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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Seattle Schools' Professional Development Study

Update:  Yesterday, I said this about the "study" 

Despite my suspicions about how this study came about, there is some solid information here and is worth a read. 
As you can see, I changed my mind.  

Why don't I believe this is a serious study?

I am unsure who Ms. Liu  talked to and when and what data she looked at to conduct and then write the report on the study.  There is a lot of vagueness in the report on this point. 

She mentions talking to staff in Teaching and Learning, HR, and Business and Finance.  She says she spoke to: 

Senior-level professionals in Central Office at SPS and assistance from many more.

So who did she talk to and when and for how long?  Who authorized her to talk to all these people and why?  

But the real question for me is why the district decided to open the door to an non-educational outside entity line OSC who used just one researcher.  Because I can think of many other groups who might like to have this kind of access to top leaders in the district.

Did the district not consider this when they said yes to this study or did they (unwittingly) trust the OSC to hire someone who knows public education issues?

Also, if Ms. Liu, after one year in public education is now an education consultant, well, then I am more than ready to put out my education consultant shingle.  It amazes me how little it takes today to profess expertise in public education.

End of update.

Our friends over at the "Our" Schools Coalition commissioned a study from on professional development in Seattle Schools. 

This study is preliminary work to what appears to be an on-going interest from the OSC.  They've chosen to start at the top with Central SPS staff.  (Only SEA and Central staff were interviewed, not teachers.)

I found some of the statements in the study to be:
  • amazing (the district spends $44M on PD - who would have guessed it?), 
  • depressing (Central Office staff appear to lack a clear and shared vision of what PD should be accomplishing) and 
  • troubling (PD resources are available but are not always widely or equitably distributed) and (The language in the CBA is at times ambiguous).    
 As well,
An SPS Strategic Plan and other key strategic documents exist, but they were not referred to consistently, if at all, nor do they seem to be driving the everyday work of individual program managers.

(I pause here to note who did the work.  It says "University of Washington" but the author does not work for them.  It also does not specify what department at UW which I find a bit odd.  I have some calls in to find out.

The author is a "consultant on education policy issues" named Amy Liu.  Ms. Liu has an interesting path to public education.

She got her law degree and worked in law offices about 2 years.  Then, she went to work for Freddie Mac for over five years.  Then, she worked in DC public schools for about a year as the Acting Director of the Office of Secondary School Transformation.  This would be in the last year of Michelle Rhee's tenure in D. C.  Then Liu became - based on that vast educational experience - a PK-12 education consultant which she has done for the last two years.  The City actually hired her for a brief time to work on the Families and Education work.  

Oh, and she just started working for LEV as policy director  in Feb. but that got left off her resume in this report.  LEV is part of Our Schools so nothing like having someone who works for one of the groups in your coalition do the writing for the study your coalition commissioned.

 I honestly would not have thought anything about it but something about that bio looked odd.)

21 comments:

Unknown said...

@Melissa,
I am very suspicious of any studies that LEV/OSC or any other reform-based organization put out. They tend to be political agenda-oriented, poorly done, biased, non-transparent, lacking authority and all-in-all lacking legitimacy. This "study" is is a case in point. As you pointed out, it does not say what department at the University of Washington was charged with the work. It does not even say how many people participated in the interviews--which could be as low as three, and what exactly the questions were. It does not indicate what percentage of respondents responded in a certain way. I am very unclear what Ms. Liu's qualifications are to do educational research.

Moving on to the broader issue of access and authority that some local nonprofits assume, how does LEV/OSC gain access to school district employees on school district time to conduct "research?"

It's all very odd.


Melissa Westbrook said...

As it turns out, UW had nothing to do with it. Ms.Liu just cites a previous study - done by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at UW - but she did the interviews and analysis herself.

I find it all very confusing. SPS gave one person representing one group access to top managers for a one-person study?

I'm with you, Mary - it's all very odd.

