Presentation for Advocacy 101: My Personal Journey


On March 5th, my friend Shawna Murphy, co-hosted a roundtable discussion on advocacy. I was invited to participate on the panel. These are my opening remarks. 

My name is Carolyn Leith and I write for the Seattle Education blog. However, I think the real reason why I’m sitting at this table is because I’m a gifted trouble maker. 

I want to share with you what I believe are the three ingredients to advocacy.

First, by being here, you’re demonstrated the first ingredient: A willingness to act on your passion to make a difference.

I started out sitting in the same place you are now. I wanted to do something, but couldn’t see how I could fit into the organizations that were doing the work.

One day, it hit me.

I didn’t need to join a group to work on the things I cared about. I could do it myself, with friends who were worried about the same things.

That’s when I started to write for the blog.

Writing led to making a connection with other people who were concerned about the brand new Smarter Balanced Assessment. Together we formed the Seattle Opt Out Facebook Group.


Through Seattle Opt Out, I met Shawna Murphy and we decided to create the tongue-in-cheek group, Teacher Retention Advocate Parents or TRAP.

Together we threw a half-baked bake sale at district headquarters to protest school level staff cuts and draw attention to the absurdity of trying to fund basic education with bake sales.


After that, we asked parents in the district the Thirteen Thousand Dollar Question when Seattle Public Schools Superintendent, Dr Larry Nyland, said his scheduled $13,000 dollar raise couldn’t solve any of the district’s problems.

FullSizeRender (38)

We also held the McCleary Crime Scene Coloring Contest to bring attention to the state’s criminal underfunding of our public school system.

So back to the ingredients of activism. We have the first ingredient: action combined with the second ingredient: fearless friends.

The third ingredient, which I think is essential, is framing your advocacy in a way that’s both funny and leaves a mark.


Humor is the twist that disarms your audience and allows the more serious information the opportunity to seep in.

But how do you do this?

This question led to my latest advocacy project: The Typist Union.

Why a union?  Because I always wanted to be in a union and I thought it would be funny if I started my own.

Once a month we meet and do art together based on an artist or group which blended politics and art.

We’ve made union cards based on the Wobblies. Masks inspired by Bread and Puppets and protest posters inspired by Act Up’s design arm Grand Fury.

In closing, I’m not waiting for any leader to save me or the public school system that I love. I’m doing it myself. I hope you do the same.

-Carolyn Leith, card carrying member of the Typist Union



Pay for Success & the McCleary Crisis: Did the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Help Position Social Impact Bonds as a Last Resort Funding Option for Our Public Schools?

two minutes of hate

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp. -George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four

No one makes a better villain than Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. She’s the enemy of public education that everyone – on the left and right – can agree to hate.

DeVos is our very own Emmanuel Goldstein, the bipartisan uniter and designated enemy, who continues to bring all of us together in our updated – dare I say innovative – version of Orwellian inspired two minutes of hate.

Sadly, the fix was in long before DeVos was summoned by Donald Trump and convinced to leave behind her public education destroying work in Michigan and take her callous, innovative disruption to scale as the nation’s Secretary of Education.

The ground work for the destruction of public education as we know it was already laid by the ESSA, the victory of bipartisanship and ticking time bomb of education innovation.

Don’t Look Behind the Velvet Curtain

One of the horrible ironies of the ESSA is that so many lobbyist had a hand in writing the bill, these special interest groups just can’t help bragging about their work.

Take social impact bonds, which got a doublespeak makeover and were renamed Pay for Success in the ESSA.

Check this out from America Forward.

All indications are in just a few short days, with the likely passage and enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), we will have our first update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since No Child Left Behind was signed into law 14 years ago. The America Forward Coalition worked closely with Congress to shape key elements of the bill, including the development of language and advocacy around the addition of Pay for Success language and authority.

Here’s a closer look at the America Forward driven Pay for Success provisions included in ESSA:

  • Title I, Part D: Prevention and Intervention Programs for Children and Youth who are Neglected, Delinquent, or At-Risk:In this part ESSA, funding is provided to improve the education services for children and youth who have challenges meeting State academic standards, helping children and youth make a successful transition between correctional facilities/institutions back into locally operated education programs, and working to prevent at-risk children and youth from dropping out of school or supporting those who have dropped out with the structure needed to get back on track. In addition to the Pay for Success authority granted in this Title, there is also language that services and interventions delivered, to the extent possible, be evidence-based.
  • Title IV, Part A: Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants: The purpose of this piece of the ESSA is to improve students’ academic achievement by increasing the capacity of states, local education agencies, schools, and local communities to provide a well-rounded education. The authority to use Pay for Success is associated specifically with Section 4108: Activities to Support Safe and Healthy Students, which emphasizes school coordination with other schools and community-based services/programs (i.e. substance use, mental health, violence, etc.) as well as parental involvement and partnership with higher education, business, nonprofit organizations, and other private entities. Like Title I, there is also an emphasis on the use of evidence-based practices strategies and programs when available in this Title.
  • General Provisions: Additionally, Pay for Success is also defined in the General Provisions section of ESSA. This is the first time that Pay for Success is defined in Federal legislation and the comprehensive nature of the definition is important for implementation of the Pay for Success authorities in ESSA but is also helpful for use the overall use of Pay for Success in federal programs.

What does this mean for the future of Pay for Success?

With this allowable use of Pay for Success authority, states and school districts will now have the option of structuring funding decisions using outcomes as the driver of payment allocation. They will be able to use the independently and rigorously evaluated impact of programs and activities as the determinate of the allocation of Federal education dollars to best serve their students.

Something like this would never be implemented in Washington State, right?

Except it has.

Right now, The Washington State Department of Early Learning and Thrive Washington are busy working together to use Pay for Success (PFS) as a funding method for statewide home visits. Here’s the Overview-FINAL-10.5.15.

