Thursday, December 31, 2009

How to Lose Friends and Alienate a Community

Have a contract that says you pay your teachers on the last working day of the month.

Don't pay your teachers.

Blame it on somebody else.

Have that somebody ele (in this case, WSIPC) email your teachers and say, "No, it's not us, it's your District Office."

Finally pay your teachers two weeks after you were supposed to.

Have this all play out in front of a very appreciative media, happy to have red meat thrown their way during the Christmas downtime.

Also, throw in painfully extended contract negotiations.

Thank you, administrators of the Touchet School District, for showing why even small districts can use their union reps.


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The Top Washington Education Stories to Watch in 2010 (A WEW Special Edition)

If we were to label the aughts, education wise, I think it would have to be the No Child Left Behind Decade. Education reform took on a tone we've not seen before with the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and that new-found emphasis on testing, gaps, and school-level accountability was certainly the defining story.

(Aside: We're sadly left to only imagine what a decade-end Bracey Report would have looked like. Dig him or dislike him, the guy was a hell of a writer.)
This decade for the schools is lining up to be every bit as breakneck as the last was, given that we're starting out with a Secretary of Education in Arne Duncan who has more authority than we've ever seen before and we have a financial crisis hovering over the state budget that has the potential to be absolutely transformative, but quite possibly not in a good way.

Here, then, are my top things to watch in the coming year. Come back next Christmas and give me a grade!

#10: Funding Administrative Fiddling While Rome Burns. I get that I'm just about the only person in the state whining about this, but I'll be damned if the principle isn't the most important thing. When we're talking about cutting kids health care and laying off teachers while AT THE SAME TIME funding internships for principals and leadership camps for superintendents, something has gone seriously wrong in our priorities. If you want to know why I'm so cynical about the Governor's budget boo-hooing, there it is in a nutshell.

#9: Election 2010. Come the end of the legislative session in March, this is where the action will be.

On the Federal level, Brian Baird stepping aside in the 3rd CD opens up a seat in the House of Representatives, and that has started a stampede. You've got Republican State Sen. Joe Zarelli thinking about it, along with Republican State Representative Richard Debolt and Democratic State Senator Craig Pridemore and a cast of at least 9 others.

It'll be really intersting to see how things shake out, particularly on the GOP side. If Debolt and Zarelli both decided to run (along with Republican State Representative Jaime Hererra, you could have a ton of open seats suddenly appear in Southwest Washington. Zarelli particularly has been the Republican voice on state budget issues for quite some time; losing him wouldn't necessarily be devastating (there's always a replacement to be found), but it would certainly leave a void until the next perosn came along.

Also at the state level you'll have every House seat and half of the Senate seats open this coming November. The general theme seems to be of a Republican resurgence and Democratic downswing, but with the Tea Party Movement saying some fairly provocative things about RINO Republicans, there's potential for some normally-staid primary campaigns to turn bloody--hell, it's already starting with Herrera.

#8: College Tuitions--Up! The United Faculty of Washington State run a great blog where they talk about higher education issues; one of the writers, Bill Lyne of Western Washington U, is about as well-informed on education issues as you'll ever hope to find, and a dynamic speaker to boot.

In this post they looked at how the Governor's budget would impact higher education. Put that side-by-each with what's going on in California where students are taking over buildings and forming torch-wielding mobs, which is only OK if Frankenstein's monster is on the loose.

So the trick is that, given the proper legislative authority, the colleges can raise tuition enough to ameliorate the impact of state budget cuts. That cost is then borne by the students, many of whom (particularly at the community college level) are struggling with the mortgage and unemployment problems that are effecting society writ large. Having permission to collect the money isn't the same as having the ability to collect the money, and that's what we're seeing in Cali.

#7: The WEA vs. The LEV: I'm not a fan of the League of Education Voters; as an organization, I think they're far more interested in change for change's sake than they are in actual school reform. The debate over HB2261 proved this to my satisfaction; some of their comments this past summer drive the point home even more clearly.

The two groups came together briefly to beat down Tim Eyman's most recent initiative, but I think that the changes required to qualify for the Race to the Top money are going to open a whole new can of worms. Throw the Washington State PTA, Stand for Children, the PSE, and all the other groups into the mix as well, and this'll be a Battle Royale.

#6: Financially Failing School Districts: One of the refrains oft-heard this past year was that there were 5 or 6 school district statewide in serious financial straits. If you believe Randy Dorn, that may only get worse. With pension costs set to spike and the future of levy equalization uncertain, I predict that this is the year that you'll see a school district--I'm guessing a mid-size one--drown in its own red ink. And that leads us nicely into.....

#5: School District Consolidation. When the Governor's budget came out I actually breathed a small sigh of relief, because school district consolidation wasn't nearly as promoted as it had been last year. Trick is, I was looking in the wrong place.

The place to look, oddly enough, is in the work of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), which has on its agenda for this year a "study of the relationship between the cost and size" of school districts around the state. On a per pupil basis, those kinds of evaluations never favor small schools; it's $60,000 a year to educate a kid in Benge, versus an average of $9,700 in districts like Seattle, Kent, Puyallup, and Spokane. I've got Republican legislators telling audiences that the purge is coming; what that will look like has yet to be determined.

#4: The Battle Over Levy Equalization. For the districts that I work with here in Eastern Washington, this is the #1 issue with a bullet. For my own local, it's about a $1.4 million dollar impact. Conceivably, that could be 20 teaching positions. 220 of Washington's 295 school districts receive levy equalization money, but the trouble is where those districts are--when the bulk of the state's legislators are in the Seattle metro area, and those districts don't need the LEA funds to get by, I'm not sure they "get it." I think that's why we sometimes see attitudes like this.

(More levy equalization talk here)

#3: Randy Dorn on Standards--Does He or Doesn't He? When Randy Dorn went to the State School Directors Association meeting last month and called for yet another delay in our math and science mandates, the press, parents, and politicos all took turns beating him like a rented mule. His proposal to the legislature sounds like it's dead on arrival, but the larger issue isn't going to go away: how can we demand that kids pass a test that is constantly changing, with standards that are as ephemeral as if we had written them with our finger in the sand at the seashore?

#2: The Quality Education Council, McAuliffe and Oemig, and HB2261. The QEC was born out of HB2261, which Senators McAuliffe and Oemig have been traveling the state relentlessly pimping for the past 5 months. The final report from the QEC is due in a couple of weeks, and then we'll see if it's worth anything more than Washington Learns or the Basic Ed Finance Task Force were.

The pro-reform crowd will always say that it's never a bad time to do the right thing, but at the end of the day there really isn't any money--if we were still doing priorities of government, could we really justify spending millions of dollars to reform a system that's being beaten senseless by budget cuts? Right now it feels like we're piling the QEC on top of the changes from the State Board of Education and the Race to the Top, and given all that it's no wonder that teachers feel like they're under siege.

#1: The Race to the Top. So, how far are we going to go for $150,000,000 and 30 pieces of silver?

In at least one respect Washington is well positioned to cash in on some of Obama's Dash for the Cash--data analysis--but pieces like authorizing charter schools, linking teacher evaluation to student test data, and merit pay are going to be far more problematic. Each of them is going to be its own giant legislative battle, and each is going to expose some fascinating divides within the Democratic party, the school advocacy community, and the legislature writ large.

This is going to be particularly interesting in the run-up to the 2010 election, because these are going to be the kind of votes that many legislators would have much rather taken last year, so they could put some distance between the debate and the upcoming campaign. That could be the poison pill that stalls many of these changes in their tracks, because rushing through a reform is a sure way to get the reform wrong.

Take merit pay. We have models across the nation for how merit pay is being done, but we also have models for how merit pay has fallen apart. The bottom line is that there is no national consensus on what merit pay for teachers should, could, or would look like, and the message that I tend to get from looking at what's been done is that it would be nigh-on impossible to create one system of merit pay that would work for every school in Washington.

Look at TRI Pay, particularly what Dan Grimm wrote in his minority report coming out of the Basic Ed Finance Task Force in 2008. It's perfectly fine to say that it creates an inequitable system, but I'll argue the point until I'm blue in the face that districts NEED that flexibility to meet their needs on the ground. Now expand that out to merit pay--is excellent teaching in Bellevue the same as excellent teaching in Benge? What about our Native American students--is the work that their teachers do fully comparible to the work of teachers in other districts? Or, the extreme example, our juvenile institutions--what would merit look like for them?

And that's only merit pay. Getting everything done that Race to the Top requires by March 11th, the end of the session, will require a ramrod that won't serve the system, the students, or the process. The predictable result is that certain groups will react as their conditioned response dictates, blaming the union and the Governor, while others will again be put on the defensive. Wash, rinse, repeat.

But that's not the bottom of the list....

#0: The State Budget Crisis and the Public Schools. It's #0, because we have $0. That's the problem in more ways than one.

I was the lead negotiator the last time our contract with my district was up, and there's an adage that goes like this: if you can't get money, get language. With the schools in line to potentially take a $400 million dollar hit, we're not going to get money. The trouble is the language we might get instead. I think that's a big part of the reason we got stuck with HB2261 last year--the legislature couldn't cough up any money, but they could deliver this 111-page behemoth that made an awful lot of promises about how we would raise and spend money in the future. You can also look at the QEC and see how some timelines are getting moved up; my suspicion is that's mainly to give the appearance of doing something, but that the flailing around to be seen could hurt our schools in the near term.

The budget woes tie everything else together. We're being told that we have to go after Race to the Top money because of the budget crisis. School districts are being pushed to the brink because of the budget crisis. HB2261 and the QEC gain new urgency because of the budget crisis. School district consolidation started getting a fresh look because of the budget crisis. Levy equalization is at risk because of the budget crisis.

By mid-March we'll have a better idea of where we're at, but the reverbations of the budget will echo for a long time to come.

Thanks for reading! Please come back as the year goes on for new editions of the Washington Education Week newsletter, as well as the other fun stuff that makes a blog a blog. Happy New Year!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009


On Facebook I've been getting adds from these two gents, touting their candidacy for the Republican nomination to battle Patty Murray next year. Given that Sen. Murray is really, really good to military bases, I'm hoping quite hard that she retains her seat.

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Facebook Wars!!!~!

The page on Facebook for the John Birch Society has 467 fans.
The page on Facebook for the International Workers of the World has 2,507 fans.

I don't know that there's any meaning in that, but it seemed interesting.


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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Don't Know Why, But It Always Amuses Me....

....when anything in King County is called the eastside.

I guess it's all relative.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

The Dichotomy of Perceptions About Teachers

Teachers change the world. We want our best and our brightest to go into teaching and inspire a new generation to the greatest heights imaginable. We want our teachers to be trained in the best methods and to collaborate with other great teachers, and we will honor it as a profession.
Unless the economy is bad. Then....
Teachers are just like any other state employee. Look, we get that contact time matters, but class size is just going to have to go up. And we know that cutting salaries is a message that gets around and makes the job less attractive and that, when it comes to talent, you get what you pay for, but you teachers need to live in reality just like the rest of us. The kids'll have to cope.
No industry is recession proof, and if you consider education an industry then the logic follows. It's just interesting how we can move so quickly from one to the other, based on a financial line.


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Sunday, December 27, 2009

How Could This Promotion Possibly Go Wrong?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Few More Noble Truths

The Student was ready and made himself appear before his teacher.

"Master," the student inquired, "What are the noble truths of life, and how may I live them to the best of my ability?"

"My student," the Master replied, "you need to cut the crap and get to learning your multiplication tables, for automaticity is The Way for me to get my bonus for being a good teacher."

The Student left the Master troubled, for an answer such as his was incompatible with both The Students general precepts of what the World should be, as well as the Kung-Fu/Buddhist tone normally associated with stories like these.

So The Student crossed the mountain, the river, and the street, and made his way to the Charter Master.

"Charter Master," the student inquired, "is there a such thing as objective beauty in the world?"

"Student," the Charter Master replied, "That is a question of art, which we had to cut from this Dojo. There is no art in this Dojo. There is no music in this Dojo. COBRA KAI!"

The Student left the Charter Master troubled, because Karate Kid references were mostly lost on The Student, although he was vaguely aware of the general perception that Elisabeth Shue hadn't aged well.

So The Student crossed a higher mountain, a wider river, and the highway, and made his way to the Administrator Master.

"Administrator Master," the student inquired, "why would a just and loving creator allow ev-"

"Stop right there, student," the Administrator Master replied, "I'm in line to lose my job if these test scores don't get up and they restructure the school. The only higher power that I give a crap about right now is Arne Duncan."

The student left the Administrator Master troubled, because he could tell from the binders and orders and papers on the desk that the Administrator Master had been delivered the mountain by Mohamed. Or something. The student was having trouble finding a good Master, so the metaphors didn't really come easily.

So the student climbed the highest mountain, crossed the wildest stream, tried to remember who sang "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion), and sprinted across an Interstate to make his way to The Pragmatic Master.

"Pragmatic Master," the student inquired, "I have taken my questions to The Master, the Charter Master, and the Administrative Master, but I don't have answers that mean anything to me. Pragmatic Master, why is this the way it is?"

The Pragmatic Master smiled and said, "Student, some of the Masters who may try to teach you are Baiters, in that they will try to bait you into giving up your search for answers. They may try to do this through apathy, or arrogance, or ignorance, but many will try. It falls to you, Student, to make sure that the Master Baiters don't ruin your education."

At this The Student sat and learned at the whiteboard of the Pragmatic Master, and it was good.

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Your First Post-Christmas Teacher in Trouble...

....this guy, in Morton. When you serve time for inappropriately touching girls, that's pretty much the end of the career, no?

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Where the Charters Are

Interesting map from US News. There are 11 states with no charter schools, and we're one of them.


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Know I'm Getting Into the Deep Weeds Here....

....but what do I care if the levy lid rate goes up, but the levy equalization rate does not? Equality is nice and all, but I'm a lot less worried right now about the rich getting richer than I am about trying to make sure that the poor at least maintain what they have.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Freezing the Teacher Salary Schedule Could Save $25,000,000 a Year

Towards the end of last session I heard a rumour coming out of Don Cox's office that the state was considering "freezing" the state salary schedule, meaning that the step increases teachers receive in their first 15 years of teaching would be suspended and your salary for this year would be the same as your salary for last year (less the LID days, which is another topic). It was a proposal that didn't get anywhere, but there is a savings there, and I was a little surprised not to see it percolate back up given where we're at in the state budget.

So over the weekend I played with a couple of documents from the Superintendent of Public Instruction. First is the Personnel Report that details how many teachers there are in the state; the second, the salary schedule that shows what we teachers were paid last year and this year. I plugged it all into this spreadsheet:

  • The first line is the salary from the 2008-2009 school year.
  • Next, the salary that a person in the same column would have received the very next year, 2009-2010, assuming they stayed in the same "lane".
  • The next line is the difference between the two numbers; this is the raise that a hypothetical person would have received from year-to-year.
  • The fourth line is taken from the personnel summary, and shows how many people in 2008-2009 were at that place on the salary schedule. For example, in 2008-2009 there were 774 teachers who had a Bachelor's Degree only (no additional credits) and were in their first year of teaching.
  • The final line is that number of teachers multiplied by the additional salary they would have received, creating a total for every teacher in that cell.
Put it all together for all the teachers in their first 15 years of teaching, and the spreadsheet says that we spent an additional $28,982,381 by not freezing the schedule last year.

There's a lot of assumptions that go into this: that all those teachers came back, that they were all charged to the state, and that they are reported correctly to OSPI. On the other hand, I'm also not figuring in any increases for moving over "lanes" (e.g., moving from the BA+45 column to the MA+0 column), or mid-year hires, etc. Plus, I'm an amateur--there could potentially be a lot more to be found there, because I"m not looking at the right chart or reading the right numbers in the right way.

But let's say that I'm full of crap and off by even 20%. That's still almost $25 million dollars in potential savings, which is something that we can't ignore. Do I like the idea of taking money from teachers? Absolutely not, but this isn't a "go backwards" deal--it's working to maintain what we already have.

My bottom line is levy equalization. If we can make enough sacrifices in other places to keep LEA, then we've accomplished something meaningful. Offering step increases to those employees in the first 15 years, those who are the most likely to be impacted by district cuts if levy equalization goes away, makes about as much sense as putting on your makeup before a trip to the guillotine.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

WeWee #5: Chris Gregoire Ate My Baby

I don't even know the story behind that meme

One big story this week with 100 different facets to it.

#1) The Governor's Budget: As required by law, Governor Gregoire released a balanced budget that really takes the piss out of a ton of sacred cows. General Assistance Unemployable? Gone. The state's Basic Health plan? Eliminated. 3 year olds in ECEAP pre-school? Not any more.

In the K-12 realm specifically, we're looking at the elimination of levy equalization ($142.9 million), the K-4 class size reduction money ($110.6 million), all-day kindergarten ($33.6 million), the Student Achievement Program ($78.5 million), gifted ed funding ($7.4 million), as well as a bunch of the categorical programs I listed here.

I'm having a hard time with this. On one hand, the state revenue forecasts don't lie--we're well below the projections that were set, and that hole has to be closed. On the other, there are still pieces in this budget that are impossible to justify given the hole that we're looking at, and frankly it makes her oft-repeated statement of "We've looked at everything with three zeroes" nothing more than the usual political bloviating.

Do I think this was a hard budget to put together? Absolutely. I refuse to grant, though, that this is the absolute best work she can do, because if this is all that Governor Gregoire and our leadership have, I've made some pretty horrible voting mistakes these past few elections.

#2) But There's Taxes Hope on the Horizon: At the same time she was releasing her budget Governor Gregoire was also saying that she'd be releasing a different budget next month that could bring in more state revenue. This could include closing tax loopholes (Dot Foods comes to mind), ending the sales tax exemption for folks from states like Oregon that don't have the sales tax, and a potential $1 billion plus in taxes from things like securities, detective work, and data processing. The first things to come back, should the money come in? Levy equalization, all-day kindergarten, and the basic health plan.

The response was predictable, with Republicans like Sen. Joe Zarelli and Rep. Gary Alexander blasting the budget as a charade to justify more tax increases, while Democrats like Lisa Brown bemoaned the general situation and said they looked forward to seeing what the Governor proposed come January.

(But not an income tax)

Given the way things are going, it wouldn't shock if the deficit by then was $3 billion.

#3) You Can Blame All of This On Eugene Debs and Joe Hill:
There was a good write-up in the Spokesman-Review on how Spokane County officials are pushing for concessions from their union contracts in order to avoid laying off 150 workers. In a similar vein you've got the Fordham Foundation urging Arne Duncan to be more aggressive about challening teachers unions on Race to the Top, and the usual from Mike Antonucci sharing the books that make up his spank bank.

I had a meeting with my staff on Friday morning to talk about the Governor's budget. My district could be on the hook for about $1.5 million in cuts if nothing changes; that's about 8% of our budget. The guidance I need from them is pretty simple: jobs, or money? I can protect salaries as per the contract, but that'll mean a lot of our members are pushed out the door. I can save jobs, but it'll be at the cost of per diem money, supplies reimbursements, and other pieces that I've talked about here and here.

I'm a proud union guy because I've seen the difference that collective action can make, and I make absolutely no apologies for that fact. At the end of the day, though, there's always going to be that tension between the needs of the individual against the needs of the body, and it's finding that balance that is the absolute hardest challenge in my work.

#4) And Moses Walked Through the Palouse and Said, "Lo, Let There Be LEA": Goldy over at Horse's Ass points out that the money that funds levy equalization tends to come from property-rich districts that happily vote for taxes (Seattle, Bellevue, Mercer Island) and goes to support school districts in some of the most conservative bailiwicks in the state, notably around Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and Vancouver.

It bugs me that levy equalization could be political--those districts need that money, sometimes quite desparately--but (and this is a point I've been trying to get across in my WEAPAC work) school funding is based off the state, and it all comes to us through a political process. I'm working with a lot of my small school districts even now on how to get the right things said to the right legislators, and it's quite an adventure.

#5) Well, That Could Be Interesting: Part of the Governor's budget plan is to close the juvenile facilities at Green Hill in Chehalis and Maple Lane in Rochester; I had just mentioned them two weeks back. I'm curious to talk to their local presidents, because what do you do with the union members when the state closes the school? It could be an early preview of what will happen with the State Board of Education school reform plan.

Bits and pieces:

  • It's not looking good for job hunters in the Yakima area. On a 1-to-10 scale of surprise, this rates a negative 7.
  • The EFF has an idea on how the state can save a little scratch. They've clearly picked sides in the War on Christmas, and I'm telling.
  • It really isn't funny, but a headline like Drug Counselor Arrested for Dealing Drugs does lend itself to some humorous quips, no?
  • This made me genuinely and sincerely happy as a kid at Christmas. Similarly, this video sums up several hundred hours of my childhood in one easy package.
  • Pretty interesting thread over at Sound Politics on new legislation from Cathy McMorris-Rogers that would ban certain kinds of restraints used on students. This came up in our own legislature not too long ago, and I'll stick by my same principle: you shouldn't substitute the judgment of an OSPI or DoEd bureaucrat for that of the teacher in the classroom. Not on this, anyhow.
I'm traveling for Christmas next week, so no Washington Education Week until the new year. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2010!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

You Call It a Class A Felony, I Call It Making the Most of a Bad Budget Situation

Seattle high-school drug counselor indicted:
A drug-and-alcohol-intervention specialist at Seattle's Rainier Beach High School has been indicted on a charge of selling narcotics, at least once leaving the school campus in the middle of the day to make drug deals, according to documents unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court.

Robert Henry Smith, 59, a district employee since 1992 and a drug-intervention counselor at Rainier Beach for the past 12 years, pleaded not guilty to a five-count indictment alleging he and another man — a convicted federal drug felon — were selling the powerful narcotic oxycodone.
What you have there is a drug-and-alcohol-intervention specialist who knows his job inside out and upside down.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Star Trek: TNG on the State Budget

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Governor's Budget: This Is the Best She Can Do?

F me, but I'm starting to get the buyer's remorse pretty hardcore right now.

Previously I wrote eloquently and succinctly about a section of the budget that I feel should have been cut. The troubling thing is, there are two more pieces just like that one that ab-so-lutely have to go. To review, from page 172 if you'd like to read along at home:
$700,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2010 and $900,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2011 are provided solely for the development of a leadership academy for school principals and administrators. The superintendent of public instruction shall contract with an independent organization to design, field test, and implement a state-of-the-art education leadership academy that will be accessible throughout the state.
Page 175:
National board certified teachers who become public school principals shall continue to receive this bonus for as long as they are principals and maintain the national board certification;
Page 177:
$530,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2010 and $530,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal year 2011 are provided solely for the leadership internship program for superintendents, principals, and program administrators.
Let's take the first and third element, where the cost is quantified: that's $1.43 million dollars that she left on the table. As to the second element, moving into the principalship implies a large pay raise to begin with, and if National Board teachers are some of our best, do we really want to incentivize them to move out of the classroom?

The piece that's eating at me, though, is the principle of it all. The Governor can boo-hoo all she wants about this being an unjust budget, but at the same time there are easy, easy cuts still sitting on the table, the sort of cuts that most people would agree are A-OK to make in tough times like these. Are we seriously saying with this budget that it's more important to create a brand new school leadership center than it is to provide ECEAP pre-school for needy kids?

It's the values question, and the Governor has failed it miserably.

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A Steaming Pile of Horseshit

I'm trying to come to personal equilibrium with the education budget--really, I am--but the fact that this piece has apparently made it through the first round of cuts is beyond the pale:

(10) $700,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for fiscal
32 year 2010 and $900,000 of the general fund--state appropriation for
33 fiscal year 2011 are provided solely for the development of a
34 leadership academy for school principals and administrators. The
35 superintendent of public instruction shall contract with an independent
36 organization to design, field test, and implement a state-of-the-art
37 education leadership academy that will be accessible throughout the
38 state.

If the budget crisis is big enough that you can throw kids off health care, cut teacher salaries, and eliminate all-day Kindergarten, then it's big enough that the damned administrators don't need their leadership academy.

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Today's Stupid Criticism Award

Rep. Glen Anderson.

The small, small percentage of people who give a damn whether Gregoire goes to Copenhagen or not wouldn't be satisfied if she wore a camel-hair shirt and flagellated herself in the middle of Qwest Field while passing out $100 bills to families kicked off GAU.

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Monday, December 07, 2009

Let's Talk More About the WSSDA

Yesterday in my post on 50 ways to save money one of the ideas was to repeal the statuatory language that makes membership in the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA) mandatory for all school districts; I also linked back to a post from earlier this year when Sen. Rodney Tom had introduced an amendment (eventually defeated) that would have done the same thing.

I've got nothing against the WSSDA. It sounds like their annual conference is usually a great event, and my superintendent is already talking about the Legislative Conference coming up in February. With their recent dues increase, though, they really strike me as being rather tone deaf to the economic times.

Sure, it's only a 3% increase. But when a district like mine is looking down the road at the potential of cutting $1,000,000+ out of our budget, every little cent counts. And yes, in my district it would only be an increase of $160. But it also puts the WSSDA in sharp focus, and I'm not convinced that if you asked all 295 school districts statewide if this was money well spent that they would all give you a positive answer. Member's dues are 60% of WSSDA's budget.

I do know that if things go bad, I'll be putting it up on the chopping block for my district.


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Saturday, December 05, 2009

50 Ways To Save Money in the Education Budget

Yeah, I'm ripping off the EFF. So sue me.

A nice thing about Assembly Days for the legislature last week was that you see everything that's going on around education, from the PESB to the SBE to the QEC to the OSPI. It's difficult to keep track of--I don't know, frankly, how my friend the education staffer does it--but for education wonks and education hobbyists, it's fun stuff.

Anyhow, all the conversation about cutting education makes one wonder just what could be cut. I did a little playing around with the idea in April, when things were last going to hell, but I think it's worth bringing up again.

First stop: the enacted state budget, beginning on page 123.

Idea #1: Suspend development of the new finance system. I'm not saying throw all the work that's been done away, but is there any reason that it can't sit on a hard drive at OFM for a year until things maybe start getting better? Savings: $941,000.

Idea #2: Put aside the alternative pipeline programs at the PESB. These are the paras-to-teachers pipeline programs, alternative certification programs, and the conversion math teacher loans. All of them are good programs in a shortage, but we're laying people off--the market doesn't need these programs. Savings: $4,501,000 (I'm blending together subsections i and ii on page 124).

Idea #3: Suspend the Recruiting Washington Teachers Program. Same rationale as above--it's not needed right now. Savings: $231,000.

Idea #4: Suspend the Retooling Math/Science Educators Program. I'd be willing to bend on this if there was still a demonstrable need, I suppose, but in this economy I'm doubtful. Savings: $244,000.

Idea #5: Suspend CEDARS. This is the new data management system, and while I really like how it's coming together and the potential it has for the future, there's no reason it can't wait for a year. Savings: $1,227,000.

Idea #6: Don't put extra into teaching financial literacy to students. Yes, the lessons matter, but "practice what you preach" is a pretty good lesson to teach, too. Savings: $75,000.

Idea #7: Suspend the Interstate Compact on the Military Child. This one hurts to even suggest, because these are my kids--my school is 90%+ the sons and daughters of active duty servicemembers. The trick is that many of your school districts that serve military installations also are heavily into levy equalization money, and if this "macro" cut helps at the "micro" level, we have to do that. Savings: $45,000.

Idea #8: Suspend implementation of SB5410 (On-Line Learning). There's no reason that this can't wait until a different year. Savings: $700,000.

Idea #9: Eliminate Project Citizen. Good goals, not worth the money right now. Savings: $25,000.

Idea #10: Suspend School Safety Training. Training is important, but try to find a cheaper way. Savings: $100,000.

Idea #11: Eliminate the School Safety Center at OSPI. This would also have the happy side-effect of eliminating another state board (The School Safety Center Advisory Committee), which fits in with where we're trying to go in streamlining government. Savings: $96,000.

Idea #12: Cut funding for suicide prevention programs. This isn't an easy call to make. This is what the Governor means when she says that the cuts will hurt. But it's an open question as to whether the program works, and in these have to. Savings: $70,000.

Idea #13: No more leadership training from the Institute for Community Leadership. Savings: $50,000.

Idea #14: Money for the technology to make CEDARS happen. There's absolutely no reason we can't wait a year for this. Savings: $1,045,000.

Idea #15: End the Special Services Pilot Project. They never should have started it to begin with. Savings: $1,329,000.

Idea #16: No more money for the Washington Achievers program. Savings: $750,000.

Idea #17: No more money for information about women during World War II. Being someone's pet project shouldn't make it a legislative priority. Savings: $25,000.

Idea #18: Eliminate Navigation 101. It's a decent curriculum that has a lot of district support, but there's no reason we can't go back to it when times are better. Savings: $3,220,000.

