Monday, November 30, 2009

On the State Taking Over Failing Schools

One of the "assurances" required from states looking to participate in the Race to the Top moneygrab is that the state be allowed to take over persistently failing schools. You can read thoughts from the Partnership for Learning here and the League of "Education" Voters here.

It's one of those things that sounds easy enough on the face of it. "Of course the state should take over failing schools!", the argument goes, "If the districts can't solve their own problems, then Olympia should send in someone who can!"

Let me follow that up with this question: why are our juvenile institutions so terrible?

I've been playing around with the high school rankings from the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. They've rank ordered 359 high schools in the state, which is most all of them. By their metric, the worst two high schools in Washington are Maple Lane High School of Rochester (#358) and the Green Hill School of Chehalis (#359).

What do they have in common, besides geography? They're reform schools for juvenile delinquents.

Every one of these kids gets three hots and a cot. Every one of these kids has a roof over their head. What they watch on TV--indeed, how much TV they watch--is controlled. There's a nice big yard, for exercise! Supervision? It's there in spades! Nutrition? The Department of Corrections has nutritionists on staff who do nothing but think about what their clients should be eating. Every variable that can be controlled, is controlled. This is school takeover writ large.

And it's for shit. Why? I'd suggest it's because the kids who come to those schools come with baggage. They've obviously made some very poor decisions over the course of their short lives. About 20% have "significant" mental illness like conduct disorder, and we know from research that most come from disfunctional families.

What can we learn from this, then? I think the take home lesson is that you simply can't control for every variable, and that the nature of kids being kids means that there are going to be issues. God bless KIPP for what they've done, but even they have kids who fall through the cracks. It sounds like Teach for America is able to attract many high quality candidates into the classroom, but even then only 34% stay at their school for a third year.

Show me a broken school, and I'll show you broken kids. The question is, when did the cracks begin, and for both, how do you start the repairs?

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Washington Education Week #3: Thanksgiving Turkeys Edition

The Race to the Top: With the lull between budget announcements and Legislative Assembly Days, most of the blog chatter this past week has been looking at how Washington State measures up in the federal Dash for the Cash Race to the Top grant program. The League of "Education" Voters has done a 6 part series on their blog that's worth your time to read; also with several blog posts that boil down to "Teachers suck, change everything" are the Partnership for Learning, here. And, just to clear out my RSS reader: Publicola.

I'm working on my own posts on each of the impacted areas, but one thing I do have to chuckle at is just how earnest some of the folks on the pro-RttT side are. "We have to allow the state to just take over failing schools!" they'll protest, without seeming to make the connection that we have laws regarding school boards and local control that are every bit as ingrained in the people of this state as dams and snowy mountain passes.

You can get an inkling of the fight if you go and look at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation's School Report Cards. Using their metrics, the worst high schools in the state are in places like Toppenish, Walla Walla, Pasco, Aberdeen, Puyallup, and Coulee City--all represented by Republicans, all places where the community will revolt if you try to send in a bunch of "outsiders" from Olympia to run their schools. "It's for the kids!" needs to be overwhelmingly supported by the evidence to make school takeovers work, and I'm not convinced in the slightest that plan that the State Board of Education has in place gets us where the LEV and SFC want to go.

Randy Dorn Cares for Children/Randy Dorn Hates All Children: The reaction to the recent proposal by Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn to delay the math and science graduation requirements is still bringing in a ton of reaction. Dorn tried to get out in front of the storm, and a hell of a storm it is: when papers like the Walla-Walla Union-Bulletin are saying that you "continue to undercut the effort to reform — and improve — education", you've got a publicity problem.

Personally, I think that the best, most sensible reaction came from Cliff Mass, a meteorologist of some note at the University of Washington. Keeping science and math as graduation requirements punishes the kids for the failures of adults to get the system right, whether it's the 20 different iterations of testing that we've had in the last decade or trying to define exactly what standards we want to hold them to. The failure of the kids is also the failure of the system, and right now we certainly don't have the system in place to get them all where we want them to be. This thread from the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession is also quite well written and on point. Check out Crosscut as well.

Also not really working in Dorn's favor: President Obama came out this week with a new initiative on expanding STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. When the Department of Education is saying higher standards, and the President is saying higher standards, it's pretty clear that Dorn is going against the tide.

The State Budget: Amber Gunn of the EFF stirred up a hornet's nest over on Crosscut when she echoed Sen. Zarelli's call for a special session to start cutting into the state budget right now. You've got some elected officials in the thread saying pretty incendiary things, and that's always fun!

(Personal aside: You don't hear anyone from any of the professional school organizations talking about a special session, because in a special session there's absolutely nothing good that could happen for schools.)