Hmmm said...

p. 9 What are TRI funds?

I'm having a hard time believing the district spends $44M per year on PD.

What is going on?

mirmac1 said...

TRI - Time, Response, Intervention are supplemental teacher contracts for additional duties they may be assigned.

Anonymous said...

The LEV "study" is not complimentary to SPS central office management. A little kink in the romance? More importantly it puts a $44 million target on SEA and teachers. Ok, back to that PTA fundraising/ moveathon/auction/bake sales/annual giving/volunteer science/reading/math tutoring I signed up for.

Ugh

Anonymous said...

I don't believe PTA funds used to pay for professional development are included in the $44 million amount. At our school, we spent about 15% of our PTA budget on PD this year - mostly to provide training that wasn't covered by the District that our teachers benefited from. No idea how much of that $44M wound up benefiting our teachers. I hope they survey them as well to get a frank assessment of the value we got out of those funds.

- Possibly Dumb

tk said...

This is very interesting timing on the PD report, re: current Waiver requests for PD to the state

1. The district applied for a 3-full day PD waiver, as well as a 3-day Parent/Teacher conference waiver (for the next 3 years), but the renewal applications were BOTH denied for numerous reasons by the State Board of Education (on May 9th).

2. On May 13th the SEA voted to approve the 2013-14 calendar, including the 6 waiver days which were denied the previous week.

3. On May 15th the SPS Board still was presented with the 2013-14 calendar for Intro & Action on the same night (including the same 6 waiver days which were denied by the state!).

4. The state will review "re-submitted" Waiver applications again in July at their Board meeting. Apparently, SPS will re-submit both of their waiver applications (one for PD and one for parent-teacher conferences).

Interesting to also note that parents, teachers & students have never been surveyed about their opinion on the 3-PD waiver days, even though this type of input/buy-in is required by both state law and specifically asked about in the state's Waiver application (SPS's initial application merely answered that parents attended the 2008 meetings about the Strategic Plan, which included PD- that was 5 years ago!).

Why were surveys sent to parents this winter about the conference waiver days (3 full days favored by parents over 7 early release days), but never surveys for the 3 PD waiver days?

I would be very interested to hear from teachers especially about the effectiveness of these days V.S. cutting into their classroom instructional time.

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

I believe the figure Ms. Liu gives for Professional Development is off by a magnitude of 10. The number cited in SPS in the 2012-2013 budget is $4.19 million, not $44 million. There are additional pockets of money available through the Teacher Incentive Fund which may add up to a total of less than 2 million per year and there may be federal funds that have been available for Math and Science Professional Development that amounted to $ 256,766 in the 2010-2011 year. Citing numbers the way that she has puts this report in the realm of hearsay rather than research.

Wouldn't you think she would actually look at a budget or talk to someone in the budget office about her numbers? $16,000 per certificated staff is a ridiculous number. If she is going to stick by her numbers, than she better backup them up better.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mary, I just updated this thread because, in re-reading the study, I was struck by its vagueness. Who did the author talk to, what data did she look at? And why did the district open its doors to a single researcher from a non-education background (both in her professional life AND not associated with a university or college).

It all seems odd.

Unknown said...

@Melissa,
When we get any study by an ed reform group, we need to be very sceptical. As "Ugh" said, this point of this "study" is probably to put some political heat on the district about wasting funds.

As you hinted at, the question of how organizations get access needs to be addressed. To whom do I address my email about this?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I told the Board about this because frankly, they are the ones to tell the Superintendent that this is not acceptable.

Someone up the food chain gave permission and access to staff and data. Who did that and why?

mirmac1 said...

Who? Let me guess. Harmon. Burnett. The CBA negotiating team with their consultants.

I'm glad you changed your thinking Melissa. I started reading this and after the third page thought I was reading A4E/LEV/OSC propaganda or "scholarship" on the level of CRPE/CEL. Take your pick among the ed reform vassals.