Idea #19: End dropout prevention programs. Research says this will cost us more money in the long run. Research also says that we can put a cost to this line item RIGHT NOW. Savings: $675,000.

Idea #20: End the initiative to reach out to Latino families.
This was a partnership with the Seattle Community Coalition of Compana Quetzal, and they're just going to have to find their own way for a year. Savings: $50,000.

Idea #21: End the program to encourage bilingual students to go into teaching. Ideally every teacher would be bilingual. These aren't ideal times. Savings: $75,000.

Idea #22: End the dyslexia pilot program. Dyslexia has turned into a catch-all for 100 other reading difficulties, and this is a need that could be better met through federal Reading First dollars, Title funds, or other avenues. Savings: $145,000.

Idea #23: Stop the support of vocational student leadership organizations. I love the Future Farmers and Future Business Leaders and Future Whatever the Homemakers Are Calling Themselves Now, but they may have to find their own way. Savings: $97,000.

Idea #24: End the Communities in School Program in Pierce County. It's not basic education, and if Pierce County schools really need this, that's what levy dollars are for. Savings: $25,000.

Idea #25: Enough of the Math/Science work out of the ESDs. My hunch is that a lot of this money is going towards LASER, which has been one of the biggest time-wasters that I've ever encountered in my 10 years in the classroom. I truly don't believe that they have their act together; this cut seems common sense. Savings: $3,355,000.

Idea #26: End support for Destination: Imagination and Future Problem Solving. They're great programs--I worked with DI for about a decade before my schedule got to busy, and I've been a DI coach--but we can't afford this. Savings: $90,000.

Idea #27: End support for the Centrum Program at Fort Worden Park. I know nothing about this, beyond what it says in the state budget. Savings: $170,000.

Idea #28: Halt funding of math and science coaches. This money comes out of the Education Legacy Trust, so it's not general fund money, but it's the thought that counts. Savings: $1,925,000.

Idea #29: Postpone OSPI's STEM initiative. This pays for grants for 20 teachers and staff at OSPI to supervise; now is not the time. Savings: $139,000.

Idea #30: Cut funding for LASER. Oh, look, it's a line item just for my favorite science program! Lock the kits in a warehouse for a year and move on. Savings: $1,579,000.

Idea #31: No leadership academy for principals and superintendents. This has been one of the Association of Washington School Principals' big projects; in fact, they recently got a nice fat sole source personal service contract with OSPI to run the thing. This is a nice idea when things are flush--we can't afford it now. Savings: $900,000.

Idea #32: Eliminate the Washington State Reading Corps. This hurts, but it has to be done. Savings: $1,056,000.

Idea #33: Eliminate the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning. Savings: $225,000.

Idea #34: Cut back on OSPI technology leadership. This is a line item for improving, monitoring, promoting, and coordinating technology; it sounds like one big support program. Savings: $1,959,000.

Idea #35: Suspend National Boards bonuses for a year. Yeah, I said it. I have all the respect in the world for the people who go through the progress, and I believe that it's thorough--one of the most respected teachers in my district just tried and didn't get over the line, which is amazing to me. The point is that, reform efforts be damned, we simply can't afford this right now. Savings: $36,513,000.

Idea #36: Suspend the Local Farms-Healthy Kids program. I'm married to a farmer, and I think the state stinks when it comes to supporting agriculture most of the time, but a lot of this money went into creating yet another FTE at OSPI. Again and ideally, we'd be able to have this. Right now? Savings: $300,000.

Idea #37: Suspend the Beginning Educator Support Program (BEST). Here's the trick--since beginning educators are the first ones out the door in a financial crisis, is it better to support them and then fire them, or let them work? Savings: $2,348,000.

Idea #38: End the state funded internship program for principals and superintendents. Right now I don't perceive that these jobs go lacking for qualified applicants, and if districts have quality candidates who they want to support as they get their internships done that can be accomplished using local dollars. Savings: $530,000.

Idea #39: Lower the state funding for administrators by $1,000. Right now the state only funds about $59,000 of the cost per administrator, which is a terribly outdated formula. That said, the rest of the money comes from local funds, so let's allow local districts to make the decision: do they come up with the money, or do they ask their administrators to take a haircut? Teachers are losing the LID days, after all. Savings, based on about 5,000 school administrators: $5,000,000.

That's 39 ideas from the most recently enacted K-12 budget alone, and I didn't even touch everything there. Some of these may have already happened (I thought I heard, for example, that the WWII women's project didn't go through), and some of them are damnably shameful (cutting funding for Destination: Imagination would be a tragedy), but the discussion has to occur.

Next up, playing with the Personal Service Contract (PSC) listings at the OFM website. This is money already spent, but I think it drives the point home that we could be doing things differently. I've listed them as "potential savings" instead of "savings", because the contracts are already signed.

Idea #40: Teach someone at OSPI how to read blogs: In July they issued a $15,000 PSC to a Washington DC consulting firm to track what's happening at the federal level. Can no one at OSPI do that now? Isn't there some sort of education department over there that tracks these things? Potential savings: $15,000.

Idea #41: Don't pay for crap like this. "Contractor shall communicate a vision for hands-on, project-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) curriculum, and promote the benefits and positive impacts of technology-rich learning environments attuned to the new digital learner." Bullshit bingo: succeed! Budget reality: failure. Potential savings: $12,000.

Idea #42: Put the Bylsma School Reform Plan on hold. Pete Bylsma's a nice guy--I've met him through WERA a couple of times--but we've already given him an awful lot of money to come up with his plan to fix failing schools, and now we're in line to give him $65,000 more. That's not OK. Potential savings: $65,000.

Idea #43: Price your meeting facilitators better. On page 38 you've got someone making $2,400 to facilitate a two day meeting. Why? Hell, that may not have even included expenses. Potential savings: $2,400.

Idea #44: Write your own damned reports. "The Contractor shall research if the two incentives for attaining National Board certification and serving challenging schools make a difference in the mobility, distribution, and retention patterns among the National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) compared to teachers with similar characteristics that teach in schools with similar characteristics and do not obtain this certification." There's no one on the state government payroll, be it OSPI, OFM, WSIPP, or whatever, that can do this? Potential savings: $80,000. (source)

Idea #45: No, really--write your own damned reports. "The Contractor shall analyze 2008 graduates’ course-taking patterns in high school and their enrollment in two-year and four-year colleges." Offered without comment: that particular contract went to the BERC Group. Potential savings: $30,000.

Idea #46: Avoid the appearance of impropriety. A $251,240 sole-source PSC look funny on its face--when you're giving it to the Washington Association of School Administrators, a group that's heavily involved in the consequences of the school reform debate happening right now, it's proper to raise an eyebrow.

And ideas that I can't put a cost savings to:

Idea #47: Take another look at school district consolidation. Sure, it's the same drum I've been pounding for a while, but it's being taken up by more and more states around the country. Why not take a closer look at it for Washington State? Potential savings: depends on how you do it.

Idea #48: Freeze the state salary schedule. There was a rumor running around late last session that the legislature was seriously considering this, and it just might be the right thing to do. Sure, we teachers wouldn't get our step and lane increases, but on the other hand it could save jobs and have the happy side effect we wouldn't go backwards. Potential savings: millions of dollars.

Idea #49: Don't make membership in the Washington State School Directors Association mandatory. This also came up last session, but the time is ripe to revisit it, especially since the WSSDA just put a dues increase in front of their members. The timing couldn't be worse. Potential savings: varies by district; dues depend on size, and the district would have to opt-out.

Idea #50: Take a closer look at OSPI personal service contracts. Go here and marvel at the number of $100,000+ a year contracts that OSPI is giving out to support the school improvement efforts. Sure, they're paid out of Title I Part A, but is there no room to pay some of these folks $90,000 (still more than any teacher makes!) instead of $110,000? How competitive are these grants, anyhow?

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WEWEE #4: Synthesis and Evaluation

Dear Lord, but was this ever a busy week on the legislative front. It was Assembly Days over in Olympia, when the members of the state House and Senate get together to hear what's up for the coming session in January, and the many, many committee meetings meant that the discussion of education policy was moving along fast and furious.

Item #1: The Quality Education Council. The final report that is supposed to be delivered to the legislature is coming together, and the televised meetings on TVW last week were pretty interesting viewing. Coverage from the League of Education voters here (Day 1) and here (Day 2).

The piece that got the most attention came right at the very end, when Sen. Joe Zarelli offered an amendment aimed squarely at collective bargaining:

Examine transferring local collective bargaining to the state, including all matters pertaining to compensation, benefits, and employment terms and conditions.
.....and now you've got the WEA gearing up hardcore to get that removed. The discussion happened during the Basic Ed Finance Task Force meetings, too--I remember having a conversation with Skip Priest about it that year--but it withered on the vine there. I'm fairly confident it won't get any traction here, either, but it sounds like the budget situation is making everyone a little bit nuts, so it's hard to say.

The pieces that I'd push you into reading from the QEC website:
  • The discussion document that Rep. Priest and Rep. Sullivan put together guided the discussion, and much like with the Basic Ed Finance Task Force you can bet that the final product will look much like what they have here. It morphs into the revised document (courtesy of the WEA; the QEC hasn't officially posted it yet, that I can see).

  • The Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee issued their recommendations as well, which I find particularly interesting if only for this:

    The AGOAC recommends that implementing instructional coaches be further investigated. The Committee questions the effectiveness of instructional coaches in increasing student achievement and closing the achievement gap. Data is needed to justify continued funding for this strategy. If this element is funded, the state needs to provide research-based guidelines for effective implementation.
    So what's the deal? Mentors and instructional coaches were two of the higher-ranked items put forward by the National Board Certified teachers during their policy symposium.

  • Lastly, and read this one again after the Governor's budget comes out, the Funding Formula Working Group put out their final report as well. I personally think that this is the make-or-break piece of the whole QEC--whether the financing comes together or not--and all the proposals in the world aren't going to add up to a warm bucket of spit until the revenue situation gets turned around.
Watch it all on TV Washington; it's worth your time.

(Aside: Randy Dorn had some thoughts, too.)

Item #2: The State Budget. At one point a few weeks ago the terror-inducing news was that the majority of the state budget was off limits to cuts because of either federal law or state commitments, leaving about $9 billion that could be touched. In that amount you'll find things like levy equalization, what's left of I-728, and the basic health plan. During the Ways and Means Committee meetings, though, we found out that the amount of money that could be touched was actually much less: only $7.7 billion out of the $31.4 billion budgeted for the bienium.

That's.......not good.

Coverage from the LEV here, Senator Lisa Brown here, the Washington State Budget and Policy Center here, and Publicola here. The EFF refers back to their 105 Days, 105 Ways project, which is worth a read, and for the most contrarian viewpoint of all, this post from Brainstrom on how there isn't even really a funding crisis.

The Governor is set to release her budget early next week, and she's talking about tax increases so that people don't get their diseased feet cut off, but even with all the talk going on I'm not convinced that these euphamistic "revenue increases" really have a chance of passing.

In passing:

Next week: conversation on the House and Senate education committee meetings, plus the Governor's budget roll-out.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Liv Finne Jumps the Shark

You will never be as cool as he
I've had my fun these past few months taking potshots at Liv Finne, the education expert on the staff of the Washington Policy Center. She and I don't agree on much when it comes to school improvement, but the debate is every bit as important as the result, and I'm glad that we have voices like hers in the chorus.

