by Goldy, 11/26/2006, 11:18 AM

No doubt there are profound problems with the Seattle School District and its management, but it still kinda irks me when some stodgy old white guy starts pontificating about how crappy our schools are without ever spending any meaningful time in them himself:

Seattle has problems but it prides itself on being a living urban center, a city with rich talent and both a creative and entrepreneurial class. Such places do not have the failing school systems of blighted East Coast cities.

And neither does Seattle.

I’ve lived in a couple of those “blighted East Coast cities” (which FYI, Seattle doesn’t hold a candle to in many ways,) and I can’t imagine subjecting my daughter to the typical inner city school there. By comparison, at least at the elementary school level, Seattle has many more good and great schools than it does failing ones, which is why so many of us parents fought so hard to save our neighborhood schools from closure.

Don’t get me wrong, Seattle Public Schools has plenty of problems, from chronic underfunding to an acute lack of leadership — problems complicated by the fact that like all urban school districts it is tasked with educating some of the most difficult (and expensive) to teach students. But lumping Seattle schools in with say, Philadelphia’s educational disaster, is a lazily facile comparison at best and a harmfully misleading one at worst. It is also insulting to teachers and students… and especially to the parents who choose not to abandon their public schools. In fact, it stinks of patrician snobbery.

And while the Seattle Times and other critics are right that the district needs new leadership, I’m not so sure that handing the reigns over to a city government so timid and consensus driven that it puts bathroom breaks out for a public vote would instill much confidence.

Yeah, well, maybe former Mayor Norm Rice would provide the leadership the district has so desperately craved since the death of John Stanford, and maybe appointing a couple school board members might instill a little professionalism into the mix. (Paying them might not be such a bad idea either.) But haughtily pointing towards low WASL scores tells us nothing, and broadly branding schools as “failures” only drives more families away.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the closure process it’s that WASL tests aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, and that results can be cherry-picked and manipulated to justify nearly any argument. The WASL is transforming our state’s educational system into the public school equivalent of a Stanley Kaplan prep course, and thus the only thing it ends up effectively testing is how well teachers prep students for the test itself. For example, perhaps one of the reasons so many of Seattle’s students do so poorly on the science portion of the WASL is that teachers lack the time and resources to prep for that portion of the test at all?

So far I’m as unimpressed with the creativity and intellectual rigor of most of the district’s critics as I am with the leadership of the district itself. For much of the criticism seems intentionally designed to distract attention away from the elephant in the room — the simple fact that no amount of reform or innovation can give our children the educational opportunity we all profess to want, unless we are willing to adequately fund it.

87 Responses to “District critics offer little but criticism”

1. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

I participate in a community outreach program focused on science and technology that has allowed me to see dozens of schools firsthand. I’ve seen the very best and the very worst. I’ve been in schools from Sumner to Marysville. I’ve seen every grade level from K-12. I’ve seen the entire spectrum of ethnic and economic diversity.

It’s clear to me that quality of education in an area is a direct reflection of the local microculture of the area and the character of its resident families. In areas where families support education and demand that their kids excel, the schools are good. In the poorer areas where it’s clear that education is not important, the schools are predictably awful.

Some examples:

I was in a school in Seattle that has the reputation of being the absolute worst. I was hesitant to go there, but decided to do it. While I was doing my presentation, most of the kids were staring off into space, not paying attention, or sleeping. A couple of them got up and started walking around, and I soon found them behind my display trying to steal or destroy what I had. The teachers just sat there and watched. They mostly seemed relieved that someone else was giving the students “daycare” so they could rest. I cut off the presentation, gathered up my stuff and left, never to return.

I did a presentation to a group of high school seniors who stated an interest in technical careers. Before I started my presentation, I asked how many of them had taken a course in physics. One kid out of 50 raised his hand. I asked how many had pre calculus and the same kid raised his hand. I asked them if they had ever heard of “Bernoulli”. None had. Just for the hell of it, I asked how many had heard of Martin Luther King. Of course, all of them raised their hands. So here they are thinking that they’re going to have a technical career someday and they have no preparation whatsoever. No math beyond algebra, and apparently no science. I don’t know how the fuck they thought they were going to get into a technical career with zero background. Not only are the families to blame, but I also blame the guidance counselors for that situtation because they are apparently as clueless as everyone else in the district as to how to be successful.

At the other end of the spectrum, I go to schools on the eastside where it’s clear that education is important to the students and their families. The kids are attentive during my presentation, ask good questions, and come up to speak with me when I’m finished. I attend career fairs at these same neighborhoods and usually get quite a few kids who seem genuinely interested in a technical career. I rarely get kids like that when I’m in the poorer areas.

The problem in Seattle isn’t lack of money. It isn’t the leadership or even the fact that the members of the board are idiots. It’s much deeper than that and there are no quick fixes. The problem is rooted deep in the anti-education culture and the poor moral character of too many of the families. These are the same weaknesses that also lead them to tend librul in their politics hoping that it will somehow save them from their own stoopid choices.

2. bj spews:

An interesting and intelligent post, Mark, right up to the point where you undermined most of your credibility with your last sentence. Just can’t resist, can you?

3. skagit spews:

Damn, Goldy. For a liberal, you sure do see things in a self-interested way.

“The result, so far, has been some pampered, beloved and successful boutique public schools that are supported and defended by the neighborhoods.” (From Vesey’s article)

That’s you. You only know about your’s. And damned if you aren’t happy. Enough said. Screw the rest of the District. Well, this stodgy old white guy has a different perspective. Some of us in education do too. Sorry your little publicly paid for Montessori program is on the block . . . but all our kids need help, not just yours.

“But lumping Seattle schools in with say, Philadelphia’s educational disaster, is a lazily facile comparison at best and a harmfully misleading one at worst. It is also insulting to teachers and students… and especially to the parents who choose not to abandon their public schools. In fact, it stinks of patrician snobbery.”

You feel better having said this? This state has far more wealth than most others. Yet our schools are declining rapidly. Contrary to your analysis, huge numbers of kids’ needs are not getting met. You apparently know more about inner city Philadelphia schools than Seattle’s. Think about it: Philadelphia is a much older city. They were once where we are. People like you will assure that Seattle eventually becomes Philadelphia. Your attitude is the one that reeks of patrician snobbery.

Mark, I sort of agree with a lot of what you said until your final paragraph. You just have to blame liberals for all of society’s woes. You’re a stoopid conservative who fails in the departments of understanding, sensitivity, and simple graciousness. Those kids are the products of failed parenting. We must as a society find a way to help them as well. We absolutely have to. And with a disappearing middle class, thank you conservatives, this becomes an even greater priority.

Now, I agree with Mark that American kids are spoiled. They do not want to make the effort to learn. It isn’t just the kids from underprivileged homes. It includes many, many middle class kids. Kids like yours, Goldy, who will not meet the rigid requirements demanded of them later in life. Oh, they’ll do fine if they want to be writers. But we do not need more writers, film makers, or HOllywood and sports stars. We are in desperate need of mathematicians and scientists. Raj said once that in India, children are asked if they want to be engineers, doctors or lawyers. (that is close to his question – long time ago!) Few choices. They are led into the areas that provide the most stable and secure livings. America has always been about choice. But, our choices are beginning to threaten our society. We must ask more of our kids. All of them.

To think that elected school boards who are beholden to parents like you who don’t have a clue about what’s needed for all our kids are viable in this hugely competitive global market is just plain provincial and obsolete thinking. We no longer can afford the “local” view on education. Get real, Goldy! Go back to your liberal roots and do what is best for all.

And regarding the WASL, it is isn’t perfect and I don’t like it. But kids should be able to do fairly well on any test. Testing is part of life. Get real here as well. Bill Gates recently chided Washington State because it has one of the lowest math requirement nationally: two years instead of four. I know teachers in other states – even poor southern states – who say they have an enrollment limit of 20-24 in kindergarten; Seattle’s k classrooms can be up to 30 and 28 is normal without PTA intervention. We need all-day K and that is still not funded. We must open our doors to kids earlier . . . so many things that can be done. But, as long as people like you spend your energy and keep the energy of money focused on your own kids, we’ll continue to be that segregated and unequal society I always thought people like you hated and worked to eliminate.

4. Interested to hear your feedback spews:

MTR,

I’d say you hit the nail on the head.

As my wife and I are beginning to try and have our first child, we’ve been looking at what path we should take for schooling.

What I have found as we research the local schools is that Politics replaced education as the primary position in the Seattle school system long ago.

I’m confused by the entire lottery system we have here and why this is still in place.

Accountability and discipline have been altogether thrown down the toilet.

Euqally, I’m concerned with the Teachers Union and it’s ability to protect poorly performing teachers.

I’d love to say that the quick fix is that we would just choose to send our kids to private schools. However, who knows if that will be a financial reality.

5. skagit spews:

Well, you could always “unschool” and keep your kids at home. Why is it nobody wants to help solve problems any more?

6. skagit spews:

BTW, “interested”, according to Mark’s response, “It’s clear to me that quality of education in an area is a direct reflection of the local microculture of the area and the character of its resident families.”

Aren’t you a “nice middle class” and probably white family? So why do you think your kids won’t do well? Something wrong with you or your micro-culture?

7. Tahoma Activist spews:

Great analysis. I don’t live in Seattle, but I figure the same issues exist down here. Having seen this problem debated on KCTS a while back with Manhass and some other establishment figures being challenged by actual parents, I have a feeling that the major problem is exactly what you’re talking about – namely, that the elite have different priorities for the schools than the people whose kids attend them do.

The elite want to preserve the status quo – big fancy offices and business lunches for the administrators and catch-as-catch-can for the teachers and students. Parents, meanwhile, want a school system that solves all the problems for their kids that the broader society has foisted upon them.

As a populist and a democratic socialist, I identify with the parents. I think we should make schools a refuge and a link to the community, with connected farmers’ markets and a ban on unhealthy food. I think we should test progress among student populations to learn where we should spend more time and money, not so we can penalize those principals and teachers that oversaw the negative trend. The problems are myriad, but they all boil down to the fact that rich people don’t want to spend more, and the parents don’t have any control.

Schoolboards, in my opinion, should focus on building up every student and giving them experiences that make them love learning. They should bring kids of different ethnicities to the same schools. They should keep corporations and other vultures out of the school system. And they should not force teachers to teach to the test. Tests should be aids to track progress, not means to cut funding to struggling schools.

In my view, Rice should only be considered if he pledges to end segregation and build up the overall level of learning for all students. Otherwise, leave that Manhass tool in there and just keep doing what you’re doing.

8. Goldy spews:

Skagit, first… when it comes to my daughter’s school, you really have no idea what the fuck you are talking about. Absolutely no idea. If you and Vesely think that Graham Hill is a “pampered, beloved and successful boutique public school” then you are totally clueless. There are North End schools where the PTA raises an additional $1000/student to spend on smaller class size, music, art, foreign language, science and other enrichment programs, whereas our South End school is lucky to raise $25,000 total… which makes it one of the best funded PTAs in the quadrant. Pampered my ass.

Second, I find it telling that the same people who argue relentlessly for charter schools and vouchers would disparage the same sort of innovation within a public school as elitist and “boutique.” Our Montessori program works. It produces some of the highest reading and writing scores in the district (for what that’s worth.) And yet you accuse me of being selfish for choosing a different teaching method for my child. That’s all it is — a different teaching method — and we could reproduce the program in other schools (it doesn’t cost the district an extra dime.) But no, instead, let’s just attack the parents who choose the program as a bunch of racist elitists.

You want to dramatically improve test scores for all our children? I’ve got an easy solution: free pre-school and full day kindergarten. Get kids prepared to learn early, and they’ll learn better. All the studies show this. Common sense tells us this.

But no… that costs money, so shhhh… let’s just blame all those knee-jerk liberals and immoral poor people.

9. BigGlen spews:

One of the problems facing Seattle schools is teacher pay. My brother, after spending 20 plus years in the US Navy, return to college to become a math and tech teacher. After getting his degree from Eastern Washington the highest paying offer that he could get in Washington State was $26,000. He got offers for over twice that out of state. He now works out of state. Also in Washington State a teacher is required to go back to school to get a Masters, at thier own expense. Where my brother teaches that is not a requirement, if the teacher cnooses to get a masters (my brother did) the expense is paid for. My daughter is in college studing to become an English teacher, she has nno plans to work in Washington State. If fact Washington State is becoming the choice of teachers who can not get jobs in other states.
Also it is very easy to remove poorly performing teachers in this state. Just document the poor performance, come up with an action plan on how to improve the preformance. Then if the preformance does not improve or if the teacher does not follow the action, say good-bye to them. Just keep the union involed in the process. The reason poor teachers are kept around is 1.) The administration to lazy of to incompetent to do this (it is hard to fire someone that is doing a bad job when ou are doing a wrost job). or 2)Fear that nomatter how poor the teacher’s preformance is they will not beable to hire a replacement (see pay issues).

10. David Wright spews:

Real (i.e. inflation-adjusted) per-pupil spending on public K-12 schools has risen by a factor of 5 over the last 50 years (from $1713 in 1950 to $8575 in 2000, according to the federal government’s national center for education statistics). Seattle spends over $10k per student per year.

So I just have one simple question for advocates of increased funding: how much is enough? (A dollar ammount please, not “when all students get…”.)

Oh, and one more simple question: when you get that much, will you shut up about funding? Or will you ask for even more?

11. skagit spews:

Goldy: a “pampered, beloved and successful boutique public school” then you are totally clueless.

Is your daughter in a separate program from the other K program or not? That was my understanding. Is not the montessori program different? A simple yes or no.

Our Montessori program works. It produces some of the highest reading and writing scores in the district (for what that’s worth.)

We really need more readers and writers, don’t we? Is it possible that the group self-selects for this program and it reflects the parents who choose it? A serious discussion requires serious analysis.

You want to dramatically improve test scores for all our children? I’ve got an easy solution: free pre-school and full day kindergarten. Get kids prepared to learn early, and they’ll learn better. All the studies show this. Common sense tells us this.

Didn’t I say this? Mark refutes your allegations. His “micro-culture” comment supports exactly your situation. And I would agree with his observation there.

If common sense tells us to get to kids early and fund full-day K, why aren’t you spending energy, time and money to get it done. You have the public forum, the kids in school, and the desire to make sure your daughter gets it. So, spread the wealth around. And you call me elitist. Unbelievable!

12. BigGlen spews:

David Wright,
I would like to know where you got those numbers. In 2003 the state was spending $6,300 per student. Not $10,000 or $8,575. The average spending per student in private high school was over $15,000. And private schools did not have to deal with the high cost of special needs student, they just do not admitt them, or they kick them back to public schools if they do happen to get one.

13. skagit spews:

David, it isn’t just the funding. It is how it is spent. I agree that administration in the District is bloated beyond all belief! These people get themselves funded and protect their turf. We can’t even get decent custodial services at the school level . . . teachers are doing it all. The administrative offices are showcases while schools are being cleaned by poor cleaners who have no oversight at all.

David, it will take quite a lot of money to change schools and the way we provide education. But, given a good plan and the ability to sell it (which will never happen with parents like Goldy protecting their turf), it can be done. But it takes someone who can rally assistance from diverse groups, who has the intellectual capacity to take the long view, who has the empathy to meet the reals needs of all our children, and who can take the risk and decisively sell it to our parents and get the legislature to help fund it. And it requires that children and parents quit looking at education as having to be “fun” and start emphasizing “achievement” as the goal.

Also, after all this, if kids don’t come to school to learn, then they should be suspended until they do. I know teachers who have literally given up. You cannot expect a teacher to spend all his/her time managing kids and still teach. Elementary is easy compared to middle and high schools.

You do not have these problems in the higher-income micro-cultures of which Mark speaks. We are not just speaking to education here. David, you over-simplify. Which is part of the problem. You need to look with your heart as well as your head. You need to care about all kids. Not the parents . . . but the kids.

14. skagit spews:

BTW, I watched the school board meetings having do to with school closures. . . what a learning experience. Did you? Some parents who were complaining that their kids couldn’t learn in regular schools and needed alternative settings were models for the very problems their kids were having.

One woman started out rather politely and well-spoken; but, by the end of her little speech, she was screaming at the top of her lungs and calling everybody names. Gee, I wonder why her kid has a problem learning in a non-alternative setting?

There is just so much to be said. But it takes understanding, patience and a gift for analysis to solve these problems. And the true desire to get it done even if it means encroachment on our personal turfs.

Just caught the tail-end of a panel including Rangel, Dellums, and Bloomberg talking about crime in cities. Education came up. Bloomberg talked about getting kids out of classrooms who disrupted them. That is a no-brainer.

Also, Kipp Schools (charter schools) are successfully teaching those low end kids . . . from all that I hear and read. If they can do it, we should be partnering with them to see how it is done. Those of us in education are trying to do better . . . most of us, anyway.

And BigGlen, pay isn’t great when one looks at the time and money spent by good teachers. Yes, the best leave this state. I’ve seen gifted intern after gifted intern leave. We get many of the leftovers. Not all . . . just too many. And the stats that teachers leave teaching after five years should speak for itself. (My principle who is currently working on his PhD told me that. Can’t cite it for you. Sorry.)

15. skagit spews:

Goldy:There are North End schools where the PTA raises an additional $1000/student to spend on smaller class size, music, art, foreign language, science and other enrichment programs, whereas our South End school is lucky to raise $25,000 total… which makes it one of the best funded PTAs in the quadrant. Pampered my ass.

If the PTA’s in North End schools got $1000/student additional, that would be minimally $250,000 extra dollars. I know of few north end schools that accomplish that. Maybe Blaine and/or North Beach . . . No one has said that parents don’t make the playing field less even.

But protecting turf and looking out for your own at the expense of all isn’t the answer. You’ve struck a nerve here. Sorry.

16. David Wright spews:

BigGlen: No problem.

For national statistics, see the table at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/dt05_032.asp. For inflation-adjustment, use the calculator at http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/compare/.
For example, in 1949-50, there were 25,112K enrolled students and we spent $5,838M on them, for a total expenditure of $232/student in 1949-50 dollars; converted via CPI to 2000 dollars, that’s $1660/student. Repeating the calculation for 2000 gives $8149/student. (These numbers are slightly different from what I quoted earlier because I orginally did the calculation in 2003 using un-revised figures and 2003 dollars.)

