Ugh. The Seattle Times

Today's Seattle Times features this guest column: Education reforms for state students blocked by WEA by Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center.

In this one, brief guest column she manages to squeeze in nearly every single lie about public schools. It is a remarkable achievement.

  • "lawmakers passed a budget that will direct an additional $1 billion to the public schools"
Hmm. Depends on what you call "additional". Since a significant part of the money was taken from the amount that was already supposed to be part of education funding (the teachers' COLA), I don't think you can legitimately call it all "additional".
  • "reforms to improve how the money is spent were blocked by the state’s powerful public-sector union, the Washington Education Association (WEA),"
All of the new "additional" dollars are dedicated to specific purposes, so it wasn't the WEA but the Senate that dictated how the money would be spent.
  • "But only about 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom, "
I've never understood this statistic. For an education dollar to reach the classroom it would have to be spent how? On teacher salary. So the only way to increase the portion of the education dollar that reaches the classroom would be to either increase teacher salaries or reduce class sizes. Is that what she's advocating? I don't think so. 
  • "The most important factor in whether students are learning is the quality of the teacher in the classroom."
This is simply false. All of the dominant factors in academic achievement are home-based, not school-based. All studies show this. Ms Finne's statement is just a flat-out lie.
  • "Studies show that high-performing schools provide an effective and knowledgeable teacher in every classroom, supported by a strong principal who insists on high academic standards for students."
Unfortunately these studies define "an effective and knowledgeable teacher" as one that improves test scores and then measures their impact by how much they improve test scores. It is the worst sort of circular logic. All they find is that the teachers with students who score well on tests tend to have students who score well on tests. Seriously. As for "a strong principal", there is, again, no measure of principal strength out there and therefore no way to measure the impact of a strong principal. Where, by the way, is the accountability for principals comparable to the accountability that folks like Ms Finne wants to slap on teachers?
  • "allowed school principals to hire the best teachers and end the practice of endlessly transferring bad teachers from one school to another"
Even the principals didn't want this. This is just a bad idea from top to bottom. Here's a better idea: how about the principals do their jobs and fire ineffective teachers instead of transferring them?
  • "They wanted to give schools A–F letter grades"
A pointless exercise. The letter grades would tell families nothing that they didn't already know. The letter grade would actually be based entirely on the accountability index, which is a single number grade. So all this would do is replace a number score with a letter grade. This is the big reform idea?
  • "The recommended reforms would have ended the social promotion of students who cannot read at grade level by third grade"
Who should decide if a student is promoted to the fourth grade - the teacher, family, and principal who know the child or the state legislature with all of their educational expertise and knowledge of the student?
  • "Changes would also have directed that future compensation adjustments for teachers, beyond an adjustment for inflation, be provided in the form of professional training in methods that actually work at teaching underachieving students how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide."
First of all, the teachers didn't even get the adjustment for inflation that Ms Finne seems to assume. Second, in what world is professional training regarded as compensation? "You did a great job this year, Smithers, so in lieu of a raise we're going to pay for you to take a class. This won't replace the continuing education classes that you have to pay for and it won't qualify you for a hiring paying job, but we've decided to consider it your raise.
  • "these lawmakers are strong defenders of the educational status quo, fearing policy changes that may threaten the position of adults in the system."
I can't believe that I have to say it again. No responsible person supports the status quo in public education. The discussion is whether to adopt one set of reforms or another.
  • "The WEA is also working to cut education services for children. Many school districts, at the request of WEA representatives, are seeking to close school doors at noon Wednesdays or Fridays. While the cuts would certainly reduce classroom work hours for adults, they would deprive students of important instructional hours."
The early closures are to implement the reforms that people like Liv Finne keep calling for: more student data review. She would prefer that the teachers get the additional work but not be allowed the time in which to accomplish it. If she and her fellows were not pressing with their instructional strategy reform, the teachers wouldn't need this time to do all of the data management that it requires.
  • "last week the WEA union filed a frivolous lawsuit in an attempt to deny students access to charter schools."
Frivolous? We'll see. Their case appears to have a lot of merit. When you get pulled over by the cops for speeding it isn't the cop's fault. The I-1240 people should have edited their boilerplate initiative from ALEC to meet the requirements of the Washington State constitution.
  • "lawmakers are improving public education by giving parents more choice in selecting the school that works best for their children."
Really? Too bad they didn't decide to improve public education by fully funding it. Do families need more choices or do they need better choices? They already have a lot of choice.
  • "Washington voters enacted the new charter-school law to provide school choice for parents"
Is THAT why they did it? I hadn't heard it expressed that definitively. It that's the case then they wasted their money and their votes because it is terribly ineffective in that regard.
  • " reforms that give most Washington parents a greater voice in their children’s education "
Review the reforms that were rejected by the House. None of them gave parents a greater voice in their children's education. Not one of them. Not the one that would allow principals to hire only the teachers they want, not the required retention for students who fail the third grade reading MSP, not the proposed change in teacher compensation, and not the letter grade for schools. None of them were about giving more voice to families.

Almost every statement in this guest column was false. What a shame that this is what passes for discourse. What a shame that the Seattle Times lends their credibility to these lies.


Anonymous said…
Wow, Charlie Mas-- this is a powerful rebuttal. Thank you for it.

"The most important factor in whether students are learning is the quality of the teacher in the classroom."

She missed the talking points on how to say this: it's supposed to be the most important factor IN school, not overall. Because Charlie is right, OVERALL, the most important factor is home environment.
Ryan said…
The 59% figure, which she's been using for at least 5 years, only works because she doesn't believe bus drivers, librarians, and most special ed staff really count or are good for kids.
Anonymous said…
Charlie, it is good thing for WEA that we dues paying pee-ons can't pick where our messaging and advocacy money goes, cuz, I bet thousands of us would pick YOU!

I do love these these Phantastic Voyages of the Livs -

if the WEA wasn't pretty much completely incompetent, there'd be an income tax and financial fraudsters would be in jail, because all are necessary to have adequate funding for community investment - such as schools!

At least she's doing her job - her side keeps pushing these phantasies of the powerful unions, meanwhile Rodney Tom & Tim Eyeman are running the state into the ground.

Unknown said…
More Ugh the Seattle Times:
From an article today by Katherine Long focusing on higher education:

Report critical of Gates Foundation’s higher-ed impact, "The Seattle Times recently received a grant from Solutions Journalism Network to explore some of the vexing issues of educational reform in K-12 and higher education, and to write about potential solutions. The Gates Foundation is a major funder of Solutions Journalism Network, and provided much of the money for the grant."

Holy Vexing Issues of Educational Reform indeed! This grant must be very recent, as neither the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website grantee database nor the Solutions Journalism Network website (which states it discloses all donors) discloses this grant. So now, in addition to the Journal of Higher Education, PBS, NPR, Crosscut, and Education Week, the BMG has bought itself more policy support in the Times. Next thing you know the Stranger will announce its grant.
ScrawnyKayaker said…
Organize a boycott of the Suburban Times' advertisers. If there are enough of us, they might become a bit less crappy in their bias.

Probably not, though, since Blethen clearly considers the paper as much a mouthpiece for his right-wing social engineering goals as a business. How long can seniors and sports fans prop up that dying business model anyway?
Anonymous said…
Finding an original thought in a Liv Finne piece is harder than finding a needle in a haystack.

And of course her hero is Turncoat Tom.

seattle citizen said…
In today’s Seattle Times, we see illustrated, in two stories, the problem with the Gates Foundation having a say in public education. While they focus on higher education, ny inference they also address the meddling in K-12 the super-wealthy engage in, as well. In the first, a business blog piece - Bill Gates talks innovation, global problems and Microsoft Bob - Gates tells us how skills don’t need context or connection to the world, and therefore that context and connection need not be taught. Schooling need only focus on isolated skills, not the history, civic impact, social considerations, nor art of them:
“’The current university education system, [Gates] said, emphasizes ‘ what you learned and how you learned it’ — i.e.skills and credentials. With the rise of more digital tools, and more competition to help people learn skills, ‘I see those things decoupling,’ he said.”
In the second piece, an article mis-located in the NW section (Gates meddling has national, no, global impact: who cares if they’re located here?) - Report critical of Gates Foundation’s higher-ed impact - this idea of school as a mere skill-delivery system is endemic to the Gates philosophy. We read that “the Seattle-based foundation…emphasizes [according to a critical report] ‘graduating more students, more quickly, and at a lower cost, with little discussion of the alternatives…’ The Gates Foundation [rep Daniel Greenstein] pushed back. ‘The alternative — graduating fewer students at a higher cost over a longer period of time — is not serving the needs of most students.’
In other words, short and quick, online, data-driven skill acquisition, instantly measurable and set adrift from its context, is the ideal model for education. Taking time to graduate with a deep, interconnected education in which skills are embedded in the lives around them isn’t “serving the needs of most students.” Participating in the academe, academia of broad connection and context, is a waste of time.
This is supposed to prepare students?
Greenstein, going on, “responded that the foundation’s strategy goes beyond short-term career goals.” So giving students limited skill sets unanchored in the world, unsupported by the other knowledge and wisdom attained in an academic setting, the other curricula that might not bear directly on one’s chosen skill, will make one more able to meet the challenges of a fluctuating world and fluctuating job market? And that’s to say nothing about the dangerous idea that one can merely have “skills” and not need to have knowledge of, or participate in, the greater world. Public education is about a broad understanding of the world in which one works…and lives. Not about acquiring isolated skills.
“[Greenstein} said many students are trying to raise a family and hold down a job while starting or finishing a degree program.” Just as many students in K-12 are dealing with all sorts of issues outside of the classroom: Does this mean we should make public schools simply data and skill acquisition centers, similarly unanchored from their worlds? Should we, as Gates and others advocate, streamline the skills down to mere data points, cut them loose from moorage in the world of history, social studies, community, and arts? Spend less, take less time, to graduate more?
True, if you simply education enough, everyone will graduate on time. Is this what Gates wants?
Anonymous said…
These sound like old ideas - hardly "innovative". This was originally the mission of, for example, the California state universities versus the University of California. Maybe if Gates had gone to Cal Poly Pomona instead of Harvard he wouldn't have dropped out of school. ha ha.

I think Gates is too locked in his ivory tower to realize how many widely varied higher educational opportunities are already out there.

Matt Chonka said…
Having spent the better part of this past legislative session reading and commenting on just about every piece of education legislation that went through the House and Senate Education committees I must say that I was confused by the headline for the article Tuesday the 16th of July "WEA blocked education reforms". Every piece of legislation that was specifically designed to improve educational outcomes for students was supported by WEA.

Liv Finne states in her Opinion Piece that Rodney Tom et. al are "bold education reformers" that "offered bills that would benefit students." How do the following bills benefit students.
None of the primary bills sponsored by Tom are even about student education.

Liv states that recommended reforms would have provided for "professional training in methods that actually work at teaching underachieving students". She conveniently fails to comment on the blocking of funding for smaller class sizes that would have kept students from underachieving in the first place. (supported by WEA) By itself a smaller class only works when less students equates to more time with each student by the teacher (micro teaching and providing formative assessment).

If Liv is the Education Director for the Washington Policy Center she must have great education credentials, have done peer reviewed research in education, taught for many years, been on a school board or some other area of expertise right? As far as I can tell she "holds a law degree from Boston University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts degree (in Environmental Studies) from Wellesley College. She retired from civil litigation practice to raise two children and work as business partner for a small business she owns with her husband."

How does this make her qualified to determine educational outcomes of legislative proposals let alone practices in the classroom. Are we to believe that her "facts" are even valid. Liv states that state funding is "at an all time high of $11,300 per student" but this is not the state portion of funding. It is actually the total spent per student which includes funds from local levies. The state portion is only ~ 70% of the total and has not kept up with inflation.

Finally, Liv states that "longstanding research confirms. . . the most important factor in whether students are learning is the quality of the teacher in the classrooms." What is this research she speaks of? Where is the citation? I'd be happy with just a hyperlink. In actuality there is a good study of the "longstanding research"

Self reporting of grades actually tops the list with teaching topics when the student is ready (piagetian programs) and classroom behavior also near the top.

It would be helpful in the future if some fact checking is done before printing of opinion pieces that do little to effect a dialog towards improving our education system and serve more to continue the perpetuation of false statements and unsupported claims.

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