Thursday, March 25, 2010

Community Members are Weighing in on Teacher Quality

As many of you know, we recently conducted seven community meetings on teacher quality. I would first like to thank the following organizations for their incredible support and participation:

· 37th Legislative District
· El Centro de la Raza
· Coalition for Equal Education Rights (CEER)
· Eritrean Association of Greater Seattle
· Cleveland High School
· Successful Schools in Action/McClure Middle School
· University of Washington College of Education

I also must express my sincere gratitude for the wonderful facilitators of these conversations:

Kevin Boyce (Alliance for Education), Sylvester Cann (Central Area Motivation Program), Caroline Maillard (Seattle Foundation), Ian Smith (Hitachi Consulting), Jessica Jones (Seattle City Club), Liz Peterson (UW College of Education), Alma Villegas (Stand for Children), Gregory Davis (Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition), Liz Vivian (Boeing), and Lisa Moore (Successful Schools in Action).

These conversations were filled with voices from parents, students, teachers, community based organizations, education advocates, and Seattle Public School Board Directors. One thing is clear from our participants: teacher quality is a key factor in student academic success.

Community conversations displayed passion and concern on several issues. Below are some key themes and comments that came out of these discussions:

Professional Development and Support
· “Teaching is like high-quality professional work; you need time to get really good at what you do.”
· “We need to explore what sort of ongoing [professional] development we can offer that is relevant. We must figure out what teachers want to learn and what skills they want to gain.”
· “Teachers need to be ready to teach when they are assigned to a school – not just ready to get paid.”
· “We need a system that creates more advocates for children that come from poor and disadvantaged families. “
· “We need passion and talent for teaching. Some teachers are hired because they have the necessary degrees, yet I believe that teachers need to have the ability to work well with all students.”

Accountability and Evaluation
· “We can’t just blame the teachers; it is the way the system is set-up. We need to have more accountability for our kids and our teachers. “
· “Leadership at the district must make sure that quality in education is happening”
· "If teachers are evaluated only once a year, the students who are falling behind slip through the cracks. Evaluations need to occur more often. We recommend at least once a month. That way we can be sure that our children are learning.”

Tenure and Seniority
· “We believe that teachers should be evaluated not just on tenure but also by other teachers, parents, students. We should be able to participate in the process.”
· “Qualifications (teachers’ performance) should come before seniority when making work force reduction decisions. I don’t think tenure should be the only factor in determining work force reductions. Sometimes the younger teachers are more energetic and it is better for them to replace the more senior teachers that are worn out. “

What is captured here is only a glimpse of the richness in our dialogue. Participants were truly engaged, primed, and ready to have the discussion, even if they did not completely agree with the recommendations of the NCTQ report or one another. This is a necessary conversation for the benefit of our students and teaching professionals.

I strongly encourage you to attend our final community meeting with the African American Parent Action Team on Tuesday, April 13th at 6:30pm. The meeting will be located at Rainier Beach Community Center and will be hosted by Dawn Bennett of the League of Education Voters (LEV).

Also, please RSVP for our Teacher Quality Town Hall, scheduled for Tuesday April 20th at South Lake High School, CLICK HERE. We are currently summarizing all community feedback in a final document and are focused on relaying that information to the public and school district partners during this event.

Please join us for this vital conversation!

-Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager


  1. “We believe that teachers should be evaluated not just on tenure but also by other teachers, parents, students. We should be able to participate in the process.

    How is one evaluated on tenure? This conflates two distinct activities: Ongoing evalation (already codified in it happening?) and the seniority system used to RIF, or lay off, educators.

    IF there is already a fair and ongoing evaluation system in place, then strugggling teachers are already being given support or exited. THEN when it unfortunately becomes necessary to lay off staff, there is no other fair way to do it besides seniority. You can't add an arbitrary evaluation point when it comes time to RIF - educators are already evaluated. What further determinant would be used when laying off staff?

  2. Hi, I'd like to know the methodology for identifying "key themes." Did you take a poll of those present? Did you decide who had the loudest voice? How DID you decide what the key themes were? Did you tabulate who supported each them? Is each as key as the others? Are these key themes merely talking points you came up with? Who said these things? Is there a transcript?

  3. Charlie, "the lights are on but nobody's home."
    We're using the other thread for R and R, how 'bout we use this one to discuss...
    Hey, Alexie won the McArthur Award...second major award in less then three years (Nat'l Book Award for his young adult novel in 2007)

    He's pretty popular in schools - Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a staple. I wonder how HSPE and MAP measure connectivity via the sort of gritty, tough topics as represented by Alexie?

    Can a test measure connectivity? How does a "quality" teacher KNOW (and measure) when a text is reaching her/his students?

    Is this a moot point under alignment?

    whaddya think?

  4. I think it's all moot under alignment and the current system. Some of my favorite and most affective teachers in high school were so out of the box. My English Lit teacher made everything from Canterbury Tales and the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner interesting just because he injected humor into everything. I think he would e evaluated poorly under today's rigid process.
    And I think Alexi's books are a great way to introduce kids to more serious lit without having it be stodgy or irrelevant.

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  6. Seattle Citizen,

    We framed thoughtful, open-ended questions in the community meetings to draw out answers from participants. These questions were based on individuals’ ideas for improving and supporting teacher quality (from their experience as parents, teachers, students, community advocates) as well as the recommendations from the NCTQ report around compensation, transfer and assignment, the work day and developing effective teachers and exiting ineffective teachers. We specifically asked participants to think about positive, negative, and further implications of the proposed recommendations. The conversation was truly defined by what our audience felt was important.

    I call the statements in my blog post above “key themes” because these were the most common topics/issues presented by our participants in the community meetings (seven different meetings).

