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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Washington State Remains Free from "Race to the Top" Extortion

Seattle Ed 2010 Editorial

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.

--Sue Peters

Open Letter to Bill Gates about Education (from a Public Schools Parent)

Dear Bill,

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.


Sue Peters

Seattle public schools parent

July 2010

Sue Peters is a Seattle-based writer and public schools activist. She co-edits the Seattle Education 2010 blog which can be found here
and here.

Bill Gates, co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was a speaker at the AFT convention held in the Seattle last week. His speech can be found here.

(Originally posted on As It Ought to Be, July 20, 2010 by mattgonzalez)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Art of Teaching (and the Automatons of "Education Reform")

In light of the recent New York Times article about robo-teachers that Dora found, here's a re-post of a related article I wrote in January. -- sp:

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.

--sue p.

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).

(See these surveys by CPPS, another one here, and from Queen Anne News.)

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.

Sincerely concerned,

Sue Peters

SPS parent & voter

Co-editor, Seattle Education 2010


Testimony Regarding Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s Performance: No One Can Serve Two Masters

I will be giving this testimony tonight at the Seattle Public Schools’ Board of Directors’ meeting regarding the performance of our school superintendent.

Good evening.

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.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

SEA, the Seattle Education Association Recommends to the School Board Not To Extend Superintendent Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s contract.

Seattle Education Association, June 21, 2010

Press release:

With the growing number of schools taking no confidence votes in Seattle Public Schools’ Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, over one hundred elected association representatives for the Seattle Education Association (SEA) debated the merits of taking a no confidence vote as a body at their monthly business meeting tonight. The SEA representatives decided to postpone a vote of no confidence until they hold an SEA General Membership meeting at the start of the school year. The general membership meeting will be held to ratify or reject a tentative negotiated agreement. SEA President, Olga Addae stated, “The representatives decided they wanted to see how the superintendent manages the negotiation process this summer. They also want to have more of our members involved in the decision of whether we support the superintendent or if we have no confidence in her.”

The association representatives did vote to recommend to the school board that they not extend the superintendent’s contract at this time. The members felt that just as they are being held accountable to show growth when their performance needs improvement, the superintendent should prove that she can make significant improvement in the areas that the school board has identified prior to another year extension in her contract. “Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson currently has a contract until 2012, over two years from today. Our representatives felt the school board can wait until improvement is made before guaranteeing her another year on the job,” Addae said.

West Seattle High School Votes “No Confidence” on the Performance of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

That makes the tenth school so far whose teachers have voted “No Confidence”.

The vote was out of 42 ballots turned in, 4 voted to abstain, 3 voted “confidence” in the superintendent and 35 voted “No confidence” in the superintendent.”

Maybe the school board will start getting the hint soon that our supe is not measuring up.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nine Schools So Far Have Signed “No Confidence” Resolutions Regarding the Performance of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

The nine schools are Franklin High School, Ballard High School, Sanislo, Schmitz Park, Laurelhurst, Orca, Ida B Wells, Green Lake Elementary and Maple Elementary.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Maple Elementary School voted "No Confidence", 17 yes, 1 no and 2 abstaining

According to our source, Maple Elementary School used the Sanislo document in large part to describe their concerns.

Should the School District Be Allowed to Give Our Kids’ Phone Numbers, Addresses & Photos to Every Tom, Dick and Pollster?

The private contact info of 10,700 Seattle Public Schools students and 1,400 teachers ended up in the hands of a political marketing firm. How did that happen? Should it be allowed? A group of parents says No.

A number of Seattle Public Schools parents and teachers were recently shocked to read that the private contact information of 10,700 SPS children and 1,400 teachers had been given to a political marketing and polling firm by the school district.

In March, Seattle-based Strategies 360/DMA Marketing used the information to conduct a telephone poll for the Our Schools Coalition, a new organization created by the Alliance for Education. Out of this poll came an online petition. In its “Methodology,” 360/DMA explained that it had surveyed three groups -- teachers, parents and voters -- and that respondents from the first two groups were randomly selected from lists for each segment provided by Seattle Public Schools.” (This sentence has since disappeared from the petition site.)

Who gave the district permission to share our children’s private information with a marketing firm?

The school district claims it did not in fact give the info to 360/DMA, but to Schools First and the Alliance for Education, which both made requests late last year. The Alliance, a funding and P.R. affiliate of the school district, used the info to send the district’s educators a critical report on teachers that it had commissioned. Schools First, an organization that runs school levy campaigns, sent SPS families a mailer urging them to support the February 2010 levies.

