Well, it’s finally here. Many of us knew that with the arrival of our Broad superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, that changes to the educational system under the heading of “education reform” would be coming to Seattle. In Seattle it has been a slow but well thought out process to bring Seattle unwittingly along to the point where one day folks would wake up and realize that they have agreed to, either actively or passively,  an approach to education that does not work and in fact, can be deleterious to certain communities.

Our superintendent and School Board Director, Steve Sundquist, who is on the recall list that was submitted by parents to the court for review, has sent a letter to all teachers within the Seattle Public School district as negotiations have been going on with the teachers’ union. This e-mail contains language which is inaccurate and does not describe the big picture.

The big picture is that the superintendent wants to tie a student’s performance on a test, the MAP test for Seattle Public School students, to the evaluation of a teacher’s performance.

At first glance, that might seem like a swell idea but if you consider the fact that in districts where that  has been instituted, teachers begin to narrow their focus to a test, omitting a large amount of information that would be part of a broader approach to the subject and narrowing the focus to facts rather than ideas, creative thought and critical thinking. It’s just not a good idea. In fact, it is an awful one. It is No Child Left Behind on steroids.

My daughter and I had the experience of teachers teaching to the test when we lived on Mercer Island. We were planning to move to Seattle from California and I had no idea where my daughter should go to school. After evaluating state WASL scores, I found that Mercer Island students always came in with the highest scores. So I thought that the schools on Mercer Island must be great and that my daughter would do well in that environment.

What I and my daughter discovered was that the content of the classes was all about the test. The students did well because they knew how to take a test after years of practice and all they had to do was complete their homework which was focused on a narrow range of information. My daughter was frustrated by the lack of evaluative discussion of class material and a lack of overall knowledge that the students showed in the various subjects so we looked elsewhere.

We found a wonderful high school in Seattle, The Nova Project, where creative and critical thinking along with project based learning has been a successful approach to teaching and learning for twenty years.

Getting back to Seattle, the focus of this ed reform movement brought to us by Arne Duncan, Eli Broad and Bill Gates, none of whom are educators or have had any experience in real life public schools, has been on testing, and lots of it, and evaluating teachers based on those test scores. Where those test scores are the lowest, mainly in the  minority and low-income communities, the plan is to either close the school and turn it into a charter school, thus privatizing public schools, firing half of the staff (as if teachers are the problem when it is actually a plethora of issues that are not under the control of a teacher), removing the principal (again, what does the principal have to do with the social ills brought on by poverty?) or simply close the school (in which case these students have to find another school and based on what I have seen so far, there is no support for these families during that process.)

This should not happen in Seattle. It has happened in New York where test scores have since dropped, in Los Angeles where there is no evidence that this has done anything but make several charter franchise enterprises a lot of money, D.C. or Chicago, where Arne Duncan, along with a handful of developers began this nightmare under the name of Renaissance 2010.

In terms of this SERVE idea that our Broad trained Superintendent, who is also on the Board of Directors of the Broad Foundation, devised, it is just anther step towards a reform idea that does not work and creates guinea pigs out of our students. I am against high stakes testing. It is time-consuming and puts too much focus and stress on the student to perform on one test. In Seattle this test is given three times a year and is disruptive to class schedules and is exhausting to the student. Add on top of that the new WASL and that is then four big test given each school year. And by the way, the MAP test starts in kindergarten, another absurdity.

Back to this letter that was sent out to all teachers in Seattle by our superintendent and Steve Sundquist as some sort of attempted end run around union leaders, the SEA sent out on e-mail in response to it and below are portions of that response from SEA:

August 3, 2010

The TRUTH about SERVE Seattle

Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson and Board Member Steve Sundquist sent all certificated staff an email tonight.  The email contains and describes what they are calling SERVE Seattle.    It is the district’s bargaining proposal that ties student growth based on test scores to certificated evaluations.  The SEA held five focus group meetings last week to get input on the district’s proposal.  We had over 200 certificated employees present at the focus group meetings, representing 57 schools and programs.  Now the superintendent believes that if she just emails each of you; maybe you will put pressure on SEA and the bargaining team to go the way the district wants us to.  The truth of the matter is that the email they sent you leaves out important details.  Based on what our members told us at building visits, through the bargaining survey, and at last week’s focus groups, the SEA Bargaining Team will listen to its members and continue to say NO to SERVE Seattle!

Here is the truth:

  • They say the district is “working together with your SEA representatives to make sure that every teacher gets the tools, time, support, and opportunity needed to help students succeed.”  The truth is that SEA has raised the issue of giving teacher’s support around class size/caseload and workload.  SEA wants to make sure that you have the tools, time, support, and opportunities needed to help students succeed.  SEA has made proposals that are research-based that we know can work to close the achievement gap and raise student academic achievement. Our proposal is in concert with a recent report by leading national civil rights groups.
  • They say SERVE will recognize the critical work performed in our most challenging schools, by offering stipends to strong-performing teachers in our lowest performing schools.  The truth is that teachers will have to be at the highest level in two domains of the proposed evaluation tool to get the service stipend.  All other teachers working in the most challenging schools will not get anything extra even if you are working hard to help students achieve.  The truth is that teachers will have to have their evaluations tied to student growth using test scores.  The truth is that the district’s proposal gives them the discretion to change the eligibility criteria depending on funding availability.
  • They say SERVE allows a teacher to choose when to tie their evaluation to student growth outcomes and peer and student feedback.  They will give those who opt in fully to SERVE an immediate 1% increase to TRI.  The truth is that those who decide not to opt in would make less money this year than last year due to the state taking away our final learning improvement day and you will have no increase in compensation over the life of their proposed three year contract.  The district has told us at the table that you have received big enough raises over the last five years and thus do not need any increase in your compensation over the next three years.  The truth is that even though the economy may not be at its best, every teacher in our 11 comparable districts except for Highline will be making at least the same amount of money as this past school year and most will be making more.
  • They say in the email that those teachers who opt in will receive targeted support if they are struggling.  The truth is that the proposed professional growth and evaluation system provided by the joint SEA and SPS task force gives ALL teachers who are struggling some targeted support.
  • They say SERVE uses multiple measures that would capture performance in student learning outcomes and growth.  The truth is that the outcomes and growth would be based only on student test scores on MAP, the new state MSP, and end of course assessments.  The truth is that only teachers of tested subjects will have to fulfill this requirement which is 25% of their overall evaluation.  They will be held to a different standard than their peers who teach in non-tested subjects.
  • They say SERVE uses multiple measures and the overall school performance would be part of your evaluation.  The truth is that your evaluation will now be based partly on how others in the school perform.  You will now be evaluated on other people’s work and not just your own.

They say in the upcoming year, teachers and administrators will work together in a joint committee designed to finalize details of the evaluation system and the supports offered to teachers.  They say the new multi-faceted evaluation tool will be “fair, comprehensive, and reliable”.  The truth is that this is a proposal of theirs and it would have to be bargained.  The truth is that we proposed that the district use the SIG schools and a blind study of those members piloting the new “four-tier” evaluation system to see if the evaluation and student growth coincide.  They told us they have “confidence” that their SERVE proposal would be “fair and reliable” and do now want to do any study.

  • They say they will roll out SERVE in 2011-12 as a tool for professional development and growth.  The truth is that the proposed professional growth and evaluation that was jointly developed by the SEA and SPS task force truly is a tool for professional development and growth.  The truth is that the district is looking to mechanize evaluations and automate the firing of teachers.
  • They say they remain committed to a collaborative process at the negotiation table.  The truth is that last week, the superintendent told a representative of the Washington Policy Center that with the failure of the collaborative approach, the district will now be engaged in classic, and contentious, union/management negotiations, a process that will take many months.  When asked whether the District was preparing for a possible strike, her answer was, yes, but I’m not at liberty to give out details.  The truth is that SEA has been willing to collaborate around areas that will truly help close the academic achievement gap and help raise student achievement. SERVE DOES NOT meet this need.

They say that providing all teachers the opportunity to improve their practice is the pathway to increased student achievement.  The truth is that we definitely agree with this.  Improving professional practice is ONE way of increasing student achievement.  The joint SEA and SPS evaluation task force has proposed language that will help teachers improve their professional practice.  It uses a standards based “four-tier” evaluation tool that is linked to improving student academic achievement.  The district, itself, has provided research studies that show there is a correlation between the standards based evaluation tool and student academic performance.  We want to give the jointly developed evaluation system a try.  The jointly proposed system is designed to create a culture of continuous improvement.  SERVE does not.   Their mechanized system is one of minimal rewards and automated punishments.

  • They say nothing in their email about the cost of SERVE.  The truth is it will cost over $3.9 million dollars over the next four years.  The truth is that part of this cost includes hiring 3 new managers.  The truth is that the $3.9 million dollars is strictly for operational costs to put SERVE in place; it does not include any of the stipends for career ladders, stipends for working in low performing schools, or the 1% increase for opting in to the program.

SERVE Seattle does not serve students, families, or educators!

Go to the SEA website at www.seattlewea.org and see the district’s SERVE proposal.