Sunday, September 20, 2009

And Then There Were None

Two interesting pieces of related information that I've stumbled across in recent weeks: the high school football teams in both Republic and Garfield-Palouse had to give up 11-man football because of a lack of players.

It's interesting watching the demographic shifts impact our small towns here in Eastern Washington. Where a farm family used to be 3, 4, 5 kids or more, it's now far more rare to see a family that big. Similarly, you used to see 10 families each farming 160 acres, and now you'll find 2 families each doing 800.

These are generalizations, surely, and may not fit for every town and every situation. What is apparent is that there are towns in our state that are struggling more than ever, and the school districts that support those towns are struggling right along with them.

This is why I have every expectation that school district consolidation will come back up during the upcoming legislative session in January. Fair or not, some districts are going to have to make an affirmative case for why they should continue, instead of the assumption being that they will continue. Given the reality of HB2261 and the spending it will require it's clear that the legislature is going to need to pinch every penny to make the plan work.

In some cases, that might mean pinching our rural towns as well.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Another School District Disbands Their Union


The Evergreen Freedom Foundation's Liberty Live blog has the scoop about the St. John's Education Association voting to decertify the union and throw in with the Northwest Professional Educators instead. That makes them the second school district this decade to do so, following the lead of Sprague-Lamont in 2004.

Good for them. If a group of teachers wants to go it alone that's absolutely their right. As a local president I know that I lean on my Uniserv representatives pretty heavily and wouldn't want to fight some of the fights I've had to fight without them (and here's a public thank you to Sally, Pat, and Mike for the work they do).

I think, too, that Sprague-Lamont is an interesting case. If you wander over to the OSPI website and look at the financial data for the district (you'll have to hunt, because Sprague-Lamont is actually Sprague and Lamont until school consolidation happens), but here's some of the information you'll find:
  • In 2004 the Lamont School District had a .6 principal and no superintendent. By last year they had budgeted for a .180 superintendent (at a cost of $23,315)
  • In 2004 "Teaching Activities" accounted for 47.21% of the spending in Lamont. In 2009, that had gone down to 45.53%
  • In 2004 the salary and benefits package for the .6 FTE principal in Lamont added up to $47,487. The budgeted amount for last year? $57,650. That's a raise of better than $2,000 a year.
In Lamont, then, the percentage of the pie spent on teachers has gone down, while at the same time the principal is making $10,000 a year more (out of a budget of about $811,000) and they have superintendent spending that they didn't 5 years ago.

At the same time, the number of students enrolled full-time at Lamont has dropped from an average of 36.89 in 2004-2005 to an average of 32 last year. Declining enrollment, less money for teachers, but they've added a superintendent and upped the pay for the principal.

But that's only the Lamont part of the school combination, where the kids go for middle school. What about Sprague, the larger district that takes the students for K through 5 and high school?
  • In 2008-2009, the principal made $73,416 a year, up from $65,225 in 2004-2005.
  • In 2004-2005, Sprague had a full time (1.0 FTE) superintendent, but by 2008-2009 that had been cut down to .540. Success!
  • But 04-05 that Superintendent made $80,000 a year, but in 08-09 it was $69,944. That's because they raised the base salary that the Superintendent's take-home salary is figured off of, and the practical effect is that a nearly 50% cut in time only amounted to a 12.5% cut in spending. I guarantee you no teacher is getting that deal.
  • In 04-05 "Teaching" was 51.67% of the budget; "Unit Administration" plus "Central Administration" adds up to 16.8%. In 06-07, the last year for which actual numbers are available right now, "Teaching" had a slight uptick to 51.68%; Administrative costs went up to 17.45% of the district budget. They're holding the line on teaching costs, but not on administration. Why do you suppose that is?

At the same time, Sprague has dropped to an average of 79.39 students in 08-09, down from 92.54 in 04-05

The great hope is that the relationship between the teachers and the administrators isn't adversarial, but the other great hope is that there is two-way accountability. It's a romantic notion that the Northwest Professional Educators puts forward, that "professionalism" can win all in the workplace, but in Sprague-Lamont, with a neutered "professional association", the administration has been lining their pockets while the district is withering on the vine.

It will be interesting to look at St. Johns in 5 years and see what their trends are.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Science Instructional Materials Recommendations

One of the outcomes of Washington Learns and the 2007 Legislative session was the mandate for OSPI to recommend no more than three sets of core instructional materials for math and science for elementary, middle, and high school. The math recommendations (released in January 2009) are still undergoing various slings and arrows. It is now science's turn.

