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Originally published January 31, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 31, 2008 at 2:09 AM

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Report: Seattle schools "a tale of two districts"

Seattle Public Schools is held back by wide-ranging student-income levels, confusing enrollment and hiring practices and not enough accountability...

Seattle Times education reporter

Seattle Public Schools is held back by wide-ranging student-income levels, confusing enrollment and hiring practices and not enough accountability, an international consultant said Wednesday.

McKinsey & Company reported to the Seattle School Board the major problems it found in the 46,000-student district since it began its work in November. At the end of next month, the consultants will present their recommendations for how to fix them.

Much of Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's first six months on the job has been spent getting a progress report on the district. The McKinsey study is one of seven recently or soon-to-be completed outside reviews. The McKinsey study — funded by a $750,000 gift from local philanthropists — is the most comprehensive.

Seattle is the most economically divided of 20 similar districts nationwide the consultants studied for comparison. A high percentage of South End students qualify for free-and-reduced-price lunch; in the North End, there are areas where none do.

"What we've found is that it really is a tale of two districts," said Ty Schultz, a McKinsey engagement manager.

And poverty has an academic toll: Students and schools with fewer poor students tend to do better on standardized tests.

Compared to other districts, Seattle is slow to post job openings and slow to hire teachers, the consultants said. Once new teachers are hired, only about a third get into the district mentoring program, meant to support new teachers.

Overwhelmingly, teachers leaving the district said in exit interviews they left because of stress. The consultants said there isn't enough accountability for teachers who do stay. The district has a process for putting low-performing teachers on probation and eventually terminating them, but the process rarely is used.

The preliminary report was completed largely without teacher input. Some members of the Seattle Education Association disagreed with advice McKinsey gave to other districts, so the union's representative board voted late last year to recommend teachers not participate.

SEA President Wendy Kimball at first agreed to sit in on McKinsey meetings, but decided that amounted to participation and hasn't been involved at all, she said Wednesday night.

Teacher surveys are planned, but Kimball said, "I really can't tell you ... how many teachers are going to elect not to take it."

Kimball praised the superintendent for ordering the audits.

"The unfortunate thing in [the union's] decision is that it limits the teacher voice in being able to shape what is going to happen in the future," she said. "But I support their decision. I'm not going to participate."

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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