by Goldy, 11/30/2006, 9:34 AM

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat and I don’t always see eye to eye on education. During the school closure process we got into quite a heated email exchange in which I accused him of failing to question the assumptions and data put forth by the district, and he accused me of myopic NIMBYism. We both thought the parent revolt I was engaged in would likely end up undermining the entire closure process. On that count, we were both wrong.

But I wouldn’t have argued so passionately with Danny if I didn’t respect his opinion, and so it is gratifying to see us both on the same side of the manufactured debate over a proposed city takeover of Seattle schools: “Schools in crisis? Not really.”

Danny is sick of being told that he’s sending his kids to “a collapsing institution run by dysfunctional boobs,” but unlike most of the district’s critics, who seem content to back up their arguments with hyperbole and stereotypes, Danny decided to actually look at the numbers. He compared test scores from districts in the state’s ten largest cities, and what did he find?

Seattle high-schoolers rank 3rd in reading, behind only Bellevue and Federal Way. Seattle scores five points above the state average in math, ahead of Federal Way, Renton, Auburn, Enumclaw, Mukilteo and Lake Stevens… and 22 points better than Tacoma. As Danny writes, “If we’re in crisis, Tacoma’s schools must have cracked off and fallen into the sea.”

And what of the vaunted Bellevue schools that so many former urban families have abandoned Seattle for? Well, they’re great. If you’re rich.

Math and reading scores for low-income elementary kids in Seattle have doubled since 1998, and now are higher than scores for low-income kids in Bellevue — even though this at-risk group makes up 40 percent of the student body in Seattle, and 20 percent in Bellevue.

Danny asks for a little perspective, which is exactly what I’ve been asking for (here and here,) though not so politely. I think Danny sums it up best:

The schools themselves simply aren’t “blighted” or in “crisis.” Some are great and some aren’t, which isn’t good enough. But what they need is constructive help, not broad-brush insults.

The mayor and the former mayor and the editorial board for this newspaper ought to back off. My kid goes to a Seattle public school, and from where I sit you all are starting to do more harm than good.

The only thing I’d add is that it is the disparity between the great, the good and the not-so-good schools that is really at the heart of most of the district’s problems. It is this issue that I intend to focus on in future posts.

30 Responses to “At least someone at the Times gets it on education”

1. rhp6033 spews:

Goldy;

I’m curious: where did those “scores” come from? Where they from the WASL, which you apparantly don’t care for very much? Are they from other standardized testing which is used across the state?

Personally, I’m all in favor of standardized testing, of one sort or another. There are just too many incentives for the less-motivated educators to engage in grade inflation and send the kids to the next grade to be “somebody else’s problem”.

While my kids were in school, I ran into one principal in the Edmonds School District who was obviously just trying to get her ticket punched so she could move on to an administrative job in the School District, who let her teachers know that she didn’t want any kids failing or for them to report discipline problems to her, so she would be able to bragg about her “clean record” of no parental complaints and a well-managed (quiet) school. At that same school, she protected a teacher who didn’t see anything wrong with sixth-grade students who didn’t know their multiplication tables and (as a result) couldn’t do long division.

Only by having some form of standardized testing do we confirm which teachers and schools are going through the motions without teaching their students, and which are engaging in some self-serving “grade inflation”. The progress of western civilization in science and technology has been marked by the use of testing to form an objective method of analyizing resuts. Other nations, particularly Japan and Korea, have embraced such tests far beyond the point I think is reasonable, but their students are showing much better progress in math, science, and languages than ours are.

I know the arguments against the WASL. Some say its just a bad test. Some say it rewards students who are good test takers, while punishing those who are not. Some say it makes teachers “teach to the test”, instead of concentrating on broader learning. But I think these hazards, if they exist, can be resolved without throwing out standardized testing altogether.

If there is a better test than the WASL, then we should use it. If there are students who know their subjects but do unusually poorly on standardized tests, then we need to either teach them to do the tests or make alternate arrangements for the few who are affected. Personally, if the test is a good one, I don’t see any harm to “teaching to the test”, which at least requires them to teach something.