I'll bet this "researcher" included in PD costs the bill for subs, extra transportation for elective half-days, salaries on PD days (a sunk cost), shoot maybe even the light, garbage and water bill at JSCEE.

Liu should be called out on this crap research. She is saying that PD costs nearly 10% of the entire annual operating budget for SPS. Hmmm, with analytical skills that that, is it a wonder Freddie Mac went under?

disgusted said...

I'm sure we're not done hearing about this bogus $44M being spent on PD.

District budget indicated $5.9M for professional development.

It is also worth remembering that the STAR mentorship was depleted for years.

Disgusted said...

Kent School District is proposing 30 ( yes 30!) late start days! Lots of discussion around benefits of collaboration.

Without a doubt, students benefit from collaboration, but 30 late start days !!

tk said...

30+ late starts/early dismissals for PD already exists in some Seattle secondary schools- look at Hale (27 site-based late starts, plus 5 district, plus 1 furlough = 33 this year, almost one every week!). Numerous Seattle middle & high schools average one early release every 2 weeks. And that’s not including the 3 full waiver days for PD (and up to 3 days for parent-teacher conferences).

The kicker is that there are NO state laws or rules regulating these partial days (and NO local Seattle district rules or policy either). The sky is the limit!

Currently, if the State does not approve Seattle’s 3 full waiver days for PD, in addition to the 5 early release days already on the calendar, we could see an additional 6 or more early releases for PD. This is not only very disruptive for families (day care issues, as well as middle school & high school kids out on the streets at 12:30 on a regular basis), but the deeper issue is how disruptive partial days are for the instruction of our students, especially at the middle & high school levels (30 minute classes just don’t cut it).

(additional side note) The State Board of Education tried to pass a new law this past session (defining a "school day" for the 180-day rule, as having at least 5 instructional hours) but various school district officials testified against it vigorously.
An extreme example of bending the 180-day rule: Eckstein required 7th & 8th graders to show up only for the last 20 minutes of school the 1st day in September, so 6th graders could have a "slow start", but the real reason was that the 20 minutes would then count as a full school day for the 180 day state law!

mirmac1 said...

And tk, that kind of insanity costs $$$ in additional transportation costs for yellow bus service. The board is considering taking away the prerogative of school admins to have excessive partial days.

tk said...

mirmac 1-
I'm very interested in more details to: "The board is considering taking away the prerogative of school admins to have excessive partial days."

Are you referring to SPS Board or the State (SBE) Board? In what committees and/or Board meetings has this discussion come up? Is it related to transportation costs or instructional integrity?

It seems as if the C&I Committee (and SPS staff) has given a free pass for years to all site-based partial days related even remotely under the Professional Development umbrella.

This is time sensitive, as it ties in directly to the new Professional Development waiver application which has to be re-submitted to the State Board of Education in July, after the first application was denied (by SBE Board vote- despite what the SPS Board has been told by the district staff).

Please include specific dates of meetings, so I can follow up on this.
Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Nathan Hale has late start Tuesdays for a very long time. It is collaborative time for the teachers. I would say that most families at Nathan Hale have adjusted and are okay with the late starts. I know my freshman loved them and I haven't heard a single person complain about them. They are just a part of the Nathan Hale culture.

HP

mirmac1 said...

March 27, 2013 Budget work session. Several board members had questions for Westgard with respect to the variability of early release days among buildings and whether there was any coordination or restrictions on this. A number expressed that this would be among the easiest, most sensible way to save money on extra bus runs.

tk said...

Thanks, Mirmac. It's really telling that a discussion about PD revolves around the district budget and not much about the impact on student's instructional time (or loss thereof).

The minutes you linked mentioned that the Friday memos (linked from the Board's webpage) would have follow-up- I did find several documents including 2 (March 29, April 12) with PD budget breakdowns for next year, totaling "only" $5.8 M.