Excerpt From an Open Letter to Arne Duncan from Herb Kohl
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)
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?
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.
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?
Dollars and Sense
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.
Regarding Arne Duncan's Renaissance 2010
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?
Alternative Schools in Seattle
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.
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.
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
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.
Priscilla Gutierrez, Huffington Post comment
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
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
So our state was not selected by Arne Duncan & co. for his "Race to Privatization and Teacher Demoralization." (See: "Washington Not a 'Race to the Top' Finalist State," Puget Sound Business Journal.)
That's right. This is good news.
There are some who are lamenting this "loss" of the RTTT monies, like League of Education Voters' Chris Korsmo: “Our kids need and deserve a world class education to be competitive in today’s global marketplace. Right now, we’re coming up short.”
But there are others among us who are glad that our state is not going to be strong-armed into adopting discredited, damaging "solutions" for our schools like privatization via charters and the toxic, innovation-crushing high-stakes testing and punitive "merit pay" which unfairly and narrowly tie teacher evaluations and bonuses to student test scores.
What's more, the amount of money that the "Race to the Top" kitty represents when divvied up by "winning" states and then by each public ed student is a mere pittance. Less than $100 per student in some cases, and that is a one-time-only payment.
So clearly "Race to the Top" is not really about the money. The money will not make much difference in each public school child's life.
No, "Race to the Top" is about forcing states and school districts to change their laws and policies in order to push through an agenda that otherwise would likely not get voter or public approval. And why should it? Charters and merit pay, the two key components of Race to the Top, have proven to be seriously flawed concepts.
Arne Duncan and friends (Eli Broad, Bill Gates and others) want our state to change its laws and usher in "reforms" that have been discredited and are driven by a business-centric agenda that has no input from the families who are most affected by these "reforms."
We at Seattle Education 2010 opposed the elements of the recent Senate Bill 6696 that represented Washington State's attempted capitulation to the misguided and draconian "Race to the Top" agenda.
As I stated before, here's why:
I believe that the Obama administration's mandates for "education reform" are heavy- handed, at times downright draconian, and show a complete disregard for local autonomy and disrespect for the profession of teaching. The recent spate of mass firings of teachers and sacrificing of principals in Marysville and Rhode Island and now Tacoma is unconscionable and alarming.
[UPDATE: Add Washington D.C. to that list. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee (former Teach for America corps member and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson apologist) summarily fired 241 teachers earlier this month, supposedly because their students had low test scores.]
Unfortunately, that is where this current form of "education reform" is leading. We all need to stand up and say "No! Washington does not need this kind of destructive 'reform.'"
This brand of "education reform" also puts a heavy emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing, which is of limited use. Here in Seattle, for example, the district is making children as young as 5 take a computerized test (MAP) three times a year -- kids who may not yet know how to read, hold a mouse, and should not be subject to such stress so soon.
Word is, these tests will indeed be used to evaluate teachers, despite how flawed a measure these tests may be.
Studies by esteemed universities, Stanford and Vanderbilt, show that two key components of Education Secretary Duncan's "Race to the Top" frenzy are seriously flawed and do not amount to positive change. The CREDO report out of Stanford showed that charters perform no better -- in fact, most perform worse -- than regular public schools.
A recent report by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, showed that "merit pay" does not work. It does NOT improve student achievement. Even the Gates Foundation's latest survey of 40,000 teachers supports this fact.
Please also see: "The Pillars of Education Reform Are Toppling."
Do those who think Washington State should vie for the RTTT contest realize how little money a RTTT grant amounts to per child? As little as $85 a child. Why should our state be strong-armed into changing its laws and adopting questionable "reforms" just for a one-time cash infusion that really amounts to a mere pittance?
For these reasons, I oppose legislation that is geared toward helping our state achieve dubious and damaging "Race to the Top" goals.
We already have innovative schools and programs in Washington state -- the high scoring Nova Project alternative high school and numerous other alternative schools, the popular Aviation High, as well as the top performing, award-winning Accelerated Progress Program in Seattle.
Let us retain our local autonomy and replicate what we know works for us, and not capitulate to demands from the federal government that we embrace two extremely flawed "solutions" -- privately run charters and "merit pay" tied to high-stakes standardized testing.
Washington can do better.
