Thursday, February 28, 2013

School Board Retreat

I finally did find details of the Board Retreat this Saturday, the 1st of March.

It's at a place called The Hub Seattle, 220 2nd Avenue South in Pioneer Square from 10:30 am to 5:30 p.m.

And once again, you have to pay for parking.  I find this quite off-putting for members of the public given the number of venues in this town (and particularly the number of  - free - SPS ones).  But if you are staff, the Board, or the Alliance, of course, you won't be paying for parking. Then again, I'm not sure the Board or staff really cares if any member of the public comes.

The Hub Seattle sounds like an interesting place.

HUB Seattle, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and Social Venture Partners have teamed up to launch a Center for Impact and Innovation in the heart of downtown Seattle. Housed in the historic Masin’s furniture building in Pioneer Square, this unique facility houses one of the largest concentrations of social entrepreneurs in the country. Together, we’re creating a space to educate inspiring leaders, fund their ideas, incubate their social ventures, and lead the revitalization of Pioneer Square as a center of impact and innovation.

No agenda yet available but I would expect that the Alliance is still working on it.

UPDATE: Here is the agenda

I am certainly hoping to NOT see any Alliance person seated at the table with the Board and staff and, of course, NOT to see any input from them except for what time lunch is.   But we'll have to see what their money buys them at this Retreat.

Taxes and Public Education

The Stranger is reporting that the Washington State Supreme Court has struck down the two-thirds supermajority requirement for taxes, 6-3.  Basically, the Constitution sets a minimum already and that's enough for the Court.  Interestingly they also said:

However, we reverse the trial court's decision that the Referendum Requirement presents a justiciable controversy. Because the Referendum Requirement is not justiciable, we make no determination as to its constitutionality.

(FYI, on "justiciable" - Essentially, justiciability in American law seeks to address whether a court possesses the ability to provide adequate resolution of the dispute; where a court feels it cannot offer such a final determination, the matter is not justiciable.  From Wiki.)

This is a relief and may help with the McCleary decision.

Update: The Times' headline on their website - "High court makes it easier for lawmakers to raise taxes."  

Seriously.  A majority is a majority.  That's how it works.

Who's Heading the Race to the Top Consortium?

That would be former SPS staffer Jessica de Barros.  Sigh.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

One More Reason to Wonder about Tom

From The Stranger Slog (with the headline "Rodney Tom Hates Teachers"):

With zero notice Sunday, just one day before it was heard by the Ways & Means Committee, millionaire state Senate Majority "Leader" Rodney Tom (R-Medina) filed a bill that would eliminate defined pension benefits for most state and public school employees, replacing them with a risky 401-K-style savings plan that would subject future retirees to the whims of the market. SB 5856, of which Tom is the sole sponsor, would apply to all future public employees and all current public employees under the age of 45.

That means if you chose a career as a school teacher twenty years ago, trading the opportunity to strike it rich in the private sector for the promise of a secure retirement, you are totally fucked.
Of course, a lot of states have catastrophically underfunded their public employee pension plans. But not Washington. No, Washington has the second strongest funded pension system in the nation, with an enviable overall funding ratio of 98.1 percent. So I'm not exactly sure what the problem is that Tom is attempting to solve by denying teachers and other public employees the pension benefits they were promised.

But don't you dare start complaining about it, because under a second Tom-sponsored bill, SB 5242, public school teachers would lose all job protections, meaning they could be fired for any reason at any time, and with no legal recourse. And we're not just talking laid off—we're talking fired with cause:
(5) If a displaced nonprovisional certificated instructional staff member is not assigned to a nontemporary position with mutual agreement by May 15th of the school year following the displacement, the superintendent may initiate notice of nonrenewal of contract as provided under RCW 28A.405.210. Lack of assignment under this section of a displaced certificated instructional staff member to a nontemporary position after eight or more months, including cumulative time spent in successive assignments to temporary positions, constitutes grounds for a finding of probable cause under RCW 28A.405.210.
And how does a teacher become "displaced"...?
(2)(b) "Displaced" means a certificated instructional staff member assigned to a particular school no longer has an assignment to that school as a result of a request for reassignment by the certificated instructional staff member, a principal, or the district administration; change in program; change in enrollment; or implementation of a state or federal accountability intervention model.
So, you know, don't be a trouble maker. All your principal needs to do to get you fired is request your reassignment. Because the real problem in K-12 education today is that teachers are too empowered.
I had hoped Tom would have used his role as Senate Majority "Leader" to help push through the funding package necessary to pay for the billions of additional K-12 dollars needed to satisfy the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision. But rather than giving our schools the funding they need, Tom is focused on taking away the pension benefits and job security that teachers already have. That's education reform, Rodney Tom style.

The new cry is "we need to give principals more power."  Well, giving them the power to reject a teacher placement and putting that teacher in limbo will then effectively fire them.  It will just be a longer process but at the end, no job.  There has to be some in-between to protect teachers from principals who have a grudge (and it happens). 

I agree with Goldy; this is not good legislation and that it was introduced in this manner makes it suspect. 

Legal Challenge Filed to I-1240

It's on.

From the WEA:

Educators and community groups file legal challenge to new charter school law
A coalition of educators and community groups has filed a legal demand with the Washington Attorney General challenging the constitutionality of Initiative 1240, the state’s new charter school law.

The demand asserts I-1240, the Charter School Act, violates the Washington Constitution by improperly diverting public school funds to private non-profit groups that are not subject to local voter control and impeding the state’s constitutional obligation to fund fully K-12 public education.
The League of Women Voters of Washington, the Washington Education Association and El Centro de la Raza filed the demand with the state attorney general’s office earlier today.

“The Washington Supreme Court has ruled the state is violating its paramount duty to fund our public schools,” said Catherine Ahl of the League. “The Charter School Act drains money from public schools to privately run charter schools that aren’t accountable to local voters — taking away the right of citizens to elect representatives to oversee the spending of their taxes.”
The demand outlines at least seven constitutional problems with the Charter School Act:
  1. It violates the state’s constitutional “paramount duty” to provide for the education of children within its borders. In its 2012 McCleary decision, the Washington Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to fully fund basic educational programs by 2018. The Charter School Act interferes with the state’s progress toward compliance by diverting already insufficient resources away from public school districts.
  2. It unconstitutionally diverts funding that is restricted to use for public common schools to private charter schools that are not subject to local voter control.
  3. It violates the “general and uniform” requirement in the constitution because charter schools are not subject to most of the laws and regulations applicable to public school districts, including many of the common school provisions defining the elements of a basic education.
  4. It amends existing state law in a manner not permitted by the constitution.
  5. It violates the constitutional requirement that the superintendent of public instruction “have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools.”
  6. Its language relating to the conversion of a public school into a charter school is unconstitutionally vague.
  7. It violates the constitution because it mandates the use of local voter-approved levy funds for a purpose other than the purpose for which the voters approved the levies.
The demand asks the attorney general’s office to address the unconstitutional provisions of the Charter School Act. If the attorney general’s office declines, the coalition will file a complaint in Superior Court. Paul Lawrence of Pacifica Law Group is the lead attorney in the case.
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization. WEA represents nearly 82,000 public school employees. El Centro de la Raza is a Seattle-based group dedicated to social justice.

Ed Reform Flowchart

A very nifty flowchart from our friends at the Seattle Education blog (Sue Peters and Dora Taylor) showing the "lines of influence" both nationally and locally.  They created this awhile back and admit it needs updating like the line between Gates and the Alliance, that Goodloe-Johnson is gone, and there are even more connections than ever in 2013.

Scrap the Map Event at UW

From Scrap the Map:

Standardized testing discussion at University of Washington Physics & Astronomy Bldg Room A102 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. this Thursday, the 28th.

