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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

An Article of Note in Crosscut

I read an article in Crosscut this morning that was one of the more thought-provoking pieces I've seen about the state of Education Reform in Washington State. "Washington's new education initiative is no A+" by Alison Krupnick explored the wading pool depth of A+ Washington, the Education Reform initiative from Excellent Schools Now.

I find myself in a place very much like Ms Krupnick. I feel a great disconnect. In fact, I feel at least three great disconnects.
Like her, I support the four principles of A+ Washington:
  1. Expanding access to early learning,
  2. Excellent teachers and principals;
  3. Increasing college readiness; and
  4. Implementing flexible approaches to K-12 education that include accountability systems.
After all, who wouldn't support these things? I also support motherhood, the flag and apple pie. Like Ms Krupnick, I was stymied when I tried to learn anything specific about A+ Washington as a plan. There is the first disconnect: there are no action steps connected to these principles. There is no plan in this plan. This doughnut is all hole.

The second disconnect comes with the leadership behind this plan. Excellent Schools Now is a coalition of education groups assembled and led by the League of Education Voters. Its membership has a lot of overlap with the Our Schools Coalition, another coalition of education groups assembled and led by the League of Education Voters. Excellent Schools Now is led by LEV, Stand for Children, Teachers United, and Partnership for Learning. All of them also have the same agenda, the same PR firm, and the same funding source. Correction: Teachers United does not use a PR Firm. Why do they all have to be separate groups if they all share the same agenda? All of these groups have leadership, but none of them seem to have much membership. All of their leaders are well-connected with each other but none of them seem to be connected to any grassroots. That's the second disconnect here. 

Finally, there is another weird disconnect at work here. The leadership of these groups connect with each other and are connected with political elites, but they aren't doing any work either with the people who actually make decisions that impact classrooms and students. As Ms Krupnick described in her article, she left the Excellent Schools Now fundraiser breakfast and went to a meeting at her child's school. They were in separate universes that had nothing to do with each other.

I read Ms Krupnick's work with great empathy. I am in exactly the same place that she is in. I see great ideas and political elites in one world but they seem completely disconnected from any actionable plans or actual students that exist in my world.

Most interesting about this was that the article appeared in Crosscut, an online news and editorial source that has not questioned Education Reform before this.

28 comments:

Steve said...

Typical AstroTurf groups. Not much you can do about them except keep them in the daylight early and often, challenging their existence and purpose at every turn.

Anonymous said...

There was an interesting, somewhat lengthy interview with Melinda Gates on PBS's Newshour last night (6/4). The big thing I came away with from it is that she believes the key to the success of their "small schools" was excellent teachers. She never seemed able to connect the dots that the teachers had the luxury to be "excellent" because they had manageable class sizes.

I recommend a viewing for all. It's probably on the PBS website. Now...back to work for me.

Solvay Girl

Anonymous said...

I also saw the Melinda Gates interview on the Newshour. It was pretty worthless,vacuous really but I did come away from it with a couple of things. The first for me was Melinda not Bill sat for the interview-an attempt by the Gates Foundation to soften its image? The interviewer asked no questions about teacher preparation. How do Ed. Schools recruit and nurture teacher candidates vs.what should they be doing? What Schools of Ed. are on the right track and why? It seems to me the Schools of Ed are where changes need to be made. Longer teacher prep and more time in the classroom prior to having one's own classroom seems obvious. She downplayed all factors outside of the classroom that affect student learning. She purposefully deflected the class size issue and its impact on teaching and learning. In the Gates world a good teacher is all that matters. So how does one become a good teacher? No talk about a longer school day -why? I am not going to touch her expounding on teacher evaluations but to say that seemed oblivious to the amount of time it would take for principals to evaluate every teacher in their building in the manner she outlined. It was so disconnected from the reality of big schools, big classrooms, and large numbers of staff. My last observation is, why isn't the Gates Foundation engaging public school parents? Any public school initiative that Gates wants to promote needs the support of parents. Maybe I missed it but at no time did I hear Melinda talk about parents.

MC

Charlie Mas said...

I think the disconnect that I feel most with Education Reform Advocacy Groups is their focus on trying to make a bad system work better - better principals, better teachers, better materials - when what we really need is a better system.

The failure of American public K-12 education is not a failure by the workers to properly implement the system but a failure of the system to match the needs of the students.

Efforts to make the system work better are misguided. The system, as it stands, does not address the root causes of student under-achievement, nearly all of which are outside the classroom.