I am a public schools' parent in your own general neighborhood (Seattle). I realize you have an interest in public education, and are a major participant and funder in the current “education reform” efforts being attempted nationally.
Unfortunately, I don’t agree with a number of the choices and “investments” you are making in our schools. I believe they have not been that effective, and some of them are even damaging.
Your all-tech $63 million “School of the Future” in Philadelphia, for example, apparently hasn’t worked out so well. Your $2 billion “Small Schools Initiative” was ultimately canceled (though the concept of smaller schools seems sound to me). And now you are promoting charter schools and “merit pay” for teachers as a measure of “teacher effectiveness,” even though recent reputable studies from Stanford and Vanderbilt universities cast serious doubts on both of these concepts, showing that most charters are not better than public schools and merit pay doesn’t work. (Also see “The Pillars of Education Reform Are Toppling.”)
In other words, you seem to be spending a lot of money and not getting good results.
Does “merit pay” actually improve “teacher effectiveness”?
As a keynote speaker at the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT) conference that was held here in Seattle last week, you said: “The truly impressive reforms share the same strategic core – they all include fair and reliable measures of teacher effectiveness that are tied to gains in student achievement. Public schools have never had this before. It’s a huge change – the kind of change that could match the scale of the problem.”
By this you mean teachers being measured by and paid according to student test scores.
But lashing teachers to test scores is the kind of “change” that will quash innovation and passion, and turn teachers into test-prep robots and schools into test-prep factories. It leads to teaching to the test. That’s already happening in some schools as a result of No Child Left Behind “Annual Yearly Progress” pressures. Not all students test well, by the way – didn’t Einstein famously get Fs in school? And not all learning shows up on tests. I have said before, how do you measure that “Aha!” moment when a child understands something for the first time? It will never show up on a standardized test, but those moments are the real measure of successful teaching.
Above all, research shows that “merit pay” for teachers doesn’t work – it does not lead to true and lasting improvements in genuine student academic achievement.
Meanwhile, perfectly good teachers and principals are being sacrificed and fired under such draconian rules, as this article in the July 19 New York Times attests, “A Popular Principal, Wounded by Government’s Good Intentions.”
One of the main problems with merit pay is that it’s based on the flawed presumption that teachers are motivated by greed and competition, and not by collaboration and helping students learn. But teaching is a cooperative profession; the best teachers are not motivated by making more money than their colleagues.
You yourself have said you want teachers to share their expertise with each other, so they can all become stronger teachers. They already do that, for starters. But how likely is it that they will continue to help each other if you set up a scheme in which they are pressured to compete with each other to get bonuses?
If you want teachers to improve, help give them the respect and salaries they deserve, the resources they need, and the autonomy to be creative and innovative and cooperative with each other, and small classes so they can give each student the attention s/he needs.
Why charter schools?
At the National Charter Schools Conference on June 29 in Chicago where you also spoke, you promoted charters – privately run schools that use public money but have little to no public oversight. Why do you keep promoting this concept when growing evidence shows that most charters are no better than public schools? In fact, according to Stanford’s CREDO study, as many as 83 percent of charter schools perform no better or do worse than public schools.
Even the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently admitted at the same convention of charter operators that charters have serious problems: “…unfortunately, we have far too many mediocre charters and we have far too many charter schools that are absolutely low performing.” (Duncan’s address to the National Charter Schools Conference, July 1, 2010.)
(Also see: “Study Finds No Clear Edge for Charter Schools,” Education Week, June 29, 2010.)
Education reformers repeatedly claim to be “data-driven.” The data do not support charters.
If you support innovation, take a look around inside public school districts. Secretary Duncan recently toured Aviation High School, an innovative public school here in the Puget Sound area. Check out the Nova Project, an innovative alternative high school in Seattle that has some of the most independent thinking and civically aware kids I’ve ever met and some of the highest SAT scores in the district. In Seattle, we also have successful and award- winning schools for highly gifted kids that challenge these kids with an accelerated and deeper curriculum while keeping them in with their age group peers (Accelerated Progress Program), and a number of alternative schools that all have waitlists because they are so popular – Salmon Bay K-8, Thornton Creek. And yet your education reform colleagues and your own foundation are pushing curriculum alignment and standardization on all our schools, quashing any chance for individuality or innovation. That’s a mixed message you are sending.
While it is certainly good of you to be generous with your wealth, it would seem that you are funneling good money after bad, as the saying goes.
