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Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Seattle Times - Whose Agenda for Public Education?

I've said this a lot.  The Seattle Times has a blurred line between editorial and reporting when it comes to stories on public education in Seattle.  Their reporters deny, deny, deny this but it's too obvious to be denied. 


So what is it that is apparent?

Slant.  Pure and simple, slant.  And, to a lesser degree, omission of facts.

The Times, either via their editorial board or with the input from the Gates Foundation which solely funds their "Education Lab," is attempting to paint a picture of Seattle Schools that is neither fair nor fully fleshed out. 

Story after story, there's the same voices (which is kind of funny because they are always complaining about the same activist voices like SEA) and the same people interviewed and quoted.

It was interesting to hear the contrast between the outgoing board members - Stephan Blanford and Sue Peters - at last night's Board meeting.  Blanford talked a lot about himself and Peters talked a lot more about the work and the district.

Peters made the point - a valid one in the context of this blog thread - that it has somehow become a sport to try to take potshots at the Board and to tear the district down.  She said constructive criticism and support would be more likely to help the district. 

Blanford has been quoted by the Times in the last three stories on the district.

As if he were Board president (he's not and never was the entire time he was on the Board).

As if he is the only Board director (there are six other people). 

And the words out his mouth? Doom and gloom.  Not a good word for his colleagues or the work of the staff and students in this district.  And oddly, not a single word about initiatives for black students in the district (he said nary a word about it last night).

This week saw Superintendent Nyland give his State of the District speech.  You'd think the Times would want to cover that story.  But they didn't. 

Instead, they had a story on the release of the latest district Data Dashboard results.  Now, that's a valid story except the timing is not.  (I'll have a separate thread on Nyland's speech.) 



Here's what Nyland reported (and with each area he covered he said, "Good but we can always do better/more."  He and the Board gave recognition to the successes but have also not lost sight of ongoing work.

For example, the district - by many measures - does better overall than the rest of the state.

 For example, in the 3rd grade ELA, the state score is 53% and Seattle's is 63%. 

 For 8th grade math, the state score is 48% and Seattle's is 63%.  

Given how large this district is and how diverse it is, those are some accomplishments. 

And yet, the district admits, "We need to do continue to do better especially on closing the gap."

Also to note, that for graduation rates, the white rate has gone up a tick from 83% in 2014 to 86% in 2017.  But for black students, the rate went up from 60% to 72% in the same timeframe. 

That's a big jump (and I give some credit to Rainier Beach High School which has seen its graduation rate soar due to interventions and supports).

As well the rate of suspensions in grades 6-12 has gone down from 7.5% in 2012-2013 to 4.6% in 2016-2017.

This is not the norm in most urban school districts. 

But the Times complains about this:
Many more children walk into kindergarten ready to learn, for example, compared with three years ago. (Good.) But kindergarten-readiness rates among kids of color, while up from 2014, remain 33 percentage points behind those for whites.
Pre-K is the City's duty, not SPS' (at least, not until it is funded and the State still doesn't even fully fund K-12).  As someone who works with kindergartners several hours a week, I can testify to how kindergarten-ready students move so much faster than those who come in not ready.  (Interestingly, the class I'm in is majority minority and several of the kids in the majority came in ready.  I'm not sure it's a white versus kids of color thing.  I think that part is a parent thing.)

Then Blanford interjects this:
“Considering the wealth and resources of this community, we’re not growing at nearly the speed we should be,” said Stephan Blanford, puzzling at the data during his last evening as a member of the Seattle School Board.
(FYI, the Times had it wrong.  Blanford sat on the dais last night and voted just like any other Board member.)

Given how little he has truly done in his term - except make pronouncements like that - I'm not sure why the Times goes to him so often.

