Seattle Education

For the news and views you might have missed

John Cummings, School Board Candidate for District 1

Mr. Cummings is running against the incumbent Peter Maier and candidate Sharon Peaslee.

His campaign website can be found at Cummings for School Board.

Below is his response to a set of questions presented by Parents Across America and this blog.

Dora

School Board Candidate John Cummings

Hi.  I want to thank you in advance for reading my answers to the questions that Parents Across America- Seattle generated and Seattle Education was so kind to post.  I hope my responses are clear enough that you get a good sense of my priorities if I should be lucky enough to represent our district’s children on the School Board.

But first-

While I am concerned about the direction our school district has taken and while I worry about our kids, teachers, and all the hard working Seattle Public Schools employees, I know that we could not have better advocates than the folks at PAA-Seattle, Seattle Education, Save Seattle Schools, and all the others who have been such passionate and articulate activists in the good fight for the soul of our school district.   We have heroes in our midst.  Thank You.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Do you support charter schools and why?

No I don’t.  Research has shown them to be no better, on average, than Public Schools.  Many of these schools operate on a for-profit basis, and as such, the bottom-line is about making money for share-holders, not creating the best educational experience for kids.  For the most part, teachers and staff are not allowed to unionize, there is no collective bargaining, no protection from unfair dismissal and no recourse for a Teacher who is being mistreated by his/her boss.   The attrition rate for charter school teachers is higher than for Public School Teachers with many Charter School Teachers stating that bad working conditions was a reason for leaving.

Just like private schools, charters don’t have to accept everyone who applies for admission and can get rid of any Student who doesn’t fit their ideal.  Students with special needs, ADHD, behavior issues, or who aren’t progressing academically are either not admitted in the first place or are kicked out.  Unlike private schools, charter schools are paid for by the taxpayers.  Money that is earmarked for Public Schools gets diverted to the Charters in that particular district.  I have a problem with this.  Public money should be used for public schools.  Charter schools are not public schools, no matter how loudly people claim that they are.  If they want to be true public schools then they need to accept every Student who applies, accommodate students with difficulties, allow staff to unionize, agree to allow collective bargaining, in other words adhere to the same rules that govern our public schools, including where those tax-dollars end up.

What is your opinion of wealthy individuals and foundations backed by those individuals offering money to a school district and thus altering the focus of that school district? For example, the Gates funded Seattle Foundation provided money to pay for the expense to have TFA, Inc. in our district for the first year even though the majority of teachers and parents did not want to have TFA, Inc. in Seattle.  Where would you draw the line between an individual determining the fate of our school system and a more democratic process?

If a wealthy individual has children enrolled in Seattle Public Schools then I would expect that he or she be given the same amount of access and respect that any other parent would receive.

If a wealthy individual would like to make a donation to the district in the form of money or hardware- such as computers for example, then I have no problem with that.  It’s good when rich people donate to worthy causes such as public education.  But…

If a wealthy individual starts throwing his money around in an attempt to steer or influence the policies or focus of the District, then he can keep his money.  Just because someone is rich doesn’t mean he knows anything about how to teach a child.

Usually, though, when someone is as wealthy as the Meddler from Medina, it’s likely he knows a thing or two about hostile take-overs.  That’s what we are seeing in Seattle.  Why?  It has nothing to do with improving education.  Nothing.  It has everything to do with making money.

There is a whole bunch of money tied up in public education.  Bill and his friends Broad and the Waltons, a growing list of “Venture Philanthropists”, and a small group of large publishing houses are doing their best to carve up the public education pie. They create fake community groups, train superintendents to do their bidding, corner the testing industry, make and sell the tests, then sell the textbooks and study guides that are suddenly needed to pass to their tests.

They succeed because they have so much money that they can buy up media time, fund pseudo-research studies, and bankroll our elected officials, such as State Legislators or School Board Directors.

It’s disgusting, really, that these people, most of whom already have so much wealth, still feel the need to carve up and destroy the U.S. Public School System to make even more money.

Name three things the District is doing right.

They have started to pare down the Central Office staff.

The arrangement with the Seattle Ethics Board gives staff a safe avenue if they feel compelled to speak up about something the District might have done.

They haven’t closed all the alternative schools….yet.

Name three things the District is doing wrong.

I only get to name 3? How about 33?  Or 333? Ok, three things the District is screwing up:

The way they are educating our children.

The way they are treating our teachers.

The way they are spending our money.

What will you do to fix those three things? Please list in priority.

Children– It seems as if the district leadership has forgotten that its core mission is the education of our children, not the enrichment of publishing companies or corporatists who are trying to get a piece of our budget.  There also seems to be this notion that our District is a training ground and stepping stone for mediocre, traveling, administrative, know-nothings who get hired on at outrageous salaries and have nothing good to offer the District except their resignations.

And while our children are being tested into numbness, while our most vulnerable Students become increasingly marginalized by this test-remediate-test again, and again, and again insanity that passes for education today, there sits our Board of ‘Directors’.

This group of people is charged with the responsibility of advocating for what we are right now, communicating the vision of what we can become, and supervising the leaders they have chosen to navigate our path to the future.  Yet they seem content to conduct business from under the Superintendent’s thumb, blindly rubber-stamping every horrendous policy that the Central Office passes down to them.  They continued this trend with our interim Superintendent.

Every decision they make holds a consequence for our children.  Some of the decisions made by this board will make it even more difficult for kids to be successful.  Some will cause students to give up on School and drop out before earning their diplomas.  Some will result in a lost year for kids because their brand-new teacher is under-trained and overwhelmed.

Kids shouldn’t be the collateral damage of a School Board vote.

If I am elected, the School Board will have a Director who remembers what public education is supposed to be.  I will not be swayed by glossy presentations or large sums of cash floated under my nose. I know what works and what doesn’t.  I have seen the damage that excessive testing does to our children, and I will do everything in my power to rid the District of the MAP.

As a School Board Director I will push to end our relationship with Teach for America (TFA). We don’t need TFA and their recruits shoving their way into our classrooms and ‘playing Teacher’ for two years before moving on to their corporate careers.

And we don’t need to import overpriced, mediocre administrators.  There are plenty of qualified people in our District who would be happy to get an administrative post, and we could pay them less than the carpetbaggers we have now.  I will make it a priority that we recruit local, qualified people for administrative positions.

Teachers- Without a doubt, 2011 is not the year of the Teacher.  For that matter, neither were any of the past 8-10 years.  The job has never been more difficult, the average Teacher is working their respective rear ends off and at the end of the day they get slammed by the popular Media who are being spoon-fed misinformation by the Corporatists.  Incredibly bad ideas such as merit pay and job security based upon Student test scores have gained traction and are now mainstream ideas.

Curriculum development is now outsourced to publishing mega-corporations who produce generic one-size-fits-all curricula, which are at best mediocre.  Decision-making power has been concentrated in the hands of the District’s central office Staff, many of whom have never worked at any of the Schools in this District.  And then there is the MAP, to be administrated 3 times per School year, the results of which could be used to push teachers out of their jobs. Perhaps most outrageous of all is that this District is laying off staff on the one hand and recruiting Teach for America recruits (really just pawns in all of this), to ‘teach’ our kids.

We are all bearing witness to the de-professionalization of teaching.  Teachers are having their decision-making power, their autonomy, their dignity stripped away by those who see dollar signs instead of people when they look at Seattle Public Schools.  The aim, of course is ultimately to reduce payroll by eliminating veteran teachers and to reduce teachers to automatons that teach from a corporate-prepared script from which there can be no deviation. This is a pattern being repeated throughout this country and fostered by the Obama Administration.

It’s heart-breaking.  Teachers are leaving their chosen careers in large numbers and who could blame them?  We, as a District, have to turn this around, and I know how.

First of all, and as I have already pointed out above, the MAP has to go.  The MAP is figuring into the teacher evaluative process. The only way to assure Teachers that the MAP won’t be used for evaluating them is to get rid of it.

In addition, curriculum development has to be a locally controlled process.  What I mean by that is this; curricula should be developed at the School level.  Each school’s subject matter teachers meet and draw up their own curriculum.  The District would still supply the subject texts but then the teachers can adapt it to their Students.  This is not a revolutionary idea, it’s how things used to get done.

