Monday, June 27, 2016

The Future of Ed Reform

I actually had not meant to sit down and write this one but I had so many articles piling up on this subject, it seemed the right time. 

To be clear (as I am certain that 99% of adults in the U.S. would agree), all is not well with public education.  There are many reasons for that.  Now, if you just looked at white and many Asian students, the U.S. is doing as well as most top-level countries.

But the U.S. is a very heterogeneous country that tests all public school students.   We are also a country that seemingly is accepting that nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.  Anyone who thinks that a good teacher is going to overcome institutional racism, poverty and inconsistent/low funding is wrong. 

Also, when I speak of education reform in the U.S., I mean corporate ed reform.  I'm not saying change isn't needed; I'm saying what is being pushed is not really working and, at the end of the day, seems to be serving to allow some people to make high salaries and some companies to make a lot of money.

I keep up with Education Next which is leans right but usually has some pretty solid thinking.  One of their contributors is Michael Petrilli who I generally don't agree with but again, offers more than happy talk.

In April, he wrote this piece, Policy change is not the only path to school reform.
It strikes me, and several others with whom I’ve spoken in recent months, that education reform is at a turning point. It’s not just the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which sends key decisions back to the states. It’s bigger than that—a sense of exhaustion with policy as the primary driver of educational change.
He goes on to say the ed reformers still need to fight for "teacher accountability" and expanding "high-quality charter schools" and other "parental choice" (see vouchers) et al.

He quotes Rick Hess, another conservative public education write, who also is for ed reform but is great at knocking down ed reformers who act in illogical ways (and don't learn from their mistakes, no less admit them.)
While public policy can make people do things, it cannot make people do those things well. This is especially salient in education for two reasons. First, state and federal policy makers do not run schools; they merely write laws and regulations telling school districts what principals and teachers ought to do. And second, schooling is a complex, highly personal endeavor, which means that what happens at the individual level—the level of the teacher and the student—is the most crucial factor in separating failure from success. In education, there is often a vast distance between policy and practice.
Mr. Petrilli thinks that the whole public ed system is broken (it isn't) and that a wholesale turn to charter schools, "education savings accounts" (vouchers), etc. is the way to go.
This is the genius of the twenty-five-year-old charter sector, which (though not perfect) is showing that good schools can be scaled as long as the right mix of policies, funding mechanisms, and civil society structures are in place.  
Really?  I haven't seen that good charters DO scale.   The biggest scale is the Gulen charter schools and go Google that name and see how the DOJ and the Labor Department have investigations of those schools in multiple states.  Summit, Green Dot and Rocketship all want to scale but are in just a few states.  KIPP seems to be the fastest growing but their limited appeal by structure would seem to limit them to urban settings.

He talks about going around public schools and targeting teachers, parents "and/or students directly."  Folks, do you really want Pearson to go directly to your student?  I wouldn't.  This is a telling group of statements:
Class Dojo and Learn Zillion are capturing incredible market share among American teachers without messing with district procurement processes. Curriculum providers for homeschoolers know how to target parents, and they may expand their offerings to us parents who “home-school” at night and on the weekends. There’s lots and lots more that might be done here, particularly with the support of philanthropists.
Interesting he mentions Class Dojo because it is one of the most invasive of in-class systems.  (I'll be writing about them this summer.)  And that "with the support of philanthropists" means go to Gates, Waltons, Broad to get this going around going.

Petrilli followed up in May with this at Education Next.
Public school systems are the way they are because important constituencies are satisfied. They are open to change, but at a glacial pace, and only if it doesn’t upset the apple cart any time soon.
Again, not all parents are happy with public schools but the fact of the matter is most parents in this country do choose traditional public school.  The graduation rate is going up every year and so at least one "important constituency" seems satisfied.  If he is alluding to teachers, he should say so.
Charter schools, meanwhile, are classic start-ups. Without the burden of legacy costs, political baggage, and tired assumptions, they can pursue excellence with abandon. Not enough do, of course. But it’s impossible to look at the best charter networks up close and not see that their DNA is dramatically different from that of a traditional school system.  
I love when ed reformers relate public education to business.  Public education, like public health, needs to be well-managed and accountable but no, it's not a business.  That whole paragraph is a bit of a contradiction because many ed reform researcher (including those over at UW at the Center on Reinventing Education) have written widely about how puzzling/discouraging it is that more charters AREN'T innovating and look much like other traditional public schools.

But then he has some good thoughts:
I’m not sure I can prove it with hard data, but it sure seems clear to me that the cities and states with some of the highest-performing charter schools (Boston, Washington, D.C., New York State, Tennessee) are also home to some of the most thoughtful and effective authorizers. These entities have respect for the charter bargain (autonomy in return for accountability), are choosy about which proposals get green-lighted to open, and act courageously in shutting down chronically low-performing schools.
Yup, if you're going to have charters, do be choosy and do hold them accountable.  That's their raison d'etre, no?

But to the bigger picture, public education blogger Jan Resseger puts it better than I can:
In a NY Times column yesterday, How the Other Fifth Lives, Thomas B. Edsall describes how those at the top are insulating themselves while shaping the institutions that serve the rest of us.  Edsall examines the updated research of Sean Reardon and Kendra Bishoff, sociologists who have been examining these trends: “The self-segregation of a privileged fifth of the population is changing the American social order and the American political system, creating a self-perpetuating class at the top, which is ever more difficult to break into.” 

