Thursday, March 30, 2006

Parents upset over WASL survey

Via The Spokane Spokesman-Review:

Parents decry WASL survey
Questions invade privacy, they say

Sara Leaming
Staff writer
March 30, 2006

A survey attached to Washington's high-stakes test has some local parents fired up over what they feel is a violation of students' privacy rights.

Spokane-area members of the statewide Mothers Against WASL and Parent Empowerment Network are asking the state to remove a voluntary student survey included with this year's Washington Assessment of Student Learning because they say it probes students' private lives without parental consent.

The survey, used for educational research, asks how much television students watch each day, what grades they earn, how often they move, and how much education their parents achieved.

"That's none of the state's damn business, unless they are paying child support to help me raise my kids," said Spokane Public Schools parent Shelley Anderson. "I resent the fact that they are asking my children those kinds of questions."

State officials say that the voluntary survey is not new and that parents have the right to opt their child out of answering the questions. The same survey questions were administered with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or Iowa Test of Educational Development, given to students in grades three, six and nine until last year.

The survey will be attached to the end of the WASL exam to be taken in April by students in grades three through eight and grade 10.

"The questions no longer had a home. We had talked long about putting these kinds of questions on the WASL, making it clear that it was not mandatory," said Kim Schmanke, spokeswoman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. "It doesn't reflect on the student's scores. We're just trying to get basic information on (the district's) students."

Schmanke said the information would be used to look at students' lives and activities to determine their effects on education.

"Districts appreciate having the information," Schmanke said. "How often kids read or the kinds of things that occupy their time … schools can use these results to look at a trend."

According to a document from state officials to those administering the tests, the survey "should be treated like a test." Schmanke did not know if the students themselves could refuse to complete that portion of the exam.

In addition to a letter from the parent groups, a Spokane attorney also sent a letter to state Superintendent Terry Bergeson questioning the survey and its legality.

Jeffry Finer contends the survey violates federal law with regard to research involving human subjects, including informed consent.

"There are some real strict congressional requirements that have to be met. From what I can see, none of those have been met," Finer said. "I'm not saying it wouldn't be helpful to have this information. I'm not attacking the nature of the knowledge they want. But parents should be given the opportunity to know about this survey and should be permitted to opt out, or give consent for it."

Schmanke said information about the survey was included in an informational booklet for parents about the WASL titled "Aiming High." A 2006 version of the booklet was sent to all the school buildings in the state in January, she said.

A three-sentence paragraph was added to the 2006 version to inform parents about the survey, directing them to a Web site to view the questions.

"The (booklet) I saw came home at the beginning of the school year, and it was the 2005 version. Nobody has seen the 2006 yet," Anderson said. "The information about the survey is pretty much buried."

Parents also question whether the surveys are anonymous, because they are attached to the student's WASL test booklets. The high school students have to sign their name on the exam.

"The opinion survey is attached to a document that identifies the minor whose opinions are recorded," Finer wrote in his letter to the state.

Schmanke said it was not the state's intention to identify individual students.

"It's the information in the aggregate that is important," she said. "You can't get information in the aggregate without asking individual students."

The Parent Empowerment Network, based in Spanaway, Wash., gave the state until next Monday to respond to their request to remove the survey before it takes legal action, said Juanita Doyon, the organization's director.

"They have not responded yet," Doyon said Wednesday. "We believe the questions themselves are very personal and invasive and harmful to students."

A quick Google Search turns up this website from Mothers Against WASL, showing that Ms. Anderson's objections agains the WASL aren't a recent thing. In fact, according to she's an executive board member. Even if the poll was perfectly innocuous, one wonders if she still wouldn't be outraged.

You can read more about Mothers Against WASL here and the Parent Empowerment Network here.

Juanita Doyon, the leader of the Parent Empowerment Network, was also a candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction this past election.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Fight at School, Get Deported

From the "That Was a Really Bad Choice Department" at the Seattle Times:

An Everett High School senior could be deported to Mexico if he is convicted of a felony assault charge for pushing an Everett Police officer during a March 6 fight outside the school.