Publicola has a link to a video that Governor Gregoire put out talking about just how bad things are; consider it the anesthesia before the emergency appendectomy come January. The Capital Record also has the video and some pull-out quotes, here.

"Merit" Pay in Action, and Inaction: The Superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, met 4 of her 20 performance goals last year. That's a bad batting average, a really bad spelling test, and not exactly anything to write home about on the job.

That's also $5,280 more in her pocket, according to the Seattle Times.

The way that Goodloe-Johnson's contract is strucutred she can earn up to 10% on top of her base salary for meeting her 20 goals; that means that each goal met is worth $1,320. Under the goose/gander school of thought, if the state designed a plan to allow every teacher to earn up to 10% of their salary in incentives, the legislature would have to allocate about another $250,000,000 just to cover the costs.

Other bits of note from the week:

  • Joanne Jacobs on Why Arts Education Isn't a Luxury. The half-time art teacher in my district already knows that she's at risk of getting cut in the budget crunch to come; hopefully, I can use this to help mount a good defense.

  • I love this and want to marry it.

  • The United Faculty of Washington State has put together a great blog on higher education issues here in Washington; you can check it out here.

  • People are flocking to community colleges, which isn't a surprise given high unemployment and a down economy.

  • This commentary on what happens when school levies fail is important, particularly given the current state budget realities.

  • When the teachers take over the schools.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

There Is No Free Money

Good article in the Spokesman Review today (link to come when I can find one) about Idaho's application for Race to the Top. Money quotes:
The grant application is due Jan. 19, and Idaho's proposal will include a plan to lift the cap on charter schools and pay teachers based on performance. These are both types of education reform Idaho public schools chief Tom Luna supports but has not been able to get approval for in the past.

"Many of the things called for in the grant are things we've been working on for some time," Luna said. "With this money we'll just be able to get it done sooner."


The union, however, does have concerns about what happens when the grant funding runs out, Wood said, adding that she is skeptical Idaho lawmakers will be willing to pick up the tab for a pay-for-performance plan when that happens.
As a wise man (not Tom Luna) once said, "Duh."

This is one time money. It's going to go away. Any state that pushed through a merit pay plan solely for the purpose of getting this money would be a state run by idiots, because they're going to have to pay every last cent the bill themselves as soon as the RtT cash is used up.

And let's say you use some of this one-time money to pay for the work that needs to be done to make these systemic changes--any money spent is that much less money you have to run the new programs going forward.

In three years, there's going to be a lot of states looking back on 2009 and 2010 and wondering what the hell they were thinking.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Overstating the Case

From the Wall Street Journal, regarding new grants that the Ford Foundation is giving out:
The fact that Ford is supporting the unions—the biggest barrier to school reform in America—is no surprise.
I chuckle at this only because of how asinine it is. If state legislators wanted to change the schools, they could. If parents wanted to change the schools, they could. Far too often, if administrators really wanted to change the schools they're responsible for, they could.

The union boogeyman argument is really code for, "We're lazy, so let's set a strawman on fire instead."



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More on the Overturn of the Federal Way Lawsuit

A great overview from the Northwest Education Law Center, here.

Statements from Republican Representatives Skip Priest and Glen Anderson.

I'm a little surprised at the lack of reaction from House Democrats. Their RSS feed in Google Reader hasn't blinked since November 6th.


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Sunday, November 22, 2009

WEWee #2: The End of Education Edition

It was a week full of downs, and then more downs, and then a big, big down, and then more going down.

Item 1--The State Budget: This is going to be one of the biggest, bloodiest legislative messes any of us have ever seen or should ever hope to see in our lifetimes. I wrote earlier this week about what's at stake for education in this short session, but even with Governor Gregoire making good speeches about "raising revenue", I'm as pessimistic as I've ever been, and that's saying something.

Great work was done by the Washington State Budget and Policy Center on this narrated slideshow that they put together--it's a great compilation of the information that's floating around. For another pro-revenue viewpoint I agree with Goldy in spirit, but Olympia tends to be the triumph of pragmatism over populism. No one's going to carry that torch.

(Aside: the comedy stylings of Arun Raha are what they are, but I think I prefer my dismal scientists far more dismal, especially when they're giving news that bloody bad)

(Aside #2: Governor Gregoire pushing to release her budget early just means my holiday season can also be ruined that much earlier. She's going to be the Grinch that steals my Christmas.)
Item 2--Speaking of Dismal and Science...... Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn made a splash on Thursday when he recommended delaying the math and science graduation requirements until 2015 and 2017 respectively, with the stated reasoning being to give teachers and students more time to adjust to the new expectations.

I'll be candid; I don't frankly believe that science should be a graduation requirement in the same way as math and reading. Some kids just don't gravitate to science the way that others do--in high school, I was one who was much more comfortable with the language arts, and there really isn't anything wrong with that. I'd rather we focused on offering higher-level instruction more widely to those who want to go down that road, instead of trying to get everyone over an artificial bar.

The Governor came out in strong disagreement with the proposal, and it sounds to me like it would be DOA in the legislature too, but I think that feeds into Dorn's point even more--in an era where we're raising class size, firing teachers, and cutting support for property-poor districts, does the onus of failure on those tests lie with the kids or the system?

The Washington Policy Center points out in an unsigned post (Is that you, Liv?) that if the Governor appointed the SPI you wouldn't have the executive branch bickering with itself like this, a notion that I've written about before and that Randy Dorn actually seemed to somewhat support during the 2008 campaign. One wonders if he still feels that way.
Item #3--The Race to the Top and Washington State. Governor Gregoire made it official on Friday that Washington State would be competing in the 2nd round of the Race to the Top grant program. A round 1 application would have been DOA because of our lack of charter school laws and the state's inability to take over failing school districts, according to the Everett Herald and backed up by several short, readable posts on the League of Education Voter's blog. There's two pieces in the whole discussion that I think aren't getting enough attention, though:
  1. The amount of money that we're talking about is significant--between $150 and $250 million dollars, according to Education Week--but that's an amount of money that pales when paired up with what we've cut from the schools already and what we're preparing to take away this very year. Consider, too, the scale: in a public school system of about 1,000,000 students, were talking between $150 and $250 per kid. Significant? Sure! Overwhelming? Debateable.
  2. The voters of Washington have said no to Charter Schools 3 times, much to the consternation of the Washington Charter Schools Resource Center, and the last bill especially had a lot of good reasons to say no.
I'm working on another, longer post looking at charter schools specifically, but if this is truly going to be a Race to the Top and not a Dash for the Cash then we have to the thinking on both sides, not just blindly grab for the money.
Item 4: Rumors Are Awesome! Did you hear the one about how every school district in the state is going to be forced into a 4-day week next year? That one came up at a school board meeting in Mead, percolated through the NEWASA network, and came to me at a Labor/Management meeting last week.

The other fun rumor that I heard last week was that the Governor was actually going to prepare two budgets, one all-cuts based off of the revenue forecasts we have now, and another with tax increases in it. Legally she can't, but I'm sure she'll be prompting people like mad to "live up to the state's values."
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


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What's New With Patrick Byrne This Week?

Well, Overstock.Com is being kicked off of NASDAQ.


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Deficit-Wracked Washington State Calls It Quits

OLYMPIA, WA—Citing mounting debt and a decline in tourism dollars, the state of Washington will shut down for good on August 31, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire told reporters Monday.

"I would like to sincerely thank everyone who has ever lived in or visited the great state of Washington," Gregoire said at a press conference held on the steps of a boarded-up Capitol Building. "You are the people who have made this such a wonderful place. Washington will live on in the fond memories of each of you, even as we liquidate the state's assets."

Ratified as the 42nd state in 1889, Washington has been a favorite haunt for a devoted group of fans. In addition to being the home of the Twilight series of novels, Washington is the birthplace of such notable Americans as cartoonist Hank Ketcham, actress Dyan Cannon, and comedian Josh Blue.

In spite of its rich history, Washington has struggled with mounting debt since the '90s, as tourism and tax revenues failed to keep pace with rising expenses. The state has for years fought what many insiders considered a losing battle.

"We had a good run, but we just can't do it anymore," Gregoire said. "The bad economy, Boeing's departure, and an increasing Medicaid bill were the final nails in Washington's coffin. We are simply losing too much money to keep the borders open."

Gregoire promised that Washington would not shut down operations until the last day of August, giving longtime fans of the Evergreen State an opportunity to visit.

"We wanted to give people a chance to say goodbye," Gregoire said. "Since the rumors of a state shutdown began, I have received thousands of letters and small donations from people all over the country. This means so much—more than you can ever know—but despite all the love and devotion, I'm afraid it's just not going to happen."

Gregoire told the crowd that she did everything she could to keep Washington open, but in the end no effort proved successful.

"I made across-the-board budget cuts, restructured all of our social services, effected hiring freezes, and emptied out the state's rainy-day fund," Gregoire said. "The last biennium has just been exhausting. As much as I love Washington, I can't say that I'm going to miss the 18-hour days trying to keep this state afloat."

Gregoire said she received offers to buy out Washington, but the bids were rejected.

"We had a deal with British Columbia that could have saved us, but it fell through," Gregoire said. "The things [Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen Harper wanted to change when he took over went against everything Washington is all about. Rather than severely compromise our state, we decided instead to pass."

