Thursday, April 24, 2014

Advanced Learning: Crumbling Faster and Faster

Remember that Leonardo DiCaprio movie, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?  The SPS version is, "What's Going on with Advanced Learning?"  

What appears -to me - to be happening is that Michael Tolley and Shauna Heath are quietly making a lot of decisions behind closed doors and quietly spreading them out through the schools.  Spectrum principals, either on their own or thru Tolley and Heath, seem to be dismantling every single Spectrum program, whether popular and/or working well.

It is now late April and at the time of year that staff loves because the end of the school year is nigh, you parents get distracted and the staff has the entire summer to continue to roll out whatever they are doing. 

That much of this is happening all the while the district has not one, but two AL taskforces, both dedicated only to APP makes it quite clear what is happening.  (The Taskforce that Charlie and I served on?  All APP, all the time.)  This district does not care for nor does it want to continue with Spectrum and ALOs.  There is zero evidence to the opposite.

So I have one piece of advice for parents and one for the district.

Parents, there's a lot of hand-wringing.  That will not change anything.   Spectrum parents, especially, you might want to rise up now.  (Of course, we all know that many Spectrum students are eligible for APP and if there is no Spectrum, then APP will only get larger.  I have no idea what the district's plan is if that happens.)

SPS, at least have the common decency to NOT hid behind your taskforces and closed doors and just tell the truth about what you are doing.  If you are so sure you are right (and, given their behavior, staff surely believes its their right to change the program, no matter what) - then explain yourself and do it before the end of the year.

Lastly, don't expect to go to the Superintendent or the Board - Advanced Learning has no champions (maybe save Sue Peters but even she has said little) and never has.

Parents, it's on you to create the change YOU want to see.

Here's the charter for yet the second of the AL Taskforces:

Race to Nowhere Showing at Orca K-8


Dear Community Members,

We are excited to announce a showing of the groundbreaking film, "Race to Nowhere”. The documentary is a call to action for families, educators, and policy makers to challenge current assumptions on how to best prepare the youth of America to become healthy, bright, contributing and leading citizens.

Join us Friday, April 25th for a screening of the film followed by a discussion that will bring forth community issues and help us create methods for change. This film is rate PG-13 and is not suitable for young children. Childcare available - see details below.

Friday, April 25th, 2014 - 6:45pm (Doors open at 6:30pm)
(Film 6:45-8:15pm followed by ~30 min guided discussion).
Venue: Orca K-8 School, Lunchroom
Address: 5212 46th Ave S, Seattle, Washington
Tickets: Free
Tickets Here

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Duncan Gives No Hint about WA Waiver in Interview

In more in the long line of stuff Arne says comes this interview with Education Week.  But, NCLB waivers ARE brought up and, in specific, Washington State.  But Duncan is both direct and coy.

And he pledged to get one long-awaited initiative done that could also have a far-reaching impact: an overhaul of regulations that govern teacher-preparation programs. "They will get done," he said. "[They are] very important."

So that was the direct message and the one that the Washington legislature chose to ignore.

It's the teacher-evaluation piece of those waivers—tying evaluations to student test scores—that is tripping up a lot of states, and may cost at least one (Washington state) its waiver.

"We've tried to provide some real flexibility," Mr. Duncan said. "I'm interested in finishing at the right point. The path to get there is going to be very different. Some states are two or three years ahead of others, and are in great shape. Some are in the middle and some are further behind.
"We've been pretty agnostic on these things," he said, "and tried to give people the flexibility to figure out what the right answer is in their local context. There's no right or wrong answer."

Agnostic?  Okay but also when you carry a big stick and wave it around, that's not exactly clean hands.

On Washington State:

Mr. Duncan was asked whether Washington state, which is in hot water because its timelines do not match those set by the department, can save its waiver.

"Washington state made some commitments," Mr. Duncan said. "In any agreement, you agree to things on both sides in good faith. ... When we both make an agreement together we both have to live up to our commitments."

Despite having had a phone call with Washington state officials on its waiver just days before the interview, Mr. Duncan said he didn't know the specifics about their waiver predicament.

But he also said: "It takes a little bit more time to get it right; we're finding that. If you're headed in the right direction, that's something we absolutely want to have the conversation about. If the state decides they don't want to do something, that's different."

So there's these phone calls back and forth and still no answer?  I'm being to think that Duncan is quite worried about backlash if suddenly Washington state (and possibly others) have 95% of their schools declared "failing."  No one will buy that and NCLB will look more toothless than it already does.

Testing Issues Nationwide

From Diane Ravitch's blog via the group, FairTest:

Today’s technical problems, which disrupted computerized testing in many Florida districts, are far from unusual. Many other states have experienced similar failures, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which monitors standardized exams across the country.