Rogelio Hernandez, 18, was charged with third-degree assault in Snohomish County Superior Court on Thursday for checking an officer with his upper body and knocking her to the ground, according to charging papers.

Hernandez, a legal resident of the U.S., has been in the country five years and could be sent back to Mexico if convicted, Schwartz said. He has no criminal history, according to charging papers.

There's more in the full article. The kid says he was just trying to get to his friend to help her, but when the police are on the scene and telling you to get out of the way there's really no excuse for not doing exactly that.

Read more here, if any.

The Narrowing Curriculum

The big story in education this week is the front page story in the New York Times talking about how the social studies and sciences have been receiving less attention because of the reading and math mandates of NCLB. Joanne Jacobs has a great cross-section of what other bloggers are saying, and the NPR bit by Claudio Sanchez is also very concise and worth listening to.

From my perspective, I'm firmly on the side of those who sacrifice the "encore" subjects to increase time spent on the core areas, math and reading. I know that as I plan for the week I always make sure that I work in every area of the reading curriculum first, followed by the math. Any time that's left over can be split among art projects, social studies lessons, health, recess, or science.

The big idea is integration, which is truly the ideal. As a first grade teacher, though, I have a problem with that sometimes. Take this quote, for example, from The Instructivist Blog:

"Reading" is not some abstract, isolated skill but a practical tool that can be applied to many fields. Couldn't you learn a lot of history and science by reading? Whatever happened to reading across the curriculum?

The trick is, there are some skills in reading that have to be learned in isolation, particularly in the lower grades. This is the entire point of the Reading Wars: the idea that students can learn to read just by reading opposed to the idea that you have to specifically teach the skills of reading.

The idea of "reading across the curriculum" is a valid one, though. In the social studies especially we do quite a bit of reading about explorers, families, and whatever the topic of the week happens to be in Scholastic News this week. To take this full circle, though, the kids who get the most out of SN are the ones who can a) read along and b) comprehend what they're reading. For those who can't, it's just one more thing for them to dislike.

Read more here, if any.

Thinking about stinking

Via National Public Radio comes this news about kids who stink:

Saying cologne-drenched students are exacerbating asthma problems for some of their peers, a Cape Cod high school seeks to ban cologne, body spray and other scented items from school.

In the lower elementary grades this isn't really a concern. I've heard from friends in the middle school and high school, though, that the clouds they walk through on a daily basis are pretty thick.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Thinking about Booth Gardner

This probably betrays a lot about me, but I'm too young to remember much about Booth Gardner's two terms as governor here in Washington. He's been in the news quite a bit in the last year, though, first as a staunch opponent of the WASL and now as a proponent of assisted suicide (registration required).

As someone who has Parkinson's Disease Gardner is more than qualified to talk about what the right to die would mean to him. It isn't something that I've thought much about beyond reading Sherwin Nuland's excellent book How We Die many years ago. The Oregon Assissted Suicide law was recently upheld by the Supreme Court, and we had a similar law pass in Washington years ago before it was overturned--I'll be curious to see if this campaign goes anywhere.

Read more here, if any.

Inlander Commentary: The WASL Dilemma

There's an interesting commentary piece by Dr. Donald Orlich of WSU in this week's The Inlander entitled The WASL Dilemma. He talks about the connection between poverty and academic success, which we all understand. My problem with the article is in statements like this, his lead sentence:

The Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) is causing deleterious effects on poor, disabled and minority children by creating a permanent "underclass" with just a hint of covert institutional racism.

Doesn't this seem exactly backwards? Pushing aside the argument about whether the WASL is a fair test or not, aren't we doing the right thing by pointing out the disparities that exist between white and minority students instead of a) pretending they don't exist or b) hiding them in other data? Lest we forget, here's the achievement gap for Washington State, as measured by the percentage of kids who passed the reading WASL:

4th Grade Whites: 84.5%
4th Grade Blacks: 69.1%
4th Grade Hispanics: 61.1%

10th Grade Whites: 77.0%
10th Grade Blacks: 53.7%
10th Grade Hispanics: 53.1%

Read more here, if any.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Are we trying to do too much?