Pay for Success Home Visits McCleary and Pay for Success

This is where Pay for Success takes an ugly turn.

In a blog post titled Social Impact Bond Divides WA Legislators, Republican Representative Hans Zeiger let this drop.

Social Impact Bonds and McCleary

Go read the whole blog post, it’s an eye opener.


After the democrats pitiful performance pretending to fund McCleary in Olympia this legislative session, everyone who cares about public education should have their guards way up.

We learned the hard way how ready and willing democrats are to cave and support the most  hairbrained education funding schemes put forth by republicans – no matter how punitive this policy may be to their constituents back home.

Expect Pay for Success or social impact bonds to be the 11th hour solutions, put forth in a bipartisan manner, as the way to fund McCleary.

Don’t buy it.

-Carolyn Leith


Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel Wants Seniors to Have a Plan for the Future in Order to Graduate. Chris Reykdal, Washington State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Just Passed a Similar Requirement for 8th Graders.

follow the money

Thanks to the tireless effort of education activist, the general public is on to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

People know Emanuel is bad news when it comes to public education.

Of course, Mayor Emanuel worked hard to cement his reputation – by closing schools, refusing to fund wrap around services, and praising charter schools.

In a city with nearly 800 homicides and more than 4,000 shootings last year, Emanuel refuses to fund wraparound services for students living with this trauma. His Chicago Housing Authority is hoarding a $379 million surplus while we have more than 18,000 homeless students in the city’s school district, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Special education cuts in the public schools have left our most vulnerable students without the services and resources they so desperately need. Seventy-five percent of public schools in Chicago do not have libraries, according to the Chicago Teachers Union (which I serve as president).

Emanuel led the largest mass public school closing ever in one U.S. city—mostly in African-American and Latino communities—and has been accused of fostering educational “apartheid” by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. He also is known for his Rolodex full of prominent businessmen and wealthy entrepreneurs who have funded charter school privatization, which set the stage for the aforementioned closures.

Not surprisingly, the only schools Emanuel celebrates in his opinion piece are charter schools. One of them is part of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, which named one of its campuses Rauner College Prep after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. The multimillionaire governor, who supports Trump’s nomination of DeVos as secretary of education, is also on record saying that half of Chicago’s public school teachers are “virtually illiterate” and that half of the city’s principals are “incompetent.”

When Mayor Emanuel announced his new graduation requirements: an acceptance letter to a university or community college, proof of an apprenticeship or internship, acceptable to a trade school, or enlistment in the armed services, even Gas Station TV covered the story.

What’s worst, Mayor Emanuel claims he got his latest punitive idea for public education from – you guessed it – charter schools.

Chicago would be the first city to implement such a requirement, although Emanuel said it’s an idea he borrowed from charter schools.

Good grief.

Chris Reykdal Has His Own Plan to Force Students into a Career Path

What’s interesting is right around the same time – when Chicago Mayor Emmanuel was taking heat for his coercive plan for high school students – State Superintendent Chris Reykdal was pushing a similar plan in the Washington State Legislature.

This isn’t surprising to anyone who bothered to read Superintendent Reykdal’s K-12 Education Vision & McCleary Framework.

High School and Beyond Learning Plans for Every Student

The transition from middle school to high school is a substantial risk for students. The research shows that if a students fails even one core course ( math, science, or English ), in the 9th grade, they are less likely to graduate from high school than their peers. Washington State will become a leader in adopting a robust universal High School and Beyond Plans (HSBP) for 8th graders on their way to high school. The middle school provides the plan to the student’s high school, which details the student’s strengths, areas of growth, initial career interests, and a road map of the courses required to graduate from high school successfully. The HSBP tool will be digital and accessible to parents, guardians, counselors, and students. It will also provide the framework for early warning messaging to parents via contemporary digital media tools. Authentic parent engagement needs to meet the needs of the 21st century. (bold mine)

First off, two side issues which need addressing:

Reykdal’s push as a legislator for a statewide requirement of 24 credits has made the issue of students not passing one core class and failing to graduate an even higher possibility.

Second, authentic parent engagement involves actual humans – like teachers- not a text message similar to the ones I get from the dentist reminding me to schedule my next cleaning.

Must Means Mandatory

Here’s the wording from HB 2224, which passed the House with a vote of  94 yeas and ZERO noes on June 27, 2017.

Requirement for High School and Beyond Plan

And this:

HSBP reassesment in 9th grade

“Must have” means mandatory in my book; if it’s a requirement for 8th grade or 12th grade is, frankly, irrelevant.

Instead of coercion, why isn’t our State Superintendent demanding every school in Washington State have full time counselors, nurses, social workers, and all of the other wrap around services kids need to be successful in school and life.

What’s so important about these plans?

Here’s a not so benevolent possibility to consider, from Wrench in the Gears:

Recent “philanthropic” interest in universal pre-kindergarten, early literacy interventions and post-graduation plans (college, career, military or certifications) does not stem from some benevolent impulse. Rather it is about creating opportunities to embed digital frameworks into our education systems that reduce children’s lives to datasets. Once education is simplified as 1s and 0s, global finance will be well-positioned to speculate (gamble) on the future prospects of any given child, school, or district.

That is what accounts for intrusive preschool assessments like TS Gold and the pressure for middle school students to complete Naviance strengths assessments.  Impact investors need baseline data, growth data and “value added” data to assess ROI (return on investment). There are opportunities for profit all along this human-capital value chain. That is why end-of-year testing had to go in favor of constant, formative assessments. That is why they needed to implement VAM (Value Added Measures) and SLOs (Student Learning Objectives). These speculative markets will demand a constant influx of dynamic data. Where is this student, this class, this district compared with where they were projected to be? We need to know. Our bottom line depends on it.

