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Friday, July 29, 2011

District wants data system and more money. Taxpayers want academics and accountability. Vote for Sally.

[Edited August 8]

By Laurie H. Rogers

What’s the point of a school board?
  • Is the role of a board director accountability and responsiveness to the district -- or to voters?
  • Should directors work to support the superintendent and staff? Or, should they work to hold the district accountable for fiscal responsibility and academic outcomes?
  • If the district and the voters disagree on what should happen with taxpayer money and our children, to whom should the board listen?
Your views on this will guide you as you vote. As the only elected officials in our school district, board directors should be accountable and transparent to the people. They approve expenditures of taxpayer dollars, and they oversee the education of our children. There should be very little about their work that’s closed to public view. When the district pushes something the community doesn’t want, the board should pay attention and be inclined to support the electorate.

That’s why, on July 27, I asked Spokane board directors to allow the people to vote on whether the district should spend several million tax dollars on a proposed new data system, and on the new federal vision for public education. As directors contemplate these multi-million-dollar expenditures on (unproved) products – they're also contemplating cutting people and programs that parents actually want. So, at the July 27 board meeting, I asked the directors to put the proposed expenditures on a ballot. They were silent. They looked at each other. Then, they went on with their meeting.

Before the July 27 meeting, I gave the directors a copy of my blog article from July 16. That article shows clearly that, rather than engage in full public disclosure, the district tends to present selected slivers of pretend achievement – even as student data indicate serious declines in outcomes. On any measure of what a good district looks like – excellent academic outcomes, college and career readiness, financial and data transparency, administrative accountability – this district fails.

At the July 27 meeting, having received this article, the directors voted unanimously to renew or extend the superintendent’s contract. On what basis did they vote to do that? Astonishingly, they don’t have to say.

Here’s how administrative accountability works in District 81. The district considers the superintendent’s board evaluations to be exempt from public records requests. Staci Vesneske, head of Human Resources, assured me that there were “no discussions of specific incidents of misconduct in any of the evaluation documents” I had requested, and so therefore, the superintendent’s evaluation isn’t open to the public.

Few of the district’s rubrics for evaluating top administrators even contain academic outcomes as a criterion for evaluation. The rubric for the four administrators known as "school directors" (which aren't the same as "board directors") do contain this criterion: “…establishes an effective academic program.” Obviously, they fail in this area, yet there they are, each costing taxpayers more than $100,000 per year. I asked for copies of some past evaluations; when they arrived, they were so heavily redacted they’re actually funny. For example:
  • This is what remains from a paragraph for Lorna Spear: “Lorna … She … She … her … she….”;
  • From a paragraph for Jon Swett: “Jon … He … his … He…”;
  • From a paragraph for Irene Gonzalez: “Irene … She … She …”;
  • From an eight-line paragraph on Tammy Campbell: “Tammy. She … Her … her … She … Tammy … She … Tammy … her … her … her …”
Are you angry yet? Oh, wait. It gets worse.

We parents, business owners and taxpayers stare at expenditures of $11-12,000 per student, a budget that has NOT been cut since 2002 (despite what the superintendent keeps telling you), high dropout rates, high remedial rates, low levels of skills in math and grammar, ridiculously low levels of pass rates on basic tests, and a nearly complete lack of financial transparency or accountability. Yet, we have no way to know WHY we’re stuck with the same leadership for which we paid excessively last year.

Last week, I heard a business owner say we shouldn’t “throw Nancy Stowell under the bus.” Holding the superintendent accountable for student outcomes is NOT “throwing her under the bus.” She gets paid extremely well to run this district, and she should be held accountable for the results. Instead, the board directors gave her a raise last year, and on July 27, they renewed or extended her contract.

That’s just one reason why voters should vote for Sally Fullmer for the Spokane school board. Sally is a breath of fresh air – not beholden to the union or in sync with the district (as Deana Brower appears to be). Sally believes the board should be answerable to the voters and to parents. She is willing to be the "lone voice in the wilderness," voting against things that will not help our students academically. She intends to make special effort to inform parents and taxpayers about district policy and decision-making. (Board candidate Bob Griffing has said he is NOT intending to be that lone voice -- that once a majority of directors decide, he would support the decision and not speak out against it. But that's what we have now.)]

Our current board directors appear to have an unfortunate tendency to brush off concerns from parents as they cozy up to the superintendent. Board director Bob Douthitt has gone so far as to email administration about how to best present “our” message to the public. Current board relationships appear to be much too friendly to foster real accountability to the people. Having interviewed Deana repeatedly, and having listened to her speak in several public forums, I believe she will continue that trend. She tends to argue for and support the district’s point of view. I know she’s been endorsed by the union, the daily newspaper, and Stand for Children. Like I said, transparency and accountability are in short supply these days. Ask yourself why you don’t get this information elsewhere. Ask why Deana assures Republicans that she's a Republican -- as she is endorsed, trained, and supported by progressives who have the sole goal of electing progressives.