Someone said...

Here's the PBS interview (link below) - I was struck by the fact Crosscut actually let this be posted - it's counterintuitive to much of what they've published recently - but I guess now and then you have to let the other side have it's moment.

It is indeed fascinating why there are so many groups and so few actual members - it does give an illusion of hoards of people chomping at the bit to fix schools...

Melinda Gates on the importance of Teacher Evaluations

Melissa Westbrook said...

As I have said in the past, you can go to A+Washington (which will lead you to Excellent Schools Now). Not a single solitary name attached to it. No one to ask questions to. It's just a blank website touting very simplistic ideas about education change.

That neither WEA nor PTA was involved - so the teachers and parents who gave imput were undoubtedly selected by those groups - should tell you something.

Good piece of journalism.

Disgusted said...

"As I have said in the past, you can go to A+Washington (which will lead you to Excellent Schools Now). Not a single solitary name attached to it"


Yup.

Someone said...

Hmmm... according to a Dec. 2011 Doc, the Excellent Schools Now Coalition has 35 "members organizations" - some what you'd expect - some that seem rather obsure.."New Futures" "Seattle Breakfast Group" and my personal fav the "Spokane Library Ladies".

Wonder what these folks "think" they are supporting...

suep. said...

(Blogger is eating my comment, so I'll try again, in two parts)

Yep. The same old gimmick. A faux 'coalition' of 'organizations' comprised of the same people, pushing a corporate ed reform agenda and bankrolled by the Gates Foundation.

In an e-mail "A+" sent out in March, the contact person was from Strategies 360 (Karen Waters).

Even the New York Times came to realize this scheme last year: Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates

It's getting tired.

suep. said...

Apparently this latest enterprise was spun off of the "Excellent Schools Now Coalition" (http://www.apluswashington.org/about/), which apparently gets money from LEV (and possibly the Washington Progress Fund), originating from Gates.

League of Education Voters Foundation
Date: September 2011
Purpose: to launch a regional teacher advocacy group supportive of the Excellent Schools Now Coalition goals
Amount: $150,000
Term: 1 year and 6 months
Topic: Community Grants
Region Served: Global, North America
Program: United States
Grantee Location: Seattle, Washington
Grantee Web site: http://www.educationvoters.org

Washington Progress Fund
Date: March 2011
Purpose: to better understand the positions and perceptions of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community on education reform topics, such as those put forth by the Excellent Schools Now Coalition; and to provide training and opportunities for these communities to get more involved in education change across Washington state
Amount: $300,000
Term: 2 years
Topic: Community Grants
Region Served: Global, North America
Program: United States
Grantee Location: Seattle, Washington
Grantee Web site: Not available


Source: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/grants/Pages/search.aspx

(Stand for Children is also affiliated with "Excellent Schools Now," and they received millions from Gates in the last few years.)

Charlie, I believe these types would in fact be happy to blow up the entire public school system and remake it in their own corporate image.

They've already tried that in New Orleans post-Katrina, which is now suffering under the exploits of the privatizers. Here and elsewhere they are trying to do it incrementally.

"Merit pay" that awards teachers more money for standardized test score increases (not necessarily for meaningfully teaching) and reduces children and education to data points; top-down rather than collaborative management style (Goodloe-Johnson etc.); weakened or dissolved school boards, which in turn diminishes even further the public voice in public ed; schools referred to as "portfolios;" principals prompted to run schools like CEOs and given cash bonuses for higher test scores; attempts to weaken the labor unions; uniform curricula; excessive computer-based testing -- these are all corporate-style, arguably, factory-style (very 19th century), concepts.

But these concepts don't work for schools, because a successful school more closely resembles a family, community or cooperative, than a business whose goal is profit or mass-produced widgets.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sue, I really must get to writing about Louisana, our first "anything goes, here's your money for education" state. It is frightening and incomprehensible. I am glad I do not live there.

Anonymous said...

As a member of Teachers United, I cannot stand by and let you spread such blatant misinformation about our organization. We do not have a PR firm. No one but our members decides our agenda (there are over 180 of us - all teachers... if that isn't grassroots, then I don't know what is). Our policy platform is decided by our members and we gathered last week to vote on what those top priorities would be.

This is just another example of how you make assumptions and spread misinformation about something you don't know anything about. Not that you have ever bothered to reach out and find out what Teachers United really is. We are teachers, but you made up your mind about us without doing even the most minimal due diligence. Your disrespect is incredible.