We must recognize that beneath the propaganda of expanding opportunities for our most vulnerable populations, what is happening with “Future Ready” education is predatory and vile. It demeans education, turning it into a pipeline for human capital management at the very moment more and more experts are conveying grave concerns about the future of work in a world increasingly governed by artificial intelligence and automation.


Washington State’s Backdoor Draft and More

This is where HB 2224 gets downright ugly.

Backdoor draft

Admission to university or community college – check.

Proof of an apprenticeship, internship, or acceptable to a trade school -check.

Enlistment in the armed services -check.

Forcing kids to enlist in the military because they can’t jump through all these state mandated requirements to graduate is coercion.

Remember, these extra requirements are in addition to high school students passing all of their classes and earning 24 credit.

I think it’s also important to point out that most adults reading this post never had to pass a standardized test to graduate or had to cope with the added pressure and stress ed-reform’s embrace of business discipline has added on today’s student academic experience.

In short, I will not accept the rationale that these “outs” to an already brutal system are somehow benevolent.

Don’t try explaining away this type of authoritarian pressure to me as a benign attempt by the state to step in and help kids living in poverty make plans for the future because they don’t get that help from their parents.

This excuse is downright insulting to parents trying to make ends meet in our society of ever widening economic inequity – not to mention our country’s continuing love affair with the lie that skin color is character.


How is Washington State’s plan not similar to Mayor Emmanuel’s plan? And if so, where’s the outrage?

It’s also not hard to see State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s mandatory high school and beyond plans evolving to require even more invasive character and academic assessments in the future – just give the legislature a few more sessions to get the job done.

The legislature already got a good head start when they rewrote the assessment requirements needed to graduate – as requested by Reykdal.

After all, the Washington Legislature doesn’t give a damn about funding our public schools, but they sure do like to pile on the requirements for graduation.


Reykdal - Wa Schools Largest Workforce Development

-Carolyn Leith

Pay for Success – Also Known as Social Impact Bonds, Senator Orrin Hatch & the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

two garbage trucks colliding

Back in the early 2000’s Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy described the pending merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq as “the sound of two garbage trucks colliding”.

Whenever I read through the 449 page abomination that is the 2016 re-write of the 1965 ESEA – later rebranded as the ESSA – I can’t help thinking of that phrase.

The law really is a never ending dumpster fire.

Thanks to boastful politicians, like Senator Orin Hatch, the public gets to learn in a round about way some of the awful things tucked into the ESSA.

For example:

From July 16th, 2015

Senate Passes Hatch “Pay for Success” Amendment

“With Pay for Success, state and local leaders will be empowered to fund initiatives that deliver real  results for their communities and schools. Rather than being limited by what federal bureaucrats at the Department of Education think best, funding should be more connected to local innovation and successful outcomes. I’m pleased the Senate has voted to approve my amendment, which builds on tremendous success leaders have already seen in my home state of Utah.”

What’s Pay for Success?

It’s telling that Hatch’s short statement is full of buzz works like “empowered”, “local innovation”, and “successful outcomes”, but really doesn’t explain what Pay for Success means or more importantly, how it works.

I think this is deliberate.

Pay for Success is an upbeat re-branding of social impact bonds or SIBs.

In the case of the ESSA, social impact bonds are a way for investors to speculate on education outcomes; essentially making bets on programs and then measuring if kids meet these benchmarks – which trigger a payout to investors by the state or local government agency that signed onto the contract.

In Utah, Hatch’s home state, Goldman Sachs and the investor J.B. Pritzker agreed to invest millions of dollars in an expansion of a preschool program in the Granite School District and later the state as a whole.

The payoff for investors would occur if the expansion of preschool to underserved populations cut down on the number of students requiring special education services later in their academic careers.

The bet was preschool would reduce the number of kids in special education based on scores determined by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.

The sell to the school district was the potential savings of $2,600 dollars for every child who didn’t need special education or other remedial services.

The payout plan to Goldman Sacks and J.B. Pritzker is tricky, and makes me wonder if any of the politicians who supported the statewide preschool plan took the time to crunch the numbers and imagine worst case scenarios.

Here’s the terms for The Utah High Quality Preschool Program America’s First “Results-based Financing” for Early Childhood Education.

Determining Pay-for-Success Payments:

— Children participating in the high impact preschool program are given the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test which is a predictive evaluation that will serve as an indicator of their likely usage of special education and remedial services. Students that test below average and are therefore likely to use special education services will be tracked as they progress through 6th grade

— Every year that they do not use special education or remedial services will generate a Pay-forSuccess payment

— School districts receive a fixed per annum payment of approximately $2,600 per student to provide special education and remedial services for students in general education classrooms from the State of Utah. The amount of the Pay-for-Success payment is based on the actual avoided costs realized by the State of Utah

— Pay-for-Success payments will be made equal to 95% of the avoided costs or $2,470 per child for every year, Kindergarten through Sixth Grade, to repay the senior and subordinate debt plus a base interest rate of 5.0%

— Thereafter, Success Payments will equal 40% of the savings, or $1,040 per child per year of special education services avoided, to be paid as Success Fees to Goldman Sachs and Pritzker

And this disclaimer, which in my mind seems to contradict the point made above. I’m thinking interpretation will hinge on whether Goldman Sachs and Pritzker are making money on their investment at the 7 year mark:

— Pay-for-Success payments are only made through 6th grade for each student; but all savings that are generated after that point will be captured by the school district, state and other government entities.

The New York Times took a look at the first year results of the Utah program and found some troubling issues.

First off, Goldman Sachs reported a payout of $260,000 dollars by claiming their program helped 99% of the students enrolled avoid special education, even though the highest rate of prevention in well funded preschool programs is a 50% success rate. Oh, and the Goldman Sachs program isn’t considered to be well funded.

Goldman said its investment had helped almost 99 percent of the Utah children it was tracking avoid special education in kindergarten. The bank received a payment for each of those children.

The big problem, researchers say, is that even well-funded preschool programs — and the Utah program was not well funded — have been found to reduce the number of students needing special education by, at most, 50 percent. Most programs yield a reduction of closer to 10 or 20 percent.

The program’s unusual success — and the payments to Goldman that were in direct proportion to that success — were based on what researchers say was a faulty assumption that many of the children in the program would have needed special education without the preschool, despite there being little evidence or previous research to indicate that this was the case.

Another problem was the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test or P.P.V.T. overestimated the kids at risk for special education services, even though this test isn’t really used as a screener for special education in the first place.

Before Goldman executives made the investment, they could see that the Utah school district’s methodology was leading large numbers of children to be identified as at-risk, thus elevating the number of children whom the school district could later say were avoiding special education. From 2006 to 2009, 30 to 40 percent of the children in the preschool program scored below 70 on the P.P.V.T., even though typically just 3 percent of 4-year-olds score this low. Almost none of the children ended up needing special education.

When Goldman negotiated its investment, it adopted the school district’s methodology as the basis for its payments. It also gave itself a generous leeway to be paid pack. As long as 50 percent of the children in the program avoid special education, Goldman will earn back its money and 5 percent interest — more than Utah would have paid if it had borrowed the money through the bond market. If the current rate of success continues, it will easily make more than that. (bold mine)

Did you catch that, if the inflated rate of success continues – which it probably will based on a faulty benchmark not really used to screen for special education – the state of Utah will end up paying MORE than if it had just purchased a bond upfront to fund the preschool initiative.

Talk about selling snake oil to lawmakers who refuse to read the fine print.

Orrin Hatch and Goldman Sachs, Best Friends for Life.

Now that you know the setup and potential pitfalls of these risky investments, here’s some more information pertinent to Hatch’s fondness for social impact bonds.

First, Goldman Sachs is number 15 on Orin Hatch’s top 20 donor list. Second, Hatch has no qualms about going on Fox News to defend Goldman Sachs agains what the Senator claims to be suspicious government inquires into the investment firm’s behavior.

Another interesting aspect to Hatch’s detail-free praise of Pay for Success, was his demonization of federal bureaucrats.

Guess what?

Pay for Success just substitutes one group of bureaucrats for another. In the case of Utah’s preschool program, the bureaucrats come from the United Way, who act as the intermediary between investors and the district.

I find this troubling as well.

Incentives matter on Wall Street and what gets measured dictates the spoils.

Having the United Way run a program like the preschool initiative invites trouble. Who’s interests will be protected, the investors eager for a profit or a child’s right to an education.

By the way, since the United Way is private, they won’t have to answer to parents, school boards, or FOIA requests.

Would children be pressured to show success and be denied special education services? That’s a hard question with no easy answer.

The United Way also seems to be cozy with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, so meting out some business disciple doesn’t seem out of the range of possibilities.

To sum up, Third Sector Capital has put together a nice graphic which explains how social impact bonds work. Get familiar with the concept. It may be closer to your school than you think.


Next Up

In my next blog post I’ll explain how some members of the Washington State Legislature see social impact bonds as a way of meeting the funding mandate for McCleary.

Stay tuned.

-Carolyn Leith

The Shock Doctrine, McCleary, De-linking Graduation from State Mandated Tests, and State Superintendent Chris Reykdal’s Education Vision


If you don’t have to see or live with the consequences of your decisions, it becomes very easy to do bad things.

In Olympia, this is especially true as the lure of money, power, and personal political ambition continually cloud the judgement of the peoples’ representatives.

Add to this dysfunctional system an insulating layer of well funded non-profits, think tanks and NGOs; all vying to create our state’s education policies and claiming to know what’s best for our students.

These groups woo hand-picked politicians and hight level bureaucrats to become their “thought leaders”.

Perks include personal invitations to corporate underwritten conferences and retreats — with the built-in opportunity to meet all the right sort of people.

What’s the catch?

Once they’re back in Olympia, these members of the political class must be willing to prioritize the political agendas of these non-profits, think tanks, and NGOs, while throwing their constituents under the bus.

The Unravelling.

The comforting facade of democracy in Olympia is already slipping as the clock winds down on the McCleary crisis AND YET the legislature continues to stubbornly refuse to do their Constitutionally mandated job to amply fund public education.

Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, explains how neoliberalism has made an art of using a political crisis to push through destructive policies while the general population is either too distracted or exhausted to cope with or push back against the political wrecking ball.

It appears Chris Reykdal, our newly elected State Superintendent, just can’t resist co-opting the McCleary crisis to push his own agenda outlined in his Education Vision.

Delinking High School Graduation from State Mandated Tests.

The first battle in Reykdal’s shock doctrine like maneuver came in the clash over delinking high school graduation from mandated state tests.

On the campaign trail, Reykdal claimed to be against using end of course exams or EOC’s to determine graduation.

Next came the Reykdal lecture about compromise and the promise of removing these tests sometime in the future.

Then came the push in the press for Reykdal’s Education Vision, which shifts all EOC’s down to 10th grade in order to make way for personalized career pathways and his mandatory high school and beyond learning plans.

During last year’s battle over EOC’s and mandatory high school and beyond plans, one of the suggested compromises was the state removing the current biology EOC as a graduation requirement.

Of course, this wasn’t much of a compromise, since the biology EOC was slatted to be replaced by another test  – which would be tied to the next generation science standards.

This shows just how sneaky all of the political maneuvering in Olympia has become.