Sally Fullmer agrees that district transparency is a problem. But Deana Brower said during the July 26 Greater Spokane Inc. forum that she’s “very proud” of administrators for supposedly “opening the books” during talks about raising graduation rates. She said administrators engaged in “full disclosure” and “honest conversation.” She said the graduation rate has “increased up to 10%” at one of the high schools, and that “more attention” is being given to extra programs.

(I was eating a muffin at the time and nearly choked. Oh, please. Do read about the district’s actual presentation of graduation rates. We don’t need to be “proud” of full disclosure; full disclosure should be expected. And some of the extra expenditures Deana mentioned wouldn’t be necessary if the district just taught the students properly in the first place.)

Sally Fullmer questions the district’s presentation of student outcomes, whereas Deana praises the district in exactly the same way the district praises itself. Sally questions expenditures, asking if the money is going to the right place. Deana says the state isn’t “fully funding” education (not mentioning that the district now spends several thousand dollars more per student than it did a few years ago, and that the budget has increased by $60 million since 2002). Last year, the local levy paid for administrative salary increases. The public was not told that – not then and not now. Deana’s position is that inflation has been a problem and that the district needs more taxpayer money in order to be successful. But inflation doesn’t account for a $60 million increase on a $250 million budget – especially when student enrollment has dropped by thousands of students (net).

I thought about comments from Deana Brower and Bob Griffing on July 27 as the board talked about the proposed data system -- right before they continued discussing cutting instructional assistants. The district’s torturously long presentation assured the board directors that this new (untested, unfunded, unproved, unnecessary) multi-million-dollar data system – to be preceded by a preliminary expenditure of $500,000 – would somehow improve student outcomes, reduce dropout rates, and increase graduation rates. You can see the presentation: click on the PDF for the July 27, 2011, Board Book. Read it and weep.

After the district's presentation, no board director said, “Uh … where is the proof this system works? How can we possibly spend taxpayer money on this data system when we just cut remedial programs, we’ve whined to the public about possibly cutting teachers, programs, or after-school activities, and now we’re talking about cutting instructional staff?”

Dear board directors: Repeat after me: Data does not teach a child – not even snazzy data that slices and dices the students 17 ways from Sunday. Administrators will ignore this new flood of data just as they ignore the flood of student data they already have. Nancy Stowell and her administrators will do what they’re doing now, which is to imply that they’re fabulously successful and it’s just the teachers, parents, students and, well, the entire community that are flawed.

After viewing the district presentation for the data system, you can scroll down in that same July 27, 2011, Board Book to the budget presentation. See how the district also plans to set aside a few million dollars for an (untested, unfunded, unproved, unfinished) nationalized K-8 math curriculum (AKA the Common Core initiatives). The district isn’t telling you – but I know – that the federal government has indicated plans to have nationalized standards, tests, and curricula in ALL subjects. Nationalized science standards already are in the works. District expenditures for this federal plan will be massive and ongoing. The time to say no is now. But our district administrators support it. The board so far has supported it. Deana’s comments indicate that she supports it. Sally Fullmer, however, does not support it.

Do you see that the trend is to push for ever-more money for non-academic expenditures? Deana Brower says the district needs more money and that the superintendent’s salary is not excessive. Sally Fullmer says the Spokane superintendent's salary is excessive but that the larger issue is: Is she getting the job done?

We need someone who will question the district and advocate for the people. I believe that Sally Fullmer "gets it," and I believe she will hold the district accountable. Please vote for Sally and give her a chance to advocate for you.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (July 2011). "District wants data system and more money. Taxpayers want academics and accountability. Vote for Sally." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sally Fullmer best choice for Spokane school board

[Edited August 8]

By Laurie H. Rogers

In the Aug. 16 primary election, Spokane voters will choose two candidates out of five possible replacements for outgoing school board director Garret Daggett. I interviewed all six original candidates and gave them two surveys to fill out. I interviewed four for KRTW radio, and listened to four at the League of Women Voters forum and in other settings. In this post, I sum up my findings.

This is a critical election, folks. Please vote in the Aug. 16 primary. Encourage others to vote. We must send two good candidates through to the general election. Based on everything the board candidates have written, and everything I’ve heard them say, my first choice for a replacement for Garret Daggett is Sally Fullmer.

In Spokane Public Schools, we clearly need a change of direction. Our students suffer low pass rates on “basic-skills” state tests, low levels of skills in math and grammar, and high dropout rates. The district has high numbers of transfers, dropping full-time enrollment, and a lack of transparency, or even honesty, about the exploding district budget. Many families have left because of the curriculum. Our graduates suffer unacceptably high remedial rates in college in mathematics and English; nearly half will fail their remedial math classes or withdraw early.

District administrators have an unfortunate tendency to blame teachers, parents, students, and poverty for all problems, as they negotiate themselves into pay raises and are praised by board directors for fake improvements. A change in the school board is a must-do. We desperately need board directors who will question, dissent, and refuse to “go along to get along,” who will hold our well-paid administrators accountable, and stand up for the students’ and taxpayers’ best interests – not just when it’s convenient, but every time.

