Wednesday, May 31, 2006

It Might Really Be That Bad

The other day I pooh-poohed an article in The Columbian about deaths that have occured in the foster care system, thinking it really couldn't have been that bad. The Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman has released their report for the 2004 year, though, and I was wrong. From the Spokesman-Review:
Abuse and neglect may contribute to far more child deaths than previously acknowledged, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report from the state's Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman found that seven of every 10 children who died in the state's child welfare system in 2004 suffered from abuse or neglect that may have contributed to their deaths.

State officials quickly disputed the findings of the ombudsman's office, which reviewed the deaths of 87 children who were involved with the child welfare agency in the year before they died.

"It's very easy for anyone to review a case and say in their opinion that this death is caused by neglect," said Tom Stokes, child fatality program manager for the Children's Administration. "You could argue back and forth on a neglect case. It can be based on someone's opinion."

All 87 children – including 17 children in Eastern Washington – were either in the care of the state's Children's Administration or had received services from the agency in the year before their death. Abuse or neglect may have played a role in 61 of the deaths, according to the report.


The deaths include homicides, suicides and accidents, among others. Eleven children died by homicide, and 10 children killed themselves, according to the report.

Sixty-two percent of the dead were boys. More than half were not yet a year old, according to the report.

But the report suggests that abuse and neglect played a greater role in the children's deaths than the official findings alone would indicate.

In a review of 53 deaths of children age 2 or younger, the office found 8 children died from physical abuse and 11 died from neglect.

But it reported that another 25 children died who had histories of abuse or neglect that may have contributed to the fatalities.

State officials contested the ombudsman's determination that abuse or neglect contributed to so many deaths. Meinig said the histories could not be discounted when reviewing the deaths.

Stokes said the official state tally relies on the findings of medical examiners and coroners. According to those numbers, 11 died from homicide. Another 28 children died from accidental or natural deaths; the cause of death for 20 children was undetermined.

In its 108-page report, the ombudsman's office said it found several gaps in fatality investigations, particularly in rural counties served by coroners.

The Ombudsman hasn't put the report on their website yet; when they do I'll try and link to it. UPDATE: Here it is.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Ticking Retirement Time Bomb

It's not the TRS, yet, but the Firefighters and the Policemen are starting to cost an awful lot of money. From the Spokesman-Review:
When Newport Police Chief Bill Clark abruptly retired four years ago, city officials rushed out shopping.

But not for a simple plaque or commemorative watch. Instead, the city suddenly found itself in the market for long-term care insurance, to shield its budget from potentially huge bills if the chief someday landed in a nursing home.

Across the state, thousands of mostly retired police and firefighters are eligible for medical benefits that the vast majority of today's workers can only envy: free lifelong coverage of anything deemed "necessary medical services."


Spokane taxpayers, for example, have in recent years paid for the following for retired police officers:

• Penile implants for impotence.
• Viagra and other anti-impotence drugs.
• A $1,700 mattress.
• Two "stair gliders" ($4,340 and $7,161) to carry people up stairs.
• A $12,985 non-emergency flight to bring an ill retiree to Spokane.

But those items are chump change compared to the estimated $1 billion in medical costs that taxpayers will shoulder for the system's roughly 9,000 Law Enforcement Officer and Fire Fighters Plan 1 retirees statewide. (The LEOFF-1 system – pronounced "Leff" – was replaced by a more modest retirement plan in 1977. The nickname for the newer plan: "Left Out.") The retirees are covered by dozens of counties, cities, fire districts and a handful of port districts.


Gow stands by the things that the board has told the city to pay for. Retirees get only six anti-impotence doses a month, he said, and private insurance commonly pays for such prescriptions. The first penile implant, he said, was approved in the 1980s by unanimous vote of the board.

"They said it was probably a psychiatric thing, so they did it," he said.

Routine dental care – a perk that Spokane firefighters are now seeking, too – is capped at $350 a year. Gow personally lobbied for that benefit, citing studies linking dental health to heart disease and strokes.

The stair gliders? "You can't tell someone to just move into the living room," he said.

The non-emergency flight? "We could fly him back here and put him in a hospital and save double the money we spend on the air ambulance."

There's more in the full article, but it's subscriber-only.

The state has to stand by the commitments it made to its' employees, even if those commitments might seem like onerous, overly optimistic overkill today. That said, let these guys pay for their own viagra, and maybe you do have to tell them to move into the living room because that's how life goes sometimes. And the penile implant? C'mon.

Read more here, if any.

Grading a drag? Have the district pay someone else to do it.

Some school districts in the Seattle area are paying Professional Readers to evaluate student work, reports the Seattle Times:
In the Northshore School District, some English teachers don't spend much time reading student papers.

In the Bellevue School District, some don't even grade the papers.

Both districts now rely on paid readers to evaluate and in some cases grade student essays in English classes; Seattle's Garfield High School is piloting such a program this year. The use of readers greatly reduces teacher workload and gives students more writing practice, but the trend raises questions about teachers' roles in inspiring and guiding students' work.


The use of paid readers isn't new. In the 1980s, before tightened school budgets, many districts hired professional readers to assist their English teachers, said Carol Jago, co-director of the California Reading and Literature Project. The Theme Reader program in Northshore, in which teachers weigh readers' comments and assign grades, has been in place for at least 15 years, officials there say.

But Jago said the practice raises questions, even when teachers work closely with the readers.

"What's lost is how teachers get to know their students through their writing. And students no longer know the audience they're writing for," she said. But others point out that anonymous readers evaluate students on a range of tests including the WASL and the SAT.


Lance Balla, a curriculum and technology coach for Bellevue schools, said the district built into the program several checks to keep teachers informed about their students' work. The teachers develop a scoring guide for each assignment and read three out of every 30 essays. Readers and teachers consult after each set of papers is graded, and teachers are expected to use the readers' comments to look for common problems and if necessary, adjust their teaching.

"It's not just a way to give a kid a score, it's a way to improve instruction across the district," Balla said.

That's debatable, said Stephen Miller, president of the Bellevue Education Association.