According to Schools First, a rogue staffer then passed the information on to Strategies 360/DMA on behalf of the Alliance for Education, bypassing the policy (and maybe even the law) on how this information can be shared.

This raises a number of questions and concerns for parents: Who gave the district the right to share our kids’ info with anyone in the first place? And precisely what information did they get?

According to the district, we did. Sort of. Apparently the district is legally permitted to share student "directory information" under FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy, unless parents or guardians sign an opt-out form the district sends home at the beginning of the school year. FERPA is a federal law that allows families access to their children’s educational records, but allows other entities access as well.

Disclosure of student information has been a hot-button issue for a while at the high school level because FERPA also allows military recruiters access to this data. Some parents have advocated for a military opt-out option, which the district offers on the high school FERPA form. So the district has created two forms, one for pre-k-8 and one for grades 9-12.

Think back to the beginning of the school year and the stack of inaugural paperwork your child came home with – sign-up sheets for after-school programs, volunteering and PTA membership, etcetera. Somewhere in there was the FERPA form. Maybe you saw it, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you handed it in, maybe you forgot.

The problem is, if a parent or guardian fails to return the form (or never receives it) the district interprets this as default consent. The district can then give the student’s “directory information to “anyone” who requests the information.

According to the school district, it gave Schools First “Directory information,” which in this case included: student name, parent name, school, grade, mailing address and phone number. But it can include a lot more:

"Directory Information: Under FERPA, SPS may release “directory” information to anyone, including but not limited to parent-teacher organizations, the media, colleges and universities, the military, youth groups, and scholarship grantors, unless you tell SPS that you do not want the information released. The following information is considered directory information: parent/guardian and student name, home address, home telephone number, home email address, student photograph or video, student date of birth, dates of enrollment, grade level, enrollment status, degree or award received, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports teams, height and weight of athletes, most recent school or program attended, and other information that would not generally be considered harmful or an invasion of privacy if disclosed."

It’s hard to imagine how the release of a child’s photo, video footage, home e-mail address, birth date, height and weight to a complete stranger could not amount to “an invasion of privacy” or potentially lead to some kind of harm.

How many families of Seattle Public Schools' 46,000 kids know these details is debatable. Chances are, most parents and teachers would not want their children's or their own contact information shared with just anyone.

Washington State law (RCW 42.56.070(9) bars anyone who requests such information from using it for commercial purposes. So the Seattle School District requires those making such a request to sign a “Declaration for Noncommercial Use.” Anyone who signs this form and then violates this stipulation can be penalized for “false swearing” (under state law WAC 44-14-06002(6).

Both the Alliance for Education and Schools First signed some version of this form. But 360/DMA did not. It’s not clear how it could have, since it is a commercial enterprise that was ostensibly hired and paid to conduct its poll using use the student contact info. The handover from the person at Schools First effectively bypassed this security measure.

What’s more, while some parents may have signed FERPA forms with the district consenting to sharing this info, they did not give Schools First or the Alliance permission to hand out their kids’ information to anyone they please, let alone a political marketing firm.

Also, the Our Schools Coalition poll has been criticized in the school community and blogosphere for harboring an agenda, or for being a “push-poll.” The poll’s questions predominantly focused on teacher payment right at the time when the district began contract negotiations with the teachers’ union.

So for some parents and teachers, it added insult to injury to have our children’s private information used for an agenda-driven poll.

DMA Marketing was recently in the news in Oregon for conducting a controversial political poll on behalf of a Beaverton City Council candidate, Mark Fagin. Fagin paid DMA $14,000 for the poll.

Assuming that the Alliance/Our Schools Coalition paid DMA a similar amount for its poll, then it would seem that a commercial enterprise used our public school kids’ private info for profit, which is against Washington State law. (An e-mail to Strategies 360 asking about this has received no response.)

As it stands, right now “anyone” can request this information and get whatever records have not been protected by an opt-out choice, so long as they sign the declaration. But is the Declaration for Noncommerical Use enough of a protection? The district does not require that a person state his/her purpose, or promise not to hand it off to a third party. What if some kind of child predator were to make a request? That’s 10,700 names, home phone numbers, e-mail and home addresses, and possibly photos and videos of kids between the ages of 5 and 18. It’s scary to think about.

