Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Latest Strategic Plan

Not to give it away but it's the just about the same draft Strategic Plan as before.  It comes up for Intro at this Wednesday's Board meeting.

It's interesting that the Superintendent, in an interview with the Times, called the early draft of the Strategic Plan "just words" and, well, that looks a lot like what is going to be.

It is astonishing to see after months of working with consultants, online survey input and, of course, the work of the Steering Committee, no real change.  How a draft document can allegedly undergo that type of input/oversight and stay nearly in the same place is a mystery.

Except that it's not.

The consultants? Talked a good game at one Work Session and were never heard from again.

The online survey and community meetings (all done in January in a fairly rushed fashion)?   I do not recall results being tabulated and released.  I just did a check and don't see them at the district so what was said/conveyed to the district and the Board is unknown.

Let's first compare and contrast the last Strategic Plan which was created in 2013 under Superintendent Jose Banda.  I like to think of the new Strategic Plan as "Strategic Plan Unplugged" as compared to the previous one.  It's fairly stripped down.

                                            Old               New
Page length                          30                5

Old Mission Statement:

Seattle Public Schools is committed to ensuring equitable access, closing the opportunity gaps and excellence in education for every student.

New Mission Statement:
Seattle Public Schools is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps to ensure access and provide excellence in education for every student.

Old Vision
Every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, 21st-century education and graduates prepared for college, career and life.

New Vision
Every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, world-class education and graduates prepared for college, career, and community.

(As many of you may know, I abhor the term "world-class" and so am sad to see it inserted into the new Plan.)

Old Core Belief
We believe that the Districtwide commitment to these core beliefs is vital at all levels of the organization and will enable students to succeed and become responsible citizens.
New Core Belief
Gone and replaced by a "Theory of Action"

WHEN WE FOCUS on ensuring racial equity in our educational system, unapologetically address the needs of students of color who are furthest from educational justice, and work to undo the legacies of racism in our educational system... 

While quite the up-to-date wording, it's an awkwardly worded statement.  

The Old SP had this statement about core beliefs which is found nowhere in the new Theory of Action:

We believe it is our responsibility to do whatever it takes to ensure that every child, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, learning style, or disability, achieves to their highest level. 
I think that a pity this is gone because that statement encompasses many students with challenges and, in particular, encompasses many black students who are female and/or may be in Special Education and/or could be an immigrant.
While the new Plan continues to embrace the goals of educational excellence and equity for all students as well as family/community engagement, it also talks - broadly - about operations.
We will manage district operational functions (non-academic/non-instructional; e.g., transportation, nutrition services, student assignment) in a culturally responsive, service-oriented, and cost-effective manner. We will ensure operational teams plan, establish, communicate, and consistently meet high service levels that provide school leaders, students, and families the information and daily experience that allows them to experience a safe and productive day of learning. 
How will they know how that's going? They'll know thru surveys and feedback.

But wait, the district already does that and frankly, the district knows the shortcomings. Hard to understand enrollment process.  Bus system that didn't work for months this school year for many students but especially Sped students and their families.
I appreciate the insertion of "Overall services quality level informed by performance indicators unique to each individual operational function."
However, what those indicators are, when various departments will be informed about them, how often the measurements will be taken and, most importantly, what the accountability measures will be, ah, there's the rub.
What is also troubling is this statement from the new Plan after it explains how the focus on students of color and legacies of racism in the system will lead to:
THEN we will eliminate opportunity and achievement gaps and every student will receive a high-quality, world-class education. 
I'd like to believe that if opportunity/achievement gaps were erased/closed/narrowed that the latter part of that sentence were true.  But the district doesn't explain how they know - for certain -  that the opportunity gap is the sole reason that all kids aren't receiving "a high-quality, world-class education." 
Other differences include this one:

Draft Strategic Plan
Creating healthy, supportive, culturally responsive environments from the classroom to central office

Final Strategic Plan
Delivering high-quality, standards-aligned instruction across all abilities and a continuum of services for learners 

I applaud this one because it at least acknowledges the many challenges that face SPS students.

