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Friday, May 24, 2013

How we could fix public education, and why it won't happen

By Laurie H. Rogers

This week, I saw a donation stand for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). The stand was located between the in and out doors of a grocery store, and the older veteran standing there must have felt chilled. I gave him a donation, and on the way out, I offered to get him a cup of coffee. He looked like he wanted one, but he demurred, so I just went and got him a large cup with a free refill. He offered to pay me for the coffee. When I refused his money, he put it in the donation cup. This veteran was focused on his mission. He wasn’t there for himself, and he behaved with impeccable manners and integrity. I thought – what a difference between a man like that, and so many of those who run our public schools.

As an education advocate, I’m asked regularly how we fix our public schools. After six and a half years of advocacy, I’m no longer confident we can. Solutions exist, and they’re neither difficult nor expensive to implement. But most board directors and education administrators won’t do those things, and no one can make them. Absolute failure brings them more money, sympathy and power. They’re nearly immune now to any consequences, and most seem allergic to accountability or self-introspection. Naturally, this kind of power can go to one’s head.

The situation could be rectified, with proper oversight from citizens, legislators and the law. But many school districts spend much time, energy and taxpayer money cultivating uncritical friends – in the legislature, the courts, public agencies, private organizations, small businesses, large corporations and the media. They keep publicly funded lawyers on retainer, and they can spend a bottomless pit of tax dollars, suing for more in the midst of plenty. They wield their considerable power with impunity, and they answer to almost no one. In the midst of their self-interest and lack of humility, most refuse to properly educate or protect the children.

It’s quite twisted. I think of these people now as the Edu Mob. I keep asking for someone with oversight to jerk a legal knot in their chain, but it’s been years and I’m still waiting.

Certain administrators and board directors come to believe they’re invincible, that they have carte blanche to do as they please – to hide information, mislead about money and outcomes, violate open-government laws, and lie right to our face, if necessary – in order to get what they want. I doubt they see their lying as wrong. I’m sure they see it as just the cost of doing business. It isn’t honorable, of course, but only those with honor would care about that.

Here are 10 key things districts could do to fix the problems they’ve created. Match these 10 to the things they actually do.
  • 1. Start telling the truth. Assess all students with well-written, at-grade-level tests (so, not with any state tests). Provide citizens with the unvarnished results. Put more effort into telling the truth about academic outcomes than they’ve put into hiding it. Give completed tests back to teachers and parents so we know how to help the children.
  • 2. See the children – and the academic problem – clearly. Feel a concern for the children that transcends a concern for themselves. Recognize that students are being damaged for life by failed academic programs. Feel ashamed and embarrassed. Develop a sense of urgency about helping the children academically. Turn shame and embarrassment into immediate action.
  • 3. Buy good textbooks. Buy good textbooks today. If they bought textbooks with a proven track record, they wouldn’t need to waste teacher and student time on adoption committees or pilots. Worry more about the academic quality of the textbooks than about whether they align with the unproved, arguably illegal Common Core State Standards, whether they engage in “political/social justice” themes, or whether they contain a gazillion group projects. Buy books that are sufficient, efficient, effective, and crystal clear to teachers and parents. Such books are available; they should buy them now before somebody wants to make them illegal.
  • 4. Don’t put curriculum and tests online. Many children won’t do well with all-online material. Some will find that working online hurts their eyes and even damages their eyesight. Some will be distracted by online options and visuals. Children also learn by writing things down; they don’t learn by clicking a mouse. Care more about this than about pleasing the feds, Bill Gates, Apple and other tech vendors – or about pocketing their gobs of bait-money.
  • 5. Allow teachers to directly teach. Stop micromanaging teachers. Allow teachers the academic freedom they need to be as good or as poor as they are. Reward effective ones, and fire ineffective ones. Ask parents for input on this. Care more about teacher quality than about pleasing unions or obtaining union support for pet projects.
  • 6. Remove distractions from the school day. Stop wasting time on things like excessive testing and test prep, “training” on unnecessary technology, and assemblies where children learn how to sell stuff. Stop yanking teachers out of class for useless “professional development.” Give teachers good academic materials and then leave them alone so they can teach it.
  • 7. Make class sizes manageable. If districts take in tax dollars to lower class sizes, they should actually lower the damn class sizes and stop lying about it.
  • 8. Allow the community to help. Community members can and will volunteer to fill in academic gaps; administrators just need to open the door. No one needs a teaching certificate to tutor a child.
  • 9. Cut back on or get rid of curriculum departments. Most administrators in public-school curriculum departments don’t teach, and they generally refuse to learn. What they do is tell everyone else what to do. Make them go away. And please, for heaven’s sake, do not put any dogmatic reformers back into the classroom.
  • 10. Obey the laws. Do it because it’s right, and do it always, not just when somebody gets caught.
This is what it takes: Good textbooks, a productive learning environment and caring teachers who can actually teach. It’s why good tutors are incredibly effective. But the Edu Mob won’t do any of it. Most administrators won’t publicly tell the truth or admit there’s a problem. They won’t assess students with at-grade-level tests and make results public; won’t consistently buy or use good textbooks; won’t allow teachers to directly teach; won’t clear the school day of distractions; won’t lower class sizes to reasonable levels; and won’t solicit community help on mathematics or grammar.