When I began these interviews, the only candidate I’d met was Paul Lecoq. One candidate repeatedly suggested to me that I’d already made up my mind, but that isn’t so. I didn’t settle on a candidate until I’d met all of them, and I met the last one July 16. My support was open to all candidates; it really was theirs to lose.

Deana Brower

My first interviewee was Deana Brower. She ran for the school board in 2009, losing in the primary. Deana told me people talk about the curriculum too much, that people should focus on philosophy instead. She said schools aren’t “social services,” yet her idea for fixing the math problem rested on having better teachers, fixing (unfixable) social problems, and allowing the district to build its own math standards.

But Washington State already has good math standards, upgraded in 2008 to include the long-lost standard algorithms and procedural proficiency. Spokane administrators decided to build their own standards, which they call “Power Standards.” And who in this district is qualified to do that? Deana supports these Power Standards, saying they’re “aligned” with the state standards. But if the two sets of standards are the same, why did the district waste taxpayer money building new ones? And if the two sets of standards are different, then what’s different? Spokane’s current administrators have worked diligently for more than a decade to remove standard algorithms and procedural proficiency from Spokane’s math program.

In the League of Women Voters forum, Deana made unsubstantiated attacks on other board candidates (the only candidate to do so), and she spent much of her talking time defending the school district – to the point where it seemed as though she were a district employee, defending her decisions. If you doubt my impression, please watch the LofWV video.

[Updated July 27: Deana sounds like an administrator -- one who is completely supportive of the district. I saw this the first time I spoke with her, on June 9 at the Spokane Republican Women's luncheon, again during my initial interview with her, again at the LoWV forum, and then again July 26, during the Greater Spokane, Inc. forum. It doesn't sound to me like she intends to hold administrators accountable for their policies, curriculum choices, or student outcomes.]

Deana’s answers to the Where’s the Math? questionnaire and to my longer questionnaire were carefully worded, but they didn’t indicate a real understanding of the root of the math problem. After reviewing her answers, the executive committee of Where’s the Math? decided against approving Deana Brower as a board candidate.

Deana says she could support the district’s adoption of the (unfunded, untested) federal Common Core initiatives. Interestingly, she said she isn’t supportive of federal control over standards, tests and curriculum, which shows her ignorance of what the Common Core initiatives are about. Deana says the school district isn’t properly funded (even though the district budget has grown by more than $60 million since 2002 while student enrollment has dropped by thousands of students). When I interviewed Deana for KRTW radio (which broadcasts to a more conservative audience), she told listeners a more conservative story. I don’t buy it, and here’s why.

Deana received teachers union support months before the campaign filing period had begun. Deana tells conservatives that the union knows her stance and supports her as being the best candidate they have. How could the union have known that, way back in the spring? The union’s support is interesting, considering Deana’s stance that better teachers are the main solution to the math problem.

The teachers union sent Deana to a “joint SEA/WEA program created specifically to train school board candidates.” The union says, “This program was provided to Deana and several other candidates from around the state in an effort to encourage people with education experience to run for school board. The training was developed by WEA in conjunction with two political consultants, Wellstone Action and Progressive Majority.”

This training was NOT provided to other board candidates in Spokane, even to those “with education experience.” Regardless of your political leanings, please read up on Wellstone Action and Progressive Majority. I read their mission, goals, philosophy, and approach to elections with growing alarm. They are all about supporting a progressive political leaning. That Deana Brower and the union would associate with these groups, much less use them and be used by them to help sway a supposedly nonpartisan campaign, speaks volumes about both. [Updated July 29: The Progressive Voters Guide also has chosen Deana Brower as their progressive candidate.]

Regardless of whether you're a conservative voter or a liberal one, you should know that Deana Brower tends to support the status quo. If you're looking for a change in the district, I doubt you will see it with her, except, perhaps, in how much more that lack of change will cost you as a taxpayer.

Deana has teaching experience (in California) and children in the Spokane school district. Deana was involved in the discussion over the placement of Jefferson Elementary School.

Sally Fullmer

Sally is a piano teacher, active in her community, in the neighborhood, and also was involved in the discussion over the placement of Jefferson Elementary School.

Sally is an active questioner. I’ve seen her at more community education-related events over the last few weeks than any other candidate, where she has met with and listened to the public. She also spoke at the League of Women Voters forum, arguing for transparency and accountability. She appears to understand the root of the math problem. Where’s the Math? has approved Sally for her answers to the WTM math questionnaire. One executive committee member for WTM said Sally’s answers sound like something any of us math advocates could have written. I agree with his assessment. This means that supporters of the district’s loopy approach to math likely will not support Sally. The teachers union is not supporting Sally. However, parents who are trying to figure out why their smart children are failing math, and parents whose children are getting As in math and then testing into arithmetic in college, likely will see Sally as a strong ally.

