LEV's Leader Speaks Out (Mistakenly)

One of our sharp-eyed readers linked an op-ed that LEV's leader, Chris Korsmo, wrote for the Times.  It is quite the tale and one that she tells frequently. 

The last time I heard it, though, she was screaming at a room full of people based on a comment that Charlie had made.  I'm thinking this was about 2010 when we had Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.  C.R. Douglas was moderating a live discussion that was being taped about the Strategic Plan.  It was a great show because it was completely under the control of Seattle Channel and not the Alliance. 
What was interesting was that a lot of the room was filled with the usual ed suspects and we all knew each other.  So C.R. would ask questions and get answers/comments from the panel and audience but he didn't have time to have the audience members ID themselves.  So, the at-home audience didn't know who we were.

At one point, Charlie got up to say that the discussion was ignoring the issue of poverty.  That if you switched the teaching staffs of Eckstein and Aki Kurose, you would likely not see better results because of the effects of poverty.  He did NOT say that you could do nothing in education without solving the problem of poverty nor did he say that poor kids couldn't learn.

But Ms. Korsmo, sitting in the back, took it this way.  As we were to learn, she has a rather large chip on her shoulder and when she got up to speak, she was fired up.

She lit into Charlie saying he said poor kids can't learn (and several people, including Charlie, said  that was not so).  She said that poor kids have tough lives and school can change that (quite true).  And then, almost frothing at the mouth, she proceeded to tell a roomful of strangers how bad her childhood was and how her father "beat the stuffing out of me nearly every night."  You can imagine how awkward we all felt being exposed to this information that was so deeply personal and frankly, had nothing to do with the discussion.  Her rant felt both shaming and you could feel the discomfort in the room.

But it was good tv and C.R. and the director let her play it out.

As I said, no one IDed themselves so no one knew that the head of the largest statewide education group in Washington had just spoken.  In her weekly blog update that week, she kind of apologized but said she gets passionate about education. 

She says in the op-ed;

When people ask me why I’m passionate about education, why I wake up every day with my hair on fire,...

Me, I'd call it more of being a loose cannon. That night, I lost a lot of respect I had for LEV because I could not believe that this was the person leading this group. 

In her op-ed, she goes over the same material but the piece gets confusing.

She goes back to the well of saying that someone, somewhere is saying that we can't close the achievement gap until poverty is solved.  I have never heard one person, anywhere say that. 

What people DO say is that to ignore the effect of poverty on learning is folly.  That when you have nearly 23% of American children living in poverty, it is bound to have an effect on education outcomes.  And, we need to simultaneously, work to lower that rate AND provide supports for those children at school.

She again goes through her life story.  For me, I never get these first person narratives for an op-ed.  One person's story about growing up poor is not the story of all who grew up poor. But this first-person narrative seems to be a trend for the Times and their op-eds suffer for it.

She also makes the assumption that no one else in the room could possibly know what being poor or near poor is like.  She's the one with all the knowledge on that subject.  It's not so.

Hilariously, here's what she ends up saying after all that:

What am I doing here, a first-generation college graduate, running a successful nonprofit, raising a son who will never know poverty? 

I think I just got lucky. There were so many other kids in my situation who didn’t make it, who grew up like me and didn’t get lucky. 

Luck is not a system. Luck doesn’t reach everyone. Luck is not enough.

No kidding.

The point of education is NOT to be lucky.  The point is to have quality schools with supports for struggling students everywhere.   While luck can play a part in everyone's lives, again, education could/should be the great leveler if a person wants to work hard.


Anonymous said…
The thing about Charlie's comment - switching the staff at Eckstein and Aki - is that it is utterly hypothetical. He can spout that off, and it can't be tested. It sounds like he's never worked in a southend school. I have. And the thing about students in poverty is that the parents can not be as involved in these schools as they are in wealthier areas. And because they aren't involved, a key piece of oversight is missing. In fact, arguably, it is the only piece of oversight in the system. And because that oversight is missing, quality from the staff is definitely missing. They can sink to the lowest level and nobody questions them. The staff really is not as good. They don't care about students falling through the cracks (they expect it), they don't care about any sort of due process or fairness (they are random with discipline and are punitive), they don't care about maintaining real standards of practice.

