In a January 30 report evaluating all 50 states on the sufficiency of their K-12 teaching profession laws, rules and regulations, a national education reform group funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other ed reform interests gives Washington State an overall grade of C- including a D+ for “delivering well-prepared teachers.” The C- for Washington includes four more sub-section grades: three of C- for policies to identify, retain and “exit” ineffective teachers, and a C+ for “expanding the teaching pool.” The information comes in the Washington detail section of the “2013 State Teacher Policy Yearbook” report by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Collaboration in Civic Spheres
Archive for the ‘Best Practices’ Category
by Matt Rosenberg February 11th, 2014
by Matt Rosenberg January 29th, 2014
Washington state legislators seven years ago set a goal to fund all-day kindergarten in all public schools here by the 2017-18 school year but a new report they commissioned says the practice can’t now be called cost-effective because the academic achievement gains associated with it usually fade fast and any social and emotional learning benefits to children from it can’t be adequately documented.
The new report to lawmakers from the government-funded non-partisan Washington State Institute for Public Policy reviewed the research literature and based on 10 rigorous studies that included control groups, found that compared to the half-day alternative, “the benefits of investing in full-day kindergarten are unlikely to outweigh the costs because the initial test score gains are not usually sustained.” However, if stakeholders can figure out how to sustain the initial test score gains then the investment “has the potential to be cost-beneficial with relatively low risk,” the report added.
by Matt Rosenberg January 15th, 2014
Taking a gentle approach to the often-contentious annual legislative battle in Olympia over local government transparency, a broad bi-partisan coalition of 41 State House members have signed on as sponsors of a measure to require all but the smallest government bodies to post their regular meeting agendas online at least 24 hours in advance. With sponsors including Seattle Democrats and Eastern Washington Republicans, House Bill 2105 got its first hearing yesterday in the chamber’s Government Operations and Elections Committee. The state’s Open Public Records Act lays out rules and responsibilities for making and complying with public document and data requests. The companion Open Public Meetings Act among other things says governments “shall provide the time for holding regular meetings” as determined in its laws or rules, but has no actual requirement agendas be posted, or posted online.
Prime sponsor Brad Hawkins (R-12, Wenatchee) told the committee the proposed legislation was “a modest first step at updating the Open Public Meetings Act to reflect our online society.” The Act “only requires public agencies with governing bodies to issue notice” of meetings, “but it does not require them to post agendas. In the interest of transparency in government, posting agendas is a good practice.” A co-lead sponsor is State Rep. Steve Berguist (D-11, South Seattle/Tukwila/Renton).
Bill Will, the Executive Director of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, also testified in support of HB 2105, saying that posting meeting agendas online is “a common courtesy, a lot of government agencies are already doing this, and if this is a gentle nudge in the direction for everyone to do it, I think it’s a good thing.”
Victoria Lincoln, representing the Association of Washington Cities, said she signed in as “neutral” on the bill, and wants to learn more about penalties for non-compliance, and what compliance would entail for staffers.
Included under the bill’s requirements would be city and county councils, school districts, a wide range of other local and regional government bodies, and “any state board, commission, department, education institution” that has a governing body. The proposed law would not erase the existing requirement under OPMA that such public bodies provide advance notice, separately, of their meeting dates, times and places.
As our own September 2012 resource guide to online meeting agendas in Washington showed, practices vary widely across the state. Some local and regional governments not only post their agendas online, but also include item-by-item links to the agenda items. This is the one part of a robust approach to voluntary online government transparency; another is providing current and historical key performance data in structured formats such as Excel and CSV.
Other government bodies in Washington don’t bake meeting document links directly into their online agendas but do augment them with bulky .pdf files of the whole meeting’s document packet. Others simply meet the intent of HB 2015 by posting an agenda online with no accompanying meeting packet online or embedded document links.
Another category of Washington governments have web sites but post no agendas; these are the ones who would be targeted for compliance under HB 2105, unless they met the bill’s exemption threshold of having full-time staffs of five or fewer employees. Governments with no web sites would be exempt.