On Sept. 1, the government of Washington will disband and all state employees will be laid off, a situation Gregoire calls "extremely regrettable."

"Many of these workers have been in Washington all their lives," Gregoire said. "These folks are like family to me. In fact, some actually are family. The people are why we held on to statehood as long as we did."

Although current residents of Washington will be allowed to stay in the state until they can arrange to relocate, they must do so without government services. Experts predict the state will become a vast vacant lot within five years.

In order to offset some of the debt accrued over the last few decades, Washington is selling its assets, announcing that "everything must go" before the state closes. The most sought-after items to be auctioned off include the Space Needle, built to commemorate the 1962 World's Fair, as well as Mount St. Helens and the Bavarian-theme town of Leavenworth.

The rights to Washington's state flag, bird, and motto are also being sold to the highest bidder.

"Alcoholics Anonymous has put in a substantial bid for our motto, Alki, which means 'By and By' in Chinook," Gregoire said. "I also think that South Carolina might buy the rights to our state flower, the rhodedendron. When we sell the rights to our state song, 'Washington, My Home' that's when it's going to hit me that it's finally over."

For many longtime fans of Washington, the closing strikes a deep emotional chord.

"It's just a shame," said Gene Tupper, a resident of Seattle since 1955. "I don't think anyone will really understand what it was like to visit the Mt. Rainier National Park or walk along beautiful Willapa Bay back in the prime years. I guess all great things have to end sometime."

Many fans of the state said they hope someone purchases and revitalizes Washington before it falls into disrepair.

"I don't want what happened to Oregon to happen here," said Jane Renski, a Washington resident. "We drove by the place a few years ago and it was totally abandoned— really eerie. The whole state was infested with raccoons."


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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Safety First!

This'll Help!

At least they'll have jobless benefits through Christmas, but after that....oy.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Thoughts on the Budget Forecast

2012 has come early! Repent! REPENT!

Last year we had a $9,000,000,000 hole that hurt, but at least we had a lot of options for what we could cut, and we had stimulus money that made things better than they would have been otherwise.

This year we have a $2.5 billion dollar hole, and we’re screwed hardcore.

The thought being expressed by some now is that we have to look at revenue possibilities—a tax increase—because the cuts that are coming are just too much for the system to handle. With regards to the schools I’m 99% sure that levy equalization is dead when the Governor releases her budget next month (she just as much said so on Weekday this morning), because that’s one of the few areas in the education budget that can be cut and because the schools that are impacted by levy equalization are mainly in legislative districts represented by Republicans. Want to put pressure on a Joel Kretz or Joseph Zarelli? Cut their schools.

That said, I don’t think the political will is going to be there for any democrat to vote for a tax increase. I often think about John Driscoll in the 6th LD, who won his 2008 election against John Ahern by about 100 votes. The intent behind voting to raise taxes doesn’t really matter when it’s drilled down to a soundbite: “JOHN DRISCOLL VOTED TO RAISE YOUR TAXES!” Even someone like Sen. Lisa Brown out of the 3rd LD in Spokane isn’t immune to that pressure, because if she does have her eyes on running for Governor in 2012, does she want the “She voted to raise your taxes during the Great Recession!” tag following her around, even if it is a principled vote?

It gets worse. The community colleges are in line to get pillaged, which is ridiculous right now in a time when unemployment is 10% and the CCs are needed now more than ever. The University system already has choked down 30% tuition hikes; how much more can we ask of the college kids? If we believe that there’s an abiding interest in having a system of public universities in the state, then what level of support do we need to show?

I’m really not looking forward to going to my members and telling them about the hit they’re going to take. It’s going to be brutal.

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From Rep. Bruce Chandler's web site:
The quarterly revenue forecast for Washington was released today, with state forecaster Dr. Arun Raha predicting another decrease in expected revenue for state government. Dr. Raha predicted with tax collections down and continued weak economic activities, revenue will decrease about $760 million in the state's two-year budget.

Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, said that while the decline in revenue is serious, it represents just .004 percent of the state's revenue. He is confident Washington will rebound from the recession stronger and more prosperous.

That means if you multiplied $760,000,000 by 250, you'd have one percent of the state's revenue. That equals $190 billion dollars.

Of course, then you can multiply that by 100 to get the full state revenue, which is an impressive $19,000,000,000,000, or $19 trillion dollars.

Or, another possibility, Rep. Chandler meant to say 4%, which then multiplies up to about $19 billion dollars. Of course, the decimal equivalent for 4% is .04, not .004, but all the same.....

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Liveblogging the State Revenue Forecast


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Monday, November 16, 2009

What is National Board Certification, Anyhow?

