Excerpt From an Open Letter to Arne Duncan from Herb Kohl

"...I discovered then, in my early teaching career, that learning is best driven by ideas, challenges, experiences, and activities that engage students. My experience over the past 45 years has confirmed this.

We have come far from that time in the '60s. Now the mantra is high expectations and high standards. Yet, with all that zeal to produce measurable learning outcomes we have lost sight of the essential motivations to learn that moved my students. Recently I asked a number of elementary school students what they were learning about and the reactions were consistently, "We are learning how to do good on the tests." They did not say they were learning to read.

It is hard for me to understand how educators can claim that they are creating high standards when the substance and content of learning is reduced to the mechanical task of getting a correct answer on a manufactured test." (Summer 2009)

Nova High School Relocated

Nova High School Relocated

Merit Pay

"I would like to know who in our country would like their pay to be based on the actions of a group of children."

Laurie, in response to R. Weingartner, On Point, 1/26/10

Merit pay is an issue that is closely associated with charter schools and is a reiteration of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Basically, it requires that teachers pay be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests. For our students, it could be the new MAP test. With the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers and staff were pressured to teach much of the class work to the standardized tests. With so much focus on the test, many other parts of knowledge building, creativity and understanding of subjects and their synthesis with other knowledge had to take a back seat. For many students, teaching to a test meant that they were not able to reach their full potential which would have been far beyond the level of the tests.

No one wins in this situation.

Part of the fallout also is that if a teacher's pay is based on how well their students test, many teachers will want to teach in a school where they know that the students will perform well. Those schools are, for the most part, not the schools that are predominately minority in population.

Some students do not perform well on standardized tests for many different reasons and yet a teacher's pay can be tied to that student's performance. High stakes testing also puts pressure and stress on the students who become burdened with the thought that they need to perform well on one test. The test becomes a focus with little opportunity to explore and have fun learning, creating and synthesizing new thoughts and ideas.

Update: The Governor of Texas has decided to opt out of the Race to the Top funding because of the ineffectiveness of the merit pay program that was in effect for three years inthe state.

Update: March 8, 2010 Principal to be removed from school in Wasington State due to low WASL scores.

What Is a Charter School?

The basic difference between a traditional public school and a privately run charter school is that with a charter school there is complete control of the school by a private enterprise within a public school district. Although taxpayer-funded, charters operate without the same degree of public and district oversight of a standard public school. Most charter schools do not hire union teachers which means that they can demand the teacher work longer hours including weekends at the school site and pay less than union wages. Charter schools take the school district's allotment of money provided for each student within the public schools system and use it to develop their programs. In many systems, they receive that allotment without having to pay for other costs such as transportation for students to and from the school. Some states, such as Minnesota, actually allocate more than what is granted to public school students.

A charter school can expel any student that it doesn't believe fits within its standards or meets its level of expectation in terms of test scores. If the student is dropped off the rolls of the charter school, the money that was allotted for that student may or may not be returned to the district at the beginning of the next year. That is dependent upon the contract that is established by each district.

Also, according to a recent (June 15, 2009) study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)
, charter schools do not necessarily perform any better than public schools. In fact, 37 percent performed worse. Forty-six percent demonstrated "no significant difference" from public schools. Only 17 percent of charter schools performed better than public schools.

"In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

Thomas Jefferson

The Broad Foundation

The Broad Foundation claims to be a philanthropic organization, created by billionaire Eli Broad.

The Broad Foundation supports privately run charter schools and actively develops a system of charter schools in urban areas.

Broad claims it engages in "venture philanthropy":
"Our Approach to Investing: Venture Philanthropy. We take an untraditional approach to giving. We don't simply write checks to charities. Instead we practice 'venture philanthropy.' And we expect a return on our investment."

Many of us have discovered the Broad Foundation's presence within SPS and are requesting an explanation for why it is here and what its' objectives are.

Seattle has three "Broad Residents", and two Broad graduates now working within SPS. One of them is our superintendent who is a graduate of the Broad Academy which trains superintendents, and is also on the Broad's Board of Directors.

Another Broad graduate and a onetime Broad resident in SPS, Brad Bernatek, is now Director of REA, Research, Evaluation and Assessment within SPS. That department is responsible for student statistics including enrollment, demographics, evaluation and standardized testing.

The Broad Foundation provided Dr. Payzant, also a Broad graduate, to be a part of our superintendent’s yearly review in 2009.

Broad recently gave SPS a $1M "gift." That money is now in the hands of the Alliance for Education and no one knows how the money is being spent.

All in all the Broad Foundation has been quite generous to the Seattle Public School system and as Eli Broad states himself, he expects a return on his investment.

Broad also supports and actively promotes mayoral control of school districts. Eli Broad's preferred model of mayoral control means that the mayor selects the school board members and superintendent who are therefore unelected and are beholden only to the mayor, not the people of the city. It then becomes a school district that is run by one person, the mayor, with heavy influence by the Broad Foundation through developed relationships with that individual.

Update: A Detroit School District employee found accepting money from the Broad Foundation.
"Let the games begin: Detroit Teachers vote to unanimously join the current Detroit Public School District in their suit against Robert Bobb".

Update: The Broad - Rhode Island connection.
Rhode Island has had the dubious distinction of making national news recently for the draconian firing/scapegoating of an entire school of teachers. Is it a coincidence that the new education commissioner for R.I., who is pushing the state to do whatever it takes to qualify for federal "Race to the Top" dollars, is a "Broad Superintendents Academy" graduate, Deborah Gist?
"This is the point, and why mayoral control and Eli Broad, Gates, The Fisher family and the Walton family (and a host of other such charitable capitalists) along with Green Dot schools and other EMO's who seek to privatize all of education are so giddy. Creating a sub-prime school system that breaks the backs of the teacher's union is the goal of the new managerial elite who seek only to turn over public schools to private operators and entrepreneurs. This way they can reduce teachers to at-will employees, de-skill them with the "best practices," force them to work longer hours for less pay and less benefits and of course eliminate collective bargaining; that will then give the new managerial elite and their corporate masters, control over the entire educational enterprise - from curriculum development to the hiring and firing of teachers."

Dan Weil

Dollars and Sense

December, 2009

What the Gates Foundation Is Doing: The MAP Test

The Gates Foundation supports, and pays for, high stakes testing which is tied to merit pay.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given Seattle Public Schools a total of $9M this year for additional testing. We have not been able to find out the details of this testing yet. We don't know what the test is, what the test is to determine, who is administering the test and how the results of the tests are to be used.

UPDATE: We have heard that the Gates "gift" is funding the new computerized, standardized "MAP" tests the district is administering this year to all students, from as young as kindergarten to grade 9. MAP stands for "Measures of Academic Progress™" (yes, it is a trademarked product) and will be administered to the kids three times during the school year. The test can take as much as two hours each session, according to the district's official announcement letter.

A number of questions come to mind: Is this the best use of the students' school time? Is it appropriate to make children as young as five who can't read take a standardized test on a computer? Is this the best use of such funds? Or would parents, students and teachers prefer to see money channeled more directly to the classroom, to create smaller class sizes, more enrichment opportunities, or to purchase new textbooks?

A SIDE NOTE: Another interesting connection is that our superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, is on the Board of Directors for the company that has created and distributes the MAP test. There is $4.3M in the levy to pay for additional use of this MAP test in Seattle.

The Cooper Building: Program DIscontinued, 2009

The Cooper Building: Program DIscontinued, 2009

Regarding Arne Duncan's Renaissance 2010

" The purpose of Renaissance 2010 [in Chicago] was to increase the number of high quality schools that would be subject to new standards of accountability - a code word for legitimating more charter schools and high stakes testing in the guise of hard-nosed empiricism. Chicago's 2010 plan targets 15 percent of the city district's alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification.

Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Ren2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and "performance" schools.

Kearney's web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, 'Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations.'

Duncan's advocacy of the Renaissance 2010 plan alone should have immediately disqualified him for the Obama appointment."

Henry Giroux & Kenneth Saltman,

Obama's Betrayal of Public Education?


The African American Academy: Closed 2009

The African American Academy: Closed 2009

Alternative Schools in Seattle

Alternative schools in Seattle have a rich and varied history. Established in the 1960's by parents and educators and based on the principles of Summerhill, the programs that have developed over the last four decades in Seattle offer an opportunity for all students to succeed within the Seattle public school system.

At this time, the alternative and nontraditional schools in Seattle are basically under siege. Many schools have been closed, marginalized or split apart, including the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) for highly gifted kids, the Center School, Nova, Summit, the African American Academy, SBOC and AS-1. There is also a plan for an Alternative School Audit by SPS in October, 2009.

We see these alternative programs as viable options to the traditional school approach to education. For this reason many of us believe that with the support of these programs, there is no need for privatized charter schools.

Governor Gregoire and our state representatives are speaking to Arne Duncan about our alternative schools and that they meet the requirement of charter schools and should be considered in providing Race to the Top funds to our state.

Summit K-12: Closed 2009

Summit K-12: Closed 2009
An alternative school

Please Note

All of the schools and programs that will be shown on this page were closed or split in 2009 for an alleged total savings of $3M for the year. A drop in the bucket considering the $34M budget shortfall claimed by School Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. Was it worth it? Let us know what you think. Enrollment for the fall of 2009 is 1,200 students more than the district anticipated. With schools closed based on capacity and financial management issues per our superintendent's statements, where will these students be seated?

Meg Diaz, a parent, did a brilliant presentation to the school board in January regarding the school closures, the demographics of Seattle and why it didn't make sense to close the schools.
See: http://sites.google.com/site/seattleschoolsgroup/meg-diaz-analysis

Unfortunately, the school board paid no attention to Ms. Diaz or their own reports and instead chose to believe the numbers presented by the superintendent's CFO, Don Kennedy who previously worked with our superintendent in Charleston, and Brad Bernatek our Broad graduate and Director of REA, Research, Evaluation and Assessment who also handles the demographic data for SPS.

Two schools were closed that, per their own report, would see an increase in school aged children of anywhere between 31%-100% between 2008 and 2012. See page 11 of the DeJong report titled "Seattle Public Schools: Enrollment Projections Report". Those two schools were TT Minor Elementary School and Meany Middle School.

After the closures, Ms. Diaz decided to investigate the administrative cost within the Stanford Center and came up with surprising results. While the superintendet was rifing teaches and staff and closing schools, staff was growing within the Stanford Center and particularly in our superintendent's office where yet another Broad graduate was hired as one of the superintendent's administrative assistants.

Posted on October 6, 2009: The new assignment plan just came out and the proposal is to re-open five school buildings. Between closing five school buildings, shuffling students to different schools and now proposing the re-opening of five buildings within a year's time speaks volumns about the lack of competency of our superintendent and her chosen staff.

We have now wasted money closing five schools, moving students, equipment and materials around just to re-open five school buildings.

The cost of re-opening five of these buildings is as follows:

Sand Point: $7M
Viewlands: $11M
Old Hay: $7.5M
Mc Donald$: $14.9M
Rainier View: $7.4M
Total so far: $47.8

The superintendent, along with the school board, plan to take the next capitol levy money, BEX III, to be voted on in 2010 that was to go to the maintenance and seismic upgrades of our school buildings, which would make them safer, and instead use the money to re-open these previously closed buildings.

The decision to close schools last year and close or relocate programs came down from our superintendent's office quickly and there was little time for debate or understanding of what the ramifications would be. It is my opinion that again, we need to have time to evaluate what cost can wait and how these cost can be phased so that we can not only make our existing buildings safer but also provide adequate space for all of our students.

There is also stimulus money that other school dristricts have been able to acquire to upgrade their school buildings through FEMA grants. These grants, part of a Disaster Mitigation Fund, are being used to make school buildings safer. I had presented this information to the school board and superintendent but no action was taken at the time.

