There are real weaknesses in the arguments that Susan Enfield, Seattle Public Schools' interim superintendent, has offered to explain why she canned Ingraham High School Principal Martin Floe.
Enfield's reasons, as reported in The Seattle Times by Katherine Long and Brittney Wong, include:
• Low math scores by African-American and Latino students.
Enfield cited scores on last year’s High School Proficiency Exam, the new state test that has replaced the WASL as a high-school graduation requirement. But last year was the first time the HSPE was used, so there is no trend line from which to draw conclusions. Emphasizing this, Ingraham math teacher Peter Colino told the Times that this year’s math HSPE hasn’t been given yet. (Last year’s HSPE scores are not on the district’s website yet; at least I couldn’t find them.)
• "Stagnant" test scores in general.
But Ingraham is far from the only school where scores are stagnant. For example, a quick look at 10th-grade WASL math scores for African Americans shows level or mostly downward scores between 2006 and 2009 for Ballard, Franklin, Nathan Hale, Rainier Beach, Sealth, and West Seattle high schools. (There may be others as well; I did not look at all schools, as a sample of six struggling schools makes the point that Ingraham is not alone.)
• Low performance overall.
Enfield also said, quoting the Times, “the school was the second-lowest-performing high school in the Seattle District.” The story didn't detail what evidence, if any, Enfield offered for this evaluation. But even if true, several who commented on the article pointed out that the principals of low-performing high schools are usually given help — co-principals, time to make changes, that sort of thing — and none have been summarily fired.
The bottom line is that taken together, low minority test scores and “stagnant” or second-lowest-performance — these things don’t amount to an argument for singling out Martin Floe. If those standards were somehow applied uniformly and fairly, Enfield should probably terminate a couple dozen principals.
It just doesn’t work to remove a popular principal when the only reasons — the only publicly given reasons — are propped up by nothing more than bits of student performance data at the margins.
Enfield has nothing to save her from the firestorm: a support petition from every single Ingraham teacher, a parent demonstration at district headquarters, and probably more to come.
Stability is a huge value in school-district operations everywhere, and now — shortly after the financial scandal that led the school board to fire Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson — Enfield has added to the district’s woes. She may well, too, have ruined her chances to ever go beyond “interim” superintendent.