Unhappy with the District?

In addition to the perennial issues of the district - Special Education, Advanced Learning, ELL, building conditions, the debt on JSCEE and, of course, funding - we have more that have risen up.  To wit:

- staffing cuts at more than 25 schools this year
- bell times
- City's pre-K and their ever-increasing desire for space in the district
- capacity issues
- facilities' issues
- curriculum choices/use
- increased spending at district administration

(Please, add to the list.)

The clamor is ever louder.  The frustration is growing - for teachers, parents, students, principals.  I'm sure district staff is frustrated but senior management is large and in charge and really, most of it is on them.  They HAVE to find better and more transparent ways to communicate.

It really is the communications that is killing them.  They refuse to treat parents as adults and give them full explanations of current situations.  They obfuscate, they deflect, they tell half the story and it is hurting this district. 

But what to do?  I would say - as I frequently do when senior staff don't appear to be listening - the district needs a shock to the system.  But maybe a gradual build-up might just do the trick.
  • as has been previously suggested, start opting your child out of any non-required testing, starting with Amplify.  If you are asked, tell your teacher and your principal that this is your stand against how the district is being managed.  Politely state that yes, you know the blah, blah on how taking the test helps your kid but that you feel that, overall, the direction of the district and the treatment of parents in the district is being hurt much more and that you want the district to listen to parents.
  • the Board WILL have three new members in just about two months (new members generally are installed in early December).  Maybe four new members.  I'm sure that some of the senior staff are already trying to figure out how to "manage" these new members (as I'm sure the Mayor and Tim Burgess are as well).  Those new members will need to find a way to become a team with the remaining members but also, to review the issues and find a new way.
         EVERY board has to do this and has done this in the past.  One thing the new Board should be   considering, right away, is the search for a new superintendent.  I mean, Superintendent Nyland made it quite clear when he came that he was coming out of retirement to be here and it was just for three years.  We are now just into his second year and you know how long these searches take.  (But again, I believe a regional search is what is needed and it would cost far less.  I note that UW just hired its president internally.  Saved them a lot of money and people seem very, very happy.)
  • on the November ballot there are two large levies - one for the City and one for the County.  If both pass, that's about $1.3B.  And then along will come the district's two renewing (but at higher amounts) levies in Feb. 2016.  The district - more than ever - will need parents to work for these levies.  In particular, as was pointed out at the Eckstein forum, the district will need parents to push other voters - family, friends, co-workers - to vote for them.  Grumpy parents do not make good public spokespeople.  Grumpy parents do not feel inclined to work phone banks and put out signs.    
I think the district truly thinks "well, we've weathered worse and they eventually go away."

That, parents, is up to you.  Real change needs real - and long-term - action.


Rebecca said…
Amen, Melissa. Nothing really to add. You sum it up perfectly.

Have to admit that I've talked to several friends with kids in SPS over the last few years and I'm fairly sure we could do a better job of communications than any of the District's communications people have. I am half-tempted to offer...

Anonymous said…
My two cents:

Bring back organization charts and add job descriptions

Bring back old method of searching video archives of board meetings etc.

Dead Horse
Anonymous said…
I don't aim to be spiteful, but this same blog rails against Charter Schools: at the same time that you encourage parents to action their frustration with the district, you advocate denying parents other education options. What's left - private schools? Most of us can't afford that.

If you really want to change the system, present another way and let parents vote with their feet. - Seattle Parent
Joseph Rockne said…
Find a leader that will completely tear up the John Standford Center.

Ask: Does this program benefit kids K to 12, this year;
Ask: Does this help a teacher in a school;
Ask: Does this help a student, today, this week, this month, this year;

If the answer is no to any of these, then cut it.

There is too much hiding behind five year plans.

The issue of the district and efficacy of charter schools are two different things.

In this district, you do have some choice and some pretty good ones at that. I know that is also true in Tacoma.

Until education is fully-funded, for several years, in this state, I do not believe it worth it to fund alternative education.

Also right, Joe.
Anonymous said…
I would take exception to the "this year" filter as the capacity crisis is due in part to the district not looking ahead and taking action sooner. What I see are many district initiatives to address disparities, but they seem to focus on everything except what will actually improve the core academic program. In some cases - elementary math - they appear to be inflicting damage. The need for better communications, or spin, seems a symptom of a poorly managed district. If things were going well, and the district generally made sound decisions, would there be a need for "messaging?"

-[very] tired parent
Anonymous said…
Giant Restructuring Needed...

Joseph Rockne nails it with
completely tear up the John Standford Center.

To do that cease the highly ineffective top-down management.

The are now a profusion of excellent tools to allow schools to really do building based decision-making, especially in regard to academic decision-making at the school level.

Teachers used to be treated a lot more like professionals and given control over the educational process. Now we see programs like "professional learning communities" which are code for "Top-down delivery of what teachers need to believe and do."

The District needs to restructure around School-Based bottom up decision-making and leadership.

Several of the candidates running for the Board are very aware of this.

Find a leader that will completely tear up the John Standford Center. Hopefully informed folks like Joseph Rockne can organize to make it happen.

-- Dan Dempsey
Pedant said…
Melissa, you are amazing and this blog is an incredible resource for families. Your advocacy is exemplary. But please please please stop saying "to whit." You do this several times a week and it delegitimizes your points. It's to WIT. WIT. Not whit, a tiny speck of something. To wit means "namely" which is what you are saying.

