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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Art of Teaching (& the automatons of “education reform”)

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.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Seattle School Board Math Adoption "Arbitrary & Capricious" Judge Declares

UPDATE (2/7/1o): THEY WON!!!

On Feb. 4, King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector decided in favor of the plaintiffs in the "Discovering" math text adoption appeal.

The local blogosphere is surprised and delighted to see accountability imposed on the school district, and SPS kids potentially spared from yet another unsound math text.

Even the Seattle Times ("Judge Tells Seattle School Board: Do the math," 2/7/10) has advised the school district not to appeal the decision.

For more on the case and decision, see Seattle Math Group and "Our Day in Court."

Documents can be downloaded here:
Decision 2/4/10: http://www.box.net/shared/bjqk8zjien
Reply Brief of Plaintiffs: http://www.box.net/shared/ifu7cv990q
Opening Brief of Plaintiffs: http://www.box.net/shared/tkc9m6yrc3
Notice of Appeal; Declaration: http://www.box.net/shared/75h1b1z7i9

For more background on what's at issue, here is UW Prof. Cliff Mass' May 30, 2009 Seattle Times op-ed about the school board's irrational 4-3 vote to adopt the faulty math text in particular, and "reform" or "inquiry-based" math in general.

Plaintiff (and retired math teacher) Marty McLaren foot much of the bill and still needs help retiring it. She and fellow plaintiffs Cliff Mass and SPS parent DaZanne Porter have done us all a great service. Please consider making a contribution.

Details from Seattle Math Group blog:

Help with the bills?

Would you like to help defray costs for our appeal? Donations to reimburse my expenses would be deeply appreciated.

So far , the total cost of this lawsuit has been $13,140.

Donations from 27 individuals (Sorry, this was incorrect earlier due to multiple donations from individuals) have totaled $4,280.08

If you would like to help, you can donate in one of three ways:

Send a check to Seattle Math Group,

c/o Martha Mclaren

7020 18th Ave. SW, J22

Seattle, WA 98106

Donate directly to the Seattle Math Group Account at any branch of Washington Federal Savings and Loan

Donate via email, through Paypal, to mmcl@pugetridge.net; donations will be transferred directly to the Seattle Math Group account.

Thanks for considering,


UPDATE (1/11/1o): The hearing
has been rescheduled for
8 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 26th, in Judge Julie Spector's court, W-842, in the King County Courthouse, 516 Third Avenue, Seattle.

Hearing Impending in High School Math Text Adoption Appeal

UPDATE (1/10/10): The hearing into an appeal of the Seattle School District's vote to adopt the controversial "Discovering" "reform math" textbook for SPS high schools has been postponed.
The district claims its attorney is sick. New date TBD.

Meanwhile, check out co-plaintiff Cliff Mass' Weather Blog for alarming background info on how "reform" math textbooks and curricula are failing to prepare kids for college.



Contact: Martha McLaren


206 762 2350

Hearing Impending in High School Math Text Adoption Appeal

Seattle, Washington – January 5, 2010 – A hearing is set for Monday, Jan. 11, at 8:30 AM, in the King County Superior Courtroom of Judge Julie Spector, on the appeal of a Seattle School Board vote last May to adopt the Discovering Mathematics high school textbook series. The appellants contend that the school district acted arbitrarily and capriciously by voting 4 to 3 to adopt a type of textbook associated with a widening achievement gap between minority students and white students, and between low-income students and other students.

The three plaintiffs – the mother of an African American 9th grader, a former math teacher who is grandmother of a 5th grader, and a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, filed the appeal based on their claim that, well before the May 6thvote, there was an ample accumulation of evidence that the “reform” math curricula favored by the district had helped to drive down WASL achievement scores, especially for English language learners and other minorities.

Martha McLaren, grandmother of a 5th grade student, declared, “Few people understand what a catastrophe is unfolding in our schools due to this misguided approach to teaching mathematics. It's tragic for individual students who grow up believing they are incompetent, and it's ultimately an immeasurable blow to society.