-other side
Jon said…
It does appear to be true that the problem in US schools is almost entirely around poverty. See, for example, this US Dept of Education study


which, on page 15 in Table 6, shows that the US is on par with other industrialized countries if you exclude poverty-stricken public schools.

That does imply the problem is poverty, though not what to do about it. My take on it is that the lack of a social safety net here in the US is a big part of the problem. Our public schools end up having to take on a lot of the expenses of poverty, which they are not able to do very well.
n said…
Other side: so, are you saying that the teachers at Eckstein wouldn't fall down on the job once parent oversight was gone? How do you know?

Your post confuses me a little. You are hypothetical as well if I'm reading you right.

Teachers at southend schools, in my experience, work very hard. Much harder than those of us in higher SES schools. So tell me, what can be done to help out those teachers who probably reach burn out and may give up when success is so hard to achieve? I'm not saying they do give up but I am asking how much you expect from teachers?

BTW, I started at Concord. I am now in the north end primarily because that is where live.
Anonymous said…
Other Side,
I agree that there is a huge disparity between parental oversight between north and south end school. However, I know there are many excellent teachers in our south end schools.
South End Parent
"He can spout that off, and it can't be tested.."

Sure it could but it hasn't. I feel sad you believe southend staff don't care about their students.
Anonymous said…
Yes, all the data shows that poverty is the biggest factor in school achievement. However, there are many students on Free or Reduced price lunch (the criteria used to establish wether or not a student is living in "poverty." I have never read a study that tries to figure out what is different between the FRL students that do demonstrate high academic achievement and the FRL students that do not. My guess is that the biggest factor is the educational level of the parents/gaurdians. If anyone knows of any studies that look at this, I would love to see them.
Southend Parent
Anonymous said…
-other side,
You have a great point. A point with which many will agree. I understand you to be saying that parental involvement is critical.

I agree. It is critical in so many ways.

I am curious, however, about the extent of your experience working in "a southend school". You have made a leap from your individual (personal? professional? parental?) experience and broadly attacked all of the staff working in this environment. You do not clarify whether your experience is in one classroom, widespread in one school or with multiple schools.

Your point loses traction because now you're attacking all staff as lacking quality, sinking to the lowest level, being not as good and not caring.


Your leap is not credible.

Anonymous said…
I'm just saying, that generally speaking, when people work without oversight, their work suffers. The oversight in this system is the parents. The system needs another form of oversight, when that one is missing.

-other side
Anonymous said…
-other side,
You are absolutely correct that there needs to be some degree of redundancy in processes and oversight. That should already be happening. Where is the principal in your equation? Where is the executive director of the region in your equation? Where is the leadership that should be providing motivation and support to the staff?

Unknown said…
I note that on LEV's website, Chris states she has a double major in Education and Sociology. Elsewhere, she also says she graduated from Beloit college. The problem with this is that she graduated in 1985, when Beloit College did not have a major in education. Beloit College is a liberal arts college with a liberal arts focus. My sister attended the same school at the same time as Chris and majored in sociology. It did not offer an education major until 1996. Chris may have qualified for a teaching certificate based on her coursework, but I can't see how she was a sociology/education double major at Beloit as she claims. I think Chris needs to offer an explanation for this claim.
Anonymous said…
Principals are the largest problem. Do you really think executive directors really do much to improve quality? Really??? I'd like to see the evidence for that one! Evidently, Chris thinks she and others take that place.

Anonymous said…
I have read this op-ed piece three times and -as yet- can not figure out the concrete things Korsmo suggested that will make a real difference in educating children disadvantaged by poverty and other circumstances. She stated,
"We start by acknowledging what these kids are going through. We show respect and empathy while providing hope and inspiration."