"All English teachers would agree that students become better writers by writing more. But is writing many essays more important than personal feedback from your teacher? We don't know the answer," he said.

There's a slightly different angle in the Associated Press article (subscription required), which you can partially read at The Olympian.

I don't see this as being a problem. Like the article says, the best way to become a good writer is to do lots of writing and get meaningful feedback about it. As long as the readers are doing a good job, and the teacher is still informed on what the students are doing, it seems like a good idea.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Ongoing Special Education Lawsuit

The Sunnyside School District has filed a brief in support of the special ed lawsuit, says The Daily Sun News:

The Sunnyside School District will file an amicus brief in support of litigation by other school districts seeking increased funding for special education programs.
The resolution to file a friend of the court brief was approved by the Sunnyside School Board Thursday night.
Noting that the state constitution calls for state funding of basic education, and that state courts have included special education as part of basic education, the district's resolution calls for the state to develop special education funding "that provides full funding of necessary programs for all students in special education programs."
The original litigation began two years ago, said Superintendent Rick Cole, when the state re-configured special education funding.
"It used to be that if you had a special education student you received a certain amount of funds," Cole said. The new system, he added, now caps funding.
Schools receive special education funds from the state for up to 12.7 percent of their student enrollment. Any special needs enrollment beyond that ratio is unfunded.
Sunnyside schools fall just under that magic number, with 12.6 percent of student enrollment requiring special education needs.
Noting that special education students can range from those requiring speech therapy to serious handicaps needing an additional full time staffer, Eaton emphasized that the school district takes care of its students.
At the same time, the state needs to do its part, she said.
"When the federal government increased special education funding the state actually lowered theirs," Eaton said. "Education is supposed to be a state responsibility. The state funding does not cover special education needs."

This one's divisive. The Washington State Special Education Coalition is against the suit, arguing that what we really need is more funding for education overall, but the districts that filed the lawsuit originally also make a good case for needing more money for sped kids. The state put aside money in the last budget to fight the lawsuit (see here), which is scheduled to get underway in October of this year, conveniently when Governor Gregoire is supposed to be rolling out the final products of the Washington Learns initiative.

I think the lawsuit is one of the big three things that people who care about education in Washington should be paying attention to, along with Washington Learns and the WEA's Take the Lead initiative.

Read more here, if any.

A sad place

Over at Vancouver's friendly local newspaper, The Columbian, they have an article about child abuse in Washington State:

Over the past 10 years, an independent state agency has investigated the deaths of hundreds of children who were in state custody or under state supervision when they died.

The reviews by the Office of the Family and Children's Ombudsman, housed in the governor's office, have revealed serious flaws in the way Child Protective Services investigates child fatalities

I've got to dispute their numbers--I think that this would have been a much bigger story far earlier if hundreds of kids truly had died while under state supervision. I'd never heard of the Ombudsman's office that they cited, though, so I went there to have a look.

It's not an easy place to read.

Whenever a child dies this is the office that has to do the fatality reviews; the one on Sirita Sotelo is upsetting to anyone who cares about children. This is from another report, on the deaths of Justice and Raiden Robinson:

On November 14, 2004, 16 month old Justice Robinson and six weeks old Raiden Robinson were found dead in their home. The children died of malnutrition and dehydration, despite food in the refrigerator and pantry. Police officers had been summoned to conduct a welfare check on the children, and a two year-old child assisted the officers in opening the front door. Uncooked food was scattered throughout the home, indicating that the two year-old child had been foraging for good for some time. The responding officers found the children's mother, Marie Robinson, intoxicated and passed out in a bedroom. Police officers also discovered over 300 empty beer cans in the mother's bedroom.
You can read more about their case here.

Part of the problem in Washington is that many people still have the Wenatchee Child Abuse Debacle fresh in their minds, wherein 43 people were charged with sex abuse in a case that showed the real power of one overzealous detective to ruin lives. DSHS still hasn't come up with a satisfactory answer for Wenatchee, and it's a lightning-rod word that'll get the media's attention for better or worse.

I'm so happy to teach at the school I do, with the kids I have, and the parents we do. The people who have to spend their time day in, day out working on child abuse claims deserve respect for the good they accomplish, which is awfully hard to remember sometimes. There can't be a perfect system; the hope is that, with daylight and honesty, we can come as close as possible.

Read more here, if any.

No Charges for Strip Poker Teacher.....

....but the principal has been cited for not reporting the incident fast enough. From The Seattle Times:
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho – A Christian-school teacher who played a version of strip poker during a camping trip with students broke no law, but the principal who reported the incident to police has been cited.

Lake City Junior Academy Principal Twila Brown was given a misdemeanor citation Tuesday under a state law that requires school officials to report suspected child abuse or neglect within 24 hours.

A parent complained that Brown was told that teacher Andy Armstrong, 42, had played a game of "Dirty Hearts" with five fifth- and sixth-grade students during a school-sponsored camping trip in April, but didn't notify parents or police for nearly a week.

Armstrong, a physical-education and science teacher from Coeur d'Alene, was immediately suspended from the school and later fired.


None of those involved, including Armstrong, completely disrobed, nor did Armstrong ask anyone to perform sexual acts, the deputy wrote.

"They were to only remove as much clothing as it took to get to their 'boxers' or underwear,' " Kerzman said in his report. "Based upon what Brown told me, I could not locate a crime that described Armstrong's behavior."

Superintendent of Schools Keith Waters issued a written statement defending Brown.

"We deeply regret the circumstances leading up to the current situation," the statement said. "Principal Brown has always been a trusted and capable leader, and we have every confidence that any investigation will bear this out."

Perhaps what Mr. Armstrong did really is only a profound lapse in judgement and doesn't rise to the level of criminal behavior. I worry, though, about him having access to kids ever again, because what he did is profoundly and deeply troubling. As a male teacher of elementary kids it's guys like this who make us all look bad, and I hate to see him walk.

