Friday, August 31, 2012

Maybe I should quit

I have been an education activist for over eleven years. Over those years I have devoted thousands and thousands of hours to efforts to get Seattle Public Schools to fulfill its commitments. I have never asked the District to do anything more than what the District promised to do. I have worked for community engagement, for transparency, and, more than anything else, for the District to keep its commitments to students and families. I have worked really hard at it for a really long time, and I must admit that I have not had any effect at all. Frankly, I'm getting tired of it.

At what point is it appropriate for me to stop? At what point should I determine that Seattle Public Schools is irreparably corrupt and incapable of reform? When should I quit?

And what then? Work to establish some alternative structure, like charter schools? Work to dismantle the district and make every school independent? Work for a City or County takeover of the schools? Just stop working on public education entirely?

A Crossroads for PTA

PTA used to be the wholesome, all-American group.  Parents and teachers united in schools across the country to create better communities of learning and fellowship for children and adults.

Now, I don't know what is happening.

First, the National PTA just revised its rules on charter schools.  It's astonishing and also troubling.   While their previous policy supported the idea of charters as long as they had parent engagement AND local oversight, the new policy (from Ed Week):

...supports giving entities other than local school boards the right to approve charter schools, a new position the group argues will increase its ability to shape policy within the diverse and growing sector of independent public schools.

What they don't seem to get is that by losing local control, the PTA WILL lose the ability to shape policy.  

And why would PTA be welcome in charters?  Parents don't have a real role in most charters - you can see this by how easily students can be exited and parents are helpless.  Follow the charter or leave.  I just don't see what would be in it for parents or teachers to have a PTA. 

Against this backdrop, you have a fight in PTA in Georgia where they oppose a ballot measure in November to set up a state-level commission to approve charters.  (This is something in I-1240 where the Commission is politically appointed, has to swear a blood oath to the greatness of charters and, once appointed, has zero oversight.)  The new Georgia charter commission could create charters over the objections of local school boards (very much the issue in the tony suburbs in New Jersey where they are furious). 

This puts the Georgia PTA up against the new national policy.   

The National PTA describes itself as the largest volunteer child-advocacy organization in the country. Jacque Chevalier, a senior policy strategist at the national organization, said it is encouraging Georgia officials to avoid taking a stance on the issue that contradicts the national policy.

“We hope we can reach a conclusion that’s mutually beneficial,” Ms. Chevalier said. “We’re working through it right now.” She declined to say what would happen if the dispute is not resolved.

“PTA has a role to play,” Ms. Chevalier said. While the National PTA recognizes that the charter school landscape differs by state, and many state chapters have legitimate concerns about specific charter policies, the organization also wants to “position the brand to inform long-term discussions about charters and assist with successful implementation of them.”

Sounds like someone got bought out.  Why would PTA be trying to implement new charters?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Friday Open Thread

In our house there's a bit of a rush to complete summer assignments. School is starting VERY SOON.

What's on your mind?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Charter schools are for quitters

Charter schools represent resignation all across the board. To advocate for charter schools is to see the challenges in public education, to see the hard work needed, and to run away. Charter schools are for quitters. They are for the cowardly and weak.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mercer Makes List of "High-Progress 'Reward Schools'"

From SPS Communications: 

Asa Mercer Middle School has been classified as a “high progress” Reward School – making the prestigious list of the top-performing, most-improved Title 1 schools in the state. 

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on Aug. 27 named Mercer as one of 58 schools around the state with the Reward School designation. 

“Congratulations to the students, staff and parents of Mercer Middle School and the community members who supported the school,” said José Banda, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. “We are proud that Mercer Middle School is part of this distinguished group of Reward Schools and has been acknowledged for all its efforts and hard work.”

As a high-progress Reward School, Mercer scored in the top 10 percent of Title I schools in reading and math (combined) on state assessments for its “all students” group. This designation acknowledges a school’s performance and improvement in reading and math during a three-year school period (2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11).  (bold mine)

Mercer has also been named a School of Excellence school in 2009, 2010 and 2011 – for placing in the top 5 percent of schools in the state for improvement in scores.  

As I keep saying as I go around talking to groups about I-1240, Washington State and SPS are not static.  Major change is happening, progress is being made and public education in Washington State IS getting better for ALL students.  This is evidence of that and it happened...without charter law. 

Ed News Round-Up

Interesting (and lengthly) essay from a student teacher that carefully outlines her concerns with TFA.  The ones about the link between TFA and charter schools is especially timely for Washington State.  (Also a good story here on that link from the National Journal.)

From Education Week, a very good comparison of what Romney and Obama have in mind for public education.

From Education Week, a review of a new book about the most selective public high schools in the country.

For each of the 11 schools that Finn or Hockett personally visited, the book describes the climate for learning. Here's how they summed it up:
By and large, all the schools we visited were serious, purposeful places: competitive but supportive, energized yet calm. Behavior problems (save for cheating and plagiarism) were minimal, and students attended regularly. The kids wanted to be there, and were motivated to succeed.
Most classrooms they observed were "alive, engaged places," and teachers had high expectations, as might be imagined.
One distinguishing feature of many exam schools is a more flexible schedule than is usual in public high schools, the book says, to facilitate opportunities for more in-depth learning and to prepare students for the college experience.
"We found an awful lot of these schools organize their weekly calendar like colleges do, with two-hour blocks and three-hour seminars, so the course doesn't meet every day for 47 minutes," Finn told me. The book notes that there is typically ample time in the schedule for collaborative and independent research project.
Former SPS principal, Justin Baeder, now writes at Education Week's 'On Performance' column.  He had this interesting column back in May (and he mentions our blog with something of a backhanded swipe).  It was entitled, "On Holding "the District" Accountable":

I'm all for holding "the district" accountable to the public, but I have to ask: Who is the district? And how do you hold accountable a large, loosely coupled organization full of people who, for the most part, are doing excellent work?

