard to believe.  I can't find one single person who wants the status quo for public education in Washington State.  I can't find anyone who doesn't want teachers AND principals AND superintendents AND school boards to be accountable.

But it makes for a good story when you are frustrated about not getting things exactly the way you want them (like School Board elections). 

And that's where I get to the fairness plug.


Just tell the truth and the whole truth and let people decide for themselves.  That is truly the respectful thing to do.
I wrote an entire series to explain charters.  I have listed good charters several times.  I tried to talk about this issue with a whole-idea approach even though, clearly, I have my own personal stand.  

But I really worry and wonder about saying anything - half-truths, half the story - to get what you want.  If what you believe is right, how is telling the good, the bad and the ugly going to hurt?  Why is making sure that everyone understands the possible outcomes and ramifications to a bill a problem?

It's a mystery.

26 comments:

Sahila said...

Melissa - it only makes sense IF YOU ACCEPT THE PREMISE that there is another agenda operating, that cannot be named/described frankly, and these people will do whatever it takes to implement that agenda...

Seriously... time to give up on the idea that there is any semblance of democracy left...

We are living in a plutarchy...

Eric B said...

On the levy front, I believe charters only get maintenance and operations levy money, not capital levy. It still is a terrible model (and a terrible bill).

WV says to stick a "phorke" in it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No Eric, they get capital money as well. I'll go look up the page and line but I'm pretty sure it's capital.

What it doesn't cover are bonds. I have no idea if this was a mistake or made deliberately but if you pass a bond, it would seem the charters, authorized by the Board or not, do not get those funds. But bonds have to pass at 60%.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric,
page 26, lines 28-30
page 26, lines 36/37,
page 27, lines 1-2.

They are eligible for any and all levy money, operations or capital, but only if a School Board has approved their charter.

Po3 said...

The voters said no, 3x. I will watch very closely to see who votes for this bill and work to eliminate them from office next time I have a chance.

Anonymous said...

Great post MW.

I think we have to chalk a lot of it up to egos. People get married to an idea or plan, and they cannot stand it when people point out its imperfections, drawbacks & oversights.

Furthermore, from the first minute, they identify and plan how to neutralize "the opposition" to their ideas.

They then conflate honest questions and criticisms with defending the status quo, while attempting to placate the opposition with "change is hard" rhetoric.

What I wonder is this: Why do reformers love to accuse others of defending the status quo, and pretending to understand while saying "change is hard," when they are the ones for whom change of any sort is absolutely impossible! They want their way and don't want anyone questioning their means or methods.

Change is Hard alright. And for some, it's impossible, due primarily to inflated egos.

BTW: I just love how Sundquist loses and election, then switches teams. What class! What integrity!

Once a rubber stamp, always a rubber stamp. WSDWG

Anonymous said...

The good folks in Rainier Valley apparently are hacked off by LEV's marketing piece that put Eric Pettigrew on its front and denigrated Rainier Beach High School in its copy.

According to a new post on SeattleEd 2010 the RBHS PTSA told LEV to take a hike and eloquently explained the successes and challenges at RBHS.

LEV's recent PR missteps are glaring these past two days, between Hanauer and Pettigrew "speaking for the black folk." Both offensive in their own ways. This happens in echo chambers. They need a critical eye on the perception of their persona. Backing off on charters might be a start because hunkering down and insisting it is The Way isn't exactly helping their overall cause.

Gentle Critic

wseadawg said...

I'm trying not to stray off topic, so please consider this a dovetail.

Can somebody from Rainier Beach respond to me? My hunch tells me RBHS is being primed and targeted for a Charter if the legislation passes, this year, or next.

Do the folks at RB want to turn RB into a charter? Or are you willing to share space with a Charter operator in a two schools under one roof scenario?

I know some in the RB community are willing to do almost anything to improve student outcomes, but I'm wondering how deeply the sentiment is in favor of charters, if at all, versus other ideas and improvements, like IB at RBHS.

I keep hearing "SE Seattle kids..." mentioned in all the pro-charter articles I read, and LEV touts that "only half the kids at RBHS passed the 10th grade reading assessment," etc. So it appears beyond dispute that RB and the SE cluster is the bulls eye on the board for the charter folks.

So, SE folks: Do you want a charter? Do you feel you've run out of options?

But I really want to know what the community itself wants and embraces, versus everything I read from advocates and politicians. And I'm sorry if I'm hi-jacking this thread, but it's all about charters, so I hope it fits.

WSDWG

wseadawg said...

Wow Gentle Critic! Are you and I on the same wavelength or what?

Anonymous said...

Yes WSEADAWG, we are on the same page.

I know there are absolutely some people in SE Seattle who would welcome charters. I know many others who hate the idea and do not want their community torn apart by their arrival.

There will not be agreement on this subject from any quarter.