He goes on:
“Our white and Asian students are outperforming most kids in the nation,” Blanford said. “But we should also have a reasonable proportion of black and brown kids at that level, too. That’s where my outrage is focused.
Well, it's good to hear that out loud and it's a point many people miss in looking at the data. This gulf between white students and black students in our district is exacerbated by the rate of progress for white students. Meaning, if white students outcomes weren't rising at the rate they are, the gap would not look as bad.
But those last two sentences, well, they got a lot of comments from Times' readers.  Many questioned why Blanford is putting all the blame on the district (as he seems to do).  And his "outrage?"  What kind of action has that translated into from him?  Crickets.




Another Times' favorite is Mary Jean Ryan who runs the Road Map project in South King County.  Ryan is a long-time education advocate (she ran for the Board in the '90s and lost).  She's a middle-of-the-road ed reformer and someone I admire.
Mary Jean Ryan, who studies results for students across South King County as executive director of the Road Map Project, called the data “a huge call to action that what we’re doing, as a system, is not working.” 

But she noted that across South Seattle, individual schools with high poverty rates are posting standout scores.

“The trouble is, we don’t learn from them,” Ryan said. “Generally speaking, I don’t think we do enough to study success.”
As a system.  I'm not sure what she means.  Everything the district is doing as a system isn't working for kids of color? The curriculum? How it's taught? The teachers? The principals?  Given that this is a problem throughout the country, then what do we say about public education?  I think it is important to look at society as that system as well.  You cannot separate the two.

But ed reformers continue to believe that you can take any kid, put him or her in a good school and have good outcomes.  My experience is ALL kids can learn and achieve.  But some kids come in with burdens and backgrounds that making teaching and learning very difficult.  And I do not believe that schools can negate or make up for all of it. 

But Ryan does hit the nail on the head in that last statement because SPS has three of the highest rated middle schools in the state for improved outcomes in Aki Kurose, Mercer and Denny Middle School.  Those successes need to be copied.
Perhaps the most troubling number on the district’s entire 52-page scorecard involves Native American students. Fewer than half graduate from Seattle high schools in four years. They were the only student group to drop on that measure.
That is truly serious. 

But, at last night's Board meeting, there was a wonderful trio of Native American students doing a dance together.  Those three students talked about being bullied and finding strength in their identities.  (I think the new phrase is "identity safety.") Then, the head of the Native American program, Gail Morris, as well as other supporters, got up and talked about their efforts (and how they'd like more supports).

I have seen much more focus in the last 3+ years for Native American students.  We have one Board director who is Native American, Scott Pinkham, and now there is a second one, Zachary DeWolf.  Here's hoping they can help move that needle the other way for these students.

But back to the Times. 

One other thing to note is that somehow former SPS Superintendent Susan Enfield (now at Highline) seems to be getting this push from the Times.  This after the Times attempted in yet another story - with no traction and again via Blanford - to say that there shouldn't be a search for a new superintendent.  (The vote last night was 5-2 to approve a search firm with Geary and Blanford saying, "there's too much going on."  Well, the city just went through four mayors in four months so I think SPS can handle a new superintendent after Nyland being on the job for nearly four years.)

The Times had an op-ed on how great Highline is doing but folks I know in that district say those numbers are cherrypicked and skewed.  Highline is also losing teaching staff left and right and that's never a good sign.

The Times did not pick well for school board candidates.  (They did pick Eden Mack but then again, so did everyone else.)  But the ed reform candidates they picked did not do well.

Charter schools are not advancing at a rapid rate. 

I think the Times may be holding out hope that Mayor-elect Jenny Durkan may step in to shake things up.  As someone who has watched public education in this city for a long time, I'd say two things. 

If a mayor in Seattle has time to try to reshape or oversee public schools, then that mayor does not fully grasp the myriad of work before him or her already in this city. 

Two, taking over will be a lot harder than she might think, especially if she's in an echo chamber of people who think they know best. 

The Times can continue on this path.  It's sad because you would think the newspaper of record in this city might be more objective.  Fair. And wanting to cover stories from all angles and with new voices. 