- A TU Teacher

Anonymous said...

Not that you have ever bothered to reach out and find out what Teachers United really is.

OK TU Teacher...tell us what Teachers United really is. I can't easily find much online other than a very generic webpage on the Seattle Foundation page and your Facebook Page. Other than that it's all about your Ed and various articles. Seriously, I'd like to know just what you guys do, and why I should contribute money to your organization. 180 members is not very big for a city the size of Seattle's.

Give us some web links, are members listed somewhere? their school affiliations? I would love to learn more about what you're doing.

Solvay Girl

Anonymous said...

Yes, TU - why don't you tell us about the money you received from the Gates Foundation and how you are different from all the other groups fronted by money and or a teacher-for-awhile.

Signed,
Also a teacher

Anonymous said...

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/christopher-eide/15/72A/118



Public School Parent

Anonymous said...

If your knee-jerk reaction is to immediately write-off an organization as evil because it has received money from Gates, then you must write off the teachers union as well. Have any of you bothered to do any research on how much money they have received from Gates? Are they, therefore, evil because of that? I can assure you, they have received magnitudes more then TU. Seriously, do your homework, folks.

If 180+ members is not enough for you, what number would be? 300? 500? 1000? My fellow teachers are coming out of the word work as are teachers across the state. The meeting last week was inspiring because we were the ones setting the agenda. Fine if you want to write off 180 hard-working teachers, but you won't be able to do that forever. How many of you post regularly on this blog? 12? But you believe yourselves to be a movement, right?

I'm sure there will be a webpage soon. Look for it. Or don't because you have already made up your minds about us. I'm off to go do real work.

- TU Teacher

Rooster said...

To the co-director of Teachers United (against Teachers).
The "leader" of your organization WAS a teacher. However , teaching is really hard work ! It is so much easier to take $$$ from Bill Gates than go to work and teach kids every day.The fact is clear...Mr Edie QUIT teaching to push pseudo ed reform. You don't need a PR firm...Gates is his own PR firm and you do his bidding.
Face it....when it was time to really commit to TEACHING, you couldn't hack it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

TU, odd that you say you have 180 members; your leader recently said in a written piece that there were only 100.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher myself, I'm not at all trying to disrespect you or be combative. Truthfully, I'd never heard of you before a few months ago.

How can you say you represent teachers if most teachers don't even know about you? Do you think yourselves superior? I've asked around and most of the teachers which whom I work have never heard of you.

Why do you isolate yourselves? Do you think we are all so inferior? I am interested in knowing more about Teachers United. When I first became a teacher, I was one of those interested in changing to the AFT (as I recall the initials) but twas not to be in Seattle. So, are you an off-shoot of that group?

Who are you?

n...

Jan said...

sue p said: "a successful school more closely resembles a family, community or cooperative, than a business whose goal is profit or mass-produced widgets." My thoughts keep coming back to this. The best schools don't function like "factories." They function like "families" (or like "communities." Go talk to Bush. Or U Prep. That is how they think of themselves. That is how they market themselves. "We are a caring community . . . ." Children learn well, and get excited about learning and knowledge, when they are in situations where the grownups around them care both about them AND about the knowledge that they are teaching. Of course you need good teachers to accomplish this. But the educational structures we build need to be learning communities, school families. Not knowledge factories.

Just like caring, committed parents (who have a clue about how to raise kids) are the linchpin to a healthy family, caring, committed teachers (who have a clue about how to teach kids) are the linchpin to schools. But no one suggests that we can break down parenting into X feedings, X toiletings, X vacations, X changes of clothes, and that somehow we would just identify the "best parents" if we could somehow just quantify what they know and how they dole it out (and whether the child is dry, and well fed, and has clean clothes on).

We need to remake educational experiences so that our kids get educationally "raised" at school, the same way they get emotionally and physically "raised" at home. We are approaching this from wrong assumptions -- and an argument built on false assumptions never ends up reaching the truth. Charlie's post about acknowledging, honoring, and meeting all the different kinds of learners we have is all part of this. In a successful family, each child is raised according to what they need, how they learn, what motivates and inspires them.

Jan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

Dear n...

