Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday post

It’s clear that people feel strongly about the topic of education. We are dealing with the single most important factor in parent’s lives: their children. Non-parents also have perspectives about education, as employers, community members, and stakeholders in other ways.

Since I came to the Alliance almost three years ago, it has become clear to me that the more you learn about public education, the deeper you understand how complex the issues are. We, as a school district and community fail too many children across our city. The number of students who don’t graduate is too high; 33.5%. As an organization, we want to find ways to actively support them and keep them in our schools.

At the Alliance for Education our agenda is about supporting a public school system in Seattle that can effectively address the needs of a diverse population and help all students graduate ready for college, career and life. It’s that simple.

I will answer a couple of the questions you’ve brought up here, but for other questions I’ll point you to the web, or invite you to call us directly.

Educational Investments:

Our investments are listed on our web site, with a few updates needed (we’ve been without a communications manager, but that position is filled and he will be starting soon). We currently support academic investments such as Readers and Writers Workshops, a highly successful literacy program, and local college readiness programs that have not previously had consistent support, training, or outreach materials. We also invest in long-neglected infrastructure needs, such as the performance management system. This tool will be used to help teachers better understand student needs, principals better understand teacher and individual school needs, and for central office staff to direct resources to the areas that need additional support, starting in the classroom.

These are a few of the investments, but more are listed on our web site and in our report to the community:

There are also new investment initiatives that take place regularly, for example one that is not currently listed is supporting leadership development for principals and central office staff. To Charlie’s point from a previous thread, this might be a place to talk about the chain of accountability.

Teaching Quality

There has been a lot of conversation about the recently released NCTQ report, in schools and in the community. We’re hearing about conversations taking place in the teacher’s lounges, some positive, some not. We’re excited because that’s where we need to start.

Charlie’s point about defining teacher quality is an important one. It’s a conversation that needs to take place between teachers, administrators, community members and others. There are many definitions out there already, but it is up to us as a community to learn about the context here and have the discussion here in Seattle. And we absolutely need teachers at the table, as they are the ones that know the challenges and barriers firsthand.

Here are some thoughts to start the conversation:

One definition lists five primary factors of teaching success:

· Teachers are committed to students and their learning

· Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach those subjects to students

· Teachers are responsible for managing student learning

· Teachers think systematically bout their practice and learn from experience

· Teachers are members of learning communities

But this is just the beginning of the conversation. As with all complex issues, working through an issue like defining teacher quality brings up more questions. For example, if a teacher has the ability and skills to engage students successfully in learning how do you measure that? And how do you measure that equitably across student populations, with vastly different resources and individual school challenges, e.g. leadership? Clearly it is difficult to address all of the pertinent issues, but our suggestion is not that we back away from the challenge, but take it on.

On a personal note, my older daughter went to Seattle Public Schools graduating from Garfield a few years back. She had fabulous teachers. She still talks about many of them, keeping in touch with Mr. Acox, and wondering where Mr. Cerquitella went. My younger daughter started middle school this year at Eckstein. Many teachers there have been there for years. It’s been a wonderful transition at a really difficult age for kids.

From my perspective, the vast majority of teachers have been incredible: supportive, pushing the kids, and going the extra mile when the kids need help. On a personal level, I have no complaints about my kids’ experiences. But I don’t face the barriers that many people face in our communities in supporting and advocating for their children. And our schools have low teacher turnover and strong leadership. That’s great for my kids. But I want that for the other kids too.

I’m sure in the context of addressing the societal challenges of supporting all students in our schools, we will not all agree. But let’s start from the place that matters: the students, the children in our communities. Our commitment is to them. And I invite you to come to the table to talk about what we can all do to improve opportunities for all kids in the system.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Community Engagement Update – Youth Focus Group

We feel that the student voice is one that is too often missed. Part of our community engagement effort focuses on expressing student’s insights and interests. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with Youth Ambassadors*, a group of youth from the Seattle area. They ranged in age from 6th grade to university students and represent a diverse community of committed and inspiring teens. These young people strive to influence others with the powers of peace, love and compassion.

I was personally impressed with their honesty, and found them to be bright and courageous young people with brilliant ideas about the meaning of quality education. They represent many public and private schools such as Garfield, Madrona K-8, Washington Middle School, Holly Names, and Lakeside. Take a good look at their comments and give us your feedback.

Youth Ambassadors' Comments:

1) “There is a gap between what teachers say they will teach and what they actually teach you. They say they are going to enhance your understanding of the culture of the language you are trying to learn and then all they teach you is a cultural song or dance. It gives you a false impression of what you are actually supposed to learn. Don’t have inflated goals; it you are going to do it [teach], do it.”

2) “School leadership should raise teachers' salary. Teaching is a profession that many people cannot do well because it does not have high pay. If we want our society to be more educated and get more teachers, then the best thing we can do to attract them is offer a higher salary.”