Thank you for your consideration.
Pedant, why did someone not tell me this before? I truly thought I had it write. Thanks for speaking up.
Eric B said…
Another thing that the Board needs to do is real oversight of the projects in Wright's office (the ones that made it impossible to do the bell times analysis). I'm quite sure that most of them are strategic initiatives that were not requested by the Board. Those initiatives either need to be directly approved as a Board-approved priority or dropped.

A final item is a review of transportation. The transportation system is an unholy mess that is costing the District huge amounts of money. It's also bad PR, since it gets thrown back in the District's face every time they ask for money from the state. I'm talking things like 5-10 buses from schools to a dance program. That's not necessarily bad, but it raises a lot of questions. Who pays for that? Is it a grant, parent, district, whatever? What are the administrative costs of these specials? This is especially true of buses that are not M-F at the same time.
Anonymous said…
..had it "right."
Anonymous said…
That was a joke, anonymous.

Anonymous said…
Regarding the Kids not Cuts issue, I like this quote from King5 at the bottom of this article (http://www.king5.com/story/news/local/seattle/2015/10/14/seattle-public-schools-staff-reduction-board-executive-committee-meeting/73963330/?csp=nbcnews):

"KING 5 reached out to all the districts in King County. Only Kent School District reported having to make adjustments and made them after the Labor Day weekend."

Sure, every district is required to report final enrollment numbers to the state shortly after October 1, but there's no requirement that adjustments be made post-Oct 1. The district should have a pretty good idea of enrollment numbers a few days before the school year starts, and should make any needed adjustments then, not a month into the school year!

-- SPS Dad
Anonymous said…
@Eric - that sounds like a school field trip - field trips are built into the Transportation budget and are in fact, a legitimate use of SPS budget resources - many kids would never get to experience things like plays or dance performances or whatever because of their parent's economic status.


Anonymous said…
Thank you Melissa Westbrook for everything you do! I wouldn't know about a lot of the things going on if it weren't for your blog. The District keeps us chasing after them and I so much appreciate you getting us the info that we need.

SPE Parent
Anonymous said…
Leave. Not other option will work.

-Long gone
Eric B said…
Reader47, it's not a field trip. It's a regularly scheduled bus route, apparently every week of the year. I am all for getting kids educational enrichment beyond what their families could afford. I'm just wondering how many programs there are where funding was supposed to cover transportation, but transportation money has since lapsed and transportation's budget is now covering cost of a special program that should be accounted for elsewhere.
And Eric, there you go.

Why doesn't the district -both in the name of transparency AND to aid parent understanding (which could gain support) - tell us ALL of this?

My belief is that the district doesn't want to be transparent because to show where ALL the money IS and where it all GOES is not in their game plan.

But that's what you would do if you wanted the most understanding/sympathy from parents and public.

It's what you would do if you wanted the most support for your visions and your initiatives.
Anonymous said…
Eric B, what school is that being offered and could it be a PTSA program?

-Do it
Anonymous said…
Why don't we have a list of teachers and staff being moved? Seem simple...and all the numbers- 25, 27 sometimes, do not include special education numbers.

include all please
Eric B said…
Do it, I can't recall off the top of my head, since it's been a couple of months since I looked at the list of routes and exploded my head. If I recall correctly, it was 5 or so schools.

And to be clear, that was one example. There were dozens like it.
Anonymous said…
Every time my kids go on a field trip, we are charged $3 for the bus ride (which I I doubt covers the whole cost of the bus - say 55 kids in two classrooms, on each bus, that would be $165 - probably pays the driver for their time, but not much else). So while transportation needs to plan to provide the buses for field trips, it is a least partially subsidized by the parents or school.

Mom of 4
Cascadia Mom said…
Dear Superintendent Nyland,

Our children are being shortchanged. Have you spent any time in our elementary schools? Do you know how large the classes are? How we are stigmatizing children with low test scores for not achieving when the schools do nothing but throw roadblocks (large classes) and obstacles (Bureaucratic inefficiencies, crumbling facilities, no time for lunch, no time for recess, crowding) in the way?

I would really like to see some concrete cost-cutting at the District level to reduce the impact to the students. If our children need to cram into a smaller classroom, lose their teacher after just starting school, and exist in the demoralized environment of a failing school where everyone is trying so hard to improve and then gets hit with another gut punch (sorry, you lose your teacher and your room, and get crammed in with some other kids as an afterthought), then I hope we can see a comprehensive and TRANSPARENT list of cuts to district salaries, travel, FTE and management wastage.

Every time you send me “The Source” glossy email, I want to scream. Let go of the PR people who send me that useless email and send me a teacher!! Send me a school that’s not begging me for paper and pencils so kids can learn!! Send me a school where my daughter doesn’t have to go down 3 flights of stairs to a bathroom!!! Send me a school that has enough room for her to eat lunch!!

A school district that snatches teachers away from failing schools and the children who need them is failing on every level. If there is no creative management thinking that can save money at the district level, then I respectfully suggest that everyone at JSCEE resign.
Anonymous said…
"Why doesn't the district -both in the name of transparency AND .... "

Because any efforts toward transparency exist only in name.

How much was spent to make the district website less transparent?

District motto .... Opaque R Us.

Inquiring Mind
Anonymous said…
Hmmmm... Eric, its possible its an after-school care situation - there are quite a few routes that take kids to after-care like Boys/Girls clubs. Not hard to find out - will do so because you've got me curious now ;o)

Eric B said…
Reader47, I encourage you to check it out because it's mind-boggling. The route I was citing was in the middle of the school day. From what I have seen so far (13 years and counting...), school budgets and/or parents pay for buses for field trips. The central office doesn't pay anything.
Anonymous said…
If this district wouldn't need to spend big money expanding their PR department if they didn't constantly lurch from one crisis/PR disaster to another. In other words if the other senior administration staff/departments were competent and accountable and focused on the central mission of SPS (K-12 students) then there would be no need for such a costly (and growing) department to gloss over and spin all the problems and failures and crazy decision-making. What other school districts spend so much on press/PR? How does this benefit students or families? It doesn't - all it does is cover their asses at JSCEE. Totally agree with cascadia mom -there's so cost savings right there.