TFA has no place in our District.

The top-down management style that has been adopted by the District leadership has to be changed to a more democratic style, such as site-based management.  I have worked for excellent administrators who were very autocratic, so I understand how the model can work.  Still, the top-down approach is not the best decision-making model for an entire School District because in order for it to be successful there have to be talented and competent people in positions of power, from the superintendent down to the principals and assistant principals.  Seattle has too many administrators without talent running around doing damage without anybody effectively supervising them.

We need to abandon this approach.  The good news is that all of this can be done in a very short amount of time.

Money– I believe that we need to re-arrange our budget priorities.  Our students are the reason the District exists in the first place, so our Number 1 Priority should be making sure that the kids are receiving a consistently excellent education.  Consistent excellence requires a certain amount of insulation from change due to Budget issues.  Consistent excellence cannot be achieved if we are laying off teachers every year.  The teachers are the lynch-pin of consistent excellence.  They are the ‘keepers of the flame’ so to speak and are more important than any new textbook, or computerized, standardized test.  Therefore, we should be doing everything and anything possible to keep teachers from being laid off.

Also, there have been valuable programs in this District that have been eliminated because of budgetary reasons.  Summer School was not offered this year because of money issues, and as a result, kids who needed to catch up academically were unable to do so.  Any teacher who has been in this District for the past 5 or so years could tell you about something that was good and important for kids that have been axed.

At the same time we have given raises to Central Office staff.  We are buying expensive textbooks that are of questionable quality.  We have contracted with Teach For America for God-knows-what reason.  We let criminals come in and pilfer millions of dollars from us without consequence.  We continue to spend money to move this District further down the road toward testing oblivion even though every bit of data out there says it’s an especially bad idea.

As a School Board Director I will take my frugal nature and apply it to the Budget.  If there is something that is costing us money but isn’t doing any good for our kids then it will not make it past me.  And this is where my 20 years of experience in the classroom becomes such an asset.  My knowledge base is extensive when it comes to what works and what doesn’t work with kids.  And I am cheap.

I hate spending money needlessly.  Even more, I hate it when someone else spends my money needlessly.  I think the needless spending should stop.

What if the District froze all non-essential spending?  What I mean is this.  All expenses necessary to keep the District operational get covered, all of them.  But we stop there.  We say no to the MAP, no to TFA, no to new textbooks, no to in-services to shore-up our ridiculously inadequate math and writing curricula.  We don’t send a school’s entire humanities department to watch Writer’s Workshop in action in a NYC School (yes, we really have been doing that).  The list of non-essential expenses would be quite long, don’t you think?

We commit to this freeze for a year and use that time to take stock of what we have and where we need to go.  “We” are the people of Seattle, without the League of Education Voters, The Alliance for Education, Stand For Children, Seattle Foundation, Broad’s Brood, The Gates Foundation, and all the other outside voices that have been drowning us out.  They can all go…away.

We’d save a lot of cash.  We’d also save our Schools.

Define Achievement Gap-

“Achievement Gap” is a misleading phrase.

Achievement is defined by dictionary.com as- “A thing done successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill.”  People achieve, or don’t achieve, by their own actions.  But the circumstances that people have labeled the “Achievement Gap” are not about the Kids failing to achieve.  Look at what some Kids in our District have to navigate just to make it through their day, and then tell me that they are failing to achieve.

Minority children don’t perform as well as Caucasians on standardized tests.  African Americans in particular perform poorly in comparison. But the test scores are a symptom of wider issues that need to be dealt with. If these issues were resolved, then test scores would eventually even out.

So, if we don’t call it the Achievement Gap, then what?  It has to have a label!

How about “The Effects of Racism and Poverty”?  I think that is a much more accurate phrase for what we are seeing in our school system and pretty much every other school system in this country.

Russell Skiba is a guy who has been doing research on this crisis for a number of years.  He’s pretty thorough.  He (and others) recently published Race Is Not Neutral: A National Investigation of African American and Latino Disproportionality in School Discipline.  That link takes you to the report, read the abstract and you get the idea.  When the overwhelming amount of research on a given topic confirms a particular theory, then doesn’t it make sense to pay attention to that theory?