In practical terms, "the district" is no more specific an entity than "the public." The Seattle Times comments section (not to mention Save Seattle Schools) is consistently filled with accusations that "the district" is riddled with incompetence, corruption, wastefulness, thickheadedness, and all manner of other surprisingly detailed and sweeping generalizations.

That's an interesting question but as taxpayers and parents, yes, we do get to hold "the district" accountable or at least the leaders who run it.  And while I do believe most people in the district care deeply and work hard, we are not the best run district so I'm not sure I'd give the district an overall grade of A for excellent work.

His answer?

Everyone wants to be involved—deeply involved—in improving Seattle Public Schools. But perhaps the best way to do that is calm down, hire good people, and let them do their jobs. Performance comes from stability over time, not the number of cooks in the kitchen.
As I walk out the door, I have to look back on the past few years and pose the question: Is our approach to holding "the district" accountable really working? As organizational scholar Peter Senge is fond of saying, "Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are getting." Perhaps "the public" should consider a different approach to relating to "the district."

Good column from Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post about the three things parents SHOULD worry the most about in ed reform: excessive testing, use of test scores for purposes which are not student-centered and amassing of individual student scores in national and state databases.  That latter one deserves investigating in SPS because:

State and national databases are being created in order to analyze and house students’ test scores. No parental permission is required. I wonder why not. Students who take the SAT must sign off before we send their scores to colleges.

Schools are no longer reporting collective data; we are now sending individual student data. Although the name remains in the district, what assurances do parents truly have that future databases will not be connected and used for other purposes? The more data that is sent, the easier it will be to identify the individual student.
Eleven states have agreed to give confidential teacher and student data for free to a shared learning collaborative funded by Bill Gates and run by Murdoch’s Wireless Corp. Wireless received $44 million for the project. With Common Core State Standards testing, such databases are expected to expand. Funding for data warehousing siphons taxpayer dollars from the classroom to corporations like Wireless and Pearson.  
Although all of the above is in motion, it can be modified or stopped. Parents should speak to their local PTAs and School Boards, as well as their legislators. They should ask questions regarding what data is being collected and to whom it is sent.
Let’s make sure that every test a student takes is used to measure and enhance her learning, not for adult, high-stakes purposes. Basic common sense tells us that student test results belong to families, not databases. 

Tuesday Open Thread

Forgot to mention (but I've sure you've seen), Seattle Public libraries are closed this week as a cost-cutting measure.  A sure sign of back-to-school when the public library has to close. 

Free backpacks (while they last) at the district's enrollment day today before the furlough day tomorrow (the district will be closed Wednesday, August 29th).   No district or Board activities this week as they gear up for the opening of school next week.

What's on your mind?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Stop Making (Non) Sense

The hot weather is gone so I can't imagine what it is affecting the brains of the editorial board at the Seattle Times. 

Their latest editorial about the State starting negotiations with the Washington Federation of Sate Employees soon. 

They give recent history:

Twice now they have done this. In September 2008, they agreed to pay raises in the two-year contract. In the midst of the worst financial crisis in 75 years, Gregoire approved them and within weeks the state's Office of Financial Management (OFM) said the contracts were impossible. The state had to go back and ask that the raises be canceled. The union sued, lost, and agreed to cancel the raises.

In 2010, deals were reached in October; a month later the Office of Financial Management declared them to be infeasible. Gregoire asked that the employee share of health-insurance premiums, set in the contract at 12 percent, be increased to 26 percent, which was the average for family coverage among private employers at the time. 

But a contract had been signed, putting her in a poor bargaining position. She settled for a 15 percent employee share, plus a 3 percent pay cut that is due to expire June 30. 

But then there is this:

The Legislature and governor have been ordered by the Washington Supreme Court to increase state support of K-12 public schools. In a 21st-century economy, the state needs to do more than this. It needs to increase support of schooling from age 3 to 23, and it needs to begin doing this in the legislative session of 2013.  

The state's labor negotiators have to be tough. The reason is not any blame cast upon state employees. It is simply that the state must make a down payment on its obligation to education, and it has to have the money to do it with.

So I see a disconnect.  The Times says, basically, that the State has the obligation to fully fund education and is mandated by both the Constitution and the realities of the time we live in to give students the learning they need to succeed.

And yet they want charter schools.

The money for charters would be NEW spending.  We have no new money so the first question is; where would that money come from?  

Two, understand that this talk of "money follows students" is true except that's from existing school to existing school.  These are new schools so yes, the pot of money gets thinned as more schools come online.  (We could get additional students overall into K-12 ed in the state but that is unlikely as private schools have held their share for decades even into the recession.)

Three, most of the new spending for charters is for administration and a large chunk is for administration at the state level.  Any new money should go into the classroom.  

I don't get it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Escalating the Rhetoric so That ALL Educators are Suspect

Over at the Washington Policy Center, Liv Finne's latest "analysis" is about the Success Academies in NYC, a small charter chain that has big plans to expand throughout NYC.  They do have higher than average test scores but, like other charters, don't serve as many Special Ed students.  And, their operator, Eva Moskowitz, rakes in a big salary and parent voices are not high on her list of priorities.  
This analysis would be okay -it's one in a long string of ancedotal stories about good charters.  They exist  but not in numbers that would support the idea that charters can and do make a big difference in any district where they are located. 

She then goes on to rail about principals in Washington State:

In Seattle, for example, the superintendent of the district bureaucracy selects and oversees the performance of 92 school principals, an unworkable set-up for many reasons.  It doesn’t help that, once in a position, school principals in Washington are protected by RCW 28A.405.230, granting them lifetime job security. 

If a school in Washington state has a good principal, it is because the stars were briefly aligned to allow a good superintendent to make a good choice that one time.  If a school has a poor principal, they are often stuck with her.   

