What School Safety Reports Ignore: Reducing Class Size

Reposted with permission from Nancy Bailey’s Education Website.


Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

Over the summer we have seen a glut of school safety reports. Local, state, and federal agencies have written possible solutions they think will thwart future school violence. Some suggestions might be well-advised, but others have created concerns about questionable student surveillance. It’s difficult to believe any solutions will be successful if no one addresses class size.

In the July report from Homeland Security, “Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence,” they report:

When establishing threat assessment capabilities within K-12 schools, keep in mind that there is no profile of a student attacker.

There have been male and female attackers, high-achieving students with good grades as well as poor performers. These acts of violence were committed by students who were loners and socially isolated, and those who were well-liked and popular (p.1).

Most teachers understand that middle and high school students experience hormonal changes and rapid physical growth. It’s sometimes difficult to separate mental health difficulties from general teenage angst, moodiness, impulsivity, or a variety of other developmental factors.

The omission in the report is lowering class size. Teachers who teach the same students, get to know their students. But this is difficult to do when teachers have over thirty students breezing in and out of their classrooms daily. In total, that’s 150 students!

The plan includes forming a multidisciplinary threat assessment team, establishing central reporting mechanisms, identifying behaviors of concern, defining the threshold for law enforcement intervention, identifying risk management strategies, promoting safe school climates, and providing training to stakeholders. It can also help schools mitigate threats from a variety of individuals, including students, employees, or parents.

The report’s Table of Contents emphasizes attention to a variety of issues concerning students in school including:

  • Motives
  • Communications
  • Inappropriate interests
  • Weapons access
  • Stressors
  • Emotional and developmental issues
  • Desperation or despair
  • Violence as an option
  • Concerned others
  • Capacity to carry out an attack
  • Planning Consistency
  • Protective factors

They mention school climate but refer to a 2014, U.S. Department of Education Report, Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline (p. 26).

Smaller class sizes are still not addressed. Teachers are better able to identify unusual student behavior if they know their students. When classes are smaller school feels more like home.

In the movie The Edge of Seventeen, a troubled student confides in her history teacher when life’s problems seem overwhelming. Students need to know that adults and other students in their lives care. But it’s unrealistic to assume this can happen with unmanageable class sizes. Teachers need time to connect with students. Students need smaller class sizes to connect with each other.

School reformers fight against lowering class size. They demand proof that it raises test scores. But lowering class size involves other benefits that are far more important.

Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.

While reducing class size may seem expensive and unattainable, giving students some smaller classes should be a reachable goal. School and school district officials should work towards that end.

-Nancy Bailey


A Close Reading of Moneyball for Government & Why You Should Be Worried

Moneyball for Government

But the idea of using “data” to ration resources struck a cord with both Democrats and Republicans. Politicians couldn’t resist the opportunity to use a real David vs. Goliath baseball story to sell the American public on lowering their expectations of what government could deliver. And it sounds scientific too!

Much has been made of the Oakland A’s 2002 season, where the out-resourced baseball franchise fielded a scrappy team which temporarily silenced its critics with a then record breaking 20 game winning streak.

General Manager Billy Beane is credited with this baseball miracle. How? By breaking with tradition and putting together his team using the power of “data” to acquire undervalued players –an approach which became know as moneyball.

Did the moneyball innovation take the A’s all the way to the World Series? Nope. The winning streak did enabled the A’s to clinch their division title and land a spot in the playoffs, where they were defeated in the first round by the Minnesota Twins.

But the idea of using “data” to ration resources struck a cord with both Democrats and Republicans. Politicians couldn’t resist the opportunity to use a real David vs. Goliath baseball story to sell the American public on lowering their expectations of what government could deliver. And it sounds scientific too!

It’s a compelling story, especially in the hands of a writer like Michael Lewis, who coined the term and penned the 2003 bestselling book of that name. At its heart, Moneyball is about crunching numbers and relying on hard evidence-not emotion or tradition-to drive decisions about how to allocate scarce resources. It’s also about determining what data matter and what don’t (in the case of baseball, concluding that on-base percentage matters a lot more than total home runs). When it comes down to it, it’s a way to get more with less.

Which raises important questions: Can data, evidence, and evaluations similarly revolutionize America’s government? Can we provide better services to millions more Americans while actually saving billions of dollars? Can we make this country a better place for children and families by investing in what works, by testing it and retesting it, and by holding ourselves to a higher standard? In short, can government play Moneyball?     Moneyball for Government, pages 3-4

In my opinion, using moneyball to allocate government resources is very similar to managing a fantasy sports team. It’s an imaginary world divorced from the complex, precarious reality most Americans live in. It’s a perfect playground for the managerial elites to work their devious magic, without dirtying their hands with actual face-to-face interactions with the downtrodden citizens they profess to care so much about.

Here’s a critical detail to remember: Professional sports has always been a cut-throat business. Players are treated as things to be inspected, judged, cut, or traded — all based on their numbers. This isn’t an arena where fairness –not to mention social justice — is valued. Just take a look at what happened to Michael Bennett after he decided to take a knee during the national anthem.

I read Moneyball for Government, so you don’t have to. Here’s my list of reasons why allowing politicians to run our government like a fantasy sports team is a very bad idea.

Moneyball is about rationing resources and not providing services to everyone who needs them.

The goal of moneyball is to create a compelling narrative that justifies and even celebrates austerity. Moneyball’s fundamental assumption is discretionary spending must continue to be cut and streamlined in the name of “funding what works”. This trick immediately removes from debate any discussion about cuts to non-discretionary spending –like the 50% of the federal budget that goes to defense.

The authors admit that denying services to everyone who needs them is unfortunate, but there’s always a silver lining: rationing services is a cheap way to create a randomized trial!

Resources are limited, though, and we can’t afford to give the most promising interventions to everyone who wants them. This is unfortunate, but it regularly creates a perfect research opportunity. If there are five hundred slots available in a new program, then instead of enrolling the first five hundred eligible people to sign up, we can let a thousand eligible people sign up, and hold a lottery to determine who among them participates. Just like that, we’ve created a randomized trial….         Moneyball for Government, page 18

Moneyball is about funding low-cost interventions with high rates of returns.

Ever wonder why reducing class size isn’t an intervention embraced by philanthro-capitalists like Bill Gates — even though there’s solid research supporting it?

Simple, lowering class size is expensive and takes a lot of real teachers to make it happen. This isn’t the moneyball way, which is low cost interventions with a high rate of return.

This also explains why Moneyball for Government celebrates the work of organizations like KIPP, City Year – Americorps, and TFA. Organizations that provide low-cost teachers and no-cost volunteers, and by doing so, offer interventions which don’t cut into the bottomline.

Moneyball is pseudo-scientific and far from the rigorous kind of research it claims to create.

Low cost interventions require low cost measurements of success. Remember how rationing access to services provided an opportunity to create a lottery –sorry– a randomized trial? Well, there’s plenty of pseudo-scientific short cuts used to cook up moneyball’s version of “rigorous evidence”.

Another frequently noted problem for the most rigorous kinds of research is cost….     Moneyball for Government, page 19


Still, the truth is that randomized trials aren’t always feasible….                                         Moneyball for Government, page 19


There are some great recent examples of research that have used low-cost methods to study low-cost interventions that have turned out to make a real difference in people’s lives….                                                                                                                        Moneyball for Government, page 20

Strong scientific research requires well designed studies which attempt to reduce all possible causes to the one variable being studied. How studies are conducted are just as important as the numbers plugged into them. That’s why studies are published so other scientists –who have no vested interest in the outcome– can critique the study’s design and publicly discuss how unintended bias could have been introduced into the results.

None of this happens with moneyball, if you can attach a number to something, it automatically becomes valid.

Moneyball creates a surveillance state and privacy nightmare. Citizens shouldn’t be experimented on by their government, without their knowledge or consent.

Again, for moneyball’s low cost interventions to be financially profitable, these programs require low-cost research, which would ideally run on no-cost data.  Preferably, this data would be collected and shared by federal, state, and local governments.

Have you noticed a lot of talk about interoperability and student data? Ever wonder what it’s all about? Here’s the definition of interoperability: The ability of computer systems or software to exchange and make use of information.