In a nutshell-

Students of color are the victims of racism and discrimination every day in every District in this country that has Minority Students.  African American males in particular are disciplined at rates far exceeding their numbers.  I was on a team that compiled the discipline statistics for our School as part of a study we were conducting and the results were unbelievable.  African Americans comprised approximately 23% of the School population but incurred 66% of the discipline referrals that resulted in out of school suspension.  That is completely unacceptable.  And no, it’s not because African American males act up more.  They get punished more, and they get suspended more than white kids.

Why?

Some of it has to do with staff and students not getting a chance to become more familiar with each other as people. In the absence of familiarity we tend to fall back on stereotypes and generalizations about groups of people.  Sometimes we aren’t even conscious that we are doing it.

I have come to believe that stereotyping is inescapable.  All of us label and stereotype others.  Why? Probably for the same reason we have labeled and analyzed and theorized about every single thing that has ever been observable. We do that.  It’s not best practice when we do that to people, especially if the stereotype causes harm.  It’s safe to say that the stereotype of a teen aged African American male proves to be very problematic.

Stereotypes can be broken down.

Familiarity (meaning getting to know some one) is one way to do it.  But with class sizes increasing the way they are, Teachers have less and less chance to get to know their students, to become familiar with them as individuals.  Guidance Counselors have a huge role to play here.  They can help teachers and students break through the preconceptions each have.  But Guidance Counselors are an endangered species, in Seattle.  The vacuum left by their extinction will throw more pressure onto the school’s Administrative Staff, who are already overworked themselves.

It’s yet another shame of modern education.

I have seen some hard-as-nails educators bend over backwards to help a kid, because they knew and cared about that child.  In one instance, an administrator who could be unfairly tough, decided not to pull the trigger on the process to send a student to a harsher placement.  She surprised me.

When I thanked her she explained, almost off-handedly that ” _(insert name here)_ is a good Kid that has had some bad things happen to him, we aren’t giving him up”.

“A good kid.”  “We aren’t giving him up.”  <——See that.  That’s the attitude that saves kids.  But it’s becoming less and less common as we down-size and overload staff.

What has happened to make matters even worse is that Seattle’s Public Schools have become more segregated.  That is the unfortunate result of our new Student Assignment Plan.  Check out the demographics here.

It still holds true that separate but equal is inherently unequal.   I wonder if people who supported the new plan realize what we have done.

These children get separated out, punished excessively, suspended excessively, miss out on learning excessively, fall behind excessively and fail excessively.  It’s racism, and we see the evidence of it in the results of their tests.

Minority children could use a break, but instead, let’s throw a big heap of poverty at them.  Like racism, poverty isn’t really talked about much when we talk about education, but it should be the starting point of any serious discussion of real reform.

Currently 42% +/- of all Seattle Public School students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch.  Nearly half.  In order to qualify for reduced lunch a family’s income has to be no more than 185% of the poverty line.  The poverty line for a family of 4 for school year 2011-12 is $22,350 per year.  A family of four can make no more than $41,348 per year in order to qualify.  No, that’s not a lot of money and almost half of our kids live in families that qualify.

Poor households can’t afford much out of school enrichment such as trips to a museum.  They tend to have fewer books in their homes and don’t have as much time to spend reading to their kids.  They can’t afford tutors.  Parents/Guardians of poor children are often under-educated.  They can’t help their kids, even if they had the time (which they don’t).

My family didn’t have much money when I was growing up.  It was just my mom and she didn’t make much as a secretary.  She took great care of my two sisters and me but there were no extras. Museums, the zoo, camp, vacations, tutors, music lessons…forget about it.  I remember hearing her cry over the bills that she didn’t have enough money to pay.

That’s tough, and that’s nothing compared to what some folks are dealing with.

There has been a lot of research done on poverty and the overwhelming conclusion of all the research is that being poor really sucks.  Poverty has a negative effect on a child’s educational progress.  Food insecurity, healthcare insecurity, housing insecurity, neighborhood insecurity, combined with Parental stress over the above insecurities, place undue burdens on children.