One additional testifier at Tuesday’s committee hearing, Arthur West of Olympia, suggested that some small cities, school districts or other bodies which could have to comply under the new law might instead try to game the exemption by making technical adjustments to lower their FTE level to five or less, and that therefore some reasonable population level for affected jurisdictions, based on the latest U.S. Census data, should be substituted as a yardstick for granting exemptions.
In the legislature in recent years cities, led by the AWC, have voiced concerns and advanced bills to regulate what they see as sometimes burdensome public records requests; and have proposed some requesters be required to pay for related staff time, prompting sharp rebuttals from records requesters and their allies. Other disputes have arisen around proposed and adopted exemptions to the Public Records Act. Voluntary online disclosure hasn’t come up much as a legislative topic, until now.
The 2014 legislative calendar hasn’t been posted yet but typically in a session starting in January, bills must pass through their originating committee with a simple majority by the end of the third week in February in order to be eligible for further consideration and an eventual floor vote. For any bill to become law it must be passed by both the State House and the Senate. If differing versions of a bill are passed in each chamber, that can be resolved in various ways including in conference committee.
Video of testimony to the House Gov Ops Committee yesterday on HB 2105 is below via TVW.
by Matt Rosenberg November 11th, 2013
Visiting Seattle right now are 19 Arab journalists focused on transparency, media and civic life. The U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program and the World Affairs Council of Seattle are coordinating. I’m honored to have been asked to present to them Nov. 11 and to leave time for conversation, I’ve compiled this post for them – and others – illustrating sources and output of Public Data Ferret, a non-partisan Seattle-based news project that digs for sub-rosa online government documents and data sets. I also share some Recommendations for Global Open Government
Using special sources available to all, we craft original stories which are then archived by jurisdiction and topic in a special database, and distributed via legacy and social media. We always link to full source documents. Governments are making more and more documents and data available voluntarily, online, in the U.S. and elsewhere. They know that by doing so they can build trust, broaden public knowledge and participation, and perhaps also avoid the expense of staff hours required to gather information on demand.
We also teach and train student and community volunteers who contribute content; participate in panel discussions and conferences, and publish transparency policy analyses in outside venues. Public Data Ferret is a program of the 501c3 non-profit Public Eye Northwest.
We are supported by private donors, and earned revenues from communications consulting. We maintain total editorial control over what appears at Public Data Ferret, and how it is written. After three years, we are gratefully beginning to reach financial sustainability.
Why Do This?
Our motivation for starting the Public Data Ferret project was that:
Develop Shared Resource Guides to Public Documents and Data
To find material we often use our own continually updated resource guides to public documents and data. These include guides to sources from the U.S. government; Washington State; King County regional governments; the City of Seattle; and local governments across Washington State which follow the “best practice” of putting individual links to individual public documents in their online meeting agendas, thus making it much easier for bloggers and online reporters to link to source materials.
Drilling Down – Into Online Source Materials
Let’s examine some of the online sources of government documents and data that have been most helpful for Public Data Ferret, and some of the resulting news articles.
The ‘PubMed’ Index – National Institutes of Health
Public health reporting is enriched by the online reference library called Pub Med, sponsored by the U.S. government’s National Institute of Health. A recent find there led to our article, “Prescription Pot Could Be A Real Bummer, UW Doc Argues.”
Context on Medical Marijuana – Health Research & Public Debate
In a medical journal article, the doctor, who is an expert in addiction and psychiatry from the government-funded University of Washington and the Puget Sound Veterans Administration, reviewed the medical literature and called for great caution in prescribing medical marijuana for chronic pain, something that is currently legal in Washington State. The debate is very current because Washington is now right in the middle of implementing legalized recreational use of marijuana following 2012 voter approval, and new, tighter restrictions have already been proposed on medical marijuana as a result.
Important to “Connect The Dots”
Our method includes “connecting the dots.” It turns out this was not the first warning issued by UW doctors about legally consuming marijuana either for medical or recreational purposes. In our recent story we linked to a related report we did earlier this year, which emphasized another detailed warning from a UW researcher, and also contained links to six other government or university studies on the health hazards of smoking marijuana, something that is now even more socially acceptable following its legalization for recreational use in Washington State.