So I have some suggestions for you. As a parent with children in public schools, as someone who is the product of both private and public schools and an international education, I hope you will consider my thoughts on how you can direct your public education involvement in a manner that will get genuine and positive results for children. These would be investments in education that parents like me could get behind.
Here are three ideas. They are not flashy. They are not tech-oriented. But they will get positive results.
Invest in Smaller Class Sizes
If you want to fund education and make a difference, fund smaller class sizes. Help school districts hire more (and genuinely qualified – not short-term, inexperienced Teach for America type) teachers and reduce class sizes. Every child would benefit from more one-on-one interaction with a teacher. I don’t think it takes a multi-million dollar “study” to prove that. Here in Seattle our superintendent has laid off teachers two years in a row and closed schools. So class sizes are large and getting bigger.
One of the main reasons people who can afford it choose private schools is because they tend to offer smaller teacher-student ratios.
I’ve read you’d like to see kids taught en masse by one teacher on camera beaming a lecture via the Internet to thousands of students at once. While technology may have its place in our world and in schools, don’t you agree that the most valuable connection a child can have is not to the Internet, but with a teacher, a parent, a nurturing human who will give this child the individualized, personalized attention s/he needs?
Here’s a study that shows that class sizes matter: “Smaller is Better: First-hand Reports of Early Class Size Reduction in New York City Public Schools,” as does this blog: Class Size Matters.
At the AFT conference, you said something that implied that funding for public schools has gone up in my lifetime and class sizes have gone down: “The United States has been struggling for decades to improve our public schools. We have tried reform after reform. We’ve poured in new investments. Since 1973, we have doubled per-pupil spending. We’ve moved from one adult for every 14 students to one adult for every eight students.”
I am confused by this claim because all my life (which began before 1973) public schools have been scrambling for money, school districts are constantly telling us parents, our kids and their teachers that cuts and layoffs and school closures have to happen. Our own state of Washington, Bill, ranks 46th in the nation for per-pupil funding! Washington State recently passed a law mandating full state funding of K-12 education, yet that is not happening. Meanwhile in California, the public education system has been drained of property tax revenue ever since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.
Are you referring to student-teacher ratios? Or do these “adults” you speak of include all adults in the school district, from counselors to custodians to central district office staff? (If the latter, that would be true for Seattle, which has a disproportionately high and growing number of administrators in its overstaffed central office. See “Central Administration Efficiency in Seattle Public Schools,” a very troubling report by parent/analyst Meg Diaz.)
Class sizes have not gotten smaller in my lifetime. Neither I nor any of my children have ever been in a public school class of eight – or 14, for that matter. Here in Washington, teacher to student ratio has not gone down, even though we voted for it on Initiative 728 which passed with 72 percent of the vote in 2000.
What is your source for this data? Is it that McKinsey & Corp study that Vicki Phillips, your foundation’s education director, has referred to in the past? The same discredited consulting firm that was “a key architect of the strategic thinking that made Enron a Wall Street darling,” according to Businessweek? If so, I think you can understand how one might question their research.
Lastly here’s a personal story: One day earlier this year, I sat at my kindergarten son’s lunchroom where some of the kids were goofing around. When I told them as group to settle down, I got a limited response. But then I knelt down and looked one of the boys in the eyes and asked him about one of his hobbies, he calmed down immediately and engaged with me. That personal engagement is priceless and essential to good and inspired teaching. It’s not possible when classes are too big and teachers are overwhelmed.
Consider Grants for Books
I sense you have mixed feeling about the value of books. I understand your “School of the Future” in Philadelphia is bookless, paperless and pencil-less, but offers a laptop and Microsoft portal for every child.
I personally want my children to know the pleasure of reading an actual book, the smell of the paper, perhaps the feel of the embossed letters of the title or the details of the illustrations, the joy of summer reading while lying on the grass or idly spinning from a tire swing with a book in hand, unplugged from the wired world.
