Here we go again: UW Dean of Ed suggests charters & TFA for Seattle: My response

Today’s Seattle Times features yet another pro-charter, pro-ed-reform editorial, “Urgent education needs demand bold new thinking: It might be time for Washington voters to reconsider their ballot-box rejection of charter schools, writes Tom Stritikus, the University of Washington’s dean of the College of Education. A new documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” explores the possibilities of alternative-school approaches.”

This time, it’s by Tom Stritikus, dean of the College of Education at UW. Here is my response, originally posted on the Times’ site:

Here we go again.

First off, we already HAVE successful, popular alternative and innovative schools and programs in Seattle — Nova, Thornton Creek, AS1, Salmon Bay, TOPs, Orca, the Accelerated Progress Program — and many have wait lists because they are so popular. I believe even the mayor sends his kids to one of them.

As part of the public school system, these schools are held accountable to the community. If we handed over our public schools to private charter school franchise operators, as Dean Stritikus suggests, we would lose that accountability — as well as the public funding that follows these children out of the traditional system.

As mentioned by other commenters, studies show that as many as 83 percent of charter schools perform no better, or perform WORSE than, regular public schools. I advise Dean Stritikus to read the report by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) for details.

The fact is, charters have an extremely mixed record. As another commenter mentioned, they are allowed to cherry pick their students, which means that any child with any kind of challenges, including special needs, can be excluded from these schools. There are also far too many troubling stories of fiscal and student abuse in charters. Even Sec of Ed Arne Duncan in his speech to a national conference of charter operators this year said there are too many bad charters and they needed to do something about it (not because it hurts kids, though, but because he felt it was bad for the public image of charters! Shameless!)

I also find it highly contradictory of people like Stritikus and Representative Reuven Carlyle to say we need excellent teachers, and then propose we bring in inexperienced, unqualified Teach for America, Inc. recruits instead of professionally trained and educated teachers.

Stritikus wrote: “Teachers must arrive at schools ready to navigate the most challenging classrooms. They must have the skill set to adjust curriculum for a diverse array of learners. They must be ready to use evidence and adjust their practice on the fly. They must understand what children need to learn and how to help them do that. Every teacher-preparation program — alternative or traditional — must ensure that future teachers have these skills.”

While I agree with his diagnosis here on what we need in a teacher, I disagree with his solution. I’m pretty sure his use of the term “alternative” here is referring to the Teach for America, Inc. model of “teacher-prep program.” But in this program, TFA recruits are only given 5 weeks of training and are only expected to commit to the job for 2 years, before going on to their “real” career. Only about 34 percent of them stay on for a third year. Our kids don’t need this kind of churn in their lives — they need dedicated teachers who are in it for the long haul.

How does 5 weeks of training make fresh college grads “ready to navigate the most challenging classrooms”?

How can Stritikus suggest that such a cram-course in teaching is a good alternative to the more traditional,  fully educated and trained, credentialed teacher who has also done in-class student teaching for as much as a year, before going into the classroom on his/her own?

Plus, studies show that teachers don’t hit their stride until around their fifth year — most TFA “teachers” have quit by then.

Another part of this equation, of course, is that “teachers” trained by these “alternative” methods are also cheaper and non-union. Is that the real goal here — undermine the teaching profession and undercut an already underpaid field?

“Waiting for Superman” opens today in Seattle. It will be picketed by those who oppose its destructively slanted depiction of public schools. Not one teacher is interviewed in the movie. Not a single good, non-charter public school is featured. Charter schools’ seriously uneven record is mentioned only once in the movie, in passing. And the method of publicly selecting only some kids for some schools in a lottery system is downright cruel, as Gail Collins recently observed in the New York Times.

And I personally object to the passive paternalism implicit in the title.

As for Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone, he at least acknowledges that underprivileged kids need a great deal of support inside and out of the classroom and school in order to succeed. His program offers social support services and medical services to these kids and their families for years, which is great. But he is given millions and millions of dollars to do it. That gives the lie to all those who say that money is not part of the solution to creating better schools. It also gives the lie to the reformers’ teacher-bashing mantra that somehow an “effective” teacher can transcend all society’s ills. That’s utter rubbish. And I suspect the ed reformers know it. I find their dishonesty disturbing.

Everything good the reformers tout about charters could be given to our existing public schools WITHOUT handing over the control and finances to private charter franchise operators. Smaller class sizes, more creative autonomy for teachers, non-standardizing curriculum that allows for more innovation, better resources for the kids from greater allocations of money — all of this is possible in our existing schools, if our superintendent, school board and central admin office would allocate our school district’s resources properly. But they don’t, as the recent and damning state audit revealed. (That’s why a growing number of parents are planning to vote NO on the levy, btw.)

ALL public schools should offer ALL these things to ALL kids, no lottery required, and no private-charter franchise middlemen required either.

For a more informed discussion about charters and other discredited elements of ed reform, I invite everyone to come to our forum with Diane Ravitch, Wayne Au and others at on Oct. 5 at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium (7 p.m.).

Ravitch, who once supported charters, standardized testing and “merit pay” as a member of the Bush I administration’s education dept., studied the research and has determined that these are all flawed concepts that actually harm our schools and students, and she now opposes them.

I also invite Dean Stritikus to our forum. I will be moderating it.

For more info, please see: “The Pillars of Education Reform Are Toppling” at:

Sue P.

SPS parent

& co-editor of Seattle Education 2010


Last Night’s Board Meeting

It has finally come to pass in Seattle as many of us had begun to discuss over a year ago when we began to hear the distant drumbeat of ed reform; high stakes testing, merit pay and not far behind, Teach for America bringing up the rear and populating charter schools with cheap labor.

About the meeting, unbeknownst to me, bright orange anything was de rigueur for the evening at the Stanford Center. I happened to have on a toned down orange striped shirt so I almost fit in.

The Alliance for Education, Stand for Children and Our Schools’ Coalition, basically one in the same group at this point, had dressed up unwitting students for the evening in bright orange t-shirts that said “kids first” on the front. There was also a contingent of the SPS construction team members in their orange and yellow construction vests displaying unity against staff being laid off so it was a visually lively event.

Several of the speakers were the usual cast of characters from the Alliance. Someone wondered if they get paid for these appearances. I imagine that many of these folks are Alliance staff and do get paid but that can be the focus of another article. They went on and on about how we need to have effective teachers and how the state of Washington has relatively low test scores compared to other states. NO ONE in that group mentioned anything about the fact that the school system in our state has always been poorly funded and that there is a direct correlation between the amount of funding a school or district has and how well the students do. Inadequate funding has nothing to do with the teachers except for the fact that all teachers I know feel it necessary to use their own funds to make their class budgets meet, paying for books and materials. None of these folks mentioned class size as a determining factor or poverty and how that can impact a student’s life in school. Nope, it’s all about the teachers.

Meg Diaz did her usual awesome job of pointing out the financial details of STEP and Melissa Westbrook came down hard on the board for not meeting their responsibilities as board directors in overseeing the superintendent as reflected in the recent audit.

What I want to focus on briefly is how the Alliance shamelessly used our students to promote their, rather the Gates and Broad, agenda last night. Under the umbrella of the Alliance for Education and paid for by Broad and Gates money is their offspring “Our Schools’ Coalition” developed and produced by Strategies 360, a national marketing firm paid for by Stand for Children. Stand for Children, also backed by Gates’ money, apparently has joined forces with the Alliance or at least they did last night.

Here were these people with shirts that say “kids first” using our children as a foil for their agenda. The Alliance staff made sure that they took lots of pictures of these kids that will more than likely be used in their literature and as photo’s provided to the press.

This to me shows a complete lack of respect for our students and reflects their willingness to do anything to achieve their ed reform goals.

How do I know that these students hadn’t even heard of Our Schools’ Coalition before last night? Because someone asked them! One student said “I know nothing. My friend brought me”. Another young person said that they had worked with the League of Education Voters on getting out the vote last year and they were asked to show up at the board meeting. Using young, optimistic, hardworking volunteers to promote the ed reform agenda. Another student said that he was part of an organization called “Youth Ambassadors” and someone told them that if they wanted their voices to be heard, that they should come to this meeting. NONE of these young people knew anything about what they were cheering about. This is truly shameless usury on the part of these groups. And they call themselves concerned about children.

The Alliance, Stand for Children and Our Schools Coalition showed their true colors last night and that color is more of a murky gray not a bright, sunny orange.

I could go on but I will save a post just about these organizations in a future but not too distant post.

Below is the testimony that I gave at the Board meeting regarding SERVE:


Much in SERVE has to do with tying the performance of a student on the MAP test to the evaluation of a teacher. Salaries can be based on a student’s performance, but worse than that, SERVE goes on to propose that when there is a rif, the superintendent can then fire teachers based on their evaluations. This is referred to as high stakes testing.

Do I want my daughter’s teacher to be that concerned about how she does on a single test or do I want them to teach the whole child a broader view of the subject, helping her to develop her creative and critical thinking skills?

It would be human nature that a person who is concerned about their livelihood and career would want to focus on ensuring that their students know the correct answers to a multiple choice test, drill and kill as some people call it. Make sure the student knows simple answers to simple questions and kill any desire on the part of the student to want to learn more, subverting any sense of curiosity or wonderment about the world around them. Teach to the test and nothing more.

And who cares about seniority and knowledge of teaching gained from years of experience when you can hire Teach for America recruits on the cheap, another item on the SERVE agenda.

Hiring Teach for America recruits straight out of college and placing them in the classrooms for a stint of two years is the latest rage among ed –reformers, particularly with for-profit charter schools that can hire TFA recruits, keep their cost down and make a profit. Remember, charter schools do not hire union teachers.

Hiring Teach for America recruits works well for charter franchises but not for the students. These recruits, who are planning to go into other fields once the economy picks up, commit two years to teaching, receive six weeks of training, go into the classroom, do their thing and then move on to their chosen fields. Most do not continue on into education. That creates a high rate of churn, as well as a lack of stability with the students, the school and the community. There is no long-term commitment on the part of the teacher to the school or the community and leaves students who have developed bonds with these teachers with nothing at the end but the broken promise that the teacher would be there for them forever.

These elements of SERVE would not work for our students or our community and should not be accepted by the teachers. And teachers, even though you are being bombarded by messages brought to you by Broad-backed and Gates funded faux roots organizations, such as the Alliance, Our Schools’ Coalition and Stand for Children, know that we as parents support you during these negotiations and consider you a precious resource in the development of our children.

Thank you