Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quick Thought from a Slow Blogger

Hearing that my school district was a hotbed of education reform wouldn't really make me anything other than nervous. Yet, a lot of the reform materials I read say that, "If Seattle were to do this, they would be a nationwide leader in school reform."


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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's Takes Character to Admit When You're Wrong

So kudos for that, Liv, even if the "hidden from public view" clause is fairly funny when you consider that one of your commenters was right along with me in pointing it out.  It's hard to make the argument it's hidden when people are talking about it on the internet, iznit?  And that pay raise would roughly correlate to the changes in the state salary schedule in 2007 and 2008, if I'm doing the math right.

And on we go.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

I'm Still Right About Timber Money

You may remember that last spring I ran a New Business Item at the WEA Rep Assembly related to federal timber money that comes from the feds and is then skimmed off by OSPI. I made a Facebook group, worked with a lot of Uniserv councils, had some fun....good times.

At RA my NBI got kicked over to committee (note to self--find out which one). I hadn't put a whole lot of thought into it the last few months, but then as I was going through the materials from the last Quality Education Council meeting I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were doing a whole segment on the topic. Score!

The point? Going off of this spreadsheet, 199 out of the 295 districts in the state would get additional money if the forest funds were allocated as they should be. 84 districts would receive less money, but of those 84 only 12 would stand to lose more than $10,000 and the biggest loser is Spokane at $54,000, which works out to roughly $2 per student.

Given that members of the QEC asked directly to have the issue studied, it's a fairly sure bet that it'll come up during the legislative session. It'll be worth watching.

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Personal and Confidential to the Joyce Foundation

The content on your new website might be great, but with the yellow scheme I can't help but think that this is how the internet would look if it was invented in 1976.

Your friend,



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Don't you damned teachers understand? There isn't any money, and there will continue to be no money. Stop your whining!

Well, sure there is money for remodeling the ESD in Yakima, but that's different.

And yeah, school administrators in Spokane saw their salaries go up while the teachers lost two days of pay, but if we don't pay our administrators more they'll......well, they earned it, so there.

And sure, ya bawl baby, we might have spent millions on a failed Race to the Top grant, and now we're getting ready to change the assessments yet again, but that's money that we had to spend. For the children.

I guess what I meant to say, teachers, is not that there's no money--there's just no money for you.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

If You Only Have One Note, Play It With All Your Might

The next speaker at your local WPC luncheon
It's your daily dose of Liv Finne:
This week, the Washington Education Association's president Mary Lindquist released talking points against Waiting for Superman, spinning the facts by saying Washington state has the equivalent to charter schools in its alternative schools. This spin fails miserably. First, charter schools are banned in Washington state. This union has seen to that.
Here, as usual, Liv chooses to ignore the fact that it's the voters who have repeatedly turned back charter schools. I'm sad that Liv and the Washington Policy Center hate democracy, but there it is.
Second, the 5 alternative schools Ms. Lindquist cites include Aviation High, Delta High, TAF Academy and a couple of others which are allowed some autonomy from union and district rules. These schools only operate because of the vision of their school leaders, who have managed to overcome union and district opposition through sheer grit and determination, and with the help of infusions of cash from the private sector.
Liv, do you really want to put words in the mouths of the leaders of those schools and say that they "only operate" because they've overcome their respective school districts?

Really? 'Cuz that could get awfully uncomfortable, awfully fast. Further, it's humorous to me when those who demand more innovation in the public schools then procede to crap all over the innovation that we currently have.
And having 5 schools out of Washington's total of 2,250 schools free to operate from union rules is like saying all the inmates in the prison are free because 5 out of 2,250 are allowed to visit their families.
Well, there's those five schools. And Valley, Springdale, Steptoe, Benge, Orchard Prairie, Almira, St. John, Sprague, Lamont, Queets, and a couple others I'm forgetting that don't have collective bargaining agreements in place.

