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Sunday, April 07, 2013

Seattle Schools and their Strategic Plan

You'd think after all the years that I've complained about parents being not included in district initiatives that I might have welcomed the planning for the new Strategic Plan.

Nope.

My first inkling of "Danger, Will Robinson" was this what? 50,60,70-person Strategic Plan Taskforce.  I knew I wouldn't be applying for that one because I can only imagine a meeting with that many people.

Second, isn't this the Board and the Superintendent's job?  I mean, draw up a plan, get input/feedback and roll it out. 

Third, I attend the first community meeting for the planning at Eckstein last week.  I've been to many of these dog-and-pony shows and frankly, I wasn't impressed.  There were maybe 50 people including Directors Peaslee, Carr and Martin-Morris and Superintendent Banda. 

So I'll say upfront - I'd skip these meetings and take the survey.   The survey closes on Monday, April 15th.  Or send an e-mail to the Board with your suggestions but I found the meeting not very useful.   There is also a review of the two-year progress of the current plan.  It's impressive in its scope but I have to wonder if parents would be as high on the results as it sounds like they are (especially Special Ed parents).

For the record, they will review all feedback by April 24th and then it all goes back to the Taskforce by May 1.  It will then go onto the Superintendent and finally, the Board for approval in July.

For some reason, they chose to have the first meeting in Eckstein's cavernous auditorium.  It's not conducive to great interaction.  Then, they chose about the dullest way to present the information that they could.  

At the beginning of the presentation (this done by a member of the team from Pivot, the company charged with guiding this process), it was noted that the previous plan had been under the helm of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.  It was a bit of a shock to open that document and see her face.  On the next page, in rather large letters were these goals:

Over the next five years, our goals include:
88% of third-grade students meet or exceed reading standards (up from 72% in 2006-2007)
80% of seventh-grade students meet or exceed math standards (up from 53% in 2006-2007)
75% of students graduate from high school in four years (up from 62% in 2006-2007)

(I digress here to call your attention to that last number - 75% graduation.  And this was from a Broad Academy principal who loved ed reform.  According to the current group of ed reformers in Seattle, that number would be a terrible one and yet it was the one Dr. Goodloe-Johnson chose.)

I saw those goals and the Pivot presenter was talking about the new goals for this new Strategic Plan.  I raised my hand and pointed out the old goals out and asked where the district was on them.  I didn't expect the Pivot guy to know but Clover Codd?  Erin Bennett?  Other district staff?  No, no one had a clue.

Onward.  There was then talk about the need for equity and "equity of access."  We were told the latter phrase came from the Taskforce.  As well, the Taskforce spoke out for the arts in public education as well as CTE classes and programs.

What ended up happening is we were to get into small (and uncomfortable) groups to talk about vision/mission and core belief statements and draft goals and strategies.  (People did complain later about the difficulty of grouping for this work and we were told it couldn't be helped.)

What came out of the group work?  Themes:
  • More money for the classroom.  Every single group said money was needed for all these efforts.
  • uses/purposes of testing.  How will community, teachers and parents know if the testing is working?
  • Good teachers - find them, help train them, retain them
  • more clarity around terms especially what 21st Century skills look like
  • Social/emotional development of students
  • Mission statement - Here's what it says:
Seattle Public Schools is a diverse community committed to equitable access and excellence for each and every student in order to close the achievement and opportunity gaps.

The issue people had with this was that it sounds like all the district really wants to do is close the gap, not make sure that each child's academic needs are being met.  Simply closing the gap - big job that it is - is not enough for a school district to reach for as a goal.

One group bluntly put it that it sounds like there is a limited pool of resources and that most of it will go towards helping one group of students.

There were several participants, including me, that believe the list of core beliefs, goals and strategies is too long and too unwieldy.

There's a lot of "what we want to do, what's important" and "develop and implement a plan" versus HOW it is going to be done.  

Keep it simple is always a good guide.  What they need - really - in buy-in and you don't get it from something that isn't direct and basic.

27 comments:

Ingraham Bound said...

APP and IB was used to sell Ingraham to north-end parents. Will the district honor their promise to this program? Or, will they look to cut funding to that program? It is bad enough that we have 40 students in some classrooms.