PubMed User Tips & “Open Science” Values
Our searches at Pub Med usually use the keyword “Seattle,” or “King County” which ensures that abstracts of any new public health articles by researchers from the University of Washington or King County, on any topic, will be found. We also use the search term “Washington State.” Searching by topic is another option, such as marijuana. The results are displayed in reverse-date order so you get the most recent entries first.
The Open Science Imperative
This specialized search engine indexes abstracts and sometimes free full-text versions of scholarly articles in “open access” or “open science” publications. If only an abstract is available, we contact the author by email and explain our project, and ask to be emailed a free, full-text copy. Some comply, some don’t. If we can’t get a free full-text copy, we will not do our own article on the findings.
Our Washington State+Open Science archive at Public Data Ferret provides links to many examples of our work based on articles found through Pub Med and similar sources, such as the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Centers for Disease Control’s “Wonder” Database
The CDC also has a database called “CDC Wonder” on disease and death rates by U.S. state since 1999, and we have been able to use it to generate original, Washington-specific stories with mapped data summaries, such as “Washington Tops U.S. in 12-year Alzheimers Death Rates,” and “WA Led U.S. in Breast Cancer for Most Recent Year Reported.” This last story included links to two others we did on related risk factors: “Study: Pre-pregnancy Drinking Boosts Breast Cancer Risks;” and “UW-Group Health Study: Some Pills Raise Breast Cancer Risk.”
More on how to do Open Science-based reporting in this tutorial we published.
Another archive is for data visualizations. Among those we’ve created, some employ Tableau software and others Google Public Data Explorer. Among the particularly interactive ones are those showing:
Effective Government Management, of Budgets and Programs
A variety of government information sources facilitate oversight and accountability reporting. Public Data Ferret’s U.S. Government+Management archive includes numerous stories about difficulties in efficiently overseeing federal spending and programs. One recent example is our article, “CRS: U.S. Improper Payments At Least $688 BIllion Since 2004.” This story was also enriched by additional research we found using a valuable U.S. government disclosure site called paymentaccuracy.gov, which tracks improper payments on an agency-by-agency basis, as mandated by federal law.
NGO Liberates Hidden Government Reports From CRS, Regularly
“CRS” stands for the Congressional Research Service, which is an independent policy analysis arm reporting to the U.S. Congress. Incongruously, Congress has steadfastly refused to let CRS directly make its work available to the public, even though CRS is taxpayer-funded. However an NGO, the Federation of American Scientists, does post online most CRS reports within days of release, thanks to cooperative sources inside the agency.
This is an institutionalized, and clearly tolerated example of “leaking” documents, which serves the public interest. Here is the main FAS index of CRS reports, and a particularly useful subsection titled “miscellaneous topics.”
Washington State Oversight
Our Washington State+Management archive includes stories reported with the aid of many different online sources.
One is the regularly-updated compendium of oversight reports issued by the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO). Freshened with new content every Monday morning, the SAO’s site has many dry and unremarkable reports about whether or not proper financial reporting procedures are being followed by local and regional governments in Washington state.
But other reports are more newsworthy; often these are so-called “whistleblower investigation reports,” or fraud reports. SAO performance audits examine how well state or regional agencies are fulfilling their mission and duties.
Stories based on Washington State Auditor Reports
Some stories we have published based on SAO reports include:
The Seattle+Management archive includes stories developed from SAO reports and other sources, including,:
Transportation, Education, Finance & Budget
There are many other ways to use the Public Data Ferret archive, mainly by combining different jurisdiction and topic search keywords. For example:
Seattle City Council Committee Meeting Agendas
At the local level, one example of voluntary government transparency which sometimes yields newsworthy stories are the meeting agendas of the legislative committees of the Seattle City Council. They are accessed from a central hub and include embedded links to documents explaining the agenda items for each meeting. Examples of related stories we have done include:
Recommendations for Global Open Government
There is no “One Size Fits All” approach to government transparency. Conditions vary widely between cities and states, and particularly between countries. But aided by the Internet, social media and mobile technologies, there is also growing impetus supporting fair and free elections; broadened human rights; freedom of the press; plus heightened expectations of corruption-free, transparent governance; government performance measurement; and accountability.
With that in mind, NGOs, citizens and governments should work together to advance the following objectives.
Open data must be for the electorate, not the elite.
by Matt Rosenberg August 29th, 2013
A new fraud investigation report from Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley finds that an “electroneurodiagnostic technician” at Harborview Medical Center – which is owned by King County and operated by the University of Washington – between January 2010 and the end of October, 2012 received pay for 628 hours she didn’t work, valued at $16,286. It is the third time since April 2012 that state investigations have concluded a Harborview worker committed fraud. Another auditor’s report in 2010 found fault with cash handling practices at Harborview.
by Matt Rosenberg August 20th, 2013
Total cases filed by prosecutors in Washington state’s criminal courts reached a new low in 2012 compared to the 11 years prior, but the rate at which charged individuals released to the community experience “recidivism” – or being criminally charged again within three years – has continued to hold steady since 2001. It’s been about 50 percent for individuals with domestic violence or “DV” charges classified as current; and about 40 percent for those with older charges of DV or other crimes. The findings come in a new report from the government-funded Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The study explains that charges rather than convictions are used as a leading indicator of recidivism in the comparison groups because in instances of alleged domestic violence, victims often decide not to press the case even if the crime may very likely have occurred.
A related WSIPP report issued earlier this year which surveyed the current scientific literature reaffirmed there is no lowering of DV recidivism rates resulting from state’s mandated emphasis on treating DV offenders through the so-called “Duluth model.” That approach accents the causative roles of gender, and social and historical constructs. WSIPP did find research showing that other practices which cut recidivism in the general offender population may also help Washington DV offenders avoid new charges, but that focused in-state tests are needed to better document potential.
Criminal charges at 12-year low
The new report starts out by accenting that total misdemeanor and felony criminal cases filed in Washington local and county courts numbered just 181,985 in 2012 – less than the 2001 low of 187,222 within the 12-year period covered. Nearly four-fifths, or 78 percent of the criminal cases filed in 2012 were misdemeanors, the rest felonies. That divide has held steady since at least 2001.
The per capita rate of non-domestic violence criminal cases filed per 1,000 residents has dropped from just under 35 in 2001 to just under 30 in 2011 while the rate of domestic violence cases filed has held relatively steady over that time at between seven and eight per 1,000.
DV offenders charged more often; and at higher risk for violence
Compared to those actually convicted of non-domestic violence felonies or misdemeanors, current or prior domestic violence offenders in the 2008 cohort were charged with crimes more than twice as often. By a factor of four they were more likely to have earned a high risk classification for violence, according to the WSIPP report.
2001 to 2008 recidivism trends in WA
Charge-based recidivism rates have held relatively steady since 2001. A graph in the report (below, left) shows that from 2001 through 2008 steadily half of individuals with a current DV charge have had some sort of criminal charge filed against them again with three years, versus more than 40 percent for those with older charges of DV or other crimes. When subsequent convictions within three years of a charge are used as the recidivism measure, the rates tend to drop six to eight points based on 2008 data in the WSIPP study.
Domestic violence is defined as “acts or threats of physical harm, sexual assault, or stalking by one household or family member against another…” Because it takes three years to assess whether a released offender will be charged again with a criminal offense, for the purpose of calculating recidivism rates, there is a lag in the data. The most recent year for which the rates are reported in the WSIPP study is 2008, which includes charges filed through 2011 against offenders released in 2008.
“Duluth” treatments in WA ineffective
In a related study published in January of this year, WSIPP synthesized the literature of domestic violence or “DV” prevention and surveyed treatments used in other states. The institute reaffirmed earlier findings that Washington’s “Duluth model” for treatment – which emphasizes the crime category is “a gender-specific behavior which is socially and historically constructed” – has no effect on recidivism.
Other approaches show promise
The January 2013 WSIPP study did identify several other approaches to treating domestic violence that in earlier targeted studies cut DV recidivism by an average of one-third but the methods. These included relationship counseling, “cognitive behavioral therapy,” couples therapy and drug and alcohol treatment. Such approaches would have to be tested specifically in Washington State to assess impacts on DV recidivism, WSIPP cautioned.
by Matt Rosenberg July 22nd, 2013
A former vehicle parts buyer for the Washington Department of Natural Resources used his position to exchange special favors with suppliers and has agreed to pay a fine to a state oversight board of $7,500 for violating state ethics laws, according to an agreement he signed that was approved July 12. Longtime DNR employee Randy Sweet worked as a parts specialist for the state agency since 1991, in later years at the Tumwater compound just south of the Olympia Airport where he shared responsibilities for buying, billing and taking delivery of materials and parts used to keep running DNR’s boats, heavy equipment, cars and trucks. But during 2007 and 2008 he skirted purchasing guidelines meant to save taxpayer monies, to instead fatten the wallets of or to favor certain suppliers and was rewarded in return with cut rate deals on personal merchandise or other favors. This according to the findings of fact in the Washington Executive Ethics Board agreement, or “stipulation” document he signed to settle the case and which the board approved just 10 days ago.
A 2010 state audit which led to the ethics board probe noted two others at the facility were fired along with Sweet, one resigned, and eight more were reprimanded. The agency then said it put new safeguards in place. There were no criminal prosecutions. The ethics board is still investigating the role of two men above Sweet who may also face civil sanctions. The problems were first identified in a 2001 state audit.
by Matt Rosenberg June 25th, 2013
A new report from Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley suggests the Seattle Public Schools have left uncollected potentially several million dollars of revenues for facility rentals and related costs in recent years, much of it since last September. In addition to 9,000 hours of un-billed rentals, the district is also failing to monitor and collect on past due bills it has issued for facilities rentals; has disguised outside rentals as internal events, causing more revenue loss; has failed to follow insurance documentation requirements for outside events; and hasn’t trained many staff as needed on a new rentals record-keeping system.
According to the new accountability audit, the district failed to collect rental fees for about 9,000 hours worth of use of its facilities by outside at 2,432 special events on premises from last September through this April. District rental rates vary from $8.00 per hour to $88.90 per hour. Additional hourly fees are often charged for utilities, cleaning and security, ranging from $47 to $73.85. Combined rates thus could range from $56 per hour at the low end to as high as $162.75 per hour at the high end. The report says the amount of lost revenue can’t be quantified but that auditors believe it is “substantial.”
If all of the roughly 9,000 un-billed hours hours were charged at the minimum combined rental and services rate the revenue would have been $504,000; if all were billed at the highest combined rental and services rate – something that is unlikely – the recovered revenues would have been $1.46 million.
In addition the audit reports that the school district estimates it has left another $400,000 to $820,000 uncollected from the City of Seattle Parks and Recreation Department in shared 2006-2011 revenues related to adult usage of facilities and lighting fees. The school district failed to invoice Parks and lacks supporting documentation so cannot recover the monies it believes it is due.
The audit also says that of $223,213 in rental fees charged in from last September through this April, $102,913 remains uncollected and those payments are an average of 115 days overdue. The report adds, “The rentals office is not monitoring these past due accounts, nor is it sending delinquent accounts to collections.” Any additional past due amounts before last September can’t be calculated due to lack of records, the audit says.
In three cases, district staff disguised outside events as internal and lost $45,000 in the process, the audit also finds. Further, rentals overseers aren’t documenting insurance and concussion policy compliance, which could increase liability upon a death during an outside event, the audit states. A third of schools tested in the audit were’t using the district’s new online system for scheduling outside events.
The audit recommends the Seattle School District train staff to follow facilities usage guidelines; train staff who are assigned to do scheduling and event approvals in the new online system; follow-up on past due bills; and reconcile shared revenues from Parks with its own calculations of its share.
In a response in the audit the District says it concurs with the findings and will take the recommended corrective steps.