Seattle Education

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The Alliance for Education and the NCTQ Study

This is a reprint of a post that I wrote in October of 2009. With the new study now out during the teacher’s negotiations, it seems appropriate to re-post this.

The NCTQ always seems to surface whenever a public school system is under attack by ed-reformers and in Seattle it hasn’t been any different. The teachers are to blame for all that ails our school system.

To follow is my previous post:

The Report: Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools

http://www.nctq.org/p/publications/docs/nctq_seattle_human_capital.pdf

Economic definitions for the word “capital”:

“Capital is something owned which provides ongoing services. In the national accounts, or to firms, capital is made up of durable investment goods, normally summed in units of money.”

“In economics, capital or capital goods or real capital refers to factors of production used to create goods or services that are not themselves significantly consumed (though they may depreciate) in the production process. Capital goods may be acquired with money or financial capital. In finance and accounting, capital generally refers to financial wealth especially that used to start or maintain a business.”

On the cover of this report, teachers, the human beings who teach our children every day, watch them grow and develop, use their own money to pay for materials because the district doesn’t have the money to provide those additional resources, are referred to as “capital”.

This is the business perspective that has been the model for the Broad Foundation and Gates in terms of how they think schools should be run and children taught.

This report was sponsored by the Alliance for Education and has received funds, $9M from Bill Gates and $1M from the Broad Foundation. Some of that money was used to pay for this report as is described on page 2.

This report is a precursor to merit pay, high stakes testing and ultimately charter schools. This has been the method that the Broad Foundation and Bill Gates have used in other school districts around the country to introduce their ideas of “venture philanthropy” in our educational system.

I’ll hit some of the highlights.

“About this study:
This study was undertaken on behalf of the 43,000 school children who attend the Seattle Public Schools.”

Or on behalf of Bill Gates? I didn’t know that the students and parents of the Seattle School District or any school board members asked for this study.

Partner and local funder


This report is funded by a grant from the Alliance for Education.

Additional funding was provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Well, we got that straightened out.


“Excessive emphasis on coursework. Most notably Seattle’s pay structure is built on a popular but erroneous premise that the more coursework a teacher takes, the more effective he or she is likely to become. Districts that heavily incentivize teachers to take more courses—and Seattle is in the extreme among the 100 districts we track closely—are making poor choices with their limited resources.”

“A popular but erroneous premise” that furthering the education of teachers through workshops and classes on the subjects that they teach is somehow a waste of time and money? Is there (yet another)study that has been done to substantiate this?


“Little experimentation with differential pay. The district could make much better use of funds available for teacher salaries by targeting three important but unaddressed areas of need for the district…more money to teachers who are highly effective”

This is where it starts sounding like an introduction to high stakes testing and merit pay.

“Seattle needs to collect important data on teachers, such as the number of times it takes a teacher to pass licensing tests and scores on aptitude tests, to ensure that teachers are equitably distributed among schools.”

I can only relate to this as an architect but it takes some if not most architectural graduates a few times taking the licensing exam to pass it. No one would ask an architect how many times they had to take the test before successfully completing it. A client or employer is only concerned with that fact that you are licensed. And scores on aptitude tests? This is all “important data”? Are they suggesting yet more testing and evaluations? And then the exercise to evenly distribute these teachers based on this data to different schools? Trying to accomplish that would be an exercise in futility and an expensive one at that. They can’t be serious with that idea.

“District-wide layoffs. With the high number of layoffs taking place in schools across the country this year, much attention has gone to the policy of using seniority as the determining factor in layoffs. A layoff policy that works in order of reverse seniority necessitates the highest number of jobs eliminated and can wreak havoc on schools, forced perhaps to give up teachers regardless of performance and often dismantling an effective team or program.”

First of all, the layoffs that occurred in the spring of this year are highly suspect. In the same school board meeting in April where Don Kennedy, the SPS CFO was giving his numbers to back up the rifs, the SPS demographer gave a presentation showing that fall enrollment was over by 1,200 students. The demographer suggested that the number would increase the closer that it got to fall. Michael DeBell asked Don Kennedy if the demographer’s numbers had been translated into his report and he said “no, they had not”. Mr. Kennedy said that he would provide those numbers in a Financial meeting in two weeks. I was in that meeting and there was never any mention about revised numbers for the rif. I went to the following school board meeting and again there was no mention of re-calculating the rif numbers based on the new enrollment numbers. My belief is that the riffing of teachers and staff was an unnecessary exercise.

Secondly, this is what leads into evaluating the performance of teachers by using assessment tests. These tests are taken by the students and are used to evaluate the “effectiveness” of the teacher. A teacher’s pay is based on these test scores. This is what is called “high stakes testing” and leads into merit pay.


“Problems with the current evaluation system: Student achievement is not adequately considered nor are any objective measures of student learning considered. Student achievement should be the preponderant criterion of a teacher’s evaluation and include objective measures.”

“Objective measures” being high stakes testing.

What Washington State needs to do
I. COMPENSATION
Washington State’s intervention on pay issues is a substantial obstacle to needed pay reforms. The state’s efforts at equalizing pay across districts are ineffective. The state should not dictate how its districts pay its teachers, particularly since the state structure is based on a flawed logic that deems teachers with the most coursework as the most effective.
The state should eliminate the salary schedule and TRI structure—and should support district efforts at creating new compensation systems that reward effectiveness or that provide bonuses to attract teachers to hard-to-staff subjects and schools.

In how many different ways can they say “high stakes testing” and “merit pay”?

IV. DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE TEACHERS AND EXITING INEFFECTIVE TEACHERS
Evaluations. Washington State already has a strong state evaluation policy by requiring annual evaluations of all teachers, but it should go a step further and require that all districts include evidence of student learning as the preponderant criterion in teacher evaluations.

“Evidence of student learning” being more student testing that will determine how much a teacher gets paid. They are consistent with their message.

“Last year the district adopted a five-year strategic plan that, among other priorities, calls for better hiring of teachers and principals, system-wide student assessment, and improved teacher evaluations.”

Thanks for pointing that out to me. I had not realized that the idea of “student assessment and improved teacher evaluations” had already been brought in by our superintendent.

Seattle faces these challenges with a teacher policy framework that has already gone part of the way toward a fully updated approach to human capital.

I wish that they would stop referring to teachers as “human capital”.

Seattle also acknowledges the importance of student achievement in evaluating teachers.

They do stay on message.

Performance pay
Seattle has been able to make little progress on efforts to reward more effective teachers. In the last round of contract negotiations, concluded in August, the district proposed a pay system that would have rewarded teachers for 1) positive evaluation; 2) student achievement growth; 3) working in a school identified for support or interventions; and 4) taking jobs that the district has a hard time filling. The proposals did not become part of the current contract.

Go figure. I think that the teachers had an idea of where this was going. Before anyone would agree to getting paid based on “evaluations” or “student achievement growth”, they would want to know exactly what that meant.

I could keep going with this but I think that it becomes clear what this report is about. It is introducing the idea of additional testing of students and basing a teacher’s pay on that assessment. And in the world of education that is called:

High stakes testing and merit pay, which goes hand in hand with charter schools.

I too can stay on message.

Dora Taylor

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