Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wake up, Seattle: Our district is being reformed. Do you want this?

Did you know that Seattle Public School system is being "reformed?"

Do you know what "school reform" means?

Until less than one month ago (mid-September 2009) my answer to both questions would have been "No."  Motivated by concern that the SPS Superintendent, her staff, and the School Board is no longer supportive of Alternative schools within SPS, I began to do research that would enable me to better communicate to parents at my child's Alternative school the importance of our conveying to the Board our concerns about the future of our beloved school and of SPS Alternative schools in general.

Less than a month after starting this project, I can now answer "Yes" to both questions. I now understand that SPS is being "reformed," and that Alternative Schools as we know them (and as defined by Board Policy C54), are antithetical to the reform philosophy.

And I also know that I dislike nearly every pillar of  "school reform", and what the future of Seattle Public Schools is likely to be if the School Board insists on keeping the District on this path. 

  • I foresee that Alternative schools will be phased out within several years. 

  • I foresee purposeful dumbing-down of the SPS curriculum, purportedly serving the goal of "closing the achievement gap." 

  • I foresee that the public school system will not adequately serve the educational needs of my children, who still have nearly about a decade each before they will graduate high school, are highly-motivated, high-achieving, and come from an advantaged background.

  • I foresee de facto resegregation: Disadvantaged children being further disadvantaged by being concentrated into low-performing neighborhood schools with intellectually unsatisfying, non-engaging "drill-and-kill", "teach-to-the-test" narrowly-focused and aligned core-curriculum, large class sizes, lengthened school days, and increased number of school days per year.

  • I foresee de facto resegregation: Economically-advantaged children being concentrated into predominately caucasian, high-performing, neighborhood schools with intellectually unsatisfying, "drill-and-kill", "teach-to-the-test" narrowly-focused aligned core curriculum.

  • I foresee drastic and harmful "district interventions" in "failed" schools, all of which are located without exception in low-income neighborhoods and serving predominately low-income/minority students.

  • I foresee low- and middle-class parents whose children attend low-achieving schools calling for charter schools.

  • I foresee parents of all economic classes whose children are high-achieving calling for charter schools.

  • I foresee charter schools, some of which will be highly punitive and regimented (i.e., those serving disadvantaged students), some of which will be outstanding schools with intellectually-challenging and engaging curriculum (such as my child's Alternative school already offers) and serving students that are predominately white and middle- or upper-class

  • I foresee a negative feedback of charter schools on the quality of Seattle Public Schools.

  • I foresee corruption, arising from the striking conflicts of interest inherent in the reform model of public school education.

I am very interested in reform that would lead to closure of the racial gaps on authentic measures of achievement. These include, for example, decreased drop out rates, increased college admission rates, and increased attainment of baccaluareate and advanced degrees.  I am convinced that school reform as SPS is now undergoing will not produce authentic success in closing the achievement gap.

In my research, I have noticed that

  • it is VERY EASY to find evidence that shows that school reform (sometimes referred to as corporatist, traditional, regressive, back-to-basics, or standards-based) has failed to fulfill its low-bar goal;

  • it is RARE to find evidence that shows that school reform has succeeded to meet its own low-bar goal, much less authentic high-bar goals. Such evidence that does exist is usually limited to individual charter schools, and is rarely peer-reviewed.

In future entries on this blog, I hope to

  • explain why our Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson was reported as saying, "What you need to know about me is that I don't lose sleep."

  • provide a definition of "school reform;"

  • explain why the School Board has not wanted the public to know that they put our school district on this path;

  • answer the question of what is research-based best practice in public education for closing authentic measures of the achievement gap, and for providing quality education for ALL students being served by Seattle Public Schools;

  • provide a concise history of regressive reform in Seattle;

  • make predictions as to the probable future of SPS, based on patterns in other reformed and reforming school districts across the nation;

  • identify who are the stakeholders that are financing and pressing for reform of SPS, their hidden motives and agenda, and their conflicts of interest;

  • outline the progress of the well-financed school reform movement to take control of the many large urban school districts across the nation, and to bring charters to the ten hold-out states;

  • show that the goal of providing a quality, authentic education for ALL students in SPS is much more difficult to achieve if charter schools are added to the mix.

My hope is that this blog--and other blogs and websites that I will point readers to--will help Seattle to

  • wake up from its slumber;

  • come to understand what school reform means for our children;

  • instigate a call for an informed public debate as to whether regresssive reform should continue;

  • inform the public and the School Board as to what kind of reform is most likely to lead to wholesome, humanistic, and authentic fulfilment of the Seattle Public School District's goal of "Excellence for All."

Joan Sias

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