Jon said...

What's wrong with a mission statement that focuses on measurable goals? How about this for the mission statement: "Almost all students (90%+) exceed math and reading standards and graduate from high school in four years?" Is that really too much to ask?

Patrick said...

I'm not sure how it helps the District to make up a 'would be nice' number that no one has any idea how to achieve. As long as we're dreaming, why not 'Every student graduates from high school within 4 years with full scholarship offers to several Ivy League colleges'?

MGJ's idea for achieving higher graduation rates was watering down the graduation requirements. Is that really what we want?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jon, there's nothing wrong with measurable goals. That mission statement, though, makes it sound like once they meet closing the achievement gap, their work is done. Except it isn't.

Anonymous said...

Powerful letter from retiring teacher in Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/04/06/teachers-resignation-letter-my-profession-no-longer-exists/

Sniffy

Anonymous said...

I found the survey for the Strategic Plan maddening. One, I think the whole effort is a waste of money and time. I find it hard to believe that anything will really change as a result of having a new plan. And as Melissa pointed out, the District can't even say how they did in terms of meeting the previous strategic plan.

Two, while I agree that closing the achievement gap is important, the survey focuses on that to the exclusion of everything else. I saw nothing in the survey for students that already meet or exceed the standards. Why isn’t there some sort of goal about having as many students exceed the standards as possible? Or having enough spots in advanced learning for every student who qualifies? I’d love to see a goal of having all kids in 3rd grade reading at least at a 3rd grade level – and have X% of kids in 3rd grade reading one grade above level, and have Y% of kids in 3rd grade read two grades above level.

Third, this plan will do nothing to close the achievement gap. What I think would be most effective would be high quality pre-school and pre-k programs and then lots of tutors for reading and math who could provide one on one or small group support to kids in elementary school. The resources going into this plan would be better spent on actually providing services to the kids who aren’t meeting standards.

Frustrated.

suep. said...

Hi Melissa,
What is the source of the mission statement you cite? Is it the existing one from MGJ's strategic plan, or something that was created at the Eckstein meeting, or did Pivot say that the Task Force created it? I don't think it can be the latter, because that would not be an accurate representation of what the Task Force said. Plus, I don't believe we were tasked with composing a final mission statement -- just suggestions that could go towards it.

In the Task Force, a number of members spoke of the importance of being a district that promotes the joy of learning, that is student-centric and focuses on the whole child, and that allows creativity. If these values are allowed to be incorporated into the final mission and vision statements, then I believe the district will be heading in a more meaningful and inspired direction than it was with the last strategic plan.

mirmac1 said...

What's the point of having an REA department if nobody cares about the data except for the private Alliance reception for the District scorecard?

The '12 numbers on the old goals are:
74%
67%
74% - the last one will be easy for them. Of course the REAL figure in the original SP was 80%.

District Scorecard

What I want to know is who came up with the proposed goals? If it was the board, who "facilitated" their thinking that closing the opportunity/achievement gap merited top billing? Probably the same people who are paying for Pivot. The same people who have us going down ratholes with pilots and experiments that are unproven, while abandoning the hard work of communities RB and Ingraham. yada yada.

Anonymous said...

Frustrated
One possibility for closing the achievement plan is to push the gifted students back, cap their education and limit their learning. This is obviously SPS "excellence for all" plan.
Frustrated 2

suep. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
suep. said...

To address Frustrated's concerns, having said what I did above, it's also true that certain members of the Task Force (mostly SPS and city staffers) and the Pivot facilitators themselves have tended to focus pretty exclusively on the "achievement/opportunity gap" and the issue of "equity" (without completely defining them).

I share your concern that this may be too narrowly interpreted by some. I agree that equity should mean that all children in SPS (of all backgrounds and abilities) should be given fair opportunities and resources to fulfill their potential. Arguably, this has not been the case not only for children struggling academically, but for children in the Special Ed and gifted communities, and also all the kids in between whose needs should not be overlooked either.

I worry too that "closing the achievement gap" can be interpreted by some to mean pushing from both ends towards a middle.