"I can't afford the tutoring that wealthier parents can afford in order for their children to learn the math skills they don't learn in Seattle Public Schools," stated Ms. DaZanne Porter, mother of a Rainier Beach High School Freshman.

Further describing the situation which has evoked a rising protest to Seattle Schools' math curriculum, UW atmospheric sciences professor and co-plaintiff Cliff Mass describes giving a simple basic math skills exam to his first year AS 101 students in the fall. They scored a class average of 58%. In the January 2 Cliff Mass Weather Blog, he wrote, “If many of our state's best students are mathematically illiterate, as shown by this exam, can you imagine what is happening to the others--those going to community college or no college at all? ... Quite simply, we are failing our children and crippling their ability to participate in an increasingly mathematical world.”

Attorney Keith Scully, of Gendler and Mann, LLP, is representing the plaintiffs. He estimates the hearing will last about one hour, and expects a decision from Judge Spector by the end of the month. For those wishing to attend the hearing, the King County Courthouse is located at 516 Third Avenue, E-609 in Seattle.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

California Capitulates to “Race to the Top” extortion

Meanwhile in California, the state has succumbed to what one senator has called "extortion” from the federal government, and has voted to change its laws in order qualify for a chance at the "Race to the Top" education stimulus funds.

Calif. lawmakers pass major school-reform package

By DON THOMPSON, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
(01-06) 17:50 PST Sacramento, Calif. (AP) --
The California Legislature on Wednesday sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger landmark education reforms designed to overhaul the state's worst schools and let parents send their children elsewhere.

"This is about parental choice in public education," education committee chairwoman Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, said about the compromise she helped negotiate.
Schwarzenegger intends to sign the bills Thursday in Los Angeles. The measures were approved Wednesday in the Senate and late Tuesday in the Assembly.

The reforms will let California compete for part of the $4.3 billion being made available to states under the Obama administration's Race to the Top initiative. California has the nation's largest public school system, with 6 million students.
Under the legislation, state officials could close failing schools, convert them to charter schools or replace the principal and half the staff. Parents whose children are stuck in the lowest-performing schools would be given greater leeway to send their children elsewhere and could petition to turn around a chronically failing school.

The measures also provide a method for linking teacher evaluations to student performance.

Schwarzenegger lauded the legislation, saying it contained reform that once seemed impossible. The bills will take effect 90 days after he signs them into law.

"For too many years, too many children were trapped in low-performing schools. The exit doors may as well have been chained," Schwarzenegger said while delivering his State of the State address to lawmakers.

The reform efforts were opposed by the California Teachers Association and other groups representing educators. They also divided Democratic lawmakers, some of whom said the measures had too little debate and went too far, or not far enough.

Schwarzenegger has been pushing lawmakers to act since calling a special session in August and saying the measures would ensure California can compete for up to $700 million from the competitive federal grants.

"This program essentially is extortion, plain and simple," said Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood. "We're about to make permanent changes to our educational system and we don't even have assurances that we'll get ... the money."

The first federal deadline for applying for the money is less than two weeks away.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said the bills will make California "highly competitive" for the federal money. School districts that include 3.8 million students have signed up to support the state's application.

"Tens of thousands of children in California need our attention and resources," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

California has cut billions of dollars from K-12 and higher education because of an ongoing fiscal crisis and a steep drop in tax revenue.

"By any measure, whether it's the graduation rate, the dropout rate ... we must do much better by the children of California," Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, said in supporting the bills.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said she hoped California would be given special consideration for embracing reforms such as parental choice that go beyond the requirements called for by the Obama administration.

In other words, California legislators and Republican Governor Schwarzenegger have voted to significantly change the laws of the state to impose controversial and failed concepts like private charters and "merit pay" in the possibility it might, maybe, possibly qualify for a portion of the relatively limited federal stimulus funds. So even if California doesn’t get it, these questionable laws remain in place.

Moreover, as an astute Seattle Public Schools parent recently observed, even if the bankrupt Golden State qualifies for RTT funds, it only stands to get about $700 million. With 6 million public schoolkids in California, that works out to about only $117 per kid.

"That's not even enough to bus kids to another school like their plan says. Are these people idiots?”

One has to wonder.

Or is something else at play?

After all, these "reforms" open the door to the privatization of public education via charters, and further jabs at the typically pro-Democrat teacher's union via "merit pay" -- two items on conservative wish lists for a while.

Nice work, "liberal" California.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Free Public School Buildings for Private Charters

A chain of private charter schools in New York and Connecticut called Achievement First has figured out a way to get taxpayers to buy its buildings for it.

Here’s an excerpt from their annual report revealing how they acquire their buildings:

"Our Facilities

Achievement First is incredibly grateful for the support of our host districts in helping us bridge the facilities challenges that accompany our growth. Thanks to the leadership of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, all New York Achievement First schools have been provided with public school buildings at virtually no cost.

"We are also thankful for partnerships with Bridgeport Public Schools and Hartford Public Schools and their provision of free facilities and support for our expansion to new communities.

"As we continue to grow, Achievement First is in the midst of building a comprehensive K-8 facility for Amistad Academy in New Haven--funded through a combination of private philanthropy and a $24MM state facility bond--and one for Achievement First Endeavor in Brooklyn. (...)"

(p.33 of 2008 Annual Report, bold emphasis mine)

In other words, this private charter franchise is being given public assets -- school buildings -- for free.

No wonder private enterprises are so eager to have a piece of the public education pie: we the taxpayers are subsidizing their businesses.


The Pillars of "Education Reform" are Toppling

Bad news for the “education reformers” – Two key components of the Obama/Duncan/”Race to the Top” reformite agenda – charter schools and “merit pay” – have now been seriously called into question by two separate studies, one from Stanford University, the other from Vanderbilt University.

These studies found that most charter schools are no better or perform worse than public schools, and “merit pay,” which ties bonus pay for teachers to student standardized test scores in an attempt to make teachers (and therefore kids) “perform” better, doesn’t work.

Troubled Chartered Waters

Charters – the decades-old “innovation” that President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan et al want to impose on all school districts – were analyzed by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. Ironically, the study was funded by pro-charter backers like the Walton and Dell families

The findings?

According to the June 15, 2009 report by CREDO, the majority of charter schools (46 percent) perform no better than public schools. What's more, 37 percent of charter schools perform worse than public schools.


Stanford, CA – A new report issued today by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found that there is a wide variance in the quality of the nation’s several thousand charter schools with, in the aggregate, students in charter schools not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.

While the report recognized a robust national demand for more charter schools from parents and local communities, it found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.” (…)

Maybe this explains Ed Sec. Arne Duncan’s apparent back-peddling on RTT requirements, as reported in the Wall St. Journal: “School Reform Retreat? Duncan eases the rules for states to get ‘Race to the Top’ cash” (Nov. 26, 2009).

In essence, charter schools are private enterprises that operate schools using public (taxpayer) money, generally hire non-union teachers (whom they can potentially overwork and underpay), in some cases acquire public school buildings on the cheap or even for free (see the Achievement First franchise’s sweet deal, in the next post), or get voters to pay for their buildings. Unlike public schools, charters are not held accountable to an elected school board, parents or voters. If they violate their charter, though, they can be dissolved.

The model most favored by the “venture philanthropist” billionaire reformers like Eli Broad, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg along with Arne Duncan is typically the KIPP-style franchise, which arguably is fairly punitive. It consists of long school days for the kids and teachers, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., plus Saturdays. Discipline, uniforms and standardized testing and curriculum are key parts of the recipe. The students channeled into these schools are predominantly poor kids of color. (Hmm. Why aren’t KIPP enterprises going after affluent white families with this castor oil recipe, one might ask.)

It’s also troubling to read statistics like 60 percent of students enrolled in San Francisco Bay Area's KIPP charter schools dropped out, or articles about principals at some charters around the country that have been cited for abusing students. One charter model is effectively a training ground for the military. (See Chicago on then-Superintendent Arne Duncan’s watch.) In some cases, charters do help kids learn. But so do many public schools.

So there is no evidence that charters are the answer to public education's weaker points. Why then are the reformers trying to force a failed "solution" on the nation's school districts?

Good question. And one that parents and voters should be asking.

Merit-less Merit Pay?

“Merit pay” is the other concept that reformers are hot about right now. You hear it slipped into op-ed pieces and discussions all over the place. “The number one most important factor that influences a child’s education is an effective teacher” is their refrain.

Not overcoming poverty. Not safety of the school environment. Not strong and inspiring curriculum. Not engaged parents or attentive kids. Nope. Teachers.

Et tu NPR?

Even the supposedly liberal National Public Radio has run stories recently that are obsessively focused on the faults of teachers at the strange omission of all other factors. Curiouser and curiouser. Is it a coincidence that NPR receives funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Teach for America – two enterprises that support charters and “education reform”?

Yet, a recent three-year experiment with "merit pay" in Texas has proven a failure.

In its “Bonus for Supe with a B-?”

Wrote Westneat: “But schools are not widget factories. Texas just spent $300 million on merit bonuses for teachers and saw no effect on student achievement. Or on teacher retention.

I bet the reason is because teachers generally aren't in it for the money. Maybe fatter bonuses over years would have an effect on the talent pool. But a few thousand here or there is nibbling around the edges.”

In fact, the study found that teachers actually don’t tend to compete with each other, but work collaboratively and cooperatively.

Wrote Terrence Stutz in the Dallas Morning News: “Study: Texas’ teacher merit pay program hasn’t boosted student performance.”

Or as the Schools Matter blog reports, Arne Duncan is promoting failure: “Duncan’s BTTF (Bribe to the Flop).”

“Not only is no one excited, but most believe that none of 4.3 percent of the 2.5% of the corporate bailout will improve education or close the achievement gap or accomplish any of the blah-blah about competitive global economies. What it will likely do is continue shrinking school curriculums into the box built by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, weaken the teaching profession and teacher unions, make test scores even more high stakes and certainly more high profit, and solidify the education industry as the dominant voice for urban school matters in America. That's pretty good bang for your buck, or some excellent leveraging, as Bill [Gates] and Eli [Broad] might chuckle.

And all of it is going full steam ahead despite what the preponderance of evidence tells us about these proposals.”

Vanderbilt's studies found that teachers are egalitarian and merit pay does not have an effect, wrote Debra Viadero at Education Week’s blog:

“In the earlier study, which was conducted by researchers from the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, we learned that, when given a say, teachers tend to be remarkably egalitarian. They favor relatively modest awards and spread them widely.

In the new study, released just this month by the same group of researchers, we learn whether the pay incentives for teachers translated to any improvements in their students' test scores. The answer, in a word, is no. The third-year findings indicate that, overall, the program had a "weakly positive, negative, or negligible effect on student test-score gains."

And the Education in Texas blog offered some details on the unequal distribution of bonuses under merit pay, back in April 2008. (See “Why I’m Not Impressed by Merit Pay Schemes”).

Shaky Pillars

So it would seem that two key pillars of “education reform” are toppling under the weight of their own failure.

Clearly this is good reason for parents and school districts in states that may be tempted to vie for Race to the Top money to say, “Wait a minute? Why should we change our laws and schools in order to adopt failed ‘solutions’?”

Indeed, why should public school communities allow their federal or state government to dictate that they "fix" their public schools with false “solutions” like private charters and "merit pay"?