The conceit that Liv operates under is that if the teachers are organized, then the district is somehow being restrained. This has no basis in either practice or reality, but if it gives her a guiding light, so be it.
We taxpayers fund this spin machine. Mary Lindquist draws a salary of $66,123 from the state of Washington as a Certificated On Leave employee of the Mercer Island School District. In addition, as president of the WEA, her salary is $163,479 plus $14,925 in pension benefits.
This is a lie of omission; the WEA reimburses Mercer Island for those costs.
School districts automatically deduct union dues from the salaries of teachers across the state, and this union receives well in excess of $70 million a year in this way. Automatic deduction of union dues by school districts could be made illegal by our lawmakers, but they are afraid to take on this powerful union, as they use this huge fund to go after lawmakers who don't toe the line.
I always have to chuckle when I see those who would feign being powerless, like Liv Finne, talk about the big bad union setting the agenda for what will happen in Washington State. The tenure laws just changed, our two LID days went away (that's a pay cut), and the last ed reform bill (even without the Race to the Top money!) is still the law of the land.

If we're getting everything we want, and we've gotten a series of turds, then where the hell did our Christmas lists get crossed up?

Death, taxes, and Liv. I like the constants in life.

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Would a Republican Congress Be Good for School Reform?

That's the question asked in this Education Next piece, which correctly points out that the new pledge from the Congressional Republicans doesn't have the word "education" anywhere in it. Or "school". Or "teacher".

Put that piece side-by-side with this one, which ponders if education reform has jumped the shark. It seems like a dumb question given the zeitgeist--how many times did you hear about Waiting for Superman this week?--but at the same time you have Michelle Rhee getting thrown out on her ear in Washington D.C.

My own personal clock had education becoming a big issue leading into the midterm elections, so that the politicos could go home and campaign on it, but maybe in 2011. Or 2012. Or, maybe, never.

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Should I Have Another Child, It Will Be Named Either Pell or Gates

Saturday, September 25, 2010

One More PAC Comment

The Public School Employees PAC gets most of their money (all but $20 out of more than $180,000) from the Public School Employees of Washington Union. One wonders if that is from members dues.

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Where Does the Stand for Children PAC Get Their Money From?

Publicola had an interesting article yesterday about political donations by education groups; what jumped out at me was the amount of money that Stand for Children has been putting into races around the state. It begs a question: who are their donors?

Well, you've got $25,000 from Connie Ballmer, the wife of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. You've got David Nierenberg, a fellow who's made a killing on the stock market, in for $20,000. Lisa Wissner-Slivka is a Microsoft retiree, also $20,000. Judy Bushnell, formerly of the Bellevue School Board and wife of Ward Bushnell, who made his money from Genie Industries--$15,000. Jon Runstad, downtown developer and well-known philanthropist--$10,000. Rajeev Singh, who makes this list of richest executives for his work with Concur Technologies: $10,000.

That's $100,000 from 6 people. Not bad, given that their cash donations total about $130,000 right now. Farther down the list you can a member of the Seattle City Council (Tim Burgess, $1,000), someone who wanted to be (Jordan Royer, $50), Stand for Children's Executive Director (Shannon Campion, $250), one of the legislatures most strident ed reform guys (Reuven Carlyle, $250), and the Chair of the Washington State Board of Education (Mary Jean Ryan, $250). Burgess and Ryan are both donors to the League of Education Voters PAC, too, at $500 and $300 respectively.

Ed reform is a money game. For a group that's only been on the scene here in Washington for a few years, Stand for Children is playing that game very well.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don Draper's College Orientation

If I ever get a new job, I'm totally ripping this off.

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Maria Goodloe-Johnson to Liv Finne: Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

The players? Maria Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools, and Liv Finne, Education Analyst for the Washington Policy Center, a conservative-trending think tank.

The timeframe? August, when Goodloe-Johnson tossed a molotov cocktail into the SPS/SEA negotiations with her SERVE proposal for student achievement.

On August 2nd, at the height of the negotiations, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson talks with Liv and gets some publicity:

Last week Seattle Schools Superintendent Dr. Marie Goodloe-Johnson told me the District’s collaborative negotiating process with the teachers union (the Seattle Education Association), in place since April, had broken down. The Seattle School District is in the midst of a lengthy collective bargaining process on a new teacher contract that will determine the personnel costs taxpayers will have to pay in the years ahead.

With the failure of the collaborative approach, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said the District will now be engaged in classic, and contentious, union/management negotiations, a process that will likely take many months. She declined to specify what contract provisions had led to the break-down.

I asked whether the District was preparing for a possible strike. Her answer was, “Yes, but I’m not at liberty to give out details.”
There's the feed: negotiations are breaking down, collaboration has failed, and we (the district) are getting ready for a strike. Scary!

A few weeks later, on August 27th, Liv carries some more water:
Seattle students return to school in about two weeks. Their teachers should be ready and eager to greet them. A strike would deny students access to education, and teacher strikes are illegal under state law. Our research shows the Superintendent's initiative is reasonable, will help children learn, and deserves widespread community support.
And then on August 30th, in a post titled "Children Who Can't Read or Do Math OK By Seattle Teachers Union":
The most important factor for student learning is the quality of the teacher. The Seattle teachers union, by clinging to past practices, is being unfair to Seattle's students.
So we're be-bopping right along in the attack role, singing the Goodloe-Johnson siren song in the key of F, but then the SEA and the SPS reached an agreement, and you can see the tone start to change. From September 1st, and this is literally the entire post:
Everyone is awaiting release of the new contract agreement between the Seattle School District and the teachers' union, the Seattle Education Association. All indications are that it may be an historic agreement to improve the quality of education for Seattle schoolchildren. Teachers will vote on the agreement tomorrow. More on this later....
"Hey guys! How's that agreement coming along? I hear you got a good one! Happy to have helped! Guys! Guys?"

Move along to September 2nd, when the WPC is still trying hard but dawning recognition is starting to sink in:
Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Seattle School Board members deserve credit for this negotiating this ground-breaking contract, reached after four months of difficult and arduous negotiations.


Unfortunately, School Board members are providing no funding for the agreement. Apparently they plan to ask voters this fall for a special tax increase to pay for rewarding good teachers in public schools. This is disappointing. The signal policy improvement for Seattle school children is left unfunded. School Board members have placed their most important education reform at the bottom of their funding priorities.
A couple of weeks pass. Liv talks about innovation schools and charter schools. She got back around to Seattle on September 17th, and apparently they lost her number:
On September 1st, the District reached a closed-door agreement with its teachers union. The teachers ratified the agreement September 2, but it has not yet been made public.

I wanted to see the exact language of the agreement, to see which portions of the new evaluation and reward system for teachers depend on a tax increase. So I called the district to get a copy of the agreement. I was told the agreement would not be revealed until the week of September 13th, because specific “language was still being hashed out.”

This should worry taxpayers and parents. Platoons of district and union lawyers are working behind the scenes on this agreement. They are fighting over the language, and whatever they are fighting over is not trivial. They are fighting over substance.

I am worried. I don’t like the fact that district and union officials are operating in this clandestine fashion.

A week passed. Today I called the district again. Yet again, I was told that the agreement was not available. And that the public can’t see it for at least another week.

This is uncommonly strange. What is being added and deleted after the fact?
For what it's worth, the Seattle EA has the contract posted on their website under the collective bargaining tab. They also posted a 34 page document detailing the differences. It's kind of silly to say that "union officials" are being "clandestine" when all the information is right there for anyone--even the Washington Policy Center--to see.

It's been said that Goodloe-Johnson would like to be considered in the same echelon of urban superintendents that Michelle Rhee lives in and that Arne Duncan came from. It's a critique that follows Broad graduates all over the country, and to some in the ed reform movement it's taken as a sign of strength--you've got to break a few eggs, and all.

