March 15, 2009
The Challenge Facing Education Reformers

A school district that made a name for itself pushing rigorous courses (AP classes in high school) for greater numbers of students is in the process of hiring a new superintendent, revealing this:

The district's schools annually rocket to the top of Newsweek's list of top 100 high schools; it's considered one of the state's best districts; and its former superintendent made his mark nationally as a visionary educator. Yet six months ago, Bellevue's 1,200 teachers walked the picket line for two weeks, demanding change.

Certainly, there are unique and specific dynamics that can lead to a strike, but it is also fair to say that the aggressive changes so often necessary to transform school system tend to upset the status quo. Since that status quo is most often visible in the form of the relevant teachers' union, the totality of the quoted paragraph above shouldn't be all that surprising.

Indeed, Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson is making a name for herself as a decisive, results-driven leader. She has renewed the Gates Foundation's hard-to-earn trust in the Seattle school system, earning well-deserved public praise.

Even at all that, one can see Goodloe-Johnson is still at somewhat of a diagnostic phase in assessing what reforms are needed within Seattle schools. Her steps thus far will empower some like-minded reformers and provide opportunities to firmly establish, via a data-driven process, where changes most clearly need to be made.

It is at that point, as the now deceased Mike Riley discovered in Bellevue, that the status quo really begins to object. Those are when the substantive changes have to be implemented at the school building and classroom level for reforms to work. Thus, that's when the status quo truly begins to object - and loudly.

How long until Goodloe-Johnson thus finds herself at loggerheads with the Seattle Education Association?

Posted by Eric Earling at March 15, 2009 01:05 PM | Email This
1. What led to the strike was the WEA deciding that Bellevue was the next target. The head of the WEA has had her sights on the district for a long time, and this was her chance to wreak havoc. It didn't take much to convince the BEA to go along.

The strike was supposedly about the curriculum web, which attempts to standardize what is taught across the district and hold teachers accountable for covering a defined curriculum in a prescribed schedule. The teachers hate it, because it takes away their freedom to teach about Jackie Robinson for a month rather than the Depression and World War II. (Actual statement by a leader in the BEA.) But that was just a cover. What they won in the contract was language that was already being implemented, which was clarifying how the curriculum web was to be used.

The real issue was money. The teachers wanted a huge pay raise. They didn't care if that meant larger classrooms (because the district couldn't afford to hire as many teachers) or reduced support services. The district caved because they didn't want an extended outage that would have resulted if they went to court to force teachers back to work.

What was most discouraging was the vitriol heaped on the former superintendent, Mike Riley. When they heard Dr Riley had died, there were some disgraceful comments made that should have embarrassed them. But of course it didn't. Riley brought standards up in Bellevue, and the teachers hated him for it. Their private fiefdoms were torn down.

One encouraging result was that parents have found their voice. They no longer sit back and just take the nonsense that the union puts out. They no longer just blindly support their teachers. They actually are wanting results. The superintendent search should be interesting.

Posted by: Janet s on March 15, 2009 01:05 PM
2. Not exactly about schools and school unions, but the Tacoma Tribune has an editorial this morning about the card check legislation. They, surprisingly, are against it and the comments from the union types are pretty predictable.

Posted by: Huey on March 15, 2009 01:19 PM
3. In honor of next week's closing of the PEE EYE, I am wrlking on a song modelled asfter "American Pie":

So bye-bye, Seattle PI.
You were ruthless in your truthless,
printing of lies.
Now you good old boys are drinkin' whiskey and rye
Singin', "this'll be the day that I die.
"this'll be the day that I die."

Posted by: pbj on March 15, 2009 02:06 PM
4. pbj... I like that. I might promote you to blt.

Posted by: Huey on March 15, 2009 02:12 PM
5. awww 1200 marched and demanded change...well the majority if not all voted for change in ''s that working out for ya???...CG lied BHO lied you get what you 4 years of more liberal waste and more taxes..if you are a teacher no offense....lolololol

Posted by: hellpig on March 15, 2009 04:08 PM
6. Looking at this comment section, maybe Kos really did have it right. And yes, I realize I'm in this comment section.

@1 has absolutely no idea what she's talking about. Trying to pin the Bellevue teacher strike on Mary Lindquist is ridiculous; if you think that it's easy to get teachers to take to the picket lines, you're a fool. I completely discredit your Jackie Robinson anecdote as made-up crap, and I suggest further that language in the form of a "hey, we're going to do this!" memo isn't nearly as useful as language embodied in a teachers contract, and if you can't appreciate the difference there's no use trying to explain it.

Cheerfully, your local union hack,


Posted by: Ryan on March 15, 2009 10:15 PM
7. Ryan,

Does the union support charter schools, pay for performance, and the elimination of tenure?

Thought so...

Posted by: Shanghai Dan on March 16, 2009 03:09 PM
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