3) “I have been in the lowest math classes possible during school because I’m just not good at math. I was in Integrated Math II last year. I was like the “white person” in my class because I’m half Asian and everyone else was East Asian or African American. The teacher that I had also had AP classes that she treated differently than our class. She was really happy and polite and nice [to the AP class]; she brought them cookies, she had a really good attitude and she really helpful. And then with our class it was the complete opposite. She called my friend Kevin a ninja. I don’t know what that was about, but it was bad. She would talk back to students and snap her fingers at them. I don’t know if that was her idea of getting through to those kids. It was just interesting seeing the difference in how she treated them. She was like the least helpful teacher of all. She never ever would help a kid [in my class] out. The other Asians would be dispersed among the other student’s tables. I guess she expected us to be the smart ones. It was pretty shocking; the way she taught. It disturbed me and made me really angry. It’s just interesting seeing the difference in how AP and regular classes can be taught by the same teacher. “

4) “To be honest, I have never been at risk of not graduating just because of how I was raised. My parents always pushed me to take harder classes and go to college, but still I can think of three or four teachers that have had the biggest impact on me and I’m still in touch with all of them. Because they ask me how I am doing; they know what is going on in my life and they will share parts [stories] of themselves with me too. And so, I actually feel like I have a relationship with them. I feel like I have someone who makes me want to come to school and go to class. I feel like if there were more teachers like that then there would be more students who actually want to go to school.”

5) “Teaching is not always engaging. A lot of what we do is a lot of textbook work and reading the answers back. There is a not hands on learning and that means a lot of students are not successful. A very small part of the [student] population is good at that. The people who are good at SAT’s and good at WASL and good at tests can learn like that. We need more hands on things in the class. Make it relevant to our lives now.”

6) “I went to Washington Middle School and I felt fortunate to be able to go to one of the better schools. With all of the budget cuts and kids being relocated, even if students are at a higher level, it [quality learning] is not accessible to them because they are forced into a school they don’t really want to go to. I think that if they [school district] are going to have this whole geographical thing it’s not really fare to have a separation between good and bad schools. At Washington, I had some really good teachers that affected me and wanted to make me do better and I think that those kinds of teacher are really needed at the schools that are considered “bad schools”. Without teacher motivation there is no student motivation.”

7) “Counselors; there need to be more of them. At my school, we have 1600 students and like three or four counselors. That’s like 400 kids per counselor; they can’t possibly cater to each student’s needs and be accessible to them to really help guide them. People [students] have to be self motivated to get all the credits they need. Accountability [for students] is one thing, but for counselors that’s their job.”

8) "I think there should be a better system of getting students to know what classes they need to take. I know that there is counselor night, and my mom was about to not go to that, but at the last minute she did and figured out that I have an occupational ed issue. If she hadn’t of gone I wouldn’t have been able to graduate on time. That would have been horrible if she had not have gone and a lot of people deal with that [same issue]."

9) “Stuff like gang violence and drama make it hard for some of us. Me and my friends get a lot of threats from other kids. They say they’re gonna’ kill us or blow up the school and stuff like that. They [gangs] just don’t care about finishing school. One of my friends said he is going to get a job working for his uncle and make money that way. He thinks, 'why go to school if it doesn’t make adifference?'”

10) “I really like how you came out here to ask us about what we think. I would really like it if school leaders [principals, the superintendent, school board] took the time to talk to us. I think that would make a difference.”

-Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager

*Learn more about Youth Ambassadors at

Friday, October 16, 2009

Final Thought on Friday

It’s certainly been a rough and tumble week on the blog! So, just a few thoughts before I head home to the kids:

It’s no surprise how passionate people are about public education and how deeply people care about the children in our community. It is surprising to me how that passion translates into some of the content and tone throughout the various threads this week – but, that’s what makes blogging interesting.

I said at the beginning of the week that we’re new at this and would make mistakes – still true -- but I also think we learned something every day this week. My only disappointment is that we spent more time thinking about blogging and getting our feet on the ground than actually getting to the important questions. Stick with us – over the next weeks we want to address as many of the substantive questions raised as we can.

Let me say this in the meantime – this week for us was about teacher quality. The NCTQ report sparked an enormous amount of conversation. That alone is probably a good thing but I would be the first to say that it is insufficient if the conversation doesn’t inform our thinking and drive change. The report is one resource. This blog is another. We as a community have a lot of work to do and I am confident we’ll keep at it.

Patrick D'Amelio, CEO

Community Responds to Teaching Quality Forum

Happy Friday! As you may know, we had a great public forum about teaching quality last Wednesday at Seattle University. Below you will find comments from our roundtable discussions that express the public’s reaction to the presentation of the report: Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools: Rethinking How to Attract, Develop and Retain Effective Teachers. A special thanks to all of the wonderful community members who participated in this provocative dialogue. You play a critical role in providing the support necessary to ensure student learning and academic success. Enjoy the comments and feel free to post your thoughts. Please click on comments to view the community responses.

Have a great weekend!

Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alliance's Public Event

Thanks to all of you who attended the NCTQ event. It was a good start on a difficult and complex topic.

Here's a quick rundown of the evening. We started a little late because of issues with microphones that worked during soundcheck but were unreliable at a few points during the evening. But that's the beauty of a live event, right? We're flexible when we need to be.

After a welcome delivered by Patrick, our president, and George, our board chair, Kate Walsh, the president of NCTQ gave her presentation which ran longer than expected, but covered all of the key points of the report including:

  • Teacher Compensation
  • Transfer and Assignment
  • Work Day and Year
  • Developing Effective Teachers and Exiting Ineffective Teachers
All of the recommendations made by NCTQ can be read in the report. Here's a link:

Immediately following the presentation, Glenn Bafia of SEA and Maria Goodloe-Johnson of SPS gave a short response to the presentation.

After a shortened Q&A session (due to being behind schedule) we broke into table discussion. There was a facilitator at most tables who captured responses to questions and additional comments. Individuals sitting at tables without facilitators were invited to join the conversation at other tables. Those comments are currently being consolidated and will be display on this blog asap.

Below are the questions we asked the individual groups. Having been a blogger for a full day now I'm getting better at this (I wouldn't say good yet). I'll anticipate that these questions will not be some of the same questions you would have asked. So I invite you to ask your questions on the blog. Our commitment is that we keep this a constructive dialogue and invite you to do the same.

1. Do you agree with the recommendations for improving teacher quality that were proposed in this report? Why or why not?
2. What opportunities can the following groups create in making sure all students in our schools are learning: school leaders, the teacher's union, teachers, parents and community members?
3. What is the concern or issue about teaching quality that you find yourself most often telling?

Additional comments were invited along the way.

I will separate individual questions into a separate thread because there were a lot of responses to sort through. This will also allow for a conversation specifically around tonight's comments which I will post as soon as possible.


Questions from Public Event

This thread captures some of the comments shared at the table discussions during our public event on October 14. As you can see there was a lot of conversation generated and some interesting comments.

We're quickly posting the raw comments. Over the next few days we will compile them, and summarize consistent themes and comments, but for now you have it to review.

Click on "comments" to see most of the discussion which took place at the event. PLEASE NOTE: not all comments have been posted yet... stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thanks for the early input.

Just a quick thanks to each of you who posted a response to my welcome message. There were some great comments and we appreciate all of them -- particularly about the blog format. We’re new at this and we’ll likely get some things wrong along the way. It’s clear that you’ll let us know and keep us on our toes – that’s a good thing!

It is absolutely our intention to create a space that allows dissent and supports a full public dialogue both in our public engagement events and online. Join us tomorrow evening for a great example of how we want to put this commitment into practice. The Alliance is hosting a community forum to discuss a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), titled Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools. Check out the details here. As part of this event, we’ll post participants’ reactions and feedback here on the blog in the coming days.

This blog is a work in progress and, as noted in one of the early posts, there are many other fine blogs that follow issues related to public education. It’s our intention to add to the rich mix and to better inform our own efforts as we continue our work to help every child in Seattle Public Schools achieve academic success.

Patrick D’Amelio, CEO

Monday, October 12, 2009

Community Forum - Supporting Student Learning and Great Teaching in Seattle Public Schools

The Alliance for Education Invites you to a presentation of the report by the National Council on Teaching Quality (NCTQ), titled Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools.

The event will take place on Wednesday, October 14th at the Seattle University Campion Tower Ballroom. The event will begin promptly at 6:30pm. Please refer to the attached flyer for program details.

You may also be interested in the attached Lynne Varner editorial that references the NCTQ report.

The forum will include a presentation by Kate Walsh, President of NCTQ, followed by roundtable discussions about what this report means for our community and students. It is our hope that this forum helps to provide teachers with the tools, structures and support necessary to ensure all students are prepared in school, work and life.

To RSVP or request more information, please contact Rachel Hug at 206.205.0322 or We look forward to your attendance at this event.

Best regards,

Solynn McCurdy
Community Engagement Manager

Welcome to the AFE Community Blog

Welcome to the Alliance for Education blog. We’re excited to have this new tool to help foster a community wide dialogue around important issues that impact the kids in our community. Over the next few months, we’ll develop several threads for our conversation. We’ll include topics such as teacher quality, the achievement gap, student assignment, community schools, education reform, equitable access to college to name a few. And, you’ll be able to help us identify other areas of interest.

We hope that this will become a forum for asking tough questions, surfacing the best ideas and a true gathering place for community insight.

As we launch this new effort, we want to make several commitments to you:

· This is your voice. Be assured that we will listen.
· We will not script or edit content.
· We’ll work hard to understand and analyze your insight.
· We’re committed to sharing that insight directly and frankly.

Seattle is a bright and diverse community with limitless possibility. Imagine for a moment that we can harness all of the collective insight and passion that is so evident in our community and focus it strategically on support for all of our students.

We hope you will find this blog useful. If you do, we’ll be happy to hear that and if you don’t we’re sure we’ll see that on the blog!

Let the blogging begin.

Patrick D'Amelio

AFE President & CEO