Ok I get that, but respect and empathy do not fill an empty tummy. Hope and inspiration do not make up for lack of sleep the night before or the dirty clothes that are worn day after day or the lack of hot water for bathing.

I am not sure what Chris expects from this piece. She hectors but provides no solutions. If she wants more wrap around services, she should say so -I agree with that and a longer school day and school year, yes I support that too - but say so.

Finally, Chris seems remarkably out of touch about the realities of public schools and would rather run around with her hair on fire. Sorry Chris & LEV, we cannot ignore poverty nor can we ignore the lack of funding for public education and social services.

seattle citizen said…
Here is the video of Seattle Speaks: State of Seattle Public Schools 2/10/2011 sponsored by the Seattle Channel and City Club, that Melissa references. Charlie is speaking of the "swapping teachers" idea at 60:00 minutes. Korsmo starts in at 73:40

She calls out the whole room as ignoring poor children.
Chris S. said…
Korsmo's comment "So how do we amplify the opportunities for kids living in poverty without ignoring their circumstances?" jumped out at me.

Isn't this the very point Charlie was making? There are differences between Aki & Eckstein besides "effective teachers?" Why does LEV limit itself to issues that DO ignore the circumstances?

This sounds like LEV fighting for the high road. Good. They need to fight for it.

Unknown said…
I watched the video. Chris Korsmo is the Don Quixote of Seattle Education. She's tilting at windmills.
Chris S. said…
Actually, this is just sort of a variation on the "fie, you lovers of the status-quo" argument. Booorrrrring. I am looking forward to the day when I can't read the Times drivel for free.

BUT, I am grateful for the commenter there who suggests a fortune-cookie variation
"May you be blessed with 2 boring parents." Love it!
Anonymous said…
Noisy parents. The " public " in public schools. Agree totally, but.. Why can't south end parents snoop around their kid's school like we do up north? Work, of course, but still. Folks have to make a little time to see what is going on and get involved. I mean seriously, not every parent works and a handful of involved parents can keep a school on their toes. Maybe we need some training on how to be a pushy parent. Any volunteers?

Mr. Whiskers
Charlie Mas said…
The thing about other side's comment - the critical role of parental oversight - is that it is utterly hypothetical. He can spout that off, and it can't be tested.

Don Alexander makes the same point. Don said that the real benefit of having an integrated school was that the White families wouldn't stand for sub-standard teachers, capricious discipline, or poor equipment. He relied on them to agitate effectively on behalf of all the children in the school.

I appreciate the fact that families and communities have to advocate for their children. You cannot rely on their teacher, their principal, the education director, anyone else in the system, or anyone in the broader community to advocate for your children - or any children.

However, I do not believe that this advocacy makes the difference between Eckstein and Aki Kurose. Nor am I comfortable with the expressed (but unsupported) contention that the teachers working in southend schools don't care about southend students.

This strikes me as an extension of the outrageous education reformer claim that teachers don't care about education - just their union benefits. I'm sorry, but who cares more about children's education than the very people who devote their lives and careers to it? In a similar fashion, who cares more about the education of students in low-income neighborhoods than the people who work at it full time? Am I supposed to believe that there is someone who cares more - but not enough to do the work? And these hidden angels care more about it than the people who actually are doing the work? Reconcile that for me, please.

Finally, let's not forget the futility of advocacy. It's not effective. Families picketed Rainier Beach High School to have the principal removed and it didn't work. APP and Spectrum families - people whom you would expect to be very effective advocates, have not been very successful when advocating for their children's programs. Parent advocacy is no silver bullet.
Anonymous said…
To even think that compare/contrasting Aki to Eckstein is a joke. Aki is badly run from the top down. The staff has no support from a Principal who is frankly utterly in over her head but then again most things would be.

This is not about Teachers or even the kids it is about the extrinsic, the poverty and the lack of support.

