In Response to “An Open Letter to Seattle Public School Parents” by Our Schools’ Coalition

Let’s get to the bottom of this.

Below is a letter to Seattle Public School parents. Since I am part of that audience, I will take a moment to respond to this letter sent out by Our Schools Coalition.

An Open Letter to Seattle Public School Parents

WHO WE ARE & WHY WE ARE WRITING

We are fellow Seattle Public School parents, local employers, community volunteers and taxpayers. Above all we are passionate supporters of public education. Our diverse group of over 30 citywide organizations and community leaders came together in March to form the Our Schools Coalition. We united to express the community’s voice in teacher contract negotiations, to advocate for our children, and to support teachers as professionals.

This statement is so not true. This faux roots organization, Our Schools’ Coalition, was the brainchild of Karen Waters at Strategies 360 , a strategic marketing group with clients such as Xerox and AgriBeef that was hired by the Alliance for Education to push the reform agenda of high stakes testing and merit pay. The Alliance for Education is backed by Bill Gates and the Broad Foundation. Both organizations are big backers of charter schools and high stakes testing among other things.

You can see what parents and other community members really think of OSC at the Save Seattle Schools blog, “Our Schools’ Coalition Teacher Quality Town Hall Meeting.

The Alliance for Education approached several civic groups with their Community Value Statement which is shown below:

We believe:

All schools must be quality schools, and the district should ensure:

• Every school is led by a principal who is an effective instructional

leader and manager

• Every classroom is led by an effective teacher

• Every student is provided equitable access to core academics,

enrichment opportunities and services as needed

• Every family is given the opportunity to work in collaboration with Educators.

While recognizing the financial constraints placed on the school district, we believe each of these elements must be met and that each is an important factor in improving the quality of education for Seattle children.

That seems innocuous enough. Who doesn’t want the best quality education for their children? Unfortunately, after several groups signed on to this statement, it was then used by the Alliance for the purpose of pushing the Race to the Top agenda fueled by Gates and Broad money.

Hey, it worked for AgriBeef, why shouldn’t this same strategy work on us folks in Seattle?

WHY THIS SUMMER’S TEACHER CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS ARE SO IMPORTANT

Today, our schools work well for some, but not all. Only 6 of 10 students in the class of 2008 graduated.

1 For nearly all students of color, the graduation rate is much lower. Only 17% of those who do graduate are qualified for college acceptance

2. Improving these numbers is a moral and economic imperative. More than grades are at stake; a quality education is core to personal, family and community success.

The teacher’s contract negotiations are important this year for some because of the issue of merit pay and trying to make teachers feel that everyone in the community thinks that they should capitulate to having their pay tied to a student’s performance. That’s why all of the concern this year about the contract negotiations. For anyone out there, have you heard so much about teachers’ union negotiations ever in your life before? And this pressure started months ago.

Yes, and let’s look at those “children of color”. For me personally this is a moral outrage. Being African-American I am acutely aware of the need for additional support for such students. What outrages me is the fact that such an emphasis is placed on a teacher’s performance and none on what is truly needed in these schools, smaller class sizes and wrap-around services that could assist families in supporting their children in school and ensuring that each child is healthy, clothed properly, fed and ready to focus on the work in front of them.

The outrage is that these backers of RTTT use such children as an example of why their agenda would work but all it does in the end is make a few people more wealthy through privatization of a public trust and does nothing in the meantime for these “children of color”. These same people get out of paying millions if not billions of dollars in taxes through corporate loopholes, tax cuts and laws instituted in Congress at their request, tax dollars that could truly help these “children of color” get through school successfully by funding early child care and education, adequate medical care, family counseling support, adequate books and materials in the classrooms, safe and clean buildings and enrichment programs that their school PTSA’s or the community cannot afford to fund. Then these “children of color” would have a chance.

Don’t allow these folks to try and make you feel some moral “white guilt” about these “children of color”. This has nothing to do with being politically correct. They are using these children to promote their agenda and what they are doing is despicable. See: Civil Rights Leaders Speak Out Against Race to the Top.

Great teaching is the key to educational success. The contract under negotiation right now by Seattle Public Schools and its union (the Seattle Education Association) affects us all, and impacts our children directly. This contract will determine many things, including:

How many hours a day your child is in school; (This has to do with the district’s budget and has nothing to do with the teachers. They have been cutting class time for years because there is not adequate public funding for a longer school day.)

How your child’s teacher is mentored, supported, acknowledged and compensated; (Merit pay)

Whether your child’s academic progress over the course of the year will factor into his or her teacher’s evaluation; (Here is the merit pay issue that is an integral part of charter schools where the teacher gets paid based on class scores.)

How great teachers are motivated to teach in our highest-need schools and to stay there; (Actually we do have great teachers in these schools. These are the teachers who are dedicated and motivated to teach in the most difficult situations where the odds are against them. To say otherwise is an insult to those teachers.)

Whether, in the event of layoffs, your child’s talented first-year teacher will lose his or her job merely because he or she lacks seniority; (Actually, I want a teacher in my student’s class who does have the experience gained from at least a few years of experience. But actually, this has to do with bringing in Teach for America recruits in the near future who will take over the jobs of more senior teachers as has happened in states where charter schools have started to pop up based on the requirements of Race to the Top. The charter schools do not hire union staff but instead hire inexperienced teachers who are in some states uncertified and are less expensive. This cost savings increases the bottom line of profit for the charter school franchise. Many of these teachers who are hired are Teach for America recruits. These folks are fresh out of college and promise to teach for three years before going off to their planned career which usually has nothing to do with teaching. By the way Bill 6696 has a provision in it regarding alternate routes of hiring teachers. This provision has everything to do with Teach for America.

How ineffective teachers are removed. (Actually there is a system in place that is used to “remove” a teacher. It is similar to the corporate model and meets Federal guidelines that a principal can use. It is a lengthy process but similar to what we used in the corporate world where I used to reside. The Seattle Education Association has developed additional guidelines that have been proposed during the negotiations that our superintendent has rejected. See last post.)

WHAT WE PROPOSE

Prior to the start of negotiations in April, the Our Schools Coalition presented nine proposals (see reverse for details) to District management and the teachers union. We strongly believe students and teachers will significantly benefit from these proposals, including:

Providing teachers more time to prepare for class and collaborate with their peers; (This has been a request made by teachers that is being hashed out as we speak.)

Strengthening teacher evaluations so they are meaningful, tied to student learning, and a useful tool for teachers and administrators. This includes factoring performance into staffing decisions, as opposed to prioritizing seniority; (In other words, merit pay based on student testing. Please note how language is used to say but not quite say what they really mean. This is the fine art of marketing and exactly what the Alliance is paying for.)

Creating new career paths and compensation opportunities for highly effective teachers and those who take on added responsibilities. (Well, first you should pay teachers for their additional time but at this point all teachers that I know work past what they get paid to do, so let’s just give all teachers a raise to start with. What does “highly effective teachers” mean? Whenever I see the term “effective teaching”, it is tied to student test results.

WHAT YOU CAN DO – BY AUGUST 18th

These changes are vital for Seattle students. Negotiations are scheduled to conclude by August 30. Community voices have never before been expressed in this way, on this issue. Parents can have a singular impact on the outcome, which will shape our children’s educational future.

WE MUST ACT NOW:

CALL or EMAIL your school board representative to support these proposals. (The school board directors have nothing to do with teacher negotiations.)

Sign up to speak at the August 18th school board meeting. (Done)

Forward this letter to other Seattle Public School parents and community members and urge them to spread the word. (Done, with attached comments.)

Survey data shows overwhelming support among parents for these changes (Not.)

Districts across the country have already adopted similar reforms. (Yes, they have and they are finding out that merit pay doesn’t impact at all on a student’s performance and that charter schools do the same if not less in terms of educating a student. And as my mother would have asked, “Just because someone else jumped off of a cliff, does that  mean that you should to?”)

Today, Seattle has this same opportunity. Make your voice heard on behalf of our children and our community’s future. (And that I agree with. More parents need to start speaking out at board meetings, through e-mails, through comments on this blog and in newspapers about the education of our children and what WE think works.)

Dora

4 comments

  1. Note the absence of the PTSA from the list of organizations. How can you call yourself broad or grass-roots and ignore the opinions of parent leaders at 73 of our 80-some schools? In fact, despite a heroic effort (last minute meeting called, quorum treated to performance by RH worthy of an Oscar) by a few to ram the PTA into consensus on this anti-teacher position, enough dissent was voiced for the Alliance to dump the PTSA from this effort.

  2. Thanks Chris for that additional information.

    Several parents are tracking this issue of improperly obtaining detailed student information and then providing it to a national marketing client who could then use the students’ data any way that they want to.

  3. Note: the survey cited by OSC was a push-poll (extremely leading questions) performed by the marketing firm Strategies 360 using contact information for teachers and SPS families improperly released by the district. The district has admitted impropriety, illegatity has yet to be determined. In any case, anyone with a conscience would be ashamed to use such ill-gotten gains.

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