PubliCola Morning Fizz logo
Morning Fizz

1. On Friday, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda sent a letter to Seattle legislators in Olympia warning of costly impacts to the district ($2.8 million in cutbacks) if the legislature fails to pass a bill squaring teacher evaluation standards with federal guidelines; without the change, Washington state will lose flexibility over money for low-income students who aren't doing well in school.

The change? Mandate that statewide student test scores be a factor in teacher evaluations as a pair of bills sponsored by Republican Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond) in the senate and Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-47, Covington) in the house would do, rather than keeping them as an optional component.

Saying teachers are in "open revolt," the Seattle Education Association disputes the notion that student test scores have anything to do with highlighting superior teaching.

Over the weekend, Jonathan Knapp, the president of the Seattle Education Association (SEA), the local teachers' union, responded to the Banda letter, sending an email of his own to Seattle legislators. Knapp, occasionally slipping into all caps, questioned the need for the bill and the very legitimacy of using statewide student test scores in teacher evaluations.

Questioning the need for the legislation, Knapp noted that the district won't actually lose the money, but rather that money will simply be "redirected." This is true: The federal money, which districts now use to fund classroom programs to help poorly performing, low-income students, would mostly be shifted to private tutoring programs. This point is not being disputed by proponents of the bill; Banda's email also used the term "redirect," though Knapp points out that during earlier testimony in front of the legislature last week, SPS claimed the money would be "lost."

More dramatic, and more to the crux of the issue, Knapp disputes the notion that student test scores have anything to do with superior teaching.

And the SEA contract, as opposed to many district contracts, already requires statewide student test scores be part of teacher evaluations. This makes Knapp's argument more powerful. He writes:

Most of our Distinguished teachers were eager to see their superior practice confirmed by the data. That DID NOT happen. Teachers believe that student growth data is hugely important for helping teachers understand student growth, but the correlation to great teaching is now seen to be so weak that the idea of student test scores as a required student growth measure is bringing teachers into open revolt.

It's worth noting that Knapp doesn't merely criticize the use of statewide student test scores specifically, but "student test scores" in general.

Knapp goes on to note that that feds already knew what Washington state's teacher evaluations looked like when they agreed to go ahead with Race to the Top grants. Pointing out the lapse in federal logic, he writes: "The Department of Education knew what the teacher evaluation system was in Washington state when it approved the grant.  It cannot be good enough for approval of the grant, but not good enough to keep the grant."

Knapp concludes by saying that any change to the teacher evaluation system is a district by district collective bargaining issue, not a matter for legislators.

2. A bill to help fund services for the homeless that we wrote about at length last week when it was inexplicably bottled up in the senate housing committee despite bipartisan support is back on the docket.

The legislation—which puts off a sunset provision on a $40 real estate document fee that funds shelter for the homeless—has been attached to another bill in the senate ways and means committee, and is slated to get voted out today.

3. This afternoon, the city council will vote to extend interim regulations restricting the development of small-lot houses—tall, skinny, and usually modern-style houses that have popped up on "substandard" lots—those smaller than the usual 5,000-foot square foot minimum—in some single-family neighborhoods.

The rules, adopted as "emergency" legislation back in 2012, allow some development on lots that are smaller than the minimum lot size for single-family zones, but restrict the size of those new houses.

Later this year, the council will adopt permanent new rules that set minimum lot sizes, impose new height restrictions, and require public notice before a house can go in on a small lot.

For the latest on Seattle news and politics sign up for our Seattle Met Daily newsletter, subscribe to PubliCola’s RSS Feed, follow us on Twitter @publicolanews and @SeattleMet, and visit our News & Profiles page.