Sunday, June 09, 2019

Slogging Thru the Seattle School Board Meeting (Part Two)

After the High School Science was adopted, 7-0, the Board moved onto the Middle Science adoption of Amplify.  Naturally, this was the longest and most contentious discussion.

In short, an embarrassing display of pseudo-gamesmanship, mostly by staff but a few Board members as well.  With a BAR of over 300 pages (which is ridiculous because much of that information was previously given to directors plus some attachments were ones the Board had but not the public and Mary Margaret Welch referred to some attachments by number when the BAR reflects them by letter), it was a heavy lift.  But I can certain say that it looked like Directors Burke, Harris, Mack and Pinkham had read every page.

I was astonished at the number of staff who felt they could lecture the Board (and the Board did little to curb that impulse which was unfortunate) and, at times, near insult the Board. 

I also note the somewhat heavy-handed interjections by Superintendent Juneau.  She is able to forge her own way as a superintendent but I have never seen a superintendent try to manipulate a vote as she did.

Director Rick Burke, as Vice-President, read the BAR motion.  After he did that, he noted that the amount listed on the agenda was different from that in the motion.  There was laughter but that was now the second numerical error in the science adoption.  Not only do words have meaning but numbers as well. 

JoLynn Berge, head of Budget, stated that yes, it was an error and the $2.6M is the correct number.  Legal counsel, Ronald Boy, said the motion would have to be reread.  Then Berge said she misspoke and that there are two cost options to this motion; Option A which would mean buying kits from the vendor and Option B which would mean refurbishing kits the district has in storage.

Director Scott Pinkham mentioned the issue of copy costs for hard copy materials which he confirmed would be the responsibility of the school budget.  President Harris said they had been told they would be advised about costs for this and how principals might plan for those costs.   CAO Diane DeBacker said that work had not been done yet.

He also pointed out that when the staff use an internal SharePoint, then the public doesn't see the same documents as the Board.  Harris shared this concern.  Pinkham said, "It's not just for me but for the public."  Ms. Welch had been at the mic but as she turned away, she had a frown of irritation on her face.

There was back-and-forth with Burke and Berge over the possibility that the motion had been improperly made.

Harris and Boy had a back-and-forth over where the Amplify curriculum came from.  Boy said there was no anonymous donor.

Well, that's weird because either MMW lied to the Board at the Work Session on the adoption or Amplify lied to MMW about there being an anonymous donor.  Either way, it's deeply troubling.

Boy claimed that staff sent him the financial data on the curriculum sent to the district and "everything matched."  He said the cost provided to him by Amplify was about $100K which is under the $250,000 that would have triggered notification to the Board.  He said some confusion might have been over the different dates for fiscal years between Amplify and the district.  Harris said that she wants this to all be transparent and she has been notified that a request for an audit has been made to the State Auditor's office.  "Are we sure we are in good shape?"  Boy's reply, "We will be fine."

I have not yet filed my request for an audit to the State Auditor but there is one issue that perhaps Mr. Boy was not made aware of when staff gave him those figures.  I will not reveal it here because I'm not going to give anyone at JSCEE a heads up on which data to manipulate.

Mack asked what the district would actually be purchasing in Option A because, starting on page 16 of the BAR, there are many reasons NOT to refurbish the old kits which means...buying them from Amplify.  It appears that buying the kits would cost about $125K more.

MMW jumped up and said they did provide that info and that the kits "have all kinds of goodies" including consumables, scales, cards (if needed, I was unclear about this) and the licenses.  Each student will have their own license.

Then Mr. Boy said that "for transparency" all the info on these different costs would be posted tomorrow.  You mean, AFTER the vote, that's when the public can see it?  Super helpful.  Nothing off about doing it like that.

Burke said so, if each student has a license this is why there is no DSA (data sharing agreement)?  The answer was "correct".

Apparently this "Clever Portal" is super safe with "secure hardware" and there will be no student data going to Amplify.   Unfortunately, there was no real discussion about student data privacy and I don't believe that no data will go to Amplify.   Of course, the data will be embedded into each student's license so that's probably how it gets collected.