The superintendent of the "district bureaucracy"?  I hate to break it to her but there is also charter bureaucracies that exist to give that all-important "accountability" that comes with charters.  There is NO public institution that doesn't have oversight (well, except for the charter commission that would be created under I-1240 - they have ZERO oversight). 

Also, if she doesn't like the RCW, shouldn't she be promoting changing it rather than saying that there has to be a system created to work around it?  If this is important for charters and an injustice to other schools, why isn't it important enough to fight to change it?

As to her second paragraph, what an insult to the hundreds of good, hard-working principals in our state.  She makes it sound like there are very few good superintendents OR principals. 

She then says this:

How can a school principal establish a  culture of high expectations for the learning of every child when she cannot choose each teacher for each class?  

Uh, by doing his or her job?  If being a good principal is contingent on the ability to being able to hand-pick every teacher in the building, we are all in trouble.  And I hate to break it to her but the principal in a charter school is VERY likely guided by the charter board that oversees the school on those decisions.

But then we get to the name-calling.  She quotes Joel Klein, the former chancellor of NYC schools who is speaking of the Success charters:

Unlike most teachers in public schools, they believe they can constantly improve by having others observe them, by learning from each other, and by trying new things.  They thrive in a culture of excellence, rather than wallow in a culture of excuse.

I haven't met a teacher yet who didn't want to collaborate with other teachers in their building AND have more professional development.  Never.  It's the keystone of the success in Finland.  Ms. Finne seems to think it is fine for Mr. Klein to insult public school teachers by saying they all "wallow in a culture of excuse."

Now, I read this piece last night and, at that time, Ms. Finne called people who did not want charters "mean".  I'm thinking someone at WPC read it and  told her that name-calling is not the way to win any argument.  Interesting.

Banda Interview

Superintendent Banda was gracious enough to give me a little time last week to talk.  (I note that the office looked quite stern with Dr. Enfield's ducky collection gone.)

How's it going?
He said he had adjusted quickly and he is enjoying Seattle.  He said that he felt like he got a good grasp of the district and its needs early on.

Math is a big issue to many parents and when they see a few schools going off-script (and getting good results), they want to know how their school can do it.  Any plans around that issue?
He said it was a challenging area.  He mentioned that Wendy London had resigned (so she is definitely not in the district) and that are working hard to find a new permanent T&L executive director.

Could more schools access a new math program through the Creative Approach system?  
He said that may be the best way to do it.  He said it could be a resource issue for some schools.

Have you read I-1240 or has anyone in the district read it and provided you analysis on it?
He said he not read it nor had anyone given him any info.

Special Education is also a top issue given the lack of a permanent director for that program.  What is happening on that front?
He gestured to a white board behind him with a grid of positions.  Next to T&L and Special Ed were red checkmarks.  He said that indicated the key positions to get filled and filled soon.  He said he was looking for seasoned people (meaning, that the position would not be their first shot at such a level).  He said they have good people in place for now.  He said the current Special Ed Director, Ms Caldwell, was working on placements and transportation for the current year.

I asked him about federal funding for Special Ed as I had attended a convention where Diane Ravitch had spoken and gotten the biggest applause line for saying the feds needed to provide full funding for Special Ed as promised.
He said that he also thought that was true.  He said it funding Special Ed is a huge encroachment on the General Fund and that when he was in Anaheim, he did some work to see if there was anyway to scale that back in a way that wouldn't be detrimental to Special Ed students.

I asked him what he did.
 He said one example was that a classroom had an IA for a couple of students.  Somehow when those students left, the IA stayed and it was a cost the classroom didn't need.  He said another example was checking on bus service.  He said that it had been automatic for Special Ed students to ride their own bus and when they asked parents, there were enough who said, yes, my student can ride the regular bus and there were enough students to affect a cost savings.

I asked him about the new Program Placement policy and whether Charlie's assessment that it is only for programs or services that impacts on budgets, hiring and placement of staff on space within a building?
 He said he didn't know the policy well enough but seemed concerned when I mentioned that the previous policy had a method for public suggestions on program placement but now it just said
"community driven" without explaining how that would work. 

I also asked about Spectrum, for example, under this policy.  I explained that currently Spectrum is offered differently at every school that has it and I wondered about how the district knew about quality and consistency.  
He agreed and said that there is this "tight-loose" idea in administration (I smiled and said that was one of Joe Olchefske's favorite lines) but he said if you de-centralize too much, you do lose the ability to have consistency and understanding of how well programs are working.

I asked about BEX IV because on KING-5 tv he had said that he and staff were going to try to get it down to $600M.  He said between the operations levy and BEX IV, it could go to a billion dollars. 
He said yes, they were working towards a $600M (certainly under $700M). 

I said this was likely to have a significant change to the plan as earlier numbers had been upwards of $750M.  
He said they would try to look through "a different lens" at construction, making sure to meet standards but looking for cost savings everywhere. 

We had to stop then but he did say he was going to be present for the McDonald's ribbon-cutting and would visit a couple of schools on the first day of school.

I found the Superintendent to be calm and confident.  I like his quiet confidence which is quite the contrast to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's more aloof "I'm large and in charge" attitude.  When I asked him about attending the BEX Oversight Committee meeting last Friday, he jumped up to check his calendar.  He didn't just wave it off and mentioned trying to get to the next one. 

I think he understands the urgency in getting those two top posts filled but I believe he determined to get it right. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Thank You, Neil Armstrong

 From the AP:

"I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer," he said in February 2000 in one of his rare public appearances. "And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession."

Like taking the biggest step in the history of the world? 

Those of us that saw this event on TV will never forget it.  I went out and looked into that dark Arizona sky (we didn't have a lot of light so our skies were dark and starry) and wondered if I would go to the moon if I could.

Thank you, Neil Armstrong, for your inspiration and courage.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Open Thread

There will be a memorial tomorrow for Ballard High School teacher, Megan Vogel, a Golden Apple award-winner. 