On the TF, I have tried to advocate for changes that I believe will help all the children of SPS, such as adopting solid math texts and curricula, allowing more creative autonomy for schools and teachers.

I really believe the district has to stop treating its priorities like a zero-sum game. There are decisions and resource allocations that the district can make that will help every child in the district have a better, more fulfilling experience in school.


Anonymous said...

suep and Melissa
Thank you for being on the TF and advocating for everyone in the district. And thank you also for sharing the information with us.
Frustrated 2

Anonymous said...

Urgh! This is why my kids go to Catholic school rather than SPS. This focus on platitudes rather than measurable goals and objectives, plus the overemphasis on closing the achievement and opportunity gaps, equitable access (to what?), and cultural competence, is maddening!

--- Frustrated 3

Anonymous said...

It would also mean stopping efforts that benefit all children in the district(like, say better math curriculum) if it does not disproportionally help struggling children. And poorly incentivizes parents to find something "wrong" with their children so that they can be considered a priority for SPS, and has to consider outliers a "problem," since they exaggerate the gap.

I agree- terrible mission statement. SPS is supposed to educate all children in the district, even the ones who are not currently struggling. Closing the achievement gap is a necessary part of that goal, but only one part.

-sleeper

mirmac1 said...

Let's see...Erinn Burnett, Clover Codd, Holly Miller, Sid Sidowizc, all the trusty foot soldiers of the downtown elites. Too bad Jose Banda seems to adopted the A4E/LEV/OSC agenda as his own. Did he have nothing on his own to offer? I used to think he did.

Anonymous said...

Instead of assuming equitable access doesn't apply to your kids, take the strategy that it does. That makes you a stakeholder. Take a look at other districts like Bellevue, Fedreral Way, Kent, and see what's in their SP language. You will see similarities. (Personally, I like more emphasis on the accountability part as SP no matter how well written wouldn't mean much without it.) Not sure SPS can write a SP and leave out the achievement gap issue. Catholic schools and private schools can do that.

rain gauge

Anonymous said...

Bellevue public schools, "Our Goals":
1) All students will reach or exceed academic proficiency
2) Eliminate the achievement gap
3) All students, including those who already meet or exceed academic proficiency, will show measurable progress

So achievement gap closure is one of three goals (as opposed to the only goal- I don't think anyone has a problem with achievement gap closure as one of the most important goals the district should have, just not as the only goal they intend to work on), and the main goals ALSO include students who meet or exceed standard.

Could we just adopt that one? That one seems great to me. Then we wouldn't need anymore of these useless dog and pony shows (I went to the meeting last Monday, too. It was a bust- my whole group left and felt we couldn't say much anyway about the language unless we knew what concrete action the board felt the language was attached to).

-sleeper

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sleeper, I like that one - it covers all students.

Patrick said...

I like it, too, because it's written in plain English instead of management consultant vague cliches.

Anonymous said...

Stripping it down to the bare bones, it seems to me the overall MISSION should be something simple, e.g., to educate all the diverse students in SPS to help them reach their potential.

There could then be a number of key GOAL that align with this overall mission, such as the 3 Bellevue goals noted by sleeper--all students are at least proficient, all actually learn something (progress), and elimination (or reduction) of achievement gap.

A focus on equitable access, then, could be one strategy used to help achieve these, and I'm sure there are a number of indicators SPS could use to track short-term progress in this particular area (e.g., SPED, ELL, special supports for low-income students and low performing schools, etc). But hey, if the focus is really on equitable access, why does the whole rich PTA vs. poor PTA thing fly???

HIMSmom

mirmac1 said...

sleeper -
amen!

But then the foot soldiers can't persevere and say 75+ individuals representing a myriad of...?...agreed that we had ONE priority that happened to align with A4E/LEV/OSC.

Charlie Mas said...

It all depends on your definition of equity.

For some, equity means that children of all backgrounds and abilities get a fair opportunity and the necessary resources to fulfill their potential.

For others, and this includes many who are guiding the process, equity means that children of all backgrounds and abilities get a fair opportunity and the necessary resources to meet Standards.

The difference is obvious when you come across a student who has the potential to exceed the Standards.

Charlie Mas said...

The District likes to talk about equitable access because as long as they are talking about it they don't have to actually provide it.

They don't have to provide equitable access to language immersion, Montessori, IB, CTE, Spectrum, ALO, alternative curricula, or alternative instructional strategies. So long as they are talking about it, no one will expect them to deliver.

They want to talk about it, but they don't want to deliver. If they did, then they would have. They would have done student assignment to the Montessori and language immersion programs as option assignment. They would have enforced the Spectrum delivery model and, when necessary, merged programs to form effective ones. They would have right-sized the programs to meet the demand. They would have retained the 10% set-aside for choice seats in high schools. They would have duplicated successful programs like TOPS. They would have allowed more schools to use different math texts. The fact that they have done none of these things is indisputable evidence that they value operational ease more than they value equity.

Wanda said...

Face it mirmac; what you see is what Mr. Banda has to offer.

Totally captive of the downtown business association and entrenched "reformers".

M.O. said...

Here are my rambling thoughts that I submitted with my survey responses:

MISSION comments:
Honestly, it would be helpful to see competing ideas of mission statements. I'm not sure how to evaluate this in a vacuum. There are always TRADE OFFs in these types of exercises and I'm not sure what other missions we could have and how to think about one versus another. I would say that closing the achievement gap is essential but NOT by lowering standards which is why "excellence" for all is key. Do not want watering down of standards, want us to aim high for EVERYONE.

VISION comments:
Again, similar to my comments about mission, I want to see competing vision statements to be able to evaluate the tradeoffs we are making by selecting this one. Hard to evaluate in a vacuum. Also everything rides on one's definition (and metrics used to evaluate) on what "high quality" and "21st century education" mean. I fully understand that those details aren't part of a vision statement, but they are not as specific as I would like--there is a ton of wiggle room in them. I would rather have something more measurable and expansive like how we want our students to have an education that puts us at the top of the heap internationally.

CORE BELIEFS comments:
I'm sad that the core belief of “our students come first” is necessary to state and is so generic as to be meaningless and not actionable. What does this mean?!

GOALS & STRATEGIES comments:
Ensure excellence & equity: in this first goal, there is stunningly no strategy around excellence. Common Core standards are a starting point, not an end point. In Seattle we should have cutting edge, internationally competitive offerings that produce the best in the nation. Why aim so low? Nothing here ups the ante or raises the bar. We must think bigger, not status quo, not even just fixing the status quo.

Invest in Effective Teachers & Leaders: There MUST be a separate strategy around recruiting and retaining amazing principals--a focused dedicated goal on this one. They are the best tool for retaining and recruiting great teachers. No one wants to work for a mediocre person, let's acknowledge this. Likewise there should be special accountability for these leaders, and not pushed only on teachers. The people who have the power to hire and fire must be help disproportionately accountable for results.

Again, for the strategy on recruiting effective teachers, we need to aim higher: the strategies here are all about the stick and not the carrot (e.g., establish high expectations and hold accountable)--where are the strategies for systematically rewarding excellence? Fostering a culture of excellence means more than spanking the under performers, it's about rewarding those who put their heart and soul into their job.

Anonymous said...

My thoughts to the survey:
What do you believe are the greatest challenges/barriers to the draft updated strategic plan framework?
Deficits in leadership and courage. Getting rid of the people at the central office who are part of the problem. If you believe in accountability look at the evidence of what people have not done. Accountability starts at the top, not the bottom.

11. What are your recommendations to make the implementation of the updated strategic plan successful? In particular, how can we ensure that the plan is valuable and that the community feels ownership of the plan?
Solve real problems based on real evidence. Start with the low hanging fruit of the mess of APP, math, capacity planning, special ed--all the BROKEN programs. Then aim for the stars with excellence for everyone and live up to our democratic promise of education as the great equalizer and the engine for our country's future growth. Someone I know who wrote a check to the IRS recently put on the memo, "spend it wisely" -- please do the same with public trust and your "fiduciary" responsibility to the kids and society at large.

Anonymous said...

I hope teachers will all receive a good retirement benefit from now on. They really need it so they can live in comfort later on and of course, get a decent a long term care plan. Teachers deserve to live in a community like ny retirement community so they can have a great retirement years.