If you and Melinda were to simply create an endowment that would provide every school in the district, for example, a grant to stock their libraries, buy complete textbooks for classes, that would be an amazing gift and would go a long way toward endearing you to the community for such an obvious, tangible contribution. Because, as you may or may not know, schools like Rainier Beach High School in Seattle don’t have complete or updated sets of history books. Hard to believe, but true. Teachers across the nation still scramble and scrounge to buy class sets of books. My own brother, a public school teacher in California, is trying to gather enough copies of Shakespeare plays for his class. I’m helping him out by scouring local used bookstores up here and mailing them to him. Is this the way it should be? Don’t you agree that every child in every class should be able to take home and spend time with a book, read it on the school bus, even if they are not fortunate enough to own a laptop, and that the cost should not come out of the teacher’s own pocket?
I can imagine a bookplate with your and Melinda’s name on it. (I believe Paul Allen does something similar.) If my children were to grow up believing that you are the providers of books to Seattle school children, believe me, you would rank high in their pantheon of heroes. They love books. (The thrice-yearly Measures of Academic Progress™ computerized test your foundation may be funding, not so much.)
How about Nutrition & Health here in the U.S.?
There are kids who come to school hungry, as I’m sure you know. School districts serve packaged food of questionable nutritional value. Good nutrition would manifest itself in positive and tangible ways. I know you are concerned about health in other parts of the world — how about in your own backyard?
Imagine a Gates Foundation program that supported the creation of freshly cooked meals made of locally and sustainably grown organic produce for all of Seattle’s public schools. (I don’t mean Monsanto-style GM foods, by the way.) I promise you that a well-fed child will do better in school than one who is hungry or on a nutritionally empty diet. This would also create business opportunities for local farmers.
In sum, these ideas, simple as they might seem, will work. They will help kids do better in school. Charters, merit pay have a very mixed and inconsistent record.
I know you and Eli Broad and others have some notions about how you would like schools to be. But as you have acknowledged yourself, you are not an education expert, and I understand that neither you nor your children have attended public schools. So I am asking you to listen to parents and teachers and kids who are in the public schools, who are on the receiving end of all that is good and not so good about our current system, and on the receiving end of all your “reforms,” and learn what we really need and want for our kids.
I suggest you take a look closer to home at the town of Everett, Washington, where the school district has managed to decrease high school drop-out rates significantly in the last few years. (See: “Simple, steady is way to win,” by Danny Westneat, Seattle Times and “Once shamefully low, Everett’s graduation rate soars,” by Linda Shaw, Seattle Times.) How? With computers and Smart Boards? No, with old-fashioned follow-up, teachers and counselors getting to know kids and keeping them in their sights, engaging and challenging the students with interesting classes. What this requires is the time and care of sufficient staff. Meanwhile, here in Seattle, the school district (SPS) continues to lay off needed teachers and counselors. If you could offer a grant to SPS to rehire these crucial people, you would see results, I guarantee it.
I would value the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these and other thoughts about education. Your new foundation headquarters are not too far from where I live. You can reach me care of Seattle Education 2010, a blog some parents and I started up last year in response to the school closures and “reforms” our children and their schools have been subjected to.
Seattle public schools parent
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I came across a Seattle magazine article from 2008 the other day called “Hot Button: Math Problems.” It said that Seattle Public Schools math teachers are being forced to exactly replicate what someone in Japan has deemed a “perfect lesson” right down to where they must stand in the classroom.
“The district is also trying to improve teaching methodology. [Seattle Public Schools’ K-12 math program manager Rosalind] Wise wants her math teachers to take advantage of all the new information about how to teach. For example, next year in every middle school, one math teacher will work with a “math coach” to develop a monthly “perfect math lesson,” in which everything, from the concept to where the teacher stands, is planned. Then this lesson will be taught in front of all the other math teachers in a “studio classroom,” so they can see it and copy it. This approach has been adopted from a Japanese model with the idea of standardizing instruction and giving teachers a precise and well-thought-out plan for teaching.” – Bob Geballe, Seattle Magazine
The fact that this lesson comes from Japan which recently unveiled the first fully automated robot teacher might make one wonder if teach-bots might well be the ideal of certain “education reformers” who seem to have such disdain for living and breathing teachers and, indeed, call them “human capital” instead of human beings. Robots aren’t likely to form unions, ask for fair working conditions and rights, will never need to take a leave of absence for illness or a sick child, and they can surely be programmed to stand wherever anyone wants them to all day long if need be!
Such authoritarian micromanaging of a professional individual is pretty bizarre.
It’s also laughable.
Sure, there is some pedagogical, experiential wisdom applicable to teaching, but so much of what goes into good teaching is not so readily measurable -- and certainly not determined by where a teachers stands in the classroom.
Teaching demands a great deal of a person -- heart, mind, theatrics, management skills, quick thinking, a love of children, a love of knowledge, structure to keep things in order and a degree of predictability, as well as flexibility when a changing situation merits it, creativity and the ability to provide guidance that does not stifle the creativity of a child.
Teaching is not a profession one enters if one wishes to be rich or lazy. Most public school teachers work long hours, buy supplies out of their own money and are not paid as well as people in other fields.
Yet there are some who are taking aim at our teachers right now. Ganging up on them, in fact, in the guise of “education reform.” Though they have no teaching experience themselves, these powerful or wealthy individuals and their allied organizations are telling teachers what to teach, how to teach, even where to stand in the classroom. They want to test students every chance they get and measure teachers' worth by those standardized, computerized tests. They want to tie teachers' pay to these test scores, regardless of whether the child is learning in ways that can’t be measured by tests, and punish teachers financially if children don’t test well, regardless of what else may factor into a child’s test scores.
I guarantee that this approach will stifle the very magic and soul of teaching.
And it will fail.
Here’s why: Teaching is an art – not a computer app. The so-called “reformers” apparently do not understand that simple yet profound fact. By art, I mean it is a mastery that comes from a deft weaving of multiple skills that cannot be summarized in bullet points or PowerPoints or measured by computerized tests.
How, for example, do you measure that “Aha!” moment when a child understands something for the first time? It will never show up in on an SAT or WASL – or the new MAP (trademarked) tests that all Seattle public schools kids are being forced to take, even in kindergarten. But those moments are the real measure of successful teaching.
Here in Seattle, a Washington DC-based enterprise that calls itself “the National Council on Teacher Quality” issued a “report” late last year allegedly assessing Seattle’s public schools’ 3,300 teachers. They were invited here quietly by the Alliance for Education, a local enterprise which claims to be a fundraiser for Seattle’s public schools, but clearly is involved in much more of the school district’s workings than benign gift-giving (as some local parents have figured out).
In fact, it is not clear why the Alliance invited this politically connected, privately funded operation to bring its services to our district. Surely the $14,000 price tag of this report is money that could have been better spent in the classrooms. A number of Seattle parents made this very point in the blogs and on the Seattle Times’ site.
Might this report have something to do with influencing the teachers’ contract that is up for renewal this year?
The NCTQ’s claim that this "report" was done on behalf of the 46,000 kids of SPS is quite plainly false. No children asked NCTQ to turn its hypocritical inquisition lamp on their teachers.
They claimed that they are here to tell the district how to manage its “human capital’’ –i.e. its teachers. “Human capital”? That’s a very revealing statement about how operations like NCTQ view teachers.
NCTQ recently wrote a report for Colorado public schools with advice on how that state could qualify for federal "Race to the Top" funds. Unfortunately President Obama’s Education Secretary and hoops buddy, Arne Duncan, has a very mixed record from his tenure as "CEO" of Chicago's public schools, but is pushing two main demands on states—charter schools and merit pay for teachers.
One of these demands is to allow privatization of our public schools via charters. Another is to force “merit pay.” What does that mean? Someone will decide that some teachers should be paid more than others most likely based on student test scores. Who is going to want to teach the struggling students, the students with dyslexia or A.D.D., the underprivileged kids, the ones whose abilities won’t register on a standardized computerized test? Who will want to or be able to teach children with their heart and soul if the only thing that will matter and keep their job is a test score? They will teach to the test and the magic will be gone.
Which brings me to the NCTQ “report.”
Of all the issues and concerns facing my kids in Seattle Public Schools, whether my kids’ teachers take a Monday or Friday off for sick leave is not one of them.
And yet, in its so-called “report,” NCTQ goes to great lengths to outline and graph which teachers in which schools took sick leave, and how, for some reason, sick leave is bad and, by the way, shouldn’t be allowed on Mondays or Fridays. I guess a Seattle Public Schools teacher who has a child who contracts Swine Flu on Monday or Friday, is out of luck.
The presumption underlying much of this “report” is that these professionals are a bunch of lazy, untrustworthy cheats who need to be badgered and punished.
Higher on the list of my — and many parents’-- concerns are: Class size. My child is one of 29 this year. We have a superintendent who has cited some unnamed study that says class size don’t matter, all you need is a brilliant teacher.