Sally also provided answers to my longer questionnaire. She is not supportive of federal control over standards, tests or curriculum, nor does she support the untested, unfunded federal Common Core initiatives. She takes the problem of the math materials seriously and said that, to fix the math problem, “Good curriculum must be in place.” The adoption of Holt Mathematics should not be delayed just because the district wants to adopt the “unproven nationalized curricula,” she said. Sally believes in more academic freedom for teachers and more accountability for administrative decision-making. Students should be allowed to practice skills to mastery, she said, and calculator use should not take the place of math skills. She said, and I agree: “Significant results should be the norm in school!”

[Edited August 8: Sally has continued to advocate for accountability, transparency, student academics, and fiscal restraint. She said she intends to keep the public informed about board decisions, and she's willing to be the lone voice against policy and decisions that are counterproductive to student learning. This shows me that she -- more than any other candidate -- understands her role as a board director, which is to be accountable to the people.]

Sally has children in the district. She has had to work with her own children in academics to offset gaps in their education. Her Web site is located at

Paul Lecoq
Paul Lecoq teaches engineering at Gonzaga University. He decided to run because a change in the school board is desperately needed. I respect and empathize with a person’s willingness to step up on behalf of the community when it isn’t a personal ambition. Paul was approved by Where’s the Math? for his answers to the WTM questionnaire; he filled out my questionnaire; and he spoke at the League of Women Voters forum. On July 21, Paul pulled out of the race, throwing his support behind Sally. [Updated July 27: In its roundup of the board candidates, The Spokesman-Review declined to print Paul's statement, or mention Paul's endorsement of Sally Fullmer.] This is Paul Lecoq's statement:
“After listening and speaking to the other candidates extensively, paying close attention to the forums, and much consideration, I have decided to drop out of the race for Spokane Schools (District 81) as of now. I will support Sally Fullmer. Since I am convinced that she is fully committed to improving the quality of education in Spokane, I urge Spokane voters to vote for Sally Fullmer. She deserves the support of Spokane citizens in her race for position 5 of the school board. My supporters can be assured that her objectives are compatible with mine. "My motivation for running was to bring solid math, English and science curricula to the schools and to set objective performance standards to assure that graduates are prepared with adequate skills. We owe it to our kids to develop their work ethic and study skills. I am satisfied that Sally can do the job. It’s more important to me that a competent person sits on the board than for that person to be me. That is why I am redirecting my energies to supporting Sally Fullmer.

"Robert Griffing also shares many of my goals, and would make an excellent board member. However, I see that Sally Fullmer’s determination not to let another three years of students suffer from bad practices, her commitment to excellence, that she will insist on competence, that we agree on the need for objective criteria for success, are more in line with what I stand for. I’m convinced that Sally Fullmer is the best candidate.”

Robert (Bob) Griffing

Bob’s background includes instruction in teaching, history and theology. He works with Fairchild Air Force base in providing support to the airmen.

Bob answered the Where’s the Math? questionnaire, and his answers earned him WTM approval as a board candidate. He is still working on answering my longer questionnaire. I have seen him at a few community functions around town, and also at the League of Women Voters forum, where he argued for better accountability and a renewed focus on the district’s main purpose, which is to produce well-educated students. He advocates strengthening board leadership, sharpening the budget so that expenditures are narrowed to what matters to academics, and decentralizing the decision-making so that teachers have more academic freedom.

[Edited August 7: I don’t care for Bob’s idea of giving the superintendent three years to solve academic problems. The superintendent would be delighted, no doubt, to earn $222,000 per year for three more years. But three years in a child’s life is an academic lifetime. The children need improvement now, and now is possible. Nancy Stowell has been with this district for decades. Under her four-year watch as superintendent, the pass rate on the 10th-grade math test fell from just more than 50% to 38.9%. Bob continues to defend the superintendent's salary and has said that repairing the weak curriculum should wait until other problems are solved.

Additionally, Bob has said he will not be the "lone voice in the wilderness," that directors should work for consensus and support decisions. This, to me, is a misunderstanding of the role of the board director. Directors should be accountable to the public, not to Nancy Stowell or to other board directors. Consensus is what we have now. If the new Spokane board director does the right thing on behalf of students and taxpayers, he/she will have to be the lone voice in the wilderness for at least two more years. If Bob isn't willing to be that voice, then he should not be running.]

Bob’s children have attended both public and private settings. His lengthy experience with German schools provides a stark contrast to the Spokane public system, which his children have attended off and on. He and his wife also have chosen to homeschool at times, in order to provide the academics and learning environment they want for their children. His Facebook page is located at:

Larry Vandervert

In our conversation, Larry offered friendly, but contradictory commentary, as when he initially questioned whether children need to learn math, then later said students need to learn the basics. His platform is difficult to determine. He refused to answer the Where’s the Math? questionnaire and also my longer questionnaire. I haven’t seen him at functions or community candidate forums. He has not, to my knowledge, made effort to make his views known to the public.

He offered me a single response to my survey (quoted verbatim): “Looking over the survey, the only portion I would want to respond to are the first parts on the role of the board member. That's because, as I see the role (Vandervert on SkyHigh, and the Policy Governance approach) the board decides what the organization is FOR, and, under close board supervision, the MEANS of achieving are carried-out (sic) by the Superintendent and staff. The CEO or Superintendent is evaluated in (sic) by the board as to their (sic) achieving the results desired. If steady progress is not made, the Superintendent goes. End of story.”