From Ballard High School: “She is missed by her family, friends, colleagues and the hundreds of BHS students and graduates that she had a profound impact on. We will join together this Saturday, August 25th from 1-3 pm in the BHS Performing Arts Center for a Celebration of Megan’s life. In lieu of flowers, please bring live plants to remember Ms. Vogel’s connection to the living world.”
For more, visit the Facebook page that was created in her memory.

I also apologize for not noting the recent passing of Louise McKinney, a longtime educator, in our city.   From the Times:

Louise McKinney was a philanthropist, patron of the arts and longtime educator who believed that all children were capable of learning, no matter their station in life.

As a teacher and later principal at a number of Seattle schools, she prodded and nudged institutions to do right by kids — especially African-American youth — and established scholarships to ensure that the brightest among them got a fair shot.

I also want to give a shout-out to Talbot Hill Elementary in Renton where they were recently awarded a "Coolest School" honor by Scholastic Parent and Child magazine.  Talbot Hill is a Title One school that uses an innovative student government program throughout the school day that integrates academics with civics.   (Another example of innovation in our state - Washington state and Washington State districts are not in a "status quo" by any means.)

What's on your mind?

Times Keeps Up Its Desperate Efforts to Look Logical

More inane arguments from the Times over charter schools.

They try to play the civil rights card and they might want to watch that because there are those in minority groups who do NOT follow that argument.

They also say it is "divisive" to talk about loss of funds to schools if we have charters.

That's misleading because (1) the charter system WILL cost more money to taxpayers and since we know we have NO new money, that comes out the system, (2) the charter supporters consistently try to make it sound like it's one student transferring from one school to another - it's not, it's a student transferring from an existing school to a NEW school and (3) taxpayers lose money if cash-strapped districts are forced to sell/lease buildings to charters at a loss (as the initiative requires).  Note: districts don't have to sell or lease anything if they don't want to.  But if you are a district and you have available space and let that be known, the district HAS to sell/lease to the charter.

But even so, the it-works-in-other-states argument has been co-opted by opponents to mean that outsiders are pushing the charters effort here. 

Well, they are.  Look up the PDC reports - it's the Walmart heiress in Arkansas and the head of  Netflicks in LA.  I have no problem with people giving input on how charters work in their state.  I note that California and Arkansas are not famous for great results in K-12 education but maybe I misunderstand their interest.  But when they give money to a campaign that has nothing to do with their state, I wonder why.

Initiative 1240, Washington's experimental toe dip into charter schools, promises to be serious heavy lifting.

Once again, there's that little lie.  It's not an "experiment", it's not a pilot program - it will be law.  And, once enacted, hard to undo.  Take from someone who has worked on closing schools, no one wants their school closed and will fight to the death to stop it.  The feds report that more than half their charter authorizers complain about the difficult of closing low-performing charters.  (And that may explain why there ARE so many charters in the U.S. - if you closed the low-performers, those numbers would be much lower.)

She also calls anyone who disagrees "close-minded."  Frankly, if it's anyone who is close-minded it is the ed reform crowd who won't believe there is anything else that could possibly work (and, in the face, of real efforts out there that ARE working.)  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pot Dispensaries Near Schools?

In "news to me", from The Stranger Slog, apparently there are a number of medical marijuana dispensaries around school zones.  The DEA has warned 23 of them that they have to move or

..federal authorizes may raid the properties, seize their assets, and seek federal criminal charges,

Agent Barnes adds that the federal government makes no criminal exceptions for marijuana, even it it's "medical," a word that his letter writes in italics and quotation marks. 

This would apply to the business as well as the property owner.  I'll try to find out where these are but I'm sure it's probably something parents have noticed if one is near a school zone.

I applaud the DEA for this because public safety around schools is a city/county/state/fed responsibility and if we had more of it, more of our schools would feel safer.

SPS Enrollment Event (Freebies!)

From SPS:

In an effort to encourage parents to beat the last-minute rush to get their students enrolled for school, Seattle Public Schools is sponsoring an Enrollment and Back-to-School Give-Away event from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 28.
Families enrolling at this time will receive free sack packs and school supplies donated by the Office Depot Foundation, on a first-come, first-served basis.
“It takes time to complete the enrollment paperwork, and the lines in our lobby increase as we get closer to the first day of school,” said Brandon Holst, services manager at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence (JSCEE). “We hope that this special event will encourage families to enroll earlier so that their students will have school assignments before the first day of school.”

The enrollment event is scheduled for the day before the JSCEE building will be closed due to a district-mandated unpaid furlough day for all employees. The Wednesday, Aug. 29 furlough day is one in a series of unpaid days off aimed at offsetting reductions in state education funding. The JSCEE also will be closed on Monday, Sept. 3 for Labor Day.
Classes begin for all Seattle Public Schools students on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
The John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence is located at 2445 3rd Ave. S. You can find a map, driving directions, and bus routes to reach the John Stanford Center here. Downloadable enrollment applications can be found here.
Families of current students who are continuing enrollment at their assigned school DO NOT need to visit the John Stanford Center. Families of current students who wish to transfer schools can submit their enrollment applications via email, by mail or by using our 24-hour drop box located at the JSCEE south entrance, facing Lander Street.

Enrollment hours are 8:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
For more information, contact Teresa Wippel, SPS media relations, at (206) 252-0203.

Teen Dance

From the City of Seattle:

Back by popular demand the All City Teen Dance - Party for Peace 2012 will take place on August 29 from 9pm - 12am at the Showbox SODO, site of the 2009 All City Teen Dance - Party for Peace. 

This year, the ticket distribution will occur at all Teen Life Centers and Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club.  In order to receive a ticket youth must complete a pledge form (attached) and get a sponsor (adult mentor, counselor, etc.) to sign off. They will then turn this form in to a Parks Teen Life Center or Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club to receive a ticket.  Participants will not get into the dance if we do not have a pledge form on file and name is on the spreadsheet (even if they have a ticket).   Here is the process for youth:

1.     Pick up Pledge Form from TLC/Late Night/RVBGC or Community Based Agency
2.     Return completed form to a TLC site or RVBGC (including Sponsor signature)
3.     Receive a ticket from the site

Youth will need a ticket and picture ID to get in.  Names will be checked against the VIP list...No name = No Entry.  Do not give your ticket away!