I know a lot of the politicians and community organizers in that area, and they are Not Pleased with Pettigrew nor with LEV for pushing so hard on charters. Like me, they find the destructiveness of the issue more hindrance than help to the community. There are many areas of aid to public education that do not cause such rancor and upheaval.

I don't think LEV is a bad organization, but I do think it needs to pause for a second. I saw the LEV Pettigrew piece and it stopped me in my tracks immediately...I knew it would be ill-received by many of the very constituencies they hoped to woo. If I could see the problem, LEV should have been able to figure it out internally.

As for Hanauer...I am still shocked by his sweeping generalizations, which have now dug LEV a Hanauer Hole. But for those LEVites reading this comment, know that when you Google news on Hanauer, his diatribe and the many critical comments about he and LEV come up first. Before any of the good stuff Hanauer has done over the years. You need to do some image control and fast.

I know image repair steps that should be taken, but I assume LEV would find the medicine bitter. So LEV, chart your own course, but step back and think...and quickly. You are losing supporters, not just among bloggers but among decision-makers with whom you need a solid relationship.

Gentle Critic

Chris S. said...

Kind of on topic - the poor quality of the bill mirrors what happened with the creative approach schools. You start with an idea that might have some merits, or not, but is at least debatable on, then codify it with such bad, sloppy policy (law/MOU)that reasonable debate is precluded.

In the case of the MOU, the SEA leadership is just so desparate to play nice I wonder if district legal wanted to sabotage them. But, never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity. Or laziness.

In the case of the legislature, I dunno. Takes some combination of arrogance and desperation to be combined with stupidity and laziness.

Melissa Westbrook said...

West Seattle, there are a lot of people in the SE and they all probably have differing opinions. I did ask the leadership of the RBHS PTSA and they seemed to be saying no (but they, too, don't pretend to speak for everybody).

The co-joined schools idea I think is doomed to failure (as it has been in NYC).

I think that RBHS is certainly ripe for some charter to come in, makes promises to the community, get the signatures they need and take the school. I'd be willing to be that parents would have little input after that point. The bill certainly doesn't demand it.

Anonymous said...

On facebook, a prominent West seattle politician recently posted a bunch of pics. He took care to label his friends in the photos. Hilariously, in the first picture, there's Sundquist standing in some civic presentation at the edge of the pol's entourage...and he *wasn't* identified by name.

Sundquist has a problem. West Seattle dems aren't buying what he's selling. Nor is the current Seattle school board.

What's a self-styled elder statesman to do? If Sundquist is out campaigning for charterswith Chris Korsmo, - 5 months after saying publicly that he does not support them - bet that means that Hanauer will find him a resting place. They are two of a kind, aren't they? Except Sundquist would never have an email meltdown. He's toooooooo smoooooooooth. He'd save it for cocktail hour at the Alliance for Education.

I am feeling serious hostility toward Corporate Ed Reform. Time to get an attitude adjstment by getting into the classroom with the wonderful students and teachers in this town. Where I'm pretty certain I won't run into Sundquist. Or Hanauer. Or the large majority of White Monied Folks Who Know The Answer.

Southie

Anonymous said...

OK, forgive me for asking such a dumb question. This is my 1st ever attempt to contact my reps. But I just try to send off my 2 cents on the ed bills using the WA state legislature website, and don't know if the e-mail got sent or not. I hit "send message", but don't have any confirmation that email was delivered. After hitting the "send message", it returns back to the same page I was on. Anybody has any experience with this? (And boy was it work to whittle down my piece to 4000 characters or less.)

-need IT help

Anonymous said...

LEV and Pettigrew missed! Look some of us made the time to see "Waitng for Superman" and what we saw is grief. We don't want charters and we don't want a lottery to get SOME of our kids into the "better" charter schools. We just want good SE neighborhood schools for all comers. STOP creating a system of winners and losers. Is that possible? Can we do it together with out marginalizing folks in the same neighborhood? Can we work toward improving this district without pitting neighborhoods against neighborhoods, groups against groups?

-Come back home Pettigrew

Anonymous said...

Untied shoelaces? - $5 please.

Noble Network charters in Chicago:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/education/ct-met-charter-fines-20120214,0,3840231.story

Melissa Westbrook said...

Need IT, I can't remember if you do get a "thank you for contacting us". You could call the legislator's office.

My take on Pettigrew is that, like Betty Patu, he feels a deep need to serve his community. I'm fairly certain he had little hand in writing this legislation and was probably promised something in return (besides "better schools). I wish he and I had been able to touch base.

cascade said...

Alabama is considering charter schools right now.

The governor (let's pretend it's McKenna) is all for them. Who isn't? THE SCHOOL DISTRICTS BECAUSE THERE IS NO MONEY. They understand what the people at LEV cramming this issue down our throats fail to comprehend. Ideology falls down and does harm on the ground when there isn't a credible project plan.

