Smack talk in Seattle

I’ve been mulling over this analysis of national education politics for a while. A lot of it is bang on, and, if you add a heaping cup of Seattle self-righteousness, it’s pretty good at describing the rather combative tone of our education politics of late.

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Am I growing? Can I do this?

These two questions defined the recent whole district training led in West Valley School District in Spokane, on the transition to new teacher and principal evaluation system. As a facilitator for SEE Washington, I led the entire certificated district staff of about 250 through the three hour opportunity to dialogue and confront the upcoming changes educators face with the new teacher and principal evaluations. Like teaching, the workshop took on a natural cycle of inquiry. Starting with questions, gaining understanding, and ending with deeper questions about the new laws developed by legislators in the new Teacher and Principal Evaluation bills.

In the beginning the questions sound a lot like “Why me?” “Whose idea was this?” and “Where will I find the time?”. As teachers and principals face the newly designed eight criteria of evaluation, a four-tiered system, the teaching and learning framework options of Danielson, Marzano, and the 5 D’s out of UW, along with the use of student growth data, they often look as if they are facing a tsunami.

We started with the idea about why we would want to change our evaluation system in the first place. Reflecting on the limitations of the current binary system of evaluation, short intervals of interaction with a supervisor, and often minimal dialogue about practices led the group to consider that there might be a better way after all.

West Valley took a unique approach in having all certificated staff and administrators participate in the training. The conversation was rich with discussions around specific roles. “What about alternative learners?” “What is unique for small districts in this transition?” Although each staff member worked a typical eight hour day, they stayed engaged for four hours after their regular workday in the activities. We explored the constructivist approach the state took in involving numerous stakeholders in the development of the criteria and legislation. Participants in the training recognized the unique approach Washington has taken in transforming both teacher and principal evaluation simultaneously. Most importantly, they realized how much local control they still hold in guiding the work in their own district.

At the end of the training I reflected with the staff about what their new questions were and what steps they needed to take next after landing on a shared understanding of the instructional shifts that need to be made. Although they developed some new insightful questions and action steps, they also answered some of their initial “tsunami” questions and realized that, “Yes! I want to show how I am growing, and yes! I can do this.” This change is bound to cause some rough waters, but with a shared understanding and rich dialogue we discovered in West Valley that it will not be a tsunami.

This post was written by Shannon Lawson, who also offers these resources for further exploration:
TPEP Site: www.tpep-wa.org
OSPI Resources: www.k12.wa.us/EdLeg/TPEP
Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession: www.cstp-wa.org

Hanauer: On Education, “McKenna Is On the Right Track, We Are Not.”

This letter originally appeared in Publicola.

Dear Mary,

Thank you for your recent open letter to me and PubliCola. It will not surprise you to hear that I disagreed with some of it.

Can you seriously argue that the kids and families in South Seattle don’t deserve better educational opportunities?

As a lifelong Democrat and committed progressive, I too believe that McKenna’s reflexive Republican positions on social issues, taxation, and the role of government are deeply misguided.

But if McKenna and Republicans are wrong in some areas, it hardly excuses us Democrats from being wrong on school reform. Here at least, McKenna is on the right track, and we are not.

Looking at the student achievement data, it’s absurd to assert that our public school system in Washington is sufficiently innovative or accountable. We may be headed in the right direction, but we aren’t in the right lane.

Other states that have aggressively tackled education reform are closing their achievement gaps. Meanwhile, while we resist meaningful accountability and innovation, our achievement gaps are widening.

Read the rest of the letter here.

 

Editorial: Put teeth into evaluations

This editorial originally appeared in the Everett Herald.

Stating the obvious, the state Supreme Court ruled recently that Washington is underfunding basic education, and must come up with a reliable revenue source to meet its constitutional duty.

But since our state Constitution also gives voters a direct voice in such decisions, through referendum and initiative, citizens must first be convinced that the money will be spent efficiently and effectively.

To that end, lawmakers need to add teeth to the teacher and principal evaluation system currently being piloted in 11 districts (including Snohomish). The sharper the teeth, the better.

Various ideas are reportedly under negotiation in Olympia, ranging from filling in details in the current law to requiring student test scores be a significant factor in evaluating teachers and principals, and having those evaluations count in employment decisions such as placement, transfers and, when necessary, layoffs.

Read the full editorial here.

Tim Burgess: Seattle is Leading on Education Reform

This op-ed was originally published in Publicola on Monday, March 5th

There has been lots of discussion lately about the best path forward on public school reform. There has even been a public airing of the frustration some Democrats feel over the slow pace of reform and their belief that teachers’ unions are dragging their feet and resisting substantive changes to the status quo.

While these debates continue, Seattle is purposefully moving forward with an initiative predicated on a fundamental tenet of education reform—that we should measure student academic performance and adjust our strategies when performance lags. This initiative, the Families and Education Levy, is backed by a broad coalition of teachers, parents, education leaders, community organizations, and by the local teachers union, the Seattle Education Association.

Later today, the City Council will vote on legislation establishing the implementation and evaluation plan for the Levy. Seattle voters approved this measure by a 64% margin last November, agreeing to tax themselves $232 million over the next seven years to fund special interventions to help the city’s most academically at risk students and schools.


Continue reading here

Editorial: Whatever the motivation, school reform laudable

This editorial originally appeared in The Tacoma News Tribune  on Thursday, Feb. 16

When it comes to its relationship with the federal government over education policy, Washington state responds better to sticks than carrots.

Two years ago, when they were crafting education reform legislation so as to compete for hundreds of millions of dollars in Race to the Top funding, Gov. Chris Gregoire and education policy leaders fell short. The rather timid law wasn’t close to proving to the Obama administration that the state was toughening teacher evaluation methods or prepared to fix its poorest-performing schools.

It finished 32nd of the 36 states that applied, missing out on the money not only by its stubborn resistance to allow charter schools, but by weak teacher-evaluation and school-intervention plans.

Gregoire now takes solace in the fact that many of the Race winners have failed to deliver on the promises they made. To her, that is evidence that they overpromised and failed to bring teachers unions along. But longer-than-predicted recessionary effects on state budgets and the unions’ newfound success in resisting change by demonizing those calling for reform are as much to blame for the slow pace in Race states.

Read the full editorial here.


 

Opinion: Protect effective educators, rethink “last in, first out”

This opinion piece originally appeared in the Seattle Times. It is written by Christopher Eide, a former teacher and executive director of Teacher’s United, and Kirby Greene, a fourth-grade teacher in the Seattle Public Schools.

Recently, two teachers from South Seattle drove down to Olympia on a school night to testify against a long-standing labor-union policy in Washington. The policy under scrutiny, commonly referred to as “last in, first out,” has been adversely affecting students in Washington for far too long. “As adults, oftentimes we lose sight of what is most important … our kids,” one teacher testified.

Whether to restructure this policy and build up our ability to identify effective educators is a decision currently in front of Washington legislators.

As teachers, our primary goal is to ensure that we put our students on a track to ultimately graduate high school ready for college or their career. We want all students to go on to earn a living wage and be productive members of our state.

But in Washington, more than 16,000 kids drop out of high school every year. More than half of low-income students and students of color are not reading at grade level. We are 43rd in the nation in terms of college participation for low-income students. Clearly, we are missing the mark, and our most at-risk kids suffer disproportionally.

To read the full article, click here

Opinion: Seattle is a leader in education reform

This op-ed was originally published on Publicola on Monday, March 5th

There has been lots of discussion lately about the best path forward on public school reform. There has even been a public airing of the frustration some Democrats feel over the slow pace of reform and their belief that teachers’ unions are dragging their feet and resisting substantive changes to the status quo.

While these debates continue, Seattle is purposefully moving forward with an initiative predicated on a fundamental tenet of education reform—that we should measure student academic performance and adjust our strategies when performance lags. This initiative, the Families and Education Levy, is backed by a broad coalition of teachers, parents, education leaders, community organizations, and by the local teachers union, the Seattle Education Association.

Later today, the City Council will vote on legislation establishing the implementation and evaluation plan for the Levy. Seattle voters approved this measure by a 64% margin last November, agreeing to tax themselves $232 million over the next seven years to fund special interventions to help the city’s most academically at risk students and schools.

Frankly, the Levy is a radical departure from the status quo in public education. While the argument about linking teacher evaluations to student performance continues, the Levy takes the step of linking funding of our partners (schools and nonprofit organizations) to student performance. The focus is on student academic achievement, not the good intentions of the adults or school administration. At the same time, it does honor the crucial importance of effective teachers, strong principals and family engagement.

Continue reading here

Editorial: The overdue split among Democrats on education reform

This editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times on Tuesday, Feb. 21

Major Democratic funder Nick Hanauer’s recent email blasting Democratic lawmakers for failing to buck the teachers union and push for education reforms will go down as the tough-love message heard around the state.

“It is impossible to escape the painful reality that we Democrats are now on the wrong side of every important education-reform issue,” wrote Hanauer, a Seattle venture capitalist, to other party faithful.

“Today, the (teachers union) is literally strangling our public schools to death with an almost infinite number of institutionalized rules that limit change, innovation and excellence.”

Hanauer also announced plans to meet with Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.

Read the full editorial here.

Article: What happens when Senate Chair spikes ed bills

This article originally appeared in the Washington State Wire on Saturday, Feb. 4.

A decision by a Democratic chairwoman to kill a pair of high-profile education bills has triggered an all-but-unheard-of standoff in a Senate committee and a backroom blowup among the Senate Democrats.

Senate education chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe says she isn’t going to allow a vote on a pair of K-12 reform bills that is backed by a broad coalition of business and education advocacy groups.

And so a majority of senators on the committee says it won’t vote on anything else.

The impasse shut down the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, prompted Gov. Christine Gregoire to try to broker a compromise, and brought Senate Democrats to a boil during a closed-door session Friday.

Read the full article here.