But, if you are the only daily game in town (and you want big bucks from, say, the Gates Foundation), you'll only know one way to play the game.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually it was poor form on the part of the other directors not to congratulate Director Blanford on receiving the Principals’ Association award for his dedication to equity, which Jeff Clarke reiterated as their highest goal. It may have been an oversight by those board colleagues, with the exception of Director Patu who did acknowledge Director Blanford’s reminders about the importance of equity in decision making, but it was a missed opportunity for others to reinstate their commitment to this guiding principal. Maybe they can do so at the next meeting.


Let’s not forget either that if we must have a new superintendent (not at all convinced that this is necessary or that the timing is wise), then Director Blanford is an obvious choice. He is highly informed, has in depth knowledge of the district, the requisite educational background and a disciplined and confident demeanor. He will make an excellent superintendent.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephan!

-Surely

Anonymous said...

Hilarious. Anonymous must be joking. I was going to ask what Denny was thinking with that award. Give me a break.

Not Deserving

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm with Surely - hi Stephan.

First, I was watching and Blanford jumped up so fast to get that award that it's a bit hard to believe him in saying he didn't know before he received the award.

The problem with the award was...what HAS he done? Visibly besides blather on and on about equity without any real visible work or outcomes. (And he spent Board dollars to go to a conference just weeks ago. Why if he was leaving the board?)

And Blanford was so rude last night to Sue Peters, it bordered on the unbelievable. He turned away from her - as he always does - and did not give her one ounce of attention. He smiled when Betty Patu said good things about him but frowned when she spoke glowingly about Peters. (Go watch the videotape.)

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm reprinting Anonymous' hilarious comment (Blanford for superintendent - never gonna happen):

"Anonymous said...

Actually it was poor form on the part of the other directors not to congratulate Director Blanford on receiving the Principals’ Association award for his dedication to equity, which Jeff Clarke reiterated as their highest goal. It may have been an oversight by those board colleagues, with the exception of Director Patu who did acknowledge Director Blanford’s reminders about the importance of equity in decision making, but it was a missed opportunity for others to reinstate their commitment to this guiding principal. Maybe they can do so at the next meeting.


Let’s not forget either that if we must have a new superintendent (not at all convinced that this is necessary or that the timing is wise), then Director Blanford is an obvious choice. He is highly informed, has in depth knowledge of the district, the requisite educational background and a disciplined and confident demeanor. He will make an excellent superintendent.

11/16/17, 2:55 PM Delete"

kellie said...

Thanks Mel for such a great write up on some of these positive gains. Now that we are almost 10 years into the NSAP, I think it is time for downtown to do a thorough analysis of lessons learned, but it is unlikely there is enough institutional memory to do that.

The middle school feeder pattern was the foundation of the NSAP. There was lots of planning around that and there was a major expectation that the feeder patterns would improve outcomes, particularly for historically underserved students. The idea was that there would be accountability created between the elementary schools and the middle schools, along with the ability for teachers in the various grade bands to coordinate. This was just not possible under the old plan because there wasn't enough predictability.

For the capacity challenged, north end, the feeder patterns have been extremely challenging. The feeder patterns mean that any capacity problem at elementary will cause a problem for middle school and vice versa. However, in the more capacity stable areas of the district, it appears that the "theory" has become a reality and the increased stability has improved outcomes.

I hope that is the case and that there is some focus on learning from these positive results.

And thank you for calling out the great work in the graduation rates with Rainier Beach. I suspect that Cleveland also had a major increase in their rates and the combination is wonderful news. It would be good for there to be some analysis of these positive results BEFORE staff considers some of the more aggressive high school changes.

Seattle Citizen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thanks Sue! said...


Special thanks to president Sue Peters. Her departing speech can be found here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hoTIZn8Q3Q&index=1&list=PL4qDca8XEC4NIaRJ27inlNvSeUaS33Aso

President Peters is articulate and gracious. She calls attention to important issues such as mayoral control of public education and the agenda of those that seek to diminish our democracy. Peters calls attention to the fact that the city will have 4 mayors in 4 months. Yet, some think the city is better equipped to manage the district. (!??)