Draft Strategic Plan
Educational justice requires safe learning environments, curriculum that incorporates a student’s life experiences and culture, and instruction delivered by high-quality, culturally competent educators. Many students from certain ethnicities have not historically experienced equitable opportunities for all or part of their educational journey (including African and African American, Asian Pacific Islander, LatinX, and Native students). These students are our priority.
    Final Strategic Plan
    To achieve educational justice, SPS strives to provide safe learning environments, curriculum that incorporates a student’s life experiences and culture, and instruction delivered by high-quality, culturally responsive educators. Unfortunately, many students from certain ethnicities have not historically experienced equitable opportunities for all or part of their educational journey (including African and African American, Asian Pacific Islander and Pacific Islander, LatinX, and Native students). These students are our priority – with an intentional focus on African American males. 
    The biggest difference between the draft Strategic Plan and the final Strategic Plan is the insertion of this:
    Our Theory of Action is guided by the principles of “Targeted Universalism.” Our universal goal is every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, world-class education and graduates prepared for college, career, and community. Targeted Universalism holds that targeted and differentiated efforts are required to meet the needs of specific student populations, so every student meets the universal goal. By focusing on students of color who are furthest from educational justice, especially African American males, we will make the greatest progress toward our collective vision. 
    Some of this work echoes to former Superintendent Nyland's Eliminating Opportunity Gaps
    We are using Targeted Universalism as our approach to eliminating opportunity gaps. In its simplest definition, targeted universalism alters the usual approach of universal strategies (policies, practices, and procedures that make no distinctions among student’s status) to achieve universal goals (improved student academic achievement), and instead suggests we use targeted strategies to reach universal goals. 
    I've written on Targeted Universalism before. But I did write about steps necessary to carry it out:
    5 Steps: 

    1. Articulate a particular goal based upon a robust understanding and analysis of the problem at hand 2. Assess difference of general population from universal goal 3. Assess particular geographies and population segments 
divergence from goal 4. Assess barriers to achieving the goal for each group/geography 5. Craft targeted processes to each group to reach universal goal
    I'm not sure I see this in the new Strategic Plan. As well,
    Back to John Powell and his basic question that could be asked for Seattle’s proposal:
    Important questions about My Brother’s Keeper have been raised. Even those who undoubtedly care about men and boys of color have questioned, “But why this group and not others?” Some may acknowledge that there is a strong case that black boys need focused support, but also ask, “What about girls and women of color?” We can continue to add to that line of questioning, “What about white girls and women? What about the disabled? What about any group that through no fault of their own find themselves struggling to stay in their homes, afford higher education or keep their families on track?”
    These are important and legitimate questions, and they deserve to be answered. The government, in using its resources—including its moral authority—has an obligation to all of its members, not just to some. When it focuses on some and not all, we need an explanation as to why. What must inform our policies is not equal treatment, but equal concern for all groups and individuals. A plan that focuses on everyone, without recognizing that different groups are in unique situations and need responses appropriate to their position, will fail at delivering equal concern or effective outcomes.
    It will be interesting to see how the district answers many of these questions.   As well, how they will find/allocate resources as Oakland SD, the most notable district using Targeted Universalism, had many funders for their plan.

    Here's the second paragraph connected to Targeted Universalism in the new Strategic Plan:
    We believe that an intentional focus on African American males will ultimately benefit every student. We will create new systems and structures that will ultimately be used to better meet the needs of students throughout SPS. We will also learn how to develop and provide differentiated efforts to meet the needs of specific populations, allowing us to better serve the needs of additional student populations. 
    New systems and structures? Heard that before. Shiny words that parents have heard before don't mean much.

    As well, gone is any mention of Pre-K. Is that because of the growth of the City's Pre-K program, both in and out of SPS? Hard to say.

    One last huge difference? The old Strategic Plan gives actual stated measurements to assess if there is gap-closing and what initiatives will be used. The new Plan is broad-brush statements that depend on very strict measures, most of which are singly and solely testing outcomes.


    Anonymous said...

    New Mission Statement:
    "Seattle Public Schools is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps to ensure access and provide excellence in education for every student."

    They certainly aren't trying to lift all boats, so their mission is to reduce opportunities for some students? Nice.

    downward spiral

    NE Parent said...

    Suppose there is a company that makes and sells shoes in narrow, regular and wide sizes. The company decides that those people who need narrow shoes were historically at a disadvantage, and therefore decides to cut back on the quality of the wide shoes in order to supplement the cost of making higher quality narrow shoes. And it also decides to start selling wide shoes in only one color because it feels it’s not fair that people with wide feet get to also choose from more than one color. In a normal market, the buyer of the wide shoes would look for another brand, because although they may support helping those historically disadvantaged at a macro level when it comes to having to buy a poor-quality product for themselves, they just don’t want to suffer.

    When it comes to advanced learning, there is ample evidence that under Michael Tolley, the district has tried to eliminate the program. This has meant hiring hostile principals, lowering program standards, eliminating advanced classes, getting rid of walk-to-math, and generally creating a hostile environment. Our kids have had some great teachers, but if I had to do it over again, I would not choose Seattle Public Schools, because I no longer feel wanted.

    Anonymous said...

    To build on NE Parent's analogy, 30% of Seattle's kids are buying their shoes from someone other than SPS. Countless others have left Seattle for the suburbs in search of better shoes. How many more will the new administrator and strategic plan drive away? Do they care?

    How is this good for our city?

    Fed up

    Anonymous said...