I will provide updates on the effort to once again get SPS to pay attention to this opportunity.

Please send comments or ideas to us or share your opinions below. We want to hear from you. All positive and constructive input is of value.


"I think it high time Congress enact similar mandates for other professions that utilize a single measure to determine success. Dentists should be evaluated on how many teeth they save, doctors should be evaluated on how many patients they save, lawyers should be evaluated on how many cases they win, accountants should be evaluated on much money they save clients, and engineers on how many buildings they've designed get built. Congress should also enact national, comprehensive standards for each profession without any input from members of said professions since we know they can't be trusted to make informed decisions or contribute to the discussion in any meaningful way. Anyone who won't come on board should be fired and labeled a dissident. Conformity and control are a must, so teachers should be thankful they are first in the firing line."

Priscilla Gutierrez, Huffington Post comment

Lowell Elementary

Lowell Elementary
The Lowell APP program was split with half of the students sent to Thurgood Marshall.

Our Declaration

In the current national discussion about education reform, the loudest voices are not necessarily those of the people who are directly affected by what happens in our schools – the students, parents, teachers and school communities themselves.

We are parents with children in public schools. These are our kids, their teachers, our schools. And we would like to be heard.

What’s more, the message coming from the current league of reformers is largely negative, much talk about what’s wrong with our schools, but little discussion of what public schools and teachers are doing right, and what they could do even better if given full support.

Can our public schools be improved? Absolutely. But that begins with fully funding our schools and believing they can work.

We believe they can, when given the chance.

We also believe that too many of the latest proposed education reforms are too punitive and are not changes for the better.

We believe there are valuable aspects of public education worth preserving and supporting, beginning with the very principle itself – free public education for every child in the country. We believe this has always been a noble goal and one that we’re not willing to give up on.

So we have created a
Declaration of Support for Public Schools.

We invite others across the nation who share our vision for public education to sign on to our statement, to send a message to the president, education secretary and school district officials throughout the country.

The message is simple:

Let’s fix what’s broken, but don’t break what isn’t.

And do not impose detrimental changes on our schools and children in the name of “reform.”


Sue Peters, Dora Taylor

Seattle Public Schools parents
May 2010

Monday, May 31, 2010

As shown on the Street March and Rally Facebook page:

June 2, 2010
4:00pm – 6:00pm

Location: 1st Ave S and Edgar Martinez Drive with a march to the John Stanford Center

Seattle parents, teachers, students and community members call on the Seattle School Board:

* Not to renew Superintendent Marie Goodloe Johnson’s contract* Not to award her a pay raise and bonus

* To consider firing her with cause for incompetence.

In our view, Marie Goodloe Johnson has not been acting in the interests of our children, but has been implementing the corporatist education reform agenda of the Broad Foundation, of whose Academy she is a graduate and on whose board she sits.

All sectors of the Seattle Public School community – Spec Ed, native ed, APP, ESL, alternative ed, general ed, low-income and minority groups, teachers – have a long list of complaints regarding the Superintendent, her tenure and her failings.

Those complaints have been expressed, to no apparent avail, at numerous Board meetings, via lawsuits, the media, public surveys and just recently through a no confidence vote by Ballard High School teachers: see here for details: http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/category/dr-goodloe-johnson/

This march and rally on Wednesday, June 2nd, hopes to make an impression on the Seattle School Board members, as they complete their annual evaluation of the Superintendent.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

“Race to Nowhere”, the film and a discussion with the director. Free and in West Seattle!

This is not to be missed.

Friday, June 18th, 2010
West Seattle High School Theater
3000 California Ave, Southwest
Seattle, WA 98116

Check out http://www.racetonowhere.com/

To register for this viewing, go to:
Race to Nowhere, Seattle, WA

No Confidence Motion: "Whereas Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, is an ineffective leader"

I am going to show this per the statement issued to SEA by the staff at Ballard High School on May 26, 2010:

No-confidence motion:

Whereas Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, is an ineffective leader in the following ways:

Her conflict of interest in selling the school district an unproven standardized student assessment plan sold by a private corporation on whose board she sits, and her failure to disclose this conflict of interest to the School Board at the time of the sale.

b) Her mismanagement of human resources in last year’s RIF included unnecessary layoffs, a mock “firing” of all members of our collective bargaining unit, and a retraction by certified mail that cost the school district $18,000.

c) Her contemptuous attitude toward public and staff. For example, at the March meeting of the School Board, she entered the meeting only after public testimony was concluded. For the May meeting to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, she paraphrased a heartwarming but fictitious story about a fictitious teacher and fictitious student. Using this story was at best intellectually dishonest and suggests she knows no stories about Seattle’s teachers.

d) Sneaky accounting practices and diversion of resources to fund pet programs (Appendix 3)

e) Effective resegregation of SPS through redistricting and eliminating busing programs

f) Ineffective management of grants important for sustaining minority programs, particularly Native American programs (Appendix 1)

g) Widespread and growing public dissatisfaction with Seattle Public Schools leadership

h) Attempting to charge PTSAs for donating money (a way to divert donated money to pet projects)

i) Using outside consulting firms (at what cost?) to hire principals. By the way, this fancy firm advertises on Craigslist. http://seattle.craigslist.org/see/edu/1737149149.html

j) Non-transparent links and finances with Broad Foundation. See this link http://saveseattleschools.blogspot.com/search/label/Broad%20Foundation
Vis-à-vis Broad Foundation consultants working in-district.

k) Ineffective communications and an inability to develop consensus among stakeholders led to public relations debacle and messy withdrawal of the initiative to lower graduation GPA requirements

l) Failure of “Southeast Initiative” (Appendix 2)

m) Confused initiative to close schools led to extra expenses to reopen 5

n) An accounting system that can’t provide answers: “About $100,000 in equipment and electronics and as much as $500,000 worth of copper wiring and other assets are missing or were stolen from area schools, according to the State Auditor’s Office. Though district officials dispute the numbers, they’re unable to determine exactly what’s gone or put a precise value on the loss. A year after the copper wiring was stolen, the district says the cost is still “unknown.”

We, the teachers of Ballard High School, move to express our lack of confidence in her ability to move our school district, our teachers, parents, and students forward in a positive and equitable way.

Appendix 1
I attended an Audit and Finance Committee meeting where it had come out that the program manager of the Native American program had overcounted the number of students by a wide margin. (This is for a federal grant which requires a certain form be filled out by each student’s parent or guardian. The district knows – mostly – who is Native American in our district but cannot claim them on the grant without the form being filled out.) This gross error caused the district to have to go back and repay the money to the feds (although I still don’t know how much and if there was any penalty for it).

So what now comes out is that even though the original program manager who made this mistake is gone, the new program manager compounded the error by getting the grant in late. He was trying to send it to the feds….15 minutes before the due date and he had a “computer” problem. So the grant was, of course, denied.

So now the Native American program grant is in the second tier of funding which means if there is any money left over. Think that will happen? I doubt it. The district is kicking in money for the program but only a third of what was funded. So they are getting rid of the two teachers who were helping the students academically.

Now, at the time of the Committee meeting, Michael DeBell seemed very upset and he asked who was accountable. What he was told was that the program manager was gone. HOWEVER, the district didn’t mention at the meeting that there was a new person in place nor was that person in the room. Now why wouldn’t the district bring in the person who is in charge of the program? Probably because it turns out that person had committed the gross error of not getting the grant off in time and district staff KNEW it at the time of the meeting.

There have been a few meetings with parents/community and the district. Apparently at one meeting, there was some tense dialog between one parent and the head of the program, Arlie Neskahi, over whether he had responded to e-mails. The Superintendent was there and yet again, brushed it off as a personality conflict. (See the pattern? She likes to dismiss, on any grounds, parent/community input as too subjective, too personal and basically, not worthy of her time.)

So this past Board meeting, several Native American parents and students came forward to let the Board how upset and concerned that they are. Then, the Superintendent, during her updates, had Dr. Enfield and the head of the program, Arlie N. get up and explain. Did they mention the overcount? No. Did they brush over the late grant? Yup. Did the Board let them off scot-free without even so much as “this is deeply disappointing”? Sure.

Here’s what was said:
Dr. Enfield claimed that the staff shares the “urgency” that the community does. She says the program needs a more comprehensive program for both academics and support. She claims they are now in compliance with the grant requirements. (And note, the grant specifies a parent advisory committee which they hadn’t done for years.) She says they will do a better job getting Native American parents to fill out the form needed for the grant. She talked about the district “improving our internal systems and processes” and that Arlie “has taken the lead on this”. What?!? The same guy who couldn’t do the most important task at his job, namely, getting a grant off on time? This is the guy you trust?

Then Dr. Enfield said something that should give us all a good laugh. “How do we put into place opportunities for community conversations in an ongoing basis so we are engaging in collective problem solving?” That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t Dr. Enfield? Go ask your boss, I’m sure that would get filed right in the circular file next to her desk.

Then she said the most damning thing of all, “I think we want to get to a place where we are not reacting to things that crop up as perhaps a ‘pseudo-crisis’”. More on that in a minute.
Arlie gave some stats on Native American students in our district. There are 850 above the ship canal, 150 located in Central, 1,000 in the SE and 375 in the SW. They have a goal of getting 700 of the needed 506 forms.

When asked about what academic supports will be there for these students now that their teachers are gone, Arlie danced around the question with a lame mumble about tutoring after-school sometimes. Dr. Enfield said that the district has challenging budgets and limited resources. Really? And how is that a comfort to these parents?

I have been communicating with Native American parent and activist, Sarah Sense-Wilson. She and other parents are deeply dismayed with all of this. They have tried to work with the program manager(s) and have largely been held at arm’s length. For example, they tried to set up a presentation by the NW Justice Project for parents and students on their legal rights regarding explusions and suspensions. That got blocked by the district. But then, at the Board meeting, Arlie named that very group as one to work with. According to Sarah, the district has tried to exclude or block community engagement.

Appendix 2

The results of the Southeast Initiative came up in the recent Board discussion of the Cleveland STEM proposal. Director DeBell said that the Southeast Initiative results were disappointing and reflected failure. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson responded both that the Southeast Initiative was, in fact, successful and that three years is far too short a time frame for measuring results.
Both of her statements were false.

Let’s take the second one first, the idea that three years is just too short of a period to look for improvement. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was superintendent when the Southeast Initiative was debated and adopted. She was superintendent when the three-year time frame was set. She was superintendent when the accountability benchmarks were set. In fact, she set them. She has been superintendent for the entire life of the project. Every decision about the Southeast Initiative has been made with her implicit approval if not her explicit approval. She has reported to the Board any number of times on the initiative’s progress, usually with enthusiasm and optimism. Not once in all of this time did Dr. Goodloe-Johnson ever suggested, or even intimated – let alone outright stated – that three years is too short a time period to expect positive results. Only now, as the three year period for the effort comes to a close does she give this disclaimer.
If three years is too short a time for change, then why weren’t the benchmarks simply less ambitious? If three years is too short a time for change, then why wasn’t the project made longer? If three years is too short a time for change, then why didn’t she provide that disclaimer at the beginning and all along? If three years is too short a time for change, then why did she express such optimism in her updates? This excuse simply does not stand up.

Next comes the suggestion that the Southeast Education Initiative was any kind of success.
Let’s remember the purpose of the effort. It was to make Aki Kurose, Rainier Beach, and Cleveland into “schools of choice” for families in the neighborhood. Lately, I have seen some revisionist history at work. Every so often it is suggested that the purpose of the Southeast Initiative is to raise student academic achievement through a combination of strengthened academic offerings and signature programs. That’s simply not true.