Rod Roduner

Rod was my last interview. I wanted to speak with him before summing up my impressions of the candidates or offering support to a particular candidate. It took us some time to get to that interview, as Rod is busy with other community activism.

Rod didn’t answer the Where’s the Math? questionnaire, but on July 20, he did send answers to my longer questionnaire. He didn’t appear at the League of Women Voters forum, nor have I seen him at other forums around town. Rod acknowledged that he doesn’t know much about the math issue. In our friendly conversation, Rod approached the issues from the perspective of a teacher, not surprising considering that his wife is a teacher. I’m relieved he answered my questionnaire because it was difficult to follow his conversation. His commentary was heavily anecdotal, and he tended to digress.

Rod's Web site is located at:


After all of these conversations and interviews, my choice for the next board director is Sally Fullmer. Her attitude is one of empathy and understanding of the challenges and trials of students, parents and teachers. She doesn’t rush to defend administrators who built this school district and who refuse to listen to their publics. Sally’s curiosity, clarity and frankness provide her with a unique platform from which to work for positive change. If you want real improvement in this district, and not the pretend improvement the administrators keep giving us, I encourage you to consider voting for Sally Fullmer.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Lake Wobegon Effect? Or deceit by omission?

[Spokane friends: Ask yourself why you don't see ANY of this questioning in local newspapers.]

By Laurie H. Rogers

In Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, “all of the women are strong, all of the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Keillor’s famous phrase encapsulates the cognitive bias known as “illusory superiority” – a fancy name for the natural tendency we all have to overstate our achievements and positive qualities as compared against others. Because Keillor articulated this bias so well, “illusory superiority” is often called the Lake Wobegon Effect.

The term popped into my head last week while reading various press releases and news articles about Spokane Public Schools. In Spokane, apparently there is no bad news, everyone is always doing better, scores are always going up, and management is always excellent.

(Sarcasm alert.) Administrators are especially remarkable when you consider the difficult job they have of working with the poor, the weak, the incapable, the unknowledgeable, the ungrateful, the uneducated, the stupid, the antagonistic, and the misguided. The consistent gist of their message is, “If only everybody else would carry THEIR weight, you’d see just how positively brilliant we are.” (End sarcasm.)

Hey, here's some fun with acronyms: Administrators in Spokane Public Schools are GNOMES, hindered (so they say) by IT, UP and US.
  • GNOME: Good News Only; Management Excellent.
  • IT: Ineffective Teachers
  • UP: Uninvolved Parents
  • US: Unmotivated Students
Ever your humble servant, I give you actual information that isn’t tarnished by the district’s desire to appear competent. Administrators are touting their new focus on “data-driven” decision-making (as if it were a smart new task and not something they should have always done). I offer "celebrations" from these GNOMES, followed by real data. I encourage all ITs, UPs, and USs to share this with others.

The GNOMES celebrate:
“North Central, Lewis and Clark, Ferris and Rogers were named to the 2011 Washington Post top high schools list for the number of students taking AP tests. Only one other Spokane County school made the list.” (Source: “Points of Pride.”)
Laurie says: About the Washington Post ranking
The Washington Post survey is based on how many students take AP tests. It isn’t based on how many pass the classes or how many pass the tests. Therefore, the more students a district shoves into AP classes (ready or not), the higher its Washington Post ranking – even if every student ultimately flunks the tests. Directors and administrators have said that passing the AP test isn’t as important as being in an AP class – that “students learn just by being there.”
The GNOMES celebrate:
More students are college and career ready, as evidenced by the increased number of AP Placement exams (Source: The superintendent’s June Rotary Club presentation.)

The data say: About Spokane’s AP Classes
Number of students19336810931208
Number of exams27163620282270
Number of course areas13152727
Number of exams passed19851510991251
Percent passing73%81%54%55%
Percent failing27%19%46%45%
Average Grade3.183.452.722.69

Spokane’s high ranking in the Washington Post survey is due to the higher number of AP exams. You can see that, numerically, more tests are being passed, but also that the percentage passing has dropped precipitously. Many more tests also are being failed. Administrators and board directors have brushed this failing off as being immaterial. It is not immaterial to the students who failed.

Additionally, the average grade on AP exams has dropped below a “3,” the point at which students can obtain college credit at state schools. (Gonzaga and Whitworth give credit for AP math classes only if students receive a score of “4” or “5” on the AP exam.)

The GNOMES celebrate:

 “A higher percentage of SPS students go to college directly after high school than in the state.” (Source: District publication “Points of Pride.”
The data say: About college and career readiness
 The 2010 10th-grade state math test (the HSPE) was a low-level, basic skills math test. Students needed just 56.9% to pass and to be considered by the state as “proficient” on the exam. The pass rates in 2010 for Spokane’s high schools looked like this: Ferris: 54%, Lewis and Clark: 54.2%, North Central, 27.1%, and Shadle: 44.4%.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that high school graduates are testing into remedial math in college. In 2009–2010, according to data from Spokane Community Colleges (SCC and SFCC):
  • Of all recent high school graduates enrolling in these two colleges, 87.3 percent took remedial math classes. Most tested into elementary algebra or below.
  • 43.9 percent of those 1,112 remedial students withdrew early from their remedial classes or failed to achieve a 2.0 or better. The rates hold true over five years.
  • Of recent graduates from six high schools in Spokane Public Schools, the remediation rate at SCC and SFCC was 86.8%. Three SPS high schools had a math remediation rate at SCC of 100 percent; the other three ranged from 91.9% to 97% at SCC.
Included in the data are students who enrolled in remedial math at SCC/SFCC within a year of graduation. Not included are students who tested into remedial math but waited to take their classes, graduates who left the area or who went to a four-year, graduates who didn’t want to go to college, students who dropped out, and graduates who tested into remedial math but decided it was too much to do.

The GNOMES celebrate:

 In 2009, Spokane Public Schools scored 106.9 on Education Week’s “Cumulative Promotion Index.” In contrast, Seattle is at 78.3, Tacoma is at 69.3, Kent is at 104.1, and Everett is at 74.7. (Source: District presentation on the Superintendent’s Work Plan.)
Laurie says: About Education Week’s Cumulative Promotion Index

According to Education Week, “a score of 100 points on this index indicates that the district's graduation rate is exactly as would be expected, based on its size, student composition, and other characteristics. Districts with scores greater than 100 points are outperforming expectations.”

This index is based on “expectations,” not on an academic standard. If our expectation is zero, and the district achieves at a level of .0001, then it will achieve above 100 on the index.

And, whose expectations are these? My expectation is that Spokane Public Schools prepares the vast majority of its students academically for postsecondary life – for college, a career, a trade, to join the military, to begin a business … And the district is NOT meeting my expectation.
The GNOMES celebrate:

 Graduation rates are “improving.” (Source: The superintendent’s June Rotary Club presentation.)
About Spokane’s graduation rates
How much of the “increase” was because of actual academic improvement? The district tracked down some students and removed them from the most recent total, causing the most recent graduation rate to go up. However, previous years' numbers were not recounted. It’s statistically incorrect to compare non-reworked numbers with reworked numbers.
Additionally, the “improved” graduation rate doesn’t indicate whether the students were qualified to begin college or a trade when they left high school. As noted, indications are that most were NOT college or career ready.
Additionally, the graduation rates do not indicate how many disgruntled families left the district before graduation. See below for information on that.

The data say: About enrollment

 Full-time enrollment in Spokane dropped by about 2,650 from 2003 to May 2010. This is a net figure, not a gross figure, therefore, incoming students offset the total drop.

A Fall 2008 district survey of families who chose to leave the district showed that about 33% left over the curriculum. (Private schools were not included in the survey. Had they been, I suspect this percentage would be higher.) At any rate, top academically-related reasons chosen for leaving:
  • 33%: Quality of curriculum does not match your expectations
  • 26%: District class sizes too large
  • 21%: Desired coursework is not offered in the district
  • 19%: Student is not on schedule to graduate
 The district didn’t release the results of this survey to the general public.
The GNOMES say:

“Our mission is to develop the skills and talents of all students through rigorous learning experiences, supportive relationships, and relevant real-life applications.” (Source: District brochure of "fast facts.")
About the mission of Spokane Public Schools

 Spokane Public Schools’ stated mission is useless. Taxpayers do not want to pay $12,000+ per student to develop skills and talents through “learning experiences, supportive relationships and relevant real-life applications.” The district’s mission allows for a heck of a lot of wiggle room, and it holds no one accountable for getting the students ready academically for postsecondary life.

The GNOMES celebrate:

 “SPS earned excellence awards in financial reporting seven years in a row and sustains the highest credit ratings possible.” (Source: “Points of Pride.”)
Laurie says: About the district’s finances

Few community members can understand the district budget, as it’s given to the people. Many specific details aren’t available on the district’s Web site.

The levy paid for administrative raises last year, but the people weren’t told that -- not as they were signing on to support the levy, nor afterward, when the levy money was spent in that way. When I asked the district how MUCH of the levy paid for administrative raises, I was told the district “doesn’t break it down that way.”

In this year’s district forums, the people weren’t given budget totals. As they heard the district whine about an alleged budget “cut” since 2002 – they didn’t know that the district budget has actually grown by $60 million since 2002, or that the levy has grown by $23 million since 2002. It’s been an incredibly large money shift, not a budget cut.

Folks, there’s a lot more data out there just like this, but this snippet gives you the gist of the way the district presents outcomes. My conclusion is that Spokane Public Schools does NOT suffer from the Lake Wobegon Effect. What Spokane Public Schools suffers from is ever so much worse than that.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is
Rogers, L. (July 2011). "The Lake Wobegon Effect? Or deceit by omission?" Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:  

This article also was published July 27, 2011, on the EducationNews Web site at:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Seattle teacher discusses the challenges teachers face

[Note from Laurie Rogers: This is a guest article by a teacher in Seattle Public Schools. It was drawn from two emails he wrote to me in response to reading my book. This teacher asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal for stating his views. For ease of reading, his comments are broken into sections.]

Written by an experienced elementary school teacher, Seattle

Dear Laurie Rogers:

Thanks for writing your book. One of the things that you discuss in your compelling discourse is the low standards that our colleges have had in the subject matter (as opposed to teaching theory, sociology, and psychology) for those who have a desire to become teachers in our public schools.

For the past twenty-two years, I have diligently taught 4th and 5th grade students. For the first eighteen years, I taught math according to the classical mode that you describe in your book. As the reforms took hold, and we were monitored ever more closely, I was forced into using Everyday Math according to a pacing guide set by the district. As you have rightly observed, it is a program that emphasizes coverage and not mastery.

For much of the year, I had 34 students. Of these 34 students, seven had Special Education IEPs and were to be served according to a pull-in model which never quite materialized. I did have a special ed. instructional assistant for 50 minutes a day until she was pulled to serve in a more "needy" classroom. One of my students was mentally retarded and never once scored about the first percentile on the MAP test. Another student started the year almost totally blind and had a personal assistant for two hours out of the day to teach her Braille. Two were removed from their homes by CPS and placed under foster care: one for neglect and the other for domestic violence. Three students were absent for more than 30 days each. I could go on, but I think that you get the picture.

At the beginning of August, I am expected to attend a five-day professional development on teaching math, followed by a five-day professional development on Readers Workshop. The regimen makes me feel like I am being sent to a reeducation camp to learn how to socialize America's youth.

The onslaught of the reform movement is causing teachers, like myself, who are in the twilight of our careers, to ask if it’s worth abandoning the principles that we were taught about good pedagogy, in order to qualify us to become another cog in the reformed collective, or if we should take an early retirement and supplement our meager income working at a much less stressful place.

As a classically trained musician, the concept of mastery is very important to me. There is, also, incidentally, no mastery effectively allowed in the mini-lesson format. In writing, for instance, we are to teach a lesson, and not require the students to put the skill taught to immediate use; they are to "put it in their tool box" for use when they feel that they need it. If I would dare to tell my administrator that is absurd, I would risk an evaluation that would put me on probation.

Your book has already helped me to see part of the bigger picture that I have been missing, and I look forward to reading the rest of it. Please keep up your good work. What we, as teachers can do to stem the tide of reform is very little. I struggle with my conscience over implementing such an inferior form of instruction. In my experience, direct instruction is the most fruitful. The other techniques can be useful when used in moderation by an experienced and skillful instructor, but unless they are closely monitored, easily become a playground for an exchange of ignorance, and in some extreme cases a forum for students to bully other students.

Seattle prides itself in being a data-driven district. The administrators here, however, seem to care about improving student performance by mandating, from on high, according to their pet theories than by listening to the people who should be able, if they are worth their salt, to tell them how and why those statistics were generated in the first place. They might just learn something if they really listened to their teachers.

Unhelpful Testing

The case of Celesta is a true horror story. My wife and our two home schooled children were dumbfounded that such a thing could possibly happen. I wonder what kind of tests formed the basis for Celesta's outstanding math grades. One of the most striking aspects of reform math is the huge amount of activity that occurs without much, if any, mastery of the subject taking place.

The ambiguity of the language in the WASL math test, one year prompted a fifth grade student, the son of Vietnamese immigrants, in his responses to question after question to write: "If you mean this, the answer is_____, but if you mean this, the answer is__________, or if you mean this, the answer is________. I marveled at his tenacity and thoroughness. He was, in the end awarded a very high score for his efforts.

These days the MSP is so highly secured that teachers have to sign a statement that they affirm, under penalty of perjury, that they have not violated the rules for administering the assessment, which violation, itself, is now, under law, a misdemeanor. Talk about adding insult to injury. Teachers in our state are forced to implement ineffective instruction, and then are evaluated on the results that are logically obtained from that instruction on the state tests. Finally, if they are caught deviating from the script of the MSP and its rules for administration, they are not only in danger of being run out of the profession, but facing criminal charges as well. I agree that teachers who intentionally cheat to obtain better scores for their students should be disciplined, but I want to know the real purpose for criminalizing them.

What good is all of this voluminous data if it cannot be used to find gaps in a student's math skills; gaps which would have easily been identified and dealt with in every age of human experience before our enlightened era of social promotion?

Parent Involvement

One of my favorite activities with parents is to discuss their child's work with them. Reform math, by its very nature (of discovery) generally leaves the most influential voices in a child's life sitting in the nosebleed seats, so far away from the action that it is often difficult to discern exactly what is going on.

Is it possible that Celesta really didn't know that she had missed out on key components in her math education? If she was schooled only in the alternate algorithms, she may never have heard the term, long division. Why were not her parents aware that she needed to know her basic facts much better?

I was raised by my parents to believe that my education was ultimately their responsibility. In any parent teacher conference their attitude would be, "What can I do to help my child learn his math, etc. better?" In my experience, many parents feel disrespected and trashed by personnel in their local school districts. It is not unusual for me, therefore, to put the test scores and the statistics to the side during a parent teacher conference and ask permission to speak with them parent to parent, instead, about things that we both want our children to know, and what each of us can do to make it so.

On your list of ways to help children like Celesta, isn't empowering their parents a strategy that works, even if they, themselves don't have the best education in the world, or work three jobs between the two of them to make ends meet? It doesn't take a village to raise a child, it takes a committed parent who isn't sabotaged by the village to raise a child.

The organs of government and government-run schools repeatedly intimidate parents with
  • confusing report cards
  • pages of standards that analyze the curriculum to death
  • reams of test data that are disassociated from concrete examples of their child's performance, and
  • fancy constructivist notions of how children learn that blatantly contradict millennia of human experience.
As a result, many parents flee the system for private schools, or a home-school option. Those who are left often feel helpless, confused, bitter and angry.

I am not sure that the general public quite comprehends that as teachers, we are pledged by our contracts, and by state law, to carry out the lawful directives of our employer. But, as citizens of the United States, we are entitled to speak out on matters of public policy (including education) without fear of retaliation. As citizens, we are even allowed to work to replace those who employ us and join with others to empower new leaders by virtue of our votes.

It is my sense that reform-oriented administrators are not oblivious to this threat, and will do all in their power to stamp it out by relieving us of our jobs.

So-called “Best Practices” and Mission Creep

Why are we continuously being told that certain best practices are research based when it seems that no primary research can be pointed to, that conclusively supports them? So far as I can tell, primary research about the efficacy of “word walls,” writing your “teaching point” on the board, the superiority of “mini-lessons,” “turn and talk,” and “cooperative learning” simply does not exist. A year ago, I asked our school's math coach if she could find the primary research that forms the basis for those so-called high-leverage teaching moves. Several months later she reported back to me that she could not find it.

I was quite enlightened by your discussion of the Delphi Technique and mission creep. I thank you for them. The Seattle Schools used this technique liberally throughout the past decade in its so-called courageous conversations about race. They repeatedly broke us up into discussion groups, and guided our meetings with a list of absurd norms, including "speak your truth." According to the way I was educated, truth is not the property of an individual; it's an absolute. In the end, it became quite obvious that their predetermined conclusion was that Caucasian people are guilty of perpetuating institutionalized racism, and it is our responsibility, as public school teachers, to be outspoken advocates for social justice. Talk about mission creep!

The opening paragraphs of your chapter on the learning environment are priceless. They mirror my beliefs exactly about public education. As a general rule, I believe that it is not my business to undo the values instilled in my students by their parents. I do, however, as a matter of course, listen carefully to parents when they expound on their values. The societal norms and expectations that you refer to that the school has a legitimate role in enforcing are quickly disintegrating before our very eyes. Together with reform math, investigative science, just-right books, and Writers Workshop, this disintegration is seriously jeopardizing our effectiveness in the classroom.

Culture and Implications of Reform Math

My fear is that a vastly inferior culture of teaching and learning is now supplanting a much superior culture of teaching and learning which preceded it. The proponents even call it a culture which indicates that they know precisely what they are doing. They are redefining our language and our values.

In some of our schools, cultural differences are a fact of life that we have to deal with, and here again, the reformers are failing us. Imagine implementing the mini-lesson format in a class where the mother tongues are Vietnamese, Chinese, Somali, Tagalog, Ilokano, Mexican, Lao and Ethiopian. In fifth grade, many of these students are proficient in neither English, nor in the language their parents speak at home. Turning them loose to solve problems such as finding the area of a triangle through discovery creates a veritable tower of Babel full of misconceptions and frustration.

Children from immigrant families are being sent to school by parents who are expecting them to receive direct instruction like they received in their homeland. Most immigrant parents can't understand why 5th-grade classrooms in this country are full of students who don't meet the standards that have been set as a prerequisite for their entry into that grade level. Most immigrant parents are dismayed that students who are disruptive to the learning process day in and day out receive ineffective consequences from the administration for their behavior.

Our leaders give a lot of lip service to the importance of being culturally literate, but many of them don't seem to know or care what true cultural literacy is outside of some box that contains a few external trappings of a given culture and some superficial generalizations about it. They shamelessly use these people to further their agenda of reform.

There are days I could swear that administrators think that we work in a factory turning out widgets. I have news for them. Human children are not machines. Students can be willful, lazy, and burdened with a multitude of personal problems. Many are nevertheless also highly appreciative of a teacher who stands by them in times of difficulty. Among my most treasured artifacts of the 2010-2011 school year is a handmade card. On the inside is written, “Thank you for believing in me when I didn't want to be successful.” I can't think of an administrator who can begin to understand just how profound those words are.

Please understand that this email represents but a tiny fraction of the torrent of frustrations, challenges, fears, and vexation that I and others like me experience every day as we attempt to fulfill the duties of our chosen profession and provide our families with their daily bread.

Sincerely yours,
(Seattle elementary school teacher)


Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.