Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Trending Stories

Our Members

Many thanks to Tim Brewer and Ronald Holden some of our many supporters.


Most Commented


    An ambitious new effort to improve south end schools

    A new organization, led by an experienced city leader, hopes to bring about comprehensive change in education of struggling students. The keys are aligned agendas and funding, as well as a data-driven focus on going to college.

    Mary Jean Ryan

    Mary Jean Ryan Courtesy of the Center for Educational Results

    When regional education leader Mary Jean Ryan talks about improving schools around Seattle, economists' concepts of supply and demand keep appearing. Ryan, a one-time economic-development specialist, has worries about supply: Our future is dependent on a supply of well-educated young people in much larger proportions than the region is anywhere close to producing on its own (as opposed to importing brains). About demand, Ryan is shocked by the low level of public expectations for schools, teaching, and results in students' lives.

    Ryan, a veteran of the Nickels and Schell administrations at Seattle City Hall, is both realistic and big-picture, so her dismay is telling. She sees a region that has coasted on its ability to attract smart, well-educated employees from the rest of the nation and the world. As a result, Seattle and the region enjoy exceptionally high levels of educational attainment, without Washington being particularly committed to schools at any level. She doesn't think that reliance on drawing people to the water and mountains is sustainable in an era of globalization, much less fair to the region's own young people.

    Ryan, who talked with Crosscut writers and editors this week, took a prominent role in economic development issues at City Hall and the Clinton administration's Small Business Adminstration. She has focused in recent years on education. She served as chair of the state Board of Education during a period in the Gregoire administration when it briefly appeared the board might be able to blast through the standoffs among ossified institutions to bring about systemic change. She is throwing her most forceful efforts into work as executive director of the Community Center for Education Results, an ambitious non-profit that aims to dramatically and comprehensively improve educational results for south Seattle and south King County.

    The group has set a high goal: by 2020 to double the number of students in the south parts of the Seattle School District and districts in south county on track to earn a college degree or meaningful professional certification. Do the math: For a region where overall only 27 percent of the school population is now making that kind of progress, the goal would be to have 54 percent or more headed toward a degree or a post-secondary credential that has meaning in the job market. 

    That goal is all the more ambitious when you consider that the region is actually losing ground in such a measurement, while nearly all the rest of the nation is making progress.

    Ryan concedes promise in individual schools that succeed in dramatically improving the achievements of struggling students. For all the individual successes, she says, the gains haven't been turned into any sort of systemwide progress at districts. Nevertheless, she adds, we are "very blessed in this region to have the group of school leaders we have." Part of the Community Center for Education Results strategy is to involve the school districts' leadership, and Ryan says the response has been excellent. Seattle Public Schools have been "very, very supportive." Ryan notes, however, "We are at a very early stage in this project. It is very easy to say, 'We support your big project.' It is rather motherhood and apple pie."

    So, what can be different this time? What can actually keep south end students' futures from falling off the radar amid conflicting bureaucratic imperatives and the challenges of maintaining any serious commitment to educational changes long enough to make a difference? How does something as distant as a 2020 goal stay meaningful in a region where the public has come to expect lofty talk from political leaders (such as "No Child Left Behind"), followed by inaction, excuses, and revised priorities?

    It is here that supply and demand come back into play. Ryan points to the stark data about Washington's failure to create its own supply of well-educated young people, rather than passively relying on an inflow of talent from elsewhere. The state is notoriously low on the number of spaces it provides in universities for students studying for bachelor's degrees or more advanced degrees. Ryan points to another measure, the chance a student will graduate high school and continue into college by age 19. An educational newsletter, Postsecondary Education OPPORTUNITY, last year tracked how the states did in that regard over recent decades and ranked Washington 46th nationally as of 2008, tied with Oregon at 34.8 percent of students getting that far and trailed only by Arizona, Alaska, and Nevada. 

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Thu, Jun 30, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    Another ex-politico, another "non-profit"...

    Does anyone know how much of the proposed $231 million Families and Education levy is slated to be siphoned off to politically-connected non-profit organizations?


    Posted Fri, Jul 1, 12:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    The taxpayer has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to (disadvantage) students and thier familys in the form income tax credits subidized houseing,free lunch program or reduced price lunches free bus passes cash grants from welfare,special family education levey there must be and end to the tax payers responibilty in fixing social problems

    Posted Fri, Jul 1, 8:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    Interestingly ... Gov. Gregoire, Randy Dorn of OSPI, and Ms. Ryan of the SBE all vigorously pushed for the WA state adoption of the common core state standards...

    These will be largely counter-productive in WA Schools for at least the next few years.

    The CCSS will require local WA School Districts to fund $165 million over the next 5-years .. there will be an incredible amount of testing coming (that is the majority of what is being purchased).

    Joe Wilhoft who brought us the WASL has left OSPI to design the coming CCSS test barrage..... It does not need to make sense this is Education in WA State.

    As for actual teaching there will be less because $165 million over five years could be paying for 330 teachers per year over 5 years but will be going for testing instead.

    Posted Fri, Jul 1, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    I was on the State Board of Education Math Advisory Panel..... It no longer meets as the state is unable to fund a volunteer panel.

    Ms. Ryan has goals.... and if there is one thing we have seen plenty of over the last decade .... it is goals.

    What is lacking is a plan based on the evidence of what works.

    It is really not that difficult to make a plan ... except the politicos are unable to formulate plans that work.

    To Improve a System requires the intelligent application of relevant data ... and we are still waiting for that to happen.

    Read John Hattie's Visible Learning:


    Look at Project Follow Through results:


    the Center for Educational Results --- my how presumptuous

    Posted Fri, Jul 1, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    So Seattle has "Everyday Math", "Connected Math Project", and for High School the mathematically unsound "Discovering" series.

    Is Ms. Ryan planning on fixing the math mess?
    Math Books need more explicit instruction with clear examples and sufficient practice. What is Ms. Ryan's plan?

    There is a supposed shortage of Math and Science teachers ... but not in Seattle. Unfortunately it looks like "Teach for America" may have fraudulently entered low income schools in Seattle ... based on a non-existent teacher shortage. In low income schools in Seattle 199 out of every 200 classes is taught by a high qualified teacher .... that is the exact same rate as for non-low income schools in Seattle.

    So why will only certain low income schools be stuck with TfA 5-week wonders?


    Nearly three dozen philanthropies, educational organizations, and other institutions yesterday announced a new coalition to advance the goal President Barack Obama has declared of attracting 100,000 excellent science and math teachers to the profession over the next decade.

    "Current partners in the effort", dubbed 100Kin10, say they have already created a funding base of $20 million toward this agenda and will support as many as 100 "innovative programs" to develop and retain outstanding math and science teachers, according to a press release. Among the 28 institutions involved so far are the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the New Schools Venture Fund, the Baltimore school district, "Teach For America", and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.

    .... Welcome to Race to the Bank ... and No Vendor Left Behind ...
    Mr. Obama got a lot of campaign donations from Eli Broad, the Waltons, the Gates Foundation, etc. ... now he is repaying his contributors.

    Look up the "New Schools Venture Fund" .... how to make a nice profit on schooling in America.

    Posted Fri, Jul 1, 9:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    From the Huff Post:

    When it came to setting up our government, Thomas Jefferson had three concerns: tyranny of kings, tyranny of theocrats, and tyranny of the wealthy. For the time being we seem to be safe from kings and theocrats. We are not, however, safe from the super-rich.

    Here's what Jefferson said: "I believe the banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered."

    The bankers and corporations have bought and paid for our politicians, both on the Left and the Right. That's why our elected representatives stand mute when it comes to defending the rights of working-class Americans.

    It's time to heed Jefferson's words. It's time to fight back. .....

    rather than be swallowed by the "Pseudo-AstroTurf Non-Profits that push the oligarchs' Education agendas.

    Posted Fri, Jul 1, 12:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm skeptical about yet another nonprofit with big funding and buzzwords, but God knows the South end schools need help and focused attention.