Youth would need to have been enrolled in High School in the 2011-2012 school year.  For more information contact 206-290-1515 or FAX a completed form to – 800-660-1689.

We are also looking for adult volunteers to give back and participate in this event to support our community of youth.  Complete the attached volunteer form.

Banda's Availability

From SPS:

José Banda to attend regional meetings, host monthly open office hours

Seattle Public Schools is partnering with the Seattle Council PTSA to sponsor five regional meetings for SPS families and community members to meet Superintendent José Banda in September and October.

During the regional meetings, the Superintendent will briefly talk about his vision for the school district, followed by informal conversations with those in attendance. Those meetings are scheduled from 6-7:30 p.m. on the following dates:

·         Monday, Sept. 17, Mercer Middle School, 1600 S. Columbia Way
·         Tuesday, Sept. 18, Rainier Beach High School, 8815 Seward Park Ave. S.
·         Monday, Oct. 1, Bryant Elementary School, 3311 N.E. 60th St.
·         Tuesday, Oct. 2, Concord International Elementary School, 723 S. Concord St.
·         Monday, Oct. 8, Hamilton International Middle School, 1610 N. 41st St.

“Our schools serve as centers for learning community-wide, and it is critical that we engage families and community members in supporting them,” Banda said. “I am firmly committed to developing strong school-community partnerships to enhance academic outcomes for all of our students.”

Superintendent Banda will hold open office hours on the last Thursday of every month during the school year, starting Sept 27. Each appointment will last 15 minutes, and can be in person in the Superintendent’s office at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence, or via telephone. To schedule an appointment, contact Venetia Wallace by phone at 206-252-0167 or via email at vhwallace@seattleschools.org.

Note that the office hours schedule may be adjusted to accommodate holidays or school breaks.

Why do you hate America's children?

Here's a disturbing trend.

Charter school advocates trivialize opposition to charters by attributing the root cause of the opposition to irrational emotion. They say it is due to fear, as in "Why do the teacher unions fear competition from charter schools?" They say it is due to baseless dislike: "They just don't like charter schools." Some attribute it to a weird kind of spite: "I get it. You just don't want poor children to have a decent opportunity for a good education."

It reminds me very strongly of the way that supporters of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq would dismiss opposition by saying that they simply hate the president or by asking them "Why do you hate America?" It allowed them to slide past the rational reasons to oppose President Bush's policies and the rational reasons to oppose the war in Iraq. It put the opposition on the defensive and relegated them to a weak and silly position. The equivalent today would be like asking people "Why do you fear a Black President?" or "Why do you fear a Mormon President?" It dismisses real and rational differences in policy as a facade for some baseless, irrational emotion.

Our culture still reflects, at least in our epistemology, the Greek ideal of logos. In this culture we know what we know because it can be measured and counted and because it follows a logical path of reasoning. In this epistemology, emotions are false and a distraction. Never mind how people actually make decisions - almost purely as an emotional reaction. In the formal discussion of them, emotions are dismissed as irrelevant.

It appears to me that charter school advocates are resorting to this tactic because they are not confident about their ability to make a convincing argument on the facts or with logic.

Do not allow this. Call this out every time you see it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Meet the Superintendent

From Seattle Public Schools:

Seattle Public Schools is partnering with the Seattle Council PTSA to sponsor five regional meetings for SPS families and community members to meet Superintendent José Banda in September and October.

During the regional meetings, the Superintendent will briefly talk about his vision for the school district, followed by informal conversations with those in attendance. Those meetings are scheduled 6-7:30 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Monday, Sept. 17, Mercer Middle School, 1600 S. Columbia Way
  • Tuesday, Sept. 18, Rainier Beach High School, 8815 Seward Park Ave. S.
  • Monday, Oct. 1, Bryant Elementary School, 3311 N.E. 60th St.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 2, Concord International Elementary School, 723 S. Concord St.
  • Monday, Oct. 8, Hamilton International Middle School, 1610 N. 41st St.

  • “Our schools serve as centers for learning community-wide, and it is critical that we engage families and community members in supporting them,” Banda said. “I am firmly committed to developing strong school-community partnerships to enhance academic outcomes for all of our students.”

    Superintendent Banda will hold open office hours on the last Thursday of every month during the school year, starting Sept 27. Each appointment will last 15 minutes, and can be in person in the Superintendent’s office at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence, or via telephone. The office hours schedule may be adjusted to accommodate holidays or school breaks.

    To schedule an appointment, contact Venetia Wallace by phone at (206) 252-0167 or via email at vhwallace@seattleschools.org.

    Cheryl Chow is Dying of Brain Cancer

    In sad news yesterday, former Seattle Board Director (and President), Cheryl Chow revealed that she has brain cancer and not much time.  Chow is 66.

    She also revealed that she is gay.  From the KING 5 report:

    Parents and kids, don't be afraid of saying that you're gay. I was afraid for over 60 years and those 60 years were wasted,” she said.

    Chow, 66, says she feared the reaction of the Chinese community and her mother, restaurateur and King County Councilmember, Ruby Chow, whom she wanted to please.

    She said her mother, in fact, was one of the first owners in town to welcome gay organizations to her restaurant.

    “However, that didn't mean that she wanted me to be gay,” said Chow.

    Chow has been a public servant, both on the Seattle City Council and the School Board.  For nearly her entire adult life she coached the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill team and  told them to feel good about who they are.

    She showed her typical humor in this exchange:

    Asked if she still thinks she'll get some pushback from the Chinese community, Chow says,”No, they can't do anything to me now. What are they going to do, kill me?”

