Let Your House Rep Know What You Think

The nonsense that is SB 5328 - the bill for letter grades for schools - passed the Senate.  Please, please let your House representatives know that you do not support this.

On the face of it, why?  If this is so important, why not grade ALL public institutions, starting with the Legislature and the elected officials there?  Even Stand says that "schools are already being graded by the Achievement Index" so exactly why do we need this?  In fact, the Achievement Index would be what the grade is based on.  I note that the Index does not account for Special Education and ELL students within a school which could weigh on a ranking.

I spoke to Superintendent Dorn's office and he does not support it.  Why?  Because OSPI was charged with an adjustment to the Achievement Index anyway by the Legislature (I believe for rollout this fall).  

While you're at it, let the Governor know your feelings as well.  What is interesting is that while the Governor supports the idea of grading schools in theory, he has not come out with support for this bill.  One key issue is embedded in his own education policy brief:

In order to spur more parent engagement in their child’s school, every parent will receive their child’s annual school report card, which includes multiple measures of school and district success based on a statewide standard developed with stakeholder input.

Did you see that last couple of words?  "Stakeholder input."  I haven't read thru the bill with a fine-tooth comb but I didn't see HOW this grading would happen.   I'm with the Governor - if schools are to be graded, some stakeholder input is needed.  

As well, I told the Governor's office that groups like Stand for Children were linking the Senate bill with the Governor's support for more information for parents about schools.  They said they were aware of this and have had conversations with several groups (but did not name them) about not doing this.  This linkage, without clarification of the Governor's true stance, is wrong.

I told both Superintendent Dorn's office and the Governor's office that SPS has a one-sheet report card that gives parents a lot of the kind of information that parents WANT to know.  (Is it perfect? No, but it is informative.)  A single letter grade really tells parents very little and it gives a school that gets a low grade, the scarlet letter.

Transforming Persistently Failing Schools (SB 5329) allows the State Superintendent (OSPI) to bring in new leadership, innovation and resources to help struggling schools improve.  As reported at the Seattle Education blog, this blog follows the DOE turnaround model that includes
      • Turnaround model: Replace the principal and rehire no more than 50% of the staff, and grant the principal sufficient operational flexibility (including in staffing, calendars/time and budgeting) to fully implement a comprehensive approach to substantially improve student outcomes.
      • Restart model: Convert a school or close and reopen it under a charter school operator, a charter management organization, or an education management organization that has been selected through a rigorous review process.
      • School closure: Close a school and enroll the students who attended that school in other schools in the district that are higher achieving.
      • Transformation model: Implement each of the following strategies: (1) replace the principal and take steps to increase teacher and school leader effectiveness; (2) institute comprehensive instructional reforms; (3) increase learning time and create community-oriented schools; and (4) provide operational flexibility and sustained support
So we could walk through this with SPS as an example.

The first one, the turnaround, is something of a charter model in that the principal has control over all staffing and budgeting.

The restart model would, of course, allow even more charters in than just under 1240.   Meaning, you can only start 8 charters per year with 1240 but this law would give the state even more options.

School closure?  Unlikely to ever happen in the near term in Seattle as we are growing.  You could not close a Seattle school and then farm those kids out to other schools. We don't have the room.

The last one, transformation model, sounds good but costly and a longer timeframe.

Here's a link to the House contact page. 

Here's a link to contacting the Governor

Sample statement:

Dear Rep X,

I write to you in opposition to HB 1476 that would create letter grades for schools.  I believe that this will unfairly hurt struggling schools.

We already have the Achievement Index via OPSI and I believe this gives a more fair and accurate picture of how schools are doing.   If the State wants to provide a better "snapshot" of a school's performance, they could do what Seattle School District does and provide a one-sheet "report card."  Seattle's report card includes a breakdown of test scores, satisfaction of principal by both teachers and parents, racial make-up and other important issues and scores.

A simple letter grade would not do that for a school.

As well, HB 1476 says the criteria to judge a school should be "fair, consistent and transparent."  Without stakeholder input, it's hard to know that any grade would be fair, consistent and transparent for a state with rural and urban/large and small districts.

As well, the Governor has not given support to the Senate version 5328 because of this lack of clarity on how the grading will be done.

I urge you to cast a no vote on this important issue.


Eric B said…
Both of these came up at the 36th District town hall. All three of our legislators are opposed to both of these bills. Carlyle made a good comment, something like "the education reform we really need is to fully fund it." Carlyle, Tarleton, and Kohl-Welles all essentially said that these were too punitive if they don't come with support to actually improve schools. Funny thing, I happened to be sitting at the same table at the Stand rep, and she got up and left abruptly immediately after that comment.