You can read the report here and get additional information on the tools and processes here.

I don't think you'll have any great surprises. FOSS isn't #1 for elementary, which will no doubt be of great dismay to LASER, ESDs, and many school districts. However, most of us who have done some intensive alignment with the prior standards already knew that this program wasn't the most viable option. A text-based program currently leads the pack at all grade-levels. Personally, I think this is just fine. After all, it's not the material that makes the difference---it's the instruction.

Recommendations to the Legislature will not be final until the end of August, so you have plenty of time to weigh in with your opinion. There are some significant weaknesses with the process used and school districts would be wise to take many many grains of salt along with the OSPI report.

  • Page 21 of the report states (emphasis added): To develop the review instruments, OSPI engaged the Instructional Materials Advisory Group in two full cycles of development and revision. The IMR Advisory Group and the SBE Science Panel were the two primary groups contributing to the development of the instruments. Their work was research based, and used the following primary sources: 2009 Revised Washington State Science Standards; National Science Education Standards, (National Research Council, 1993); How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, 2000); Ready, Set , Science: Putting Research to Work in K-8 Classrooms (Shouse, Schweingruber, 2008); Atlas for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, Vol. 1, 2001 and Vol. 2, 2007. None of these resources constitute primary sources: They do not contain original research---only interpretations of the work of others. There was absolutely no inclusion of educational research. For my money, this does not qualify as a "research base."
  • There was a "Conceptual Review Process" after the initial review. The process currently carries no weight in the evaluation, but will be used a filter for final recommendations. From page 29 of the review (emphasis added): The final review process was a detailed review of a few Big Ideas across multiple grade levels or units to see how the instructional material developed, supported and synthesized students’ deep conceptual understanding of scientific inquiry, applications, systems and the domains of science. The problem with this portion of the review is the lack of definition about what a "concept" is. The revised science standards use a concept as something that happens at a grade level---not as something which develops over time. And yet this portion of the review is centered upon spiraling ideas. This is not the only place in the review where there is no explicit definition of terms, making the value of the recommendations problematic at best...and useless at worst.
While the review is supposedly open for feedback at this time, there is no public process in place for the collection. This makes it even more important for those in the public schools to cast a very critical eye on the science recommendations before making any decisions which will affect students.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Swine Flu!

Via Goldy, more Seattle schools are going to be closing for a week after the new flu bug was discovered in one of their students.

Yesterday my smallish/rural district sent home a letter to all parents detailing what they would do if the flu was discovered in our schools.

If this keeps up, I wonder if we'll be having WEA Rep Assembly in Spokane in two weeks?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Your Just Reward

If you're in the Seattle area this spring and in need of some entertainment, the Fifth Avenue Theatre is offering educators a deal on Sunday in the Park with George. You can get up to four tickets for only $20 each (use the keyword "Impression" to get the discounted price). For more information, contact Erin Vargo at the 5th Ave: 206.6251418 x214; See you there!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blogging as a Communication Tool

Just found Director Harium Martin-Morris' blog, written by one of the school board members in Seattle. He's got several posts with more than 100 responses each, which speaks well to the power that a blog can have for district parents to communicate with their elected representatives. It's worth checking out.

Friday, March 27, 2009


The governor's budget called for about a $500,000,000 cut to education, including slashing levy equalization and I-728 for class size reduction.

Then the budget deficit got bigger, and we heard that the cut to schools could be about an even billion.

Last week at a union meeting I was at the number being bandied around was "between 1 and 2 billion dollars."

Today, this shows up in my email, from the WEA:

On Monday, the state Senate will release a budget that cuts K-12 and higher education by more than $2 billion.
That's not much of a way to start spring break.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I'll Be Thinking About This One For a Long Time

The entire article is absolutely incredible, but this piece about the importance of language really caught my eye:

The authorities had discovered the rarest and most pitiable of creatures: a feral child.

The term is not a diagnosis. It comes from historic accounts — some fictional, some true — of children raised by animals and therefore not exposed to human nurturing. Wolf boys and bird girls, Tarzan, Mowgli from The Jungle Book.

It's said that during the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick II gave a group of infants to some nuns. He told them to take care of the children but never to speak to them. He believed the babies would eventually reveal the true language of God. Instead, they died from the lack of interaction.