    From the story:

    Chow and Sarah Morningstar, an assistant principal, have been together for 10 years. They began running marathons because training was a way for them to be together in public.

    Last month, Chow became a second adoptive parent to Morningstar's daughter, 4-year-old Liliana. The family celebrated with a trip to Disneyland.

    “If I can save one child from feeling bad or even committing suicide because they felt terrible because they were gay, then I would have succeeded in my last crusade,” said Chow.

    I had a gut reaction to this story because it relates to some parts of my life and I send good karma to Cheryl and her family and thank her for courage and her service.  It is a humbling story.

    The Latest from Liv Finne

    Liv Finne has written a blog piece about the WSPTA's vote in opposition to I-1240. The article appears on the Washington Policy Center blog and also on Crosscut.

    Her premise is that the PTA Legislative Assembly voted to support charter schools, but the WSPTA Board, in a fit of anti-democratic elitism, negated that vote by deciding to voice opposition to I-1240, thereby going against the will of their constituents.

    It's an effective bit of rhetoric that will be convincing - for folks who don't know anything about the issue other than what Ms Finne has told them. It is also, of course, completely false.

    Tuesday, August 21, 2012

    Seattle Schools' Calendars, 2012-2013

    From SPS Communications:

    Families, staff and community members should receive the calendar the first week of September

    Seattle Public Schools would like to thank those organizations and businesses that sponsored the District’s 2012-13 wall calendar and family guide, which will be mailed soon to Seattle Public Schools students, families and staff.  Sponsors include KOMO, Allstate, Camp Fire, City of Seattle, Comcast, Every Block, PiPlus, the NW Network, Seattle Committee to Save Schools, Stevens Pass and Swerve driving school and Defensive Driving. 

    “We are thrilled to partner with these businesses and organizations to ensure our families have access to this important information,” said SPS Chief Communications Officer Lesley Rogers. “Without these sponsors, the district would eventually have to stop publishing the calendar, which our families and staff rely on for news and information throughout the year.”

    The calendar, which features photos and quotes from students and staff, is scheduled to be mailed on Aug. 27 and in homes by Sept. 1-4. The District prints 55,000 copies of the calendar, which includes a family guide that contains information about important school dates, testing schedules, inclement weather instructions and family services.

    Advertising in the wall calendar was made possible by the School Board in June. The newly updated Advertising Policy 4237 is available online for more information. The sponsor messages in the calendar do not constitute or imply any endorsement, recommendation, or favoritism by Seattle Public Schools.

    Anyone interested in helping sponsor next year’s calendar can reserve a spot early by emailing

    Tuesday Open Thread

    Interesting SPS news from the Times - the new Student Assignment Plan is slowly showing the changing demographics in SPS.  Alki, Arbor Heights, McClure, Sacajawea and Gatewood are more white and McGilvra, Leschi and North Beach have become more diverse.  Interesting but not surprising.

    Heads up - the Seattle Public Libraries are shut down next week to cut costs.  That's Monday, August 27th to Sunday, Sep. 2nd.

    SPS staff take an unpaid furlough day on Wednesday, August 29th.

    From SPS:

    - Christopher King, a media literacy/TV production teacher at Whitman Middle School, has won a screenwriting award for the third year in a row in the 2012 Pacific Northwest Writers Association's Literary Contest.   Congrats, Mr. King!

    - Cathi Rodgveller, a career counselor at Seattle Public Schools and founder of IGNITE (Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Evolution) won the Anita Borg Social Impact Award in August for her accomplishments and contributions to women in technology.

    CAthi RodgvellerThe award honors someone who has an impact on the lives of women – and has made a significant impact on the design and use of technology. She will receive the award in a ceremony Oct. 4 in Baltimore, Maryland.

    IGNITE is a Seattle based non-profit organization with more than 10 years of history showing young girls the possibilities represented by careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).

    - Planned to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Month, in May, Ivar’s ninth annual Teacher of the Year contest had many nominations submitted by kindergartners through eighth-graders. Everyone had a favorite teacher, but only one could be “the best!”

    After sifting through hundreds of nominations, William Levin of Hamilton International Middle School, nominated by sixth-grade student Henry Meyerson, was the winner.

    What's on your mind?
    Henry Meyerson with William Levin and dancing clam

    Monday, August 20, 2012

    How Are Those New/Reopened Schools Doing?

    So we see the progress being made in preparation for the new K-5 STEM at Boren but it got me wondering; how are the other new schools doing?

    Sand Point?

    Queen Anne Elementary?


    Rainier View?


    Did I leave anyone out?

    I seem to hear more about McDonald and Queen Anne so I'd love to hear from Sand Point, Viewlands or Rainier View parents but I'm sure we would like updates from all.

    Why do I even read the Times Editorials?

    A new editorial from the Seattle Times encourages the Washington State PTA to reconsider their opposition to initiative I-1240, State PTA should rethink opposition to charter-school initiative. It is ironic for the Times to ask the PTA to think twice about it because the Times has yet to think even once about it.

    The WSPTA's opposition to the initiative is thoughtful, nuanced, supported by facts, and aligned with their principles. The Seattle Times' support for the initiative is reflexive, in denial about the facts, and completely without principle.

    The Times is getting skewered in the comments, but I don't know if many folks read the comments. They sure aren't read by the folks who read the print edition.

    When will the Seattle Times have an open discussion of education issues? Never.

    Sunday, August 19, 2012

    Obama Says Class Size Matters; Bill G, Are You Listening?