The rush toward market competition in education that has transformed America’s poorest big cities—with the rapid growth of charter schools and the closure of many neighborhood schools— exemplifies the power of the wealthy who are designing policy according to the rules of the business world.  The political philosopher Benjamin Barber captures the power dynamic among the elites who create and the rest of us who may participate in marketplace school choice: “We are seduced into thinking that the right to choose from a menu is the essence of liberty, but with respect to relevant outcomes the real power, and hence the real freedom, is in the determination of what is on the menu. 
Sadly, the differences between Trump and Clinton, on public education, are not as great as you might think.  What's pretty funny is there are those who aren't sure Clinton will side with ed reformers but if you look at her funders, I'm pretty sure she will.

What's the next big thing on the ed reform horizon (but coming at you and your children like a freight train?) Personalized learning.  Here's a great article on Rocketship charter schools who have been doing this as part of their system for quite awhile.  


Anonymous said...

Sorry to ruin your rant, but there is no institutional racism in Seattle to overcome.

I dare you to prove it, if you can. Here's a clue, SES is not racism.

--Step B

Anonymous said...

Hmm... No institutional racism in Seattle. Really?
So why does the City of Seattle have a Race and Social Justice Initiative?

And then, of course, the history of neighborhood covenants....

But you must be right. There's no institutional racism in Seattle. It exists everywhere else but here.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you, CT.

Step B, ask any black person. I"m sure they can prove it. Do I think it's the only reason for the opportunity gap? I don't but it certainly exists and it hurts public education.

Also, fine to disagree with me but this thread is just not a rant.

Anonymous said...

This is of coarse just my opinion, but you ruin any possibility of non objectivity in your post when you consistently play the race card.

As for CT's assertion that there currently exist covenants that exclude people based on their ethnicity - I ask that you show me a modern document that , 1. exist and 2., could possibly be legal.

It's my understanding that there hasn't been a covenant or a property deed in 50 years (if ever) that has that type of discriminatory language.

I'm sure you could ask 100 people if there are ghost, UFOs or Big foot(s) and just as many who would say yes as say no. The same goes for your assumption that there's institutional racism in Seattle.

--Step B

Melissa Westbrook said...

One, my thread was not about race. I mention it in one place. I also mentioned other issues like poverty.

Two, I never said I was being objective; I certainly have my opinions on public education issues.

Three, I believe your understanding on covenants may be wrong; some may just not be enforced. That's there isn't any doesn't negate the effects of decades of red-lining groups.

And, to equate institutional racism with UFOs is just sad. Very sad.

seattle citizen said...

Here ya go, Step B - a thread from 2013, a "primer" written by Charlie Mas and commented on 96 times.....

Institutional Racism, a Primer

Lynn said...

Isn't Step B a name that's been used for quite a long time on this blog? These comments do not sound like the original user of that name. It's not right to pose as someone else - particularly when your comments are so unpleasant.

(Oh - and it's course not coarse.)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robert Cruickshank said...

This is a great post from Melissa and it offers a lot to think about. I thought this was particularly interesting:

"many ed reform researchers (including those over at UW at the Center on Reinventing Education) have written widely about how puzzling/discouraging it is that more charters AREN'T innovating and look much like other traditional public schools."

That's because people WANT traditional public schools. They want them to be great schools, with small class sizes, experienced and skilled teachers, with a rich panoply of offerings both academic and extracurricular. They want their children to be taught, to be inspired, and to be cared for, to be nurtured. They don't want to have to spend money out of their own pocket. They don't want to see that some kids get a good education and others don't, especially due to skin color or heritage or neighborhood. They like traditional public schools but since those are being deliberately starved of money by the rich in order to set up privatization, some parents feel forced to look elsewhere - but they don't want a whole new experience. They want the traditional experience, delivered fully and properly.

For a bunch of people who claim to be devotees of the market, they're ignoring what the market is telling them: there's no market for their education reforms. If there were, they wouldn't have to force it on us by circumventing the democratic process. Hardly anyone wants their child to be experimented upon by a bunch of businessmen seeking profits.

You don't send your child to a startup. You don't put the thing that is the most precious in the world to you - your child - into the hands of people who don't know what they're doing, or who will actively hurt your child, as happens in the Rocketship and KIPP and Success Academy chains.

Parents don't want education to be a business and they don't want schools to operate like a supermarket or fast food or the App Store.

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who thinks that a good teacher is going to overcome institutional racism, poverty and inconsistent/low funding is wrong"

It's interesting that you didn't even mention the most important issue: the lack of family structure in poor performing groups. Do people really believe that "good teachers" can completely compensate for what kids are not getting at home?

I guess it's easier to blame the schools.

Get Real

Melissa Westbrook said...

Get Real, those are some pretty funny statements to direct at me. I have repeatedly said that Gates and Co. want to put all the blame on schools and that I categorically reject that notion. Schools cannot right all the issues for students and their families that our society creates/looks away from.

Lack of family structure? I think you'd have to be clear what you mean by that phrase. I think talking about parents/families in terms of public education is tough because it can attempt to assign "blame" for issues beyond the control of those families.

Charlie Mas said...

Our public schools, now as ever, do a good job of educating students who arrive at the classroom prepared, supported, and motivated. Our public schools, now as ever, do a poor job of educating students who arrive at the classroom unprepared, unsupported, or unmotivated.

The effective reforms are those which address the need for preparation, support, and motivation. Among these are accessible pre-school, Head Start, before- and after-school instructional time, free and reduced price breakfast, free and reduced price lunch, health clinics in schools, school counselors, homework club, other forms of supported study time, reduced class size, mentoring programs, family support workers in schools, lessons that allow students to exercise autonomy, schedules that allow students to pursue mastery, school cultures that let children know they are working in service to a purpose greater than themselves, and more.

