Science Adoption Work Session

Below is my email to the Board about the Work Session.  I was quite surprised at the finger-wagging and hostility exhibited by some members of the different committees.

This email covers most of the highlights.  I note that it did not seem like Board directors had sufficient time to ask questions but maybe that was by design when you have 130 pages of documentation to cover. 

Text of email

As I told my readers, in my long, long experience in the district I thought I had heard and seen it all. Yesterday's Work Session marks a new experience. It marks the time that I have seen the most hostility towards and lecturing to Board members at a Work Session.

I would first say that:
1) No one is saying that science adoptions aren't long overdue and

2) That staff and the adoption committees haven't work very, very hard.

But I also want to state that it is long overdue for the Board to take back what are called "Board Work Sessions." Why does staff run them, control them, and decide how much time there is for questions? Astonishing.

Where to start with that Work Session?

- Kyle Kinoshita, in acknowledging the tsunami of information before you, says they might not have time to answer all the questions but are available afterwards. Isn't that what the Work Session is for?

- Ms. DeBacker says this is an "airtight" process but she hasn't been here that long. Given that initially staff was trying to push this thru as an "alignment" to cut you out of the decision, I'm not sure that's actually true.

- Ms. Toner says they didn't intend for you "to memorize this (the documentation) now." That's good because again, a tsunami of info. What's interesting is that some of you actually asked for information that was not there like benchmarking.

- The SPS 9-12 Adoption RFI Vendor page looked completely different from the K-8 page. Why was that?

- Brad Shigenaka actually said that he and he alone managed "the data" including arranging the RFPs, the committee applications and the ballots for votes. Is that SOP at SPS? Because that's a lot for one person to make decisions about. (I know he didn't mean overseeing the RFPs.)

I also note that Brad is co-chair with me of ITAC. He mentioned when he ran as co-chair that he was on the Adoption committee but not the scope.

For the future, I ask that, except for staff, no one serves on more than one committee especially not in high-level capacities. No wonder he has missed 2-3 ITAC meetings.

- It did not appear that Director Harris really got Mr. Kinoshita's explanation of why there was not bias towards Amplify. I myself queried Amplify today on a couple of issues and they refused to answer, citing the ongoing RFP. However, I did ask them this question which I also put out to you:

Is Seattle Schools part of the SRI Efficacy study of Amplify for grades 6-8?

That has nothing to do with the RFP and I resubmitted this question to them. The study occurred last year and is happening again this year. I will circle back to this issue in a minute.

- It seems odd that Amplify has been used in many schools and yet the assessment data isn't valid to use to judge it by?  (This was pushback from Director Geary.)

- That was an interesting observation by Director Pinkham about there being no members on any committee with Native American background. While it was great that Gail Morris was consulted, as he said, he works at UW and knows people who are scientists. Odd that didn't occur to staff to ask him.

- About the lecture you received from the one teacher (white blouse I did not catch her name - it would have been helpful since Ms. Welch knew exactly who would be speaking to have provided a list).

She said that the U.S. was a laughing stock in world sciences. That is not true. It was disrespectful to the higher ed and businesses that are in the sciences to say that.   If that were true, how is it that foreign students are clamoring to get into our universities? That the U.S. leads in computer science and medicine?

It was also disrespectful to you to be lectured about the need to help more kids become science-fluent. It was disrespectful to accuse you of being "scared" to make a decision. It felt like that teacher felt she had carte blanche to speak on and on to put you, as a Board, in your places.

It is true that you are not science experts. But you ARE the people who are elected to decide the vision for SPS and how the money is spent.

- To the issue of Ms. Welch's explanation about who paid for the subscriptions to Amplify for the pilot period. (Editor's note; Welch says she attended a conference where she gave a talk.  Afterwards she was speaking with some "tech people" about the difficulty of trying new curriculum.  Apparently, one of them took it to heart and paid the subscription fees to Amplify.  No money went thru SPS.)

1. It will be interesting to learn more about the conference she attended and who she spoke to. Surely, she can tell you that.

2. She said she didn't ask anyone for any help. But, since that donor made the donation to Amplify, she must have made it clear in that conversation she had with the tech people, WHO the company was that she was seeking to work with. Again,  we see the idea of giving Amplify push after push.