Seattle teachers at Garfield HS, Ballard HS, Chief Sealth HS, the Center School and Orca K-8 voted to stop administering the widely used and highly unfair standardized Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test. The are now facing the threat of "consequences" for refusing the give the test. Students and parents are joining the struggle in defense of their teachers and their right to a quality education. The outcome of this grassroots movement will have an enormous impact on the future of resistance to high stakes testing around the country!

Diane Ravitch
Educational policy analyst, NYU professor*, former US Assistant Secretary of State

Wayne Au
UW-Bothell Assistant Professor, Member of Rethinking Schools editorial board

Jesse Hagopian
Garfield HS teacher, founding member of Social Equality Educators

Dora Taylor
Founding member of Parents Across America-Seattle, editor of Seattle Education blog

George Lovell
Harry Bridges Endowed Chair in Labor Studies*

Check out scrapthemap.wordpress.com for news and resources!

Sponsored by:
Scrap the MAP! organizing committee

Co-sponsored by:
Social Equality Educators
Parents Across America-Seattle

*Listed for identification only

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seattle Schools Leadership Posts Announced

From Superintendent Banda via SPS Communications (and I believe one of our astute readers called this one for Michael Tolley about a week ago):

"I am pleased to announce that after a strong national search, Michael Tolley has been named Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, where he will oversee all aspects of students’ academic growth at Seattle Public Schools.

Mr. Tolley stepped into this role as the Interim Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in September and has demonstrated his strong leadership. He plans to have the District’s Teaching and Learning team continue development of a comprehensive professional development plan to implement the Common Core State Standards and provide students with increased academic and social/emotional supports. In addition, he will focus on working with school and Central Office staff to address opportunity gaps across the District and to ensure that the needs of each and every student are appropriately met.

Mr. Tolley joined Seattle Public Schools in 2007 as SPS’ High School Director. Starting in 2010, he has been the Executive Director of Schools for the Southeast Region, overseeing and supporting the region’s principals.

While serving as Interim Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, Mr. Tolley has also continued as Executive Director of Schools for the Southeast Region. Now that he has been appointed to Assistant Superintendent, we are developing a plan to fill this executive director role.

I also wanted to provide an update on other leadership appointments:

·         I am appointing Clover Codd to the position of Executive Director of Strategic Planning and Partnerships. 

Ms. Codd, who now oversees our Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant, will manage implementation of major strategic efforts across the system – including both operational and academic areas. These include TIF, the Race To The Top grant and the Seattle Teacher Residency Program. She will also lead the implementation and cross-departmental coordination of our strategic plan, and will work closely with both internal and external stakeholders to ensure a strategic culture and the implementation of policy from both the state and federal level. 

Ms. Codd brings a wealth of experience to this position, having spent time as a teacher and seven years as a principal in Seattle Public Schools. She is also earning her doctorate degree and superintendent credential at Columbia Teachers College in New York.

·         We are moving forward on filling the Executive Director of Special Education. We had a successful national search and we should announce a finalist in the next two weeks. 

A    Also, we are looking at an interim plan to fill the position of Director for Early Learning PreK-5, after Kimberly Kinzer announced her departure from the position, effective March 8. She accepted a position as Washington State P-3 Leadership Project Director at the University of Washington’s College of Education. "

Should All Students Learn to Code?

This is a new video circulating out in the Internet world.  You'll recognize many of the faces in it.

Look, I'm married to someone who knows how to program (and teaches computer science).  He did a stint at Google and yes, it's an exceptional work environment (free food - for both you and your dog - free snacks, massage chairs, games - it's a swell place to work).   But I would also gently point out that not everyone is cut out to be a programmer and many of the people in computer science have what I might gently call "communication issues."  Sometimes people are drawn to certain jobs based on their personalities.

Yes, learning to program does bring together a lot of elements in the brain.   I think it might be good to have an elective class in every high school for programming.  But not everyone is going to have to program to have a job.

Do I think it should be a core item to teach?  I do not. 

I sense some arrogance in this video about who the new "wizards" of the world are.  I can only say, from my own viewpoint, that I believe the ability to write and communicate are far more important. 

One speaker talks about creating an idea and sending it out into the world.  That could also be called writing and it's been with us for centuries. 

(I also had to laugh at Mark Zuckerberg talking about creating something that billions of people use every day and you can make lots of money.  Well, not everyone. The highway littered with failed start-ups shows us that.  Also, Zuckerberg didn't start Facebook with any intention of creating a company - he wanted to meet girls and be the big man on campus.)

But maybe I'm just too old-school. 

I hope some of  you watch this video and tell me what you think. 

Tuesday Open Forum

Another film-making competition that high school students can enter from the NW High School Film Festival.  They also have a scholarship competition as well.

Looks like the district may not be able to save the Native American murals at Wilson-Pacific after all.  The artist feels he's getting the runaround from the district and has declined permission to digital reproduce them. From the Times:

He repeatedly congratulated the district for the passage of the levy, which he opposed. But Morrison said he’s lost trust in the district, in part because no school official approached him about saving the murals until he started showing up at public meetings about the levy. He also said he’s talked wit
h four different officials, and has no confidence they won’t simply continue to pass him along.

“For many reasons,” he said, “it’s in my best interests to step away.”

(P.S.  This may be one of the last Times' articles I will be able to link to for the blog.  I am unlikely to be subscribing to the Times - as you may have heard they are now charging for digital access.  But, even if I did, I probably would not be able to provide a link to you if you don't subscribe.)

SPS press release on how the sequester will hurt our district.  

o At SPS, we would incur a 14.7 percent reduction in Title 1 funds, or about $1.6 million, equating to about 20 teachers.

o At SPS, we would face 8.8 percent reduction in Special Education, or about $1 million, equating to about 12 teachers. 

o At SPS, this would be an 8.8 percent reduction in Head Start services, equating to about four teachers. 

What's on your mind?   

Monday, February 25, 2013

Upcoming Elections and Public Education in Seattle

This fall the citizens of Seattle will be voting for mayor.  As of now, I believe there are seven candidates.  I have interviewed one of them - Peter Steinbrueck - and have Kate Martin on tap.  I will reach out to Mayor McGinn but from working with him over the last several years, I have a good idea of his views. 

One of the candidates is Councilman Tim Burgess.  The Councilman has been deeply involved in Seattle public education and was a big supporter of the Families & Education levy.  He also has shown a propensity for behind-the-scenes con-fabs with high-level SPS leaders and it is unclear to me whether he ever shared any of this information with other councilmembers.  (We have public disclosure e-mails to thank for this info.) 

Now I see that Councilman Burgess is being thrown a fundraiser this week by the following people:
Michael and Marie DeBell, Sherry Carr, Clover Codd, Bree Dusseault , Chris Eide, David Elliot, Christina Gonzalez, Chris Korsmo, Peter Maier, Lisa Macfarlane, Harium Martin-Morris and Steve Sundquist.

I'm assuming the other Board members weren't invited but who knows?

I have a request into the Councilman's campaign office to ask about this fundraiser vis a vis his vision for Seattle public education and ed reform.  I note that that sponsor list is a virtual who's who list of ed reform supporters in Seattle. 

I also wanted to bring up what is happening out in LA with their Board elections via the Daily Kos:

A group of billionaires and astroturf groups is trying to buy a Los Angeles school board election to expand the corporate education policy agenda in that city. One big goal is to defeat one-term incumbent and former teacher Steve Zimmer. The "Coalition for School Reform" has gotten $1 million from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But the group wasn't exactly broke before Bloomberg's contribution, according to the LA Times:
Education and arts philanthropist Eli Broad leads the way with a contribution of $250,000 to the coalition, which includes L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Also in for $250,000 is billionaire A. Jerrold Perenchio, who headed the Univision network for years. Lynda Resnick, the entrepreneur behind POM Wonderful pomegranate juice and other ventures, has donated $100,000 to the coalition. Investor Marc Nathanson and his wife, Jane, have together given $100,000.
Bloomberg's former schools chancellor, Joel Klein, who now runs NewsCorp's education division, looking to turn corporate "reform" into profit for Rupert Murdoch, also chipped in $25,000, followed by another $25,000 this week. Also this week, Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst threw in $250,000.  

