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Letter to WA State Senators and Governor Gregoire opposing SB 6696 & the "Race to the Top" Frenzy, from a Concerned Parent

March 9, 2010

Dear Governor Gregoire and State Senators,

I am a Seattle Public Schools parent and voter.

I am also an advocate for public education that is free of political and corporate agendas. I support a collaborative, cooperative learning environment for all our children. I don’t believe in scapegoating teachers or principals for the greater socioeconomic issues of our nation that affect how well children do in school.

I believe there is an opportunity this session to do damage to our kids and schools, spurred on by the budget crisis. So I urge you to vote NO on SB 6696.

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. Surely you agree.

Do you really want to be a party to that? Unfortunately, that is where this current form of “education reform” is leading. I urge you 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 I believe 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.

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 Unviersity, 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.”

Also, do you realize how little money a RTT 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.

Therefore, I urge you to OPPOSE this effort to win a “Race to the Top” grant: Senate Bill 6696.

This bill will NOT improve our schools and NOT lead to better outcomes for kids.

We already have innovative schools and programs in Washington state — high scoring Nova Alternative High School and numerous other alternative schools, the popular Aviation High, as well as the top performing 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.

For more information, please visit: Seattle Education 2010: http://www.seattle-ed.blogspot.com/, an archive of information gathered by concerned Seattle parents.

Thank you for your consideration of my thoughts.

Sincerely,

S. Peters
Seattle

Filed under: Accelerated Progress Program, charter schools, CREDO, Gov. Gregoire, high-stakes testing, MAP tests, mass firings, merit pay, NOVA high school, Race to the Top, SB6696, Vanderbilt University

Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals

This is on the Stop National Standards website and is worth a read.

Issued by the Alliance for ChildhoodMarch 2, 2010www.allianceforchildhood.org

WE HAVE GRAVE CONCERNS about the core standards for young children now being written by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The draft standards made public in January conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.

We have no doubt that promoting language and mathematics is crucial to closing the achievement gap. As written, however, the proposed standards raise the following concerns:
Such standards will lead to long hours of instruction in literacy and math. Young children learn best in active, hands-on ways and in the context of meaningful real-life experiences. New research shows that didactic instruction of discrete reading and math skills has already pushed play-based learning out of many kindergartens. But the current proposal goes well beyond most existing state standards in requiring, for example, that every kindergartner be able to write “all upper- and lowercase letters” and “read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.”

They will lead to inappropriate standardized testing. Current state standards for young children have led to the heavy use of standardized tests in kindergarten and the lower grades, despite their unreliability for assessing children under age eight. The proposed core standards will intensify inappropriate testing in place of broader observational assessments that better serve young children’s needs.

Didactic instruction and testing will crowd out other important areas of learning. Young children’s learning must go beyond literacy and math. They need to learn about families and communities, to take on challenges, and to develop social, emotional, problem-solving, self-regulation, and perspective-taking skills. Overuse of didactic instruction and testing cuts off children’s initiative, curiosity, and imagination, limiting their later engagement in school and the workplace, not to mention responsible citizenship. And it interferes with the growth of healthy bodies and essential sensory and motor skills—all best developed through playful and active hands-on learning.

There is little evidence that such standards for young children lead to later success. While an introduction to books in early childhood is vital, research on the links between the intensive teaching of discrete reading skills in kindergarten and later success is inconclusive at best. Many of the countries with top-performing high-school students do not begin formal schooling until age six or seven. We must test these ideas more thoroughly before establishing nationwide policies and practices.

We therefore call on the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to suspend their current drafting of standards for children in kindergarten through grade three.We further call for the creation of a consortium of early childhood researchers, developmental psychologists, pediatricians, cognitive scientists, master teachers, and school leaders to develop comprehensive guidelines for effective early care and teaching that recognize the right of every child to a healthy start in life and a developmentally appropriate education.