Pinkham asked about students being able to access homework "via USB" or can parents download for student at home.  He was concerned about students with little to no access to technology and/or download speed. MMW said everything is downloadable using Schoology.  She said there would be "analog copies" for those students (and that is also part of the school's printing costs so you could figure that, for Title One schools, those costs may have a really impact on their school budget.)

MMW also said that there probably wouldn't be that much homework as classes would be using "flipped classrooms" where the students do the lesson at home and then homework in class.  But then, how do kids with no technology do that?

Burke said he saw the Amplify instruction at Denny MS and hopes it will improve science learning and close gaps.  He said they were not "being influenced by blogs."  He referred to Amplify as "the incumbent."  He said the issue for him is that all they have is this theory that Amplify will work and yet Amplify has been in many schools for at least three years.

Burke also asked about why there was not a middle school STEM fair.  MMW said that there was too much work on the adoption.

DeWolf interjected that his concern was "as adults telling kids about fairs" and how to run them and this should be part of the work for the Student Advisory Committee.   MMW agreed with him saying traditional science fairs are "for adults, not kids" and certainly not for underrepresented kids.  She continued, saying that curriculum should not be "just for white Euro-centric, sorry Director Burke" and then she proceeded with one of several lectures she felt compelled to give that night.

Pinkham came in saying that the Board knows staff IS working on Native American curriculum.

Burke cited Policy 2020, Waivers for Basic Instructional Materials, and said, "This is the situation this policy is for." He went on saying data from waivers to use Amplify should have shown results.  He said there was no significantly different test scores from schools who didn't use Amplify to those who had "despite this passion."  He concluded that they could wait another year to look at more data from those waiver schools.  (This was met with groans from the audience.)

MMW decided to fight back by challenging him to name a time when another adoption was asked for this kind of data.  (I think she missed the point that since there were so many schools using it and there is the data, why can't that data be used in assessing the adoption.  And, in general, very few other vendors have conveniently had their curriculum already being used by a number of schools in a district.)

Getting hostile, she said she refused to "stall out" and form another committee together.

President Harris stopped her and asked that they all watch their tone and that there is nothing personal in this work.  Harris was half-right - the tone being used by MMW was unacceptable AND for MMW, it is quite personal as this seems to be her life's goal - to get Amplify into SPS.

Geary said that the scores might be off because the PD for the waivers is different from the PD for the adoption.  (How she knows that for certain - and that there is that much difference - was not explained.)

Then Juneau jumped in and asked Burke about his previously mentioned "theory of action" on the adoption. He said he got it from learning about the adoption process and how this particularly adoption had proceeded.  She continued asking if he got it from the district.  He again said no.  Juneau then stated that the district did have a theory of action in the Strategic Plan.  That's quite a leap there because of course Burke knows about the SP but I would venture that Juneau means that staff believes using Amplify is the best way to satisfy that "theory of action" in the SP.

Director Mack said she liked this healthy conversation about where to spend money.  She said Amplify was a lot of money per year for students.  As an example she gave the cost for Biology at $8 per student, Physics A at $15 per student and Amplify MS at $18 per student.  Juneau again jumped in saying that they always pay for PD with curriculum.  She said, "This district has underinvested in operations and curriculum for a long, long time."  She said, "The district's main purpose is teaching and learning and paying attention to teachers in the classroom and providing PD."

I hit the pause button here for a minute to say this is one of few times I have heard so much about PD for teachers.  I have to wonder about how the need for this much PD means that Amplify is going to have a large learning curve for many, many teachers.

Mack said that her point is that when you make this big of an investment in one area, "what else gives?"  Meaning, what area/item will get its budget cut or reduced?  She said there are equally critical needs like literacy,  Spanish curriculum and translation costs for ELL and dual-language.

Kyle Kinosita had his own numbers on costs and claimed that Amplify's costs were not out of line.
Mack came back saying, "The math doesn't add up" and that the costs staff was naming were not in the BAR.

Berge came back in and said that her office has said that K-5 will not be completely funded and in 2019-2020, there are several other priorities coming.

The discussion turned to PD with MMW saying that the students who suffer most are due to "teachers who don't show up to collaborations" and "don't know how to implement curriculum correctly."  