The reforms which do not address these needs are not effective. Among these are reforms that address the teachers' labor agreement, the ownership and governance of the school, and assignment plans that create competition among students for schools.

The corporate education reform movement has only two goals: The first is to reduce the cost of public education so wealthy people can reduce their tax burden. The second is to direct as much of public education funds as possible into the hands of wealthy people and their friends.

The problem is not race - children of all races succeed and fail. It is not culture - children of all cultures succeed and fail. It is not poverty - children of all socio-economic statuses succeed and fail. The problem is that some children come to schools without critical pre-requisites for success (preparation, support, and motivation) and the schools have not be given the mission, the task, nor the resources to provide those pre-requisites when they are absent.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, much respect for your wisdom, perspective and much of what you write, but this is so cartoonishly wrong as to be almost self-negating:

"The corporate education reform movement has only two goals: The first is to reduce the cost of public education so wealthy people can reduce their tax burden. The second is to direct as much of public education funds as possible into the hands of wealthy people and their friends."

This constant attempt to delegitimize the other side is so intensely corrosive to good politics and policy. And yet it's endemic in this space.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Again, there's ed reform and corporate ed reform. I think Charlie is speaking to the latter.

I have always said that I applaud anyone who cares about public education. But people often have other motives beyond the feel-good public face they put on. Corporate ed reform is very much in that camp. SDD, if you believe corporate ed reform is "good politics and policy" that's fine. I don't.

Charlie and I welcome discussion and frankly, this space is the rare place you get to say pretty much what you want without pre-moderation.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie, your last post is one of your most astutely accurate, concise summations of what children need that current reforms dont provide.
And I disagree with SDD - it is quite evident that modern ed reformers are largely "led" by corporate players with wealth behind them to drive their message. It is obvious to all that where private industry has a part in something, the profit motive will surely drive a large percentage of corporate decisions. That fact is why we entrust our investments into private industry: we trust that they will maximize profit.
Of course good hearts are involved in reform, humans good and true. They (we) WANT the best for children. But where corporate is dedicated to its necessary profit it over-rides other interests: corporate MUST make a profit for its continuance, growth, and investor return.
To understand that isn't to "deligitimize" some "other side," it is merely to recognize the reality of private markets.

Hint: "they" want to program and digitize, for starters. Labor is expensive, and human educators tend to produce messy, human, unquantifiable unprofitable thinkers...
So much cheaper to standardize, mechanize, and automate, and thar's gold in them thar hills!

Anonymous said...

Please allow me to correct your misunderstanding,


refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk.

Also, redlining can mean the practice of interfering with or blocking a person from renting or purchasing a residence based purely on ethnicity.

I believe both the above practices do occur in Seattle on a case by case basis, but it's not institutional racism. I would classify it as SES filtering and it's not acceptable when it based solely on ethnicity, however everyone is subject to credit worthiness scrutiny regardless of color.

Consequently, living in a high crime area will drive up your insurance cost or even denial and that problem is solely the fault of the community and or its culture, not on institutional racism.

I don't think I will use a circular reference from this blog as authoritative proof considering the authors bias.

I reaffirm my position that institutional racism does not exist in Seattle and I'm more than happy to debate the subject when you provide any concrete examples, as in any recent covenants or deeds that are commonly proclaimed as proof.

These type racist generalizations against a white populous are destructive and dangerous and racist.

Marilyn Mosby is a prime example of a person using race baiting and devastating a city's population. She will soon be disbarred.

Oh and one more thing, if Seattle public schools do condone institutional racism (doubt it) as both you and Charlie profess, then that would mean it's employees are complicit in the racism including the district's teachers, is that what you really believe?

You can't have it both ways.

--Step B

seattle citizen said...

Educators can (like anybody else) be racist, Step B. When and where that happens of COURSE they are complicit. Like any other citizen, laborer, manager, voter....involved in any of the structural systems that are our society. And when someone acts based on race, one would hope they would be aware of it, acknowledge it, and learn from it.
Are you, Step B, suggesting that educators SHOULDN'T admit culpability in perpetuating racism? That educators should be embarrassed or chastened by that and keep their mouth's shut?

Anonymous said...

I don't believe there's institutional racism in Seattle especially in Seattle public schools.

My question is for the administrators of this blog who time and time again try and label the district as institutional racist.

--Step B

seattle citizen said...

There isn't "the disrict." There are thousands of employees and a seven board members. Each and everyone of them can say or do something racist that carries on the inertial momentum of the institution. If that momentum includes elements of racism, then the employees are continuing institutonal racism. And most do, knowingly or unknowingly.
It's not wrong to point out where actions or words of employees of the institution might be racist...or classist or sexist...It's not a blame game. It's living and learning.
There are plenty of examples of adults (parents, guardians and teachers) being racist in guiding or teaching children, too many to list here. We all know that. Where an individual in authority (teacher, cop, landlord, public utilities customer service...) acts in a racist fashion in the performance of their authority as reps of the institution, that is institutional racism.
Anyone serving anyone in just about any institution can do it, can be a part of it.

Anonymous said...

Institutional racism (also known as institutionalised racism) is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions, as distinct from racism by individuals or informal social groups. It is reflected in disparities regarding criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other things. Whether implicitly or explicitly expressed, institutional racism occurs when a certain group is targeted and discriminated against based upon race. Institutional racism can go unnoticed as it is not always explicit and can be overlooked.

How is Seattle public school guilty of institutional racism ?

--Step B

Outsider said...

"Our public schools, now as ever, do a good job of educating students who arrive at the classroom prepared, supported, and motivated."

Not! Charlie, do you actually read this blog? At lease once a month we get another example of challenge classes or honors classes or advanced learning being cancelled to hold back students considered to have too many advantages. Just Sunday there was a case at Garfield about 9th grade honors classes being canceled to deny opportunity "gifted middle schoolers" and no one is even shy about the motivation. The dominant theme in SPS and public education generally is social engineering by cutting back the education available to "students who arrive at the classroom prepared, supported, and motivated." If your statement was remotely true, would so many Seattle rich kids be in private school?

"That's because people WANT traditional public schools" says Seattle Citizen, but maybe he should have capitalized TRADITIONAL instead of want, if traditional means schools focused on education rather than social engineering. It's true that parents don't want innovation, and they don't flee public schools seeking innovation. They want schools that educate every child to full potential, instead of schools that ration education according every child's tally of perceived advantages.

If parents had the option of vouchers (and it wasn't just a fake scheme of choice among corporate charter schools), how many parents would take the voucher and run? Reportedly a third of parents in Seattle who have the money have already fled to private schools. I would bet at least another third want out but don't have the money. That's serious demand.

p.s. I am also puzzled by the endless talk about institutional racism. Everyone in SPS seems to be so PC it hurts, and they all seem to bend over backward to address the needs of students of color. If you ask for any example of racism in Seattle schools, all you ever get is statistics about under-representation of minorities in various programs. If you ask for examples of the actual mechanisms by which SPS maliciously excludes students of color, or ask who are the racist individuals in SPS who are doing these bad deeds, the subject usually gets changed to a story about a white student somewhere who is still getting challenging work. The only remedy you ever hear is ending still more classes or programs that are believed to provide good education to students who "arrive at the classroom prepared, supported, and motivated." Blaming institutional racism seems a lot like claiming your house is haunted by a ghost, who keeps knocking things over when no one is watching, but no one who lives in the house is responsible. I don't claim to know anything, and would be all ears for any real information on this subject.

Melissa Westbrook said...

These will be the last comment on institutional racism for me and I would ask that readers keep to the topic of the thread; ed reform. There have been links provided on the topic so you can check those.

seattle citizen said...

When a teacher in a classroom instructs using an example that might be familiar to students who have privilege, who have had enrichment (and are statistically more apt to be white) while other students who are not priveleged are not familiar with the example, that educator us being racist, and as the educator has authority over the students, they represent the institution.
The cliche example is using farms, farm animals etc in a lesson: some students who have been privileged to be out of the city get it, while those that aren't, don't.

Or when an educator subconsciously favors one race (or gender) when calling on students, thereby practicing racism while wielding the authority of the institution. That's institutional racist.

It doesn't have to be put on paper (covenants or rules or procedures.) It's merely an individual operating as an agent of authority who perpetuates a racist aspect of that authority.

It benefit whites, for instance, to set up informal codes of behavior, unwritten but controlling, to continue a racially stratified society after the Civil War. Where that stratification continues, and is furthered by educators (using a history text, for instance, that glorified or over-represented whites in history while omitting others) then that is institutional racism.

Anonymous said...

There must be a wormhole between Seattle and Berkly !

Barf Barf

Anonymous said...

Gender is not a race.

By your definition we wouldn't see any accomplished people of color educated by Seattle public school system. That is not the case. Again I will point you in the right direction, SES. It's a SES problem not an IR one. This has been shown in full detail in many studies.

Your bias against white people is strong. Or is it all a show?

--Step B

seattle citizen said...

I have no bias against white people, just against racism.
"a show"? Really, Step B? How rude.
But as Melissa suggests, we've wandered far from the thread. And "Step B," as Lynn wonders, above, this doesn't seem like the same Step B as in the past...not as pleasant to converse with, for starters.

seattle citizen said...

Let me refine what I said above: I likely DO have biases against some aspects of whites, just as I likely have some biases against some aspects of other races, biases learned or picked up over time that I would do well to think about and act to mitigate.

NO 1240 said...

NYTimes: For Detroit’s Children, More School Choice but Not Better Schools


Yea..yea...yea...Washington state has the best laws in the country--NOT.

During the last legislative session some senators argued against a bill to disclose conflict of interests.

Now, there is one Washington state charter school that does not have enough board members? Why? Some speculate certain board members were uncomfortable with a law that required disclosure of potential conflict of interest.

Keep- up the good work, Melissa. Some in the legislature are reading this blog.

Anonymous said...

I am white and I fully recognize that systemic racism exists here in Seattle as well as elsewhere in the US. Step B, I think you need to examine your privilege. Just because systemic racism exists doesn't mean that people of color can't be accomplished. Some are able to overcome systemic racism but they are never truly free of it.


Anonymous said...

Caucasian usually referred to those people of European descent, ranked from light skin to dark. I understand that the term Caucasian is no longer in use because it has little scientific basis. So, technically, there is no such "race" as white. White would refer to only people with light skin - but many of European descent do not have light skin.

I'm kind of with the group here that says - so what? We're all human, we all share something like 99% of our DNA. It's time for humans to stop creating "boundaries" in our minds that don't exist in reality.


seattle citizen said...

But "boundaries" DO exist: renters and job applicants with African American sounding names are turned away, for example. Or the example I provided above, of a teacher's bias impacting students. We shouldn't acknowledge and act to mitigate those?

Anonymous said...

