Schools Chief Maria Goodloe-Johnson Faces Biggest No-Confidence Vote Yet, But Why?

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For weeks, teachers at a slew of Seattle schools have been voting to express no confidence in Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. Now, the teachers union as a whole is poised to vote on the matter, following a resolution introduced to the Seattle Education Association last night. Hundreds of parents also have voiced criticism of the superintendent in recent surveys. So you might think that the superintendent has made some whopper of a mistake--on the order of the $34 million district shortfall that was discovered when, in 2003, the SEA voted no confidence in then-superintendent Joseph Olchefske.

But such is not the case.

Sure, she's overseen a number of blunders, like the bungled grant applications for the district's Native American program. And she's ushered in several unsettling changes, the most dramatic being a new assignment plan that limits students' ability to choose where they want to go to school. Goodloe-Johnson's cool, distant manner hasn't helped her deal with the fall-out from any of these things.

Teachers and parents point to all of the above (see pdf of the resolution before the SEA, for instance) but their list of grievances seems more like a potpourri than a targeted attack.

So how to explain all the vehemence? Talking to several of the teachers behind last night's resolution, it's apparent that Goodloe-Johnson is emblematic to them of a national reform effort supported by President Obama and a few big philanthropies involved in education.

"She completely represents the Broad Foundation agenda," says Ballard High science teacher Eric Muhs, referring to a California-based philanthropy. Muhs describes that agenda as "anti-teacher" and "anti-union." And Goodloe-Johnson sits on the board of an offshoot of the foundation.

As an example, fellow Ballard science teacher Noam Gundle points to a policy Goodloe-Johnson pushed through the board in March, known as "performance management," that allows the district to move existing staff out of failing schools or adopt a top-down approach toward curriculum taught at them--measures that many teachers see as a loss of autonomy and a potential violation of their bargaining contract.

Still, the district hasn't actually taken those steps at any school yet. And at least one concern often heard from teachers and parents-- such as the Broad Foundation's support of charter schools--doesn't relate to anything happening currently in Seattle. Charter schools, of course, aren't allowed in our state.

Some see her as plotting to bring them here, though they cite no evidence. It seems, rather, that she is taking the heat from larger education debates occurring around the country. On the flip side, those generally supportive of national reform efforts, like Seattle Times editorialists, have rushed in to defend her.

The SEA will vote on the no-confidence motion on September 2.

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