I have taught at both schools, I would never set foot in Aki Kurose ever again. Its a dump and no kid regardless will ever succeed there.

- Speaks the Truth
Anonymous said…
Other side,
You've stepped in it. You mildly stated the obvious, that parents can positively affect change at their kids school, and whammo, you're a heretic. Fire the torches! A teacher who sees the benefits of parental meddling. I've met many and they are ALWAYS the best teachers. Parents can be a pain, but no parents is a disaster. Please don't let the knee jerks scare you off this blog, your voice is refreshing.

seattle citizen said…
Speaks the Truth - "No kid regardless will ever succeed" at Aki?! Mighty harsh words, and patently untrue, as you yourself posit: "It's not about the teacher or the kids...it's about the poverty and lack of support." Some kids at Aki don't need much support. Many teachers are good. Some students WILL succeed. Have a liite more hope.
Linh-Co said…
I have heard substitute teachers comparing notes about the various schools in Seattle. There are some schools that no one wants to go back even at $140-$160 a day. You would get calls for subbing jobs as late as 9:30-10:00am because no one wanted to take those positions.

Anonymous said…
Charlie, did I say "teachers" were awful at south end schools? No I did not. I said, generally speaking, working without oversight results in lower quality. And to be quite clear, I said "staff" tends to be worse. Indeed that is my experience. And, primarily, that lack of quality starts with the principal. They set the low bar of expectations, and teachers follow. Teachers who believe in more for students, generally leave. And finally, advocacy is not completely futile. For example, southend minority parent who know about the disproportionate discipline in the district, are recently able to use that to stem the tide of random and wanton discipline by simply bringing it up. But, if they don't/can't show up on behalf of their kids, or know about the issues, nothing changes. Self-monitoring is entirely within the ability of the district to ameliorate. My guess is this is the basic point Korsmo is making. Stop the excuses, do what needs doing.

Other Side
Mr. Whiskers, actually there are two programs to help parents become advocates. One is via the district (although Blaine parents who went thru the training then complained at a Board meeting that their principal didn't want the program at their school) and one is via CPPS.

I don't think advocacy is futile but I also think there is strength in numbers.

Okay Other Side, what is "do what needs doing?" Because I didn't read that in Korsmo's op-ed. (She also didn't say her parents advocated for her.)
Anonymous said…
I would have liked to see Chris Korsmo cast on the TV series, Friends. Picture her hanging out with Ross, Joey, and Chandler and barking at them and all the nutty hijinks that would ensue.

Anonymous said…
I would like to see someone offer "pushy parent" training. I wonder who would be an appropriate group to design the training? Ideally, you'd want to empower parents with a standard of what they *should* expect and then train them in the tools to ask for their expectations to be met, compassionately and politely.

Not every parent can do it -- some might be overwhelmed, too busy, scared, or dysfunctional. But, having a group of parents who are busy bodies clearly makes a difference in a school. A lot of us depend on those parents to keep things going, not just the poor.

Anonymous said…

And that training should teach the difference between advocacy and micromanagement. While mostly parents are champion supporters of teachers, schools and student learning, there are those who give parent advocates a bad name. Ask the teachers how you can help. If they don't know, ask again next week or suggest a way you could help. If you have concerns about the class, have the courtesy to speak to the teacher instead of running to the principal with hearsay.

open ears
Anonymous said…
Aki has enormous grade inflation ... I calculated it from information on school report cards. That points squarely at a principal, who pressures teachers to give higher grades than warrented. Aki has high teacher turnover and the principal sought lots of TFA teachers for the intial year of TFA placements. That may have been to curry favor with DownTown Admin.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
When is a parent to go directly to the principal and when do they talk to the teacher first?

Sometimes you will talk to the teacher first, but other times you want to maintain some anonymity. Sometimes it's necessary to sidestep the teacher precisely because you don't want to micromanage the teacher - you might need the principal to step in and manage the situation.

Knowing what to do in different situations would be helpful for parents.


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