First, show me the study. Actually, forget the study; any parent would rather have their child receive 1/20th of their teacher’s attention rather than 1/29th of it. It’s plain common sense and one of the chief reasons some families choose private schools over public – smaller class sizes and greater individual attention. (And perhaps the reason Seattle's School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson chose to send her own child to the highest funded school in the system, which touts smaller class sizes.) It’s a no-brainer. In fact, I’ll counter with another study that shows that class sizes do matter: “Smaller is Better : First-hand Reports of Early Grade Class Size Reduction in New York City Public Schools” (Also see: Class Size Matters)
So why did Seattle’s school superintendent lay off over 165 teachers last year when enrollment is up 1,200? Why does Seattle have larger classes when voters voted for funds to create smaller class sizes?
Also on the list: Everyday Math – where to begin? It’s quite clear that schools and teachers are trying their best to work through and around this poor unclear textbook and its idiotic “spiraling” sequence. WASL math scores are down since the district adopted EDM, so why are we continuing on this path to failure? (Last year the district voted to adopt the controversial high school textbook in the same problematic series, Discovering Math, and is being taken to court for it.) And where are the resources to teach Singapore Math, which the district also voted to adopt but has neglected?
Why are our children being sent to learn in seismically unsafe buildings that the district has failed to maintain? Why don’t ALL schools in the district offer the same amount of enrichment? How can Seattle’s proposed new student assignment plan be equitable when not all the schools are equitable? Why does Seattle have one of the largest central administration budgets and staff in the entire state of Washington? (See SPS parent and analyst Meg Diaz’s report on the district’s budgetary shell-game: “Central Administration Efficiency in Seattle Public Schools”) How can we protect Seattle’s many strong schools and programs against the corrosive influences of privatization?
I’m very concerned to read in the Diaz Report that Seattle School District has one of the largest, overstaffed central administration offices in the state. A state audit last year found SPS 39% overstaffed. Why can’t we parents demand an instant cut there, and tell them to bring back our teachers?
Those are the sorts of educational concerns on my mind.
Yet the so-called “education reformers” would have us all believe that the only issue that matters, the one cause for all that ails public schools is not chronic underfunding or district mismanagement, but teachers. They would have you believe they are the number one reason a child may be failing in school. (See “Gates Foundation gives $335M for teacher quality” by Donna Gordon Blankinship. Although Gates really ought to read the recent analysis by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives that found that merit pay doesn't work, before he throws more money at this dubious "reform." See: Study: Texas' teacher merit pay program hasn't boosted student performance, Dallas Morning News, Nov. 9, 2009)
In the process of fomenting their case, the reformers tend to humiliate and demonize teachers and try to rally parents to do the same. (I’ve witnessed ‘pro-reform’ local elected officials shamefully do this in Seattle). And their end goal is clear: they want to weaken the teacher’s union, exert more control over teachers, hire cheaper, younger teachers (Teach for America style), and then open privately run charters in our public school systems, diverting public funds into private hands. They may claim they want to “close the achievement” gap, but their solutions are not accomplishing that. A teacher’s union that advocates for fair pay, non-capricious treatment of teachers and job security is an obstacle to the education reformers’ agenda.
They reveal their bizarre corporatist – and dehumanizing – bias when they use terms like “human capital” to describe our children’s teachers. I guess we should expect no less from this group of reformers who also refer to our children as “customers.” (A closer look at their schemes would indicate that they actually think of our kids as “products.”)
The reformers claim to be focused on “closing the achievement gap.” But what causes the gap is far more complicated than what their “solutions” address.
Are any of these other factors being addressed by the likes of NCTQ?:
Socio-economics? Parental involvement? Inept or corrupt school district? Bad curriculum? Hunger? Poverty?
No, none of these matter, according to the “National Council on Teaching Quality” along with the Broad Foundation and the Gates Foundation and all the other “philanthropists” with an agenda.
“Education reform” as it is currently being defined should be filed alongside “Welfare Reform.” i.e. a punitive curtailing of rights and assistance to the most needy amongst us pursued by people in political power with an agenda disguised as an effort (by mostly privileged people of non-color) to help the underprivileged. It is a misleading term, to say the least.
