Wednesday, March 05, 2014

An SPS Parent Weighs in on her Unhappiness

 Update: where's this story at Crosscut?  My link still works but somehow - after just one day - the story has disappeared from Crosscut's main page.  There are many older stories still there.  Hmmm.

End of update.

Over at Crosscut, the director of the (mostly)charter think tank that is the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Robin Lake, weighs in on customer service at SPS.

She doesn't directly reference the program she is writing about (why, I don't know) but she's talking about Advanced Learning. 

Her funniest line?

These are minor inconveniences, though, compared to the flippant way the system responds — or doesn’t — to students’ special needs. No matter how evident it is that your child’s situation merits individual consideration, your inquiries are met by maddening emails that repeat the policy and assert that there are no exceptions.

"Your child's situation merits individual consideration.."  My answer to that was:
"You can tell that to Special Ed parents who have experienced far worse."  (She does acknowledge this later in her piece.)

Due to her work in charters, she makes these statements:

When charter schools come to town, SPS faces even more attrition.

These kind of frustrations underscore why people sometimes turn to charter schools or pay to attend private schools at great cost.

What she fails to state - and that she knows very well from her own work - is that charters do NOT serve students with special needs in any great numbers.   They don't want to and make every effort not to.  Parents with children with special needs - be they ELL, Special Ed or Advanced Learning - do NOT turn to charters to fill that need.

Second funniest line?

There are many school districts around the country that have figured out how to be more flexible and responsive, hiring parent advocates and secret shoppers and embracing choice and innovation.

Hiring parent advocates?  She must be new to our district.

And "secret shoppers"?  Never heard of one district doing this and she must think the district is rolling in dough to be able to do this (but she could ask the Alliance about funding this effort).

Lastly, our district - and I know this from talking to parents around the country - DOES embrace as much choice as they can and are far more down the innovation road than most districts.  It may not always feel that way because of the Byzantine nature of our district so I understand her unhappiness.

I did suggest that she read this blog to keep up with advocacy within our district.  


Jon said...

I love the line "blank stare of bureaucracy".

One point that the article misses is that the district central administration does not care about bringing new people into the district. They do not care if people go to private school instead of public schools. They do not see that as a failure. If anything, when parents leave, they see at as a good thing, reducing their work. They do not try to figure out why people leave Seattle Public Schools for private or by moving out of Seattle. They do not see their goal as serving all the children of Seattle.

Until that changes from the top, nothing will change. Until the superintendent explicitly sets the goal of serving all of the children of Seattle and measures how well our public schools do that, nothing will change.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how often, if ever, central office administrators, managers, and assistants receive employment evaluations? And if they do receive them, who conducts the evaluations? Finally, are these evaluations subject to public disclosure?

Worm Turns

Unknown said...

Lake's article is a fair representation of what goes on when trying to enroll your kid at any level.

For her, though, it's probably more of a long fall--seeing how it's the top of the ivory tower to the ground. I don't see or know that it is any different for charter schools, though, which is what she implies. I certainly see no reason to believe that charter schools are going to serve special education students any differently than public schools do.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Worm, of course they do. I would suspect their superiors do the evaluations. I do not believe they could be disclosed via public disclosure because of privacy/personnel issues (but you could ask).

Of course, we do get to see the Superintendent's so maybe.

Anonymous said...

Is she complaining about an instance when the district is actually following the law? And they responded in writing as well? Does she seriously think the AL staff has time to sit down and chat with parents? They are too busy testing and serving students.

Ivory tower meets reality.

mirmac1 said...

While Ms Lake and I are often on opposite sides when it comes to education, on this point we agree: the blank stare of bureaucracy is most damaging to those students on the fringes. As parents of students with special needs, we run into that brick wall all the time. Just last night even, at the SEAAC meeting.

I'll note that, after I actively lobbied for the hire of a "parent advocate" for SpEd, what we are ending up with is a "family engagement coordinator". What a load of horse dung.

Anonymous said...

I was at JSCEE yesterday to drop off my child's choice form in person. I did this because I was unable to get any confirmation that my emailed form was received, via email or phone. I'm a stay at home mom in the NE. It was not convenient for me to have to go down to HQ, but I wanted to make sure that my child's form was received. If it's this hard for me (English speaking, with time and transportation) to get a simple form turned in and confirmed, it must be impossible if you don't speak English, or have a car, or the luxury of free time to make the trek down to SODO. We should be able to turn in these forms in our neighborhood assignment schools, and we should be able to trust that the forms won't be lost along the way to processing (this happens often in this district). We should be able to get information over the phone or via email. We should be able to easily access the services our kids are supposed to be getting. SPS talks about "equity" often, and this would be a great place to start putting that word into action. Equity starts with making sure that every child can access public school programs.

NE mom

Anonymous said...

I'm not the most savvy with computers. I assumed doing it on line, I do have a way to show I sent it with time and date automatically noted. Isn't that good enough? Perhaps the district could invest in an auto email received t response? Is that expensive?

I used to volunteer in the school office and using a local school to handle hard copy with receipt confirmation is more work for our already overwhelmed front office person who functions as gate keeper, secretary, event planner, school nurse, lunchroom monitor, playground monitor, fix-it person, etc. I also don't know if it's all that efficient or timely. I'm just thinking all the processing time it takes and how many hands must handled it. Room for errors.


Miss Waterlow said...

Melissa, can you say something about the central office budget and how that might affect their ability to perform better? A while ago I heard Jonathan Knapp say that, while, yes, there was bloat at the top, we’ve now cut admin so much that they can’t even afford to do exit interviews of teachers who are leaving the district, as one example (there were others I can’t remember at the moment).

What causes the sorts of frustrations Lake and other parents complain about? Incompetence? Ignorance? Refusal or inability to listen (if so, why)? Personalities? Obedience to donors? Not enough staff to handle things properly?

We’ve been p.o.ed for so long, under so many different administrations. Help me understand.

mirmac1 said...

I'll give you my theory Miss Waterlow.

It stems from some central staff who sit in their downtown echo chamber, fear HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) from superiors, and/or a lazy thinkers. Just by dint of the churn partially created by A4E, politics, and the education marketplace, most of the folks downtown have less experience with SPS than I do. But if a hundred parents and I say there is a problem with, say, IDEA-mandated transition services, that will all be overridden by the guy in the next cubicle who says we just a bunch of embittered old hag helicopter parents.

Yes I know I exaggerate but the truth is not that far off. I've witnessed this with the "nearly new" central SpEd department which doesn't act or react much different than the old SpEd department. And I'll be so bold as to say I am an impartial third party because I've never had major issues with my own child's special education. Yet, despite numerous successful group OSPI complaints submitted on the behalf of whole classes of students and families, I apparently still don't know WTF I'm talking about.

Some would say readers of this blog are in an echo chamber, but I would challenge the ed reform establishment and central bureaucracy to do the broad-based research Melissa, Eric, and kellie among others do.

Carmelita said...

VERY one sided story from Robin Lake!

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

Here is a similar post from the The New York Times stemming from the unhappiness of a student who could not qualify for their Advanced Regents Diploma because their Spanish Teacher had been "excessed" due to lack of funding. This post on Humans of New York Facebook page went viral, with over 150,000 likes: http://nyti.ms/1cCPdjv.

I don't know that it will effect change, but I hope it will.
I would say that the problem in Seattle is entrenched apathy. People are so used to hearing the same things over and over that they fail to respond to things as humans should.

I have shared my own past experiences with special education services and superintendents, interim superintendents, school board members, special education administrators fail to respond appropriately as another human being should.

But even saying that, the worst response administrators can have is to deny the validity of your experience, and unfortunately, that even happens. And it even happened again last night.

SPS needs to stop pretending that "EVERYTHING IS AWESOME," (to quote my son's new favorite movie) and respond genuinely to parents' concerns.

Maddy said...

Next up: Will Ms. Lake look to bring "public" charter schools to meet the needs of the elite in this city?

Anonymous said...

Whether or not you agree with Lake on other issues, she's right about the culture and attitude down there. Look at transportation. Ever had a really issue with them? It's the "we really don't care and have zero incentive to help you" that is enraging. Parents have NO RECOURSE. There is no upleveling to be done. We all just write angry emails to Board members, because there is no face in SPS who will listen. I remember feeling insane with rage about a bus issue (safety) that was ignored...can't imagine how I would feel if I had a serious issues like with Special Ed instruction for my kid. We as citizens and tax payers SHOULD care about how many kids go to private school, even if SPS doesn't.
-angry taxpayet

Jon said...

Worm ought to check HR and payroll audits.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'll have a separate thread on this issue of the district. Charlie had a very good reply at the Crosscut article.

n said...

My favorite super who wasn't perfect? John Stanford. He got everybody to answer the phone.

Anonymous said...

This a reply to the email from "parent." Both SPS and my elementary school principal said to turn the forms in in person and get a second copy date stamped to verify enrollment request.


Anonymous said...

An open question:

What is the district's official LA/SS curriculum in middle school? Is it Readers and Writers Workshop, along with state GLEs for social studies?

The district website is so vague as to be useless. The social studies link goes to a defunct site.

What are teachers responsible for teaching? And how do principals assess delivery of curriculum that isn't clearly defined?


TechyMom said...

She has a point... This kind of 'no exceptions' attitude, eye rolling at 'helicopter parents,' and 'your kid will be just fine' attitude, a general lack of customer service is exactly what has us looking at private school and charters. Combine it with crowding and bad curriculum -- to which there is no exception and anyone who complains is a helicopter parent -- and you have a good reason to look elsewhere.

Some charters have similarities to what Seattle has in it's alt schools, which can be a good fit for kids with certain disabilities and for some gifted kids. There are also private schools that are a better fit for some kids with some kinds of disabilities, with more customized and child-centered curriculum, smaller classes, more stability, single-subject acceleration, etc. And that doesn't even count places like Morningside or Hamlin Robinson that are targeted to kids with particular disabilities. Yes, I know this isn't an option for everyone who needs special ed services, but it is an option for a lot of families in Seattle, and she's not crazy or out of touch to talk about it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And no one said she was crazy or out of touch.

We all know what most service is like at SPS (try to call and get a live person - I can only do that for the Board and the Superintendent offices).

But she seems to think that her experience explains everything and asking for hired parent advocates or "secret shopper" is even logical or viable.

Both are laughable.

TechyMom said...

You didn't. A couple of posters said 'ivory tower' which I read as synonymous with 'out of touch.' Crazy was the sense I got from the sum of the posts, but I may be reading too much into it.

I'm curious, though... What do you see as the big driver of private school attendance in Seattle?

I hear complaints similar to Robin Lake's a fair bit in my social circle, where about half the kids are in attendance schools, and about half in either private, home school or alt schools.

Anonymous said...

TechyMom, I can only speak for myself as to why we left SPS for a private schools. My two boys have gone to Catholic schools since they were in 4th and 1st grade, respectively. Our oldest is a freshman at a Catholic high school and our second is a 7th grader at his K-8 Catholic school. Both boys were in a Seattle public elementary school before we pulled them out to attend a Catholic school.

Here are my reasons: (1) The north end SPS school they attended was awful --- the teachers they had were not very good and the principal was a terror, (2) the Catholic K-8 school has more of a neighborhood feel than the SPS school and (3) I've worked in one position or another in public education for nearly 20 years and have known professionally as well as personally a number of SPS downtown staff (past and present) and I'd be damned if I was going to let these people experiment on my boys. I know too much to keep my boys in SPS.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

The school assignment plan drove us to private school. We don't like our neighborhood school. Our first kid tested into APP, but the second didn't, so #2 is now at our local Catholic school.

Probably half of the kids in the younger grades of our Catholic school are there because they didn't like their neighborhood school.

Wishing Public was Possible

Anonymous said...

Seattle had for a long time now as in the past 30+ years a high private school capture rate compare to the national average (including the east side). There was a demographic study from an outside contractor, I want to say 4 years back, looking at SPS growth. Percentage wise it has been hovering between 25- 29%. There are some thoughts as to why that is - starting with the busing fallout from the 70's and families moving out of district or into private schools. Seattle demographics has changed since then in terms of income. Increasing wealth is what I think helps keep the high private school rate steady.

My elderly neighbor with 3 kids were one of those who switched their children into Catholic schools and chose to live in Seattle. They also recounted when Nordstrom hired the first black Santa and how that was quite confusing to them and their kids. Time has changed our neighborhood make up just a bit with the end of redlining convenant. We are proof of that ;) Their kids though are children of a newer generation who are at ease with themselves and all the changes. The grandchild will be going to his first school in the CD next year.

moving on

Melissa Westbrook said...

1) name brand - Seattle has Lakeside and Bush and a couple of others that are both good and have that "we got in" feeling
2) religious reasons - I note a number of comments about going to a Catholic school because you didn't like the neighborhood school but I have to think if you chose a religious school, there was a reason.
3) unhappiness with public school - we all can name reasons for that

I think - and I said this way back - that the district could have been working to get some of those people back. I think they could probably get 6-10% if they tried. But, at this point, they don't WANT them back because there is no room at the inn.

It is likely that charters will draw off from public schools as most private school parents are unlikely to want what many charters offer (which is programming aimed at more at-risk kids). The exceptions might be Summit high school in the south end which would largely hurt RBHS and Cleveland.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I think you hit the nail on the head. Unless you include 'corporate education reform' under your #3, you can add corporate education reform (and all it encompasses) as #4.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

After many years as big public school supporters, it's primarily #3 that has us looking at private schools. We're fed up with overcrowded classes, the crapshoot that is teacher quality, the poor poor or nonexistent curricula, and the lack of flexibility/accommodation. I'm not a diva and don't need fancy customer service, and am frankly quite willing to put up with a lot of BS if I know my kids are getting a good education, but since we don't feel that to be the case we're making exit plans...


Anonymous said...

Last year I submitted the choice form online during open enrollment. Worked fine. Do they not have that anymore? Why do parents have schlep down to turn it in by hand?


BlueGlass said...

I don't doubt Ms Lake has reasons to be unhappy, but its clear she missed a deadline and then appears to expect someone would of course make an exception for her child. As a commenter over on Crosscut noted, if every kid who's parents missed a deadline became an "exception", there would be even more chaos at SPS then there is already.

If my kid lived in this district, I'd send her to private - primarily because my spouse works for SPS and I have seen "how they make the sausage" one too many times to trust SPS admin with my kid's future.

But that being said, I do think at this point, SPS doesn't WANT private kids back in the system and so therefore has no incentive to take corrective action that would make their schools more attractive.


Avery said...

Lake misses the deadline and launches an atomic bomb and promotes charter schools.

Yuch said...

"SPS downtown staff (past and present) and I'd be damned if I was going to let these people experiment on my boys. I know too much to keep my boys in SPS."

This type of experimentation on our children still exists and it is very disturbing.

Staying Public said...

Anecdote: Our friend sends their high achiever to Lakeside and he is on the rowing team. The kids push themselves until they puke. This particular parent thinks rowing and puking is ok because their kid is a high achiever, and students have an internal desire to push themselves.

I for one, thing a much better lesson would be to respect one's body and not push until one is vomiting.

There are issues with both public and private. The lack of resources in public school is tough, but there are wonderful teachers, students etc. that surround my children on a daily basis.

RosieReader said...

Taking about rowing so hard you puke is part of the culture of young rowers. That said, ther's a lot more talk than actual puking. Just say in'.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I don't know if you noticed but somehow Ms. Lake's piece has disappeared from Crosscut's home page. You can search for it but odd for such a recent story to disappear like that.

Anonymous said...


It's the rare family at our Catholic school who chose it primarily for the religious aspect. People do not trust Seattle Public Schools. My oldest entered school when you had to list many school choices and weren't guaranteed any of them. We were assigned to our fifth choice. Plus - there was no way to know if your school would be open next year. Now that we have the neighborhood assignment plan, the new families enrolling in the Catholic school are coming from neighborhoods with unpopular attendance area schools. I would not be surprised to see some private schools closing or reducing the number of classrooms they provide.

Not Catholic

Anonymous said...

so speaking of which ... where are the academically solid catholic schools in seattle these days?


TechyMom said...

St Joes and Holy Names are both excellent academically. Looking at 6th grade, St Joes is half the cost of SAAS or Bush, and of similar quality. Many people are willing to put up with religion for $15k/yr savings.

Anonymous said...

Waldorf is booming in Seattle. It is attracting many high tech parents who don't want the constant testing and sensory overload found in public schools. We ended up there because of the chaos surrounding choice schools at the time but had I to do it over again today, I think we would have gone Waldorf anyway. The SPS don't really offer anything like Waldorf in our neighborhood. The closest thing to it is Salmon Bay.

My oldest continued in Waldorf for high school but my youngest wanted a different high school experience and attends Nathan Hale. There are many things to love about Nathan Hale and the community there but I am not loving the Seattle Public Schools curriculum which do not seem to take child development into consideration at all. My kid is receiving a good education but not nearly as good as the one my older one received at the Waldorf high school.


Anonymous said...

AL is one indirect way SPS is keeping students and recruiting students from private schools. Scoff if you want, but I hear the pros and cons discussed at schools and read about it on blogs. Crowded conditions, budget cuts, and churn will drive those who can afford to leave, leave. For those who can't afford private schools or don't have AL designation, charter will offer a choice (for better or worse).

For data, check out this site. You can find % of students in pvt. Schools vs. public schools, household income, rental rates, home sales, adult ed levels, etc.

Looking at the data, much is explained about the ways of Seattle. Just plug in your zip code.


-Seattle parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

I see now that Ms. Lake's husband has weighed in (and magically, the article is now back on Crosscut's front page). I understand his point but if his wife couldn't make the case in her own piece, then maybe it's how it was written and not the focus of the article.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like her child was tested two years ago, qualified for the Spectrum program but they didn't enroll in an AL program. If you enroll in an AL program, then the test results stay and you don't need to re-test.

It is when you DON'T enroll in an AL program during the next enrollment period, that you need to re-test. In that case, I'm sorry that she didn't know the policy or timeline, but that doesn't constitute a reason for AL department to accommodate her.

That's how it used to be at any rate, who knows how many policy changes have been undertaken, though on the AL webpage it says "Students retain their eligibility designations (academically highly gifted or academically gifted) as long as they remain enrolled in the Accelerated Progress Program, Spectrum, or an Advanced Learning Opportunity School and do not need to re-test each year."

I can't speak to eligibility, placement etc in SPED programs or the district policies re: same.

-AL parent

mirmac1 said...

I feel the focus of issues with AP and SpEd have been misdirected in this instance against the author.

Don't get me wrong. I am as much, if not more, guilty as some in slamming CREEP (there I go again) and Ms. Lake.

But in this case I (versus perhaps other posters critical of SpEd or, in this case, AL) find a kernel in common with the writer and points raised in the Crosscut article.

I reckon this with a personal reconciliation of my antipathy against TFA versus those impacted (including the TFA candidates.)

I know. Either I'm a big phony or I'm smokin' somethin'. I tried to do the same with Banda. Obviously the goal is more important than being right.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how people can link Lake to some type of ivory tower. her so graduated from the graham hill inclusion (sm4i) inclusion program. she has had to move heaven and earth to get him served at all, much less inclusively, in seattle public schools.

It is a fact that many sped families share Lake's hopelessness and exhaustion.

That said, I don't understand her support of charters because nothing good for special education inclusively has EVER been linked to charters.

But as another sped parent, I totally hear and respect and can confirm that the current situation for our students especially students who should be included in general ed most of the day, is beyond not acceptable.

big picture