Earlier this month, the statewide testing systems in Kansas and Oklahoma both crashed. Last year, technical problems disrupted computerized exams in Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio and Oklahoma. In the recent past, new, automated testing programs collapsed in Oregon and Wyoming, requiring administration of replacement, pencil-and-paper versions.

After root cause investigations, both Wyoming and Oklahoma levied multi-million dollar fines against Pearson, the same testing vendor Florida uses. Wyoming labeled the company in “complete default of the contract” and replaced it. Oklahoma let its contract with Pearson expire.

Why might this be happening?

“The reason for so many screw-ups is simple,” explained FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer. “The technology supporting statewide computerized testing is not ready for prime time.”

Schaeffer continued, “Like many other testing policies, politicians imposed new requirements before systems had been thoroughly developed and beta-tested. There are at least three separate problems. 

  • Many schools lack the up-to-date computer equipment and other infrastructure needed to mass administer tests. 
  • Large numbers of districts do not have the internet bandwidth to handle the volume. 
  • Some testing company servers do not have the capacity the meet the surge of demand from multiple locations logging on simultaneously.” 
Speaking of FairTest, here's an outline of the issues over testing mania in the U.S.

Here's what the high school tests look like in Finland.

Seattle Schools Special Education Meeting

I did not attend but this is an open thread for any discussion for anyone who did attend. 

This and That

To note for tonight's Board meeting agenda; the Jane Addams Middle School BEX IV construction item has been moved to the May 7th Board meeting by the Superintendent.  No explanation given. 

The Superintendent has also asked to remove the Reduction in Force (RIF) item from the agenda.   I confirmed that this is because there will be no RIFs sent out. 

As well, the bill to fix facade restoration at Franklin is - gulp - nearly $1M (coming from BEX III and good thing the money is there).  (When part of the facade fell, it was great luck no one was standing underneath it.)  Along with the backflow item at Jane Addams that had to be replaced recently (and I'm not sure how much that cost), we see that our buildings have a near-constant need for maintenance and emergencies fixes.  This is why the maintenance budget needs to be upped or we will likely pay more in the long term. 

There are only five people signed up to speak so if you wanted to speak up about, well, anything - Wilson-Pacific, later start times, Advanced Learning, Special Ed, disproportionality in discipline - now's the time to get down there. 

My Northwest is reporting the latest on Northwest Center, currently sited at the Queen Anne building. 

At about 90 days into the crisis, we've been able to identify a couple of options. One of which is a building that we would be interested in purchasing as a permanent home for Northwest Center kids for the next 50 years," said Everill. 

Whether Northwest Center purchases or leases their next home, one thing that hasn't changed is that they need more time. Everill said they've asked the district to give them until November 1 to move out of their north Queen Anne site - a lease extension of four months. 

"The scope of the problem has shrunk considerably, we know Seattle Public Schools needs their building back and we know they have a very complex schedule but we need to work together and, in fact we are. [Banda] reached out to me, we have a meeting scheduled for a week from Monday, on April 28th, to work on the issue, I feel like we're making good progress," said Everill. 

I will be taking a little break this week (but I will put up the Friday Open Thread).  I am pondering this blog and considering its direction after Charlie's departure.   It will not be going away anytime in the near future.  But, I could certainly use help in covering committee meetings as well as other issues.  If you are interested in writing for the blog - either periodically or weekly - let me know your thoughts at


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday Open Thread

Is your 5th grade and up student looking for a great sport that offers individual achievement as well as the benefits of participating on a team?  Seattle Canoe & Kayak Club is having an Open House on Sunday, April 27th and Saturday, May 17th from 10 am -1 pm. 

Come join us at the Small Craft Center on Green Lake at 9:45AM.  Get to see the competitive Junior Team finish their training session, meet the coaches of this exciting sport and then climb into the boats with our team members to get a feel for what it is like to be in an Olympic style Sprint Kayak or Canoe.  You need to bring a parent/guardian to sign the waiver and bring a change of clothes in case you get wet!  Questions?  Contact Tami Oki at 524-1116  or or the Green Lake Small Craft Center at 684-4074. 

Check out the website at  Beginner classes begin in April, the full schedule can be seen at Youth Kayak - Seattle Parks & Recreation Choose "Programs" then "Boating" then "youth-kayak."

Also the NIFTY film festival is starting this week on Thursday.  

NFFTY (pronounced “Nifty”) stands for “National Film Festival for Talented Youth” and is the largest youth film festival in the world.  But it’s not just for youth. NFFTY occurs each spring in Seattle, Washington and is the premier showcase of the best young directors 22 and younger from around the world. The films of NFFTY represent the voice of this generation, covering all topics and genres, from compelling and provocative, to hilarious and uplifting. NFFTY has the perfect film for a film fan of any age.   (Editor's note: not all films are appropriate for all ages of children.)

What's on your mind?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Big Ed News Roundup

Stories that have come across my computer over the last few weeks on a variety of issues.

Arne Duncan - the things that Arne says.
So first it was those "white suburban moms" thinking their children and their schools were really something.  He said opposition to Common Core came from "fringe" groups.  The Daily News says those against CC are "drunk with right-wing hysteria."  So moms are being hysterical and dramatic?  Almost sounds like a little sexism thrown in there to marginalize any female voice.

Common Core
 Pearson and Common Core
The huge ed gorilla publisher in the room, Pearson, has a nonprofit wing, Pearson Charitable Foundation, which just agreed to pay over $7M to New York state after NY's attorney general determined they had created CC materials to generate money for the Pearson company.  And who figured into that determination?  The Gates Foundation.  (Pearson says it did nothing wrong but admits it could have been clearer and more transparent in its relationship with its foundation.)

According to the settlement, Pearson used its nonprofit foundation to develop Common Core products in order to win an endorsement from a “prominent foundation.” 

The latter entity is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the creation of the Common Core standards and announced in 2011 that it would work with the Pearson Foundation to create reading and math courses aligned with the new standards. Four of those courses would be offered to the public free of charge, it said. 

According to Schneiderman, Pearson executives believed the Common Core work performed by their nonprofit arm could later be sold by the for-profit organization and generate “tens of millions of dollars” for the company.  
A good overview of states that are pulling back on Common Core from Education Next.

Death and Adultery; More Common Core Homework

Honestly, these things come across my radar on a near-daily basis as schools and districts go the Common Core way.  This from Breitbart(emphasis mine):

Breitbart Texas also covered this type of assignment in the article Orwellian Newspeak Coming to Common Core Classrooms Everywhere. It's a reading and response writing genre popping up in classrooms labeled contemporary realistic fiction.  It is a Common Core style of reading and writing prompt. In Common Core circles it is also known as life problems fiction.

This identical, inappropriate assignment made the rounds many months ago on Stop Common Core affiliated websites and Facebook pages.  It should raise eyebrows that a Common Core assignment that may not be at all aligned to the Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS) content standards was used in a Texas classroom.

And I note that a story from NY from the AP about parents upset over brand names - Barbie, iPod, Mug Root Beer, Nike and Life Savers - showing up in tests for students grades 3-8.   A very well-known brand consulting firm - Landor Associates - says that "brands are a part of our lives.  To say they don't belong in academia is unrealistic."  Seriously?

So what was this assignment that was passed out to 4th graders in El Paso, Texas?   Because I'm all for realism but this is a bit much. 

InBloom CEO Shuts Down inBloom

Second update:  a reply to inBloom's withdrawal from NY city parents who have been very in the thick of this fight.

Yet the statement issued by inBloom’s CEO reeks of arrogance and condescension, and makes it clear that those in charge still have not learned any lessons from this debacle.  The fervent opposition to inBloom among parents throughout the country did not result from “misunderstandings”,  but inBloom‘s utter inability to provide a convincing rationale that would supercede the huge risks to student security and privacy involved.

Contrary to the claims of Iwan Streichenberger and others,  InBloom was  not designed to protect student privacy but the opposite: to facilitate the sharing of children’s personal and very sensitive information with data-mining vendors,  with no attention paid to the need for parental notification or consent, and this is something that parents will not stand for.  In New York, the last state to pull out of inBloom and the only one in which legislation was needed to do so, parents were joined by superintendents and teachers in pointing out that the risks to children’s privacy and safety far outweighed any educational benefits.
End of update

 Update - in the interest of accuracy, no, it was not the Gates Foundation who shut down inBloom (wink, wink).  It was the CEO.  Nothing like $100M down the drain.

End of update

After New York state, as the last state standing in partnership with inBloom, left last month, inBloom  announced today they were shutting down.
This - is - HUGE.  

“I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months,” CEO Iwan Streichenberger said in a letter on the company’s website. “It wasn’t an easy decision, and the unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning.”

“It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole,” the company wrote today.

Oh, "generalized" concerns?  Like millions of children's data, from states around the country, store in one place?  A hacker's dream.  But again, it is not Obama's children, nor Gates, nor Duncan's.

That "raised the bar" issue is right, though.  Most districts are not doing enough and I believe SPS is one of them.  I will have a report soon comparing what the Department of Education says are best practices and what SPS actually does.  That it was reported at the A&F meeting that the district does not have a district-wide procedure on employee data is one glaring issue.

Power to the people, right on.