For local statistics, I had the $10K figure from a table in the Seattle Times school guide that is no longer online. I googled a bit and found a Seattle Weekly article at http://www.seattleweekly.com/news/0524/050615_news_schools.php that quotes $9200/student for Seattle (and just $7900/student for Bellevue). I suspect the discrepancy occurs because the Weekly tracks per-school spending and thus ignores the cost of central administration, but I’m not sure. In any case, the $6,300 figure you quote, while it may represent the state per-pupil contribution, doesn’t come anywhere close to total per-pupil spending.

Thanks for your interest!

17. John Barelli spews:

Let me help with this. From the current Seattle Public Schools budget ( http://tinyurl.com/ta5uu – in current dollars)

SPS 06/07 student population – 43,322

SPS 06/07 budget – 489,993,677

Dollars per student – 11,310.51

18. skagit spews:

Well, I can see why we have a problem, Seattle. Number crunchers . . . no analysis, just the bottom line. Enough said.

BTW, Goldy, why can’t your little program be reconstructed in another building? The District isn’t trying to eliminate programs . . .least I don’t think so. They are trying to reduce overhead.

19. Anonymous spews:

#1 MTR, you actually make some good points, in your own special, thinly-veiled anger way.

I do take exception to your conclusions implied by the Bernoulli-MLK query.

I went to one of the best public high schools in the state at the time years ago (we had the most students from my class attend UW at the time, nearly 150). If you posed the same question to 50 senior/junior/sophomores from my school, I doubt more than a handful would know who the Bernoullis were. Maybe 5 or so.

Oh, and my college roommate didn’t take calc in high school either and he went on to Yale for a PhD in economics. He took more math in college than most engineers.

20. headless lucy spews:

One of the problem in American schools is too many second chances. The kids who are miscreants always get another chance. If a student cannot meet behavioral standards they should be thrown out of the school.

21. headless lucy spews:

For Good!

22. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

I think the thing with Norm Rice is illustrative too. Here’s a guy with no education experience, his performance administering a large organzation as mayor was lackluster at best, and his business experience was a failure that apparently bordered on criminal. Why he or anybody else thinks he could “fix” SSD is beyond me.

But more to the point… I think that the notion that a “knight in shining armor” can fix the problem shows that too many people still don’t understand what the real problem is. Norm Rice can’t “fix” SSD any more than GWB can “win” the war in Iraq. The problems in SSD (and Iraq) are due entirely to the gutter culture of the area and the poor character of the residents.

23. Anonymous spews:

#20 HL -

They can learn in prison, right? I mean that’s where they’re going to end up anways, right? What’s the per capita spending in prisons?

24. David Wright spews:

John Barelli: Thanks for chiping in!

Skagit: I often appreciate your commentary, particularly on education, which is much more considered and engaging that is typical here. A simplistic taunt like “the problem is heartless number-crunchers like you!”, directed at people who care enough to do unpaid research, is beneath you.

I do really believe that a better-run public school system could deliver the results we want without spending one more dime. But I also know that the number of people who have an interest in the status quo, coupled with the number of voters who will feel good about spending more on education (without even knowing how much they spend now!), make that belief a political non-starter. I would be happy to compromise by increasing education spending by 10%-20% in exchange for radical, market-based reforms: competition among schools, at-will employment and pay-for-performance, spending caps for special needs students, etc. But those on the other side know that they don’t have to compromise with people like me. As in the past, the spending increases they want will happen, without any painful changes in the system. Or in the results in delivers.

25. skagit spews:

Mark says:”The problems in SSD (and Iraq) are due entirely to the gutter culture of the area and the poor character of the residents.”

So, Mark. What’s the answer? Do you just throw their kids away? What’s your solution? Analysis is easy . . . for some. What’s the answer?

26. YOS LIB BRO spews:

MTR – MOST COHERENT THING I’VE SEEN YOU WRITE. HOW COMPASSIONATE OF YOU TO VOLUNTEER TIME IN THE CLASSROOM.

YOU GOT A LOT OF NERVE TO MAKE JUDGEMENTS ON PEOPLE’S MORAL CHARACTER WHEN YOU DON’T MAKE GOOD ON OWN YOUR FUCKING GAMBLING DEBT.

PAY UP LOSER!

27. skagit spews:

David: But I also know that the number of people who have an interest in the status quo, coupled with the number of voters who will feel good about spending more on education (without even knowing how much they spend now!), make that belief a political non-starter.

Can’t argue with this. We are a direly uninformed citizenry. But we are very American in wanting to protect our own turf. Until the whole systems breaks, nothing will be done. I think it is very close to breaking. But even breaking won’t be enough: like alcoholics who end up in the gutter before deciding to die there or stop drinking, Americans will have to reach bottom and see this country break apart before their revolutionary spirit (if there’s any left) galvanizes and fights for change.

It is government policy (under Bush) to promote outsourcing. We are on the road to becoming a third world country. You think it can’t happen . . . ? Am I sounding alarmist? A solid, meaningful and rigorous education system is now more necessary than ever.

America: Mediocrity is thy middle name.

28. headless lucy spews:

MTR mentioned students who got up and wandered about the classroom, tried to steal his displays, and generally made it impossible for him to make his presentation.

What do you suppose the consequence was for those disruptive students?

Nothing!

That is the main problem in schools and unless you have seen it firsthand you’ll only think that teachers just need better “class management skills.”

29. John Barelli spews:

skagit says:

Well, I can see why we have a problem, Seattle. Number crunchers . . . no analysis, just the bottom line. Enough said.

BTW, Goldy, why can’t your little program be reconstructed in another building? The District isn’t trying to eliminate programs . . .least I don’t think so. They are trying to reduce overhead.

11/26/2006 at 3:33 pm

Hold on a moment, skagit.

While it is very important to look at programs and expenses, the bottom line is important too.

Yes, my number of $11,310.51 per student is simply crunching the basic numbers, but that number is pretty high. Now that we have it, we can start to find out where it is going and ask whether it is being well spent.

School districts, like any other government agency, tend to write budgets that try to justify a need for more money, while obscuring areas that the agency knows that folks would object to spending money on.

So, if we look at the raw numbers and see that class sizes are down, teacher pay is up and classroom materials are top-notch, then we can all nod and smile, saying that it is money well-spent.

Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, we have to ask where the money is going, before we start to spend more.

To a great extent, this really isn’t my problem. I live in the Peninsula School District, which, while it has problems of its own, does a pretty good job, and keeps admin expenses relatively low.

Our big non-teaching expense here is transportation. We’ve got 120 square miles of district, and only 9500 students.

Our district headquarters is a small two-story building on the same piece of property as the transportation center, an elementary school and a high school.

We also have a professional educator as Superintendent. While I have my differences with Mr. Bouck, he does have pretty good priorities as to where money should be spent. You folks over in Seattle are welcome to select a career politician as Superintendent, but it seems an odd choice to me.

30. skagit spews:

Mark, one more thing: Why didn’t you take the opportunity (or did you?) to give the lecture of a lifetime to those kids? I would have. Sometimes you are quite persuasive. You should have left those kids thinking even if just for a few minutes.

Every little message helps when it comes to kids! Probably one of the most important things I do.

31. skagit spews:

Barelli: Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, we have to ask where the money is going, before we start to spend more.

Agreed. I just want to confirm that that is part of the equation. Just citing numbers is meaningless unless as a springboard to something more useful.

To a great extent, this really isn’t my problem. I live in the Peninsula School District, which, while it has problems of its own, does a pretty good job, and keeps admin expenses relatively low.

Seattle is too large. I’m an advocate for dividing it in two: either north and south or east and west. Too much power in the hands of a turf-protecting administration.

Our big non-teaching expense here is transportation. We’ve got 120 square miles of district, and only 9500 students.

Also a problem in Seattle. Again, dividing the District up would help.

Our district headquarters is a small two-story building on the same piece of property as the transportation center, an elementary school and a high school.

Much like the Blaine School District which, by the way, enjoys great funding since it receives money from the Cherry Point oil refinery.

We also have a professional educator as Superintendent. While I have my differences with Mr. Bouck, he does have pretty good priorities as to where money should be spent. You folks over in Seattle are welcome to select a career politician as Superintendent, but it seems an odd choice to me.

I think professional educators need more than just education experience. I’m glad it is working for you. Nobody I know wants a career politician for super except our career politician mayor who envisions making Seattle into San Francisco North at the expense of an awful lot of us who are trying to survive on median incomes.

Also, your super has a much easier job handling probably a more homogeneous population (might be wrong here . . . ) and a smaller District. The size and diversity of our District is a monumental obstacle to getting anything done.

32. YOS LIB BRO spews:

HOW CAN ANYONE TAKE ANYTHING THAT BET WELSHER SAYS AT FACE VALUE?

THE SAME ASSHOLE WHO LOST A BET TO GOLDY AND WELSHED?

THE SAME ASSHOLE WHO CALLED SEATTLE A “SHITHOLE” BECAUSE 12.9% OF THE PEOPLE HERE ARE GAY OR LESBIAN?

A “LECTURE OF A LIFETIME”? FROM THIS LOW-LIFE?

