Edu Speak - Friday Memo to the Board of October 2

We hear a lot about Edu-Speak, the obscure jargon of education administration professionals that appears designed to create the illusion of science and action where there is neither. As a classic example, I present the Teaching and Learning Update from the October 2, 2015 Friday Memo to the Board. It's about the implementation of MTSS and I challenge you all to find meaning in it. To me, it seems to say that the folks in the JSCEE have wistfully unreasonable expectations for the magic of MTSS but they have no effective means of implementing it. Instead, they can only fantasize about the miracles it would bring if only... if only. It's like someone daydreaming about winning the lottery when they didn't even buy a ticket.

Targeted Universalism, Formative Practice and MTSS:

A primary focus of our work in the Department of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction is formative practice and its potential to close opportunity gaps for all of our struggling students, regardless of class, race or other factors.

Our goal is to strengthen teacher collaboration around student data to transform teaching practice for the benefit of every student. As we state in our Theory of Action: If schools have high functioning teams of teachers collaborating to analyze common formative assessments, then teachers will make instructional shifts that result in opportunity gaps closing.

Three key concepts:

  1. Formative practice benefits EVERY student. This work exemplifies the concept of “targeted universalism” – the practice of following targeted strategies to reach universal goals. Formative practice targets struggling students but ultimately benefits all students, universally. Our strategies target struggling students, but when we can document that opportunity gaps are closing for them, this helps confirm our overall success. In other words, a boost in their achievement tends to reflect a universal boost for all.
  2. Formative practice strengthens teaching. Our data-based focus also helps teachers push past their own potential implicit bias – the sense that students may not be capable of improvement due to perceived class or cultural barriers. With formative practice, every student is evaluated based on data. By providing guidance and models through our formative practice training, we boost teachers’ sense of self-efficacy around student achievement. They believe they are able to reach struggling students because we have created a system of peer support, concrete tools and workable strategies that enable them to do that.
  3. Formative practice strengthens students’ belief in themselves. Teachers are expected to engage each student with his or her own data so that he or she can identify where to grow academically – and how to make that happen. This growth mindset can really empower struggling students. When students can identify where they are struggling and are given tools to improve, research shows they are far more likely to succeed.


mirmac1 said…
This has got Shauna Heath written all over it.
Lynn said…
mirmac1 - agreed. This actually made me nauseous - a sure sign.
Po3 said…
Data driven education based on...

Timely and informative SBAC results?
MAPS, no Amplify, testing?


Anonymous said…
Why would the goals be universal? That makes no sense to me, unless the goals are supposed to be super broad and vague.

Anonymous said…
The last item--presenting a student with his/her data so a struggling student will know where to focus in order to improve. I really don't see the "growth mindset" here. Here is your data--you did badly on your math test. Where is the growth mindset?
Anonymous said…
This is what those high salaries are producing?

S parent
Watching said…
MTSS is unfunded. District administrators want to look at a funding formula. If it means taking dollars out of the classroom....they can forget about it.

Anonymous said… it just me or does "targeted universalism" sound like a new religious cult? One we'll be reading about in a few years when the members burn down the school buildings as dens of inequity... yikes

Kids are not "universal data points" that come in a one method fits all size, but danged if the SPS Admin types have a clue anymore about that. And I'm with Watching - dollars out of classrooms? Nope. Never. Dream on ;o)

Anonymous said…
A primary focus of our work in the Department of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction is formative practice and its potential to close opportunity gaps for all of our struggling students, regardless of class, race or other factors.

In physics we can calculate Potential Energy. I get worried when admin uses the word "potential". Potential = possibility to change for the better, I guess. Yet why are students struggling and in particular why are really large percentages of Black and low income students struggling in math?

Perhaps the public needs to primarily focus on the inability of Central Office Staff to wake up to existing data and produce improvement by providing more effective instruction though the use of proven instructional programs and practices. Central Staff double speak is not an acceptable substitute. -- Madeline Hunter's ITIP .. Instructional Theory Into Practice could improve the situation.

It seems that "Centralized Control" of education from Arne Duncan on down has demonstrated nothing to lead me to believe it has much potential to do much that is positive. Are dumbing down classes a positive? Is adherence to one-size fits-all graduation requirements a positive? Is lowering standards by using the catch-all term "College and Career" ready a positive? Is lying about CCSS-M standards as internationally competitive a trustworthy practice? Is trumping up emphasis on STEM and using it as vehicle to help vendors sell more tech stuff to schools an acceptable practice?

The deception practiced in installing the "new elementary math scope and sequence" is a product of the Department of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction. This paves the way to worse instruction.

Unfortunately with the State of Washington's acceptance of Common Core State Standards and SBAC testing (2010), it appears every decision is in the hands of the agents of the oligarchs. So much for local school boards as effective representatives of the people. Big Money no longer even needs to buy those Board Seats in Seattle. $480,000 spent by four winners in 2007, how much will this year's winners spend?

So carry on "Department of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction" as there is no control over what you do.

Hey -- School Board if you control the budget how about paying these folks less. How about looking at Return on Investment analysis for determining those salaries.

-- Dan Dempsey
Jon said…
My first reaction to this was to start thinking about how to rewrite this so that it was implementable and the impact of implementing it could be measured.

Then I realized that that's not the problem. The problem is the organization itself. From the experience in schools across the US, there's almost no ability to make progress on the achievement gap without more funding, so the incentive of people in this organization isn't to find ways to make progress (which is very hard) but to cover the fact that they can't make progress (which is easy).

My reaction to that is that we should cut most of these positions in central administration so that that budget can be reallocated to the classroom, which at least has some hope of making progress on the achievement gap.

But, honestly, what do you expect someone sitting in central HQ to do? They can't easily make progress on the achievement gap, so there best bet is to obscure with drivel like this document. Vague goals, obfuscate, hide that you didn't actually do anything, but declare success on your vague goals. It's the system they live in.
Anonymous said…
I am going to resubmit all of what Charlie wrote (10/19/15, 1:14 AM) on another thread as it bears repeating for this discussion:

MTSS is a lie. It's a lie because it requires elements which simply don't exist. It presumes that the entire staff and administration of the school is on-board with it, is trained in using data, is collecting data, is using that data properly, and has structures that facilitate Tier II curricula. I'm not saying that it can never happen because something very much like it has happened in Seattle - at Mercer several years ago. But it cannot happen at every school, it cannot even happen at most schools, it cannot even mostly happen at most schools because it requires administration and staff to make heroic efforts. While there is no question that teachers and staff make heroic efforts all the time, a system design which requires heroic efforts is not a reliable system.

Another reason that MTSS cannot be implemented is that the District administration - even at the executive director level - has no idea what is happening in the schools. Again, I remind you of the elementary math curriculum adoption. The executive directors of schools had to send emails to the principals to ask them what math materials they were using BECAUSE THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS DIDN'T KNOW. The response was that about two dozen schools were using materials other than the adopted materials - all of it a surprise to the District. [[[ and math gaps were shrinking a bit as schools flew under SPS central radar ]]]

If you consider the history of Seattle Public Schools you will notice that the District staff makes plans but they cannot implement anything. They can't implement anything because they are completely disconnected from the schools. The JSCEE and the buildings exist in two separate universes. I'm not surprised that every single school wants to fly under the District's radar, but I am surprised that every single school is doing it. The District has no radar. [[[ Math coaches can function as the math police. ]]]

Differentiation is also a lie. It, too, requires a heroic effort from teachers. Again, while individual teachers make heroic efforts all the time, a system design that requires heroic effort is not a reliable system. There are a number of solutions that can provide differentiated instruction. Some say that parallel curricula is the way, some say Project Based Learning, but the method that has worked best for the greatest number of students and is easiest to implement is tracking. Tracking, like anything else, can be done well or done poorly. I find it very odd that people who oppose tracking don't have a problem with some students being in the 3rd grade while others are in the 1st grade or the 5th grade. How is that not tracking?

[[[ I would suggest "Walk to Math" helps. ]]]

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Jon nails it with:

"Vague goals, obfuscate, hide that you didn't actually do anything, but declare success on your vague goals. It's the system they live in."

Excellent observation. These folks do not even present gap data at work sessions on "Closing the Opportunity Gaps". The vague trumps the specific in the Ed Leadership World.

I still remember when Carla Santorno claimed if the SPS adopted Everyday Math and used her planned increase of instructional time coupled with strict fidelity of implementation that the achievement gaps would be eliminated in 5 years.

One correction to what Jon wrote: there are a few districts that have made some progress on closing opportunity gaps… I wonder if SPS central has looked for them and investigated what they do?

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
If they took all the money they waste on Amplify and MTSS "A", they might actually be able to fund MTSS "B" which lacks funding and is supposed to support students with PBIS, counseling and other proven strategies.

Anonymous said…
Schools exacerbate the growing achievement gap between rich and poor, a 33-country study finds

Fact: the Common Core State Standards are not internationally competitive.

The pace at which the CCSS-M proceeds in grades k-4 is incredibly slow. Parents with resources will provide increased and better math learning opportunities for their children than SPS provides. Parents with less resources will find their children under educated in math by SPS actions.