What will they do? Exactly what they’re doing.
  • They’ll put all curriculum and tests online, without any proof that a) this is an effective way to teach, or that b) it won’t damage the children’s eyesight.
  • They’ll campaign hard for bonds and levies and sue for more money, using your tax dollars to do it.
  • They’ll push for all-day kindergarten in all schools for all children, whether or not citizens like it, and whether or not all 5-year-olds are ready for this.
  • They’ll apply for charter schools, which they’ll run or influence to be run in the same way as the current public schools.
  • They’ll adopt the Common Core initiatives, sight unseen – blindly tagging along after this obscenely expensive national experiment.
  • And, they’ll hand you a fistful of excuses as to why they can’t do anything else.
The Common Core initiatives come with a creepy data system that is trashing privacy laws regarding children and families. Remember the idea of expunging records when children turn 18, so that new adults can begin with a clean slate? That’s pretty much out the window with the Common Core. The feds want cradle-through-career data and information, which they’ll share as they please without our permission or knowledge, and which no one will be allowed to expunge.
Despite voting repeatedly to target multi-millions of taxpayer dollars for various aspects of the Common Core, Spokane Board President Bob Douthitt admitted early in 2013 at a district math forum that he doesn’t know much about the Common Core. Douthitt also has said the district had no choice but to adopt the Common Core (which is not true), and that Spokane students are graduating ready for college (which is not true for most). His assertions aren’t logical. If everything is wonderful, why is he voting to waste our money on changing everything?
Douthitt is running again for the school board. Please don’t vote for him.
I had a surreal experience this week. I went in to look at the district’s curricular materials, and they look depressingly like they did in 2007. Unbelievably, this district still uses two of the worst math programs on the planet: Investigations in Number, Data, and Space, and Connected Mathematics. The public has online access to the district’s “curriculum guides” – which are overarching concepts of what curriculum coordinators expect of teachers, but we haven’t been allowed to see the district’s "program guides" – the daily administrative dictates to teachers. Those are hidden in Blackboard, which requires a login.
Program guides are public records, however, so I stuck to my guns, and I managed to see some of them this week, along with some of the curricular materials. It’s a mound of truly awful stuff.
  • If you’re a believer in civics instruction, you’ll be distressed by the social studies materials.
  • If you’re a believer in direct instruction to mastery of sufficient standard algorithms, you’ll be distressed by the stubbornly crappy math materials.
  • If you’re a believer in literature and in direct instruction of grammar, you’ll be distressed by the English/language arts materials.
  • If you think small children should not be taught to embrace alternative lifestyles to which their parents are opposed, or before they even know what a lifestyle is – you’ll hate the “human growth and development” materials.
  • Everyone should be appalled by the rampant typos, spelling and grammatical errors, incomprehensible test questions, and generally weak writing coming out of the Department of Teaching and Learning.
I asked Superintendent Shelley Redinger if the district will buy better math materials for fall 2013. She said they’ll continue to pilot materials. It’s clear that Saxon Math will not be adopted in Spokane Public Schools, not even by someone who says she understands the math problem. This, despite Saxon being one of the best elementary math series in the country. Supporting Saxon are solid research, student data, millions of happy homeschoolers, and the majority of math professionals I surveyed earlier this year.

Is Saxon Math the only math program currently available that's sufficient, efficient and effective? No. But the antagonism shown toward it by reformers is not about Saxon; it's about philosophy. Believers in reform math and student-centered learning will never want the same books as will believers in direct instruction to mastery of the most-efficient and most-effective algorithms.

Saxon Math and the kind of instruction within it have been caricaturized and demonized in Spokane by lovers of the current failed approach to math. So, now, the district is waiting for “Godot” – a math program that won’t upset those people; that hasn’t been written, properly researched or assessed; that’s “aligned” with the unproved Common Core; that 50 or so hand-picked people will collectively decide without proof is good enough; that’s supposed to make reformers and traditionalists happy; that will be mathematically sufficient; and that will get all kids on track for college. This is a fish-bicycle, an impossible thing. It can’t happen.