    One aspect of the schools problem the article doesn't address is that Seattle Public Schools are stuck in a low equilibrium -- low participation in public schools, lots of "white flight" and "bright flight" into private schools, and weak educational offerings that continue that pattern of elites leaving the system and starving it of resources.


    Posted Fri, Jul 1, 4:42 p.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. Dempsey. You've been commenting on schools for years. Please don't hog the comment stream in this way. Let others feel free to make comments.

    Posted Fri, Jul 1, 11:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    The problem with education is that everyone has had some; therefore, everyone thinks s/he is an expert, including well-meaning reformers who form NGOs that address the issues. That's fine and we appreciate the concern, but these folks often have no idea how difficult it is to teach a human being or why we should. The basic confusion is over job-training for an economy and education for a citizen. From what I can tell, Ryan (and by extension, Copeland) is only interested in the first part--how can we use education to keep the U.S. the top economic dog. But, in fact, there is no particular reason why the U.S. should remain the top dog--historically it was a function of luck and the luck has run out; let's move on to the real world.

    The purpose of education is human development not economic development. A student is a human being not a cipher in an economic algorithm for the society's "success."

    Finally, I am baffled by the assumption that people in business and economic development have anything intelligent to say about education, which is exactly what they avoided in their educational careers. It boggles the mind.


    Posted Sat, Jul 2, 12:51 a.m. Inappropriate

    Hey, David --

    Don't dump on Danny. I am always interested in what people who actually have had their boots on the ground have to say about where they have been. At the least it's a lot better than the raw, untutored opinion that often masquerades as insight, no matter how elegantly or amusingly couched.

    Besides, the typical commenter on these pages is hardly likely to be intimidated by the volume of input provided by any particular individual. In fact, many may not even notice that others are also commenting.

    Ken Meyer


    Posted Sat, Jul 2, 3:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Dear Mr. Brewster,

    1. I was unaware that Crosscuts was running out of posting space on this website. Seems implausible.... please clarify: "hog the comment stream in this way. Let others feel free to make comments."

    2. I always post under my own name, Readers are certainly free to see my name and skip reading my responses.

    3. When I read a crosscut article I always read all the comments.

    4. If you have a problem with my responses, please address the content. Without addressing specific content, your request smacks of censorship.
    "It boggles the mind."

    5. Is the plan for Crosscuts to be only an opinion space? Or is this to be a forum for discussion of ideas? Are solutions to be devised, discussed, and critically examined, or is the goal to have favored authors hand the readers "opinions" in hopes these will be swallowed?

    6. Do my comments run counter to the wishes about the "lines of thinking" that major donors to "Crosscuts" would like to see?

    7. "The problem with education is that everyone has had some; therefore, everyone thinks s/he is an expert, including well-meaning reformers who form NGOs that address the issues." .... So Mr. Brewster should well meaning reformers, some of whom form NGO's get a pass?

    Posted Sat, Jul 2, 7:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    Mary Jean Ryan is a trailblazer. She has a keen understanding of the shortcomings in public education and she has successfully rallied parents, educators, government officials and others to focus on specific and measurable outcomes for students. I say Bravo!

    And to those who deride testing to determine achievement, take a look at this David Brook's piece in Friday's New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/01/opinion/01brooks.html?_r=1&ref;=davidbrooks

    Posted Sat, Jul 2, 8:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    Spoken as yet another politician who imagines himself an education expert. Burgess, quit using our children's education as a means to get into the Mayor's Office.


    Posted Sat, Jul 2, 9:46 a.m. Inappropriate

    I deeply appreciate Mary Jean Ryan's efforts and those of her group. They are doing their homework in preparing to set up a careful framework of action going forward.

    However, there are a couple of issues.

    One, putting it politely, we've all seen this before in some form or other. It's new in its own way but it's one more group saying they know what is needed to advance education in the southern Puget Sound region. I didn't really hear why this is going to work this time.

    Second, they are really going to need all parties working together AND committed to the work. That includes the school districts and the communities themselves. You couldn't blame the communities for saying, "Oh joy, another group coming in and telling us what to do." The districts, especially Seattle, have their own entrenched ways of thinking and doing (and even their own initiatives).

    But bless them for trying and I hope they get the support they need to be successful.

    This question got asked by a commenter:
    "Does anyone know how much of the proposed $231 million Families and Education levy is slated to be siphoned off to politically-connected non-profit organizations?"

    The City is just now having an RFP period in which ANY group can put forth a proposal for services that are part of the next Families and Education Levy. Please remember this money will be handled by the City and not Seattle Public Schools (which means better oversight and accountability).


    Posted Tue, Jul 5, 4:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    Dear Tim Burgess:

    David Brooks is a hack and a clown, and his credibility is nil. Just because Brewster thinks he's great doesn't mean you have to.


    Posted Tue, Jul 5, 6:22 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm really surprised to read Tim Burgess' praise of Mary Jean Ryan. This is the same hack who has endorsed the re-election of all four of the incompetent, do-nothing, rubber-stamping members of the Seattle School Board. He praises Ms Ryan for all of the things that the School Board is not.

    Just replace Mary Jean Ryan's name with each of theirs and you'll see how completely ridiculous Mr. Burgess really is. It's clear that his thoughts and opinions on public education are driven by politics and politics alone.


    Posted Tue, Jul 5, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    Mr Demsey, you posted many ideas about what is wrong and what should be stopped. Do you have some equally solid ideas for positive outcomes to share ?

    Posted Tue, Jul 5, 1:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    Tim Burgess wrote:

    "Mary Jean Ryan is a trailblazer. She has a keen understanding of the shortcomings in public education and she has successfully rallied parents, educators, government officials and others to focus on specific and measurable outcomes for students. I say Bravo!"

    Now try reading that statement four more times, replacing Ms Ryan's name with the names of the Seattle School Board Directors that Mr. Burgess has endorsed.

    Imagine him claiming:
    "Peter Maier is a trailblazer. He has a keen understanding of the shortcomings in public education and he has successfully rallied parents, educators, government officials and others to focus on specific and measurable outcomes for students. I say Bravo!"

    I hope this demonstrates how little we should trust Mr. Burgess on education issues. If Mr. Burgess ever runs for office again - as he seems to intend - let's remember his support for the do-nothing, rubber-stamp School Board that led the district into scandal, mismanagement, and waste without making any progress for students.

    His continued support for the worst school board imaginable makes me wonder if he is stupid or evil. Given that he has been advised of the board's poor performance multiple times, the answer is clear: evil.


    Posted Wed, Jul 6, 1:09 p.m. Inappropriate

    A new driver for our crappy old school bus! That's the ticket.

    Posted Wed, Jul 6, 9:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    @ last Dempsey
    "5. Is the plan for Crosscut to be only an opinion space? Or is this to be a forum for discussion of ideas? Are solutions to be devised, discussed, and critically examined, or is the goal to have favored authors hand the readers "opinions" in hopes these will be swallowed?"

    I vote for a dialogue, not a handout and understand that to be Brewster's intent. However, for a dialogue, "comments" need to be composed as succinctly as possible. Speaking now as pot to kettle, your initial string of posts is "black"—overly long and opaque, which is not the case with your last one. My guess is that being well informed, you forgot to consider where your readers were likely to be. Sigh. As for Brewster's short-tempered complaint—nobody's perfect, which is exactly why we are generally willing to put up with each other.


    Posted Fri, Jul 8, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

    Wow. I sure hope that Mr. Burgess is happy with the continued poor performance of the Seattle School Board Directors that he has endorsed for re-election.

    Oh, right. He wasn't there. He has no idea about how they perform their duties.

    This week, at the last school board meeting of the school year, the Board, once again, failed to oversee, failed to govern, failed to follow through, failed to represent the public, and provided rubber-stamp approval of every single item spoon-fed to them by the staff. They fail to function and anyone who endorses them is simply un-informed and talking smack.

    That would be Mr. Burgess.


    Posted Fri, Jul 8, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you Tim, that NYTimes article is fantastic. And thank you for working with the Mayor to put such a bold Families and Education Levy on the ballot. It's time to double down on our investment in schools and kids.

    Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

    Join Crosscut now!
    Subscribe to our Newsletter

    Follow Us »