    Via NYC Parents blog:

    Parent leaders throughout the nation thank President Obama for recognizing the importance of class size in his weekly address, and for releasing a report that shows how the elimination of 60,000 teaching positions since 2009 is not only unprecedented in US postwar history, but has led to class size increases that are severely damaging the quality of our public schools.
    Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, said: “The President’s speech yesterday and the new White House report, Investing in our Future, make it crystal clear that the class size increases across the nation represent a crisis that is severely undermining our children’s opportunity to learn.  As the White House report makes clear, class size reduction has been strongly linked to higher achievement, higher levels of engagement, and higher rates of attending college.  Yet here in New York City, our youngest students are suffering from the largest classes in 13 years, despite the fact that surveys show that class size reduction is the top priority of parents, year after year.  As a city and a nation, we must do better.”
    Pamela Grundy, parent leader and co-founder of Mecklenburg ACTS in Charlotte NC, says: “Here in North Carolina we have been fortunate to have state and local leaders acknowledge the importance of small classes, especially in our state's many high poverty schools. Yet budget cuts in have severely undercut this reform and our children are bearing the consequences.  We greatly appreciate the President’s efforts to reverse this damaging trend, and we urge him to follow through on the federal level by restoring the $650 million that his proposed education budget eliminates from the Title II program, money that is currently used by states and districts to reduce class size and keep teachers on staff.”
    Robin Hiller, Executive Director of Voices for Education, agrees: “Here in Arizonaschools are suffering from class sizes of 32 in Kindergarten and 44 in high school. There is nothing that is more important than bringing these stratospheric class sizes down if we want our children to succeed. We urge Congress to fully fund the President’s Jobs act and to restore all cuts to Title II, and for our State Legislature to do its part by ensuring that our public schools have the resources they need for smaller classes, rather than diverting public funds to vouchers, for-profit charter schools, and other privatization schemes.”
    Wendy Lecker, one of the co-founders of Parents Across America – Connecticut, adds: “We applaud the fact that the President acknowledges that reasonable class size and an adequate supply of teachers are essential to a quality education and are basic resources that all public schools must have. Here in Connecticut, schools in high poverty areas continue to have much larger class sizes than in wealthier districts. We wish that our Governor and State Education Department would pay attention to the need for equitable class sizesrather than their current focus on taking control of our public schools away from our communities and putting them into the hands of private corporations.”
    Becky Malone of 19th Ward Parents in Chicago saysClass sizes in Chicago remain the largest in the state,and 95% of Illinois school districts have smaller classes than we do. Worse yet, the disparities have increased. While average class size has decreased statewide over the last ten years, it has increased in our city’s public schools. This is simply unacceptable if we are going to provide equitable learning conditions to all children, but especially our most at-risk students who need small classes the most.”
    Karen Miller, parent leader in Texas and a former state PTA legislative chair points out: “Texas was one of the first states to reduce class size, with caps of 22 students in grades K-4, adopted by Governor Mark White and the Legislature in 1984. Yet over $5 billion has been slashed from the state education budget this past year. This has caused class sizes to soar, tripling the number of districts that have applied for and received waiversrepresenting nearly 30 percent of all elementary schools in the state. Surveys show that voters overwhelming support smaller classes; research shows that they boost student achievement, particularly for disadvantaged children. We cannot claim to care about our children, as a state or a nation, and allow class size to rise any higher.”
    Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director of Parents United for Responsible Education in Chicago concludesI hope that all of us, including parents, teachers, and our elected leaders, can pull together and invest in our children in the way that research shows really makes a difference: by reducing class size.”

    Answering the "For-Profit" Charter Question

    I always get this question (and seemingly by people who are smart and savvy):

    How could anyone make money off charter schools?  

    Below is just one explanation of the tip of this iceberg but it's a good one.

    This column from the Washington Post's Valerie Strauss and her blog, The Answer Sheet, really says it all.  She posts an interview with the head of Entertainment Properties Trust which is:

    “a specialty real estate investment trust (REIT) that invests in properties in select categories which require unique industry knowledge, and offer stable and attractive returns.”

    And the website also says this: “Our investment portfolio of nearly $3 billion includes megaplex movie theatres and adjacent retail, public charter schools, and other destination recreational and specialty investments. This portfolio includes over 160 locations spread across 34 states with over 200 tenants.
    The head of Entertainment Properties Trust, David Brain, did an jaw-dropping interview with CNBC.  The video and transcript are in the blog thread.  
    Well let’s ask David Brain, president and CEO of Entertainment Properties Trust. ....Why would I want to add charter schools into my portfolio?
    DB: Well I think it’s a very stable business, very recession-resistant. It’s a very high-demand product. There’s 400,000 kids on waiting lists for charter schools ... the industry’s growing about 12-14% a year. So it’s a high-growth, very stable, recession-resistant business. It’s a public payer, the state is the payer on this, uh, category, and uh, if you do business with states with solid treasuries. then it’s a very solid business
    Anchor: Well let me ask you about potential risks, here, to your charter school portfolio, because I understand that three of your nine “Imagine” schools are scheduled to actually lose their charters for the next school year. Does this pose a risk to investors?
    DB: Well, occasionally — we have Imagine arrangements on a master lease, so there’s no loss of rents to the company, although occasionally there are losses of charters in certain areas and they’re used to peculiar, ug, particular circumstances. 

    Anchor: You’ve invested in retail centers, ski parks, you’ve got charter schools, you’ve got movie theaters.... If you could buy one thing right now, David, one type of asset in real estate, what would it be?
    DB: Well, probably the charter school business. We said it’s our highest growth and most appealing sector right now of the portfolio. It’s the most high in demand, it’s the most recession-resistant. And a great opportunity set with 500 schools starting every year. It’s a two and a half billion dollar opportunity set in rough measure annually.
    Mr. Brain also said this:
    Most of the studies have charter schools at even or better than district public education.
    To which Ms. Strauss says:
    By the way, it isn’t true that “most of the studies have charter schools at even or better than district public education.”
    But why let facts get in the way?

    Ed Reform Talk

    This summer, Rep. Eric Pettigrew went to a talk by Jeb Bush, a champion of the worst of ed reform (just look at Florida).  Now, in yet another disturbing trend, Pettigrew (who says he's a Dem), is going to accept an award from the Washington Policy Center for his "courage" in standing up for charters.  If I were in the 37th, I'd be suspicious of someone who is so cozy with partisans from the other party.

