Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Gap Between Rhetoric and Action

There are a lot of people in Education who say all of the right things, but then, somehow, go ahead and do all of the wrong things. This continues to astound me. We see it all the time from US Secretary of Education, the Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Education Reformers, Board Directors, the Superintendent, and the senior staff. No one, however, shows me a bigger gap between what they say and what they do than the Alliance for Education. They top the list with the biggest gap of all because they always, always, always say the very best things. They not only say the right things, but they state them eloquently and passionately. Then they always, always, always do the very worst things. They do them with extraordinary gusto and grim determination.

It freaks me out every time I witness it. That happened again today when I received an email from the Alliance for Education President Sara Morris.

She wrote:
"I'm pleased to share our 2013 Year in Review. Thank you for your support and contributions to our work! 
"Looking to 2014 and beyond, we're excited to share where we're headed in our new strategic plan. You'll see us deepen our focus on partnering with Seattle Public Schools to support and develop leadership at every level of the system."
So, naturally, I clicked on the link to the Strategic Plan and read this introduction:
Mission“To ensure every child in Seattle Public Schools is prepared for success in college, career and life.”
The Alliance for Education exists for the singular purpose of promoting excellence in public education in Seattle. We view Seattle Public Schools as essential to the health and vitality of our city. Our shared vision is of Seattle Public Schools as a high-performing, highly regarded urban school system, equipped to provide an excellent education to every student.
Eliminating achievement gaps between student groups, which exist primarily along the lines of race, income, and ethnicity, is foundational to this vision. We believe our collective moral and economic responsibility is to ensure every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, zip code, or home circumstance, has the opportunity to succeed academically and to participate fully in the economic and cultural bounty of American life. This imperative requires stable, courageous leadership at every level of our school system.

Public education is the cornerstone of democracy. We proudly rededicate ourselves to helping build and sustain a successful, innovative, joyful school system of which Seattleites can be proud. Nearing our 20th anniversary, we remain passionately committed to strengthening our community, economy, and democracy through high quality public education.
Boy howdy I wish I had written that. I cannot imagine a better statement in support of public education in Seattle. But take a look at what the Alliance does in their effort to promote excellence in public education in Seattle:

Right there in the Executive Summary of their Strategic Plan, on page 3, the Alliance states that they believes that the district's inability to close the academic achievement gap is due to high turnover and a failure in leadership.

Really? I find that remarkable. Simply remarkable. What data - if any - do they have to support that contention? I doubt they have any. How has the turnover in Curriculum and Instruction impeded the academic progress of fourth graders at Dunlap Elementary School? I seriously question whether there has been any impact at all. The very idea is absurd. What do they think that Wendy London would have done if she had stayed that Michael Tolley and Shauna Heath have not been able to do because they are too new to the work? Anything? Anything at all? As soon as you ask the question you realize that it is a silly idea.

Yet strengthening leadership is the strategic work that the Alliance has decided to undertake. Other than that, they will continue to act as fiscal agent for school fundraising efforts (for a fee), and they will stage some booster events to showcase district accomplishments. Whoop-te-do.

Make no mistake about it, the Alliance has discovered the cure to the achievement gap, and it is stable and courageous leadership at every level. So what, if anything, is the Alliance doing to promote stability and courage among our district leaders? Not so much.

For teachers, the Alliance is strongly behind the Seattle Teachers Residency Program. Oh, and trying to screw teachers in the contract with the Our Schools Coalition and through their leadership of the Philanthropic Partnership for Public Education in which they guide Bezos Family
Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing Company, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft Corp, Nesholm Family Foundation, Raikes Foundation and Seattle Foundation in new ways to demonize teachers. Yeah, nice way to support teachers, A4E.

For principals, the Alliance is raising money for the Principal Leadership Partnership. This is some kind of continuing education for principals, I think. I don't really know because there isn't any information on it. None.

For the district administrative staff there is... nothing. Funny, isn't it? Their concern is the consistency and quality of district leadership, but they have no plans for the district leadership. They bemoan the turnover in the district staff and say it is at the root of the inability to close the academic achievement gap, but they have no plans to do any work with this strata of administration or leadership. Absolutely contrary to what they identified as the need.

For the School Board, the Alliance is bringing the Seattle School Board Institute. But rather than helping them to be courageous, the Alliance actively works to frighten our district leadership and cow them into submission. The Alliance conducts School Board training in which they instruct the Board Directors to be completely hands off, to rubber-stamp whatever the superintendent and the senior staff tell them to do, to never question staff decisions or review them for compliance, and to never enforce any policies. Moreover, the Alliance curriculum directs the Board members to discount or simply ignore input from community members. They are to value the quality of their working relationship with staff above all else - including their duty. This is the stable, courageous leadership they say we need? For them, a courageous School Board director stands up to the community, not the staff.


Anonymous said...

"Eliminating achievement gaps between student groups, which exist primarily along the lines of race, income, and ethnicity, is foundational to this vision."

Great! Then let's see the Alliance use this as the outcome measure to gauge their own effectiveness. And if they aren't moving the needle enough, maybe they shouldn't get any funding...

I'd love to see a logic model for how their actions relate to their stated short- and long-term outcomes. Would be interesting reading!


Sarah said...

Did I miss something? Who elected the Alliance to adopt a Strtegic Plan/

Melissa Westbrook said...

First, Charlie, I did dissect this thing earlier but I agree with what you say.

Second, why isn't there REAL support for the work the district has chosen to do? The district (and Board) don't need the Alliance's help or direction on what the Board should and should be doing.

Third, the district already has a principal leadership program; why duplicate it (unless it is Alliance funded already, I don't know).

This is the Alliance's OWN Strategic Plan.

If they REALLY want to help the district, I'll be the district could tell them. And I bet the Alliance didn't ask.

Charlie Mas said...

What struck me so much today was the HUGE gap. On one side we have the Alliance's stated mission and the stated purpose of their strategic plan. On the other side we have the actual plan which is completely disassociated with the mission and purpose.

Anonymous said...
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mirmac1 said...

More "altruistic" players in the sandbox:

Youth Development Executive of King County (YDEKC), whose website links to;

FSG (Brad Bernatek's latest landing spot) who;

Helped CCER put together the Road Map Project, which just gave money to SPS so that it can work with;

YDEKC to develop a CBO (community-based organization) "dashboard" to support analysis of all the automated student data they're accessing for "analysis".

To see the data CBOs will receive without parental notice or consent, here is one example of the district's latest data-sharing agreement format. It is evident that this was written by the district, whereas the CCER agreement is clearly written by their own lawyers.

Charlie Mas said...

I'll say it again.

Seattle needs a new non-profit that will act as fiscal agent for school fundraisers and will act as a central fundraiser for the district and do it all WITHOUT any ambitions to influence policy.