Millions of dollars for a School Board seat?   Things that make you go, "hmm."

How Sequester Cut Will Hurt Public Education

From our friends at The Stranger Slog:

Washington will lose approximately $11,606,000 in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 160 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition about 11,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 50 fewer schools would receive funding. In addition, Washington will lose approximately $11,251,000 in funds for about 140 teachers, aides, and staff who help children with disabilities.

Seattle Schools This Week

Monday, Feb. 25th
Open Enrollment starts today and ends on March 8th.  Info on enrollment.

Wednesday, Feb 27th
Oversight Work Session:  Technology Services - 4 pm - 5ish

Work Session: Budget - 5:30- 6:30 pm

Saturday, March 2nd
Board Retreat - no details available about where or when.  

A few words on the retreats.  The Alliance for Education has been gracious enough to sponsor Board retreats, probably for the last several years.  Usually this has been in the form of finding a site (although I don't know why they pay for an off-site rather than using one of the many SPS sites for free), food, printing, etc.

However, at the last Board retreat, the Alliance staffer sat at the table, with the Superintendent and the Board.  This was not the norm.  She then gave input during the discussion.

 I was completely dumbfounded as this retreat is for the Board, the Superintendent and the staff.  I asked the facilitator (also paid for by the Alliance) who set the agenda and he said, "The Board, the Superintendent and the Alliance."

I was not the only non-SPS person in the room; Linda Shaw of the Times was there and saw and heard this as well.

Why does this matter?  It matters because it means if any person or entity wants special access to both the Board and the Superintendent, then sponsor a retreat and you can sit at the table and be part of their discussions.  Now understand, the retreat discussions are high-level, pertinent-to-the-work-going-forward discussions.  This is not a coffee chat.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Short film competition at MOHAI - open to all ages - History is  ________.    Submissions through March 31.   There are several youth awards for students 17 and younger.

Shout out to MAP boycott leader (and Garfield teacher) Jesse Hagopian for his appearance in Seattle Met's "Perfect Party" group.  (See page 28 of the March issue.)  I appeared on one of these lists but I was grouped with Eddie Vedder so I was very happy.

Remember I was questioning why the Chief Communications Officer at Starbucks, Blair Taylor, was the moderator for the Michelle Rhee talk at Townhall?  As I previously mentioned, she handpicked him to do it.  (And as someone who has done a few of these things, I have rarely seen a guest be allowed to pick their interviewer.)

Starbucks media did get back to me and said that Mr. Taylor did this on his own.  I pointed out that the press release only mentioned his affiliation with Starbucks and NOT that he sits on Rhee's StudentsFirst board.  They said they did not write the press release but I did suggest that they might want to consider telling Starbucks employees - especially high-ranking ones - that if they are not clear about what they are doing as individuals and DO use the Starbucks name, people might think Starbucks is part of their effort.  I was told Starbucks is not investing in ed reform and has never given money to StudentsFirst. 

The district is looking for input on the new Strategic Plan.   The survey closes this Thursday, the 27th.

Who's applying for the Charter Commission?  A report from the AP via KOMO news.  

Education activists, teachers, lawyers, a PTA leader and a woman who used to work with charter schools in California are among the applicants to the new state commission that is expected to approve some of Washington's first charter schools.

The governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House have until March 6 to each appoint three volunteers to the new Charter School Commission for four-year terms.

There is no deadline for applying and their choices are not limited to those who fill out applications.

Some of the applicants include Jim Spady, a long-time Washington State charter advocate, Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center (no and no), and Steve Sundquist.   Looking at the list (but without knowing who else applied), I'd say it looks like mostly charter supporters.  You'd expect that but I expect the Governor, Speaker and Lt. Governor to look for balance and those who can be objective.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Downtown School Update

 Councilman (and mayoral candidate) Tim Burgess has a regular newsletter that he sends out. Here's what he has to say about the South Lake Union development and a "public school."

3. Support our public school system.

Two weeks ago, Seattle voters once again demonstrated generous support for public education by renewing two vital levies at a time when more parents are enrolling their children in public school. City government can do more to support the school district by encouraging the development of an elementary school for the growing number of families in the greater downtown area. With this up-zone of South Lake Union, we must craft language that specifies what a developer would need to build for a school (such as space suitable for classrooms, cafeteria and a gymnasium) to earn additional building height.

As with any piece of land use legislation, the details of how we seek to accomplish these policies will be very important. The Council will meet on Monday in City Hall at 2:30 p.m. to discuss these provisions in further detail. But as the Council delves into the complexities of the land use language, I wanted you to know the principles I will follow.

What is interesting is that he doesn't mention Seattle Schools. He says "the school district" almost as he is speaking of some abstract district.

Now the Mayor is saying basically the same thing about what developers need to do to get additional building height and that would include giving over (in some manner, whether free or lease) to provide school space for downtown.

But they really need to get that our district, the Seattle School district, really has NO extra dollars, operational or capital, for this effort. Now yes, there is a phantom $5M for "planning" for a downtown school in the newly-passed BEX IV. It's a big amount just for planning and I suspect that really some of those dollars are going towards realigning some office space to be school space. (This is precisely what happened when they needed to convert the area at Seattle Center that now serves The Center School.)

I don't think that Burgess' words - "developer would need to build for school" means that the developer would pay for it. I'm pretty sure they would balk at that but if they were given funds to rework a set-aside space, they would do that work.

I say "phantom" because it is just a pot of money and the district no more hasto use it for a downtown school than they have to use it for any project.

And naturally, it gets really confusing when, for example, the district said that in BTA III that they were replacing the roof at Eckstein and yet Eckstein is now on the BEX IV list...for roof replacement. (I did try to get an answer to this issue and got a very garbled one that made absolutely no sense.)

Another confusing one is that they have on the John Marshall to-do list, "installation of day care center." Color me confused because as a member of the Closure and Consolidation Committee, I walked John Marshall. They have a very nice, very new daycare center (that wasn't even been fully used). Does that mean in the interim between that visit and today it got torn out? Or, how could it be so rundown that they have to redo it? Hmm.

Now we start to figure out what is REALLY going to happen under BEX IV.

Friday Open Thread

I attended the Assessment Taskforce meeting yesterday.  It was a good meeting that was very well organized (kudos to staff) and the talk by Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University who phoned in was stellar.  I'll put up a thread this weekend.  (If only the Advanced Learning taskforce work had been organized this well.)

The Garfield teachers are having a press conference today at 3:15 p.m. to talk about the coming consequences of their MAP boycott action.  Those consequences could start as soon as today as this is the last day of the winter testing window.  From the press release:

"Of the over 800 MAP tests that were supposed to be administered at Garfield during the winter testing window, only around 180 valid tests were administered - further demonstrating the unity of the Garfield community in the pursuit of quality assessment." 

It is confusing as the Superintendent told the teachers that, despite his plans to suspend them without pay for 10 days, that he would NOT do it.  But they couldn't get that in writing so it is unclear what will happen. 

Community meetings with Director DeBell (9-11 am) and Director Patu (10 am to noon) on Saturday.

Something for the kids to do - name those new lion cubs at the Woodland Park Zoo.   It's looks like a fun contest.  Boy, these cubs are cute - I've got to get to the zoo to see them while they are still little.