Here is the direct quote from the document that gives the Southeast Initiative its charter, the Framework for Revised Student Assignment Plan, approved by the Board on June 20, 2007:
The vision of the initiative is to:• Ensure that local secondary schools are the “schools of choice” for residents of southeast Seattle by providing targeted and sustained resources that will enable each school to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for school transformation.• Schools will include Aki Kurose Middle School, Cleveland High School, and Rainier Beach High School.

Improving the academic outcomes for students at the schools is only part of the means to that end. The accountability measures were to be:
• Enrollment Growth
• % of First Choice
• Increased Academic Achievement
• Student and Teacher Climate Survey Results
• Attendance

The Board’s Audit and Finance Committee got an update on the Southeast Education Initiative at their meeting on December 10, 2009. I don’t have the documents that were presented to them then, but I do have access to relevent data.

Enrollment (as of the October 1 count) at the three schools in the years 2007, 2008, and 2009:
Aki Kurose: 465, 434, 561This represents a significant improvement, but the school is still woefully under-enrolled. Also, further analysis (below) shows that the increased enrollment was not due to choice.

Rainier Beach: 361, 453, 500This represents a significant improvement, but the school is still woefully under-enrolled. Also, further analysis (below) shows that the increased enrollment was not due to choice.

Cleveland: 676, 706, 695This does not represent any improvement at all.

% of First Choice:

Aki Kurose: 33.3%, 26.1%, 19.4%This represents significant decline. We now see that the source of the improved enrollment increase was not at all attributable to first choice assignments. Only 39 students selected Aki Kurose as their school of first choice in 2009.

Rainier Beach: 17.3%, 13.3%, 12.8%This represents significant decline. We now see that the source of the improved enrollment increase was not at all attributable to first choice assignments. Only 15 students selected Rainier Beach as their school of first choice in 2009.

Cleveland: 28.6%, 25.8%, 18.0%This represents significant decline. Only 44 students selected Cleveland as their school of first choice in 2009.


Aki Kurose: 86.3%, 87.1%, 86.8% No improvement.Rainier Beach: 78.1%, 76.4%, 77.5% No improvement.Cleveland: 75.3%, 74.0%, 75.5% No improvement.

Academic Achievement (as measured by 7th and 10th grade WASL pass rates):

Aki Kurose math: 21.8%, 21.9%, 22.5% No improvement.
Aki Kurose reading: 54.9%, 44.7%, 45.8% Decline.
Rainier Beach math: 37.4%, 28.6%, 17.6% Decline.
Rainier Beach reading: 70.0%, 67.9%, 61.5% Decline.
Cleveland math: 17.9%, 12.0%, 21.2% No improvement.
Cleveland reading 62.7%, 61.4%, 64.4% No improvement.

There is simply no objective measure by which the Southeast Initiative can be said to be a success. Any claims of success are patently false.

Appendix 3

The Washington State Auditor’s office released a report yesterday on the district’s compliance with federal grant funding. What pops into my head constantly when this kind of thing appears is “We’re in 2010 and we still have these issues.” We have Moss-Adams report, the CAICEE report and now the State Auditor’s report (again) and yet, it still happens. That it happens this regularly makes you wonder.

From the audit:
In our 2004 and 2007 audits, we notified District management of these requirements, and in our audit of fiscal year 2008 we reported noncompliance with federal procurement requirements. These conditions have not been resolved.

These are grants for Special Education, Native American programs, and others. Some of the issue is that the district is not going out and getting bids or proposals from multiple vendors as is required and don’t have records to support claims of doing so.

From the audit:
Special Education: We examined eight personal service contracts totaling $1,172,328 charged to Special Education grants. The District could not provide documentation to show these contracts were competitively procured. District staff stated they considered the contracts sole source, but did not have documentation to show how the District reached that conclusion.

Indian Education: We examined two personal service contracts totaling $14,603 charged to the Indian Education grant. The District could not provide documentation to show the contracts were competitively procured. District staff stated they considered the contracts sole source, but did not have documentation to show how the District reached that conclusion.

Head Start: We examined four personal service contracts totaling $217,982 charged to the Head Start grant. The District could not provide documentation to show these contracts were competitively procured. District staff stated they considered the contracts sole source, but did not have documentation to show how the District reached that conclusion.

Title I: We examined six personal service contracts totaling $175,998 charged to the Title I grant for private tutoring services. The District could not provide documentation showing these contracts were competitively procured. District staff stated they considered the contracts sole source, but did not have documentation to show how the District reached that conclusion.

Cause of Condition
District staff was unaware of federal requirements related to procurement. The District also did not follow previous audit recommendations.

Effect of Condition
By not complying with federal procurement requirements, the District cannot ensure contracts paid with federal funds are awarded to the lowest responsible bidder. By not retaining appropriate supporting documentation, the District cannot demonstrate other providers were unable to supply the necessary personal services before it selected vendors. Therefore, it is possible other providers were not provided an opportunity to compete for these contracts, which can affect contract price and quality of service.

But again, how many years before the district has a streamlined and efficient method of operating? It almost seems like they got frozen in time at some point and are continually struggling to keep up.

Brief Overview of each Finding
Indian Education Grant – The District claimed 1,123 in its 2008-2009 grant application and received $233,792. In 2007, the U.S. Department of ed found that the district’s number of eligibility forms on file did not match the number of students counted. The district provided 927 eligibility forms but only 377 were valid. There was also a finding that they did not created the parent committee required by the grant, a finding initially discovered in 2007.

Special Education (IDEA)
This is for a Safety Net award. The district received about $460K in 2008-2009 but there were two students who left the district but the district kept the money. The district claimed it thought that OSPI automatically changed the grant amount if a student withdrew from the district.
Title 1The district had one paraprofessional who did not meet the highly qualified requirement. The district did report this to OSPI. (The employee had earned $31,455 during 2008-2009.) The district said it wasn’t aware of the requirement and thought this employee was providing services not related to Title 1. An additional finding was that the district had 73 teachers who did not meeting the highly qualified teacher requirements (but none of them taught Title 1 classes). This one seems like a genuine human error on the district’s part and not a big deal. The odd thing is that the reason it occurred is that a teacher resigned and they put in an IA instead of a teacher.

Education State Grants
These are grants to boost funding from K- college. The district had received a one-time sum of $19.8M in 2009. Of that, $12.5M was spent on salaries and $4.1M on benefits. The district had put in a new payroll system in 2008. Apparently this new system can’t detect overpayments to employees funded by these grants. Because of this, the Auditor was unable to determine how many employees were overpaid so how much was lost here is unknown. They were only able to identify one employee who was overpaid by $40K (and the charge to the grant was $8k). A Special Report will be issued later this year on district’s salary overpayments. (The cause here of the overpayments?

When it switched to the new system, District staff members manually entered employee pay codes into the new system. No one did a review to ensure they were correct. Therefore, the District’s controls were insufficient to detect and correct errors in a timely manner.

Internal Controls in Accounting
This one is pretty troubling.
District staff members did not have adequate knowledge of and experience with prescribed financial reporting requirements. Staff did not use the Accounting Manual for Public School Districts in the State of Washington for guidance and information related to capital asset transactions, and recorded them incorrectly.

In fiscal year 2009, the District processed more than $330 million in payroll. We noted that when District changed its payroll system in 2008, it did not update its internal controls to address the increased risks of error or inappropriate entries related to manual data entry.

Therefore, the District’s controls over this payroll
Financial statement preparation

District management is responsible for ensuring annual financial reports are accurate, complete, and comply with reporting requirements. However, the District relies on our audit to identify errors in the financial statements and notes, rather than dedicating the necessary staff time, training and other resources to ensure annual financial reports are accurate and complete.

Payroll Processing
During the payroll system conversion, District staff members manually entered employee pay codes into the new system. No one reviewed these to ensure individual pay rates were the rates shown in the signed employee contracts.

The effects of this lack of oversight are that buildings were reported as “equipment”. Salaries and benefits for General Fund were reported int he Capital Projects Funds. Capital accounts payable of $1.6M were in the General Fund. The district also overstated its total unreserved,undesignated fund balance.

For Payroll,
At least 150 employees were paid at a higher placement on the pay scale than their contracts supported. Thus far, a total of $335,000 has been identified as overpaid. This is the result of a systemic issue.

The district admits fault in every case but this isn’t the first time for many of these issues that they have been told that they are not in compliance. That the Auditor’s office thinks the district is relying on the state audits to find their mistakes rather than doing it themselves is troubling.

So I had followed up on Dr. Enfield’s e-mail to Charlie and me about the NTN contract. She did answer several questions (but ignored some others). Hence, the follow-up. Now here was my most burning question:

“So there is a signed “agreement” between SPS and NTN but not a contract. This seems quite odd. The Board voted on NTN two Board meetings ago; was that to agree to NTN being the provider of these services but not what specific services? So then the big question: When will there be a signed contract?”

And here is her answer given today:
“Thank you for your comments/questions related to Seattle Public Schools’ contract with NTN. A lawsuit has been filed related to this contract. Given that litigation is pending, we are not able to answer specific questions.

Dr. Susan Enfield”
I doubt that she will be able to stave off anyone seeing the final contract when it is signed. So I’ll let the Board know that. You can’t hide behind a lawsuit in order to not answer questions especially the most basic one: when can we see the signed contract?

See, it goes both ways. If I can’t see the signed contract because of the lawsuit, they don’t get to open the STEM program because their contract is in dispute because of the lawsuit. Posted by Melissa Westbrook at 7:41 PM 13 comments
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
NTN Contract Update
So, just to be clear, we have an answer from the District staff about the differences between the requirements of the NTN Contract and the story that the staff has been telling the Board and the public about STEM.

The differences are real.

The contract requires the District to create two completely separate schools each with their own individual identity, identitification code with the state, facility, staff, principal, and IT administrator. We have been told that the two STEM academies will share an identity, identification code with the state, facility, staff, principal and IT administrator.

The contract strictly limits enrollment of each school to 450 for a total maximum of 900. We have been told that the capacity of STEM is 1,000 students.

The contract requires that all core classes be taught on campus. We have been told that the students can leave the campus for Running Start classes.

When asked about these discrepancies, it took the staff several days to respond. The eventual explanation was that these differences were discussed with NTN, and NTN agreed, in those discussions, to accept the District’s intended performance in deviation from the contract language. This explanation fails to satisfy. It fails for three reasons. First, if there were were negotiations and agreements that differ from the language of the contract, then those terms should have been the ones codified in the contract rather than the ones that were codified. That is, after all, the purpose of a written contract – to codify the results of a negotiation and agreement – not to codify anything else. Second, any such oral agreements outside of the contract would not be enforcable if they contradicted the written agreement. Third, the contract has a clause which specifically says that any discussions or agreements outside of the written language of the contract are void.

Just to be clear and fair. The contract does not require perfect performance from the District. The District is required to make their “best effort”, but Exhibit C provides a better measure of what is acceptable and what is not. Exhibit C provides descriptions of three levels of District achievement: At Risk, Emerging, and Advanced. The District is required – by the contract – to reach at least the Emerging status on all measures. NTN could find the District in breach of contract if it fails. District commits to use its best efforts to attain in all categories at least the status of “emerging” (and with the goal of attaining in all categories the status of “advanced”) in accordance with the School Success Rubric standards attached hereto as Exhibit C.For one of the measures of school culture and autonomy, the Emerging level is “School has a unique identity.” The At Risk version of that effort is “School has failed to develop an identity separate from other institutions.” If STEM continues to be one school, then the District will have failed to achieve Emerging status on this measure. That failure will put the District in breach of contract and would make the contract voidable by NTN. The contract could be terminated: At the non-breaching party’s option, effective immediately, if a party materially breaches, violates or otherwise fails to comply with any of the terms contained in this Agreement and fails to cure such breach within sixty (60) days of receiving written notice of such breach from the non-breaching party;Would a family with a student at STEM have standing in a Court to appeal the Board’s decision to violate the terms of the contract? The law on the appeals is that anyone who is aggreived by a decision (or non-decision) of the Board can appeal. Is having only a 1/1000 share of the principal’s attention instead of a 1/450 share sufficient cause? Is putting the NTN contract at risk sufficient grounds for an appeal?