We see the burdens hamper their performance.  We see the results of poverty in the results of their tests.

Let’s be honest, there is no such thing as an Achievement Gap.  What we have instead is racism, poverty and unwillingness among the majority of us to acknowledge that we have much more work to do than fire a few Teachers.

Are you a teacher or do you have children in the Seattle Public School system? If not, in what way do you feel that you are a stakeholder?

I am a teacher and I have two awesome children in Seattle Public Schools.  But every child I have ever taught is my child, even the ones in their 20’s and 30’s.

The Seattle Education Association voted “no confidence” in MAP testing. Tell us what you know about the MAP test and whether you believe it should continue to be administered. If so, do you think it should have a place in Teacher evaluations?

I am painfully familiar with the MAP.  I watched as my students struggled to complete the test.  I have seen the results of the test, both the official results that NWEA spits out and the unofficial results that can be read on the faces of my Students as they were pushed down by yet another exam.  I am the only School Board candidate who has been trained to interpret the results and has had the experience of telling children their scores and then crying with them as they fell apart in front of me.

The MAP is not a victimless crime.

The results are not necessarily accurate either.  All they show is what that kid was able to do on this test under artificial conditions on one day (3x per year).

Eliminating the MAP will be Job Number 1 if I get elected.  There is no reason for a standardized test to be administered to our children 3 times per school year.  Teachers are trained to assess their students’ skills, and there are procedures in place when students need to be referred for evaluation for special education services.

I will never vote for any additional standardized assessment to be administered to our Students on a district-wide basis.  They are expensive and do nothing to increase learning.  Veteran teachers could have told the District ‘leadership’ as much before the MAP was ever paid for with millions of dollars out of our budget.  Unfortunately, our top-down leadership proved to be unwilling to listen to their faculty, yet another area where incompetence carried the day.

As for using student scores to evaluate teachers?  There are few ideas with less merit than that.  Why an idea as thoroughly discredited as this is still being tossed about in the conventional Media is a testament to the incredible power of the Corporatists and the millions of dollars that they are pumping into their pet organizations.

Why do Seattle school children have to take 4 standardized tests
during the School year when the State of Washington only requires 1?

I have two answers, both short.

1. The official story is about using the scores to assess. the kids’ needs.  Well, for the children, I think there needs to be less testing.

The real story is that the MAP is going to be used to go after teachers.  If the kids don’t show the right amount of academic growth from one test to the next, then their teachers will become a focus of concern.

That’s a very bad idea.

My second answer:

2. They don’t have to take the MAP.  Parents/guardians can write a letter to the District stating that they want their child exempted from the MAP, and the District will acquiesce.  That is what I did for my daughter last year, and what I will do for both of my kids this year.  I encourage every parent/guardian to do the same thing.

I wonder how many exemptions it would take before the District just dropped the MAP?  There’s an idea worth exploring, don’t you think?

The Seattle Public School District claims that data drives the major decisions concerning the direction the District is taking. If that is the case, how do you respond to the National Academy of Sciences’ report on the effect of standardized testing?

First of all, people can claim anything.  That doesn’t make it true.  For instance, I can make the claim that I have $1,000.00 in my pocket.  I can convince people that I do.  I can hold onto that lie forever, potentially.  But, the reality is that I don’t have that much money in my pocket, no matter how many people I can convince to the contrary.

The District, on the other hand, can Lie about using data to drive decisions, but only for a limited amount of time, because data has a bad habit of coming out of its ‘pocket’ and making itself public.  For instance, that National Academy of Sciences’ report was published because they looked at data and concluded that all the standardized testing that we have been inflicting on our Students does nothing to improve learning, unless one counts learning to cheat on tests as a valuable skill.

This report, along with the growing body of research that supports the report’s conclusions should be enough data to drive the Education Community to stop this testing mania that we are experiencing.  In other words, if our District were serious about the claim that it makes about using data to drive decisions, then the District would discontinue using the MAP, and would back away from using test scores to evaluate teachers, and would back out of the agreement with TFA, and would toss Discovery Math, and Writer’s Workshop, and, and, and….

Don’t hold your breath.  There has been nothing coming from the Central Office to indicate that they are looking at real data.

