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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:


Anonymous said...

One suggestion, if you do not already do this....I would refuse to allow my child to take the standardized state assessment if my child was tutored at home.
DO NOT give that school credit for what you are doing in the home!

dan dempsey said...

Spokane is a mirror of Seattle it appears. The Seattle Education Association (Teachers' Union) is more interested in a good relationship with the District than representing its members.

As far as data driven decision-making goes..... the data is extensively cherry-picked before any decisions are made.

Need proof? On 2-4-2010 the Court ruled in favor of appellants in the Seattle High School math adoption. The Board had excluded 300 pages of evidence provided by the public.

The District's response to being asked to reconsider the decision using all the evidence was to refuse. The District appealed in WA Appeals Court Div. I.

Administration in regard to instructional materials selections is an absolute disgrace. Much like at least 80% of the Colleges of Education in this country, that are unable to conduct meaningful research into the effectiveness of instructional materials and pedagogy.

K-12 education has evolved into being led by educational decision-makers that belong to the "Elite Club Ed" of those who push the jargon and are completely unable to produce positive significant results.

It is time to place over-paid fakers into another career or the unemployment lines. Instead the Spokane School Board gives them raises. Puh-leeze!!! is there no sanity left?

Anonymous said...

Same ol', same ol'. District after district is being ruled by people who are more concerned with their own pocketbooks than the taxpayers' or the quality of the education achieved. IF charter schools are better (and the data indicates that they are neither better nor worse than public schools) it may be because they DON'T have layers of administrators (who may or may not have been any good in the classroom) getting in the way of the on-the-ground classroom teacher. It is also not unusual for administrators to be dismissive of teachers. It is, in fact, a tactic used to bully teachers out of their jobs because the administrators can't or won't follow the rules to evaluate teachers and try to counsel improvement. THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT GOOD TEACHING LOOKS LIKE ANYWAY; HOW CAN THEY "IMPROVE" IT?

thushara said...

Laurie - they are destroying every aspect of the education system. unfortunately, NEA, AFT are actively helping them. The local leadership does not appear that different. The issue is that the local leadership has to go by the laws of the parent body, and these laws are written in close collaboration with the big business that rules over every aspect of our lives.

changes happen when regular people realize that power is in our hands. teachers must realize that they have enormous power. students need to realize they can help their teachers. The union leadership never makes teachers see this truth. They will never organize mass action across the country. Just think - they can't outsource K-12. what is the NEA waiting for?

Burma Williams said...

of course, administrators and board of directors have no respect for teachers. About the only thing they have any interest in is keeping their paychecks and blaming anyone and everyone else for the mess our schools are in. This seemed to be a new "issue" back in the days of beginning collective bargaining. Now we have a whole generation of people who have grown up and taken degrees in education who only know about this crap that we hear from the "professional educators." We have no one,or perhaps a few, who do know what good curricula are, good teaching is, and the proper role of an administrator.

Extremely sad. And all the more important that you Laurie and other parents and community members keep speaking out. Good ideas die if no one speaks them. Don't give up.

And welcome to the club, Laurie! I have been a member of the club of teachers, parents, taxpayers, and volunteers who have been hated, bad-mouthed, and despised by "professional educators" for over 40 years. It takes some time and a lot of personal pain to realize that one is in this club. But, as they say, it is the only show in town. Without us. don't even stop to think what would be. So wear this badge with honor and pride and congratulate each other, support each other, and know that you are doing the most necessary job in education today.

Anonymous said...

When enough people have gone through high school and realize they can't do even simple math - we should see heads rolling.

I'm all for the guillotine, if it will improve the writing of math textbooks.

Looking at the bright side, economically this is the best of times for me - houses and things are cheaper than they should be - I suspect its people's lack of education (their loss of reality) that is making my life so much easier.

concerned said...

This is the problem all across the country. Too many administrators spend their time coming up with meaningless assignments that add to teacher's work-load just to justify their positions (or to help them gather "data" for a doctorate so they can make even more money)! Stand up and address discipline issues so we can focus our attention on teaching.

LMD said...

Given the gradual interest in image, entertainment, and instant gratification in media/among young generations, I have a theory:

The lazy, superficial, spoiled, and ignorant (often uneducated) Reality-TV characters flooding today's television (which qualify what's considered cool/admirable) are why students are becoming less interested/prepared for high school, college, and ultimately: the working world. Thoughts?

Laurie H. Rogers said...


Thank you for writing.

I've heard that theory. I think blaming the media is a distraction from the issue, as it is also a distraction to blame teachers, parents, poverty, money, legislators, and hormones (I've heard all of these excuses from administrators, by the way).

Here's how you know it's a distraction: Our public school system does not work where there is a strong teacher, involved parent, and motivated student - and Lord knows the schools definitely have enough money.

It’s my suspicion that - if students are less interested - it's largely because they don't see their school day as relevant. They know school itself is relevant, just not the way it’s presented. They are beat to death with unhelpful, confusing processes and messages. They are regularly distracted from academics for parties, assemblies, character classes, computer classes, and other nonacademic activities. They are embarrassed on a daily basis. They are pushed to do things that make no sense to them, and then they are blamed for not understanding it, for not doing it exactly to some eduwonk's personal wishes, and for not passing an ongoing sludge of tests.

Additionally, their teachers are constantly pulled out of class to attend "professional development," go to conferences, be on committees, and to watch other teachers. Besides being a waste of taxpayer money, this constant removal of the teacher from the classroom is not helpful to students.

If I were one of those students, bludgeoned daily with discovery, group projects, confusing math programs, having to constantly "construct" my own meaning, having to teach and manage my classmates, having to suffer repeatedly with substitutes who don't know me or the material, having to accept group grades on projects on which I did more of the work ... Well, at some point, I would lose interest.

I'm not claiming that media is not a social problem. I'm saying it’s a distraction from the problem that school administrators should fix. What students need in school are a strong teacher (which many – perhaps most – already have); a strong, logical and efficient curriculum (which very few have); and an effective, focused learning environment (which very few have). Given just these three things – strong teacher, strong curriculum, and focused learning environment – students will learn.

Of course, if school administrators keep focusing our attention on social issues (such as media influences), they can shrug their collective shoulders and neatly remove themselves from responsibility for everything they’re doing badly.

Administrators are VERY good at distracting the public from the real issues. But we can resist it. We can insist they stop interfering with the learning process. And when they don’t listen to us, we can call for them to be replaced with administrators who will listen.

The solution to fixing public education isn’t comfortable and tidy. But it is what it is, and it is within our grasp.

Anonymous said...

All excellent written

Unknown said...

I used to teach in public schools in CA. Please check out napta (nat'l assoc for the prevention of teacher abuse). I was run out of teaching by a bunch of lying students and their lying parents with the help of lying administrators. I was a member of napta years before they finally got me to leave. The system is full of incompetence and cronyism, and the anti-intellectual attitudes displayed in most American towns allow such a travesty to continue.