Saturday, February 12, 2011

Crappy! Chart! Thursday! Mad Libs and Central Administration!

You might have noticed that I have a distinct fondness for over-priced whackadoodle fashion. I pretty regularly come across a dress or pair of shoes that I become instantly, painfully, deeply covetous of. I have to have it. I need it. I cannot possibly go to the grocery store without it (because what else would one go to the grocery store in, in February, but, say, gladiator espadrilles with a 4" heel that cost a small fortune?).
Even in the grip of materialistic greed, I can see that I don’t need a new dress, or a fabulous pair of shoes. The latest and greatest is alluring and desirable, and the desire to possess it can feel urgent to act upon. But it’s not necessary. And for me, budget-wise, fashion comes behind an army of real obligations – to Stumpy, to my children, even to my goofball goats.

When I hear Education Professionals talk, I’m reminded of fashion.

Yes, they’re talking pedagogies, metrics and best practices instead of hem lengths, silhouette trends and heel shapes. But a Mad Lib could be made with education fashions filling in the blank as easily as actual fashion.

For instance (and here's a link in case this cannot be read from your device):

Is it just me or is the fact that it's so interchangeable more than a little creepy?

It's all the more unsettling because SPS is a hot mess of education fashion trends: Formative data assessments! Strategic Plans! Teacher Evaluation Systems! Curricular Alignments! New Student Assignment Plans! STEM! IB! STEP! Performance Management! Professional Development Coaches! Best Practices! Whatever the Gates Foundation says could be the next hot thing, even if they admit they’re not sure and could be totally wrong! Stuff that can have an acronym that isn’t as ill-considered as the South Lake Union trolley!

It’s like wearing as many fashion trends on your person as is humanly possible.

The results, whether you overtrend in fashion or education, aren’t pretty.

A huge screw-up in fashion is pretty entertaining. Seeing a woman wear a phenomenally expensive dress that looks like it was made from a flock of flamingoes with bedazzled feathers and could be worn for interpretive ice dancing about formal balls for disco birds is... well, kind of awesome, as both fashion road-kill and... fun. In education, it’s just depressing, because keeeeeds are getting screwed.

SPS has a ton of latest! greatest! implementations and initiatives. And almost all of them are hot messes.

Curriculum alignment? Great theory, dreadful practice. If a science class that you can get college credit for is considered an “elective” instead of core science, something is awry in the state of… well, curriculum alignment. Clearly, we’re not in Denmark.

NSAP? Say it with me! Great in theory, mixed bag to nightmare on implementation (yes, I'm aware some people are happy as clams, usually because they landed a spot at a school that is good and not near the fire code limit of over-crowded).

MAP, the formative data assessment? I’m not actually sure it’s a great theory, given the amount of time it takes. But we’ll give Our Professional Educators of The Stanford Center the benefit of the doubt. So: great in theory, decidedly lame in practice.

Professional Development Coaches? Look, the theory is actually fine. The practice, in SPS, has been so poorly tracked – and do not attempt to insist that the data cannot be disaggregated – that SPS has no idear whether or not it’s working. Yup, that’s right. SPS is spending between $8M and $11M on something, every year, and nobody’s tracked it well enough to see if it’s working, other than some “really positive” feedback from teachers. And yes, I like teachers to be happy. But are you kidding me? That’s a whole lotta money to spend without paying close attention to the results.

We could go point by point, but it would take a while and be really, really boring. But feel free to point out your personal, most loathed example of "good in theory, lousy practice" in the comments.

The thing is, fashionable efforts cost gobs of money. In fashion and education, whether you pull it off well or badly, being at the front of a fashion is expensive. And in education, money spent on new trends always includes the following accessory: administration.

You personally may dislike top-down management or strong central administrations, as a management structure, it can work. The management structure itself is not the primary issue. The management of the structure, however, is a major issue. Because it's dismal.

And, well, let's be honest: in SPS, the structure itself is fat. If a fat, strong central administration also delivered strong support to schools and better results for students (the sumo-wrestler of administrations?), I’d be all for it.

But it doesn't.

In Seattle, a fat Central Administration hasn't delivered better results for students. A growing Central Administration is slowly strangling good schools and it's not helping schools with large numbers of struggling students.

Now, you could tell me, as SPS management is saying, that Central Administration is enormously reduced. Which... is kind of true, in a shell game, telling only a narrow part of the truth sort of way. It's sort of like if I said that I am 5'7". Which, if I'm wearing 4" heels, I am.


Melissa Westbrook said...

So hilarious. How you work Tom Ford (an attractive guy who doesn't need to wear his shirts in the unattractive way he does) in with ed reform, I'll never know. I bow to your prowess.

Also, I have a School Board meeting bingo game should you ever want a sheet to play at a Board meeting.

Also, I'm 4'9", that's my story and I'm sticking to it. That heels do little to make me taller (I might feel taller but alas, not so) still doesn't always deter me.

SeattleSped said...

Oh, Mad Libs IS scary. Gotta pass along to my Spec Ed friends...

Meg said...

Melissa - thanks. I love Mad Libs. I love Tom Ford and his "where in the hell would you wear that" sexed-up clothes. And I realized, in my haze of sick-kid care, that I had two great tastes that... well, I could force together, even if they aren't great together.

Seattle Sped - this one is the nice version. Believe it or not, I pulled out a lot of snark from the mad lib.

Charlie Mas said...

Great in Theory/Horrible in Practice:

Standards-based Reform. Standards that are supposed to be a floor in theory become a ceiling in practice.

Advanced Learning Opportunities
In the absence of oversight it dwindles until it exists in name only.

In the absence of oversight it dwindles until it exists in name only.

Earned Autonomy
The "autonomy" that schools can earn is to select off a menu of three items instead of having the District select off the menu for them. It's the controlled choice you offer toddlers.

Everyone Accountable
In the absence of any definition of accountability, there is none.

Strategic Plan Review
Because it is conducted by the staff instead of the Board it is just a highlight reel.

Community Engagement
It comes after the fact and consists exclusively of one-way communication from the District. They told us what they did.

Elected Board
Quickly becomes a tool of the adminstration they are supposed to manage.

Susan said...

My personal, most loathed example of "good in theory, lousy practice"? Well, it sort of feels like clubbing a baby harp seal. But okay, here it goes: My vote goes to the vision of the Strategic Plan, "Every Student Achieveing, Eveyone Accountable."

What a great idea, right? Unfortunately the "Everyone" in "everyone accountable" appreantly does not include central administration. Calls for accountability - requests for goals, metrics, & data; suggestions of obtaining feedback from teachers & families (and actually acting on it); inquiries into verification of "central office reducations" - all seem to fall on deaf ears.

It's beginning to look seriously like the Emperor has no clothes ... and, sorry, but I am not buying, "I am the great and powerful Oz; pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

- Your crazy (though not the craziest ever) neighbor

Scrawny Kayaker said...

Oooh, puhleeze can't we see the original Mad Lib? You can NEVER have too much snark on the Tubalwebs! Or enough, for that matter.

That is the most hideous shoe I've ever seen. And I've worn out a pair each of Ugg and Croc knock-offs.

Meg said...

Wow. Charlie, one might think you've been keeping track. I almost forgot about "earned autonomy." I think it may mean that highly performing schools are allowed to paint bathroom stall doors whatever color they would like. As long as it's beige, brown or green.

crazy neighbor (since neither I nor other neighbors have needed to get restraining orders against you, I'd say you're just unique, and in a good way) - having just come back from vacation to news of the Potter debacle, your "good in theory, terrible in practice" example seems perfect. Holy cow. What a cock-up.

scrawny kayaker - well, okay. It's not the prettiest shoe ever. I have to admit, I do not personally hold covetous feelings toward that one. Since it's Balenciaga, though, it's likely to sell like thousand dollar hotcakes. And this may be nuts, especially in light of the Potter debacle, but I've been trying to work on being, um... nicer. I'm really reconsidering that effort as far as SPS administration goes, though. Holy crooked administrators, Batman.