33. klake spews:

bj says:
An interesting and intelligent post, Mark, right up to the point where you undermined most of your credibility with your last sentence. Just can’t resist, can you?
11/26/2006 at 12:29 pm

BJ great comments about Mark it shows you are open minded about the subject matter. He should not resist the last sentence and it did not deflect away from his credibility on the subject matter. When you violate laws of nature or physics you will always fail no matter hard you try to make it work. You can never get a square peg threw a round hole with damaging the product. For some reason Liberals think those laws don’t apply to them. My dealing with educators they believe themselves above the laws and do what they feel comfortable with at the particular time. That is the real reason why they cannot succeed in life and hate those who can without their slanted education. Seattle lacks a good VISION and a leader to make it happen in a short period of time. You cannot make those folks Rocket Scientist, but you can make them librarians, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, ditch diggers, brick layers, auto mechanics, and etc. The other thing you can teach them it is OK to be poor for it is not a sin and folks shouldn’t look down on you as a failure. The best success you can achieve in life is to be happy like Lucy.

34. skagit spews:

Why does anyone ever respond to a Polonius like klake?

35. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Skagit – It’s a tough problem. How do you change culture and character?

But I think we’ve established pretty clearly that more money is NOT the answer. I find it astonishing that some people actually believe that. And I think that believing that a knight in shining armor can fix the problem is foolish and naive.

So here’s MTR’s prescription:

Phase 1: New Leadership

1) Cleanse the board of the dingbats currently there. Clearly, they have no fucking idea what they’re doing.

2) Find a superintendent who agrees with my plan (below) and give him the power to implement it.

Phase 2: Coming to terms
1) Engage the community and come to consensus that the problems at SSD are real and serious. Then have an honest discussion about the real root causes of the problem; namely culture and character.

2) Establish standards for conduct of students, parents and teachers. Basically says to take school seriously and work your ass off.

3) Let it be known that there will be zero tolerance for poor conduct. Those who fail to adhere to the conduct standards will be removed from the environment.

4) Establish a mentorship program where people in the community will work one on one for free with students who really want to excel. Not just any student gets this kind of help; they need to apply to the program, and prove that they really want to do well.

Phase 3: Housecleaning

1) Get rid of the teachers union. They have a well established track record of not giving a shit about education.

2) Get rid of the bad teachers.

3) Throw out students who disrupt classes.

4) Take the students who refuse to apply themselves in earnest to the education process and send them to auto detailing school or french fry cooking school.

Phase 4: Stabilize and sustain

1) Continue to demand high standards of conduct. Demonstrate that the schools are serious places where serious learning occurs. This will attract better students, teachers and staff. It will be a positive reinforcing loop.

Of course, there is no chance of any of this happening. Seattle residents will refuse to even admit there is a problem and will refuse to do anything constructive. And SSD will continue in an accelerating downward spiral.

36. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Skagit 30 – I’m not gonna waste my time with kids like that. There are only so many hours in a day and only some much energy and money. I’m not gonna piss it away on losers when there are serious students (mostly on the eastside) where my efforts are more productive.

37. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Lucy 28 – You’re exactly right. Those little assholes faced no consequences at all. But they also didn’t get the benefit of hearing what I had to say.

38. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Klake, BJ – The last sentence of my post @1 was not just a cheap political shot.

One of the chief goals of librulism is to remove the linkage between choices and consequences. That’s where the concept of “entitlement” comes from.

I really do believe that the same culture and character weaknesses that lead to a lifetime of bad choices such as refusing to take advantage of our free education system also makes them gravitate toward librulism to shield them from the consequence of those choices.

Refusing to take advantage of our free education system is a choice. People are certainly free to squander the opportunity of they choose, but the should also face the consequences for such stoopid behavior.

39. klake spews:

skagit says:
Damn, Goldy. For a liberal, you sure do see things in a self-interested way.
Mark, I sort of agree with a lot of what you said until your final paragraph. You just have to blame liberals for all of society’s woes. You’re a stoopid conservative who fails in the departments of understanding, sensitivity, and simple graciousness. Those kids are the products of failed parenting. We must as a society find a way to help them as well. We absolutely have to. And with a disappearing middle class, thank you conservatives, this becomes an even greater priority.
Skagit great statement but I have to disagree with you on Mark’s final paragraph because that is really the source of the problem. Now you know that conservatives are not all stupid and don’t fail in the departments of understanding, sensitivity, and simple graciousness. We do understand the problems, but chose to disagree with you on how to resolve this conflict that many parties creates unnecessary. Now sensitivities are one of the conservative’s real strong points, like if you are failing they make a point of telling you about your short comings. Then they tell you what you can do to overcome these short comings. Now the Liberal folks do not like being told of their short comings and it comes off as a rub. They will get over it in time and might succeed in spite of the harsh treatment. Now the conservatives are really gracious when treating folks who are in an off color in language, looks, and abilities to succeed. The problems allies with the fact that some Liberals are over sensitive on the subject matters, and express themselves in emotional out bursts. The disappearing middle class are not vanishing here in my part of the country but most defiantly in Seattle. That could mean that they see no vested interest in remaining and dealing with unreasonable people. Today it is practical to leave and live where you have to deal with manageable problems and realist people. Now you will understand my neighbors move over to the Eastside rather than stay in Seattle.

40. headless lucy spews:

MTR: I sympathize with your feeling of powerlessness at the disrespect shown you by some of the students at that high school. I would like to tell you that most of the students were probably appalled at the horrible behavior of the few complete idiots in the class.

Laws, however, constrain us from dealing with these very problematic individuals in an effective manner. This is something many conservatives and liberals alike agree on.

Don’t kiss-off all these kids. Keep trying ’til you learn to cope with them a little better.

Hint: TRy to use peer pressure to get the students who are little assholes behave better.

41. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Anon 19 – Not sure what “conclusion” you drew from my Bernoulli MLK question.

My conclusion is that schools ought to spend less time on emphasizing the differences and more time studying others who made real contributions to the world.

42. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Lucy – It wasn’t a high school. It was a fucking elementary school !!

43. klake spews:

Anonymous says:
#20 HL -
They can learn in prison, right? I mean that’s where they’re going to end up anyway, right? What’s the per capita spending in prisons?
11/26/2006 at 3:59 pm

Anonymous so lets out source the prisons to Mexico where there is lots of opens space and cheap labor. Now that would help keep those from swimming the border and depleting the resource to teach our own citizens to be successful. Hell Lucy will be glad to run the library there for the cons.

44. skagit spews:

I’m laughing! I agree with quite a bit of that!

But, your notion that it is culture and character concerns me. First of all, schools should be about building character as well as learning . . . JMO.

Second, “culture” is the wrong term. To me, that sounds racist. It is the culture of poverty that is at work here more than the culture of race. You didn’t define it so perhaps I’m off base. You’ll let me know, I’m sure.

I think your plan becomes less concrete and more ambiguous at the “coming to terms” level. Esp. at #1. That is currently the problem. That is precisely what I’m asking you to solve. The rest most of us “stoopid” people could probably accomplish.

Also, many of us are already working our asses off and for damn little. Of course, you don’t see it because you’re looking through your pre-formulated notion that what is wrong with education is educators and unions. I don’t like unions much anymore . . . but I’d like working without a union even less. If employers had the same integrity you’re asking of employees, then it wouldn’t be a problem. Would it?

I am in favor of much expanded vocational training. I think we over-emphasize the college prep part of education. Those jobs that are least out-sourceable are the trades. I would establish an apprenticeship program and we would get back to some excellence in craft. Nobody would earn the highest rate of pay if they weren’t the best at it. I’m so sick of paying top rate for crumby plumbers, contractors and electricians. The level of skill in the American trades is deplorable. Do you know that there are European and Asian architects that won’t even suggest certain kinds of structures/design elements because there’s no American who can implement those designs?

Guess I’m a little off topic. But, it is all part of the same problem.

We expect and accept mediocrity in all things. And until you can get past “coming to terms #1,” you haven’t shown me a way out of it . . .

45. Tlazolteotl spews:

MTR,

So, you think that the public schools should be about nothing except college prep, basically? And that it has no place teaching kids about the basic rights and responsibilities of citizenship? An honest question coming out of your comments – just what do you think is the purpose of a public education?

46. skagit spews:

Mark The Redneck KENNEDY says:
I’m not gonna waste my time with kids like that. There are only so many hours in a day and only some much energy and money. I’m not gonna piss it away on losers when there are serious students (mostly on the eastside) where my efforts are more productive.

Then you are part of the problem. You want it to be easy. At least you might give the teachers who try to care some credit for at least trying that which you won’t.

I think anyone who judges as severely as you do might have enjoyed giving those kids a piece of your mind . . . and they needed to hear it. I think you were a coward.

47. skagit spews:

Mark The Redneck KENNEDY says:

Lucy – It wasn’t a high school. It was a fucking elementary school !!

I’m surprised at that. Wish I knew which school . . . But we live in a litigious society. There are so many obstacles to achieving excellence. So sad.

48. skagit spews:

One more thing . . . if you think the Eastside is immune to what Seattle is going through, I think you’re not as smart as you think you are.

49. klake spews:

skagit says:
Why does anyone ever respond to a Polonius like klake?
11/26/2006 at 4:44 pm

Polonius is a character from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The character is best known for uttering the immortal words: “To thine own self be true,” as well a few other phrases still in use today such as “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” and “brevity is the soul of wit.”
Mr. Skagit thank you for such for your nice comment and I do like your input to the subject matter of the Seattle Schools District. Why should anyone would ever respond to my comments is that they love, hate, or despise the messenger.

50. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Skagit – No question… eastside schools are NOT immune. I was at a school attached to a golf course subdivision with big fancy houses and a lexus or two in every garage. And I encountered some of the same bullshit there that I did in Seattle. But I can say with absolute certainty that it’s much less prevalent on the eastside.

51. John Barelli spews:

I am not surprised at all that MTR’s first item of “housecleaning” is to get rid of the Teacher’s Union.

This answer has at least one big advantage for the neo-cons. It isn’t going to happen.

Since that will never happen, they can just wring their hands, say “we can’t do anything about this, so give us vouchers” and move their kids into private schools.

Firing a bad teacher is not difficult with a teacher’s union. It simply requires that the supervisors document poor performance, and make an attempt to help the teacher improve.

Teacher’s unions tend to look with some skepticism when folks want to fire teachers “because they’re bad” with no documentation, as “bad” can sometimes mean that the teacher has annoyed some high-powered parents by insisting that little Billy (the quarterback) and little Suzy (the prom queen) actually show up for class and learn the material.

Sometimes it means that a parent or group of parents have issues with the curriculum. “How dare you teach little Joey that the world is round, and doesn’t sit on the back of six elephants!” Yes, folks from my own religion have been guilty of this sort of thing.

Yes, it can also mean that the teacher has no business in front of a classroom. I remember an elementary school teacher that simply could not control a class of 4th graders. She has chosen to pursue other career options, after the district told her that her contract would not be renewed.

They had done the paperwork and tried to help the lady, but she simply could not cut it, so she was “let go”.

That is the job of the Principal and the Superintendent. To ensure that proper evaluation and documentation of performace is done in a timely manner.

You have bad teachers? Look at the administration. Someone there is not doing his or her job.

52. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Skagit 46 – The teachers in that situation were as bad as the students. The teachers weren’t worthy of my time either. And if I gave them any crap, I’d end up being the bad guy.

Ya gotta pick your battles. This one wasn’t worth it.

53. YOS LIB BRO spews:

REDNECK – JUST PAY YOUR FUCKING GAMBLING DEBT AND GO FOUL YOUR NEST OVER THERE ON THE EASTSIDE. WE DON’T NEED ADVICE FROM THE LIKES OF YOU. WHAT A LOSER.

54. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Skagit – Regarding vocational training… I agree… but we gotta be smarter about which vocations.

One of the career fairs I attend every year has a display from one of the hair salon chains. They do mini-makeovers and I’m always amazed at the lineups (mostly girls) at their booth. I think we gotta be honest and tell teenage girls that cutting hair part time for minimum wage is NOT a career smart career choice.

At that same career fair, there’s usually a guy from a school that teaches airplane and engine maintenance leading to an A&P license. He gets very few visitors to his booth even though those jobs pay very well and are reasonably interesting careers. I think we need to encourage people to consider careers like that.

55. headless lucy spews:

A joke that’s common among people not in education is : “People who can, do. People who can’t, teach.”

The rest of the joke goes:”…and people who can’t teach,coach — and if they can’t coach or teach, they go into administration.

56. skagit spews:

Mark:But I can say with absolute certainty that it’s much less prevalent on the eastside.

For now.

And if I gave them any crap, I’d end up being the bad guy.

Ya gotta pick your battles. This one wasn’t worth it.

From a teacher’s point of view, it is always worth it. And many of us are the bad guys. Sometimes occasionally; other times routinely. Depending on the situation . . . Do you think there is one teacher out there who hasn’t been second-guessed by a parent? But we do it for the kids.

Mark, without the ditchdiggers, you wouldn’t have your roads to drive your Lexus on; without your janitors, you wouldn’t have your clean and healthy (I hope) restaurants to eat in or your fancy offices to make your profits in; without garbage pickup service, you wouldn’t have a clean environment. We have to respect each other regardless of our status. And kids deserve better. You should have been a positive influence on them – even if only one kid had heard you – that is how teachers think.

57. klake spews:

John Barelli says:
I am not surprised at all that MTR’s first item of “housecleaning” is to get rid of the Teacher’s Union.
This answer has at least one big advantage for the neo-cons. It isn’t going to happen.

Well, Reverent John Barelli that wasn’t in Ronald Regan valuably when he Fire the Air Traffic Controllers Union and let go all the controllers. Now John that requires a great Leader to do what is hard for others to vision. You do refer Regan as a neo-con do you? The last statement you made is what I did was send my children to a private school until the public schools could perform. The problem with that Reverent John is that the management has to give the teacher days notice to do classroom evaluation. They now have time to clean up their bad habits, and what the parents say means nothing. The soul root cause for the failure of the schools is poor management, unions, and leadership without a vision. Reverent John did you say a prayer for my troops today? Amen Brother

58. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

I certainly don’t disparage those who chose to go into blue collar professions. They do valuable work that the world needs.

As a free market capitalist, I guess I gotta believe in maximizing utility in a market with scarce resources. I can do more good with a kid who wants my help than I can with a kid who doesn’t give a shit.

59. David Wright spews:

There is a surprisingly strong consensus among posters here, not only against Goldy’s simplistic “it’s the funding, stupid!” position, but also for quite few specific policy changes. Even though many of these policy ideas are good ones, I want to encourage everyone to support a reform that concentrates not on individual policy decisions, but on getting the incentives right. If we try to mirco-manage, we will block innovation and get mired in nit-picking conflicts. But if we get the incentives right, the policies that work best will naturally win. To that end, I offer this reform plan:

1. Each school is independent. Decisions on spending, hiring, and policy get made at the school level. If one school wants to hire union teachers and another doesn’t, that’s fine. Some schools may want to contract out for administrative services, others may not. A school that attracts a lot of students may choose to expand; a school can’t attract enough students may have to close.

2. Money follows students. Each school gets money in proportion to the number of students it attracts. All the money comes in this form; there isn’t a base sum to cover fixed costs. If a school can’t cover its fixed costs out of its per-student revenue, it needs to close.

3. Special needs students are a seperate problem. For mild cases, we may want to establish special categories of students (“at risk”, “learning disabled”, etc.) that just bring a bit more money. But severe cases need to be handled by a seperate system. How to structure and fund that seperate system is a seperate argument, one that should not keep us from reforming our “normal” schools.

4. A regulator enforces accountability and transparency. A regulatory agency would establish minimum criteria for accreditation and diplomas (based on objectivly measurable standards of student achievement and safety, not detailed curriculum and methodology requirements). All test results, even for schools that meet the minimum criteria, are pubilshed. Parents could choose to use or ignore these published results.

There are a couple of features that recommend this approach, besides the fact that it allows individual teacheers and schools to innovate and differentiate themselves. One is that it avoids the most divisive aspect of the voucher proposal — public money flowing to religious schools — by effectively implementing a voucher system within the public school system. Another is that it can be implemented by an individual large school district, effectively devolving decision making without “officially” breaking up the district.

Of course, under this system, children from richer and more involved families will have better schools. But this objection is a red herring, because under the present system (and indeed any realistic system that won’t cause even more massive flight to the suburbs and private schools), they already do. At least under the proposed system, every school will be strongly economicly incentivized to do a better job for the students it serves.

60. skagit spews:

Mark: As a free market capitalist, I guess I gotta believe in maximizing utility in a market with scarce resources. I can do more good with a kid who wants my help than I can with a kid who doesn’t give a shit.

Wrap it up all you want. Blame their parents for not giving a shit; but a kid in elementary school isn’t ready to be given up on. Have some courage, Mark. At least try to make a difference when you have the opportunity. You wasted an opportunity. That was not maximum utilization.

You simply cannot give up on elementary school children. Those teachers could have used a little lecture as well . . .

David, still thinking about yours. I’m all for a national curriculum and you’re suggesting even finer local control. Have to consider it. It is certainly more commensurate with the American vision of education. But, will it work for all or will it work for the fortunate few that Mark represents.

61. Don Joe spews:

David,

How does your proposal differ from this?

62. klake spews:

headless lucy says:

A joke that’s common among people not in education is : “People who can, do. People who can’t, teach.”

The rest of the joke goes:”…and people who can’t teach,coach — and if they can’t coach or teach, they go into administration.

11/26/2006 at 6:15 pm
Very good Lucy great point made and could be true depending where you stand on the issue.

63. escapedtoseattle spews:

Seattle has had several non-traditional superintendents lately – and by that I mean non-educators – perhaps its time for a return to a more traditional leadership model for now until a clear plan and path can be formed. That said, some of the newer hires in the central district office are top-notch (curriculum, etc.). They are already making changes, but in education, changes take time, and impatient parents, policy makers, and administrators often don’t allot enough time to see the results.

One of the big problems in coming to a consensus in education and educational reform is the diversity of educational thought – those from the conservative tradition who believe in national curriculum and funding from a state level rather than a local level (which, if our schools received the monies they were supposed to from the state and the feds, many of our funding issues would ease) vs. those from a progressive or liberatory viewpoint, where curricular experiences are expected to be student-centered or providing access to freedom from a dominate culture or group-think. Just as many people have a closed mind when it comes to religion (my religion is superior, the only one that matters and I’m going to force everyone else to see it my way), this same closed mind is often present in discussions about education. School boards, educators, and non-educators (including parents, bloggers, and politicians) alike are all guilty of this. Until we learn to put the needs of the students first, and agree to disagree on the philosophy as long as the results pan out and student needs are met, we will probably continue to see issues such as those afflicting the Seattle School District and School Board and parents.

Vouchers and charter schools are not necessarily viable long-term solutions – scan the Phoenix or Florida papers for evidence of this – schools suddenly closing, embezzlement of funds, a charter school that had kids out picking up trash or cleaning up yards for money that the school pocketed. For the person who brought up the Kipp schools – they are not as successful as you may think. They have high teacher turnover, low teacher quality – usually new teachers who are desperate for a job or who were turned down by a school district – and highly restricted curricula. Teachers are issued a cell phone and required to be on-call for homework help – often until midnight – thus when it comes time for them to have a family, they end up leaving. Where Kipp’s success comes is in their contact with parents – requirement for uniforms, the parent contract that must be signed, and the fact that students can be expelled – which public schools cannot do without great difficulty and documentation, thus their student population tends to be a bit more motivated. (They also do not often have as many special needs students, and in many cases, not as many minority students or low income students – especially if transportation is not provided to/from the school, which it usually isn’t.) Parents tend to value that which they have to pay for or from which their child can be kicked out, thus they tend to be a bit more responsive when the teacher calls home with behavioral or academic problems. And if you think the behavior issues are all low income – I teach in a rich area right now, and when I called home about a child who was hitting other students and using abusive language, I was told to deal with it – it was a school problem, not a home problem. Luckily it became a home problem when he was suspended, however mom just took him shopping for new clothes and new video games to keep him busy and out of her hair while he was suspended – such a valuable lesson he just learned! – as did we since future suspensions will all be in-school. I also have kids who have no idea how to work for anything because everything is handed to them whenever they want it – so when schoolwork gets hard, they go home whining and parents come in and yell about how I am stressing out their child by requiring them to work. But of course, these latter issues are all a sign of the failing of the American education system – right? – rather than the need for parenting classes and firm, consistent discipline at home.

As for poster David Wright
3. Special needs students are a seperate problem. For mild cases, we may want to establish special categories of students (”at risk”, “learning disabled”, etc.) that just bring a bit more money. But severe cases need to be handled by a seperate system. How to structure and fund that seperate system is a seperate argument, one that should not keep us from reforming our “normal” schools.
Obviously you have no experience with special needs students or their families. Many parents go out of their way to avoid “labeling” of their child – including declining the testing for or receipt of special services to help the child. Your so-called “normal” school will be chock-full of kids with special needs that will go unfunded because parents didn’t want the stigma of their child being labeled or going to a different school (a “non-normal” school?). Only the kids with obvious and profound physical or mental issues will be at your “non-normal” school – sounds like the educational pendulum swings back again as you segregate those “retards” and “cripples” (to quote a crass former parent) who are dragging down the test scores from the rest of the student population. What’s next – segregate by race? religion? gender? How about IQ scores? Special needs kids are in the mix whether you want it or not – they have a right to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible – and if that means the “normal” school in the “normal” classroom, then so be it. If you start segregating one group, you open up a whole other world of issues. Remember “separate but equal”? Is that really where you want to go with public education in Seattle? There is enough inequality in the funding – don’t add to it with segregation of special ed and regular ed students.

If the federal government would fully fund IDEA as it is supposed to (rather than shorting it by [at current levels] over $11 billion a year as it has been doing for the past 2 decades), that would be a start, and perhaps more special ed students could get the services they actually need to make progress rather than just enough to be in compliance with federal regulations. Follow that with funding ESEA/NCLB as it is supposed to be funded (Bush cut even more this year and the required standardized testing is EXPENSIVE!), and full funding from the state for its share in the education of its students, and you’d probably see a decline in class sizes, an increase in the number of teachers and teacher aides, an increase in teacher professional development to keep them abreast of the latest research/training, an increase in the number of books in school libraries as well as supplies for classrooms, more current and interesting curricula (i.e. not a social studies curriculum from the 1980′s like the one I have to use) – all of which would probably result in better teaching and learning, subsequently improving those all-important test scores. Seattle might even be able to avoid some of the school closures that it does need to do in order to conserve funds and remain afloat, unlike the neighboring district to the north. Go figure.

64. skagit spews:

Aristotle and Socrates were teachers . . . guess it all depends on whether or not you were a successful learner or not. Students who fail always blame their teachers. If the shoe fits klake . . .

65. skagit spews:

klake says:

headless lucy says:

A joke that’s common among people not in education is : “People who can, do. People who can’t, teach.”

The rest of the joke goes:”…and people who can’t teach,coach — and if they can’t coach or teach, they go into administration. A

Aristotle and Socrates were teachers . . . guess it all depends on whether or not you were a successful learner or not. Students who fail always blame their teachers. If the shoe fits klake/Lucy . . .

66. skagit spews:

A very broad, over-generalized rant. Some of which is useful to think about but none of which really analyzes the problem to present solutions.

Much of it I agree with but I’ve heard it over and over and over. So, solve it.

Regarding professional development? I am one of the few educators who thinks that is oversold. If you haven’t learned to teach; if you can’t do and teach math; if you can’t do and teach reading and writing; if you can’t teach with all the overpriced curriculum materials put into your classrooms, you’ll never be able to teach. Regarding new research, there is some out there. But it only reinforces what most teachers already know once they’ve got some years of experience under their belts.

But your post does, hopefully, elucidate the complex problems that we face.

67. escapedtoseattle spews:

Re: professional development – lucky you then, for not being in a situation where you have older teachers in your district who only know one way to teach math – i.e. direct instruction – or newer teachers who perpetuate incorrect scientific concepts such as seasonal change because they never learned it the correct way themselves. Once upon a time, I had fabulous professional development in my district – ongoing, research-based and results-oriented, but flexible based on our needs – and I learned a lot about literacy from that time period. It was way more valuable than what I learned in my teacher ed program because I could walk into my classroom and put it to use right away and evaluate if it was effective for my students, useful for me, etc. It did not teach me “how” to teach – nor is that the goal of good professional development – it taught me more effective ways to teach and how to refine my teaching. The bigger problem is that districts hire crappy people to run professional development programs – oftentimes administrators or college professors who are so far removed from the classroom they have no idea what teachers are facing these days, thus many times professional development comes across as being worthless. And yes, some research is like that as well; however, I have come across much that is meant for the general practitioner and is useful both for informing my practice as well as for backing up what I do when parents or administrators come asking.

As for curriculum – when a child is faced with a textbook or reading book from the 70′s or 80′s – with all little blond, blue-eyed kids and using terms we no longer use – or an updated version with pictures that represent the population they see around them and the vocabulary they are accustomed to – don’t you think they’re going to be a bit more motivated to do the tasks they are being asked to do? I didn’t say that curriculum helped one teach – although the makers of the Open Court reading program obviously believe that – however having enough math materials so that each child can actually engage in an exploration rather than watching the teacher or one student demo it can definitely aid both the teaching and the learning process. Not all kids learn from teacher show and tell of concepts – no matter how good the teacher is. Some need that hands-on, learner-centered experience and practice, and most schools these days lack the funding to provide those materials. I changed grade levels this year and have spent approximately $600 of my own money so far on math manipulatives, including base 10 blocks, measuring tapes/rulers, and calculators because my district and my school are flat broke (additional class, so there weren’t materials left over from the previous teacher). Teaching children how to measure length and perimeter may be something I can demonstrate, but they won’t actually learn to do it without hands-on practice – and for that, I need my “overpriced curriculum materials”.

68. Rod spews:

Goldy, I love you. BUT. You don’t know shit about the WASL. Before denegrating what is argueably the best assessment test that any state has, you should probably take a look at it and compare it to other tests that states use. It’s worth remembering that in order to comply with the “No Child Left Behind” Act, the state is required to test it’s schools, and one of the few things that this state has going for it is that the WASL is designed to test for things that the state actually wants them to know. And also, unlike most other tests, it delves into higher order skills and understanding. It’s a cool test. You can’t “teach to it” as easily as most others. If your kids do well on the WASL, it’s because their doing well with the concepts and skills we actaully want them to have
I know the WASL is and easy target rhetorically, especially since a learned critique of standards based testing would put any set talk show listeners to sleep (but maybe that’s what your Sunday night audience is after). I also know that you have some sort of ax to grind with respect to Seattle Schools with regard to their much delayed plans to adjust number of schools that need to be open. But please don’t drag the WASL into it. You may not like the idea of your schools be evaluated on this basis, or that basis, but as tests go, the WASL is pretty cool. If we must evaluate our schools on a regular basis, and I, for one believe that we, indeed, do need to do that, then one can have a lot worse tools than the WASL to work with in helping one understand what the kids are learning in that school.

69. Mark The Redneck KENNEDY spews:

Escape – You mention textbooks… today’s textbooks are shit. First, they’re too fucking big and heavy. My daughter’s backpack weighs almost 50 pounds. If I ran the education system, one of the first things I’d do would be to mandate a 70% decrease in the size and weight of the books. Get rid of the pictures and the big print and all the left wing political shit. If you want to see what a textbook should look like, get a copy of a current textbook from Japan, or a book from here that dates back to the 50s and 60s. The density of information in these books is far higher than current American textbooks.

You say pictures of Shaniqua and Jorge are better than pictures of Jimmy and Sally. Please…knock that shit off. That’s the kind of stoopid shit I’m talking about. How ’bout NO pictures? Why the fuck does a math book need ANY pictures?

70. skagit spews:

Your post is so full of problematic points that I’m surprised you are still teaching.

First, the seventies and eighties are post-sixties when most texts if not all were changed to include diversity. I haven’t seen an all-white, middle-class text of any sort for eons. Certainly not since the seventies. Our school deep-sixed those a long, long time ago. Before I even started teaching.

Second, I do agree that so much prof dev is a waste of time and money. Perhaps you need to refine your methodology. But, I’ve known since I started teaching the importance of hands-on, student-engaging methods. Again, our school has not been teaching the show-and-tell method since before I started in the profession which was in the late 1980s.

Finally, I agree that teachers are always supplementing out of their own pockets. It is appalling but goes with the job. My first couple of years, I spent several thousand dollars a year on my classroom. That is the truth. I currently have a classroom that is so rich, people tell me when they observe that they’ve never seen a classroom like mine. I was working two jobs at the time (I kept the job I had while going through my certificate program and worked it on weekends) and that allowed me to buy, buy, and buy. I stocked my classroom with as many non-fiction books as I could lay my hands on.

Additionally, teachers have to be smart and curious if they are going to motivate students to be smart and curious. I think of myself as less a teacher and more of a facilitator. I want my kids to ask me questions I can’t answer. I want my kids to teach me. I want learning in my classroom to be exploratory, ceilingless and beyond all of our current ken. That is exciting to me. A good teacher is an enthusiastic learner. Not a learner of strategies as much as a learner generally. My kids and I do it together.

David, much of what this poster writes is true. You have no idea how much teachers give back to teaching. But, finding teachers who motivate learning because they themselves love to learn is the key to finding good teachers. Empowering students to be their own teachers is crucial. Good teaching requires so much more than Mark or you realize. And it is a very rare commodity.

71. skagit spews:

Mark, your stealing my lines. I said that earlier. But, this is capitalistic America. Your capitalistic society – the free-market in which you so earnestly believe. Remember?

Well, all those schoolbook publishers are part of that free market. I’ve got Romanian books, Russian textbooks, and Chinese textbooks all in my classroom collected from parents from those various countries. They are all soft cover and they are all much cheaper and more to the point.

So, are you going to start a movement demanding that either the government or some other philanthropic organization start publishing cheaper (and less profitable) texts for American children? Hell, you probably have stock in some of those companies. Gimme a break!

72. David Wright spews:

EscapedToSeattle says: Obviously you have no experience with special needs students or their families.

Actually, I have an autistic sibling, so I am well familiar with special needs students and their families. (And can we loose the ad hominem and keep this discussion on a reasoned plane? We were doing pretty well there!)

You make some apparently contradictory points (e.g. you say my proposed system would overwhelm normal schools with special needs kids, but then you go on to say that special needs kids should be mainstreamed), but I will try to respond.

Regarding the very special needs kids: The current system already segregates them, because you can’t really help them any other way. What we don’t do is segregate the special needs budget. As a sop to vocal parents a generation ago, politicians hid this budget inside the education budget, along with a provision that essentially allocates unlimited resources to it — however much is required for an “appropriate” education, which courts have essentially intrepreted to mean that if the parents can show it would do some good, the schools have to pay for it. It has been quietly growing ever since. Eventually the normal kids’ parents are going to notice that, even though we are spending a lot more on education, not much of it is showing up in their kids’ classrooms, and they are going to find out that the special needs budget is an important (not the only, but an important) reason for that.

Instead of hiding what we spend on special needs kids, we need to have an honest and open debate about how much it should be. I don’t know if the answer to that question will be twice as much as we spend on a normal kid, or ten times as much, but I do know the answer won’t be “an infinite ammount, limited only by how many court appeals the parents will sit thorugh”. Some may consider that cruel, but I it is only fair, because every dollar we spend on one person is a dollar we don’t spend on another.

Regarding the mildly special needs (i.e. mainstream-able) kids: Yes, parents may fight against having their kids labeled as such, but that problem exists under the present system, too. Establishing objective criteria for such categories helps. And attaching more money to those kids, as I suggested, helps a lot. (Just look at how many more people are willing to have their kids labeled as special needs now that the law offers them unlimited services in exchange for doing so!)

73. skagit spews:

And Rod, the WASL has taken a lot of hits. I personally think it should be used to test kids who are on a college track.

I think we need different programs with different assessments for kids who aren’t going to college. Right now, the prediction is that 50% of our kids will fail the WASL.

What’s the point?

74. skagit spews:

Mark at 54 re: vocational training.

I agree but you know, cutting hair provides a sharp entrepreneur a chance to make it. Savvy and ambitious haircutters I know are doing quite well. Those who are not good at it should try something else.

Also, perhaps the representative from the airplane and engine maintenance school should get a little help advertising his wares. Especially the paycheck part. People aren’t always stupid; sometimes they just need to be made aware.

75. Goldy spews:

Hmm. I just read some of the comments, and I’m trying to figure out where anybody got the idea that I said improving schools was only about money. I closed with:

no amount of reform or innovation can give our children the educational opportunity we all profess to want, unless we are willing to adequately fund it.

I’m not so sure what is confusing about that statement unless you choose to intentionally misread it.

But whatever. You guys get angry and dismissive over whatever you want to get angry and dismissive about. At least there’s a debate going on, and that’s worth it on its own.

76. David Wright spews:

EscapedToSeattle says: Vouchers and charter schools are not necessarily viable long-term solutions … schools suddenly closing, embezzlement of funds, a charter school that had kids out picking up trash or cleaning up yards for money that the school pocketed.

Voucher systems certainly can be poorly designed and poorly implemented. The keys to any competitive system are (1) that the competitors live in constant fear of loosing customers and (2) that they have the flexibility to respond to customer demands. A voucher system that fails in either of these aspects won’t help anyone.

But citing some anecdotes of failed experiments hardly proves your point. Annecdotes are just that; certainly there are scores of “counter-annecdotes” about abuses in traditional public schools.

Skagit says: Good teaching requires so much more than Mark or you realize. And it is a very rare commodity.

I don’t think I ever implied that good teachers are dime-a-dozen, but in any case let’s take this thought and run with it for a while.

If good teaching is so rare, don’t we want to find innovative techniques that produce good results even with not-so-good teachers? In order to encourage this, don’t we need to be running lots of experiments in educational efficiency, rewarding those that succeed and discarding those that fail? Isn’t that a better search algorithm than trying to decree from on high what the one true system will be?

I had never heard of the “Kipp schools” until EscapedToSeattle mentioned them, but from his description, this sounds like what they are trying to do. I don’t know if it works, but suppose it does: suppose you can get just as good an outcome by having parents sign a contract (cheap) than by hiring experienced teachers (expensive). Isn’t that an important innovation that should be widely replicated?

Now I am myself skeptical of whether that would work. And I can certainly understand why a teacher might not like it, even if it did. But before we scoff, we should recall the scoff of the watch-maker who did not believe that mere factories could ever produce time-pieces as accurate as his. Almost anything we buy today (food, cars, vacations, …) is cheaper today, in real terms, than it was 50 years ago. Except a high-school education — that’s five times more expensive. Perhaps it’s worthwhile to ponder what different incentives led to those very divergent relative prices.

77. skagit spews:

Goldy says:

Hmm. I just read some of the comments, and I’m trying to figure out where anybody got the idea that I said improving schools was only about money. I closed with:

no amount of reform or innovation can give our children the educational opportunity we all profess to want, unless we are willing to adequately fund it.

That’s exactly what we are talking about. Some think that the funding is already there . . . I”m not saying that but it is part of the discussion. Your emphasis was on funding. That’s where we got the idea, David.

I’m not so sure what is confusing about that statement unless you choose to intentionally misread it.

But whatever. You guys get angry and dismissive over whatever you want to get angry and dismissive about. At least there’s a debate going on, and that’s worth it on its own.

My, aren’t we feeling a bit superior here . . . perhaps you could learn a few things if you actually thought about our discussion instead of judging and dissing it.

This is one of the few threads on your blog worth reading.

78. David Wright spews:

Skagit @ 71: C’mon, Skagit, you don’t believe yourself that the evil capitalist textbook publishers are to blame for those balooning textbooks and their skyrocketing prices. What about the evil socialist curriculum committees that keep buying them? They seem to feel no incentive to contain costs, and some incentive to insure that textbooks address every neighborhood cranks’ pet issue. The evil capitalist textbook publishers are just responding to the messages (“include more material!”, “we don’t care about cost!”) that their customers are sending.

79. escapedtoseattle spews:

Skagit – Perhaps in your district you may have newer materials, but I have social studies texts and reading texts from the late 70′s/early 80′s in my classroom that are full of little blue-eyed blond kids- trust me, they are still around. (And you should see our library – inappropriate materials from the 50′s full of all kinds of unpolitically correct terms that the librarian has not thinned because she has nothing to replace them with). They are either of Houghton-Mifflin and/or Silver-Burdett-Ginn origin. I would love to have new ones, but as I said previously, my district is flat broke and has not updated curriculum/purchased newer curriculum materials for all buildings. They did pull one old set of texts, but then gave them back to us as supplementary materials when grant monies did not come through. I don’t use them much, but there are times when I need a class set of something for lessons, and while I too have stocked my classroom with quality fiction and non-fiction books while working two jobs, I am not financially able to purchase class sets of books in multiple titles, nor should I have to.

David – I apologize, but your post/terminology is somewhat unclear, and I have been fighting to keep a special needs child in my classroom where her needs are being met with modifications, however the district and others are wanting to place her in a self-contained classroom where her physical needs will be met, but not her cognitive needs (she is very bright, and the classroom they want to put her in will not be, shall we say, intellectually stimulating), thus I am a bit quick to jump in when it appears someone is calling for segregating special ed – especially in light of some of the parent comments I have received in regards to our school not making AYP because my school has a high special needs population. So when you bring up a “normal” school and a “separate system”, even if it is for funding, my mind thinks segregation – seclusion rather than inclusion – as “normal” implies no special needs. I do agree with you about bringing up the conversation about funding, but it needs to be done carefully and correctly, or the backlash from some parents and other stakeholders could set special ed back both monetarily, educationally, and in societal acceptance (rather than being seen as just a drain on resources, as a certain district administrator refers to the SPED program/students.)

Regardless – even if additional monies/services were available for SPED, some parents will still refuse services for their children to avoid the label of SPED – either for their perception of the stigma attached to the label, or because they themselves had experiences with SPED in their schooling (sometimes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…) In my grade level alone, I can think of at least 7 students who would or have qualified for SPED, but parents are refusing services. Suggestions for outside help – tutors, Kumon, etc. have also been met with refusal. If, as is unclear in your previous post, you were proposing to segregate kids with special needs out of these “normal” schools, then the rate of kids needing special ed but not getting services due to parent refusal would undoubtedly increase, subsequently overwhelming the “normal” school with kids needing services but not getting them because they are not labeled SPED. That was my point.

80. skagit spews:

David Wright: Escaped mentioned Kipp Schools as a response to my mentioning them earlier. Kipp Schools have a reputation for doing a good job with high-risk learners. I proposed (go back and read it) that perhaps public schools should be partnering with Kipp and taking that which works into the public mix.

Escaped’s information about the rest of it is news to me . . . I didn’t know about the abuses to teachers that he lists. I’m surprised at that. I’d have to do more research to be sure. Escaped sounds to me a little too entrenched in union-talk but I will not judge until I check it out.

I took a workshop many years ago from Marva Collins. Do you remember her from a 60 Minutes segment? She had excellent results with her kids and they were all minority poor. But she was a loving tirant. Her teachers did not have desks. They were required to be moving around every minute of the day . . . (I’m not judging this – it worked!) Also, classes were relatively small. She demanded excellence from teachers and from students. The curriculum was core. Parents were responsible for the behavior of their kids. She, too, had that in writing.

I’m a teacher who is for vouchers and charter schools. I think kids should be able to get an education wherever they can. These private schools – even the ones who get charitable funding as hers did, can do many things public schools seem not to.

Also, if having parents sign agreements that children will follow the rules, do the work, and meet their obligations or they’re gone, I’m all for it. But, we in “public” education seem to be shackled by the notion that everyone gets it whether they earn in or not.

I don’t know much about the history of public ed nor about the legal obligations of same, so I don’t know if these small changes can be instated or not.

BTW David Wright, I have to correct you cause it is driving me crazy: loosing is like loose-lipped; losing means not winning. I usually do put substance over form but that one particular item was driving my eyes and head crazy.

81. skagit spews:

David Wright: C’mon, Skagit, you don’t believe yourself that the evil capitalist textbook publishers are to blame for those balooning textbooks and their skyrocketing prices. What about the evil socialist curriculum committees that keep buying them? They seem to feel no incentive to contain costs, and some incentive to insure that textbooks address every neighborhood cranks’ pet issue. The evil capitalist textbook publishers are just responding to the messages (”include more material!”, “we don’t care about cost!”) that their customers are sending.

First, are you being satirical?

On the possibility that you are not, we buy what is available. Do you think publishers are going to print books that are not particularly profitable? This may be a chicken/egg argument. I don’t know how it is going to change.

For the record, Yes I absolutely do think textbook publishers do it for the profits. And they are huge. And they are not going to change their practice. Why would any school district choose to buy and replace every five years or so millions if not billions of dollars in books if they had any other choice? Isn’t one of the Bush family involved in textbook publishing? McGraw Hill? You are much too gullible if you really think the school districts want to give money to publishers. Even I wouldn’t accuse them of that. We are a tv society. We’ve learned to thrive on bells and whistles. Perhaps no one has really thought about it . .. I don’t know. But I do not believe schools do it out of choice. Show me an alternative.

This may in fact be another reason for a nationalized curriculum. Have to think about it.

82. David Wright spews:

Skagit says: BTW David Wright, I have to correct you cause it is driving me crazy: loosing is like loose-lipped; losing means not winning. I usually do put substance over form but that one particular item was driving my eyes and head crazy.

Thanks. I may have managed to get a PhD in a quantitave science, but I never did master English spelling. I appreciate the gentle correction.

83. skagit spews:

Your last post was provocative, Escaped. I can’t imagine texts published in the seventies and eighties that are still majority-visual. Why would any school district buy them?

Your comments on sped are interesting. I have less knowledge in that area. I appreciate your observations and am informed by them. Regarding parents and labeling, I totally agree. Parents are not always the best arbiters for the needs of their kids. Another slippery slope that public education has to navigate.

Your district must be very, very poor indeed. Unimaginable! You know, if I knew where to send them, I could probably help out. Want to give me a code name and a school in a school district? I’d never know who you were? Just need to know the grade level and where to send them . . . have to be elementary. I don’t have anything above K-5.

84. David Wright spews:

Skagit @ 81: I have to laugh at the philosophical gulf between us on this issue, because no, I wasn’t attempting satire. I really couldn’t imagine that someone would seriously blame a supplier in a competitive market for rising prices.

This probably isn’t the right forum for us to debate this rather peripheral issue, but I will say this much: 1. The fact that publishers are motivated by profits does not imply that they bear responsibility for price changes. Dell Computer is certainly motivated by profits, but the prices of computers continue to fall. 2. If you really believe that curriculum committees would jump at smaller, cheaper, less flashy and more concentrated textbooks, why not put your money where your mouth is and found a company that publishes such textbooks? If your theory is true, you would make a killing.

85. escapedtoseattle spews:

I am in school again, so I may have access to databases and professional journals that you may not normally see, but you could probably still find via Google scholar.
A poster way above brought up the Kipp schools, thus I was responding. My info on charter schools, and Kipp schools in particular comes from a variety of sources: 1) research – either U of Wisconsin or Michigan had a study on charter vs. public school and there are numerous other studies out there as well – Stanford had one, I think – even a few articles in Newsweek and other similar places, 2) life in another state that had charter schools and the daily news about this school starting up, this school closing down, this school getting good test scores with a later follow-up that the school only had 13 minority students out of 350 kids, and the neighborhood charter school closing down mid-year with no explanation – just chains on the doors and no access to school records or student/teacher supplies 3) former roommate who taught in a Kipp school in Houston for 2 years – burned out after being on-call all the time and quit teaching for several years 4) NAEP test data showing that charter school students – particularly minority students – are not scoring any higher than public school students – and in some cases are scoring lower, 5) discussions with a few former charter school teachers turned public school teachers who liked the freedom a charter school gave them, but found that job security was not there, that financial issues didn’t go away and were in fact sometimes worse than what we face, and that sometimes the administrator has had no teaching experience and expects the unrealistic and has no desire to hear about teaching and learning (which I assured them is present in public education as well).

86. skagit spews:

Because, David, I don’t have the wherewithall to found such a company. If you are so sure of what you claim, that seems like a no-brainer for you, not me. I think it would be highly risky. . . textbook publishers have to sell in volume. They must appease the lowest common denominator. That’s why so many textbooks have so little content . . . Texas in infamous for requiring that anything and everything controversial be excluded from them.

Anyone who tries to provide meaningful cheaper texts will find it an exasperating and probably futile business. If you don’t sell them in volume, your business model fails. And selling in volume requires pleasing everyone. Remove content and add pictures and charts.

You might be right when it comes to math texts. I don’t know why we continue to buy the ones we do . . . maybe just no alternatives? Maybe an internalized need on the part of Districts to think teachers can’t teach without all the support materials that come with these programs . . . I really don’t know.

87. skagit spews:

Escaped: you are combining information on all charter schools and Kipp schools. My observation was targeted to Kipp only. I know that just like public schools, charter schools have a mixed record. No argument there.

But, Kipp schools in particular have earned a reputation for success with at-risk kids. I’m only suggesting we take from their experience that which works. The teacher abuse you report? I would fight vehemently such treatment.