Why Do Teachers Hate Goodloe-Johnson?

The no-confidence votes may be more about fears of national policy shifts.

For weeks, teachers at a number 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 this week. Hundreds of parents also have voiced criticism of the superintendent in recent surveys. So you might think that the superintendent had done something severe to lose people’s confidence—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, some blunders have occurred on her watch, like 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 fallout from any of these things.

Teachers and parents point to all of the above, but their list of grievances seems more like a potpourri than a targeted attack.

So how to explain all the vehemence? Interviews with several of the teachers behind this week’s resolution suggest 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 School science teacher Eric Muhs, referring to a California-based philanthropic organization. Muhs describes that agenda as “anti-teacher” and “anti-union.” Goodloe-Johnson sits on the board of an offshoot of the foundation. [This story has been corrected since it was first posted. It orginally misspelled the name of Mr. Muhs.]

As an example, fellow Ballard High 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 to adopt a top-down approach toward the curricula 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 oft-expressed concern about 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 Goodloe-Johnson as plotting to bring them here, though they cite no evidence. It seems, rather, that she is taking the heat with regard to larger education debates occurring around the country. On the flip side, those generally supportive of national reform efforts, like Seattle Times editorialists, have rushed to defend her.

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