Should it even come down to a legal appeal in Superior Court? Shouldn’t it be enough that we, as citizens, expect our government bodies to fulfill the letter and spirit of the contracts they sign?
Isn’t it enough that we demand they have the legal acumen not to enter into contracts that they – erroneously – believe are modified by ancillary oral agreements? More than anything, isn’t it enough that not a single member of the Board ever asked a single question about any of these differences between the contract language and the public information about STEM?

In the end, this isn’t about whether or not the District will fulfill the terms of the contract or if NTN will terminate the agreement due to the District failure to fulfill those terms. The critical issue here isn’t the contract at all – it is the obvious failure of the Board to conduct the minimal due diligence of reading the contract they were approving.

You read it here first.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The KOS Kids Are Alright: Visionary Bronx teacher and “at-risk” kids show what they are made of through art

Don’t miss a terrific exhibit at the Frye Art Museum here in Seattle that shows what a dedicated teacher inspired by art can do when he taps the creativity of “at-risk” kids. "Tim Rollins and KOS (Kids of Survival)" closes this Monday, May 31.

For over 25 years, Tim Rollins has been working with emotionally or academically challenged teenage students in the South Bronx, synthesizing literary texts with painting and sculpture. And they have been creating amazing things.

From the Frye’s Web notes:
"In August 1981, Tim Rollins, then twenty-six years old, was recruited by George Gallego, principal of Intermediate School 52 in the South Bronx, to develop a curriculum that incorporated art-making with reading and writing lessons for students classified as academically or emotionally 'at risk.' Rollins told his students on that first day, 'Today we are going to make art, but we are also going to make history.' Asked what he meant by 'making history,' Rollins said:

'To dare to make history when you are young, when you are a minority, when you are working, or nonworking class, when you are voiceless in society, takes courage. Where we came from, just surviving is ‘making history.’ So many others, in the same situations, have not survived, physically, psychologically, spiritually, or socially. We were making our own history. We weren’t going to accept history as something given to us.'"

"Together, Rollins and his students developed a collaborative strategy that combined lessons in reading and writing with the production of works of art. In a process they call “jammin’,” Rollins or one of the students read aloud from the selected text while the other members drew, relating the stories to their own experiences. Their signature style was born as Rollins and K.O.S.—Kids of Survival—began producing works of art directly on the pages of these books, cut out and laid in a grid on canvas."

What I like about this story is how it runs absolutely counter to the recipe the ed reformites and pro-charter types concoct for how to reach struggling kids (often poor kids of color). Far too often the recipe is grill, drill, and test. Longer school days, uniforms and uniformity, discipline, sometimes no recess, all math and writing and little else. Arts, music, languages, P.E. – out the window.

Tim Rollins and KOS offer a great example of how the arts can reach and teach kids in a way that hyper-disciplinary methods cannot.

And the art these kids have created under Rollins’ guidance is profound, provocative, sophisticated and real. They delve into literary texts like "The Invisible Man," "The Scarlet Letter," and "Animal Farm," cutting pages from books and laying them out across the canvas then covering them in a wash or painting directly on them. In one they make a comment on the opacity of Melville’s “Moby Dick,” in another they find a personal connection to Malcolm’s X’s life story. They explore literature, race, self-worth, hypocrisy. This is intelligent, insightful work. Not surprisingly, some has been bought by collectors.

Their work has been included in two of the Whitney Museum’s Biennials and in museums and galleries around the world. This is the group’s first “comprehensive survey” says the notes.

This is what our kids are capable of: Visions, expression, synthesis, transcendence.

It’s so much more than what the standardized classroom offers or what ed reformers are pushing. In fact, the notes on the Frye’s site indicate that this kind of curriculum-busting creativity could not be contained within the confines of the public classroom:

"Frustrated with the strictures of the public school system, Rollins opened the Art and Knowledge Workshop, an after-school program in a community center five blocks from I.S. 52. After teaching, Rollins would meet K.O.S. members at the workshop; homework would be done and art would be made." (Frye Museum notes)

We need to kindle the spirit of kids to inflame their creativity and empower their self-expression and confidence. This is being done in some schools in the Seattle School District. The kids of Nova and Salmon Bay and the APP program, to name just a few, are encouraged to think outside the box, stretch their imaginations, explore beyond the confines of curricular mandates. All kids should be encouraged and allowed to do this.

And we need art, which, like music offers kids a medium to express themselves when sometimes there are no words, or the emotions run too deep.

And yet test scores are the one thing ed reformers cite again and again as their measure of “success.” There is never any talk of who these test-taking kids really are, if they think for themselves, if they value themselves.

So what if you can train kids to answer questions on a mass-produced standardized test created by some commercial test-making vendor? What are you really teaching them? What do these scores really tell us about the child? Very little, if anything.

We need to ask of all kids: “What is your potential? Where might it lead? What visions do you have? Try to realize them. Let’s explore them. Who are you? What do you think? What do you see? Show me.”

Instead of telling them: “This is what you must know, how you must know it, and there is only one right answer and way to get there; fill out the bubble on this Scantron sheet and shut up.”

“Tim Rollins and KOS” runs through May 31 at the Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave, Seattle, 98104. Tues, Weds, Fri, Sat 10 -5; Thurs 10-8, Sun 12-5, closed Mon. Free. http://fryemuseum.org/exhibition/3315/ Don’t miss it!


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Scathing Surveys" & Talking Points Vie for Truth about the Supe

Nina Shapiro at the Seattle Weekly has now weighed in on both the CPPS and the other survey: "Schools Chief Maria Goodloe-Johnson Heads into Board Evaluation on the Heels of Scathing Surveys"

Note the Seattle Public Schools/Alliance for Ed/Seattle Times talking point of the CPPS survey being "nonscientific" because it wasn't conducted by a marketing firm -- unlike, I suppose, the politically motivated push poll conducted by Strategies 360/DMA Marketing for the Alliance for Education and its contrived "Our Schools Coalition" with illicitly obtained private phone numbers of SPS students.

Also of note: The superintendent's evaluation and possible pay raise and contract extension will be announced June 16.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dr. Goodloe Johnson and Our Performance Management Policy

Recently the Performance Management Policy was approved by our school board. The one school district that was chosen by SPS staff to look at as a model was the Oakland Public School district.

One would ask why Oakland? There are fifty states worth of school districts to look at as a source of information.

Well, let's take a look.

A parent spoke in front of the school board about the Oakland school district when the board was deciding whether to approve the Performance Management policy. She spoke ardently about how that school district had failed under their policy.

In a post that I had come across last year, I heard the same from Craig Gordon, a teacher in the Oakland public school system:

"I teach in Oakland, CA, a "Broad District" big time. We were taken over by the state in 2003, ostensibly due to fiscal mismanagement and the need for a state line of credit to bail the district out. Since then a string of three state administrators have been sent in, all three graduates of the Broad Center for Management of School Systems. In addition to more than doubling the district's debt to well over $100 million, the Broadies have aggressively cut site budgets, attacked district unions, multiplied the number of charters, and instituted a market-based model to make each school site run like a private business.

Far from improving the quality of education here, the state administration has played the game of closing "underperforming" schools, opening new ones (often charters) with inadequate resources. Teacher turnover is at an all time high. While Oakland is likely to get local control back in a few months, most of the school board has become thoroughly indoctrinated in the Broad ideology of privatizing public schools."

Craig Gordon
High school social studies teacher
Oakland, CA

And from a newly elected school board member after this series of fiasco's, Oakland Takes Back Its' Schools :

"The Oakland School Board has regained control of its schools for the first time in six years. What will the changeover of power mean for the young people who attend Oakland public schools?

On a basic civics lesson level, you are looking at a citizenry that elected representatives, and for six years those representatives weren’t able to set policy or govern. There are a lot of aspiring politicians and activists who looked at this position and said, what’s the point of being a school board member? You can advise and be influential in some ways, but you don’t have real power. Now that we have local control, I feel I can really affect change. I can go in and investigate schools and examine reforms in a new way."

"How did the state takeover of the school board impact the local community in Oakland?

All these education reforms were happening, like small schools and charter schools, and yet the elected officials couldn’t respond to their constituency in any way. It was a complete outsider making decisions for our community."

So what are we doing looking at a failed policy to base our Performance Management policy on?

Would it have anything to do with the fact that our superintendent is a Broad graduate?

That the Broad has their finger in just about every pie here in Seattle at this time?

I'll let you draw your own conclusions.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Race to the Top: More of the Same But Worse

It Started With a Question

I participated in the PERY Conference last weekend at Nova which included a showing of The War on Kids. After lunch we broke into smaller discussion groups to discuss the rights and roles of youth and the direction that we should take in terms of education and schools. I chose to sit in on the discussion regarding the future of our schools.

I chose this subject because that is the question that’s been on my mind since last year when a parent, after reading our blog, stated that we were critical of the ed reform movement but had nothing to put in its’ place.

At the time I responded with the piece entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” and stated basically that first schools need to be adequately funded and secondly that we could look towards alternative education schools in Seattle and the successful programs that have developed within those laboratories of education as a starting point.

So, I went into this group hoping to find more answers to that question.

I sat and listened while students, parents and teachers were talking. I let my mind wander and started to consider the question of what kind of world are these students stepping into? It certainly would be far different from the one that I had entered as a high school graduate on the road to college and a career as, I thought at the time, a psychologist.

I started to think about the differences in those two worlds, my world as a high school graduate in 1970 and the one that our high school students are in today.

Even though we traveled a lot as a family when I was growing up, my world for the most part included my school and neighborhood and even though we lived in Los Angeles, my social and physical spheres were small. We had television and radio but there was no CNN or internet. We had the LA Times, Look and Life magazines to keep us “up to date” on what was going on. The term “diversity” was not in our vocabulary or words like “environmental” or “cutting edge”. Relative to now, our knowledge of the world was limited and yet my daughter goes to school in the same type of school system as I did forty years ago. As the world has changed, we still think that the model that was developed to answer the needs of educating the youth of the industrial age somehow sufficiently responds to the demands and expectations that will be placed on our children, as if time has stood still.

Well, time has not stood still but our educational system has. And ed reform as we know it now is just more of the same old approach but worse. Now instead of educational factories, we have more efficient, state of the art educational factories thanks to computers. There is enough data now on each student thanks to tests such as the MAP test that teachers can receive up to 90 pages of information on each student in terms of their knowledge, skill sets and where they should go from that point in time providing the teacher with predetermined lesson plans all with the click of a mouse.

Like I said, more of the same, but worse.

Now, let’s take a look at the world that our students will be stepping into in 2010.

Our world today is global. We can communicate with anyone anywhere in the world at any time. There are no longer any boundaries. My daughter is just as likely to work in another country as she is to work in the United States. Our world is far more fluid and connected than the one that I grew up in. Information flows from one subject to another and from one person to another. We have to almost instantaneously connect the dots to stay on top of information as it comes to us and then synthesize it so that we can then communicate to others.

This is not a world where you just fill in the dots in response to a one sentence question. This is a world with layers of information that need to be sifted through quickly, synthesized and then responded to intelligently.

So what tools do students need to face this new world? Because they will be crossing borders on many different levels they will need to have flexibility and the tools in place to receive information, synthesize it, make determinations and then decisions.