The only racial bias I've seen in SPS was from a black female teacher's hate against white male students. Now I have acknowledged it. Do you want me to post the name, dates and SPS correspondence?

Twoway street

Melissa Westbrook said...

Twoway Street, if you want to send me that info, I'd like to see it. sss.westbrook@gmail.com.

Do NOT post it here. This is not that kind of forum and I have told readers to not post personnel information here without letting Charlie or me see it first.

And for the last time, this thread is being hijacked and I don't want that.

Any more posts on race or institutional racism on this thread will be deleted.

Outsider said...

Meanwhile back on topic -- I think there have always been three driving forces behind "ed reform" --
1) A blame-the-victim maneuver regarding the destruction of the middle class via globalization (it's the schools' fault, or your fault for not studying)
2) Anti-union
3) Crony capitalist looting of the education budget

Trump's party crashing might have put a dent in (1). It also highlighted the failure of the Republican Party to deliver anything to social conservatives despite taking their votes for granted. So it wouldn't be a surprise if GOP political operators suddenly declared public schools unreformable, and started a bigger push for vouchers, which would take a lot of financial pressure off conservative families trying to pursue a "Benedict option" and escape the secular values of the public schools.

As for (3), it's partly charter schools and partly tests and books. For the later component, they only care that the pendulum keeps swinging, not which way it swings. Adoption and then quick rejection of common core probably makes them a ton of money. The two possible threats to their sales would be stability (no new theory requiring new materials) and school autonomy (schools not forced to buy corporate materials by central authorities).

Anonymous said...

Back on topic,

I don't think school districts have been doing themselves any favors with poor curriculum choices and the in your face equity programs.

Districts are in the business of education and have hundreds of qualified personnel more than capable of contributing to creating solid curriculum. Why can't they seem to make informed choices when it comes to curriculum selection or even better, curriculum creation?

The idea of supporting struggling students is not new nor should the idea be unique to the equity movement. Why the district insist on packaging it up as it does just turns off many of the families the movement is suppose to help.

Maybe a more nuanced approach is better. Drop the distinctions and simply make it about helping struggling students and a good start would be using the best curriculum possible.

Is it remotely possible for things to improve around these issues by this September.

The ed reformers are probably basking in the division caused by these poor choices.

--Step B

Melissa Westbrook said...

Why the district insist on packaging it up as it does just turns off many of the families the movement is suppose to help."

How do you know this? I think it could be an important thing to suss out because the district appears ready to create a new office just for equity for one group of students. That's pretty costly.

Step B, I totally agree with your last statement. Seattle Schools is setting itself up in many ways. (And I'm not always sure that it's about being tone-deaf or off the mark.)

Is it possible to "improve things" by September? No.

Anonymous said...

"Anyone who thinks that a good teacher is going to overcome institutional racism, poverty and inconsistent/low funding is wrong."

Wow.I think you dissed all the teachers I've ever known. We do in fact believe that we can change kids' lives and correct the problems that these kids face through no fault of their own.

One huge improvement would be free, high quality daycare. Parents could work, go to school, siblings could stay after for tutoring, nutrition and other health issues could be rectified early, before pregnancy. Universal preK is a start on this, we need to adopt a plan like Sweden.


Gig Harbor

Charlie Mas said...

Step B wrote: "Oh and one more thing, if Seattle public schools do condone institutional racism (doubt it) as both you and Charlie profess, then that would mean it's employees are complicit in the racism including the district's teachers, is that what you really believe?" This statement, along with a number of others, reveals that Step B does not understand what institutionalized racism means. There's no point discussing the topic with someone who doesn't understand the very definition of the topic under discussion.

Institutionalized racism is not like personal racism.

Personal racism comes from noting the differences among people and results in taking actions or making decisions that reflect a bias against others because they are different from oneself.

Institutionalized racism, on the other hand, comes from not noticing the differences among people and results in policies or procedures that reflect a thoughtless presumption that others are no different from those who made the rules.

They are two completely different things and the continued insistence on conflating them (by Step B and others) unnecessarily complicates and obstructs the discussion of institutionalized racism.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gig, anyone who reads this blog knows I support teachers. But I'll admit that I have heard few teachers - even the most dedicated ones - says they can "correct the problems" in most kids' lives. They certainly can change lives, though.

I agree with Charlie's assessment. I think that got explained thru the couple of links provided but good that he summarized it nicely.

N said...

No, Charlie's list reflects a society I've never seen and schools haven't always carried the burden of all that. In the fifties many of us were home alone with working parents and little-to-no homework in elementary. As long as we expect schools to deliver services that are beyond their scope and ability, we will not solve the problem. This problem runs deep in our unequal and frankly sick society where drugs, corruption, unemployment, housing conditions, politics, even diversity and bigotry has become unmanageable.

I understand that an educational system that could deliver all that Charlie listed would go a long way to easing the burden and rehabilitating a lot that is wrong with our delivery system, it is pie in the sky. Can anyone name any schools system anywhere on the planet that does what you're asking?

Until we quit defining the problem over and over which is what I read here, nothing will change. And it is no longer "education" that's the problem. It is much deeper and it is societal. It is the difference between someone like Sanders and Clinton by which I mean both want what we all want but they prioritize differently and what remains of our middle class seems to prefer the prioritization of a Clinton. Until we pay attention to our domestic issues including education but also housing, fair wage, inequality, immigration, crime and others, we cannot expect our "education system" and teachers to do it all. Poverty isn't the only problem. Kids have come from poor homes for decades. It is unrelenting poverty combined with all those other things that demonize us today. And frankly there's not enough money to provide health care for all much less the kind of services Charlies lists for all. We are a broken country from voting rights to abortion issues. For fifty years the number of children in poverty has risen year after year and no one pays attention. I think education and climate change are prioritized about the same and both seem to be at the bottom.