Here’s Recommendation 6 on how to get the bipartisan moneyball agenda rolling: Build cosscutting data systems that also protect privacy. (page 126) More detail can be found under Pillar 1: Relentlessly use data and evaluation to learn from experience. (page 116)

What does it all mean? I’ll let the authors explain:

Without a way of identifying what works and what doesn’t, progress in social policy is impossible. Until recently, the most sophisticated evaluations required a lot of time and money. Sometimes that’s still true, but not always. With modern data systems, we can do quick, sophisticated tests of different program designs. Think about a store chain testing different product placements in different stores –or a social-services agency testing different intake routines in different offices. To figure out cheaply what works, we can often use data that governments already collect. Think about a new textbook, rather than setting up a whole new approach to collecting data, we can just assign the book to half the classes (selected at random) in a district and compare the scores of kids who used the new text with the scores of those who didn’t, on tests the kids already take. And once we learn the best interventions, we can subject them to financial analysis to compare benefits and costs -and thus give policy makers an important tool to help make tough choices about different ways to spend limited resources.  Moneyball for Government, pages 116-117

Does this sound like the way to go about designing a rigorous scientific study? Hardly.

Did you get a hint of any concern about the protection of privacy? Absolutely not.

To me, this approach is more like the Silicon Valley startup mentality of code and release. A very profitable approach which usually runs on free data and lets the end users discover any flaws or bugs in the program – and suffer all of the consequences. Of course, the business may or may-not choose to clean up any of these bugs in a future release, if they feel spending time on the fix won’t negatively impact the bottomline.

It’s also important to point out that conducting a scientific experiment using a computer model to decide who does or who doesn’t get access to resources –without the subject’s knowledge or consent — is unethical.

It’s also alarming that the adherents of moneyball want the government to collect, store, and share vast amounts of digital information on its citizens. In short, create the infrastructure for a surveillance state. The Stasi Records Agency was able to wreck many lives with much less.

Moneyball is ripe for abuse and fraud.

Because the numbers used to justify interventions aren’t produced by actual controlled scientific studies, where this data come from creates a hidden opportunity for fraud and abuse.

For instance, numbers can be cherry-picked, others ignored. Unethical service providers could reverse engineer studies to create numbers that justify their intervention –and secure a contract for the services they provide.

Even the authors are worried:

One possible way to prevent the misuse of Moneyball -either through the politicalization of evidence or the use of less-than-rigorous studies as a justification for cuts in services -is to identify an impartial referee to evaluate studies and data that come through the door, wheter that be a nonpartisan office like CBO or a newly created one. Moneyball for Government, page 56

Forgive my cynicism, but I can think of one recent example where an “impartial referee” set up to prevent fraud in a world of data and financial speculation failed spectacularly, ruining the lives of millions of Americans.

Do you remember when all the credit rating agencies gave AAA ratings to a certain complex financial instrument which turned out to be junk? Do you also remember how this triggered the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the recession that followed?

I do.

When it comes to money, greed will find a way to bend, and other times break, the rules. It’s the one thing you can count on.

Now What?

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that moneyball isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but here’s a few education specific reasons to oppose the moneyball narrative:

If you want well resourced schools for every child, you can’t support moneyball.

If you want to end standardized testing, you can’t support moneyball.

If you want human teachers for kids instead of devices, you can’t support moneyball.

If you object to kids being used as guinea pigs for education reform, you certainly can’t support moneyball.

In the end, moneyball is just more too-good-to-be-true snake oil packaged in a shiny new Pay for Success bottle.

Don’t fall for it.

-Carolyn Leith










The Movie “Most Likely to Succeed” is a Paid Infomercial for Project Based Learning


At the beginning of the school year, I went to a showing of Most Likely to Succeed in Bellevue, Washington. I was irritated by the premise that High Tech High – which has been heavily subsidized by Gates – was held up as the answer to the movie’s depiction of public education as the factory model of education, which, according to the movie, is killing kids’ love of learning with its emphasis on a rigid curriculum and over testing. Of course, Gate’s role in forcing common core and high stakes testing into public schools wasn’t mentioned in the film. Big surprise.

At a school which prides itself on encouraging thoughtful, critical thinkers my high schooler was required to watch “Most Likely Succeed” and told to “get inspired” by one of the vice principals. Parents had no idea this was happening, and were only informed after the fact.

During the mandatory classroom discussion after the movie, my kid was skeptical, pointing out the connection of the movie to the charter chain, Big Picture Learning, and how the movie was essentially propaganda. The teacher facilitating the discussion decided to argue and let the rest of the class know my kid was wrong.

At the beginning of the school year, I went to a showing of Most Likely to Succeed in Bellevue, Washington. I was irritated by the premise that High Tech High – which has been heavily subsidized by Gates – was held up as the answer to the movie’s depiction of public education as the factory model of education, which, according to the movie, is killing kids’ love of learning with its emphasis on a rigid curriculum and over testing. Of course, Gate’s role in forcing common core and high stakes testing into public schools wasn’t mentioned in the film. Big surprise.

The most enlightening part of the evening was the discussion after the movie. Guess who was on the panel?

  • Jeff Petty, Regional Director of Big Picture Schools
  • Jen Wickens, formerly of Summit, and currently Co-Founder and CEO of IMPACT Public Schools – a charter chain specializing in project based learning trying to make inroads in the region.

Big Picture Learning also operates high schools which specialize in project based learning in Washington State. These schools are located at Highline, Bellevue, Issaquah, Chelan, and Twist. Showing Most Likely to Succeed to high school students in Seattle and telling them to “get inspired” isn’t a neutral act, in my opinion.

Here’s the irony of this whole sad affair: I wasn’t going to write about Most Likely to Succeed – but here we are. For the last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of education activism and where our public schools are headed. I’m not seeing a lot of hope. The looming destruction has made me tired, but mostly sad.

I’m sad my kids go to schools where lawlessness is the district norm, rather than the exception to the rule. Where principals know they can do whatever they want and won’t be held accountable, no matter how questionable the behavior. In my district, principals know any sort of suspect behavior will be excused after the fact by the suits downtown.

I’m sad schools that want to embrace equity and Black Lives Matter don’t see this in direct conflict with using Teach Like A Champion – the handbook for no-excuse charter schools which put kids on the pathway to the school to prison pipeline – as a professional development tool.

I’m sad activist and union leaders value the preservation of institutions over the needs of the people who make up these organizations.

I’m sad that read and re-Tweet activism has pushed out critical thinking and uncomfortable conversations.

I’m sad civic engagement has devolved into marketing strategies, where the rich and powerful use the delphi method to control the conversation and push their already decided upon solution.

I’m sad education activists in my state are letting Democrats off the hook with McCleary and have also given up on the battle over smaller class size.

Mostly, I’m sad that as a society we have lost our moral compass.

We no longer see kids as unique individuals to be nurtured, loved and protected. Instead, we’ve accepted the idea that it’s OK to turn children are commodities. Widgets which can be data mined, profiled, molded and manipulated into profit making vehicles for adults – snake-oil salesmen who we welcome with open arms into what is left of our public schools.

-Carolyn Leith

Correction: I’ve received many emails pointing out Big Picture Learning’s school in Highline isn’t a charter school. Instead, it falls under Washington State’s law regarding innovative schools. This goes for the other schools operated by Big Picture Learning in the state.

ALEC was behind the push for states to adopt innovate schools regulations and provided model legislation for doing so. According to ALEC Exposed:

This “model” legislation creates a new term of art for schools to allow them to change rules and legal obligations, including waiving provisions of collective bargaining agreements: “districts of innovation.” This is, in essence, a way to create charter schools within the public school system and again, like many ALEC corporate proposals, targets changing worker’s rights and the rules for teacher pay, pensions, hours, and other conditions of employment. The bill would give chartering authority for these so-called “innovative schools” to state-level officials, even though the bill purports to respect the tradition of local administration of schools systems. (emphasis mine)

You can read ALEC’s The Innovation Schools and School Districts Act model legislation here.  Click here to look up the waivers granted by the State Board of Education to Big Picture Learning.

To learn more about the venture capitalist behind Most Likely to Succeed, start here: Ted Dintersmith is Not Here to Save Neighborhood Schools!