Pinkham went on to challenge some items in the BAR, saying "on page 332 of the 441-page PDF" he notes a high school student said that he didn't like Amplify.  MMW asked for the "n" size, seemingly not believing him.  He again stated it was in the BAR.  She said that overall she was pleased with how students liked Amplify and they told her, "I like this and I am learning."

Pinkham pushed back, saying it wasn't just one student who was unhappy with Amplify.  MMW shot back, "I'm not hiding anything from you."

Geary interjected saying that the district needs to invest "in our teachers."  She asked how anyone would feel "as a professional" to smile and show goodwill" if your judgment is challenged.

My notes here reflect how many times that all Geary or DeWolf had to say during this entire discussion is how we all need to listen to teachers. With nearly every one of their statements, I had written two words - "sucking up" to teachers.

Mack said she agreed with Geary that "trust had been broken in difference ways." She continued on saying that they are spending for nine years when the district is still underfunded.  She said she had "a radical suggestion" - could they build-in a "touchpoint" at year 4 to evaluate if the curriculum is truly working.

Ronald Boy said they could do that by adding new language.  Harris jumped in and asked about the contract.  Boy said there was no contract until the curriculum was approved.  Harris said she was "leery of spur of the moment" suggestions.

Geary said she, too, was leery but of the "poor adoption history" in the district. She said yes, this could be done and then, in the future, some other Board could undo it.  Or do the evaluation and then shrug at the results.  (Apparently she has little faith in the next Board or future ones.)  Harris then said there has been pushback on evaluations before and gave Honors for All as an example.  She said if the BAR is changed, the language needed to be clear.

Burke came in and asked to find a path to consensus.  He said Amplify had divided the district.  He asked, "Would we be having this conversation if we saw data that showed Amplify closed the gap?  No." He said they would have more data in just a few months with new state test results and they could revisit the discussion then.

Deputy Superintendent Steve Nielsen came to the podium and said any changes could impact the negotiations on the contract.  Harris said that "the Amplify guy" said in his video that if it didn't work, the curriculum would be free.  Nielsen ignored that and continued saying adding more at this point would bring added risk.   Harris said, "I'm willing" to take that risk, saying that it could be a 4 year contract  with renewal for five more years based on results. 

Mack asked for helping in framing it.  Mr. Boy said it "might throw off the numbers."  He did say that most district contracts have a termination clause. He said the check-in would happen with the next Board and ....then MMW came up and whispered in his ear.  It's unclear what was said but also a weird moment.  He then said something about the C&I committee working on that evaluation but Mack rejected that, saying it's work for the entire board.

Boy said in year four that they could have C&I evaluate the success, followed by a Board Work Session on that report.  

DeBacker said she was "uncomfortable" with this new notion.  "What measures would we use? Growth? Tests?"  I was quite surprised to see a CAO uncomfortable with the idea of the expectation of success from a new and expensive curriculum and how to measure that. She said that Board policy 2015 already does say that the curriculum would have a yearly assessment.  My take on that is the "yearly assessment" is just a check-in, not a full-blown examination.  She, too, chimed in about how the pricing might be different.

I'll pause here to shake my head at this.  Amplify has given some basic numbers based on the numbers in the student population that would use its product.  There is no contract.  Amplify is the vendor and the district is what we call "the customer."  If Amplify is going to get miffed because the district wants - midway in the contract - the ability to examine Amplify's curriculum for success, then maybe this isn't who the district should be doing business with.  That the Board is getting this done BEFORE the contract, then it's no surprise to Amplify so they really shouldn't be so upset that they would raise the prices.  That's my inference on staff worry on this idea.

Harris said the motion had been made and seconded but perhaps they should table the matter until they fully understand the financial consequences.  Boy said they could do that but that a lot would have to fall into place quickly if they did.  

Juneau said that if this 4th year check-in would get Mack to yes because "she's my fourth and I'd love to get this done."

That's some kind of out loud thinking that I found odd and extraordinary for a superintendent.  

Harris said they could always talbe this to the next legislative meeting and, with that statement, came groans and shouts of "bad move."  Harris asked, "What will changes be to get to a vote?"

DeWolf shot back, "Vote on it as it is and that gets us out of the box."  The audience liked that but I don't think he would have liked that vote if the Board had took it right then.  The idea on a board is compromise and consensus but I don't think Geary or DeWolf read that chapter.