What's pretty apparent, though, is that there's a difference between being on the boat and being pulled along by the bow wave, and in this metaphor it's pretty obvious who the dinghy is.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010


It's old school unionism, but it's also great listening!

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The EFF Finds a Monster Under the Bed!

I get mail. Poorly formatted mail that didn't fit into the frames, but mail nonetheless:
With so much to offer, online learning is rocking the boat of the status quo. It’s only a matter of time before education statists target online options for elimination or regulation. The bottom line: These options will only remain available if families and other citizens defend them.

Thing is, digital learning is already regulated. Take, for example, Senate Bill 5378 from 2009, which would have changed how on-line schools are accredited. It passed the Senate unanimously, meaning "statists" (read: secular socialists!) like Pam Roach, Bob McCaslin, and Mark Schoesler all thought it was a good enough idea.

Or Senate Bill 5410, which was sponsored by the usual members of the liberal coalition: Eric Oemig, Rosemary McAuliffe, Bob Morton, and Rodney T....

....wait, Bob Morton? Republican of Kettle Falls/Orient? 7th LD, Stevens County, Northeast Washington? That Bob Morton? Make Eastern Washington the 51st state Bob Morton? What a damned statist!

A great way to implode the whole darn project, guys, would be to keep overstating the case.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

I Shall Attend a Press Conference Where I Shall Finally Ask The Big Question: "OMG RTI n RTTT WTF OSPI?"

Seems like the thing to do, this journalism thing. Good on Melissa, who runs one of the best local school blogs in the country. I'd try to work that hard, but it's easier to snark.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

And Just Because......

More Fun With the Spokane County GOP Platform

I've written before about the internecine strife within the Spokane County GOP, but today's article in the Spokesman Review really puts it into focus. The issue is the same as it's been for a year now--demanding fealty to the party platform makes for some uncomfortable moments later on when you're asked about no-fault divorce and making it harder for schools to pass levies. From the article:
Earlier this month, Democratic state Sen. Chris Marr highlighted his opponent’s promise to support the county Republican platform. He said it’s proof that Republican Michael Baumgartner is “out of touch with his constituency.”

GOP officials responded that candidates, including Baumgartner, who pledged to support the platform weren’t necessarily saying they backed its nearly 120 policy statements.

“We know that no candidate is going to agree 100 percent with what’s in the platform,” county GOP Chairwoman Cindy Zapotocky said. “We require the candidates to read it and consider it.”
That sounds nice enough, Ma'am, but it's also very hard to reconcile that with this, also from the Spokane GOP website:
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!
The 6th is a swing district. There are a lot of voters there who could have that one piece of information filter through that sways them, and when the Spokane GOP serves up 120 short knives for their candidates to defend it's not going to be a surprise when some of them go down with a thousand cuts.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

One Way to Eliminate the Achievement Gap

From the New York Daily News:

Consisting of 15 schools in a once academically blighted area of south Los Angeles and with an 88% African American enrollment, ICEF has done what we are always told is impossible. All five of its elementary schools have eliminated the achievement gap in reading for its African American students. Eliminated it. That fact alone should cause the Department of Education to send a team of researchers to ICEF this afternoon and to keep them there until they learn what Mike's doing.

To add a little sizzle to the steak: one of his elementary campuses - View Park Prep, which has a 100% African-American student body - just beat the reading scores of Beverly Hills Unified.
An excellent way to close the gap between ethnic groups is to not have different ethnic groups. Problem solved!