Whichever new materials they eventually look at will still have to go through another wasteful adoption process, and when adopted, will be yet another experiment on the children.
I expressed concern about the 20,000 students who will be forced to suffer in math for another school year. It’s a lifetime to them, I argued. Don’t you feel a sense of urgency? I asked Dr. Redinger. They’re drowning. She said she feels that urgency.

Maybe. The proof is in the pudding. There’s been no proper assessment made of all students, no truth about their struggle made public, no solid math curriculum adopted, no community tutoring program begun, no opt-out offered for all-day kindergarten, and no district push-back made public on the Common Core. Dr. Redinger has made nearly a quarter of a million dollars since July 2012, yet the children still don’t have a good math curriculum. Board directors Bob Douthitt and Sue Chapin have been on the board since 2007. Rocky Treppiedi has been there since 1996, Jeff Bierman since 2009, and Deana Brower since 2011. This school board has spent years campaigning for more dollars, and the last two furiously trying to undermine the Public Records Act for all citizens in Washington State. Yet, Spokane children still don’t have a good math curriculum.

For years, I’ve asked the school district to help me begin a free community tutoring program in math so we can get these children to grade level. It would be volunteering to help the children, an offer I've made repeatedly. Former superintendent Nancy Stowell repeatedly refused to allow it. I was publicly criticized for suggesting it.

I began asking Dr. Redinger about it in September 2012. Finally, she invited me in last week to talk about tutoring. I was wary but hopeful. Had she begun a program? Did she want me to start one? Had someone else begun a program I could promote? Nope. None of the above. She handed me a fee schedule for renting a school building. I stared at the fee schedule, as I contemplated her quarter-million-dollar salary. What should I have said? What I thought was: “Seriously? Are you kidding me??”

Apparently, the wants of the monkeys still dictate how the zoo is run. Saxon Math could help fix Spokane’s math problem, but reformers don’t want Saxon, so it’s dead in the water. Instead, the leadership will allow 20,000 children to suffer every day in math while they all wait for a textbook that’s yet to be published. Reformers also don’t want citizens tutoring in proper math, and they don’t want at-grade-level assessments, but they do want the Common Core. Clearly, dealing with their hates and wants still takes priority over the children’s needs.

There’s so much arrogance and self-interest in public education, many adults now seem money-blind and power-blind to the children. I’ve begged them: Please care about these children. In return, many of them - including members of the board - call me names. The latest pejorative, so I hear, is “gadfly.” It isn’t the worst name they’ve called me.

I don’t know how to make selfish people care more about the children than about themselves. It’s probably another fish-bicycle. They should be ashamed, but they aren’t. They do, however, want you to give them more money and to vote some of them back in. Please don't.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (May 2013). "How we could fix public education, and why it won't happen." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was published May 28, 2013, on Education News at:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Legislature and lawsuit help public education go in exactly the wrong direction. Again.

By Laurie H. Rogers

I was asked recently to articulate to a legislator my thoughts and concerns about public education funding and accountability. Ah, so much to say ... about funding; accountability, the Common Core initiatives, and the McCleary Decision on education funding.

Legislators love to give more of our tax dollars to K-12 education, but they aren’t good at pursuing accountability or transparency from administrators and school boards. That’s partly because they listen too much to the Edu Mob, and not enough to We, the People.

What legislators hear from the Edu Mob is usually contrary to what actually needs to be done for the children, so we advocates have little hope of ever nailing down solutions. After six+ years of advocacy, I’m profoundly tired of hearing legislators state, year after year, “Education needs more money!”


Question #1: What basis do legislators have for saying that K-12 education is underfunded, or that funding has been cut, or that more money will produce a better education system?

Does anyone in the legislature know how much money is spent on K-12 education, including the school districts, the Educational Service Districts (ESDs), and the state education agency (OSPI)? Does anyone know how much is spent on capital costs and technology? Can anyone provide a comparison of how much was spent for all of K-12 education in 2002 vs. 2012? No? Then why are legislators so sure that districts need more money?

When we ask OSPI for the total costs of K-12 education in Washington State, the numbers we get likely won’t include capital costs or the costs to run OSPI. We might have to ask a few times for a total cost, and even then, we’ll probably have to dig out the truth ourselves. It's a pile of money, even accounting for inflation, and 40-50% of it does not go to the classroom.

Question #2: Does anyone in the legislature intend to find out where the money is going?