Ask the Executive Committee of NCTE and IRA why they haven’t expressed similar concern.
Ask your union.
Ask the PTA why they are, at Bill Gates, behest, out stumping for these harmful standards.

Filed under: Race to the Top, standardized testing, the acheivement gap

Senate Bill 6696, Race to the Top Funding and the State of Washington

Below is an e-mail that I sent to a group of parents and teachers earlier today explaining a bit of the history behind Bill 6696 and how it could impact our schools in Seattle.

It went as follows:

Regarding Bill 6696.

The Race to the Top agenda is to:

1) Force states, by way of a financial carrot, to convert a certain percentage of their schools into charter schools. This is to be done by closing schools and then opening them again as charter schools (this process also eliminates the lowest performing students and send them elsewhere) or establishing charter schools within an existing school building which the public school has to share. Because these schools are a charter franchise, the business is about making money, a new school is not built or a building leased. They simply take over an existing school building.

2) Destroy the teacher’s union by getting the public involved in a campaign that gets behind the idea that most teachers are ineffective and that teachers hide behind the protection of the union to be lazy and “ineffective”. The reason to bust the teachers’ unions is because charter schools, to keep their cost down, higher young, inexperienced teachers, right out of school, who are willing to work longer hours, including Saturdays, for less pay with no union protection. Charter schools do not hire union teachers.

3) Emphasize a need for student testing, assessments. This is how charter schools can continue to exist. They have to show to the state that the school is performing to a certain standard. The pressure is then placed onto the teacher to ensure that the students perform. This can and sometimes does become an exercise in simply teaching to the test. This student testing rating system is also used to determine by the state which schools are the “lowest performers” and therefore can be “turned around” which means changed into a charter school.

4) Institute merit pay based on a student’s performance. The student’s performance is based on assessment testing, eg: the MAP test for Seattle. Merit pay again, causes the teacher to focus on the test and little else. This is the carrot that dangles in front of the teachers in charter schools. The higher the test scores, the “higher” the salary (which isn’t much to begin with).

It is a market based system where teachers are referred to as “human capitol” and our children become commodities.

This system evolved in Chicago where Arne Duncan went from a professional basketball player in Australia to the CEO of the Chicago school system appointed by Mayor Daley. Mr. Duncan has no background in teaching or any other aspect of education. There was a close relationship that developed between Arne Duncan and Eli Broad, yes Eli Broad as in the Broad Foundation. Mr. Duncan started to close schools and set up charter schools and military schools. In the process, he fired about 2,000 teachers, most of them African American, and displaced children out of 75 public schools. The Broad Foundation boasted in their annual report last year that Chicago and Oakland received the greatest amount of financial support. Fortunately, Oakland ousted their Broad trained superintendent and the Broad has since pulled their support.

During Arne Duncan’s tenure as CEO of the CPS system, he became basketball buddies with the now President Obama. Mr. Duncan, who is now Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, has full reign of the public school systems throughout the United States and he is using the carrot of cash, which is to only go into the programs that I listed above, to ensure that the Duncan/Broad model of education happens throughout our country. Because we do not have charter schools in our state, we will not receive funding. That’s the bottom line So when you hear people say that we need to make changes to our educational system in Seattle and the rest of the state to receive RTTT funds, that is somewhat true but not really. It’s a possibility that we would receive funding but the chances are basically slim to none. That is what the state legislature is weighing right now. They know that we will probably not receive RTT funding and in that case, the cost of these changes would have to go into the state budget and we all know about that issue.

So, how is that affecting us here in Seattle?

The Alliance, with their NCTQ report in hand (the one that refers to teachers as “human capitol”), The League of Education Voters and the PTSA have pushed for the Race to the Top demands listed above with the exception of charter schools. They have been lobbying relentlessly for at least the last year to get a bill through that addresses the RTTT demands. That has developed into Bill 6696.

They have also been using the Community Values Statement as proof that all of us want what they are demanding.

