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
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Check out the following reviews for The Death and Life of the Great American School System:
THE WASHINGTON POST
"Business principles won't work for school reform, former supporter Ravitch says"
LOS ANGLES TIMES BOOK REVIEW
'The Death and Life of the Great American School System" by Diane Ravitch
THE DAILY KOS
"Ravitch: The Death and Life of the Great American School System"
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
"This was not a grass roots process. It was done at the organizational level - via delegates from different organizations, and then via elected representation within PTA/PTSA. As we gather organizational support, the coalition will be reaching out to a broader community base."
My question is, how can you represent the majority of members within the PTSA without it being discussed first with membership? And then, last minute say that it needs to be ratified within 24 hours after a big presentation by the Alliance on the NCTQ report to sell membership on supporting the CVS? I thought the PTSA was grass roots. It is to be grass roots, from the students to the parents to the community and on up. This was not that. This was top-down just like DG-J is and just like the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been on the subject of RTTT funding.
And my next question is, then who organized it? The Alliance for Education who are the parrots for Bill Gates and Arne Duncan with his ideas about merit pay and charter schools? Was this the PTSA's idea? Many of us would like to know.
After my credentials were questioned in the letter as to whether I was a member of the PTSA and a very lengthy description by Ramona of her process in developing the CVS with others, I wrote this response:
First of all, if my membership lapsed, it was not long ago. I joined last year after my daughter was enrolled in Nova which was in January of 2009. After going to at least two meetings, I decided to volunteer as Legislative Chair because there was a need to fill that position. I will ask Marilyn to check on my membership to confirm that it has lapsed.
Interestingly enough, I am a member of the Lowell PTSA so I know I'm in someone's database.
Actually Ramona, several people who I spoke to the night of the meeting and afterwards said that they had not heard of the value statement before that meeting. I am not putting blame on you regarding that, you apparently did your best, but word just didn't get out, not at least until that night, to a significant portion of the PTSA membership.
The reason for the mention regarding our superintendent was because it was through that revelation that had been made last year that many of us had started to understand what was going on in terms of charter schools, which is what the Broad Foundation is all about, and that lead us to the Education Reform movement with the major players being people such as Eli Broad and Bill Gates who are proponents of charter schools that hire non-union teachers, young teachers, paying them less and demanding more in terms of longer days and working on Saturday's, merit pay and student assessment testing.
As a matter of fact, the NCTQ report that you introduced by way of the Alliance spokesperson in that night's meeting was paid for by Gates money and purports merit pay and high stakes testing. I am very familiar with that report and it discusses in detail "Performance Pay". Heidi mentioned the NCTQ report when referring to the CVS.I am not sure what she was trying to allude to but a connection was made. In fact the two of you touted the report enthusiastically.
You can see my post regarding the NCTQ report at:
Scroll down towards the bottom of the page to see the post.
You and Heidi also stated during the meeting that you wanted to get the CVS approved before union negotiations. For what purpose? One of the items on the table is merit pay. I don't see any other points in the CVS that would be directly associated with union negotiations.
And yes, Governor Gregoire has asked the state legislators to consider merit pay in the session that they are in right now. It might not be in a bill on the floor as we speak but she has asked that one be formulated.
Ramona and Heidi, I stand by my words as a member of the PTSA and will not back down from them. According to the response that the audience had of my words, I don't think anyone else would want me to either.
As an aside, Heidi Bennett, was very active last year in CPPS. I am aware of this because they were part of the organizing of the presentation that Oki made about his book which addresses his support of merit pay.
A representative of CPPS was at the PTSA meeting when the CVS was being presented to the PTSA, Stephanie Jones, and spoke up about the CVS. In turn, Heidi and Ramona stated that CPPS was in full support of the CVS.
Another question. Who is running CPPS?
I checked out the website for CPPS and there have not been any updates to the site since October and there are no meetings scheduled. I asked Stephanie about this and she stated that
"they" had been so busy with school open houses and community meetings that there have not been any meetings and that they would have a Facebook page up soon.
Has CPPS become a paper tiger with just one or two parents involved?
Inquiring minds want to know.
If people like Melissa with SSS and Ramona are saying that CPPS supports this and even had a hand in it, exactly what does that mean, really? Who exactly are CPPS representing? Did they do a poll or have a meeting?
By the way, CPPS is part of a larger organization which is headquartered in Mississippi. I don't see any ramifications to that. It's just an interesting fact.
As always, more questions than answers.
I'll keep digging and keep you posted.
From the field.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
The original e-mail was from our Seattle Council PTSA President asking all of the school PTSA Presidents to read the attached document and have someone at the meeting that next evening to vote on the document. That document was the Community Values’ Statement.
This was the first time that I had heard of or had an opportunity to read the document and yet we were requested to vote on it that evening. We ultimately got two minutes each to discuss the document before it was voted on. As Legislative Chair of Nova PTSA, I abstained from voting because I had questions and concerns about the document and they are as follows:
The first sentence is “Every classroom is led by an effective teacher”.
That sounds innocuous enough but how do you measure effective teaching? Within the education reform movement, the term “effective” is used when discussing measuring a teacher’s performance by using student assessment testing. The next step after this testing is awarding teachers who are more “effective” with bonuses or higher pay. This is referred to as “merit pay”.
And the second sentence is, “Evaluate principals and teachers using multiple measures that include student performance.”
How do you measure the effectiveness of a teacher based on a student’s performance? Whether they get A’s or B’s in their classes? Do you review the student’s portfolio? Or, do you give them a test? More than likely, most people would have the students take a test. It’s less expensive and seemingly efficient. With Governor Gregoire pressing our state legislators to approve specific aspects of the Race to the Top requirements, one of those requirements being merit pay, this sentence just gives them the perfect reason to vote for such a bill.
When we moved to Washington from California, I decided that we would live on Mercer Island based mainly on WASL scores. Little did I know what the price was to get such high test scores. The focus was on that test and little more. There was no time for creative thinking that used a synthesis of different thoughts and ideas, there was only one way to solve a problem. A lot of stress was put on the students to do well on the test and they did perform but at a price.
The material is dumbed down and it’s a matter of memorization with no understanding of the larger picture.
That’s why my daughter goes to Nova now.
What we really need to be looking at is supporting our teachers by creating smaller class sizes, better and adequate materials for their classes and a pleasant and safe environment for them to work in, not merit pay based on student testing.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Notes From the Field:The Garfield PTSA Meeting, Curriculum Alignment, CAN, Read/Write and "Teacher Effectiveness"
A friend asked me to go to the Garfield meeting to listen to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson speak about the curriculum alignment in math. Because I live across the street from Garfield and I’m always up for more information about our schools, I agreed to go and take notes for them.
Ah, Garfield. I will not go on about the renovation but at sometime everyone needs to just walk into the front door and check it out. It never ceases to amaze me how much money was spent on that building.
To add insult to injury, when I walked in they were painting the walls in the cafeteria! The same color! I didn’t see any damage to the walls and could not understand why they were doing that. After they finish up there, they need to get over to the Meaney building and do a little scraping, patching and painting of those walls. Those walls have peeling paint and we won’t EVEN talk about the color.
But, I was not there to review the décor, I was there to take notes about our math and science curriculum alignment and I was ready, pen in hand.
Blum and Sundquist were there and so was the Executive Director of SEA, Glenn Bafia.
First there was the PTSA business and then an introduction to our superintendent.
There was a handout that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson referred to that I was able to obtain, they ran out. It is, according to DGJ, on the SPS website and it is titled “Strengthening Talent in Every Seattle School/ January 2010”. OK, I’m ready.
Well first of all, let me say that our superintendent can read well and very quickly. She read through those bullet points at an impressive pace. There was no time for interjection or questions. After the first set of bullet points, while she was catching her breath, a parent asked a question. Whoa, what timing!
Now I will give you my bullet points from my notes regarding this part of the conversation:
MGJ stated that there was a “Validation Process” that a suggested course could go through to ensure that it met the requirements for core curriculum.
There would be a manager for each subject such as a “Science Manager” who would oversee the process.
There would also be a manager for the Advanced Learning Department.
Then there were a lot of questions about the math and science core curriculum but DGJ said that she was not prepared to answer those questions. Well, that’s too bad because that’s why we were all there, including me.
Then there were a few questions about the graduation requirements and the core curriculum but again, DGJ did not have that information. She said that we could get it “on the web”.
Well, moving right along. At this point a member of the Garfield Foundation got up and fielded a question about an accelerated Science program. He said that a student could take an exam to bypass a particular core curriculum class but that it would be discussed in the future. Apparently that has not been worked out yet.
Next there was a presentation to DGJ about the Read/Write program that seems to be successful at Garfield. We were told that about 100 students at Garfield can read only up to the 4th grade level. Because of the number of students and the lack of funds, they are not able to meet the needs of these students and that there is a wait list. Some of these students will not be able to participate in the program and will graduate reading at that lower level. The presenter said that it takes about one semester to get the students up to their grade level. They were requesting support for this program by SPS.
Wow. Awesome program! Maybe the Alliance could pitch in here and use some of those thousands that it’s thrown away on the NCTQ report and save these children. Or maybe Mr. Gates could throw a few million this way instead of spending his money on creating more assessment tests for our kids.
The next program is the “CAN”, College Access Network”, program that is at Garfield, West Seattle and Franklin. It has been successful at placing almost 100% of its’ students into colleges. The Garfield PTSA was requesting support for this program also.
DGJ said that she had not seen the request but would review it.
The next item on the agenda was, here we go again, “Teacher effectiveness, hiring and retention”, one of my favorite subjects.
It was stated, by the PTSA Co-chair, that we lost many of our good teachers because of the rif (the rif that I still don’t see the point of since just about everyone was hired back. The district knew that there were 1,200 students over-enrolled in April and yet they were determined to rif teachers. Whose fault was that, the teachers’ union or bad management on part of our administration? More to follow on my theory later.)
I caught the quote “Ineffective teachers in front of the classroom” from the co-chair. So this is the crux of our entire problem, bad teachers and the union. Wow, how simple, or simplistic, the answer must be. Where we are in education, of course, would not have anything to do with class size, the socio-economic situation of many of our students, buildings that are too hot or too cold to be in, hungry kids, teachers having to deal with not only over-crowded classrooms but special needs students who want to be mainstreamed and children with behavioral issues.
Underfunding? Not even brought up. It’s the teachers.
“Seniority trumps” for good reason, we have “lost many young, good teachers” How many? Most of them were brought back. And the final question to DGJ, “What can we do to make it clear” that we are unhappy with this situation?
DGJ responded that there were avenues to go through but unfortunately I did not write down what she mentioned.
The co-chair piped in again and began to blame the teachers for the lower reading levels. If I was a teacher right now in the SPS system I would be truly upset at this time. They are getting blamed for everything, all the ills of the world, and what do they get for it? Low pay, little support, lousy work environment, in most schools at least, not enough materials and books, overcrowded classrooms, need I go on?
Then someone got up and suggested that there be a vote on the last seven bullet points on the handout that had been provided by DGJ. It all looked pretty good if not rather vague. One point did stand out to me though. “Align pay for our instructional professionals to the district’s strategic goals”. Hmmm, what does that mean?
Several people had that same question and concern. Was this another way of introducing the idea of merit pay? Someone ask DGJ if teacher performance should be a factor in evaluating our teachers. Our superintendent responded that there was a four-tiered evaluation process in place that was used.
More discussion ensued and then the superintendent went exit right. I don’t recall her saying good-by but she must have.
The discussion continued and I found it to be interesting and provocative. There should be more discussions like this one. Unfortunately it didn’t happen at the Seattle PTSA meeting when the powers that be were pushing through a similar statement called the Community Values’ Statement.
I won’t go into the details but it did eventually come down to a vote on supporting the bullet points and it was split down the middle. 27 yes, 14 against and 13 abstaining (not enough info or too vague).
Interesting evening, glad I went.
By the way, the acoustics in the cafeteria are horrendous. Next time I would suggest meeting in the library.
Signing off for now.