They will need to be creative with their solutions and they will have to be able to think on their feet. No one will be there to tell them what to say or do. There will be more than one answer to a question and 50 different solutions to a problem. They will need to be able to sift through those possible solutions to figure out the best one for that particular situation and all this will need to be done quickly.

They will also need to have the confidence to know that there are different answers to a question and that, because they have done it many times before, will be able to devise the correct response to that particular challenge or situation.

Now, how exactly does the educational system that we have in place today prepare our children in public school to meet these demands? By teaching them that there is only one answer to any particular question? By implying that questioning that answer is not part of the lesson plan for that day? By only looking at the provided material without making connections to other life experiences or areas of knowledge? By not having any time to explore options and areas of interest that might spark a child’s imagination? By not allowing a child to think for themselves or go at their own pace?

We have put a very inflexible system into place with RTTT. Four exams a year here in Seattle, a curriculum that is the same in all classes in all schools, “Coaches” to ensure that all teachers teach the same material from the same books and the threat of firing a teacher if they do not have all of their students “performing” at a certain level based on test scores. (1984 anyone?)

But our world, the one outside of this alternate reality that we call public education, is completely different and we as adults know that..

We know that we are all constantly challenged everyday with information coming at us at a fast pace and we are expected to respond on our own. There is no one there to tell us the “right” answer. There are jobs that do not demand the intellectual challenge that I have described but those are not the jobs that will be available. Factories are closing and there are only so many service jobs available. This is our brave new world and our children are ill equipped to face it if we follow the model of more of the same but worse.

Creative thinking, synthesis of information, flexibility, being able to adjust to different cultures and ways of thinking, these are the skills that our students will need to succeed.

Based on my own experience I can say that my education in architecture prepared me for the real world in the sense where you learn how to think, how to synthesize and come up with a conclusion or solution. Other areas are the same, scientific research, engineering, mathematics, medical diagnosis, product design, to name a few. You learn the process of evaluation, bringing in other knowledge, synthesizing what you have, communicating with others your thoughts and ideas and then providing solutions.

And during my education in architecture, there were no multiple choice tests. Even the solutions in my math and science laden course of structures could come from many different directions. There was more than one way to solve a problem in structures.

We need the sort of courses that encourage and provoke thought and challenge students to solve problems from many different directions with a wide range of knowledge. Being successful with this, our children will go out into the world with confidence that they need to face any challenge and succeed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s Evaluation, The People Have Spoken

A local parent group put together a survey and just sent results to our school board members. It was enlightening and seems to reflect what I and others have been feeling and expressing.

My favorite part were the comments. There were many so I am just going to select about one quarter of them to post.

Does not reflect the values of our community. Makes no attempt to understand our individual communities. Regularly undermines the strong parts of our system to help mask the weaker components. That might almost make sense if it truly helped the kids who struggle, but in practice it hasonly allowed her to decrease the resources that are devoted to our most vulnerable kids.

X for All (Our supe’s motto, “Excellence for All”) is applied to mean whatever is convenient. Imposes ‘data based’ decision making on schools when they have little meaningful data to work w\ (WASL not designed to be used that way, sample sizes for subgrps too small)not at District level where much data is possible. Audits are cherry picked,results applied to suit her goals, not to follow best practices.

As a teacher, I’ve been distressed every time I see her talk — she seems to have no clue as to what is going on in the schools.

Dr GJ is dismissive and contemptuous of parents’ and community input. Her vision for SPS is piecemeal and unclear. Her execution has been extremely incompetent, as evident by the closing of 5 schools in one year and reopening 5 schools the very next year at great expense; her office seems incapable of getting information to the Board timely enough for informed votes. Her quote that a competent teacher can differentiate math instructions to 28-32 students shows that she has no experience in teaching.

She seems to dwell in the shadows, hear very little from her, she rarely speaks to parents at meetings, and everything seems carefully orchestrated.

As a new parent to Seattle schools, I am less than impressed. She doesn’t reach out to parents.
My child, a special ed student, is not being educated to his highest potential, nor is he having his many needs met, under the current superintendent’s reign. The superintendent should be deeply ashamed about how special education students are being “handled” in this district. The superintendent is a disgrace to our children, and to Seattle.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson seems more intent on forcing high-stakes testing and merit pay than on finding what really improves student learning.

When Dr. Goodloe-Johnson arrived, district administration was not in good shape, but many schools were functioning quite well under benign neglect. If she had decided to not mess with success and put her attention on specific schools and areas that were hurting, I’d have been happy. Her actions seem aMachiavellian power grab, mucking with successful schools (e.g. a hurried attempt to move Thornton Creek) and speaking all the right buzzwords and platitudes. She’s smart, but I don’t trust her.

When her contract ends, send her packing. She has been an unmitigated disaster.
She disregards community input and professional studies. She wastes resources of the district. She is repeatedly dishonest and unapologetic. She doesn’t appear to care about kids. Not SpEd, Bilingual, highly capable, low SES or even typical children.

She is re-segregating the district.

Teachers fear personal retaliation for speaking up for students’ needs. She has no commitment to Seattle. This job appears to be a professional stepping stone, yet her actions here will have lasting repercussions.

At a community meeting I attended she dismissed parent input (about discovery math) and immediately afterward fawned over a student comment on the same topic. I am especially concerned that school-specificprograms will not be continued in future.

Supt. Goodloe-Johnson is autocratic, condescending, and dismissive of parent and community input into SPS decision-making. Decisions get handed down in a summary fashion, often without notice that decisions are going to be made — and then opposition from the public is dismissed with contemptuous comments, without any recognition of the stake we all have in our public schools. It is time for her to go.

She fails on all of the criteria central to her evaluation by the Board.

Terrible at communication, especially with parents. Goals are not well-defined.
She lied to parents at TT Minor about not closing the school.

In focusing mainly on bringing up the lower-performing schools and students, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is going to succeed in equalizing the system by bringing down the higher-performing schools and students. She seems to have a hidden agenda of dismantling the alternative schools but is not putting this out as a goal for the public to see and fight against.1) The lack of a real transition plan has been immensely frustrating. Siblings should have been guaranteed a spot at the school the older sibling attended. 2) She closed schools then opened schools. Should have been open with the public to begin w/ that they just wanted to close bad schools. That Icould swallow but opening schools with FEW students in a bldg when we have a budget crisis=bad idea!3) she needs to do a better job proactively communicating w/ families.Dump her and anybody with her mindset. The sooner the better.I don’t get the impression at all that families are heard by the district. Between math issues, the new SAP, and the general attitude toward any sort of program that even remotely falls outside a standardized test norm, engagement seems poor. I’m not also not thrilled with how they want to evaluate teachers.

How about equip teachers with the tools they need (smaller classes, more help IN THE SCHOOLS with REAL professionals targeting struggling kids, not “teaching coaches” in central office.)

Supt. G-J has been a disaster for Seattle. She has made very ethically and fiscally questionable decisions, many by fiat. She clearly has nothing but disdain for parents & teachers of SPS, & she spends money erratically. Why does she find $4.3M for burdensome MAP tests, but no $ to pay for elem. counselors or librarians? How can she work for SPS AND remain on the boards of the co. (NWEA) that sells MAP to SPS, & L.A. billionaire Eli Broad’s pro-charter foundation? Who is she really working for?

Strategy? I don’t see any strategy, just reaction. Ignores community input completely. No evidence schools have improved. Staff hates her, principal churn is unacceptable.

#5. No way. Fire her.

I believe her principal concern is to close schools and implement the School Assignment Plan. Her priorities should have been to (A) inspire confidence to draw parents back into the system (B) to achieve better socioeconomic integration within schools (C) to close schools fairly, avoiding disproportionate impacts on the south end.

This is just a sampling. Looking back on the time that I have been in Seattle and gotten to know our supe, I would say that she came here with an agenda that had nothing to do with our city or our communities. It was not an agenda developed from listening to the neighborhoods and finding out really anything about our town, It all had to do with doing the bidding of the Broad. That has become painfully obvious not only to me but to many others.

She really does need to go. She has been of no value to our children or our community.


Can Seattle’s Schools Afford Many More Years of Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson?

Seattle’s school superintendent is due for her annual review in early June.

Here is an attempt to outline her accomplishments and leadership while in Seattle so far, drawn from input from various parents, teachers and bloggers in the community. I invite readers to add or amend this list.

First, a bit of history:


Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson came to us from the school district of Charleston, South Carolina, in 2007, where she had been superintendent. Before that, she spent time in various education administration positions in Colorado and Texas , and her home state of Nebraska , where she also once taught.

After just one year in Seattle (2007-08), the Seattle School Board awarded the superintendent a 10 percent pay raise. This brought her $248,000 salary up to $264,000. The superintendent makes more than the mayor of Seattle ($150,000), the state superintendent of public instruction, or even the governor of Washington ($163,618). (See: “School chief gets big 10% raise – Her $264,000 salary is more than even the governor’s” and “Seattle schools chief awarded 10% pay raise”)

The district also gives her a $20,000 annual retirement contribution and a $700/month car allowance. Some of us wondered if it was prudent to increase an already generous salary before any measurable work had actually been done. She had presented her “Strategic Plan for Excellence,” but nothing had been implemented yet. Apparently the board also failed to follow its own rules that allow public input into such decisions, as longtime public school activists and watchdogs Chris Jackins and Charlie Mas have pointed out. So there were no voices of the public or dissent permitted at this meeting where the school board voted 7-0 to raise the superintendent’s salary and extend her contract a year (to 2011). This seemed a premature and expensive vote of blind confidence to many of us.


The superintendent’s second year in Seattle was marked by the contentious turmoil of her “Capacity Management Plan,” which resulted in controversial school closures, co-housing of potentially incompatible schools, the splitting apart of the district’s highly gifted program, questionable cost savings, the laying off of 172 teachers and educators, a protest rally of parents, teachers and students, a petition opposing the closures that garnered over 1,700 signatures across the district, and growing dissent against the superintendent’s plans and methods.

Her evaluation was overseen by Tom Payzant, who is affiliated with the Broad Foundation, the venture philanthropy enterprise of L.A. billionaire Eli Broad which strongly supports the privatization of public schools via charters and has been quietly involving itself in the operation of Seattle Public School District, unbeknownst to most parents. As has been mentioned many times here and elsewhere, Supt. Goodloe- Johnson is a graduate of the Broad Foundation’s “Superintendent’s Academy” and currently remains on Broad’s board of directors, which many of us still consider a conflict of interest.

For the Seattle School District to allow someone not from our district and who is also affiliated with the Broad Foundation to be involved in this Broad-graduate superintendent’s evaluation struck many of us as highly questionable and not likely to be objective. Many also felt it would be inappropriate for the board to award the superintendent yet another pay raise in less than two years when the district claimed to be in severe budget crisis and had laid off teachers, closed schools and asked our children to make do with less. The superintendent was not awarded a raise, and her review criticized her lack of communication and interpersonal skills and failure to engage with the parents and community of SPS. (See: “School Board to Give Mixed Review to Supe”) However, later in the year, she was awarded a controversial “merit” based bonus of $5,280 for meeting only 4 out of 20 performance goals (see below).


A major focus of this year has been the results of the closures and splits, and the development of the new student assignment plan (SAP). There is also a focus on the teachers’ contract which is being renegotiated. Some time in the last year, the board extended Goodloe-Johnson’s contract again, to 2012. It is not clear that any community input was sought in this decision.

Here is an attempt at an overview of Supt. Goodloe-Johnson’s tenure in Seattle . Though I am trying to list positive accomplishments, I am coming up short.

On Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson’s watch, there have been the following positive or promising accomplishments & developments:

The new student assignment plan, which assigns students to their local schools, potentially encourages the valid concept of neighborhood schools. But this may be overshadowed by various negative impacts of the plan — such as overcrowding in some schools, under-enrollment in others, resegregation, and attrition from the district to private schools as a direct result of the SAP, and the fact that not all Seattle schools are equal, so the assignments will necessarily be unequal.

There have also been the following questionable or negative accomplishments & developments:

Overall, these past two years have been the most chaotic and disruptive in recent SPS memory. Many feel this chaos was unnecessary and destructive. There have also been a number of appeals and lawsuits filed in response to district actions, an entire new school building suddenly closed because it was emitting toxic fumes and making children and teachers sick, irrational layoffs and then rehires of teachers, a constant churn of principal assignments, and a new student assignment plan that is overfilling some schools and leaving others half-empty, and sending some public school families to seek more a predictable and positive environment for their schoolchildren in private schools.

The superintendent has failed to create genuine community engagement with the parents.

She closed schools over community protest at a time when enrollment was increasing.

She closed, merged, split and moved schools without allowing all affected parties a public hearing. (This has resulted in legal appeals against the district that are still pending.)

She closed, merged and moved schools before the new student assignment plan was established, which was widely considered an illogical and potentially wasteful sequence of events. The district’s recently released enrollment numbers for the 2010 school year are bearing this out.

She announced her “Capacity Management (school closures) Plan” during the busy and narrow window between the Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas/winter break, thus preventing full community response and participation in the deliberation process. (This was widely viewed among parents as a dishonest effort at “community engagement.”)

The school closures disproportionately uprooted, evicted or affected underprivileged children, kids of color or kids with special needs. The closures of the African American Academy, T.T. Minor and Cooper Elementary, in particular disenfranchised the district’s African American school community. This resulted in a discrimination legal action against the district supported by the NAACP.

She failed to heed demographic trends that showed a need for more schools. Thus, she closed schools to allegedly save $3.5 million a year, only to announce eight months later that the district needed to reopen five schools at a cost of $48 million.

Closures have resulted in severe capacity problems in parts of town like West Seattle where schools are overcrowded, while the reopening schools in the north end of town are failing to attract many families, making these costly to run.

In the closures, some schools (like Nova High School and Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center) were evicted from their buildings (Horace Mann and Old Hay) supposedly in part for safety reasons, only to be moved to a building which is fact less safe (Meany Middle School) and inappropriate for high schoolers.

The superintendent promised “equity” between the split Accelerated Progress Program schools, but that has not happened. Enrollment numbers, resources and cohesion are not equal between the four elementary and middle school locations.

She gave layoff notices to 172 teachers and educators on Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2009), despite growing enrollment. (All but 30 or so were eventually hired back, leaving many to wonder why the RIFs were imposed in the first place.) (See: “Rotten Apples: Some Seattle teachers who maybe expected a nice gift during Teacher Appreciation Week got something else instead: pink slips.”)

She sent an illegal letter to the district’s 3,000 teachers unilaterally canceling their contract, bypassing regular negotiation rules and practices. This was sent via Certified Mail at an estimated cost of $15,000 to the district.

She laid off 25 more teachers in 2010, thus failing to insulate teachers and classrooms from deleterious budget cuts.

She proposed lowering the high school graduation grade average from a C average to a D average, over wide community opposition.

She commissioned audits of various programs and elements of the district, only to disregard the recommendations of the audits.

She ignored the recommendations of the APP review that she commissioned, and split the program twice in ill-advised ways.

She punished two SPS teachers for following the wishes of their Special Ed students’ parents. Once publicized, she and the district rescinded the punishment.

She imposed a new student assignment plan that appears to be resulting in overcrowding in some parts of the district (West Seattle), severe under-enrollment in other parts (McDonald, Sand Point, Queen Anne Elementary), and without ensuring that all schools are equally “quality” schools, as promised, and appears to be resegregating the schools.

Recommended a flawed and controversial math textbook (Discovering series), ignoring hundreds of community letters and testimony opposing it.

This decision was appealed by a group of parents, teachers and UW Professor Cliff Mass. The school district lost in King County Superior Court and was directed by the judge to reconsider the decision after finding the district had excluded evidence submitted by the public and deemed its selection of the math textbook “arbitrary and capricious.”

The superintendent refused to comply with the judge and instead appealed the judge’s order, which will incur more costs for the district.

She offered a language arts curriculum alignment survey that was poorly advertised and was accessible for only a short period. Again, this was viewed by the community as a disingenuous effort at “engagement.”

She joined the board of the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a vendor that sells its trademarked MAP assessment tests to the district, thus compromising her own ability to objectively analyze the educational and fiscal value of the MAP product.

She oversaw the purchase of a costly $4.3 million subscription for the MAP tests, which are being administered to children as young as five years old three times a year, and proving to be time- and resource-consuming, and whose value is still not certain. The MAP test is in addition to the MSP (WASL replacement) test for older students, directing even more time and resources to testing than has been deemed necessary in the past.

She promoted the creation of STEM at Cleveland High School with little community buy-in and at a cost of $800,000 for a program from an outside vendor (New Tech Network) which has a mixed record of success. This may be challenged in court.

She raised the threshold for Title I funding eligibility, causing some schools (such as Thurgood Marshall Elementary) to lose vital funding for underprivileged students.

“She oversaw the botched rollout of special education overhaul (Integrated Comprehensive Services delivery model) that: 1) ignores the recommendations in the external peer review audit; 2) fails to provide training and resources to buildings to support special needs children in the general education setting; 3) has demoralized highly qualified special educators who work with children in inclusive settings and 4) fails to provide a true continuum of placements as required by federal law. The district’s actions have created an environment where children that need extra support are now destined to fail, experience misdirected discipline, and potentially regress or suffer emotional damage.” – SPS Special Ed parent

Canceled transportation for some schools (like TOPS) which parents are concerned will negatively affect the demographics and diversity of the student population.

Laid off elementary counselors and cutback full-time librarians, over vocal opposition from parents and teachers who consider these two roles very important.

Presides over a central office that is significantly larger than any similar district in the state. A state audit and report by parent/analyst Meg Diaz found the central office to be significantly bloated. Yet, she has requested even more central staff, including more “Broad Residents” from the Broad Foundation, which cost $90,000 each.

On her watch, the new building for the New School at South Shore opened last September and was constructed in only 17 months at a cost of $69 million, only to be closed mid-year as the result of mysterious noxious fumes that made children and teachers ill with respiratory and other illnesses. Apparently one teacher was hospitalized. As a preschool-8th grade school, very young children were exposed to these fumes, which is very troubling. While superintendent appropriately closed the building for the rest of the year in April, some have questioned why she didn’t order it closed sooner, considering that problems were reported as far back as January (and especially considering the superintendent’s own daughter attends the preschool). At the time of writing, it remains unknown what caused the fumes, but if it was a rushed project or if the closure was too slow, both are the responsibility of the superintendent and something obviously went terribly wrong.

She established and then canceled the Southeast Initiative, an attempt to strengthen schools in the south end of town which apparently was not successful.

She met only 4 out of 20 performance goals — and yet received a “merit”-based $5,280 bonus from the school board in 2009, over parent opposition and even that of the usually uncritical Seattle Times (“Seattle Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson: Tis not the season for a bonus”) (Also see: “School Board Proposes Yet More Money for Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson”)

She failed to deliver the quarterly report on the Strategic Plan to the City Council’s education committee on time in the spring of 2009.

She bumbled the reopening of Jane Addams K-8, which failed to attract more families than the school she had closed that had been there before, Summit .

She fumbled the rearranging of bell-times and bus routes, leaving parents in confusion and prompting many to write letters of protest.

She made the unhealthy decision to save money by discontinuing on-site freshly made lunches for middle and high school kids.

She moved or replaced nearly a third of the district’s principals in less than year, in an unprecedented amount of upheaval, most often without allowing any community input. This has further disenfranchised parents and school communities.

Here’s the list:

Principal shuffles on Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s watch 2009-10:

May 2009: Roy Merca from Summit (closed) to AS1, Ernie Severs from AS1 to Sanislo, Debbie Nelson from Sanislo to Jane Addams, Chris Carter from African American Academy (closed) to Jane Addams to Hamilton Middle School, Dewanda Cook-Weaver from Lowell to McGilvra Elem. to ??, Jo Shapiro from McGilvra Elem. to assistant principal at Hamilton Middle School, Wayne Floyd from John Stanford Center central office to Loyal Heights, Cashel Toner from Loyal Heights to Leschi Elem., Jo Lute-Ervin from Leschi to TOPS, Linda Robinson from Bryant to Whittier, Cothron McMillian from Whittier to Brighton, Ed Noh from Lawton to Hawaii?; Beverly Raines from Brighton Elem. to Lawton Elem. to retirement?, Gregory King from TT Minor (closed) to Lowell, Julie Briedenbach from Lowell Elem. to Thurgood Marshall Elem., Winifred Todd from Thurgood Marshall to Dunlap, Greg Imel from Dunlap to Bailey Gatzert, Norma Zavala from Bailey Gatzert to Concord, Sandra Scott from Concord to Hawthorne, Stacey McCrath-Smith was moved from Meany.

July 2009: Jill Hudson to Nathan Hale High School , Henterson Carlisle assigned interim principal of Madison Middle School .

Jan 2010: Kaaren Andrews from Madrona K-8 to the Interagency School, Cheryl Grinager from Green Lake Elementary to McDonald Elem. (to be reopened), David Elliott from Coe Elem to Old Hay (to be reopened)Dan Warren from John Hay to Sand Point (to be reopened).

Feb/March 2010: DeWanda Cook-Weaver from McGilvra, Beverly Raines from Lawton . May 2010: Oksana Britsova to the Center School, Karen Hanson to John Hay Elem., Farah Thaxton to Madrona K-8, Mary Lane to McGilvra Elem. Joanne Bowers from North Beach Elementary to Green Lake Elementary. (Of these, I believe only one replaced a retiring principal, Clara Scott from TOPS, and one who went on leave on her own accord, Katie Cryan Learie from Hamilton, and then two who may have been forced out: D. Cook-Weaver and B. Raines. As of May 14, 2010, Coe Elementary and Lawton Elementary remain without principal assignments for the new school year.)

Sources: Seattle Times, Seattle Public Schools , and Seattle Public Schools Community Blog,




The district slogan under this superintendent has been “Excellence for All. Every student achieving, everyone accountable.”

Has this superintendent lived up to her own motto?

Above is a fairly significant list of grievances that the Seattle public schools community has with the superintendent, leaving some to ask: “Where’s the excellence?”

And can we afford many more years of this?

- sp.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Post on Arne Duncan's Facebook Page

Someone discovered Arne Duncan’s Facebook page today and jumped right into it. I was invited to join in and wrote several posts. This was one of them:

Our students in Seattle get tested four times a year starting in kindergarten, which is completely absurd, and continue through 9th grade. It started this year and teachers as well as students are exhausted by the change in schedule and routine each time this happens. It takes a week for all of the classes to take the test, usually in a library which means other students cannot use the library during that time because that’s where the computers are and there is a disruption in everyone’s daily routine. And most of us as parents know how important routine is to children.

I teach enrichment classes after school in architecture and after a week of testing, the students come to me tired and dispirited.

I don’t know who the genius was who thought this was a good idea but that person was obviously not a teacher or a parent.

In terms of the “Race to the Top” part, it’s a scam. Arne only has $5B to work with which is a drop in the bucket when compared to the total cost of public education in this country. So what does he do? He makes it a competition. This way all of the states feel pressured to try for the money, otherwise they think that their constituents would think that they don’t care about education. The problem is that most folks don’t understand the ramifications of this agenda in terms of their own communities and families and how the changes might affect them.
States have to agree to have charter schools, an unproven model of education, institute merit pay, an idea with no merit, and either close 5% of the “lowest performing schools” or fire half of the teachers or the principal, (what kind of choice is that?). These schools are generally at the bottom due to poverty and changing out teachers or closing the school is certainly not the answer to that socioeconomic problem.

