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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Media, district levy advocacy not appropriate, not leadership

[Edited Feb. 9. Addition noted below.]

By Laurie H. Rogers

"And I tell you this: you do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it's usually called 'assault' – not 'leadership'.”     
--     Dwight D. Eisenhower, as told to Emmet John Hughes, for “Re-Viewing the Cold War: Domestic Factors and Foreign Policy in the East-West Confrontation”

Last year, someone said to me: “Laurie, I heard you’re a nut job. So tell me, who are you, really?” I said: “You’ve heard me talk. What do you think?” The person chuckled and said: “I kind of like you. I think you care.”

I do care. I have a fierce protective instinct toward the community, the country, and the children. I’m a patriot, but no politician. I’m not interested in making money or gaining political allies through District 81, the union or the media. I was trained as an old-style reporter, with an eye to supportable facts and a determination to know and report the truth. I’m not a natural extrovert, but five years of dealing with administrators and board directors have turned me into a fighter. I’m not a liar, and I’m no quitter, and I don’t know how to do just the bare minimum of anything (except dusting).

In my mind, the truth is the truth, and I’m not inclined to sugar-coat truth so as to avoid aggravating little feelings or interfering with grasping for dollars. People can call that polarizing or extremist. I think those people don’t want to be sidelined by the truth.

I was thinking about the face in the mirror Jan. 30, as I was blown off yet again by a local reporter who wanted me to fit into her agenda. She called because she wanted to talk with local businessman Duane Alton about his opposition to local levies. She couldn’t find Alton, and she heard I might be part of his group. I told the reporter I’m not part of Alton’s group, and not necessarily “anti-levy” but rather “pro-disclosure.” I said the districts were not giving voters full information (or even truthful information, I could have said), and they were not engaging in full disclosure.

After exactly two minutes, having determined that I wasn’t going to fit into the story the way she wanted, the reporter asked if she could call back. I smiled, knowing she wouldn’t. Her TV report and subsequent article painted the levy discussion as polarized, with the poor, allegedly underfunded district on one side, and the evil “mysterious” anti-levy folks on the other. There was no mention of the solid and supportable information I have put together on the Spokane levy. The reporter offered no questioning of the districts’ claims, and no contrary information. Other local TV stations have reported in a similar fashion.

[Added Feb. 9: Another reporter called recently, also wanting to know if I was working with the anti-levy group (whatever "working with" means). I told him that my associations and leanings have nothing to do with the issues, and that he should do some real investigating of the school district, its budget, its claims, and its presentation of information to the public. I offered him my entire blog for quoting. After a lengthy off-the-record conversation, this is his report.
... sigh ...

Note to self: The words "No" and "comment" are your friends, especially when stated together.]

Local media are complicit in their willful failure to properly inform the public about education issues that affect our children and community. Have you seen Spokane lately? I mean, really looked around? Empty buildings, “for lease” signs everywhere. This city is suffocating, slowly choking on an undereducated, unmotivated, frightened populace. And rather than inform us about those who perpetuate this failure, the media are “hitting us over the head” with fake information and fake district claims.

Despite the possibly illegal, certainly inappropriate and arguably false activity all around them, the media instead polarize the conversation in favor of the districts, and they hound people who are doing something they believe in and who are breaking no election laws. It’s pitiful.

Notice the daily “vote for the levy” drumbeat in the local newspapers. An article here, an editorial there, pro-levy advertisements strategically placed every single day. In this ad, see all of the people who advocate for the levy -- while they work for the district, make money off the district, or align politically with the district. There are “vote yes” signs everywhere in the city. Flyers are sent home with the kids. There is open advocating in the schools, with “pro-levy” commentary to children and “Vote for the kids” buttons. The districts’ supposedly “factual” information often is actually promotional, highly subjective, and designed to frighten us, make us feel guilty, and, most of all, push us to vote “yes.” They are leading by hitting us over the head, and it’s all done at an extra cost to us.
Keep this in mind: These talks of possible "cuts" in programs and teaching positions qualify as threats, not facts. As long as districts have school directors, multiple assistant principals, expenditures for a new data system (and new administrators to go with it) and a new, unproved national program, they have places to cut. As long as districts keep torturing teachers with "professional development" and interfering instructional coaches, and as long as districts keep flipping inadequate curricula and supplementary materials in and out, they have places to cut. As long as ineffective administrators make more than $100,000 per year just in base salary, districts have places to cut.

Many of the people making these threats about cutting teaching positions and programs have no compunction about using the children, either, sending home flyers with them, pulling them out of class to talk about campaigning, and showing them pro-levy material on a daily basis.

A parent in Central Valley wrote to me Jan. 30: “I was so heartbroken for my son, when this morning he said to me and his mother: ‘Vote for the levy.’ I responded, ‘I will not be voting for the levy.’ He then began to cry and said 60 teachers will be losing their jobs…. I asked him who told him (that). He answered his teacher. I responded understandingly, but in the negative, and he asked, ‘Why would my teacher lie to me’? Then, ‘She wouldn't lie to me.’ I said, ‘I wouldn't lie to you. You know that, right?’ I asked him who he believes, and he responded after several seconds, ‘I guess you.’ He was genuinely perplexed.”

The father expressed a desire to sue the district over the emotional distress on his son. “Good thing for them I am not a sue-happy American,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, our children are being raised academically feral. Left on their own to figure things out – and not provided sufficient guidance, discipline, academics or individual work – they are incapable of following their dreams when they leave high school.

Carol Landa-McVicar, trustee of Community Colleges of Spokane, told The Spokesman-Review recently: “We are not graduating enough kids from high school, and when we do, they are coming to college unprepared, delaying their progression to a higher education degree. … how do we address the high number of students that are coming into the college who need remedial math?”

A local politician told me, “You have to work with somebody,” as he refused to lift a finger to help me. I can’t work with people who lie, who want me to lie, or who don’t care about what matters to the children. And I do work with others. When I show parents and grandparents what’s being taught and not taught, they see it right away. They don’t call me names, accuse me of lying or suggest that I’m the problem. They see me for what I am: Just the messenger, delivering to them a critically important message that they need to hear.

So, I work with We, the People. I work for the children. I help teachers where I can. I work for academics. I work for math. I work for this country. I work for the future, and I work for what’s right.

My efforts, my insistence on solid, provable information, and my refusal to play purposefully polarizing games aren’t respected by the district, the school board, the media, or various “players” in the city. But my family respects it, and the people respect it. I suspect the folks on the “anti-levy” side also respect it.

I'm trying to help parents and grandparents learn enough to step in and save their children from these grasping, self-interested school districts and the sycophantic media. And that’s what matters.



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted.
The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (January 2012). "Media, district levy advocacy not appropriate, not leadership." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:
http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

This article was reposted on Education Views Feb. 3, 2012 at: http://educationviews.org/2012/02/03/media-district-levy-advocacy-not-appropriate-not-leadership/

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hold district accountable for deceit, academic failure and questionable activity

“Where ignorance is bliss, ignorance of ignorance is sublime.” – Paul Dunham

By Laurie H. Rogers

Last week, I went to a Spokane Public Schools math presentation at Indian Trail Elementary School. It was billed as a forum in the school newsletter and on the reader board outside of the school. It was not, in any way, a forum. It was a tightly controlled 20-minute presentation that offered no data, little information, allowed for no parent input and was patronizing in tone.

At one point, parents were asked to define math to the person next to us. (The principal said he would not offer his definition.) We also were told to describe to our neighbor a math experience we’d had. These conversations ended right there, thus being pointless. We watched a video of several small children talking about the importance of math. The kids were cute, but the video was long. It was made clear to us that math is hard, parents don’t get it (see slide 7 of the presentation), “traditional math” is no longer useful, and math is intimidating to all. Printed materials reinforced the idea of parent incompetence, with students supposedly “taking the lead” and teaching their parents.

Parents were warned to stay positive about math, however, despite our supposed fear and lack of skill, and we also were told what a “balanced” program looks like – as if that’s what Spokane actually has.

What a ridiculous, condescending mess. The person who put this presentation together should be fired immediately.

Initially, the principal told us that questions could be asked, but when a parent raised her hand to do that (before the end of the presentation), she was told to write her question on a piece of paper. Another parent’s hand was in the air for a while until I called out, “Excuse me! This parent would like to ask you a question.” That parent said she wanted to hear the first parent’s question. The principal said there was no time. Voice inflection is a subjective thing, but I’m not the only one who was shocked at the principal’s snippy tone.

Hovering around the “forum” were three central-office administrators – elementary math coordinator Kim Dennis, and executive directors Irene Gonzales and Lorna Spear. Dennis and Gonzales did not answer questions, disappearing immediately after the presentation. A few parents waited to ask questions of the principal. He had to be called back into the gym, and he appeared reluctant to come back or to stay. Spear showed up briefly to herd the principal back out of the gym. Almost $400,000 in base salary for these four individuals, and not one wanted to answer a question from a parent. Clearly, the district doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “forum.”

Dear District: At “forums,” attendees are supposed to be allowed to get a word in.