    I concur completely with NE Parent. This has been our experience as well.


    Anonymous said...

    I, for one, want equity. And, to pay for equity, we need revenue. In the case of SPS, to get revenue we need students. Students generate revenue. And guess what? The students that tend to be cheapest to educate are middle and upper middle class kids from educated families. If you want equity, and you want to pay for equity, you are going to get the highest "profit margin" from those kids. And that profit margin can be used to supplement the budgets at higher needs schools. So, it is absolutely stupid from an equity standpoint to drive away the students that you can utilize to pay for equity.

    Everybody right now is loving on the Nordic model. Do you know what the Nordics do? They create a climate where businesses can make a lot of money, and then they tax income heavily, and then they pay for social services from those taxes. They do it in a smart enough fashion that the business leaders want to continue to live in those societies even though they pay high taxes. They do this because those societies are nice to live in (even if they the cold and dark for half of the year). The Nordics don't drive away businesses, because they know they pay for social democracy.

    SPS can do something similar. Big comprehensive high schools can offer more varieties of classes than small private schools. A lot of students will choose big comprehensive high schools if they have the right offerings. If these schools are competently run, you get lots of revenue in the system, and then you can pay for lower class sizes, tutoring, and ELL at high needs schools. You also get lots of involved parents, and PTAs that can pay for stuff at the low FRL schools that SPS can pay for at the high needs schools.

    Then you repeat, repeat, repeat.

    It isn't rocket science, but it is pragmatic. I would like to see more numbers and fewer platitudes.


    Anonymous said...

    So how exactly is the focus on bringing "students furthest from educational justice" (apparently everyone except whites and Asians?) up to grade level going to support this "world class" education for everyone else? I'm not seeing it.

    There are no measures identified in the plan that have anything to do with high quality education for all. Is our educational system really only supposed to focus on students/communities at risk, or is it supposed to serve the general populace? If SPS keeps pushing in this direction, they will lose more and more high and average performers to charter schools, and SPS will become the school system for those who are struggling. SPS doesn't even seem to want high-performing students from the targeted groups--they are too close to educational justice for them to matter.

    We, too, felt "unwanted" in SPS...and left years ago. It only seems to be getting worse.

    I wish the school board were willing to insist that the strategic plan address the needs of all students to some extent.


    Euphemistic Padre said...

    The expression "furthest from educational justice" is incredibly silly, although well-intentioned. It's such an opaque euphemism that most people have no idea what it means without training in graduate-level social sciences and philosophy. And that is not an exaggeration.

    It also implies that wealthy, white and Asian students are "closest to educational justice." That is absurd. Families who enjoy privilege are not any closer to "educational justice." Privilege masks the inequities, but it doesn't bring you closer to educational justice.

    Educational justice is something the entire community has or lacks, not just one part of it. When one part of the community is far from educational justice, the whole community is also far from it.

    "Furthest from educational justice" one of the most patently ridiculous euphemisms ever devised by speakers of educatese. Much clearer would be jargon-free wording like "most underserved." Which is what they mean.

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    "If SPS keeps pushing in this direction, they will lose more and more high and average performers to charter schools, and SPS will become the school system for those who are struggling. SPS doesn't even seem to want high-performing students from the targeted groups--they are too close to educational justice for them to matter."

    Another good thing to point out to the Board.

    Educational justice is something the entire community has or lacks, not just one part of it. When one part of the community is far from educational justice, the whole community is also far from it."

    Also good.

    I signed up to speak at the Board meeting on this topic; two minutes won't be enough.

    Anonymous said...


    I completely agree. Equity is mission critical for all of us, regardless of what unearned privileges we as individuals may or may not enjoy, because inequity is tearing and will tear our neighborhoods, communities, towns, cities and ultimately our nation apart. It is folly, arrogance, and stupidity to think that the ills visited upon some won’t ultimately be spread to all in the end. Not only is it morally right, but it is self-interest too to demand equity.

    It only works if we are in this together. Like a health insurance pool. We pool risk, so when someone suffers, they get the needed health care.

    You can’t have health insurance if only the sick and old join. It doesn’t work. But if we all agree it is a common good, and afterall, we don’t know which of us will be hit by a car, get diagnosed with cancer, eat an E. coli hamburger, or suffer a stroke, then we all get covered, and we all get care.

    Public schools work the exact same way. We are either all welcomed and all join or the system falls apart - because those who can will and do leave, and their leaving arguably hurts the most economically fragile the worst because they are stuck. Healthy leaving means that the more challenging ones are disproportionately left behind, yet there are fewer resources, and then the system faulters and risks failing. So more leave. Like a health insurance pool with only the sick. Schools filled with kids from families too poor to create an exit. We’ve seen this over and over.