With this agreement in place, the states are already doing what Arne wants them to do. Whether they get the money or not will be the million dollar question. Either way, the states are stuck with the commitment because it has to be enacted into law and each state will have to go through with it whether they are funded or not and some of these changes will be costly. Just think about merit pay, for instance, which means basically bonuses to teachers. How do you hand out bonuses when most states can’t even pay the teachers that they have now and are laying off valuable staff?

The whole thing is a scam to make our public educational system turn itself into a privatized conglomerate.

Lowest Paying College Degrees

I saw this comment on Arne Duncan’s Facebook page and wanted to share it with you. It’s simple and to the point.

“Yahoo Hot Jobs has compiled a list of the worst-paying college degrees. Here are the lowest-paying college degrees, in reverse order:

10. Drama 9. Fine Arts 8. Hospitality and Tourism 7. Education 6. Horticulture 5. Spanish 4. Music 3. Theology 2. Elementary Education 1. Social work
Info came from Clark Howard’s site…With all of these fields, it’s important to note that people do them out of love and not because they want to get rich. Remember, being rich comes in all different forms and flavors; it’s not just about the money. In fact, some would argue that somebody who does one of these professions and loves to go to work every day is richer than somebody who hates their job and just goes everyday to collect a hefty paycheck. Of course, other people won’t see it this way!

If they continue to demoralize teachers, there will be no reason to enter the teaching field…no love, no money, no teachers!”

Taking It A Step Further

After posting on another website what I wrote below, I began to think about what I had written and decided to take it a step further. To follow is my post in response to a statement made about a school losing its’ entire staff due to low performance on test scores:

Firing the entire staff of a school is no solution. Anyone who thinks that it is doesn’t understand how children are a reflection of their socioeconomic environment. Add to the mix an overcrowded classroom, possible learning disabilities that have not been discovered, situations at home that might cause emotional instability, and one heroic teacher who is doing their best to teach what they can.

The teachers who decide to work at these lower performing schools do it because they feel that they can make a difference. To fire them is the most absurd and wasteful action that one can take. If they can, these highly motivated and dedicated teachers will leave the public school system and not look back. Not as long as this destructive policy is in place.

The next step that the reformers want to take is to hire Teach for America recruits who are fresh out of college and ready to do a two year stint in these schools. You can pay them less and they won’t be joining the union. The worst aspect of this is twofold. First, these recruits usually have no background in teaching or education and secondly, they’re not in it for the long haul.

Most of them will leave after their two year contract is up and go do whatever it is that they had planned to do with a bit more on their resume. This creates churn in a school and instability for the students. If you know children at all you know that they function best in a stable environment. Many students develop a trusting relationship with their teachers who become informal advisers or mentors for these students and develop relationships that last through the course of the student’s career in that school. With TFA recruits, none of that can happen.

This is what the ed reformers want, basically test factories where our children are taught to memorize, not to challenge or think critically and the brunt of all of this is on the lower, working and middle classes who can’t afford private school.

Those students who can attend private schools have the opportunity to develop an understanding of a subject beyond an answer on a test. They are challenged to go farther, synthesize information and develop critical thinking skills, something that students who are constantly coached to answer simple test questions would not have the opportunity to do.

In public school you have overcrowded conditions and a teacher who is to get his or her students to pass a test or be fired. What do you think that teacher is going to do? That teacher is going to focus on the test. It’s a narrow focus but that’s all someone can do if they want to keep their jobs in this brave new world of education reform.

Taking this a step further, I see two distinct groups of individuals coming out of our schools. The students who attend a private school or are homeschooled where skills are developed in terms of thinking, creativity and reasoning and students coming through public schools where there is little opportunity for that sort of development to occur.

Then, you have a group of people who become the leaders, the artists, the brilliant diagnostician and scientists, the architects and visionary engineers coming out of private school that foster reflective and critical thinking. The other group that graduates from these brave new world public schools becomes the workers, the individuals who won’t question but will just do.

I understand that we need people with different interests and skills for a society to survive and flourish but to have this pre-determined and so clearly demarcated by where you are educated is not what our country is supposed to be about. Our public schools were established so that all children would have equal footing and have the opportunity to succeed. Our public schools, if this Race to the Top/NCLB continues, will simply become test taking factories that produce individuals who have become very good at taking a multiple choice test and not much more.

Another post on Arne Duncan's Facebook page

There is much that was not considered in this grand scheme referred to as Race to the Top. Below is another post worth consideration:

“Mr. Duncan, your ill-conceived Race to the Top will leave tire tracks on the back of disabled children. My daughter won’t be welcomed in any of these charter schools. Teach for America non-professionals won’t know diddly- squat about my child’s disability. Teachers whose merit pay depends on standardized test results won’t want my child in their classrooms. Your scheme will deny my child a free and appropriate education in an inclusive setting with her peers. That deprives her of her god-given civil rights. Who died and made you god? I’m a Democrat and voted for Obama, but detest his Department of Education.”

See: Arne Duncan’s Facebook page.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Taking Back School Reform: A Conversation Between Diane Ravitch and Mike Rose

This is such a great “conversation” that I decided to post it rather than just add a link in the right hand column. The original post can be found at edweek.org. It goes as follows:

Last month, education scholars Diane Ravitch and Mike Rose held a conversation at the University of California-Los Angeles about issues raised in Ravitch’s much-discussed new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Afterward, they continued their conversation by e-mail, focusing on key topics that emerged in their discussion at UCLA.

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane RavitchSubject: Public Education Under Attack

You and I are both concerned about the predominance of school-bashing rhetoric in the national discussion of public schools. This dismissive language runs across the ideological spectrum; we find it in the pages of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard or at a convening of left-leaning high-tech entrepreneurs interested in education. This way of talking about public schools, as we both argue, provides the ideological foundation to dismiss public education, to seek free-market solutions or structural or technological miracle cures. So well-to-do parents don’t send their kids to public schools. Wealthy donors direct their money elsewhere. And young people have second thoughts about a teaching career.

Of course there are problems in public schools. There’s wide variation in the teaching force. How could there not be with so many people, over 3 million? As with lawyers or journalists or plumbers, you’re going to find a range of competence. Same with schools. So political pressure to address incompetence and improve the status quo is a positive thing and essential in a democratic society. But that kind of targeted attempt at reform is not what concerns me and you. We’re talking about a reigning discourse of despair about teaching and the schools. It’s troubling—and dangerous. I’m thinking about an opening line from an article in The Weekly Standard: “We can all agree that public schools are a joke.” This is our new common sense, but it doesn’t even leave us with a problem to solve.

From: Diane Ravitch
To: Mike Rose
Subject: RE: Public Education Under Attack

One of the interesting aspects of the current situation is, in my view, that public education itself is under attack as never before. There have always been critics of the public schools, but the critics wanted to make public schools better. Now, many critics think that the answer to public education is to get rid of it, to replace it with something that is wholly different and not subject to any democratic participation or control. We see this with the demand for vouchers, which couches its claims as a fervent plea to help students escape from failing schools. The voucher supporters don’t think that any such schools can be fixed or improved; the only hope, they believe, is to help children get out. The arguments for charters are closely related, because the clamor for charters comes from a deep-seated wish to create escape routes from public education. One reason I am so discouraged by the present state of debate is that so little is said about improving public schools and so much about how to close schools, how to punish teachers. Before we can begin to have a serious discussion about public education, we must re-establish the belief that there are strong, powerful reasons to have public schools and that they are one of the foundational institutions in a democratic society.

From: Diane Ravitch
To: Mike Rose
Subject: Defining “Effective” Teachers

Mike, I want us to talk a bit more about teachers in the current “reform” environment. Reformers begin their discussion of teachers with a universally acclaimed proposition: Teachers are important, and every child should have a great teacher. No one disagrees. They then go on to define a great teacher as an “effective” teacher, and an “effective” teacher is one whose students get higher test scores every year. So, with a slight verbal or written tic, they turn the quest for great teachers into the quest for those whose students get higher test scores. Without exception, these “reformers” agree with economists who say that credentials do not predict who will be an effective teacher. Since there is no way to know who will be an effective teacher, the best thing to do is to “deselect” teachers every year whose students did not get gains. If we fire 5-10% of teachers every year, over time the nation will have an excellent corps of teachers.

Since credentials do not predict who will consistently produce higher scores, there is no reason to pay attention to certification, master’s degrees, even National Board certification. So, anyone should be able to enter teaching, without any of the usual professional training. I find myself wondering why schools should even require future teachers to be college graduates, since there is no research demonstrating the necessity of an undergraduate degree in the test-score production function. Perhaps high school seniors (or juniors?) could master the trick as well as someone with lots of credentials.

The trouble with this whole line of analysis is that it was framed by economists who look only at data and take the data at face value. Probably they do not know that students get intensive test prep for state tests, and that testing experts say that gains purchased in this manner are of dubious value. The economists do not look at the validity of the state tests, nor at clever ways that states manipulate the scoring of the tests. They do not ask whether test scores are in themselves the right measure of a “great” or “effective” teacher. They assume that teachers and students are in a hermetically sealed environment, in which only the teacher is responsible for what the students know and can do. No wonder that teachers today are profoundly demoralized by the direction of the “reform” effort.

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: RE: Defining “Effective” Teachers

What makes me crazy is that the statistical analyses involved miss so much; in fact, I’d argue that most of the time the statistical procedures are not thoughtfully applied to teaching and learning. No wonder, then, that most current characterizations of teaching miss the richness and complexity of the work; the teacher, as you say, gets defined as a knowledge-delivery mechanism preparing students for high-stakes tests. This reductive definition has so many negative consequences, for example the belief that by holding teachers’ “feet to the fire” of test scores, we will supposedly get more effort from teachers. Of course, the proponents of this point of view never articulate the social-psychological mechanisms by which the use of test scores will effect effort, motivation, and pedagogical skill. They can’t because the implicit models of learning and motivation in their analyses are as bankrupt as those in their understanding of teaching itself.

Here’s what I would rather see. What if we could channel the financial and human resources spent on the machinery of high-stakes testing into a robust, widely distributed program of professional development? I don’t mean the quick-hit, half-day events that so often pass for professional development, but serious, extended engagement of the kind that the National Science Foundation and the National Writing Project might offer. These programs enable teachers to work with subject matter experts; read, write, and think together; learn new material, hear from others who have successfully integrated it into their classrooms, and try it out themselves.

Enriched, widely available professional development would substitute a human capital model for school reform rather than the current test-based technocratic one. And because such professional development would positively affect what teachers teach and how they teach it, there would be a more direct effect on student achievement.

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: Workable Education Policy

All this leads me to a related topic that has been on my mind. It has to do with the way public policy—in this case, education policy—is framed and developed.

Policymakers of necessity take the big view, look for the large-scale organizational or economic levers to pull to initiate broad change. Unfortunately, that often means ignoring local conditions, the on-the-ground reality of classrooms and schools. This way of thinking is perfectly captured by a professor of management’s advice to a class of aspiring principals. He told them that the more they know about the particulars of instruction, the less effective they’ll be, for that nitty-gritty knowledge will blur their perception of the problem and the application of universal principles of management—as fitting for a hospital or a manufacturing plant as a school.
But good policy does try to incorporate knowledge of local conditions. You’ve been in the middle of policy development, so I’d love to hear your thoughts about how to create robust and workable education policy.