Clearly these are loopholes that leave our children vulnerable. This episode has left a number of us parents pretty unsettled. Something fell apart here, and with it, protection for our children’s privacy and, arguably, safety.

In this era of easy access and transfer of private information via the Internet, whether it’s credit card theft or identity theft (and I have been the victim of both), creepy people and predators online, it seems a no-brainer that we parents should demand and expect our school district to keep our children’s contact and private information tightly sealed, and not handed off to any tom, dick or pollster who comes along.

So a group of SPS parents are filing an official request to the Seattle School Board to change the FERPA privacy protection policy and form. We believe that it should no longer be an “opt-out” but an “opt-in” form, meaning that parents should have to actively choose the box that says “Yes” (the district may share my child’s information with select entities), and if they don’t, or leave the form blank, the district must assume the parents’ answer is “No.”

We also believe that anyone who requests info must state their purpose, and be legally obligated to not keep it for other uses. We would like the declaration document to clearly state that the recipient will not pass the information onto a third party. Currently the document does not state this.

The school board should take action on this matter as soon as possible. Like the recent controversies over Facebook and Google’s acquisition and use of private data, this is another case where privacy, safety and modern data-gathering collide. We absolutely need to err on the side of privacy protection, especially when it concerns kids.

Any parents who share our concerns and would like to sign on to this request to the School Board are invited to add their name in the Comments section below, or email us at seattle.ed2009@gmail.com.


Who opts out? Not that many. Is that by consent or default?

According to SPS’s most recent records, in pre-K-8, 31.8 percent of families checked Box B (“I do NOT consent to the release of the above directory information about the student named below, except as authorized by law”) That means that 69.2 percent either checked box A (consent), or failed to sign or return the form at all.

At the high school level, 17.6 checked Box B (no release) and 46 percent checked Box C (consent to everything except the military), according to the district. The remaining 36.4 percent must have selected Box A (consent) or not signed it at all.

(Source: Seattle Public School District)

Here’s what FERPA says:

“Schools may disclose, without consent, "directory" information such as a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance. However, schools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.”

(Source: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa/index.html)

-- sue peters

Sunday, June 13, 2010

CORE wins leadership of Chicago Teachers Union

Press Release

This is a new day!

CORE (Caucus of Rank and File Educators) decisively wonthe leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union. The new president of thethird largest teachers union local in the US, with 30,000 members, isKaren Lewis. Karen and the CORE slate swept every position in theelection. This is a strategic victory in the battle against the assault onpublic education and the entire Arne Duncan neoliberal education agenda ofprivatization, mayoral control, corporate domination of schools, highstakes testing, and evaluating teachers based on students’ test scores.CORE is an explicitly anti-neoliberal, social justice union and a keymember of the Grassroots Education Movement in Chicago, a coalition ofteachers, parents, students, and community organizations fightingRenaissance 2010 and for equity and justice in education.

Chicago is the national model for Duncan’s education plan, and CORE’svictory opens the potential to defeat it on home ground. Obviously thishas national significance. Moreover, the CTU under CORE will be in aposition to influence the national union, the American Federation ofTeachers, and change the landscape of education struggles in the US. Thisis a historic victory. Congratulations to CORE and all their parent,teacher, education activist, student, community supporters who helped makeit happen. Now the real challenges begin.

Pauline Lipman
Teachers for Social Justice, Chicago

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Putting Two and Two Together in Detroit

I’ve been following the story of Detroit School Chief and Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb who was discovered receiving money from the Broad Foundation.

The Detroit Public School Board unanimously voted to file a lawsuit against Mr. Bobb stating that a conflict of interest had developed by him receiving those funds.

Since then it has been established that Bobb cooperated with the Broad Foundation and “charter school backers to draft a plan that calls for a mayoral takeover, and replacing traditional schools with charter schools.”

I keep wondering why our Seattle school board can’t put two and two together and come up with the same conclusion for our superintendent.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Teachers at Laurelhurst Vote “No Confidence” in the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

More info to follow.

No-confidence motion: “Whereas Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, is an ineffective leader”

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

No-confidence motion
Whereas Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, is an ineffective leader in the following ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix 2
The results of the Southeast Initiative came up in the recent Board discussion of the Cleveland STEM proposal. Director DeBell said that the Southeast Initiative results were disappointing and reflected failure. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson responded both that the Southeast Initiative was, in fact, successful and that three years is far too short a time frame for measuring results.
Both of her statements were false.

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

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

Here is the direct quote from the document that gives the Southeast Initiative its charter, the Framework for Revised Student Assignment Plan, approved by the Board on June 20, 2007:
The vision of the initiative is to:
• Ensure that local secondary schools are the “schools of choice” for residents of southeast Seattle by providing targeted and sustained resources that will enable each school to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for school transformation.
• Schools will include Aki Kurose Middle School, Cleveland High School, and Rainier Beach High School.Improving the academic outcomes for students at the schools is only part of the means to that end. The accountability measures were to be:
• Enrollment Growth• % of First Choice
• Increased Academic Achievement
• Student and Teacher Climate Survey Results
• Attendance

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

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

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

Cleveland: 676, 706, 695This does not represent any improvement at all.
% of First Choice:

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

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

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

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

Academic Achievement (as measured by 7th and 10th grade WASL pass rates):
Aki Kurose math: 21.8%, 21.9%, 22.5% No improvement.
Aki Kurose reading: 54.9%, 44.7%, 45.8% Decline.Rainier Beach math: 37.4%, 28.6%, 17.6% Decline.
Rainier Beach reading: 70.0%, 67.9%, 61.5% Decline.
Cleveland math: 17.9%, 12.0%, 21.2% No improvement.Cleveland reading 62.7%, 61.4%, 64.4% No improvement.
There is simply no objective measure by which the Southeast Initiative can be said to be a success. Any claims of success are patently false.

Appendix 3
The Washington State Auditor’s office released a report yesterday on the district’s compliance with federal grant funding. What pops into my head constantly when this kind of thing appears is “We’re in 2010 and we still have these issues.” We have Moss-Adams report, the CAICEE report and now the State Auditor’s report (again) and yet, it still happens. That it happens this regularly makes you wonder.

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

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

From the audit:
Special Education: We examined eight personal service contracts totaling $1,172,328 charged to Special Education grants. The District could not provide documentation to show these contracts were competitively procured. District staff stated they considered the contracts sole source, but did not have documentation to show how the District reached that conclusion.
Indian Education: We examined two personal service contracts totaling $14,603 charged to the Indian Education grant. The District could not provide documentation to show the contracts were competitively procured. District staff stated they considered the contracts sole source, but did not have documentation to show how the District reached that conclusion.
Head Start: We examined four personal service contracts totaling $217,982 charged to the Head Start grant. The District could not provide documentation to show these contracts were competitively procured. District staff stated they considered the contracts sole source, but did not have documentation to show how the District reached that conclusion.

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

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

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

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

Brief Overview of each Finding

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

Special Education (IDEA)
This is for a Safety Net award. The district received about $460K in 2008-2009 but there were two students who left the district but the district kept the money. The district claimed it thought that OSPI automatically changed the grant amount if a student withdrew from the district.

Title 1
The district had one paraprofessional who did not meet the highly qualified requirement. The district did report this to OSPI. (The employee had earned $31,455 during 2008-2009.) The district said it wasn’t aware of the requirement and thought this employee was providing services not related to Title 1. An additional finding was that the district had 73 teachers who did not meeting the highly qualified teacher requirements (but none of them taught Title 1 classes). This one seems like a genuine human error on the district’s part and not a big deal. The odd thing is that the reason it occurred is that a teacher resigned and they put in an IA instead of a teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The district admits fault in every case but this isn’t the first time for many of these issues that they have been told that they are not in compliance. That the Auditor’s office thinks the district is relying on the state audits to find their mistakes rather than doing it themselves is troubling.
So I had followed up on Dr. Enfield’s e-mail to Charlie and me about the NTN contract. She did answer several questions (but ignored some others). Hence, the follow-up. Now here was my most burning question:
“So there is a signed “agreement” between SPS and NTN but not a contract. This seems quite odd. The Board voted on NTN two Board meetings ago; was that to agree to NTN being the provider of these services but not what specific services? So then the big question: When will there be a signed contract?”

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

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

See, it goes both ways. If I can’t see the signed contract because of the lawsuit, they don’t get to open the STEM program because their contract is in dispute because of the lawsuit. Posted by Melissa Westbrook at 7:41 PM 13 comments
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
NTN Contract Update
So, just to be clear, we have an answer from the District staff about the differences between the requirements of the NTN Contract and the story that the staff has been telling the Board and the public about STEM.

The differences are real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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