There is no credible way to introduce charters into the WA economy right now. Period.

Jan said...

Melissa -- I second what Sahila said at the very start of the comments. It only makes sense if/when you understand that there is a hidden agenda that the speakers KNOW cannot be supported by what they are willing to say publicly.

I first "got this" in the Bush/Cheney talk leading up to the invasion of Iraq. There were "facts" out there -- and then there was the talk coming from the White House -- and they just didn't link up, didn't make sense. At the time, I thought it was me -- that somehow all the rhetoric around timing/WMDs/al Qaida/etc. made sense (real sense, not pretend sense) to everybody but me, and I just wasn't getting it. Later, I understood that the "invade Iraq plan" was going forward, whether facts and reason backed it or not -- at which point the disconnect all began to make sense. If they had facts -- they used them. If they could make up, or change, facts (and get away with it long enough to launch the war), they used those. If there were contrary facts out there, they just ignored them, stuck to their talking points, and tried to talk louder.

We see the exact same model today with Ed Reform (and tax reform/deficit reduction, health care reform, and any number of other issues). Just like Bush had the cover of 9/11, the Ed Reform crowd has the cover of statistics that show we need to do better in educating some kids (and where the stats aren't bad enough, they make 'em up, right Brad and Dr. GJ?). Contrary facts (like the Stanford study on efficacy of charter schools -- they just ignore those and dial up the volume on competitiveness and failing schools, or they counter with faux studies paid for by charter management groups or big donors like the Kochs and the Broads).

But I am not willing to concede that we now have a plutarchy. There is still a "one person, one vote" deal -- but unless we can organize to disseminate truth to counter the spin, and to elect folks who are not beholden to "big money" by the time they hit the legislature, then Sahila will be right on that count too.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jan, oh I get it. I understand there's an agenda (and usually it's about money).

But my fairness streak says "Hey, prevail in the argument because you have a better one."

Almost never happens.

Sahila said...

that's because none of this is about fairness, Melissa.... the world of the oligarchs doesnt contain that concept... if you're looking for it in anything these people do, you will always be disappointed...

Jan said...

Melissa -- I agree with you, but also think that this crowd has no commitment to fairness -- and is happy to use ours against us. They would be more than happy to get all squinchy-faced and call us meanies, or bullies, (or conspiracy theorists, if pathos did not work) if we called them on this -- but the reality is -- for the guys behind the curtain-- civility, fairness, evenhandedness -- all are signs of weakness by those who (in their opinion) have no right to be in governance positions anyway. They have absolutely no plan to engage in those tools, and they are happy to turn them against those who do (it's sort of like holding the door open for someone, only to have them go through, and then grab the door and slam it shut and lock it in your face).

On the other hand -- you have been at this far longer than I have. If you still think that there is ground to be gained by appealing to Ed Reform's sense of engagement -- and asking them reasonably to back up their positions with cogent, logical arguments -- maybe it just means I got up cranky today. (Maybe I am just hung over from having written 2 pleading and beseeching emails last night to Senator Kline and Rep Tomiko-Santos on charter schools and teacher evaluation -- followed by one scathing, withering (at least I hope it was) one to Rep. Pettigrew (I am pretty sure I used "for shame" and maybe "fie!" -- but am confident I stopped short of "a pox on your house").

Jan said...

Ah, Sahila -- sorry, I didn't see your post before mine. You are much more succinct.

dw said...

WSDWG said: "BTW: I just love how Sundquist loses and election, then switches teams. What class! What integrity!"

There's a very simple explanation for this (Occam's Razor and all that):

He didn't switch teams. He has always been on the other side!

seattle citizen said...

Jan writes that "They would be more than happy to get all squinchy-faced and call us meanies, or bullies, (or conspiracy theorists, if pathos did not work) if we called them on this..."

They have been more than happy to use such disrespectful, mean-spirited, undemocratic tactics in the past, and "they" will continue to do so.

It's part of the plan: Call "teachers' unions evil"; call those of who raise questions "stuck in the status quo"; call those who look behind the curtain "not interested in the children..."

And it goes on. Meet substantive argument with slander of your opponent - enjoin the populace with glossy media campaigns and biased films and astro-turf "coalitions"

Meanwhile, behind the closed doors, in the predominantly white and male corridors of power, deals are made, hands are shook, careers take off....

Truly sickening.Besmirch those who are on the ground, co-opt those who need help, spew falsehoods about those who dare question...

The "Our Schools Coalition" fabrication says it all. And now they have seats at the superintendent advisory committee? Shame.
The truth will out.

joanna said...

Charters would likely add extra cost to the system and the amount to just begin this proposal was some insane amount. I have known some who touted some of Colorado's polices and charters and they are in worse hole funding wise now than Washington. This is definitely not the time to spend extra cash on new likely to fail initiatives or to bring on more and new unfunded mandates.