“Education reform” as defined by Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad and co, leads to excessive standardized computerized testing, uniformity of curriculum that quashes creativity, and a punitive approach to learning.
Seattle Public Schools’ motto under the current (Broad Foundation boardmember) superintendent: "Excellence for all. Everyone achieving. Everyone accountable. No excuses.”
Is it a coincidence that a particularly disciplinarian model of private charter schools, Mastery Charters shares this motto: “Excellence. No excuses.”
Who is making up excuses?
You can see where their expectations are. They expect our children and teachers to shirk their duties and make up excuses. Our teachers, one of the most hard-working and underpaid group of professionals in the country. Our children, who will live up to whatever expectations we give them if nurtured properly.
Something is terribly askew here.
The funny thing is, reformites like Gates and Broad et al (a number of whom have never attended nor sent their children to public schools) are so clearly clueless about what goes into teaching and what makes a good teacher. It is a collaborative, cooperative profession -- not one that will produce good results if the focus is merely test scores and getting more money than the teacher in the next room.
I believe such "reforms" will ultimately fail because of this lack of intuitive knowledge of the teaching profession. But they may do some serious damage along the way. Which is why Washington State and Seattle should not capitulate to the demands of Race to the Top nor heed the questionable and purchased “analysis” of politically motivated operations like NCTQ.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Letter to Seattle School Board about Tonight’s Vote to Extend Supt. Goodloe-Johnson’s Contract: Vote NO
Dear Seattle School Board Directors,
At today’s (July 7) final school board meeting of the summer, you have the opportunity to represent your constituents and common sense by voting “No” to extending the superintendent’s contract yet another year to 2013.
The board has already extended Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson’s contract twice, to 2012. And she has already had three years to demonstrate her abilities. She has admitted herself that the results from her “reforms” are not yet in. According to the Seattle Times, the superintendent: “says the reforms she's pursuing should start to show results in the next year, and it will take eight to 10 years for them to fully show fruit.”
So why don’t you wait for these results before you dish out more rewards?
It would be irresponsible and premature on your part to add a third year at this point.
By bringing forth a motion to extend the superintendent's contract, the school board is flagrantly disregarding the legitimate concerns of an overwhelming and growing number of parents, students, teachers and other members of the SPS community.
We are saying: Hold this superintendent accountable just as you are claiming to hold our schools, our principals, teachers and students accountable.
Twelve schools have now voted "No Confidence" in the superintendent. Dissent and dissatisfaction with SPS leadership is real, widespread, legitimate and growing, despite the falsely rosy and defensive pictures depicted by the Seattle Times (as a journalist myself I am appalled by the Times’ utter lack of objectivity or genuine reporting).
The state has just released yet another damning audit of SPS and has found evidence of mismanagement and flouting of the law. This needs to be addressed – not rewarded. (See: Schedule of Audit Findings and Responses, Seattle School District No. 1, King County June 21, 2010 and this.)
The Seattle Educators Association (SEA) has recommended that the board not extend the superintendent’s contract. In the fall they may take a vote of No Confidence.
You also need to be consistent in the message you are sending to the SPS community. How can you talk about "performance pay," "accountability" and measurement of teachers when you propose to reward in advance the superintendent for a job she has yet to complete? You are sending a very mixed message.
How, for example, can you reward the superintendent for the new student assignment plan when it hasn't even been implemented yet? We won’t know until well into the fall whether the plan is an improvement or equitable or even working at all.
There are already serious indications that a number of schools throughout the district will be over-enrolled, while others will be seriously (and expensively) under-enrolled. Queen Anne Elementary, Sand Point Elementary and McDonald are seriously under-enrolled (with less than 100 kids in each). Yet the district is spending $48 million to open these and two other schools.
That in turn leads to the reasons to be concerned about the superintendent's "Capacity Management Plan." It is shaping up to be a failure. It has not saved money and it has not solved overcrowding and under-enrollment. As a result of the superintendent’s plan, five schools were closed to save $3 million and now the schools you are reopening at a cost of $48 million are half empty. In West Seattle, children from Cooper Elementary have been scattered in all directions, and kids are being crowded into portables.
The Capacity Management Plan problems need to be addressed and corrected. The new student assignment plan won’t take effect until the fall. Only when all of these changes are ironed out should the board consider an extension for the superintendent
You need to stop and question the fiscal sense of such decisions, the lack of foresight and hold the superintendent accountable for these decisions.
The district’s investment in the MAP test is also questionable. Is this the best way to spend limited district funds? How do you justify the $4.3 million price tag for it (which does not include the cost of purchasing computers to implement the test, or the cost in instruction time and lost classroom-time for children) when the district is laying off teachers and overcrowding classrooms and cutting back on counselors? Three times a year is excessive. Administering the test to five-year-olds is inappropriate. I have also heard that the test does not reflect state standards so children are being tested on material that is not in sync with what they are being taught in class.
By the way, the board needs to acknowledge that many of us in the community legitimately believe it is not ethical for the superintendent to be on the board of directors of a company (Northwest Evaluation Association) that does business with the district (NWEA sells SPS the MAP test). This looks bad. It compromises the superintendent's ability to be objective in her evaluation of the MAP product. The board needs to realize that even the appearance of impropriety of this nature must be avoided. Surely you agree that Seattle’s school superintendent should not be affiliated with any vendors that do business with the district. Your failure to address this issue does not reflect well on the school board.
In 2008, after only one year on the job, the superintendent was awarded a 10 percent pay raise by the school board, bringing her salary up from $248,000 to $264,000, and her contract extended. Why? Because she had presented her “Strategic Plan.” She had not implemented it yet, she had no community buy-in, yet the board rewarded the superintendent in advance for work not yet even done. (The plan consequently was mired in controversy, resulting in lawsuits, school closures followed by costly re-openings, unprecedented teacher layoffs at a time when enrollment was increasing, followed by rehires.)
It made no sense then to reward a performance before the work was done, and it makes no sense now.
It would be imprudent and unnecessary to extend the superintendent’s contract at this time. I urge you to reassess in one year's time, after the new student assignment plan has gone into effect, after capacity has been truly managed, after results are in – not before.
Hundreds of parents and community members have signed petitions, voiced their valid concerns about the direction of the school district and the superintendent's management skills and vision.
You need to respect and heed these concerns. That is your job. Your job title is school board “director” – not “follower.” As the directors of the school board, you need to direct the superintendent -- not the other way around.
SPS parent & voter
Co-editor, Seattle Education 2010
This is regarding the performance evaluation of our superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, who is also a board member on the NWEA board of directors as well as the Broad Foundation.
What I have seen over the last two years as a parent in the Seattle school system is a disconnect between the decisions made by the superintendent and what our community needs.
There has been little to no understanding as to how our neighborhoods are growing and how we relate to the communities that we live in. There has been and will continue to be growth in the Central District and the Capitol Hill areas and yet schools were closed last year.
We had a budget deficit of $35 M last year and yet our superintendent hired additional staff while teachers were laid off, most of them Broad residents.
We take pride in our alternative school programs that have no equal in the United States and yet some of those programs have been dismantled rather than supported.
At first glance one would think that the actions of the superintendent don’t make sense, but they actually do. There are two different agendas at play in Seattle. There are the goals of the true stakeholders in our schools, the parents, students, teachers and our neighbors who understand what is needed in terms of education, smaller class sizes, clearly defined and consistent wrap around services, adequate materials and books and a safe and comfortable environment in which to work.
But there is another agenda at work as well.
This is from the Broad Foundation’s annual report for 2009 written by Eli Broad:
“The election of President Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan…the U.S. secretary of education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.
With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.”
There is a clash of agendas and values between what Eli Broad and Bill Gates think is best for us even though neither has any experience in public school education and what we know will work. Class sizes do matter. No, schools should not be closed, principals fired or half of a teaching staff removed because a school is “Low Performing”. It takes money that can be counted on on a consistent basis, not one time bribes to the top, to ensure that each student receives the education that has been promised. It takes a commitment to those schools, students and families to work through the issues that face some of these children every day. You don’t just close schools. That impacts the lives of everyone in that neighborhood and shows a lack of faith in those families that are impacted the most.
And no, we don’t want our teachers to teach to the test.. Performance pay is based on test numbers and if merit pay happens in Seattle, our children will lose out on a well-rounded education and the opportunity to develop their creative and critical thinking skills.
We need someone sitting next to our School Board President who shares our goals and values not someone who was placed in Seattle to carry on the dreams and hopes of a wealthy few. Then the stars will have truly aligned for us in Seattle.