Well, it was quite a night at the City Speaks forum on education, broadcast live by the Seattle Channel Thursday night. I was in the audience, along with about 70 or more others, some of whom I recognized.

On the official panel were Olga Addae of the SEA (teacher’s union), Kay Smith-Blum (school board), Lauren McGuire (acting president of the Seattle Council PTSA), and Cathy Thompson, representing Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson and the Seattle Public School District (SPS).

Yes, our Broad Foundation superintendent, Goodloe-Johnson, was a no-show.  Again.

Seattle School Supt. Maria Goodloe-Johnson (a no-show) and school board director Michael DeBell apparently want to take Seattle's schools in different directions

She was originally on the bill as a panelist and a likely draw for many people,  so her absence came as a surprise. Sort of. We have however seen this before.  This supt. has a habit of ducking out when faced with potential public dissent.  (See SIDEBAR I: Supt. Goodloe-Johnson’s Missed Meetings) Apparently she was recovering from knee surgery.

District CAO Susan Enfield was to be her replacement but apparently had a death in the family. So the district sent curriculum and instruction head, Cathy Thompson, to represent the unpopular superintendent and her strategic plan. She seemed a little out of her element, and began with a  message from Goodloe-Johnson, who she said was “very sorry she couldn’t be there.”

Goodloe-Johnson was also absent from the pre-taped interviews that were interspersed throughout the night. Enfield was included in them and so was Addae. It seemed odd — almost as if the superintendent didn’t want to leave a public trace of her connection  to her own strategic plan and the public dissent growing around it.

But let’s cut to the chase:  the audience and the viewers at home who were e-mailing their opinions on the various questions asked, were pretty solidly opposed to the superintendent’s “Five Year Strategic Plan for Excellence” and the dubious ed reform agenda embedded in it. Many feel it isn’t working, is too costly, and is focused on the wrong things – too much testing, incessant teacher evaluations, counselor cuts, creativity-quashing curriculum standardization and ongoing central-office bloat.

Watch for yourself. Even I was amazed at the near-unanimous sentiment from the live and online audience that Seattle Public School District is on the wrong path and this Strategic Plan is a costly failure that is not tenable.

Audience members and viewers were asked their opinion of the plan three times during the night. The overall opinion went from bad to worse then stabilized.  (More info about the polling stats and local blogosphere response to the forum can be found here.)

Also in the audience (most of the speakers were not  identified by affiliation): Liv Finne of the conservative, business-centric Washington Policy Center, Michael DeBell and Steve Sundquist, the past and current presidents of the Seattle School Board, Estela Ortega from El Centro de la Raza, Chris Korsmo and I believe Lisa Macfarlane from the League of Education Voters (LEV), the Gates-funded group that has jumped on the ed reform bandwagon, teachers, parents, bloggers, including Charlie Mas and Melissa Westbrook from the Seattle Public Schools community blog, Sara Morris and Solynn McCurdy from the Alliance for Education (another Gates-funded, pro-corporate ed reform entity), school board candidate Michelle Buetow, and others.

Olga Addae did a good job outlining the teachers’ perspective. One of the surprises of the night was longtime school board member Michael DeBell’s pretty candid statements that, though he originally voted for the Strategic Plan, he no longer believes in it. He strongly suggested that at the halfway mark – two and half years — we reconsider the plan. He also lamented the loss of site-based management of schools, which existed before Goodloe-Johnson came to Seattle but has been consolidated into a top-town management structure from the central office, taking autonomy from the schools. This style, of course, is the Broad Superintendent Academy training in action: run schools like businesses, with top-down decision-making and little to no genuine community input.

LEV’s CEO Korsmo stole the show with an accusatory outburst toward the end (around the 74-minute mark). She left the forum immediately after her statement.

Overall, this forum presented a pretty damning indictment of the direction of the Seattle Public School District under the current leadership and the costs and failures of the “Five Year Plan.” Clearly the district does not have community buy-in for this plan, after nearly three years of it.

But, one might ask, what did anyone expect from a plan that was devised by the management consulting firm for Enron? (See SIDEBAR II: The Failing/Flailing “Five Year Strategic Plan for Excellence” of Supt. Maria Goodloe-Johnson (& the McKinsey Company)

SIDEBAR I: Supt.  Goodloe-Johnson’s Missed Meetings

Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson has been a no-show at a number of important public meetings. An annual evaluation meeting was  canceled at the last minute in 2009 after some in the community had made it clear they’d be there to protest any plans to give her a second raise in two years. The district said she had had a death in the family. Goodloe-Johnson also arrived conspicuously late for a contentious school board meeting last year, conveniently missing the prickly public commentary part of the night. I’ve been told she also canceled some important public engagement appearances in West Seattle which has been left a mess by her capacity management and new student assignment plans. She also regularly used to read her Blackberry during public commentary at school board meetings until called on it by an insulted parent. She is paid a generous ($264,000+) salary to make difficult decisions, but one would think she is also paid to face the consequences of these decisions and defend them to the public, and Goodloe-Johnson, it appears, rarely does. Is this what they teach at the Broad Superintendent’s Academy?