Making Sense of the Student Debt Crisis: Education Reform is Robbing Us Blind and Helping No One

You are not a loan


It’s not just the tech industries, the testing and text book industries and the data crunchers and education reform managers and cheerleaders and edu-investors making billions of dollars. The U.S. student debt market is growing whereby student debt is packaged and sold to investors, like the mortgage backed securities that landed us into the 2009 financial crisis were. These investments are known as SLABS – Student Loan Asset Backed Securities. Sallie Mae is the biggest private provider of student loans AND they also sell SLABS, a $200 billion market.

Since 1983, the United States has supposedly been a Nation at Risk when a report (A Nation at Risk) was written comparing our students’ performance on international tests to the performance of students in other countries. In this report we were warned that we would fall behind economically if we couldn’t better prepare young people for the future. The report was promoted by President Reagan.

To remedy or otherwise “catch up” to the test scores of children in other countries and to make sure our economy remained strong, education reforms were enacted. Under President Bush we had No Child Left Behind and under President Obama we had Race to the Top, and now under President Trump, education reforms are in place, and we see cuts of billions of federal dollars to public education and hundreds of millions of dollars given to private schools, including charter schools

Education reforms include adherence to rigid standards, like Common Core (which one teacher characterized as having “misplaced rigor”), high stakes testing, judging schools by test scores, the push to online instruction and charter schools, and and the forever repeating mantra of making sure students graduate from high school “College and Career Ready” meaning that students are able to enter college without having to take remedial classes in math and/or English. However, despite the decades long clarion call to make sure our students graduate from high school ready for college level work, 40-50% of college students nationwide still have to take at least one remedial course today.

Whether or not we think about it consciously, parents, teachers and society in general expect children in school to learn basic bodies of knowledge like math, history, literature, sciences, the arts and writing. We have also always expected, consciously or not, that during their K-12 (Kindergarten to 12th grade) education, children get a sense of their own strengths and interests and then come to find a general direction in life.

The people behind education reform, largely corporate and wall street interests, have taken advantage of these expectations as well as fears we share, like wanting children to go to college, or fearing we won’t be a strong country if U.S. students can’t do better on international tests. They create products and processes of learning that they then sell back to us, and they have made billions of dollars for themselves in the process. However, despite education reforms, most young people in the U.S. are suffering more now than they had in 1983 and our test scores have not dramatically improved. I think that the “crisis of falling behind the rest of the world” was deliberately created in 1983 to create a system so that a segment of society, the investor class, could make billions of dollars. Why would I say that?

For one, why if we are a nation at risk of falling behind the rest of the world economically because of our education system, why have our states and federal government given high earning individuals and corporations tax breaks, which drains our coffers of money to pay for education? For example, in Washington State, we have among the lowest funded and most crowded schools and the most regressive tax structure in the nation (the poor and middle class paying a higher percentage of their income in taxes than the rich). We have had well-funded schools until the 1990’s. What happened? Corporate tax breaks. They have risen from 18 billion dollars in 1996 to over 36 billion dollars today. 

Moreover, in 1989 Washington state paid 89% of students’ college tuition. However, in 2017 they cover only 34% of a students’ tuition.  This has resulted in today roughly 44 million Americans holding about $1.4 trillion in student loan debt with the average debt being $37,000. Here’s a breakdown of the average student loan debt by state. If our states and federal government really cared about kids‘ education, why the decrease in school funding when numerous studies have shown that low class size contributes greatly to student success? 

However, surprisingly (or not), many of the people behind ed-reform are also found on Wall Street and in fortune 500 companies clamoring for change in our education system. Take a look at this invitation to a venture capital conference entitled

Private Equity Investing in For-Profit Education… How Breakdowns in Traditional Models & Applications of New Technologies Are Driving Change”

This conference is about how to invest in education products for public schools. The entrance fee to the conference? $1,500.

It’s not just the tech industries, the testing and text book industries and the data crunchers and education reform managers and cheerleaders and edu-investors making billions of dollars. The U.S. student debt market is growing. And student debt is packaged and sold to investors, like the mortgage backed securities that landed us into the 2009 financial crisis were. These investments are known as SLABS – Student Loan Asset Backed Securities. Sallie Mae is the biggest private provider of student loans AND they also sell SLABS, a $200 billion market.

Sallie Mae and Wall Street want kids to go to college. More kids in debt means more money for them. And students can’t easily release their debt. Instead, their wages are garnished, their tax refunds are garnished, their social security is garnished and even their co-signer’s money is garnished. The same class of people who benefit from tax breaks are also making money off of student debt. The balance of who benefits from education reform is not tilted towards students. 

Sallie Mae, again the largest private provider of student loans, started an ed-reform group in 2001 called the Lumina Foundation: “Our goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.” The Lumina Foundation’s goal is for 60% of Americans to earn a college degree or workplace credential by 2025. Incidentally, Lumina’s board chair is John Lintzenich, who was a former CEO of Sallie Mae. Both Lumina and Sallie Mae are heavy promoters of ed-reform and have made bedfellows with ALEC, which is a group of the investor class and state legislators who jointly write our laws. Here are  their ties to ALEC.  

Also, while ed reformers assure us that they care about the success of children and young people, they neglect to do anything about the economy which our young people are launched into. Why get young adults into massive student loan debt and then have a system whereby the chance of landing a living wage full-time job is only 50%? 

Education reformers and our state legislators also fail to tell us that the majority of jobs with the most job growth projected to 2024 don’t require a college education. And if you think it’s a sure pathway to success for kids to major in STEM, check out this 2014 report from the U.S. Census Bureau entitled Census Bureau Reports Majority of STEM College Graduates Do Not Work in STEM Occupations.

Indeed, I think our Legislators and leaders in Congress are wasting their time and our time pushing education reform when we have more pressing issues to deal with – Living wage jobs and well-funded schools. For example, just prior to the last recession in 2008, there were 26 million Americans on food stamps, and now we have 44 million

In closing, education reform is a con job whereby the investor class and their servile politicians are seeking to control our perceptions of education and the economy through feel good language and empty promises. Yet, the facts, if people care to look, speak for themselves. We are moving away from an economy that works for people and have instead allowed a top-down education system to be implemented from which the investor class extracts wealth and in the end 50% of kids will be left struggling to get by, like their parents are. Is it any coincidence that they want to control tightly how children are trained to think via common core? You’ll note if you look at the standards that there is very little in there about open-ended problem solving or creative thinking. “Uniformity as sucked the life out of teaching and learning.”

If ed-reform foundations, Wall Street and our legislators really cared about education, they’d be doing whatever they could to reduce class sizes, hire more teachers and build more schools. They’d put their minds together and figure out how to create more living wage jobs (maybe by building more schools). They would denounce regressive taxation and end tax breaks. They would trust teachers to teach instead of spending their money to demoralized the profession and promote charter schools.  We are pressuring kids in K-12 to pass tests that even our legislators couldn’t pass and to make life plans when they are 14 years old. For what? Crushing student debt and a lifetime of precarious work.

This is unacceptable.

Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder a term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.” – Thomas Jefferson


-Elizabeth Hansen

Elizabeth has been a teacher since 1985 and a college instructor since 1992. She co-authored the books “Anatomy and Physiology for English Language Learners and Weapons of Mass Deception, the Billionaire plan to destroy our public schools and what you can do to stop them. She is in favor of kids going to college. She lives in Washington State.

An Interview with Alison McDowell: KEXP’s Mind Over Matters Community Forum


On August 5th Alison McDowell was a guest on KEXP’s news program Mind Over Matters. You can listen to the interview by clicking on the link below ( be patient – it takes a little bit of time for the file to load). A transcript of the interview follows.

Alison McDowell Interview

My concern as a parent is within these adaptive learning systems, I don’t want an online system that has to learn my child to work. I don’t want a system that has to know everything my child did for the last six months, to operate properly. Because I think that becomes problematic. How do you ever have a do over? Like, is it just always building and reinforcing certain patterns of behavior and how you react…it’s, they, I think they present it as flexible and personalized, but in many ways I think it’s limiting.

Mind Over Matters – KEXP

Community Forum

Interview with Alison McDowell

Mike McCormick:  It’s time once again for Community Forum, and we’re very lucky to have with us live in the studios this morning, Alison McDowell. Alison McDowell is a parent and researcher, into the dangers of corporate education reform. She was presenter this last March this year here in Seattle. The talk entitled Future Ready schools: How Silicon Valley and the Defense Department Plan to Remake Public Education. Alison, thank you very much for coming in and spending time with us this morning.