On a side note, it tells you a lot about the newspapers in this state that I had to go to the Seattle Times to get the story about the teacher from Coeur d'Alene. I first saw it in the Spokesman Review, but couldn't dig it out of their archival system, and that's a big part of the reason why they're a step behind everyone else.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Washington State did very well on the Science NAEP, according to the Association of Washington School Principals:
The average scale score for Washington fourth-grade students is 153 points, four points higher than the nation’s fourth-graders enrolled in public schools. The percentage of students who performed at or above the basic level – 71 percent – is five points higher than the nation. This marked the first time Washington students participated in NAEP science testing in grade four.

Eighth graders in Washington took the science NAEP in 1996 and again in 2005. Scale scores improved four points to 154 in 2005. This score is significantly higher than the national score of 147 for public school students. A greater percent of Washington's eighth-grade students scored at or above basic in comparison to the national average: 66 percent and 57 percent, respectively. The results for Washington in 2005 also marked a significant improvement over those earned in 1996.

You can go to The Nation's Report Card website sponsored by NAEP to find out more specific state information.

Read more here, if any.

Alternate Names for "Hot Air"

Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB is the new report from Kevin Cary at The Education Sector. I mentioned it a few days ago, and in thinking about it I've decided that the biggest problem the report has is this:

The name's just not catchy enough.

This may seem like a petty criticism, but think about the great studies over the years: A Nation at Risk, Why Johnny Can't Read, Genius Denied, etc. Like graduation rates in Houston, though, this is easily fixable by taking the main idea of the report (The Pangloss Index) and using it to create the title. That would be:

The Pangloss Index: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB

Ah. It draws you in, like a small gecko playing the guitar. I think, though, that if they were to play with the term "Pangloss Index" they could make the title even better. Some suggestions:

  • The Lipgloss Index: How States Pretty Up The Pig That Is Their Graduation Rates. Ever heard the expression, "It'd be like putting lipstick on a pig"? That's Carey's point about what the states are doing. For full effect the cover of the report should be a picture of Ms. Piggy.
  • The Toothfloss Index: Wisconsin is Run By Cavity Creeps. Here I'm imagining a hard-hitting flash video of little ugly grey men marching along chanting, "We make holes in data!"
  • The Hiptoss Index: Data From The States Is As Real As Professional Wrestling. If you're like me you're interested in knowing what WWE champion John Cena thinks about the No Child Left Behind Act, or how Mick Foley would measure graduation rates. Plus, by putting Hulk Hogan on the cover, you're guaranteed a wider market.
  • The Whostheboss Index: Yo Angela, Whazzup With the NAEP Scores Not Correlating With the Self-Reported Data from the States? Here, every state would be rated on a scale from one to five Tony Danzas, with five being Danza-riffic! Whether being Danza-riffic is a positive or negative thing will not be specified in the report so that bloggers can have something to talk about.
  • The Du Haus Index: Anyone Who Doesn't Think There Are Persistently Dangerous Schools in California Has Been Listening To Too Much Rammstein Music At High Volumes. Although wordy, this title has several hidden subtexts that are easy to see.
  • The Kate Moss Index: Calling 100% of Your Professional Development "High Quality" Means You Are On Crack. I mean seriously. C'mon. Maryland was just about the only state to get an honest answer because they asked their teachers if their professional development was worth it; the states saying 100% are being silly.

Reading research is fun!

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Lake Stevens considers random drug testing

Per this article from the Seattle Times, the school board in Lake Stevens is considering random drug testing for anyone involved in an after-school activity. From the article:

For the past year, Lake Stevens officials have discussed a range of strategies to address high-school students' drug use.

The board is expected to direct Superintendent Dave Burgess to develop a plan that includes student drug testing beginning in the fall.

"The focus isn't to be punitive, to kick kids out of school, but to get them the help they need to be drug- and alcohol-free," district spokeswoman Arlene Hulten said.

The Marysville School Board also has discussed implementing student drug testing as a way to reduce drug use and increase student awareness about its dangers.

But the state American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues that such testing is illegal and has sued schools in Wahkiakum and Kittitas counties. Other critics say testing doesn't reduce drug use and likely drives away students who could most benefit from participation in school activities.

I think the last point is the most important, and it's the same concerns that I have with the program suggested in Wahkiakum; you risk pushing the kids who would benefit from being a part of the teams away.

When I was in high school I was the athletic trainer, three seasons a year. I particpated in most of the after school clubs, was active in every summer program, and gave my all for my school. I was (and am) also intensely private, especially about my body, and I would have quit it all before I would have peed in a cup for my school. In that case, no one wins. In that case, who has a program like the one described help?

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


T is one of the nicest kids that I've ever had. This morning we're lining up for recess and I look over at him.....

.....and he's flipping off the entire room, big grin on his face.

"GYAHHAHAHA!" I calmly said. "T! Don't do that!"

"But I can finally do it!"

"It's not polite, T, please....don't put that finger up by itself! It's rude!"

"What's it mean?"

Here, K kindly pipes up. "That's the F-U finger."

I genuinely believe he had no idea what he was doing, and was just happy that he could get one of his fingers to stick out by itself.

Ah, kids.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hot Air: Appropriately Named?

Kevin Carey of Education Sector released a new report recently called “Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB. After putting the data together they’ve come up with something called “The Pangloss Index”, which combines 11 different sets of data that the states self-report to identify those states that are the most aggressive in reporting the highest numbers on factors like 4th grade test scores, 8th grades scores, and dropout rates. Their thinking is to expose states like Wisconsin, which has the best cumulative scores and is thus #1 on the index, but gets there by playing fast and loose with the data-gathering required under NCLB.

The devil, as usual, is in the details, and it’s the details that render the report meaningless. Two paragraphs on page 13 are important here. The first is when they’re talking about how they figured the scores for 4th grade, 8th grade, and high school:

This amount, as well as the average proficiency rates in eighth grade and high school, is calculated by averaging separately reported reading and math proficiency rates. If a state reported a proficiency rate in one subject but not the other, the proficiency rate for the reported subject was used.

In the 4th grade, Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio reported scores in math, but not reading. Kentucky and Nevada had scores in reading, but not math. Kansas thus gets to roll along with the 84.4% that they reported in math, while Missouri’s lone score, also in math, is a 43%. Nevada has to use its reading score, 41.5%. My guess is that Carey wanted to stick to those grades that equate to the NAEP test, but I think he would have benefited the paper by taking a score from a nearby grade (3rd or 5th, for example), instead of letting a score stand by itself.

The other paragraph of importance:

Some states did not submit data for some measures. In those cases, states were, for ranking purposes, assigned the median value of those states that did submit data.

27 states had at least one area where they didn’t report a score; Washington State, for example, didn’t report scores for 8th grade math and reading because our big state assessment has been in the 7th grade. New York leads the pack with 6 different areas where they didn’t report a score. For some states they were able to use a score from a different test, the way I described above, but for those states that had no alternate score to rely on they are being judged by the standards of what others are doing, and that doesn’t make sense.

In sum, the goal of what Carey has done here is worthwhile. One of the reasons that we're all in the trouble that we are now is because of the games that have been played with data over the years. Carey, though, commits the same sin that he's taking the states to task for doing, and it lessens the overall impact of what could have been a pretty important piece of work.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Great Article on Gifted Kids in the Tri-City Herald

I first saw in in WAETAG's newsletter, but the Tri-Cities Herald did an *excellent* article April 17th on the needs of gifted and talented students in the public schools, particularly what schools in the Tri-Cities are doing. It's must read material for anyone who teaches or works with those kids.

This one strikes close to home for me. In my district I can get help for kids who are identified for special education, and I can get Title for kids who are below level in reading through Title, but prompting along the kids who are well ahead of grade level is completely on the classroom teacher's shoulders. I've been blessed this year with an exceptional class (6 kids reading 3rd grade or higher, in a 1st grade classroom!), but it's also hard to get authentic literature that meets their needs while at the same time trying to raise up the kids that need the help the most.

Read more here, if any.

Foster Families to Unionize

Washington State foster families have unionized, report the Tri-City Herald:

OLYMPIA -- Washington foster parents are the first in the nation to join a labor union, a move that paves the way for them to seek collective bargaining rights with state government.

In a letter to the state, the Foster Parents Association of Washington State said it was aligning with state government's largest union, the Washington Federation of State Employees, to improve a foster care system "in crisis."

"Children placed in the foster care system have increasingly serious behavioral issues and turnover among front line social workers and foster parents is too high," the letter dated May 12 said. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Thursday.

The public-at-large goes apoplectic whenever teachers go on strike. Can you imagine the reaction if a "caring" adult said, "Take these abused kids out of my house until you pay me more money!"?

Read more here, if any.


School board member in Hoquiam avoids rape charge, gets 4th degree assault, school kids aren't involved, fat lady singing. The part that raised my eyebrows was this:

Carrigan was arrested at his son’s high school football game, causing the family much embarrassment and his wife began the divorce process, Hagen said.

That's a game his kid will never forget, for all the wrong reasons.

Read more here, if any.

3,500 - 700 = -$5,000,000

Student activism lives, per this piece from KOMO News in Seattle:

SHORELINE - Students in Shoreline walked out Tuesday morning, protesting budget cuts that could mean layoffs for teachers and staff.

About 300 students from Shorewood High School wrote letters telling the school board and administrators what they want and hand delivered them to them.

The Shoreline School District is $5 million over budget after hired consultants found the district estimated they had 3,500 vocational students, but turns out they only had 700.

More students meant more money, so the district thought it had millions more than it actually did.

Some 45 teaching jobs, nurses, security, and the students' beloved activity coordinator Larry Stewart's job are on the line to make up for that mistake, and students don't think they should pay.

"We want to make sure that the board knows that the things that are important to us are being heard," said student Chase Parker.

"Teachers shouldn't be cut," added student Sabrina Boyle. "And administrators need to see that three superintendents is absurd. $160,000 a year could pay for two teaching jobs, not just one superintendent job."

If you have a high-speed connection you can watch the piece as aired on TV; it's a good one.

Using the numbers that the Evergreen Freedom Foundation puts out, there are 11 people in the Shoreline School District making more than $100,000 per year:

  • Superintendent: $166,841
  • Director of Human Resources: $103,443
  • Director of Student Services: $108,445
  • Director of Community Relations and District Services: $111,443
  • Associate (and now Acting) Superintendent: $117,484
  • Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment: $105,222

Interestingly, 5 of the names that the EFF lists aren't listed on the district's website, though one of them has since left the district. Either the EFF is using bad data or the district's website doesn't give the full roster of the district; I'd be curious to know which way it is.

Read more here, if any.

Will Write Mission Statement for Food

The Tacoma Public Schools are going to be slashing administrators, reports the Tacoma News-Tribune:

The voters have spoken and Tacoma schools are heeding the advice: Cut central administration.

The district passed its operating levy on the second try in April, but along the way, school leaders heard plenty of complaints that the district spends too much on administration.

Now, as officials search for more than $11.2 million in reductions to balance the 2006-07 budget, they plan to slice central administration costs by $3.58 million.

That works out to 18 percent of all central administration costs, the deepest cut in at least a decade, said Ron Hack, the district’s chief financial officer. And that’s on top of several consecutive years of administrative cutbacks.

The district will shed a dozen management posts, including two assistant superintendents, an executive director of curriculum and instruction, six directors and several more coordinators and managers.

But central administration costs include more than just high-ranking administrators. At least 15 secretaries and numerous analysts, payroll, human resource and other support positions will disappear. Less money will be available for office supplies, discretionary spending and computer repair.

As a Good Union Member I should be saying, "Yeah! Stick it to the man!" The trick is, and the article goes on to make the point, there's quite a bit of administrating that needs to be done anymore. The data collection requirements of NCLB are a full-time job. Managing food services, managing transportation, managing special ed, managing Title funds, and managing the business of the district are all important things that need to be monitored and are awfully hard to combine. I won't argue that there aren't districts that are over-administrated, nor that there isn't money wasted as middle-managers do their middling management, but I also think that the administrators are an awfully soft target that people hit on anytime they're dissatisfied with the schools and the spending.

It will be interesting to look back at Tacoma in 3 years and see what the real effect of the cuts was. This sounds like a job for Dan Goldhaber!

Read more here, if any.

School Closure Ball Rolling in Seattle

The Seattle School District was slapped down last year when they looked at school closures, but this time it seems like they have their act together, as per this from the Seattle Times. I worry a bit about them putting race and class into the mix as they look at what schools to close--it seems like the argument to close a school might work better if you kept things to a strictly numerical/budgetary context--but the reality is that you can't keep race out of the discussion, so good for the district for tackling the issue head-on.

One interesting quote from a companion article talks about how these school closures won't be as much help in closing Seattle's $20 million dollar budget hole as they had initially hoped. One quote in the article that invites comment:

It's still not clear what Seattle Public Schools would do with the 12 empty buildings it will have if it accepts the committee's recommendations.

Some could be rented, others left empty or leased short-term. Some could be sold.

The Fordham Foundation has been pounding the charter drum for a number of years, and one of their points has been the uneven access that charter schools have to quality facilities (see here for a related story out of New York). I'd love to see what a group like KIPP could do in a place like Seattle. The trick is that we're a good NEA state, and the voters have been consistent in saying no to charter schools and vouchers. It would be sad to just see these buildings go to waste, though (and I say that as the son of a sad, sad Queen Anne High alum).

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A special story

The school that I teach at serves almost entirely military families, so the events going on in Iraq and Afghanistan affect us directly. One of my boys has a dad who was supposed to get back from a 4 month deployment Monday night/Tuesday morning at about 2:00 a.m., but the plane got delayed in Maine. I could tell W was disappointed, but he did OK.

Last night we had our music program, and W had a big solo part. 5 minutes before he's supposed to sing his dad walks in the door, still wearing his fatigues, just in time to hear W's big moment. The look in his eyes when he saw his dad was unforgettable, and I'm so happy for the whole family that they have Dad back. One of my other girls got her dad back yesterday, too, so there's plenty of happiness in the classroom today.

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Wagging Finger of Shame Points at OSPI

Per this post over at The Education Wonks, Washington State has gotten scolded by the Department of Education for failing to meet the highly qualified mandates of NCLB. From the article:

Not a single state will have a highly qualified teacher in every core class this school year as promised by President Bush's education law. Nine states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico face penalties.

The Education Department on Friday ordered every state to explain how it will have 100 percent of its core teachers qualified _ belatedly _ in the 2006-07 school year.

In the meantime, some states face the loss of federal aid because they didn't make enough effort to comply on time, officials said.

They are Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The DOE sent a letter to every state talking about the perceived shortcomings in their highly qualified teacher plans; you can find them here. The letter has its own inherant flaws, though. Consider this:

It is vital that all students, especially those in schools that are not currently making adequate yearly progress (AYP), have access to highly qualified and effective teachers. States should be thinking creatively about new approaches, such as differentiated teacher compensation or new incentives to attract content-area professionals into teaching, to attract effective teachers into our neediest schools and should include those approaches in their revised plans.

Attracting "content area professionals" to our neediest schools sounds just swell, until you read The Nice Man Cometh over at NYC Educator's blog, one of the best posts that I've ever seen, anywhere. The anti-hero of the post, Mr. S., has a doctorate in mathematics and the full backing of an accreditation program, yet he fails. It also seems odd that they would be talking about moving around highly qualified teachers vis-a-vis the old idea of incentives for teaching in high-poverty schools. When every teacher is supposed to be highly qualified, shouldn't those schools too by definition be staffed with highly qualified teachers? Or is the Ed department conceding that there will always be a need for emergency credentials and stop-gap measures to get an adult into a classroom?

It also gets to the idea of highly qualified vs. highly effective. DOE conjoins the two terms in the letter, but they're clearly different things, and isn't it beyond the scope of the NCLB act to measure teacher effectiveness? Is asking the states to make that a part of their HQT plans over-reaching on the part of the Ed Department?

Read more here, if any.

Friday, May 12, 2006

More salaries posted on-line

I thought that Louis Bloom was a little odd for posting salary information on-line (see here), but the Evergreen Freedom Foundation takes first prize with their webpage detailing salary information for the last four years for every district in the state.

Not exactly an effective outreach to the teachers of the state, but I don't really think they care.

Read more here, if any.

Washington Bashing in the Educaton Gadfly

Over in this week's Education Gadfly column there's a guest commentary by Phyllis McClure on the Highly Qualified requirements in the NCLB act. Her point is that many states have been playing fast and loose with the law; in regards to Washington State she says this:

The three states reporting the highest percentage of highly qualified teachers were, not surprisingly, among the worst offenders. For example, Washington state claimed that 99 percent of all its teachers were highly qualified. But when Education Department monitors showed up in May 2005, they quickly saw why that figure was so high. The state incorrectly recognized as highly qualified any teacher with an elementary or special education degree.

I went to a training on Highly Qualified teachers at the local Uniserv office a couple of weeks ago, and here the problem is not the HOUSSE standards that Washington established, but the nonsensical nature of the law. To be a highly qualified special ed teacher you have to be highly qualified to teach every area that you provide services in; for example, math and reading and writing. To be HQ in Washington now you have to have an endorsement or enough credits to put you over the top on the 8 page (I'm not making that up) rubric that you can go through to see what you're highly qualified in.

The part about elementary education teachers is also nonsense. Here Ms. McClure is drawing a fine line between an endorsement and a degree; anyone with an elementary (K-8) endorsement is *automatically* HQ to teach in the elementary grades, though the picture does get more muddied in the middle (7-8) grades. The point is that there's quite a bit of nuance involved; she just chooses to ignore it for the sake of good reading.

Plus, now that the PRAXIS is required, everyone will he HQ anyway by virtue of passing the test. Yay?

Later on she throws in:

It is entirely possible that Washington, Connecticut, Minnesota, and the other states that reported bogus numbers will ultimately prove to the Education Department that their teachers meet the federal requirements for highly certified. But we can’t count on their word alone. They’ve been consciously providing misleading data to the public for years.

The lady that I met with seemed sincere in her desire to meet the law. In my area alone there have been 5 trainings in the last month to communicate the new standards. Suggesting that OSPI has been deliberately mishonest about the HQ data is a pretty awful leap to make, and shame on Ms. McClure for doing it.

Two other sections that should be addressed:

And every state considered middle and high school history teachers highly qualified if they were licensed in the field of social studies rather than in history itself, as the law demands.

OK, but is this a reasonable demand? NCLB doesn't recognize the field of social studies; rather, it splits social studies up into economics, history, civics, and geography. So a degree in social studies doesn't qualify you to teach civics; what it does do is give you quite a few point (80) towards the 100 you need to meet the HOUSSE requirements.

The question is, why did the feds parse out the social studies into so many different areas? Social studies isn't a tested area under NCLB, yet it gets more attention (measured as a function of areas under the HQ requirements) than both math and reading.

Last thought:

Also, securing high quality teachers—especially in high poverty, high minority schools—is difficult. But it’s essential if we’re to improve student academic achievement.

Sadly, highly qualified doesn't mean good. The entire provision is a feel-good dodge that means nothing either positively ("All of our teachers are highly qualified! Hooray!") or negatively ("None of our teachers are highly qualified! We suck!"). The only measure that matters is student achievement, not degrees, not certifications, not endorsements, which makes the insane amount of effort being poured into HQ a lot of effort for very little cause.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Where is the list?

Per this article at CNN, apparently the list of schools facing restructuring has been released. The News Tribune says that there's nine of them in the state, but doesn't provide a link so that we can see who, though they do mention Toppenish Junior High and High School. You would think that for something this important OSPI would have a news release on their website, but they haven't updated the news section since the middle of March.

So can anyone tell me who the "failing" schools are?

Read more here, if any.

Tragedy Avoided

A 9-year old special ed student bolts from his school and runs off. While trying to hide, he falls in the Spokane River. He is saved from possibly drowning by a passer-by who himself fell in a river when he was 8 years old, and now gets to return the favor. From the Spokane Spokesman-Review (subscription required):

A 9-year-old boy was rescued Tuesday from the Spokane River by a man who was pulled out of North Idaho's St. Joe River when he was about the same age.

"I'm just glad he's alive, glad I was able to do what I did," said William A. Woodcox, 37.

He said he hadn't thought about the "Pay It Forward" movie concept of passing good deeds from one person to another, but his action Tuesday "just might be" an example. Woodcox was 8 when he fell through ice on the St. Joe River, he said, and an 8-year-old boy who was with him pulled him out.

Woodcox said he wouldn't have been able to do the same Tuesday if it hadn't been for two women who alerted him after they spotted the boy bobbing up and down in about eight feet of frigid water, clinging to some brush at the edge of the swift-flowing river, near the intersection of Upriver Drive and North Center Street in Spokane.

"As far as I'm concerned, those ladies did more than me," he said. "I would have just walked by with my headphones and never heard anything."

Spokane police Officer Gordon Grant said the women slipped away in the aftermath of the rescue before he could get their names, but he hopes to find them so he can nominate them for an award along with Woodcox.

Police already were looking for the boy, who ran away from Logan Elementary School, about eight-tenths of a mile away at 11001 E. Montgomery Ave. The boy, who has the mental abilities of a 6-year-old, was being escorted to the school office by the principal because of a disciplinary issue, when he bolted out a side door about 3:10 p.m., Grant said.

Twenty-five minutes later, police and Spokane Public Schools security officers were scouring the area with photos of the runaway, whose name was not released, when they received a report that two women had spotted a boy in the river.

Grant said the women told him they heard a sound while they were walking on the Centennial Trail and, unable to hear the boy's cries for help clearly, thought it was a goose. Then they saw the boy and called 911 while summoning Woodcox as he walked on the opposite side of Upriver Drive. He said he found the boy eight to nine feet from the bank, hanging on to some brush at the river's edge.

Grant and Woodcox said the boy didn't offer a clear explanation of how he got into the river, but Grant speculated that he fell in while trying to hide at the bottom of a steep embankment at the edge of the Centennial Trail.

God bless all involved!

Read more here, if any.

Playing strip poker with kids is not a good idea

I normally stick to Washington news items, but Idaho has it's fair share of knuckleheads too. From the Spokesman Review (subscription only):

Teacher accused of playing strip poker

May 10, 2006

A teacher at Coeur d'Alene's Lake City Junior Academy has been accused of playing strip poker with several boys during a recent camping trip.

The teacher, 42-year-old Andy Armstrong of Coeur d'Alene, has been suspended with a dismissal pending, said Twila Brown, principal at the private Christian school.

"When we learned of the incident, we took appropriate action," Brown said Tuesday.

The school board was briefed on the incident and the steps the school took at a meeting Monday night, Brown added.

When reached at his home Tuesday, Armstrong declined to comment, saying he probably should speak with a lawyer first.

Brown called the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department on Saturday to report the incident. According to the sheriff's telephone call log, the strip poker card game is believed to have occurred between April 24 and 28 during a school trip to Camp MiVoden on Hayden Lake.

The principal told a sheriff's deputy that Armstrong played the card game, in which losers must remove articles of clothing, with several boys. Armstrong also told the boys not to tell anyone, according to the sheriff's report.

The Upper Columbia Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church operates the camp and the Lake City Junior Academy.

Armstrong remained listed on the school's Web site Tuesday as teaching physical education and science to fifth through 10th grades. He is listed as having 11 years of experience.

The standby joke is to wonder how the hell he thought this would be a good idea, but one supposes that he probably knew all along it wasn't a good idea and did it anyway. As a male teacher this disgusts me, because guys like him make all of us guys look bad.

Read more here, if any.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

On-Line For-Profit Schooling Comes to Washington

Per this post in the Seattle Times, Washington State could see it's first on-line only high school as soon as next fall. They're partnering with the Quillayute Valley School District, which seems sort of odd, but such is life.

Another interesting wrinkle is who the executive director is going to be: former State Senator Bill Finkbeiner, who recently announced he would not be running for re-election and was the key vote in getting the gay-rights bill to finally pass the legislature. We wish him well in his new capacity.

Read more here, if any.

The New Carnival of Education is up!

You can go here to see all the eddy goodness!

Read more here, if any.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Outing the Contract

I think that every district should have their CBAs posted on-line. We should be proud of the work we've done in that regard, and I think we open ourselves up to attack the most when we hide the agreements like they're something secretive. When I was doing the research for this post about being able to find teacher contracts on the internet I emailed my state representative with some thoughts and this is what he wrote back:

Greetings Mr. TheRain:

House Bill 2921, by Rep. Roach addressed this very issue. The bill was
not scheduled for a hearing by the Democrats.

The collective bargaining agreement does have a significant impact upon
policy and the operation of schools. It sometimes limits parents rights,
sometimes adds unreasonable costs to schools, and generally seeks to
assure the primacy of the interests of the adult employees of the school
district rather than students' best interests.

I'll let the union-bashing go begging for another day; the part that I'm most interested in is House Bill 2921, which you can read here, and the short, brief life of 2921 is recounted here. There were 5 co-sponsors (all Republican), including the two ranking minority members of the House Education Committee. The trick is that the committee is 8 democrats and 5 republicans, and the majority rules.

I've got emails out to the sponsors. I'm hoping they'll re-introduce it in the coming session.

Read more here, if any.

Teachers Salaries Posted On-Line

It's sort of discomforting to go on-line and see your salary posted for all the world to see. That's what I did over the weekend, at Louis Bloom's website. His hobby is making Public Information Requests of state agencies and putting it on-line, and thus there we all are, since teachers are state employees. Bloom himself admits it's an oddball, gossipy hobby, but more power to him. As someone who pushes for transparency I can't rightly complain about it, right?

And hell, here I am surfing around to see what the principals make, the other teachers in my grade level, the superintendant, the guys I went to college with who are also in teaching, and so on. It's nosy, but addictive. Try it at your own discretion.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Neat Thought on Merit Pay

There's a great letter in the most recent edition of Edweek talking about merit pay. The part that struck me most was this:

First, in the private sector, merit can fund its own reward: It increases the firm’s revenue. But in public schools, merit does not generate additional revenue, except over the long term and very diffusely, through increased property values to tax. Moreover, teachers recognize that they are competing for a piece of a fixed pool of merit money, which discourages cooperation and mentoring.

I'd never thought of it that way before, but it seems true. If you're in sales, your "merit pay" can be earned off of a demonstrated increase in sales, or the profits your invention made, or what you saved the company by increasing efficiency. Putting a dollar amount to the day-to-day work of a teacher is a far more tenuous connection to make.

Where I don't agree with the writer is the thought that cooperation and mentoring would suffer in a merit pay environment. If there are grade-level and school-level goals on top of the classroom goals it benefits you if your team and school are also doing well.

You can read the entire letter here. The author is John Merrifield, a professor at the U of Texas at San Antonio who has written extensively about school choice.

Read more here, if any.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Losing Your License

Over at The Education Wonks they're talking about a new plan in South Carolina to post the names of teachers who have had their licenses revoked in the state. I can't say that I see the problem here; if you've done something that egregious the community has a right to know.

Here in Washington State the OSPI periodically publishes a list of the teachers in the state who have been subject to disciplinary action. It only ranges from 2000 to 2005, but it's 14 pages of names. It also makes you wonder--what did these people do, and where did they do it? The discipline options presented are suspension, revocation, permanent revocation, and voluntary surrender, but they don't give any indication of the reason why.

Curious, I went and did a little digging. There's 15 names listed as "current discipline actions" from October to December of 2005; here's the names that jumped out after a quick search on Google:

  • Robert Beresford, Permanent Revocation: This winner slept with one of his students in Everett. The odd thing here is that he was sent to prison in April of 2004, but he's only listed on the most recent (end of 2005) list.
  • Abel Delarosa, Suspension: In the "it makes you wonder" category, the only link Google can find to an Abel Delarosa is one on the faculty of Dumas JHS in Texas, teaching industrial arts.
  • Kevin Maib, Revocation: Lost his license after four misdemeanor sexual assault charges.
  • Steve Mansfield, Voluntary Surrender: He got himself in trouble for "innapropriate contact" with his middle school students in Longview.
  • Chad Maughan, Permanent Revocation: To hell with this guy. First he had his license suspended for having pornography at school (a suspension he was allowed to serve during the summer vacation!), and then he carries on a sexual relationship with a 14-year old girl. When the legislature crafts bills because of you, you're stepped in it good.
  • Carl Schubert, Voluntary Surrender: This case was a big, big deal in the Spokane area. Mr. Schubert went from being honored for his outstanding work at a school board meeting in Nine Mile Falls in 2002 to being accused of rape later that same year. What makes this case all the more troubling is that Mr. Schubert was the self-contained special ed teacher at Lakeside; his victim was a 20-year old with a mental age of 5 to 7 years.
  • Robert Swalstad, Revocation: He had sex with a 15 year old student of his in Hunters, got her pregnant, took her to Wyoming, and married her. He only got six months, mainly because the victim nee wife won't speak out, and I'm not sure I blame her--it would be frightening to be 16 and have to consider the thought of the father of your child going to prison for a decade.

All I can say is wow. 15 names on the list, and 6 of them are for sexual misconduct. I'd go through some of the other pages, but it's going to take me a little while to process what I've just been reading. For the 8 names that I didn't list above I couldn't find anything on Google talking about what they were in trouble for.

It's disturbing. I give the state credit for printing the names of the people facing disciplinary action, but there should be some context. Last district worked in, town lived in, that sort of thing. Names alone just aren't enough.

Read more here, if any.

Friday, May 05, 2006

WASL Cost: $207 Million Dollars

From the Puget Sound Business Journal:

Published data from the state's (WASL) contracts show that the initial amount awarded to Riverside Publishing Co., covering the period of Sept. 24, 2001, to Oct. 10, 2005, was $61.6 million for test development, administration and scoring.

A second contract for the WASL was awarded on April 15, 2004, to Oct. 31, 2008, to Pearson Educational Measurement for $70.8 million for the same services. That makes a total of $132.4 million, just for the tests.

Not one dime of that figure goes for instructional services. There are no indirect charges in that figure. The initial contract to Riverside Publishing for trial runs was approximately $40 million. Thus, the true cost is probably about $172.4 million.

Ring up $34.7 million from the 2006 Supplemental Budget for WASL remediation. Then add $277,010 for the June 2001 WASL training trip to Mesa, Ariz., for 190 teachers. The total exceeds $207 million (not exactly petty cash).

The article goes on to describe the record money that Pearson Education, the test developer, has made.

A tip of the hat to the Tri-Cities Herald for the link.

Read more here, if any.

More Love for the Daily World

The Aberdeen Daily World doesn't have a dedicated education page, the way that the Seattle Times or the Olympian does (see the links, over to the side). What they do have that puts them a step ahead of many of the other newspapers in the state (I'm looking at YOU, Centralia Daily Chronicle!) is free, searchable archives. By typing in "education" and specifying the last two weeks you can get a great overview of what's going on in the Grey's Harbor area.

I love that part of the state. Going out towards Wishkah Valley, or the route up to Forks, is just gorgeous.

Another article I found in the archives that should resonate with a lot of people was this article about a potential school closing in Aberdeen. It's always an emotional issue (see what happened in Baltimore, for example), but when your enrollment is going down it may be the only realistic choice.

Read more here, if any.

Autism and the WASL

I was poking around the archives of the Aberdeen Daily World and came across a neat article about an autistic student in Montesano who was taking the WASL this year. From the article:

Charlie, now 10, is a fourth-grader at Simpson where his best subject is reading, according to his mother.

“And dodgeball,” adds Charlie, rocking back and forth on the couch at family home in Montesano.

“I’d say he’s at least a third-grade level in reading, maybe better,” his mom said.

Charlie actually began the year in fifth grade, but the decision was made around Thanksgiving to move him back to fourth grade for another year because of his difficulties, his parents said.

Twice a week, Charlie goes to school 30 minutes early to work with a tutor on problem areas.

He’s learning how to type on the computer but still has “a heck of a time writing” due to difficulty with hand-eye coordination, his mom said.

I worry about our sped students. We try hard and they try harder, but it's still an uphill battle. I hope Charlie soars on the WASL (they had him take it)--it'd be a neat thing.

Read more here, if any.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Kickin' Butt and Takin' Names! YEAAAHHH!

As pointed out by Eduwonk and posted over at, the AFT chapter in New York City recently approved a resolution that stands out for its' militancy to the union cause. Well and good--teacher's unions are still important, and NYC is a unique territory with unique needs. That said, there's one clause in the resolution that really makes you wonder:

WHEREAS: As a result of this massively funded and sustained campaign to undermine among the public and especially our members, grasp of and support for our purposes and mission, certain damage or potential damage has been suffered;

WHEREAS: Such damage tends to demoralize and divide us against ourselves, drain us of our capacity to fulfill our noble agenda as unionists and arguably weaken our bargaining position, thus playing into the hands of our common enemy;

The first clause establishes the goal of putting the mission first; the second defined what that goal is, to advance the union. This is what a union should be doing, sure, but the frustration is when the "noble agenda as unionists" clashes with the equally noble goal of helping the greatest number of kids. It's an inarguable truth that those two agendas can be opposed to each other, but painting anyone who disagrees with the "anti-union" brush isn't going to help.

Here's another part:

The triumphant resolution is also an appeal to drive the great New York City teachers union, and ultimately others also, as a single organism, into the goal of unapologetic militancy in the wake and face of insults, threats, and actual deeds committed against them.

This is where the idea of perceived insults comes into play. Is higher pay for high-need positions a threat to the union? Is expanding KIPP a threat? To who? The idea of the resolution is that unions are under attack, but resolutions like this are just more ammunition for the other side.

Read more here, if any.

Items from the Newest Harvard Education Letter

I’ve got kind of a love/hate thing going on with the Harvard Education Letter. On one hand, it’s damnably expensive, and I’ve been tempted to let it go a couple of times, but every now and then they come out with a stellar enough issue that I can’t let it go. This month’s issue has a great article on a group of superintendents in Connecticut who are using a “medical rounds” model to observe teachers and gain a greater understanding of professional practice. My district has been working with the BERC Group on a project much like this; I’ve had a couple different groups of teachers come through to watch my calendar time. It’s also reminiscent of the Japanese lesson study model that got pushed pretty hard after the last TIMSS study.

Years ago I read an article about using case studies in business school (I think it may have even been Harvard). I’ve always thought that was a direction that education schools should go in as a way to teach concepts. So much of the work is impractical—social justice, preeminent psychologists, and the like—that actually grounding the work in something real would be helpful. That’s the complaint that many students have (see newoldschoolteacher, for example), and it also seems like one of the easiest areas to fix.

Read more here, if any.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Washington Schools on the Top 1000 List

Jay Matthews of Newsweek has released his annual list of the Top Schools in the Nation. Washington schools that made the list, by ranking/school/city, and see if you notice the trend in the city:

37 Newport, Bellevue
44 Interlake, Bellevue
49 Bellevue, Bellevue
57 International School, Bellevue
186 Sammamish, Bellevue
441 Garfield, Seattle
494 Central Kitsap, Silverdale
799 Sehome, Bellingham
853 Bainbridge, Bainbridge
860 Peninsula, Gig Harbor
917 Redmond, Redmond
982 Inglemoor, Kenmore
990 Kamiak (tie), Mukilteo
1007 Skyview, Vancouver
1029 Lewis & Clark, Spokane

It's surprising to me that LC is down that far, but not at all surprising to see the Bellevue schools sweeping the top.

Update: A Seattle Times story about the rankings can be found here. The part that they miss is poor, neglected Sammamish High. Sure, it's not top-100, but it's in the same school district and it's the next highest school on the list. That's an accomplishment worthy of noting.

Read more here, if any.