3. Circling back to the Amplify study that I linked above, could it be there was no donation and that the district was part of this study and got the materials for free? You might consider asking.

- Ms. Welch actually said, "No collusion." That's a mighty weird phrase to use in the time and place our country sits in. I told Carri Campbell that maybe she might coach staff in the future to avoid that kind of talking point.

- I appreciate that Superintendent Juneau is circling the wagons for the staff and the committees. It's fine if she thinks my blog is just a rumor mill. Ditto on Facebook.

But that science teachers have publicly named themselves at my blog as have parents to tell of their experiences with Amplify speaks volumes for their courage. Is the Superintendent discounting those voices? Or is that because the only time the district will listen is thru their carefully-structured channels?

It feels VERY much as if you were supposed to have rubber-stamped this long ago. But again, is that really your job?

I urge you to consider two things.

One, you can approve a partial adoption.

Two, if this process does not pass the sniff test, you shouldn't approve any adoption.


Anonymous said…
What kind of process is required to be followed prior to a school district employee "accepting" a $100k "donation" from an anonymous person to an outside vendor? When was this first disclosed to anyone at the District? Did the donor deduct the "donation" on his or her tax returns? I can't imagine how many laws have likely been broken. My head is spinning!!!

As a fiduciary, the Board needs to be asking SPS's legal department from some help, pronto.

WS Parent
Anonymous said…
From what my science teacher friends tell me, this is very much MMW's style- charm the few and bully the rest. One science teacher compared her to Ms. Umbridge in Harry Potter. Lucky for us she cannot threaten the jobs of ou board members.


Anonymous said…

Can you please elaborate on your statement "It seems odd that Amplify has been used in many schools and yet the assessment data isn't valid to use to judge it by? (This was pushback from Director Geary.)"?

Who at the District said the assessment data wasn't valid and what was their rationale? Are you saying Geary didn't agree with the district not providing an analysis?

The anonymous Amplify donor story is ...odd, but if it's true, the implication is that Amplify was the only material provider MMW discussed with this donor otherwise the money would have gone elsewhere. The Board is within their rights to call Amplify and ask.

Was there any discussion of the lack of data on the Racial Equity Tool? On p. 113 of agenda questioning negative impacts, there is absolutely zero data. We know the District has it, because they've had the waivers and been using some of this curriculum without Board approval for years.

Thanks for the notes!

Elsa said…
Hey "WS Parent":

Ever hear this one?:
“Seattle Public Schools suffers from a culture of lawlessness. No one enforces the rules (whether they be superintendent procedures, board policies, state law or federal law), so no one bothers to follow them. Typically, no one even bothers to check them before making decisions - decisions which often violate the rules. This culture of lawlessness pervades the District and not only makes all kinds of abuses possible but actually encourages them.”


NN, I am referencing the work done by former director, Sue Peters, illustrated in the link below. She did a comparison of testing from schools using different science curriculum and found that schools using Amplify did not do better. For some reason yesterday, when the subject was brought up, Geary jumped in and said that it would be hard to make a conclusion when the schools had been field testing one science curriculum and then going back to another for the rest of the year. Staff said nothing.

Geary's point has some validity but as Director Burke said, he doesn't want to vote for something that has been used in classes longer and yet there is no real data on efficacy.

There was no discussion about the Racial Equity Tool but there was documentation provided that it was used in April 2016-17. There was reference from some teachers about needing to reach more kids of color in the sciences.
Anonymous said…
I did not expect Denise Juneau to be such a hardcore defender of the SPS central staff and be so profoundly hostile to public input. Everything I'd heard from folks in Montana who worked with her, folks in DC who knew her, was that she would be a great leader for our schools, responsive to the community and run a tight ship. The crisis at Washington Middle School seems to grow worse every week, and now this science adoption which is riddled with serious problems that will land the district in legal hot water...well, it's not what anyone expected from our new superintendent. People around the country are watching what goes on here and she is not making a good name for herself.