Even if you live in the 36th, please do write to your legislators anyway.
TechyMom said…
Can you help me understand why this is a big deal? 5329 seems like it has teeth, but 5328 seems no different than what we do now. When I filled out the survey, they were asking for feedback on how to weight the same things they measure now. None of the measurements are about excellence, all are about lack-of-badness. That's true in the current index too. What is the important difference that you see between what we have now and this new thing?
Techy, the ability to brand a school with a very simple letter grade is why they are doing it. A school with a D or F is then in line for a "transformation."
Watching said…
These bills come from ALEC templates


SFC will twist and turn information to push their agenda. I don't trust them -at all- to be above board.
Just saying said…
Some of Carlyle's constituents are becoming agitated and aren't afraid to express their opinions. He knows he is being watched.
Hmmm said…
"the education reform we really need is to fully fund it." Carlyle,

Then, why did Carlyle vote FOR I 1240?
Catherine said…
I'm opposed to creating more overhead work, that adds no value. I'm opposed to creating duplication of work that's already done. We don't have extra money to spend on anything, creating duplicated processes is just a waste.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for being on this one, Melissa. To my mind, it's enough that there is not one shred of evidence that a school grading system improves any school's performance. Carlyle is right to be nervous -- we're watching him very closely. I recommend he reads this nice op-ed from the New York Times:

Anonymous said…
I wrote to my rep and explained that this was the first shot in the Jeb Bush playbook to destroy public education in WA.

That aside, what's up with the transformation and turnaround idea to replace the principle? If the principle had ultimate control over the school personel and all funding that went to the school, I could see this.

All the low paid people end up at the failing schools. Maybe they should start with funding equity, and make sure each school gets the pro-rata funding it is due.

A school must have the sum total of all its employees salaries, and the sum total of all the local, state, and federal money allocated to its enrolled students. If this ratio is not equal at all schools, something's not right.


Jan said…
Here is what I wrote to Pettigrew (who tends to support this kind of thing -- so I laid it on as strong as I could). Thanks for the template, Melissa.

Dear Representative Pettigrew: I am writing because I oppose HB 1476, the measure that would create letter grades for schools. This bill creates a plan that is not only unnecessary (and therefore costly), but actually harmful.

As you know, Washington's OPSI already spends the time (and state resources) to create the Achievement Index. While it is not perfect, it gives far more information, and a much more fair and accurate picture of how schools are doing, than the gimmicky proposal that is codified in HB1476. If you and your House colleagues do not think the Achievement Index is sufficient, I would urge that you instead do what Seattle School District does and provide a one-sheet "report card." Seattle's report card includes a breakdown of test scores, satisfaction of principal by both teachers and parents, racial make-up and other important issues and scores. How can a one-letter grade possibly provide this sort of "snapshot" of a school's performance? It cannot.

Think about it. When we send our kids to college, we spend time on SATs, SAT subject matter tests, student essays, teacher recommendations -- and why? Because the "letter grades" on their transcripts do not tell a complete story, and do not tell a college what it needs to know. How will a single letter grade guide the parent of an Asian special ed student, an African American gifted student, a Native American "average" student whose parent is seeking alternative pedagogy for an artistically creative child?

How would a taxpayer be able to understand what a "C" grade means. Is it a small elementary school in Prosser where students are doing "ok," but where there has been very little upward growth in scores? Or is it perhaps a Rainier Beach, where scores have been historically low, but a new IB program is being implemented and you are only seeing the first year of that implementation? Or an alternative middle school where an ineffective principal has left and a dynamic, new principal is just starting to rebuild school identity and values? How, given the myriad of Washington schools, can you develop criteria -- meaningful criteria-- to judge those schools that will meet the required standard of "fair, consistent and transparent."

Think about your own position. Are you an "A"? A "D"? What if I loved your position of budget matters and the environment, but had huge problems with your positions on crime and transportation funding? Or thought you had great positions but were distant and non-responsive? A single letter grade on your performance as a legislator would tell me nothing, nothing of value. The same is true with the misguided attempt to sum up a school's "story" in a single letter grade.

This legislation seems like a "gimmick," a way to slap a quick and dirty label on a school for "other" ends -- such as school closure. It can provide no useful help, but can do much unmerited harm. It is a waste of money, and unworthy of the intelligence of your constituents and the thoughtful approach that parents take when evaluating schools. In a time of tight funding, we more than ever need legislators who can see through facile, silly bills, and will impose on taxpayers the time and cost only of legislation that will reap true benefits. This legislation does not pass that test. I urge you to vote no.

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