Redefining the problem over and over again serves no purpose. We are in a political quagmire.

Charlie Mas said...

I agree, N. "As long as we expect schools to deliver services that are beyond their scope and ability, we will not solve the problem." Right now, the schools do not have the mission, the license, nor the resources to provide children with the preparation, support, or motivation needed for academic success. I know they don't; I'm proposing that they should.

We have three choices:
1) Assign the schools with the mission to provide these elements when missing, and provide schools with the license and the resources necessary to fulfill that mission. This the Harlem Children's Zone model (that's a school system on this planet doing it), generally called "wrap around services". It is very expensive.

2) Take some targeted and affordable steps in that direction with some of the mission and resources going to schools and some going to other civic and community institutions. We see examples of this at individual schools and communities around the country. Locally it appears as breakfast after the bell, the Seattle Preschool initiative, and various mentoring efforts at specific schools by charitable institutions. We can argue about how targeted or affordable these efforts are, but they are around preparation, support, and motivation.

3) Do nothing and continue to allow children to fail and allow their lives to be ruined while switching the blame from their parents (when it serves our political purposes to do so) and the schools (when it serves our political purposes to do so). This is not a solution, but it is free and projects the blame on others. I see this mostly in online comments on the Seattle Times web site.

I know, N, that the solution is not in practice. I'm advocating for it.

Anonymous said...

So much for staying on topic.

Do I dare ask... Ok, show me the proof that SPS teachers condone institutional racism.

I think your assumptions are very inflammatory to all SPS teachers. What do you expect from them?

--Step B

Melissa Westbrook said...

Step B, no one has to prove anything to you. If you don't believe our explanations, that's fine.

One thing I don't expect from Seattle teachers - miracles. They are not being given the supports they need to truly do their jobs. I've said that over and over.

Please move on. You've made your point that you don't believe in institutional racism.

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa. You wrote: "What's pretty funny is there are those who aren't sure Clinton will side with ed reformers but if you look at her funders, I'm pretty sure she will."

And you have ample reason for that pessimistic view. However, it's not open and shut. No matter how bad Hillary is on K-12 education, I don't think she could do any more damage than Obama did with his appointment of the odious, vociferously pro-privatization, Arne Duncan. Historians will see that as one of Obama's true failings and will consider it almost in the realm of the bizarre.

But here's the one thing we know about Hillary Clinton that almost everyone can agree on, whether they like her, hate her, or fall somewhere between those two opposite poles: she's a very, very savvy and talented politician.

And she has an exceedingly good "antenna" as does her spouse, the former POTUS, allowing her to notice which way the wind appears to be blowing at any given time. Witness the panic in many privatization circles when earlier this year she made some not very positive comments about charters and testing. Was it all for show or was there some substance behind it? We don't know.

But what we do know is that she uses words very carefully and most things just don't slip out in some sort of gaffe. She obviously senses that the ground is shifting a bit among the rank & file of the party and she's treading water more carefully.

And, WE can play a part in MOVING HER FURTHER away from the awful DFER and "ed reformers" by raising our voices louder than ever, on a more consistent basis. We've already seen the results here locally, having moved Reuven Carlyle, for instance, from "Proud Strutting Rooster of Ed Reform" in 2009 to someone who couldn't even be counted on to join the 10 "Democrats" in the state legislature in voting for charters via the lottery. Did Carlyle change overnight to a charter opponent? Of course not. He was successfully intimidated by all of us who let him know that there would be HELL TO PAY if he dared do otherwise.

The same thing will happen nationwide, all the way up to the White House if we keep the pressure on. The lesson is clear. Let's go out and do it!

N said...

The Children's Zone is three schools and lives in the probably wealthiest state in the union or close. Do you really think the people of the United States of America will fund a birth-through-college pipeline of programs? Those schools are seventy percent privately funded and only ten percent reserved for administration with ninety percent going toward programs.

And because what happens in the classroom is affected by what happens outside the classroom, we address any barrier to a child’s academic success, whether it is healthcare, a chaotic home life or the complexities of the college application process.
Our pipeline has a dual track, serving more than 12,300 children —75% of whom go to traditional public school

The above from their online pdf. Is that an education system or a social service system?

If you consider the children's zone an educational system that can be replicated nationally, I'll say you just voted for charter schools since they are seventy percent privately funded. And one can only hope that all schools would get the kind of diligent oversight that the children's zone gets from its financial backers and administrative personnel.

I see in Wiki that Obama has seeded several models in various cities but I can find no feedback about results. Also, I see at Wiki that data is not reliable and some misinformation has been circulated. I remember watching Canada on TV years ago and applauded his efforts which have become the children's zone schools. Besides a lot of private money, he recruited many artistic and highly respected volunteers which were available in NYC.

Again, until we remake our societal priorities which go way beyond traditional education, it's not going to happen. Now, if Bill Gates really cared about education, he'd learn from the Children's Zone and make it happen in Seattle. But he doesn't. Not really. This city has the billionaires to do a children's zone right here and now. But they don't do it and most of the country doesn't have access to billionaires.

I applaud you advocacy for such a system. But I disagree it is part of our "educational" mandate and I disagree it is even something that is doable on a
national basis. So how does such a list further the conversation about schools today?