From: Diane Ravitch
To: Mike Rose
Subject: RE: Workable Education Policy

As you note, policymakers prefer to operate from a site about 30,000 feet above the institution that they are trying to mold. This does not create good policy. It ends up producing one-size-fits-all solutions that don’t fit anyone and that solve nothing. No Child Left Behind is a perfect example of that kind of policy. It was cooked up in the meeting rooms of Washington, D.C., honed by various interest groups and political figures, all believing that they were enacting noble legislation, but ending up creating a law that was almost universally despised by the people who had to make it work, the teachers. Teachers and policymakers live in two different worlds. The teachers are busy teaching, and the policymakers are busy talking to one another. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every policymaker were required to spend at least a week as an assistant teacher in a school? It’s not likely to happen, but I can dream, can’t I?

I recommend James Scott’s wonderful book Seeing Like a State, which treats these issues very insightfully. Scott describes monumental disasters caused by policymakers who had zero understanding of the consequences of their decisions on those who had to implement them. The basic question is: How do we instill humility in our policymakers? How do we get them to understand that policies that are not embraced by practitioners are doomed to fail?

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: Bad Press for Education

One more related topic I’d like us to consider has to do with the way the public gets its information about education. There are lots of sources these days, but an important source is still journalism: print, broadcast, or online. So I’ve been thinking about the ways the press inadvertently contributes to the kind of narrow discussion of education that concerns us.
Education is not a prestigious beat, and journalists often rotate in and out of it, not getting the chance to build rich expertise. Also, especially in the current market, there’s not a lot of resources for journalists to spend time in schools, talk extensively to teachers, follow the many reform efforts as they play out on the ground. So too often we get reporting from a distance.
I’m also bothered by the degree to which seasoned opinion page writers rely on press-release information and standard storylines about schools and school reform. Very smart people like David Brooks or Nicholas Kristof probe beneath the surface when it comes to, let’s say, foreign policy, but surprisingly don’t do their homework when it comes to education. So they proclaim that the schools stink, that teachers need an iron fist, that people who support high-stakes testing are reformers while someone like Linda Darling-Hammond (or you or I, for that matter) are apologists for the status quo. Whew! We’re living in an echo chamber. I’ve been finding it exceedingly hard to get a different perspective into the world of the Chattering Classes.

From: Diane Ravitch
To: Mike Rose
Subject: RE: Bad Press for Education

I too am frustrated that the public does not get a full and balanced view about education issues, but, you know, Mike, I don’t blame this on the reporters. The really good reporters, in my experience, try to look behind the press releases and the conventional wisdom. But they have no bearing on the editorial boards, which reflect the views of the publisher, or on the pundits, who are wired into the world of power and money. The press barons, the mighty foundations, and most think tanks today share a common narrative. They want privatization, the more the better; they have contempt for ordinary teachers, whom they hold responsible for low test scores; and they applaud any superintendent who promises to fire principals, fire teachers, and privatize more public schools. I don’t know who will frame the counter-narrative, and I don’t know who will lead the opposition to these destructive trends. But without a counter-narrative and leadership, our education system will be transformed in ways that neither of us will like.

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: Disregarding the Effects of Poverty

I know you have been concerned with the way the issue of poverty has emerged in school reform debates. Some say that poverty is the root cause of poor academic performance while others contend that, in spite of income level, poor kids can achieve as well as anyone else if the school is committed to their achievement.

I think a good place to start is with NCLB. That law was driven by a masterful rhetoric that casted dissent from its agenda as “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” There can be “no excuses” for the low performance of poor, immigrant, and racial and ethnic minority kids, as measured by the tests NCLB supported. Currently, some other school reform advocates, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, have taken up this point of view: Poverty doesn’t matter.

I appreciate this “no excuses” stance. Our schools have an unacceptable record with poor children, and the way we perceive their ability and potential, what we expect of them intellectually, is a key element in their achievement. But it is one element, a necessary but not sufficient condition. What is troubling on a public policy level is the way the rhetoric of “no excuses” shifts attention from economic and social conditions that often do affect academic achievement.

From: Diane Ravitch
To: Mike Rose
Subject: RE: Disregarding the Effects of Poverty

Like you, Mike, I was initially encouraged by the “no excuses” rhetoric. I shared the hope that high expectations would transform the lives of children whose potential was so often overlooked. What I did not anticipate was the evolution of the “no excuses” rhetoric into a claim that poverty doesn’t matter and has no bearing on academic achievement. Thus, any reference to poverty is treated as just an excuse by bad teachers for their own failures. So, according to our current “reform” leaders, the students who are homeless and hungry should get the same test scores as those who are privileged, who are surrounded by books and every comfort. If there is one consistent finding in social science, it is the tight correlation between family income and test scores. Yet today’s “reformers” consider this correlation to be the fault of bad teachers. “Reformers” apparently believe that our society can ignore poverty, homelessness, and joblessness, because schools alone can close the achievement gap and make everyone equal. This is poppycock and unusually mean-spirited as well.

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: RE: Disregarding the Effects of Poverty

What NCLB had exactly right is the assertion that children’s cognitive potential is influenced by much more than their income level. But I think it is either naïve or duplicitous to dismiss the devastating effects of poverty on a child’s life in school. Yes, there are a number of cases of poor children who achieve mightily. But their stories are never simple, and, as any teacher who follows her students’ lives will tell you, their achievement can be derailed by one bad break. Furthermore, in many cases, the schools or individual teachers intervene with various kinds of aid and assistance: financial, food, and health care.

It seems hard for us as a culture to perceive simultaneously the physical and psychological devastation wrought by poverty and the cognitive potential that continues to burn within. At the extremes, we either lighten the effects of economic disruption with self-help platitudes, or we see only blight and generalize it to include intellectual capacity. What we need is a binocular vision when regarding poor kids in school, a vision that enables one to be mindful of the barriers to achievement and still nurture the possible.

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: Either/Or Thinking in Education

Diane, let me shift topics, for this mention of either/or polarities reminds me of something: When a friend of mine found out that you and I were going to be having this exchange, this person observed that you and I fall on different sides of the equity/excellence debate. My first thought was, “Hey, I stand for excellence, too!” And though you and I would probably disagree on what the content of, let’s say, a literature curriculum should be, I’ve never read you as anti-egalitarian.

This led me to think about a bigger issue, and I’d like to hear your thoughts about it. American education is bedeviled by a kind of either/or thinking about curriculum and pedagogy: There has been an equity versus excellence debate for decades now. And the poverty versus achievement tangle we just discussed. And consider the firestorms around whole language versus phonics or math facts and skills versus math concepts. And then there’s the granddaddy of all divides: the dichotomizing of academic versus vocational pursuits.

These binaries get hotly polemical, which creates a lot of heat, but not very much light—especially for the teacher who typically needs to find a balance between dual positions.

From: Diane Ravitch
To: Mike Rose
Subject: RE: Either/Or Thinking in Education

Like you, I have been involved in debating many of these polarities over the past decades. I am certainly not anti-egalitarian. I have long loved the John Dewey quotation that “what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community.” We should not tolerate an educational system in which some families get a great curriculum, excellent teachers, small classes, and wonderful facilities, while other families get meager dollops of all those things. The debate over teacher effectiveness, for example, has completely sidelined this discussion. Instead of talking about resources, we are locked into a fruitless conversation about “effectiveness.” But this is what I find fascinating, Mike. Old adversaries have been contacting me to say that they agree with my critique of accountability and choice. They and I are in the same camp now. What is at stake is the future of public education and the role of schools as a democratizing institution. The old polarities disappear when people realize that public education faces a common threat to its survival.

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: A Liberal Arts Curriculum?

You close your book with a call for a return to a strong liberal arts curriculum, rich in written canonical literature, history, and the arts.

In your new book—and more so in other things you’ve written—you’ve criticized the many other approaches to curriculum that have emerged in the 20th Century: from life-adjustment to process-oriented curriculum. I share some of your concerns about these approaches: the faddism in education and the lack of intellectual substance. (My favorite current bit of cant is “brain-based learning”—as if there is any other kind!)

But one reason that so many alternative approaches to curriculum and instruction have emerged is that significant numbers of students were failing or being poorly educated with the traditional curriculum. As you know, there never was a Golden Age of uniform high achievement, so I understand educators wanting to try new things.

So my question to you Diane—one I think a lot about myself—is how do we respond to the significant numbers of students who, based on historical precedent, will not do well with the kind of curriculum you advocate?

From: Diane Ravitch
To: Mike Rose
Subject: RE: A Liberal Arts Curriculum?

Mike, here is where we might diverge. I think that children from every background will respond to a curriculum that respects their minds and feeds them with rich experiences. Just a few days ago, I was in Dallas and met with teachers who had completed a course in reading the classics at the Dallas Institute for the Humanities and Culture. I listened to teachers described what it meant to them to study The Iliad, The Odyssey, Shakespeare, and other great works. Two of the teachers in the group were working with Hispanic students in ESL classes. They described their exchanges with the students when they assigned Julius Caesar and other canonical works.

At first the students groaned, but then they got into it. They understood the theme of betrayal. They had experienced it in their own lives. They began to argue about the motives of Brutus and other characters. They began to see that these works were not just for rich kids, but for them too. What I heard from the teachers was, first, their great enthusiasm; second, their appreciation for being treated with respect; third, the excitement they felt when they were able to bring their intellectual joy to their students.

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: RE: A Liberal Arts Curriculum?

Well, this is interesting. I do think we would diverge as we got down to the final content of a literature curriculum. I would like to see more of a mix of genres and authors, with the Western classics included. But I’m completely on board with the situation you describe and have experienced it myself over the years. This might be cheating, but, given our limited space, if interested readers want to explore our respective positions, they can look at the final chapter (“Lessons Learned”) in your The Death and Life of the Great American School System and my discussion of teaching James Joyce’s short story “Araby” in the “Standards, Teaching, Learning” chapter of Why School?

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: A Beer Summit With the President

OK Diane, this is a good place to end with a big-picture question I was asked during a recent interview: If I were invited to the White House for a Beer Summit on education, what would I say to President Obama? Let’s start with you.

From: Diane Ravitch
To: Mike Rose
Subject: RE: A Beer Summit With the President

First, I would ask him to fully fund special education. That would relieve the fiscal burden that so many states and districts are now bearing and that is causing so many hundreds of thousands of teachers to be laid off. Then, I would try to explain briefly that his policies are too closely tied to the punitive approach of NCLB and urge him to take a positive approach, so as to help teachers and schools get better. Since he is a wonderful orator, I would suggest that he change the rhetoric about education; instead of speaking about punishing, firing, failing, and closing, speak instead about improving, supporting, developing, encouraging, and inspiring.

Last, I would urge him to create an advisory group—not connected to the Department of Education—whose charge would be to develop a long-term plan for the improvement of American education. What he is now doing is too closely tied to the “measure and punish” philosophy of NCLB, as well as the privatization agenda of the entrepreneurs. What he is doing will harm public education, not improve it. Perhaps with a long-term plan, he could lift our sights, and his own as well, to a more generous, positive understanding of what is needed by our schools, our students, and our educators.

And you, Mike, what would you ask him?

From: Mike Rose
To: Diane Ravitch
Subject: RE: A Beer Summit With the President

I’d ask the president about his own education. What does he remember about elementary school or middle school, particularly those teachers who made a difference? And what books mattered? Was there someone in high school who helped him see things in a new light? When did he begin to sense that school could enable him to use his mind in the world? What issues in law school most caught his fancy? Can he think of ways to bring those issues into the elementary school classroom? He’s a very thoughtful guy, so I’d suspect I’d get some interesting answers. Then I’d ask him how the spirit of these answers could better inform his education policy, because it seems so far removed from the heartbeat of good teaching and learning.