President Peters has a long list of accomplishments and I thank her for her service. A truly dedicated public servant. This was President Peters last board meeting, but she continued to ask the hard questions. She will be missed.

Anonymous said...

I think Blanford would make a great superintendent for SPS south.

MJ

Anonymous said...

"Thanks Mel for such a great write up on some of these positive gains."

Please SPS is a mess, gobbling up city tax payers cash. They have enough employees at JSCEE to run a ford plant, but they do not create anything but jobs for themselves.

I doubt anyone at JSCEE could hold down a job in the private sector for very long.

MJ

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

@ MJ,

I have neve found something that is perfectly either good or bad and that is the deep irony and the reason why so many people in Seattle are so passionate about public education. There are some serious institutional problems with SPS. The deeply silo'ed nature of work has been documented for decades.

AND

There is some amazing stuff that happens every single day. There are great people who work for SPS both downtown and in every building. There are amazing teachers that produce great results all over the district.

Just because people are advocates who want better results in some area, doesn't mean there isn't anything good to celebrate. There is lots of good in SPS and I would love to see a focus on replicating positive results.

Seattle Citizen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seattle Citizen said...

Yes, SPS has and will have problems. Some of them are society's problems, not SPS's though many who work for it do their very, very best to try and fix them anyway, because it's their job and children need them.
Yet broad generalizations, such as "SPS is a mess," and SPS employees at JSCEE "do not create anything but jobs for themselves," are slung by cruel and unfeeling people with agendas, slandering the people who work for children.

Go figure. I guess there are mean hearts everywhere. But these generalizations do a disservice to the children served, as well, as they sweep away the good with the bad. And that's a shame, because some people who don't think it through actually believe this tripe and change things based on inaccurate views of the reality.

Don't be a hater.

Anonymous said...

"It was interesting to hear the contrast between the outgoing board members - Stephan Blanford and Sue Peters - at last night's Board meeting. Blanford talked a lot about himself and Peters talked a lot more about the work and the district."

Gender differences are very apparent. If you would reverse their speeches it would be quite remarkable. Race also plays a part. And the board deserves an African American member that is much much better.
Sue

Anonymous said...

The Seattle Times' biases are not limited to the editorial page - they include the newsroom. Thank you Melissa for making this crucial point. Their education coverage isn't independent at all, it is bought and paid for by the Gates Foundation, and as you note, the Gates agenda gets centered in the Times' reporting by who is given the chance to be quoted and who is not. It also shows up in the choices of stories to feature, which are closely aligned with the Gates Foundation agenda.

I think we all want a truly independent media source covering SPS. That means they report on what is really happening - good and bad, whether it makes the ed reform agenda look good or harmful. But the Times is unable to provide ethical and journalistically sound coverage of SPS and public education because their education beat is paid for by the Gates Foundation.

Every time I see the billboards advertising the Times for their independent journalism I think of the Education Lab and I am reminded that their claims of independence are a lie.

Either the Times can have true journalistic objectivity when it comes to our schools, or they can take Gates Foundation money and let outside funders pay for their education journalism. But they don't get to have it both ways.

Delridge Dad

Melissa Westbrook said...

Want to know something interesting? KUOW has taken this turn as well. Today there is a story about inequities between PTA fundraising (and I'll put up a separate thread) but who do they quote? Blanford.

He's not the president or vice-president of the Board nor is he the only person of color. And yet, there it is.

L'√Čtranger said...

In many ways, I think the newspaper of record in Seattle is not the Seattle Times but The Stranger. Their biases and agendas are not as hidden at the Times's are. But The Stranger goes through talent cycles, and they are building up a newer crew of writers at the moment. Also, The Stranger has no idea what it's doing in terms of school district coverage. They as a group have a very poor grasp of the complexities and intricacies of education policy and bodies. This blog is one of the only sensible and comprehensive sources of information about Seattle schools there is. So thank you for this blog.