So, if there were not any standardized testing to use in these arguments, wouldn’t we be left with the attempts of those who are self-interested in a particular political result to characterize, label, or disparage schools or school districts in any way they wish?

2. David B. spews:

Sorry to go off-topic, but here’s more about the link between Iraq and Palestine (from AP via today’s P-I):

Although the risks of civil war in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories have roots far older than the current sectarian crisis in Iraq, the precarious position of the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad presents new openings for Iran, Syria and the Lebanese and Palestinian Islamist militia groups they sponsor.

“What the administration is trying to do is, in a sense, get back in the game,” said Bruce Riedel, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution. “They’ve had a bad autumn” with setbacks in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and Bush wants to show initiative, Riedel said.

Notice how the “setbacks in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip” are attributed to the Bush administration. I didn’t think Bush was President of Israel. My mistake!

3. rhp6033 spews:

Off Topic: I couldn’t help but chuckle at this notice in the Everett Herald:

“Inclement weather forced cancellation Tuesday of a public hearing in Everett on possible changes in how bus service is provided and road projects are approved in the Puget Sound region.”

http://www.heraldnet.com/stories/06/11/29/100loc_b4briefs001.cfm

Yea, I know, it was an unusual storm this week, and there should be nothing remarkable about re-scheduling a hearing in its aftermath. But I had to chuckle at the irony of transportation problems requiring the re-scheduling of a meeting on the subject of transportation problems.

If we keep pinching pennys and putting off long-term solutions to our transportation problems, we soon won’t need to have unusual weather to prevent us from having meetings to discuss transportation problems.

4. SR spews:

David B.,

I don’t see why we are involved with supporting Israel is the first place. Isn’t that what the Islamo-terrorsits are bithcing about?

Why not declare neutrality and stay out of religious conflicts?

5. David B. spews:

SR @ 4:

Europe and the rest of the world are begging us to be neutral.

Unfortunately, the “neocons” in the Bush administration generally promote the line of right-wing Israeli politicians. Indeed, some of them used to work for the Likud party’s Bibi Netanyahu.

The Democrats are just as loyal to Israel. Rahm Emmanuel’s father was a member of the Israeli terrorist group Irgun. More than half of campaign funding for Democratic presidential candidates comes from American Jews.

Sounds like wild antisemitic conspiracy fantasies, I know. Wish it were!

6. YOS LIB BRO spews:

GOLDY, THIS IS ANOTHER GREAT POST. I READ A RECENT THREAD OVER AT (UN)SP ON THIS ISSUE. THE RAVING MANIACS OVER THERE WENT INTO THEIR USUAL HATE FRENZY OVER SEATTLE SCHOOLS AND PROGRESSIVE-MINDED PEOPLE.

TAKE THIS POST AND EAT IT YOU MEAN-SPIRITED, IGNORANT, RIGHT-WING GHOULS!

YOU STILL HAVEN’T TAKEN IN THE LESSON OF NOV 7. GOOD. WATCH YOURSELVES DIMINISH INTO NOTHING.

7. Libertarian spews:

Re: 5

If memory serves, Bibi Netanyahu is originally from Pennsylvania. How it the heck did get to Israel and how the US get involved with this guy and the hard right of Israel?

8. skagit spews:

RHP6033:
Two things: the WASL is sort of subjective – I’ve heard. It asks for kids to explain thinking and scorers to evaluate their “thinking” so not sure how “standardized” it is.

Also, the issue in Seattle isn’t good/bad schools but digging ourselves out of a financial hole. I don’t see Goldy addressing that. His program – Montessori – could be replicated (I think) at another school which might reduce overhead.

I’m not for closing schools either. But, I’m tired of so many people second-guessing decisions. Someone has to be in charge and at some point, decisions made and followed through.

9. skagit spews:

Goldy is NIMBY on this. He doesn’t like it but he is.

10. My Left Foot spews:

Skagit:

You are as relevant here as a penis wrinkle. Take your namby pamby ass over to (un)SP.

One last thing: Go Fuck Yourself.

11. skagit spews:

My Left Foot(in mouth):

Another Goldy dittohead?

12. skagit spews:

My Left Foot(in mouth):

Another Goldy dittohead?

13. rhp6033 spews:

I don’t blame Goldy for his position on closing his kid’s schools, even if it is a bit NIMBY. When it comes to your kids, you have to fight for them. You can’t allow their education/future to be negatively affected while you sit on your high horse defending “higher” principles.

For example, if you were in a natural disaster, and your family needed food and water, and there was a mad rush for the limited relief supplies being dropped off, it might be more correct to try to persuade people that everyone would be better off if they kept in line, and supplies were rationed and distributed among those in line. But if everyone is grabbing supplies, and there are not enough to go around, and your kids are starving, you had better be in the middle of the scrum, swinging elbows, to make sure your kids survive, higher principles be damned.

14. skagit spews:

This is not a natural disaster. Disappointed in your lack of clarity here, RP. Also, you don’t address the fact that his daughter’s program could probably be replicated.

To many followers . . . big problem in society today. Everybody’s got a team to defend.

In fact, it is a ridiculous comparison.

15. skagit spews:

Make that “too many followers”

16. Goldy spews:

Skagit,

The Montessori program could easily be replicated at other schools, and we wish it would be. In fact, the program was duplicated successfully (without the pre-K) at Bagley Elementary. Different kids have different learning styles, so it’s not for everybody, but it clearly works for the kids that self-select into the program.

And I’ve made this clear before, it’s simply a different teaching style, and does not cost the district or the school anything more than the “contemporary” program in our school. The only extra cost is for the pre-school and full-day kindergarten, and that is paid for via tuition ($290/month) and the scholarship money we raise ($8,000 to $12,000 a year.)

I’m convinced that the biggest improvement we could make to K-12 is to provide pre-school and full day kindergarten to all our children. Of course, that costs money, and so nobody wants to talk about it, since it’s in vogue right now to say that throwing money at a problem doesn’t solve it.

17. skagit spews:

Goldy, my concern was your desire to keep a school running that intelligent people felt should be closed. You have offered no solutions to the financial crisis in Seattle. If the program can be easily replicated, why insist that the overhead at Graham Hill be maintained? Why not just take that program to a new facility?

I love Graham Hill. I’ve been there. I love the population. But, at some point decisions have to made and followed through.

I have never questioned the quality or desire of parents to create imaginative and innovative programs. Just their need to maintain buildings that aren’t/may not be needed.

18. YOS LIB BRO spews:

SKAGIT – IT DIDN’T MAKE TOO MUCH SENSE TO CLOSE A SCHOOL THE DISTRICT HAD ALREADY RECENTLY INVESTED (WHAT?) 3-4 MILLION?

ALL TO SAVE THAT VERY SAME AMOUNT BY SHUTTING DOWN WHATEVER X AMOUNT OF SCHOOLS THEY HAD IN MIND. NO SENSE AT ALL.

19. GOPlease spews:

Thank you for helping expose the PR machine that Bellevue has regarding low income, math, etc…..facts are stubborn things in the face of overwhelming PR!

20. skagit spews:

Well, Yo, it did to the people who made the decision. Why throw good money after bad?

21. YOS LIB BRO spews:

SKAGIT – THE PEOPLE WHO MADE THE DECISION WERE PADDING THEIR RESUMES. THEY HAD WEAK TIES TO THE COMMUNITY THAT DEPENDS ON THE SCHOOLS. THEY WERE AN OUT OF TOUCH, ELITIST BUNCH.

22. skagit spews:

So says who? And your resume is . . . ?

23. YOS LIB BRO spews:

KEN ALHADEFF? MONA BAILEY? NANETTE WESTERMAN? GIMME A BREAK!

I AM A CITIZEN OF THE CITY OF SEATTLE. I HAVE TWO KIDS IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. THAT’S MY RESUME.

24. skagit spews:

Not particularly impressive, is it?

Here’s a post from several threads ago worth posting:

Mel Westbrook says:

FYI: it is simplistic to take the district’s budget and divide it by the number of students. The district uses a weighted student formula where money follows the student’s need to whatever school he/she attends. Also, there are some schools have additional funding that would not show up in the budget. The average is much lower than $11,000, more like $9,000.

This person is active in the District and always fights to keep the District from turning over and giving up. Mel knows the score.

Can’t say the same for you, Yo.

25. skagit spews:

For Stephen Schwarz:

Just read your response on that thread several days ago.

I have never been against charter schools or vouchers. I think kids should be able to get the education they need wherever they can. I protect no turf. Not even my own! Read that, Goldy!

Also, Stephen, we had magnet schools at one time. They’re gone. I wonder why?

Please, please start by decreasing all the bloat in administration. That will free up money.

26. YOS LIB BRO spews:

This person is active in the District

AND THIS PERSON WANTS TO SAVE EDUCATION BY SHUTTING DOWN SCHOOLS OVER THE OBJECTIONS OF THE COMMUNITY? KEEP MAKING SENSE SKAGIT.

AND YOUR RESUME?

27. YOS LIB BRO spews:

GOT ANOTHER ONE FOR YOU SKAGIT. THAT GROUP OF “INTELLIGENT PEOPLE” WANTED TO SHUT DOWN SACAJAWEA IN NORTH EAST SEATTLE. THE COMMUNITY SCOTCHED THAT ONE AND MANHAS PULLED IT OFF THE LIST BECAUSE IT WAS PRETTY OBVIOUS TO EVERYONE BUT THAT “GROUP” THAT ENROLLMENT IS INCREASING IN THE NORTH END. THE CLOSURE, AGAIN, MADE NO SENSE.

AS I CONTINUE TO THINK ON IT, I KEEP GETTING MORE AND MORE “IMPRESSED” WITH THAT GROUP SKAGIT.

28. Mel Westbrook spews:

Well, just to weigh in as a member of the CAC, first thank you to skagit for those kind words. I have been an activist in our district for over 10 years and put in my time both at my children’s schools and at Board meetings, committee meetings, etc.
I would love to write a short piece someday about my time on the CAC. There were a lot of things not said and done and believe me, I fought for them. I had made a decision that I was working for a team (I wish the Board would feel this way at least some of the time.) and that MY personal opinions/desires were not the issue. But I did think, a few times, of leaving the group but I thought it would hurt more people than it would help to make a grand gesture and walk.)

I would love to fully explain some of our thinking especially about our preliminary recommendations. (Yes, Yos Lib Bro, enrollment is increasing in the north end but there is alternative school capacity that isn’t being filled; we were not fully apprised of this and thus Sacajawea made the list. And, to anyone who thought it was because they were a mostly white, tee-shirt wearing, large group of parents…it wasn’t. The tee-shirts and singing had not a whit of impact on our decisons.)

I fought very hard to put more of our reasoning out there (I was in charge of answering the e-mail and I managed to get some of it out but obviously, only on an individual basis) and was told no. To this day, I’m not sure why. The argument had been that we weren’t going to go into deep detail because we had been charged with making these recommendations but to my mind, a little explanation goes a long way.

I do stand by our work. We had a lot of creative ideas shot down by the district staff. There were a couple that would have required some political courage and that just didn’t even see the light of day.

I had my eyes opened with this work. There are people willing to think the worst of you without knowing you or considering the data. I also see the district staff as very hard-working people. Sadly, they have a “circle the wagons” and “my way or the highway” mentality and it is not really serving our district well. (The financial mismanagement that was caused by Olcheske was detailed in the report by the Moss-Adams firm. It’s a good read if you ever get the time. The district has, to its credit and the credit of Raj Manhas, implemented most of its recommendations. However, the one they should have and didn’t, is that the culture of the district bureaucracy needs to change. It did slightly but not enough to make a difference. Hence, the same mistakes keep getting made over and over.)

29. skagit spews:

Mel, I reposted you on the current thread ’cause I don’t think you’ll get read here. Also, Goldy’s kid goes to Graham Hill which was slated for closure . . . what do you know about that choice and what’s your opinion on the situation there? Could his beloved Montessori program have been replicated at a new site?

Copy this post and respond on the open thread please. Thanks.

30. skagit spews:

Mel, I resposted on the “open thread” which is no longer the current thread. (LOL!)