Ed Reform Knickers in a Knot

Apparently the Alliance for Education and the League of Education Voters – two organizations here in town with lots of foundation and business funding, media access,  and a corporate ed reform agenda – are in a complete tizzy over last week’s Seattle Speaks forum on education.

Why? Because the audience, by and large, didn’t agree with them and their agenda, so they are saying that the forum was biased.

They are trying to spin the event, in which audience members and online viewers voiced their opinion of Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s “Five Year Strategic Plan,” as somehow unfair, and are also depicting the audience viewpoints inaccurately.

Chris Korsmo, the League of Education Voters’ CEO, has posted her write- up of the night on her regular LEV Blog. Longtime public school advocates and bloggers (and parents) Melissa Westbrook and Charlie Mas quickly replied and set the record straight, in my view, and as someone who was in the audience that night. It makes for an interesting read.  I’ve pasted the whole exchange at the end of this post.

The Seattle Schools Community blog has also reported that Sara Morris, CEO of the Alliance for Education, wrote a letter of complaint to the Seattle Channel and City Club about the forum, claiming that a question was unfair (“Does the district’s move to align curriculum inhibit innovation in the classroom?”), the audience was imbalanced, and that it was “yet another ‘trash the district, trash the Superintendent’ forum.”

What in Sam Hill is she talking about?

In fact, her side had plenty of opportunities to present their views and were well represented in the audience. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson herself was invited to be on the panel and thus had the opportunity to make the case directly to the public about her “Five Year Plan for Excellence” and why we’re all wrong for believing it isn’t working.

But Goodloe-Johnson canceled at the last minute. So maybe Morris should address a letter of complaint to the supe.

Where’s Maria?

The forum was planned months in advance, so Goodloe-Johnson’s last-minute no-show was a surprise for all involved. (Did she have to schedule her knee surgery for the day before?) According to the Seattle Channel, a key panelist has never backed out of a forum at the eleventh hour like that before. Apparently the superintendent wasn’t included in the pre-taped segments either, because she was expected to be part of the live panel.

I thought the forum was well-produced and well done and have told the Seattle Channel producers as much. My two qualms were the glaring absence of the superintendent (which was not the station’s fault) and the (otherwise impressive) moderator’s failure to ask each speaker to identify themselves and/or their affiliations. This allowed some people to play some sly games. Apparently the channel leaves it up to audience members themselves to identify their affiliations if they want.

Big Girl Pants Strikes Again

Chris Korsmo, as some readers of this blog might recall, made an impression on the local parent activist community last fall when she labeled those of us who opposed the last education levy (the third in one year) “haters and doubters.” In her post, she notoriously wrote of the need to put on her “big girl pants” (whatever that means) in order to deal with us evil parents who demand fiscal accountability of the school district, I guess.

In her support of the levy she dismissed the seriousness of the state audit of SPS which found reckless misuse of resources, cited the board for failing to supervise the superintendent, and  called out the superintendent for an “Ethics Violation/Conflict of Interest.” Those of us who opposed the levy did so because we took the state audit seriously. We felt the money would not reach the classroom and this district needs to learn accountability.

I’m guessing  Korsmo and Morris felt the “haters” were back again at the Seattle Speaks event.  Korsmo appears to refer to the forum as “the belly of the beast.” Hm. There’s something really odd about the way corporate ed reformers view parents and teachers. We’re the “beast,” are we?

In her write-up, Korsmo says  the audience was  “mainly peppered with teacher association folks.” She’s wrong about that. I saw a number of parents and bloggers like myself there, a large group of City Year volunteers (in red jackets) and some of the heaviest hitters from her side of the debate, including herself.

In fact, let’s have a closer look at the guest list.

Liv Finne of the pro-charter, pro-privatizing conservative Washington Policy Center got to speak twice. The superintendent’s dutiful lapdog School Board President Steve Sundquist was also there, and gave himself and his colleagues a B when everyone was asked to grade the district.

Sara Morris, the CEO of the Alliance for Education, was there and spoke. The Alliance works hand in glove with the district to push its agenda and helps channel (some might argue, launder) private funding to the district with major strings attached.  I found it interesting that Morris didn’t mention her important role in the school district, but instead coyly only identified herself as ‘a mother of three kids in SPS.’ She went into  detail extolling the virtues  of the Strategic Plan, including the resource-draining MAP test. Of course she knew all the details of the plan very well – her organization wrote the $6 million grant proposal request to the Gates Foundation to fund the Strategic Plan.

Morris also coauthored an op-ed in the Seattle Times last year with Estela Ortega of El Centro de la Raza pushing for “merit pay” and harping on teachers.

