Seattle Education

For the news and views you might have missed


There is an interesting dynamic that has developed over the last four years since our Broad graduate superintendent arrived in Seattle. This is a state where charter schools have been voted down by the public three times but is also the home of Bill Gates. When our superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, who is on the Board of Directors for the Broad Foundation, arrived, the Broad and Gates’ money followed soon after. Their money always comes with strings attached. The agenda for both of these individuals is charter schools and both are willing to invest whatever money it takes to get charter schools into our state as the Broad Foundation did in California.

One of the Broad’s initial areas of focus was San Francisco (where the Broad superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, was eventually squeezed out by the progressive majority school board, but landed in Philadelphia where she recently got dismissed), Oakland (where another superintendent was ousted after promoting charter schools) and Los Angeles which is Eli Broad’s hometown (which was a success in the eyes of Eli Broad).

Gates, along with Broad, captured New York City by developing close ties with the mayor as Broad did in Los Angles. Due to the influence of Eli Broad, the mayors of Los Angeles and New York City have very tight mayoral control of their school districts. During the early years there was also Chicago where Eli Broad was influential in the decisions that were made while Arne Duncan was the CEO of the Chicago Public School system, another school system that Eli Broad poured his millions into. Eventually schools were closed and charter schools replaced them. Now Chicago is heavily populated with charter schools in gentrified urban neighborhoods and military schools in the urban areas that were not taken over by the upper middle class. The groundwork is being laid out now in Seattle with the emergence of astroturf organizations backed by Broad and Gates’ money manufacturing consent through tools like the Community Values’ Statement and the Alliance for Education push poll here. Heavy pressure was placed on the state legislators during the last session in Olympia when Race to the Top measures were to be voted on. The PTA, led by a national president who champions the education reform movement, and the Alliance for Education, which is now mostly backed by funding from the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, championed the ed reform cause.

Now the teachers’ union is in contract negotiations. The Alliance for Education created a document called the Community Values’ Statement that was to be used as a tool to pressure teachers into signing onto particular measures such as merit pay and teachers’ assessments based on the performance of a student. The plan was to have different real organizations sign onto this statement, a statement that sounded good with the exception of a few sentences. Those critical sentences were regarding student assessment testing and tying those assessments to a teacher’s evaluation. There was push back from certain PTA members in terms of the Seattle PTA signing onto this document and there were also critical comments made on the Seattle Schools Blog about the fact that their name was also on the document.

Because of that, the PTA and the blog were dropped and another coalition was formed overnight, another faux “grassroots” organization. Many of us have noticed how these “coalitions”, “alliances” and other various organizations seem to spring up wherever consent needs to be manufactured.

Then there was a push poll also created by the Alliance that was to show that the community wanted “effective” teachers. It was obvious that the poll was set up so that any response would be a vote for the  ed reform agenda and because of that there were many complaints from the education community. In response to the outcry, the Alliance took down their poll and instead, within a week, had a phone poll. Voila!

With the creation of this new coalition, there was yet another document drawn up and they got community organizations to sign on. Who wouldn’t want a quality education for all? Unfortunately, these good people who signed on did not have any idea what the intent was for this document. It was waved in front of the press to show that all in the community were against seniority and for merit pay and a teacher’s performance based on student assessment testing.

In a few days the teachers will meet and decide on RTTT measures. Many of them feel pressured into thinking that if they vote against it they won’t look like team players in the community which is unfortunate.

We appreciate our teachers and most of us know that there is nothing of value in merit pay and high stakes testing. We support our teachers and understand that rather than putting into place punitive measures that teachers and our schools really need adequate funding to provide wraparound services for the students who need them, smaller class sizes and enough teaching materials and equipment so that our teachers can do the job of teaching. I would add to that a clean, safe and pleasant working environment, something that most teachers and students do not enjoy in our school system.

That’s where we are right now in Seattle. There is, of course, more complexity and nuance to the issues that we face and we will do our best to describe them as we go along, but that is the backdrop upon which we are placed.

We will describe the story as it unfolds.

Dora Taylor

For more information on the history of ed reform in Seattle, see:

The Battle for Seattle: Part 1

Hijacked! : Part 2 (Previously Titled “The Battle for Seattle”)

Hijacked!: The Battle for Seattle, Part 3

The Battle for Seattle, Part 4

The Lines of Influence in Education Reform

The Alliance

The Alliance for Education has been pivotal in terms of what has been happening lately in Seattle. Their push polls, the creation of the Community Values’ Statement and hiring of a slick marketing firm DMA Marketing/Strategies 360 to attempt to influence our perception of the Race to the Top agenda have created a reason for concern particularly because of the fact that the majority of their funding is now provided by the Gates and Broad Foundations.

Because of that, we will be focusing on their activities over the last year.

To follow is a post from last year that was my introduction to the Alliance for Education:

The Alliance and the NCTQ Study

The Report: Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools 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

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 of 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
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”?

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 all 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.


The following is a post that I made after a presentation that was made by NCTQ and hosted by the Alliance for Education:

October 15, 2009

The NCTQ Presentation

Note to self: Bring a laptop next time so that I look like a blogger.I walked into the ballroom early hoping to pass out flyers and was almost immediately greeted by a happy blond (no disrespect to other people who have blond hair) in a red Alliance jacket who introduced herself and asked me who I was. I gave my name and she said “Oh, I know who you are. I’ve seen your picture!” I asked where she had seen my picture and she said “Well, you posted on our blog”. No further introduction was necessary. That “oh, she is that troublesome troublemaker” expression came over her face but I kept smiling and continued the light banter about being a parent of a high school student, etc. She ended the conversation by saying that she hoped that they could dispel some of the pre-conceptions that people had about…. she kind of left that part hanging, but apparently a lot of us have preconceptions about things and that is our only problem.It was obvious that no Gates or Broad money was spent on this affair. It was cold cuts and mayonnaise with Diet Pepsi’s in a can. Two huge containers of water but no coffee. Where do these people think they are?While I was waiting for the show to begin and munching on turkey and cheese, people in red shirts with A+ on them were walking around and shaking hands with people. I guess they were the Wal Mart greeters.

Looked around the room. No other familiar faces. Oh well.

Finally, the lights go up, such as they are, the mic finally works and the show is on.

D’Amelio says a few words like there will be a “series of community engagement opportunities” and throws in an “equitable access for every student” thought and then the show is on the road.

Oh, just saw our superintendent at the front table and oh, there is Brad Bernatek to the left of me. I wonder if he knows who I am. Hmm.

Then George Griffin III gets up and talks about the achievement gap, particularly in the African-American community. Is it at all a coincidence that this gentleman is African-American? Either way, this will be an ongoing theme throughout the presentation.

Then finally, Kate Walsh, a no-nonsense kind of gal with a lot to say and so little time comes to the microphone and begins her PowerPoint presentation.

She started by saying that she does not bring local context into this report (OK) but can compare other districts with ours. I’m with her so far.

But first, she wants to reiterate that the NCTQ gets all of their funding from private sources. That we know. (Gates, Exxon and Milken, as in junk bonds, to name a few.)

Then she starts in on how no one is able to tell how well a teacher will do and that it is not based on the amount of education that they receive or the courses that they take. She says that someone with a Master’s degree is no more effective a teacher as a teacher without an advanced degree. She said that it has to do with experience and that teachers do not reach a point of being “effective” until their 4th or 5th year of teaching. She went on to say that the worst teachers are first year teachers. They are the worst teachers that a child can have. That’s what she said.

And after that she said “So that’s your primer.”

So OK, let’s see, we are to believe this premise, no questions asked. Well, that’s a lot to swallow. So she is saying that you don’t have to be that well-trained or educated to be a good teacher. In that case, maybe my dog could qualify in her program.

She goes on to say that every, and I do emphasize EVERY, study that has been done so far shows that not only does teacher training not have a positive impact on teaching but that sometimes it even hampers the effectiveness of teaching. Please note: The word “effective” and “effectiveness” comes up in about every other sentence. Kind of how the term “9/11” used to be used in every sentence that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld said.

She made a big deal about teacher absenteeism in Seattle. We saw a few graphs and charts on that and then she went on to “objective data to evaluate” a teachers performance. This part got interesting. She said “not necessarily standardized tests” but could have a district-wide conversation about how, let’s say, French teachers know when they are being “effective”. Whoa, I think that there is a third rail appearing and it might be standardized testing and student assessments.

Again, “huge achievement gap” was thrown into her presentation kind of out of the blue.

Then it was over. Wait a minute. What about all of that stuff in the report about student assessments and teacher’s performance being evaluated by, gee, I don’t know, using standardized tests? Not a word. It was over and from what I could see, the people were left wanting.

$14,000 for this? I could see people kind of wondering what this was all about. It didn’t seem like much from all of the hoopla that had been generated about this presentation. What they didn’t know about was the rest of the report.

After that, the SEA Director got up and did damage control about first year teachers and mentors, about losing $9M in state funds and about errors in the report that had not been corrected.

Our superintendent then got up in her red jacket and said a few words like this would provide “more information for dialogue”, something about “data points” and the “horrific gap” in terms of, I guess, black students and white students.

Then there was time for Q and A. Someone got up and challenged girl wonder Kate about continuing education. He mentioned the fact that doctors and other professionals take courses that benefit their practice and how could she say that courses taken by teachers and Masters’ degrees had no value? He also mentioned the fact that the study that she was referring to that made her case about the fact that additional education was not needed to be an “effective” teacher was paid for by Bill Gates. Oops. She started to back-peddle and said that it was the structure that is in place and not the course work itself that was not effective. What? Well, she said, that teachers choose the cheapest courses that they can find to take because they have to pay for them and…

Her sentences were incomplete and when she said “Do you understand what I am saying?”. I had to shake my head and audibly said “No” although she was not asking me the question.

Some of the questions were kind of off track and one mom towards the end got up and thanked the superintendent and NCTQ for having the guts to “do this”. What? That was out of the blue. In fact, besides myself, there was one other parent there. The rest of the folks were related to the Alliance, Broad or Seattle U with some other educators there who I didn’t recognize. Someone thought that the comment had been staged but I don’t know.
There was another question about continuing education for teachers and its’ value, same answer, and another question about how they would evaluate teachers whose subjects are, for example, art and foreign languages. The answer was the same as per her presentation. That teachers in those subjects could decide on district wide “benchmarks”.

They had us break up into groups to discuss the presentation and I took the opportunity to get more information from one of the questioners on the McKinsey Company, the Center for Reinventing Public Education and other good stuff.

FYI. The League of Education Voters is associated with this Alliance group. They have someone representing them on the Alliance Emeritus Board. They also got a mention during the meeting. My buddy, Brad Bernatek, is on the Alliance’s “Educational Investments Task Force”. Also, 46% of the Alliance’s total grant revenue comes from Gates, the Broad, the Stuart Foundation and Boeing. The Alliance also mentions “Stand for Children” in their literature as a local education advocacy group that they recommend joining.

That’s all I got out of that meeting except for the cool stuff that I found out about. I will share that at a later time.

Signing off for now.

Post Script: Fasten your seat belts, the Alliance plans more community outreach in the next three years to spread the good word. See:

One more Post Script:

The Advisory Board for NCTQ

Michael Feinberg, Founder
The Kipp Foundation
A charter school franchise

Michael Goldstein
CEO and Founder
The Match School, Massachusetts
It’s actually the Match Charter School

Paul T. Hill, Director
Center for Reinventing Public Education
This organization is all about charter schools and receives Gates’ money

Wendy Kopp, CEO and Founder
Teach For America

Michelle Rhee, Chancellor
DC Public Schools
Board of Directors, Broad Foundation

Stefanie Sanford, Senior Policy Officer
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Laura Schwedes, Social Studies Teacher
KIPP: STAR Prep, NYC, New York

Deborah McGriff, PartnerNew Schools Venture Fund
Backed by Gates

And finally,

Board of Directors’ Chair
Stacey Boyd
Founding Director and Principal of a charter school in Boston, school name not provided.

Update: October 27, 2009

During the NCTQ presentation, it was made clear that there was a database that they had access to that gave them all of the information that they needed from different regions of the country that they based their comparisons on when reporting on the Seattle public school system.

This struck me as odd. I imagined this huge database that took a room full of computers to hold. And then I wondered, as any parent would, how much do they know about my daughter and others? What is the extent of this information? I came across an article today titled “States mismanage student information, study concludes” in the Washington Post that might be of relevance.

%d bloggers like this: