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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Board directors, superintendent show disrespect to teachers, union

By Laurie H. Rogers


You think you’ve heard everything. You think public education is as weak as it can be. Then, you go to another school board meeting, and it goes wrong in an entirely new way.

On Oct. 13, the teachers union and a few hundred teachers and staff members went to a Spokane Public Schools board meeting to protest administrative salary increases. I wasn’t there; I was at home, teaching math to my daughter. I’m homeschooling her in math this year, as I did two years ago, because central-office administrators keep interfering with, micromanaging, and basically destroying Spokane’s K-12 math instruction.

On Oct. 13, the teachers and staff filled up the central-office boardroom and spilled out into the hall. Accounts of their protest of the salary increases indicated that – despite the large crowd – they remained respectful and polite. After they finished speaking, they left. An SEA representative stayed behind.

At the Oct. 27 board meeting, that SEA representative recounted to the board some of the things she had heard on the evening of Oct. 13, after the teachers, staff and media had left. According to the representative, three board directors and the superintendent had a lot to say about the teachers and the union leadership. As I listened to the representative tell her story, my mouth dropped open. If the comments she cited had been said about me, I would classify them as untrue, unkind, inappropriate, unprofessional, and even childish.

After the SEA representative chastised the superintendent and three board directors for these comments, no one from the board or district issued any sort of explanation, contradiction or apology; they just moved on.

Having been an education advocate for four years, I feel her pain. From district emails I’ve gotten through FOIA requests, and also based on comments from people who work for the district, I know I’ve been criticized, mocked and undermined – not to my face, where I could challenge the statements and answer the charges – but behind my back. This type of behavior is unprofessional and cowardly. It speaks volumes about how much administrators value and respect the teachers and staff who care about the children, parents who try to be involved, and taxpayers who foot the bill.

Speaking of taxpayers, let’s discuss those administrative raises.

I wasn’t expecting administrators to get a raise this year. The salaries of most administrators are either more than $100,000 or hover in the near vicinity. One hundred and forty-six administrators (not including the superintendent) will make a combined total this year of $13,875,860 in base pay – an average of $95,040 each. More to the point, a number of them should be fired, especially in the execrable Department of Teaching & Learning.

Spokane has a 28.7% cohort dropout rate, a dropout problem in middle school, a drop of about 2,500 full-time equivalent students over the last eight years, and a 38.9% pass rate on the 10th grade math test (a test that required just 56.9% to pass). Four high schools have a 100% remediation rate in math at SCC. Most of the graduates who test into remedial math at SCC or SFCC test into elementary algebra or below – about half of those fail or withdraw early. Few students seem to know any grammar. In the 2008 district survey of families that left Spokane Public Schools, parents did NOT tend to complain about teachers; a full third said, however, that they left the school district because of the curriculum.

Teachers are not at fault, and they aren’t why I pulled my daughter out of two math classes. I pulled her out because of the weak curriculum and because of the refusal of central-office administrators to allow the teachers to teach. Administrators micromanage the teachers, call their professionalism and quality into question, undermine and discredit their concerns, set them up for failure, and then blame them. Caught in the middle are the students, most of whom will graduate (or drop out) without the skills they need for postsecondary life. There are excellent teachers in this district who want to teach my daughter math and grammar. But there is a barrier between us, and that barrier is the district administration.

Meanwhile, the constant administrator refrain is that we have a “problem in Spokane with quality teaching.” We also hear that there is no money for tutoring, no money for smaller classes, no money for libraries, Pratt Elementary School, office supplies, extracurricular activities, or custodial staff. No money, no money, no money. The superintendent said she supports the federal Race to the Top Initiative because she’s “desperate” for money. This district has cut teaching and staff positions to save on costs. And yet, there is this money for administrative raises.

I’ve heard the “reasons” for these raises:
  1. Administrators have to earn more than their principals.
    • Says who? (Oh, right. The administrators.)
    • District administrators are the ones who negotiate the principals’ salaries. And the principals’ raises led to administrator raises. Can you say “conflict of interest”?
  2. The central office supposedly does more with fewer people.
    • For the school year 2010-2011, the district has 3 more administrators and will spend nearly $700,000 more on administrator salaries than it did two years ago.
  3. This extra taxpayer money will encourage administrators to begin making data-driven decisions.
    • Making data-driven decisions is already their job, albeit one they refuse to do.
    • Why would anyone give rewards to people who refuse to do their job, in the hope that the reward will somehow convince them to start doing it?
    • Rather than trying to convince administrators to do their job, how about if we start firing them when they don’t?
I sat in the Oct. 27 school board “Community Outreach,” trying to convince a board director that Spokane’s K-8 math curricula – which have been criticized across the country since their development, which I have criticized for four years, which have no supporting data behind them, and which have produced an entire generation of students who lack arithmetic skills – are flawed. He’s been on the board since 1996. I don’t have the sense that he gets it.

Then, I sat in the Oct. 27 board meeting, listening to the head of the district’s Department of Teaching & Learning make little sense as she attempted to explain how the district “knows” when our students do have sufficient math skills. That administrator received a bump in pay this summer of $6,337, bringing her annual base pay to $129,299.

Absolutely Un...Be...Lievable.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October 2010). "Board directors, superintendent show disrespect to teachers, union." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

A version of this commentary was published in The Spokesman-Review on Nov. 6, 2010, under the heading "Schools' pay too high at the top." See this link:

This commentary also was published on on Oct. 31, 2010. See this link:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WTM: WA legislators should vote against CCSS adoption

(Note from Laurie Rogers: The following is a statement from Where's the Math? a mathematics advocacy group in Washington State. The complete statement has been reproduced here with permission from the WTM executive committee. For more -- including comparisons between the common core mathematics standards and Washington State's current mathematics standards -- see the WTM Web site at


Where’s the Math?
Washington State Legislature Should Vote Against Adoption
of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics
October 12, 2010

During the upcoming legislative session, Washington State must decide whether to replace our State’s recently improved math standards with a new and evolving set of national education guidelines, the Common Core State Standards. Over the past five years, Where’s The Math? (WTM) has advocated for rigorous, coherent, and internationally competitive mathematics education for all Washington students. WTM has carefully compared the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) against the mathematics standards Washington State adopted in 2008. The CCSS for mathematics possess significant weaknesses and are not ready for adoption in Washington State or nationwide.

Where’s the Math? urges the WA State Legislature to NOT ADOPT the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, based on a number of concerns:

  • The CCSS have major weaknesses compared to existing Washington State math standards. Reviews of both standards by the Fordham Foundation and WTM have noted the superior clarity and organization of the current Washington standards. The CCSS delays teaching important mathematics skills. Throwing out current state standards in favor of the CCSS would waste an investment of tens of millions of dollars in curricula, training, and assessment.
  • There is no funding for the adoption of the CCSS in Washington State. Washington is unlikely to receive any near-term funding through Race to the Top grants, and any awards received would only cover a small portion of adoption costs. The costly implementation of these standards must be absorbed by the state and cash-strapped districts.
  • Adopting the CCSS takes control of standards away from Washington State. The CCSS was produced by a closed group, and conditionally approved by many states without review. States have been pressured with financial incentives and no consideration for possible consequences of nationwide adoption prior to rigorous evaluation in actual classrooms. The limited local discretion permitted by the CCSS process (15%), and the necessity for states to pay for any additional assessments, make significant local enhancements to the CCSS impractical.
  • The CCSS represents an unevaluated work-in-process. The CCSS is untested and unevaluated in the classroom. A proposed national standard should undergo rigorous testing in a limited number of districts or states before it is adopted nationally. Furthermore, an associated assessment exam has not been created. Clearly, there should be no commitment to the CCSS until it is thoroughly reviewed and tested, and an assessment exam is completed and evaluated.

WTM recommends:

  • The WA Legislature should vote against adoption of the CCSS. The legislature should introduce and pass a bill during the 2010-11 session refusing the adoption of the Common Core State Standards.
  • Washington State should remain engaged in the CCSS process at the national level, including making recommendations for improvements in the standards and their assessment. This process should be modified to give states the latitude to use the CCSS to improve existing standards rather than requiring that the CCSS be adopted in their entirety.
  • The WA Legislature should encourage public input. Any future consideration of the CCSS should be open to public scrutiny and comment. The legislature should establish multiple opportunities for community members to interact with local and state officials in public forums where their questions and concerns can be aired and addressed.
There is little to gain from the adoption of untested national standards, and potentially much to lose.

Where’s The Math? (WTM) is a statewide math advocacy group comprised of concerned citizens seeking a balanced and rigorous mathematics education for Washington’s kids. Our mission is to ensure that all Washington State students have an equal opportunity to compete successfully in the international economy by aligning our state math standards, assessments and curricula to those of top performing nations in the world. WTM chapters are organized across the state, with members volunteering in schools, on local PTAs, as elected school board directors, and lobbying elected officials to make Washington State the mathematics role model for the country. Visit for more information.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Children's Investment Fund: Vote "No"

By Laurie H. Rogers

(Updated Oct. 9, 2010, with information about certain members of the Children's Investment Fund steering committee.)
A brochure and postcard came to my door last weekend, asking me to vote “yes” to the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund, a proposed property tax. The brochure acknowledges Spokane’s “persistently troubling dropout rate,” then states: “While our public school system is doing all that it can” to close achievement gaps, “it truly is a community-wide problem” that “demands” taxpayer “attention” and “resources.”
If the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund is approved in November, taxpayers will pay $30 million over six years for programs to prevent child abuse, engage children after school, provide early-learning opportunities, and offer mentoring. These programs, the brochure assures us without any proof or data whatsoever, will reduce Spokane’s dropout rate.
This $30 million levy would be in addition to the federal, state and local taxes you already pay for education and social services. Spokane Public Schools currently spends more than $10,000 per student per year. According to the state education agency, 68% of that expenditure goes toward “learning.” It’s actually worse than that. Money for “learning” is not the same thing as money for “the classroom.”
The brochure for the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund says, again without proof, that Seattle and Portland have had “remarkable” success with their versions of a voter-approved children’s levy. What does it mean to be “remarkable”? The brochure doesn’t say.
I already know that Seattle has issues with on-time graduation, so I looked into the data.
In 1990, Seattle voters approved a “children’s” levy, called the “Families & Education Levy.” At the time, according to Seattle Public Schools, Seattle’s on-time graduation rate was 81%. In the 14 years between 1990 and 2004, Seattle taxpayers paid $138 million for the Families & Education Levy. In the seven years between 2004 and 2012 – you’ll love this – they’re slated to spend nearly $118.6 million on the levy. In 2008/2009, after 18 years of paying for the Families & Education Levy:
  • Seattle’s on-time graduation rate was 70.1% (a drop from 1990 of nearly 11%). For black students, the on-time graduation rate was 55.2%.
  • Just 75.3% of Seattle’s 2009 student cohort remained in school through Grade 12, giving Seattle a cohort dropout rate of 24.7%. (For black students, the cohort dropout rate was 38.1%).
    That is, indeed, remarkable.
In Portland, Ore., the annual $12.5 million “Children’s Levy” has been in place since 2002. According to an America’s Promise report called “Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap,” in 2005, Portland’s metropolitan graduation rate was 72.8%. In 2008/2009, the Oregon Department of Education reports, Portland’s graduation rate was 70.1%.
After eight years and $100 million for the Children’s Levy, Portland’s graduation rate failed to improve. Remarkable.
In 2002, Dade County voters approved “The Children’s Trust” levy. Six years later, voters approved the levy “in perpetuity.” It will be 2020 before they get another chance to say no to it. In 2008/2009, after hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on The Children’s Trust levy, Miami’s cohort graduation rate was 68.2%. Remarkable.
