What Does the Superintendent of Public Instruction Do?

According to the OSPI web page, the superintendent of public instruction:
"is the primary agency charged with overseeing K-12 public education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students."
Yeah. But what does he do?

What tasks are required by the duty to oversee K-12 public education in Washington State?
What basic education programs does the OSPI administer?
What education reform does the OSPI implement?

Honestly, I've been through the list of stuff that the OSPI is supposed to do and I'd say that about half of it looks redundant and useless and the other half looks mechanical. It looks like a bureaucracy that runs itself for little purpose other than to run itself. I doubt that the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn, has much actual work to do running the place. I doubt that any effort by the superintendent to become involved in the work of the department would really be welcome. The bureaucrats would probably want him to butt out and go away. I think he just makes speeches. It looks to me to be a figurehead job like Lt. Governor.

If I were the superintendent of public instruction I would begin by more narrowly redefining the mission of the office and stripping it down. I would also make it take the enforcement duties seriously, which it does not do now. The OSPI should never have approved the applications for the conditional certificates of the Teach for America corps members as they were written. The OSPI should never have accepted the transformation plans of schools in Step 5 of NCLB as they have. If the OSPI wants to push for education reform, then they should be more closely scrutinizing school and district improvement plans. Right now they only confirm that the plans are filed, not that they are meaningful, implemented, or effective. If I were the superintendent of public instruction I would be issuing reports on the effectiveness of district administrations. Big, well-publicized reports on which districts are taking effective action and which districts are phoning it in.

Most of them are phoning it in.

Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't appear to me that the Superintendent of Public Instruction does anything beneficial except administer some grant programs. Even then, all they do is collect reports and issue checks. They don't provide any real oversight.

Am I wrong?


No, I don't think so.

I've talked with many people who work at OSPI. I occasionally get good answers but a lot of the time it's either "I don't know, we don't have that info" or "we don't collect that info".

"The OSPI should never have accepted the transformation plans of schools in Step 5 of NCLB as they have."

Absolutely true. When people criticize districts, look to OSPI and ask what THEY could have done.

"Right now they only confirm that the plans are filed, not that they are meaningful, implemented, or effective."

Also true.

I'm sure there is work being done there but how much meaningful work that helps guide districts and improve them?

Randy Dorn is trying to protect his turf but what is the public benefit beyond state test data and the state education ombudsman?
Anonymous said…
I, too, think it is a figurehead department. I think that's true, however, in business as well. Look at Ken Lay. He had no clue what Enron was up to. Not really. These companies and public institutions have stretched themselves vertically as to become penhouse suites with little going on but miniature golf and gigantic paychecks.

Everybody knows the old business model of management and labor working closely together and maintaining balance in power (unions) along with balance in paychecks (CEO's who made 30xlabor instead of 500x) was more efficient, better operated and produced quality. Too many figureheads. I think Enfield is a figurehead. She should be looking to the business of operations and leaving principals and teachers to the business of education.

But what do I know?

Anonymous said…
he collects a 6 figure a year paycheck, and he sends that math reformer gretta out on taxpayer junkets to spread her nonsense ...

Anonymous said…
They handle spec ed mediation and complaints. From what I understand, a necessary resource in this state. Just look the OSPI website.

Charlie Mas said…
Okay, A. That's something that the bureaucrats who work for the OSPI do.

What is Mr. Dorn's involvement in that? What does HE do?

As I wrote, the office does fulfill some legally required duties, such as administering grant programs and filling reports with the federal government, but Mr. Dorn doesn't work on those things, does he?

And what's with all this other stuff, like nutrition, for which they appear to take a role but there is no role for them to take?

There are 295 school districts in Washington state - a truly ridiculous number. Most of them are tiny rural districts with a single high school. About 260 of them are "poor" districts that receive levy equalization payments. Only 35 are "rich" districts that don't. Many the OSPI is providing a whole lot of support to those 260 tiny, rural districts, doing for them a lot of the stuff that urban districts do for themselves.

Maybe. Maybe not.

The OSPI looks like the bureaucratic version of the guy at the work site who spends the day leaning on his shovel watching other people dig.
dan dempsey said…
As SPI Terry Bergeson led the Ed Reform thrust in WA State. The OSPI recommended texts for WASL alignment became what almost every district adopted for k-8 math (and they did not work for most students). High Schools were somewhat more resistant to the OSPI nonsense suggestions for math.

Now Mr. Dorn has championed the Common Core State Standards ... the legislature has passed legislation requiring local districts to fund $165 million of the CCSS cost for adoption and implementation.

Note the actual testing costs will be in addition to this 165 million.

Under 6696 Mr. Dorn was required to provide a complwete analysis of the costs and impacts of adopting CCSS by Jan 1. 2011..... which he failed to do. Submitting that report on Jan 31, 2011 the same week as the hearing on CCSS.

Of course violating a law written specifically for him complete with "Shall" language makes no difference to the courts.

When I filed a recall for Dorn ... I was told the purpose of the report was to inform the legislators and did not extend to the general public. Thus the fact that the violation of the law while it may have impacted the publics right to be informed before the hearing .... really does not apply because the report was not intended to inform the public.

Senator Oemig hoped to correlate texts in use in various districts with OSPI test scores and score change. He is no longer in office and as SPI Mr. Dorn has made no move in this direction. Such a move would produce results really embarrassing for Greta Bornmann, OSPI Math director.

There is ZERO accountability for OSPI's recommendations.

OSPI selected the School Improvement Grant winners for 2009-2010 based on proposals from several districts. The report from the first year of the grants was expected for each school by December 2011.... OSPI now says it will be ready before June 2012. At which time there will be only 1 year left of the three year grants. Clearly inadequate time to make significant corrections based on the results at other schools.

Lots of Shovel Leaning and perhaps not just by Mr. Dorn. This is about politics and not students.
Charlie Mas said…
I am fully qualified to lean on a shovel.
Patrick said…
Who makes the MSP tests?
Linh-Co said…
Joe Wilhoft was the lead coordinator of the MSP. He also lead the writing and implementation of the WASL and is currently the lead for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is a multi-state group that will design and implement the national assessment. Watch for it to be similar to the WASL. We are all in trouble!

The MSP test items were written by teacher representatives from around the state selected by OSPI.
Unknown said…
well said Dan.

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