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The question about CPPS has just come up and I want to re-post here two posts that I wrote in November of 2009 about CPPS

We’ve been following them because it was our understanding that there was some Gates money involved in their inception here in Seattle but we have not found that to be the case. That rumor could have started because one of the founders of CPPS was at one point employed by Microsoft. (If anyone can provide us with more information, please let us know.) Also, PPS, Parents for Public Schools, itself is an organization that was started in Jackson, Mississippi. On the CPPS Seattle website they explain how their organization evolved into CPPS.

I went to a CPPS meeting last year where they had presented a speaker, Scott Oki. Part of his piece was about “teacher effectiveness” and merit pay. As soon as the buzz word “teacher effectiveness” came out of his mouth my radar went up.

CPPS has signed on to various petitions developed by the Alliance but I didn’t see the president of CPPS in an Alliance orange t-shirt last week at the board meeting as I did an acquaintance of hers, Heidi Bennett, the Seattle Legislative VP in the PTSA and a big advocate for ed-reform. But that’s a story for another post.

We are wary of CPPS and they are on our “watch list”. They have not been very active over this last year. I believe that they had one meeting, which I attended , this year so far. We think that many of the parents who attend the meetings are there because they truly care about their students and education in general. It’s the leadership that we’re not so sure of.

Anyway, below are the two post from our original blog:

Posted on November 11, 2009

CPPS and Scott Oki: Kool-Aid Anyone?

OK, first, you know how I like my context.The presentation by Mr. Oki was set in the enormous cavern of a library at Garfield High School.

In the heyday of corporate interior design, this space would have been a striking example of how to spend the most money possible. The library is a two-story space with this skylight roof system that is well detailed and probably one of the most expensive ceiling systems that you will see in Seattle. I kept thinking that I was in a corporate headquarters in New York or LA and I have been in many. I have managed the construction of several corporate spaces in both cities. There are built-in bookcases that are finely crafted, top of the line light systems and all of the shelves were filled with books in perfect order. In the middle of the space is another room which is one story high and again beautifully designed and detailed. In this space are computers and a lectern. The library space would have been top of the line for any corporate office but for a school in Seattle with so many financial problems that schools purportedly needed to be closed? The expenditure is highly questionable. I understand that the cost overruns on this building went into the millions and I can see why. Did someone actually tell the architect to go full steam ahead and spare no expense? It certainly looked like that was the message.

It’s a shame to know that money was taken from such programs as SBOC, $10M from SBOC to be exact, to pay for some of these cost overruns when it is apparent that much of this cost was completely unnecessary. It’s also a shame to know that so many other schools are in such disrepair and seismically unsafe and yet so much money was poured into this remodel.

But, I was not there to critically review the Versailles of SPS, I was there to listen to Mr. Scott Oki.

Mr. Oki was introduced by another former Microsoft employee, Andrew Kwatinetz, who is Vice President of CPPS. Mr. Oki made his fortune working at Microsoft as Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

The first thing that Mr. Oki said is “I am not an expert” which was an excellent way to start his presentation since he has never taught in a classroom, or had any experience with public education since going to a public school in Seattle when he was in grade school. We found out later that all four of his children attend Lakeside, an exclusive private school that Bill Gates attended also when in high school. So his experience with Seattle Public Schools by his own admission is limited.

He explained that over the years, his focus in terms of philanthropic work has been in child healthcare. Then, two years ago, his wife approached him regarding dealing with public education, telling him that “if anyone can fix the problem, you can”. With those words, Mr. Oki found out as much as he could about public school education. A few Google searches later and a trip to KIPP and he had all of the answers that he needed.

He said that he looked at both sides of the issue, which to me was interesting because I didn’t know that there were two sides to public education, and he decided that the approach to K-12 education was to see educational reform as a business. Hmm, teaching children is a business. OK, that’s a relatively new point of view.

He went on to say that he had, as he termed it, a 2 x 4 moment, which for some of us might be called an “epiphany”, when he realized that nothing about K-12 education made sense.

His talking points went like this:

In the United States, there are more non-teachers than teachers on our public school payrolls and that we have the highest ratio internationally in that regard. OK. A good tidbit of useful information that someone can run with.

Tenure. (Oh no, here it comes) Do teachers really need tenure? (In Seattle, teachers are not tenured, so at this point I can see that Mr. Oki has not done his homework.)

We need an objective way of evaluating teachers. (The rallying cry of the educational reformists. Step One: Teaching Assessments). There is no difference in pay between “really good teachers and crummy teachers”.

Principals should be the CEO of their schools. (eg: charter schools)

Standardized curriculum doesn’t work, as in the standardized math that was used in the Seattle Public School system.

Some school districts in the state of Washington have six students, some have 100 students and some districts have 200 students and yet they have a bureaucracy and one would assume a well paid superintendent as well. Again, the issue of bureaucracy. A person at Microsoft would definitely be able to know a bureaucracy when they see one.

We should have choice in terms of schools.