Her organization was also responsible for creating the Astroturf “Our Schools Coalition” which used a push-poll created by a political marketing firm it hired (Strategies 360/DMA Marketing), and helped DMA obtain the private contact information of 10,000 Seattle Public School kids in violation of FERPA (See my report: “Should the School District Be Allowed to Give Our Kids’ Phone Numbers, Addresses and Photos to Every Tom, Dick and Pollster?”) So a number of us are well aware of the Alliance’s close association with the district and backstage maneuvers on its behalf. But most viewers probably thought Morris was just a well-informed mom.

Morris’ organization also snuck D.C .political operation, the “National Council on Teaching Quality,” into town in 2009 and paid them $14,000 (with Gates money) to write a preconceived  critical “Human Capital report” on our district’s 3,000 teachers. This was then used by the corporate reformers to try to intimidate the teacher’s union into accepting merit pay in their new contract. For Sara Morris to pretend she was merely a mother of three kids in Seattle schools was disingenuous to say the least.

Estela Ortega, the executive director of El Centro de la Raza, was also there. Her organization signed on to the faux “Our Schools Coalition” (created by the Alliance for Ed) whose primary purpose was to influence the teacher’s contract and push for merit pay.  (I have since heard that not all members of El Centro de la Raza were aware of what they were signing onto.) She coauthored the aforementioned op-ed with Sara Morris.

But, interestingly, Ortega’s main point that night was that SPS needs to hire more bilingual teachers, namely Spanish-speaking. I completely agree.  So there was Ortega effectively advocating for teachers with more skills – not less. This goes against the grain of the ed reformer’s current efforts to de-professionalize teaching by de-emphasizing teacher credentials and by allowing short-term novices like Teach for America, Inc. recruits to instruct our neediest kids.

So Korsmo and Morris can’t say they didn’t have allies in the audience. But the night didn’t go their way. Instead, common sense prevailed. The truth, the data and public sentiment are not with the corporate reforms and their privatizing, teacher-bashing, standardizing, top-heavy agenda.

Despite all their money, connections, media access, fake organizations, push-polls, lengthy mailing lists with access to thousands of unwitting parents and community members, they did not win the argument or the hearts and minds of the majority in the audience that night. In fact, Korsmo’s outburst may have done some damage.

Her accusation (which she fleshed out in her “round-up” post on the LEV blog) about those of us in the audience — “person after person said we can’t get kids ready because they’re poor, black, brown, abused, homeless, the kid sitting next to them didn’t do his homework”-–  is a misconception at the very least, a downright lie at the worst. No one there said any child couldn’t learn. In fact, the very reason many of us were at the forum that night is because we are deeply concerned about how poorly this district is treating all our children, including the poor kids of color Korsmo apparently believes to have a monopoly on supporting.

But many said that poor kids and English Language Learners often need more help to be able to learn well. And teachers alone can’t give these kids everything they need. Many in the audience that night agreed that changing a teacher without changing everything else that affects a struggling child’s life will not alone make enough of a difference for that child.

The ed reformers seem to think they alone care about poor kids of color. That’s not true. What’s more, the reforms they push are actually doing harm.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from Korsmo’s  post, and the counterpoints:

Korsmo’s education news roundup for Feb. 12th

February 12, 2011 By Chris Korsmo

What a week!

It started with a bang – yes, my Packers won the Super Bowl – and ended with a howl as your intrepid writer observed the belly of the beast and came away smarter, but stinging. More on that in a bit. Let’s start with the state news of the week for a change.


And now for something a tiny bit different.

The Way: Whether you want to call it the “Washington Way” or the “Seattle Way” or just “process hell” the intense commitment to ensuring that the adults in the system are alright is killing us. If I had a dime for every time someone used “wait,” “time,” or “can’t” this week I’d be writing from somewhere quite a bit warmer. The Seattle math and science standards aren’t aligned with the state test, because of course, that takes…. Wait for it…. Time.  Grade inflation is rampant – kids who can’t pass the tests are still passing all their courses – but we can’t really address that because it takes… buy-in. We have to make sure the adults are comfortable before we do much of anything there. At a City Club forum on education (mainly peppered with teacher association folks) person after person said we can’t get kids ready because they’re poor, black, brown, abused, homeless, the kid sitting next to them didn’t do his homework (I don’t make this stuff up), kids of color watch six or seven hours of t.v. a night (something I did not know…and if it were true, I’d have to ask, so what?) money, money, money. In the richest city in the state, a city that provides additional resources from the Families and Education levy, with the highest per-pupil dollar investment around, we can’t do anything right now because, well, we just can’t. I’m afraid I lost my mind a little bit at learning this. My apologies for taking it all a little too seriously. And for thinking that anyone who would shout you down was actually going to change their mind. No, it wasn’t a pretty week, but it’s always good to know what you’re dealing with.  Enough about my feelings.

Let’s build something new. Let’s say no one told you that you couldn’t.  If you had $500 million to teach 47,000 kids, how would you do it? Make it $11 billion for a million kids. Then what?

Them’s my .02. If you hate the .02, no worries, this spot is reserved for policy discussion on the way forward.

Thanks to you for the great work you do on behalf of Washington’s kids.

Filed Under: Blog Tagged With: session 2011


  1. Melissa Westbrook says:

February 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm

First folks, go to the video. You’ll note a full 1/4 to a 1/3 of the audience is….City Year kids in their bright red jackets. They’re under the SEA’s wing? No, they’re not. Unless Ms. Korsmo knew everyone in the room (and I know she didn’t), then I have no idea how she thinks she knew who was in the audience.

Please, watch the whole thing and then, at about minute 74, watch your fearless leader’s meltdown.

It is an appalling performance that, to me, shreds her credibility. But maybe you should ask the 3 School Board members, the head of the Alliance for Education and the woman from the Washington Policy Center what they thought about the CEO of LEV standing up and basically loudly sneering at the audience.

Keep in mind what comes before her outburst. The discussion was the school reports, teachers contract and the Strategic Plan. You will NOT hear anyone talking about kids of color, abused kids or homeless kids. You will NOT hear anyone talking about poor kids. We talked about schools having different challenges for sure. The good things that are happening in SPS schools like Mercer Middle school do come with a higher price tag and the discussion was around how the Strategic Plan is NOT working towards that end.

The person who said what matters is who sits next to you in the classroom was School Board director, Kay Smith-Blum (and no, I didn’t understand what she was talking about, either). She’s one person.

Taking it too seriously? I’m sorry but isn’t education a pretty serious business? I take it pretty seriously but unlike your leader, I don’t take myself too seriously. Lost your mind a little bit? The room was speechless for the first 60 seconds as you got deeply personal about yourself and then turned on the entire room. No one was shouting you down – we wanted to know who it was that said all kids can’t learn? You wagged your finger and said several people had said it.

Please watch the tape CAREFULLY and see who says all kids can’t learn. No one. The discussion was about teacher quality and the challenges they meet in the classroom. That’s why people called out – it was mystery what you were talking about and why you felt everyone in the room was against kids. Because that’s pretty much what you did – make everyone else seem to be a racist or elitist and you were the only person fighting for kids. You’re not.

And by the way, you have no idea what the backgrounds or childhoods of the other 60 people in the room were like so to make it sound like you were the only one who could possibly understand kids with challenges is an insult. And that forum was the “belly of the beast”? If you think that, I have no idea what you would call going to Olympia.

Interesting you seem concerned about your feelings because you certainly showed little respect for other people’s feelings. I have wonder what those large number of City Year kids thought about the woman shouting at them towards the end of the program.

  1. Charlie Mas says:

February 14, 2011 at 4:48 am

I now understand why Ms Korsmo never responds to the comments on this blog. She isn’t interested in any opinions other than her own. Maybe she can’t even hear them.

The talk at the City Club forum was all about student achievement and how we could get to work improving it now. A lot of it was also about how the Seattle Public Schools Strategic Plan wasn’t the right path to that goal and wasn’t working. I don’t know where Ms Korsmo was or what she was listening to, but it wasn’t about waiting, or making the adults in the system alright, and it sure wasn’t about making excuses about why students weren’t learning. It was about finding a path to student achievement.

Perhaps Ms Korsmo was disheartened to learn that most people believe that the path to student achievement lay in working with students rather than changes in the teacher contract.

The little horror show she presented was an astonishing demonstration of someone without impulse control, without serious thought about the challenges facing public education, and incapable of having a substantive discussion about those issues with people who see different solutions. It was a tantrum in all its infantile glory.
This wasn’t passion. This wasn’t concern for students. It was creepy, self-indulgent, and out of place.

More than that, it was false. The accusations were false and they were pretty vile. Ms Korsmo’s skewed re-telling of the episode shows that she is equally incapable of listening to herself as she is incapable of listening to others.

Did person after person say we can’t get kids ready because they’re poor, black, brown, abused, homeless? No. No one said that. Watch it for yourself. Watch it with a checklist. People did say that students come to school with different amounts of preparation and support and those who come with inadequate preparation and support need to get it from the school if they aren’t getting it from home. People said that the Seattle Public Schools Strategic Plan didn’t do anything to provide that needed support.

There was no one there who was willing to write off a single student. There was no one there who was giving up on any of the kids.

As for the idea that “anyone who would shout you down was actually going to change their mind”, the shouting was done by Ms Korsmo, and the closed mind was hers as well.

I’m pretty surprised that the League of Education Voters is led by someone this volatile. I thought it was a more sober organization than that.

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–Sue p.