Alison: Oh, I’m very glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Mike:  So, tell us, how did you get interested and involved with the issue of corporate education reform?

Alison: Well, I’m a I’m a parent. I have a daughter who is sixteen in the public schools of Philadelphia. And we’re sort of a crucible for many different aspects of education reform. We’ve had multiple superintendents from the Broad Academy. We’ve been defunded. Our schools have been, numerous of our schools have been closed, teachers laid off and about three years ago I became involved in the Opt Out movement for high stakes testing. Because at that point I felt that if we were able to withhold the data from that system we would try to be able to slow things down. Because they were using that testing data to close our schools. So I worked on that for a number of years until I saw that the landscape was starting to change. And a lot of it was leading up to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. That that passage. And it seemed at that time that our school district, which is challenging in many respects, was all of a sudden actually interested in Opt Out, and making that, sharing information and materials… Pennsylvania has a legal Opt Out right on religious grounds…and making materials available in various languages. And something just didn’t compute in my head. I’m like, well, even if, if we’re entitled, the fact that they were interested in engaging with us on that, made me sort of question why that was. And then so post ESSA, it became clear that the shift that was going to be taking place was away from a high stakes end of year test and more towards embedded formative assessments. So in our district we’ve seen an influx, even though there isn’t funding for many other things, lots of technology coming in, lots of Chromebooks. Every, all of the students have Google accounts. Google runs our school district. Even though they say philsd.org, their Google accounts, and each student, their email address is actually their student id number. So to access a Chromebook as soon as you login, you know all of that information is tied back into their id number. So the technology was coming in. Many schools were doing multiple benchmark assessments. So there was less and less time for actual meaningful instruction throughout the school year and there were more and more tests taking place, many computerized. So, at that point, we were looking into like, what did this mean, what is the role of technology and the interim testing, in this movement And so, I had come across my…I have a blog. It’s called Wrench in the Gears. It’s a wordpress blog. So you, I have a lot of information there, and it’s all very well documented and linked. My colleague Emily Talmage, who’s a teacher in Maine, who has seen this first-hand. She has a blog: Save Maine Schools. And so I had found her blog and at one point she said, you know…you know, only click on this link, you know, if you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole. And at that point it was, it was a website called Global Education Futures Forum, and they have this agenda for education up to 2035. And it is their projection. And it’s a global…global membership led by Pavel Luksha, who’s connected with the Skolkovo Institute, in Russia. But the local person here, actually he’s very local, is Tom Vander Ark, is one of the US representatives. And so he was former Gates Foundation. And has his own consulting firm now. And it’s based out of Seattle. And, but anyway, so they have sort of what they call a foresight document, a sort of projecting based on trends and patterns, where they see things going for education, like over the next 20 years. And so really, they have a very sophisticated map. And all you have to do is sort of look at their map. And then match it up to current events. And you can see, like, where they’re pretty much on target where things are headed. And there, they have some really interesting infographics and, one of them, it’s a very decentralized system. So education is just like the individual at the center. So everything you’re hearing, personalized learning, and and individual education plans, like it’s one big person and you’re the center of your own universe. And sort of around you, there aren’t teachers or schools. It’s it’s many sort of digital interfaces, and devices, and data-gathering platforms. And this idea that education is a life-long process. Which I think all of us generally agree with, but the idea that you’re sort of chasing skills in this new global economy, and like constantly remaking yourself. Or like the gig economy and what that means. And managing your online reputation. Not just your skillsets. But your mindset. And your social outlook. And your behaviors. And the role of gamification. So there are many many elements to this, that if you look into it, I think raise a lot of questions. And increasingly, really over the past five years there’s been a lot of discussion about remaking education. Re-imagining education. You know, education for the 21st century. Future Ready Schools. And I think for the most part, parents and community members have been left out of this conversation, of what really does Future Ready Schools mean? And the folks who are running the conversation, are running the agenda, are largely coming from a tech background. And this is something that’s built up since the mid-nineties, when the Advanced Distributed Learning Program was set up within the Defense Department, and the Department of Education.  To have like you know, Tech Learning for all Americans. Which, you know, again  I think we all need to be tech knowledgable, I, the question is, how is the tech used and how in control of of your education are you, and your educational data. So anyway, a lot of this is being driven by interests of digitizing education. And really, through austerity mechanisms, pulling out more human interaction, out of the equation. So we’re, we’re seeing things that a number of years ago, Detroit, had a kindergarten, where they would have a hundred kindergarteners, with like one teacher and a couple of aides, and a lot of technology. So there’re lots of questions increasingly about the use of technology especially in early grades, and I know in, in Washington State there’ve been a big push for tablets down to the kindergarten level. Our children are being part of this sort of larger experiment that has health considerations that have not been closely examined. In terms of eyestrain, audio components, even hygiene with earphones. The wifi aspects. And then also the data collection. So, there’s this grand experiment going on for Future Ready Schools, and parents and community members aren’t really aware of the fact that it is an unproven experiment, and what the implications are long-term.

Mike: And it’s being driven heavily by corporations that are producing these platforms, this software, the electronics, kind of behind the scenes, because no one knows this is going on except a select group of administrators and teachers?

Alison: Yeah, well so they have, there are a number of like pilot districts. So the idea is sort of, you get a beachhead, and then you, you roll it out. You convince, I mean they have very sophisticated marketing manuals. Like Education Elements, they say, this is how you do it. You know first you, you have a social media campaign, you get the young teachers who are really into tech and you train them up in the way that you wanna do things, and then they mentor all the veteran teachers and you get the principal on board and then you have the parent meetings and it’s…again…with…if you understood it as, like selling a corporate product as opposed to public education, it might not be so disturbing. Like for me, I find having this sort of corporate approach to marketing, a new approach to public education. That’s, that’s what, what I find disturbing. I’ve called this Education 2.0, because I think we’re, we’re about to see a shift from the earlier version of privatization, which was the high stakes, end of year high stakes testing, vouchers, charter schools. Those things will all still continue, but they’ve, they were never the end game.  So they have been used as a way to de-stabilize the, the landscape of neighborhood schools. And in many cases they’ve been used to, you know, acquire real estate, further sort of gentrification, insider contracts, like there are many aspects that allow that to become a profit center. But there’s going to be a point of diminishing return. Where sort of like all the easy pickings have been taken. And if you’re pursuing sort of a tailoristic model , like the ultimate efficiency, lean production, Cyber-Education is the end game. So creating a system of education that really has very little in human resources.  There’s lots of folks within Pearson and IBM and Microsoft who are looking at AI, like everyone will have your own artificial intelligent, like learning sherpa for your life. You know, and this isn’t just K12, this is forever.  You know, someone on your shoulder telling you what you should be doing next. But removing the humans out of the equation and putting more technology in place. So I think that’s what this shift to Education 2.0 is going to be about, is largely cyber but I think most parents at this point are not comfortable with that model. They wouldn’t say, you know, and I will admit, like there, there’s a small group of kids who are highly motivated for whom a cyber, exclusively cyber model may work. I mean a lot of the research shows that for most kids the outcomes are not great. So what they will be selling is project based learning. And that’s what you’ll hear a lot about, coming up, like in the next couple of years. But those projects won’t necessarily be linked to schools. So you’ll hear more and more about, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, any pace learning. So they’re looking to de- disconnect education from physical school buildings, and actual teachers in classrooms, to sort of what’s called a learning eco-system model. So something that’s more free-flowing, you’re just out in the world collecting skills. And that’s what was so interesting about, like the Common Core State Standards set-up. And I know a lot of states have sort of rolled back or renamed them. But the idea of having education tied to very specific standards, was a way of atomizing education and making it available for digitization. So if, if education is a human process of growth and development, that’s very murky to try to put in a metric, right? You need bits and bytes. And so if you create an education that’s strictly around standards and like sub standards and little sets, you can just aggregate those, and collect them or not collect them, and run that as data in a digital platform. So that push toward standards, yes it allowed for school report cards and value added modeling and things that hurt schools and teachers, but it also normalized the idea that education was less a human process and more people collecting things. Like collecting skills and standards, which is what you need for like a competency based education approach.