OK, good talking points. And then he began with “How to affect change” and said that it would take many years to change the system and that grassroots activism was a good start and then that was it! It was time for Q and A. I was just getting ready for the good part, a solution to the problem and then it was over!

So then we went into questions from the audience.

Regarding student testing: We don’t need testing for teachers to evaluate a student. What is needed is to provide resources to teach when help is needed.

I don’t know that there was a question for this statement. Mr. Oki would kind of go off topic sometimes but at one point during his answer, he said that “I will go on record. The superintendent should be fired for suggesting that students be graduated with a “D” average.” On that one point we could agree.

Again, kind of off topic he said that “every single school should have a board of directors”, like charter schools. I was wondering when this would come up in the conversation.

Mr. Oki said that the mayor or the state government should establish these boards in the schools. OK, now we’re talking mayoral control.

Now it was my turn to ask a question and I admit, by this time I was tired of hearing that teachers were the root of all evil and that teachers thought more about themselves than they did the children they were teaching. Of course, my feelings were based on the fact that I have a child in public school and against all odds, most of my daughter’s teachers had been wonderfully caring, supportive, capable and able to challenge my child’s abilities and make going to school something to look forward to.

My first question, OK, since you think that teachers are just in it for themselves and don’t care about the students who they are in charge of educating, what so you think that the merit pay should be based on? Well, Mr. Oki responded, that would have to be worked out. He went on to say that merit pay would make the teachers focus on the child.

He said that “it is a business” and of course, I had to disagree.

I came back and said that at this point it is based on standardized, high stakes, testing, what would you suggest?

He then brought up KIPP schools as a good example of a charter school.

According to others, that is not the case. See:

Bay Area KIPP schools lose 60% of their students, study confirms

Charter school faces withdrawals over punishment

Recess: Happy playtime or hellhole of fighting and bullying?

Mr. Oki started to talk about a principal that he met at a KIPP school who received her MBA at Stanford who was always on her Blackberry. He asked, how often does that happen in public schools? (I answered to myself, thank God, never) He said that teachers in charter schools like KIPP couldn’t be hampered by “silly laws” like having teaching certificates. Of course, that could mean that they would have to pay the teachers more. You have to keep your cost down in charter schools because of course, it IS a business.

It was obvious that the presentation lacked substance. There were a few good talking points but there was no depth in terms of an understanding of how public schools work, the challenges that teachers have to deal with everyday and how little money there is for school funding.

It was interesting to me that he had no knowledge of our alternative school programs that fit the bill to most of his talking points. Fortunately someone else after the presentation provided him with an education to that and other points about public school education in Seattle.

Signing off for now.

Posted later that day on November 11, 2009

Mr. Oki, A Primer on Tenure vs. Seniority with Teachers in the Seattle Public School System

After Mr. Oki’s presentation, I wanted to get clear on the difference between tenure and seniority. Mr. Oki had mentioned tenure and the necessity of eliminating it from the Seattle teachers’ contracts but it was my understanding that teachers in Seattle were not tenured.So after a few e-mails to those who know more than I do on this subject, I got the skinny.

It goes as follows:

Seniority ensures effective teachers in the classroom

1. Eliminating seniority from the contract works against the goal of a high quality teaching staff. Studies indicate teachers are “learning the ropes” during their first five years on the job; thus it is illogical to suggest teachers in their early years of the profession are of the same quality as seasoned teachers. Therefore, in order to keep high quality teachers in the classroom, the less experienced teachers must be let go first, whenever conditions for a Reduction in Force exists.

2. Seniority makes it more difficult for employers to cover up an arbitrary, capricious or discriminatory layoff, safeguarding whistle blowers and anyone who speaks up regarding wrongdoing. Teachers often speak up at staff meetings and testify at school board meetings on the behalf of students. Without seniority, issues of student safety and a deeper understanding of student achievement might go unheard.

3. Seniority is not the same as tenure. K-12 teachers are not tenured, so unlike a judge or professor, they are not protected for life. Seattle teachers can be dismissed without reason in their first two years of teaching and thereafter can be dismissed as ineffective with two consecutive years of Unsatisfactory evaluations, which can include student performance as a factor.

4. Seniority does not preclude dismissals for ineffective teaching. In the recent district audit, McKinsey & Co. noted the district underutilized the dismissal mechanisms in the current teacher contract. This is due to principals who are unable or unwilling to do their state mandated job of teacher evaluation. The Superintendent evaluates the principal corps. (No Seattle principals were dismissed last year.)

5. The Union can not stop dismissals; they can only ensure workers have their due process protected. In the uncommon case of an ineffective teacher still in the classroom after the first two years, it is the principal who is responsible to insist on rigorous improvement plans followed by dismissal, if needed.

6. What is to stop a district from seeing the financial benefits of laying off the most experienced, ergo most expensive, teachers? What controls would otherwise prevent the dismissal of a teacher just prior to retirement eligibility?

OK, that makes sense.

Now, Mr. Oki, is there anything that you would care to retract?

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