Do legislators plan to hold administrators accountable for expenditures, seek transparency for outcomes, or ensure that those who lied to the people about expenditures or outcomes are forced out, and that those who violated open-government laws (i.e. regarding public meetings, campaigning, and public records) are held legally accountable? I ask because I see very little legislative interest in any of this.

Question #3: Does anyone in the legislature care that the recent “McCleary Decision” on school funding was based on an undefined word?

The McCleary Decision resulted from a lawsuit filed against the State, which argued that the State is failing to live up to its obligation for “ample” funding of K-12 education. Driving this lawsuit was an organization called NEWS (Network for Excellence in Washington Schools). NEWS says it represents “students, parents, teachers, administrators and other citizens who are united in advocacy for public school funding.” (Obviously, the folks behind NEWS believe that increased public school funding will bring excellence in the schools.)

NEWS is largely made up of school districts and their unions (which would be happy financial beneficiaries of any decision for the plaintiffs). The president and former president of NEWS are, respectively, school superintendents Nick Brossoit, Edmonds; and Mike Blair, Chimacum.

In 2010, a Superior Court judge ruled for the plaintiffs, and in January 2012, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decision. In an unusual move, the Supreme Court also retained jurisdiction over the case as a way to ensure that legislators would cough up the money.

The argument behind the lawsuit doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the funding situation, however. What does “ample” mean? School districts across the state have wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on layers of administration, academically useless “professional development,” never-ending purchases of unproved or deeply flawed instructional materials and supplementary materials, techno toys, contracts, legal advice, food for adults, travel, consultants, new systems and programs, new assessments, administrative raises, and a plethora of other things that don’t help academic learning one bit. And when we try to find out exactly where the money went, some of them don't want to tell us.

Just one legal firm, for example, has received millions of taxpayer dollars from Spokane Public Schools, and this district uses several legal firms. Those legal expenses aren't itemized in the publicly released budget. School districts also are allowed to report expenditures within the intended program, not as a line-item expense, so they can throw all sorts of things into program categories, and they do. Expenditures for "instruction," therefore, include non-instruction items such as professional development, administrator salaries, travel and food. I requested a list of expenditures by line item, and I was told they “don’t break it down that way.”

There is a huge amount of waste in public education, much of it hidden from the public.


Question #4: Has anyone in the legislature attempted to hold education administrators accountable for their decades-long failure to produce well-educated students?

In education, failure begets more money. Administrators therefore have a perverse incentive to not succeed. I'm not saying they deliberately try to fail, yet there are few consequences for failure, and there are huge financial gains resulting from failure, so they have little motivation to weed out incompetent administration, eliminate bad programs and curricula, or install products, people and programs that are PROVED to succeed. They don't have to police themselves, and there is no way for the public to police them. They seem to feel no sense of urgency to get it right. They just keep failing our children, patting themselves on the back for their "hard work," while fueled by an increasing number of taxpayer dollars.

Question #5: Are any legislators well versed on what a successful academic program looks like? Or, are they all taking as gospel what they're told by administrators, unions, policy makers, pro-money groups and the federal government?

Do legislators listen to parents? Do they listen to math advocates? Do they not realize that children are NOT coming out of the K-12 system well educated, despite all of the fake numbers produced by officials every spring and fall? Do they not see the physical and emotional toll on the children from not having enough academics to progress, graduate, go to college, get a job, join the military, or even fill out a job application? Do legislators not feel a sense of urgency to fix this problem now? If they feel the same urgency I feel, they certainly don't show it.

Question #6: Does anyone in the legislature care about district accuracy in reporting, with consequences for those who don't engage in it?

In 2012, local administrators told the public (while promoting their upcoming levy) that their operating budget had been cut over 10 years by just more than $45 million, while the truth -- easily located on the OSPI Web site -- is that the operating budget had grown by about $80 million over that decade. The difference is massive. How do they get away with it?

It's hard for citizens to know where public dollars go, when expenditures are allowed to be shoved into dark recesses of the budget or hidden in the category of "instruction," and when so much money every year is hidden, not reported or misspent.

As for academics, state and local reporting on student academic outcomes is annually preposterous. Happy numbers are reported with breathless, self-congratulatory enthusiasm each year, always on the rise, always worth celebrating -- and awards are handed out for amazing improvements -- yet little of it bears any resemblance to what we see in the children’s actual levels of academic capability.

The overall deceit is so huge, most people refuse to believe it.


Question #7: Has anyone in the legislature initiated opposition to the prospect of spending at least a billion taxpayer dollars on the Common Core initiatives -- an arguably illegal takeover of public education by the federal government?