After my five years of math advocacy; after the “Betrayed” blog and the “Betrayed” book; after several math forums last year; and after the people’s complaints in school board meetings, emails, and letters to the editor – you would think the district would change course on reform math. District staff still talk about how basic math has “changed,” (no, it hasn’t), and still wax poetic about how students learn better when they struggle through it, get things wrong initially, work constantly in groups, and learn inefficient methods first. The district remains willfully, sublimely ignorant.

Last week’s non-forum at Indian Trail is just one of several in the district. Their goal isn’t to learn something – it’s to prove something. Unfortunately, that “something” isn’t true, which is why the presentations tend to be weak, pitiful and patronizing, with wrong information, leaps of logic, lots of dead space, multiple appeals to parent emotion, and zero actual data. The district knows the community is increasingly concerned about math. These “forums” appear to be their response to those concerns – and to my forums from last year. It seems they want to convince us that we’re wrong.

A year ago, from January through March, two STEM professionals and I put on several public forums, designed to talk about Spokane’s execrable math curricula. These reform curricula, used in Spokane now for a few decades, have been criticized across the country since their inception. In spite of concerns from parents and mathematicians, Washington State followed along with reform math, as most states did. Millions of taxpayer dollars in Spokane, and billions across the country, have been wasted and continue to be wasted on these inadequate materials. Our children’s futures – and the country’s future – have been devastated by how math is approached in our public schools.

Here is one example I’ve seen. In this instance, a 4th-grade teacher was teaching the adding of fractions by connecting the fractions to money. Each denominator had to fit into 100 so it could be part of a dollar. The children were to change numerators correspondingly. The numerators were brought down to the next line, but the denominators weren't brought down, so the fractions suddenly became whole numbers (although they were actually parts of a dollar). The numerators were added, and the result was turned into a decimal, by mentally dividing it by 100. (This was a separate step, which leads one to think the 50 cents and 25 cents were thought of as whole numbers.) At any rate, the decimal was changed back into a fraction, the fraction was reduced, and it was plunked back at the top as the answer. I saw no actual work done on the white board. Like this:

½ + ¼ = ?
50 cents plus 25 cents = 75 cents
50 cents plus 25 cents = .75
½ + ¼ = ¾

This is just ignorant. The children seemed lost. This is a poor method, using poor process, and it won’t work well for problems like 1/8 + 1/3. There is no excuse for this. It was painful to watch. I looked sadly at those little kids, aware that most of them are probably doomed, mathematically speaking.

So, last year, my colleagues and I wanted to talk with the public about reform math, about the history of these materials and about how the efficient math algorithms have been purposefully perverted, undermined and dismantled. We wanted to hear parent experiences, to offer a look at real student data, and to suggest avenues for how parents can save their children. For maximum public access, we made the forums free and held them at public libraries. This meant we had to let in whoever came.

Parents and grandparents came to the forums and expressed concerns. The district also came – a large, intimidating block of people whose presence scared potential allies into silence. At the time, I didn’t know this block of people had been purposefully gathered.

District administrators spent working time and public resources building a schedule of people to come to our forums. They pushed repeatedly for staff attendance and wrote “talking points” for them. Clearly, they did NOT want us to talk about the math curriculum. At our Feb. 7, 2011, forum, administrators tolerated and encouraged abysmal behavior from their staff. We three volunteers – who brought solid data, noble intentions, and concern for the children – were mocked and interrupted, and told that student outcomes were “irrelevant.” District staff continually pushed us off our topic of choice, interrupting us to do so. When we tried to quiet them, we were accused of interrupting. District personnel who might have spoken up in our defense were silent.

Never in my years of advocacy had I ever seen such rudeness. Far from reining it in, district leadership initiated it and kept it going. Could we have handled the Feb. 7 forum better? Sure. We learned from that experience, and it would not go that way again. In my view, however, the district administrators responsible should have been fired on the spot.

On Feb. 7, administrator Tammy Campbell interrupted me three times in the first 18 minutes of my presentation. Asked to be quiet, she talked over top of us and other community members. Associate Superintendent Karin Short interrupted me to tell parents I was misrepresenting student outcomes. (It was district data I was writing on the white board.) A district staff member twice said I might be the reason student scores had dropped. When I tried to get Campbell to answer a question about student outcomes, she refused. The next day, The Spokesman-Review criticized us and called us district “antagonists” – without ever speaking with us or offering any helpful information to the public.

Instead of disciplining Campbell and Short, the district leadership, and Board Director Bob Douthitt were filled with sympathy. Immediate plans were made to hold district math forums (to present “our message,” as Douthitt put it, where, supposedly, “some truth” would be provided).

And there you have it: math “forums” like the one last week at Indian Trail, where cute kids replaced real information, where parents weren’t allowed to ask questions in public, and where $100,000+ administrators wouldn’t answer questions or even stick around.

Do you feel respected now? Do you believe your taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely?

Over the last few months, the district has been promoting its $73 million levy, up for a vote Feb. 14. The Public Disclosure Commission has launched a formal investigation of Spokane Public Schools’ election activity in 2009 and 2011. The PDC probably could investigate 2012 activity as well.

Do you trust the district? Do you believe them? Do you think they have the best interests of your children and grandchildren at heart? See the remedial rates (and the success rates in those remedial classes) of recent Spokane graduates who attended Spokane Community Colleges. Do you think the students are leaving Spokane Public Schools well educated and ready for post-secondary life? Do you think the quality of education in Spokane is fueling the local economy, providing job-ready, innovation-ready graduates? Do you think it’s OK that the district threatens the public and teachers over an alleged 800 education jobs and various enrichment programs, while they spend our tax dollars on more administration, bigger salaries, an unnecessary, unproved data system and an unproved, arguably illegal federal plan? Do you think the district is listening to you, to me, to the community or to the law?

If you say yes to all, then by all means, vote for the levy. But if you see the district as wasteful, deceitful, manipulative, bullying, law-breaking, and/or clueless about math, grammar and other necessary academic skills, then please take a hard look at your levy ballot when it comes out in a few days.

I believe the district does listen to money. Maybe that’s the only thing.



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (January 2012). "Hold districts accountable for deceit, academic failures and questionable activity." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/  

This article was republished Jan. 25, 2012, on Education News at: http://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/laurie-rogers-hold-districts-accountable-for-deceit-academic-failure/

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yes, vote for kids by asking the adult questions about school levies

By Laurie H. Rogers


In Eastern Washington, voters are being asked to approve school district levies in a Feb. 14 election. Spokane residents might have seen one or two or 10 billion signs about it strategically placed around the city. I saw a “vote yes for kids” sign at City Hall, tacked to the incoming side of the city bulletin board. I mentioned it to a woman at the counter, and she took it down.

Twice on its front page, The Spokesman-Review published pro-levy material that (to a journalist), can only be seen as full-page advertisements. First was “Anatomy of a Levy.” Then there was “Faces of a Levy.” Where can it go from there? Ears of a Levy? Elbows of a Levy? Butt-cheeks of a Levy?

Meanwhile, the union president published a pro-levy article in the KIDS Newspaper, and the school district helpfully delivered that pro-levy article to elementary schools and students across the city.

Clearly, the district, union and newspaper want us to support the levy. Some local advocates would rather we not. Whatever you decide, please don’t just stay home. If just three people vote on the levy, it will pass or fail based on the three votes. As you’re bombarded with a heavy emotional campaign to “vote yes for the kids,” however, here are a few things to consider.

The district says: Education funding has been cut/gutted/slashed.
The education machine complains that education funding has been cut. This is a government definition of “cut,” where “cutting” doesn’t make the thing smaller. Local, state and federal education dollars keep going up.
Look at financial reports for your district. For Washington State districts, view the F-195 reports. (On the drop-down menu, choose your school district. Scroll down to each F-195 report.) You might be surprised at what you find. For example, Spokane Public Schools has repeatedly said that, over 10 years, its budget was cut by – pick a number they’ve used -- $64 million, $54 million, $45 million… But its operating budget actually has grown from 2002 to this year – the budgeted amount by $60 million, and the actual expenditures by $80 million.
Calculate costs per full-time-enrolled (FTE) student. In Spokane schools:
  • 2001-2002 actual operating costs:  $7,857 per student ($236.9 million / 30,151 FTE students).
  • 2001-2002 actual costs for all expenses (operating, transportation, capital projects, debt service and student fund): $8,944 per student ($269.7 million / 30,151 FTE students).
  • 2011-2012 operating costs: more than $11,000 per student ($313.3 million / 28,093 FTE students).
  • 2011-2012 costs for all expenses: more than $17,000 per student ($495.7 million / 28,093 FTE students).
Are you shocked? Well, of course you are. Education money has NOT been cut; it’s been shifted. We can thank legislators for some of the shift, but districts also were allowed to shift dollars away from actual learning, and so they did. Now, they want more dollars.

Examine the budgets and see where the money went. Not all certificated positions are classroom teachers, and not all dollars for “teaching” are classroom expenditures. Included are a flood of useless curricula and supplementary material, plus school directors, executive directors, associate superintendents, assistant superintendents, instructional coaches, assistant principals and layers of administrators who aren’t held responsible for the results of their policies and curriculum choices.

Where in the budget do we find legal expenses? Where are the expenses for promotions of levies and bonds; for special elections for levies and bonds; and for the unproved multi-million-dollar federal vision? Where are the expenses for remediation, drop-out programs, counseling, professional development, curriculum supplements, and other supports – much of which wouldn’t be necessary if the district would allow teachers to directly teach good-quality material? It’s all in there somewhere, and we’re paying for it.

The district says: Budget increases are due to inflation.
As districts say budgets have been cut, they also say inflation explains budget increases (thus trying to have it both ways). The point about inflation is valid, however, so I did a calculation for Spokane using the CPI calculator. (Disclaimer: Not all costs have grown similarly. My calculation is a rough estimate which anyone could refute as being too high or too low.)

If the CPI is any indication, inflation’s impact on the bottom line was greater than I expected. The result was still an increase over 10 years, beyond the rate of inflation, and even as full-time student enrollment dropped by thousands, and classified and certificated staff also decreased. Do the calculation for your own district. The result might surprise you.

The district says: The levy pays for a huge chunk of the budget.
Spokane Public Schools says its levy pays for about 23.4% of its $313.3 million budget. Well, sure it does. Small levies pay for a smaller percentage; big levies pay for a greater percentage. If you want people to vote for the levy, you have to motivate them, and panic can be highly motivational.

Consider that in 2001-2002, the levy paid for just 14% of the district’s $236.9 million operating budget. The fact that the levy now pays for a greater percentage of an exponentially larger operating budget should make it clear how much the levy itself has increased. Not including the state Levy Equalization Assistance – Spokane’s levy has grown by 74% over 10 years, from $35 million in 2001-2002 to $61 million (net) in 2011-2012. All of this is for fewer students.
Forcing the levy to take on a bigger role in the budget makes it harder for voters to reject it. But where does the money go? Is ALL of this money necessary? How much does it cost to educate a child? Obviously, big money doesn’t automatically equate to a sufficient education; most of our public-school graduates are not academically ready for college.

The district says: Levies are restricted to 28% of state and federal funds.
You’ll love this one. By law, district levies are restricted to a percentage of the tax money received from state and federal governments (known as the levy base). The original limit was 10% of the levy base, set in 1977. The limit was increased over the years, to the current limit of 28%. Ninety districts, however, can raise more than 28%. Spokane’s limit is 28.18% (so not actually 28%).

Because of this percentage limit, if state and federal dollars go down, the allowable levy dollars also should go down. That isn’t what happened. School districts do say that state and federal dollars have been cut (again, it depends on which year, which dollars, and which expenses are chosen for comparison), but levy dollars have not dropped. I asked local administrators about this seeming contradiction, and they indicated that levy dollars are now based partially on pretend money. Here’s how that works.

Legislators decided to “protect” districts’ levy base from negative “changes in state and federal revenue sources.” (See RCW 84.52.0531, 4ii)  Districts are allowed to base levies on dollars that would have been received had there been more revenue. The Spokane superintendent called it “ghost money.” I asked her what the levy limit for Spokane is, then, since it isn’t 28%. She hastened to say that it is 28%: “It’s 28% of what it would have been.”

You can’t make up this stuff.

The district says: We’ve cut all that we can from the budget.
As the Spokane district complains about budget shortages, it’s spending money in new ways such as the Common Core initiatives – the federal vision for public education. The district is budgeting $4 million for a new data system and new administrators to manage the data system. It socked away $2 million for the K-8 portion of a national math curriculum it hadn’t even seen. That’s $6 million, for just this small piece of the Common Core initiatives.

Extrapolate these costs to the state. Washington has 295 districts. If they spend what Spokane is spending, it will cost taxpayers across the state $1.77 billion (295 districts x $6 million). Extrapolate the costs to the country. America has about 14,000 districts. If they spend what Spokane is spending, it will cost taxpayers across the country $84 billion (14,000 x $6 million).

And that's just a small piece of the Common Core. There is more to come – high school math, English, science … The Secretary of Education has said he wants national (i.e. federal) standards in all subjects. It will cost this country trillions of dollars, for an untested, unproved federal plan.
Meanwhile, Spokane continues to flip curricula. In 2006, it spent a half a million for the execrable Core-Plus program, now junked. In 2010, it adopted the better Holt Mathematics textbooks for a half a million, now ignored. Administrators have since pushed a deeply flawed in-house math program on teachers … while also paying for supplementary materials for the middle schools … on top of the 40 pages of titles of other materials for all subjects … And now, they're apparently willing to toss much of it to adopt the unproved federal vision.

On Jan. 4, I asked Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson why the district is adopting the unproved Common Core when it’s supposedly strapped for funds. He said they have to do it, which is not true. He said the district has cut elsewhere to pay for the initiatives. Apparently, the cuts include instructional assistants, special education specialists, and summer school.

The district says: The levy helps keep class sizes “reasonable.”
In its levy presentations, Spokane Public Schools has repeatedly claimed that the levy helps keep class sizes at “reasonable” levels. But class sizes in Spokane are pretty much maxed out, limited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The district says: 800 jobs are at risk.
Spokane administrators said 800 jobs are at risk if the levy doesn’t pass. Three years ago, when SPS was promoting its 2009 bond and levy, supposedly 300 jobs were at risk. The district said this 500-job difference is because state funding was cut. Let’s look at some numbers, per the state education agency:
  • One year ago: State funds (general purpose) are less today than one year ago, by about $2 million, which doesn’t seem like enough to pay for 500 jobs. However, special purpose funds are slightly more today than one year ago.
  • Two years ago: State funds (general purpose and special purpose) are more today than they were two years ago, by about $5 million altogether.
  • Three years ago: State funds (general purpose) are more today by about $3 million. Special purpose funds are about $9 million less today than they were in 2008-2009, due to the $10 million cut in Student Achievement funds (I-728). Otherwise, state funds are more today than three years ago, and fairly close to what they were four years ago.
Three years ago, 300 jobs supposedly were at risk. This year, supposedly one-quarter of the district’s 3,226-member workforce is in peril. Do you believe that? In a Jan. 9 presentation to City Council, the district acknowledged that the figure of 3,226 represents full-time employees only, whereas the 800 at-risk jobs include full-time and part-time employees. Assuming that 800 jobs actually are at risk – that’s closer to one-sixth of all positions, and not all are full-time.

The district says: Programs are at risk if the levy doesn’t pass.
The district continually threatens cuts in music, sports, the gifted program and others if the levy doesn’t pass. These threats effectively hold those programs hostage. If we pay up, our programs will supposedly continue to live. Would the district really cut the gifted program? Odyssey brings in money, is utilized by board directors and administrators for their own children, and is such a useful manipulative tool. Taxpayers have yet to call the district’s bluff on the levy; most taxpayers don’t know they probably should question whether these threats are appropriate, factual or even legal.

The district says: Its levy presentations are “factual” and “strictly adhere” to the law.
I don’t think so. I believe certain district employees violated RCW 42.17.130 in 2009 in campaigning for the bond and levy, and in 2011 while campaigning or assisting in campaigning for board candidate Deana Brower. The Public Disclosure Commission is investigating.

Why vote for the levy?
Why would we vote for the levy? Why do we buy any product? Let's remove the emotion, the "it's for the kids," and the threats -- Let's ask the mature questions of those people doing their best to frighten us, persuade us, make us feel guilty, and tug on our heartstrings. Ask them:
  • Compared with ten years ago, how much of the 2012 levy would go to the actual classrooms and to actual classroom teachers? How much to "enrichment" activities?
  • Compared with ten years ago, how much of the 2012 levy would go to central-office administrators? How much to building administrators? How much to certificated staff members who aren’t actually working this year as classroom teachers?
  • Why is the district spending millions of tax dollars on new items, such as the unproved Common Core initiatives, even as it complains to the public about how short it is on dollars?
I do believe taxpayers should vote for school levies IF the dollars are critical to student outcomes, and IF the district is efficient, academically sufficient, thrifty, accountable, truthful, honorable and law-abiding. Does your district fit these parameters? What if the “vote yes for kids” signs instead said:
  • Vote yes for administrator salary increases and benefits
  • Vote yes for an unproved, unfunded, arguably illegal federal takeover of public education
  • Vote yes for union political activity that goes by its own rules
  • Vote yes for wasted dollars, on things that don’t help children learn
  • Vote yes for deceitful presentations of student outcomes and manipulative district behavior
  • Vote yes for substantial remediation for your child at the local community college
Levy dollars definitely drive the district trains. Those trains are going in a happy little direction for the adults, but – for the kids – they are seriously, woefully off the tracks. This year, for the kids, please ask questions, please weigh the veracity of the answers you get, and then please vote by Feb. 14.



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (January 2012). "Yes, vote for kids by asking the adult questions about school levies." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

This article was published Jan. 16, 2012 on EducationViews at: http://educationviews.org/2012/01/16/yes-vote-for-kids-by-asking-the-adult-questions-about-school-levies/

This article also was published Jan. 17, 2012 on EducationNews at:
http://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/laurie-rogers-vote-for-kids-by-asking-adult-questions-about-school-levies/

Friday, January 6, 2012

Print media display political agenda and poor skills in attacking Spokane teacher

By Laurie H. Rogers


This article is third in a series of articles regarding media coverage of public education. This article and its predecessors in the series articulate part of the reason we need a new and better news source.


Instead of discussing the myriad legal and academic issues currently surrounding Spokane Public Schools, the editors for the daily newspaper The Spokesman-Review and the weekly publication The Inlander seem determined to drum up stray rumors and unsupported accusations against AP English teacher Jennifer Walther, who perhaps was caught TWC (Teaching While Conservative).

In October 2011, Walther’s Leadership Class at Ferris High School put on the annual political forum “Face-Off at Ferris.” Writers for The Spokesman-Review (SR) and The Inlander have since accused Walther of allowing her political views to sway the Ferris forum in favor of mayoral and school board candidates who are thought to be politically conservative.

The accusers have not been able to support their claim by pointing at actual questions that were asked. Sitting at the Ferris forum last October, I heard people all around me saying, “Those are great questions.” What does a conservative question even look like? Are only conservatives concerned about accountability, transparency, outcomes, Otto Zehm’s death, water rates, union clout and misspent finances? I know plenty of Democrats and progressives who are concerned about these issues.

Real education issues defy political labels, and yet, our local print media persist in labeling. Is it now shocking, illegal, immoral, unethical, or inappropriate to be a conservative thinker? Can a teacher not freely ask questions of people she knows? Can her acquaintances not offer ideas to her when asked? Can students not freely choose questions they believe to be pertinent?

Oh my, please read this condescending, sanctimonious, hypocritical, unintentionally hilarious Dec. 16 piece on Walther by the SR’s Shawn Vestal. Vestal claims Walther and I were “vigorously bashing” one candidate and promoting another in an exchange of emails. Despite never once having spoken with me prior to writing his article, he calls me a “conservative math curriculum critic.” Vestal doesn’t know my politics – no one does – and why do they matter? Does Vestal go around calling administrators “progressive math curriculum supporters”? The person showing political bias here is Vestal, whereas I advocate for accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility, academics and the truth.

I asked Vestal for support for his description of me. You'll love his response. Without any salutation, such as, oh, I don't know, perhaps "Dear Mrs. Rogers," he begins with this:

"Well, I'll do this once, but it's my last homework assignment: I see the following as essentially conservative positions: opposing the 'explosion' of school spending in recent years; arguing that there is no money shortage in the public schools; working to discredit unions and seeking bits of incriminating evidence against them; supporting the conservative candidate in the school board race; advocating a return to more traditional curriculums (sic); an alliance -- at least a glancing online one -- with the Alton anti-levy and bond group. Let me say this: I don't intend conservative as a perjorative (sic), though I don't agree with most of your views. But it seems to me a fair characterization. You may not have spoken with me personally, but you've made a lot of public statements."It was Vestal's responsibility to give me a fair chance to comment, prior to publishing his Dec. 16 column. He declined to honor that responsibility. He has zero support for his claims that I've worked to discredit unions, or that I've sought bits of incriminating evidence against unions, or that I have an "alliance" with any anti-levy and bond group.

I asked Vestal to support the phrase "vigorous bashing," with respect to communications between Walther and me. This is what he said: “Bashing seems to me to be a conversational equivalent to criticizing or attacking rhetorically. … my intent was not to suggest that it's improper, necessarily to have an opinion about Brower, but that in fact the key debate organizer had expressed clear support for one candidate and clear opposition to the other, in strong terms.”

So what? So the forum's main organizer privately expressed a preference for one candidate over another. The SR also preferred one candidate over another, expressing that preference publicly and repeatedly. Did their preference influence the outcome? The SR has not proved that Walther's preference swayed the Ferris forum. In the SR's case, the paper's editorial preference clearly has affected -- and continues to affect -- its news and editorial coverage.

As for the word "bashing," does anyone believe it to be synonymous with “criticizing” – especially when paired with “vigorous”? Vestal refused to provide me with more proof of this supposed "vigorous bashing," saying, "I quoted one line of Walthers' (sic) in the column, and am not going to hunt down other examples in the e-mails again."

Well, how handy. I know what's in those emails. Vestal has nothing else of substance to report. Near the end of his Dec. 16 column, Vestal – a veritable prince of irony – writes, “Maybe next year part of the lesson can include something about conflicts of interest and impartiality and not stacking the deck.”

Ha, ha, ha. He cracks me up. If ever there is a class on impartiality, he should definitely attend.