What is the justification for failing to provide a mathematics program in which each child is given the opportunity to maximize their learning?

Does anyone seriously believe the yet to be revealed but already implemented "new elementary math scope and sequence" will maximize learning opportunities?

SPS Central -- Opportunity Gap is your name and all the double talk Edu-speak will not conceal your failure to act in the best interests of children.

But Central is beyond the control of rational parents and apparently rational board directors as well.

Here is to all the courageous souls attempting to fly under the radar, wherever they may be.

-- Dan Dempsey
Outsider said…
I posted a commend on this thread which abruptly disappeared, without even the note that it was removed by the author. Did the system eat it, or was it indeed removed by the author? Just curious.
"Vague goals, obfuscate, hide that you didn't actually do anything, but declare success on your vague goals. It's the system they live in."

This describes the ENTIRE ed reform system.

Outsider, did you sign I? I delete anonymous comments but I rarely go the whole step to make the entire thing disappear. If not, resubmit, sorry about that.
Anonymous said…
Outsider, that happens to me sometimes too. I don't know why. It doesn't seem to matter what computer I use.

As a teacher it warms my heart to hear the comments on this issue. The Friday memo is an example of the drivel we hear all the time. Seriously, they think bringing the kids up at the bottom will make all kids rise. They should just say we're more concerned about the kids at the bottom. Be honest! Also, all this stuff about data. Is there any teacher you know who doesn't use data to inform their instruction? We've been doing this for YEARS.

What would help with equity issues in schools is having more teachers, smaller classrooms, IAs. If a child is behind, they need a teacher to teach them. Often they need a teacher to teach them 1:1 or in a small group. I realize we don't have all the financial resources we would like, but heck if we reduced staff downtown and put the money into teachers we could definitely impact some kids.

Drivel Overload

Outsider said…
I think it's a mistake to dismiss this sort of stuff as edu-speak. It's actually a very revealing statement of where SPS is trying to go, and what "equity" means in practice. "Formative instructional practice" is an actual thing, a new educational theory that has been much described. Google it and happy reading.

After a quick skim, I would guess that this particular approach tries to make the experience of learning as much as possible like the experience of playing a video game. When you play a video game, you have a running score (data). The monsters kill you three times and you start over, doing a little better each time. The first time you play, maybe you don't get past level 1, but after a week of continuous playing, you are up to level 19 and scoring in the millions. At any given time, you tend to know where you are currently stuck, such as getting through the tunnel on level 8 before the green monsters get you. Video games provide continuous feedback, continuous data, continuous improvement. The assessment is the game.

It has a surface plausibility. Kids like video games. Almost anyone can improve through practice. With “formative instructional practice”, teachers are supposed to “adjust instruction to keep all students on winning streaks”. Almost no one experiences the sort of flat-out failure at a video game that some kids apparently experience in the classroom. Of course, there are two big problems with this theory:

1) It’s not obvious how to do it, except perhaps by migrating to actual computer-based instruction, literally like a video game. Everyone here would poo-poo having kids taught by cold plastic computers instead of human beings, but you gotta admit, a video game is very good at teaching you to get to level 19. All the talk about collaboration probably reflects the fact that teachers have no idea how to do “formative instruction” and tend to regard off-site professional development as a useless boondoggle.

2) Even bigger problem – as with actual video games, those with talent for the game will progress even faster than those without. Applied “equitably” to all students, formative instruction would 100% definitely increase the achievement gap. The most Orwellian part of the text above is the "targeted universalism" blather that gives cover for focusing entirely on the struggling students, and leaving the brighter ones to idle. But that is important. The awkward truth is, the only way to close the achievement gap is to idle the brighter students.

Closing the achievement gap is frankly impossible, but SPS is committed to doing it anyway. They have to try something. So what else? Lots of people are content with lip service – continuously committing to closing the gap, with no real expectation of doing so. It becomes a sort of PC ritual which no one takes seriously. But the poor bureaucrats of SPS feel the need to take it a step further and actually try something. This is what they try. What school board candidate has a concrete alternative? When they piously intone about equity, they are tacitly endorsing this stuff.

What would help with equity issues in schools is having more teachers, smaller classrooms, IAs. If a child is behind, they need a teacher to teach them. Often they need a teacher to teach them 1:1 or in a small group. I

Want to address - truly address - the achievement gap? See above.
This is what those high salaries are producing?
بث مباشر said…
This has got Shauna Heath written all over it.
nournana said…
iasm with y in this "It's like someone daydreaming about winning the lottery when they didn't even buy a ticket." not all of your words
This is what those high salaries are producing?

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