The Common Core initiatives are unproved. There are no student data behind them to support them; they are national pilots of unknown and politically biased products. They were adopted in Washington State under a shady process, and they will cost Washington taxpayers at least a billion dollars and the nation at least a trillion dollars. They’ve already removed much local decision-making power, pushing parents farther out of the process, while promoting a biased political agenda and still not providing students with sufficient academics. They’re already leading many districts back to more math programs that lack direct instruction or standard algorithms, and to more English programs that lack sufficient grammar or classic literature.

As everyone complains about money, why are legislators spending a billion taxpayer dollars on unproved, unnecessary and politically biased products? Sorry to be blunt, but this is not bipartisan leadership; it’s bipartisan foolishness. No successful business would operate like this.

And by the way, the coming charter schools in Washington State will be using Common Core products. How does that represent academic “choice” for parents and students?


Question #8: Do legislators realize that no one involved with the McCleary lawsuit had to explain where the previous money went, or why it failed to produce well-educated students?

I can efficiently teach my daughter algebra at the kitchen table with a used textbook, a piece of paper and a pencil. Why can’t schools do the same with $12,000 per student? No one involved in the lawsuit had to itemize district, ESD and OSPI expenditures, or explain the academic failures.

No one is to be accountable for how the new money will be spent, either, or for any new failures in academic outcomes. Instead, the McCleary Decision means many of these failed administrators will get a financial windfall. Some are already counting it, preparing to spend money on things that have little or nothing to do with the classroom.

Question #9: Did anyone in the legislature question why the Supreme Court retained jurisdiction over the funding of education, essentially replacing the role of the legislature?

Legislators now must answer to the Supreme Court on funding, and they must do what the Supreme Court has decided, rather than answer to the people and do what the people have decided. As NEWS puts it, the Supreme Court ordered the State to “make annual progress reports to the court” and allowed “NEWS to respond to each of the State’s reports to inform the Court of the accuracy of the State’s claims.”

The fox now guards the henhouse – NEWS officials advised the Supreme Court on how much more money they want. You won’t be surprised to know that – on behalf of school districts and unions – NEWS decided that education requires billions more dollars, increasing each year. Legislators were ordered to pay up.

Thomas Ahearne, a lawyer for NEWS, reportedly suggested that the Court could punish legislators for not coming up with the money, by “imposing fines, cutting utility service to the legislative building or docking the pay” of legislators. What’s next? Cement shoes? An “offer they can’t refuse?” Meanwhile, We the People don’t count at all. We have nowhere to go for help or recourse.

This Supreme Court decision to retain jurisdiction over funding is a bad precedent, a vast overreach, and it must be appealed. Legislators must not allow it to stand. In Tunstall v. Bergeson (2000), the Supreme Court itself expressly warned against judicial overreach into education decision-making.

Does this country still have a Constitution and a governing system of checks and balances, or doesn’t it?

Question #10: Does anyone in the legislature know that the lawsuit resulting in the McCleary Decision was funded in part by district dollars – by taxpayer dollars?

When school districts wish to become a NEWS member, NEWS asks them to "make a public statement of support by passing a resolution" and by providing "a financial contribution to NEWS." NEWS helpfully "invoices" school districts for this "contribution."

Taxpayers therefore unknowingly helped pay for a lawsuit against the state – which is publicly funded – resulting in forcing more taxpayer dollars from taxpayers. How much money did this lawsuit cost taxpayers, not including the McCleary Decision itself? Where in district budgets are these costs? That’s a true pile-on – public agencies, their unions, their money advocates, their lawyers, and their multitude of quasi-public associations ... And now the Court... Who was there to speak up for the taxpayer?

Citizens in other states have attempted to get legislation written to outlaw being able to lobby like this with taxpayer dollars. This should happen in Washington State.

Much of the leadership in K-12 public education has repeatedly proved itself to be self-serving, unsuccessful, certain it’s brilliant, mostly deaf to the public, overpaid, overfunded, not transparent and not publicly accountable. When will the legislature stop chasing after failure, wasting gobs of taxpayer dollars on those who care mostly about money, ego and power – and who don’t even produce well-educated graduates?

This is the end of my rant. Public education, structured as it is, will never result in well-educated students. The Edu Mob’s list of priorities begins and ends with money and power, and the legislature has tended to cater to those priorities every legislative session. Things will continue this way until enough of us have a) left the broken system, and b) voted for legislators who care more about student academics and district accountability than about getting more votes and donations from the Edu Mob.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (May 2013). "Legislature and lawsuit help public education go in exactly the wsrong direction. Again." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article also was published May 10 at Education News at this address: