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, November 16, 2009

Who are the "Reformers" Really Trying to Help?

Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large writes a thoughtful piece today about the true causes of inequity in public education and the troubling aspects of the latest "education reform" agenda. He cites Gerald Bracey, the sensible public education champion and essayist who recently passed away in Pt. Townsend.

It's worth noting that if Washington state is allocated Race to the Top funding, whose total budget is $4.1 billion for the entire nation (of which only 10-20 states will be deemed worthy), it would amount to an estimated one-time-only infusion of about $200-400 million. That's better than a kick in the pants, as my grandpa used to say, but is it worth changing our laws, trampling the will of the voters and embracing flawed and failed "solutions" that may do more harm than good just to get this money? Why don't we instead invest in what already works in our schools and replicate that? If the Seattle school district has the money for 110 "teaching coaches" as SPS parent Meg Diaz's recent analysis showed, why doesn't it fund more actual teachers instead and lower class sizes?

Here's Large's article: "Red flags on the road to reform: Washington is trying to get some of the Race to the Top money the other Washington is dangling to entice states to conform to its ideas for improving education" by Jerry Large, Seattle Times, Nov. 16, 2009.

Here's my response:

Thank you, Jerry, for taking a closer and thoughtful look at the latest incarnation of "education reform." Bracey (RIP) was right: poverty is a major underlying factor that affects a child's chances at having a solid learning experience in school.

Rather than addressing this difficult issue of societal inequity, the "education reformers" are instead pushing privatization of a public resource (again -- see past efforts to privatize social security, push for vouchers, etc) with lots of strings attached, endless testing, and blaming teachers. They are also trampling over the rights of local school districts and states to decide what works best for them and instead demanding they change their laws and contracts – or else no Race to the Top funding for them.

In addition to the disturbing arm-twisting this approach represents, the "cure" that's being forced on schools districts and states across the nation by Pres. Obama and his controversial Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is false and politically motivated. Take a look at who is behind it, the pro-privatizing Broad Foundation of AIG billionaire Eli Broad, and all-computerized, pencil and paperless (and failed) "School of the Future" creator Bill Gates (“School of the Future: Lessons in failure How Microsoft's and Philadelphia's innovative school became an example of what not to do”. Such dubious education luminaries as Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton have also jumped on the "education reform/close the achievement gap" bandwagon . That fact alone should raise another red flag -- or two.

Privately run charter school franchise operations like KIPP and Green Dot and numerous others, along with companies that manufacture and sell standardized tests to school districts, also make up this potentially lucrative industry with an agenda to privatize public education under the guise of helping underprivileged kids of color do better in school.

Aside from the surreptitious nature of what they are trying to do, the main problem is, their solutions don't work.

As the recent report by CREDO at Stanford University demonstrated, charter schools do not necessarily perform any better than public schools. In fact, 37 percent perform worse.

As for vouchers, that was the failed panacea and agenda of the Bush administration and others, which was to basically redirect public funding away from public schools and into private enterprises and mostly parochial schools. It was another angle of right-wing "faith-based initiatives." A boon for the religious types who support such typically Republican machinations, but the children left behind are those who can't afford private or parochial schools even with vouchers who are left in the public school system which is being systematically starved of funds.

In the process of "reforming" our public education system, the reformistas are breaking much that wasn't broken in the first place. (See the havoc wreaked in Portland recently, under a superintendent who was then hired by the Gates Foundation(!): Hurricane Vicki -- The Gates Foundation hires Portland's former superintendent as its new head of education."

Here in Seattle our superintendent and school board this year uprooted a successful alternative high school (Nova) and put it in an inappropriate and seismically unsafe building (Meany Middle School), they split apart the successful (and highest scoring) elementary school in the district (Lowell) that served the district’s highly gifted and most fragile special needs kids, split apart the Accelerated Progress Program again at the middle school, now creating two separate but unequal schools at each level, they closed the naturally diverse elementary school (T.T. Minor) and moved its successful and popular Montessori program to another location (Leschi). Despite passionate pleas by the eloquent and sometimes fragile students of Summit alternative K-12 school, the district closed their school and sent them in various directions only to cobble together a K-8 in their building that hardly anyone wanted to attend.


In the process of closing and splitting schools and programs, guess which kids got uprooted and dispersed the most? Underprivileged kids of color -- the very kids our district and the education reformers like Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson claim to be most concerned about helping.

I would like to see a follow-up by the district on what happened to all the children who were displaced by the school closures. Where are all the children of T.T. Minor, the African American Academy, Cooper Elementary, Summit, Meany? How are they doing?

So one has to ask who these “reformers” are really trying to help.

And at what point does "education reform" become "education deform"?

It's not insignificant that Seattle's own school Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson is on the board of directors of the pro-charter Broad Foundation and on the board of the Northwest Evaluation Association from whom the Seattle school district bought its Measures of Academic Progress™ (MAP™) tests (which are currently being administered to SPS students as young as kindergarten age three times a year). Many in the Seattle schools community are troubled by these apparent conflicts of interest.

What’s more, do kids really need all this testing?

What do kids really need?

Smaller class sizes for starters. This is a key reason people who can, choose private schools. Here in Seattle kids are packed into classrooms of 25-30-plus kids, even though parents and voters have voted for funding to lower class sizes. Why? How many parents and teachers agree with our superintendent who has said that class size doesn’t matter? (Interestingly, the superintendent has chosen to send her own daughter to the New School/South Shore, which touts as one of its key features smaller class sizes.)

Kids need stability. And parents want predictability. And yet we have a school district that closes and opens schools senselessly and is now gerrymandering a new Student Assignment Plan that forces families into schools that the district has failed to make equitable or desirable.

This superintendent and school board closed 5 schools this year allegedly because enrollment was down and money would be saved -- and now they are asking to reopen 5 more starting next year because enrollment is up, and for a cost of $48 million. Meanwhile thousands of kids are being uprooted and shuffled around in this messy erratic process.

Equity. Why doesn't this school district distribute its resources fairly? Instead it is millions of dollars behind in basic maintenance on many school buildings, some of which are seismically unsafe or have broken heaters and undrinkable water, while it funnels $130 million or so into favored schools like Garfield High.

Here in Seattle we have many good schools and some that need attention. But this superintendent and board apparently do not know how to manage them. And the “reforms” being implemented under the leadership of this superintendent are making our schools weaker – not stronger.

Mayor-elect McGinn's idea of a mayoral takeover of the district is not the solution. In fact, this can lead to even less accountability, especially when you have mayors like Michael Bloomberg in NYC and Antonio Villaraigosa in L.A. who make executive decisions without public input aided and abetted by the privatizers like Eli Broad and Bill Gates. The LA school board with Villararaigosa’s backing recently handed over as many as 250 LA schools to private charter operators. (Also see: "Defend Public Education! No More Charters! Our Public Community Schools Are Not For Sale! Stop the Break Up of LAUSD!" http://www.bamn.com/doc/2009/090928-savepubliced-lausd.asp)

The solutions to improving our schools are in some respects simple:

Don't break what isn't broken. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson said this herself during her hiring interview with the Seattle school district back in 2007:

"And one of her philosophies that she would bring with her to Seattle: ‘If it's working and it's not broken, then I'm not going to fix it.’"(Maria Goodloe-Johnson, April 10, 2007, West Seattle Herald)

Unfortunately she did not keep her word on this (see Nova, Lowell, APP, TT Minor, current student assignment plan, the end of fresh cooked lunches for middle and high schoolers, debate over lowering graduation grade to D average, etc.)

Fully fund public education. This currently isn't being done. Let's give our public schools a fighting chance to be good.

Channel more money directly into the classrooms and make cuts instead in Seattle Public Schools' bloated central administration (see: "Central Administration Efficiency in Seattle Public Schools”.)

Use solid curricula and texts -- and not the latest "reformers'" fad (such as "Discovering" math high school textbook -- which has already been rejected by the San Diego school district and many SPS parents -- and yet selected this year by our superintendent and board).

Invest in all schools equally.

Listen to what parents want.

Hire enough teachers to make smaller class sizes possible.

And how about this radical idea: Let’s teach our kids a love for learning and not just how to take a test.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mr. Oki, A Primer on Tenure vs. Seniority with Teachers in the Seattle Public School System

After Mr. Oki's presentation, I wanted to get clear on the difference between tenure and seniority. Mr. Oki had mentioned tenure and the necessity of eliminating it from the Seattle teachers' contracts but it was my understanding that teachers in Seattle were not tenured.

So after a few e-mails to those who know more than I do on this subject, I got the skinny.

It goes as follows:

Seniority ensures effective teachers in the classroom

1. Eliminating seniority from the contract works against the goal of a high quality teaching staff. Studies indicate teachers are "learning the ropes" during their first five years on the job; thus it is illogical to suggest teachers in their early years of the profession are of the same quality as seasoned teachers. Therefore, in order to keep high quality teachers in the classroom, the less experienced teachers must be let go first, whenever conditions for a Reduction in Force exists.

2. Seniority makes it more difficult for employers to cover up an arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory layoff, safeguarding whistle blowers and anyone who speaks up regarding wrongdoing. Teachers often speak up at staff meetings and testify at school board meetings on the behalf of students. Without seniority, issues of student safety and a deeper understanding of student achievement might go unheard.

3. Seniority is not the same as tenure. K-12 teachers are not tenured, so unlike a judge or professor, they are not protected for life. Seattle teachers can be dismissed without reason in their first two years of teaching and thereafter can be dismissed as ineffective with two consecutive years of Unsatisfactory evaluations, which can include student performance as a factor.

4. Seniority does not preclude dismissals for ineffective teaching. In the recent district audit, McKinsey & Co. noted the district underutilized the dismissal mechanisms in the current teacher contract. This is due to principals who are unable or unwilling to do their state mandated job of teacher evaluation. The Superintendent evaluates the principal corps. (No Seattle principals were dismissed last year.)

5. The Union can not stop dismissals; they can only ensure workers have their due process protected. In the uncommon case of an ineffective teacher still in the classroom after the first two years, it is the principal who is responsible to insist on rigorous improvement plans followed by dismissal, if needed.

6. What is to stop a district from seeing the financial benefits of laying off the most experienced, ergo most expensive, teachers? What controls would otherwise prevent the dismissal of a teacher just prior to retirement eligibility?

OK, that makes sense.

Now, Mr. Oki, is there anything that you would care to retract?

CPPS and Scott Oki: Kool-Aid Anyone?

OK, first, you know how I like my context.

The presentation by Mr. Oki was set in the enormous cavern of a library at Garfield High School.

In the heyday of corporate interior design, this space would have been a striking example of how to spend the most money possible. The library is a two story space with this skylight roof system that is well detailed and probably one of the most expensive ceiling systems that you will see in Seattle. I kept thinking that I was in a corporate headquarters in New York or LA and I have been in many. I have managed the construction of several corporate spaces in both cities. There are built in bookcases that are finely crafted, top of the line light systems and all of the shelves were filled with books in perfect order. In the middle of the space is another room which is one story high and again beautifully designed and detailed. In this space are computers and a lectern. The library space would have been top of the line for any corporate office but for a school in Seattle with so many financial problems that schools purportedly needed to be closed? The expenditure is highly questionable. I understand that the cost overruns on this building went into the millions and I can see why. Did someone actually tell the architect to go full steam ahead and spare no expense? It certainly looked like that was the message.

It’s a shame to know that money was taken from such programs as SBOC, $10M from SBOC to be exact, to pay for some of these cost overruns when it is apparent that much of this cost was completely unnecessary. It’s also a shame to know that so many other schools are in such disrepair and seismically unsafe and yet so much money was poured into this remodel.

But, I was not there to critically view Versailles, I was there to listen to Mr. Scott Oki.

Mr. Oki was introduced by another former Microsoft employee, Andrew Kwatinetz, who is Vice President of CPPS. Mr. Oki made his fortune working at Microsoft as Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

The first thing that Mr. Oki said is “I am not an expert” which was an excellent way to start his presentation since he has never taught in a classroom, or had any experience with public education since going to a public school in Seattle when he was in grade school. We found out later that all four of his children attend Lakeside, an exclusive private school that Bill Gates attended also when in high school. So his experience with Seattle Public Schools by his own admission is limited.

He explained that over the years, his focus in terms of philanthropic work has been in child healthcare. Then, two years ago, his wife approached him regarding dealing with public education, telling him that “if anyone can fix the problem, you can”. With those words, Mr. Oki found out as much as he could about public school education. A few Google searches later and a trip to KIPP and he had all of the answers that he needed.

He said that he looked at both sides of the issue, which to me was interesting because I didn’t know that there were two sides to public education, and decided that the approach to K-12 education was to see educational reform as a business. Hmm, teaching children is a business. OK, that’s a relatively new point of view.

He went on to say that he had, as he termed it, a 2X4 moment, which for some of us might be called an epiphany, when he realized that nothing about K-12 education made sense.

His talking points went like this:

In the United States, there are more non-teachers than teachers on our public school payrolls and that we have the highest ratio internationally in that regard. OK. A good tidbit of useful information that someone can run with.

Tenure. (Oh no, here it comes) Do teachers really need tenure? (In Seattle, teachers are not tenured so at this point I can see that Mr. Oki has not done his homework.)

We need an objective way of evaluating teachers. (The rallying cry of the educational reformists. Step One: Teaching Assessments). There is no difference in pay between “really good teachers and crumby teachers”.

Principals should be the CEO of their schools.

Standardized curriculum doesn’t work, as in the standardized math that was used in the Seattle Public School system.

Some school districts in the state of Washington have six students, some have 100 students and some districts have 200 students and yet they have a bureaucracy and one would assume a well paid superintendent as well. Again, the issue of bureaucracy. A person at Microsoft would definitely be able to know a bureaucracy when they see one.

We should have choice in terms of schools.

OK, good talking points. And then he began with “How to affect change” and said that it would take many years to change the system and that grassroots activism was a good start and then that was it! It was time for Q and A. I was just getting ready for the good part, a solution to the problem and then it was over!

So then we went into questions from the audience.

Regarding student testing: We don’t need testing for teachers to evaluate a student. What is needed is to provide resources to teach when help is needed.

I don’t know that there was a question for this statement. Mr. Oki would kind of go off topic sometimes but at one point during his answer, he said that “I will go on record. The superintendent should be fired for suggesting that students be graduated with a “D” average.” On that one point we could agree.

Again, kind of off topic he said that “every single school should have a board of directors”, like charter schools. I was wondering when this would come up in the conversation.

Mr. Oki said that the mayor or the state government should establish these boards in the schools. OK, now we’re talking mayoral control.

Now it was my turn to ask a question and I admit, by this time I was tired of hearing that teachers were the root of all evil and that teachers thought more about themselves than they did the children they were teaching. Of course, my feelings were based on the fact that I have a child in public school and against all odds, most of my daughter’s teachers had been wonderfully caring, supportive, capable and able to challenge my child’s abilities and make going to school something to look forward to.

My first question, OK, since you think that teachers are just in it for themselves and don’t care about the students who they are in charge of educating, what so you think that the merit pay should be based on? Well, Mr. Oki responded, that would have to be worked out. He went on to say that merit pay would make the teachers focus on the child.

He said that “it is a business” and of course, I had to disagree.

I came back and said that at this point it is based on standardized, high stakes, testing, what would you suggest?

He then brought up KIPP schools as a good example of a charter school.

According to others, that is not the case. See:

Bay Area KIPP schools lose 60% of their students, study confirms

Charter school faces withdrawals over punishment

Recess: Happy playtime or hellhole of fighting and bullying?

Mr. Oki started to talk about a principal that he met at a KIPP school who received her MBA at Stanford who was always on her Blackberry. He asked, how often does that happen in public schools? (I answered to myself, thank God, never) He said that teachers in charter schools like KIPP couldn’t be hampered by “silly laws” like having teaching certificates. Of course, that could mean that they would have to pay the teachers more. You have to keep your cost down in charter schools because of course, it IS a business.

It was obvious that the presentation lacked substance. There were a few good talking points but there was no depth in terms of an understanding of how public schools work, the challenges that teachers have to deal with everyday and how little money there is for school funding.

It was interesting to me that he had no knowledge of our alternative school programs that fit the bill to most of his talking points. Fortunately someone else after the presentation provided him with an education to that and other points about public school education in Seattle.

Signing off for now.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Conflict of Interest for Our Superintendent?

As per an update on this blog, we discovered how the Gates' $9M grant money was being used to do MAP testing of students at least in one location, Lowell Elementary School. The testing starts at the kindergarten level and continues to the 8th grade. The test is administered three times each year to each student on a computer. We will save the discussion regarding the testing of students, the rationale behind testing children in kindergarten, the number of times a child is tested and the wisdom of having a child as young as five years old using a computer for testing of their knowledge, in a future post.

What we find most egregious at this time is the discovery that we have made that our superintendent is on the Board of Directors for the NWEA, the Northwest Evaluation Association. This is the organization that handles the administration of the MAP tests. MAP is trademarked and was created and is sold by NWEA. Our next question would be, is the software that is used in this assessment provided by Microsoft? This could be quite an industry managed by just a few players considering that this test is used across the country by millions of students per NWEA's own claims.

It is also of great concern that this test is given along with the WASL. Isn't taking the WASL enough testing for a student within a year's time? It is also starting to look like the beginning of high stakes testing where teachers will be evaluated by how well their students do on a test. This is the next step to merit pay and more emphasis on teaching to a test.

Other questions also come to mind. How objective can our superintendent be in regards to the accuracy and analysis of the testing as well as the validity of such testing? We have heard that some students have figured out that if you don't answer the questions correctly at first, the questions get easier. Sounds like the kids are smarter than the creators of these tests.

Was there a competitive bid when deciding to use NWEA's product?

Does the superintendent profit from this relationship with NWEA in any way? Why is she associated with this organization at all? Didn't she think that there might be a potential conflict of interest when accepting a position on the NWEA Board of Directors?

And that brings us to another potential conflict of interest and that is the fact that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is also on the Board of Directors of the Broad Foundation. Many people in the educational community here in Seattle have posed the question directly to our superintendent in School Board meetings regarding her relationship with the Broad Foundation and their interest in establishing charter schools throughout the country. There has not been a response to those questions. A request has been made by one of our school board members to the superintendent to provide a white paper regarding the Broad's involvement in SPS and that foundation's agenda of establishing charter schools in urban areas. The request for a white paper was made this summer and no response has been provided as of this date.

We need answers to these questions and they need to be addressed now by our superintendent.