DeBacker said they were confident in Amplify and the results they would see.  Pinkham asked about the check-in time, 2 years, 4 years?  DeWolf came back in saying they were "asking the Titanic to shift on a dime" which was a weird thing to say about evaluating a program/curriculum mid-point in its contract.  

Pinkham came back saying that the district had been using Amplify for years and where was that data?  Harris quietly said, "We don't have it."  Burke again asked about a cancellation clause and Boy stated that they use general terms and conditions and that "it's always in there."

Mack said the experience with Amplify was not with the full kits or PD.  

Juneau said it was a "robust conversation" and she was glad they were paying attention and being diligent.  

At this point Boy said there made been a number of motions but all others had been withdrawn.  I was trying to track the sequence of things and I'm not sure that did happen.

The vote on the amendment to include the 4-year check-in to determine if to continue with Amplify was two "no's" Burke and Pinkham.  Then they voted on the motion with the amendment in it.  Again Burke and Pinkham voted no.  When it was time for Mack's vote, she took a long breath, seemingly held it and then said, "yes." 

There were literally screams of joy from the audience.  

I'll get to Part Three - K-5 Elementary science - soon.


Anonymous said...

This is the first I’ve heard that Amplify requires a flipped classroom approach. This involves watching an instructional video at home and then doing the work in class (problem sets or whatever we typically see as homework.) Our students will receive instruction from Amplify videos rather than actual teachers.

Are middle school students going to get devices and WiFi hotspots to take home every day? If something goes wrong with their equipment, how are they going to be prepared to do the work in class?

There are always students who learn the material taught in class but don’t consistently do homework. Do these kids just not ever receive any instruction?

Fairmount Parent

Anonymous said...

Wait, what? Amplify is a flipped classroom?!

I’m sorry, this adoption just got worse and I didn’t think that was possible. This really is nothing more than corporate curriculum designed to undermine teaching and learning. It is very specifically designed to deskill the teaching profession and destroy teacher jobs and wages. Every teacher who signed onto this and every union leader who signed onto this got conned and scammed and let it happen because they convinced themselves that scoring points against this blog and its readers was more important than saving the teaching profession or actually giving kids a good education.

Shame on everyone who advocated for or helped get Amplify Science adopted. We will never forgive you and we will never forget this. We will get this curriculum rescinded, it always happens with online curriculum. And we will oust everyone who helped force it upon our kids.

Never Forgive

Robyn said...

I haven’t gotten any responses from head of science or the school board about how special needs kids and kids with vision issues fare with a screen based curriculum. I emailed again today asking for an alternative and wondering if approving this without data on special needs kids is any sort of violation. Increased screen time leads to ADHD in kids who never had symptoms.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I will try to clarify the flipped classroom statement. I believe MMW was using it as an example but that a teacher could do that using Amplify. That she brought it up means she thinks it can be done and solve the homework issue.

Robyn, wait for my Part Three; Director DeWolf had some interesting things to say about screentime in school.

:-( said...

"Shame on everyone who advocated for or helped get Amplify Science adopted. We will never forgive you and we will never forget this."

They don't care. They all have beautiful homes. Their kids are grown and educated. They'll all be retiring within the next couple of years and continuing to enjoy their world travel and their grandchildren.

They bought what the salespeople told them. We could have bought Amplify next year or the year after. Anything that's a curriculum instead of a scam would have been available in a year or two. What was the hurry?

When the state auditor's investigation wraps up and people realize how mindnumbing the middle school curriculum is, all these people who made this decisions will be retired.


Alsept Teresa said...

Flipped classroom ?? What the ...??? I agree with Never Forgive. When things go south, as I’m sure they will, I will blame union leadership and the board for getting us into this mess

Anonymous said...

I feel like the democratic process was usurped. Lawlessness prevailed.

Committee members monopolized the available timeslots to speak to the Board at meetings.

Policy that supports student learning (what happened to "Children first"??) and closing the opportunity gap was willfully violated when MMW et al refused to provide efficacy data disaggregated by race and program (e.g. ELL, SPED, FRL) for the waivered Amplify as required and agreed to IN WRITING in the signed waivers following 2020SP.