    If the district thinks they can create equity but “narrowing” the gap, but slamming down growth for those student who do preform- they are wrong. All they will do is incentivize family flight. We’ve seen that before too. Why don’t they say creating equity by raising ALL test scores of EVERY child? Language counts. Words matter.

    Tilt the WSS even more for F&RL, put a hard cap on class sizes in title 1 elementaries (15:1 for k-2, 22:1 for 3-5). That would be costly but it would be worth the investment to raise kids up. Preschool, family liaison coordinators, full time librarians for every Title 1 elementary school. That will help kids. That will impact the disequities. That will get students close to adults besides their family who care about them, care for them, to help them grow.

    Denying other kids rigor does nothing for a child who is below grade level. Babbling on about that service model that shows a pyramid, the MSwhatever, that Tolley and Heath loved to ramble on about, has done nothing for any kid.

    It’s the teachers, stupid. It’s the teachers who show up for kids and teach them. Not computer terminals, not glass palace spread sheets, not superintendent smart goals. It is always the teachers. Give kids in poor buildings more teachers. Stop pretending to care about equity when all the talk is about elitism is the problem, and so the PowerPoints and BARS as almost always about taking away learning opportunities, whether by denying outside credits or disbanding ability-based grouping.

    blue bus

    Anonymous said...

    Well said, blue bus. I agree 100%.

    all types

    Bye Spectrum said...

    The district used the Spectrum program to redistribute enrollment, but then they allowed their own program to wither and die. This has enrollment consequences that I'm not convinced they intended.

    The only Spectrum sites predicted to gain students are B.F. Day (+12), Arbor Heights (+11), Lafayette (+10), and Hawthorne (+5). Predicted to lose students are Hazel Wolf (-2), Wing Luke (-22), Wedgwood (-26), John Muir (-32), Fairmount Park (-33), Whittier (-36), Broadview-Thomson (-52), Lawton (-75), View Ridge (-77), Lowell (-80). For anyone keeping score at home, that's former Spectrum schools gaining 38 seats and losing 435 seats.

    The program was there to draw middle class families away from private schools and into the public schools and to fill schools that weren't full enough with students from schools that were too full.

    Like intentionally drawing Franklin's boundaries small so that there would be space for students who wanted to choose to attend it, the unraveling of the Spectrum program appears to be sending (un?)anticipated ripples through many, many neighborhoods. And although tearing down Spectrum may have been done in the name of equity, explain to me again how Lowell losing 80 students, Broadview-Thomson losing 52 students and John Muir losing 32 students and Wing Luke losing 22 students is promoting equity?

    Anonymous said...

    Bye Spectrum, don't forget about McClure MS, another "Spectrum site" predicted to lose 64 kids next year. I put Spectrum in quotes because in my child's three years there, I literally never saw a single example of Spectrum-level work or advanced learning.

    Why does the district think it can get away with stuff like this? It's beyond offensive at this point - it's insulting to the intelligence of the families who send their children to SPS schools.

    Precision Matters

    Anonymous said...

    How many of those "lost" Spectrum students are now HC, and how many are simply out of SPS? HC enrollment grew as Spectrum enrollment declined (and more HC pathways were created). Students who may have stayed at their neighborhood school when there was an actual Spectrum program may now be more likely to test for HC, and HC programming is now more like the old Spectrum. All the while, you have SPS talking about increasing access to AL, when it seems a student now needs to test at HC levels in order to access Spectrum level advancement.

    almost gone

    Anonymous said...

    Almost gone, we're just a sample size of one, but I can tell you that we took our kid out of SPS after the lackluster academic experience he had at McClure. I had no intention of sending him to private school, but I feel grateful we were able to make that choice.

    Precision Matters

    Anonymous said...

    In an attempt to improve the circumstances of races deemed least served educational justice, ironically, SPS now institutionalizes racism against Asians through the biased framework in the SPS District Scorecard that “…Asian-American students belong to race/ethnic groups that historically have had greater access to the opportunities and support that lead to college, career and life success”.

    I question this belief for the specific population of Asians in Seattle Schools, because a closer examination of data indicates the generalized assumption of "greater access" is a misnomer:

    48.5% of Asian students qualify for Free Lunch.

    Asian students score lower than White students for all academic milestones on the District Scorecard with the exception of "9th graders earning 6 or more credits".

    Asian students are under enrolled in the Highly Capable program vs. their % of the population.

    While the numbers for Asians may be relatively positive in comparison to the target populations in the draft strategic plan, the politicized positioning of an entire racial group as "given historically greater access" is beyond disappointing and possibly illegal.

    The insult-to-injury is the Strategic Plan using unofficial race categories such as "Asian Pacific Islander" not used by OSPI or the Census. This just adds to the confusion, since Asian and Pacific Islander are officially two separate race categories for reporting purposes.

    So Done