That said, her most recent post over at the Washington Policy Center's blog is one of the silliest that you're ever going to chance to read on education. Wrong on the objective facts, made up out of whole cloth in places, this is education analysis at its worst. Let's document the attrocities:
Governor Gregoire announced last week that she would not seek the $250 million that would likely be Washington’s share in federal Race to the Top funds.
No, she didn't. From the Governor's press release:

Gov. Chris Gregoire today announced that Washington state will submit an application in phase two of the Race to the Top grant application process.
"Submit an application in phase two" is not anything like "announced last week that she would not seek the $250 million." Further, $250 is the high end of the dollar amount that we'd qualify for, and that money is still there in Round 2.

President Obama designed the program so states can use what they learn in the first round of applications to succeed in getting grants in the second round.
No, he didn't. First round losers are invited to reapply, but it's the same principle as when you're taking the GREs: if you suck at analogies, you don't need to take the test and fail to see that you suck at analogies, you study the damned analogies and take the test when you can pass. If we suck at school reform and need legislative action to qualify for this money, then it makes sense to take that action first then apply. What Liv is asking the state to do here is take on a project that is doomed to failure in round 1, and that's a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Washington lags significantly behind other states in enacting important education reforms.
I can't argue with this, only because it's one of those wonderfully general statements that can be taken to mean almost anything. It's the next part, where Liv names specifics, that the fun really begins.

Here are a few examples of Washington’s outdated education policy:

- A ban on charter schools
Why aren't there any charter schools in Washington? Because the voters rejected a charter school law in 2004 by a 58%-42% margin; this, even though the anti-charter crowd was outspent by 3-to-1. It was the third time in 8 years that charter schools failed. If Liv hates the voters of Washington that's her prerogative, but saying that we don't have charter schools without getting into the reason why is just silly.

- A ban on merit pay for teachers
If anyone can show me, either in the WACs or the RCWs, a ban on "merit pay" for teachers, I'd love to see it, because I don't think any such ban exists.

- A ban on hiring any qualified profressional as a teacher
To offer a counterpoint here, I'd like to bring in a different perspective: Liv Finne from April of this year.
Last week, Peter Callahan of the Tacoma News Tribune pointed out to me---thanks Peter--that the provision in the new basic education bill, HB 2261, allowing public school administrators to hire teachers of "unusual competence" without certification already exists in law: RCW 28A.150. 260.
I hope that April Liv and December Liv never meet each other, because those two gals just wouldn't get along.

- Tight restrictions on how principals can run their own schools
Note the implied helplessness here--principals would love to turn their schools around, if only it wasn't for the bureaucracy. Never mind that the Race to the Top money is going to come with strings attached; that's an unfortunate fact that disagrees with the narrative that Liv is trying to get going here, so we're going to ignore it.

- Lower academic standards in math and science
No, they aren't. Randy Dorn may have made a proposal, but it sounds like it's DOA before it even gets to the legislature. Now, if she's trying to get at what external evaluations of our standards have said, fine, but if so, she failed to make the point.

- The majority of public school employees are not teachers
I've already debunked this talking point, and if it's the best ammo that the Washington Policy Center has to make the case for school change, then we can officially say that they are out of ideas.

Did you know that the majority of radio station employees are not DJs? Scandalous!
Did you know that, when the Sonics left Seattle, the majority of team employees weren't even basketball players? No wonder they failed!
Did you know that the majority of airline employees aren't pilots? Ridiculous!

And don't forget: Liv thinks that counselors, librarians, and nurses don't matter, because they're not classroom teachers. That's the slander hidden in her argument.

- Centralized curriculum that stifles teachers’ creativity in class
So two bullet points back Liv was railing against our low standards, and yet here there's something wrong with centralized curriculum. You can't have it both ways: if every child in the state is supposed to achieve at a certain level on a certain set of learnings, then of course the curriculum is going to be standardized.

- Union seniority, not classroom performance, determines teacher assignments.
There's also the whole "teacher choice" thing, too, and while Liv often talks about classroom performance, I've not seen her talk about how exactly that performance would be measured in a reasonable way. It's a fun exercise to make the union the boogeyman in the system, but again--what are the facts?

While school funding is at an all-time high, Washington spends more than $10,200 per year on each student, only 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom.
First, consider the disconnect--how is it possible that less than half of school employees are classroom teachers, and yet nearly 60% of the money is reaching the classroom? The answer is because teachers make more that support staff, which is why this is yet another meaningless statistic.

And does that $10,000 per student figure grab you? It should, because it's crap. Playing around over at the OFM website shows that the two-year K-12 budget is about $15,700,000,000. That means that this year the state will spend $7.85 billion dollars on K-12. Divide that by the 986,000 FTE we have in the state, and you get $7,961 per student. That's what Washington spends.

(Note: I could have easily shaved another $300 off of that by using headcount instead of FTE.)

Like any good writer, though, the best has been saved for last, and this is a doozy:

Research shows that leaders of the state’s powerful teachers union remain the primary obstacle to reform. In January legislative leaders will consider ways of changing the state’s education regulations to make Washington eligible to receive the added assistance being offered by President Obama, but immovable union opposition is the main underlying reason Washington will not receive Race to the Top funds.
Consider that first sentence on it's own:
Research shows that leaders of the state’s powerful teachers union remain the primary obstacle to reform.
"Research shows"? Really, Liv? If this is the casual relationship that you have with research, that explains an awful lot about the other mistakes you've made in your writings.

That's just lazy. "Research shows"? Show me the research on how the WEA has blocked all of your "reforms" above, and I'll show you screed from people with an agenda. That's a poor, ridiculous shortcut--"research shows", my heiny. If that's how you're going to use the term, then you can't be trusted with any research, ever, that you bring to the table, because you clearly don't understand what research is.

I may not agree with the Evergreen Freedom Foundation when it comes to education, but they at least spend the time on projects that add to the overall discussion. Similarly, I'm not a supporter of the League of "Education" Voters, but damned if they haven't been making more headway in Olympia lately than any other education group.

Liv hits more wrong notes than Florence Foster Jenkins. It's regretable, because the debate deserves better.

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