    We are also polling the broader community (parents, students, teachers, etc.) over the next few weeks on these themes to get a critical mass of participation.

    Again, I invite you to attend our upcoming community meetings if you would like to see the process first hand. I would love to have your voice at the table; not just your “online” assumptions.

    -Solynn McCurdy, AFE

  7. My assumptions, Solynn, are that there is an agenda, carefully crafted, to garner the information most helpful to the Alliance, an Alliance mostly funded by Gates, Broad et al.

    Solynn, please tell me whose idea it was to focus on this a amorphous "teacher quality oft-referenced. We've all seen the Alliance's survey, since taken offline but reborn via telephone (and where DID you get the private phone numbers of seattle teachers...hmmm?) and we have all seen it to be biased, a push poll.

    WHO wrote this survey? WHY are you focused on "teacher quality" when Thurgood Marshall just lost $200,000 in funding, and schools all over the city are similarly losing money?

    WHO told the district to invest Title One dollars in "Performance Management" (?) and MAP testing? Don't tell me it was the board, because we all know it was not.

    WHO does the Alliance represent? Who pays your bills, and why are your biases so transparent? You are not representing the community, you are trying to slide Gates and Broad "philosophy" (ha!) in as quiet as can be....Maybe nobody will notice the students are being standardized, aligned, mapped, codified, quantified and otherwise subjected to the absolute opposite of TRUE quality education.

    Whon do you work for, and why?

  8. And thanks for the invite, but as we've seen made blatantly apparent, you have an agenda, and it ain't the communities, no matter how much you spin it. Your agenda, the Gates/Broad agenda, is as transparent as air, and about as solid.
    For me to come to your "community discussions" would grant your shadow government some sort of credibily, and as of late, since you've abandoned students and teachers so as to work closely with the administration as "critical partners" in the Gates/Broad reoform, credibility is the very last thing I would lend you by acknowledging your meetings. Heck, you'd take my presence as "buy-in" or count me in the little survey boxes (like the survey itself: Can't get out of it unless you sign on to at least two of your agenda items.

    Thanks but no thanks

  9. As a facilitator to these community discussions, I can say for sure that I personally don't have an agenda. In the discussions I was at, we were simply asking peoples concerns and fostering a fruitful discussion about what they think is good or bad in the schools.

    I would really encourage Seattle Citizen to come to the town hall on April 20, because all of the questions you have asked on this blog can be answered there. You can talk directly to the people who you think have an agenda, and see that their number one mission is to improve the schools (with Teacher Quality just being one of the focus areas).

  10. Well, Sly, all I can tell you is what I've seen lately:
    Alliance is a "critical partner" of district admin, directing nine million of Gates/Broad money in support of Strategic Plan;
    Strategic Plan mimics Gates/Broad agenda;
    Alliance has recently put online a horrible "survey" the intent of which is NOT to survey a range of things that would help teachers, but rather to push-poll Gates/Broad agenda items ("teacher quality"; merit pay, etc);
    Given the above, I can only surmise that the "community discussions" are similarly biased towards these ends. After all, the Alliance IS a critical partner of SPS admin, Gates and Broad.
    If the Alliance had maintained some sort of neutrality on these highly political (and economic) issues, I'd be happy to join in the discussion about how we support students. But the Alliance has, of late, aligned itself with forces outside the district that have their own agenda, which is to point the finger at educators as the root of "the problem" (the problem being identified by the reformers' own standardized tests) so as to bust the union and make educators more malleable to corporate intent.
    Until the Alliance supports educators, until it looks at positive steps to address serious problems in the community, in management, in these god-awful reform initiatives...well, until then you are merely mouthpieces for some corporations and flappers for the ears of polticians and administrators.

  11. I think you are passing up a valuable opportunity to provide input on better ways to conduct community discussions, add other items to the agenda besides teacher quality and merit pay, and get clarification on this biased agenda you are claiming the Alliance has. Not coming to this town hall, you are missing your opportunity to address all of these concerns. If there was an agenda, it doesn't seem that your criticism would be openly welcomed.. but in reality, it is openly welcomed.

    It seems that if you were really concerned with the work of the Alliance, you would come and have your questions answered directly at the town hall.

  12. Of course I'd be welcome, Sly, and I'm sure I'd be listened to attentively, because the Alliance has to do these things so as to claim public engagement. But when it is apparent that the Alliance is now in the hip pocket of Gates and Broad, and that it is using push-polls with leading and biased questions to gather "data" about some mythical "teacher quality" (yet to be be decribed), the going to your meeting would waste my time. After listening, I'm quite sure I would see the next round of "data" about "engagement" include some observation of mine and count it as gold, even as the Alliance's actions continue along the Gates/Broad agenda.
    This is why I asked for data above - you claim these meetings are generating comments, sure they are, but who says what? Were people asking about Broad? What was said about THAT? All the meetings in the world are worse than worthless if they merely serve as cover for other agendas that steam ahead regardless.
    Why should I be part of "community engagement" that serves only to give your agenda a patina of truthiness?

  13. So: Please tell us where the Alliance's goals, as defined by REAL surveys and citizen participation, are enumerated. Please tell us a) where "your" goals and the goals of Broad, et al, align, and where your goals and the goals of Broad divurge.
    Please explain to me how you can be the manager of nine million dollars of Gates/Broad seed money, to drive their agenda with, and not be in their pocket. Do you ver disagree with them? On what? Please state publicly exactly where you disagree with the Broad/Gates agenda, all points that differ. I'd like it on record that you go against them sometimes. After all, you ARE a non-profit, and "partners" with EVRYBODY in the district...right?