Here's something else you should know:
The Communities in Schools program (a national program located in several cities, including Spokane) is supposedly a leading dropout prevention program. The CIS program does not provide data or research supporting its program, although it claims to be "proven" to work. An organization called ICF International is conducting a study of community-in-schools programs. This study is incomplete.
  • Ben Stuckart is executive director of the Spokane chapter of CIS, and he also is on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
  • Doug Durham is on the board of directors for Spokane's CIS, and there is a Doug Durham on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
  • Lee Taylor is on the board of directors for Spokane's CIS, and there is a Lee Taylor on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
On the Mike Fitzsimmons KXLY radio show Thursday, Oct. 8, Ben Stuckart did not mention his connection to CIS until he was asked what else he did for a living, a question which came well into the show. And when he was asked what he going to do after the vote on the Fund, he did not mention the CIS. The materials for the Fund do not mention the connection between CIS and the Fund. The public is not being properly informed about that connection.
Please vote “no” to the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund property tax initiative. Money isn’t going to fix Spokane’s dropout rate. Vote no, ask your family and friends to vote no, and ask the businesses and organizations that support this levy to withdraw their support.
You are being asked, during an economic downturn, to tax yourselves in support of a nebulous program, run by as-yet unknown mayoral appointees, who will give grants to as-yet unknown organizations, which supposedly will be able to (through as-yet undetermined extracurricular services), reduce Spokane’s dropout rate.
Spokane Public Schools has a dropout problem, no doubt about it. Its 2008/2009 on-time graduation rate was 62.1%. For black students, it was 54.6%. Just 71.3% of the 2009 cohort was still in school in Grade 12, giving Spokane a cohort dropout rate of 28.7%. (The black cohort dropout rate was 32.8%.)
Clearly, something needs to be done in Spokane, but the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund is the wrong tool for this job. According to the initiative's brochure, any grantees will have to show “proven effectiveness and successful track records in fighting the root causes of school dropouts.” But if their track records actually were proven, why is Spokane staring at a 28.7% cohort dropout rate? Why would the levy even be needed?
What exactly are those “root causes”? Could some of them have to do with Spokane Public Schools’ counterproductive academic policies?
  • Spokane Public Schools has a habit of cluttering the school day with nonacademic activities, events, parties, assemblies and “character classes.”
  • The school district’s absolute and unwavering commitment to constructivism (or “discovery learning”) prevents teachers from directly teaching the students critical subjects such as arithmetic and grammar. Every day, students are guided into muddling in herds, teaching themselves and each other, deferring to groupthink and attempting to reach “consensus” on things they don’t understand.
  • District policy is to socially promote students to the next grade regardless of what they know. Standard operating procedure is to plunk them into advanced classes for which they’re insufficiently prepared. In response to queries about these policies, administrators have said to me: “Even if they don’t pass, students must have learned something while they’re there.”
At some point, do you suppose students give up? I can’t imagine suffering with this terrible process for 30 hours out of every week. Can you? How will the Children’s Investment Fund have a positive impact on these disastrous policies? How will that additional $30 million translate into improved graduation rates? Where is the data to support this tax initiative?
Supporters of the initiative want you to vote “yes” for the children by voting “yes” to this tax initiative. I’m asking you to vote “yes” for the children by voting “no” to this initiative. I’m asking you to push Spokane Public Schools to give up on its failing policies, to fire its ineffective administrators, and to give its corps of teachers the freedom to teach their students a strong curriculum in a focused learning environment.

Most of what Spokane administrators need to do for our students is just get out of the way.
Let’s see where we are then with our dropout rates.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (October 2010). "Children's Investment Fund: Vote "no"." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: