First, to catch readers up on my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the correspondence from the Seattle City Attorney’s Office to the Seattle Office for Education stating it is legal to use existing  levy funds to support charter schools, I must say, it seems to take an awful lot of time to find such a correspondence….like a needle in a haystack.

Does the needle exists? We will all find out together in mid-December, an entire month from my initial contact with the Seattle Office for Education. This will happen after all of the applications have been received by the Office for Education from pre-school programs for funding.

For background on this situation, see The Seattle Office for Education has decided it’s OK to use taxpayer levy dollars for charter schools.

Now onto to my first Seattle Families and Education Oversight Committee meeting.

Because there is so much that is happening behind the scenes between the Seattle Public School district, the levy committee, Mayor Murray, Tim Burgess and the Seattle Office for Education, I have decided to sit in on the Levy Oversight Committee’s monthly meetings and follow up on items that might be of particular interest to my fellow Seattleites.

So let’s get started.

Thoughts and observations on my first Families and Education Levy Oversight Committee meeting

The meeting focused on the Seattle Public School (SPS) district’s  “assessments and strategy”, “Strategic Plan Measures and Targets”.

Eric Anderson, Manager of Research, Evaluation and Assessment, presented the “District Scorecard”. The infamous Brad Bernatek, see “Oops, I Did It Again” was Eric Anderson’s boss until Mr. Bernatek left in 2010. See Seattle Schools data guy has resigned – a casualty of 17 Percent-Gate? for information on his departure.

So far the only item of note about Eric Anderson is that he follows Teach for America, KIPP (Charter school) foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the  Broad Center for the Management of School Systems on his LinkedIn page.

During Mr. Anderson’s presentation, the usual words and terms  were bandied about such as Leveraging/Leverage, Quality (code word for all things ed reform), Equity, Thought Partners (one of my faves), Rigor, Matrix, Proportionality, 21st century skills (these days that’s hard to define when there are no jobs) and College and Career readiness (code word in Seattle for the Common Core Standards).

It seemed the only thing the committee members could relate to was the notion of “data”. There was no discussion about cause and effect or factors such as the physical or emotional state of the students when they take the standardized tests, just the numbers. See The jargon of school reformers masks the poverty that stifles student achievement.

What concerned me the most, besides the fact that students, human beings, were discussed as if they were only numbers, was the phrase used in the spreadsheet “Highly effective teachers”.

The term “Highly effective teachers” refers to the popular practice of ed reformers to evaluate a teacher based on student test scores. If your students’ test scores are “high” based on some pie in the sky number, then of course, you are a good (effective) teacher. If your students’ test scores are lower than an established “average”, then you are a poor (ineffective) teacher. Are the students English Language Learners? Do the students have IEP’s (termed special education students)?  Are the students homeless? This is an increasing population in our schools. Are they sick or hungry? Are there problems at home? That’s not factored into the “data” and yet teachers will be rated by these test scores. This is part of what is termed “high stakes testing”. High stakes testing causes teachers to narrow their curriculum to test questions, not my idea of education, causes cheating and undue stress on the part of the student and teaching staff. See What’s wrong with standardized tests?

After Eric Anderson’s presentation, one of the committee members asked how he, Eric,  could get all of the data together in one place so that everyone could see it.  “Aligning data collection” was a concern for the committee members. I had the sense they believed they should be privy to all of the information gathered by the Seattle Public School (SPS) district.

Eric said it wasn’t possible to do yet but implied it was a great idea and something they (SPS) should do.

By the way, Charles Wright, the Deputy Superintendent, a former employee at the Gates Foundation, and previously on the board of the Alliance for Education, is overseeing this data gathering. That’s very concerning because we know where Gates stands not only on data collection but also his proclivity in sharing student information.

Eric Anderson said the main “customer” of the information now are the school principals but he said “metadata for community customers” was a “major” effort. Not entirely sure what that meant but it didn’t sound good to me.

Eric also said there were a lot of data requests but didn’t say who was asking for the information.

He said that 10th graders will be taking an exit exam, I guess to prepare for the real one two years later. Why students in 10th grade need to take an additional exam is questionable. Is this more data for Mr. Gates or our “community customers”? What are they measuring? What is the point?

Eric Anderson then went into how “effective teachers are the most important aspect” of a student’s career in school. (Nothing about a student’s home life, the level of poverty that is suffered or physical/mental considerations.) This is all out of the ed/corporate reform playbook written by Gates, et al. He went on to talk about measuring teachers and principals along with “Student growth measures”, “value added” measurements (VAM) which means determining a teacher’s “effectiveness” by student test scores.

He also talked about a student/parent survey that is sent to families, I think mostly minority and ELL students from what I could gather, and how all of that information is collected.

Then someone in the back of the room, who I’m guessing is someone’s aide, asked if the information from the survey can be disaggregated. That means, can they find out who wrote what personal information about their families and their children. Lovely thought.

Eric replied “No” but we’re working on it. At this time the survey’s do not have any identifiers so  the responses remain confidential but that could change according to Eric.

He was very eager to please the committee so I don’t know if he really meant all that he said they were going to do but I have a feeling it has been discussed within the Stanford Center or certainly at the Gates Foundation.

After Eric was finished with his presentation there were applause and they moved on to the next agenda topic.

After the Seattle Public Schools presentation with their deadening PowerPoint, Holly Miller and staff talked about “community engagement/outreach” for the Mayor’s preschool program. More on that at another time. For now I’ll say the “community engagement” is more reminiscent of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s “Listening Tour” when she arrived in Seattle, all for show.

It was a very enlightening meeting and I will continue to follow these levy committee meetings and presentations.

Dora Taylor