In 2016 she was reported to be on the shortlist, and perhaps atop the shortlist, to be Education Secretary if Hillary Clinton had won the election. I don't know what Juneau sees as her future career path but if she keeps this up, she should write off any hopes of going to DC.

Miss Managed
Anonymous said…
This is Jill Geary’s way of “sticking it to the man.” So you want good science? Well we’ll show you! You’ve cared so little while black and brown people have suffered the achievement gap and endless other humilities and indignities. You think you can just continue on, picking every cherry off the tree? Well, we’ll show you! Bend over while we give you this load of crap Amplify. We all know it’s a load. That was the point. And the more you hate it, the better. How dare you think you can actually exert any control over the all benevolent all knowing district? How disgustingly white privileged of you! The great white savior picked out Amplify for maximum dumbassery. She alone can set the scores right. You’ll not get a say! Your kids will eat humble pie! Get out your checkbooks.

The District
Anonymous said…
Our principal privately says let them adopt it. We'll be ignoring it. School has the scores and kid enthusiasm to back up principal's words.

Stick it SPS middlemanager desk jockeys.

Real life
María Beatriz said…
Adopting crappy science does not help achievement gap sufferers. What are Jill Geary and MMW thinking? Crappy curriculum disproportionately hurts the kids who don't have access outside of school to better science learning opportunities. So even if you argue that bottom of the gap students are more likely to attend schools with crappy science teachers who apparently haven't even been using the science kits they had (?!), and even if you argue that Amplify is better than what the worst of the district's science teachers were doing with the most distanced from educational justice of our students, it's still crappy. The city is awash in upper middle class students. Our median income is something like $120k. 1/3 of our students go to private school. 80% of newcomers to the city have a college degree. 63% of Seattle residents 25 or older have a 4-year college degree. The students who had crappier than Amplify science before and have now moved up to Amplify level crappy science are still FAR from educational justice. What are MMW and Geary thinking?! Why not just put someone in charge of science education in SPS who's not crooked? Why not pick a decent curriculum? That would help the students who do not have access to science supplementation outside of school the most. Right?
Anonymous said…
What are Geary and MaryMargaret thinking?

We aren’t letting the 1% rule. We are the liberals. We are smart. You are selfish. We aren’t “listening to the dreaded blogosphere”. We will make it suck for you as you have made it suck for others. Shame on you. You shall suffer with the huddled masses. (And who really cares anyway? The smart kids and the next generation elites are in private school. Our personal kids did great in quasi private situations.)

The District
Anonymous said…
If MMW was so distressed about not having money to pilot test new curricula--to the point where some mysterious person/group came forward with an "anonymous" donation (although I'm betting she knows darn well who it is), why was she only lamenting our inability to pay for pilot testing Amplify, and not any other science curricula? If we got one pilot curriculum for free, surely that would be some leverage to get a decent pilot deal on another solid contender, no? This all sounds like it was orchestrated to get exactly the outcome she wanted.

And I'm still not convinced about this whole Carbon Time thing.. Is that seriously the only Biology option out there? Why did the review only look at that and SPS teacher-developed curricula?

Overall, there does not seem to be evidence of an honest effort to evaluate all reasonable curricular options.

what gives?

Ed said…
What gives:

"Overall, there does not seem to be evidence of an honest effort to" do much of anything at Seattle Schools except convincing the royal that we are all stupid.

We too have been surprised at how quickly the swamp swallowed Juneau.

Well past optimism tho. We have seen this before.....

Anonymous said…
When does the board vote whether to adopt or not the new curriculum? We are mourning the loss of fantastic science teachers who left and are anticipating more to go. It really truly sucks and the last I heard there was a secondary science teacher shortage.

Anonymous said…
What prevents Superintendent Juneau from releasing the name of the "Anonymous Donor" who paid Amplify Education Inc. to give Mary Margaret Welch "free" Amplify Science to pilot in SPS Schools? Now MMW tells the Board that they must buy it. But she doesn't want to reveal the Donor's name. Seems like the Superintendent does not want the Board (or the Public) to know either. SPS Accountability and Transparency.

Seattle Taxpayer
Seattle Taxpayer, the only person who knows who the anonymous donor may be is Amplify. MMW said she was talking to "tech people" (so a couple?several?) about the issue.

