Here some thoughts on a number of items that have been in the news lately.

Business as Usual at SPS?

Many of us were shocked to read that the Seattle Public School District hired Strategies 360/DMA Marketing to do its publicity last October. If SPS is serious about changing the culture and direction that bred the Pottergate scandal, and instituting a new era of trust with the community, then it needs to discontinue its already shady association with Strategies 360/DMA Marketing. This company has a bad reputation among us parents. Here’s why: in 2009-10, Strategies 360/DMA created a push-poll and the Astroturf “Our Schools Coalition” in order to influence the upcoming  teachers contract negotiations. Hired by the Alliance for Education, 360/DMA used a poll to push an ed reform agenda, and contacted parents and teacher in SPS on their private phone numbers, in violation of FERPA (our children’s privacy rights). Push polls are dishonest, manipulative and most often used as a tool of political strategy. In short, they can’t be trusted.   Consequently, many of us now feel, if 360/DMA is involved, then somebody is hiding something.  So if SPS is serious about turning over a new leaf, then DMA/360 has got to go too.  For more details of the FERPA violation, see:  Should the School District Be Allowed to Give Our Kids’ Phone numbers, Addresses and Photos to Every Tom, Dick and Pollster?” Also see: “Strategies 360 – Who Are These People and Why Does SPS Need Them?”

Susan Enfield: Woman of Mystery

Last week the Times ran a longish piece introducing Seattle’s new Interim School Superintendent, Susan Enfield. Who did the Times turn to for input about her? We parents? No, the Legaue of Education Voters’ recently newsworthy Chris Korsmo, and SPS partner, the Alliance for Education’s Sara Morris, meaning, the Times covered the political spectrum from A to B, and failed to check in with anyone who truly and independently represents parents. Is the Times really so clueless that it doesn’t realize that LEV and A4E were two of Goodloe-Johnson’s biggest helpers and fans? The Times first question should have been: “So how do you feel about having backed a failed supe?” followed by “Do you feel your own credibility tarnished by recent events?”  Or maybe: “Did she fail to Tweet adios on her Blackberry to you guys too?”

The Times also posted and discussed Susan Enfield’s resume, which in some ways prompted more questions than answers about the new temporary supt.  Here are a couple of observations. Enfield seems to move around a bit, staying in recent positions for only a few years at a time. Another item that jumped out: She started an education consulting firm at the same time she was deputy superintendent of the Evergreen School District (SEH Education Consulting). This sounds like a potential conflict of interest. The Times claims: “The Evergreen district said that she has never worked as a consultant for the district.”

I’m also wondering: Why won’t anyone at Evergreen School District talk about her? If she did a good job, you’d assume they’d be willing to say so. So their gag order naturally implies the opposite. This is an unfortunate  bit of vagueness.

I was relieved somewhat to see that Dr. Enfield did her superintendent training through Harvard not Broad (although Broad now has a branch at Harvard). But I’m trying to figure out where in her resume she did her 12- month required residency at Harvard to get that doctorate.

Crazy Talk at Crosscut

Okay, I have worked with both David Brewster and Knute Berger and know them both to be intelligent people. So what’s with the crazy talk coming from them last week?  In his “Open Letter to the Seattle School Board” on the morning of the board firing vote, Brewster starts off fine, and acknowledges problems that existed under Goodloe-Johnson and offers some sound ideas like rooting out what’s wrong at the central office and cutting out redundancies. But  in his solution No 4, the ironies are too thick. The very “solutions” Brewster is suggesting are the status quo that got us into the current mess!

4. Use the coming year as a chance to put in place some serious educational reforms, creating a powerful task force with members from the Gates Foundation, the UW College of Education, national foundations, and others to make Seattle a leading example of one or two key reforms along the lines of the Gates/Arnie Duncan idea of getting more students in front of the best teachers. Not every reform idea: just two or three that make a difference and where Seattle could (with Gates funding) lead the nation rather than dragging behind in the rear.”

Brewster wants to bring in people from the Gates Foundation and University of Washington to push reforms in SPS?! They’re already here! Goodloe-Johnson was their gal. Gates already funded her to the tune of $9 million and apparently is the sugardaddy for another of her dubious reforms, bringing TFA, Inc. to Seattle. Dean Tom Stritikus of UW’s College of Ed is a Teach for America alum who wrote an op-ed last year in support of charter schools coincidentally just before TFA got introduced to the school board agenda.

If Brewster is also referring to UW’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), they are already involved in SPS, supporting various questionable ed reforms and weak math

[UPDATE: these paragraphs have been updated to include the various U.W. departments that have been influencing SPS education policy already. My apologies if Brewster was not referring to CRPE. –sp.]

The influence of these elements are what’s wrong with the district and what many of us want to see exit stage right with the Broad Foundation poster woman that the board just fired.      [UPDATE: Between the time I posted this entry on Tuesday afternoon (3/8), and this morning (3/9), Broad removed Goodloe-Johnson’s image from its site header. So she is no longer the poster woman for their Supt. Academy.–sp.]

Interestingly, Brewster lists Gates before Duncan, as if Gates is running the show, not Secretary of Education Duncan. That’s really the truth of it. It’s disappointing to see Brewster jump on the teacher obsession bandwagon, though, because as we have seen, it too quickly leads to high-stakes testing, witch hunts and attacks on worker’s rights as demonstrated in Wisconsin. Plus, it implies that our nation is rife with bad teachers and that, quite simply, is a lie perpetuated by the ed reformers.

I also beg to differ with Brewster’s intimation that Seattle is at the end of the queue for something positive by not capitulating to ed reform powers that be (namely RTTT). If Seattle has not fully succumbed to the discredited and damaging ed reform agenda of Gates/Duncan/Broad/CRPE et al, as a parent I consider that a good thing. We have good schools and teachers and programs here in Seattle. We don’t need the increasingly damaging and discredited agenda of the corporate ed reformers.

As for solution 5 — “Offer the teachers’ union a full seat at the table of reform, hoping that they can get on board the train of good solutions rather than continue to resist change and incur more public disapproval” – it’s not accurate. The teacher’s union have not resisted all change as the latest teachers contract shows, but they have fought –which is their right – against bad policy, which harms both them and our kids. As for public disapproval of teachers or their unions, national surveys show people still widely support and respect teachers, and the Wisconsin stand-off shows public support for unions too.

Meanwhile Skip Berger’s suggestion (see “Trustless in Seattle Schools” ) that we charterize every school and hand them over to Bill and Melinda Gates would be laughable if it weren’t so obscene – and so close to the truth already. Surely he was just being a provocateur.  I think he was merely throwing every idea out there that he could think of. Unfortunately there are some who seem to be pushing for this very plan, and the Gates Foundation already has way too much influence in our district and in the national debate about education — as the more rational piece by Anthony B. Robinson lays out in the March 5 Crosscut (“Knocking schools: Do critics, big foundations have tunnel vision?”) Glad to see  Crosscut offer a counterpoint, despite its own Gates backing.

Lastly, I would argue that here in Seattle we have many schools that should simply be left alone without all the meddling and churn of “reform.”

Seattle Nice and why the Revolution Won’t Happen here

Over at the Seattle Public Schools community blog some readers were tsk-tsking over the controlled jubilation that went on at the school board meeting last week when Maria Goodloe-Johnson  and Don Kennedy got the boot. I was there, in the standing room only back of the room. Let me say that the general tenor of the meeting was engaged, passionate, quite factual and fitting. The audience was filled with teachers and parents like me who have seen a great deal of damage done by this former supt. and her enablers. We’ve seen our kids booted from their school buildings, their schools split in half, we’ve been lied to, told there’s no money for our kids, but apparently money for the $10 million MAP test and a $7,000 party with a carving station. I thought that audience had the right to be a bit steamed and intense. By the way, that was nothing compared to the January 2009 school closures board meeting. The crowd spilled over into the overflow space, James Bible of the NAACP got thrown out for leaning against the wall, and chants of “Hey, hey,  ho, ho, Goodloe-Johnson’s got to go” rang throughout the JSCEE.  Readers need to be sure not to be cowed by the finger wagging of gentility because it can indeed be censorship in disguise. Democracy in action can be raucous and passionate and messy. Indeed, true democracy almost always is.

About the School Board

Okay, the honeymoon may be over. The school board did the right thing with the vote (for the most part) and I told them so. But there remains some lingering questions: Why didn’t the board know more, do more about the fraud? Why didn’t the board do more about the numerous other egregious actions by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson? They gave her a pass for far too long. As their voting record shows, four of them in particular voted in lockstep with the supt. – Sundquist, Maier, Carr, Martin-Morris (aside from his initial vote against the closures) – as did former School Director Cheryl Chow. DeBell’s record is mixed. So there is blame to go around. Newest members Kay Smith-Blum and Betty Patu’s voting records are pretty good, though Smith-Blum voted for TFA, while Betty Patu has pretty much been an independent voice.

Here’s another example: many of us felt that former Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson’s undisclosed affiliation with test vendor NWEA was a clear conflict of interest. But no, we were told by board members, it wasn’t, because no money had exchanged hands. But conflicts don’t only relate to cash exchanging hands, we protested. To no avail. But then along came the state auditors who agreed with us! The state cited this as an ethics violation/conflict of interest and Goodloe-Johnson was forced to step down from NWEA’s board finally.

Which brings me to another point:

Shouldn’t the NWEA/MAP contract be declare null and void?

Someone asked me that recently and it’s a valid question. Here’s why: Because it was a no-bid contract supported by our Broad trained superintendent who was on the board of directors of the vendor at the time and didn’t disclosure it as required by law, and she based her selection of the MAP  over other tests  on a “test assessment” report written by another Broad-trained person (Jessica DeBarros) who subsequently was hired by the district at the Broad-ordained rate of $90,000, one must suppose, paid in part by Broad and later fully absorbed by SPS. In other words, the fix was in. And now our kids are suffering for it. Shame on SPS for this fiasco.

On that Shelf

What else we should put on that suspended Strategic Plan shelf? Here are some suggestions: MAP, TFA, WSS, standardization, Discovering math, the elementary APP split. Suggestions anyone?

Save our Counselors!

Surely the board can find some money to retain all our much-needed school counselors.

10th Anniversary of the Nisqually Quake – are our children safe in their old school buildings?

In a word: No. If Seattle Public School doesn’t step up and fix its woefully backlogged school building maintenance, we may end up having more in common with China than anyone would ever want. Dora and I both lived in California during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake (I was in the Bay Area), so we know of what we speak.  Seattle needs to be ready for the next quake.

— Sue p.