    The WPC, which calls itself non-partisan, is nothing of the sort.

    Here's WPC's idea for what would be good for Washington State - Eight Ways to Improve Public Schools:

    -Put the principal in charge
    -Give parents choice among public schools
    -Let teachers teach
    -Double teacher pay
    -Replace current state tests with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills
    -Create no-excuses schools
    -Transparency: Put school budgets and teacher qualifications online, and rate schools based on their ability to educate children
    -Make the Superintendent of Public Instruction an appointed office 

     But if putting teacher qualifications online is good, why not elected officials?  Why just teachers?

     And, who would "rate" schools and how?

    And, what is a "no excuse" school?

     In their bigger brief they say things that ARE true but pretend aren't true:
    Principals should also be allowed to remove teachers who are unwilling or unfit to do the important work of educating children. 

    Principals absolutely CAN remove teachers - but it's a process and it takes some work.  Many principals don't want to but there are a number in SPS who have proven themselves willing to do so.

    Friday, August 17, 2012

    Friday Open Thread

     A gentle reminder; please do not post information/links to stories not related to the thread topic unless it is breaking news.  We do have two Open Threads per week and there is the opportunity to request a thread on a specific topic.  Thanks.

    Public Square website article from Ed Week about parent engagement.

    Earlier this month, Palm Beach County School District lost its coveted "A" mark on its annual report card for the first time in eight years.
    The district's drop to a 'B' rating was mainly blamed on the state making the scoring system much tougher.
    Still, we wonder: What could parents have done to prevent this drop in the rating?

    To advance discussion of parental involvement, an "Issue Panel" was created, involving 11 people interested in the subject, including a representative of the Florida House of Representatives, a college associate dean of education, an educational consultant, a PTA president, a high school student, and the leader of a home-schooling group. In addition to being involved with chats and decision making, the panelists advance the site with their constituencies.

    "That way, it's not all coming 'from a website,' but 'from people they respect,'" explains Passell.

    A variety of subjects are covered in a number of articles:

    "Issue Overview/Parent Involvement:"

    How Can Schools Encourage More Parent-Teacher Interaction?

    Why Do Parents Reduce Involvement When Their Kids Reach High School?

    When Are Parents Too Involved in Education?

    How Can Fathers Become More Engaged in Their Children's Schoolwork?

    How Can Single Parents Be More Active in Their Children's Education?

    Research Overview

    In addition to the articles, the parental involvement focus includes surveys on the homepage, public comments and tweet chats at specific times to get the public to weigh in on the subject, with experts on the phone to respond to them. Google Analytics are used to ensure that survey responses are counted only when they come from Palm Beach County.
    What's on your mind?

    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    Eckstein Principal Announced

    Dear Eckstein Middle School community,
    I am excited today to announce the appointment of Sherri Kokx as your new principal, effective Aug. 20.

    Ms. Kokx comes to Eckstein from Eisenhower Middle School in Everett, where she has been the principal since 2009. Ms. Kokx brings strong experience as a middle school principal and she will be a great fit for the Eckstein community.

    Ms. Kokx also served as an Assistant Principal for two years at North Middle School in Everett and was a middle school teacher for 10 years in the Everett School District. She said she is looking forward to championing the great work of the Eckstein staff and to supporting students and families during this time of emotional, social and academic growth.

    She has a Bachelor’s of Science in biology and general sciences from Michigan State University and a Master’s of Education in Educational Administration from Western Washington University. She also holds Washington State Administrative Certification.

    Ms. Kokx was selected after a hiring process that included input from staff and families. The selection team committee was particularly impressed with her successful experience as a middle school principal, her strong communications skills and her collaborative approach.

    Thank you to the Eckstein community for giving input on the characteristics desired in your next leader and your collaboration over the summer. I also want to thank Kim Whitworth for her dedication and commitment to Eckstein.  She will work closely with Ms. Kokx in her role as Executive Director of Schools for the Northeast Region.

    Please join me in welcoming Sherri Kokx to Eckstein Middle School!
    Robert Boesche
    Interim Deputy Superintendent
    Seattle Public Schools

    Stay Calm and Carry On (the Heat Won't Kill You)

    I was listening to the news and I heard it's going to be "dangerously hot."  Very hot, yes, but it's only dangerous if you do dumb things.

    So a little advice from an Arizona girl:

    - absolutely number one - stay hydrated.  Don't wait until you are thirsty.  Ditto for the kids.  Water is your friend.

    - do NOT exercise or allow your kids to play outside in the heat of the day.  That would be from about noon-6 p.m.  The temperature rises and gets the hottest about 3 p.m. and will not cool down until much later.  I see these people running at 4 p.m. and think, "mad dogs and Englishmen." 

    It will not be a better workout and more sweat is not better.  It can leave you feel sick, not healthy. 

    - hats with brims are also your friends.  Encourage your children to wear them as well.

    - Sunglasses not only look chic/bad-ass/cool but cut glare and make it feel less oppressive.  

    - sunscreen - use it and reapply if you are sweaty.  The spray-on ones are great but you find what works for you. 

    - Watch those car door handles.  They get very hot.  If you can leave your car window cracked just a touch, it will help it not become a furnace inside (you get very cranky kids when this happens).  Put a towel over your steering wheel.

    - Leave dogs alone in cars during a heat wave? No, no and no.  Don't even think about it.

    - if you are exercising, do breath through your mouth.  It just seems less hot than breathing through your nose. 

    - sleeping - good luck.  We don't have air-conditioning here and sleeping in a warm room won't be comfortable but it won't kill you.  We used to sleep with the fan on and a cold cloth over our face or neck.  It was cool enough to fall asleep before the cloth got warm. 

    In a month, you'll forget it was ever hot.