Owler said...

I was thinking about how we can get a public rating of how schools are doing and tie it back to the principals. Everything is test-score related in education EXCEPT the administration, and it seems only fair that if we expect constant grading of the students, we should be doing the same with the departments downtown. Is there a way to get a rating of each department and department head? Surely, their goals are also measurable, and if they aren't, they should be.

Where is the org chart for SPS, and why isn't it easy to find on the SPS site? Who answers to the superintendent, and where is their report card? I'd love to see who Exceeds/Meets/Fails Expectations each year.

Anonymous said...

50% of the staff at JSCEE are not necessary. Get those funds back in our school buildings. Outsource what's left at JSCEE. Still waiting for educational excellence to come out of that building.

MJ

Anonymous said...

@Sue

Many studies have been done on the differences between men/women speaking styles.

How does "Race also plays a part" tie in to Melissa's comment about Blanford talking mostly about himself, while Sue Peters focused on the district?

How does race play a part in talking about oneself? What did you mean by that?

Also, it would be helpful if there is more that one board member from a race/ethnicity so that the one person would not always have to be a spokesperson for their entire race. It's an unfair burden and, of course, there have been many studies about that. The film, "Get Out", showed that experience.

What's theDeal

Anonymous said...

@Whats the deal-- To explain my own opinion, I think the media gives Blanford alot of credit where they should not due to his race. They seek him out to comment. He gets chosen to speak on behalf of "people of color". It is not fair and I think there are many more qualified people and African Americans than Blanford who would do a better job on many levels.
Sue

Anonymous said...

@Whats the deal-- "Also, it would be helpful if there is more that one board member from a race/ethnicity so that the one person would not always have to be a spokesperson for their entire race. " Exactly my point. It bugs me.
Sue

Melissa Westbrook said...

What'stheDeal, well, there are only 7 places on the Board so to have two of any given race would be difficult. But there are now two Native American directors and one American Samoan. One Latino ran for office and lost and the one African American who ran lost during the primary.

Anonymous said...

@Melissa

I think you might have forgotten that White is a race. There are, what, 4, in that category now?

Doesn't seem to be so hard to have more than one. Soon to be two Native Americans.

What's theDeal

Anonymous said...

Helmsetter should have won; he was awesome. DeWolf will be fine, but has a huge learning curve to catch up with the deep understanding Helmsetter has from being a parent and a Lean management consultant (efficiency expert)...a skill that is hugely needed on the board and within SPS.

Fix AL

Gates's Reach said...

I agree: KUOW is being influenced by the Gates Foundation. The Stranger goes through cycles of writers.

When and why has Blanford become the go -to- guy for quotes??

Melissa Westbrook said...

I suspect he is being built-up for some new post, either with the City, the Gates Foundation or the Alliance for Education.

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

@What'sthe deal-- It can be really hard to know a person's ancestry, identity etc from looking at them. Do you ever watch the show Finding Your Roots? My "white looking husband" had a black G grandmother. His father and he could pass for white. Many people have more diverse histories than you would think, that includes people you might consider white due to light skin, but are ethnically or religiously or gender diverse. My cousin (same ethnicity as me) is much darker than most latinos I know, but considers himself white, although part middle eastern. You probably would not consider him white, but you would likely consider me white, but we share similar DNA & ancestry. Lastly diversity does go beyond skin color.
NL

Anonymous said...

I was responding to Melissa's comment that ignored White as a race when she listed the races of the school board members.

Your family history is interesting but not pertinent to the conversation.

What's theDeal




Melissa Westbrook said...

I didn't ignore it; I just didn't mention it given that the majority of elected officials in the U.S. are white. But that doesn't mean that being white doesn't bring diversity; there's also gender, sexual orientation, etc.

mollyspringer said...

Blandford is on Jenny Durkan's transition team.