Perhaps you've got me in an irritable moment. I'm tired of empty advocacy. What can we do now that is really possible and who can we recruit to help make it happen? It doesn't really seem that anyone wants to do much other than talk about it.

Charlie Mas said...

Okay, I'm not going to worry about your state of mind and address myself to your legitimate question, N: If the solution is totally pie in the sky, then why bother to even discuss it?

I agree that the entire solution - like the HCZ - is not scalable to a national model. I sure am glad that I didn't suggest that it is. What is possible, however, would be a number of lower cost reforms focused on the right areas (preparation, support, and motivation) provided by the school communities, the schools, the districts, other local government entities, the federal government, and philanthropic organizations. Among these would be things like: a credible and affordable approach to accessible pre-school (the Seattle effort is not a role model), greater investment in Head Start, before- and after-school instruction, before- and after-school supported study, field trips, clinics and nurses in schools, mental health providers and counselors in schools, dental clinic days for children in low-income neighborhoods, mentoring programs by schools or charities, a change in the way that we train and evaluate teachers to put greater emphasis on motivating students, an intentional effort to foster a school culture that celebrates the life of the mind, artists in residence in schools, and a number of other possible efforts addressing preparation, support, and motivation.

Rather than one single agency, the school district, taking on the task by itself, the schools can allow others to do the work while they coordinate and oversee. Rather than all of the costs coming from local taxpayers, some of the cost can be borne by charities or the state or federal government.

I think these things are possible. More than anything else, we need to re-direct reform efforts away from cost-cutting and crony capitalism and towards the elements of academic success.

Charlie Mas said...

Step B, you're still not getting it.

"Ok, show me the proof that SPS teachers condone institutional racism.

I think your assumptions are very inflammatory to all SPS teachers. What do you expect from them?

No one ever said that teachers condone institutional racism, so no one has to prove to you that they do.
What do I expect from teachers? Pretty much the same as anyone. That they meet children where they are and inspire them to learn all they can. Why? What do you expect from teachers?

Outsider said...

One caveat about pre-school would be this:
which I believe was linked from this blog a few months ago. It talks about poor children tormented by inappropriate levels of academic pressure in preschool. The crazy system described by the author gets exactly the sort of incremental outside funding being discussed here The goal was to close the "gap", by force-feeding too much academics too early to poor kids so they will pass the common core test in third grade. Continued funding of the programs actually depended on how much they raised test scores.

In the same vein, I wonder about the plausibility of Charlie's suggestion of "before- and after-school supported study", and longer school days and school years often promoted elsewhere. In early elementary years, even well-supported kids have a maximum capacity. We just came through the last month of school, where (I can say from immediate personal experience) first graders are hitting the books at less than half-speed because the are burned out for the year. My son was out playing from the school bell until dinner, and it would seem like torture to require anything different. I doubt any kid wants to be studying after school, least of all the one whose regular school day is struggle enough. The idea that more study, more study, and more study is going to help struggling kids might be an illusion.

It's occasionally good to step back and ask why we consider it so important that every child march in lock-step, the same. If students were each given an appropriate level of challenge -- not too little so as to waste their potential, and not too much so as to burn them out and push them into a failure cycle -- and school work occupied an appropriate amount of the day and year for happy childhood -- what would it look like? Maybe kids would be happier and healthier, but would they be in academic lock-step? Hint: no. So why is that the goal?

Outsider said...

Another note about the original topic -- interpreting trends in pundit comments on ed reform. It's important to keep in mind that many proponents of ed reform have the same relation to ed reform as prison companies and small-town cops have to the war on drugs. They want it vigorously pursued, without success.

There will always be naive individuals who tap the ed reform money river, and keep themselves employed, and convince themselves that they are part of a sincere and noble effort to improve schools. But to many of the plutocrats and special interests who control the money river, I doubt ed reform was ever more than a designed-to-fail scam with real goals other than improving schools. Continued blatant failure is not an obstacle to the survival of a program that has the right sort of big money backing (see US Middle East policy, or war on drugs.) Their latest rhetorical maneuvers should always be interpreted in light of this underlying reality.

N said...

My only response to you, Charlie, is that nobody can agree on what pre-K should look like and nobody has agreed on what preparation, motivation and support should look like. And the school district can't seem to do its job currently so increasing the mandate for an even bigger set of duties escapes me. And, finally, it is about funding in terms of class size and services and from what I can see, it's not a priority. I believe some of that could happen now if we didn't have so many paychecks at mid-management levels.

Otherwise, I agree one hundred percent.

Spot on, Outsider. We are penalizing children for being kids. Developmentally, we are on the wrong track. But I've never blamed administrators for doing their homework and connecting school and kids with research on the brain and development. Our kids - all of them - are smarter than ever before just by virtue of the fact they are living today in this tech-driven society. What's changed is that there is no place to go for our average learners and they are average because average is a term that applies to a middle range. It will always be that way. What's missing is beyond education's ability to fix: a place in society for them to be successful after they graduate. In other words, a good job.

Melissa, when I posted, I thought all of this was under the "ed reform" umbrella because ed reform has come about because of our desire to make every kid a high achiever. And that is what opened the door for the private sector to get involved. Kipp and TFA were originally attempting to do good work for underserved kids I thought. Did the reform movement really start when Canada, TFA and Kipp begin their advocacy for different models? Attempting to keep education public at this point may be a losing battle. As some scientists believe, climate change is irreversible. Maybe our attempt at maintaining a majority public system is now impossible.

Melissa Westbrook said...

N, it's only impossible if good people give up and give in. That's just what the ed reformers want people to think - it's all a rising tide, done deal, etc.

"Resistance is futile."

The hell it is.

Anonymous said...

N, enrollment in private schools and charter schools makes up less than 20% of overall student enrollment. Maintaining a majority public system is not only possible, it's highly likely.

Reading this blog, et al is making you paranoid.

Get Facts

N said...

I'm not for giving in but I am for finding specific responses to our decades old complaints about schools and teachers which seem to have correlated a lot with the decline of our society. Continuing to explain the problem with teachers which is what it keeps barreling down to isn't helping. The futile part for me is expecting education to get better while our society declines. Our educational system reflects the society that we live in.

I do have one idea: K-2 should go back to being more traditional. I believe play in K, writing, reading, math, and social studies which includes real social skills such as RULER and not text books or targeting neighborhoods, communities bla bla bla. And reading should include excellent read alouds every day leading to discussion. A lot of parents think their kids read excellently just because they can read fluently. But I've had many high achieving kids who do not make the connections and inferences they should be making for real comprehension. I had a great principal last year who really turned me on to questioning strategies that engaged students and increased comprehension mightily. And I regard myself as a very good inquiry-based reading teacher. But she took it to another level. She is a rare principal. Truthfully, some teachers resented her because she was trying to help them. But I ate it up. Also, parents who do read aloud often choose books that they think kids will like and are often at the level kids would choose themselves. Parents should be choosing higher level books and be explaining vocabulary and events as they read. Reading a book a little theatrically or at least with enthusiasm and orally painting the pictures the book conveys but the child might not have the experience to understand makes great readers and smarter kids in the long run. Also, K-2 should need more art experiences and I think we all agree on that.

If we prioritize those things K-2, I believe children entering grades three and up would be much more prepared to take on the science content, social studies, computer science and higher level math.

Reducing curriculum for the earlier grades would help I believe. Looking at other countries, you see much more time spent on reading, writing and math at early grades. My best years of teaching reading were when I started teaching in the nineties. My reading lessons took two hours and my school was a receiver school for kids bused from the south end. A highly diverse school. My reading success rate was very high. One of my African American parents who I met in the office told me "You are the only teacher that has taught my kids anything!" Of course, she was in the office dealing with another child's behavior. I had her third youngest out of four reading at a third grade level when she left first and in second, the teacher told me she was reading fifth grade chapter books. That's what can happen when you have time to teach. I was lucky as well. I was a levy redirect teacher with only eighteen kids. Those levy redirect years were good for most of our kids. Currently at my school and before the mandate for small K size, we had twenty-eight kids K-1. Grade 2 not so much. I don't know why. Maybe parents left.

These are things that will recreate a system in which teachers can be reasonably held accountable. Our current system is so out of whack that holding teachers responsible for failure is unreasonable given they are set up for failure from the start. We need now to hold school boards, superintendents, and administrators accountable. They are responsible for setting priorities and understanding the art of learning and making decisions that will help students and lead to good teaching. At least in the early grades, there's no way to do it all well. Rush, Rush, Rush. And test every day? Yes. In math they are called checkpoints. I think checkpoints are a good idea. I use them. But you have to count them into the time. It isn't all teaching.

N said...


Finally, engagement is key and we are losing that via loss of time. My new principal honestly talked a lot about it her first year and has never brought it up since. Her research told her engagement was the highest motivator to learning. But the last two years those words have disappeared. Maybe testing and same page every day is the new mantra. I don't know. But it is hurting all of us.

GET FACTS; where did you get yours? Did you compare your numbers with those in the fifties? sixties? I'm more curious to know the increase in privatization than a single number. Can you support your "fact?"

this will be my last boring post. But, GET FACTS, please support link at least. I'll be looking for it. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

N, you can go to the National Center for Education Statistics website: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cga.asp.

You can look at enrollment separately for all public schools (50 million), public charter schools (2.5 million), and private schools (5.4 million). Combined public charter school and private school enrollment is less than 16% of all public school enrollment.

And no, I didn't do comparisons with the earlier decades. Public charter school enrollment did increase from 0.8 million students in 2003-04 to 2.5 million in 2013-14.

Get Facts

N said...

Thanks. I'm looking at trend lines. Sixteen percent feels better than twenty percent for some reason. Three times growth in public charter over ten years.

I will look at that site. Thanks for posting it.

seattle citizen said...

In 2003, 5.4 + 0.8 = 6.2m out of 50m = 12.4%

In 2013, 5.4 + 2.5 = 7.9m out of 50m = 15.8%

So non-public school attendance (private and charters) has grown by about 25% in those ten years. That can be looked at in two ways: a scary privatization - this encoachment - of public ed; or the failure of a massive, gigantic full-court press on the part of the forces of privatization to make better headway in privatizing schools.

Given the pushback over the last couple of years, the day lighting of testing failures and charter boondoggles, I think the latter view (privatization failing) is the more accurate perspective.

Lynn said...

Here's a link to a report on Seattle Charter and Private Schools prepared by the district demographer: http://sps.ss8.sharpschool.com/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/Migration/Departments/Enrollment%20Planning%20-%20Demographics/Seattle%20Charter%20and%20Private%20Schools_Report.pdf

As the district decreases access to rigorous high school classes, I expect we'll see more interest in private and charter schools in Seattle.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"The futile part for me is expecting education to get better while our society declines. Our educational system reflects the society that we live in."

Spot on.

Lynn, also right. Sometimes, because I know there are smart people at JSCEE and yet we see systematic problems over and over, I wonder if there is an internal campaign to run the district down further in order to make the case for a takeover and/or expansion of charters.