Boy, I have some catching up to do. Some interesting discussions are going on in Seattle right now regarding education. It’s hard to keep up.

In brief: I’m voting NO on the school levy, despite running the risk of being called a “hater” and a “doubter” by the League of Education Voters’ apparently sometimes small-girl-pants-wearing Chris Korsmo.

Here’s why. Also listen to Dorothy Neville make a convincing, sensible argument for demanding more accountability from our renegade school superintendentt and school board by voting against the levy, on KUOW.  The pro-levy side was represented by Schools First’s Sharon Rodgers.

By the way, what is the definition of “grassroots”? I noticed Schools First was introduced this way on KUOW, but it’s not as if they are a mom and pop operation with a shoestring budget. They get private and corporate contributions. The true grassroots player in this latest levy debate is Neville’s Committee for Responsible Education Spending – a group of  parents and teachers who have no funding.

Here’s my own take on the issue  (in my letter to the SPS robocall teacher who told me to vote yes – paid for by Schools First):

Dear Elizabeth,

I am a Seattle Public Schools parent and I believe you left a message on my answering machine about the school levy.

I’m just curious — why are you supporting it?

Do you actually want your professional evaluation and pay tied to your students’ performance on the erratic MAP test — which is not designed for that purpose, by the way? Because that is where some of the levy money will go — towards instituting “merit pay” in SPS and more spending on MAP.

Did you know the district has already spent over $4.3 million on the MAP test?

And did you know that two significant studies out of Vanderbilt University’s National Center for Performance Incentives have found that “merit pay” does not work?

Do you truly want more money disappearing into the bureaucracy of the John Stanford central office? Because that is where this money will go if this levy passes. Little to none of it will actually reach the classroom.

Have you read the state audit that found that SPS is mismanaging our district resources as well as ignoring the law? (Also see this.)

Did you know that no matter what the district says it will do with the levy money, once it is passed, the district can — and does — allocate that money any way it wants. In other words, we voters and parents have zero assurance that the money will be spent as promised.

A number of SPS parents like myself fully support teachers and our schools and of course our kids. But we are not supporting this levy. I am concerned that not everyone knows the details of the levy and the district’s poor record on fiscal management and accountability. Of course we all want to allocate more money to our kids’ schools. But this levy won’t do that. I feel that by passing levy after levy we the parents and teachers of SPS are enabling the district to continue its bad habits.

More info here.

So please let me know why you are supporting it. I honestly would like to know.

Thanks in advance for your reply.

I’m batting zero with my letters, though. Elizabeth didn’t tell me her rationale, and I’m still waiting to hear back from my Representative Reuven Carlyle about why he supports bringing Teach for America to Seattle. He’s running unopposed this election, by the way. Guess he doesn’t feel he has to answer to his constituents anymore. Ah, democracy. (Maybe I’ll write in Lisa Murkowski on the ballot for his spot…!)

In response to her pro-levy post, LEV’s Korsmo was called to task by informed commenters who noticed how she skims over the implications of the highly damning state audit and puts her blind faith in the board to mend its ways in the future. Her use of the terms “haters” and “doubters” for all of the conscientious parents of SPS and others who want to see some accountability from SPS and are voting against the levy, took me by surprise. How very Sarah Palin of her.  And so simplistic. I wish the mainstream media would cover more of what’s going on in the Seattle School District right now because when it’s not nefarious it’s downright hilarious. Best line goes to Charlie Mas who resplies to Korsmo:

I’m amused by the effort to dismiss and discredit those who oppose the levy as “haters” or “peeved”. In addition, I’m disturbed to think that Chris usually wears little girl pants. What does that mean? Diapers? I’m not interested in a childish back and forth. And, clearly, the League of Education Voters is not interested in an adult discussion.”

I also wish that for once the reformers and their sympathizers would debate the merits of our arguments and theirs without resorting to name-calling or misrepresentation of the facts.

Hey, Hey, PTA!

Speaking of which, I would like to propose a district-wide PTA policy which states that whenever an issue with more than one side is brought before a school PTA meeting, both sides must be represented. For too long, Schools First has slipped into PTA meetings (and once most inappropriately at an emotional school closures hearing at Lowell) spouted a quick spin on their issue, held out their hand for money, and darted away, with no counterpoint offered.

Some school PTAs don’t allow this. But it appears that too many do. So how bout it, PTAs?

Onto the “Parent Trigger” (what are they aiming for?)

The “Parent Trigger” also came up on Save Seattle Schools blog recently and in some discussions among Parents Across America. It’s a concept and now law in California that allows parents to step in and have a say in an overhaul of their kids’ schools if they are “failing.” Or something like that.

So I did a bit of delving. Though it may on the surface sound like an empowering idea for parents, I’ve heard it may well be used to further the ed reform agenda like charters.

For starters, consider the origins of the idea of the “parent trigger.” One of the main people pushing it, Ben Austin, is a charters guy (affiliated with Green Dot) posing as an L.A. Public Schools Parent, when in fact he isn’t.

From a reliable source in California:

“Ben Austin is the director of Parent Revolution, an “astroturf” (fake grassroots) organization created by charter operators, led by the Green Dot charters. He is newly a member of the California state Board of Education (appointed by fervent charter backer Arnold Schwarzenegger). Austin has no actual background or involvement in schools and is purely a hired gun, BTW.”

Also, the term “revolution” has become another code word for ed reform that leads to public school privatization. Proponents who are also using that latest jargon include the League of Education Voters here in Seattle.