BUT she had to have mentioned Amplify and wanting to try it in order for that anonymous donor to have paid for the subscriptions. She wasn't just complaining about the costs in general but about a very specific company. That is quite telling.

Does Juneau want transparency in this process? All she said at the Work Session is that she supports the committees and their work and that this needs to get done. She didn't even stay for the policy discussion about the work.

However, I am being to think that is a cover story. I'm working (as is a real journalist) on figuring out another angle. We are both being stonewalled.

Stay tuned.
z said…
Thanks for continuing to pursue this Melissa.

As much as I think it's important that people can make anonymous donations to education, I'm struggling with the possibility that there should be some kind of limits.

Clearly there's something shady going on here, and it's not necessarily the donor who's at fault. For all we know they're an innocent party that just wanted to help out, there's just no way for us on the outside to know. But there's no way MMW is an unwitting party. I hope a very bright light continues to shine on her through this process, and a lot of creepy-crawlies scurry away to avoid the light.
Anonymous said…
Melissa that you for keeping up on this. The board needs to be asking lots more questions. There is so much shady behavior going on with the science adoption that it truly boggles the mind. Keep digging - there is more dirt.
Anonymous said…
MMW is a very forceful personality and I think she overreacts to criticism by trying to present everything she's done in far-too-great-detail, like an "A" student overreacting to a bad grade. She's run this adoption like a scientist with a process and wants everyone to know all the data and process and materials list and then be convinced. If she were a better politician she'd more focused on charming people and less focused on trying to prove she's right. She doesn't seem misguided or self interested in any way, she just wants to retire from the district with this job getting done successfully first. People in the district are circling the wagons around her because of all that.

-Shady Shmady
Shady Shmady, thanks for those insights. I did find her behavior at Work Session somewhat odd. She would grab the hand of each speaker as they left the work table, almost like comforting them after testimony at a trial.

I can appreciate her dedication but the Amplify adoption is looking very odd. If the district cannot produce - at least for the Board - documentation that the subscriptions were bought and paid for, then they should reject the adoption. Not saying who paid but that they got paid at all. I'm hearing this might not have happened.

I'm investigating how that might have happened.
Anonymous said…
Amplify Science and CarbonTime

On Tuesday, April 23, the SPS Curriculum/Instruction Committee will be asked to vote on Curriculum Materials being considered for Adoption. Amplify Science and CarbonTime will likely be forwarded by SPS Staff, even though both sets of materials have failed to close the Achievement Gap for Low-Income Students in Seattle Public Schools.

SPS Staff may try, yet a THIRD TIME, to get Board Policy 2020 altered. To remove Board criteria on adopting Waiver Curriculum Materials, requiring 3 years of positive, or equal, results, compared to existing Curricula. There is an obvious reason why Staff keep trying to do this: Neither Amplify, nor CarbonTime, have met existing Board Criteria for Adopting Curriculum Waiver Materials (as required by Policy 2020). This is to ensure effectiveness of new Curriculum Materials.

C/I Board Members should insist that Staff provide data plots, and numerical data, obtained from OSPI State Test Scores, for schools using Amplify Science and CarbonTime. MaryMargaret Welch, SPS Science Director, failed to provide such information to the Board, or to the Public, at a recent Board Work Session on Science Curriculum Adoption. This analysis should be made public, several days before the C/I meeting.

Amplify Science and CarbonTime have failed to close the Achievement Gap for Low-Income Students in SPS. This fact should be revealed to the Public, and the Board, LAST year. Before Staff initiated a Science Curriculum Adoption Committee.

The C/I Committee should not advance any materials for a full Board Vote, until Staff provide a detailed analysis (school-by-school) of OSPI Test Scores for the last several years. In Seattle, Amplify Science and CarbonTime have both failed to raise Low-Income Student test scores, and pass rates.

These Low-Income Students will likely be blocked from graduating High School in the next few years, because of new State Science Proficiency requirements. Don't fail these Low-Income Students now, Seattle School Board.

Seattle Taxpayer
Anonymous said…
Please send these comments to the board.

Thank you,
SPS parent

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