Education expert Liv Finne doesn't really seem to know what National Board Certification is:
The Seattle Times article also reveals that, in order to qualify for these funds, the state will be attempting to describe its National Board Certification for teachers as a performance pay system. This program does not involve evaluating the individual performance of teachers for their effectiveness in the classroom. Rather, National Board Certification gives bonuses to teachers willing to take another set of classes and/or willing to work in inner-city classrooms.
"Gives bonuses to teachers willing to take another set of classes" is a real slap at the work that National Board Certified teachers have to do to get the certificate. It's not the Masters degree, Liv, it's something far beyond that. I talk pretty regularly with the teachers in my district who have gotten their certification and who are working towards it, and it's not an easy thing.

I'll be interested to see where the state's gambit on this goes, though. Remember that the HB2261, the big education reform bill from the last session, created a new definition of a master teacher that requires attaining National Certification to get to the top of the pay scale, an action that predates all of the clamor around Race to the Top, so the state could be slightly ahead of the curve.

Remember, too, that in his remarks to the NEA Representative Assembly earlier this year Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke highly of both the National Board program:
We also increased the number of National Board Certified teachers in Chicago to about 1,200—from about a dozen when I started. We partnered with the union and with the Chicago Public Education Fund, which is a group of business leaders. Together we grew NBC teachers faster than anywhere else in the nation.
....but he also indicated that collaboration matters:
The president and I have both said repeatedly that we are not going to impose reform but rather work with teachers, principals, and unions to find what works.
Here in Washington State you've got a system where the teachers and the WEA are working very strongly together on promoting and expanding National Certification in Washington State. If Secretary Duncan believes in the program, and if he wants to encourage that collaboration, why not have what we do count towards Race to the Top?

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Don't Know What the Path Back to Relevance Is, But I Do Know This Ain't It

From the homepage of the Spokane County GOP:
The time to act is upon us! Stand up for your beliefs, find a candidate who will do the same, ensure they are indeed conservative, and support them. If they fail to stand up for conservative principles, MAKE THEM WALK THE PLANK! If they indicate they are conservative, then vote against conservative principles MAKE THEM WALK THE PLANK! If they are members of the Republican Party, make them follow the planks of the platform, or MAKE THEM WALK THE PLANK!
Read the whole thing; the gist is that if Republican candidates can't follow all the planks of the Republican platform, then they need to get out of the Republican Party. Scozzafava, writ local.

That said, have the Spokane County Republicans taken a look at their party platform lately?

  • Republicans believe in demanding the withdrawal of the United States from the United Nations and revoking sovereignty eroding treaties or agreements like NAFTA, Security & Prosperity Partnership (S. P. P.), CAFTA, etc.
  • Republicans believe in repealing the "Endangered Species Act".
  • Republicans believe in privatizing social security and eliminating double taxation of benefits.
These are the big three that jump out, and I'd sincerely ask the county GOP--are you really willing to say that a Republican who runs in the 3rd LD can only call themself a Republican if they're willing to stand up and say that we need to pull out of the United Nations, repeal the Endangered Species Act, and privatize Social Security?

The pisser about a litmus test is that, if it's designed too well, no one will pass it.

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Listen, I Don't Go Looking for Pictures to Blingee, But When I Find Them, What Am I Supposed To Do?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

So, What's Patrick Byrne Been Up To?

Last year I poked a bit of fun at the founder for his....poor....reaction to a school voucher initiative being defeated in Utah.

And now here he is again, telling the media that he's the one who fed Jon Stewart the famous Jim Cramer videos that fed their kerfuffle earlier this year.

Read the comments on the Reuters article, they're gold.


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Friday, November 13, 2009

Washington Education Week

Or, the WEWee for short. Essentially, the crap that's cluttering up my desktop that makes me go, "You know, that'd be great for the blog!" but that I secretly know I'll never actually get around to devoting an entire post to.

  • The Budget Stinks: So I expected that the Caseload Forecast Council might say that there were going to be more K-12 students in the system (they did), and I figured that next week the Revenue Forecast Council would crap in everyone's cereal bowl again (they're going to), so that leads one to believe that the Governor's budget next month is going to be an untold litany of horrors; truly, Chris Gregoire just may be one of the Four Horsemen.

  • Federal Way Stinks: So the schools are likely to take a hit, but the Supreme Court says that's OK because the schools are amply funded anyhow so, hey, what's more cuts? I mean, if everybody EXCEPT you had a school librarian, that wouldn't be fair, but if nobody INCLUDING you has a school librarian, that's equality, baby!

    Talk about a race to the bottom. The thing that's being lorded over Federal Way is that their WASL scores aren't terrible, but that only means that X number of kids have gotten over an arbitrary bar. Madness that way lies.

