Thursday, September 23, 2010

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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