Mike: So, talk about some of the specific examples…one of the advantages to going into your site is you have links to so many different documents from the very corporations and people that are producing these systems. And one of the examples you’ve talked about in your talk back here in March was something called Tutormate? That was involved, kids getting pulled out of class, to go see, basically AI icons talking to them and they become attached to them…

Alison: Yeah…

Mike: …it’s disturbing.

Alison: Well there were a couple of, there’s a couple of interesting things. I had sort of a slide saying who’s teaching your children? Because increasingly it’s not necessarily their classroom teacher. The chatbot was actually Reasoning Mind, which is a math program. It was developed in Texas. And so it’s been like long-running and gotten a lot of funding, both from public and private sources. About refining sort of a personalized learning towards math. But kids were interacting with these online chat bots and developing connections and relationships to these online presences in their math program. I’m in Pennsylvania. So a lot of, a lot of things are developing in Pittsburgh. They have a whole initiative called Remake Learning in Pittsburgh which I believe is sort of early-stage learning ecosystem model and a lot of that is coming out of Carnegie Mellon because Carnegie Mellon is doing a lot of work on AI and education. And they have something called Alex. So they like the idea of peer-based learning. That sounds attractive like, yeah, kids like to learn from their peers. This, their version of peer-based learning is that you have a giant avatar cartoon peer on a screen and the children interact with this peer on a screen. So that’s something that’s being piloted in southwestern Pennsylvania right now. And then Tutormate is actually a different variation but they were pulling kids out of class, away…these were young children, from their classroom setting to put them in a computer lab to do tutoring with a corporate volunteer via skype, and an online platform. So in this case it actually was a human being, but this was during school hours. This was not a supplement to classroom instruction, this was in lieu of having direct instruction with a certified teacher. They were being put into an online platform with a corporate volunteer and you know, it turns out a number of the sponsors of that program had ties to defense contracting industries. You know, Halliburton, and Booz Allen Hamilton. You know, things that you might wanna question, is that who you want your second grader spending their time chatting with? You know, in lieu of having their second grade teacher teach them reading. So again, there is this shift away from, from teachers. There’s, there’s a model that’s going on right now, within many one-to-one device districts, so districts where every child has their own device. Young kids often have tablets, older kids have Chromebooks, in high-end districts you might have an actual laptop, with some hard-drive on it. The Clayton Christensen Institute, or Innosight Institute, they’ve been pushing blended learning. So blended learning is this new model. Where, there are a number of different ways you can…flipped classrooms, which many people have heard of…but there’s one called a rotational model. So children only have direct access to a teacher a third of the time. Like the class would be split into three groups. And you would be with a teacher for a third of the time, doing peer work a third of the time, and doing online work a third of the time. So again, it’s a way of increasing class size supposedly, like supposedly the quality time you have when you’re with the teacher with the ten kids instead of thirty is supposed to be so great even though maybe you only get fifteen minutes. What’s happening in other districts is they’re saying the time where kids are not with their teachers, and they’re just doing online work, they don’t really need a teacher present, they could just have an aide. So that’s again, in terms of pushing out professional teachers, is that, well if kids are doing online learning, maybe you just need an Americorp volunteer, in the room, to make sure that no one’s  hurting them…each other. You know, and that they’re on, supposedly on task. You know I think that’s a worrisome trend. And even though they’ll sell blended learning as very tech forward and future ready, the kids don’t love spending time on these devices, like hour after hour after hour. And my concern as a parent is…we’re all starting to realize what the implications are for big data. And how we interact with online platforms, either in social media, or other adaptive situations. And how, that these devices are actually gathering data, on ourselves.. .so, they they gather information through keystroke patterns, they all have cameras, they all, you know, the tablets have TouchSense, so theoretically there’s body temperature and pulse sensors. Like there’s many many elements, are they all being used now? No, but there is that capacity for using them to develop that level of engagement. To understand how you’re interacting with these programs. And that’s being developed through, with the Army Research Lab and USC, their Institute for Creative Technologies. And they are developing, a lot of this is being developed in conjunction with the Defense Department, for their interactive intelligent tutoring systems and with the Navy actually, which is relevant to Seattle. A lot of these early prototyped intelligent tutoring systems have been developed specifically with the Navy in mind. Training very specifically on computer programs, and optimizing that. But once they develop the infrastructure, then they’re able to apply that in non-military settings. And so it’s, it’s making its way out. So there’s a lot of data that can be collected and the other, the other push that you’ll start to see is gamification. So games, like gaming in schools. And kids love games, like parents love games. It sounds so fun. But I think what we have to realize is there’s a lot of behavioral data that’s coming out of the gaming too. That we’re not necessarily aware of.  And so this push for gamification, or sometime…like gamified classroom management systems. So Google has something called Classcraft. And all the kids have avatars. And like if they’re behaving in class, they can, you know they earn points, or have points deducted, and you’re on teams, and you can save your team member or not. And with ESSA, having passed, you know, they’ll tell the story that like we care about more than just test scores, we really wanna care about the whole child, we wanna, you know we we care about children as individuals. Really they wanna collect all of this data, not just on your academic skills, but on your behaviors, and your mindset. And are you gritty, and are you a leader, or are you, you know, flexible, are you resilient. And these, these gamified platforms, whether they’re run by the teacher, or gaming that’s done with the students in these simulations, and also AR/VR, augmented reality/virtual reality games that you’re starting to see. There’s just a lot of information going through, and you have to wonder, how is it being used, what are the privacy implications, and also what are the feedback loops being created? In terms of how you interact with a platform. Is it reinforcing aspects of your personality that you may or may not want reinforced. My concern as a parent is within these adaptive learning systems, I don’t want an online system that has to learn my child to work. I don’t want a system that has to know everything my child did for the last six months, to operate properly. Because I think that becomes problematic. How do you ever have a do over? Like, is it just always building and reinforcing certain patterns of behavior and how you react…it’s, they, I think they present it as flexible and personalized, but in many ways I think it’s limiting.

Mike: In some of the documentation you present, they have systems that wanna pay attention to whether a person that is working with the program is getting bored, or falling asleep, or whatever, so they were like watching like you know, the eye, literally to see if it’s like where it’s wandering off to…you said they potentially could be checking your, your temperature, your heart rate…

Alison: I mean, you know, are they doing it right now? I don’t know that they, but the capacity is there. And…

Mike: And all that data is being saved somewhere. And shared. In some capacity. We don’t know.

Alison: W…and I think it’s very unclear. And I think they’re, they’re many parents who are very concerned about privacy and working that angle of controlling what data goes in…I mean I think all of us are aware that once something is up in the cloud, even if there are promises made about privacy and protections, that nothing is really safe up there. In terms of from hacking, or even just legal. Like FERPA is very, the education records, sort of, privacy has a lot of loopholes. You know anyone who, many of these organizations, companies are third parties are designated agents of school districts. So they have access to this information. And I will also mention Naviance, because the other shift that we’re seeing happening is the shift towards creating an education system that is geared towards workforce development. That, that, that children at younger and younger ages should, should be identifying their passions, and finding their personal pathways to the workforce and the economy. And so Naviance is one of a number of companies that does strengths assessments and surveys. And many states you can’t get your diploma unless your child does a complete battery of assessments, personality assessment through Naviance, which is this third-party program. Also linking towards like their future college plans, and other things linked in, and very detailed information about people’s family situations. So again, the, the amount of data that’s being collected on many many different levels to supposedly like guide students moving forward into the economy, I think it merits a larger conversation. And I’m not saying that everyone needs to agree with my position, but I think that the, the agenda that’s being moved forward is being done in a way that for the most part, parents and community members, there’s not been a consensus reached, with us. That this is okay. That this new version of school is, is what we desire.

Mike: And being a parent in the Philadelphia School District, when these new systems are, have been implemented, you know, and the potential use of all, gathering of all your child’s data, I mean, have you been consulted on that prior? Did, every time they bring in a new system did they let you know, oh, we have another piece of software here that potentially could be, you know, data-mining your kid, are you okay with that?

Alison: So I think on the, on the plus side, because we have been so severely defunded, we haven’t seen quite as much of an influx of tech yet. Although I, I anticipate it’s coming. We’ve just had a big roll-out of Minecraft I think in schools. That’s their new thing that they’re, they’re all…there are a number of schools, like within turnaround sort of, that, that are being piloted for these one-to-one devices. I will say that there was an opt-out form for Google Apps for Education. Which is, and I so I opted, I opted my child out of Google Apps for Education. I may have been the only parent in the Philadelphia School District who did that, and it, it makes it complicated because again, there, it’s convenient, you know, it’s a nice, you know, way for teachers not to have to carry around lots of papers, and they have kids put it all on their Google drive. But I, I think we’re all starting to be a little wary about the amount of information and power that Google has, you know, in the world and what the implications are for that. So I think if, if people have concerns around some of these privacy aspects, you know, that’s, that’s a potential starting, starting place, is to opt out of Google Apps for Education, and see where that goes. Or even have targeted like device and data strikes, during the school year. So we don’t get a notice every time there’s a new program. I guess long story short.

Mike: Just a few minutes left. And again, some of the companies, in addition to Defense Department having early hooks into education reform, and online learning, some of the companies involved, and heavily investing in this, as an example, like Halliburton and Booz Allen, which to me, let’s say Booz Allen which is also heavily tied into doing, they have access to data bases that the NSA does and, Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen.

Alison: I would say like right now, like the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, LLC, is huge and they’re pushing Summit Basecamp. I know we just have a few min…minutes in closing so I also wanna mention, in addition to tech, we also have global finance interests involved, because in ESSA there are provisions for Pay for Success. Which is where they’re looking to use private venture capital to affect educational outcomes. Either right now it’s in universal pre-k, also early literacy. So we need to be aware of the role that Pay for Success is going to play in this, and that’s essentially like “moneyball” for government. Where they’re looking to save money. I mean there’s a conference that they, they’ve put this together. Evidence based policy. That’s what they call it. That’s sort of the code word. Is that if you can come up with a computerized program that will give you specific success metrics, venture capital can make money on that. So a lot of global finance interests, and impact investing interests are looking, I believe at education as a market, a futures market in student education data. So I have more information on that on my blog. But social impact bonds and Pay for Success are a critical piece to understanding why education is being digitized. Also Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, IBM, the tech interests, Summit Basecamp, AltSchool, Micro Schools are another big component of this. These value-model private schools, if vouchers go through, that, we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of that. The tech is also focusing on Montessori school models, and, and very high-end. So you have Rocketship Academy, which are sort of stripped down versions for low-income districts and, but they’re also marketing tech to affluent families and aspirational families as being sort of future-ready. So it’s really a, there’s many different branded versions of education technology.

Mike: So long story short, you have a kid in, going through school, or, you know, anyone you care about then, this would be something to look into.

Alison: Yes. Understand how much time they’re spending on devices. Advocate that school budgets prioritize human teachers, and reasonable class sizes, and not data-mining, not adaptive management systems. And and have this conversation in your community. Is education about creating opportunities for students to learn and grow together as a community, or is it these isolating personalized pathways, where people are competing against one another. And and I think that’s a larger conversation we all need to have in our school districts.

Mike: Alright. We’re speaking with Alison McDowell. She is a parent and researcher in the Philadelphia school system. Produced a series,  Future Ready Schools: How Silicon Valley and the Defense Department Plan to Remake Public Education. And again, your website is…

Alison: Wrenchinthegears.com

Mike: Wrenchinthegears.com. And with that we’re unfortunately out of time. I want to thank you for coming and spending time with us this morning.

Alison: Thank you.

Notes from the field: The Nathan Hale Rally


What was to be a forum presented by the League of Women Voters and the Seattle PTA with some of our state representatives there to field questions on funding for public schools quickly turned into a rally when a teacher from Nathan Hale High School brought down the house while talking about the SBAC and its unfairness to students and families. At the end of his speech, parents started chanting “Opt out, opt out, opt out!” and stomping their feet. Soon, the entire gymnasium exploded with excitement as the chant caught on and everyone was on their feet clapping, stamping and demanding in one voice to refuse the test.

Sally Soriano (former Seattle Public Schools’ Board Member) was there and took notes as one teacher after another astutely articulated their concerns.

Representative Gerry Pollett attended the event also and showed himself to be a voice of the people.

To follow are Sally Soriano’s field notes about the forum that quickly turned into a rally.

My Notes from the WEA/SEA Legislative Forum • Sat. 3/21/15, 10AM – Nathan Hale High School

Panel: Sen. Jeanne Khol-Welles (36th); Rep. Gael Tarleton (36th); Rep. Strom Peterson (21st); Sen. Rosemary McAuiffle (1st); Rep. Frank Chopp (43rd); Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (43rd); Rep. Jessyn Farrell (46th); Rep. Gerry Pollet (46th); Sen. David Frockt (46th)

Smaller Class Size

-Social Studies teacher in Shoreline. It’s time to reduce class size in WA State as we’re 47th in the nation. Last year educators in this state didn’t feel comfortable without a petition in our hands. We collected hundreds of thousands of signatures and smaller class size is now the law.

-5th grade science teacher at Olympic View. Last year I had 29 students. I’m a veteran teacher and skilled at my profession but with 29 students it was not possible to reach every student. Our charge as teachers is to reach every student. In talking with other educators, I’ve been finding out that 29 students is not even the largest class size. This year I have 22 students. The difference of 7 fewer students has made a drastic change in my teaching. Now I can sit down with students on a one on one basis. I have to do less prep time and can focus on better instruction.

-Frockt (46th) Response: I’ve been working with the WEA on a timeline to start implementing smaller class size beginning with low income students at the elementary level. Then we’ll move to the middle school level and then add nurses. I think we will be able to get there. We have to work with the court and with new revenue. It is my commitment to fund McCleary.

-Khol-Wells (36th) Response: I agree with Sen Frockt; I am former teacher but we also have to work with the Senate majority.


-SEA Comment: WA is 47th when comes to class size; also is 42nd when comes to compensation.

-I teach in Edmonds; my husband teaches in Everett. When I talk with people about the reality of being a teacher I warn people — don’t ever marry a teacher! We live very modestly and have over $700 a month in student loans. My sister has no degree and just took a job for $70,000/yr with a $10,000 bonus. We are a healthy family but have medical bills. We continually make medical decisions on the basis of having no money. This winter we had to put off getting the brakes fixed on our car. Every few months my Grandma takes me to the store to stalk up our cupboards. We cannot afford violin lessons for our child and wonder how we are going to pay for two children to go to college when we haven’t even paid for our own college. Legislators must understand how important it is to retain quality people. They have to make this system work for teachers.

-I love working to support teachers. I wear many hats. I’m a special ed teacher and parent educator in Northshore. I work at Moreland Elementary School. I’ve worked part-time doing home repair and painting. I was in the Naval Reserves. I’ve been a fine art photographer. I need medical benefits. I make $16.00 an hour and my gross pay is at $1,700 a month with take-home pay of $1,200 a month. I am a single woman and am lucky that I own my home. Still I don’t cover my expenses with my take-home pay. I will have to continue working as long as my health holds out. We are not compensated equitably. I should be making $9,000 more each year. I guess this is what I’m donating to the state. I’m continually using up my retirement savings. My situation is the norm. I’m here to ask you to do something to fund educators. We have to be able to survive in this economy.

-SEA Question to panel: COLA is still not enough, would you support competitive wages as recommended by your own task force? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Local flexibility, local districts negotiate with teachers? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to Chopp: Please comment on the COLA, Speaker Chopp, as you play crucial role in the House?

-Chopp (43rd) Answer: I am a community organizer who happens to be Speaker of the House. I support raising COLAs; my brother and two sisters are teachers so our get-togethers sound like a WEA union meeting.

-Rep. Peterson Answer: We have to honor the COLA deal we have made as honoring these promises is exactly what we have to do to maintain the safety net.

-From an Audience Shout Out: When?: Answer: This year; How? Answer: Revenue packages; Capital gains; Cap and Trade

Salary and Benefits

-I’m a parapro at Stevens Elementary. I am doing the work I love and I’m lucky to have a place to live inside Seattle as I have landlords who appreciate my teaching and therefore give me a good deal on rent. If I did not have this relationship, I could not live here. I have neighbors who are also educators at Stevens and we all live pay check to pay check. We never have money at end of the month. There is no retirement and healthcare costs are rising. Inslee raised healthcare by $200 which is a minimal raise as it barely covers anything. I’m thinking that I’ll have to reconsider whether I can do the work I love. What does this say about how we are valued?

-SEA Question to panel: The decrease in healthcare has impacted teachers; $786 per month since 2011. Most educators are taking home less pay every year. Do you support increasing teachers to the same level as state employees? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Do you oppose the state takeover of our healthcare system? Everyone on panel answers YES (except Tarelton, she didn’t know anything about a takeover)

-Tarleton (36th) Answers: I’m in support of teachers getting healthcare funding that keeps up with the cost of healthcare.

-Walkinshaw (43rd) Answers:  My mom was a teacher and my dad was on my mom’s healthcare plan. As a kid growing up I know what family finances are like. Kids know when families are budgeting and there has been a huge change over the last 20 years. It is essential to be fighting on this issue.

Student Testing

-I’m a Nathan Hale Teacher (loud applause). We teach students to be citizens, to be honorable, skillful citizens. After studying the research and using a broad-based input process with students, parents, teachers, we came to the conclusion that the SBAC was of no benefit. Since then, Dr. Larry Nyland stated we could be guilty of misconduct if we refuse to give the SBAC. We will be fired and could never again be able to teach in Washington State. Fortunately there is a large parent movement and a large student movement. The state and city and school board must listen to these protests against this unreliable test. All across the country parents and students are protesting against these tests — NY, NJ, PA and TX and California just decided to postpone Common Core testing for the next year. I think the federal government is more likely to listen to the public’s opinion about these tests because it is an election year. (standing ovation)

-I’m a Graham Hill elementary special ed teacher and also the parent of a student at Ballard High School. I have already opted my teenager out of the SBAC. I have been the testing coordinator at Graham Hill for nine years. During that time I have seen the required amount of assessment given to students increase and increase. There is no longer enough time each day for the important instruction in the classroom. There is no time for in-depth teaching. Students have to spend an enormous amount of time on their homework and this is actually content they should have been learning in school but don’t have the time because of testing. Students average 2.5 hours for each of the district mandated tests and now the SBAC will take 8 hours. Most all of this testing has nothing to do with what the kids are working on. What happens is, through the testing, you end up telling little kids that they are dumb. What am I suppose to do with this data from all these tests? I know that when I send the results to the district they just all fall into a black hole. As you all know, when you test your students the testing is timely, it is related to your curriculum and is relevant. Your tests are individualized for your students. Students realize these tests are created for them. Your tests then inform your curriculum. Students are not guinea pigs; teachers are not guinea pigs. These other tests are created by people who are more concerned about students as a number and making money off of these students. (standing ovation)

-I’m from Lake Washington School District. I just administered the SBAC. Students were looking to me with fright, trying to figure out what was going on. All I could say was: “I will not be able to help you.” These tests are taking way too much time and there is no research that shows they improve student learning. I think it is premature to be giving these tests now and it will just lead to a real narrowing of the curriculum. We must make sure how we measure our students — we must use a just process. Who is going to be the voice for our kids? Who will do what’s right for our kids? (standing ovation)

-SEA Question to panel: Do you support removing high stakes testing as grade requirement?  Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Will you work with us to limit tests? Everyone on panel answers YES

-Jessyn Farrell (46th): There is so much energy in this room! I have a 6-year old and 4-month old. When I walk into my 6 year olds classroom, I think to myself what amazing things are happening here in spite of what the Legislature is doing. I’m learning about this just the way you are. My 6 year old had a day off a while back. What did we do? We played testing. Thank you Nathan Hale. We need to and want to be your partners.

-Gerry Pollet (46th): Thank you Nathan Hale. When we were here in October I urged students to go to their parents and talk with them about boycotting SBAC. As a parent I am disturbed by what Seattle Schools are doing. I received a letter from Superintendent Nyland who states parents can “refuse” the test. He has it wrong. I have a right. It is a legitimate option for my child to not take the test. It is not a refusal! I have a legal and moral option. Our kids are not guinea pigs. (standing ovation)

-Khol-Wells (36th) — I’ve always opposed using student test scores for teacher evaluations. I would have voted against SB 5748 again this year but there was an amendment offered which was exactly what the SEA has supported. Evaluations would not be based on test scores but on assessment data and it would be up to each district what assessment data would be used. I care a lot about getting back the $40M. I have always been opposed to “high stakes” testing and I am not the enemy. I have repeatedly talked about the horrible nature of “high stakes” testing. My granddaughter is a high achiever; I was a 4th grade teacher. We know our students are achieving well and we know what we want.

-Frockt (46th): I’ve heard you loud and clear about how we use the tests and the proliferation of tests. I voted for SB 5748 for one reason. I wanted to try to restore NCLB and services to low income kids. I’ve worked with Governor Inslee crafting a waiver based on the statement of Arnie Duncan. I’ve asked Inslee to re-double his efforts. By adopting the amendment which would allow multiple measures, I was hoping this would be the right direction for public policy.

-McAuliffe (1st): When we brought it in, the wording was “may use”; not “must use.”

Fully Funding Education

-SEA Comment: We remain focused on the importance of fully funding education.

-President Northshore School District. This is the paramount duty of the State and McCleary has reaffirmed this and the State Supreme Court is now holding the Legislature in contempt. Through various initiatives, such as I-728, funding for education has become a shell game. No fair revenue has been added.

-SEA Question to panel: Do you agree full funding and smaller class size? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Should there be competitive professional wages? Everyone on panel answers YES

-Seattle PTSA lobbyist. I have a second grader and classrooms in Seattle are bursting at the seams. We need to build more school buildings. In Seattle, we have kids in 6,000 portables. In order to meet K-3 we need 350 more classrooms. Kids need quality learning environments. We have to invest in our buildings.

-SEA Question to panel: Will you work to make sure in this biennium there is full funding for K-3 classroom construction; we need 5,000 new classrooms at a renovation cost of $40M? Everyone on panel answers YES

-SEA Question to panel: Will you support fixing the formula for building classrooms? Everyone on panel answers YES

-League of Women Voters. We know state funds are central to many programs. Where is the money going to come from? Will it be sufficient?

-SEA Question to Chopp: What can we expect this year and how can we work together? We have 84,000 educators across the state (Chopp adds: and 1 million students across the state).

-Chopp Answers: First we have to improve our tax system. Leaders in Apple Health have already learned this with $1.4B in new revenue. The problem is with the Republican dominated Senate. People in this room and throughout the state have contacted me about the bad Senate bill SR 5748 regarding teacher evaluation and testing. I’ve received 1,300 emails opposed and zero email in favor.

From the field,

-Sally Soriano

Class Size and the Seattle Education Association Contract Negotiations


It’s contract bargaining time again for Seattle Public School teachers and one important aspect on the table this year is class size.

The district wants to increase class sizes, not for budgetary reasons, but as they put it, due to issues of “capacity”. I have to smile to myself about this because just a few years ago, there was a big push by our former Broad superintendent and her school board contingent to close schools. A costly and pointless exercise that created an even greater demand for classroom space the following year.

Bill Gates and other ed reformers have said repeatedly that class size doesn’t matter and yet they send their children to private schools where classes are intentionally smaller to allow for more individual attention.

Class size doesn’t matter for the rest of us, or even more pointedly, for minority students who are the target of corporate reform.

Many private enterprises selling online learning products and services such as Rocketship and K12, Inc. repeat this mantra to sell the idea that a district can put 50 children in front of computers and only require one teacher. What a deal.

The Learning Lab at Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy in California.
The Learning Lab at Rocketship Si Se Puede Academy in California.

Common sense would say that it’s better to have fewer students in a classroom than more. It provides more opportunity for each student to participate, for every student to receive individual attention as necessary and provide greater opportunity for discussion and sharing of ideas.

There are also studies that support the obvious and are referred to in the following position paper created by Leonie Haimson, Parents Across America founder and editor of Class Size Matters.

This Wednesday, August 14th, the Seattle Education Association will be having a press conference at Franklin High School at 3:30 PM to discuss their views on class size. Students, parents and concerned advocates are invited to attend.

To follow is Parents Across America’s position paper on class size:

Why Class Size Matters

Across the United States, class sizes are increasing at unprecedented rates. An estimated 58,000 teachers were laid off in September, at the same time as enrollment was increasing in much of the country.

Clearly budget pressures are weighing on states and school districts, but there has also been a fierce attack on the value of class size reduction.

So perhaps it is time to review what the research really says and what experience shows about the importance of reducing class size.

1. Fact: Class size is a proven and effective reform.

Studies from Tennessee, Wisconsin, and states throughout the country have demonstrated that students who are assigned to smaller classes in grades K-3rd do better in every way that can be measured: they score higher on tests, receive better grades, and exhibit improved attendance.

The Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the United States Department of Education has concluded that class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that have been proven to increase student achievement through rigorous, randomized experiments — the “gold standard” of research. (The other three reforms are one-on-one tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in grades first through third; life-skills training for junior high students, and instruction for early readers in phonics — and not one of the policies that the corporate reformers are promoting. )

A recent re-evaluation of the STAR experiment in Tennessee revealed that students who were in smaller classes in kindergarten had higher earnings in adulthood, as well as a greater likelihood of attending college and having a 410K retirement plan. In fact, according to this study, the only two “observable” classroom factors that led to better outcomes were being placed in a small class and having an experienced teacher.

2. Fact: There is NO threshold that has to be reached before class size reduction provides benefits.

Since STAR involved comparing outcomes between students in classes of 22 to 25 students and those in classes of 13 to 17, many critics have argued that classes have to be reduced to a certain level to provide benefits.

Yet Alan Krueger of Princeton University analyzed the STAR results for the control group of students who were in the “larger” classes and found that within this range, the smaller the class, the better the outcome.

Indeed, esteemed researchers such as Peter Blatchford have found that there is no particular threshold that must be reached before students receive benefits from smaller classes, and any reduction in class size increases the probability that they will be on-task and positively engaged in learning.

3. Fact: Large scale programs such as class size reduction in California did indeed work.

Every controlled study of the California class size reduction program — and there have been at least six so far — have shown significant gains from smaller classes.

Unlike the STAR studies, nearly all elementary schools in the state reduced class size at once — especially in grades K-2nd — so it was hard to find a control group with which to compare outcomes. Also, the state exam was new, making it difficult to compare achievement gains to past trends.

Yet given these limitations, the results were striking: even when analyzing the achievement of third graders who had the benefits of a smaller class for only one year, as compared to those who were in large classes, the gains were substantial, especially for disadvantaged students in inner-city schools.

In the five largest school districts other than Los Angeles, namely San Diego, San Francisco, Long Beach, Oakland and Fresno, researchers found that class size reduction raised the proportion of third graders who exceeded the national median by 10.5 percent in math, and 8.4 percent in reading, after controlling for all other factors. Even larger gains occurred in schools with high numbers of poor students, and in schools that had 100 percent black enrollment, lowering class size resulted in 14.7 percent more students exceeding the national median in math, and 18.4 percent more in reading.

Another study found substantial gains in California student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress assessments, due to class size reduction.

4. Fact: Class size reduction does not lower the quality of teachers.

Though anecdotal reports in California said teachers from disadvantaged schools fled when new positions opened up in other schools when class sizes were reduced , what the follow-up studies show is that after rising temporarily in all schools, teacher migration rates fell dramatically to much lower levels than before, most sharply in schools with large numbers of poor students. In fact, for the first time, teacher migration rates began to converge in all schools, rich and poor.

This finding is not altogether surprising, since teachers in high-poverty schools had better working conditions and a real chance to succeed, their incentive to flee elsewhere was substantially alleviated. Indeed, other studies have confirmed that when class sizes are lowered, teacher turnover rates fall.

This phenomenon would be expected to act synergistically to enhance teacher quality over time, as lower rates of attrition particularly would tend to increase the experience level and overall effectiveness of the teaching force, especially in large urban districts, and save funds on teacher training at the same time .

5. Class size matters, not only in the early grades but at all age levels.

Although there have been no large scale experimental studies done for the middle and upper grades, there are numerous studies showing that smaller classes are correlated with achievement gains and/or lower dropout rates in the middle and upper grades as well.

One comprehensive report, done for the United States Department of Education, analyzed the achievement levels of students in 2,561 schools across the country. After controlling for student background, the only objective factor found to be positively correlated with student performance was smaller classes, not school size or teacher qualifications, nor any other variable that the researchers could identify. Moreover, student achievement was even more strongly linked to class size reduction in the upper grades than the lower grades.

Two recent studies that show that class size matters, even in college. One from the University of Richmond concluded that increasing class size to 30 students to 45 had a negative impact on the amount of critical and analytical thinking required in business classes, on the clarity of presentations, the effectiveness of teaching methods, the instructor’s ability to keep students interested, and the timeliness of feedback, among many other key factors of educational quality.

Another study from Italy found significantly lower achievement and smaller wages after graduation for college students, depending on how large their introductory lecture classes were. The effects were especially substantial for lower-income and male students:

Our baseline results suggest that increasing class size by 20 students reduces a student’s wage by approximately 6 percent. Given this estimate, it would be hard to dismiss class size reduction as an ineffective and inefficient policy.

6. Fact: Class size reduction narrows the achievement gap.

Though many of the corporate-style reformers argue that their preferred priorities of more high-stakes testing, the elimination of teacher tenure, and expansion of charter schools will narrow the achievement gap, there is no evidence to indicate that these policies will work, and in fact, recent evidence suggests that such policies will further cause high-quality teachers to flee from our neediest schools.

Instead, researchers such as David Grissmer of RAND have found that the reductions in class size that took place nationally in the 1970s and 1980s might account for part or most of the substantial test score gains among poor and minority students — and the narrowing of the achievement gap that took place over the this period. Why? Students from disadvantaged groups experience two to three times the average gains from smaller classes than middle class white students.

Many of the most celebrated charter schools that the corporate reformers celebrate cap class sizes at 18 or less, such as the high-performing Icahn charter schools in the Bronx and the Harlem Children’s Zone. Meanwhile, class sizes in our inner-city public schools continue to grow larger each year.

As a recent issue brief on the achievement gap from the Educational Testing Service points out, schools having high numbers of minority students tend to have larger classes of 25 students or more, and the class size gap between high-minority schools and low-minority schools actually worsened between 2000-2004. Don’t we have a moral obligation to provide equitable opportunities to all children, especially when we know that class size reduction especially benefits those who need this help most?

7. Fact: Class size reduction is cost-effective.

Many studies have shown that class size reduction yields numerous benefits that outweigh the cost. Alan Krueger of Princeton has found that the estimated payoff in terms of increased earnings is twice as high as the costs.

One re-analysis of the STAR data published in the American Journal of Public Health estimated that reducing class sizes is one of the most cost-effective public health measures society can take, with large savings in health care and almost two years of additional life for those students who were in smaller classes in the early grades.

Moreover, it is possible to reduce class size without spending any more money, by redeploying out-of-classroom staff. See this study, for example, by Christopher Tienken and Charles Achilles, showing how a middle school in New Jersey managed to reduce class size and dramatically lower student failure rates at no extra cost.

Finally, even if reducing class size is costly, the question should be, compared, to what? As Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, once said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

If there are only a few reforms we know have substantial benefits to children, and improve their education, health, and life outcomes, why not invest in these reforms, rather than waste billions of dollars on unproven policies with possibly damaging consequences, including the rapid expansion of charter schools, more high-stakes testing, and teacher performance pay, as promoted by Race to the Top and other federal programs?

So the next time somebody with power or influence tells you that class size reduction is a waste of money, ask him what the evidence-base is for the policies he favors instead. Or ask him what class sizes were in the school his own child attends.

Many of the individuals who are driving education policy in this country, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Jeb Bush and Bill Gates, sent their own children to abundantly financed private schools where class sizes were 16 or less, and yet continue to insist that resources, equitable funding, and class size don’t matter — when all the evidence points to the contrary.

As John Dewey wrote, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children.” If education is really the civil rights issue of our era, it is about time those people making policies for our schools begin to provide for other people’s children what they provide for their own.

I will leave you with this video of Los Angeles School Board Director Steve Zimmer’s remarks about class size.

Post Script

Anyone who thinks adequate funding of education doesn’t matter, think again. There is an indirect correlation between education funding and class size.

Dora Taylor