Instead, the District will ignore the real numbers, continue to push policies that undermine real education in order to ensure years and years of strong profits for corporations such as Pearson (CMP-2 and a bunch of other curricula, and tests).

You see, they are looking at a set of data that supports the notion that if a lie is told over and over and over, and if the media is overwhelmed with those lies presented with cool looking, multi-colored graphics, then that Lie becomes ‘true’.  It’s called ‘Propaganda’ and it works really well.

How else can one explain some of the exceptionally moronic policies that the current School Board approved?  I can’t think of a better explanation.  I don’t know, maybe someone spiked their Kool-Aid.

Of course, the people of Seattle can generate a set of data that can turn all of this around.  I am talking about the data that we call election results.  Vote for the change you want.

Vote for me.  Why? Well….

I don’t drink Kool Aid.  I know how to do real research and interpret real data.  I don’t want our money going to really rich people so that they can become even richer.  I want our children to have the best education possible.  I know what that looks like because I am a teacher and unlike any other candidate in this election, I have very recent experience with all of the data-ignoring policies that are currently in place in Seattle Public Schools.

Do you believe Seattle should use Teach for America, Inc. recruits?

If we are talking about using the recruits to tutor kids while being directly supervised by experienced teachers, or if we are enlisting these eager young adults to perform some of the tasks that our older veteran teachers are unable to do, such as lifting heavy boxes, climbing up a ladder to get the document camera to point in the right direction, or moving furniture (without scratching the newly waxed floor), then sure, why not?

But if we are going to use these older children as Teachers, then forget about it.

Teach For America (TFA) is a perfect example of an idea that is so completely insane that one couldn’t imagine anyone believing it, ever.  And yet…..

Here’s the TFA craziness in a nut shell.  School districts use TFA recruits- kids in their early 20’s, who have 5 weeks of training (!)- to fill vacancies in the toughest teaching environments that any District has to offer.  The people who (with straight faces) support and promote TFA, contend that this will eradicate the effects of racism and poverty.

I mean—-Come on! That is hysterical and I almost bought it!….What, they are serious?  And people believe them?

Well, in that case I have a beautiful bridge in Brooklyn that I would be willing to sell to the District at a huge discount and I’ll even throw in Staten Island if the District acts now!

The only way the TFA babies will be able to eradicate the Achievement Gap is if we put them into the schools that have large numbers of white kids.  Let’s have them teach Honors, Spectrum, APP, IB and Advanced Placement classes. The District can then take all the trained, experienced Teachers that the TFA babies replaced and put them in the schools that have large minority and economically disadvantaged populations.  That would close the gap wouldn’t it?  If the TFA newborns are so effective with our marginalized learners, imagine what they could accomplish with our more academically successful students!  Miracles!

I wonder if the District has considered this.

Seriously, TFA has to go.  Now.

What role do you think that alternative schools play within the Seattle Public School system?

Would you support the creation of more alternative schools in the District?

Would you support the alternative schools that already exist within the Seattle Public School system?

I have extensive experience working in Alternative Schools.  Nobody has to convince me of their worth.  Alternative Schools exist for kids who might not flourish in a Traditional School.  Some are set up for students who have special needs.  Some are created by teachers and parents who believe that there are better ways to educate kids than the Traditional School.

They can provide the type of scaffolding that struggling students need to become successful.  They can be a smaller more nurturing place for students who have difficulty navigating their way through the Public School system.  They can offer additional services to Students who need intensive support.  They can be a place where parents can feel comfortable with their decision to enroll their kids in Public Schools, instead of Home-Schooling or private schools.  They can be the most incredible places for teachers and administrators to work.

Alternative Schools can also function as an incubator of progressive and innovative educational concepts.   They are the places where once whacky ideas such as cooperative learning are implemented and shown to be effective.

For whatever reason, Alternative Schools are essential for the health of the School District and as a School Board Director I would protectively guard against any district encroachment upon them.  I know that it is the Alternative Schools that are keeping the dream of Real Education alive.  They cannot be forced to become more mainstream.  They cannot be forced to close.  I won’t let that happen.

In fact we need more of them and I would support the effort to establish more Alternative Schools in our District.