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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Virtual Schools--The Picture is Mixed

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation has new project promoting on-line learning academies here in Washington State. Good for them, since it's something they've been talking about for years. It's interesting to me, though, because one of the state legislators I work closely with (a Republican, even) has been pretty critical of some of our virtual academies--he's essentially the opposite of this:
Some will ask how we can be sure they received a good education and didn’t just slack off and slide through? Because online programs are designed to prevent that. These students were held to high academic standards, subject to regular accountability, and—like all online public school students—had to prove mastery of content before they could move on. And ultimately, before they could move that tassel.
The trouble comes when you look at the state testing results for some of the online schools around the state, and it isn't a pretty picture. What do I mean?
  • Last year, on the 2009-2010 MSP results, and on the 23 tests that I looked at, no on-line school beat the state average in any test.
  • It's worse than that--in every single area but one, the difference between the state average and the on-line results is a double-digit number.
  • The worst internet school I looked at also seems to be the oldest: Federal Way Internet Academy. They had a 2% passing rate in 10th grade math--that means 1 out of every 50 10th graders got over the bar. They were 50% or more below the state average in reading and writing.
If this is the "fresh stream of water coming into a stagnant backwater", be wary of dysentary.

There's also the video that the EFF put out promoting their new on-line schooling efforts. It prominently features Tom Vander Ark, who deserves much of the credit? for founding the Federal Way Internet Academy when he was superintendent there. It has Steven Magi saying that "On-line programs are subject to more accountability than any other public school program", which is awfully counterintuitive and a point I look forward to them expanding on in the future. It takes them a full 4:47 of the 6 minute video to get around to slagging on the unions, which is remarkably restrained.

That said, I'll be one of the first to defend on-line schools. The story of Apolo Ohno has been told repeatedly, about how online school allowed him to become one of the best speed skaters in the history of the sport, but that's a great thing--the flexibility from the online program gave him the ability to become one of the all-time greats. For a lot of the small school districts that I work with here in Eastern Washington online schooling allows them to access courses that the kids wouldn't have any shot at taking otherwise. As a union guy I represent more than a few teachers who serve online academies, and they are some of the happiest teachers I know.

Where I chafe, though, is when supporters of online schools lead off with lousy state and national test scores as an argument for having their chosen ed reform. If you're going to measure me and my public school by those test scores (as the EFF has done with their school report cards), then you have to allow that same scrutiny on your online programs. They are an alternative--they are an alternative that we desperately need--but if you're going to go off the test scores, have the intellectual honesty to acknowledge that online schools at this time are failing in that metric. Paragraphs like this, for example:
There are some traditional schools and traditional teachers who do a wonderful job and graduate well-educated men and women. They should be commended and keep up the good work. But for the rest of the system, and for a lot of students and families, online education is a ray of hope on an otherwise overcast horizon.
If you go off the MSP and WASL results that's not a ray of hope--that's a fart that someone lit.

I also see district like Valley, near Chewelah, where they reported have 743 kids in May, and yet they don't have any test results to show for it. Why is that? It's the same for Columbia Virtual Academy of Orient.

For more information, check out Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center here. A news story about online schools losing money, here. 5/17 on online schools from earlier this year, here. The big OSPI audit of online schools from last December, here.

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It's a Good Thing We Put Arne Duncan in Charge of Education

I mean, look at Chicago miracle!
By Chicago Public Schools' own reckoning, about a quarter of its elementary schools and more than 40 percent of its high schools are failing, according to internal documents obtained by the Tribune.

Each year, district officials score each school based on academic performance. Last year, they assigned grades A through F based on the numeric scores, and schools chief Ron Huberman talked of publicly releasing them so school and community members would know where they stood. But he never did.

An analysis of the grades shows that a disproportionate number of schools scored in the D range or worse, including 48 percent of elementaries and 68 percent of high schools.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Things, Both Good and Bad

I have 20 kids in my class this year. That's an absolutely incredible gift for any 5th grade teacher, and I'm already seeing the results.

My stepfather is still doing OK. Right now he's struggling with gout, which is the fundamental unfairness of the world--if a guy is going to die of cancer, can't he at leas be able to go fishing without excruciating pain?

The leaves on the trees have been changing rapidly the past few days. This is my favorite time of the year.

My daughter likes preschool more than she likes her parents. The teacher and parent in me are both OK with that.

The first 7 days have been really, really busy on the local union front. The district made a $75,000 hiring mistake that we're going to be fighting over for a long time, I fear.

Football is back. Sadly, that doesn't do much for us here in Washington.

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