I'm happy to meet with you to explain more about TU. We are trying to create safe places for teachers to have dialogue about education policy and instruction. We count as members those people who we have met personally with, so we can get to know their interests and the issues they feel are affecting their school and classroom. Lots of teachers who want to have a voice in the education reform discussion come to us, and lots come from recommendation from other teachers or parents. So, we are growing, quickly. We have teachers from all over the state, of all levels of seniority, from K through high school. Many are union reps or union leaders. But we want to focus on giving teachers an easy platform for advocating for policy positions that they come up with without having to deal with mudslinging and conspiracy-generating. As you can tell from several of the comments on this thread even, the discussion can veer off into the slanderous and unproductive very easily. We will keep our members' names and identities utterly private so as to avoid treatment like you see here.

I'd love to meet with you, and hear your thoughts if you really are interested. Feel free to email me at chris@teachersunitedwa.org. Our website will be up soon. -Chris

PS. I still teach, but I'm a sub. Teaching full time and working to get teachers heard full time wasn't fair to my students. Ask anyone working at SEA/WEA who had to leave the classroom. We all miss it, but working to improve the system for ALL students is really important.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Wait a minute, Chris. No one is saying (or has said) that anyone joining TU is bad or wrong. The question was over the funding. Don't find offense where it isn't given.

I personally do not like Chris Eide but again, that is my opinion and not that of this blog.

Also, what about that 180 vs 100 count of members? Which is it.

And AGAIN, slander is verbal and libel is written. Terms are importand (unless Chris meant someone came up to him/her and said something).

Anonymous said...

Chris

I hope you will post on this blog when the website is up and running. I'll check it out, as I am sure will others on this blog.

You can't blame us for being a bit suspicious of the myriad of organizations that appear to be nothing more than offshoots of other organizations and/or nothing but fundraising machines. An informative website is a great step towards quelling those suspicions.

I look forward to reading about what your organization is actually doing.

Solvay Girl

Rufus X said...

@Chris says
But we want to focus on giving teachers an easy platform for advocating for policy positions that they come up with without having to deal with mudslinging and conspiracy-generating. As you can tell from several of the comments on this thread even, the discussion can veer off into the slanderous and unproductive very easily. We will keep our members' names and identities utterly private so as to avoid treatment like you see here.

Uh, dude - it was YOUR group's member who came here and flew off the handle in text. Twice. Since folks don't know much about your org (because the info's not out there), it might be good to take into consideration how your members represent your group in public when you do come out of the "word work" (sic).

Charlie Mas said...

A TU Teacher wrote: "We do not have a PR firm."

I will update the original post to correct the error.

Thank you for the correction.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Teacher United site after reading about it here. I don't have anything bad to say about what's on the site except it's really, really short on how to get there. And who's we. It would be more credible to know how they are going about "putting students first." It's great this group's goal is to advocate getting 100% graduation rate. I like to know how they are going to do that. So yeah, it's all pretty vague and up there with Miss America wanting world peace.

I like the Gates' goals too. But I don't know how all of that is going to change the local schools in the neighborhood. The teachers may have their evaluations and we might even get a charter school out of it. Whatever. I would argue the neighborhood needs jobs for our youngsters, gang and drug crackdown, more supervised teen activities to keep kids from straying, and more quality pre-school/child care programs.

My kids do great in their schools, but it's not hard since the bar is not that high. So it's up to me and my extended family to put the pressure on the kids to look for summer learning through LEEP, Running Start, @ UW and the Y. and a lot of that is through word of mouth. And it's up to us to keep them out of trouble because it's pretty easy to find trouble around here.

So I have a disconnect from all this talk mainly because it doesn't connect to the kids and families that are falling through the cracks or even ones like mine that have not. I hear what these kids talk about. The relevance of LEV, Stand for Children, SEA, and other education group doesn't mean much to them. They hear testings, gaps and kids and they think it's probably about them and not in a flattering way. What do these organizations really mean to them in everyday life? Does accountability means they'll get phonics, good grammar, writing and speaking skills, good number sense, and a hope for a quality, employed future to make it worthwhile to work hard in school. People can talk with lofty goals in mind, but to make it work, it can't just be words alone. Are we seeing that today? Opportunity and ability to advance? Job security? The American dream? The ability to reach middle class? A middle class that is growing not shrinking? These kids may not test well, but are pretty sharp when it comes to street sense and it's hard to fool them.

reader

Mitt said...

Rooster is correct ... Mr Eide's whimpering "I had to quit teaching because I was working so hard to have teachers be heard" is laughable. Boo hoo ... He sounds like the Teach for America crowd who use teaching as a stepping stone to other "Leadership" jobs. His outfit should really be called "Teachers United to Quit Teaching !"