Then there was the Wild Boy of Aveyron, who wandered out of the woods near Paris in 1800, naked and grunting. He was about 12. A teacher took him in and named him Victor. He tried to socialize the child, teach him to talk. But after several years, he gave up on the teen and asked the housekeeper to care for him.

"In the first five years of life, 85 percent of the brain is developed," said Armstrong, the psychologist who examined Danielle. "Those early relationships, more than anything else, help wire the brain and provide children with the experience to trust, to develop language, to communicate. They need that system to relate to the world."

The importance of nurturing has been shown again and again. In the 1960s, psychologist Harry Harlow put groups of infant rhesus monkeys in a room with two artificial mothers. One, made of wire, dispensed food. The other, of terrycloth, extended cradled arms. Though they were starving, the baby monkeys all climbed into the warm cloth arms.

"Primates need comfort even more than they need food," Armstrong said.
Early intervention. I think we all know, instinctively, that it's critical; articles like this just drive the point home.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Told You This Would Happen If the Sonics Left Seattle!

Report: NBA to borrow $200M to aid 12 teams

Do you suppose that David Stern could give us teachers a small handout? He owes the city something.

Monday, February 16, 2009

It Could Be Worse....

....we could be California:

Since the fall, when lawmakers began trying to attack the gaps in the $143 billion budget that their earlier plan had not addressed, the state has fallen into deeper financial straits, with more bad news coming daily from Sacramento. The state, nearly out of cash, has laid off scores of workers and put hundreds more on unpaid furloughs. It has stopped paying counties and issuing income tax refunds and halted thousands of infrastructure projects.

Twenty-thousand layoff notices will go out on Tuesday morning, Matt David, the communications director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Monday night. “In the absence of a budget we need to realize this savings and the process takes six months,” Mr. David said.
God, Vishnu, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster willing, we won't go down that road here in Washington.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hot Dog!

According to Schmudget the recently-signed stimulus package could be used to backfill in the cuts that Governor Gregoire proposed to levy equalization and class size reduction funding. If that's even close to being the case it's a big, big sigh of relief for school districts around the state.

More from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities here.

The next big thing to watch will be the early budget forecast this coming Thursday, February 19th, where it's fully expected that the $5 billion dollar deficit Governor Gregoire prepared for is now an $8 billion dollar hole in the treasury. That'll be a big, big indicator about where things might go for the rest of the session.

The 1410/5444 Split: Is Compromise Coming?

The PSE union seems to think so.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Levys Look Like They're Doing OK; Bonds, Not So Much

Just a quick look at the auditor's website around the state, but so far it looks like most school measures are having a good night. Better than 60% approval for Peninsula, Republic and Curlew (nearly 73% for the Cougars!), a whole lot in Spokane County as East, West, and Central Valley all past their levies, along with Freeman and Orchard Prairie; the only measure that I've seen that's certain to go down is East Valley's bond, which is hovering at 50% for an initiative that still needs a supermajority to pass.

Hopefully that good tide will flow into next month, when my school district has their levy election.

Congratulations to all who passed their measures!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

EWU Prof Published in Chronicle of Higher Ed

Rachel Toor, an assistant professor in the creative writing department at EWU, had a long commentary printed in the January 9th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Good on her--it's always nice to see our in-state professors getting some well deserved attention!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Randy Dorn was never a member of Mothers Against the WASL

Jerry Cornfield is confused.
Randy Dorn pledged to toss out the WASL if elected to run Washington's public schools.

He won the job of superintendent of public instruction. He's ready to make good on his promise.

Wednesday he'll reveal details of an extreme makeover of the exam, beginning with a new name because, as he says, "WASL" is kryptonite.

Questions will be fewer in number, shorter in length and able to be answered and scored on a computer in his blueprint.

His goal is to have students spend less time taking it, teachers spend less time giving it and the state spend less money on it....

Which raises the political question: If it looks like the WASL, sounds like the WASL, reads like the WASL and counts like the WASL, isn't it the WASL?
How about we head over to Randy Dorn's campaign website, then, to see what Dorn actually promised.
We don't need to spend years figuring this out. Drawing on successful tests developed in other states, in my first year in office I will work with the state school board to replace the WASL with a testing system that is diagnostic, tied to technology, more fair, more understandable, and which takes less time so that testing doesn't dominate curriculum and the school calendar. We will then phase this new test in so there is no gap in accountability for current students.
It seems that Mr. Cornfield has projected certain anti-WASL sentiments on to Mr. Dorn. To be fair, though, I know a lot of people who knowingly glossed over Dorn's make-the-WASL-smarter stance, voting for anybody but Bergeson.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

You Know What's Fun? Reading the State Budget!

Happy the Budget Deer Loves Substitute House Bill 1128!

No, really! You can download the last one here; zip ahead to section 5 and you'll get to the stuff that matters most to us, regarding education funding. It's 57 pages of numbers, and I think that given the state of the budget that's where the opportunity lies. For example, take this from page 149:

Within the amounts provided in this subsection, the superintendent shall recognize the extraordinary accomplishments of four students who have demonstrated a strong understanding of the civics essential learning requirements to receive the Daniel J. Evans civic education award. The students selected for the award must demonstrate understanding through completion of at least one of the classroom-based civics assessment models developed by the superintendent of public instruction, and through leadership in the civic life of their communities. The superintendent shall select two students from eastern Washington and two students from western Washington to receive the award, and shall notify the governor and legislature of the names of the recipients.
Sounds like a nice enough program, surely, but given that we've got a $6 billion dollar hole to fill the question that we should be asking about every single thing we do is pretty simple:

Is it worth it?

I'm not sure where I first heard the phrase "Christmas tree items" to descrive those pieces that are added into a budget that pay for certain pet programs; they're hung on to the main body, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Our education budget last time had a wide variety of those items, and they all should be run through the same filter: were they worth it?

  • $1,895,000 to operate the State Board of Education
  • $2,000,000 for operating costs for the Professional Educator Standards Board
  • $7,558,000 to fund alternative routes to teacher certification
  • $555,000 for litigation fees surrounding various lawsuits
  • $600,000 to replace of the apportionment system
  • $156,000 "to provide direct services and support to schools around an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to instruction in conservation, natural resources, sustainability, and human adaptation to the environment."
  • $2,563,000 "for the creation of a statewide data base of longitudinal student information."
  • $650,000 "for comprehensive cultural competence and anti-bias education programs for educators and students."
  • $100,000 "to promote the financial literacy of students." As an aside, they're about to get a hell of a lesson on what overspending can do!
  • $270,000 to implement a bill "regarding educational data and data systems."
  • $228,000 for the "legislative youth advisory council."
  • $193,000 for "children and families of incarcerated parents."
  • $55,000 for the "Washington college bound scholarship."
  • $49,000 "regarding providing medically and scientifically accurate sexual health education in schools."
  • $45,000 for food allergy guidelines.
  • $84,000 "to support a program to recognize the work of outstanding classified staff in school districts throughout the state." That's enough to pay for 2 or 3 classified employees.
  • $194,000 "to support a full-time director of skills centers within the office of the superintendent of public instruction."
  • $1,030,000 to pay for two studies from the NWREL about ELL and the "k-3 demonstration projects."
  • $200,000 for a study from WSU on school bullying.
  • $5,082,000 for a "school nursing corp" based out of the ESDs.
  • $192,000 for the School Safety Center at OSPI.
....and that's just the first 8 pages. It adds up to $23,699,000. Not all of it is discretionary--I'm pretty sure that the state Constitution mandates we have a State Board of Education--but is there potential for them (and the PESB) to do things as leanly as possible for a couple of years? The big things out of the State Board lately have been the new accountability matrix and Core 24; let's not do those, and not spend any more money on them, and see what happens.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Western Washington U Drops Football

Didn't expect this:

Western Washington has dropped its football program because of budget concerns, the school said in a press release issued today.
"Ending the football program will allow intercollegiate athletics to meet budget reduction targets, and, most importantly, to protect the quality of the remaining intercollegiate sports,” Eileen Coughlin, WWU vice president for student affairs and academic support services, said in the release.

Football began at Western in 1903. The only stoppages in the program were during World Wars – from 1917 through 1920, and from 1943 through 1945.

“In my 22 years as director of athletics at Western, this is by far the toughest decision that I have been a part of,” WWU director of athletics Lynda Goodrich said.
What I've always heard is that football is the engine that drives the athletics car; that the money a school makes off of football can pay for the other niche programs like cross country, soccer, and the like. I'd be curious to get a good look at Western's athletics budget and see what the case is.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

the budget crisis gets personal

Governor Gregoire's 2009 budget proposal includes a six percent across-the-board cut at the community college level. Since last summer, my wife had been working at Pierce College in Lakewood, assisting adult students in their transition from GED programs to a college education. We had held off major financial changes this winter, knowing that although she had survived the first round of cuts, her job status in June was iffy.

Turns out it was even iffier than we thought. Yesterday she was given her walking papers, since her position has been eliminated as of January 16th. She's over the initial shock, frustrated by having to look for new employment, more irritated than anything, as is her soon-to-be-slammed supervisor.

Our plan to help the U.S. out of the recession was to purchase a home in December. Not anymore. But we can't complain too loudly. We can scale back our dreams a bit, pinch a few more pennies, and weather the storm. And I still have a job in the Olympia School District.

For now.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Scenes from the Snowstorm

Our Christmas break was supposed to start December 20th, but the 2 days before that were cancelled because of one snow storm. Tomorrow we were supposed to head back to work, but the county sheriff told all the local school districts to shut it down because the roads weren't going to be ready. There's more snow projected in the next three days, then rain, which will have the roofs caving in like poorly-constructed igloos.

It's been insane.

Speaking of insane, a hat tip to the Central Valley School District for this heartening notification off of the ESD website:

1/4/2009 3:19:21 PM
Central Valley School District 356
SUBJECT: Two Hour Delayed Start on January 5
Complete Message: On Monday, January 5, all Central Valley Schools will operate on a two-hour delayed start schedule for students. No AM kindergarten or preschool classes. No breakfast program. Child care is operating on time. All staff are to report to work on time. Continue to watch for updates, based on developing weather conditions. School Name: Central Valley School District #356
Because hey, even if the roads are impassible for everyone else, that's no reason for you teachers to not show up to work!

It gets better. Note that the update above was early afternoon; later on they mostly took it back:

1/4/2009 5:29:51 PM
Central Valley School District 356
SUBJECT: Central Valley Schools Closed on January 5
Complete Message: On Monday, January 5, all Central Valley Schools will be closed per order of Spokane County Sheriff. Principals and district office staff should report to work as usual. School Name: Central Valley School District #356
I would hope they would be nice enough to their principals to retract that later on if need be, but we'll see how the weather goes.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

the triumph of Ruth Bennett

Remember Ruth Bennett? She was the Libertarian who ran against Gregoire and Rossi back in 2004. She earned far more votes than the margin of victory, and probably ultimately swung the election for Gregoire, but disappeared off the political radar after that.

Turns out she had been here all along.
Gregoire told The Olympian's editorial board Friday that some proposed cuts — such as closing a youth-offender camp at Naselle and shuttering a Yakima facility for the developmentally disabled — were "an opportunity" to do the right thing that might not be politically possible in richer times.

Both facilities are under-used by departments that have too little demand to justify the operations.

"So it is a time to rethink government," Gregoire said.

The governor also said she has asked her Cabinet leaders to look again at how they do business, and she said she wants to look at the state's 400 boards and commissions with an eye toward picking out only boards that are essential.
To the eye and ear she's Chris Gregoire, but the discerning mind is not fooled by the clever disguise.

Congratulations, Ruth Bennett, on winning when it really counted.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

everybody hurts: the Gregoire Budget

Governor Gregoire has released her budget recommendations for the upcoming legislative session. Cue Michael Stipe, singing on a freeway:
Gov. Christine Gregoire released an austere state budget proposal this morning that slashes more than $3.5 billion in funding for public schools, higher education, social services and other areas to help close the biggest budget shortfall in state history.

Gregoire proposes filling the gap, projected at more than $5 billion, by making scores of cuts and using untapped pots of money, including $600 million from the state rainy-day fund.

In addition, the governor is banking that the federal government will send Washington at least $1 billion as part of an economic stimulus package.

Among the cuts proposed by Gregoire: $682 million in pay increases for state workers and teachers; $500 million in health care for children, the poor and the disabled; and $178 million in funding for Initiative I-728, which was approved by voters in 2000 to reduce class sizes in public schools.

The proposed budget also would change how state pensions are funded, and reduce contributions to the worker-retirement programs by $400 million over the next two years. No cut was too small to pursue. The governor proposes closing 13 state parks to save $5.2 million, shuttering the visitors center at the state Capitol to save $1.7 million and eliminating toll-free numbers to the state Department of Revenue to save $260,000.

The governor said the cuts were necessary, but that she "hates" the budget and expects legislators and lobbyists will as well. "There's something in there for everybody not to like."
I'd strongly recommend reading the entire recommendation [pdf] to get a sense of the uphill battle ahead.

I'll post analysis later this week.

(Oh, and it almost goes without saying that "advocacy groups" are upset.)

Added: And then there's Ryan's take.