The Betrayal

Then Senators Rolfes and Rivers – as requested by the Superintendent of Instruction, Chris Reykdal -dropped Senate Bill 5951, which requires EOCs for graduation and mandates high school and beyond learning plans for every student.

That’s when parents and teachers knew the fix was in.

Hey, at least the Business Roundtable is happy.

This skirmish illustrates one of the big problems with our current political system: Reykdal and his co-conspirators in the legislature don’t have to be personally involved in the soul crushing denial of diplomas to the seniors who get nailed by a high stakes standardized test.

How about this: if these politicians truly believe denying kids diplomas is the right thing to do, they should have to walk their talk.

Instead of creating mandates in Olympia which will be carried out by others, these politicians should have to personally meet with these kids, look them in the eye, and deliver the bad news.

Reykdal’s Education Vision

It should come as no surprise that Reykdal’s Education Vision has ed-reform written all over it. Complete with the co-opted double speak used to push personalized learning.

Remember, the McCleary decision is about the state’s neglect of its Constitutionally mandated job to amply fund basic education. It has NOTHING to do with making a comprehensive redesign to K-12 education, and yet, that’s exactly what Reykdal is proposing.

Here’s some of the troubling parts:

High School and Beyond Learning Plans for Every Student

The transition from middle school to high school is a substantial risk for students. The research shows that if a student fails even one core course (math, science, or English) in the 9th grade, they are less likely to graduate from high school than their peers. Washington state will become a leader in adopting a robust universal High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP) for 8 th graders on their way to high school. The middle school provides the plan to the student’s high school, which details the student’s strengths, areas of growth, initial career interests, and a road map of the courses required to graduate from high school successfully. The HSBP tool will be digital and accessible to parents, guardians, counselors, and students. It will also provide the framework for early warning messaging to parents via contemporary digital media tools. Authentic parent engagement needs to meet the needs of the 21st century.


Forcing kids to choose a career in 8th grade is bad enough. Using 10th grade exams plus student career interest to build a graduation pathway is ludicrous.

Will Bill Gate’s alma mater, Lakeside, be implementing high school and beyond plans for every student and ditching their well rounded liberal arts curriculum in favor of graduation pathways?

I don’t think so.

I also can’t let pass the idea that authentic parent engagement is somehow equivalent to using digital messaging tools.

21st Century Tools to Engage Parents and Guardians

Parent or guardian involvement is a foundational piece to a child’s success in school. Many Washington school districts are already using software systems specifically designed for parent or guardian access. On these tools, a parent or guardian can view their child’s grades, class schedule, attendance, missing assignments, and more. Some tools also have a built-in translator for our families whose primary language is not English. As it stands now, parents and guardians must register themselves to these tools, because they are not automatically registered with their student’s enrollment. They also must register for alerts to tell them if their child was absent, if they have a late assignment, or others. To foster more open communication between schools and families and to reduce student absenteeism, parents and guardians should be automatically registered within these software systems for automatic notifications of their child’s progress in school. This will require a substantial redesign and scalability of these tools so they are powered effectively on mobile devices and in more platforms.

We should be using 21st century tools to better connect students, parents and guardians, and schools to ensure students are attending class and are on track to meeting their individual plan.

Sorry, this is student surveillance being sold as parental engagement. Automatic registration of parents for various software systems run by the state also reeks of big brother.

$14.7 million to overhaul K-12 accounting and data systems

And, of course, OSPI is going to need a whole bunch of money to build a new data system.

Provide $14.7 million to overhaul K-12 accounting and data systems to ensure compliance with new basic education funding frameworks and local levy restrictions, state and federal accountability standards, and the Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards. Funds will also be used for continued sharing of educational resources across districts, increased protection of OSPI’s student and educator data, and additional performance monitoring to better manage grant funding.


Sorry for all of the bad news.

We may not be able to stop all of the dirty dealings happening around McCleary, but we should vow never to forget them either.

-Carolyn Leith


On a positive note, you can support Sen Chase’s bill to fully fund education. Visit this link to learn more.

Seattle teachers considering a strike over school funding


by Jesse Hagopian 

Originally posted in the South Seattle Emerald.

Turning the Streets Into Our Classroom

By Wednesday this week every school in Seattle will have held a union vote to decided if our Seattle Education Association (SEA) should go out on strike on May Day—International Worker’s Day—to demand full funding for education, to support our immigrant students, and to defend union rights.

I am voting yes!—and I hope that the rest of the educators join me in authorizing this walkout for the schools our students deserve.

Here in Washington State, our state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that our state legislature was in violation of the state Constitution’s “Paramount Duty” to amply provide for education.  The court has fined the legislature and found them in contempt of court for failing to support public education.  And yet we have seen our legislature continue to funnel money to the wealthiest corporations in our state, giving away billions in tax breaks to Boeing and maintaining tax loopholes for the rich.  Washington State is one of only a few states without an income tax and ranks dead last with most regressive tax structure in the nation.  The year 2017 was the final year that the state Supreme Court gave the legislature to fix the funding problem and it is clear that the legislature has no plans to start following the law anytime soon.

We have tried emailing, calling and asking nicely for the legislature to follow the law and fund education. That hasn’t worked.

Now it’s time to show the collective power of labor.  We held a one-day walkout two years ago as part of a rolling strike wave across the state to pressure the state legislature. That was an important action that raised awareness, brought families into the streets with teachers in a common struggle, and gave teachers a glimpse of their power.  But this one-day strike has the potential to have a much bigger impact than the last because the Martin Luther King County Labor Council passed a resolution calling on all the locally affiliated unions to go out on May Day. As the Seattle Weekly reported,

SEA isn’t the only union flirting with a May Day strike. UAW Local 4121 is also voting on strike action, according to the op-ed. (We’ve got a line out to the union.) And the Martin Luther King County Labor Council voted last week in favor of a resolution supporting strikes and other direct actions (for instance, teach-ins) on May Day in cooperation with organizers of the labor and immigrant marches.

Many unions are looking to the SEA to see if we strike. If we do, others could follow and it could become a mass outpouring of labor solidarity that truly has the power to shake up the one percent and their political representatives in the legislature and make them heed our demands for education and union rights.

In addition to the urgency around education funding in our state, the May 1st Coalition in Seattle has called on workers to strike for immigrant rights on May Day, and there will be a massive outpouring of humanity at a rally that day to stand against Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. All the anti-immigrant rhetoric and deportations are demoralizing our students, splitting them apart from their families, and leading to hate crimes. Moreover, there is a push by the Trump administration and within the federal government to ratify anti-union, so-called “right to work” legislation, that would gut union protections.

I am voting to strike because I believe we as educators should join the struggle for immigrant rights and I see that as a vital component to a better education system.

I’m not content to teach students about the mass strikes and boycotts of the past that won social programs and the right to unionize–I know we actually need to bring back that history and make it real for our students by demonstrating what it looks like in practice. I’m ready to make the streets my classroom on the first of May and teach a lesson about union power and collective struggle that the rich and powerful won’t soon forget.

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher at Garfield High School, an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine, and was a leader in the historic boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test of 2013.


Related articles:

Seattle Councilmembers Sawant and O’Brien: “If teachers go on Strike on May 1, We’ll Have Your Back!”

Seattle Weekly: Seattle Teachers to Vote On Possible May Day Strike

Submitted by Dora Taylor

A Student Perspective on Staffing Cuts to the Center School’s Arts Program.

photo courtesy of Ted Zee

Through most of middle school I was homeschooled. I was artistic and I didn’t learn in a conventional way.

I hated public schools and thought I’d never go back to them. Then towards the end of my 7th grade year, we found The Center School, and immediately started making plans to enroll. My mother passed away a few months later, and even in the months leading up to it she was so excited for me to go somewhere where I could express myself through art and learn in a way that would work for me.

I started taking classes at The Center School in early October of 2013. I immediately got immersed in the arts integration the school featured, and though I struggled with many classes, I always succeeded in Visual Communications, an introductory art class taught by Kevin McCarthy, a professional sculptor, painter, and digital artist with a passion for teaching and art like I’d never seen before.

Mr. McCarthy once called my father after school, my dad was obviously alarmed, he figured I was in trouble. To his surprise Kevin said, “Y’know, tonight I had to make some calls to parents about how bad their kids are. How disrespectful or whatever. But that gets depressing so every couple phone calls I call a parent to tell them the opposite.” He spent a couple minutes praising my art skills to my father. I’ve heard the same story from other students, a girl in my class cried when it happened, saying “It was the first time a teacher had ever told her I was good at something” as she sniffled.

But as of recently this school, and this amazing man have run into some trouble. Enrollment is dropping for some reason, and as a result the school is receiving less funding. They send a certain amount of cash per student, and this system is designed for schools with upwards of 800 kids, not less than 250.

As a result the school has had to make some tough calls. They had to figure out what to do. What to cut, what to change. My American Studies Teacher, Andrew Bell said of the meetings where this voting happened, “I have never been in a room where the air was more tense and thick”. The drop in funding is forcing the school to cut or at least limit the fine arts curriculum of the school.

As of the current plan, AP Art, Adv. Drawing and Painting, and Sculpture could be cut, and by extension, Kevin McCarthy, a teacher who changed my perspective of art classes, and changed another student’s perspective of her academic self, may have to leave forever.

There was a stirring in the school when this info started to trickle out. Kids were mad, kids were sad, kids were confused. I was all of the above and more.
I got tired of inaction so I made an impulsive and simple decision. I made a facebook event encouraging students to walk out of the school in solidarity, sign a petition saying they want the arts back, and march to the district headquarters to deliver it. Within a few hours over a sixth of the school was on board.

From there I started canvassing the school at lunch. I had just finished getting my 75th signature when I got in touch with a group of other students. Ella, Christine, Isabelle, and Reilly, a group of Sophomores who I didn’t know very well. They told me that they though my walkout sounded a bit drastic and harsh, they wanted to come at the problem from a more diplomatic and reasonable angle. We argued, discussed, and eventually decided to work together.

We five formed a group called the CSCAF, the Committee of Students Concerned About Funding. We’re coordinating hundreds of angry and confused students, giving them information, helping them work together, and helping them let their voices be heard.

A group of students are working on a press release, another is working on a documentary film, more are making art, and even more are planning a benefit event.

Currently we’re planning the walkout, trying to make it as safe, coordinated, and effective as possible. It will be on: May 3rd at 9:00 AM (30 minutes after school starts)

From there we’ll hop on the Streetcar and make our way to the Seattle Public Schools Building and present them with our demands and signatures.

At the core of the whole thing is a passion for art, a passion for learning, and a need to feel listened to. We want our school to get the money it needs to function at full power. We want to have a voice in how the money the school receives is spent.
And we want Kevin to stay, damn it.

-By Frank Hillary, Grade 11 at Center School

McCleary Crime Scene Special Session Coloring Sheet



art courtesy of Susan DuFresne

As parents with kids in public school, it takes a tremendous amount of restraint when describing the just completed session of the Washington State Legislature.

A profanity laced tirade feels justified, maybe even appropriate. How else to explain the lunacy of the extreme arrogance and cowardice on display in Olympia?

Contempt of the McCleary Ruling

Much has been made of the Supreme Court fining the Legislature $100,000 a day for contempt of the McCleary ruling.

What’s not talked about is the Legislature’s refusal to even create a fund to collect the fines.