As for The Inlander, in a Jan. 4, 2012, column, associate professor Robert Herold also proves to be politically biased as he accuses Walther of being politically biased. He provides no sources other than the SR as he accuses Walther of not citing her sources. He provides no data as he questions the data in the Ferris forum questions. He provides no proof at all for his accusation that Walther condoned and promoted plagiarism. And Herold -- in an ultimate hypocrisy -- did not speak with Walther before publishing his column.

Herold's column is an argumentation and journalistic mess, but if I were his editor, I would have rejected it as being potentially libelous to Walther and/or the Ferris Leadership Class.

These media charges of political bias in the Ferris forum are hypocritical and disingenuous. Spokane-area residents get the media’s political agenda with their breakfast. Public-school children are force-fed the district’s political agenda EVERY DAY – in their classes and in curricular materials, including in math. The district’s K-6 families get an extra dose of political agenda in the union president’s column, which is published in the KIDS Newspaper, and which the district helpfully distributes regularly to elementary students at the schools and to the public in elementary schools and in the downtown office.

What do Vestal and Herold say about the district and union’s political activism that permeates, saturates, and drowns out academics? What do they say about the media’s conflicts of interest, lack of impartiality or stacking of the deck? What do they say about the district, the union and the local media having displayed persistent favoritism toward board candidate Deana Brower? What do they say about letters to the editor and newspaper columns that verge on libel toward Walther and board candidate Sally Fullmer?

Of course Walther has opinions. Everyone does. Editorial staff for The Inlander and the SR obviously had strong opinions about the 2011 candidates, and their election coverage generally appeared to favor those opinions. The issue with the Ferris forum – the one valid question – is whether Walther’s opinions unfairly influenced the forum in favor of particular candidates. No one has shown that to be the case. Meanwhile, during the forum, newspaper-endorsed board candidate Brower kept saying things like, “That’s a good question; I’m glad you asked me that.” The straw poll after the debate favored Brower, and Brower narrowly won the election.

The real stories here are the legal issues surrounding the school district and the clear and persistent political bias in Spokane's daily and weekly newspapers.

As these two papers unfairly criticize Jennifer Walther, they decline to report on the district’s meetings with this teacher. They haven’t told you that, as a certificated employee, Walther is covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (see Section 1, page 6), and as such, is entitled to all rights and protections afforded under the Agreement, including the noteworthy sections on Nondiscrimination (see Section 2, page 6), and on Progressive Discipline (see Section 22, page 61). Walther pays dues to the union, but is refunded the part of the dues that would pay for union political activity. This makes her an “agency fee payer” (which the union noted in its snippy criticism of Walther in October on the SEA Facebook page).

The papers haven't explained that Walther also is entitled to all protections and rights under the school district’s own policies, including those in the First Amendment policy, in the Unlawful Discrimination and Harassment policy, in the Disciplinary Action policy, in the Civility policy (especially items IV and VI), and in the Settlement of Grievances policy. They haven't told you that Walther is allowed freedom from harassment or bullying, and freedom from discrimination for her political viewpoints. She’s allowed representation; to know the accusations made against her; to see the complaint against her; and to not be ambushed by people with an axe to grind.

In addition, America has a Constitution and Bill of Rights. (The disturbing National Defense Authorization Act notwithstanding), citizens cannot be plucked from their lives and grilled without due process or legal representation. (I doubt even the union would try to call Walther a terrorist sympathizer.)

The SR and The Inlander haven't explained that the district and union appear to have violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement, multiple district policies, and/or the law as they campaigned for ballot propositions, campaigned or assisted with campaigning for board candidate Brower, and pursued some perceived issue with Jennifer Walther. The papers haven't questioned why the superintendent unexpectedly announced her retirement just five months after her contract was renewed.

If the SR and The Inlander are believed, there is nothing to talk about in this district other than 1) an alleged need for more money, and 2) this one teacher, whose forum was well-run and whose students asked excellent questions of candidates who were campaigning to be stewards of the future.

Spokane desperately needs a print news source that will tell the whole story – about education and about other issues of interest to this community. It needs a news source that will stand up for accountability, transparency, truth and the law; that will give all sides the opportunity to explain their position; and that will stand up for We, the People, regardless of our political affiliation.

What a fair and helpful change that would be.



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (January 2012). "Print media display political agenda and poor skills in attacking Spokane teacher." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

This article was republished Jan. 8, 2012, on EducationViews.org at: http://educationviews.org/2012/01/08/print-media-display-political-agenda-and-poor-skills-in-attacking-spokane-teacher/

This article was republished Jan. 11, 2012, on EducationNews at: http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/laurie-rogers-media-show-agenda-poor-skills-in-attacking-spokane-teacher/