Look at who LEV (funded by Gates) brought to Seattle for its  “Voices of the Revolution” speaker series this past Monday. Every one of these speakers is a charter operator or “teacher effectiveness” proponent:

Richard Barth, CEO – KIPP Foundation (a charter franchise that is affiliated with the Broad Foundation, like Supt. Goodloe-Johnson; Barth is also married to Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, which Supt. Goodloe-Johnson wants to clandestinely? bring to Seattle; Kopp is also affiliated with Broad. All rather incestuous.)

Timothy Daly, President – The New Teacher Project (created by the soon to be ex-D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who is also affiliated with Broad. This enterprise trains people in its Teaching Fellows™ programs, and appears to be anti-union.

Steve Barr, Founder & Emeritus Chair – Green Dot Public Schools (a charter franchise based in LA and supported by L.A. billionaire Eli Broad.)

This “revolution” leads to privatization. There is absolutely nothing revolutionary about private profiteers wanting to get their hands on yet another sector of our society. Count me out of this “revolution.” I’m also not that fond of the term “trigger.” Sounds like people are putting a gun to someone’s head.

Here’s more informed info on Ben Austin and Green Dot:

Caroline Grannan, one of the founders of Parents Across America, has analyzed Green Dot’s results. Based on the API, the California Department of Education’s accountability system, the Green Dot schools have mediocre results, and all but one had worse results than the supposedly “failing” L.A. public schools that Green Dot ran campaigns to take over, through the “parent trigger” measure, led by their fake grassroots organization, Parent Revolution. (The Parent Revolution is run by Ben Austin, an attorney who works for the city of L.A, has no school age children, is paid $100,000 as a part-time consultant to Green Dot, and yet regularly claims to be a typical, aggrieved L.A. public school parent.)

Also see: “Can Ben Austin Speak for Parent Revolution without Speaking for Green Dot?”

Which leads us to the LEV/Gates Charter Lovefest (the C-word that dare not speak its name in Seattle)

Though Washington State voters have voted “No” to charters multiple times, and we certainly have good, qualified teachers available, the League of Education Voters and the Gates Foundation brought two charter school franchise operators and a teacher-training operation to town this past Monday under the rubrics of “Voices of the Revolution” and “Leaders of Innovation.” Why do you suppose they did that?

“We’ve put together a powerhouse panel of three innovators in education: Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP Foundation, Timothy Daly, President of The New Teacher Project, and Steve Barr, Founder of Green Dot Public Schools. The discussion will be moderated by Adam Porsch of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation”

Noticeably absent from much of the press material for this gathering was the word “charter,” even though both KIPP and Green Dot are charter school franchises. Hmm… interesting. Why don’t these pro-privatizing ed reformers just come out and say what their agenda is? The reformers have this strange stealthy manner that implies dishonesty.

I’m not sure how Green Dot gets away with calling itself “Green Dot Public Schools” as if it is its own district when in fact, it is just another privately run charter franchise.

Also, what’s so “innovative” about private enterprises trying to take control of yet another piece of the public sector?

Here’s a revealing tidbit that LEV boasts in one of its blog posts about the forum:

“In 2007, Steve Barr sought to take over a failing high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). When the district said no, Steve took a page out of a Wall Street playbook and became the first charter school organization to conduct a hostile takeover.”

So there you have it, spelled out quite plainly, the ed reformers’ MO: apply predatory Wall Street techniques to our public schools. A hostile takeover is indeed what they appear to be trying to do to our entire public school system. Apparently the folks over at the League of Education Voters think this is a good thing.

Back to this loose use of “innovative”: What’s innovative about slapping kids into uniforms, and regimenting them? Why, that’s as old as British boarding school or the military.

What’s innovative about a training program for teachers that bypasses full educational preparation? Sounds like a short-cut to me

There’s also nothing “innovative” about smaller class sizes or fully funding schools. That’s just common sense, most parents’ wish, and the norm for private schools. Both are good ideas, don’t get me wrong. But they were not invented by Richard Barth or Steve Barr.

But most importantly, KIPP and Green Dot both have very mixed records. They are not the shining solution to whatever the ed reformers think they are solving.

Caroline Grannan, a longtime journalist in California, and a member of Parents Across America, has researched the performance and record of charters and KIPP and Green Dot in particular, and has found some pretty troubling statistics, such as high attrition rates for KIPP, and low test scores for Green Dot (I am not a proponent of standardized test scores as a measure of much. But the charter people are, so my point is that even by their own measures, these charters are not succeeding.) She also cites misrepresented college graduation rates for the kids from KIPP.

The wealthy backers of these enterprises have made a concerted effort to spin positive press on these businesses (KIPP and Green Dot). That’s why you’ll often read phrases like “the highly regarded KIPP” etc. But more objective analysis shows that these operations are not so brilliant after all.

Which leads us to the question: Why do LEV and Gates want to bring charters to Seattle?

Why not instead invest in and replicate the existing ‘innovations’  in our system?

Like: the stellar (Singapore) math program at Schmitz Park Elementary.

The popular Montessori programs (and bring back the one the district booted from Ballard High School).

The alternative schools with waitlists.

The nationally recognized award-winning band and orchestra programs that some schools have.

Every inspired teacher’s approach and program that can be found in schools throughout the district.

They do exist.

We do not need to hand over our schools to private enterprise middlemen.

Honestly, if Seattle does eventually allow charter operators to come in, I will see it as a huge admission of failure by SPS. In effect our district leadership will be saying, “We failed. We don’t know how to create good schools and inspired learning environments for all the kids in the district, so we give up. We’re handing over our job and our responsibilities to these charter franchises.”

The issue of the LEV-Gates charter fest inspired more digging, and led to the topics of real estate (the missing link for the charter business model) and Kipp’s discipline techniques. To be continued on another post…

–Sue p.

(POST UPDATED 10/30/2010)