SIDEBAR II: The Flailing “Five Year Strategic Plan for Excellence” of Supt. Maria Goodloe-Johnson (& the McKinsey Company)

On this superintendent’s watch, Seattle Public Schools have seen three years of churn, cuts to services, expensive investments in new testing, schools closures and no discernible improvement in education quality. If one were to ask Seattle Public Schools parents if they believe their child’s education is “better off now than it was four years ago (before Goodloe-Johnson arrived)” I believe many would be hard-pressed to say yes.

We have seen expensive school closures, evictions and program divisions, followed a few months later by plans for expensive re-openings of schools. We have seen teachers RIFed (by our “educator” superintendent on “Teacher Appreciation Week,” no less) even though we needed them, only to be quietly hired back some months later. We then saw the superintendent push to bring Teach for America, Inc. novices to join the hiring pool in Seattle even though we already have plenty of qualified teachers eager to work in our schools. The superintendent illegally sent a letter to the district’s 3,000 teachers threatening to unilaterally cancel their contract. The central office remains bigger than school districts with larger populations of kids. The “achievement gap” (which is better described as an “opportunity gap”) has not narrowed, but programs and schools at the higher achieving end have been disrupted, evicted, divided and weakened, leading some to believe that the superintendent’s true solution to narrowing the gap is to squeeze it down from the top, creating a middle ground of mediocrity for all.

In all this churn, at this point, most if not all kids in Seattle’s public schools have been affected, but those who have been shuffled around the most are the poorer kids of color — the very kids the district and this superintendent claim they want to help most of all. For example:  the children of Cooper Elementary were evicted from their nice new building and dispersed in all directions where they now are crowded into schools throughout West Seattle; the children of the diverse T.T. Minor Elementary were sent in various directions after their school was closed, despite making improvements on its AYP. For some of these kids, this was their second eviction in about as many years, since some came from the recently closed MLK Elementary. The district then leased out their T.T. Minor building to a private school. The kids of the African American Academy, another new building, were moved out and another school moved in. The kids in Thurgood Marshall had their school injected with half of the elementary gifted program (who had been evicted from their school, Lowell Elementary). The reshuffling of the school demographics caused the existing kids to lose crucial Title I funding. So it was pretty much a lose-lose for all the kids involved.

Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson has also brought a new regimen of standardized testing to Seattle’s schoolkids  in the form of the $4.3 million-plus Measures of Academic Progress (MAP)® test, which the district bought from a vendor (Northwest Evaluation Association) on whose board our superintendent sat. She failed to disclose this fact when the no-bid contract was negotiated and was recently cited by the state auditor for “Ethics violation/Conflict of interest” and was forced to step down from the NWEA board.

This test is being administered to all Seattle Public School kids from as young as age five up to ninth grade, three times a year. For kids in grades four onward who must also take the state MSP test, this amounts to four tests a year now. Clearly this is excessive, expensive and puts too much emphasis on testing at the expense  of learning and teaching. What’s more, because so many schools are now overcrowded, there is no designated computer lab for the kids to take the MAP® test, so libraries are being taken over three times a year. For at least one school, the library is now off-limits to the kids for three months of the school year because of the MAP® test. Something is terribly wrong with these priorities and this picture.

The new student assignment plan that was imposed has resulted in serious overcrowding throughout the district and restricted access to some schools, and the district’s top, award-winning, high school, Garfield, is seriously overcrowded as a result.

The school board has enabled much of this. We have seen our school board rubber stamp one bad idea after another. On this superintendent’s watch, we have also seen our district push the unsound Discovering Math texts books, over public opposition. This was appealed in court and the judge determined this decision “arbitrary and capricious.” On this superintendent’s watch, one of her Broad-trained staffers created false data about our kids’ college readiness, claiming only 17 percent are ready when in fact the number is more like 43 percent. This low number allowed Supt. Goodloe-Johnson to declare a “crisis,” push her agenda, and likely plans to declare victory when the schools hit her “goal” of 44 percent college-readiness – which is essentially where they were already.

Supt. Goodloe-Johnson also met only 4 out of 20 performance goals in 2009, yet still earned a $5,000 “performance-based” bonus from our subservient school board. Meanwhile, she also earned a “No confidence” vote from 99 percent of our teachers union voters in 2009.

Given this picture, perhaps the tenor of Thursday night’s forum is not surprising after all.

–Sue p.