Friday funny (that you could share but with older students) - in a mass knife fight to the death among our presidents, who would win?  Could be a good way for kids to learn about our presidents (I recall that my kids learned the presidents, in order, via the Animaniacs.)  The author, Geoff Micks (suspiciously a Canadian), goes through the known strengths of each president and it's all good historical entertainment. 

Here are the parameters of the fight: 

To begin, here were the original conditions of the hypothetical, as suggested by the redditor Xineph:
  • Every president is in the best physical and mental condition they were ever in throughout the course of their presidency. Fatal maladies have been cured, but any lifelong conditions or chronic illnesses (e.g. FDR’s polio) remain.
  • The presidents are fighting in an ovular arena 287 feet long and 180 feet wide (the dimensions of the [1] Roman Colosseum). The floor is concrete. Assume that weather is not a factor.
  • Each president has been given one standard-issue [2] Gerber LHR Combat Knife , the knife [3] presented to each graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course. Assume the presidents have no training outside any combat experiences they may have had in their own lives.
  • There is no penalty for avoiding combat for an extended period of time. Hiding and/or playing dead could be valid strategies, but there can be only one winner. The melee will go on as long as it needs to.
  • FDR has been outfitted with a [4] Bound Plus H-Frame Power Wheelchair, and can travel at a maximum speed of around 11.5 MPH. The wheelchair has been customized so that he is holding his knife with his dominant hand. This is to compensate for his almost certain and immediate defeat in the face of an overwhelming disadvantage.
  • Each president will be deposited in the arena regardless of their own will to fight, however, personal ethics, leadership ability, tactical expertise etc., should all be taken into account. Alliances are allowed.
What's on your mind?

Why I Can't Support Michelle Rhee's Efforts

Many seem to think that the criticism of Michelle Rhee has to do with her personal style of presentation of her ideas.  She herself has said she had a "PR" problem in D.C.   I would agree that she can be off-putting.  (I even find a little of myself in her as she and I have a tendency to get to the point in a blunt manner that can be hard on others who prefer a gentler nuanced delivery.)

 In the Frontline special on her, she says even her mother thought her too cold as a child and said that maybe her new job was just right for her because she needed that coldness.  (I sense in Rhee and her background that blunt talk was the order of the day.) Here's my thread on that show.

But, in the end, it is not Rhee, it's her ideas.  And she certainly is the poster child for ed reform and there was no surprise that Time Magazine put her on the cover for that reason.

But let's break this down.  First, what has she truly accomplished that gives her the stature to say that she knows how to change public education for the better?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

David Brooks on "Data"

Thanks to a reader for this heads up on this column by David Brooks, "Driven to Distraction by Too Much Big Data" - it is well worth reading and pondering especially for public education.

I want what is done in our state to be based on some degree of data and experience BUT I agree with Brooks - there are many other factors to consider in any kind of decision-making especially about children and learning.   But unlike Michelle Rhee, I don't want change for change's sake especially with a statement like this:

“Given where we are today, given how poorly things are going in large part, we can’t afford to wait until all the studies are done on a single issue,” said Rhee..."

Well, given our scarce education dollars, we can't afford NOT to make sure that the changes we make are based on some kind of real, verifiable and scalable evidence.

Assessment Taskforce

Sorry for the late notice but I had been trying to find the location for today's Assessment Taskforce meeting.

The meeting is today, Feb. 21st from 4-6 p.m. at JSCEE in room #2278.  The public can come and view the meeting but "the limitation is the size of the room."  If you go and are turned away for space, let me know and we can work on that.

Here's a list of members and meeting minutes (there has been one meeting so far).   The group includes several Garfield reps including the testing coordinator at Garfield, a student and the principal.  There are four parents in the group (although some of the schools' staff may also be parents). 

The facilitator comes from a Kirkland company, Performance Dimensions Group, "the art and science of human performance."  I am waiting for information on how this cost is being paid.

Agenda for today's meeting.   Looks good especially since they have Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond from Stanford coming to present.  If you don't know, she is a powerhouse education researcher (and had been one on Obama's shortlist for Ed Secretary and she would have been fantastic). 

Also to note about assessments is a Scrap the Map forum including Diane Ravitch (via Skype) next Thursday, the 28th at 6:30 p.m. at UW in the Physics&Astronomy bldg, room A102.  RSVP on Facebook.

Want proof of assessments gone wild?  Read this account of a public school teacher in NYC who teaches gifted students.  Pretty crazy town.  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Michelle Rhee has a messaging problem

We have been hearing Republican party officials saying lately that they lost the presidential election last year because they didn't tell their story very well. They had a "messaging" problem. A number of other folks, however, dismiss that explanation and believe that Governor Romney lost the election not because people didn't understand his proposals but because they did. The problem was not the style of the communication but the content.

Analogous to that perception, Lynne Varner writes today that people reject Michelle Rhee's message because they don't like her style. I don't think that's the case. I think people just disagree with her. Lots of people. Lots and lots of people. Lots and lots of people with far better credentials in education than hers.

Advanced Classes - For All?

News from OSPI:

More Washington students are taking and passing Advanced Placement exams, according to a national report released today. 

The College Board’s ninth annual “AP Report to the Nation” shows that 20,581 Washington students (or 32.8 percent) in the class of 2012 took at least one AP exam. That number represents an increase of 1,276 (6.6 percent) from 2011 and 12,068 (62.5 percent) from 2002. 

Not only did participation increase again this year, so did scores. In 2012, 20.0 percent of Washington’s 12th graders scored a three or greater – a score that generally qualifies for college credit – on an AP test. In 2011, 18.4 percent of students scored a three or greater; in 2002, 9.6 percent.
The 10.4 percentage-point increase in the past 10 years ranks Washington eighth among all states. The national average for the same period was 7.9 percent. 

“We’re seeing great results all over the state,” said Randy Dorn, state superintendent. “More students are taking AP tests, and more are passing them. And that’s helping them be prepared for college and career.” 

Compared to 2011 results, the number of test takers and college-ready scores increased for all subgroups:
  • American Indian/Alaska native (participation +5.3 percent, college-ready scores +26.0 percent)
  • Asian/Asian American/Pacific Islander (participation +7.1 percent, college-ready scores +9.5 percent)
  • Black/African American (participation +8.5 percent, college-ready scores +6.9 percent)
  • Hispanic/Latino (participation +8.3 percent, college-ready scores +14.5 percent)
  • White (participation +6.2 percent, college-ready scores +7.0 percent)
Washington ranked 15th in the nation with the greatest number of 12th graders (20.0 percent) scoring three or greater on AP exams – Maryland was first at 29.6 percent. The national average was 19.5 percent. 

For more information and to view the “AP Report to the Nation,” including state-by-state results, please visit www.collegeboard.com/apreport

End of press release.

Against this backdrop, we learn, from a KUOW report, that legislation has been introduced in both the Washington State Senate and House that would require all high school students who meet basic proficiency on the state exam be automatically enrolled in AP or other advanced classes in every district. 

Mayor McGinn's State of City Speech and Public Education

Thank you to reader Gail for this portion of the Mayor's State of the City speech yesterday.   I have put in red those items that I wanted to call out.

Press Release

Today, Mayor Mike McGinn gave his fourth State of the City speech. Education and our schools were a major priority. There is no probably no stronger foundation for opportunity, and long term economic success, than ensuring that our children are educated. Click here to view the speech.

Early Learning
Early learning is a critical place where we can make an even bigger difference. The achievement gap need not be permanent. Kids shouldn't have to go to their first day of kindergarten starting off two laps behind the other kids. If we focus on early learning, every kid can start on that path together.

This fall, the City Office for Education will launch an Early Learning Academy to provide high quality, evidence-based early learning training for preschool providers in Seattle. This initiative will improve school readiness outcomes for young children and serve as an important element of the City's pre-kindergarten through third grade focus. We'll work to link high quality preschool to K-3 education, to bring all children to reading at grade level in third grade - a critical milestone for success. With training for preschool providers, we can improve outcomes for all kids in preschool.

School Construction
Last week voters passed two levies to fund Seattle school operations and to build new capacity for a growing city.

We’re going to do everything we can at the City to help. We are forming an interdepartmental team that brings together the City departments who have a role in construction permits to get this new capacity online as quickly as possible.

School Safety
Last year we launched our Be Super Safe campaign and released our Road Safety Action Plan, after hearing from many in Seattle that we need to do more to make our streets safer. This plan has a long-term goal of zero fatalities and serious injuries on our roads.
We’re launching an outreach campaign to reduce speeding, distraction, and traveling while impaired, while ensuring that more people know and follow the rules of the road. This campaign also encourages people to look out for each other, no matter what way you use to get around our city.

Today we made an important announcement that builds on this work: we will develop a School Road Safety Analysis and Action Plan. This effort will include:

  • Analysis of accessibility and safety at all of our public schools.
  • An implementation plan for installing additional school zone speed cameras.
  • An analysis of school zones and walking routes.
  • Development of a process and criteria for identifying and prioritizing physical improvements near schools with cameras, building on our current Safe Routes to School work.
  • Analysis of existing legislation and policies related to school safety and determine if any changes are needed.
  • Development of safety and mobility education programs for all schools.
We will also convene a School Road Safety Task Force to oversee this plan and all our work on road safety near our schools. By reaching out to parents, teachers, and community members at all public schools, we can ensure that safety and mobility programs work for all our local communities.
We will keep you informed as this project continues. If you would have questions, or would like to get involved, please contact rebecca.deehr@seattle.gov.

You can watch the entire State of the City speech here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Charter School Watch

It's been awhile since we talked about charters.   I have been stockpiling the stories because, yes, there's a lot happening.

FYI, the Washington Board of Education is having a public hearing on charter rules.  They seek input from citizens.  It is on Tuesday, Feb. 26th at 1:00 pm in Olympia at OSPI.

Those wishing to provide comment on the draft rules may attend the hearing in Olympia, via K-20 video feed in Spokane at the office of ESD 101, or by writing us directly (sbe@k12.wa.us).

The draft rules establish an annual application and approval process and timelines for local school boards seeking approval to be charter school authorizers. For example, the current draft rules will require school districts to submit an authorizer application to the State Board by June 15 and for the State Board of Education to make decisions on those applications by August 15. The draft rules also set requirements for districts applying to authorize charter schools, as well as criteria for the evaluation and approval or denial of those applications.

The draft rules and more information on charter schools is available here.

The meeting agenda will be available by February 22 here. Materials discussed during the meeting will be available by 5:00 p.m. February 25. 

First up, a story from Reuters about who gets into charter schools.  Remember, most charters will say "open to all" but there are caveats to those (just as we said there were).  Everything that is now happening in other states could also happen here.
Thousands of charter schools don't provide subsidized lunches, putting them out of reach for families in poverty. Hundreds mandate that parents spend hours doing "volunteer" work for the school or risk losing their child's seat.

And from New Hampshire to California, charter schools large and small, honored and obscure, have developed complex application processes that can make it tough for students who struggle with disability, limited English skills, academic deficits or chaotic family lives to even get into the lottery.

Special Education News

From SPS:
Do you have a child with special needs headed for kindergarten, 1st, 6th or 9th grade in Seattle Public Schools in the next academic year (2013-14)?

Do you have a child with special needs in other grades within SPS, but have questions about his/her building or program placement?

Wednesday, Feb. 20th,  Seattle Public School representatives, in conjunction with Seattle SPED-PTSA and SEAAC, will offer the chance to ask questions about the "riser" process in general and how it relates to your own student. Please join us Wed evening at JSCEE (downtown SPS administrative building at 4th and Lander), room 2700, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Tuesday Open Thread

Quite the astonishing report on KUOW about MAP.  Banda sounds a bit tougher:

“They chose this way to express themselves and the message is heard loud and clear,” Banda said. “But I’m going to hold firm to the fact that they have obligations and responsibilities. And the expectation is these two assessments will be given."

What was astonishing was the response from John Cronin who directs research at the NEA which makes MAP.

He says it's a mystery to him why an entire school of teachers would vote to boycott the test. Laughing, Cronin said, "You know, it’s not even something I can speculate on. It’s interesting to us, but not being Seattleites ourselves, I really can’t say that I know what’s motivating them.”

It's a very odd thing that he thinks this is funny but it's also a good way to marginalize the teachers' concerns.  

What's on your mind?

Events Update

Another event this week: Washington Student Achievement Council Public Forum, on Wed Feb 20, 5–6:30pm, Broadway Performance Hall, Seattle Central Community College, 1625 Broadway, free.

The Washington Student Achievement Council is conducting on a statewide Listening Tour to inform the development of a 10-Year Roadmap to increase Washington’s educational attainment level. We want to hear and learn from local communities about what’s working, what we need to pay attention to, and how we can work together to create the integrated, effective education system we need for all Washingtonians. To read recaps of the listening tour sessions and give feedback to the Council, please visit feedback.wsac.wa.gov

Also, a reminder of the Michelle Rhee talk tonight at 7 p.m. at TownHall.  There will be a protest at 6 p.m. so please try to come.  (Anyone staying to hear her talk?  I just can't - I think I might say something uncivil and that would not be good.)  The moderator is...the Chief Community Officer of Starbucks, Blair Taylor.  Wonder what that's about?  And some of the sponsors are truly the usual suspects like Stand for Children and the Washington Policy Center.  

More on Ms. Rhee's activities.

From SPS on Black History Month:


In honor of the ancestors who had the courage to seek freedom. Take a trip back in time and understand the insurmountable odds African Americans have overcome. Having the courage and faith to plant mustard seeds of change, during the harsh climate of racism and fear. Blacks have planted a positive landscape of love, out of hate and discrimination. Take part in social/environmentally conscious art, poetry, books, movies and quilting. Understand the humble to the horrific history of building a global economic structure from the interdependence of land and hands out of Africa. Plant- ing the seeds of change starts one generation at a time.

The "Strange Fruit" exhibit by Sabree Franklin at the Cascade Commons Room. There's a Poet Tea Lounge and all are invited to stop by daily between noon and 2 p.m.m to share poetry, listen to music and enjoy a cup of tea.

Middle School and High School classrooms are using the exhibit as an extension of studies of the Civil Rights movements. Elementary classrooms are focusing studies on the Underground Railroad, Famous African American writers and artists. They will be using the Poet Tea Café as a venue to share their own writings and stories.

Cascade Parent Partnership Program is a Seattle Schools Alternative Learning Program with over 205 students and their families attending. Cascade’s community is extremely diverse and represents diversity in culture, socioeconomics and religion. Since families are on campus with students daily and as they play a central role in their student’s education, we have a unique opportunity to discuss issues from a variety of perspectives. Cascade individualizes each student’s education through a combination of onsite classes, community activities, parent facilitated learning and teacher/parent partnership.

Cascade is in the Wilson-Pacific building, 1330 N 90th Street Bldg 200.

Shout-Out to Hamilton Int'l Middle School.  For the second straight year, they won the state competition for the Youth Art Month flag sponsored by the Washington Art Education Association.   The design will be made into a flag which, along with other Hamilton students' artwork, will travel to a national convention in early March.  It will then end up on display at our state's capital building.  Good job, kids!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Just a Reminder

Tele-townhall TONIGHT at 7 p.m. on standardized testing. 

It's being sponsored by Fair Test ,"the National Center for Fair and Open Testing that works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing AND to ensure that the evaluation of our students, teachers and schools is done in a fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial manner."

Speakers include Garfield student body president, Obadiah Perry; Mallory Clarke, Garfield High teacher, and the executive director of Fair Test, Dr. Monty Neill.  

It starts at 7p.m.  and the call-in number is  1-(866) 476-7782

School Websites and their Information

As I have often said (and found), when you starting looking for one thing, you often find another. 

I wanted to see what might be being said at different middle schools about overcrowding.  I found various things but it was what I found being said about other issues that was interesting.

One thing I notice is that many middle schools seem to assume in their newsletters/updates that all parents know everyone who works in the school/PTA.  I was the editor for the Eckstein PTA newsletter and I quickly realized that making assumptions about what parents do and do not know is a bad idea. 

One, because it isn't true that everyone is up-to-speed on how things work for any given program/activity at school. 

Two, it can lead to shutting people out because they feel dumb/frustrated for asking questions.

Seattle Schools This Week

Monday, Feb. 18th
No school for the Presidents' Day holiday.

Reminder: Seattle Testing Tele Town Hall: What’s Next After the MAP boycott? Mon. Feb 18, 7pm PST. Toll-free dial in (866) 476-7782.  A discussion of standardized testing in K-12 public education.

Also, you DO call in today (even if a holiday) to get on the speakers list for the Board meeting on Wednesday.  It's 252-0040 or boardagenda@seattleschools.org

Tuesday, Feb. 19th
Protest of Michelle Rhee before her talk at Town Hall at 6 p.m.  

Wednesday, Feb. 20th
School Board meeting starting at 4:15 p.m.  Agenda
The agenda includes:

- intro of contract to start Arbor Heights planning
- intro of contract for Cedar Park planning
- intro of contract for Van Asselt reopening
- intro of contract for John Marshall reopening in 2013 (note that would be this fall).  Interesting.
- intro of contract for new school at Thorton Creek (or equivalent site)
- intro of contract for New Jane Addams K-8 at Pinehurst
- intro of contract for new middle and elementary schools at Wilson-Pacific

In addition, there is just one action item - approval of yearbook contract. 

Looking at this sparse agenda which is unlikely to have a lot of discussion (although none of the contracts are actually there to view at this point), I'm taking bets on how quickly they get through this meeting.  They are calling it for 8p.m.

I'm thinking unless we see more complaining about the interim plan vote, the speakers list will be less than 10.  I'm calling at 7:40 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 22nd
BEX Oversight Committee Meeting from 8:30-1030 am.  I hope to make this one as I'm sure it will be interesting given that BEX did pass.  I saw a new schematic for Schmitz Park - I still think it is overdesigned.  

From the West Seattle Blog:

You can see the new graphics in multiple posts on the GSNC website at genesee-schmitz.org, where there’s also a list of upcoming “community conversation” meetings about the project: February 26, March 14, April 30, all at SP Elementary, all at 6:30 pm.

Saturday, Feb. 23rd
Community Meeting with Director DeBell from 9-11 am at Cafe Appassionato near Fisherman's Terminal.  

Community Meeting with Director Patu from 10 am to noon at Caffe Vita, 5028 Wilson Avenue S.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Whiplash over at the Times

If you were someone who had moved to Seattle in the last year, you might be forgiven for trying to figure out what it is that the Seattle Times is doing in support of public school levies.

Most of the time, according to them, the district can't do anything right (and this is over, say, the last two years when, coincidentally, there has been a majority power shift on the Board and we have a new superintendent who has received tepid support from them).

First, the Times writes an editorial in support of them but with a lot of finger-wagging especially around leadership (and not, as you might suspect, around transparency of dollars spent).

Then the Times has an article on the levies that mentions only one group opposing BEX.  Meanwhile there have been at least three sets of people going against the BEX levy.  Three sets.   And yet, the Times, in its reporting, said there was only one (until today that is).  

Upcoming Special Events

Monday night, the 18th, I'll be moderating a tele-townhall about standardized testing.  It's being sponsored by Fair Test ,"the National Center for Fair and Open Testing that works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing AND to ensure that the evaluation of our students, teachers and schools is done in a fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial manner."

It starts at 7p.m.  and the call-in number is
1-(866) 476-7782

Speakers include Garfield student body president, Obadiah Perry; Mallory Clarke, Garfield High teacher, and the executive director of Fair Test, Dr. Monty Neill.  

Tuesday night, the 19th, the smartest girl in the room, ed reformer Michelle Rhee, will be in town to push her book at Town Hall.  There is a protest starting at 6 p.m. that I hope to attend because Rhee should know that there are real people who do not believe what she is saying (or selling).   A good overview of Rhee is here at the Seattle Education blog.  Town Hall is at 1119 8th Avenue. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rainier Beach High School Flyer

I got a promotional flyer from Rainier Beach High School. It came on an email from the Rainier Beach family support worker/marketing coordinator Virginia Owens.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Update on Eckstein Capacity Issues

I hope this to be the last word on capacity issues at Eckstein (but I suspect not as these parents are quite persistent). 

From the  DPD/FMO.  (I am not posting the entire thing but here's pertinent info.)

"During inspection, staff walked the halls and observed class sizes and hall traffic between classes.   No signs of overcrowding in halls or classrooms was observed with respect to allowing safe exiting in the event of emergency. "

"For purposes of safe exiting, the more doors you have off (classrooms and offices and hallways), the more people you can have in the building.  Based on current building code standards, the size of the rooms and number/proximity of exits, Eckstein Middle School could safely handle over 4,000 people for purposes of exiting."

"Portables with one door are limited to 49 occupants but portables with an additional exit can have more."

Re: pedestrians - "The topic of student safety is important and should be discussed with City of Seattle's School Traffic Safety Committee.  Citizens can bring their concern for the safety of students walking or biking to school to their attention by e-mailing Brian Dougherty at brian.dougherty@seattle.gov.  We have notified Brian of your concerns so he is aware and able to respond. 

We understand your concerns with the future of the school and safety of students.   However, the school currently falls well below the building code maximum occupancy limited allowed for Eckstein Middle School. 

Concerns regarding reasonable school capacity during school hours and the safety of students should be directed to the Seattle Public Schools.

You'll note, they did NOT address whether Eckstein is crowded but the issues from what the City is supposed to look for.   Also, understand that Eckstein knows its building limits and does indeed, limit the numbers of people in the building at any given time for any given event.

 No one is saying Eckstein isn't crowded.  It's just not in violation of any health or safety codes either by the City or district.

Also, the district IS coordinating a mailing to Hamilton and Eckstein families to recruit new families to JA K-8.  The school is funding that mailing and all the supplies.  No district staff is working on this effort.  The district is also telling families about Option schools in their area via the Open Enrollment letter that was mailed on Wednesday.

Director Peaslee did reply to Ms. Sweet and said that she used her own  iPhone to make the JA K-8 video (no professional equipment) and was not paid.  She created the idea with the permission of JA's principal and assistant principal.  She did contact Wayne Barnett, the City/District Ethics officer and he confirmed that she had no conflict of interest in volunteering for this effort.  

Friday Open Thread

Back from the (un) Walking Dead (4 days of a massive migraine culminating in a trip to the ER to get relief - hence, my lack of engagement here).

Anyone attend any Board Committee meetings this week?

Reminder that Director DeBell and President Smith-Blum both have community meetings tomorrow morning.   (Director DeBell's has been postponed.)

Superintendent Banda issued a thank you to Seattle voters for the overwhelming support for the two school levies this week.  He also said thanks to FACMAC, the BEX Oversight Committee, volunteers and staff.

Did you know The Source got updated?  Here's info.

What's on your mind?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Strategic Plan

The Board has directed the Superintendent to draft a Strategic Plan. They have some ideas about what they want in it. A Strategic Plan Stakeholder's Taskforce has been formed and they will express some ideas about what they want in it.

What do YOU want in it?

Wednesday Open Thread

What's on your mind?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

State of the Union Speech Tomorrow Night

President Obama will be delivering his State of the Union speech tomorrow night.  Here's what Diane Ravitch would like him to say about public education.

What would you like to hear President Obama say?

Seattle Schools This Week

Monday, Feb. 11th
Curriculum&Instruction Policy Committee Meeting from 4-5:30 p.m. Agenda 

Tuesday, Feb. 12th
Special Education Advocacy &Advisory Council Meeting from 6:30-9:00 p.m. at JSCEE, 2nd floor, room 2700.  The Open Forum & District updates portion of the meeting is from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Levy election for Operations and BEX.

State of the Union speech by President Obama at 6 p.m.  

Wednesday, Feb. 13th
Executive Committee Meeting from 8:30-10:00 am.  Agenda.  Review of next couple of Board meeting agendas, government relations, community engagement, strategic plan.  And, the next Board Retreat agenda which I am very interested in because I am hoping to be sponsoring that retreat (just as the Alliance for Education is allowed to).

Open House At Rainier Beach High School about their new IB program from 6:30-8:30.  Any families curious about attending Rainier Beach should plan on attending.  There will be information about our programs, a facilities tour, and an opportunity to meet our wonderful staff and students.  Encourage anyone you know who might be interested to attend.  Snacks and refreshments will be served.

Colin Pierce
IB Coordinator/Reading Teacher

Thursday, Feb. 14th
Partial Furlough Day - 3-hour early dismissal of students. 

Audit & Finance Committee Finance Monthly Meeting, from 4-6 p.m. at JSCEE.  Agenda.  A very lengthy agenda of financial updates including a "debt report" and preliminary school enrollment projections from Tracy Libros of Enrollment.  There will also be a summary update/forecast of state/federal grants and development of the 2013-2014 budget.  This will be interesting or depressing depending on the outcome of the levy election.

Operations Committee Meeting from 4-5:30 pm at JSCEE.  Agenda not yet available.

Friday, Feb. 15th
No School.  

Saturday, Feb. 16th
Community Meeting with Director DeBell from 9-11 am at Cafe Appassionato near Fisherman's Terminal. 
Community Meeting with President Smith-Blum from 10-11:30 am at the Capitol Hill library at 425 Harvard Avenue East.

House Finance Committee to Hear From Taskforce on Ed Funding

The House Finance Committee will be convening at 1:30 p.m. to receive a briefing from the Joint Task Force on Education Funding on funding K-12 public education under McCleary.

You can watch live here.  I was told by Chair Reuven Carlyle's office that the tape usually makes its way onto the log for viewing later within several hours. 

The Vote for the Levies

That deadline for that vote is now a little more than 36 hours away.  Frankly, I doubt there are that many undecided votes out there.  (I think no matter the outcome, the voting patterns will be interesting to watch as they may be an early warning for the Board elections in November.)

No matter the vote, we do need to pull together as a district.  The unity of purpose of parents is just as important as it is for the Board or district staff.   Parents and communities ARE the best voice for our district.

I think the discussion around the interim plan for next year has been interesting to view because it shows the need to find regional solutions.  To that end I would hope that PTA presidents in each of the five regions (or however many people feel is important) would join together to work for solutions.  (I know that most of the PTA presidents in the NE did indeed meet but unfortunately, it did not include all of them and decisions were made after some had left.  Clearly, there would need to be structure in such a regional group so that no one school or area could dominate.)

But having regional groups would certainly help to provide information that could then be disseminated out to the schools in the group.  It would help inform Board decisions and influence what staff might suggest/direct.  It would make parents a stronger voice in our district.

This, of course, is NOT to create a situation of pitting region against region but to help the district see an overall picture while keeping regional issues in mind.

I honestly believe both levies will pass.  That certainly is the historical trend.  

If not, I hope those who are voting no have a solution beyond a mere vote.  It would be helpful if those who are unhappy have some sort of answer for what they perceive should happen if one or both levies fail.

If Operations goes down, I would believe the Board/district would go straight to the Legislature for help.   Or they could sit back, starting planning the next levy election and allow parents and community to see exactly what losing 25% of the budget looks and feels like.

If BEX goes down, all capital planning stops.  Any architectural planning, permitting, etc. stops.  Otherwise, we will cut into the remaining money in BEX III and BTA III and those dollars are already committed.  There will be fewer mitigation dollars for schools who need help next year.   The district would probably scale back BEX with fewer projects since the organized efforts against BEX have been about BEX projects (not other issues).

But anyone thinking that this will create chaos and overhaul the leadership would be wrong.  Levies (of other types and school levies in other districts) fail all the time and you don't see massive leadership changes happen.  We have a good Superintendent and lead staff and they, consulting with the Board, will make the appropriate decisions.  Anyone who views this as some kind of opportunity for a takeover/shift of leadership by outside entities would be wrong.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Music Teachers - The Grammys Appreciate You

From Citizens for Public Schools:

Something amazing happened at the Grammy tonight, a new category has been established, an award to the best music teacher of the year. Could someone with connections, please let the members of the Grammy know that due to NCLB and Race To The Top, music teachers have become extinct in most urban U.S. cities? So, maybe the Grammy could use their influence and contact our President to let him know how much more important music education is to high stake testing!

From the NY Times:

The Grammy Awards are adding a new honor for music teachers. Neil Portnow, the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, announced the new award for music educators, which will be presented for the first time next year. He made the announcement on Thursday evening at an event for the Grammy Foundation’s Music Preservation Project at the Saban Theater in Los Angeles.
“Music education is perhaps the most vital part of the Grammy Foundation’s mission,” he said. The Grammy Awards, on Sunday, will also have a short video segment honoring music teachers and urging people to nominate educators. Teachers from all levels — from kindergarten through college — will be eligible for the award, which will be presented at a special ceremony the day before the Grammy broadcast next year.

The Times Just Can't Stop

Honestly, I just don't get the Times.  So now they have trotted out an op-ed against BOTH levies (and, gotten the name of the pro-levy supporter, Greg Wong -not Wang - wrong to boot). 

It's yet another person who is late to this party of "accountability" and yet this guy even casts a bigger swath.  And he's a public school parent who wants both levies to fail. 

I understand his unhappiness but failing the Operations levy won't change that.  In fact, if he wants to see our district fall to its knees, let the Operations levy fail.  He gives NO solutions to what might happen after that failure - not so helpful - but yes, he's voting against both of them. 

(He also points out "big-city cronyism" from the Potter scandal.  Yes and that came at the hands of a superintendent who swept in with big changes supported by the powers that be.  Let's remember that.)

I'm with him on changing how we run SPS and frankly, changing the protection of a lot of what happens at the headquarters level rather than the school level.

But failing both levies is not the way.

Please folks, hardly anyone who supports the levies goes and submits a comment of support for them.  Please do this for this op-ed and don't let the nay-sayers and trolls be the last word in these few hours before the election.  Stand up for those levies and let's get this done.

Apparently, I'm Not the Only One

In the continuing saga over opposing the BEX because of the interim plan vote, I have seen some new e-mails.
One interesting item to note is that BOTH the Eckstein PTA as well as the Seattle Council PTSA support both levies.  It would seem Eckstein's elected parent leadership is for the BEX.  And, if the Seattle Council PTSA had serious issues with either levy, you'd think they would have brought them up.

One PTA president (who will remain nameless) asked Ms. Sweet to cease and desist sending out the emails, calling them "unprofessional."

(Ms. Sweet had sent out an e-mail to the presidents of the Seattle PTAs (all that she could find - I know, it's tough trying to find them all and the Seattle Council PTSA won't help you).  But she did say something telling:

"Based on what we have learned, we imagine that other schools may be facing similar issues related to capacity and overcrowding.  Each and every one of our students deserve (sic) better."

Imagine?  No idea where else in the district this might be a problem?  You mean, you didn't read up on the issues around BEX?  It's helpful to do some real research and homework to speak with authority on these issues.

When that didn't happen, the same PTA President wrote a longer e-mail saying that the opposition in the spam e-mails "has NOTHING to do with the content of the levies"and there is "no concern about the projects proposed in the Capital levy or the need for them."  

Most to the point (and I agree) - "Nor would failing these levies change those short-term decisions."

Look, if anyone thinks that defeat of BEX means a re-vote on the interim plan, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Not going to happen.  Will the BEX plan be restructured (read: scaled back to cover even FEWER projects) if the levy fails?  Sure.  But the interim plan?  Nope.

Testing - What Does it Reveal?

Psychology Today put forth this article by researcher Susan Engel, "What Test Scores Don't Tell Us: The Naked Emperor."  Ms Engel reviewed over 200(!) studies of K-12 standardized tests.

What I have discovered is startling- most tests used to evaluate students, teachers, and school districts predict almost nothing except similar scores on subsequent tests. I have found virtually no research demonstrating a relationship between those tests and measures of thinking on the one hand, or life outcomes on the other. To grasp what we do and do not (yet) know about standardized tests, it’s worth considering a few essential puzzles: why we find individual differences in test scores (why one child does better or worse than others), what makes a child’s test scores go up, and what such improvement could possibly indicate.

Complicated Science Down to Its Essence

This article from Mental Floss.  Could be interesting for you or your kids (although I'm not thrilled with the explanation of Web Development).  A fun read.  (Note: no, we don't want to "dumb" down science but make it easier for kids to get that basic idea so they get that a ha! moment and want to learn more.)

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Notes to Aspiring Activists

In the continuing kerfuffle over BEX, one of the women in the trio of NE moms trying to get the BEX to fail (albeit quietly via very large neighborhood e-mail lists) has sent quite a pointed e-mail to Director Peaslee that was less-than-effective. 

This e-mail is in reference to a video that Director Peaslee helped Jane Addams K-8 make in order to try to attract more students that in turn, would help take the pressure off neighboring elementaries and, of course, Eckstein. 

This mom seem to believe, without quite coming out and saying it, that Director Peaslee has done something unethical.  (And fyi, the district HAS a method to alert them to any potential or perceived ethics violation and it has been well-advertised.)  The mom asks a laundry list of very pointed questions to Director Peaslee, most of which should be answered by district staff, including the Legal department.

Short of name-calling, this e-mail breaks almost every rule in the activist rulebook.  So I offer these suggestions for future reference.

1) When you write to any elected official, do try being polite and starting with "Dear 'Elected Title' Jones".  When you start, "Mr. Jones", it's off-putting and frankly, less than polite.  This is especially true even if you don't like this person's work but have chosen to send your e-mail to OTHER elected officials.

They do take their cues from how you address other elected officials.  They are the ones elected and it never hurts to be polite. 

2)  It's fine to give a parameter of when you would like answers to your questions but putting a hard date (with a specific time, no less) to ANY elected official, is again, off-putting and will not serve you well. 

3)  It is confusing to tell an elected official that you "understand" something without explaining where you got your information or if you have even tried to get an official explanation (particularly from the people/groups you reference).   It is even more confusing to say you "understand" something and then ask that official questions about the exact thing you say you understand.

That elected official may not even know what you are talking about and may have to go to precisely the same people you should have gone to in the first place for answers.  

Again, if you are asking questions rhetorically ( maybe to try to embarrass or bully the elected official), remember that cc'ing other elected officials will likely may them wary of you in the future.

4)  The MOST important thing to do, early in any e-mail to any elected official, is to state the point of your e-mail.  You can blah, blah, blah but busy officials have no time for that.  Get to the point.

5)  Don't ask questions you can look up on the website.  No elected official has time for that.

6) Don't sign your missive "respectfully" when you have been aggressive and frankly, not-so-respectful.  It comes across as flip.

Just a friendly word to the wise to one who has been in the trenches for years.  

Real Public Schools, Really Hard Work, Great Payoff

A great, great op-ed in the NY Times by UC Berkeley professor, David L. Kirp, called The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools.

He just spent the last year researching a book on public education in Union City, N. J.  I'll let him tell you what he found out:

The striking achievement of Union City, N.J. — bringing poor, mostly immigrant kids into the educational mainstream — argues for reinventing the public schools we have. 

Union City makes an unlikely poster child for education reform. It’s a poor community with an unemployment rate 60 percent higher than the national average. Three-quarters of the students live in homes where only Spanish is spoken.

Public schools in such communities have often operated as factories for failure. This used to be true in Union City, where the schools were once so wretched that state officials almost seized control of them. How things have changed. From third grade through high school, students’ achievement scores now approximate the statewide average. What’s more, in 2011, Union City boasted a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent — roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. Last year, 75 percent of Union City graduates enrolled in college, with top students winning scholarships to the Ivies. 

As someone who has worked on education policy for four decades, I’ve never seen the likes of this. After spending a year in Union City working on a book, I believe its transformation offers a nationwide strategy.  

Read the whole thing.  It's great.  Oh, and one other thing:

What makes Union City remarkable is, paradoxically, the absence of pizazz. It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools. 

School officials flock to Union City and other districts that have beaten the odds, eager for a quick fix. But they’re on a fool’s errand. These places — and there are a host of them, largely unsung — didn’t become exemplars by behaving like magpies, taking shiny bits and pieces and gluing them together. Instead, each devised a long-term strategy reaching from preschool to high school. Each keeps learning from experience and tinkering with its model. Nationwide, there’s no reason school districts — big or small; predominantly white, Latino or black — cannot construct a system that, like the schools of Union City, bends the arc of children’s lives. 

It's not rocket science but it IS attention to students and relationships and getting in there early.

It's called education evolution and it can be done.

Looking for Something to Do With the Kids?

It's a busy Saturday.  Info from the Times:

Neighbor Appreciation Day
Events include open houses for visitors at 21 fire stations around Seattle, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday; free (www.seattle.gov/fire); the sharing of stories about good neighbors and other activities, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Wallingford Center, 1815 N. 45th St., Seattle, free; snacks in the lobby and public swims, 1-2 p.m. Saturday, Southwest Pool, 2801 S.W. Thistle St., Seattle (206-684-7440) and 12:30-2 p.m. Saturday, Ballard Pool, 1471 N.W. 67th St., Seattle; $2 (206-684-4094 or www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/neighborday/events.htm).

Lunar New Year: Dragon/Lion dances, food walk with $2 tasting menu, children’s costume parade, music and dance performances, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Hing Hay Park, 409 Maynard Ave. S., Seattle, and surrounding neighborhood (www.cidbia.org/events).  They even have a scavenger hunt and live reptile show!

It's the Year of the Snake!

Artifact ID Day: Information from experts on up to three objects per person including fossils, rocks, minerals and bones and Native American, Pacific Island, Asian and Southeast Asian cultural artifacts, 1-3:30 p.m. Saturday, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington, Seattle; $7.50-$10 (206-543-5590 or www.burkemuseum.org).

Seattle Bike Swap: Cascade Bicycle Club new and used bicycles and accessories from 100 vendors, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, 299 Mercer St., Seattle; $5, free entry 1-2 p.m., free for ages 15 and younger all day (shop.cascade.org/content/events/seattle-bike-swap).

Get Out There!