Everything is controlled and scripted, from the time you walk up to the door of the building until you leave. I arrived early, thinking that I could hand out a few flyers before the meeting but there was nowhere to comfortably stand. It was the territory of the Alliance from the front door into the area that we were to meet, very similar to how the Alliance handled the NCTQ event. So I went inside to see what was going on. I was directed to an area where they were serving dinner and I must say it was a sight better than what I had at their last event (remember the cold cuts and mayonnaise?). It was actually pretty good Mexican food and plenty of it. I sat down to eat and others began to arrive. I kept waiting for what I thought would be community parents and students arriving but at that point, there didn’t seem to be anyone. It was teachers, parents from other areas of town and other familiar faces. I saw Sundquist go by but saw no other elected officials, just the usual red Alliance t-shirts with the big “A” scrawled on their chests but no red jackets this time. This was much more low key than the Alliance/NCTQ event where Dr. Goodloe-Johnson wore her red jacket that coincidentally matched the Alliance jackets and it wasn’t even Christmas.
After dining, people started to drift into the meeting area which was set up in circles of ten chairs each with a large screen that had the theme of the evening on it, “Teacher Quality Town Hall”. Wow, so this was going to be a town hall style meeting where we would be able to ask questions and have some back and forth with members of the Alliance? Not quite, well, actually, not even close.
I counted about 70 people while we all were finding a place to sit. As we settled down, the principal of South Lake High School came to the front of the room and gave us a warm welcome, the only sincerity that I heard that entire evening coming through that mic. I don’t know her but from what I had heard earlier and saw then, it seemed that South Lake High School is in good hands.
I looked around again to see if more community members had joined our group but I would be hard pressed to say I saw anyone.
George Griffin was introduced and he said a few words like this is a “defining moment in time” and something about “what we need to do to support our teachers”…a pretty bland hello and introduction and then the facilitator was introduced. This person at least had some spark but I suppose that was what he was paid to do, keep the meeting going and at least give it a sense of life and spontaneity. This guy did seem like a pro. Mind you, so far, all of the faces that we saw at the mic were African American. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge.
He started out by describing the articles that were attached to the meeting’s agenda, The first one was an editorial in the Seattle Times about labor talks with the teachers’ union and the Our Schools Coalition and how we should in some way influence the negotiations. Right. Many of us had already dissected these faux roots organizations and coalitions that are being assembled to buoy support for the ed reform agenda . The sad part is that they don’t know that we know. They just keep beating that drum. Speaking of beating the drum, last I heard, only 50 people have signed that last petition that was conjured up based on the push poll that everyone has discredited. There were 1,700 signatures on the esp petition almost two years ago about the school closures and the Alliance with all of its’ money and “allies” can only drum up 50? Hmmm. That’s not a good return on an investment as a venture philanthropist would say. The other article was another editorial about the Our Schools Coalition; these people do know how to work the press. The most interesting aspect of that editorial are the comments. If you have time, you might enjoy reading them. At least there you get a better sense of reality. And finally there was an article by the News Tribune based probably on the same press release. All in all not convincing and as most of us knew, quite contrived.
Then our facilitator wanted to “start out with polls”. Are you serious?!? Of course this guy had no idea what he was about to step into with that remark. Yes, we all knew about that poll, the push poll that was so bogus it was laughable. The poll where SPS gave the names and phone numbers of 10,700 parents to 360, the strategy/marketing firm, so they could call folks and ask them questions that could only be answered in a way that served the purpose of the poll taker. Now, there is a firm, a marketing firm with some big name clients, who have the personal information of 10,700 of our students and their families. Nice job supe.
I thought that he was going to step in it and then he side stepped that remark by asking the question, and they always start out with benign questions, “How many of you believe that teachers are critical to a student’s success?” A few people raised their hands but remember, this isn’t the crowd that they had expected. These were folks who already knew how the Alliance operated and most if not all of them were not pleased with what they had seen so far from this outfit that apparently used to be a good organization. Unfortunately it has dissolved into faux polls and sound bites, tricks and trickery of the trade to try and make a community think that they need to get on board or they will be left at the station.
The facilitator began to talk about one of his teachers and how wonderful that person was. He then asked the audience to share who “touched your life”. It was kind of weird, it seems that it was going to be somewhere between a church revival and a group therapy session. This was the “Icebreaker”. So we got into our groups and “shared”. In fact, our group facilitator in a monotone voice said “Thanks for sharing” at one point and that was weird.
During this time, by the way, this lady with a flash camera was continually and annoyingly taking pictures of people in the groups. At one point I wanted to get up and tell her that she would need to get my permission before she flashed that camera again in my direction. She was upstairs, downstairs, on this side and that side all night long, taking more pictures than would ever be necessary for any photomontage. But, that was what she was paid to do so I couldn’t fault her for that.
Our ten minutes were up; remember now, just as with the NCTQ presentation, there is “no time” for anything but the program. We must always stay on schedule which means no time for questions, comments or anything else that might make these proceedings at all untidy.
So, after that warm-up exercise, we were told about the “Synopsis of the Teacher Focus Group” so that they could “give a sense of public opinion” that came out of that and the community meetings. I have a feeling that if these “community meetings” were anything like this one or the NCTQ presentation, there was not much opportunity for genuine interaction. Anyway Demorest, the VP of Operations for the Alliance, began to talk so fast, remember, no time, that it was really hard to keep up with her. This reminded me of when the person from NCTQ who presented their report, she said that there was so much to cover that she wouldn’t be stopping for questions. Well, this was the same approach. Demorest went on to say that three “themes” had emerged from the meetings with the teachers, “autonomy, professional respect and time for planning and collaboration”. This is when it starts getting thick and I don’t mean with water. Demorest continued to say that the “key findings” from the teachers was “the importance of removing ineffective teachers”, an evaluation system that is “more comprehensive” and “develop effective teachers and remove ineffective teachers”. I’m sorry but I just don’t see that as being on the top of any teacher’s list of their priorities in terms of teaching our children. I don’t buy that and I had a feeling that there were others in the room who felt that same way.
Demorest continued by saying that what came out of the “forum conversation” (at this point I don’t know if she was referring to the focus group or the community meetings but then again, it really didn’t matter, what was important to these folks was the message) was that most of the focus was on “teacher quality”. She said that this came up “again and again”. Yeah, right, that’s all I talk about with my friends who are parents, “teacher quality”. Exactly who do these people think they are talking to, blank slates that they can write anything on?
OK, so by that time I had my fill of, actually I can’t think of a polite way to say this, propaganda done with a smile and a free meal? That’s the best way that I can put it.
So, Sara Morris with Our Schools Coalition got up and talked about having “26 citywide organizations” on board with them. She said “Who are we? We are the parents, taxpayers…” she went on but, no time, she went very quickly. All I could think of was “How dare they! Who do they think they are?” “They” are folks paid for by Gates and a little by the Broad to shove RTTT down our throats and they will say anything and do anything to do that. “They” want to break the backs of the teachers’ union and bring in Teach for America to teach our kids. “They” have fooled and co-opted a lot of people in Seattle who will be as livid as others have been when these organizations and individuals find out that they had been hoodwinked and used by the Alliance just to further the agenda of others.
Then she went on to talk about the phone poll and that there was “overwhelming support for our proposals”. Morris at this point said there wasn’t much time to explain all of this, remember, no time, but that there was a handout that showed the numbers. She said that she would be happy to explain the details after the meeting. But she did add that the polling numbers were a little understated (?) and that “student growth should be the primary focus” and that this is a “real culture change”. Buzz word.
At that point we were told to get into groups of ten, all of the circles of ten were not filled and there was one completely empty, so people moved into other circles to complete them. After everyone settled into a group, I counted a total of eight groups of ten each. I still didn’t see many community people there, if any. If this was their idea of community reach out, it was a dismal failure.
There were four questions that we were to ponder and discuss. They weren’t the kind of questions that I would expect. What I will do is list each question and then give you responses that were described by the group leaders. By the way, the group leaders were Alliance folks including Demorset.
- “In addition to the efforts that were presented tonight by the Alliance and Our Schools Coalition, what else can we do as community members support teachers and our schools in the implementation of the new teacher contract?”
I thought that this was an odd question to ask but anyway, some of the answers were: engaging parents, books and more time for teachers.
- “Assuming the final teacher contract reflects most or all of the proposals outlined in the Our Schools Coalition statement, how can we as community members support teachers and our schools in the implementation of the new teacher contract requirements?”
What? Fortunately others in my group were able to take this question on. One answer was providing wrap-around services to support the student, meaning supporting the student and family in terms of health and wellness, family counseling, etc. Another answer was funding, more money for our schools, period. Someone else answered to bring back the Department of Race and Equity as well as the Family Action Teams, both of which were eliminated by our superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. I learned that the Family Action Teams used to meet with families of newly arrived immigrants or families of need at the beginning of the school year to support them during the transition. Wow. We lost a valuable service and instead we’re getting MAP testing for $4.3M and more Garfield’s, the Versailles of school buildings.
- “If few or none of the Coalitions’ proposals are included in the final teacher contract, what are ways that we can continue advocating for these priorities?”
Well, guess what, I got my tongue back with that question. Without going into detail, I said that with good conscience, I would not answer this question because I particularly had a problem with the “Performance and Evaluation” bullet points which were about high stakes testing and performance pay and the “Compensation and Career Opportunities” bullet points that included merit pay and bringing in Teach for America.
Apparently others provided the same answer in their groups. Other answers were “creating evaluations that teachers can believe in”, bringing the community back into the schools, smaller class sizes, tutoring and wrap around services.
- “Outside of the teacher contract process, what are other ways that we can support great teachers and promote student success in our school district?”
Same answers as above.
At the end of this, as the facilitator was trying to bring this event to a close one woman was able to ask a question. She asked about what would happen with this information and this activity that we had all gone through, I am paraphrasing here, was this going to be used in their package of disinformation (my word).
The facilitator said that some of us were having a “misalignment of strategy” in terms of our views. A very interesting way of putting it. He went on to say that “I know that we all want the same thing” Yes of course, that’s how they try and get you in the door. Sure, who can argue the fact that we all want the best education for our children but how we want to go about it is in disagreement.
Many of the people were there because they are suspicious of or down right angry at the Alliance for trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public with their slick, and very expensive, marketing campaign. That we disagree with how they think a better education for all can be accomplished is fine. We all have our opinions on that. What bothers me and others the most is the way this entire campaign of theirs has been an exercise in manipulation, the manipulation of well-meaning people and the press.
The Alliance is losing their credibility fast in our community and I wouldn’t be surprised if they packed up their green tent next to the highway after this campaign and hit the road to go someplace else and meet more unsuspecting folks.