There's an excellent post at The Education Wonks talking about a program in the Chicago Public Schools where some kids are being given bags of food to take home over the weekend. This made me think of a great discussion I had during my book study of On Common Ground, talking about the role of the schools and how it has changed.

I forget how the topic came up, but we were talking about bussing. Our school counselor is an extremely intelligent woman whom I respect quite a bit, and she flat out said she was against school bussing. She believed it was one of the earliest steps on a slippery slope; that we started arranging ways for them to get to school, then once they got here we started feeding them lunch, then brekfast. Now there are before school programs, after schools programs, sex ed, and a hundred other bits of teaching that used to be part of a parents job but that the schools have taken away.

That to me raised the question of whether we have really taken anything away, or are we meeting the needs of the parents? I doubt that anyone would argue that school bussing is inherantly evil, nor would anyone suggest that a child should go hungry if the school has the means to feed them. Again, though, even if it is something that the parents are more than willing to have the school do should it be the schools job? Are we doing to much of the "other stuff" and ignoring our core competency, teaching?

I don't really know. There isn't a definitive answer. Given the discussions about helicopter parents and the "me" generation, though, it's something worth thinking about.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Books one of my kids has said he isn't allowed to read, or have read to him

1) The Arthur series of books by Mark Brown, because of the Buster Bunny controversy.

2) Any of the books about Franklin Turtle. His cartoon series was also found objectionable.

3) The Magic Treehouse books, because of magic.

4) In a similar vein, the Magic Schoolbus videos.

5) Junie B. Jones.

6) Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Magic, again.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Boys vs. Girls on the WASL--Girls win! Girls win!

I was poking around the Everett Herald's website and found this incredible subsection that gives a breakdown of WASL scores in math, reading, and writing by gender. Here's the breakout data for Central Valley High School, one of the largest schools on the east side of the state:

Central Valley High School
Central Valley School District
Grade: 10

Trailing by
Did boys trail girls in math? No
Did boys trail girls in reading? Yes 4%
Did boys trail girls in writing? Yes 19%

Number of boys tested for math: 214 Met standard: 64%
Number of girls tested for math: 207 Met standard: 63%

Number of boys tested for reading: 215 Met standard: 80%
Number of girls tested for reading: 207 Met standard: 84%

Number of boys tested for writing: 211 Met standard: 69%
Number of girls tested for writing: 207 Met standard: 88%

It's neat to see it broken out like that. Whether it's useful information or not, I don't know, but it's certainly food for thought.

Read more here, if any.

School Closure Debate in Baltimore Gets Nasty

The new Education Week came in the mail yesterday. There's an interesting article in it about school closures, with a couple of pictures that really catch the eye. The first:

The caption in Edweek reads, "Colby McLean, left, and Keyona Turner hold signs in favor of Harbor City West High, which is slated to be closed."

The part that gets me here is the language on the sign the lady is holding: BCPS: Facilities Solution or The Final Solution

Is she really equating the closing of a high school with Eichmann's Final Solution, which lead to the death of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany? If we can invoke Godwin's Law here in the real world, Ms. Turner just lost her case. If she's a student at the school, her social studies and history teachers should be hanging their heads in shame.

In the equally overwraught category, picture #2, which has been yanked off of Edweek's webite. Here the caption read, "A student lies on the sidewalk during a March 1 rally to protest the planned closure of six schools in Baltimore. The students chanted "No education, no life," and demanded that class sizes be reduced to 20 students or fewer before any schools are closed." —Courtesy of Algerina Perna/The Sun

You can read the entire Education week article here ($).

Read more here, if any.

Monday, March 20, 2006

65% Solution--Dead in Washington State

Heard of the 65% solution yet? It's a plan masterminded by the president of that would require schools to spend 65% of their budgets on classroom spending. This sounds swell, but there's two really big problems:

1) There's no correlation between classroom spending and high student achievement. You can spend less than 65% and be stellar; you can spend more than 65% and be quite poor. Standard and Poor's did the definitive study on the issue; it's good reading.

2) The areas that don't qualify as classroom spending are irresponsible. Schools need counselor and nurses, but they would be part of the 35%. Schools need principals, but they too are not classroom spending. We need electricity and gasoline, but they also would count against the 65% cap.

Governor Rick Perry signed the 65% solution into law in Texas, so it will be interesting to see what happens down there. Here in Washington the plan was to take it to a ballot initiative, but per this article in the Seattle Times it looks like that's not going to happen. One interesting thing to look at is the funding discrepency; it really shows you the power of the WEA. From the article:

According to reports filed with the (Public Disclosure) commission, the group received $9,100 in contributions in January — $5,000 of which came from Janssen. The group did not file a report by March 10, the deadline to report any contributions over $200 for February. Under PDC rules, the group did not have to file a report if it didn't receive contributions over $200 during that time period.

The Washington Education Association had helped launch a counter-campaign against the initiative. The WEA was the main contributor toward a ballot committee group called "No Gimmicks for Kids" and authorized $50,000 for polling and attorney fees to fight I-924.

It's reminiscent of the California Teacher's Association fighting Arnold's ballot measures, if not nearly on the same scale.

Read more here, if any.

Barak Obama talks education at Garfield High School

Per this article in the Seattle Times, Illinois Senator Barak Obama was at Garfield High School in Seattle yesterday talking about education. Mainly it sounds like it was a fund raiser for Maria Cantwell, but there's some good stuff in the article.

This quote from Obama I especially liked:

"That money's not going to make a dime's worth of difference if, when your child comes home from school, you don't turn off that television," he said, to applause.

And, in the "He just doesn't get it" department:

And while some were appreciative of the gesture, others dismissed it as too little, too late. Eddie Snead, a social-studies teacher at Cleveland High School, said he invited Cantwell to speak to students last year, but his call to her office went unreturned.

"All of a sudden, election year, she's here," he said.

Notice the singular word "call." If he truly made only one call to a US Senators office and expected a response, he's nuts.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Differentiation Dilemma

There's been a big push in my district in recent years towards Differentiated Instruction, and it's easy to see why. Aiming to the middle will meet the needs of 50% of the kids on a bell-shaped curve, but the upper and lower quartile needs (deserves?) something else.

My struggle this year has been in the how. I have a solid core group of 5 readers who are absolutely exceptional. Right now we're working on reading Pearl Buck's "The Big Wave", which is a challenging book with some pretty deep philosophical dilemmas. It's not a happy book, so far anyhow. The Asian tsunami is still fresh in the minds of a lot of my kids, and even if they're not sophisticated enough to understand what devestation on that scale really means they still know it was a bad, sad thing. Prior to "The Big Wave" we read the first two Magic Treehouse books, "Just the Two of Us" by Beverly Cleary, and "The Adventures of Captain Underpants."

Did I mention these kids are 1st graders?

Next I think I'm going to take them into the Ramona books, because they can handle it. Their comprehension (as measured by Accelerated Reader) is super. They write beautifully and make excellent connections while reading. Staying ahead of them is hard.

Then there's the bottom quartile. They're all boys, and reading just doesn't come easily for them. One of my critiques of the Houghton-Mifflin program that we use is that it moves so quickly from concept to concept. For the average-high kids this is OK; they pick up on things pretty easily. For the kids who struggle with reading, though, introducing SH, TH, CH, and WH IN THE SAME DAY was just ridiculous. These are the kids who need a week just to understand and work with the "sh" blend, and when they faced them all at one time it was way too much.

One of my little guys, more than all the others, has given up. What we do in reading is too much for him, and he knows it. The majority of the class will be plugging away, and he can't handle the basic worksheets without teacher or peer support.

He's a first grader. It's not an easy thing to see.

So, again, I'm differentiating. The little guy above is getting 30 minutes of extra help a day from my student teacher, plus 30 minutes of Title, plus 20 minutes in a small reading group with the rest of my laggards. He's making gains, God bless him, but when we do our end of year assessments I know what they're going to say about his reading, and about my teaching.

I've been running around this morning printing off materials for J, A, and T (who all read at a 4th grade level), Accelerated Math reports for J (he's learing the times table, and fractions), speaking with TR's parents about ways to accomodate his visual difficulties, choosing books for A and C so they can earn their AR certificate, shopping on-line for the next book for my upper reading group, helping my S.T. plan the low reading group, and trying to get 20 different kids to 20 different, distinct places--wherever that may be.

I also debate with myself where to put the resources. As an ethical question, do I owe the same experience to every child in the class? Is it OK to spend so much time on my high kids, trying to make sure they grow in their reading too, if I have kids in my class in danger of failing? Is it reasonable to tell the high kids to wander off and read a book of their choice while I work with the low kids more directly? Research says that a reader struggling at the end of 1st grade is likely to be struggling at the end of 3rd, 7th, and 12th grades too. Knowing that, what does one do?

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

When administrators attack!

In December Naches Valley approved pay raises for the district administrators. In January, they found out they could be $600,000 in the hole if they don't make changes. The results? 10 layoffs this week, with 14 more that could happen. From the Yakima Herald-Republic, emphasis added is mine:

Administrative raises rankle Naches school taxpayers

Caught off guard by declining enrollment, the Naches Valley School District will lay off 10 people at the end of the week and another 14 this spring to avoid a $600,000 deficit in December 2006.

"There's no savings account. We have to cut expenses now," Superintendent Duane Lyons told a group of about 40 parents and taxpayers Monday at a board meeting at Naches Valley High School.

Most of the layoffs affect paraprofessionals, although custodial, maintenance and secretarial positions are also part of the plan.

But many in the audience said the district should have better enrollment forecasting, and they wanted the cuts to take place across the board and to include administrators.

"Why are there no administrative cuts? Why were raises for administrators approved in December?" asked Gary Tolle.

The school board approved two-year raises for administrators in December, before learning in January that student enrollment had dropped by 20 more students than expected, reducing state funding and putting the budget out of balance.

"In retrospect, the decision to approve and implement the administrator's raises may have been a mistake, Lyons said in a recent e-mail to the Yakima Herald-Republic.

An administrator earning $74,000 a year saw a $3,100 increase.

The second year of raises for administrators has since been frozen, saving about $21,000, according to the board-approved plan. Staff members are also deferring their vacation pay and taking voluntary reductions in paid time in order to save money, Lyons said.

School board chairman Don Flyckt rejected the call to cut administrators' jobs or pay.

"They're just as important as classroom teachers, and we need to pay them their salaries," he said.

The district's budget had anticipated about 20 fewer students but the actuality turned out to be 40, reducing state revenue by about $100,000. Lyons and board members said they don't know what in particular is behind the drop, though they said such fluctuations aren't unusual.

A recent voter-approved levy to raise $3.3 million won't begin generating money until January 2007, too late for the current crisis.

I believe that most administrators deserve every cent that they make, but man things like this don't play well in the press.

Read more here, if any.

WASL Week--The Front Page Stories

Driving back from the WERA conference this week gave me a unique chance to pick up several of the Sunday newspapers from around the state, and the majority had this week's WASL window as a front-page story. This is the first class that must pass the WASL to graduate (or meet the standard in a different way, see here) so it's a pretty major event in education here in the Evergreen State.

The Yakima Herald-Republic talked quite a bit about the anxiety incumbent in the tests. The first section gives a nice overview:

It's not quite pass or perish, but it may seem pretty close to that for the thousands of Yakima Valley 10th-graders who will begin taking the first WASL that counts Monday. The Class of 2008 is the first class that will need to pass the Washington Assessment of Student Learning to get a high school diploma.

"I'm just nervous because it counts so much for you," said Brittney Segura, 15, a sophomore at East Valley High School.

"It's stressful thinking I have to pass it to get out of high school. It's just one more thing that I have to do to get into college."


"I don't think we should be required to take this test, we already have SAT stuff," she said.

Many of Segura's peers share her sentiments.

"It's frustrating. You don't want to take it over and over," said Sammi Eslinger, 16, another East Valley sophomore.

"If you don't pass, you don't get a diploma and you don't get to go on with what you want to do in life," she said.

The Seattle Times easily has the most in-depth coverage. Sunday's front page picture lead to a double-page spread inside the newspaper proper, and the mini-site that I linked to above has excellent material.

There was also about a page and a half inside the Tacoma News Tribune discussing the test.

Please think nice thoughts about our sophomores--they could use the good karma.

Read more here, if any.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

WASL Weekend--Here comes the test!

There's a really interesting article at KOMO TV talking about the recent modifications to the WASL requirements. If you have a high-speed connection it's worth watching the 2-minute video clip, if only to see the arena-style newscast that KOMO does that absolutely drives me nuts.

Also from the KOMO website is this story about the basketball team from Renton High School. #1 ranked in the state and in the 3A basketball tournament, but to be able to go and watch the game you had to be carrying at least a 3.3 GPA. There's two perfectly contrasting quotes in the article that illustrate the importance of classroom time:

"We want students to focus on academics," said Assistant principal Ed Crow. "We want students in the classroom."

Compare that to this:

"They shouldn't even have had school," said Parent Arthur Robinson. "The whole school should have come."

Of 60 students eligible, only 6 went to the game. Cynics wonder how many of the players were below the 3.3 standard.

Read more here, if any.

Father Sues over WASL

Per this article in the Olympian. The dad in question is suing the Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the leader of his school district (Tacoma) arguing that the WASL is discriminated against minority students.

Two thoughts:

1) If he had sued his kids' teachers, this would be the most explosive story to hit the ed blogosphere in history.

2) Is the father doing everything he can to help his kids pass? Is suing for 1/2 million dollars really going to help their future success?

Read more here, if any.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Fun at the WERA conference

For the past two days I've been attending the WERA conference at the Hilton Hotel in beautiful (?) Sea-Tac. I didn't even know there was such a thing until my principal wandered in a couple of weeks ago and asked if I would like to go, but it's been well worth attending.

There was only one session this morning. I went to an update on this year's recently completed legislative session, and there were a couple of things that jumped out:

1) Teachers will be getting a 3.2% COLA next year. At a $30,000 base salary that means an additional $960 per year, or $80 a month. Cynics may say that's just enough to cover the inevitable rise in health premiums, but wouldn't you rather have it than not?

2) At one point Terry Bergeson had proposed that anyone who gets a Professional Certificate, the new level of competency that the state put in about 5 years ago, be given a 5.5% pay bump (see here for more info). So far there aren't all that many ProCert people around the state, so it wouldn't have cost much, and it would have been a nice way to thank those of use who have had to put up with the constant changes and trials that have been inherant in ProCert from the beginning.

3) Collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) can now be approved for up to 6 years, compared to the 3 that we do now. I asked the presenter what she thought the practical impact of this would be, but she wasn't sure. I would think that it could be a hell of a tool at the bargaining table--what would a district give to have 6 years of labor peace?

An interesting note to the above is that she said this change was initiated by the classified employees union, and that the WEA didn't really take a position. In looking at the bill here it clearly applies to more than just the teacher's unions and had bi-partisan support, which is a happy development when you're talking unions.

4) There were also several interesting things relating to alternate pathways to earn the Certificate of Academic Achievement. OSPI is going to establish baselines for the PSAT, SAT, and ACT that would allow those tests to be substituted for the math section of the WASL. This is huge for that 50% of the kids who can't pass the test. There was also discussion of allowing portfolios to be used to prove mastery.

The most controversial (and least refined) alternate pathway was a plan to allow grades to be used to prove that the student truly did know the WASL material. Under the idea presented, if a student who failed the math section of the WASL had a better GPA in their math classes than at least 6 students who did pass the WASL, that student would be given credit for passing (more information here, scroll about halfway down).

There were quite a few objections raised to this plan. Could a teacher give extra credit to a student who was lagging, artificially putting them ahead of the rest of cohort? What about the difference in teachers, i.e. soft graders vs. hard graders? Would Mrs. Smith call the school to make sure that Little Johnny was given the "easy" teacher, thereby ensuring a high GPA?

It's a work-in-progress, to be sure, and I give OSPI credit for trying to find a way. This seems to open us up to criticism from the Checker Finns of the world, and quite appropriately--can anyone really argue that these changes aren't a step down from the rigor that we were pushing for?

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Where the money goes

Really interesting article in USA TODAY today about the idea of school decentralization. The idea is that more money would flow to the schools and less to the district office. Bills would be paid at the building level, which I think is a superior idea--when the teachers don't know what the electric bill is, they don't really have any incentive to turn off the computers at night or make any other efforts to conserve energy.

It also made me think of this recent article in EdWeek($) talking about how the schools down there are going to be restructured, more bottom-up instead of top-down. It's also one of the traditional arguments for Charter Schools--give the staff more say, and you'll get better results.

Read more here, if any.

Take the Lead--First one over the cliff wins!

For years my union, the Washington Education Association, has been complaining about teacher wages here in the Evergreen State. My tendency has always been to smile politely and let them go on; I personally feel pretty adequately compensated, and you can't beat the benefits.

Recently they've started a new campaign for increased funding called Take The Lead. Bully for them! There's nothing like a good campaign, after all, and anything that gets me raise is a happy thing. What I'm having a problem with, though, is the creative use of statistics to make their point. It's dangerous, and it could backfire.

As an example, there was a mass-mailing last month to kickoff the campaign. On page 2 this fact is presented:

We are dead last in compensation among the five West Coast states -- and well below the national average, too.

Dead last is bad, right? But let's consider what that really means. In 2004 the AFT published this report which gives Washington's average salary as $45,437 for a ranking of 40th in the nation. Last we are, but there's some good reasons for that:

1) We're behind California ($56,444, #16), which by itself is one of the largest economies on the planet, elected Arnold to be governor in the middle of a budget crisis, and outprices Washington in every respect.

2) We're behind Alaska ($51,136, #7). Anyone willing to teach in Soldotna in the middle of January earns every last cent.

3) We're behind Oregon ($47,829, #6). They also have a state income tax, which is where I fear the union would like the money for this round of funding to come from.

4) We're behind Hawaii ($45,456, #4). That's a $19 difference, and they have palm trees.

5) The average national teacher salary that year was $46,597, which means we're only $1160 off the pace.

I also think it's a mistake to look at salary as the only part of our compensation. It's a mistake that Rick Hess makes, and can't we aim higher?

Let's look at another claim, from page 7: 46th in class size out of all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Here, it would seem that the head doesn't know what the hand is doing. From the NEA website:

It's difficult to track national progress in reducing class sizes because no state-by-state "actual" class size data exists. Your help is needed to convince states to report class sizes consistently.

Oops. In the facts section at the back of the mailing they cite their own rankings and estimates, which is equivalent to "'Cuz we said so."

One more. The next big argument is that we are 42nd in Education Spending!, behind even those sunsaguns in Alabama and Arkansas, and quite possibly Arizona, Alaska, and Azerbaijan, too.

For this argument to have meaning, it has to be proven that there's a correlation between spending and student achievement. I present that proof to you now:

Well, crud. The Standard and Poor's paper on the 65% solution is on point here, pointing out that the reason the 65% formula is a turkey is that the needed correlation isn't there.

So, I'm torn. Could my school do more good with more money? Hell yes. Do I think this is the right way to go about it? Sadly, no.

Read more here, if any.

Away We Go

I'm a teacher at a public elementary school in Washington State. It's a good school in a good place, and I'm happy to be where I am.

Why blog? Because it's fun to talk about education. I'm hoping that there can be some good discussions. I'm also a frustrated writer at heart, and it's always been my style that being made to write about something really helps me to think about it in a clearer way.

Thanks for visiting, and I hope you find this worthwhile!

Read more here, if any.