I have been following this bill as it has gone through the state house and senate and at this point it is less than these organizations would want but there is language in the bill that suggest the notion that a teacher’s performance in some way be based on student assessments. For us that would be MAP testing. How this is interpreted by the state superintendent, our Broad trained superintendent and the school board will play a large part in how this will be carried out.

It is my recommendation that before you sound the alarm to your representatives, that you take a look at the bill or an abbreviation of it, and understand what this is all about within the context of this “Education Reform” movement.

Dora

Note:

Below is a portion of the bill, which was added to the original bill, that describes student performance in relationship to a teacher’s evaluation. There are also links to the bill and a summary of the bill.

23 (c) The four-level rating system used to evaluate the certificated
24 classroom teacher must describe performance along a continuum that
25 indicates the extent to which the criteria have been met or exceeded.
26 When student growth data, if available and relevant to the teacher and
27 subject matter, is referenced in the evaluation process it must be
28 based on multiple measures that can include classroom-based, school-
29 based, district-based, and state-based tools. As used in this
30 subsection, “student growth” means the change in student achievement
31 between two points in time.

Links to the bill:

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=6696&year=2009

http://www.wasa-oly.org/Content/NavigationMenu/GOVERNMENTRELATIONS/Documents_and_uploads/E2SSB6696Comparison.pdf

Filed under: Alliance for Education, Arne Duncan, community values statement, League of Education Voters, NCTQ, PTSA Seattle, Race to the Top, Seattle Public Schools, senate bill 6696

Board Testimony Regarding Closing Schools in Seattle

The following was my testimony that I gave tonight regarding the proposed Performance Mangement Policy 2.0, specifically regarding the closing of or reconstituting of a school. It went as follows:

Because of the time limitation, I will speak to one item on the Performance Management Policy 2.0. The wording in the policy goes as follows:

“Schools that have three years of low growth and sustain low absolute performance will be subject to one or more of the following actions taken by the Superintendent:” (The one that I will be referring to is…)
“Close and/or reconstitute the school”

First of all we know that there are no quick fixes or “bumper-sticker solutions” as one blogger stated, for what has been created over the years by social inequity and schools impoverished by lack of funding from the Federal and State governments.
Closing a school can devastate a community and there is no data at present that proves that these drastic measures even work.

But first let’s see where these ideas originated.

Up until 1991, Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education, played pro basketball in Australia. In 1992, Duncan became director of the Ariel Education Initiative in Chicago, he moved up to Deputy Chief of Staff for the former Chicago Public Schools CEO. Then in 2001, Mayor Daley appointed Duncan to serve as CEO of Chicago Public Schools. During his tenure there he also became basketball buddies with the now President Obama. Secretary Duncan has no experience teaching a class or managing a school.

Under Duncan’s control of the Chicago school district, the Chicago Public School system endured a relentless wave of school closings, privatization, militarization, union busting and blaming teachers for the problems of urban schools.

Between 2001 and 2008 Chicago’s public schools, under Arne Duncan’s leadership, closed 75 schools and eliminated the jobs of approximately 2,000 teachers and principals, the majority of them being African American.

The only people who seem to benefit from this were the charter school franchises, testing companies and the developers who needed to restructure a large portion of the Southside of Chicago referred to as the Mid-South which was an historic African American community. This community ran parallel to the Chicago Housing Authority’s Plan for Transformation which required the dismantling of public housing and which Arne Duncan referred to as his Renaissance 2010 plan which was actually the Mid-South plan.

Mr. Duncan has stated on several occasions that his Renaissance 2010 plan was a success but in reality it was just a little fizzle. During his time as CEO, Chicago public schools’ 4th-grade math NAEP scores rose from 214 to 222 (out of 500 points), or 8 points. In Washington, they went from 205 to 220, a rise of 15 points. The average large city math score went from 224 to 231, a 7-point gain.

Also during that time, Chicago’s 8th-grade math NAEP scores rose by 10 points, Washington DC’s 8th-grade scores rose by 8 points, and the average for large US cities rose by 9 points.

That was a lot of pain for very little gain.

We have already seen what happened in this scheme called “school transformation” or “turnaround”. It didn’t work then and there is no reason to consider it here in Seattle.

“When all else fails” as a education reformer stated, “You have to take drastic measures”

The problem is that we have not tried “all else”.

“All else” is funding schools adequately by the State and Federal Government, smaller class sizes, retaining teachers not riffing them particularly when enrollment is increasing and taking a more thoughtful and respectful approach by including our communities, our students, parents and educators in the process of transforming our schools.

Filed under: Arne Duncan, Renaissance 2010

Responses to the News that "Stand and Deliver" Teacher Jaime Escalante has Cancer.

Education News reported on March 2 that former L.A. high school math teacher, Jaime Escalante, whose heroic story was made famous by the movie “Stand and Deliver,” is now battling cancer and is having trouble paying for his health care.

Which prompted this first comment:

David Ziffer on 2010-03-02 23:41:38
Comment: If anyone wants a most astounding testimony to the fact that our public school system has collapsed and should be completely dismantled, one needs only to look at the story of this man. Check out his little biography on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaime_Escalante

Which in turn prompted this comment from me:

smp on 2010-03-03 01:08:37
Response:”Completely dismantled,” you say? Why? So that private interests can move in and take over, resegregrate kids with privately run but publicly funded charters? Studies show that charters, by the way, do not perform better than public schools, and many perform worse.

(See Stanford University’s CREDO study from 2009.) Studies also show that charters are resegregating America’s school kids.

No, Escalante’s story is as much about all the societal injustices and hurdles that each child brings to the classroom each day and which teachers must work with, through or beyond.

It’s the story of the triumph of a teacher despite the fact that our nation undervalues education and teachers, underfunds public education as a whole, and has as its economic engine a system that leaves the vast majority of Americans in the dust while a few at the top — including key ed “reformers” like billionaires Eli Broad and Bill and Melinda Gates — holding most of the wealth and believing they have the right to decide how to run public schools despite never having attended one themselves.

You want to know what’s wrong with public education? Poverty. Social inequality. Broken homes, bankrupt families, and schools impoverished by years of local, state and federal neglect.

Those who want to “dismantle” public education are often the same ones who want to “dismantle” (read: privatize) Social Security. Chances are they oppose the public option in health care reform as well. They oppose anything that resembles a public trust. They believe the answer to everything is free-market competition-driven capitalism.

Well, look where that’s got us. Ten percent unemployment nationally and the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The American Way of Business has run our country into the ground. Why should we hand over our public schools to these types as well? Their credibility is shot.

Free public education is a sound and noble idea — a fundamental component of a healthy democracy. As well as available and affordable to every child in the land, public education should also be free of corporate influences and political agendas.

There are great schools, great teachers and there is great learning going on in our public education system. Could it be better? Yes. There are also those that are failing. But why throw out the whole system because of the failings of some? That is essentially what such comments and the ed. reformers are proposing with their “Race to the Top” extortion.

We don’t need to dismantle our public school system — we need to fortify it.

We need to identify what works well in our public education system and replicate it.We need to fully fund our public schools — something that is rarely if ever done.

We need to acknowledge and address the societal factors that greatly determine how well a child does in school.

We need to support teachers like Escalante, instead of engaging in the current ed reformer tag-team sport of demonizing teachers.

We need to ask who these people are who want to “dismantle” public education and what their true agenda is. You’ll find that many of these paths lead back to the same people, from Bush era No Child Left Behinders to Obama’s continuation of conservative, corporate animosity toward public education — and desire to profit from it via privately run charters and computerized, standardized testing.

–sp.

Filed under: Jaime Escalante, Race to the Top

Letter from a Parent to the School Board Regarding the film "The Race to Nowhere"

Board Members:

I hope you will take note of this important documentary that is waking up parents and educators nation-wide at this time. It played Mar. 1 at Bainbridge Island HS, and is showing this evening in Mercer Island. I was unable to make either of these initial screenings, but am working to try to get another screening in Seattle in the near future, which I intend to invite you all to attend. I heard the Bainbridge screening was a nearly packed house.

As we talk of rigor and fret over our children’s futures, I hope we will remember that our children’s futures are their own, and not for we adults to dictate to them. This film highlights how the AP craze is robbing college bound teens of their opportunities to grow, mature, and discover at their own pace, in favor of capturing as many AP notations on their transcripts to make them competitive to college admissions offices. As you will see, many colleges are beginning to reconsider and/or dispense with AP altogether, as they are seeing the programs do more harm than good. (I need not mention the 2.3 million exams at $83 apiece the AP testing companies conduct each year, need I?)

With college costs continuing to out-pace income growth over the next ten years, making it less available to most students from the middle of the middle-class on down, many of these same children will be encouraged to bury themselves in student loans if they want a college degree, only to discover when they graduate that most white collar jobs they see today will be outsourced to other nations.

This obsession with the almighty dollar that has defined our working lives for the last 20 to 30 years has trickled down to where it grinds our children into the ground, as this film reveals.

I hope, as board members, that you will enlighten yourselves to the fact that a school is indeed not a business, and should not be run like one. It is an extension of the family and the community, and the best opportunity we have to do the least we can for our children, who will inherit the most corrupt, dysfunctional, polluted, indebted country of any generation since the 1930s. And we, the grownups, bear the responsibility for it.

I’m tired of hearing about “jobs of the 21st century” and “competitiveness” from you all. Are you trying to equip our children to survive in a Terminator-like, ultra-competitive world of the future, or are you trying to make good citizens and critical thinkers? I hope you will see this film and deeply consider what you can do as board members to make sure that our children not only have opportunities to get good educations, but to have enjoyable lives that children ought to be entitled to as a matter of right. Education is not job training, yet that seems to be the Board majority’s view. I hope this film will restore some balance to your discussions in the future.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

P.M.

Filed under: The Race to Nowhere

Buy This Book

All I’m going to say is buy this book, read it and then help us get Dr. Ravitch to Seattle, please.

Check out the following reviews for The Death and Life of the Great American School System:

THE WASHINGTON POST
Business principles won’t work for school reform, former supporter Ravitch says

LOS ANGLES TIMES BOOK REVIEW
‘The Death and Life of the Great American School System” by Diane Ravitch

THE DAILY KOS
Ravitch: The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Filed under: Diane Ravitch

A Response by Our Seattle PTSA President to My Testimony

I will not post this letter in it’s entirety that was sent to me by Ramona Hattendorf. Suffice it to say, it was quite lengthy and revealing.

To wit:

“This was not a grass roots process. It was done at the organizational level – via delegates from different organizations, and then via elected representation within PTA/PTSA. As we gather organizational support, the coalition will be reaching out to a broader community base.”

My question is, how can you represent the majority of members within the PTSA without it being discussed first with membership? And then, last minute say that it needs to be ratified within 24 hours after a big presentation by the Alliance on the NCTQ report to sell membership on supporting the CVS? I thought the PTSA was grass roots. It is to be grass roots, from the students to the parents to the community and on up. This was not that. This was top-down just like DG-J is and just like the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been on the subject of RTTT funding.

And my next question is, then who organized it? The Alliance for Education who are the parrots for Bill Gates and Arne Duncan with his ideas about merit pay and charter schools? Was this the PTSA’s idea? Many of us would like to know.

After my credentials were questioned in the letter as to whether I was a member of the PTSA and a very lengthy description by Ramona of her process in developing the CVS with others, I wrote this response:

“Ramona,

First of all, if my membership lapsed, it was not long ago. I joined last year after my daughter was enrolled in Nova which was in January of 2009. After going to at least two meetings, I decided to volunteer as Legislative Chair because there was a need to fill that position. I will ask Marilyn to check on my membership to confirm that it has lapsed.

Interestingly enough, I am a member of the Lowell PTSA so I know I’m in someone’s database.

Actually Ramona, several people who I spoke to the night of the meeting and afterwards said that they had not heard of the value statement before that meeting. I am not putting blame on you regarding that, you apparently did your best, but word just didn’t get out, not at least until that night, to a significant portion of the PTSA membership.

The reason for the mention regarding our superintendent was because it was through that revelation that had been made last year that many of us had started to understand what was going on in terms of charter schools, which is what the Broad Foundation is all about, and that lead us to the Education Reform movement with the major players being people such as Eli Broad and Bill Gates who are proponents of charter schools that hire non-union teachers, young teachers, paying them less and demanding more in terms of longer days and working on Saturday’s, merit pay and student assessment testing.

As a matter of fact, the NCTQ report that you introduced by way of the Alliance spokesperson in that night’s meeting was paid for by Gates money and purports merit pay and high stakes testing. I am very familiar with that report and it discusses in detail “Performance Pay”. Heidi mentioned the NCTQ report when referring to the CVS.I am not sure what she was trying to allude to but a connection was made. In fact the two of you touted the report enthusiastically.

You can see my post regarding the NCTQ report at:
http://seattle-ed.blogspot.com/2009/10/alliance-and-nctq-study.html
Scroll down towards the bottom of the page to see the post.

You and Heidi also stated during the meeting that you wanted to get the CVS approved before union negotiations. For what purpose? One of the items on the table is merit pay. I don’t see any other points in the CVS that would be directly associated with union negotiations.

And yes, Governor Gregoire has asked the state legislators to consider merit pay in the session that they are in right now. It might not be in a bill on the floor as we speak but she has asked that one be formulated.

Ramona and Heidi, I stand by my words as a member of the PTSA and will not back down from them. According to the response that the audience had of my words, I don’t think anyone else would want me to either.

Regards,

Dora”

As an aside Ramona and the Seattle Council VP, Heidi Bennett, were very active last year in CPPS. I am aware of this because they were part of the organizing of the presentation that Oki made about his book which addresses his support of merit pay.

A representative of CPPS was at the PTSA meeting when the CVS was being presented to the PTSA, Stephanie Jones, and spoke up about the CVS. In turn, Heidi and Ramona stated that CPPS was in full support of the CVS.

Another question. Who is running CPPS and who is running the PTSA?

I checked out the website for CPPS and there have not been any updates to the site since October and there are no meetings scheduled. I asked Stephanie about this and she stated that
“they” had been so busy with school open houses and community meetings that there have not been any meetings and that they would have a Facebook page up soon.

Has CPPS become a paper tiger with just one or two parents involved?

Inquiring minds want to know.

If people like Melissa with SSS and Ramona are saying that CPPS supports this and even had a hand in it, exactly what does that mean, really? Who exactly are CPPS representing? Did they do a poll or have a meeting?

By the way, CPPS is part of a larger organization which is headquartered in Mississippi. I don’t see any ramifications to that. It’s just an interesting fact.

As always, more questions than answers.

I’ll keep digging and keep you posted.

From the field.

Dora

Filed under: Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, CPPS, merit pay, PTSA Seattle, Ramona Hattendorf

Testimony Regarding the Community Values Statement

At about 12:30 PM on Thursday, January 21st , I received a forwarded e-mail from our school PTSA president that had been originally sent the night before at 9:20 PM.

The original e-mail was from our Seattle Council PTSA President asking all of the school PTSA Presidents to read the attached document and have someone at the meeting that next evening to vote on the document. That document was the Community Values’ Statement.

This was the first time that I had heard of or had an opportunity to read the document and yet we were requested to vote on it that evening. We ultimately got two minutes each to discuss the document before it was voted on. As Legislative Chair of Nova PTSA, I abstained from voting because I had questions and concerns about the document and they are as follows:

The first sentence is “Every classroom is led by an effective teacher”.

That sounds innocuous enough but how do you measure effective teaching? Within the education reform movement, the term “effective” is used when discussing measuring a teacher’s performance by using student assessment testing. The next step after this testing is awarding teachers who are more “effective” with bonuses or higher pay. This is referred to as “merit pay”.

And the second sentence is, “Evaluate principals and teachers using multiple measures that include student performance.”

How do you measure the effectiveness of a teacher based on a student’s performance? Whether they get A’s or B’s in their classes? Do you review the student’s portfolio? Or, do you give them a test? More than likely, most people would have the students take a test. It’s less expensive and seemingly efficient. With Governor Gregoire pressing our state legislators to approve specific aspects of the Race to the Top requirements, one of those requirements being merit pay, this sentence just gives them the perfect reason to vote for such a bill.

When we moved to Washington from California, I decided that we would live on Mercer Island based mainly on WASL scores. Little did I know what the price was to get such high test scores. The focus was on that test and little more. There was no time for creative thinking that used a synthesis of different thoughts and ideas, there was only one way to solve a problem. A lot of stress was put on the students to do well on the test and they did perform but at a price.

The material is dumbed down and it’s a matter of memorization with no understanding of the larger picture.

That’s why my daughter goes to Nova now.

What we really need to be looking at is supporting our teachers by creating smaller class sizes, better and adequate materials for their classes and a pleasant and safe environment for them to work in, not merit pay based on student testing.

D.

Filed under: community values statement, merit pay

Notes From the Field:The Garfield PTSA Meeting, Curriculum Alignment, CAN, Read/Write and "Teacher Effectiveness"

A friend asked me to go to the Garfield meeting to listen to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson speak about the curriculum alignment in math. Because I live across the street from Garfield and I’m always up for more information about our schools, I agreed to go and take notes for them.

Ah, Garfield. I will not go on about the renovation but at sometime everyone needs to just walk into the front door and check it out. It never ceases to amaze me how much money was spent on that building.

To add insult to injury, when I walked in they were painting the walls in the cafeteria! The same color! I didn’t see any damage to the walls and could not understand why they were doing that. After they finish up there, they need to get over to the Meaney building and do a little scraping, patching and painting of those walls. Those walls have peeling paint and we won’t EVEN talk about the color.

But, I was not there to review the décor, I was there to take notes about our math and science curriculum alignment and I was ready, pen in hand.

Blum and Sundquist were there and so was the Executive Director of SEA, Glenn Bafia.

First there was the PTSA business and then an introduction to our superintendent.

There was a handout that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson referred to that I was able to obtain, they ran out. It is, according to DGJ, on the SPS website and it is titled “Strengthening Talent in Every Seattle School/ January 2010”. OK, I’m ready.

Well first of all, let me say that our superintendent can read well and very quickly. She read through those bullet points at an impressive pace. There was no time for interjection or questions. After the first set of bullet points, while she was catching her breath, a parent asked a question. Whoa, what timing!

Now I will give you my bullet points from my notes regarding this part of the conversation:

MGJ stated that there was a “Validation Process” that a suggested course could go through to ensure that it met the requirements for core curriculum.

There would be a manager for each subject such as a “Science Manager” who would oversee the process.

There would also be a manager for the Advanced Learning Department.

Then there were a lot of questions about the math and science core curriculum but DGJ said that she was not prepared to answer those questions. Well, that’s too bad because that’s why we were all there, including me.

Then there were a few questions about the graduation requirements and the core curriculum but again, DGJ did not have that information. She said that we could get it “on the web”.

Well, moving right along. At this point a member of the Garfield Foundation got up and fielded a question about an accelerated Science program. He said that a student could take an exam to bypass a particular core curriculum class but that it would be discussed in the future. Apparently that has not been worked out yet.

Next there was a presentation to DGJ about the Read/Write program that seems to be successful at Garfield. We were told that about 100 students at Garfield can read only up to the 4th grade level. Because of the number of students and the lack of funds, they are not able to meet the needs of these students and that there is a wait list. Some of these students will not be able to participate in the program and will graduate reading at that lower level. The presenter said that it takes about one semester to get the students up to their grade level. They were requesting support for this program by SPS.

Wow. Awesome program! Maybe the Alliance could pitch in here and use some of those thousands that it’s thrown away on the NCTQ report and save these children. Or maybe Mr. Gates could throw a few million this way instead of spending his money on creating more assessment tests for our kids.

The next program is the “CAN”, College Access Network”, program that is at Garfield, West Seattle and Franklin. It has been successful at placing almost 100% of its’ students into colleges. The Garfield PTSA was requesting support for this program also.

DGJ said that she had not seen the request but would review it.

The next item on the agenda was, here we go again, “Teacher effectiveness, hiring and retention”, one of my favorite subjects.

It was stated, by the PTSA Co-chair, that we lost many of our good teachers because of the rif (the rif that I still don’t see the point of since just about everyone was hired back. The district knew that there were 1,200 students over-enrolled in April and yet they were determined to rif teachers. Whose fault was that, the teachers’ union or bad management on part of our administration? More to follow on my theory later.)

I caught the quote “Ineffective teachers in front of the classroom” from the co-chair. So this is the crux of our entire problem, bad teachers and the union. Wow, how simple, or simplistic, the answer must be. Where we are in education, of course, would not have anything to do with class size, the socio-economic situation of many of our students, buildings that are too hot or too cold to be in, hungry kids, teachers having to deal with not only over-crowded classrooms but special needs students who want to be mainstreamed and children with behavioral issues.

Underfunding? Not even brought up. It’s the teachers.

“Seniority trumps” for good reason, we have “lost many young, good teachers” How many? Most of them were brought back. And the final question to DGJ, “What can we do to make it clear” that we are unhappy with this situation?

DGJ responded that there were avenues to go through but unfortunately I did not write down what she mentioned.

The co-chair piped in again and began to blame the teachers for the lower reading levels. If I was a teacher right now in the SPS system I would be truly upset at this time. They are getting blamed for everything, all the ills of the world, and what do they get for it? Low pay, little support, lousy work environment, in most schools at least, not enough materials and books, overcrowded classrooms, need I go on?

Then someone got up and suggested that there be a vote on the last seven bullet points on the handout that had been provided by DGJ. It all looked pretty good if not rather vague. One point did stand out to me though. “Align pay for our instructional professionals to the district’s strategic goals”. Hmmm, what does that mean?

Several people had that same question and concern. Was this another way of introducing the idea of merit pay? Someone ask DGJ if teacher performance should be a factor in evaluating our teachers. Our superintendent responded that there was a four-tiered evaluation process in place that was used.

More discussion ensued and then the superintendent went exit right. I don’t recall her saying good-by but she must have.

The discussion continued and I found it to be interesting and provocative. There should be more discussions like this one. Unfortunately it didn’t happen at the Seattle PTSA meeting when the powers that be were pushing through a similar statement called the Community Values’ Statement.

I won’t go into the details but it did eventually come down to a vote on supporting the bullet points and it was split down the middle. 27 yes, 14 against and 13 abstaining (not enough info or too vague).

Interesting evening, glad I went.

By the way, the acoustics in the cafeteria are horrendous. Next time I would suggest meeting in the library.

Signing off for now.

D

Filed under: CAN, merit pay, Read/Write program

Mission Statement

This blog represents a compilation of information that has been gathered over the last year by concerned parents and educators who are a part of the Seattle Public School system.

Our goal is to have an informed public on issues that affect us in Seattle as it relates to public school education.

There will be recommended web site readings on a variety of subjects but our initial focus will be on the Race to the Top campaign, merit pay for teachers, charter schools, the presence of the Broad Foundation within SPS and alternative school programs in Seattle.

Sue Peters
Dora Taylor

seattle.ed2009@gmail.com

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