And by the way, isn't it ridiculous that parents have to provide paper and pencils and other school supplies mid year because the school has run out? What kind of banana-republic system is this when the district can't provide BASIC supplies and teachers have to send begging letters home to parents?? It's a joke that senior staff have their car allowances, and PreK conference travel and what have you and meanwhile schools don't even have enough pencils. It really is a Marie Antoinette administration (" let them eat cake" turns into "let them cram 30 in a 1st grade class and who needs pencils anyway"). The people running the show are so detached from the reality of the classroom that they just don't get it. They don't get that it all happens (learning the basics, opening minds to the world and their potential, closing achievement gaps, becoming prepared for college, workforce, and life) -In the classroom, in the hands of teachers, not in their ivory tower with their plans and taskforces and press releases etc. And therefore this is where our education money needs to go - funding and staffing the classrooms (and para-educational stuff) and providing good curricula, not supporting the JSCEE royalty.

Well it didn't end so well for Marie A. so I say....

Time for revolution
Anonymous said…
At our school, parents pay the cost of the bus and the cost of the field trip. The district does not subsidize or pay for any of it. We are a non Title One school. I don't know if that is the case with all schools.
Elementary Teacher
dj said…
Fyi, the numbers may be higher than what the district is publicizing. The kindergarten teacher we are losing at John Hay due to the lower-than-projected enrollment increase isn't a staffing reduction, according to the district.
NW mom said…
DJ - how is that possible?
Anonymous said…
What we really need is publicity. Im glad we are finally getting heard via #Kids not Cuts and Danny Westneat's column and some news reports but we need more. Melissa does a great job for parents or other people who are in the know about her blog but we need to all reach out to the non SPS parent community. Otherwise, all the taxpayers of Seattle hear are carefully crafted press releases and presentations given by their professional (costly) PR department. We need taxpayers, future public school parents and grandparents to know and understand how dysfunctional SPS is and has been for years, and unite with parents to demand better accounting of where our education dollars are being spent and better management to ensure it are being spent appropriately with maximum benefit. People need to know that its not just these October cuts, these are like the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. Everyone (not just SPS parents or ex- but recent parents) needs to understand that SPS has either mismanaged or wasted money or both on all these issues that Melissa mentioned above. They need to know that SPS is not providing our kids with a quality education. Some schools and teachers are undoubtedly providing a great education but this is IN SPITE of the district and all it's flawed management of everything from curriculum to bell times, to school assignment, to advanced learning, etc etc, rather then because of district planning, support, and funding. The public needs to know this and now.
SPS has an advantage -we lack the funds and professional staff that SPS has to manage the story (though, perhaps there are some PR/communications professionals who are SPS parents who can counter the district spin?). We need to ask questions of the district and demand answers. We need to get the media to ask questions of the district. One question I'm particularly interested in is where the full day K funds are spent. At > $2000 and 28 kids per class, and 4 or 5 K classes as was the case when both my kids were in K that is quite a lot of money, more than enough to pay a teacher salary or 2 at that particular school. Think about this replicated at schools all over town. What is the district spending this income on when it should be to maintain a full day K program - ie more K teachers and smaller K classes?
This is a public taxpayer funded entity - they report to us and its about time they did so openly (without the PR spin) both to the public and to our representatives - the board (and its about time some of these current board members remembered who they answer to as well).

Public knowledge
dj said…
DW -- the teacher had moved from another state and her credentials here had not yet been formalized, so she doesn't count as a teacher for staffing cuts. to my understanding. Confused? So is my kindergarten student, who I could have sworn was being taught by a teacher. A really excellent one, if I can editorialize, and one who in any rational district would be continuing to teach my child on Monday.
Anonymous said…
According to the District's page on Kindergarten fees, the 2015-16 fee is $2,840 and there are now 24 schools that charge for full day. So that's a total of $68,160 collected for this school year.

According to the 2015/16 Budget Book, (page 49) fees for all-day K go into the pot labeled "Other Revenues"
Other Revenue funding provides $43.8million or 5.8% of budgeted resources. Sources of this funding include rental and lease income from Districtproperties, investment earnings, food service fees, gifts and donations, fees for all day kindergarten,and the City Families and Education Levy.

Anonymous said…
ooops- just realized my math skills haven't improved since 5th grade ;( - sorry ignore the dollar total above - can't edit my post.

GarfieldMom said…
Eric, I'm looking at a copy of the VersaTrans database which was run in June, and I think I've identified the bus routes you're referring to. There are six routes 11:05 in/12:20 out to PNB, five on Thursdays, one on Tuesdays, labelled "Dance Chance." They are to/from Sanislo, Hawthorne, Thurgood Marshall, Broadview-Thompson, Emerson, and Graham Hill. All of them are listed in the database as having no riders, which means these are likely routes left as placeholders for programs that run periodically during the year. In fact, if you look at PNB's page about Dance Chance, it looks like it has sessions in the fall and spring, and the transportation costs are paid for by PNB. I encourage everyone to read up on the program; it looks like an ideal partnership between an arts organization and the schools that gives students who would not otherwise have opportunities to explore their potential as dancers. Former students have gone on to professional dance careers. PNB Dance Chance

The DanceChance Screening team visits partner schools in the fall and identifies third-grade students with the unique physical aptitude and focus required to pursue a career in dance. Selected students participate in a 9-week introductory fall session. Students are invited to continue on to the subsequent spring session and the fourth grade class based on their progress, potential and interest. Upon graduation from the two year program, some students are invited to integrate into PNBS Level III classes.


Full scholarships for classical ballet training twice a week
Dancewear and shoes
Transportation to and from PNB from their elementary school
Tickets to Pacific Northwest Ballet performances
In addition students receive a well-rounded dance education, including: fieldtrips to PNB’s Costume Shop, a chance to meet professional dances, and guest teachers in Modern, Hip Hop, Afro-Brazilian and Jazz.

All classes are taught by Pacific Northwest Ballet Schools’ renowned faculty of educators with live musical accompaniment.


DanceChance aims to enrich the lives of students through classical ballet training, developing beneficial skills regardless of their future career paths. Research shows that arts education teaches children life skills such as developing an informed perception, articulating a vision, learning to solve problems and make decisions, building self-confidence, and self-discipline (Americans for the Arts, 2002).

(I think there's plenty of waste in Transportation, this just doesn't look like a good example of it!)
Anonymous said…
I'm very concerned about students with 504s in SPS, and the District's disarray around this situation. Students with 504s are typically outside the parameters of SPED activism, but are a protected class by law, and rely on the accommodations in their 504s in order to access public education. There's lots of teacher/admin bias in the schools against students with 504s, misunderstanding, and no training whatsoever. How can we help these students and families? If "equity" is something everyone's discussing, let's include these students with 504s. They're falling (or being pushed) through the cracks.

- every student, really
Carol Simmons said…
Dear Friends,

The Board did vote in favor of the resolution on the moratorium for out of school suspensions for elementary school students and the staff did a good job of presenting data. Now if we could resurrect the Seattle Public Schools Data Profile Document that was discontinued in 2012 and pay attention to Cris Jackins' testimonies and recommendations and revisit and implement the Disproportionality Task Forces recommendations, we would be far ahead in closing the opportunity gap.
Also, the naming of the Robert Eaglestaff school has been accomplished. Yes, there is much work to be done, but this is a beginning for many underserved students.
Anonymous said…
GarfieldMom beat me to it ;o)

Sad face said…
So back to the Pay for K. $2850 per kid, let's say 60 kids per school times 24 schools..$4 million dollars per year!!! Where does it go and why isn't it directed towards the staffing budget?!
Anonymous said…
- every student, really

your topic has come up at every special education ptsa meeting and also at the twice exceptional meeting the other night. the next meeting of the special education ptsa is next Tuesday October 20th at West Seattle High School (library? lunchroom?) 7-9pm. i think this group is highly motivated to get the shortfalls you describe addressed.

another reader
Lynn said…
Sad face,

I had a discussion with Joe Paperman in the budget office about Pay-for-K a couple of years ago. The calculation at that time looked like this:

$ 98,000 salary and benefits
$ 2,300 supplies
$100,300 cost of a full time classroom
$ 50,150 cost of a half time classroom
$ 1,750 3.5% for indirect costs
$ 51,900 total cost
$ 2,160 cost per child (24 per class)
$ 815 subsidy
$ 2,975 total fee

The state pays the full cost of kindergarten for schools with the highest percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals (FARM.) There has been a list on OSPI's website of every school in the state that offers kindergarten, sorted by FARM rate. As funding for K in the state budget has been increased they've been working their way down that list. The district has been funding Kindergarten for the next few schools on that list. At the remaining schools, families are charged a fee - except for those who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. Their cost isn't covered with funds from the operations levy or with city contributions, it's covered by fee-paying families. (That is the $815 subsidy.)
Meg said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
Pretty interesting ... Carol Simmons said...

Dear Friends,

The Board did vote in favor of the resolution on the moratorium for out of school suspensions for elementary school students and the staff did a good job of presenting data. Now if we could resurrect the Seattle Public Schools Data Profile Document that was discontinued in 2012 and pay attention to Cris Jackins' testimonies and recommendations and revisit and implement the Disproportionality Task Forces recommendations, we would be far ahead in closing the opportunity gap.


Sadly at the end of September the "Reducing Opportunity Gaps" work session the staff did not present data about the "Opportunity Gaps". (Typical misdirection)

The "Opportunity Gaps" are a rename from "Achievement Gaps" and the district rarely references any progress over time in reducing these gaps ..... (because there is very little progress if any).. Perhaps the greatest progress occurred when Mercer MS began using Saxon math without Central Staff approval.

Recently from JSCEE a revised "Scope and Sequence" for Math in Focus emerged.

If opportunity gaps are to be reduced there need to be major changes in academic delivery. A change away from JSCEE dictates and PLC top-down direction would be a large step in the correct direction.

It is way past time to find out what is happening in the "Readers and Writers" workshops in regard to Gap Reduction. What has been happening in Math over the last decade in Gap Reduction?
.... data Bueller data .. Where is it?

When teachers are allowed to form true "Professional Learning Communities" and determine needed Professional Development and be given the latitude to develop improvements to delivering instruction, the "Opportunity Gaps" will be reduced. Until these changes occur the Strategic Plan's big focus on opportunity gaps is just bogus verbiage.

-- Dan Dempsey
Lynn said…

Staff has acknowledged defeat in closing the gap in elementary school. Now they're certain if we just turn over our classrooms and our teachers to the city for preschool, the gap will be magically closed before the children show up to kindergarten. At that point, the lousy curriculum won't matter - because as staff tell us, We believe that closing opportunity gaps for each and every student is THE most important work of our time.. What happened to Every Child, in Every Classroom, Every Day? Isn't graduating students who are literate and mathematically capable the work of the school district?
Anonymous said…
First, thank you Melissa for your blog. Can I add that you crack me up? Love your humor above.
Adding to your list . . . How about the fact that the District is now using SBAC to determine AL eligibility with absolutely no advance notice (though I was guessing it would happen), when the test was so highly criticized last year and this was the first year of implementation. Moreover, the District has pulled the appeal process from the website and will probably come out with a new policy that will provide minimal appeal rights (no private testing), again with no advance notice and after folks have paid for private testing on the assumption the District wouldn't change the rules mid-stream.

Anonymous said…
If they stopped wasting time and money talking about the achievement gaps and their latest plans to close them, and actually put more money and personnel into schools to lower class sizes, provide more (or any!) IAs, strong counseling services and other specialist resource staff, good solid curricula for math and reading, early intervention for struggling students (along with meaningful enrichment for advanced learners) then the gaps would close - or at least as much as they can reasonably be expected to in the absence of major society/community/economic changes.
This is what this city needs - not the never-ending roundabout of work sessions, consultants, new (renamed) initiatives - it's like rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. We need less of this talk and more action- and by action I mean action in the schools not the JSCEE. And for that we need more money and personnel in the schools and less money spent/fewer personnel downtown. The one thing that would benefit all students, the one thing that can improve outcomes for the most vulnerable is more resources (both human and financial) and right now the district routinely starves our schools of resources from schools - and right now is trying to cut staff at many. And they have the temerity to talk about closing gaps.

PS - great list Meg. I would add these:

history of ignoring very strong community feedback, including that from taskforces charged with analysing and making recommendations on the specific issues, when it comes to capacity management, building closures, school locations etc. I can think of several cases in which we would be in a much better position now (or avoided some crisis) if only the district powers-that-be had listened.

the disparate and somewhat manipulative 'community engagement' practices -whereby some issues get months or years of meetings and analysis and nothing can be done because "community engagement' is important and yet at other times the district will just barge ahead and make some far reaching changes without any prior community notification at all. There is a sense that when the district WANTS to do something - it will just do it (they don't want to hear from parents who in fact won't even know until its a done deal) but if they DON'T WANT to do something (that perhaps the community supports or wants) they will community engage the issue to death and then announce it can't be done because feedback says x, y, z.

Mind the gap
Eric B said…
Thanks, Reader47 and GarfieldMom. I'm glad to hear this program isn't one of the ones that drain funds from the district. Sometime when I have time, I'll go through the VersaTrans database and look for all of the weird routes.
Anonymous said…
@Mind the Gap - exactly times 100! Perhaps if they just developed the mantra "if in doubt spend at the schools" things would be better. Though that begs the question if they (meaning Admin folk) all really WANT it to be better...there's probably some job security in chaos, sadly...

Anonymous said…
I started musing on this post -- I think the issue is partially communication. The district seems to hope that if they limit access to information parents will just give up. But, they're underestimating how much information a sophisticated group of Seattle parents can access. There's this blog, and the volunteer work put in by Melissa to attend board meetings, read press releases, squirrel out information. There's the APP blog, FB groups. There's conversation with others who understand and are sophisticated at parsing information.

So, the first step is that the district has to realize that information managment just isn't going to work with Seattle parents. Then, there's the second step of recognizing that we are supposed to want the same goal. This raises another question, though, which is when the district thinks they are trying to reach a goal that they believe parents (especially when they think it's not all parents, but just a vocal set of affluent north end parents) oppose but that the district thinks is in the best interests of all the children. Issues about testing, advanced learning, allocating resources can fall into this category. How do they speak to us on these issues? Right now, sometimes it seems like they simply obfuscate and mislead, in the hopes that changes can be made to fast for anyone to object. But, could they engage? would people listen?

For example, although I do believe that testing has been over done and is consuming education, I do also believe that testing uncovered some of the iniquities in our system, forced us to realize that some children weren't being provided with an adequate education.

I have dreams of dialog between trusted partners. Is it really impossible?

Anonymous said…
Hmmmmmm zb - I tend to agree that control of information is the SPS admin way - it seems to be the case not only with regards to parents but sometimes, dangerously, for the Board as well - Admin does not always appear to WANT the Board to have adequate decision-making information.

I think the issue you've nailed is the keyword "trusted" At present NONE of the players trust the others, 99% of the time. Until you can reduce that percentage, then yes, true meaningful dialog is while not impossible, at the very least, improbable.

Mind the Gap, very good overview.

I actually think we DO know many of the things that we need to do to close the achievement gap. But they either seem expensive or too easy/obvious/not sexy for the powers that be.

ZB, it's always about communications and right now I'd give the district a C-. And it seems to be getting worse.
Meg said…
I deleted my list by mistake, and didn't repost.

I see a bunch of strange things. I expect that it would take quite a bit of analysis and work to put it together and see what it adds to.

- Nyland's letter about teacher cuts indicates that teachers are being cut because while enrollment grew, growth was about 675 students less than SPS projections, leaving them about $4.2M short. I find it really, really strange that over 20% of the schools in the district are having major faculty disruptions (which lead very directly to disruptions in student learning) for a shortfall that is just barely over half a percent of the budget, and an enrollment miss of 1.3%.

- also weird: the total budget for 2015-16 saw substantial growth, in the neighborhood of $60M (from $689.4M to $753M). The budget book does list some of the reasons (class size reduction money, for instance), but overall budget growth is comfortably ahead of enrollment growth... and yet, a really large number of schools are having teachers pulled out

- frustrating and strange: Central Administration budget growth has been HEFTY. In 2013-14 the Central Administration budget (not actuals) was $31.9M. In 2014-15 it was $37.4M and for 2015-16 it is $43.6M. So since 2013-14, Central Administration budgets have been increased by $11.7M. That's ALOT. Enough, as I've said earlier, for every single school in the district to get an additional teacher. If schools are being asked to make difficult, disruptive cuts during the school year, why, why, why does the central administration budget continue to have year over year growth?

- adding salt to the wound: the 20 most highly compensated administrators in SPS (not necessarily the same people or positions - just the 20 most highly paid in each year) saw their comp increase by $500K from 2012-13 to 2014-15. Top 100 SPS administrators saw comp jump by over $1M.

- unsettling email from Brent Kroon that makes it look uncomfortably as if enrollment services very intentionally tries to withhold enrollment data about a public school district because, essentially, they find public input and questions to be a major hassle. During a capacity crisis. Which... weird that the public would have lots of questions about a public district during a capacity crisis. Oh, wait, no. The only weird part (and maybe not legal?) is that school district officials are intentionally withholding public data because they don't like what the public has to say about it.

- weird pay for K issue in which many kindergartens sound quite overcrowded, and fees do not appear to keep additional faculty pulls from happening in those buildings, nor to reduce K class size.

- ongoing capacity crisis, w/ the district making decisions that... well, seem to be at least very much in line with the district's traditional way of making decisions. The public, largely deprived - as usual - of any way to influence those decisions, has to scream and cry to get just SOME of the (public) data those decisions are being made with.

There's more, but those are some of the things I find really concerning, and seem to have at least some relation.
Med, I think a LOT is going on and there could be a couple of reasons. I may use your list here to explain what I think.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for reposting that Meg - very interesting. Decision making does not appear to the an SPS strong suit does it? :(

Lets see - admin is up about $11+M but a bad enrollment projection puts the district down $4.2M Logic would suggest, since you are after all running a SCHOOL district (you know, with classrooms and kids and stuff) that the cuts/rearrangments/shifting or whatever the "word du jour" is for the October scramble, might come from ADMIN so that the SCHOOL part would be unharmed..

Nah - that would be too easy. Too logical. Too, well, ethical. Sighhh...

Charlie Mas said…
Regarding the gap.

For the entire time that I have been a public school activist Seattle Public Schools has claimed that their primary goal and top priority has been to close the academic achievement gap. Yet, for all of that time, they have never once made a plan for achieving that goal. And it's not like they don't like to make plans.

What kind of an organization makes no plan to achieve their top goal?

If you were to ask them now they would say, again, that closing the gap is their top goal. And, if you were to ask them for their plan for reaching that goal they would say, after a period of awkward silence, that MTSS is their path to that end. But when you go further and ask them about progress implementing MTSS you would learn of how they have been working on that for years. They have been in the second year of a four-year plan to implement MTSS for three years now.

Of course, you may be dismayed to learn about MTSS and how they interpret it. Step one, for them, is to get every classroom in every school teaching the same curriculum. This is a really odd idea. It's a really odd idea for three reasons. First, there is no real benefit to such an effort. Education is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. Second, they utterly lack the ability to implement such a thing. They don't even know what is being taught in the schools let alone control it. It wasn't until the district went to implement a new elementary math curriculum that they learned that about twenty schools weren't using the adopted one. And third, they have absolutely no ability to enforce any edict they issue.

The central problem with the school district's management is that it is completely disconnected from anything that happens in the schools - and not only do the schools like it that way, but the JSCEE likes it that way too.
Anonymous said…
Michael Christophersen proposes to reduce the contract amount threshold at which Board vote is triggered. I heard him say that the threshold is much lower in Shorelune. (I think he said $20K). It seems to me a very good idea. What do others think? It would have been harder for example for staff to replace MAP eith ACCELIFY without Board approval. The ACCELIFY contract came in at just barely below the current 250K threshold.

n said…
Thank you, Cascadia. You reflect the rage I often feel esp. with your comments about administrative cuts and money. That's where all our problems begin and you can't shout it out loud enough.

Sadface and reader47, when teachers are budgeted they are line-itemed at high rates even though the particular teachers may not be making that paycheck yet. The District uses a standard number inclusive of all teachers. Some schools have a lot of veteran teachers at the top end of the wage scale while other school have a lot of new teachers. To cover the top end, the bottom-end schools on paper show higher wages than are actually earned. This is fair. Otherwise, all schools would be constantly trying to rid themselves of veteran teachers. And the budgeted line items include insurance and other benefit costs. I'm not sure anymore what those are but $68,000 may not do it. And $4m sounds like a lot but it isn't really if spread across a lot of positions.

Lynn, thanks, you laid it out perfectly. A lot of expenses included in pay-for-K.

@mind the gap: Right on target! Thank you.

@Dan: man, I hate the jargon changes. I esp. dislike "opportunity" gap. Achievement gap is honest. Let's put money back into smaller class sizes at at-risk schools and fix it.

MTSS is not a solution. It is a reworking of all the plans that have existed in the past. It is paper. It is a map of traffic stops for kids who just need more individual teaching. Add teachers and you can throw all the paper away. MTSS provides a paycheck for the people who created it. That's all. I miss you, Charlie!
Anonymous said…
"MTSS is not a solution. It is a reworking of all the plans that have existed in the past. It is paper. It is a map of traffic stops for kids who just need more individual teaching. Add teachers and you can throw all the paper away. MTSS provides a paycheck for the people who created it."

EXACTLY! Instead of all of the drama, SPS should just hire more teachers to either reduce class size or provide for more individual teachers to work with kids individually.

n said…
The biggest problem in public education, one that dwarfs all other problems, is the quality of "administrators."

Most school administrators are failed teachers. They tried it, found they couldn't do it, and quickly got out. The occupy positions where they sit around, making up rules and thinking up (or borrowing) new programs that take a way from teaching. Some seem to delight in be-deviling good teachers. They only care about maintaining their positions, and their benefits.

The above comment from the comments section on a story on Rafe Esquith here https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/10/16/world-famous-teacher-files-1-billion-lawsuit-against-los-angeles-schools-to-end-teacher-jail/?wpmm=1&wpisrc=nl_answer

Answer Sheet
World-famous teacher files $1 billion lawsuit against Los Angeles schools to end ‘teacher jail’
Jan said…
And, Charlie -- they are supposed to be differentiating instruction in all their classes -- which inherently means that they cannot all be on the same page at the same time (nor should they). Differentiated instruction, if it is to have any teeth at all, cannot just be about going "deeper" (or shallower, I guess, for kids who struggle?) In many many cases, it means a pace that is too fast --or too slow -- for individual kids. If we are going to meet those kids' needs by differentiating, we have to be able to provide them with pacing that uses their time effectively. Kids need the ability to move faster through material and concepts, or we lose them to boredom (to say nothing of the fact that we are wasting their time by holding them back). By the same token -- other kids (including one of mine) -- needed to be able to slow down and struggle through stuff (rather than just missing it and moving on -- or having someone break it down and force feed it to him in a rush.
Anonymous said…
Jan, I agree. If a teacher is doing their job right, everyone should not be on the same page at the same time. Also, when I hear "go deeper" what the presenter usually means is I don't want to talk about differentiation. I think that going deeper is legit, but almost every presenter or administrator that has talked about going deeper has not been able to explain how to differentiate whatever they are presenting.
n said…
Both Jan and Teacher: Jan commented on the previous thread that every teacher should be trained to address sped students and you are both saying that every teacher should be differentiating. I wonder if you two would mind articulating how that all happens with twenty-six diverse kids every day given we are teaching science, math, reading, and writing with social studies and language arts probably immersed in the first three but maybe not or not in all cases in what amounts to about five hours a day that also includes transitions(walk to math - which means differentiation for another ten-fifteen kids you don't know that yet), walk to lunch, walk to recess and walk back three times, then walk to assembly, walk to computer lab, walk to buddy reading, and probably 10 min minimum prep to go home a day), RULER or other social skills teaching, independent activities and just plain down time.

Actually, I've always considered myself a pretty strong teacher who uses time well. But I'm finally out of ideas. So, let me know how you do it please. I would like ideas - but not just more worksheets. More demanding worksheets means more teaching.
Charlie Mas said…
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.

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.

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?
Anonymous said…
N, I bet I don't do anything different than you do to differentiate. I was pointing out the hypocrisy of saying that we should all be all the same page at the same time and also be differentiating. As an elementary school teacher, I think it is hard to differentiate well; that is why I support self-contained Spectrum. I also agree with Charlie that consistent differentiation requires a heroic effort from teachers. Next post are some things I do in the class to differentiate.
Anonymous said…
Here are some things I do; some days better than others. I am an early elementary school teacher.
Reading: I meet and read individually with each kid weekly so I can work on whatever skills they need for the level they are reading. Reading levels in my class usually span two or three grade levels. I meet with kids weekly in phonics leveled groups so I can teach them the level phonics they need for the books they are reading or to match their spelling inventory level. However I also teach basic phonics whole group. I think some higher level kids often miss some of the basic building blocks. As the year goes on, I also do leveled reading comprehension groups.
Writing: Pretty easy to differentiate. I teach whole group lesson and then meet individually with kids. I like different kids to have their own goals for writing based on their abilities.
Math: This is my hardest one. We don't walk to math. Some years I would teach a whole group lesson and then do math groups. This year with the new scope and sequence, I'm just trying to figure out how to put together a curriculum. The scope and sequence doesn't match MIF, so I'm developing my own curriculum which is very time-consuming. Another reason why I wish they would let us teach MIF. I could spend my time figuring out how to better teach the curriculum as opposed to having to develop one on my own.
Science/social studies: I don't do too much with this. When kids write in their science journals I work with more advanced kids to express themselves more completely and think through their thoughts better.
What do you do?
To anyone else who is reading this, I just want to say that I know that this is not perfect differentiation. I'm just trying to do the best I can. It's hard work.
Anonymous said…
Teacher, how many kids are in your class?

Anonymous said…
24 so far this year. Usually the numbers range from 24-27.
n said…
It is not just hard work, it is time consuming. That's my problem. And my biggest area of concern is math. Reading - ceilingless. You work with kids where they are and I teach comprehension lessons to the top because I, too, teach primary and grades one/two are so very close in learning targets. Same with writing - also ceilingless. Conferencing is my best strategy for differentiated instruction. Luckily, I have eager writers. They just need some guidance.

I think we have it sort of easy. Primary kids may be academically bright but they are socially and emotionally still immature. As smart as they are, they can only handle so much. Once you get into intermediate grades and a classroom full of students who have come from great teachers, good teachers, and poor teachers, your hands are full trying to meet all their needs. Throw in sped, 504s, reluctant learners, demanding parents and a lack of time to thoroughly work with all students, it becomes unmanageable. My one guiding force, I try to teach to the highest. I really think the lowest get more from that than all the remediation there is. They stay engaged. Of course, I try to meet their needs best I can - individual decoding/word study lessons - but I still think they learn from engaging in higher level discussions and tasks.

My complaint: we try to teach too much. I'm going to quit asking for a longer day and suggest instead that we pare down the curriculum for our elementary students. Give us time to do fewer things well and provide more time for individual contact.
n said…
And my numbers have been twenty-eight until this year. I'm on vacation this year - 22.
n said…
Charlie, the problem with tracking the way you're using it is that those in the top tier get more enrichment. Grade levels come with a long history that is traditional now. But separating kids beyond grade levels always carries baggage that some kids get more than other kids. Give us a smaller class size and a little less to teach and I could give all my kids regardless of track an engaging, artful, thoughtful, literature-packed, math-packed day every day. And writing would be immersed in all of it. What more could we ask for elementary? Shouldn't school and learning be a joyful experience? Throw in some science kits grades three and up and I'd be happy. Or maybe even fourth-fifth. It is too much to try to do it all from K on. Just too much with too many.
Lynn said…
Why can't a teacher provide that enrichment in a lower tracked class? And if a higher tracked class has time for enrichment without reducing the currently required curriculum, why shouldn't we give them that?
Anonymous said…
N. What have you found that works with differentiating math? I too think that is the hardest area with a mixed group.

Also, I totally agree about differentiating with the younger and older grades. As the kids get older, the gaps get wider and wider. Differentiating becomes much harder due to the gaps and to the complexity of academic expectations.

Lynn, I think you can provide that enrichment in a lower tracked class. The challenge in a lower tracked class is that you have kids who are really low and kids who are average to a little above average. Some of the kids who are really low take a lot more time to teach. They either take longer to learn something or they require a different way of teaching to understand. As a teacher you are trying to meet their needs at the same time you are trying to teach the kids on level. In a higher tracked class, kids generally are fast learners. You can move through a lot of material more quickly, which leaves more time for enrichment. I still think you can do it in a lower tracked class, but it is a little more challenging.
Charlie Mas said…
I hope you don't mind if I push back a bit here - or at least ask for some clarification.

"more enrichment" What is that? Is it something that isn't included in the Learning Standards? Is that the definition of "enrichment"? Is it a field trip? Is it access to the following school year's learning standards? What is enrichment in this context?

In 2001, when I learned that my daughter was eligible for Spectrum, I asked around about what Spectrum was. I asked a lot of people but didn't get a coherent answer from the first dozen I asked. I finally got a clear answer from Mr. Ferris, the 4th grade Spectrum teacher at Lafayette. He told me that Spectrum provided instruction beyond grade level in three dimensions: deeper, broader, and further. I later got this confirmed by district officials in charge of the program at the time and I have never heard anyone in authority contradict this description of Spectrum. The problem with deeper, broader, and further is that deeper, the most important of the three, is the hardest to measure and that further, the least important of the three, is the easiest to measure. It is the ease of measuring advancement that gave us the HORRIBLE abbreviated description of the program as "one year ahead" which, to everyone's dismay, became the complete description of the program.

So what is enrichment? Is it deeper, broader, or further? Or is it something else? And what else is taking precedence over deeper, broader, and further? If it IS deeper, broader or further, then I don't have a problem with it. If it's field trips, then get back to school.
n said…
I'd be wiser to defer to Teacher on that. My answer would be way too long. But suffice it to say that I wonder what you expected when he told you the three magic words: deeper, broader, further? I prefer "enrichment" - From merriam webster: enrichment: to make (someone) rich or richer
: to improve the quality of (something) : to make (something) better
: to improve the usefulness or quality of (something) by adding something to it

I started to answer but it became much, much too long and was mostly examples anyway. It was all additive for me.
Anonymous said…
I didn't bring up the issue of enrichment, but to me it means something that adds to the curriculum. Deeper, broader, or further would cover it. I think it means something that is fun to do that is connected to the curriculum or following up on a class-generated project that is connected to learning. I'm not talking about fluff. I'm talking about doing activities/projects connected to learning.
n said…
And those "fun" things are challenging first and foremost. They have to stretch the thinking and the effort. My experience with spectrum kids is that they love to stretch. It isn't just spectrum kids that need that but with spectrum/HC kids, you have the time to add. We aren't always trying to get everything in. We can get everything in and more. A couple of things: weather science unit - my kids loved learning about clouds. They made pop-up books showing the four main types: cirrus, cumulus, stratus and fog (which is a stratus cloud, I know). Each cloud had to show its distinct characteristics. They I passed out UW blue books and asked and told each student they were going to take a college-level essay test. They needed to remember the four clouds we had studied and write a page on each including the characteristics of each cloud. Each one was worth 4 points because we had learned four things about each cloud and extra information was worth more points. By the end, many of them knew many more clouds than the original four. They loved it.

Also, my kids did not go outside and use a wind flag and then return with "no wind, some wind, ..." They used the Beaufort Scale that is included in the science teacher's book and learned to identify wind force on a scale of one-15 or something like that by observing evidence outside. (of course, we never had gale-force winds or hurricanes!) A leader would be in charge and conduct the discussion citing evidence then have a vote on wind force. And there's lots of math in the weather unit. Also, they learned Celsius. I altered the thermometers that came from the district with only Fahrenheit and added Celsius so they had both. I think the district now sends out appropriate ones but I'm not sure.

You might not think those things are important but they were engaged. To me, engagement is crucial. It is primary in good teaching.

I hope the above examples show what a teacher can do with just a little extra time in the day. Of course, every academic area offers similar wonderful opportunities.

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