    (The Senate Democrats blogged with links aplenty, here. However, since I'm a good union guy and TOTALLY PISSED at the Dems, I encourage you to go and read 5/17 instead.)

  • The NAEP Stinks: Over at Crosscut Dick Lilly wrote what could be considered a call for national standards. Sadly, he wrapped it up in the NAEP, and I'm not frankly a fan. My bottom line--if the NAEP is the "gold standard", then why is there such a big push for national standards? If the NAEP was what it has presented to be, wouldn't we just use the standards it's been written to?

  • Fred Jarrett.....Doesn't Stink? So the dynamic last year around education reform and HB2261 seemed to be that Ross Hunter was leading the charge in the House, Fred Jarrett was leading the charge in the Senate, and everything was going to be awesome until the stupid WEA brought O'Douls to the party (I mean, who does that?!?) and injected politics into education, which was never, ever what Hunter and Jarrett wanted to do while springboarding off of Ed Reform into a run for King County Executive. The WEA, thralls to the Democratic Party that they are, then contributed to an independent expenditure against Democrat Ross Hunter accusing him of actually, literally being Willy Horton. The pleasing end result was that Rep. Hunter finished in 5th place, and when you're not at least a factor of 10 ahead of Goodspaceguy, well, you're not having a good day.

    I only rehash all of this because #1 Ross Hunter still exists, and he's coming back.....FOR REVENGE! and #2, Sen. Jarrett got himself appointed to a plum position in the Dow Constantine administration, meaning there'll be a Senate vacancy that could lead to some shuffling in both of our state legislative bodies. One of the commentators on Weekday on KUOW yesterday seemed to think that this would be a real blow to an education reform agenda that may already be teetering under it's own weight; it could be a really interesting dynamic to watch.

  • King5 on the coming pension crisis. Prepare for the savagery to follow when the state passes an income tax and most of us get nothing out of it because all of the money goes towards paying of our Plan 1 obligations.
Have a great week!

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

That About Sums It Up

“The country faces a fundamental disconnect between the services the people expect the government to provide, particularly in the form of benefits for older Americans, and the tax revenues that people are willing to send to the government to finance those services,” he said.

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Charter Schools will DEPORT YOU TO MEXICO or Canada or (if you're a Uighar) Barbados. Maybe.

Watch this, then make a firm resolution to yourself that we won't allow the coming debate in Washington State to go that direction.


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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's a Contract Cost?

I think about the budget an awful lot.

In my school district we use a collaborative budgeting process, where all of the administration gets together with representatives from the teachers and paraprofessionals to craft how the money will be spent. It's a concensus-based process that I'll talk about more on a different day; I've been a part of it for 4 years.

Last year was my first year participating as the president of the teacher's union. I started worrying about it in October, when it was fairly obvious to see where the state budget was going, and all through the winter I kept running through scenarios about what could happen and where things could go.

To that end, I went line-by-line through the contract and picked out all of the things that are in there that the district is required to pay for and could potentially be subject to bargaining. Basically, I wanted to know what costs I had direct control over as the union guy, just in case I needed to play a card at budgeting.

Hence, this list. The costs came from my business director, and it's presented in order from highest to lowest cost. For Bret and JL, my belief is that this comes out of general fund money as well as levy money, but given how mixed up things get it's hard to say.

  • Teacher Per Diem, $520,000. In my district, each teacher receives 86 hours of per diem time, and each hour of per diem time costs the district about $5,500. That's a pretty impressive sum--if needed, it could cover 7 teaching positions--but that's also about 6% of my member's annual salaries.
  • Carve Out, $90,000. This is the money that the district remits to the state to cover the cost of retiree health insurance. Some districts pass it along to the teachers, pulling it out of the health insurance pool or the monthly insurance allotment from the state, but my contract says that the district will cover 100% of the costs. Good for me--especially me, since I already pay $400 a month in insurance out of pocket--but not so good in a financial crisis.
  • Extended contracts, $40,000. My school psychiatrist has an extended contract because of the time that they have to put in after school attending IEP meetings. It's the same for my SLPs and physical therapist. The high school counselors have to report in a week early, to get the schedules done, so they also have extended contracts. My agriculture teacher spends an ungodly amount of hours working on weekends and over the summer attending livestock shows, county fairs, and the like, so he has an extended contract as well. It's to honor the work they do; it'd be very hard to justify taking it away.
  • PAUs and PRUs, $30,000. This is the money that teachers get for teaching after school classes like spanish, elementary-level sports, computers, etc.
  • Paid Committees, $14,600. This is for teachers who serve on things like curriculum adoptions, steering committees, safety committees, etc. that meet outside the regular school day.
  • Materials Reimbursement, $12,500. There are about 125 teachers in my district; each of us get $100 a year to purchase supplies (books, incentives, posters, printer ink, whatever it might be) and get reimbursed by the school district.
  • Testing Coordinators, $3,480. These are additional $500 stipends that 6 teachers get for taking care of WASL paperwork and making sure that the NWEA testing gets done right; that figure also includes some incidental costs for retirement and benefits.
  • Involuntary Transfer Stipend, $3,350. Whenever a teacher is involuntarily transferred from one grade to another, or one building to another, they can claim an additional 14 hours of per diem. The figure above assumes about 5 involuntary transfers per year.
  • Association Leave, $1,000. The contract provides for 10 release days for the Association at District expense; this is so that we can have meetings with the Superintendent and Principals during the school day, if necessary.
Put it all together, and that's about $715,000 in costs that are in the contract that I can do something about. Put another way, that would be equal to about 10 teaching positions.

And that, frankly, is the real dilemma. If I can only "save" 10 jobs, what do I say to person #11? For those members closest to retirement any income they give up is going to impact their retirement calculations for decades to come, so asking them to give up $4,000 in per diem isn't just a one year hit, but a decades-long one that could add up to tens of thousands of dollars. I can't blame them for saying no if I ask them to sacrifice, because in a union there's always that tension between the good of the individual and the good of the group.

It's easier, then, to just hang on to everything and let layoffs fall where they may. Ethically, though, that feels like a complete abrogation of what I'm "supposed" to do.

This is the fun we have.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Into the Thickets

It's a statement of fact that school district budget documents are mostly inscrutable; that would make the budget for the Seattle Public Schools the most inscrutable of all.

That makes it quite hard to cut the budget, when you can't always tell where the hell the budget is going.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

I Have a Hard Time Seeing This....

....but would the conservative segment of the Washington State GOP really consider running a strong primary against "RINO" Rob McKenna come 2012?

The Democrats I talk to all say that McKenna is the biggest threat when it comes to the idea of a Republican taking the Governor's mansion, and if you put him side-by-side with any of the Democratic contenders (Inslee, Brown, Hunter?, Marr?), I think he's at least competitive. He's got a better resume than Dino Rossi did.

I also don't understand the general mood of the GOP being "dead" here in Washington. They just took away a long-time Democratic seat in the 16th LD (Bill Grant's old spot), they've got competitive races coming up next November (John Driscoll in the 6th being one), they've got a bit of a national tide on their side....sure, it'll be hard work, but why so much sturm un drang?

Horse's Ass take: political satire. Maybe?

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Paraeducators in Yakima Working Without a Contract

Last Wednesday's "The Conversation" on KUOW

Some really good stuff. First they talked with the newest members of the Seattle City Council about the idea new mayor Mike McGinn floated to take over the school district (their response: "We're busy enough as it is"), then with the new members of the Seattle School Board about administrative spending in the Seattle Public Schools. It's worth your time to listen to!

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

See, What You Do Is Build a Gallows, Hang Him the Day of Conviction, and Be Done With It

Assholes like this make it very, very hard to be a male teacher at the elementary level, and may he rot for a long, long time.


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Health Care Isn't Really My Thing...

....but I'm having a very hard time seeing how health care reform would be the death of liberty in America.


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Thoughts on the Failure of I-1033

As I sit here on Saturday, I-1033 is only 15 votes away from failing in Okanogan County.

North Central Washington, the heart of Conservative country, where the best government is less government, Okanogan County may end up failing Tim Eyman's latest anti-tax initiative.

That's incredible. It's even more incredible when you look at the rest of the map:

Look east of the Cascade Curtain. Lincoln, Adams, Whitman, Spokane, Garfield, Asotin, Columbia, Walla Walla, Benton, and Yakima Counties all rejected I-1033, and if an Eyman initiative can't win there it can't win anywhere.

Statewide, it could have been worse. As Goldy has pointed out, the dramatic undervote in King County means that tens of thousands more "no" votes could have gone untallied, which would almost be enough to push 1033 below the 40% passing threshhold where only the very worst initiatives dwell. 63 more votes, and Mason County would be yellow on that map--it only passed there with 50.17% voting yes. It's also below 51% approval in Grant, Chelan, and Chelan Counties, and in only 1 of 39 counties (Klickitat!) did it break 60%.

That's why I find commentaries like this from Red County to really strain credulity, because when that many voters from that many diverse portions of the state decide that an initiative is a bad idea, I think it's fairly obvious that the idea failed on the merits. Implying that voters were stupid or mislead or partisan hacks really doesn't work in Davenport, or Asotin, or Yakima, or St. John--it's applying the King County slur to rural Washington, and is that really the direction that the state GOP wants to run in?

Tim will be back, I'm sure, but this is nothing else than a total defeat.

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Friday, November 06, 2009


When you look at it as a percent, Washington has more failing banks than any state in the nation.


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Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Next year the state is going to furlough all teachers for 10 days out of their 180 day contract. They will not, however, shorten the school year--teachers will be asked instead to write sub plans for those days so that the kids still get their 1,000 hours of instruction.
I get quite a few rumours e-mailed my way, and I think this one is crap, but if it happens you heard it here first.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Mike Antonucci Channels the EFF

I'm underwhelmed. To my way of thinking the contract is between the school district and the teacher's association, and if the public wants a seat at the table they should insist that their school board members show the hell up and advocate. I've got this nightmare about contract negotiations happening in the high school gymnasium so that everyone can see, and while that might be "open" it certainly wouldn't be effective.

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The Pension Crisis: It's Coming, and It's Real.

Yes, it is:
Democrats and Republicans took up partisan positions today at the Pension Funding Council. The dispute was over how much money the state can reasonably expect to earn on pension investments over the next 15 years.

State Actuary Matt Smith has said he thinks 7.5 percent is a better target, which requires more state contributions into the state-employee pension funds in the short term, and a less steep increase in 2013 and 2015.

But Democrats, and Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget director Victor Moore and Steve Hill of the Department of Retirement Systems all voted to stick with the 8 percent figure. Also voting in favor were Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, and Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton.
So not only are we looking at major cuts this year, but by 2011 school districts are going to be contributing more than double to the pension funds than they are now. Also in 2011, the stimulus funds run out. Maybe I'm being Chicken Little, but some of our legislators are living in denial.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Washington Policy Center is Lying About Dow Constantine Lying About Class Sizes

This doesn't even pass the sniff test:
In a new T.V. advertisement King County Executive candidate Dow Constantine attacks Washington Policy Center (WPC), claiming WPC’s Policy Guide for Washington State recommends increased class sizes.

Like other claims Constantine makes in the ad, this is false. On page 137, the Policy Guide says:
“Recommendation: Remove restrictive class size requirements and other legal restrictions to allow more flexibility and innovation in spending education dollars. Reducing class sizes has not resulted in improvements in student learning, as education advocates promised. Instead, policymakers should remove legal restrictions which micro-manage schools, and let local principals implement the kind of learning program that works best for their students.”
Washington Policy Center does not recommend increasing class sizes. The Policy Guide presents data showing teacher quality, not class size, is the primary driver of learning excellence for students: “Research consistently shows that placing an effective teacher in the classroom is more important than any other factor, including class size, in raising student academic achievement” (page 138).
"We're not saying to increase class size, we're just saying that maybe the money spent on class size reduction could be spent far better than it is now! Jeez, you people are so sensitive!"

Hey, what else does the WPC say about class size?

Despite increased spending and costly class size reductions, the “achievement gap” between white and minority students on the 4th and 8th grade NAEP reading and math tests from 2002, 2003, 2005, and 2007 has not decreased, but has actually increased.
"We're just saying that class size reductions are costly and ineffective, not to get rid of them!"
Remove restrictive class size requirements and other legal restrictions to allow more flexibility and innovation in spending education dollars. Reducing class sizes has not resulted in improvements in student learning, as education advocates promised. Instead, policymakers should remove legal restrictions which micro-manage schools, and let local principals implement the kind of learning program that works best for their students.
"See, here we're just saying to get rid of the class size requirements, not to actually raise class size!"

Then there's good ol' Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center, who can always be found in any conversation about class size arguing the negative.

It's clear what the WPC thinks about class size policies. Stand up for your beliefs and be honest, folks, because the body of work speaks for itself. Saying that you're not in favor of increased class size, while at the same time arguing against policies that lower class size, is intellectually dishonest.

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Everybody Loves Unions!

You Know What We Need? Some Complaining About TV Washington.

What's left of the Seattle PI has an article regarding the kerfuffle over Dow Constantine using some TV Washington photage in an attack ad against his opponent for King County Executive, Susan Hutchison. I lean toward agreeing with Goldy that this is clearly a case of fair use, and while TVW may not like it because of the impartiality they've striven to maintain, I don't think any of the blame can be laid at their feet for this.

My kvetches with TVW? #1 on the list is that I wish you could download video off their website for watching later. You can buy them from TVW at $25 a throw, but it would be a hell of a lot more convenient to have it sitting on ITunes waiting for me to watch it when I wanted to watch it. #2 is what I've mentioned before; I'd love to see TVW and Northwest Cable News both show up on my Dish Network channel listing.

That said, with the Quality Education Council on-air tomorrow, I'll be watching.


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I'm not sure why this makes me laugh so hard....

....but it does. The whole damn site is genius.

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