Diverse opinions were diminished ("blog noise", "don't question our judgment") and attacked as witnessed in a seemingly coordinated multi-media smear campaign on Burke with Blanford, Geary, DeWolf and SEA all communicating the same talking points right down to a previous math adoption.

Diversity is welcome - only as defined in the strategic plan, but if diversity yields a diverse opinion, well then refer back to "don't question our judgment".


Historian said...

I remember when the district adopted Discovery Math. There was A LOT of pressure for the board to adopt district recommended curriculum.

For years, students didn't have the capacity to perform basic math equations. Speed and accuracy was a real problem. The Lattice method took a long time for students to answer simple double digit multiplication problems. KUMON was the winner with this botched adoption. Schools that had the capacity to create different math programs did so. It was during this time that some schools brought in Walk to Math.

For some reason, SPS committee took TWO years to find a solution to the state's new state standards. Other districts simply added content to existing science classes. Seattle had to be different. They revamped the entire scope and sequence and worked in conjunction with University of Washington. A spiraling chemistry/physics curriculum was born.

Highly respected teachers rebelled.

Then, we hear that University of Washington is working to develop Amplify; the only program to meet the state's new requirements. Did other districts, that simply added new content to existing classes, adopt Amplify??

Historian said...

To complicate the issue further: High schools were in the midst of complying with the state's 24 credit requirement. Then, they were further asked to revamp the entire science scope and sequence process.

Anonymous said...

I have heard that Bellevue school district uses Amplify. There is a petition on change.org to get rid of Amplify but there doesn't seem to be many signers.


Anonymous said...

I haven’t gotten any responses from head of science or the school board about how special needs kids and kids with vision issues fare with a screen based curriculum. I emailed again today asking for an alternative and wondering if approving this without data on special needs kids is any sort of violation. Increased screen time leads to ADHD in kids who never had symptoms.

Not just that, but kids who ALREADY have ADHD. Unless Amplify lectures are fast-moving and super-exciting, good luck getting kids with ADHD to watch and learn.

Was the racial equity analysis tool used for this adoption--using SPS experience data? How about any other sort of equity analysis, since the policy is broader than simple racial equity?

SPS Titanic

NE Parent said...

“Racial Equity” when it comes to Science and Amplify is a very loaded term.
In general, I’m very doubtful that minority students or under-performing students do better using a “screen” based curriculum than a “hands on” curriculum for science, when, (1) the allocated time to both curriculum is similar, (2) when both are relatively update to date, and (3) the teachers of both have similar levels of experience and professional development.

The problem is that conditions 1-3 are generally not the same across the district.
For example, in some under-performing Seattle elementary schools in recent years, very little time has been spent on science because almost 100% of the focus has been on getting students to pass the annual SBAC Reading and Math assessments at the direction of school principals. Perhaps by having an “online” curriculum that the science department can monitor from the central office, the district will be able to ensure time is in fact spent on “science” in such schools.

With regards to an “up to date curriculum”, perhaps this again becomes a management issue. Having looked through several of the elementary science kits that are sent out, I think they were problematic. For a teacher that has been using them for many years and developed their own curriculum and supplements around they could be great. On the other hand, for a new teacher coming into the district perhaps without a lot of experience, I think they were poor. And in general, I believe it’s likely the most inexperienced teachers end up at some of the worst performing schools because teachers with seniority move elsewhere in the district. So, here again, from an equity standpoint, perhaps the district feels they can better ensure consistency across schools.

How about professional development for the new elementary school teachers that get offers in June and must go through all the general district onboarding during the summer? Perhaps for them, having access to a curriculum with that has an online training component is useful, because otherwise I think there is a good chance they will get no immediate science PD. I think it likely this occurs more often at the under-performing schools where senior teachers are less likely to want to teach.

So, even though students in under-performing schools and minorities in general probably do better with a “hands on” science curriculum, I’m guessing there are administrative issues that make Amplify attractive from an equity standpoint.

Anonymous said...

@ NE parent, so should teachers in schools where students have trouble with the 3Rs forego extra work in those areas in favor of centrally-monitored Amplify time? I agree that science is important, but if Amplify doesn't work as well for struggling students (as data suggest), doesn't that just shortchange those students even more?

As to points 2 and 3, I see those as similar--they are both about teacher quality and how this impacts the level of district-level support needed. In some ways it sounds like you're saying we need to "dumb down" the curriculum in order to serve the lowest common denominator in terms of teachers. That we can't expect elementary school teachers to come up with elementary level science lesson, nor can we expect the district (or experienced teachers) to help out on that and provide some basic lesson plans. That's pretty bleak. At the middle school level, a science teacher--even a new one--should be competent enough in their field to handle making a lesson plan that meets standards, using the existing curriculum and basic kits as the foundation on which to build. The argument that we to adopt a curriculum that is so easy that "anyone" could teach it seems to be pretty dismissive of teachers and their abilities. It also seems to acknowledge that we're more than willing to sacrifice quality and effectiveness for ease of implementation, which is also pretty bleak.

SPS Titanic

NE Parent said...

SPS Titanic,

The biggest question related to Amplify in my mind is whether the district uses it as a “floor” or as a “ceiling”. Although I haven’t personally used Amplify, I have talked to teachers and students that use it, I agree it should be considered a “floor”.

I have two HCC students that both use Amplify, one in middle school and one in elementary school. Neither complains about it. I believe both of their teachers use it as a floor and supplement extensively.

I think the math curriculum provides somewhat of an analogy. I was a strong supporter of Math-In-Focus and I remember when my kids had teachers that rigorously followed it, that the curriculum was challenging. This year my oldest is using enVisionsion math, rarely has homework, never asks me any questions, and she has said she frequently uses math period to do other homework. So, I am now looking at having to supplement math. But, for under-performing students, perhaps envision is the better curriculum.

So, the question is, does the district buy the “dumbed down” curriculum and allow teachers to supplement up, does it buy the more rigorous curriculum and supplement down, or does it buy the “dumbed down” version and use it as a ceiling.

I think its reasonable for the district to buy the dumbed-down curriculum, if they use it as a floor and allow teachers to supplement up. This as a baseline will provide equity of access because for many low performing students, it may very well be as much as they can handle.

Regarding what teachers can handle as far as lesson plans, I think it varies greatly depending on the students they have their class, the size of their class, and school level support. I believe there are classes in SPS that end up with a new teacher on average at least once every other year, that some of those classes are very problematic, and that a baseline canned science curriculum is reasonable.

With regards to whether students should be studying science, I believe they all should and that assuming Amplify has centralized reporting, the central admin can set related goals for principals, who will then set related goals for teachers, and there will be a reasonable way to provide oversight.

If I oversaw the district, I would buy different curriculum based on the school, fully support the Spectrum and HCC cohorts, fix the eligibility requirements to account for factors beyond test scores to increase minority and low-income representation, and redefine advanced learning as something that is accessed by studying hard. I think there is a big difference between equity of access and equality of outcome. But given the situation we have, I think Amplify is reasonable.

Anonymous said...

So, the question is, does the district buy the “dumbed down” curriculum and allow teachers to supplement up, does it buy the more rigorous curriculum and supplement down, or does it buy the “dumbed down” version and use it as a ceiling.... I think its reasonable for the district to buy the dumbed-down curriculum, if they use it as a floor and allow teachers to supplement up. This as a baseline will provide equity of access because for many low performing students, it may very well be as much as they can handle.

To me, equity is more like the middle one. We already have, in effect, the "dumbed down" version, by not having sufficient materials and/or not having sufficiently trained/experienced/supported teachers in some schools. Some students get crappy science education due to various SPS deficiencies, whereas others get a great, challenging experience.

Equity is about providing additional resources so that everyone has access to the rigorous version so the gap can be narrowed. It's not about providing everyone a low floor that will disproportionately also serve as a ceiling for students in some schools but not others. In a lower performing school, that supplementation isn't likely to happen, so students who could in fact handle more will lose out. It won't be that different than now--schools with more experienced teachers, higher performing students, etc. will be able offer more, and others will get the minimum. You can argue that the minimum is better than the minimum we have now, but we're just assuming that's the case. Ease of implementation doesn't convince me. Neither do "flipped" lessons.

SPS Titanic