The Governor was politely asked by the Supreme Court (see pages 8-10) to make sure the account and fines were collected. Inslee, showcasing his wishy-washy leadership style, decided not to rock the boat and let the Legislature wiggle out of this symbolic slap on the wrist.

Nothing stings more than a token fine, collected in imaginary dollars, deposited into a non-existent bank account.

Public School Funding

The next jaw-dropping absurdity was lawmakers’ approach to the public school funding crisis.

Members of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee held much hyped public forums – which not only managed to insult parents who have been patiently waiting and advocating for much needed funding for their resource starved schools – but seemed specifically designed to push the Senate’s preferred solution, a state property tax dependent levy swap.

The State Budget Director tried to excuse the continued foot dragging by stating:

State Budget Director David Schumacher even said early in the session that nobody expected lawmakers to meet the requirements of the McCleary decision until 2017 because the court set a 2018 deadline.

Surprising no one, the Legislature passed and Governor Inslee signed the infamous Kick-the-Can Plan. A perfect example of bipartisanship of the most craven sort.

Sorry public school students, no funding for you. Better luck next year.

Charter Schools

Confirming the Bizzaro World bubble which has sealed off the Capital from reality, charter schools received lavish attention from lawmakers.

Never mind that these schools have been:

  • ruled unconstitutional
  • serve less than a 1000 students and have been open for less than 8 months
  • operate under a legally dubious ALE scheme engineered by Randy Dorn and the Gates Foundation.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nina Rees perfectly sums up the inverted logic in Olympia.

Worth noting: Rees was the education advisor to Vice President Richard Cheney, afterwards moving on to work for Michael Milken in his education business. (Take a moment to let that sink in.)

“We celebrate the parents who led this charge, and the school and movement leaders who refused to take no for an answer,” said National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President and CEO Nina Rees. “Their amazing efforts on behalf of Washington’s students has led to one of the most remarkable victories in the history of this movement.”

Translation outside of Bizzaro World: The money we poured into PACs, lobbyists, and TV ads during Seahawks games finally paid off.

Lessons from the 2016 Regular Session

Public school parents, the system has failed us and our children. Nice isn’t working. Outrage is a fitting response. Time to say goodbye to get a long, to get a little strategy.

We must hold lawmakers and the Governor accountable for their criminal neglect of our kids and public schools. Every day, 1 million public schools students’ Constitutional rights are being violated.

Angry? We sure are.

Here at TRAP Headquarters, we demand lawmakers immediately begin to treat the Constitution as THE LAW as opposed to a suggestion which must be followed only when it’s convenient to do so.

If this isn’t possible, time to #ArrestTheLegislature.

Happy coloring.

-Carolyn Leith and Shawna Murphy, cofounders of TRAP (Teacher Retention Advocate Parents)










What our Washington State legislators CAN do to equitably fund educaton

its-timeI’ve seen enough dancing around the real issues of funding education in Washington State by our legislators and it’s time  for them to get serious or get another job.

From the Washington Budget Policy Center (who made a great presentation at the Stanford Center last year about funding education in our state hosted by the Seattle PTSA and the League of Women Voters):

Declining Revenue Projections Show It’s Time for Policymakers to Get Serious about Meeting Washington’s Needs

The new forecast of Washington state tax collections makes it clear that lawmakers can no longer assume the growing economy will automatically generate the resources needed to fund court-mandated improvements to schools, mental health, and other important priorities for our state.

The Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council’s projection that state tax resources will be more than $500 million lower than previously forecasted over the next four years means policymakers must get serious about generating new revenue to invest in the progress and well-being of our state and its people.

The diminished tax resources ($78.2 million lower for the current 2015-17 budget cycle; $435.6 million lower in the 2017-19 budget cycle) present a significant challenge to House and Senate budget writers. The writers should be cautious about tapping budget reserves to make up for the reduction in revenues. Doing so would only be a temporary fix. And depleting savings now could jeopardize the state’s ability to maintain core public investment in schools, public health, parks, and other vital services that serve us all if the economy were to enter a downturn.

A better approach is to preserve the things we rely on by raising additional resources. The Legislature can do this by ending wasteful tax breaks and enacting the new tax on capital gains as proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in late 2014. It wouldn’t be right to continue giving tax breaks to large profitable corporations and wealthy investors while cutting back on financial aid, making K-12 class sizes bigger, or eroding the independence of seniors.

Given the forecasted shortfall in resources, these new sources of added revenue are key to ensuring that all Washingtonians have the opportunity to live in healthy, thriving communities.


Now get with it.

Dora Taylor

A new coloring page: Sorry, Governor Inslee, there’s no disguising your lack of leadership on school funding


A message from TRAP:

Governor Inslee, you’ve put us in a tight spot.

TRAP wants to believe the Governor of the State of Washington would do right by the million students who are having their constitutional rights violated, on a daily basis, in underfunded public schools.

BUT your continued foot dragging – when there’s any movement at all – requires TRAP to apply the heat.

TRAP also remembers when you called a special session to give Boeing a $8.7 billion dollar tax break, but refused to call a special session to solve the school funding crisis.

Here at TRAP Headquarters, we’ve developed a theory. We think you’ve been wearing a disguise down in Olympia, hoping no one will notice your lack of leadership.

Well, Governor Inslee, TRAP is blowing your cover. Time to take off the glasses and funny mustache and get to work. The students of Washington State deserve nothing less.

-Carolyn Leith co-founder of TRAP

-Shawna Murphy co-founder of TRAP

Get your coloring sheet, by clicking on the: Inslee_coloring_sheet


Find us on Twitter:

McCleary Crime Scene


Facebook: The Color of Money – McCleary Crime Scene

Teacher Tom on who is ultimately to blame for the Seattle teachers’ strike

From the Teacher Tom website:

Where The Real Blame Belongs

On Wednesday, I made a bicycle “solidarity tour” of the picket lines of striking Seattle teachers in front of an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. At each stop, I found teachers I know as well as former students who were out with their parents in support of the strike. No one wants this strike. The teachers sure don’t, the parents sure don’t, the district sure doesn’t, and the children definitely don’t: every one of them with whom I have spoken is eager for school to start.

From where I sit, there seems to be widespread support for this strike, although I’ve learned to avoid the comments sections of the articles I read. Whatever is going on in my world, there are still some very vocal knee-jerk teacher haters out there. I don’t know if there are lot of them because, when polled, Americans tend to think highly of public school teachers, at least compared to members of other professions, but the haters are loud, mean, and dismally uninformed. Of course, much of the bile is directed at the idea of a union more than the teachers themselves, which shouldn’t be surprising given the relentless campaign against working Americans that has been waged by economic elites for the past three decades, an effort that has even succeeded in convincing many working people to oppose unions. (Yes, economic elites have always been engaged in class warfare against the rest of us, but it has really ramped up since the 1970’s, culminating in the election of Ronald Reagan whose first order to business was to bust the air traffic controller’s union.)

On Labor Day, I posted here about why we should all support unions. There is nothing more American. Corporations are dictatorships set up within our democracy: unions seek to bring democracy into the workplace where it belongs. And as I wrote on Monday, I cannot think of anything more “capitalistic” than for professionals with a skill to sell banding together to get the best deal possible, both in terms of pay and working conditions. I cannot see how that is any different than what corporate lawyers do when they negotiate their contracts. In fact, their stockholders would sue them if they didn’t strive to get the best deal possible.

The difference here, of course, is that Seattle’s teachers are striking for more than a pay raise, something they have foregone for going on six years without even a cost of living adjustment in this city where prices (especially for rent) are skyrocketing. At the core of the teachers’ demands is nothing less than the beginnings of a unified pushback against the billionaire-funded corporate-style education reform agenda that has been wrecking havoc on our public schools, starting in 2001 with the unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind act right up to the current federal drill-and-kill testing curriculum known as Common Core.

Right across the country, despite mountains of evidence that ample time to play outdoors leads to cognitive gains in children, recess has been disappearing. In some Seattle schools, especially those serving lower income populations, recess time is down to an abusive 15 minutes per day. Seattle teachers are demanding a minimum of 30 minutes per day, still shockingly low, but like I said, this is the beginning of a pushback.

Right across the country, despite mountains of evidence that high stakes standardized testing is, at best, a waste of time, and at worst literally causing brain damage, the number of hours children spend being testing and in preparing for being tested continues to rise until it has become the core of what our children and teachers are doing with their time on the planet. Seattle teachers are demanding that standardized testing be reduced to only those that are federally mandated.

Right across the country, despite mountains of evidence that systemic institutional racism is built into public education, billionaire reformers continue to absurdly assert, without any supporting evidence, that their “tough love” focus on all-academics-all-the-time will magically solve our nation’s race problems. Seattle teachers are demanding that all schools take concrete steps to directly address the racism that hurts the prospects of minority students.

Right across the country, vital student mental health support programs are being cut. Seattle teachers are demanding adequate funding and workload caps for school counselors and psychologists.

Sadly, this week, Seattle’s school board voted 5-1 in favor of authorizing legal action against the teachers. The lone dissenter was our own Sue Peters who won her seat over a candidate who was lavishly supported by the same billionaires who are funding the corporate take-over of our schools nationally, unconstitutional charter school initiatives, and, in fact, are largely to blame for this very strike.

That’s right, it’s easy to point fingers the district for this mess, and indeed they share some of it. After all, they had all summer to negotiate in good faith, but instead waited until the week before school started to not only outright reject the teacher’s proposal, but counter with longer school days, for which teachers would not be compensated. But the truth is that in many ways the district’s hands are tied by a state legislature that is currently paying a court-ordered $100,000 per day in fines because of their unconstitutional refusal to fully fund education in our state.

Last May, thousands of teachers across more than 60 school districts walked out in a one-day protest against Olympia lawmakers’ criminal inability to represent the people they were elected to represent. And it’s a bi-partisan problem, with both Republicans and Democrats, as they are on a federal level, colluding against public schools in defiance of a clear public mandate. In 2000, state voters overwhelmingly approved annual cost of living pay adjustments for teachers, but the legislature has suspended it every year since 2008, which is why teacher pay has, in real dollars, actually declined dramatically over the past six years. Voters also voted to reduce class sizes across the state, but the legislature has refused to fund it. In 2012, the state Supreme Court held in that the legislature’s chronic underfunding of public schools was unconstitutional and this year held the body in contempt of court, hence the $100,000 per day fine.

So why should we blame the billionaires? Because many of the very same billionaires who are funding the corporatization of our schools and who funded the unconstitutional charter school initiative in our state and who tried to buy a school board seat for one of their own, are also behind our state having the most regressive tax system in the country. We don’t even have an income tax, which leaves our state without many options when it comes to funding such things as education, meaning the rich get richer while our kids stay at home and our teachers strike.

And so, largely because of the greed to the super wealthy, our teachers are forced to march on sidewalks instead of teaching our children. That is where the real blame belongs.

Update: This is an interesting article about where things might be headed if a solution is not found soon. In and nutshell, however, should the state legislature continue to drag its feet on public education, the court can order all schools closed across the state until funding is in place. There is precedent for this happening in other states, including New Jersey in the 1970’s, where the upshot was the introduction of a state income tax. Another thing I learned from this article is that our state’s constitution says that education is “theparamount duty” of the state — not “a” paramount duty, butthe paramount duty. That seems to suggest that, legally, nothing can be funded ahead of our schools. Go teachers! Solidarity!