What is the most crucial thing the School Board needs to do to regain the Public’s trust?

The Board could become trustworthy and make decisions that are truly progressive and beneficial to our community.  The Directors could actively enlist the help of community members and treat parents as equal partners.  The School Board could eliminate the MAP, kick out TFA, and tell all of the groups, organizations and people from outside Seattle who have been forcing themselves on us to “get the hell out and don’t let the door slam you on the ass as you leave”.

As if that will happen.

I am still astounded that all of the incumbents are asking the public to re-elect them.  This Board failed so utterly in its duty to our city and our children that I believe that the most effective way to restore the public’s trust would be for them to resign.  That act would prove to the community that the Directors sincerely care about Seattle’s children.

Since they won’t do the right thing, we should do the right thing and replace them.  The voters could fire all 4 incumbents as early as August 16th.  Then the remaining candidates could concentrate on communicating to the community our vision of what can be done, instead of spending valuable time reminding the community of all the damage the (former) Directors did.

Does class size matter?

Yes.  Class size does matter.  Ask any Special Education teacher.  Better yet, ask anybody involved in public education if class size makes a difference.  It’s a great way to find out if someone is a liar, because anyone who tells you that class size doesn’t make a difference is lying.  If they pull out ‘research’ to back up their lies, then chances are that ‘research’ was funded by the Bespectacled Billionaire, or one of his pals.

Smaller class sizes are most beneficial in the earlier grades and with marginalized learners, such as kids in special education and minorities.  The reason why this is true is because if a teacher has fewer students in class s/he can then focus more attention on each student.

The teacher and student can become more familiar with each other as people, and then, inevitably the teachers begin to care more than they might otherwise. They begin to see their students as their children.  The kids pick up on that and when students know that their teacher cares about them and their well-being, they become much more willing to take on whatever challenge that teacher places in front of them.

Love really does conquer all.

Specifically, the ideal class size is about 15 Students.  For the younger kids, it’s more effective to be under 15.  For the older students, 15-20 students per class is a good range.  You can get away with 25 students per class at the high school level. Teacher effectiveness begins to diminish after that.

What do you think about making cuts to central administration
instead of to the classroom?

I think that’s a great idea.  The budget should be built starting with the students and the classroom and then proceed out from there.  If cuts need to be made, then those cuts should be made where they will have the least negative impact on the students and the classroom.

The Central Office has shed 90 positions recently, but that’s not enough especially since the Board approved raises to some Central Office staff with the excuse that the Staff had more responsibilities, so they deserved more pay.

Have they been paying attention at all?  Have they seen how much more work has been piled on top of our already overburdened teachers?  Do the Directors realize how insulting that is?  I continue to be disappointed by them.

We should be looking at compensation at the Central Office level and get that under control.  Why some brand-new, inexperienced staff member would automatically make six figures just because they are supposedly at the administrative level, is beyond me.  Seriously, why is that?  And why do we give travel allowances to some Central Office staff?  Do they have to travel a more expensive route to work?  Is there a special toll road that only Central Office staff get to use?  Do they fill their SUV’s with fuel made out of gold or something?

What should we look for in a new Superintendent?

How about a current Seattle address?  I am not joking.  Seattle is a unique city with unique issues and I believe that it is imperative that we select our next Superintendent from qualified local candidates in order to avoid making policy decisions that are inappropriate for our Community.

Goodloe-Johnson did not understand Seattle.  She made decisions that were just plain stupid.  The school closures are a good example.  A better example is the current Student Assignment Plan.  The new plan made it so that parents could not opt out of their neighborhood school and send their children to a school they felt was a better fit.  Yes there are option schools but that isn’t what I am talking about.  Some parents want their kids to have a more diverse educational experience than what the neighborhood school has to offer.

To be plain about this- many of Seattle’s neighborhoods are segregated and have been for over 100 years.  In order to understand why Seattle is so deeply segregated it is important to learn about Housing Covenants and some of the other less savory issues of our city’s past.  Anyone who has the kind of power that a Superintendent, or a School Board Director, has must become knowledgeable about the history of Seattle’s neighborhoods and the people who settled in those neighborhoods.

If you can’t answer why African Americans settled in large numbers in the Central District, or why some neighborhoods have large beautiful homes that are still overwhelmingly owned by white people then you shouldn’t be in charge of our Schools, either as Superintendent or School Board Director.

This District has too many “Guest Workers” in positions of power.  I think that our kids would be better served if our guests went home.

Besides that, we need a Superintendent who is unfettered by any association with the Corporatists.  We don’t need anyone who sits on the Board of NWEA, or has ties to the Broad Academy, or used to work for the Gates Foundation.

Instead, let’s hire a Superintendent who actually came up through our School system.  Because s/he understands this District, has knowledge of current policies, knows the schools and is familiar with current staff, s/he could hit the ground running and be effective almost immediately.  The transition could be very smooth.

What is an appropriate salary for a Superintendent?

If we hire a local candidate, we don’t need to lure someone from, say, South Carolina, with a huge salary and other perks.  The person is already here and very likely they are interested in the position for other reasons than making more money than the governor.  Besides, large contracts do not guarantee competence as our former Superintendent, the good doctor, demonstrated.

I think an appropriate salary would be 10-15% more than the salary of the highest paid current Seattle Public Schools employee.  I think that’s fair, especially since we don’t seem to have enough money in our Budget to prevent lay-offs or the elimination of beneficial programs.

Does it make sense to hire administrators from outside the District
when we have qualified administrative candidates who are already SPS
employees and are familiar with District operations?

No it doesn’t make sense, for the same reasons that I gave for hiring the superintendent from inside the District.  Our kids deserve to have Administrators who are dedicated to improving our school community, not their resumes.

Why do we outsource curriculum development when our teachers are
trained to develop curriculum?

The process of de-professionalizing teaching is well under way.  One of the ways to do this is to take away as much autonomy and independent decision-making power from teachers as possible.  Outsourced, prepackaged curricula take away a teacher’s independence and autonomy.

Additionally, the Mega-Corporations that produce these curricula become indispensable to the District as the District becomes hooked on their products.  Just like a drug addict.

These multi-nationals are the ones pushing so hard for the Common Core Standards (that OSPI just adopted) so that they can produce fewer different curricula and increase their profits.  Shareholders get a nice fat dividend check and our Kids get the shaft.

Our community is getting ripped off by this process and our School Board Directors are letting it happen.  It is so outrageous that I can’t sit back and watch it.  So I have to either bury my head in the sand or do my part to kick the bums out.

Vote for me and help me kick ‘em where it hurts.

Done!

Thank you for taking the time to read my answers to the above questions.  If you live in District 1, I hope you have learned enough about me to feel comfortable giving me your vote.  If you don’t live in District 1, please consider casting your vote for one of the challengers in your District, because all 4 Districts have excellent candidates challenging the incumbents.

One last thing…

While we have our work cut out for us, I can’t help but be optimistic about the future of Seattle Public Schools. We have been blessed with an incredible group of people- parents, candidates, bloggers, and activists –members of our community, who will do what it takes to make this School District a positive place of learning for all of our kids.  With all of us fighting the good fight together I am confident that one day in the not-so-distant future, all of our children can once again reach for the stars.

John Cummings can be reached at CummingsforSchoolboard@gmail.com or by phone/text at 206-271-0949.

3 comments on “John Cummings, School Board Candidate for District 1

  1. Seattle Reader
    August 8, 2011

    Oh, and the phone number is incorrect. Per county election website info, it is 206-271-0949.

  2. Seattle Reader
    August 8, 2011

    How wonderful it is to see a candidate who has not only put in the years acquiring the experience, but also has put in the obvious hours doing the research. If our current rubber-stamp-happy board had put in half the time doing the research on the issues that matter, evicting them from their ineffective (and destructive) roles would not be as crucial.

    I’m impressed with Mr. Cummings, as an educator AND administrator, and am relieved to see a non-incumbent candidate so clearly advanced on the learning curve that he’s ready to hang his shingle today.

    Getting your information out is difficult for those without heavy-hitting bankrollers backing them up. Thank you for posting this so I could learn more. Mr. Cummings has a great blog, too!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: